For Christmas, my mum bought Frida a set of mini knobbed cylinders. I’m not sure exactly which ones they are as I didn’t choose them, but this set looks the same.
Knobbed cylinders are a traditional Montessori material, used to develop a child’s sensory awareness as well as problem solving skills and fine motor skills. They help children work on their visual discrimination of size, and they help prepare the hard for gripping a pencil by developing the pincer grasp.
I wondered if at 20 months Frida was perhaps a little young for knobbed cylinders – they are usually recommended for around two and a half to three years – but she seemed interested in them, so I set up a tray for her with the easiest set: five cylinders of the same height, each one a different width. Frida has done similar puzzles to this before and it proved no challenge at all – she completed it in around a minute.
Like most Montessori materials knobbed cylinders have control of error built into them – if the child does not complete the work correctly, it will be evident to them. This allows the child to work independently, judging their own outcomes and learning through doing.
I noticed that although she could complete it with no effort, Frida was still drawn to this material, so I have added a second set to the tray, where the heights as well as widths change. Now Frida has to not only pick the correct width, but choose the correct height. This is proving much more challenging for her!
I realise I have not displayed this material in a traditional way – usually it is displayed complete, the cylinders removed as part of the work lesson. But I know Frida, and thought she would be more drawn to the material if presented like a puzzle – I can’t see that she is learning any less from this, and it is certainly challenging her problem solving abilities!
She has been independently choosing to work on this for the last two days, since I put it out, although has yet to complete it – I’m not at all surprised. I’m still not sure if it’s just too hard for her at her age, but she seems to be getting something from it so I will leave it for now.
Although we are Montessori inspired, I find it hard to stick rigidly by rule books, and so often go slightly off-piste. Rather than beating myself up about it, I see it as valuable – we are making it work for us! We hope to home school but it’s unlikely we would have the space or money for a fully stocked “classroom” of Montessori materials, so we will make do as we go, picking and choosing, and always following the child with respect. It may not be pure Montessori, but so far it works for our family.
I should also say: I know some Montessori experts recommend only using the full size set of knobbed cylinders (as they give a better sensitise impression, and pose less of a choking hazard) but I have been happy with the mini set we have. I think a larger set would have overwhelmed Frida, and also they are very expensive to buy! It should be noted though that if you have a child who mouths things it would be prudent to avoid a mini set.