Areas of Curriculum
The sensorial area consists of materials that educate and refine the child's senses. The child learns to recognize similarities and differences; to discriminate between similar objects; to grade similar objects. This is important for later mastery of tasks involving math and language.
The first thing we must understand is the child's intellect doesn't work by itself, but is fully and wholly bound together with his body, particularly with his nervous system and muscular systems. Unlike angelic beings who are pure spirits mentioned in the bible who can carry on with out any connection what so ever with matter, the human beings soul and body are woven together in an indissoluble unity.
Maria Montessori had a profound understanding of this. Her method more than any other, in education is based on the relationship between these two elements -mind and body. From birth our bodies function and gather information through the five senses to develop intellect.
Watch a child around two and notice how he is interested in more than objects as a whole. He will study their qualities, such as roughness, smoothness, hardness, softness, color, taste, texture weight, pliability, and more. "There is nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses, but it exist in the intellect in a different mode than the senses" Maria embraced and understood these words by Aristotle.
This child is drawing off from the concrete, abstract ideas. This is where it all begins. Think about this for a moment... Do you remember how you got your idea of smoothness? You touched smooth objects, did you not? Some one taught you the words smooth and rough by showing you and letting you feel the difference.
These are your senses at work at such an early age you probably don't remember. However, these ideas are stored in your intellect even though you don't remember learning them. It started with your senses. Think of all the things you have learned that are now abstract not concrete. They are in your intellect not your senses. You don't have to use your senses anymore to imagine the color blue, or hear a bird sing in your mind.
Maria has taken this understanding another step and facilitated the child's sensorial learning through sensorial materials. She believed this was a very natural process, letting children act spontaneously and constructively, noting their sensitive periods. This was letting the child unfold instead of being molded. Maria purposely planned to help the children make these abstractions easier and more accurate.
The sensorial material is designed for this purpose to focus on a particular quality. Thus the red rods teach length; cubes in the pink tower, of size; bells teach musical pitch. All sensorial materials use the principle of "isolation of stimulus" For example the red rods are the same in every way except length.
Forcing a child into the abstract before he has understood the concrete forms, Maria saw as a dangerous hustling of the minds and very out of order. Children build a foundation of order by comparing and classifying in the concrete then pull off the abstract ideas.
Maria compares it to an airplane which, in order to rise into the air by itself, needs first to run for a while along the ground. But will "take off" from solid ground and rise into the more abstract medium of the air, where it will operate more rapidly and freely. Exactly so, the child's mind -in order to rise into the abstract -needs first to move in contact with the solid concrete.
But when the right moment comes (which is different for each child) it will "take off" from the materials; and will then of its own accord rise into the realm of the abstract, where it will operate more easily, more efficiently. And more quickly too -quicker even than the fastest airplane; for it works, quite literally, with the speed of thought.
-Maria Montessori, Her Life And Work, E.M.Standing
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)
Qualities discriminate with the visual sense are size, shape, and color; with the tactile sense, texture, temperature, and pressure; with auditory sense, intensity and pitch. Basic taste sensations of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty are discriminated with the gustatory sense; various odors-fragrances are used to discriminate the olfactory sense. Montessori included the stereo Gnostic sense with which the child discriminates using non-visual tactile-muscular ability.
-written by Erica Thomas