As an infant, the child relies heavily on his tactile sense to explore the world, feeling different textures, and manipulating his muscles. The sensorial area in the Montessori curriculum serves to allow the child to explore and refine the senses. Maria Montessori believed that “The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge.” (Montessori, M., Absorbent Mind)
The first introduction of the sensorial materials always begins with exploration. The child's first instinct is to touch, feel, shake, listen, smell, taste, and experience hands-on learning.
The sensorial materials are grouped in six areas: visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory, and stereo-gnostic. The sensorial area directly targets the five senses to begin to teach the child to refine and organize the things they experience. The didactic materials serve to enhance the child’s natural tendency to explore their environment.
The visual materials serve to develop a child's sense of discrimination of size (cylinders, brown stairs, pink tower, red rods), shape (geometric cabinet and geometric solids) and color (color tablets).
The tactile materials let the child explore with the hands the discrimination of textures (touch boards and fabric boxes), weight (baric tablets), and temperature (thermic cylinders).
The sound boxes (auditory) expose the child to the discrimination of different sounds by matching sounds with the sound cylinders.
Montessori used tasting jars to refine the gustatory sense in discriminating tastes that are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.
Similarly, the smelling jars used to refine the child's olfactory sense.
The stereo-gnostic sense is engaged and refined through the isolation of feeling an object to discover what it is, and is mainly done as extensions with the use of a blindfold.
The refinement of the senses is crucial preparation for higher learning.
The sensorial materials are natural precursors to language (vocabulary building, refinement of senses), math (classification, order, geometry), and science (exploration, discovery, classification).
The refinement of the eyes (visual sense) prepares the child to begin to cognitively identify differences in shapes and lines, ultimately better preparing him to differentiate between all letters and numbers when beginning reading. To a young child, written language is all lines, curves, and shapes, until we give them a name and purpose.
The visual refinement also prepares the child for mathematics as he can identify minute differences in size, shape, and dimension, leading to concepts in number and geometry.
The refinement of the hands (tactile sense) provides the child with control of movement that leads to writing and better penmanship.
The sensorial area introduces the child to vocabulary in identifying technical and descriptive language to describe what they observe--i.e. the earth is a sphere, not a ball. This object is heavier; this object is lighter. this tastes sweet; this tastes bitter.
Refinement of all senses leads to a process of classification, where the child begins to analyze, differentiate, and organize. These skills are important foundations in higher learning in math, language, and science.
Refinement of all senses develops a greater scientific mind in the child as he continues to explore the world and understand it.