Young children like to explore, experiment, tinker, and try things. They like to touch, feel, and manipulate objects. They feed their minds through activity. They learn through their senses and hands. They have an insatiable appetite for things to do. The following sensory-motor materials are specially designed to enable children to develop through this natural process. These materials enable children to use their hands to explore attributes of their world, refine the use of their senses, and develop their ability to explore patterns and relationships.
The Cylinder Blocks
There are four cylinder blocks. Each is different. The children first work with them one at a time.
The Cylinder Blocks enable to children to experiment with the attributes of size and dimension. At first children will often use trial and error to find which cylinder fits into which hole. As children experiment, they usually begin to try different strategies. For example, children may take the cylinders out in order and then place them back in order. The cylinders don't fit properly into the wrong holes and so the material draws the child's attention to differences in dimension.
Children work with the individual cylinder blocks over a period of time. They are free to experiment as long as they don't damage the material. As they master individual blocks, they enjoy the increased challenge of attempting more than one block at a time. The little child to the right has placed all four blocks together. He has taken all the pieces out and is in the process of trying to put all the cylinders back into their corresponding holes.
The Cubes (sometimes painted pink and called the Pink Tower)
After beginning to distinguish differences in size, the child will become interested in building with cubes of different sizes. The cubes are all the same color, and all the same shape. Therefore, size is the only attribute which distinguishes between the pieces. Usually, the first idea to capture a child's interest is that of building a tower. However, if left alone, children will experiment with building other things as well. During the first attempts to build, children will usually puzzle over which block to place next. However, by studying the problem, and through experimentation, they will refine their understanding, master the challenge, and delight in building a tower such as can be seen on the left.
The cubes and the cylinders present a puzzle to young children with which they love to tinker and solve.
The Broad Stair (Prisms)
After experimenting with the cubes, children like to build with rectangular prisms. The first thing that usually captures their interest is the idea to use the prisms to build stairs. As can be seen in the picture to the right, children often like to run their hand down the stairs and feel the descending order. Whereas the cubes vary on all three dimensions, the rectangular prisms vary in only two dimensions (height and width). They are all the same length.
The Long Rods
The long rods vary only in length. Therefore, they are different only in one dimension and have been found to be the most difficult of the materials for dealing with differences in dimension. So, children are usually only successful sorting the rods after they have worked with the other materials shown above.
The rods vary in length by a decimeter. The first rod is one decimeter (ten centimeters) long. There are ten rods with the longest being a meter (or ten decimeters) in length. The children try to sort the rods by length.
The Knobless Cylinders
Children continue to explore the above materials over a period of time. As they return to the cylinder blocks, they often like to line the cylinders up outside of the blocks and study them. This is a good time to introduce them to cylinders that do not have knobs for handles. Without the knobs, they can stack them and explore their dimensions in new ways.
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