Introducing the Sensorial Materials

The Purposes of the Sensorial Exercises

Sensorial activities are designed to isolate and materialise properties of physical matter.  Each activity appeals to a corresponding sense organ.  Each set must be complete and in proportion.

The child is born with her sense perception at a relatively early stage, she must learn to distinguish people from objects, one face from another, her father’s voice, and as she is still learning to comprehend she absorbs all her impressions into her Mnene.  She is able to classify, discriminate and classify many objects and sounds as she acquires language, begins her early explorations and learns about her social environment.  The sensorial activities help the child lovingly and scientifically to order these early experiences and drive her to rediscover her world, looking for the details, similarities and differences to refine her senses with the eyes of intelligence to the greatest possible degree during her Sensitive Period.

The Purposes of the materials are to help her –

  • Distinguish single properties
  • Categorise, sort and classify
  • Abstraction
  • A universal ‘key’ to all material properties

Single Properties 

The sensorial materials enable the child to see with clarity, order and sequencing all of the details already taken in randomly and to refine the senses to take in further details in future.  Each material offered in the Sensorial exercises is a study into one quality that a single sense can recognise and appreciate. The child becomes aware of matter taken in by the Absorbent Mind and starts to bring order to the chaos of impressions.

  • Sound Boxes stimulate auditory sense, isolating volume
  • Red Rods stimulate the visual sense, isolating length

The child’s Sensitive Periods for order, co-ordination of movement, the refinement of the senses and the acquisition of language and tendencies towards order, exactness, manipulation and precision ready him for the development activities.

Categorise, sort and classify

To be consciously aware of the stream of constant sensorial data one must be able to categorise, classify, catalogue, judge, discriminate, grade, sort, distinguish and modify qualities into shapes, colours, sizes, and into living and non-living ‘title-heads’, which are abstract ideas which need to be understood.  The sensorial activities introduce universal properties of matter and then, after understanding and abstraction has taken place, further sub-divide these properties.  This is vital to comprehending sensorial data and promotes the intellect and concentration, sorting applying one’s judgement, and having realisations about past experiences and current comparisons develops clear and orderly thought processes and produces an abstract awareness of the ‘title-head’.

In the future the child will be able to think through problems more quickly because she has a structure to ‘hang’ new kinaesthetic experiences on, the orderly mind is one which has simpler processes, so that sense data can be organised more effectively, with logical interconnections, the ability to discriminate the essential details from the random ones and thereby the thought process is modified and expanded.  An orderly mind gives a sound base for reasoning, and the more a child is aware of her experience the more questions she will have later at the Elementary Level as these materials provide the groundwork for innovative thinking, their kinaesthetic qualities combine with the child’s drive towards perfection and purposeful activity are the basis for later creativity.  The materials aesthetic qualities nourish her inner being, furthering the ‘link of love’ when she sees the harmony and grace of all of the physical sensations around her, the presentations delivered with upmost clarity give a method of using the beautifully proportioned objects, with their innately appealing colours, sizes and smells which call to the child to explore.  The intellect focuses on the property being perceived and the child makes judgements, develops her concentration as a response to the innate intellectual challenged learns to correct herself.  She learns by doing, solves problems, makes corrections and is likely to be encouraged to repeat by the details she notices and wishes to explore and by the exercises and games which offer variations on the puzzles, as once the brain finds their solution obvious the drive to use them disappears.


Through the concrete materials and interactions the intangible essence of a property becomes held as an essence in the mind, the child becomes aware of the properties as independent from the object itself, the property has no inherent individual existence but is represented in the object.  An object and name stands for the attributes an object has but the property only exists in the mind and such an awareness involves a higher level of intellect.  Everything that exists is a compound of different properties, at first the child absorbs the total impression an object gives wholly, now it is analysed into it’s parts and then the child must reconstitute it into the while again.  To do so requires the memory and concentration as well as a powerful will.

To take place abstraction depends upon;

  • Absolute clarity in the concrete
  • Developmental Maturity of the Mind

Both the object and a sufficiently prepared mind are needed for abstraction to take place

The process of abstraction;

  1. The object is sensed
  2. Sensations are absorbed by the sense organ
  3. Impression is taken in to the mind
  4. An abstract idea forms in the mind which can be applied to other objects

The materials for the exercises are ‘Material Abstractions’ of properties, they have been designed to be abstracted through kinaesthetic activate as properties have no tangible existence.  The abstract ideas they produce help the child to interact in the environment and are dependant on the material, for instance to understand the property weight we need to understand the qualities of both heaviness and lightness.  Abstraction occurs when the essence of a property ‘sinks quietly’ into the mind and is internalised, therefore language is critical, as is isolating only one property at a time and showing the extreme qualities which define the limits of that property.

A universal ‘key’ to all material properties

All objects share the same properties, temperature, colour, shape, taste, toe, length, size, the materials give a ‘key’ through which all objects can be understood, helping the child to explore the fundamental elements of the world, encouraging a re-exploration, examining all she takes in with her newly ordered mind to observe with new eyes of greater precision, more methodically, consciously intensely and with luminescent awareness

Positive Consequences

The materials, while providing activities for the mind cultivate human traits that determine the application of the intellect, helping with the formation of character.  The capacity to analyse builds mental and moral qualities, distinguishing an individuals personality.


The child’s will is strengthened by choice, decision making, and the revision of choices as she completes the activities and receives input allowing her to Control her Error.  As the exercise is self-chosen and self-corrective it presents a challenging puzzle further develops her link of love to the materials into a love of learning.


Engaging with the activities extends her tendency towards curiosity.  She becomes thoughtful as she considers her past experiences, where information was stored chaotically and the present perception of the material, and experiences an ‘inner dialogue’  in which she reviews the materials properties.  This drives the tendencies of work, particularly  concentration and repetition as just the right amount of challenge is given in conjunction with Control of Error, allowing her to review and evaluate her work.

The materials relate to the child’s energy which arises in her Sensitive Period for sensory refinement as at this time she is motivated to seek experiences in her environment connect to the properties revealed by the materials.  So from abstracting the properties of colour, dimension or texture she seeks them out in her environment, where she will find many examples, this strengthens her will, her love for the environment and her ability to act or inhibit actions, bringing her movements under conscious control.

Mathematical Mind

This refers to the capacity to analyse, organise and classify experiences in the mind; enabling her to calculate and judge patterns and relationships between objects in daily life.

The Mathematical mind in characterised as having

  • Push toward accurate observations
  • Motivation to create order out of unorganised impressions
  • To perceive patterns of relationships leading to abstraction

Through the Absorbent Mind, Tendencies and Sensitive Periods the child gathers Mathematical knowledge, which is refined through her sensory experiences.  The materials help her to consciously discriminate differences, similarities, graduations and thereby develop the capacity to abstract; for instance roughness can be felt unconsciously, but it takes conscious effort and language to grasp it as a particular quality.  Abstraction and observation further illuminates scientific facts through comparisons made by the child which help her to understand the precise relationships between things, success stimulates further exploration and the cultivation of a Scientific attitude.

Possible Discoveries

  • Senses are finite and so are the properties they distinguish
  • Tactile; texture – soft/hard/smooth/rough
  • Acoustic; sound – high or low pitch/loud/quiet
  • Visual; shape and colour – geometric shapes/large/small/primary and secondary colours
  • Olfactory; scents – (not fully understood)
  • Gastatory; tastes – sweet, bitter, sour, salty, spicy
  • Thermic; temperature – hot and cold
  • Kinaesthetic; muscle memory’s response to tactile property- muscle contracted/relaxed
  • Baric; weight – heavy and light
  • Stereognostic; kinaesthetic and tactile together to comprehend the properties of three dimensional masses – wide/narrow/short/long
  • After exploration it becomes apparent that every quality has innumerable increments, variations and intensities ‘graduations’ is the term used by Montessori
  • All objects have all properties
  • The attributes of a property, here defined as ‘qualities’ stimulate our senses
  • Different objects are most recognisable by one or more ‘essential property’, for example a photograph by it’s shapes and colours, a meal by its temperature and tastes, without these properties the object makes little sense even though it has other properties.
  • The materials ‘educational receptors’ used in the Sensorial Activities appeal so much to one property they stimulate the child’s interest in it exclusively, enabling her to discriminate what are the ‘essential’ and ‘non essential’ or ‘accidental’ properties in other objects in her environment.  The power to make these discriminations is essential to the three year old preparing her to make the most of her Sensitive Period for sensory refinement, so that she re-enters the world attuned to subtle distinctions.
  • Once awareness of ‘essential properties’ and other attributes becomes clear the concepts become held in the abstract by mind and old chaotically stored experiences and new experiences can be compared, analysed and sorted, this prepares the mind for the basis of scientific thought.

Additional offerings

The child is also introduced to sensorial exploration and vocabulary to understand

  • Physical environment
  • Anthropology
  • Botany
  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • The Arts (music, arts, dance, drama)

Together these activities give the child a minimum essential framework on which to build later details of knowledge in the second plane, when an urge to ask ‘why?’, ‘who?’ ‘where?’, ‘when?’ questions emerges and to hang knowledge acquired which would otherwise be difficult for the child to sort.

By giving the minimum we give the child enough information to begin to explore and think carefully about her experiences.  In the first plane children are interested in learning general frameworks, hierarchies, classification of ‘what?’, they enjoy sorting animals, plants, geological features, ordering and naming them, as they are in the sensitive period for order and language, so everything is offered in it’s essential form, this abundance of simplicity does not weary the child but stimulate.

Role of the Adult

  • To help the child establish contact with the activities and give freedom to pursue them at their own pace and rhythm
  • Present each material to bring attention to the ‘essential quality’, which the material has been designed to isolate
  • Show respect for the material by presenting it with precision and exactness

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