One of the most attractive aspects of the Montessori philosophy to me is the emphasis on the development of the senses. When the senses are actively engaged from such an early age, the human mind has a greater opportunity for perception. Aristotle said, “There is nothing in the intellect that was not first developed in the senses.”

The senses are the way that we experience the world around us. It is through the refinement of touch, smell, sound, taste, and sight that the human condition is made known. Without them, we would lack meaningful contact with people, food, nature, work, and rest.

Montessori writes, “Each of the Sensorial Materials – when properly used – opens up new vistas of experience, revealing new wonders in the world around, wonders which have always been present but have hitherto remained unnoticed.”

The materials are scientifically designed to isolate aspects of each sense, such as the color, size, texture, etc. As the child repeatedly manipulates the materials, he comes to form clear ideas about abstractions. What can not be explained by words, the child absorbs through a sensorial experience. The ingenuity of the material lies in its objectivity, simplicity, and ability to be self-correcting for the child. It also acts as a foundation for everything else that the child will experience in the learning environment concerning language and mathematics.

An example: Pictured above are the color tablets. Before the child is given the language of these common colors, he is invited to match corresponding tablets, exercising the ability to discern the difference. Once the child has mastered this visual sense, he is equipped with the language needed to communicate about the colors. In this way, the colors become concrete parts of who he is, before they are given the arbitrary identifying names. In many traditional settings the child first learns, “This is blue.” This limits the child’s understanding of the color as a meaningless term given to a pigment. Allowing him to visually engage the color first, matching like shades, engrains the truth of the color in his experience. The hope is then that this child has a greater understanding of color, which will manifest itself throughout life.

When the child is invited to marry his hands and his mind, he is given the opportunity to unlock the world through his senses in a concrete way. The physiological develpoment of senses makes way for the development of psychological senses. It is worth wondering – if a child is given the tools to be perceptive with his senses at such an early age, will he also be that much more able to be perceptive about greater things as an adult – relationships, politics, religion, the world, etc.? We may never know. But it is reason enough to propel children towards meaningful sensory learning.

Drawing:: Olivia Jeffries Sublime

 
Three weeks ago I began my training as a Montessori teacher at the Montessori Institute of San Diego. I could not have anticipated the change that would begin to occur in my mind, body, and spirit. I have been engaged in an intense routine of lectures, presentations, reading, writing and practice. I am grateful for my wise professors, and for my fellow classmates, along for the journey. 

A sure cornerstone of the Montessori method is the well prepared adult. The preparation not only includes a deep knowledge of the child’s development, but also a paradigm shift of the role of the adult, requiring humility and an open heart. It involves both a practical preparation as well as a spiritual preparation.

Montessori writes, “The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit.” (The Absorbent Mind)

I am being challenged to identify my own failings and misgivings. Prejudices and judgements have no room in the classroom. In order to view each child with dignity, I must leave negativity at the door, not projecting any of my own expectations. When I enter the environment with open eyes, eager to observe what is true, I can evolve with the needs of the child, serving his developing spirit. True teaching requires copious amounts of daily observation – being plugged into the changes occurring within the child. Love requires knowledge, and knowledge comes through observation.

As I practice this paradigm shift in the environment of the classroom, I am challenged as I return to the world. How do I treat those around me? Do I bring unrealistic expecations to relationships, or project constant judgement on those I meet? Do I truly observe the world around me, taking note of details, emotions, and experiences? As I quiet my heart in this process, I continue to unearth a spirit of pride and judgement that is difficult to confront. This level of self-realization requires a work of the soul.

And I ask, did I sign up for a teacher training course, or a radical process of self-develpoment?

I am eager to continue in this work of preparation, with the hope that I will be an educator who is humble and a willing servant. And also that I would be a citizen of the world, who is eager to love and honor those around me.