Sensorial Development In Montessori Education

In the preface to Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, Montessori used Helen Keller and Mrs. Ann Sullivan as an eloquent symbol of miracle education that unfolds the spirit of man by education of the senses. She states, “If one only of the senses sufficed to make of Hellen Keller a woman of exceptional culture and a writer, who better than she proves the potency of that method of education which builds on the senses? If Helen Keller attained through exquisite natural gifts to an elevated conception of the world, who better than she proves that in the inmost self of man lies the spirit ready to reveal itself? Helen clasp to your heart these little children, since they, above all others, will understand you. They are your younger brothers: when, with bandaged eyes and in silence, they touch with their little hands, profound impression rise in their consciousness, and they exclaim with a few form of happiness: “I see with my hands.” They alone, then, can fully understand the drama of the mysterious privilege your soul has known. When in darkness and in silence, their spirit left free to expand, their intellectual energy redoubled, they become able to read and write without having learnt, almost as it was by intuition, only they can understand in part of the ecstasy which God granted you on the luminous path of learning.”

What is Sensorial Development?

The goal of sensory development is to develop the sensory energies and perceptions of the children. Montessori explains in the book, The Discovery of The Child, “The training and sharpening of the senses has the obvious advantage of enlarging the field of perception and of offering an ever more solid foundation of intellectual growth. The intellect builds up its store of practical ideas through contact with an exploration of the environment—A child of two and a half who comes to one of our Children’s House during the previous year, when his physical and mental powers developing, he has accumulated and absorbed a host of impressions. This remarkable achievement, the importance of which can hardly be exaggerated, has however been accomplished without any outside help of guidance. Accidental and essential impressions are all mixed together, creating a confused but significant wealth in his subconscious mind.” The relevant wealth of Sensorial Development’s impression assists to develop into a child’s clear concepts. The children are received the knowledge by working with sensory materials and also through their own experiences, not through word from teacher.

Here are more purposes and goals of using sensorial materials:-

  • Children receive clear concepts of information with their conscious and can make classification in their environment.
  • From making classification in their environment, they are organizing their intelligence that brings them to adapt their environment.
  • The children, then can be able to concentrate on working with sensorial materials, they use all their senses from using their hands to stereognostic (being able to determine shapes and weight of objects by feeling and lifting).
  • The children, then develop and derive clear concepts of abstractions in concrete ways.

Mental Construction

The operation of the intelligence relies on mental construction which built by conscious and unconscious experience. Montessori sensorial education is greatly helped with child’s clear concepts development. The clear concepts will aid the child to be the better learner. The child age 2 ½ to 6 years old is in the period called “mind in the making”. The sensorial materials that Montessori designed will help children’s mind in making the construction and interior developments that are both essential and simple at this age. Not the teacher but the child has the ability to build herself by absorbing impressions of the materials and culture around her.

Sensorial impressions are not similar to sensorial education. Children can receives so much sense of impression but it doesn’t mean that they can gained more education. Montessori classroom provides sensorial material that children can work through the activity of the hand and it is the kind of education that the mind needs in order to discriminate, appreciate and then brings out clarity of concepts.

Education of the senses

Children see things and learn things through their senses. It is so important for children to see things through their hands. Children love to examine things with their hands. We should remind ourselves about the important of the hand: “Never give more to the eye and ear than you do to the hand”.  By giving children education of senses, teacher is not helping them to do better with their senses but she is helping them to know and understand what they see, she is helping them sort and classify impressions to build up their internal mental construction of clear thinking.

How to give the child an education of the senses

At the beginning, we provide the child obviously opposite sensations for example small and large, then graded them differently in a series which called the distribution of stimuli. The child is learning to compare, contrast and discriminate between sense impression and put them put them into logical and coherent order based on some fundamental quality for example temperature, shapes, size or color. It is commencement of a conscious knowledge of the environment, which in contrast to the unconscious awareness that the child already has stored. In Montessori lesson, the child’s participation and judgment at her specific stage of development on this day is more important than perfection. When the child struggles with the work, the teacher should take note to a fact that she needs a new lesson and offer a lesson to her when available.

Three–period lesson

  • Sensorial materials are materialized abstractions which they seclude a specific quality of an abstraction and make the entire lesson to become concrete in the mind of the children. The intelligence working in concentrated way on the impression received pass the senses brings out the development of intellect to the child.
  • Refinement of the senses, at age three years old, the child already turned to be well acquainted with the world. Many impression of the environment has stored up in the unconscious mind but not yet knowledge, it hasn’t been conscious and available in his mind. The child’s work is to gain conscious knowledge. It is performed by his intelligence comparing, discriminating, classifying and organizing the impressions.
  • As the child performs the concrete work with sensorial materials, the mind turns to be aware of the qualities itself. When the mind fully perceives the category and the differences between gradations, later the child is ready to learn the names of the qualities.  The teacher has to understand that a clear concrete impression in the mind comes first. And when the child forms the clear concepts, teachers attach new words in the most direct manner, simple way and by using three-period lesson.
  • Three period lesson for language arrives after the sensorial work. We may add language at the appropriate time via the three period lesson for most of the Sensorial materials showing the child: 1.This is…, 2. Please show me…., 3. Can you tell me, what is this?
  • Sequence in the material. Each material displayed in an ordered sequence from simple to complex. For example, we start with the sense of touch, from rough to smooth, second board has rough and smooth altering rows, then gradation of matching rough and smooth on sand paper tablets and finally more refined gradations with pairs of fabrics.
  • Order within the material. Each Sensorial exercise has level of order inherent. The material is mathematically accurate in its gradations. For example the cube of the pink tower starts from the size of 1 cm. squared to 10 cm. squared with intervals of 1 cm. The order within each Sensorial exercise supports the child to look for the order within other aspects of life. The child who works with pink tower at the begining, when he moves up to elementary school, he may work with the pink tower by calculate volume which tells him that there is concrete intellectual material in the simple work.

Hands-on activities build the child’s mind

From Montessori’s observation without prejudice and the freedom of each child she created in her outstanding environment, Montessori discovered the important of manual activities in the development of mind. I n this stage 2 ½ – 6, the child’s attention may be drawn to an object, the object may stimulate the child’s imagination but it doesn’t essentially clarify concepts or develop the cognitive process as the real hands activity with prepared materials. The child is working hard building his mind. At this stage we may call “hand –minded”. Montessori mentions that the work of muscular carries the concentration of the mind as if it was an instrument catching the rays of splendid psychic energy. Sensorial materials we provide to the child, the child will concentrates and focuses on her work for period of time with clarity concept which is weaving together yet another outlook of her mental framework. The visual aids the child needs are the materials themselves that appeal to her eye, hand and mind.  Concentration is the way to learn and the only one catalyst to “normalization through work.”  The technique of isolation of quality is a truly aid to concentration of the child. Each Sensorial exercise controls itself to impairing one specific concept, length, weight or shade of color. Montessori recommends us to isolate the sense the child is working on for example using the blindfolds when the child is working on tactile stereognostic or weight experiments. The blindfold will make the child concentrate deeply on her sense of touch. What the child learn while she does the work of sensorial materials; she learns discriminating sizes and learns about mathematical precision unconsciously, she learns control of movement, arms, fingers and she had understood that perseverance brings achievement. At this age, if the child has no opportunity for interesting in hands activity, character, intellect and dexterity will be all defective.

Cooperation between the senses

When the child using or working with all sensorial materials, his eye cooperate in learning to see the difference of sizes and shapes. In Sensorial materials, each piece usually in a ten series is the same color; so that color doesn’t distract or is not a second thing that must be discriminated.  Materialized abstractions are presented through movable objects which can be carried and ordered in many different ways. Teachers shows the first few ways and let the child feels free to find other relationships and means to build logical progressions with the materials. Each piece of sensorial materials is handle in a very particular way that helps the child to receive the most sensorial information from gradations in the series. The pink tower gives the concept of big and little. It is carried by a grip across the top of each cube so the whole hand expands the same amount each time. The red rods gives the child the abstraction of length in a concrete concept when the child carries each rod from both sides of the hand. To bring red rods and pink tower needs ten trips to the shelf which we call “travelling”. Each time, the child will carry the one object at a time, the child feels the increasing size and weight with each successively bigger piece.  The child prepares to sit down and concentrate on one piece at a time.

Common to all sensorial objects

  1. The materials are regulated & precise. The sensorial materials of development are consisted of objects grouped system conforming to a determined physical quality of objects for example, dimension, form, weight, color, texture, temperature or sound. Each group performs a simple quality in incremental gradations. The objects are regulated and precise and are built upon mathematical principles. Each series shows the clear contrast when placed together.
  2. The materials are appealing and engaging. The materials are attractive and well designed and represent “the voice of things” such as sound cylinders or beautiful geography map that invite children to learn.
  3. The materials offer the child the activities of movement. The child is not only have interest and attention but the child has a chance to use control of movement, using his senses through the materials. The child doesn’t just sit still and listen to the teacher but she does a real work all by herself. She is teaching herself a lesson.
  4. To get rid of the confusion, the material must be limited. Limitation carries order to the mind and help the interpretation of the objects within the child’s environment. Limitation helps maintain the psychic force and aids in development. For example, there are ten red rods which is enough and not overwhelming the child’s work.
  5. Control of error is built-in. Control of error helps the child by being self-correcting. By working with sensorial materials, the child can find out that if she makes a mistake, she can find it and fix it by herself.
  6. Isolation of stimulus within the materials. Each of materials targets on only one quality which allow the child to fully concentrate on her work with that one quality.

Eight groups of sensorial materials exercises

  1. Exercise of Visual sense helps the child to discriminate the differences of the objects visually. Discrimination form: Geometrical, Botanical and Geographical. For example, Geometrical cabinet and three set of cards help the child to discriminate basic figures, the contrast of shapes; circles, triangles, polygons etc., Geographical maps which Dr. Montessori designed the little knobs located exactly where capital cities of all countries are. By working with this material the child progresses from matching sensorial to the building of an entire continents by herself, then she learns the name of the countries, capital cities of the world.
  2. Exercise of Tactile sense helps the child learning about sense of touch which allows the child to focus on the feeling of her hands through a concentration of her sense and part of her body. For example, the Touch Board helps the child discriminate the rough and smooth surface, she learns about the contrast and gradations. ( Surfaces, textures, Touch boards, texture of fabrics)
  3. Exercise of Baric sense helps the child learn the difference of objects by pressure or weight. The child can increase her sense by using the blindfold for closing her eyes and focus on using her hands instead. (Baric Tablets, Pressure Cylinders)
  4. Exercise of Thermic sense helps the child refines his sense through the temperature of objects. For example, the child feels the glass, marble and iron materials and discriminate the difference of their temperatures.
  5. Exercise of Auditory sense helps the child discriminate the difference of sounds which allows her ability to refine the sounds in her environment or eventually, creating music. For example, Sound Cylinders helps the child to discriminate the sounds, pair the sounds and feels the sound such as soft sound or loud sound, Musical Bells helps the child discriminate the musical tones, the child matches right tone of the bells and later learns the name of the bells.
  6. Exercise of Olfactory sense helps the child to discriminate the smells such as flowers, soap, cinnamon, lime or vinegar. The child learns to discriminate and match such as sweet smell, sour smell, strong smell, fresh beautiful smell or even stinky smell. (Smelling Cylinders)
  7. Exercise of Gustatory helps the child discriminate the tastes such as salty, tangy, sweet, bitter or tasteless. (Tray of bottles)
  8. Exercise of Stereognostic sense helps the child being able to determine shapes and weight of objects by feeling and lifting. The child feels the objects and recognizes based on what she feels. For example, the child exercise her stereognostic sense by working with mystery bag, the child puts the hands in the bag and tries to figures what kind of objects she feels on her hand, without seeing.

As we observe the children in Montessori classroom, we realize how deeply integrated the hand is in all of the child’s activity. Teacher presents materials for all of the senses through the hand. The sensorial materials are developed to present fundamental qualities. Each of them has a basic, simple concept to convey which we don’t need many more materials to cause the confusion.

The following video provides you with the correct English pronunciation of the word ” stereognostic”, to help you become a better English speaker.Montessori’s sensory materials that we see and use at the present time are the outcome of Dr. Montessori’s observation, the long experience of development and experimentations, the ideas and materials of Dr. Itard and Seguin, then with her own. Sensory development is one of the four primary avenue that Dr. Maria created into her prepared environment.