In a previous article on the essential material needed in a Montessori nursery class, I wrote about the importance of the material dedicated to “everyday life”. The following article is dedicated to sensory material.
The period of life from ages 2 ½ to 6 is a period of great physical change accompanied by the development of psychological and sensory functions. It is the period during which the child develops his senses.
We can therefore help the development of his senses, at that particular age, by gradually proposing a series of stimulating activities; just as we have done when he was learning how to speak.
The education of the senses helps detect and eventually correct flaws which often go unnoticed in “traditional” schools, at least until the period when they appear more obviously and are then almost impossible to correct; as a result, the child feels maladjusted to his environment (loss of hearing, near sightedness, and so on…)
Sensory education is difficult for an adult, just like it is hard for a pianist to educate his hand. It is therefore essential to educate the senses during their period of formation and then later, to be able to improve them.
Education of the senses also helps the child to be more observant of his environment. We are constantly observing our environment because we need to use its resources at most. All of the discoveries that have changed the world were developed thanks to our observation of the environment.
In like manner, art is based on the observation of reality. We must prepare the next generations to this aptitude. Thanks to observation, we discovered the waves, the radius and so on…
Sensory education must therefore proceed methodically at a very young age, and continue during the period of instruction. This way, the child will be able to grow correctly and understand his environment.
Otherwise, we risk the isolation of man from his environment. When completing education by intellectual culture, we only create philosophers who live apart form the real world.
Sensory education is also necessary as a basis to aesthetic education and moral education. By multiplying sensations, and by developing the capacity to appreciate the smallest differences between stimulations, we refine sensitivity; a sensory delicacy is needed to perceive it.
The aesthetical harmony of nature and art escapes those whose senses are not properly developed. The world is reduced and bitter. The world is full of sources of aesthetical joys in front of which they stand blind and prefer thrilling pleasures.
The habit of vice is often linked to extreme thrills; strong stimulus does not sharpen sensitivity but, on the contrary, attenuates the powers of perception of the senses by creating an addiction which provokes a need for continuous and more violent stimulation.
Senses are organs that help “grasp” the images of the outside world, necessary to develop intelligence, just like the hand is the organ that helps us “grasp” material things necessary to our body. But senses and the use of our hand can be refined and go.
Education needed to build intelligence must use the senses and continually try to improve them.
Montessori sensory material is made of a series of objects which have determined qualities such as color, form, dimension, sound, weight, temperature, and so on…
For example, a group of bells which reproduce musical tones, different colored brochures, a number of solids which share the same form in graduated dimensions, some with different geometrical forms, some with different weights…
Each of these groups shares the same quality, but to a different degree; it is therefore a graduation, where the difference from one object to the next varies regularly, and when possible, mathematically.
If you are preparing sensory material at home, it must always vary by just one quality.
For example, if you want to prepare objects to teach color, the objects must be made with the same substance (form and dimension) and differ only as far as color is concerned.
If you are preparing objects to observe the tones of the musical scale, you will need identical objects in appearance, like for example the bells that we use in a Montessori class. They have the same form and the same dimension and can be set on an identical base; but when hit by a little hammer, they give different sounds; that is the only perceptible difference between them.
From a psychological point of view, it has been shown that to better reveal the particular quality, it is necessary to isolate the senses as much as possible: a tactile impression is clearer if it involves an object that does not conduct heat, so that it does not also convey impressions of temperature; this impression will be even stronger if the subject is in a dark and silent place where visual and hearing impulsions do not interfere with tactile impressions.
The material used must always permit the child to correct himself. This self-correction allows the child to use reason while doing the exercises; his critical senses and his attention are always drawn to exactitude, with a refinement which allows him to distinguish the smallest differences; the child’s conscience is prepared to correct its errors, even when they are not material errors.
The material must always look nice. The objects proposed must always be attractive to the child. Attention must be given to color, sparkle, harmony of forms, and this not only in the choice of sensory material and in everything that surrounds the child.
This material must motivate the child to work on his own. The interest of the child must be maintained thanks to the quality of the objects but also their possible use.
Once more, this sensory material is found in Montessori classes only and shows the importance of sending your children to these schools.