Understanding the Montessori Method: Learning Through Senses

Understanding the Montessori Method:  Learning Through Senses

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that children have “sensitive periods” for learning.  She observed that the first six years of children’s lives are directed by their absorbent minds.  Learning is never-ending and begins at birth.  As newborns, we immediately start to explore our environment through our senses and begin to learn about our surroundings through observation.  

What is Sensorial Learning?

Sensorial learning is a natural brain process that can be developed by using the Montessori Method.  It is also a teaching approach that stimulates the child’s five senses: touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing.  In the Sensorial Area of the classroom, children will learn to notice details like color, shape, smell, sound, temperature, weight, and texture. 

Sensorial learning helps children classify their surroundings and create order. It lays the foundation for learning by developing the ability to classify, sort, and discriminate—skills necessary in general math, geometry, and language.

Examples of iconic Sensorial Materials

Montessori sensorial materials are clever tools used in a Montessori classroom that boost the child’s five senses, enabling them to learn better.  You may recognize some of the most iconic Montessori materials in this category.

Pink Tower

The Pink Tower consists of 10 pink cubes in varying sizes.  Stacking the cubes calls for visual discrimination, coordination, and precision.  Indirectly, the child is setting the foundation for understanding cubed roots in later math.  The smallest cube measures 1 cm cubed, and the largest 10 cm cubed.  This is very deliberate as it introduces the concept of base 10, which is also present in other sensorial materials such as the Brown Stair.

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Brown Stair

This series of prisms demonstrates to the child the change in width and height while the length remains the same.  The faces at the end represent base 10.  Practice with the Brown Stairindirectly prepares the child for concepts in plane geometry, area, and volume.

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Knobbed Cylinder Blocks

The Cylinder Blocks introduce the child to the first stage of visual discrimination of size.  Designed to isolate the relationship between dimension and volume, each cylinder block offers the child 10 cylinders differing in their heights and weights.  Some are tall and narrow; some are tall and wide; some are short and narrow, and others are short and wide.  Like other Montessori materials, the Knobbed Cylinders include hidden benefits.  The grasp required to manipulate the cylinders is the same that the child will use to hold a pencil.  This material encourages fine motor control before the child learns to write – the better the skill, the less frustration will be experienced while forming letters.  Knobbed cylinders also help develop critical thinking and math skills.  Each cylinder varies from its neighbor in a relationship of tenths (1/10th wider in width or taller in height).  This helps the child to establish patterns of thinking that work in a base 10 number system, making the later translation to mathematical operations more predictable and logical for the child.

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Red Rods

The Red Rods are comprised of 10 wooden rods differing in length only.  The shortest rod is 10 cm long and the longest rod is 100 cm.  Each rod increases by increments of 10 cm in length.  This material’s primary purpose is to develop the child’s visual and muscular perception of length.  Indirectly, Red Rods develop the child’s coordination of movement – assisting with balance and concentration and providing the child with the basic language of math.  

Understanding the Montessori Method:  Learning Through Senses

These are just a few examples of the many Montessori sensorial materials in a classroom.  Children love to work with these materials as they are designed to be self-corrective.  Children can check and scrutinize their own work, rather than ask a teacher if they completed the work correctly.  This helps promote the child’s independence and problem-solving skills – which are key concepts of the Montessori Method.

Benefits of Sensorial Learning

Develops Nerve Connections

Sensorial learning builds nerve connections in the brain’s neuropathway by promoting activities that stimulate the senses.  This heightens the child’s ability to accomplish more difficult tasks later on.

Enhances Memory

A child learns best by doing rather than just listening, as one might find in a more traditional classroom setting.  Studies have shown that teaching using just the auditory approach leads to the brain easily forgetting a piece of information.  A key benefit to sensorial learning is that it improves the child’s ability to retain lessons by allowing them to learn through experience.  Motor memory improves with practice.

Promotes Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Montessori sensorial learning piques the child’s interest and natural wonder of learning.  These activities are designed to present enough challenge to the child that problem-solving abilities are enhanced. 

Supports Social Skills

In a Montessori classroom, children have the opportunity to work collaboratively with others, which in turn establishes strong social interactions.  Montessori gives children a sense of purpose; develops compassion and empathy; and supplies them with better communication skills.  The verbal and non-verbal skills they learn at an early age will serve them well as they grow older.

We live in a digital age where our children are exposed more and more to computer games and virtual reality, which lack the essential use of all our senses.  Montessori is the perfect blend of physical and mental engagement in learning and provides an ideal environment to access our natural way of learning using all of our senses.  The sooner a child begins sensorial learning, the better he or she will be equipped to handle more abstract learning as they progress through life.

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