Sensorial education is a vital component of the Montessori educational plan and is something which is a pillar of this philosophy. Despite how valuable it is, it is still often misunderstood. "Sensorial education helps develop a child's intellect. Whether you believe intelligence is genetic or produced by environment, you can further it by education. Intelligence is built upon experiences and thought processes. The Montessori materials for ages 18 months to 6 are designed to help a child's mind develop the necessary skills for later intellectual learning" (MontessoriMom.com, 2013). Sensorial education refers to then the stimulus that allows a child to process the world around him or her, ultimately becoming the building blocks of other thought processes. People unfamiliar with the Montessori Method believe that education is merely a task for sharpening the senses, when this couldn't be further from the truth: this is a common misconception of what sensorial education is (Montessorimom.com, 2013). Sensorial education should help a child to become more empowered by using his or her senses to attempt to comprehend what is seen (Montessorimom.com, 2013).
Much is done with sensorial education using the powers of comparing and contrasting to speed the learning process of the child: "For example, the first colors introduced are the primary colors, which are the most distinct on the color chart. Red, blue, and yellow are introduced, then shades and combinations are later introduced to grade by shades" (Montessorimom.com, 2013). Phoebe Child viewed this process as the beginning of the intellect sparred by the intelligence of working in a distinct and concentrated way.
The principle of isolation works beautifully in sensorial education in that it allows the child to work out values and concepts on his or her own. An illustration of this is the task of giving a child glass bead of varying sizes and allowing the child to sort out the beads into different piles, 2mm, 4mm, 6mm, 8mm and other sizes (Basu, 2011). This allows the child to have exposure to the delicate distinctions in sizes through the handling of these beautiful beads (Basu, 2011). The child will thus learn in isolation, without anyone actually instructing him, but it will still be meaningful and important and effective. This is the principle of isolation in action.
The sensorial material in the Montessori pre-school setting is indeed strategic material for the development of young minds.
"The sensorial materials are sets of objects designed to educate their senses. In addition, and perhaps even more important, they also appear to assist a child's concentration, ability to make judgments, move with purpose, and so on. Traditional schooling does not usually have a curriculum to educate the senses, but in Montessori, this education is foundational" (Lillard, 2008, p.57). Sensorial materials are strategic items which help to engage the child's senses. The child has to interact and investigate these items in a particular way that's also very organic to the inquisitiveness of the child. For example, sound cylinders are filled with materials which make the different noises and the child has to pair up the ones which make the same noises (Lillard, 2008). Sensorial materials are so vital in the sensorial education of the child because they do fulfill the child's immediate needs for something tactile and the child's need to explore.
"Education is used to tap the young child's mind of absorbed information from the first 3 years of life. The information at this point is a sea of impressions in the unconscious mind. As a child works further the young mind becomes aware of concepts of size, color, weight, quantity and so on. This is the beginning of sensorial education. When the differences are clear, the names are introduced to describe these concepts" (Montessorimom.com, 2013). Sensorial education at this young age simply wouldn't be possible without sensorial materials. Sensorial materials help to convey each concept to the child so that they can make these important connections and discoveries through exploring and through their own inquisitiveness. Children have an innate desire to examine things, pick them up, smell them, shake them, drop them -- these are all things that children do to explore the world around them. Sensorial education capitalizes on these impulses and harnesses them in a way that ensures that children make connections based on educational concepts, so that they grow in their understanding of their environment and the things around them. Montessori education, through the use of these sensorial materials builds concept upon concept, with nothing left to chance so that children are able to process the ideas put forth as they discover them, and become more illuminated about the world they live in (Montessorimom.com, 2013).
"The purpose and aim of Sensorial work is for the child to acquire clear, conscious, information and to be able to then make classifications in his environment. Montessori believed that sensorial experiences began at birth. Through his senses, the child studies his environment. Through this study, the child then begins to understand his environment. The child, to Montessori, is a 'sensorial explorer'" (infomontessori.com). Since the child is going to explore his environment and the things among it anyway, Montessori theorists believe that educators should essentially manipulate the environment and the things in it so that the environment is filled with things that can stimulate the child's ability to reason and make connections and thus spur the learning process forward. Rather than the things in the child's environment being a collection of random objects that intrigue the child's interest, they should be a strategic gathering of sensorial materials that spark the child's interest and build on learning concepts, one after the other so that in the task of exploration, the child learns valuable ideas and truths about his environment and the objects in it.
Sensorial education is so crucial for the child's development because it helps foster a sense of identity and security of the child within his learning environment; this can be particularly valuable for even handicapped children, as everyone has at least one sense they can rely on (Yen, 1999). Sensorial education can offer a child a foundation for learning in a manner which is orderly that is absolutely vital for their neurological and psychological development (Yen, 1999). Sensorial education also gives children fundamental skill sets they can rely on for their entire lives, which they'll come to treasure and rely on: "The sensitive periods are transitory. Sense impressions are of long duration. The sensitive periods can be past, but once sensibility has been acquired it will be long lasting" (Yen, 1999). Sensorial education not only heightens the senses, but offers the chance for children to practice the task of refining the senses, along with developments of an ability to learn within a logical learning abstract and an indirect preparation for intensive cognitive skills like judging, comparing and associating (Yen, 1999). Sensorial education also focuses on an aspect of learning that so many other forms of pedagogy merely gloss over: it focuses on developing the child's aesthetic enjoyment and appreciation of all the things in their world, something which is so valuable.
Montessori schools are known for using the three period lesson, which is a vital part of sensory education. Here's a classic example of a three period lesson with a child in sensorial education. The teacher shows the child the materials which will be given names, such as rough and smooth boards (Lillard, 2008). As the child experiences each board by touching both the rough and smooth ones, the teacher reinforces their names by saying "rough" when the child runs his hand across the rough one, and "smooth" when the child runs his hand across the smooth one (Lillard, 2008). This is the first period, the introduction to the materials through experience and reinforcement. The second period essentially checks the concepts that have been presented, and how well the child understands them: the teacher will say something like, "give me the rough board" (Lillard, 2008). Whether or not the child can do this correctly demonstrates how effective the lesson has been or how well the child has comprehended the lesson (Lillard, 2008). If the child is able to do this correctly, the teacher will then move on to the third period of the lesson where she will hold up one of the tablets and ask the child to supply the name for her (Lillard, 2008).
The three period lesson is truly an important aspect in Montessori education as it is a means for introducing new words and concepts and for using these sensorial materials in a precise and strategic manner. While with much of the sensorial education, the child can make connections and stimulate him or herself organically, the teacher is a vital facilitator of these processes, by nudging the student in the correct directions, so that the child can more readily form associations between things. The sensorial materials are tremendously pivotal in this procedure: with these materials, there are no more abstract concepts, only tactile objects…