“The development of the senses actually precedes that of the higher intellectual faculties, and in a child between the ages of three and six it constitutes his formative period.”
—Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child
Children as Sensorial Explorers
Children from birth to age six are in their “sensitive period” for exploring the world through their senses. Montessori described the young child as a “sensorial explorer.” The child naturally acquires sensorial impressions from interacting with her environment. The child takes everything in through her senses and has an intense desire to create order and make sense of her environment. At first, this learning happens unconsciously but as the child grows this learning transitions to conscious learning.
Montessori designed Sensorial materials and exercises for the Children’s House classroom that provide children opportunities to organize the sensory impressions they’ve been receiving since birth. Because the exercises cover such a wide range of senses, Montessori categorized the exercises into eight different groups: Visual (sight), Tactile (touch), Baric (pressure/weight), Thermic (temperature), Auditory (sound), Olfactory (smell), Gustatory (taste), and Stereognostic (feel).
The iconic Pink Tower, for example, is a traditional piece of Montessori work within the visual section of Sensorial curriculum. The material has 10 pink wooden cubes ranging from 1 cm cubed to 10 cm cubed, differing in 3 dimensions. The Pink Tower isolates the quality of size, as well as introduces children as young as three years old to the concept of base ten, thus indirectly preparing them for future math work.
The Sensorial materials are attractive and engaging, enticing children to interact with them. Each one isolates a single quality that is to be explored by the child. The materials also include a “control of error,” allowing the child to make the corrections herself. Most importantly, these material could be called “materialized abstractions.” In other words, children are introduced to abstract concepts through concrete materials. Not only do these early experiences with Sensorial materials help the child develop an internal sense of order, improve gross and fine motor skills, and lengthen focus and concentration, they also lay a foundation for future work in language, mathematics, and science.
Learn more about the Maryland Center for Montessori Studies.