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Added May 11, 2015

Montessori Monday: The Thermic Tablets


The Sensorial materials are a reliable draw for children throughout the three year cycle of Montessori. Designed to refine children\\'s senses and increase their ability to discern between subtle variations, each of the Sensorial materials isolates a particular sense or feature to be taught. The taste materials, for example, isolate differences in tastes by offering droppers of liquids that are the same color and consistency but vary only in taste. The color tablets are identical in all ways except the colors they are intended to teach. The Montessori Bells are indistinguishable until you strike them, when each bell makes a different tone.

How, though, can we isolate temperature? Remember: the Montessori materials are all largely mechanical. There are no plugs or refrigerants, no microwaves to heat up materials. Montessori solved this in the ingenious design of the Thermic Tablets, which isolate temperature by incorporating materials that conduct heat at different rates. The tablets, then, are still the same shape on the table. With eyes closed or by using an blindfold, the child can explore the different tablets, matching the ones that are the same temperature on his or her hand. Slate, steel, wood and wool offer variant but regular differences in temperature. By testing them by using the soft skin at the base of the palm, the child can notice the variations in temperature without being distracted by their variant weight or texture.

So, what is the benefit of discerning temperature? Don\\'t we have technologies that can help us to know how hot or cold things are? Yes, certainly, as the extremes, for example for food or drink. But developing the ability to discern by temperature in early childhood supports children as they are identifying small variations in other cognitive stimuli: noticing the difference between the shapes of letters or numbers, identifying objects by touch instead of sight, and supporting the kinesthetic sense.

Other extensions of this exercise include thermic bottles that are filled with various temperatures of water and a distance game in the classroom to allow children to notice the held temperature of objects in their classroom. These precise distinctions may seem second-nature to adults, but they are filled with wonder for the child who is learning about his or her environment anew.

Catherine McTamaney, Ed.D.

Christopher Academy Alumna

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