(Photo of the Montessori “Munari mobile”)
Children ages 0-6 explore their environment and learn through their senses. At birth, infants have the eyesight to see only as far as their parent's face. Mobiles designed in stark contrast of black and white catch the infant's eye, as it moves organically in the flow of natural drafts of a room.
Studies have shown that infants draw more stimulation from watching the unpredictability of an object moving naturally than they do from a manipulated or motor-powered movement because it is repetitive in pattern and pace, losing their attention. In giving infants the opportunity of uninterrupted periods of observation and engagement, an infant’s curiosity is captured, supporting them as they begin to strengthen and develop their eyesight beyond their parents' cradle.
The five senses are the tools of development inherent to all at birth. Dr. Montessori observed this phenomena as she developed her educational method. It is why the Montessori curriculum is founded upon materials designed to isolate one or more sense variables at a time, and control for the others.
As Dr. Montessori designed her curriculum, she would observe the students' response and engagement. If they did not engage with a material, she would adapt it, re attempt, adjust, and sometimes discard the material as it was unattractive to the child's natural drive (up until age 6) for development. Many times she would start over with something new until she arrived at effective, didactic materials for all children.
The Primary curricula employs sense-training didactic materials (and Elementary builds upon these same principles for 6-12 year olds):
The Red Rods are a material for learning numbers that control for all variables except for length: length is the only variable that changes in the material where the color, texture, and thickness all remain unchanging throughout so that the child's attention is on the changing variable and nothing else.
The Sound Cylinders control all variables except for one-- sound / hearing. The material is a set of 6 to 12 cylinders identical in texture, color, size, and shape, but each with a different sound. The child is given a lesson on listening to each cylinder to perceive the variation among the sounds.
Table Washing is considered one of the most complex lessons reserved for the oldest students due to the demand for a child to memorize the entire sequence and organization of the materials needed, including dishes, buckets, a sponge, drying cloth, bar soap, and a mat, washing in left to right, top to bottom rows, a curricular parallel to handwriting and reading.
Adults in the Primary classroom are even expected to limit the variable of speech– children are working to build their concentration and focus. Therefore, the room should be quiet (not silent) so that noise and conversation do not take their attention from their concentrated work (a key research point discussed in an article on the school website, titled “Uninterrupted Concentration”).
The entirety of the Montessori curriculum and classroom allows for each child to explore and learn through their senses. When learning takes place in this way, it becomes a foundation children can build upon at each stage of development.