Gables Montessori Blog

Sorting sound cylinders

Maria Montessori believed that moving and learning were inseparable. The child must involve her entire body and use all her senses in the process of learning. She needs opportunities built into the learning process for looking, listening, smelling, touching, tasting, and moving her body.

When you look at Montessori materials, you are drawn to explore them with your senses. For example, you would want to pick up the sound cylinders and shake them. They consist of 2 matched sets of wooden cylinders containing varying substances that create different sounds when shaken.

The child sorts the sound cylinders using only his listening skill. Two cylinders have the barely audible sound of sand. Two have a slightly louder sound of rice inside them. Others contain beans or items that sound louder still. After matching the cylinders, the child can grade the cylinders—that is, put the cylinders in order of softest to loudest, or loudest to softest.

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Each learning material teaches just one skill or concept at a time. For example, we know that young children need to learn how to button buttons and tie bows. Dr. Montessori designed “dressing frames” for children to practice on.

The frame removes all distractions and simplifies the child’s task. The child sees a simple wooden frame with 2 flaps of fabric—1 with 5 buttonholes and 1 with 5 large buttons. His task is obvious. If he makes an error, his error is obvious.

Built-in “control of error” in many of the Montessori materials allows the child to determine if he has done the exercise correctly. A teacher never has to correct his work. He can try again, ask another child for help, or go to a teacher for suggestions if the work doesn’t look quite right.

Materials contain multiple levels of challenge and can be used repeatedly at different developmental levels. A special set of 10 blocks of graduated sizes called “the pink tower” may be used just for stacking; combined with “the brown stair” for comparison; or used with construction paper to trace, cut, and make a paper design. The pink tower, and many other Montessori materials, can also be used by older children to study perspective and measurement.

Montessori materials use real objects and actions to translate abstract ideas into concrete form. For example, the decimal system is basic to understanding math. Montessori materials represent the decimal system through enticing, pearl-sized golden beads.

Loose golden beads represent ones. Little wire rods hold sets of 10 golden beads—the 10-bar. Sets of 10 rods are wired together to make flats of 100 golden beads—the hundred square. Sets of 10 flats are wired together to make cubes of 1,000 golden beads—the thousand cube.

Children have many activities exploring the workings of these quantities. They build a solid inner physical understanding of the decimal system that will stay with them throughout school and life.

Later, because materials contain multiple levels of challenge, the beads can be used to introduce geometry. The unit is a point; the 10-bar is a line; the hundred square a surface; the thousand cube, a solid.

Montessori learning materials are ingeniously designed to allow children to work independently with very little introduction or help. The students are empowered to come into the environment, choose their own work, use it appropriately, and put it away without help.

American Montessori Society

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Montessori materials are attractively designed for children


In Montessori classrooms, children sort, stack, and manipulate all kinds of beautiful objects made from a variety of materials and textures. Many of these objects are made of smooth, polished wood. Others are made of enameled metal, wicker, and cloth. They are also available to explore elements of nature, such as seashells and bird nests.

How can a preschooler be trusted to handle small fragile items independently? Montessori teachers believe that children learn from their mistakes. If nothing breaks, children have no reason to learn to be careful. Children treasure their learning materials and enjoy learning to care for them “alone”.

Montessori teachers make a point to handle Montessori materials slowly, respectfully, and carefully, as if they were made of gold. Children naturally feel something magical about these beautiful learning objects.

As children carefully hold their learning materials with both hands and do their very “work” with them, they may feel like they are simply playing with their friends, but they are actually learning in a brilliantly designed curriculum that takes them, one step at a time, and according to a predetermined sequence, through concepts of increasing complexity.

Source: American Montessori Society

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The art of listening is a skill that can be achieved. Many young people in our noisy world have formed the habit of “turning off” the attention to the sound. They don’t make any effort to distinguish the sounds and therefore block themselves off and lose many learning activities.

Listening with attention is vital for learning the sounds of the letters in the reading section. Montessori designed several sensory games to help the child to focus on particular sounds. In a game, the child is blindfolded and asked to identify the particular classroom sounds, like the noise of a window opening, a closing door  or pour water. In another match, it aims to identify the voices of their classmates without looking at students who are talking.

To help children become more aware of the intensity of the sound, Montessori designed a set of six cylindrical wooden boxes with red lids. Each box contains a small amount of different substances: salt, rice, dried beans, buttons or pebbles. Different sounds are produced by the child when he shakes the boxes, and it varies in intensity from mild to strong. There is a second set of boxes with blue lids. Each box in the first set has a companion in the second, which produces a similar sound. The child (by listening) must find the couple. Then, he can put the boxes in a set from the strongest to the softer.

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For the next step, the child can use a box containing eight different color tones. The tones of each color are classified from very light to very dark. For this exercise, the child should distinguish the intensity of the tones and set tablets in order from the lightest to the darker shade of each color. When the exercise is completed, the arrangement of colors gives a beautiful rainbow that is attractive for the children effect.


The professor can make this activity even more difficult. He can select a color tablet and ask the child to go to the box and bring back the tablet that is darker or lighter than the master is holding. It is not easy for them, but many children are able to do so with accuracy after working with colors for several months. Teaching children to be aware of the fine differences in colours gives them preparation for all types of scientific observations, the art and the appreciation of art, decoration, and many other meaningful activities.


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Smelling material consists of two groups of small jars with removable caps. These bottles are identical in all respects except the aroma containing. One contains cinnamon, other mint, coffee, cloves, etc. Each bottle has a peculiar fragrance.

The food is covered by gauze or perforated so that the child can smell it but can not see it or feel it. Each bottle in the first set has a companion in the second set. The child combines the pairs smelling carefully each jar. The teacher uses this exercise as an opportunity to build vocabulary teaching him the names of the food they are smelling.

In a parallel exercise, children smell cotton swab dipped in liquids such as perfume, vanilla and vinegar. Many teachers continue this exercise carefully so that children smell flowers in the garden of the school. Some children, blindfolded, learn to identify many of the flowers for their fragrance.

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