Explore through the senses ….

“First the Education of the senses, then the education of the intellect.”

Maria Montessori

In the book, “The Montessori method”, Maria Montessori writes that her materials are “adapted to cause the child to exercise the senses”. Humans by nature are ‘sensorial’- we absorb, learn and feel emotions through our senses. From a young age, from the infant stage, we want to explore things through seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting what’s around us. Exploring the environment through the senses gives us a “feeling of comfort and belonging” to it. Senses help us gather information which in turn promotes our development and creative explorations.

In her book, “The Absorbent Mind”, she states that, “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”.

Eduard Seguin was a French physician and educator, who specialized in working with special needs children and had developed a series of exercises that helped train the child’s senses. His work influenced Dr. Maria Montessori in understanding the importance of senses in child development, which encouraged her to create the beautiful, didactic sensorial materials used extensively in the Montessori Primary classroom to teach children dimensions, colors, geometry etc.

Eight Sensory categories

Montessori sensorial materials helps a child get a complete understanding of things that he sees, touches, hears, smells, tastes, weight and temperature explorations and the significant experiences gained by using a blindfold. The concrete sensorial materials are broadly divided into 8 categories:

Visual materials: Help visually discriminate between objects and introduces vocabulary like larger, smaller, longer etc to describe what the senses are understanding.

Tactile materials: Refer to materials that child explores with their hands like rough and smooth boards.

Stereognostic materials: Refers to materials the child is able to figure out what something is without seeing, smelling or hearing it. This strengthens the other senses. Mystery bag is a classic example for this category.

Baric materials: Learning to distinguish differences in weight. Weighted objects are used to teach this, with control of error focused on color, size or shape.

Thermic material: Learning to distinguish difference in temperature. With safety considerations, this is taught using different materials that are warm or cold to touch.

Olfactory material: Learning the sense of smell through matching, sorting and classification of spices, essential oils, smelling jars etc

Gustatory material: This is introduced by tasting of different materials – as a specific activity or at snack/lunch time.

Chromatic material: This is introduced to enhance the sense of identifying and perceiving variations of color.

Sensorial materials in a Montessori classroom not only help refine the senses, but they also help prepare the child’s Mathematical mind.

Each of the materials that teach the sense of dimension like the Pink tower, Brown stairs etc have ’10’ pieces to complete the work. this helps prepare the child for the Decimal system.

The Red rods which teach the concept of ‘long and short’ are a precursor work to the ‘Number rods’ work in Math. they both are made of wood, are of the same dimension. The smallest red rod and number rod is 10 cm long and the largest rod is 100 cm long. Each rod in both the works increases by increments of 10 cm in length, again laying a strong foundation for the Decimal system.

Sensorial materials also help bring out the creativity and imagination in children. The lovely colors and the carefully designed Montessori wood materials encourage the child to build so many different things- you could see them build a tower as tall as they are, create a whole town with the knobless cylinders or even a bike complete with a seat and handle. All these help create the spatial and logical reasoning in the child’s mind.

In Summary, Montessori Sensorial materials help with the following:

  • Refine the senses
  • Prepare the Mathematical mind
  • Create opportunities for purposeful movement
  • Build creativity, imagination and problem solving skills
  • Improve vocabulary
  • Create spatial awareness through the geometry works.

How to introduce “Sensorial activities” to the child at home?

Provide exposure to different textures

Do fabric matching

Name the different types of clothing materials like cotton, silk etc

Use felt or puzzles to introduce geometry

Go on a scavenger hunt for color matching

Taste different textures of food

Smell spices

Create shapes using household items

Use flash light to introduce concept of color grading on tissue paper

Listen to different frequency of music

Classify ‘Sound’ and ‘No sound’ using materials like cotton balls & bells.

The list is endless….. Provide lots of opportunities for children to touch, feel, smell, see and taste different materials to help stimulate the senses.

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