Developing the Senses
setting the foundation
Montessori sensorial materials serve the primary purpose of developing and refining the different senses. The materials are designed to help students experience, notice, and categorize the incoming sensory information all around them. Students use these materials to build their understanding of various sensory concepts, and to develop the vocabulary needed to define and describe these phenomena.
As with all Montessori materials, students use the materials to build toward abstraction. Students scaffold their learning with manipulative materials, and eventually move on to being able to use these concepts in the most abstract and creative ways. These sensorial materials signify a step beyond the practical life materials used with the youngest early childhood students.
Below you'll find descriptions and uses for some of the more common sensorial materials that you'll find in a Montessori classroom.
The Pink Tower
The Pink Tower is a well-known Montessori material that you'll see in many classrooms. The Pink Tower consists of ten wooden cubes of steadily increasing size. Students organize these blocks to create a tower, from the largest at the base, to the smallest at the top. This material helps students learn and refine their sense of size in three-dimensional space. As students use the tower more, they begin to realize the details that make the tower so interesting; such as the fact that the smallest block is one cubic centimeter, and each larger block is one centimeter larger. In this way, students begin to think about proportions and linear growth.
Brown Stairs, also known as Broad Stairs, have many commonalities with the Pink Tower. The Brown Stairs are composed of rectangular prisms, 20 centimeters long, of steadily increasing sizes. These stairs are used to develop the concepts of thickness. Similarly to the Pink Tower, they are used by arranging them in ascending size; this time to create a staircase. Just like the Pink Tower, each step is exactly one unit (a centimeter in this case) taller than the last. This distinction helps lead students toward concepts like unit measurement, proportions, and other geometry fundamentals.
Continuing the exploration of size difference, the Red Rods are used primarily to learn about the concept of length. The set of Red Rods consists of ten individual rods, ranging consistently in size from 10 cm to 100 cm. Students work with this material in a number of ways, including arranging them in the proper order, and using more than one set to match rods of the same length.
The Knobbed Cylinders are comprised of four different sets of cylindrical, wooden blocks (topped with knobs for easy handling), with appropriate casings for each set. Each set contains ten cylinder blocks, of varying sizes. Each set varies in its own way, though. One set varies in diameter and height, one in diameter only, one in height only, and the last decreases in height while increasing in diameter. Using one or multiple sets of cylinders helps children discern different sizes, and the different ways to measure objects. These cylinders help students move beyond "bigger" and "smaller" to more precise words, while also helping their dexterity as they remove and replace the different cylinders.
The Knobless Cylinders share some obvious similarities with the Knobbed Cylinders. There are four sets of Knobless Cylinders, with ten cylinders of varying sizes in each set. The yellow set decrease in height and diameter, the red set decrease only in diameter, the blue set decreases in height but keep a constant diameter, and the green set decreases in height while increasing in diameter. By organizing these cylinders in ascending and descending order, students grasp the various different elements that make up the "size" of an object, while building their concentration and dexterity as well.
Each box of color tablets contains a set of tablets representing a gradient of a certain color. For instance, one box may have a set of tablets varying from light blue to dark blue, and another may have light green to dark green. By arranging these tablets in the proper order, children develop their visual discrimination with regards to colors.
The geometric cabinet consists of 6 drawers, each with a wooden geometrical figure set. Each drawer contains a different type of geometric shape, with wooden tiles that exemplify that shape. Students learn the names and characteristics of these shapes, and work on removing and replacing the shapes in their proper spots in the frame. These shapes can be used for a number of activities as the students grow, and are often traced onto paper for further exploration.
TACTILE and other SENSEs
The geometric solids, sometimes knowns as geometric figures, bridge the gap between visual materials and tactile (or stereognostic) materials. The geometric solids consist of ten three-dimensional wooden geometric-shaped blocks. These blocks can be used for a number of activities. In their basic applications, children use them to learn the characteristics of three-dimensional geometric shapes.
Touch tablets are used for children to explore the feelings of smooth and rough. Sections of sandpaper of varying coarseness are affixed to the wooden tiles, and children feel each tile to help them match the tiles of the same coarseness, and arrange the tiles from rough to smooth.
The thermic sense, or the ability to discern differing temperatures, is a subset of the tactile sense and is emphasized in Early Childhood. Tiles, or tablets, of different materials are used to show the differences in heat conductivity among the different types of material. In this way, students not only learn to discern between different temperatures by touching, they also learn about conductivity, and the characteristics of the different materials.
Baric tablets consist of a set of tablets, each varying in weight by ten grams. Students lift and compare each tablet, arranging them from lightest to heaviest. Students learn and internalize the vocabulary necessary to show which tablets are more heavy, and which are lighter, and how to compare the different weights.
The olfactory sense is also intentionally developed from a young age in the Montessori classroom. Students use small bottles or jars filled with scented cotton balls to compare different smells, and match the jars that have the same scent.