The Pink Tower
by Anne Prowant, Children's House Guide
In comparison to the pink tower, many toys these days seem extremely complex and overwhelming. They move, light up, make sounds, cook you breakfast, and do your math homework. And they are incredibly difficult to resist, both for children and adults. I remember as a child loving a doll called P.J. Sparkles. You pressed a button, and her bow, bracelet, brooch, and earrings would all light up in a dazzling display akin to a Vegas light show.
But what about those simple, classic toys? Blocks, a beautiful stuffed animal, a ball. There’s nothing special or remarkable about these things, and yet children continue to play with them. Why? Beautiful, well-chosen toys are cherished and often passed down to the next generation.
I loved my P.J. Sparkles doll for a hot second, but where is she now? I can only assume that she is in the giant trash heap in the sky. But my beautiful Breyer horse set? That is lovingly boxed up in my basement, waiting for the day when my daughter is old enough to appreciate it. Yes, there’s a lot of beauty in simplicity.
One of the simplest yet most beautiful materials in the Montessori classroom is the pink tower. Maria Montessori designed the pink tower for her first classroom, Casa dei Bambini, and it’s the material that most people think of when they hear the word “Montessori.” It consists of ten wooden cubes of different sizes, all painted pink. The smallest measures one centimeter cubed; the largest, ten centimeters cubed.
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything too remarkable about this material. You stack the cubes from smallest to largest, right? No big deal! Well, not exactly.
Upon closer inspection, you see that the pink tower actually helps children accomplish, whether directly or indirectly, a variety of skills. Yes, there’s the visual discrimination aspect, which is self-correcting. There’s no need for a teacher to point out a mistake, because it’s very easy for young children to see for themselves if a block isn’t where it’s supposed to be!
But there’s also the indirect introduction to the base-ten system that we use for mathematics, otherwise known as the decimal system. Children need physical control to stack the tower correctly and develop an appreciation for order and deep concentration.
Beyond that, children who work with the pink tower are exposed to beginning geometry and the algebraic series of the third power.
All this from a beautiful, simple set of blocks designed by a woman over 100 years ago. Is your mind blown yet?
The introductory lesson that a Montessori directress uses to show a child the pink tower for the first time is very slow and methodical. The directress models how to carry the cubes; she pauses to touch the sides, pondering over the smallest cube and admiring how the tower looks as she builds it. She wants to call the child’s attention to the beauty of the tower, the weight and smoothness of the cubes, and the pleasure of finishing it correctly. All of this happens, in typical Montessori fashion, without the need to use spoken instructions. Because lessons in Montessori so often involve the sense of touch, language is often not required.
So why is the pink tower pink? No one really knows for sure. Perhaps that was a color that Montessori had lying around, or maybe (just maybe) she colored it pink to match the colored bead cube that signifies the power of the third.
Either way, there’s a reason that the pink tower is an icon in the Montessori community and an integral part of every classroom. Because unlike so many of the fancy toys and gadgets you see on store shelves today, the simple, unassuming pink tower is, well, just plain beautiful.
See the Materials section of our blog to learn more about what Montessori students work with every day.