Sensorial Introduction

by Lee Havis

“A teacher…must acquire a precise knowledge of the techniques that have been experimentally determined for the presentation of the material…”

Dr. Maria Montessori
from Discovery of the Child, p.151
Sensorial introduction is one of three basic types of lesson presentations in the IMS technology of Montessori teaching. It especially aims to link a child’s natural in-terest with some specific physical object or piece of work in the environment. This child-centered lesson presentation differs fundamentally from the conventional teacher directed lesson of ordinary education.

Conventional Lesson
“Our materials are not a new means to be placed in the hands of an ‘active’ teacher to help her with her teaching.”

Dr. Maria Montessori
from Discovery of the Child, p.149

Conventional teachers provide materials to young children to support their make-believe fantasy play or to implement the teacher’s predetermined academic curriculum. The conventional lesson, therefore, leads away from the child’s normal self-directed activity. By contrast, Montessori lessons are an experiment to support the child’s perfect inner guidance of nature.

“The teacher must not limit her actions to observation, but must proceed to experiment…the lesson corresponds with an experiment.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Montessori Method, p.107
Following the basic Montessori principle observation, you must sometimes actively interact with children. The sensorial intro-duction lesson is an interaction that applies this principle in the context of helping children properly handle some specific piece of work. Following such protocols as basis of interest, you must, however, carefully limit what you do with children in the process.

Basis of Interest
“There is a direct interchange between the child and his environment while the teacher with his offerings of motives of interest and his interactions constitutes primarily a link.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Formation of Man, p.39
The Montessori environment provides a basic orderly arrangement of materials for children to freely use according to their own individual needs and interests. But, children normally want to know first exactly how to use each piece of equipment. So, when children show a basis of interest for this type of interaction with the teacher, you may approach the child to start a suitable lesson presentation.

“The teacher…must be able to make prudent observations,…to assist a child by going up to, or withdrawing from, him, and by speaking or keeping silent in accordance with his needs.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Discovery of the Child, p.150
The protocol basis of interest directs you to approach a child only if there is a specific green light signal of interest for your involvement. This signal is given by the child either (1) asking directly for a lesson or (2) touching a piece of work while looking at you. When the child does one of these two things, you may then approach the child to announce your purpose to give the lesson, saying, “Let me show you this”. Then, proceed to presenting the materials from the shelf.

Presenting the Materials
“The teacher...must be able to choose an object suitable for a particular child and place it before him in such a way that he understands it and takes a keen interest in its use.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Discovery of the Child, p.153
The protocol from the shelf directs you to begin the process of presenting the materials at their designated resting place in the environment. This reinforces the basic order of the environment, showing children exactly where the materials remain when not in use. Next, you must properly order the lesson presentation in a specific workspace in the environment.

Ordering the Lesson
“General surveillance and individual teaching…are two ways in which the teacher can help the child’s development…she must take care never to turn her back on the class while she is dealing with a single child.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Absorbent Mind, p.270-71
Large materials are usually done on work mats on the floor. To show these materials, you must, therefore, first order the lesson by giving the child a clear direction, “Get a mat and bring it over here”. Have the child position the mat where you can clearly observe all the other children in the group. Then, return to the shelf to begin showing the basic movement involved with carrying the materials to the mat.

Showing the Movement
“The assistance which the teacher should give a child in presenting the material to him consists in showing him how to use it.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Discovery of the Child, p.153
Before taking out the materials, get the child’s attention with eye contact and say, “Watch.” For ordering materials, such as sequential blocks, take out each piece singly, using the same handling action for each one. This respects the protocol, same routines all the time to avoid confusing the child with random, awkward, or disorderly movements.

Following the protocol take out everything, remove all the objects of a particular piece of work, carrying all the elements to the designated workspace area. Personally, you will carry only the first few pieces, to minimize the possibility of children imitating any careless mistakes you make in the process. Then, invite the child to get the next one. For example, with a set of 10 objects, show the handling routine with only the first three objects. Then, turn over the carrying task to the child, using the phrase, “Would you like to get the next one?” In all your movements, notice the impact on the child who is watching.

Child Watching
“…an adult…must always be calm and act slowly so that the child who is watching him can clearly see his actions in all their particulars.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Secret of Childhood, p.98
The protocol child watching recognizes that young children are keenly aware of even very small details in the environment. Unhappily, they can also easily notice and imitate your mistakes of random body movements and unintended gestures while giving a lesson. So, keep your movements and language as brief and simple as possible. At the workspace, use slow and deliberate motions in handling the materials to show their specific use. This slow, careful movement especially applies the protocol emphasize main point(s) — isolate variable. Respecting the protocol enhance independence, invite the child to take over the activity as soon as possible, using the safe word question phrase, “Would you like to do the next one?”

Inviting the Child
“The instruction of the teacher consists then merely in a hint, a touch — enough to give a start to the child. The rest develops of itself.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Dr. Montessori’s Own Hand., p.58-9
Following the protocol, least amount of adult involvement, show only just enough to get the child started with the materials in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. After inviting the child to take over the activity, move far away, ideally to a stationary position outside the activity area of the children. Hopefully, the child will then continue to constructively work with the materials for quite a while, putting the work away when finished.

Putting Work Away
“…when a child has spontaneously given up an exercise…the child puts the material back in place and everything is left in perfect order.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Discovery of the Child, p. 155
After children are finished handling the materials, they normally put them away on their own in a correct and efficient man-ner. They know how to do this because you showed the materials from the shelf in the beginning. However, if they do leave work out, you can always give another lesson at the right time to put it away. Often, a question will serve quite well, such as, “Where does this go?” If a lesson with materials is really successful, it will usually bring about a deep level of concentration, peace and calm in the child. Dr. Montessori spoke of the child’s normalization that occurs in a moment of especially deep concentration.

“Children find it very hard to concentrate on spoken words, but they have no difficulty concentrating on objects.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Education and Peace, p. 80
Concentration to work is a hopeful result of any sensorial introduction lesson. With this concentration, children gain much more than academic understanding about size, shape, numbers or letters. They develop inner peace and order, showing such outward normalized qualities as self discipline, independence and complete harmony with others in the group. The sensorial introduction lesson, therefore, is an important aspect of Montessori teaching with young children to support their true normal development.