Category Archives: Montessori_Sensorial

Montessori Sensorial – Sense of Smell

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

This picture shows the front cover of the book, The Nose Knows.

A short book with a simple story that focuses on the power of smell.

Oh, how I have sadly neglected my ongoing series of reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle. I would like to make excuses, but the truth is that I spend most of my days creating, crafting and devising lesson plans that have little or nothing to do with a primary Montessori education.

My boys are ten and almost seven-years-old. We still read to them…though not every night. They are both solid readers. They love books and learning and they both have large vocabularies. I directly attribute their knowledge to the vocabulary-building, reality-based books that we read to them when they were young.

These days our library bags are often filled with chapter books and large piles of non-fiction materials. I don’t check out as many picture books as I used to, but I will continue to write and speak about my experiences as a Montessori-certified teacher. I have learned so much from her teaching and writings, not to mention my direct experiences of using her methods and well-designed materials. While I agree that no one method of education can meet the needs of every child, the Montessori way of ‘teaching’ is the perfect response to the current practice of drills, tests, and arbitrary grading policies that our schools use to ‘teach’ students. (Hint: Montessori doesn’t grade students).

Is it obvious that I am a Montessori advocate?

I believe in the power of a true Montessori education and will continue to spread the word about the Montessori philosophy. I still have a lot of Montessori-inspired projects that I would like to carry out, but in the meantime, I will continue to focus on technology, art and handwork. Montessori inspires me every day and I hope that you enjoy the reality-based picture books featured here.

This week, I am showcasing books that deal with our olfactory sense. In other words, our sense of smell. I have previously discussed many of the different Sensorial topics (colors I, colors II, systems, shapes & solids, visual training, and auditory). Dr. Montessori found that children’s senses were especially sensitive during the years between three and six. The following books contain stories (and rich vocabulary) that are based in reality. No talking animals and no imaginary characters. Under the age of six, children are deciphering the world around them and need help in determining what is real and what is fantasy.

Montessori Sensorial – Sense of Smell

Ages 2 – 6
Sias, Ryan. Sniff! Sniff! Abrams Appleseed: New York, 2015.

With very few words, this book manages to convey a dog’s strong sense of smell. A cartoon-like brown dog wakes up and the words “sniff, sniff” appear over his head. Suddenly, pictures of bacon, pancakes and oranges appear as thought bubbles. He runs downstairs to discover the human’s breakfast table, and proceeds to jump all over it and devour the food. Despite the dog’s bad manners, this cute book continues to feature his keen sense of smell as it takes him (and his owner) on many adventures throughout the day.

This is a picture of a dog running down the stairs as he has thought bubbles of bacon, oranges and pancakes.

Written by Ryan Sias

Ages 4 and up
Weiss, Ellen. The Nose Knows. Illustrated by Margeaux Lucas. The Kane Press: New York, 2002.

Peter is the oldest child in his family of five. His parents, brother and sister are sick with colds (and stuffy noses) so Peter becomes the family’s ‘nose.’ He helps around the house by getting rid of the stinky items, such as the old orange juice, decaying flowers and some rotting broccoli that his younger brother shoved in the back of his closet. Peter also saves the family by smelling ‘rotten eggs’ in the kitchen. The pilot light on their gas stove had gone out and the parents didn’t know. Throughout the book there are side notes about how our nose (and sense of smell) functions. Eventually, Peter gets the family’s cold, but everyone takes care of him.

This is a picture of a boy taking away a glass of orange juice from his younger sister. The orange juice has gone bad.

The Nose Knows by Ellen Weiss.

Ages 4 and up
Lin, Grace. The Ugly Vegetables. Charlesbridge Publishing: Watertown, MA, 1999.

Young Grace and her mother are preparing their garden for planting. As they turn over the soil, she notices that all of the other neighbors are planting gardens too – except that their gardens will be full of flowers while Grace’s will grow Chinese vegetables. Grace wants to grow flowers too, until one day she detects a delicious smell coming from her house! Her mother is making a delicious soup with all of the vegetables from their garden. There’s a knock on the door and all of her neighbors have brought flowers to share – in hopes of tasting the good-smelling soup. Grace’s mother passes out the soup and gives the recipe to her friends. The following year, all of the neighbors are growing some Chinese vegetables, and Grace gets to grow a few flowers as well.

This is a picture of the front cover of the book, The Ugly Vegetables, written by Grace Lin. It has a picture of a Chinese mom and girl digging a garden.

Written and illustrated by Grace Lin.

Although I didn’t have a chance to review them, these two books seem like they might work for a Montessori lifestyle: Mo Smells the Holidays (about a dog’s powerful nose), and perhaps, Smelly Socks by Robert Munsch.

And, of course, these books would be especially memorable if paired with a group cooking activity. Grace’s soup, anyone?


Book Reviews :: Montessori Sensorial :: Auditory

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published every Friday. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

Various materials to help young children notice the sounds around them.

Various materials to help young children notice the sounds around them.

This week I’ve reviewed books that cover the concept of listening, hearing and sound – all concepts that fall in the ‘Sensorial’ section of a Montessori classroom. To see previous book reviews on other Sensorial topics – check out the posts on color, systems, solids and shapes, and visual observation.

Ages 2 and up
Carle, Eric. The Very Quiet Cricket. Philomel Books: New York, 1990.
A baby cricket is born and wants to be able to answer the other insects in the forest, but when he rubs his wings together, they don’t make a sound. After encountering a big cricket, a locust, a praying mantis, a worm, a spittlebug, a cicada, a bumblebee, a dragonfly, mosquitoes and a luna moth, the little cricket encounters a female cricket and is finally able to rub his wings together to make a sound. At the end of the book, a surprise chirping sound is created by opening the last page. Therefore, it’s worth it to purchase a new copy of this book (board book or otherwise) because the cricket sound will be worn out on a typical library copy.

Montessori Note: While the language of the book has the insects saying “good night” or “hello”, often it is used to introduce the sound that each animal makes. For example, the cicada screeches “good afternoon.” Teachers and parents could easily omit these words if they are concerned that children will be confused by the implication that insects speak.

A classic book with a built-in clicking sound.

A classic book with a built-in clicking sound.

Ages 2 and up
Aliki. Quiet in the Garden. Greenwillow Books: New York, 2009.
While very young children may have trouble sitting still long enough to hear things in their garden, preschool age children are ready for the chance to play the silence game. The little boy is Aliki’s story likes to sit quietly because if he is “very still, (he) sees more.” As he is quiet in his garden, he can hear different sounds (chirp, squeak, crunch). As he encounters different animals in the garden, he notices different actions and hears different sounds. In addition to the simple sentences, there is a “side conversation” that goes on between the two animals that are featured on each page. They do not add anything to the story and do not need to be read aloud. The colored-pencil illustrations are bright and vibrant and will have your youngsters poring over each page. Pictures might be great for an introductory art class as well. After reading, head outside and see what your students can hear in their garden.

From Aliki's Quiet in the Garden.

From Aliki’s Quiet in the Garden.

Ages 3 and up
Singer, Marilyn. Quiet Night. Illustrated by John Manders. Clarion Books: New York, 2002.
The moon is bright and the animals are coming out to hunt, play and be active during the quiet night. In the same rhythm as “the house that Jack built,” Singer’s story builds as the “four fish whap-slap, three geese honk-honk, two owls whoo-hoo, and a frog bar-rums on a quiet night.” Eventually, we see a tent and ten campers emerge as they ponder all of the noises of the night! A cute, easy-flowing story that will make children giggle while still introducing them to the concept of nocturnal animals and a ‘quiet’ night.

Great story to teach quantities 1-10, but also for a discussion about nocturnal animals.

Great story to teach quantities 1-10, but also for a discussion about nocturnal animals.

Ages 5 and up
Wood, Douglas. A Quiet Place. Illustrated by Dan Andreasen. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: New York, 2002.
This large book lends itself to sharing with a group and the soft, oil- painted illustrations are lovely, realistic and add much to the abstract concepts of the story. A young, city-dwelling boy needs some quiet – a rest from “bells ringing, whistles shrieking, and grown-ups talking.” He ponders the places he could go – under a bush, in the woods, by the sea, in the desert, by a pond, in a cave, on top of a hill, in a snowdrift, in a museum, in the library, or just in his own room with his own thoughts. The concept of needing a quiet place may be foreign to many youngsters, but this could be a good book to use when discussing why someone might need a quiet space and how to recognize when that’s important. This book would also be most helpful for introducing a home or school “quiet” space.

From the book, A Quiet Place, by Douglas Wood.

From the book, A Quiet Place, by Douglas Wood.

Although I didn’t have a chance to read them, the following books seem as if they would fit into a Montessori curriculum.

Showers, Paul. The Listening Walk. HarperCollins: New York, 1993 (reprint of 1961 version).
This book has been perpetually checked out within my library system and I did not have a chance to look at it, however, the premise seems to fit quite nicely into a reality-based curriculum. A girl goes on a walk and hears all sorts of sounds, from natural animal sounds to man-made lawnmower sounds. A perfect book to read before you head out on your own listening walk.

Lemniscates. Silence. American Psychological Association’s Magination Press: New York, 2012.
As we ask our children to filter more and more information – at a younger age – books that help teach mindfulness are quite valuable. This is a story to read with children while it asks them to consider the sounds of our world.

Children's Books on noises and the value of quiet.

Book Reviews :: Montessori Sensorial :: Systems

In my AMS-certified Montessori training, I learned that the very young child begins his Sensorial work by concentrating on the “systems” shelf. The work on these shelves are sorted into three prominent systems (sorting, matching and grading). All of these systems are found throughout the different tenets of the classroom shelves, but show up prominently in the Sensorial area of the classroom.

The Button Box

The Button Box

In presenting book reviews of Sensorial topics, I realized that I had jumped right into colors without really discussing the primary Sensorial work of a very young child – sorting. This work would occur at the same time as the beginning work in colors, or for a very young child (2.5 – 3 years-old), this might be one of the first places that they are brought to within the classroom.

Ages 4 and up
Reid, Margarette S. The Button Box. Illustrated by Sarah Chamberlain. Dutton Children’s Books: New York, 1990.
When visiting his grandmother, a young boy gets to play with her special box of buttons. He enjoys swirling them around and sorting them by color, size, material and purpose. Although this book is not a primer on how to sort, the boy displays a number of ways that he sorts some of the buttons he finds in the box.  The text is short, but concise a,nd introduces a number of unusual buttons (i.e. shoe buttons from long ago) which should start a great discussion at circle time. Extensions could lead to a discussion of other places that the children have seen buttons or sorting exercises. In addition, this book might make a good transition for those children who are ready to learn how to sew a button, as it includes a brief history of how the use of buttons has evolved over the years.

Although I didn’t have a chance to review it, the book Sorting at the Market by Tracey Steffora seems to fit a reality-based criteria and it might just help your child notice new things at the supermarket!

The Button Box

The Button Box

Marzollo, Jean. I-SPY: A School Bus. Photographs by Walter Wick. Scholastic, Inc.: New York, 2003.
The I-Spy books are quite well-known and delight users of all ages. I can still remember clambering for the current Where’s Waldo book as an elementary and middle school student. Although, Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo’s traditional I-Spy books contain a riddle to be deciphered, Scholastic has produced a simpler version which is just perfect for helping a young, pre-reading child to match in an abstract way. Be sure to begin with physical matching and then move on to matching with pictures. Once object to object matching has been practiced, use this book in a small group or snuggle up with a wiggly preschooler and refine your visual discrimination skills.

Look for the "easy readers" for a young child.

Look for the “easy readers” for a young child.

Children can "match" the pictures from the left to the right. I've also seen this type of work in the Language section of a Montessori classroom.

Children can “match” the pictures from the left to the right. I’ve also seen this type of work in the Language section of a Montessori classroom.

Ages 4 and up
Dillon, Jana. Sasha’s Matrioshka Dolls. Ills. by Deborah Nouse Lattimore. Farrar, Straus and Giroux : New York, 2003.

This lengthy tale features Sasha, an upper elementary-aged girl who lives and work with her grandfather, Boxer. He carves wooden boxes and Sasha paints them. As this is a story of peasants in late nineteenth century Russia, Sasha is not in school and the family is poor. This tale tells the story of how the Russian nesting dolls came to be. It all started because Sasha’s one and only toy (a straw doll) was ripped apart by mice. Her grandfather wanted to make her a replacement and carved her a wooden doll, whom Sasha named Matrioshka, little mother. But, it was too small and the mice carried it away into their den, so Boxer rescued it and decided to build another one to “protect” the little doll. And, the story continues until there are seven dolls and everyone in the neighborhood wants to buy one. A great way to introduce these dolls and the Russian culture. An author’s background note is included.


Montessori :: Sensorial Materials and Books

Word Map of Montessori Sensorial Materials

Word Map of Montessori Sensorial Materials

In my AMS Montessori Primary training, we were introduced to the classroom materials in the same way as a new student of three. We began with the Practical Life section of the classroom and moved on to the Sensorial section. As with many aspects of my life, I believe that books should play a key role in a child’s life. Not only does it encourage reading, but it can often reinforce a concept. As a Montessori teacher, I was looking for reality-based picture books that I could read to my class that would reinforce the concepts they were absorbing. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the time to find and review a large number of subject-specific books. My students were read to often, but it would have been nice to have a guide for specific topics. This is my attempt to remedy that problem. You can find the overview of Practical Life book reviews here.

Next week, I plan to tackle the large subject of visual learning. We’ll start with color.

Sensorial :: Observing Nature

As we roll into the Fall season, my youngest son and I have found ourselves in a bit of a different situation than last year. This year, my eldest is trying out 2nd grade….and loving it.

Initially, this seemed like a sad time for me…and then I realized that my youngest son and I would have a chance to explore his world. The world where he gets to voice the first and only opinion. An opportunity to follow his own path, without regard to his brother’s wishes or agreement.

I began observing – truly observinghis wants and his needs. The first order of business: to nourish a sense of wonder with regards to the outside world. His interests are strong in that regard and I want him to grow curious and thoughtful when thinking about his life experiences on Earth. One of the main areas of Dr. Montessori’s educational method concerns the senses and it is a very important area for a three-and four-year-old. The Sensorial activities capitalize on the child’s natural ability to explore his world through the five senses.

Swallowtail caterpillars - July 2013

Swallowtail caterpillars – July 2013

We were lucky enough to find such a sense of wonder in our front yard. We have a potted plant – cutting celery – that is apparently close enough to the typical Black Swallowtail host plant (those being mostly herbs).

The kids (and adults) were all fascinated. We enjoyed playing host for these creatures. As soon as they devoured the plant (which took only a few days), they were off to another plant and their next developmental stage.


Since I was open to observing and listening to my youngest son’s needs, I was especially attentive when he mentioned that we should get more fish for our little aquarium. (At present, it has homemade paper fish – my favorite kind).

He was obviously yearning for more real-life observations and when a gifted jarful of tadpoles came our way yesterday, of course, we accepted. While the gift was given to the eldest son, it has been the youngest one who has paid the most attention and gotten lost – staring – at these fascinating creatures.


“It is true that man has created enjoyments in social life and has brought about a vigorous human love in community life. But nevertheless, he still belongs to nature, and especially, when he is a child, he must needs draw from it the forces necessary to the development of the body and of the spirit.”         – Maria Montessori in The Montessori Method



Being outside, getting dirty

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.
– Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

A future zucchini from our garden

When R was a baby, I read this book and my thinking was forever changed. His ideas are not new, but they made perfect sense to me. At the time, I had a longing for home-grown vegetables and farm life, something which seemed in marked contrast to my very brown thumb. I seemed to have a problem remembering to water my houseplants.

A few months later, I did try my hand at home-grown veggies (tomatoes) and they grew and flourished, but didn’t fruit. I had much better luck with my herbs – they were also outside and they grew and grew. I have a sneaking suspicion that my wonderful neighbor – an avid gardener – was taking pity on my neglected herbs and watering them. I haven’t had that much success since we’ve moved.


Lately, I’ve been wondering if it is time to create a more formal approach to nature for R. Dr. Montessori felt that children from ages 3-6 were hungry for scientific vocabulary. In her observations, she noted the constant desire for new words during this time period – this age group has a sensitivity to language.

And, while I wholeheartedly agree – his favorite question is “why?” As in, “why is that truck broken, why did they take down those garage doors, why are there bugs outside…” It’s enough to drive a sleep-deprived, caffeine-free mama a bit loopy.  But, I want to give him the “real” answer, whenever possible. So, we look up the names of birds we see, and discuss possible answers for the other questions.


However, I think that for the time being, I will heed Rachel Carson’s words and concentrate on sustaining the sense of wonder – and in doing so, rekindle my excitement as well.


A sense of wonder


Ronan and I sat at his table this morning, ate our breakfast, and quietly observed the bluejays as they pecked at acorns in our front yard. His table sits in front of the window from our kitchen and my pregnant body isn’t too keen on scrunching up there for long periods of time. But, today, I sat with Ronan at his table (rather than at the big table) and we were richly rewarded.

It’s quite ironic that we were able to watch these birds as I just returned from a short seminar for my Montessori 3-6 training on observational science. Our instructor read a passage from Rachel Carson’s book, A Sense of Wonder and I noticed the similarities between how we are trying to teach Ronan to observe, mostly by imitating, and her exploration with her young nephew. Sometimes I feel that we wander aimlessly along, but perhaps, that is exactly the point.

In other news: I. must. save. up. for. a. telephoto. lens. Immediately.