If there is a quintessential Montessori material, it is the Pink Tower: a set of 10 cubes, differing in 1 cm increments in size from 1cm cubed to 10cm cubed and stacked in a tower. This tower may look simple, but it embodies the preparation for mathematical thinking in young children.
How can this tower help to prepare for math?
- Precision: the cubes are mathematically precise, and based on the metric system. Each cube differs from the next one by 1 cm in all dimensions and the children are shown how to move the 1 cm cube around each “step”of the tower to build an understanding of this relationship.
- Isolation: the cubes are all of the same material and colour, and are therefore differentiated only by size. The children are therefore differentiating by size when building this tower.
- Exploration: children learn to build it by mixing up the cubes and building it themselves. If they are not able to differentiate and build it in descending order of cube size, they do not have an understanding of size differences and need to spend more time on this before moving on to the next activity of differentiation. Children also get the chance to build the tower in different ways – some more stable than others…
- How they build reveals their learning: the teacher will see that if a child is able to build the tower in descending order of size, the child is ready for the next step – building the Brown Stair, which involves differentiation in only two dimensions. Each prism is 20 cm in breadth, but ranges from 1cm to 10 cm squared in the other 2 dimensions. This is more complex to build in descending order of size than the Pink Tower. Once the child can build the Brown Stair, the child moves to the Red Rods, which are differentiated in 10 cm increments in length alone (from 10cm to 1m).
But why is it pink? To be attractive to the eye and to appeal to the child. Montessori started her work in 1907, well before pink became a “girls’ colour” in 1940. At the turn of the century, pink was seen as a strong colour and was more closely identified with boys than with girls.
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