For the young child, the windows of the mind are the senses. They are constantly engaged with through activity in a process of creating an understanding of their world and where they fit in. To do this, they rely upon their senses as an interface to the world.
Around age two-and-a-half to age three, children begin to bind these random sensations into integrated units of knowledge and this knowledge emerges from the subconscious into their consciousness. They begin to expand this new knowledge through their own unassisted and undisturbed, self-guided exploration.
About the Journey
Dr. Montessori discovered the child can be assisted in this “Sensorial Journey”. To support this development, Montessori programs offer carefully designed sensorial materials that follow a formal, systematic approach. The materials isolate each sensorial quality and offer children what Dr. Maria Montessori called the “keys to the world.” Activities with the sensorial materials support children’s classification of impressions and lead to clear levels of conscious discrimination.
This Sensorial Journey is one where the child:
- Perceives identities and gradations, learns to make comparisons
- Examines a subject from many angles and considers it from different perspectives
- Evaluates finer and finer degrees of difference
- Effortlessly discovers the multitude of details that combine to make both natural and human environments
- Encounters limits to what is possible and decides how to respond to those limits
- Experiences a mistake as just another step towards success
- Discover personal preferences both practical and aesthetic
These experiences lead the child to express themselves with clarity and precision and to receive the expressions of others with equal clarity and precision. If children have these experiences in this formative period of brain development, they establish a foundation for a lifetime of order and precision, as well as logical, reasoned thinking.
Sensorial materials develop the child’s refinement of their sensory perceptions.
It’s important to understand that sensorial exercises don’t make children’s ears hear better, eyes see better, or tongue taste better. Rather, the materials help children develop powers of discrimination so that they can analyze finer degrees of difference.
When we absorb sensory input, the brain captures the whole as well as all the details. Then the brain has to make discriminations, a process which develops through experience and experience in making finer discernments. The sensorial activities provide children a tool for starting to classify and to increase their perceptive powers, both of which are important mental abilities.
Sensorial materials help children develop life-long tendencies towards order and precision.
We don’t know what touchstones might develop for each child, but Dr. Montessori says that touchstones developed during these early years will remain with children throughout their whole life. If children can get accurate discriminations while in this time of sensitivity to sensorial input, this precision will remain with them as they develop sensibilities that last a lifetime.
Sensorial materials also provide indirect preparation for further study.
An indirect preparation means that we are taking advantage of children’s spontaneous interest and activity and essentially planting the seeds for other interest in other areas that children will explore as they get older. When we introduce shapes–from a decagon to an ellipse to a quatrefoil– using the geometry cabinet, children visually discriminate the shapes while also tactilely experiencing the shapes by tracing around them. Multisensory input is stronger than input through just one sense. Tracing the shape also helps to prepare children’s hands for writing. To write, our hands have to be able to follow a form. This is how the sensorial materials provide indirect preparation for further academic study.
Although the sensorial materials may look relatively simple, they provide so much! When children use these materials, they are refining their powers of discrimination, creating an ordered mind, enhancing their memory and recall, categorizing their impressions, and building a foundation for rational thinking and intelligence.
As children achieve these skills, they experience life with an increased level of richness, becoming aware of the lovely details of their world. With a prepared mind, children can see things in a new light and with new enthusiasm. This is perhaps one of the most delightful outcomes of children’s work with the sensorial materials: they develop a whole new appreciation of the life around them–dimensions, shapes, smells, sounds, textures, tastes–which is what gives life value and beauty.