Taken from "Sensorial Impressions vs. Sensorial Education" by Phoebe Child
"Thought is his human birthright, all education aims at helping the individual to think clearly about them instead of half-knowing things all in a muddle."
Sensorial education helps develop a child's intellect. Whether you believe intelligence is genetic or produced by environment, you can further it by education. Intelligence is built upon experiences and thought processes. The Montessori materials for ages 18 months to 6 are designed to help a child's mind develop the necessary skills for later intellectual learning.
Sensorial impressions of child's environment are not the same as sensorial education. Impressions are feelings, not an intellectual building block. The mind needs information to discriminate and appreciate culture, art, music, poetry, reading and all aspects of the environment. Early sensorial educational materials were provided by Dr. Montessori for this purpose.
Sensorial apparatus provides a particular purpose and focus. It includes using the child's hands, senses, and spontaneous activity. When a young child sees something new and exciting, he or she will want to touch the object. Young children will grab a new kitten and hold it immediately, they want to feel the reality of the object.
This education is not an exercise to sharpen the senses, but to allow a child to use his or her senses to understand what he or she sees. The first lessons present contrasted sensory materials, and then graded materials. This teaches concepts of comparing and contrasting. For example, the first colors introduced are the primary colors, which are the most distinct on the color chart. Red, blue, and yellow are introduced, then shades and combinations are later introduced to grade by shades. "This is the beginning of the development of the intellect and it is brought about by the intelligence working in a concentrated way on the impressions given by the senses."
Education is used to tap the young child's mind of absorbed information from the first 3 years of life. 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. When the differences are clear, the names are introduced to describe these concepts. Montessori builds on concept upon concept. Nothing is left to chance learning. There is an order and sequence to the materials presented. Montessori's sensorial approach helps a child categorize and use his vast amount of subconscious knowledge in his or her surroundings. It is a key that unlocks the door of the mind.
Montessori understood that this intellectual activity was a manual, active approach. It came from observing her own students and is contrary to adult methods of teaching and learning. The materials are three dimensional and real. Montessori at this stage did not use pictures for teaching sensorial concepts, she believed that children wanted to see and feel the real objects.
Concentration is a by product of a child learning with his or her hands. During the ages 3 to 6 the "hands are the busiest of all." The equipment provides an intellectual education that will help a child eventually acquire his or her culture.
How are sensorial exercises provided?
Usually, the pink tower is introduced at age 3. After the child has successfully done the tower, he or she has learned several things: difference in sizes and weight, how to hold his or her fingers with the small cubes, how to grasp the largest cube, controlling arms and fingers so that tower doesn't fall, and has the good feeling of completing the task. Muscular skill, intellectual and character development combine as a whole for the child when using Montessori sensorial education.
More activities, such as the broad stair, the long stair are introduced after the pink tower. "A much more complicated exercise is that of the cylinders." The the geometric shapes are introduced. All of these activities are with 3 dimensional objects that help with eye-hand coordination and provides a concept of size and shapes for later learning.
All the other activities include use of the senses. Everything is moveable and a real object. Visual aids are not used in the sensorial education. "They cannot see properly without their hands." (Child) The marriage of the hand and mind is the cornerstone of sensorial education. With it, the child unlocks his or her world in a concrete way.
When I first started teaching using the Montessori Method, I wondered whether I should spend the money to get "real" Sensorial materials, or if I should just try and use substitutes/go without/recreate them myself. What I ended up doing is recreating where I could, but there were certain materials that I decided were important, and I decided that I would buy those materials. I bought my materials through Montessori N' Such & Alison's Montessori. I bought the Pink Tower (but in Natural) Brown Stair, Red Rods, Knobbed Cylinders, and Knobless Cylinders. I purchased most of them five years ago, and I've never regretted buying them. The Sensorial Materials are generally used every day. I would like to purchase the Geometric Cabinet sometime, but it has been cost prohibitive so far.