Sensorial Education and the Brain

For thousands of years, people have understood that our minds are built using the material of experience. In ancient Greece, Aristotle theorized that there was nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses. In the 1990s, eminent brain researchers like Dr. Martha Pierson of Baylor College of Medicine told us that children need a feast for the mind, a banquet of sensory information to feed the senses. We now understand that what goes into the organism through the senses has a vital role to play in the development of neural architecture. This architecture—the connections between neurons that now appears to be at the basis of what we call intelligence—is built at least 50% by experience.

Importance of the senses to the brain

The newborn infant begins developing a perceptual map in his brain of the speech sounds he hears immediately after birth (and perhaps before). This allows him to perceive the nuances of the native language and prepare to form those sounds out of the multitude of speech sounds available to the human organism. Essentially what happens is that the organism can reproduce only those sounds it hears. Here we see the direct correlation between external sensory experience and specific brain development.

Dr. Arnold Schiebel, Director of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute who has researched the motor speech area of children with normal brain development, says the following:

Without being melodramatic, I think it would be very important to tell parents that they are participating with the physical development of their youngsters’ brains to the exact degree that they interact with them, communicate with them. Language interaction is actually building tissue in their brains…so it’s also building futures. The language centers of the brain are simply unable to attain full maturity without ample stimulation.

Scientists have also discovered an extremely specific correlation between playing a stringed instrument and the development of that part of the brain controlling the fingers used in playing the instrument. This development depends on the early age of beginning the child’s musical studies, not long hours of practice. Our children need the coordinated use of their hands to help their brains grow.

Montessori’s Sensorial materials offer systematic experience for the senses through hands-on activities and clear materials that help the child gain clear concepts. In the illustrations below you can see children building their concepts. The child building the Pink Tower is learning about the gradations of size from large to small. The child walking the maze of the Long Rods is internalizing the difference between long and short. The boy in the bottom left image is feeling the difference between rough and smooth, while the child at the bottom right is learning to match sets of bells of the notes do, mi and sol. He is also learning the notes of a harmonious chord.

The implications of the research on sensory input are vast. The tragedy of children growing up without adequate stimulation brings home the stark reality of the brain: “Use it or lose it!”  This is the more obvious implication. In 1994, the Wall Street Journal printed an article that said it all: Children raised in sensory-poor environ­ments show cognitive deficits that, by age five, may already be irreversible. The magic age of five— when the average American child enters kindergarten—is too late for many neurological functions to be established.

In order to help life, which is Maria Montessori’s definition of education, we first need to understand its needs. To begin with, we need to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the stages of human development. This is vital information for every one of us. Most of us deal with children in some capacity—whether as siblings, our own children, the children of friends, or nieces and nephews. The Age of Montessori information course can fill this gap for anyone who wants to know more about the stages of development and how to meet the emerging mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of children during the precious period of 2½ to 6. And if you want to become a Montessori teacher, we are here for you with the highest quality training and information!

 

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