Sensorial Materials

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Essay 15: What is the purpose of the sensorial materials? Describe the essential qualities needed in a sensorial apparatus.

“The first of the child’s organs to begin functioning are his senses....instruments by which we lay hold impressions, and these, in the child’s case, have to become “incarnated”, made part of his personality.”

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 8, p. 84

A child’s journey in life begins as a physical embryo right from the time that he is in his mother's womb, increasing in size and developing his physical structures. Once he is born, leaving the comfort of his mother's womb, he must go through a phase of reconstruction or incarnation, to develop in movement, speech and other areas. However, the child does not possess fixed or predetermined instincts dictating his development like those in animals who are immediately able to walk or even run as soon as they are born. He possesses predetermined patterns of psychic, unfolding. He gradually unfolds to exhibit the characteristic of his kind in movement, speech and actions, being guided by an inner guide. He is not taught by his parents to walk, talk or cry. He is not taught to sing, climb or think. According to Maria Montessori, this is the real identity of the child, the real revelation. "This fashioning of the human personality is a secret work of 'incarnation'. The child is an enigma. All that we know is that he has the highest potentialities, but we do not know what he will be. He must 'become incarnate' with the help of his own will." (The Secret of Childhood, Chapter 6, p.32) Maria Montessori goes on to term the child as a “Spiritual Embryo” because of the work that is going on within him which is one of a spiritual journey of development.

The child, going through this incarnation is provided by Nature with two internal aids namely the Absorbent Mind and Sensitive Periods to assist him in his development. At the same time, there are two external aids provided by the adults around him that further assist him in his journey of development namely, the prepared environment and freedom.

“.....the most important part of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For that is the time when a man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed. But not only his intelligence; the full totality of his psychic powers.” (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 3, p. 22)

Maria Montessori basically speaks of the child’s mind as “the ‘Absorbent Mind’ which explains the process by which the child gains his knowledge from his environment. The instruments the child uses to be able to incarnate impressions and make it part of his personality are his senses. “The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter7, p. 62) It is a different form from that of the adult’s mind as the adult has the knowledge on which he is able to build but the child builds his knowledge beginning from nothing. From birth till the age of three, the child possess an “Unconscious Mind” whereby he observes, absorbs everything from his environment and adapts himself to the life around him, with no discriminations, he simply takes into his preconscious mind, a kind of memory all that he is exposed to. Then, from three years to six years, it gradually fades away giving way for the arrival of ‘The Conscious Mind’. When “in the first stage the child absorbed the world through his unconscious intelligence...., now he takes in consciously, using his hands. The hand has now become the instrument of the brain; and it is through the activity of his hands that he enriches his experience, and develops himself at the same time.” (Maria Montessori: Her Life & Work, Chapter VI, p. 112)

Further understanding the child and his capabilities of developing, Maria Montessori...
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