In a previous post, we discussed 2 of 6 sensitive periods that Montessori described children under 6 years to have. Sensitive periods are transient. They slip in under the moonlight one night and a few years later slip away as quietly as when they appeared. One of the 6 sensitive periods is the sensitive period for the refinement of senses. Around the ages 3 and 4, if well supported in the baby and toddler years, the young child now has developed some self-control. Her movements are quite confident and she feels generally safe and secure supported by the order and consistency in the home environment. These described milestones are considerably crucial to how well or willing your child explores. The young child learns and develops her intelligence through practical and sensorial experiences. So without control of movement, some ability to concentrate or attend, and the confidence to explore, experiences are limited and learning is superficial.
The young child has a sensitive period for the refinement of senses. We experience and understand the world through our senses if sight, smell, touch, hearing and tasting. Montessori discovered that when the child’s attention is drawn to the use of a specific sense, that sense is awakened in the child, and like a muscle, through practice, becomes refined. It does not become amplified so that hearing becomes supersonic but the mind’s eye is drawn to sensations. The child through experience begins to hear differences in musical tones and notes more acutely, identify tastes like a connoisseur, grades objects that heaviest to lightest and sees immediately which rod is just a little longer than the other and by how much.
Now to what purpose might this sensitive period be for the child? For one, it enriches the child’s life for she will experience from the same picture, words or song, much more keenly than others do. Have you ever met individuals who could make out the ingredients of a dish by tasting or experience great pleasure from hearing a perfectly pitched singer? We can agree that these individuals clearly have experience life in a way we never could. So the young child is thus aided by her sensitivity for refinement of senses into a human experience of the world. The baby begins by grasping and tasting objects. The toddler feels that tactile book, your combed hair, your waxed hair, your frilly dress, smells your perfume, your deodorant, presses her whole ear against any sound-making device, and so on. Two, the more perceptive these senses are, the clearer and more precise the information received is. And so, the information, received through these senses, like an encyclopaedia, accumulates and each piece of information is clear and sparkly.
Montessori created special materials for children to use to respond to and aid to the child natural inclination to refine her sense. She of course had many influences, one of them being Froebel who has some similar materials. The big difference between Montessori’s method and those of her contemporaries is the manner in which the materials are presented to the child. The Pink Tower is one of the earliest Sensorial material introduced to the child, usually soon after the child’s third birthday. The Pink Tower is 10 precisely measured out cubes which the child stacks. It sounds simple enough but here is what’s special about Montessori’s Pink Tower.
1. There are 10 cubes. There are 10 of many sensorial materials to help the child indirectly absorb our decimal system of 10.
2. The largest cube is 10 by 10 by 10 cm, the next is 9 by 9 by now and all the way to the smallest cube which is 1 cm by 1 by 1. So every cube differs by exactly 1cm. This is very important so that the child’s receives clear and precise ideas of size.
3. The child is shown how to each cube with one hand in a sort of pincer grip and so the child’s hands begins to experience first hand the experience of size.
4. Language is taught and games are played so that the child begins to appreciate what large, larger and largest really means. Because really, very few of us were really shown and experienced this before we were given worksheets on the same topic, to circle or colour in.
The Pink Tower is a visual material and Montessori made materials for every sense. An interesting thing about her Sensorial materials is how she has made them to aid development of intelligence, so to speak. What Montessori did was to create materials introduce children to qualities, adjectives or categories of things, such as large, small, loud, tall and so on. Instead of introducing children to things like ‘This is an apple. Apples are red and have a core and seeds etc,’ she introduced children to abstract concepts of size, length, sounds, textures, smells so that they may be able to categorise everything in the world that they come into contact with. Like a well- organised library, your baby can quickly sift through and locate any bit of information she wants to find. This positively influences processing speed, word-finding skills, language and mathematical abilities. The potential of the orderly mind of this child is limitless.