Young children are in a powerful process of creating an understanding of their world and where they fit in. To do this, they rely upon their senses as an interface to the world. Everything that comes into young children’s minds comes through their senses.
During the first few years of life, children are absorbing sensory input without any discrimination. Then around age two-and-a-half to age three, children begin to bring images from their subconscious into their consciousness. They begin to work with these images and in the process embark on an important journey of building their intelligence.
The Sensorial Materials
To support this development, Montessori programs offer carefully designed sensorial materials.
that follow a formal, systematic approach. The materials isolate each sensorial quality and offer children what Dr. Maria Montessori called the “keys to the world.” In addition, the sensorial materials support children’s classification of impressions and lead to clear levels of conscious discrimination. If children have these experiences in the formative period of brain development, they establish a foundation for a lifetime of order and precision, as well as logical, reasoned thinking.
How do sensorial materials accomplish all of this? Well, they have some really significant purposes!
Sensorial materials support children’s classification and categorization of sensorial impressions.
For young children, the first three years are like collecting impressions and throwing them into a closet. The images or concepts are a bit of a hodge-podge jumble, thus to go in and access what is needed from this unorganized collection can be a challenge. Because this warehouse of impressions doesn’t have order or classification, children need to develop mental organization so their collection of impressions becomes useful.
The sensorial materials help children to classify and categorize all of the impressions they have absorbed and unconsciously stored since birth. When children interact with the sensorial materials, images come out of their unconscious memory and come into working memory. As children use the materials, these impressions become part of their conscious memory. When children become accurate in distinguishing sensorial differences, we give language for the images, which then helps the concepts become fixed in children’s minds.
Children aren’t born with organized brains that have predetermined categories, so this neural organization has to be built up through experience.