A young child meets the world around him through the constant use of all his senses. The sensor puts him or her in touch with his or her environment, his or her group and his or her time. Since he or she quite naturally used all his or her powers of observation during his or her early years, Dr. Montessori felt that this was the ideal time to give the child equipment which would sharpen his or her senses and enable him or her to understand the many impressions he or she receives through them.
The Sensorial Materials in the Montessori classroom increase the child’s awareness; help him or her classify his or her impressions, which brings him or her order and knowledge; and help him or her to become aware of details by offering him or her, at first, strongly contrasted sensations, such as red and blue, and then variously graded sensations, such as many different shades of blue. The material enables the child to know what is red, what is blue, and then to understand the abstraction of blueness and finally the abstraction of color itself.
Each of the sensorial materials isolates one defining quality such as color, weight, shape, texture, size, sound, smell, etc. The equipment emphasizes this one particular quality by eliminating or minimizing other differences. Dr. Maria Montessori called this material, materialized abstractions, because each piece isolates whatever it is trying to bring to the child’s attention. For example, in the color tablets, the tablets are all identical, except in one aspect, which is color. Thus, the sound boxes are all the same size, same shape, same color, and same texture; they differ only in the sounds which are made when the child shakes them.
Only such material and apparatus should be introduced to the child when he or she is ready and is able to master. It is the teacher’s responsibility to build a foundation of the child’s intellectual and physical abilities by using exercises graded by their degree of difficulty. Only when this indirect preparation has taken place, when the child has mastered all the component parts of an exercise, can the child expertly master the exercise and move on to the next activity. Therefore, not only the right material, but also the right time in the child’s development has to be chosen.
The Montessori Sensorial Materials help the child to distinguish, to categorize, and to relate new information to what he or she already knows. Dr. Montessori believed that this process is the beginning of conscious knowledge. It is brought about by the intelligence working in a concentrated way on the impressions in a concentrated way on the impressions given by the senses.