The Importance of Order

By Krista Kerr – Preschool Head Teacher

Dr. Montessori began to wonder how and why it was that children at a certain age were universally drawn towards the same things in their environment. She discovered it is because human beings have special times in their early lives termed sensitive periods. A sensitive period is a particular moment in a person’s development in which they have an intense reaction or heightened response towards a particular part of their environment for a set period of time. Dr. Montessori likened this specific focus of the child to a torch in the dark; the beam of light focusing on one direct point.

These sensitive periods assist the child in their construction and occur at particular times in a child’s life during the first six years in order to help with his/her development, providing an unconscious pull towards specific parts of the environment. Montessori observed six sensitive periods – language, movement, order, refinement of the senses, small objects, and social behaviour.

The sensitive period for order begins between birth and one year of age. This also underpins all the other sensitive periods, as without order a child will not be able to absorb language, fine detail and other human characteristics. When we have a sense of order of the world we live in, knowledge of routines, objects and people in our environment, we feel safe and secure. However when a child is born, they have no such knowledge and no past experiences to base anything on. So, as Dr. Montessori puts it, the “young child has a vital need for order” (1972). As they are learning what everything is in this new world, it can be distressing if things are suddenly changed in some way, whether physical changes within the environment or intangible changes, such as changing the way you do things or changing the daily routine.  This sense of disorder is often the cause for the phrase “the terrible twos”. At this age, the child likes knowing what to expect and takes great pleasure in doing things ‘the right way’. A variation to this can cause frustration and not being articulate enough to voice this frustration, leaves the child resorting to tears and/or anger.

The environment and support needed for this sensitive period is for there to be external order. Everything in the environment should have a specific place, the adult’s behaviour should be consistent and the routine should remain as unchanged as possible. This is handy to remember as we all start to get into ‘back to school’ routines. Ideally, for the younger tamariki especially, the more you can keep the morning routine the same, the more likely they are to arrive at school happy, on time and ready to come into the akomanga (classroom). Tamariki will know what to expect each morning and will feel safe and secure and be able to settle into their day of exploring. Setting up these routines now will help lead to a wonderful year ahead.