“We have no other possible means of distinguishing objects than by their attributes.”
Our senses effect our perception of our world in so many ways- the color of the sky, the taste of our favorite foods, the smell of our pillows as we lay our heads down at night, the sound of a symphony- without our acute set of senses and sense organs, the world would be a dull and dangerous place. But as important as our senses are to us as adults, they are a hundred times more important in the development of a child.
Through her years and years of observations of young children, Maria Montessori learned how sensorially motivated they were and thus created her beautiful sensorial curriculum- a quintessential part of the Montessori program.
The materials can be broken down into 6 categories- basically, the 5 senses plus an extra category for geometry: touch (haptic), sight (visual), sound (auditory), taste (gustatory), smell (olfactory), and visual geometry. Within each category are materials artfully crafted with that certain sense in mind.
Within each material lie certain characteristics:
-Isolation of difficulty: each set of materials remains identical in all aspects aside from the concept being highlighted (for example, the pink tower consists of 10 cubes equal in every way except for their size). Because of this, the child is able to focus on that one notion whether it is size, length, taste, weight, shape, pitch or color.
-Serration: the ability to put materials in a certain series according to the characteristic being highlighted, we call serration. By being able to sort the red rods for instance according to length, the child is not only able to better understand the concept of length, but is also being prepared for such later activities in math, science, reading and writing wherein serration becomes of the utmost importance.
-Control of error: because the materials are designed to be explored independently, their very design lends the learner to determine an error just by looking at their work carefully- for instance when stacking the pink cubes to build the tower, the tower will not look quite right or will not stay up if the cubes have not been placed in the correct order.
-Opportunity for extensions: Once the child has reached a level of mastery with a set of materials, an extension can be introduced. Building other creations with the materials, making a beautiful rainbow with the color tablets, seeing how the pink tower and the brown stair can be built together, creating our own smelling sachets- the list could go on forever. As with anything in the Montessori classroom, the materials can move up with the children and opportunities for new learning experiences abound.
The academic advantages of the sensorial materials are abundant. Not only are the children learning each concept through their use, but because the materials are always used from top to bottom, left to right and are arranged on the shelves as such so they become an indirect aid for reading and writing. And both because of their serration as well as most of the materials being rooted in the base ten number system, they become another aid in later mathematical concepts.
Similar to the practical life are of the classroom, the sensorial materials also help fine motor skills and pincer (writing) grip. And because in every lesson we teach, we highlight care of the environment- the sensorial materials are always treated with tremendous care. They are handled carefully, dusted, polished and nurtured by the children, always with the rationale that we want them to stay beautiful for everyone to enjoy. And that they will, for the sensorial materials continue to be a favorite to all who use them.