The beauty of the Montessori Sensorial materials is that they possess both a primary purpose and opportunities for secondary extension experiences. I am always delighted when I discover other materials that possess these qualities (especially when they also happen to have the Montessori magic number of ten pieces!).
The Rainbow Flowers set offers the primary purpose of a traditional 'stacking' game and the secondary extension of becoming a unique and challenging 'tower' task!
These two different experiences both offer the opportunity to refine the visual perception of size but at varying degrees of difficulty. The 2-dimensional stacking task is the beginner level experience, ideal for toddlers and younger pre-schoolers, while the 3-dimensional tower is a challenge for an older or more experienced pre-schooler (and is even quite challenging for an adult the first few times you try!). The opportunity for these two different styles of construction ensures that the Rainbow Flowers have a longer lifespan than most stacking toys.
The 2-D stacking exercise allows the child to follow a pattern from largest to smallest (or smallest to largest!) to create a beautiful, colourful flower shape. The child can work independently on this, problem-solving and self-correcting as he (or she) goes. Alternatively a teacher or parent can join in, offering the vocabulary of the sizes and colours to enhance the activity.
Once the flat stacking exercise has been mastered a child might like to approach the challenge of building the tower. In order to achieve this the child must place each layer so that it is slightly rotated from the previous layer. This allows the 'outdented' edges to sit on the indents (and vice versa) so that it balances. This is a rather hard skill to master as it requires a lot of precision and control - particularly because it feels a little "counter-intuitive". It feels so natural to place the shape in as a concentric pattern, so to ignore this urge and actually rotate it so that it sits 'off-centre' requires a lot of cognitive control!
If a child accidentally misplaces the next layer - so that it slips down into the centre of the beehive like tower - it is quite fun to reach in to collect it for a second attempt.
The Rainbow Flowers are Australian-made from sustainable timbers. As with all natural wooden pieces there are likely to be minor 'imperfections' in the wood but this is actually a great way of encouraging children to care for the materials. Take the time to initially show the child the natural, subtle grooves and grains of the wood showing through the paint. As time goes on, ensure that if additional chips begin to appear highlight these to the child and use it as a reminder that if the materials are handled with care then there is less risk of these chips appearing.
Okay, I can't resist including just one last photo of my gorgeous, cheeky Montessori model!