Heart Stacking Tower
I always fall in love when I find a resource that is as engaging as it is beautiful. That is why I love the Montessori materials and it is also why I've fallen head over heels for the Heart Stacking Tower. It has an undeniably appealing aesthetic and is also a useful, engaging learning tool. In the grand tradition of Montessori Sensorial materials it also has the requisite ten pieces (including the fixed base). The cute feature of the heart shaped layers also makes it a perfect gift - what better way to remind a child how loved they are!
The tower (when all pieces are stacked) measures approximately 17cm tall. The largest heart - at the base - is approximately 18cm x 18cm and the smallest one - at the top - is approximately 8cm x 8cm. *Please note: these measurements are approximate because the hearts are a slightly asymmetrical style and therefore difficult to measure exactly.
The individual pieces of the Heart Stacking Tower can be compared by two different physical characteristics; the size of each heart and the subtly varying shades of the red to pink.
Younger children (toddlers and young pre-schoolers using the material for the first time) are better suited to comparing the size of each piece to stack the tower.
This is a more familiar, traditional stacking exercise and the changing sizes are also a more visually striking characteristic to sort by. As the child stacks he or she is exercising the sense of visual perception and becoming more expert in discriminating between changes in visual stimuli. The child is also linking this visual sense to a motor activity by picking each piece to thread onto the natural wooden dowel. This promotes strong hand-eye coordination as well as motor control. This stacking exercise also offers an opportunity to introduce the corresponding language of 'largest', 'larger', 'smaller' and 'smallest'.
Once a child is confident with stacking the tower by size then he or she might be ready to consider the other unique feature of the tower; the ten different shades of colour, moving from a red base to a light pink top.
In a Montessori classroom the exploration of shades should begin with 'Colour Box 3' - first a 'Three Period Lesson' to introduce the language of 'light' and 'dark' and then an attempt at ordering the shades from darkest to lightest (or vice versa). If you are using the Heart Stacking Tower at home (or if the Colour Box 3 is not available in a classroom) then you can use the hearts for the Three Period Lesson:
Simply take the darkest heart (not the base, as the wooden dowel might be a distraction) and the lightest heart. Start by presenting one at a time in front of the child while clearly stating the description "this is dark" and "this is light". Then place both in front of the child and ask "Which is dark?" and "Which is light?". If the child identifies them correctly then the adult can place one at a time in front of the child to ask "What is this?" so that the child can answer "dark!" or "light!". If the child can successfully move through the 'three periods' of the lesson then you can start stacking by shade!
Ask the child to notice that the base is darkest red and ask the child to find the next darkest shade. The child can then place this on the dowel before seeking the next darkest. You can also introduce other language - such as "darker" or "lighter" as the child compares the shades. It is true that the child will also be able to use the varying sizes as a clue but the primary focus will be aimed at the shades of colour.
When I use this in the classroom I like to add a little extension to take our explorations from "concrete" to "abstract" while also incorporating a bit of maths!
I have created a paper template showing ten hearts - with one end reading "darkest" and the other reading "lightest". Since taking these photos I've also refined the template a little so that now the ten paper hearts decrease in size to more directly reflect the aesthetics of our Stacking Heart (there's always room for improvement and refinement, the children are not the only ones who are learning and developing every day!).
We then use a paint palette with 10 segments. We take red paint and white paint and perform 'colour maths' to create our varying shades. The first part of the palette has 10 drips of red and zero drips of white. The next cavity holds 9 drips of red and 1 drip of white. The next has 8 of red and 2 of white...all the way along to the last container which holds zero drips of red and 10 drips of white. This gives us a consistent gradation of shades while also introducing a really practical, meaningful opportunity for counting and early addition!
Once the paints are mixed the child carefully applies each shade to the paper template in order, creating a lasting representation of our work of ordering shades (and a beautiful piece of art!).