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.