Introducing the Knobbed Cylinders

The Knobbed Cylinders are a Montessori Sensorial material, designed to assist children in making distinctions in their immediate environment. This material primarily engages the senses of touch and sight.

The material is comprised of 10 different cylinders with ‘knobs’ used to hold each object using the pincer grip. Each cylinder fits into a specific hole on a solid block of wood.

There are four different variations of the Knobbed Cylinders, allowing children to challenge different perceptions of preliminary mathematical concepts, such as weight and size. Each Knobbed Cylinder block differs as follows:

  • Block One: varies on height and diameter, ie. the tallest cylinder also has the widest diameter.
  • Block Two: variation is based on the diameter of each hole.
  • Block Three: varies on height and diameter, ie. the tallest cylinder also has the thinnest diameter.
  • Block Four: variation is based on the height of the cylinders.


Children begin working with the Knobbed Cylinders from the age of three years old. They are primarily used to teach children to visually discriminate between dimensions; however, as competency grows, child can begin to differentiate with touch.

This Montessori material also indirectly prepares students for writing, as they begin coordinating their fingers in a pincer grip, which is used later for holding pencils.

It also lays the foundation for future work in mathematics and language, as children learn words such as ‘height’ and ‘diameter’.

Presentation 1: Introducing the Knobbed Cylinder Block

  • Invite the child to come work with you, and guide them to the Sensorial curriculum area.
  • Identify the Knobbed Cylinders and pick up the material by gripping the block on both sides with two hands.
  • Carry the material at waist height, parallel to the floor, to your work mat or table area.
  • Beginning at the largest cylinder, show the child how to take out each Knobbed Cylinder using their thumb and two forefingers (the pincer grip), by grabbing the handle.
  • Pause for a moment once the cylinder clears the hole, to allow the child to see the size of the complete cylinder.
  • Place this cylinder in front of the wooden block.
  • Continue to remove each cylinder in the same manner, placing them in order in front of the wooden block. This is usually done from largest to smallest.
  • Once all cylinders have been removed, pick up the first cylinder that was removed from the wooden block.
  • Trace around the base of the cylinder using the index and middle fingers. Using these same finger, trace around the matching hole on the wooden block.
  • Place the cylinder in the correct hole slowly, allowing the child to follow your movements.
  • Repeat with the other cylinders.
  • Once all have been replaced, offer the child a turn, guiding them through the activity as needed.
  • Return the activity to the sensorial shelves once complete, making sure to carry the cylinder blocks in the same manner as getting them out.

Presentation 2: Becoming Familiar with the Cylinders

Once the child can confidently work through presentation one for each Knobbed Cylinder block, begin to randomise the order of removing, placing, and putting back each cylinder. This allows the child to become familiar with finding the cylinder with the correct dimensions to fill each empty space.

Presentation 3 and Beyond

After the child is comfortable with presentation two, you can begin to introduce more than one Knobbed Cylinder block to the exercises. Begin with the ordered presentation one, before conquering the randomisation of presentation two.