"The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge. Our apparatus for educating the senses offers the child a key to guide his explorations of the world, they cast a light upon it which makes visible to him more things in greater detail than he could see in the dark, or uneducated state." The Absorbent Mind p 167, Chap 17
Montessori was very influenced by the work of Edouard Seguin. He specialised in working with mentally deficient children and had developed a series of exercises that helped to train the children's senses and to teach them the skills of everyday life. He also felt that the education systems of that time denied children the possibility to develop their individual potentials. "Respect for individuality", he wrote, "is the first test of a teacher" and he contrasted it with "the violent sameness of most of education." (Kramer, p 61, Chap 1). Montessori would also have been familiar with the work of Rousseau and Pestalozzi, both of whom emphasized the importance of the training of the senses. She started her career working with special needs children and had seen how effective the results of specific sense exercises were. She began to be curious about how working with such materials would effect normal children. Based on her knowledge of the earlier apparatus designed for this purpose, and on her observations of the children in her care, she began gradually to develop her own set of materials. It was always the spontaneous activities of the child that came first though, and the materials second. The need for order, exactness, self-correction and reflection - all were qualities that Montessori saw were needed in order for the children to develop as they should. When she saw that children were particularly drawn to certain activities she then concentrated on developing materials that would extend that interest. She carefully took each of the senses and thought how best she could help the children to clarify and expand their existing experiences. By isolating specific qualities in the materials and by grading each set in ever-refined series, she was able to give the children the ability to increasingly refine each of their senses. "The sensorial materials comprise a series of objects which are grouped together according to some physical quality which they have, such as colour, shape, size, sound, texture, weight, temperature, and so forth. ... Every single group of objects represents the same quality but in different degrees; there is consequently a regular but gradual distinction between the various objects and, when this is possible, one that is mathematically fixed... Every series of objects... is graded so that there is a maximum and a minimum, which determines its limits, or which, more properly, are fixed by the use which a child makes of them." The Discovery of Childhood p 100-101, Chap 6
"Our sensorial material provides a kind of guide to observation, for it classifies the impressions that each sense can receive: the colours, notes, noises, forms and sizes, touch-sensations, odors and tastes. This undoubtedly is also a form of culture, for it leads us to pay attention both to ourselves and to our surroundings." The Absorbent Mind, p 167, Chap 17
"To teach a child whose senses have been educated is quite a different thing from teaching one who has not had this help. Any object presented, any idea given, any invitation to observe, is greeted with interest, because the child is already sensitive to such tiny differences as those which occur between the forms of leaves, the colours of flowers, or the bodies of insects. Everything depends on being able to see and on taking an interest. It matters much more to have a prepared mind than to have a good teacher." Ibid p 167, Chap 17
"And if we look at the sensorial apparatus which is able to evoke such deep concentration (remarkable in very small children between the ages of three and four), there is no...