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Montessori Mystery Bag: Developing the Stereognostic Sense

The human hand allows the minds to reveal itself.”  Maria Montessori, MD.

A Mystery Bag (or a Stereognostic Bag) is a classic sensorial activity. In Montessori education, the stereognostic sense is defined as an ability to identify an object by distinguishing its shape, texture and consistency based on a touch alone (by running the fingers over the object), without seeing it. A young child who learns by touching, has a developed muscular and tactile memory, which refines his/her stereognostic sense.

This activity is very simple to put together (just few simple items, each unique in its shape or texture, together in a small bag). Mystery bag is versatile (items can be varied every time), and is engaging to the child who, with his or her eyes closed and relying purely on the sense of touch, would attempt to identify an item, name it and retrieve one-by-one.

The following is the order, in my opinion, from the least challenging to the most:

 1) FIND and EXAMINE

The younger the child is, the fewer items (from three to five) should be inside the mystery bag and the more familiar the objects should be to the child  (a wooden egg or a block, a cone, a spoon, a brush, a feather, a car/doll etc). A blindfold is optional as the child can simply close his or her eyes, and looking for an object inside a non-transparent bag already triggers stereognostic sense. A child will find an item inside the bag: feel it, retrieve it and examine it a little more. So, it is more an exploration of objects, while isolating the sense of touch. 

2) CAN YOU FIND … ?

At around two years old, if a child does not speak yet, you may ask the child to retrieve a particular item while relying on the sense of touch only.

3) WHAT IS IT?

An older child can also name the item after finding and identifying it, but before retrieving it from the bag. Remind the child to feel the object and tell what he/she feels, i.e. soft, fluffy, light, etc. , and then to say the object’s name “I think this is a car”  before taking it out of the bag. 

4) CAN YOU FIND A PAIR?

The mystery bag can become more and more challenging as the child refines his or her stereognostic sense. The other variation is to place pairs of similar items and ask the child to find the matching pair just by touching it. Usually, this activity is presented with Montessori paired geometric solids


Adrian, at 29 months, not knowing what is inside (a mystery!), would feel an object and try to identify what it is.  He would then retrieve it, explore it a little more while still having a blond-fold; then name an object - open the blindfold and see if he was correct or not. (The more familiar the objects are, the easier it will be for a child to identify them.)

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I would suggest using real objects and changing them as often as needed to keep the child's interest. Also, the activity can "grow" with your child: for example, the less familiar the objects are, the harder it will be for a child to identify them – make it a real mystery! For even older children, to further increase the level of difficulty, increase the amount of objects in the bag, and make sure that the child names the object before he or she retrieves it (it is much harder to manipulate and examine an object when there are many other items right next to it in the bag). But, regardless of the process of presenting this activity, the mystery bag is a fun and exciting way to promote language development and to refine stereognostic sense and material visualization. 

How do you present the Mystery bag to your child? 

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