The Montessori Sensorial MaterialsProviding the Key to Knowledge by Bringing Order to Sensory Experiences.
The young child’s job is to explore and discover. On his odyssey, he encounters a barrage of stimuli upon his senses. So much to see, touch, hear, smell and taste, and he must orient himself to this world of impossible scope and wonder. He needs to bring order to the multitude of sensations he is receiving, so that he can begin his work of building his intellect upon a secure foundation of sensory experiences. In a Montessori classroom, this process is facilitated by the Sensorial Materials. These are specially designed materials created to initiate discrimination of size, width, length, color, sound and texture. Through movement and manipulation, the child is led to make judgments and comparisons. As he perceives and reasons, he also lays the groundwork for formal academic learning.
The Montessori Practical Life Materials
The Genesis of Concentration.
A visitor to our classroom would no doubt be impressed by the many shelves of specially designed didactic (teaching) materials in our Prepared Environment. Beautiful manipulatives of a clear geometric, mathematical, literacy, cultural or geographic nature adorn our shelves. But what to make of those shelves containing jugs and sponges, brooms and basins, tongs and tweezers, and bowls of rice and beans? This area, filled with activities of an ordinary and practical nature, harbors the secret to the developmental transformation that awaits the child. These everyday exercises, by virtue of causing the child to use her body as an instrument of her mind to accomplish a meaningful goal, create a coming together of mind and body. This momentous integration is the cornerstone of intellect creation. As the young child pours and scoops, washes and scrubs, sweeps and polishes, she is engrossed in, and captivated by the activity. Developmentally, however, wondrous things are happening. She is establishing concentration, from which all future learning will grow. She is creating an inner order, upon which to build future academic understanding. She is also refining movement to enable the hand to become a more efficient tool of her exploration and discovery.
The value of the Montessori Practical Life exercises is evidenced by their ability to infuse the child with an inner calm and peace as she works – the manifestation of which is universally remarked upon by observers in Montessori classrooms all around the world. This peace, is evidence indeed, that the child is engaged in a task that is so developmentally right for her, and to which she is drawn by a powerful attraction. So, please come to our classroom, to observe these little children busy at their seemingly mundane activities of pouring, cleaning and polishing, and take a moment to wonder at the creation of the intellect, right before your eyes!
The Montessori Language Materials
The Spoken Language to the Wonder of Reading.
Before learning to read or write, the child must organize his world before he can express or receive written ideas about it. He must also come to the realization that there are many things in his world that have a name and meaning in their own right, without being in relation to him.
The first language materials in the Montessori curriculum are created to help the child to organize the vast impressions in his life, by enabling him to place them in simple and clear categories, awakening in him ideas about his world. The classroom is infused with vocabulary and discussion, with a richness and precision of communication. The sensitive ear of early childhood is awakened by sound activities in the sensorial area, and sound games like ‘I spy’ direct his attention to component sounds in his language. The eye is prepared by matching and pattern activities and the hand is strengthened and trained by touching, spooning, tonging, tweezing, pinching, and tracing within geometric borders.
When the moment is right, the child is provided with the bridge between speech and the written word – the symbols and sounds of the alphabet. At this point, the writing and reading activities are conducted simultaneously as the two processes naturally complement each other.
The Montessori Math Materials
Internalizing Concepts through the Hand.
From her work with the sensorial materials, the child has already begun her orientation into the world of mathematics. Here she has isolated qualities – form, quantity, dimensions, change and distance – physically, using her hands. In this way she has received an embodiment of the mathematical world. To complement, from the earliest Practical life activities, she has had practice in exactness, precision and calculation, and has had to employ organization in their execution.
Formal math in the Montessori classroom employs manipulation of materialized abstractions, and is organized into five groups:
- Introduction to number – units of quantity 1-100.
- Introduction to the Decimal System –(base 10 arithmetic), concrete experience of units, tens, hundreds, thousands, including experiences of the four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
- Introduction to teens and tens, and linear and skip counting.
- Arithmetic tables – material demonstrations of the four operations in table form to encourage internalization.
- Abstraction – the process where the child leaves behind the manipulation of the materials and internalizes the function of arithmetic.
The Montessori Cultural Activities
Tendencies of Man.
The Montessori cultural curriculum centers around the “tendencies of Man” and related cultural aspects. Among many other influences, Dr. Montessori was impressed by the importance of anthropological considerations in childhood developmental research. Just like early man had “tendencies” that enabled their evolution, the young child, being a similar “explorer”, exhibits some of the same tendencies. Exploration, and the ordering of discoveries, is necessary for the evolution of cultures around the world. The geography materials introduce the idea that there are many different environments in the world, each with its own cultures, flora and fauna, topography and conditions. The child learns the Continents, and subsequently countries in the world, and appreciates the diversity of plants and animals, and their requirements for survival. The curriculum stresses the interconnected nature of our Earth, and reinforces appreciation of and respect for all forms of life. The child is helped to classify plants and animals, and is provided with the correct zoological and botanical nomenclature, so that he can organize his thoughts, and communicate ideas in the course of his studies. At Dryden Montessori, the child’s geographic explorations are facilitated by our beautiful Continent Rug, which is used regularly to “situate” plants, animals, and habitats to their correct continent or ocean!