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Montessori is one of many educationalists to support education through the senses. The Montessori classroom has a whole curriculum area devoted to this kind of learning that focusses specifically on the one sense and quality at a time.

In the area of visual discrimination of dimension, the child is first introduced to the Knobbed Cylinders. This is a set of four cylinders blocks, each comprising of ten cylinders. Each block introduces the child to the concept that shapes can differ in three dimensions (height, length and breadth).

A special feature of the Knobbed Cylinders, in particular, is that they include what Montessori refers to as a ‘mechanical control of error’. The cylinder block itself makes the child aware when a mistake in placement has been made, as the activity cannot be completed unless all the cylinders are in the right place.

This is important for a number of reasons.

Firstly – the cylinder block itself has the diameters of the cylinders in order from widest to narrowest. This gives the child the impression of how size is graded without needing an adult to try and explain this very abstract concept using words that the child does not yet have knowledge or understanding of.

Secondly – The mechanical control of error allows the child to work with the material independently as the material itself will make the child aware of an error in size discrimination being made. By trial and error with much repetition, the child will develop her/his own understanding of what dimension is, and will begin to understand across how many dimensions shapes can change.

Thirdly – the ability that this material allows the child for independent work and self-construction is vital for the child’s developing control over mind and body. It allows for the child to use both her/his mental and physical energies to attend purposefully to the activity at hand. This develops concentration and the conscious will and lays a solid foundation for the other dimension activities that follow.

The simplicity of the material is deceiving when one considers just how much learning and self-construction it holds for the child.

What do you think?