Maria Montessori believed in a necessary relationship between children and their environment. Children must find a properly prepared environment if they are to fully develop their unique human potentials. Sensorial material and the education provided by it serve as the base for this intellectual development.
All children go through a period of time in which they centralize all their attention on one aspect of their environment and exclude everything else. It is a time of intense concentration and mental activity on developing a particular skill at that particular time, age or phase in growth. It is driven unconsciously by an inner force which we can see when a child repeatedly does one activity with such conviction that it seems as if nothing can deter him until he accomplishes that task. “…Instances of a concentration reaching insensibility to the outer world were not usual, I noticed a peculiar behaviour that was common to all, and practically the rule in all they did- the special characteristic of child work, which I later called ‘repetition of the exercise’.” [1. Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, Pg. 125]
There is predetermined psychic pattern that molds the unique emotional and intellectual qualities of each child. These qualities develop through what Dr. Montessori referred to as "the sensitive periods”. There are six such periods: sensitivity to order; sensitivity to small objects; learning through the five senses; sensitivity for walking; sensitivity for language; sensitivity for social interest. This young child (0–6 years) has an Absorbent Mind, which naturally incorporates experiences in the environment directly into his whole basic character and personality for life. This mental faculty is divided into two: the unconscious mind; and the conscious mind. From birth to 3 years the child has an unconscious mind, he absorbs impressions from his environment. From 3 to 6 years the child continues to absorb knowledge, but now he takes it in consciously, putting it into an order and giving it a name. The child uses his impressions in his environment. It is important to note that the child's learning during these early stages is not complete; neither has it reached the internalized abstraction stage that will develop, as he grows older. It is, however, the foundation upon which later knowledge that follows will be built. Wherever this solid foundation is lacking, children will experience difficulty in learning and operating in the future.
“The development of the senses precedes that of the higher intellectual powers, and in the child between three and six years of age, it is in the formative period. We can then help the development of the senses during this very period, graduating and adapting the stimuli just as we ought, to aid the acquisition of speech, before it is completely developed. All the education of early childhood ought to be based on this principle – to aid the natural development of the child.” [2. Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, Pg. 172]
Thus, it is during this period when teachers and educationists encourage children to work on sensorial activities as the material is prepared in a way that they refine the senses and build on the fascination that children have with the experiences of taste, sound, touch, weight, and smell. These activities result in children learning to observe and make increasingly refined sensorial discriminations.
Sensorial materials aid in the natural or overall development of the child and give him a sense of...