The Montessori Knobbed Cylinders are the very first sensorial material a child works with. Their purpose is to support visual discrimination skills. Additionally, the Knobbed Cylinders include work with language development, tactile sense, and even pre-writing skills.
What are the Knobbed Cylinders?
The Montessori Knobbed Cylinders consist of four separate blocks, within each of which a specific set of cylinders fit. Each cylinder has a handle on its top (a knob) with which the child can grasp and transport it.
Working with one block at a time to begin, young learners work to place the cylinders into their correct spots. They vary in height, width, or both.
The Four Cylinder Blocks
There are four sets of cylinders. The simplest comes first. In this set, known as Block 1, the cylinders are arranged from the thickest to the thinnest. The Block 2 set all have the same width, but they differ in height.
Block 3 becomes a bit more complicated, starting from the thickest and tallest cylinder and each piece gets both thinner and shorter. Block 4 is most complex of all, because it ranges from shortest and widest to tallest and thinnest. In this cylinder, one variable grows while the other shrinks.
Language Taught through the Knobbed Cylinders
In Montessori we begin without language, to isolate the variable of visual discrimination. Teachers will model silently running their fingers along the circumference of each block’s base and comparing that with the puzzle hole.
After students understand conceptually how to complete a specific knobbed cylinder block, guides introduce comparisons and superlative language.
For example, they will hold a cylinder and tell the child “This is thick.” Then they’ll hold the next and say, “this is thinner”. Descriptive words “thick”, “thin”, “tall”, and “short”, as well as the —er comparison suffix (i.e. “taller”) and the —est superlative suffix (i.e. “thinnest”) are all addressed. Children get plenty of practice with this language and transfer it into other subjects and understandings.
After the child can visually sort and arrange by height and width, we give them language to describe the process. In this way, they fully understand the concepts and integrate them into their daily vocabulary going forth.
Knobbed Cylinders as a Pre-Writing Tool
Maria Montessori specially designed each material with a purpose in mind. The Knobbed Cylinders were meant to address the visual sense. Beyond this, Dr. Montessori included the knobs for a very specific reason.
The child holds and manipulates the cylinder by its knob. This is meant to begin developing the pincer grasp. This is an early step towards being able to form letters with a pencil.
This is an example of why Montessori guides demonstrate very explicit ways to handle the materials. Every small detail is intentional.
Cylinder Block Extensions
After the children master all four blocks and work with the language concepts, there are a variety of extensions. Extensions allow kids to build upon their new skills and keep them challenged and engaged.
First, the learners are challenged to complete two blocks at a time. Next they work with three, and finally all four.
Using a blindfold also adds an element of challenge. This extension shifts the sensorial focus away from visual and towards the stereognostic sense. The stereognostic sense refers to using the sense of touch to picture an object in one’s mind.
Proper Handling of the Knobbed Cylinders
In Montessori daycares, children are taught to care for their materials. When setting up, they grasp each block with two hands and carry it to their work space. They complete a full work circle (but are also free to repeat it as many times as they wish) before cleaning up and returning the materials just as carefully.
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