Barbara Isaacs explains how to create a Montessori senses outdoor experience for the children in your care…
Montessori education is well-known for its sensory focus, which lies at the heart of young children’s learning. We use sensorial apparatus, activities and materials to enhance children’s understanding of shapes, colours, textures, sounds, tastes and smells.
A Montessori senses exploration provides the starting point of the early years curriculum. Practical life and sensorial activities offer young children opportunities to develop manipulative skills and eye-hand coordination. This is alongside developing problem-solving and thinking skills.
This early independence and exploration are the foundation for creative thinking as well as the basis for later more academic work.
Many of these activities are available to children inside the classroom. You can extend them to the outdoors when appropriate. The key is to build on learning facilitated by these materials. Place it in context of the child’s everyday experience.
Many of the sensory materials develop cognitive frameworks that support the child’s organisation and classification skills. You can apply these learning opportunities to the free-flow nature of early years practice advocated today. However, Montessori (2007), along with Froebel, recommended close contact with nature. We talk about “taking the inside out and bringing the outside in”.
When speaking about textures we usually consider experiences which involve children’s hands in finding out about surfaces that are:
Children in Montessori settings explore fabrics, papers, stones, trees and other natural materials for texture.
Start with spontaneous exploration of treasure baskets and heuristic bags. Then Montessori toddlers can gradually progress on to the more formal activities. This includes matching and grading textures of sand paper and fabrics, as well as a variety of different types of paper.
This exploration is accompanied with conversations and discussion during which the child and adult describe the shared experience.
The final stage of this learning is evident when young children begin to use the rich experiences and language originally associated with Montessori sensory materials in the every day context of their nursery life.
Have you considered providing some of these experiences by organising a sensory walk in your garden? This helps you to offer children more than just the chance to encounter different textures.
You can easily incorporate sounds and smells into the sensory walk and textures can guide the children in their exploration.
If you are in the process of designing your garden, you may consider planning for a permanent sensory walk. However, you could also design a less permanent experience. This is one with opportunities for changes in the surfaces reflecting seasons. Provide children with a ‘sensory obstacle course’.
Using old tyres you could offer children sensory areas for their feet. There are an array of materials with which you could fill the tyres to make this walk exciting for young children. For example, try different textures of sand, pebbles, leaves and grass cuttings as well as off-cuts of different types of fabrics, paper or plastic materials.
You could also mix herbs and scents with your textures to enhance the experience.
And to make it even more fun you could connect the tyres or areas of exploration with walkways using wooded planks. This makes the challenge of reaching the next ‘tyre of discovery’ a little more exciting.
Using different types of footwear according to the season, with bare feet in the spring and summer, could make this activity even more fun for the children.
Barbara Isaacs is the academic director of Montessori Centre International.