By: April Powell (3/8/12)
By the time children join us here in the primary classrooms (hopefully around 3 years old), they have already done so much huge work in their short lives. Starting with nothing, these children have begun to build themselves and construct their personalities out of their experiences in the world. Being born with only potential, in a relatively short time, they have learned to talk, walk, run, skip, sing, eat, drink, and interact with the world around them. Amazingly, they’ve done all of this (and so much more) with little or no direct instruction from us. This is the power of the absorbent mind!
Now, from three to six years old, the child is ready and able to consciously classify and organize the many impressions he has received and stored over the first three years of life, and continues to receive every day. The sensorial materials in the Montessori classroom offer what Dr. Montessori called the “keys to the world.” They give the child specific sensory experiences with which she can construct, create, recreate, and expand her intelligence, offering her a key to the greater world outside the walls of our classrooms.
When the child actively works with certain materials, the sensorial impressions she receives are united with intelligent movement (synthetic movement – when the mind is in charge). Now the developing mind of the child comes into contact with the environment. This is how she literally constructs her own intelligence.
Montessori wanted to provide for the child what she called Materialized Abstractions. The trick to this is the isolation of one quality (cold, hot, color, size, loudness, etc.). Each piece of scientifically and mathematically designed material allows the child to discover for himself the abstract idea the material is designed to convey. For example, the red rods are identical in height, width, color, and texture. The length is the only quality that is different. In the sensorial materials one quality is designed to change while all other factors remain constant.
~ Dr. Montessori said, “If the gradation is measured, the observation becomes more mathematical, scientific, clear, and constructive for the mind. The clarity of the perception is greater.” ~
When working with these treasures, the child is like a little scientist exploring, observing, and coming to conclusions. Because only one quality differs, his mind focuses on that quality. As a spotlight in a darkened theater, the sensorial materials light up one quality, leaving all other qualities in the dark. Because of this the child is able to get a clear understanding of the concept being presented.
Through work with the sensory materials the child’s mind and intellect become clear and orderly. She begins to observe carefully and thoughtfully compare, discriminate differences, form judgments and make choices based on that observation. This is then a rational choice based on reason. The child is not just able to discriminate but to form the intellect. Gradually and joyfully her intelligence is built up and her mind becomes logical and discerning.
Sensorial material gives the child another great assistance in his task of development. Each material offers the possibility for the emergence of abstract thought and aids the unfolding processes of the mind. These materials furnish profoundly clear impressions – “keys to the world.” Clear impressions are formed and stored as permanent acquisitions, able to be called upon later when the child reaches the age of reason and begins to look at the world with a new eye.
Note: If the child is fortunate enough to be able to attend a Montessori elementary classroom, these same materials are used again, but now as a springboard for complex concepts and abstract ideas. At this point the child learns these advanced academic concepts easily and joyfully because of her past experience with the materials. It is as if she is meeting an old friend with each piece of familiar material that is presented to her.