Education of the Senses
by Ms. Becky
Toddler Co-Lead Teacher
A child does not learn because he is taught by a teacher. A child learns because he wants to learn. A teacher cannot will a child to learn. What she can do is prepare an environment, which invites him to want to learn. An environment that does this is one that is rich in stimuli. This kind of environment will kindle his desire to learn and explore through his senses. A material that evokes a child to use his senses “provokes auto-education” (Montessori 169).
In her book, The Montessori Method, Maria Montessori writes that her materials “are adapted to cause the child to exercise the senses” (168). Montessori taught that children in their early primary years, ages three to six years, were in a state of absorbent mind. In this state they are taking in everything that surrounds them. They are sponges soaking up the world to which they are exposed. During sensitive periods children are apt to be drawn towards using one of their senses over the others. This is why it is crucial for a teacher to prepare an environment rich in sensory experiences. This type of environment can cater to all of the children in it, and to whichever type of sensitive period each one may be going through in their individual way.
Academic work has its own place and time, and it will come eventually. However, a child in these years “is attracted more by stimuli than by reason” (Montessori 144). If the child is rushed past what he is craving it will be hard, if not nearly impossible, to back track at a later time to fill in the gaps. When given the proper environment in which to learn through his senses a child may choose to experience a material repeatedly. Through his senses he takes in any task he is doing, and it is also through his senses that he experiences self-correction.
I had the opportunity to observe in a primary classroom. I watched one of my students from the previous year, who was newly three, take a final knobbed cylinder block from the shelf. She sat on her rug and repeated the exercise from start to finish five times before returning it to the shelf. Each time she began she removed all of the cylinders and placed them on her rug. One by one she picked them up and dipped her finger inside of the holes along the block. It appeared that she was testing the depth of the holes before placing the cylinder she held in her hand in the hold she thought it might fit. When one was too tall or too short she took it out and continued her task of looking for the perfect fit. I am not aware if she had had a lesson on this material or not, but her concentration and method of correcting herself caught my attention. “A man is not what he is because of the teachers he has had, but because of what he has done” (Montessori 172).
Montessori, Maria. The Discovery of the Child. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 1967. Print.