The Montessori knobless cylinders are a lot of fun and have been enjoyed by all the kids I have worked with. Montessori materials tend to be expensive, but if it is within your budget, I do recommend getting a set. This post I’ll go through what the knobless cylinders are, what their purpose is (what the child learns from using them) and how to present them as a lesson.

Small child, grading the Montessori blue knobless cylinders

What are Montessori knobless cylinders?

The knobless cylinders are classes as a sensorial material and come in four separate wooden boxes. Each box contains 10 wooden cylinders, but each colour set is different.

  • Yellow colored cylinders: decrease in height, as well as in diameter.
  • Red colored cylinders: are equal in height with decrease in diameter.
  • Green colored cylinders: decrease in diameter but increase in height.
  • Blue colored cylinders: are equal in diameter for decrease in height..

Usually the box for each set of knobless cylinders, the box lid matches the color of the cylinders.

Small child, using the Montessori red and green knobless cylinders with pattern cards.

What is the purpose of these wooden cylinders?

Primarily it is used to sort the cylinders into the correct order, understanding the different dimensions using visual discrimination. But they teach so much more than that, they are an indirect preparation for for things such as:

  • Visual linear perception.
  • Relative size, weight and volume.
  • Preparation for mathematics 
  • Units of measurement
  • Learning about the base of 10
  • Developing accurate observation skills
  • Developing and strengthening pincer grip for writing
  • Developing hand-eye coordination
  • Working on fine motor skills
  • Left or right eye movement, which is necessary for reading and writing

As with a lot of the sensorial activities that Dr Montessori created they are based on abstractions. Dr Montessori, isolated one abstract idea such as shape and design the material that would focus on a single concept for easier learning for the children. 

That’s why on a Montessori shelf, you won’t find a sorting activity that needs the child to sort both colour and shape, the focus is always on just one thing. This is known as isolation of a property, and it is obvious the difference between one item and the next. Overtime, the materials differences become more subtle and the activity more complex..

How to present the Montessori Knobless cylinders

  1. First, introduce your child to the boxes of knobless cylinders. And let them see inside the box so that they have their curiosity quelled.
  2. I recommend starting with the yellow box because they vary in two different dimensions and they are stable to work with. Take the yellow knobless cylinder box to the table or work area.
  3. Remove the lid of the box and place it in the top left corner of the work space and then placed the box on top of the lid. Remember we always work from left to right to help the child when the time comes to reading and writing. The only time this is different is if you are teaching your child in a language that moves from right to left, such as Hebrew.
  4. Take out each of the cylinders from the box and set up in a horizontal line from left to right in random order.
  5. Show the child that you are visibly searching for the largest cylinder, pick it up and place it in front of the child to the left.
  6. Continue looking for the next cylinder as the height decreases and place it in front of the child, continue grading all of the cylinders until you have completed the line.
  7. Now scatter the cylinders again so that they are mixed up. And invite the child to grade them this time.
  8. Admire the child’s graded work, and then tell them that they can do the exercise again, or replace the cylinders back in the box and place the box back on the shelf.
  9. They can now use a different color box and grade the sets of cylinders whenever they like.

Unlike the knobbed cylinders, there is no built in control of error, it comes down to a visual sense. And I recommend teaching the child to count the cylinders back into the box as the small cylinders are very easy to misplace.

Small child, using the Montessori knobless cylinders to make patterns

Montessori Knobless cylinders extensions

There are numerous extensions for this activity and in the school environment you could have two children working on individual sets of cylinders, but for the more advanced extensions, the child will need two or more sets of cylinders. You can start introducing these once the child has completed working with each of the four individual boxes.

Parallel grading 

Invite the child to grade any box that they choose, and then show them how they can grade another set of cylinders in parallel and in front of the first set that they have built. You can then explain that they can do this with all four boxes.

Super-imposed grading

Invite the child to grade any box that they choose. Then take out another box and scatter the cylinders in front of the row of graded cylinders. Show the child how to find cylinders of the same diameter and place the second color cylinder on top of the matching one in the already graded set.

Montessori knobless cylinders stacked on top of each other in height order.

One color tower

build a tower using one set of cylinders.

Tower pattern

Use more than one set of cylinders to build a tower, creating a pattern as they do so.

Small child, stacking the Montessori knobless cylinders to make a tower

Blindfold Grading

For all the children, or children that need a more challenging activity have them set up the novelist cylinders as they would normally. But then provide them with a blindfold so that they can grade the cylinders blind.

Blindfold Tower Building

Probably the most difficult extension, it will help if the child first grade is the cylinders and then tries to build a tower.

Montessori Knobless cylinders cards

I was the first person to sell these knobless cylinder card packs, the original pack I made for my son, and when I blocked about it back in the day, I had numerous requests for copies of the packs. The updated versions are still available in my shop, you can get your set here on Etsy.

For the cards, it is a visual clue and has a built-in control of error for children when they are grading the coloured cylinders. There are numerous patterns and designs that they can follow. They start with simple patterns that they can build on top of, and then I recommend that they build using the pattern as inspiration. There are also 3-D patterns so that they can build with cylinders on top of each other.

Small child, using the Montessori knobless cylinders with pattern cards.

Adding other materials into the mix

Once your child has mastered all that if you have all the materials at home, such as the Pink Tower, Broad Stairs or the Red Rods, you could encourage your child to use the materials together. I don’t recommend this until the child has a good understanding of the grading of the Montessori knobless cylinders and other materials as these were designed so that the child can focus on one thing at a time.

small childs hand stacking Montessori knobbled cylinders on top onf the montessori knobless cylinders

Final word of warning 

If you happen to have the knobbled cylinder blocks, be aware that the Montessori knobless cylinders do fit in the holes of the cylinder blocks! The problem being that sometimes they get stuck. Our set had a small holes in the bottom of each set so if something did get stuck you could poke them out but I know not all of the cylinder blocks have this. Now you know!

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A child making a pattern using the montessori knobless cylinders