The Geometry Cabinet is one of the original materials from Dr. Montessori’s first classroom, the Casa dei Bambini. It is a material that was originally developed by Dr. Seguin, a man who was a large inspiration to her work. Over time, Dr. Montessori modified the material to what the children of the last 100 years have been joyfully working with. The Geometry Cabinet is part of the Sensorial area of the Primary Montessori classroom. It is used to further develop the child’s visual sense in the discrimination of shape/form.
This material is a wooden cabinet with six drawers that contain plane, or two dimensional, geometric shapes. Each drawer holds six different shapes that are cut from small planks of wood, with a knob so the shapes may be removed and replaced. The figures in each drawer are grouped by similar shape. There is a drawer of circles, rectangles, triangles, quadrilaterals, polygons, and curvilinear figures. Additionally, there is a tray on the top that contains a circle, and equilateral triangle, and a square. Typically, next to the Geometry Cabinet, is a second cabinet that holds three series of cards with all of the shapes in the cabinet represented. There is a set of cards with the solid shape, the shape with a thick outline, and the shape with a thin outline.
There are several purposes to this work. The first is to expose the child to a variety of geometric shapes and to help him discern the differences between them. He will begin to notice the finer differences of the shapes as he compares similar figures. As the child works with this material, we find that he begins to see the world around him differently. He will start to see the geometric shapes that surround him in his everyday life! Often as the child works with the shapes, the guide, or the teacher, is giving him the names for each in the form of a fun language game we call the Three-period Lesson. The names of the shapes are important because once he knows their names, he can identify them as they are spontaneously observed and he will be able to communicate about them.
Another purpose of this material is the absorption of the geometric figures. But how can the child absorb the figures? As this material is presented, the child is shown to remove and trace around each shape with his fingers. For the young child, this kind of movement is irresistible! As he repeatedly traces and traces around the shapes, he develops a muscle memory of each one. He comes to know the shape by not just sight, but by touch! In the Montessori classroom you can find children removing and replacing six or more shapes in one sitting while wearing a blindfold!
The last purpose is that of an indirect preparation for handwriting. Yes, handwriting! Each shape inset has a knob that the child engages a three finger grip to grasp. This grasp is the same used to hold a pencil. Through his repeated removal and replacement of the shape, his fingers are being prepared for the correct pencil grip. As his fingers trace the contours of the shapes, he is not only controlling the muscles of the hand, but developing a firmness of touch. This will again help him as begins to learn to write. We find that this type of indirect preparation lends to much success as the child begins working with a pencil!
One aspect of this material that is so lovely, is that it can be used from the beginning of the child’s experience in the Montessori Primary classroom, at three years of age, and for several years after. As the child’s sensitivity to tracing the figures wanes, we have the card material to offer him. Now, this older child can take the concrete experience that he has had exploring the shapes and he can start to abstract it. He works in gradual stages comparing the insets shapes to the solid cards, then the thick lined, and finally the thin lined cards. As he progresses, he is able to more finely observe the minute differences of shape, translating his experience from one that was very concrete to one that is more abstract.
But even more, the experience that the child has with this material will carry through to many other exercises in the classroom. Later, he will begin to very intelligently explore triangles and their constructive nature, he will creatively design with shape, he will observe the geometric forms represented as he moves through the mathematics materials, and so much more. The Geometry Cabinet prepares the child for much future learning!
I think that now, it is quite easy to see why this material has continued to be an integral part of the Sensorial area of the Montessori classroom for over 100 years. It really does offer the child an important foundation of geometry and so much more!
About the Author:
Megan Trezise is an AMI trained Primary Guide who has spent many years working in both private and public Montessori classrooms. She is experienced in creating/facilitating professional development and coaching Montessori teachers to reach their goals and their highest potential. Meg is currently in the AMI Training of Trainers at the Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies and is looking forward to preparing adults to carry on Dr. Montessori’s legacy of serving the child.