Monday, May 31, 2010

In Order To Make You Feel Better About That Geometric Cabinet Purchase...

There has been a rash of posts in the Montessori Blog World lately written by moms who fear that their geometric cabinet purchase has been a waste of money.

The geometric cabinet is one of the more expensive purchases when you buy your materials. I hemmed and hawed about whether to include it when I made my own first order. One of the things that convinced me was that unlike many sensorial materials that are used in only one of "Gettman's periods" the geometric cabinet is used across all or most of the periods...well, at least through period four. I'm too lazy to get up and get the Gettman right now. Perhaps I should consider a lanyard so I could wear it around my neck? More good can be used in the elementary classroom as well!

My first tip is to refrain from buying other shapes puzzles for your child. If they have already gone through the "shapes puzzle" stage and worked their Melissa and Doug jumbo knob shape puzzle to death the geometric cabinet may seem redundant to them. Really at first for the child this is just a "shapes puzzle" on steroids. Besides, all of those shape puzzles from the toy store mislabel the ellipse as an oval anyway. Then, if you are anything like me, you have to get out your label maker and fix it. Then, your in-laws see it and think you've gone over the edge. (Okay I am using the word "mislabel" loosely. As my sister pointed out, an ellipse is a type of oval. Still, if you are eventually going to do all the shapes that are or would have been in the cabinet you probably don't want to confuse your kid.)

I guess my second tip then is to introduce this material when your child is going through their puzzle fever. This will probably be before they are three. Me Too went through his at around 2.5. It is easy to spot. It's that period of development when your toddler can disappear for hours repeating particular knobbed puzzles 50 times in a row. My little guys learned a lot of vocabulary using puzzles, so the names of all those shapes are really no different.

Many moms who are experiencing buyers remorse have children who are still relatively young in the scheme of things. They have just realized that the child at home is less likely to get the repetition on the sensorial materials that a child in a Montessori school gets (there is just something about their peers egging them on that helps with this). If they are anything like my boys, they aren't very keen on matching all the shapes to the cards in the first place. After they had successfully matched the solid cards they looked at me like I had lost my mind when I brought out the thick-lined cards. I believe Kal-El actually said "Mom, I just did this." I guess he wasn't having any trouble with abstraction.

The good news is, you will have future uses for the cabinet.

First of all, check out the later extensions in the Gettman. They will probably enjoy some of the later "games."

Next, you might be able to get them to use it in combination with another underused sensorial material: the constructive triangles.

For example, you also may be able to get him to use the shapes as "controls" with the constructive triangles. Pick a one of the five boxes of constructive triangles then fill the demonstration tray for the geometric cabinet with all of the figures they should be able to make with the triangles. This should help make the connection between the names of the shapes that they know in the cabinet and the names of the shapes they can make with the triangles in the box.

You can also combine these two materials to do a sort a lot like the sorts typically done with the geometric solids (where you use the "solid" as a label and sort three-dimensional objects or pictures of three-dimensional objects into columns under each solid). You can use each of the triangles from the geometric cabinet as your "labels" and have them sort the matching constructive triangles into columns or piles underneath each one (a column of equilateral triangles, a column of right-angled isosceles, etc.,).

It was once suggested to me by a reader that the child can make their own booklets of all the shapes by pin-punching each one and then pasting it into the booklet. (We haven't tried this yet, I've always thought they were a little "thick.")

If none of these ideas appeal to you, do not despair! If you continue to homeschool for elementary you will get even more use out of your geometric cabinet. For example, you will use it to learn about rotational symmetry. (For example, inserting the hexagon into its frame in all six positions.) This is the reason the geometric cabinet is one of those materials that you have to buy from somewhere other than a bottom-of-the-barrel supplier. On the super-cheap cabinets the figures are cut so poorly even the circles and squares cannot be rotated in their frames. It is very sad to watch a 2.5 year-old who actually has the octagon and actually has chosen the octagonal frame correctly, but doesn't know it because it only fits in the frame one way.

I'm sure there are more elementary uses for the geometric cabinet...if you have some ideas please add them in the comments!

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  1. LOL - love the post title! I think your post was a wonderful explanation of the great things that can be done with the cabinet.

    Like I said in my post, I chose to order it because I knew the valuable lessons you could do with it....but man...I just can't get Short Pants interested in it even after having it for almost a year. I'm still really excited that he asked to work with it last week and hope it's the start of something new. I'm also hoping that Pita Pocket will enjoy it more - I really liked the suggestion to possibly bring it out a bit earlier age-wise - that's something I'll definately do with him - thanks!

  2. So where did you order yours from?
    I would have needed this at 18 months, when Bear was in a total sensitive period for knobbed puzzles. Now at almost 3, she knows her shapes (the puzzle ones and a few more - but don't worry, I also had to change the name of the oval to ellipse) and is beyond knobs - doesn't have much interest at all for them. Her baby brother would use the cabinet I guess, so I could order it in maybe 6 months. Anyway, both places I ordered from in the past are KidAdvance and Adena and I wouldn't want to order this from there, so it would be nice to know where yours is from since you seem to be happy with it. Thanks.

  3. How about tracing activity? It's wonderful you can find multiple uses for things!

    I regret buying the sound cylinders because it would have been so easy to make them but I found more uses for them so it's not a total waste. (Salt and pepper shakers for pretend play, building blocks, and music shakers)

  4. Using the label maker to relabel all of the ellipses... why didn't I think of that?

    I would love to get both the geometric cabinet and the botany cabinet, really nice ones, but not only are they expensive, I know we would never have the room for them.

    Great post.

    JL mentions tracing, and Zonnah asked about it on my blog. What are your thoughts on letting the cabinet double as the tracing insets in a homeschool setting?

  5. My cabinet is from I-fit. One piece did not have the appropriate rotational symmetry and the company replaced it with one that did :)

    ALWAYS completely check and USE your equipment orders when the arrive :)

    Since all the same shapes are in the cabinet as in the inset collection I don't think using them as insets is a bad idea, especially in a homeschool where there probably isn't a line up of kids waiting to use the cabinet for the purposes for which it is intended. I think there was something in the Homfray video on insets about the insets being metal so they could be thinner...the thicker wood is a little harder to work with when tracing. Also, they will get marked up this way and you all know the Monti "rules" on the materials always being in perfect condition. Those are the only negatives I can think of, and lets be practical...those aren't terrible negatives.

    The girl who painted trees...

    Both of my boys went through a "preliminary" puzzle obsession at 18 months and then went through another one in the twos. In fact, it was so pronounced I almost said "when they go through their "second" puzzle obsession in my post but decided against it because I don't know if that's the case with every kid. I guess I'm saying my advice is that whenever they go through that "shapes puzzle phase" make sure you find a way to teach ALL the shapes that would be in the cabinet. Now that Bear is past that phase I bet there are a couple that are in the cabinet that she doesn't know and now it's harder to get her to learn them.

    I wonder if homeschooled kids don't go through some of these sensorial phases earlier? My theory is that a lot of the same kids that would go to Montessori at three are also in daycare at 18 months. The kids Maria Montessori worked with wouldn't have had a shape puzzle and their mom at home with them at 18 months so when they saw the material at three it was all new to them? Just a theory?


    I guess I am also trying to say that the way the kids work with the cabinet is different than the other sensorial materials. With the others, you are supposed to see an intense burst over several days, then they are "done." The cabinet is used across so many periods I don't think we see that "burst" over several days. I think we see a 20 minute burst one day, then a couple months later another 20 minute burst at a new level, then again and again at other intervals? They may spend the same amount of time on it in the end as with anything else but it takes longer to accumulate the minutes? Again, just a theory.

  6. Thanks for this! Could you please explain how the metal insets and the geometric cabinet are different? Or are the metal insets contained in the cabinet? Thanks!!

  7. 2p,

    If you are unfamiliar with the materials I REALLY recommend you go on to one of the websites that sell them and look at the pictures...they will be more informative than any verbal description I can provide :)

  8. This post was helpful. I learned a lot about the geometric cabinet from watching Margaret Homfray's video.

    I see a lot of blogs where people are in hurry to introduce later materials instead of giving time for kids to explore earlier materials like the geometric cabinet. It is interesting how skills are built and refined through different activities. For example the tracing of the geometric shapes prepares learners to trace sandpaper letters.

    It would be great to have a checklist of things to check for when you receive new material.

    Do you have two sets of Geometric shapes? I noticed some are red and others blue.

  9. Anonymous,

    My demonstration tray came with red figures in white frames. My cabinet came with blue figures in yellow frames.

    You also reminded me that I meant to say 9and didn't) when I recommended starting the cabinet on the early side that if they don't have the attention span yet to trace the figures with their finger they are too little.

    The boys did the tracing, the naming, and the solid cards. I just can't get them to do the other cards or all the extensions where they fetch things from across the room etc.,

    You are right on about the rushing. I almost always recommend people wait, wait, wait to start the sequence until the child is about three...there just seems to be a couple of things (three or four) that a little one at home might hit the sensitive stage for earlier. I notice that these same things are often available in the Montessori toddler classrooms.

  10. I get the impression that activities like the fetching and pairing with the different cards are more group activities and not something you'd normally see one child (or two) do all by himself, even in a classroom. Having a large group where everyone took turns would certainly make little variations, like the outline shapes, more exciting.