Children come to this world with five senses – Sight, Touch, Smell, Taste, and Sound. Refinement of these senses play a very important role in making them to explore and understand their surroundings. Dr. Maria Montessori believed this strongly and hence included Sensorial Training as one of the important Activities in Montessori Education.
Children naturally has an absorbent mind and observe and perceives things from the surroundings since birth. Between 3 to 6 years of formative period, they attempt to work with what they have observed and perceived from the environment and gain knowledge through physical activity.
“The period of life extending between the years of three and six is marked by rapid physical growth and the development of the psychic faculties. During these years a child develops his senses, and his attention is therefore directed towards his environment. He is attracted more by stimuli than by reason.” – The Discovery of the child (pg 144)
Montessori’s Sensorial Activities aim to refine the senses of the children with appropriate training in an orderly manner.
Even before exploring the surroundings, (i.e) even before logical reasoning develops in children, they get attracted to bright colors, size, shape, form, texture, etc. Keeping this in mind, Dr. Maria Montessori designed the sensorial training to support the natural development in children, to enhance the intellect in them, and to use their senses to understand the surroundings better.
As mentioned by Mr. David Gettman in his book Basic Montessori – Learning Activities for Under-Fives, Page 65, “The primary purpose of the Sensorial Activities is to help the child to sort out the many and varied impressions given by the senses.
The Sensorial Activities help the child do this in four ways: they are specially designed to develop, order, broaden and refine sense perception.”
Dr. Maria Montessori believed that senses are the keys to the nature and hence designed sensorial activities to refine the keys so that children can understand the nature better.
The sensorial training also aims to prepare the child for advanced activities in future like writing skills, mathematical works like geometric work, algebra work, so on through repetitive Sensorial Activities.
The Sensorial materials are designed in bright and attractive colours to attract the child’s attention and imbibes interest in them to repetitively practise the activities using the materials. According to Dr. Maria Montessori, more frequent the practise of activities, more the refinement of senses.
Another important and unique feature of Sensorial Materials are that they are of child-size, simple and easy to handle by children.
Dr. Maria Montessori categorised the Sensorial Materials and Training corresponding to each Sense – Visual, Tactile, Olifactory, Gustatory, Auditory, to help the child focus and concentrate on one particular sense at a time. Isolation of senses maximises the refinement of senses and Sensorial Activities aim in applying this principle of isolation in all exercises to stimulate and activate the particular sense.
Visual Sense (Sense of Sight) is the first sense that connects the child with his/her surroundings. The child perceives sizes, shapes, colours, forms through his/her eyes. The first activity in Montessori’s Sensorial Training is to enhance the child’s Visual Sense – Sense of Sight. List of activities under Visual Training in Sensorial are Knobbed Cylinders, Pink Tower, Brown Stairs, Long Rods, Knobless Cylinders.
Knobbed Cylinder exercise is the first exercise under Visual Training in sensorial and it encourages the child’s understanding about dimensions (Sizes – big or small, broad or narrow, shallow or deep, thick or thin) and prepares the child for future mathematics work. Other exercises under perception of dimension in Sensorial Training – Pink Tower, Brown Stairs and knobless cylinder enhance child’s understanding of thickness, length and size.
Control of Error in all these activities are in the materials itself and helps the child to identify and get self-awareness of his/her own mistakes. For example, in knobbed cylinder exercise, if the cylinder does not fit into the knob or if it disappears in it, the child will be able to understand by seeing it and can correct it. Hence, these exercises also make the child to be more independent. These exercises of picking the knob and placing it in the frame, holding the cubes and building a tower, improves the pincer skills in children thus preparing them for future writing.
The second set of exercises under Visual Training in Sensorial relate to perception of colour.
The main aims of the exercises Color Box 1, color box 2, color box 3, sun ray are to make the child understand the presence of different colours in the environment and how to recognise these colours. The child’s sense of sight is the control of error enabling him/her to understand, recognise and identify the colors around him.
Children are first attracted by seeing the colours, form, shape of the objects that they come across in their daily routine and the instant feel that they get in general after seeing an object is to touch or feel the object. Dr. Maria Montessori hence has categorised the Sensorial Training in Montessori Curriculum in an order of Tactile training (to enhance the sense of touch) after Visual training Activities.
Montessori Training follows a logical sequence of simple to complex pattern to prepare the child for advance activities in the future. In tactile training, Child is introduced to touch of smooth, rough, smoother, rougher surface through touch board activity followed by complex and advanced activity of matching the surfaces through touch tablet activity.
Further matching experience is given to the child through matching fabrics after introducing smooth and rough fabrics to the child. In all these, can infer a pattern of simple to complex activities. “The activities develop the child’s senses through exercises that gradually build up from simple to complex perceptual challenges.” – Basic Montessori – Learning Activities for Under-Fives by David Gettman. (Page 65-66)
Apart from touch, through baric tablets activity under stereognostic sense activity, children are introduced to the concept of weight too in Tactile Training. Child is taught to use his whole hand to weigh the tablets. One more activity, mystery bag under stereognostic sense, helps the child to feel the object by moving his hands and match the objects without seeing them and just by touching. Thermic sense is developed in children under the thermic tablets and thermic bottles activity.
Again, matching activities are performed blindfolded to make the child concentrate more on particular touch, sense it and then match thus involving moving the hands and feeling the touch. Tactile training in Montessori classroom thus enhances child’s thermic sense, perception of weight, understanding of different textures, and different shapes. Mystery bag prepares the child for future mathematical work and thermic sense enhances the child’s understanding of different temperatures in the environment thus making the child be alert in future.
Children are always encouraged to do matching exercises blindfolded to get better sense of touch. “Another detail of the technique is to teach the child to keep his eyes closed while he is touching something, encouraging him by telling him that he will feel the differences better and will be able to distinguish changes in the surface without seeing them.” – The Discovery of the Child (Pg 114)
Prepared Environment :
Prepared environment in Montessori Education relates to the environment designed giving utmost importance to the child. (i.e), Prepared environment is designed in Montessori Classroom keeping child in mind. This enables the children to explore the activities completely and become more independent.
The prepared environment in Montessori Classroom includes availability of child-size real materials for the children to practice whenever they want and also appropriate for their age group. It also includes colorful materials so as to make it attractive for the child and inculcates interest in them for repeated practice thus gaining full control over the materials and gaining more knowledge about the activities. )
“Dr. Maria Montessori said that children are sensorial learners. They learn and experience the world through their five senses. From this experience child abstracts concepts and qualities of the things with in the environment. So sensorial education helps the child to create a mental order of the concepts he grasps using his five senses.
Children of early age are urged by the laws of their nature to find active experiences in the world about them. For this they use their hands, and not only for practical purposes, but also for acquitting knowledge.” -Erosha, 2009, Montessori M, The Absorbant Mind, Page 171, Chapter 1.
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