Thursday, February 2, 2012

Montessori Sensorial Education

As many of you know by know, I am currently doing an intensive Montessori training course and as I was revising some of our sensorial lessons, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the Montessori ideas and methodologies with you.

What are the Sensorial Materials in the Montessori preschool settings? What is the purpose of Sensorial education and how do the sensorial materials facilitate and support these aims? How do the sensorial materials compliment and relate to other subject areas in the Montessori curriculum?

It is not fully correct to say that Dr. Montessori was the first person to realize the importance of sense training for a child. She was greatly influenced by the ideas of his two predecessors – Jean Itard and Eduoard Seguin. She took the idea of introducing didactic materials and the three period name lessons to the child in Sensorial curriculum from Seguin. In fact, it was Seguin who first followed the scientific method of teaching which was later adopted by Dr. Montessori in a more concise and modified form. She also took the idea of isolating one sense and highlighting it through one presentation from her predecessors.

During the first 3 years of their life, the young child would have absorbed a large amount of information from his environment. Yet, the information at this point is a sea of impressions in the unconscious mind. As a child works further the young mind becomes aware of concepts of size, color, weight, quantity and so on. This is the beginning of sensorial education.  The purpose and aim of Sensorial education in the Montessori method is for the child to acquire clear, conscious information and to be able to then make classifications in his environment or to categorize.  An interesting aspect of this curriculum is that Montessori went deeper than the well-known five senses. Activities for auditory, gustatory (taste), and olfactory (smell) senses all exist. But visual is divided into three sub-areas: size, color, and form. When we look at things, we need to take all three factors into account. Montessori teaches to isolate each sense or each aspect of the sense, in order to truly refine it. She also extends the tactile sense. Tactile activities are done primarily with just the fingers. Stereognostic uses full arm movement and the entire hand. Baric is developing a sense of weight. Thermic is developing a sense of temperature.

Sensorial education is very also  important because it helps to fine-tune the various senses to aid in future professions. Montessori talks about the importance of a cook being able to smell the difference between fresh and tainted food, or a doctor being able to hear the slightest irregularity in a heartbeat. Sensorial education helps refine the senses so that the child can better appreciate the world around him. He leans different colors, sounds, tastes, textures, etc. It increases his desire to explore his world and allows him to constructively categorize all that he encounters.

Montessori understood that this intellectual activity was a manual, active approach. The materials are three dimensional and real and are presented in order and in sequence, building on concept upon concept. Sensorial materials are there to help children:
·         To understand what they hear and see
·         To discriminate differences by isolating them in one piece of equipment
·         To order the environment and enable them to identify objects for classification
·         To observe geometrical shapes in their environment
·         To refine their natural interest and ability to sort and classify sensorial impressions

Sensorial materials were designed by Montessori to cover every quality that can be perceived by the senses such as size, shape, composition, texture, noise, matching, weight, temperature…

All of the Sensorial materials were designed keeping the same ideas in mind.
1. All of the material isolates the one quality in particular that is to be worked with by the child. This allows the child to focus on one quality at a time and one only.
2. All of the materials have a control of error (like all the rest of the materials in the curriculum).
3. All of the material is aesthetically pleasing. This attracts the child’s attention to the objects (avoiding distraction) and allows the child to manipulate the materials with ease.
4. All of the material must be complete. This allows the child who is working with the material to finish through the entire piece of work without having to stop and find a missing piece.
5. All of the material is limited. The first use of the term limited refers to the fact that there is only one of each material in the environment. This calls for other students to build on their patience. The second use of the word limited is in reference to the idea that not all of one quality or piece of information is given to the child. This child is not given every colour in the world, but only a select few. This gives the child the keys to the information so it peaks his curiosity and leads him to learn more out of his own interest.
What is interesting is that a child learns about the environment through her/his senses, without them it would not be possible to learn from the materials of practical life, language or mathematics. Sensorial education provides an indirect foundation for other curriculum areas. For example, the Montessori bells are used for auditory discrimination, but also later can be used for musical interest. The red rods are used before the number rods as an introduction to mathematics. The bionomial and trinomial cubes are physical representations of algebraic equations. The color boxes provide a foundation for art. All of the activities introduce language to describe the world (e.g. thick/thin, names of colors, light/dark, silence/sound, rough/smooth., etc.). Sensorial education is the foundation of the Montessori curriculum because it has an effect on the whole person.

What did Maria Montessori mean by the term “Work Cycle” and “Cycles of Activity”?
In the Montessori prepared environment, we distinguish 2 types of cycles: cycle of work and cycle of activity.
When Montessori realised that concentration was the key to the child's natural development she began to ask for close observations of the children's behavior. Signorina Maccheroni in Rome was the first teacher who provided specific information concerning the way in which the children were working:
"The child keeps still for a while, and then chooses some task he finds easy, such as arranging the colors in gradation; he continues working at this for a time, but not for very long; he passes on to some more complicated task, such as that of composing words with the moveable letters, and perseveres with this for a long time (about half an hour). At this stage he ceases working, walks about the room, and appears calm; to a superficial observer he would seem to show signs of fatigue. But after a few minutes he undertakes some much more difficult work, and becomes so deeply absorbed in this that he shows us that he has reached the acme of his activity... When this work is finished, his activity comes to an end in all serenity; he contemplates his handiwork for a long time, then approaches the teacher, and begins to confide in her... The appearance of the child is that of a person who is rested, satisfied, and uplifted." (Spontaneous Activity in Education p 97, Chap III).

Montessori saw that the children went through a specific period during a morning's work when they appeared restless and seemingly ill at ease. Rather than interfere, however, she let the children carry on. What became apparent was that this period was critical as a build up to the higher level work that was to follow. The 'false fatigue' as she called it, allowed the child to prepare himself in his own time. Her teachers were therefore alerted not to intervene at these times as interruption prevented the children from moving on. Children who were allowed to complete full cycles of work seemed to demonstrate the need for periods of calm reflection on the tasks that they had accomplished. They exhibited a 'contemplative' quality in considering their own work and that of others around them. They increasingly showed a serenity and happiness that then encouraged them to care for and seek the company of others. It appeared that the natural work cycle of a child that had begun to concentrate was about three to four hours. The more a child was able to complete his own work cycles, the happier, more self-disciplined and self-motivated he became.
"These children show clearly that, if they are permitted without interruption to finish their cycle of work, they do not become tired... This revelation on the part of the child has shown us that the best way to help is to stand on one side and not interrupt."Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work .  p 292, Chap XVII
Within the cycle of work, we have  the cycles of activity. This simply means that each activity has a beginning (taking it from the shelf and preparation), middle (the activity takes place), and end (returning the material to the shelf and making it ready for the next child).
 Dr. Montessori was a big believer in organization and follow through. She felt that it was vital to teach children from their early years how to organize, work on, and finish tasks. She believed that imposing this outer, visible order on a child’s activities led to the creation of an inner sense of order and a habit of following things through to a logical conclusion.

The sensorial activities should be used in a sequence of steps ( Activity Cycle). The steps of the cycle are:
1. Get out a table mat and create a work space.
2. Bring the knobbed cylinders to the work space and use it as shown by the directress.
3. Clean up and replace the activity where it is stored.
4. Put the mat or rug away.

Following the Activity Cycle teaches a child to initiate, follow, and complete a series of tasks from start to finish, in an organized way and instil the habit of starting projects in an organized way and bringing them to a proper conclusion. As the child puts the knobbed cylinders away, perhaps talking with friends, it is usually very easy to observe satisfaction, pride and good self-esteem. This is part of what Montessori called Normalisation. Normalisation appears through the repetition of a three step cycle. The building of character and the formation of personality that we call normalization come about when children follow this cycle of activity.
Education of the senses in the Montessori environment generally proceeds in sequence. This reinforce the benefits of the cycle of activty. First, the child must recognise identities by matching something with it’s corresponding pair (through visual, tactile, smell, weight etc). Next, the child progresses to a recognition of contrasts. These are presented as the differences between two extremes e.g. rough, smooth, dark / pale, heavy / light. Finally, the child is ready to perceive, recognise and discriminate between fine differences, and they practise this by grading the various materials. The sensory stimulus that is being presented is, as far as possible, presented in isolation so as to better fix the child’s attention on that particular impression. This helps to order the senses in the child’s mind.

What is the “Three Period Lesson”? How is it relevant to the presentation of the sensorial materials.
All the sensorial materials follow a consistent strategy in design. All the materials involve the grading or matching of variations in a specific, isolated quality. All include a self-evident control of error. All support the development of gross motor skills by requiring the child to physically move the materials a fair distance, assemble them, and then return them to their original place and orientation. They also proceed in the necessary logical sequence of moving from concrete realizations of the perception involved to more abstract realizations. There are also certain guidelines in the presentation of the materials during a lesson which ensure that attention is drawn to the essential characteristics concerned. First, the teacher must decide when it is appropriate to introduce a child to a given work. the next step is to invite the child to a lesson on the proper use of the new material. The activity, or principal action of the presentation, must be clearly named. Now that the main principles for presenting the materials have been discussed, the method of actively teaching nomenclature must be addressed. The model used by Montessori is based on Seguin’s Three Period Lesson. The Three Period Lesson is presented after the child has already been introduced to a set of materials and had ample opportunity to manipulate the materials for themselves. The rationale is that the child must have had enough experience to develop the ability to perceive the essential characteristics of the materials necessary for their manipulation before they hope to attach a name to that characteristic. Learning to subsume those percepts into the concept of a word describing essential characteristics is the fundamental operation of conceptual abstraction.
Again, Montessori took the idea of the Three Period Lesson from the work of Edouard Seguin. He divided the lesson into three stages in order to obtain an association between an object and its corresponding name when he was working with his special needs children.
The First Period consists in pronouncing the necessary noun or adjective connected with the object very clearly, without adding any other information e.g 'This is smooth (help child to feel object), this is rough'. "Since the lesson in terminology should consist in establishing an association between a name and its object or with the abstract concept of the name itself, both object and name should strike the child's understanding at the same time, but only the name itself, and not some other word, should be pronounced.” (The Discovery of the Child p 156, Chap 11).
The Second period begins a few moments later and is there to ascertain whether the child had managed to make the correct associations. The teacher asks the child questions very slowly and distinctly, using only the noun or adjective that has been taught e.g. "Which one is smooth? Which one is rough?" The child will be asked to point his finger at the relevant object and the teacher knows whether or not he has understood. This stage is the most important one of the three and comprises the real lesson and assistance to the associative memory.
When the teacher sees that the child understands she can repeat the question a number of times to confirm the relationship and fix it in his mind. If, however, she sees that he has been unable to do so she does not correct him, but suspends the exercise without letting the child feel in any way uncomfortable, and delays it until another day.
The third period is a rapid verification of the first one and consists of the teacher asking the child "What is this?" and the child replying appropriately "It is smooth" etc. Again this stage can be repeated a few times to aid the association.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I shared your article at my Facebook


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