Montessori Encyclopedia: Cylinder Blocks
How do you use this material?
The Cylinder Blocks are one of the first materials a child might be introduced to in the Sensorial Area.
There are four cylinder blocks. When they’re on the shelf, they all look very similar; in fact, three look identical. Upon removing the cylinders from the block, however, we see the differences. In Block 1, the height is consistent, while the diameter of each cylinder grows incrementally. In Block 2, both the height and the diameter grow incrementally. In Block 3, the height grows while the diameter decreases. In Block 4, the diameter is consistent, while the height changes incrementally.
We begin with Block 1. The guide invites the child to bring this Cylinder Block to a table. Two aspects are important here. First, the blocks are deceptively heavy! As this work is first presented to a fairly young child, this often takes a child’s Maximum Effort, and engages gross motor skills, both of which are very satisfying. Second, as we’ll discuss later, this work is always done at a table. (go ahead and scroll down if your curiosity is overwhelming!)
Using the dominant hand, the guide will remove both the first and the last (thick and thin) cylinders and balance them on the table side-by-side. This can be challenging with the thinnest cylinder! The guide will momentarily examine them, before removing the rest of the cylinders, casually mixing the order on the table in front of the child.
The guide will give a verbal note, “I took them all out. Now I’m going to show you how to put them all back.”
The guide will select and examine a cylinder, then scan the block for the proper aperture. The guide will slowly and carefully place the cylinder in the correct hole in the block. The guide will return several to the block, before inviting the child to return the remaining cylinders.
The guide will invite the child to take all the cylinders out and repeat.
When the child is returning the material to the shelf, the guide might invite the child to use any of the Cylinder Blocks the exact same way, one at a time.
Later, a child will be able to combine sets of two, three, and all four Cylinder Blocks, and play various games.
What is the child learning?
The child is noticing visual nuances which differentiate each cylinder in a single block, and the various differences between the blocks. The child will later be able to apply language to these visual differences, such as thick and thin, large and small, and tall and short.
What does a child not know they’re learning?
This work is always done at a table, as it is a preparation for handwriting! The way the child grasps the knob of the cylinder is preparing the hand for holding a pencil.
There is complicated visual processing, since a child will take a three dimensional object and pair it to the appropriate void, the hole in the block where it fits precisely, matching both diameter and depth precisely. Hand-eye coordination is also necessary, and refined through this material.
Additionally, a child is learning many internal characteristics. The goal is that a child doesn’t find where a cylinder belongs through mechanical testing, but through visual examination, which is more difficult. This grows self-control and discipline.
Lastly, this is a preparation for math. Math is special because there is one right answer, and the Cylinder Blocks are a clear example of this — there is exactly one way to fit all the cylinders back into the block. The Cylinder Blocks help a child develop tenacity in seeking out the right answer, and comfort with making mistakes, as it is in making mistakes we stumble upon our deepest learning.
Written by:Charlotte Wood