Matching, Sorting, Grading... A Little Bit About Sensorial Materials

Matching, sorting, grading…

These three terms get a lot of use in Montessori classrooms. How come? Most Montessori activities are set up so that children can create order. Matching, sorting, and grading (or sequencing) are all ways in which this can be done. Have you ever seen photos of those pink blocks (most often referred to as “the pink tower”)?  This, and other materials like it, require children to exercise their senses (sight, touch, hearing… and even smelling and tasting!) to create order. These are known as Sensorial materials.

Guess what? You can buy or make your own Sensorial materials! When putting together a Sensorial activity for your child, keep these characteristics in mind:

Matching, sorting, or grading. A true Sensorial activity will require a child to complete one of these tasks. Here are some examples: memory games (matching!), shape sorters (sorting!), and nesting or "Russian" dolls (grading!). 

10 or fewer. Many classical Montessori materials (like the pink tower) have 10 pieces, as this reinforces our base-10 number system. Having 10 or fewer pieces keeps the activity from getting too complicated and makes it easier to see if a piece has gone missing. For infant activities, I usually include no more than five pieces.

One obvious attribute. Height, thickness, color, sound, texture… there are so many possible attributes to base an activity on. Try to choose just one. If there’s too much going on (different colors, different sizes, different shapes), your child may not know what to do!

Control of error. This means that the activity has feedback built into it, allowing the child to correct any mistakes independently. Here’s an example: a set of nesting cups will not fit together unless they are in the correct order.   

Here are a few examples of Sensorial activities to get you started. And, as always, check out my Pinterest board for even more ideas.

1. This color matching activity is made with simple clothespins and paint samples from the hardware store (bonus: they're free!). I would introduce a few at a time, and eventually build up to this many colors.  2. This beautiful shape sorter is great for babies and toddlers because they can use both sight and touch to figure out which shape fits into each hole. There are many versions of this toy on the market, but I couldn't resist the natural wood in this one. 3. These rattling jars are a great spinoff of the classical Montessori sound cylinders. Each makes a different sound depending on what's inside. Children could match the sounds or put them in order from loudest to softest.  4. This set of stacking/nesting cups is technically a bath toy, but I can see children wanted to use it out of the tub as well! The two color options are a nice touch (and for an older child, combining the two sets could make for some interesting buildings!). 

1. This color matching activity is made with simple clothespins and paint samples from the hardware store (bonus: they're free!). I would introduce a few at a time, and eventually build up to this many colors. 

2. This beautiful shape sorter is great for babies and toddlers because they can use both sight and touch to figure out which shape fits into each hole. There are many versions of this toy on the market, but I couldn't resist the natural wood in this one.

3. These rattling jars are a great spinoff of the classical Montessori sound cylinders. Each makes a different sound depending on what's inside. Children could match the sounds or put them in order from loudest to softest. 

4. This set of stacking/nesting cups is technically a bath toy, but I can see children wanted to use it out of the tub as well! The two color options are a nice touch (and for an older child, combining the two sets could make for some interesting buildings!). 

PS. Want to read more about Sensorial curriculum? Take a look here