The Montessori Sensorial Materials
Dr. Maria Montessori developed the materials through careful, scientific observation of children. The Montessori materials generally fall under four curriculum areas: Language, Arithmetic, Practical Life and Sensorial.
The Sensorial materials, in particular, aim to assist the natural development of the child along with aiding in the child’s process of adaptation. Dr. Montessori designed these materials to respond to a child’s sequence of sensitive periods – involving the use of the child’s primary senses, language and movement in the completion of each activity. Dr. Montessori prepared an environment rich in activities that offer very clear, concrete forms through “materialized abstractions.” Abstract concepts such as differences in size, colour, sound, texture, and more are presented through tangible objects that children are able to interact with. Experience is the child’s best teacher.
Training of the senses, insofar as it makes a man an observer not only fulfills the generic function of adapting him to the contemporary mode of civilization, but it also prepares him for the crises of life.
The Discovery of the Child, Dr. Maria Montessori, p. 145
This blog post highlights the pink tower, a material used to foster and develop a child’s skill of sequencing by size. The pink tower consists of ten pink cubes graded in size from one centimeter cubed to ten centimeters cubed.
Under the same curriculum umbrella, the child then proceeds to work with the brown stair and the red rods.
The brown stair consists of ten brown rectangular prisms that are all 20 centimeters in length and increase by 1 centimeter in width and height.
The red rods consist of ten rods that increases in length from 10 centimeters to 1 meter.
Through her observations, Dr. Montessori found that when children were visually discriminating objects by dimension, children were better able to determine the objects’ differences when all three dimensions of the object differed. Therefore, children are first introduced to the pink tower (3-dimensional change), then the brown stair (2-dimensional change) and then the red rods (1-dimensional change). As always, we want to set the children up for success.
The pink tower has precisely 10 cubes that increase in size from 1 cm cubed to 10 cm cubed. This is the exact same as the bead cabinet found in the Arithmetic area used for skip counting and learning 13 to 103. This is only one example of the beautifully connected and related materials found within our Casa classrooms. (Please click here to read more about this Arithmetic material)
The smallest pink tower cube serves as the unit of difference. The child is able to utilize this cube as a tool to trace around each level when the cubes are superimposed so that one corner remains aligned. This first pink tower cube is referred to as the “unit of difference.”
A child working with the pink tower first has to retrieve a floor mat, unroll the mat, and then fetch each cube one at a time. This provides the child with abundant opportunities for gross motor movement. A child in need of more activity may be asked to place his or her mat further away from the material’s spot on the shelf. The child then demonstrates spatial awareness along with co-ordination to traverse the classroom while going back and forth ten times.
The child’s hand eye co-ordination is engaged as he or she carefully places each cube when building the tower. The child is then asked to bring each cube back to its designated location on the shelf one at a time, employing these fine and gross motor skills once more.
Concentration and Focus
The amount of movement involved provides numerous occasions wherein a child may be interrupted or distracted. Each instance that the child works with the material to its completion and overcomes these obstacles, the child’s focus and concentration are strengthened. The child becomes better equipped to pick up work where he or she left off, seamlessly completing increasingly longer tasks.
“My Pink Tower” from the Montessori Guide
In Montessori Casa classrooms, the teacher first presents a material to a child before he or she independently works with it. The order of these presentations by the teacher depends on the child’s readiness as determined through careful on-going observation and assessment.
The video below from the Montessori Guide shows a child taking out a material she has not been shown a lesson for yet – the stamp game. The teacher prompts her to tidy up and redirects her to work with the Pink Tower.
In this case, the child uses 2 mats – one to retrieve the pink tower from the shelf and one to build her pink tower. Her innate pride in her accomplishment is palpable through the video and is a beautiful demonstration of how we, as Montessori educators, always aim to set children up for success.