Thursday, May 08, 2008

DON'T Make Your Own Sensorial Materials - Part 1 - Knobbed Cylinders

To Make or Not to Make - That was the question!
I cannot begin to tell you how many times my father and I talked about, measured, planned, and tried to figure out a way to make the Knobbed Cylinders! We have wracked our brains (or, more precisely, I have wracked my brain), and though initially Dad said (after I told him the price of the knobbed cylinders), "Of course we can make them! You aren't paying XX.XX dollars for four blocks of wood with little round things in them!"

But when faced with reality: meaning of course, after I had measured the sizes of all the cylinders, both width and depth, in imperial because naturally none of his drill bits would be metric, he said, "You need them to be that precise?" *scratches head while wrinkling brow* "Uh, I don't know about that." Eventually he caved an said, "Yes, order them, I can't make them!"

So here they are! (At least, half of them - I've only put out the first two as Ella isn't ready to add the third or fourth yet.) I took them up to Mum and Dad's after they arrived to show him, at which point he informed me, "Yeh, we couldn't have made those. At least, we couldn't have made them anywhere close to accurately, and they wouldn't have looked very good, either!"

Now you can all laud me for my grace and patience as, during the course of all this, I never even tried to strangle him for insisting initially that he could make them, and that I shouldn't waste my money, resulting in me actually ordering and receiving them long after I would have otherwise!

If you happen to live in an area where getting drill bits sized in metric is easily possible, then I would definitely recommend finding a friend/neighbour/acquaintance who has a drill press and make your own. But, if you have difficulties finding dowels in appropriate sizes, you might want to consider buying the knobless cylinders (also known as the coloured cylinders) sanding them with a very fine grit sandpaper, and then painting them brown. Then attach knobs with carpenter's glue. I found nice little knobs at a local hardware store. They weren't made to be knobs, rather they were actually little wooden knob-like hole covers that I found in the craft section. But - whatever works!

Why I Decided to Get Them in the First Place
When first trying to decide which materials I should make, which I should buy, and which I could skip altogether, the knobbed cylinders were the first to be scratched off the list, as I thought them unnecessary and expensive. No doubt about it, they are expensive, but as I did more reading, research, and observation of my own daughter, I changed my mind.

You see, individually she may be able to do them quickly and easily, but as she becomes skilled at performing this exercise, I will allow her to do two simultaneously, then three, then four. These are the extensions for learning to used the Knobbed Cylinders visually.

Then I will introduce the Knobbed Cylinders as a tactile activity. Essentially you start from the beginning, using one block at a time, but this time round, you wear a blindfold. Believe me, it isn't easy! I've done all four together as a visual activity, and that was difficult enough. Sometime soon I'm hoping to try it blindfolded.

By the time you've gone through all these activities, your child will probably be well into elementary school!

Oh, and after that there are things you can do with the Knobbed Cylinders and the Knobless Cylinders. I don't know yet what those things are, but when I find out, you'll find out too!

Dimensions of the Knobbed and Knobless Cylinders and Blocks
As for the size of the cylinders and the cylinder blocks, as you can see, their size is substantial:

The blocks themselves are 45 3/4 cm long and 7 1/2 cm wide. The cylinders are identical in size to the knobless cylinders with the exception of the knobs themselves. Their dimensions are as follows:

Block #1 - Cylinders begin with the largest being 5 cm in diameter and 5cm in height. Each subsequent cylinder decreases both in diameter and in height by 0.5 cm. The smallest cylinder is 1 cm in diameter and 1 cm in height.

Block #2 - Cylinders begin with the largest being 5 cm in diameter and 1 cm in height. Each subsequent cylinder decreases in diameter by 0.5 cm and increases in height by 0.5 cm. The smallest cylinder is 1 cm in diameter and 5 cm in height.

Block #3 - Cylinders begin with the largest being 5 cm in diameter and 5 cm in height. Each subsequent cylinder decreases in diameter by 0.5 cm, but the height of all the cylinders is identical. The smallest cylinder is 1 cm in diameter and 5 cm in height.

Block #4 - Cylinders begin with the largest being 2.5 cm in diameter and 5 cm in height. Each subsequent cylinder decreases in height by 0.5 cm, but the diameter of all the cylinders is identical. The smallest cylinder is 2.5 cm in diameter and 1 cm in height.

How to Present the Knobbed Cylinders/Cylinder Blocks
The initial presentation of the knobbed cylinders is fairly simple. The child is asked to accompany the teacher as she shows her something new. The teacher grasps the cylinder block with both hands on either end and carries it carefully to the desk or table. Then the teacher seats herself and begins to take out each cylinder, using the thumb, index finger, and middle finger of her dominant hand. As she removes the cylinders, she places them on the far side of the block in a random fashion.

When all the cylinders have been removed, the teacher begin to replace the cylinders in order, either beginning from the smallest or the largest. The teacher is not to touch the cylinder itself, but rather holds it by the knob, so that she is visually discriminating the size of the cylinder and the hole.

If the student wishes to try replacing the cylinders, then the teacher should step back and allow her to carry on the activity alone while she observes. If the student resorts to touching the cylinders or the holes, or is noisy when performing the activity, the teacher should make note of it, and during the following class time re-present the material noting aloud, "See how I hold the cylinder by the knob, using my thumb and two fingers? That way it's my eyes that are figuring out where they should go!" or "Listen closely as I put the cylinder in. I can do it very quietly! When you replace the cylinders, see if you can do it quietly too!"

Should the student be overly rough, simply take the block away noting that the materials are very special and if we want to be allowed to use them, we need to use them with care so they don't get hurt.

Here Ella is shown using the second cylinder block. The first and second are often offered within a day or two of each other as both sets vary both in diameter and in height, making them the two easiest to master. The next step would either be to present the third block or to teach the child how to use two blocks at once, which is done by placing the blocks in a "V," removing the cylinders as before, mixing the two sets together in the middle of the "V," and then trying to replace them in the correct blocks.

Where to Get Cylinder Blocks
The cylinder blocks were my third order from i-Fit Wooden Toy Supplier (aka Montessori Equipment) which has some of the least expensive Montessori materials I've ever found. Added to that is the fact that I've had excellent service from them. When I placed my order, they had run out of the Economy Cylinder Blocks, so they sent me the Premium Cylinder Blocks instead. Upon arrival, I was very impressed at their beauty. During shipping, however, one of the knobs had been knocked off its cylinder. That was easily fixed with a little carpenter's glue. When I e-mailed the company saying how pleased I was, I happened to mention the slight breakage. Their response was swift: that if it happened again, to let them know immediately and they would send a replacement knobbed cylinder. Needless to say, next time I want to buy Montessori materials rather than make them, I will be ordering from them again.

A Bit on the Funny Side If you look closely at the above picture, not only should you notice that Ella is not holding the cylinder correctly, but that she has it leaning toward another cylinder. The reason is that my daughter is very imaginative. Where others see knobbed cylinders, she sees a variety of interesting people, ranging (in this case) from short and fat to tall and skinny! Here two of the people are talking to one another! Ella's tendency is to anthropomorphise everything! Between that, and her dozens of imaginary friends, our schoolroom can get a bit crowded!

A while back, I promised to do a post on teaching the imaginative child: getting them to control their imagination during school time without stifling it completely. I haven't forgotten that, but as yet I haven't got around to it! As you can see, though, it is something I have to deal with on a frequent basis and much of the time I feel like I'm walking a fine line between crushing her imagination and encouraging her fun and fantastical world! And, as I said before, I will be posting more on that interesting balance later.

Ultimately, she does get the "work" done. And the wonderful part is, for the Montessori student most of their school "work" feels more like school "play," which is as it should be. My final goal is not merely to educate my daughter, but to plant within her a love of learning that will continue throughout her life. After all, if you love learning, then it isn't really "work," is it?

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At 8:30 a.m. , Blogger RebelAngel said...

I know exactly where you are coming from with the anthropomorphizing. DO you know how hard it is to teach a child to play chess when she keeps getting distracted by the conversations the pieces are having with each other?

At least we got it done. Though, there are occasionally cries of "Aagh!" or "Surrender or Die" when pieces are being captured. I can live with that.

Especially when I hear her say "Chess is so much better than Checkers. You can do so much more."

Ella looks like she is enjoying her blocks, as learning toys as well as as strange looking dolls.

At 5:18 p.m. , Blogger HomeSchooler said...

Today she tried doing two cylinder blocks simultaneously for the first time, and though it took some convincing to get her to put her "family" back to "bed", by reminding her that they could get up again after they'd found their proper "beds." She did the whole thing twice, so I'm going to have to take over the third block in order to keep her challenged.

Now, if only she could do one of her mathematics activities without getting bored and distracted by the time she reaches 6 or 7, we'd be all set!

At 6:19 p.m. , Anonymous Maddy said...

I am so glad I found your blog! WOW!! This is one of the best I have ever read on Montessori homeschooling. I am really enjoying looking at all of your entries! Please keep them are a true inspiration!

At 11:51 a.m. , Anonymous heather said...

Aha! I'm so happy I found your blog, and this post! I've been looking for Canadian sources for the Montessori materials I don't feel like making... like those darn cylinder blocks!

We're doing a "loose" Montessori with DD2, not the full schedule and everything but a good deal of the philosophy and activities. She loooooooves Practical Life stuff.

Looking at the blogroll, are you in New Brunswick? Always fun to find more NB homeschoolers, we're few and far between!

At 11:22 a.m. , Anonymous Budget Bella said...

I am new to the blog ... I was just wondering how old Ella is? I have an Ella that is 3 and a half. I have introduced her to the M Method, and just like your Ella the imaginative side of her is always with her in her activities!

I can't wait to read on and see how else you incorporate the M Method into your daily lives!

At 2:22 p.m. , Blogger Rachel R. said...

This is the one thing I've seen so far that I also decided was not worth the headache to try to make. If dowels were readily available in metric, this wouldn't be too bad, but metric dowels seem to be nearly impossible to find. So I will drop the money on these instead.

The best price I found was this set:


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