From the vantage point of a doctoral student in education leadership and policy, as well as a teacher at a public Montessori, I'm learning and sharing as I go. This is my space to explore the child's interior life, our discoveries as educators, and work of learning together.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
The Set-up and Presentation of Montessori Sensorial Activities
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
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
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.
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
General techniques for presenting Sensorial
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.
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
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.
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.