Montessori: Sensory Perception

This is the third installment of the Montessori Sensitive Periods series. You may also want to read the intro, post on order, and post on movement. Also, if you have any questions about Montessori or Montessori discipline, parenting or the like, please email me and your question could be a Montessori column here on Swiss Lark. Thank you.


Sensory perception is the sensitive period related to all forms of sensation or receiving impressions through our senses. Touch, sight, hearing, tasting and smelling. Of course children are in most cases  are born with all of these senses. The sensitive period is focused on the refinement of these senses. 

Montessori discovered that the best way to refine and perfect the five senses was to isolate the senses and qualities that they perceive. It drives me nuts how on educational videos for kids, they're always mismashing qualities perceived by the senses. For example, they'll be doing colors and shapes at the same time. A red triangle, a blue square. These things need to be learned separately. It's important for a child to understand what quality makes a square a square before focusing on the color of the square. Make sense? 

The child in the photo above is feeling geometric shapes from the geometric cabinet. The shapes are all blue, coincidentally, but that is not discussed by the teacher during the lessons. If the child notices it, it is acknowledged, of course, but color is not the focus, shape is. By making the shapes all the same color, their difference in shape is highlighted as the quality that makes them different. 

Before names are assigned to the shapes, they are understood through extensive feeling and seeing. There are matching exercises (done without a blindfold!) and feeling exercises. Then, once the shapes are understood on a sensory level, the names are introduced with a three-period lesson.

The Sensorial area is my favorite in the Montessori classroom. There is a tasting exercise in which children match seemingly identical liquids based on how they taste. There are exercises for listening, smelling, tactile and then complex puzzles that the children become ready for through refined recognition of shape.

One story goes that in the first classroom, Montessori brought in a worker to repair a window pane. As he brought the glass through the room, the children remarked that it was too big and wouldn't fit. He scoffed at them, and when he got it over to the window, it was about an inch too big. Montessori thought it remarkable that the children could see that and put it down to exceptional refinement of sensory perception, gained from the materials she had designed herself! ;)


So I really must apologize for not posting this yesterday. I tried to write it - several times! But something very exciting happened and I was too distracted to even focus on it at all. Hopefully I'll be able to share it with you soon! ;) Please leave your questions or reaction in the comments! xo


  1. This was really interesting to read, especially about the "mixing" of different sensory identifiers (ie colors and shapes).

    I have sometimes worried about "sensory stuff" myself, without really stopping to consider what "sensory stuff" fully entails. By that I mean, like, all that stereotypical Pinterest stuff about making shaving cream paint or homemade slime etc. My toddler (2.5) absolutely hates this kind of thing - he has never liked being dirty or having wet/sticky stuff on his hands. He doesn't even like fingerpainting. And yet every so often I give it another go, for some reason unknown even to me. People have suggested to me that he might have a sensory processing disorder but I have never really been sure what they meant by that, and yet even so I felt like maybe something was wrong just because my attempts to lovingly home-make something squishy or sticky or whatever went un-enjoyed. BUT I also always thought maybe he just knows that having wet sticky hands is gross, haha. I mean, I never liked fingerpainting either, and I still hate getting food on my hands when I cook. But that's another story.

    Anyway I guess my roundabout point is that it is helpful and reassuring to remember that "sensory" can mean more than just "touching gooey sticky slimy things," as it so often seems to be used to mean in "popular-parenting" activity jargon, and that it can encompass a wide variety of experiences and activities. Not to mention how helpful it is to see it noted that sometimes our approach to "sensory stimulation" can actually be overstimulating or overwhelming.

    The other day my son and I were outside enjoying the (finally) comfortable morning weather. I asked if he could hear all the different kinds of birds. He listened quietly and eventually said, "Two happy birds, one angry bird." One bird did, in fact, have a harsh, aggressive caw. And when I actually listened, I could hear two distinct other birds singing as well. But I would not have listened that closely (nor could my son have) if I had filled our silence talking about the colors of the birds, or trying to talk about what bird songs are and how all birds have different songs, or whatever. I thought it was such a delightful comment and I was glad I got to hear it come from him. It was comforting to remember that when it comes to children, presenting them with the world and then giving them a chance to observe it is often "enough." That you don't necessarily need to be coming up with things to make in the Pinterest-esque "sensory activities" so much as finding ways to allow your child to fully sense, and focus on, things that are already there.

  2. Alexandra, you have really made some great connections here! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Loved reading all of it. I'm with you on the slime and other Pinterest ideas. They are coming strictly from an adult perspective - what would be a sensory experience for an adult! I think for children they are OVERstimulating, too! There are so many experiences as you listed that are really wonderful and satisfying and great for kids all around us. No need to overdo it! I hadn't even thought of that piece, but you are SO right! Thanks again for sharing. xx


Post a Comment