Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Set-up and Presentation of Montessori Sensorial Activities

The Sensorial Activities are materialized abstractions, keys to the world around the child. They are scientific materials, insofar as they are also mathematically precise, with a built in control of error.

They have origins in the work of Dr. Montessori, Itard, and Seguin in their work with children with cognitive disabilities. These materials were originally designed to teach cognitively disabled children; however, in the Casa, it is focused on the development of the whole child. Some of these materials are so old that they have their origins in the laboratories of experimental psychologists, who used them to test for various factors, but they are not used that was in the Casa. Some of them were designed by Maria Montessori and Mario, her son, but they were designed in response to the needs of the children, observed in the Casa. Many of the materials have been modified, added to, and eliminated from, as she experimented with what worked best in the classroom over 22 years of experimentation, from 1907 to 1929. What we see today is the outcome of experiments of response that children made to those materials all over the world, now almost 120 years later.

The first feature of appropriate Sensorial Activities was the element of spontaneous choice. The children selected them, and the children chose to use them purposefully, in alignment with the purpose for which they were designed. There was also spontaneous repetition, leading to a state of concentration, even in the very young child. Only then could she be sure that these materials served the development of the whole child.

Some ask why the materials have not been updated, over time. These materials are based on the foundational way that humans function. In practical life, some new tools come along, and language continues to evolve, but these tools are based on the innate function of the human. The concept remains the same.

It is a critical feature of our practice that these are not teaching materials. They must not ever be used as teaching materials. They are tools for develop the whole person. We are not teaching them the skills of colors or counting, but rather, they are for the development of the entire child. These materials are not something we can make. There is no adaptation to local conditions, no proportionality to the child. They materialize physical properties and give the child the keys to these. We do not embellish them, as we do the materials of practical life, with paint and art. If we find they are not maintained properly, it will be because the materials were introduced too soon.

There are no multiple sets in the classroom. Even if there are 35 or 40 children in one room, there are a range of activities that they can participate in. They will develop a strong enough will to wait their turn. Because the materials are presented individually, the work is also completed independently. This act is the teacher preserving the child's own time to complete that developmental activity. Any child may observe, but they will not join the other child in their work. Once these materials are in perfect form, it must be displayed with care, the reach of the child's eyes and hands, so that it may call to the children. Every material has its own place on the shelf and must be found in that place. If a material is in a box, open the box, so that what is inside may call to the child. Rest the lid underneath the box. Make it a habit, each morning, of opening all the boxes; at the end of the day, complete the task of closing all the lids once they have been presented.

The sensorial materials are not left out until they are presented appropriately. These materials are easily misused and abused, since they can be mistaken for building blocks. They must be maintained in a pristine way and handled with extreme care. If the materials are not being used purposefully, that means they are being introduced too soon. But, once these materials are introduced, they are not rotated or moved and will be a permanent feature out in the room.

What about in the home? As much as it would be nice to think of bringing these materials into the regular home setting, it is not good for the child to have a personal set at home. It takes it out of the developmental context to take the materials home. It spoils it when they have too early or too much of an exposure to the materials at home, not something special for the Casa. It is not appropriate, therefore, to instruct with the moveable alphabet at home.

The materials are sorted by order of presentation and by sense. For example, the tactile materials are ordered together. Within each material, the order has to be maintained. As a rule, the materials are displayed in the form of what the activity will take when the activity is completed correctly. As far as possible, we follow this rule, because the Absorbent Mind is completing an unconscious memory of how things should look when they are completed correctly. If there is a chip, they must be removed and returned. If the piece is missing, they cannot be displayed at all. If something is being taken away out of the set, don't leave it out. This must be addressed as a whole community-- although this topic will be discussed further in the topic of normalization and deviation.

General techniques for presenting Sensorial Activities
Without exception, these are always individual presentations-- unlike in the areas of Practical Life. Every child will have a need for this at a different time, depending on their development. Individual needs will not coincide perfectly, and all three year olds will not have the same lessons at the same time. The movements are minute and refined. Another reason why they are individual presentations-- in presenting these materials, we do not just analyze the movements. We also analyze the thinking through exaggerating the thought processes to directly communicate when the child is right next to us. Animate being puzzled, uncertain, amazed, and satisfied. We have the possibility, in individual presentation, to fine tune each lesson to be clear to each person.

Presentation will follow individual invitation. When inviting, mention the name of the material you will be using. Would you like to work with shapes? I will show you the geometry cabinet. Likewise, Let me show you how to carry the pink tower. Decide in advance if the lesson will be presented on a table, low table, or a mat, so that all of these will be in place before we show the material to the child, to show them how to carry the materials to the place of presentation. Only what I need should be there. Put the lid under the box. Sit to the right of the child, so that they can see all of my movements.

Then, the guide shows the child how to prepare the materials for the activity. We will show the child how to produce the stimulus, how to handle it to get that impression. Our presentation will show the child what to do, the purpose to be achieved, and how to achieve that purpose. And, before we complete the presentation, we demonstrate the control of error for how this activity looks when it is completed as it should be completed. Only then can the child work with these materials.

In doing the presentations, we have to analyze not only the physical movements, as with the Exercises of Practical life, but we also analyze the mental movements. We break each of the steps into small movements, pausing after each mental step. Gestures and the face must be animated and expressive. The mouth is not speaking unless absolutely necessary.

Keep the presentation as brief as possible. The learning does not happen during the presentation. Learning occurs when the child is on their own with the materials, completing their own task and exploration. The guide must out of the child's way.

Allow the child to do as much as they can. Invite the child to carry the box or remove those tablets from the box. Then, allow them to take over parts of that activity. The guide can say things like, Oh, that goes there, when they are taking it out for the presentation.

Blindfolds aid in occluding the visual sense, so that the child can explore temperature and texture without the dominant sense taking over.

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