“With the gradual emergence of knowledge and volition, it becomes imperative to establish some order and clarity within the mind and to distinguish what is essential from what is accidental… To satisfy this need, he should have an exact, scientific guide such as that which is to be found in our apparatus and exercises.” Dr. Montessori – The discovery of the child, chap.6 Dr. Montessori describes sensorial materials as the key to the universe. Discuss the statement and give examples to support your discussions.
Senses are points of contact through which the stimuli enter and make an impression. Impressions here not only mean knowledge. Knowledge is when we can categorise or recognise, what is what. The senses have tremendous potential and are a very important part in the growing up stage, if these senses are trained well. We are gifted with five senses, vision, taste, touch, smell and hear and they have their own importance in us. Every sense is connected to our body part, eye is for vision and tongue is to taste. We are born with these senses. Dr. Montessori, with her research and studies helped to develop these senses. In her every research and studies, she said the development of senses is very important. The development of senses, ahead leads to child growth and development, which in relation helps the child to be oneself. Like, she emphasised on the development of visual sense. It is very important and if we train more on visual sense, it will help it the development of intellectual mind. The purpose and aim of sensorial work is for the child to acquire clear, conscious, information and to be able to then make clarifications in his environment.
As per Dr. Montessori, the sensorial training begins the moment the child is born. Through his senses, the child tries to study his environment. The child, to Dr. Montessori, is a “sensorial explorer.” She considered sensory and manipulation not only lead to the development of maturing sense organs, like eyes, nose, tongue, ears and skin, it is also a starting point for their intellectual growth. By helping the child, to order, compare and classify sensory stimulation, their intellectual development would be greatly assisted and future learning would be more meaningful and useful. The basic sensorial exercise inspires careful observation and calls attention to specific qualities requiring identification of similarities and contrast. The mind must judge, compare, classify and draw conclusions. Like, a child should know how to make decision. This makes the child confident, in terms of keeping his point of view, on his likes and dislikes. The exercises designed tend to fascinate children because they are difficult enough to represent a real and meaningful challenge. Along with self-development, it helps the child to prepare for their future learning, education and making sense of life’s experiences and information in genera. “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 details than he could see in the dark, or uneducated state.” The Absorbent Mind, p 167, chap 17 Dr.Montessori was very influenced by the work of Dr.Edouard Seguin. Dr. Seguin is considered the first great teacher in the field of disabilities. He improved on Itard’s method of sensory training. He specialised in working with mentally deficient children and had developed a series of exercises that helped to train the children’s senses and to teach them the skills of everyday life. While he worked as a director at the school for “idiots” in the Salpetriere asylum, Dr. Seguin saw the potential benefits of a physiological method in treating mental retardation. He believed that mental deficiency was caused by a weakness of the nervous system, and could be cured trough of motor and sensory training. By developing the muscles and senses, Dr. Sequin believed his pupils, regardless of their level of intellectual deficiency, would obtain more control over their central nervous systems and in turn gain control over their wills. He also felt the education system of that time denied children the possibility to develop their individual potentials.
“Respect for individuality,” he wrote, “is the first test of a teacher” and he contrasted it with “the violent sameness of most education.” Kramer, p. 61, Chap 1 Along with Dr. Sequin’s work, she was also familiar with the work of Dr. Rousseau and Dr. Pestalozzi, both who emphasised on the training of the senses. Dr. Montessori started her initial career working towards the special needs of the children and seen how effective the results of specific sense exercises were. While working, she became more and more curious about how working with such materials would affect the normal child. “Our sensorial material provides a kind of guide to observation, for it classifies the impressions that each sense can receive: the colours, notes, noises, forms and sizes, touch sensation, odours and tastes. This undoubtedly is also a form of culture, for it leads us to pay attention both to ourselves and to our surroundings.” The Absorbent Mind, p 167, chap 17 Children learn the best and retain the most information when they engage their senses. If we talk about us, as a child, we have some of our favourite memories associated with one or more senses, like the smell of a favourite fragrance my grandmother use to wear ,a song my maternal grandmother use to sing me.
Scientifically, when our nostrils and eardrums are stimulated with those familiar smells and sounds respectively, our brain triggers a flashback memory to those special times. Through work with sensorial materials, the child is given the keys to classifying the things around him, which leads to the child making their own experiences in their environment. By making them classify, these help the child to take the first step in organising his intelligence, which then leads to his adapting to his environment. Sensorial exercises were designed by Dr. Montessori, in a manner, that it covers every quality that can be perceived by the senses such as size, shape, composition, texture, loudness or softness, matching, weight, temperature, etc. because the exercises cover such a wide range of senses. Dr. Montessori categorized the exercises into eight different groups: Visual, Tactile, Baric, Thermic, Auditory, Olfactory, Gustatory, and Stereo gnostic. Every activity has been designed to help the child classify and grow with the level of understanding in his daily routine, as well as in his environment, in his growing years.
Like, the all the activities designed for visual sense, help the child to learn how to visually discriminate differences between similar objects and differing objects. The child’s ability to understand touch and feel, I enhanced by the tactile sense exercises. This allows the child to really focus on what he is feeling, through a concentration of a small part of his body. “The education of the senses has, its aim, the refinement of the differential of stimuli by means of repeated exercises.” Ibid p 174,Chap XII The child learns the difference of pressure or weight of different objects, by the baric sense exercises. This sense is heightened through the use of a blindfold or closing our eyes. On the other hand, the child works to refine his sense of temperature with the thermic senses exercises. The child learns to discriminate between different sounds, in the auditory sense exercises. By doing these different exercises, the child will refine and make him more sensitive to the sounds in his environment. For the development of taste bud and smell, the exercises are designed in the olfactory and gustatory sense helps the child to differentiate in different taste and smell. Although not all smells or tastes are given to the child in these exercises, the child does work to distinguish one smell from another or one taste from another.
He can then take these senses, and apply them to other smells or tastes in his environment. In stereo gnostic sense exercises, the child learns to feel objects and make recognitions based on what they feel. “Sensorial materials are the keys to the universe.” Dr. Maria Montessori Dr. Montessori’s designed the sensorial work material from her own observation and ideas and materials from the French doctors, Dr. Itard and Dr. Sequin, respectively. Unlike the material used for practical life, sensorial materials have either never been seen or never been used by the child in their daily routine life. However, the child will not receive any new experiences through the use of these materials, as this was purposefully thought through in order to give the child what he knows, but might not yet realize, and to then refine their knowledge. The presentation of these materials are done in a specific way or specific pattern, so that the child learns to match the similar things, then he is shown how to grade the material based on its quality, and then he receives the language related to their work. In this manner, the child is given his time and space to fully understand the concept of his work. Respective to the five categories, all the materials were designed keeping the same ideas in mind.
All the materials isolate the one quality that is to be worked with the child. This allows the child to concentrate on that one quality at a time. The material should have a control error that is the scope to child to correct themselves, on their own. Like practical life exercise materials, these materials attract the child’s attention to the objects and allow the child to manipulate the materials with ease. All of the material must be complete. This allows the child who is working with the material to finish through the entire piece of work without having to stop and find a missing piece. The materials are limited, as in; the material is only one of each material in the environment. This leads to the development of patience in a child. The second and important reason to call the material limited is that not all of one quality or piece of information is given to the child; only selected few are given to the child. This gives the child the key to the information so it peaks his curiosity and leads him to learn more out of his own interest. Last but not the least, these materials, to summarize all, can be called “materialized abstractions.” This means that the abstract concepts are made into concrete materials. Dr. Montessori, saw the importance of the manipulation of objects to aid the child in better understanding their environment.
The sensorial material helps the child to make abstractions, he is also helped in making distinctions in his environment, and the child is given the knowledge not through word of mouth, but through their own experiences. “Beauty lies in harmony, not in contrast; and harmony in refinement; therefore, there must be fineness of the senses if we are to appreciate harmony.” Ibid p 223, Chap XI A lot of learning can occur while children are doing what they do best; playing and exploring. All the activities designed by Dr. Montessori are interrelated. Sensorial materials not only help in the development of senses, they help in many ways towards a child growth. Even before the child can speak, they are developing an understanding of things in the environment by actively exploring them with all their senses. By the time they start speaking, they are able to describe the similarities and differences in what they see, hear, taste, touch and smell. For examples, each time a child explores sand, he is confirming his previous explorations and discoveries that sand is dry, gritty and so forth, and he will eventually notice other materials that share those same characteristics. These activities indirectly help in the development of social skill as well.
A child will observe his peer and try to copy on how they are performing. This leads to sharing of each other’s thoughts and ideas and discoveries and build relationship. It also helps in self-development. The child starts expressing his preferences, as and when they explore, making sense of the world around them. When adult start acknowledging and accepting their preferences, child feels confident and they learn that their feelings and decisions are valid. Sensory experiences can be very calming for many children and can help them work through troubling emotions, such as anxiety or frustration. For example, working with materials that require pressure and manipulation, such as play dough, can help children release physical energy and tension. Likewise, sensory materials lend to children’s expression of positive feelings, such as joy and excitement. Through their choice of material and actions during sensory play, children have the opportunities communicate both verbally and non-verbally. This helps them to make the choice of their like and dislike. They would start expressing. Regardless of the presence or lack of a special needs diagnosis, each child will have his or her own preferences and comfort level regarding sensory experiences. It’s helpful to pick up on children’s cues during other parts of the day to determine what kind of sensory experiences will be the most exciting and engaging for each of them.
For example, during their mealtime, we notice how the child eats. Also we make a note of their preferred food tastes and textures and their comfort level when handling food with their hands. Young children often gain information by observing, but if they are unable to see or pull themselves up to the activity, they could miss out on gathering new ideas from their peers. By bringing the material down to their level, they have the access to the activity. Imagine where the sensory experience is taking place and what the accessibility is like there for the children in the program. Sticky, slippery, gooey, heavy, bumpy, that’s what sensory experiences are made of. Learning and retention improve depending upon how many of our senses are engaged. Sensory activities provide children with another meaningful avenue for learning. Sensory tables or several tubs rotated regularly with wondrous sensory materials are worthwhile investments for hours of learning, exploring, and fun. Because children learn best by having “hands on” experiences with materials, sensory experiences are vital to young children’s learning. Imagine trying to teach a group of four-year-olds about melting by having them watch an ice cube melt in your hand or as a grown up, learning how to use a new computer program without actually working on it.
“The perfection of this exercise consists in removing as far as possible all distracting factors. It enables a child to engage in an inner and external analysis that can help him acquire an orderly mind.” Ibid p102, Chap 6 While sensory materials are very rewarding for young children, they also present unique challenges for teachers. The concept of teaching the child to experience the world by using the five senses and extending the input to thought processes that Dr. Montessori considered to be the most valuable asset to children’s learning. She claimed that it is through the movement and manipulation of the senses that children would gain knowledge of language, abstract thought, critically thinking and problem solving skills, math skills, independence, practical life skills and discipline. If the child, only learns how to manipulate the environment without learning how to understand the meaning of their senses, we as a teacher have only led them to adapt themselves to a low order of life. ‘from the education of the senses to general notions, from general notions to abstract thought, from abstract thought to morality” (MM, 41). The role of teacher is crucial to the Montessori Method. She thought that home was an extension of school and learning needs to take place in both environments. With that said both the parent and the school teacher must teach.
Dr.Montessori said that the mothers are the strongest influencers on the young child. The school teacher is an integral part of the home and school environment. The school teacher, like the mother, needs to be a nurturer while at the same time not impeding on the child’s self-discovery. In order to be a teacher at a Montessori School the individual must be well trained in Montessori’s methods and beliefs. Dr. Montessori was very scientific in her research and methods and would expect her teachers to be well versed in them also. The role of the teacher is a shared responsibility of the parent, specifically the mother, and the school teacher. The Montessori methods plays a very specific role. Children in the Montessori school guide their own learning through work with the prepared environment. The children manipulate materials and increase knowledge through work. The role of the teacher is to observe the children at work and interject only when necessary. “…the teacher teaches little and observes much…For this reason I have changed the name of teacher into that of directress…The directress…must have a clear idea of the two factors which enter into her works; the guidance of the child, and the individual exercises” (MM, 173)
Dr. Montessori tried to deemphasize the role of the teacher in the classroom so that unlike a regular classroom the teacher is to take a back seat and observe student learning; but the role of the teacher is still very significant because through this observation the teacher is able to push the student to higher levels of thinking. Montessori considered the teacher the keeper of the school, which is her first consideration. The teacher must make sure that the environment the students work in is clean and organized; It is the directress’s responsibility to make sure that the materials in which the students will gain knowledge from are readily available to the children. She also had strong opinions on how a teacher should look in her classroom. It is imperative in a Montessori classroom that the teacher takes the role of the observer. Student’s gain knowledge through work and play and the teacher must facilitate that process.
The directress of a Montessori classroom is an observer of student behaviour. She watches the children manipulate the materials and only interjects when necessary. Montessori clearly outlines how a teacher should conduct “lessons” in the classroom: “There is, therefore, no question here of teaching the child the knowledge of the dimensions, through the medium of these pieces. Neither is it our aim that the child shall know how to use, without an error, the material presented to him, this performing the exercises well… Here instead is the work of the child, the auto correction which acts; for the teacher must not interfere in the slightest way…It is necessary that the pupil perfects himself through his own efforts.” Ibid p 173, Chap XII
Notes discussed in class by Mrs. Soma Choudhury and Mrs. Damyanti Choudhury http://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels/four/4b/4.htmlhttp://www.montessori.org.uk/magazine-and-jobs/library_and_study_resources/teacher-training-study-resources/topics/the_sensorial_materialshttp://www.infomontessori.com/sensorial/introduction.htmhttp://www.pbs.org/parents/child-development/sensory-play/developing-and-cultivating-skills-through-sensory-play/http://www.discovercece.org/classrooms/areas-of-studyThe discovery of the child, Dr. Maria Montessori http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=227http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/Montessori.html