The Sound Cylinders
The Montessori Sensorial materials isolate specific sensory perceptions into concrete, repeatable and self-correcting materials. All of the senses are addressed: visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and kinestetic. Exactly how Montessori isolates each of these sense perceptions may be hard to imagine. Once you experience the materials, though, you can appreciate the simple elegance of these materials.
The Sound Cylinders are a perfect example: six pairs of hand-held cylinders, each containing a different substance that, when shaken, creates a unique sound. The sounds are percussive, increasing in volume from the very soft sound a cylinder filled with sand makes to the much louder sound a cylinder filled with dry beans makes. To make sure that the only difference between the cylinders is the sound they create, each cylinder is the same size, color and weight.
When first introducing the material, the teacher may choose only three pairs: the loudest and softest cylinders and one in between. The child practices listening to these distinct sounds, grading them as softest, louder and loudest, or loud, softer and softest, and pairing them with their matching cylinder. After the child's auditory discrimination has developed sufficiently to distinguish more subtle changes in sound, the Teacher will invite the child to use all six pairs. As a control of error, the cylinders are marked on their bottom to allow the child to check his or her matches independently.
The Sound Cylinders are a critical piece of the Sensorial materials, and like other Sensorial materials, they prepare the child for other materials. The Sandpaper Letters, for example, require a nuanced ability to perceive differences in sound.. Consider "f" and "s" or "t" and "c" for example... children must be able to distinguish between very similar sounds to be able to master these letters. Beyond their preparation for language materials, though, the Sound Cylinders are a mysterious and enchanting material that entices children to concentration in their work. Watch as the child carefully holds each cylinder to his or her ear... it's as though the material has a secret to share.
Catherine McTamaney, Ed.D.
Christopher Academy Alumna