Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Make Your Own Sensorial Material" - Part 1

Above is my dearest Dad. He's an incredible man, very giving and kind, but he's also stubborn and has his own unique way of going about things. Without him, the sensorial materials described and shown below would not have been made; but making them with him was sometimes a frustrating experience too! (He'd probably say the same about me!)

In the past week I've been facing a very great challenge, making the pink tower, the brown stair (also known as the broad stair), and the red rods, which (along with the knobbed cylinders) are supposed to be the first sensorial materials to be presented (in theory).

Until now, I've only had the yellow cylinders and my version of the colour tablets set two available for her. (I'm working on some sound cylinders and smell cylinders, and I've completed the touch tablets, but these are considered more advanced sensorial materials, so they're currently messing up my spare bedroom - with help from my scrapbooking stuff.)

The greatest challenge wasn't making the materials (as I thought it might be) but dealing with the "help." Please note, I'm incredibly thankful for my Father! If it wasn't for him I would have had to pay a ridiculous price for a few slabs of wood cut to the right sizes. That said, he has great difficulty listening (that doesn't mean he has any trouble hearing, though)! His "help" has been questionable at times, and invaluable at others. He manages both to drive me crazy and to make me so grateful for and to him!

One of the first things I discovered about Dad when we went out to work with the miter saw, table saw, and belt sander, was that it is MUCH wiser to NOT tell him what you want as the "end result" because he'll go about getting that for you in the most "Newfie" way imaginable! (For those who aren't Canadian - "Newfies" a.k.a. "Newfoundlanders" are folks from the province of Newfoundland, an island whose population is often thought of as less-than-bright, which isn't true at all, but having known and loved many Newfies, I can vouch for the fact that they do have different thought processes than the "rest of us" - and though some claim this is because of their time zone, which, rather than being one hour behind the next nearest, is a half-hour behind... but I digress...)

For an example of Dad's "different" way of doing things, I would have a piece of wood that I wanted cut down into a 2x2x2 cm cube and a 2x2x20 cm rectangular prism. Logically, you'd cut the piece down to a 2x2x *whatever length of piece you've got* and then cut off your 2cm length and your 20cm length, right?

Not Dad! He wanted to cut a 20cm piece, then make it 2x2, and then make a section of the wood 2x2 and then cut off another 2cm length! He also claimed that he had a 4"x4" that I could make the 10x10x10cm cube and 10x10x20cm rectangular prism from. He didn't... He was going to "make" it - which is all fine and good, until he realised that would mean his piece of wood would have to be, at a minimum 10x10x32cm (leaving saw space). He had only thought about the cube, and hadn't even remembered the rectangular prism of the brown stair!

Now... I had SHOWN him photographs of what I wanted... I had WRITTEN DOWN THE DIMENSIONS I needed... I had TOLD him exactly what it was I wanted and how it needed to be done! Nonetheless, we were still wandering around looking for wood that was "good enough" (i.e. not rotten and/or too small and/or to cracked up). So, after the first fiasco of him trying to make what I said I wanted, I stopped telling him what I wanted as the end result and would just hand him a piece of wood, already have set the table saw to the right width, and would say "cut this." Next I'd hold the wood steady and tell him "Get the belt sander," and we'd sand it smooth. Then I'd put two little lines on it on it and say "use the miter saw and cut here and here." While he did that, I'd set the table saw to the next size. As long as I only told him one step at a time, it would get done correctly and (perhaps most tellingly) efficiently.

That said, it only took him the smallest five cubes and rectangular prisms to get the idea of what I wanted... and it was kind of funny to see him stand there, scratching his head, saying, "So what you're saying is that you want not only a 10x10x10, but a 10x10x20? And you want a 9x9x9 and a 9x9x20? Plus I gotta make you an 8x8x8 and an 8x8x20?..."

I answered, "Yes, and we also need to finish the 7x7x7, the 7x7x20, the 6x6x6, and the 6x6x20."

"Well..." he said slowly and thoughtfully, "We're going to need some more wood, then!"

After we had finished the first 5 of each, I went to the hardware store and got a 2"x6" which they claimed was spruce, and Dad and I planned on using that, cut in thirds and glued together, to make the 8x8-10x10cm pieces. I brought it in to dry overnight, but found it was quite cracked and splintery, unlike the other spruce we had used for the 5x5x5 and the 5x5x20. I took it to Dad's, and sure enough, it wasn't spruce, it was fir.

At any rate, Dad used the power saw to cut a log of firewood down to the size where he could use the table saw and make it into the 10x10x10 and the 10x10x20. And we used carpenter's glue to put together other pieces to make the rest.

We still have to put wood fill on some of the pieces (old nail holes, wood faults, and whatnot), and I'm doing the fine sanding now, before priming and painting, but the "big" stuff is done, and I'm heaving a sigh of relief, because after months of talking to Dad about the project (I guess I was talking much of that time into thin air), and asking him, "When can we do it?" and getting vague answers about the snow falling, plowing, freezing rain, sanding, and getting the wood cut and ranked, I finally cornered him and we got it *mostly* done!

They're not "perfect." It's rather funny, actually, because I had tried to explain that they had to be identical in size in order to do the things I want to with them (pictures below of some of the sensorial extensions using both the pink tower and the red rods), and Dad kept saying things like, "Well, I'm no carpenter!" It was funny but also irritating because I had asked him outright if he could make them accurately enough or whether I should just buy them, and he said, "NO!!! For heaven's sake don't waste your money!" But when push came to shove, often his "close enough" wasn't! At the very least, the way I told him to do it, the two corresponding pieces (one cube and one rectangular prism) would be identical at least on two sides, so we would be able to do the extension activities.

All that to say, this is what we've got done, (minus the red rods, I guess I'll talk about them later):

They are certainly not perfect, and I doubt they would pass the "smallest prism" test (see HERE, and scroll down to Exercise 2), but they do match up adequately with the pink tower.

You can see here that some wood fill is definitely needed. The largest stair and cube were made out of a log that, when cut, was discovered to have imperfections. Once it's been filled, though, it should be fine. And the second largest stair, as you can see, was clamped too tightly, resulting in a deep "footprint." This too will be filled.

Here they are shown vertically. Not a bad match... Albeit, there's quite a few different types of wood in there! Poplar, cedar, and spruce for sure. But it will be pretty hard to tell once they've been painted (other than by weight).

Here is one of the sensorial extension activities (there are many more) that caused me to re-consider using the nesting/stacking Funny Blocks as a replacement for the pink tower. There are other reasons as well, which I will address in a later post.

This was a bit of a challenge to make, especially on a floor that is less than perfectly flat, but it was a lot of fun, and if it was fun for me, as an adult, it will probably be awesome for Ella! (To see the correct presentation of these items, plus some more extensions, go to this Sample Lesson.)



At 9:34 a.m. , Blogger Shannon said...

Sounds just like my Dad! But, in the end, they really turned out lovely! Once they are painted they will be MORE than good enough! And, just think of all the money you saved...and maybe in awhile the lovely memories you made!

At 2:23 a.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't Dad's great. If mine were doing (he's a retired airforce engineer) he would cut and sand it to perfection, have out the digital callipers to measure it to the tiniest degree and in the end it would be absolutely perfect. Having said that if I wanted him to make me something like this then I would have had to ask him when I got the positive on my pregnancy test and then it might be ready about the time my son was ready for college :)

At 7:42 p.m. , Blogger marky said...

I just want to say "Thank You" for sharing your information... I was a pre-school teacher in a M.M. school LONG ago, for just a year. Many of the concepts have stuck with me..I now have grandchildren and use many of the concepts with them. I have been consideriong going back to school for my M. teaching credential..I am an RN.

Thanks and Bless you and your family...marky

At 11:28 p.m. , Blogger AudreyMc1 said...

What a wonderful story!!! We are beginning the homeschool journey using Montessori and my husband wants to make many of the materials. I found your blog while searching for more information about the manuals we purchased this week. They should be in next week. Anyways, where did you find the measurements for the materials that you have had made? Are they listed in the manuals? We want to be sure to have the proper materials as they are needed. My plans are to work a month ahead of our children, though my 5 yr old has been in Montessori for 3 years so he may move faster than I can keep up.


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