A young child meets the world around him through the constant use of all his senses. To examine a new object, a baby will look at it, hold it in his hands to feel the texture and weight, shake it, lick it, or even try to bite it. Dr. Montessori felt that this was the ideal time to give children equipment which would sharpen their senses and enable them to understand the many impressions they receive through them.
Each of the Sensorial Materials isolates one defining quality such as color, weight, shape, texture, size, sound, smell, etc. The equipment emphasizes this one particular quality by eliminating or minimizing other differences. Thus, the sound boxes are all the same size, same shape, same color, and same texture; they differ only in the sounds which are made when the child shakes them.
Sound Boxes, Texture Tablets, Smelling Cylinders
Each of these exercises presents the child with three to five pairs of sounds, smells or textures. The child’s job is to distinguish which of these are paired. An extension of this work is to then grade the pairs – from loudest to softest, roughest to smoothest, strongest smell to weakest.
The Sensorial Materials in the Montessori classroom help the child to become aware of details by offering him, at first, strongly contrasted sensations, such as red and blue, and then variously graded sensations, such as many different shades of blue. The Color Grading material begins with one or two strongly distinguished colors, then slowly adds gradations. An extension of this work is to add several more colors and gradations.
Pink Tower, Brown Stair, Red and Blue Rods
These early sensorial materials help a child distinguish among shapes of varying volume, length and width. In addition to ranking these materials sequentially, students may also combine different materials to create complex patterns. There are several more materials in the classroom which allow students to sort items by circumference and depth, again, with varying levels of difficulty available to the child.
The Geometric Solids are a set of bright blue geometric objects, prominently displayed in the Montessori classroom. In the Primary classroom, students learn the words for these shapes: sphere, ovoid, ellipsoid, cylinder, cone, rectangular prism, cube, triangular prism, etc. Follow-up lessons allow them to explore things in their daily lives which also have those shapes.
While in most educational systems, geometry is a subject left for middle school or high school, the Montessori system introduces this area to children in the Primary classroom. In addition to the geometric solids, students learn about different polygons such as the triangle, square, rectangle, pentagon, hexagon, etc. The study of triangles includes learning about the characteristics of scalene, equilateral, and isosceles triangles.
In the classroom, students work with Montessori materials that allow them to explore these different shapes and learn their characteristics. This work prepares them for more complex study of the triangle in the elementary classrooms.