Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Colors of the Tower and Stairs

There has been much discussion over the colors of the sensorial materials of tower, stairs and rods. Isn't natural better? It has the natural grain of the wood; it doesn't chip and need repairing; it focuses on the dimension, keeping them all the same rather than looking at the colors.

Well, I went back and forth. We had colored items to start with; sold most of them when my son was in elementary and we needed the space and money. Then I opened a co-op. Alas, I ended up purchasing all-new materials. When folks have used ones for sale, they sell fast! It's just a part-time co-op, so I want that money to stretch; so we purchased natural tower and natural stairs (I still had my original homemade red rods).

Guess what gets used? The red rods.

The little-little ones (2-3 year olds) will do the tower.

When the children were more "new" they went for the stair - blocks are something familiar.

But that was it. No amount of extension presentations, language games, challenges (what I use for the elementary children to get their hands on the sensorial material) gets them being creative. It's a dud. WHAT IS GOING ON?

I did show the elementary children how to find the volume of the cubes by building up 1cm wood cubes. That gets them using the tower and parts of the stair - and they are finding similarities. But NOONE is doing extension work.

Then I saw this post at My Montessori Moments, followed the links, and wondered..... and the pieces all fell together:

Cosmic education does not "begin" in elementary - the foundations are laid in infancy and built upon in primary; and finally realized on one level in elementary (and yet another level in adolescence).

What does that have to do with the sensorial materials?????

The sensorial materials are keys to the world - sure, we want all-natural and everything I listed at the start of this post - but there is SO MUCH MORE.

Art: look at those beautiful colors:

From Pink Princess Kingdom - so beautiful!

Our materials at co-op
(can you see which cube is missing?
I'll guess you had to search for it)

Which would YOU prefer to work with!?

The focus SHOULD be on the dimensions - not the knotholes; not the grain lines. Can you really see the dimensions if both are natural? Think about it, REALLY? In this case, all-natural does not help with the appreciation of aesthetics, and deters the child from the fullest of experiences.

With this material, the children can apply the principles they see to geometry; spatial relations when carrying ANY of the materials, or living ANY aspect of their lives. These things can be further developed by the precise way we carry the sensorial materials - and using two at the same time forces the child to "think" in the moment about how to hold this one, then that one - aiding decision making and thought processes.

Chipping: We are supposed to be teaching our children to care for the materials - and sometimes that means repair them. Yes, Montessori originally said the children could knock them down. Then she spent 4 years under house arrest in India as an enemy of the state. I don't know if that caused her to change her mind; but it certainly led to an emphasis on peace education!

When my son was an infant, he attempted to knock his glass off the table. But he couldn't! Because it was a heavy glass tumbler. We started with a shot-glass, but he would insert one finger into it, with two fingers on the outside and flip it. To train him to leave it alone, I had two options if I wanted PRODUCTIVE behavior before the age I could reason with him: provide something he couldn't flip (thereby disallowing the development of the habit) or swat his hand every time. Glass tumbler it was. He never spilled a drop or broke a glass (his whole life).

So at primary, we can show them how to use the blocks without knocking them down.

Chipping happens; then we show how to make the repairs - slowly and carefully - and let it sit until it dries. Takes the fun out of that instant impulse to knock them down, when you can't use the material for a while AND you have to sit and watch it dry (yes, I've made a child wait for the paint dry due to a severe attitude issue that causing the *hurling* of the pink tower across the room). Not a punishment - just consequences. No anger on my part; just a firm "you did this; now this is what we are going to do" - no ifs, ands, or buts. Child has proven he can't handle freedom, now he stays with the adult and follows through on natural consequences.
(said child was careful with the material after that - and when chips naturally happened anyway, he was the first to volunteer to fix it up)

Now, this post was written off-the-cuff - I have much more well-thought-out posts coming up at Montessori Nuggets - this one centers on our personal experience. 4 months ago, I still would have recommended the natural cubes and prisms - but I can no longer continue that recommendation. It may work in some situations, but it's not working here - and I have children that are soaking up EVERYTHING else. This one should have been a no-brainer - it started out fine, but fizzled. The above pictures say it all.

I'm buying paint and painting ours - I'll update here with any changes :)

Just for kicks:

red rods on steroids - how neat is this!?

UPDATE 2016:
I never did get back to updating this! YES, PAINT THEM! After 4 years, the ongoing uptake in the work, the extensions, the art designs - WORTH IT.
And please don't have them mixed up in a basket either - have them set so they display their dimensions on the shelf or stand too. This makes an ongoing difference (any change makes a short-term difference - I am speaking of months and years here...).


  1. Interesting you should find this. We bought natural tower, broad stair and large number rods when we opened the new school because we wanted it to look different to the nursery and ended up buying a pink tower. The natural ones were just never used. Now they are out daily! The number rods and the stair have remained natural but I regret that we didn't get the coloured ones to begin with.

  2. I "think" (I'm still studying this matter - Montessori observation!) the key is for the tower and the stair at least to be two different colors. If the wood grain is smooth enough, it shouldn't be so much of a distraction - I think ;)

    I do like the aesthetics of certain shades of brown and pink together, but I think I'm going to paint the pink tower and see what happens. Then if need be, I'll paint the brown/broad stair. Ours doesn't have grain lines just *too* bad. We'll see - lots of observation to be had!

  3. How do you repair the chipped corners and edges?

    1. I painted my natural wood, so I still have the paint on hand and I fill in any chips (only had one so far, actually, but we work with this material on carpet and it doesn't hit solid objects).

      In some things, I have filled in with colored permanent marker. There is also wood filler that can be shaped into missing chunks then repainted.