Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, pinpointed the first plane of learning in children as before six years. She then proceeded to engineer a wide range of materials, or toys, that would prepare such youngsters for the rigor and abstraction of first grade. These hands-on toys were representations of concepts that children would be expected to learn, once they started school. Flash cards that showed letters grouped by sound, would expose children to more complicated aspects of reading. Parts of grammar would be represented by geometric shapes: a black cut-out of a triangle, or a black-painted wooden pyramid, would represent a noun; a red circle or sphere would represent a verb, the motion representing action. Wooden beads, sometimes color-coded, would represent numbers and their mathematical values: a vial of ten green “unit” beads, could be traded for a single blue “ten” bead.
Many toys have developed parallel to this idea. The shapes of certain pegs in a puzzle toy would only fit into the holes of the puzzle that corresponded to their shape. Classic storybooks illustrate popular nursery rhymes that teach children to count. The use of shape and color to distinguish one from another, might seem like pure entertainment or play, but in fact lay valuable groundwork for future lessons.
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