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Montessori Sensorial Education

By sanjitha28 Sep 03, 2013 2991 Words
Dr. Maria Montessori describes Sensorial materials as the key to the universe. Discuss the statement and give examples to support your discussions.

"With the gradual emergence of knowledge and volition, it becomes imperative to establish some order and clarity within the mind and to distinguish what is essential from what is accidental. ...To satisfy this need, he should have an exact, scientific guide such as that which is to be found in our apparatus and exercises." The Discovery of the Child p 100, Chap 6

As the sun has its own infinite rays, in the same way each and every individual have their own individuality , personality, capabilities, characteristics and potentialities. While man decides to work directed by his intelligence, the animal kingdom works instinctively. Man can work intelligently and intentionally. It’s the intelligence which guides him. Before his intelligence can act in the environment, man has to know the environment. This information about the environment will help him plan his activities. On the basis of the organized storage of information in the mind, man can plan the action to be taken. The classified information forms the foundation for purposeful activity. In order to acquire this information, the intelligence depends on ‘the senses’. Intelligence cannot go out to gather information. But it needs information for planning any work. This information is bought in by ‘senses’. Senses are those powers which take the information from one place to another. The role of the senses is to carry the information to the intelligence and spreads on. ‘What next?’, the command is given by the central nervous system. The senses act as agents for exploring and collecting information from the environment. The senses, therefore, are the gateways to intelligence bringing in the raw material for intelligence to catalogue, classify, reflect, ruminate, think, assimilate, correlate and bring order to the variety of information gathered by them. Intelligence receives information from that storehouse of sensorial impressions. Without this sensorial memory, the abstract functioning of our intelligence will lack wealth, precision and variety in thinking. The sensorial activities, therefore, are no activities of the senses but that of the intelligence. But the work of the senses is indispensable for the work of the intelligence. The whole universe is in front of the child and the key is given. It’s left to the child to decide, what he/she wants. It’s the child’s enquiry, that leads him to discover what he understands from the universe. Now, it’s his choice about, where, how and what to learn, master on and what to work on. For the child to achieve anything in the universe, he has to first understand the universe and his potentiality to understand.

Sensorial education helps develop a child's intellect. Whether you believe intelligence is genetic or produced by environment, you can further it by education. Intelligence is built upon by experiences and thought processes. The Montessori materials for ages 2 1/2 to 6 are designed to help the child's mind develop the necessary skills for later intellectual learning. Sensorial impressions of child's environment are not the same as sensorial education. Impressions are feelings and not an intellectual building block. The human mind needs information to discriminate and appreciate its culture, art, music, poetry, reading and all aspects of the environment.

"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.

Sensorial materials provides a particular purpose and focus. It includes using the child's hands, senses, and spontaneous activity. When a young child sees something new and exciting, he or she will want to touch the object. Young children will grab a new kitten and hold it immediately, they want to feel the reality of the object. This education is not an exercise to sharpen the senses, but to allow a child to use his or her senses to understand what he or she sees. The first lessons present contrasted sensory materials and then graded materials. This teaches concepts of comparing and contrasting. For example, the first colors introduced are the primary colors, which are the most distinct on the color chart. Red, blue, and yellow are introduced, then shades and combinations are later introduced to grade by shades. ‘This is the beginning of the development of the intellect and it is brought about by the intelligence working in a concentrated way on the impressions given by the senses.’ Education is used to tap the young child's mind of absorbed information from the first 3 years of life. The information at this point is a sea of impressions in the unconscious mind. As a child works further the young mind becomes aware of concepts of size, color, weight, quantity and so on. When the differences are clear, the names are introduced to describe these concepts. There is an order and sequence to the materials presented. This sensorial approach helps a child categorize and use his vast amount of subconscious knowledge in his or her surroundings. It is a key that unlocks the door of the mind. ‘They cannot see properly without their hands.’ The blend of the hand and mind is the cornerstone of sensorial education. With it the child unlocks his or her world in a concrete way. "...Montessori deliberately set about trying to help the child to make these abstractions more easily and more accurately. That is, in fact, one of the main purposes of the sensorial materials; each of which is designed to help the child's mind to focus on some particular quality... She has been able to do this by making use of the principle of the 'isolation of stimulus'." Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work p 161, Chap 7.

Sensorial materials are scientific materials. They are meant to help the child become conscious of the physical properties of matter. They are scientifically prepared such that the child’s attention is drawn only to the physical property. The child is able to observe, compare, come to tentative conclusions and verify them too. By means of one set of materials only one physical property is isolated. This is the physical property we aim to help the child become conscious of. The isolation of physical properties has been done using a special psychological technique. The different members of one set of materials differ in one property only and all the rest are kept the same. This one specific physical property draws the attention and shows the difference.


Montessori method of teaching young children considering the fact that a child between two to six years passes through the ‘sensitive period for the refinement of senses’ along with the others and they can be helped in the development of the senses while they are in this formative period. ‘Sensorial’ materials are specially designed to enable the children to use their senses to explore different attributes of the world.

By Didactic materials we mean the materials which are self-corrective and by the process of trial and error a child can achieve the end result without much assistance from the adult because of these didactic materials in Sensorial. This is basically known as ‘Auto Education’.

All the sensorial materials involve the use of the hands in a classifying act. For example: visual classification of dimensions. The hand and the mind act together making a mental connection between an abstract idea and its concrete representation. The materials should be simple, direct aim being highlighted and the material is easy to understand. Children use these materials in spontaneous exercises. The sensorial materials are concrete bits of information which can be organized into meaningful patterns. The didactic nature of the material gives the children hands on experience with mathematical concepts. As teachers, we need to understand how children move towards understanding concepts and how different ways of using the materials match children evolving conceptual development.

"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.

The senses are a part of the central nervous system. They help in establishing our relationship with the environment. Each one of the senses have its own memory. On this sensorial memory depends the child’s intellectual memory. Visual sense ; sense of sight. Sense organs are the eyes, more specifically the membrane retina. The visual sense is capable of receiving impressions of dimensions and shapes. When it receives impressions of colours, its referred to as Chromatic sense. The only sense capable of surveying is the visual sense. Surveying means taking several impressions at the same time or simultaneously. It functions around space provided there is light. The sensorial memory is fairly good. Acoustic sense ; sense of hearing. Sense organ are the ears, it’s the tympanum in the inner ear that receives the vibrations. Noises are irregular impressions. The regular ones are referred to as sounds. Music is an example. Human beings are particularly sensitive to human speech as a group of acoustic impressions. Speech is produced by the movement of the vocal chords and parts of the mouth. Silence is another acoustic experience which may be considered as minimum of noise rather than absence of it. The acoustic sense works around space, especially with air as a medium. The sensorial memory is fairly good. Tactile sense ; sense of touch. This is earliest of the sense to start functioning in the human body. The sensations recorded are those of roughness and smoothness. Even though the skin all over the body can be the sense organ for touch, some parts are more sensitive than the others, for eg., the fingertips. To be able to take pure tactile impressions, the tactile needs to be very light. The sense functions only on contact and the memory is not very strong. Olfactory sense ; sense of smell. Sense organ is the nose. The olfactory sense is active for a short time. Nothing much can be said about the sensorial memory even when the sense itself cannot function for a length of time. Smell travels through space. Classification of good and bad can be done only subjectively. Gustatory sense ; sense of taste. Sense organ is the tongue. Four distinct tastes can be recognized – sweet, sour, bitter and salty. The impression of chillies is that of an irritation rather than taste. Particular areas of the tongue are sensitive to particular tastes because of the taste buds. The sensation of sweetness is registered at the tip, sour at the edges, bitter at the bottom of the tongue and salt all over. Tastes are registered only on contact with the tongue and in fluid medium. The tongue can take blended impressions of all tastes. Thermic sense ; this registers the degree to which we feel an object as hot and cold. When the object is at a temperature higher than that of the body, it feels hot; if the temperature is less than that of the body, it feels cold. The impressions are taken by two sets of nerve endings located near the skin. The sense functions only on contact of the object with the skin. The sensation being relative and not absolute, the memory cannot be considered. Baric sense ; sense of weight. Generally, we take things in our hand and move them up and down to feel the weight. Weight is the force of gravitation on the object. The sense registers the effort that is necessary to keep the object from being pulled down by gravity. The baric sense is lodged in the muscles. The memory here is undependable as it varies from person to person. Stereognostic sense ; sense is a combination of tactile and muscular senses. The senses registers the shape of three dimensional solids. ‘Stereo’ meaning three-dimensional and ‘gnostic’ meaning grasping or understanding. Initially, the impressions are gathered by touching all over a solid and the sense recognizes the shape by mere grasping. The memory is quite good.

An object possesses nine qualities as following:
1. Shape
2. Colour
3. Texture
4. Sound
5. Smell
6. Taste
7. Temperature
8. Weight and
9. Size.

By using his all five basic senses i.e. visual sense, tactile sense, auditory sense, gustatory sense, olfactory sense and also using the additional senses like baric sense (sense of weight), thermic sense(sense of temperature) and stereognostic sense (sense of shape and size of an object by holding it with hands) the child explores all the nine qualities of an object but in separate sessions and also with separate materials. For example: a child using his tactile and visual sense explores different dimensions of an object i.e. height, diameter etc. in the presentations like Cylinder Blocks, Pink Tower, Brown Stairs and so on. He explores different intensities of colours using his visual sense in Colour Boxes. His auditory sense is enhanced while exploring different intensities of sound i.e. loud and soft in Sound Cylinders while he can differentiate between tow textures i.e. rough and smooth using his tactile sense in Touch Boards. In Baric Tablets, he gets a clearer perception of weight – light or heavy using his baric sense and so on.

Young children like to explore experiment, tinker and try new things. They like to touch and feel and manipulate objects. They feed their minds through activities. They learn through their senses to satisfy their insatiable appetite for things to do. The first of the child’s organs to begin functioning are his senses. It is necessary to begin the education of the senses in the formative periods, if we wish to perfect this sense development with the education to be followed. The education of the senses can start from infancy and should continue during the entire formative period to prepare a child for his future.

Sensorial materials not only provide the refinement of sense but it actually prepares the child for many other subjects which the child encounters afterwards. Sensorial activities are indirect preparation for Maths. Because in Sensorial, we deal mainly with different shapes and sizes like what we do in Geometry. There is an excellent way of introducing Geometry to a child at a very tender age by the presentations of Geometry Cabinet, Geometry Solids etc. in every presentation a child thinks logically or compares the materials with other to achieve the final goal. This actually sharpens the comparative study skills and logical thinking of a child. It indirectly prepares a child for Decimal system because most of the materials are ten in number. Sensorial also prepares a child for different aspects of Languages like Adjectives, Opposites and also new words by the three period name lesson given on each material. We prepare a child to write with the presentation of drawing insets and the knobs present in the materials being the thickness of a writing pencil prepares the hand for holding it.

The education of senses makes men observers. The child who has worked with the sensorial materials has not only acquired a greater skill in the use of senses but also guides his exploration of the outside world. The aim of sense training is not only that a child shall know the colours forms and textures but also that he refines his sense through an exercise of attention and through comparison. “Education is a natural process carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences in the environment.”

If we trust that the child comes into the world with his
unique plan for life and that it is he who will unfold before us, then we know that these first six years are crucial for his self development. It is now that the imprints are deepest. He begins his work of living life on earth by taking from, and adapting to his environment and thus creates the man he is to become.

The purpose and aim of Sensorial work is for the child to acquire clear, conscious, information and to be able to then make classifications in his environment. Montessori believed that sensorial experiences began at birth. Through his senses, the child studies his environment. Through this study, the child then begins to understand his environment. The child, to Montessori, is a “sensorial explorer”. Through work with the sensorial materials, the child is given the keys to classifying the things around him, which leads to the child making his own experiences in his environment. Through the classification, the child is also offered the first steps in organizing his intelligence, which then leads to his adapting to his environment The primary purpose of the sensorial exercises is not that their correct usage be mastered, but rather that "the child train himself to observe; that he be led to make comparisons between objects, to form judgments, to reason and to decide." Dr. Maria Montessori - Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook.



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