I consider myself an ordinary person who has been extraordinarily blessed with a good husband, good children, wonderful grandchildren, a meaningful career, and lots of interesting hobbies. My Christian faith makes my whole life worth living and full of joy.
One of the young child's God-given tasks is to get to know the world in which he lives. The newborn comes into the world with an already well-developed sense of hearing. She recognizes he mother's voice and turns toward her face to get to know it by her developing sense of sight. The developing infant, quickly begins to examine every new object through the use of all his senses, grasping it with his hands, shaking it, looking at it, putting it in his mouth.
The Montessori classroom offers a set of specialized materials designed especially for giving the child opportunity to refine his senses and explore properties of things that make up the world. These materials, called, "Sensorial Materials", are well-loved by the children and often chosen as "work". The initial presentation of each material by a teacher consists of a prescribed series of steps by which the child may work with the material.
Here, a child explores the quality of size in three dimensions with the "Cylinder Blocks." It is the first lesson presented in the Sensorial area. A general rule is to present the big picture first, followed by increasing refinements of a quality. Another rule is to begin with the easiest and progress to the more difficult. Thus, we start with the cylinder blocks because they vary by three dimensions and are easiest because each block fits into a pre-defined space.
The next material in the series in the Pink Tower. It also varies by three dimensions but now the pieces must be arranged by the child in order of size.
Once the child can do the prescribed exercise, he is encouraged to see what else he can do with this material. Here is where creativity is given scope to emerge. There is a difference between creativity and fantasy, however. We say to the children, "School is not a place for pretend." The reason for this is that not that we believe pretending is bad, but that school time is a time to explore reality. Fantasy is outside of reality. The young child has a developmental need to know what is real. Montessori developed this idea more fully in her book, Spontaneous Activity in Education. She writes, "To develop the imagination it is necessary for everyone first of all to put himself in contact with reality."
Here are some photos of some amazing designs the children have made with the sensorial materials. You can see how creative they are.
Other Sensorial Materials:
The Brown Stair and Red Rods come after the Pink Tower for exploring dimensions of thickness and length. The Colored Cylinders are for more exploration with dimension, but without the preset openings in the Cylinder Blocks. The Geometric Cabinet provides experiences with shapes; percieving, matching, and naming. The Binomial and Trinomial Cubes are actually dimensional representations of algabraic equations. We don't tell the children that. They work with them as a three-dimensional puzzle which requires great concentration and attention to details of color, shape, and size.
The Color Tablets provided work with color perception, naming, and matching to colors found in the environment. Only some of the sensorial materials have been pictured here. There are many more. Next time we'll discuss the Language materials.