**To read a little bit about how these building blocks might fit in with the context of a formal Montessori classroom please scroll to the last section of this description!**
My Montessori classroom is rarely home to 'building blocks' as we have the inimitable Sensorial materials to provide opportunities for constructing and creating. However, there are times when I discover some building materials that are so beautiful that I simply cannot resist introducing them into the prepared environment. That is how I felt when I discovered the Colour From Nature Building Blocks.
These delightful wooden blocks, with subtle embellishments evoking the essence of nature, have proven irresistible to the children in my classroom. Simply placing them in a basket on our shelf has inspired countless creative expressions and experiments. The children seem strongly drawn to the beauty and the functionality of these building materials.
The set consists of a range of small, solid wooden pieces in a variety of shapes. Many of the pieces correspond with one another - for instance, a small semi-circular piece fits perfectly beneath a wooden 'bridge'. The majority of the pieces showcase the natural beauty of wood. A few of these pieces include the subtle but attractive detailing of leaves growing or insects fluttering. Several of the smaller piece pieces provide coloured 'accents'.
One particularly special feature is that the bright accent pieces are all coloured with 100% natural, plant-based dyes! This creates a beautiful appearance while promoting eco-friendly practices. Most importantly, it ensures that your precious little one is not exposed to harmful chemicals.
The natural dyes - derived from flowers, leaves, fruits and vegetables - are safe and organic for little hands and also little mouths! It is, of course, very common for bubs and toddlers to use their mouths to explore objects. This is due to the fact that the baby's mouth is extremely sensitive to sensory input. The mouth is essentially the infant's best tool for exploring the world because it detects the most detail. The organic dyes of the Colour From Nature Building Blocks ensure that there is no need to worry if a little one instinctively puts the wooden to his or her mouth. The organic make the blocks ideal for a little ones, or for classroom environments where a room might overlap between several different age groups, or for a home where younger siblings might explore the blocks too!
The Colour From Nature Building Blocks provide a point of inspiration from which countless creations can grow! I love observing children as they arrange and rearrange the pieces to make houses, towns, towers, rockets, gardens, slippery dips and more!
So what do I see when I observe these children building? I see...
- Concentration and attention to detail as the child focuses intently on where and how to arrange the blocks.
- Fine motor control developing as the child carefully places and balances each piece.
- Problem-solving and persistence as the child reacts to falling pieces or wonky walls.
- Cooperation and communication skills growing as pairs (or groups) of children work together building towards a common goal.
- Satisfaction and self-esteem as the child celebrates the realisation of their vision - a physical representation of an abstract design that began in his or her mind!
Here are just a few of the beautiful creations I've observed in my classroom (larger versions available in the gallery)...
Finally (and it might sound like a funny detail to mention!) the Colour by Nature Blocks come in a clearly labelled and illustrated box! Any parent or teacher knows how challenging it can be to find storage space for all the treasures. Materials that have a clearly labelled box (like this one!) are extraordinarily helpful in this regard as they are easier to store, stack and then locate! A quick glance in the cupboard (or, in our case, on top of it!) and you can easily see the box. It saves you from rooting around underneath and behind other resources or opening countless generic boxes to find it.
**A few thoughts on 'blocks' in a Montessori classroom**
Many sets of building blocks, including these, share certain features with the Montessori materials - natural wood, the chance to refine visual perception of size and shape, the opportunity to engage in problem-solving and architectural experimentation. Building blocks can, therefore, be said to fit extremely comfortably into a home or classroom environment that is 'inspired' by Montessori. However, for a classroom in a school that intentionally implements the full Montessori methodology (and advertises itself as such) it is important to acknowledge that building blocks (however beautiful!) are not a replacement for the actual Montessori Sensorial materials.
The formal Montessori materials provide several specific opportunities for children to use solid geometric 'blocks' (or, more accurately, 'cubes', 'prisms' and 'cylinders') to develop knowledge of size and spatial reasoning. The Pink Tower and the Broad Stairs are two of the most prominent tools of the Montessori Sensorial curriculum. Each of these materials offers opportunities for a child to place the pieces into structures and formations that reveal sensory concepts as well as structural techniques. In a Montessori classroom these tools are not simply interchangeable with generic building blocks. The exact proportions, quantities and characteristics of the formal Montessori materials have been specially designed and so they can not be replaced with another set of blocks (or, at least, a teacher could not replace them with generic blocks and expect the same results and benefits!). For instance, the presence of ten (and only ten) cubes in the Pink Tower is an intentional piece of foreshadowing for the child's later work with the decimal system. The fact that the smallest pink cube measures a square centimetre is no accident - nor is the fact that each of the following cubes then grows by a centimetre at a time. When the tower is built 'corner to corner' there is precisely enough space for the smallest cube to perch on the edge of each level of the tower. These subtle but powerful details are part of the beauty of the Montessori materials and the genius of the method itself. Even the most beautiful sets of building blocks do not offer these same features, and therefore a classroom or school claiming to apply the full Montessori method should not try to use generic blocks instead of the Sensorial materials.
The provision of building blocks here at Montessori Child is not intended to replace the Montessori Sensorial materials in the classroom. It is intended to recognise the following two principles;
- In a Montessori inspired home the structure of presentations, and library of materials, does not need to be as formal as in the classroom. A parent at home might find that the full range of Montessori Sensorial materials is either not affordable or not relevant for their purposes (particularly if the child is also attending a Montessori Pre-school). Therefore, materials such as building blocks when used at home can embody, or enhance, many of the aims of the Sensorial materials without such a significant financial investment. This may also be true of early learning environments which are inspired by, and utilise, elements of the Montessori approach without intending to enact it in its entirety.
- In a formal Montessori classroom children may still benefit from the artistic and architectural benefits of engaging with additional building materials that are designed to be open-ended. After acquiring the fundamental experiences with the formal Montessori Sensorial materials there is scope for these experiences to be extended and applied in other contexts.