The Pink Tower Controversy: Essential For The Home?

Ah, the pink tower, the symbol of Montessori around the world. Your eyes automatically seek it out for comfort and affirmation when you set foot inside a Montessori classroom, and through its simplicity and unusual beauty it manages to capture the essence of the method.

There it stands, oddly erect and intimidating, nothing like the blocks you might find scattered on the floor in a child's room.

No, the pink tower is decidedly not ordinary.

Is the pink tower essential for your Montessori home?

It begs you to pick up the tiniest cube with your index finger and thumb without misplacing the rest and carefully cradle it to the floor to be admired. It demands this quiet precision block after block until your hands quaver with the awkward size and weight, and it is ready to be assembled again; now there is an equally intimidating chaos, and you must use your senses to bring back the order. Your discriminating mind alone can puzzle it back together. That's just the beginning.

It's no wonder Montessori teachers are so freakishly passionate (yes, I said it because I am, too!) about this classic, amazing material. The pink tower deserves all the glory it gets.

Is it essential for your Montessori home?

Oooooh essential is such a strong word! Let's think. Will your child go to a Montessori school at age 3? If yes, then your child's teacher will be giving the presentation and the material will be available for your child to work with in the classroom. If you will be homeschooling for preschool, having a pink tower would be a wonderful addition to your home. A great place to begin would be to take a look at what the child will learn from working with a pink tower.

According to David Gettman's book Basic Montessori: Learning Activities For Under-Fives, the direct aims of the pink tower are as follows: "To help the child's visual discrimination of differences in three dimensions. To help develop the child's fine muscular coordination." Can these skills be attained by using a set of nesting blocks? Simplify this for a moment. Will nesting blocks help teach largest to smallest? Yes. Will they strengthen little fingers? Yes.

The indirect aims Gettman mentions are a bit more complicated: "to prepare the child for later work in geometry through the general observation of the geometrically regular differences in the size of the cubes' edges, faces, and total volumes...to prepare the child for the concept of numbers, in demonstrating the unit difference in distance between the edges of the ten successively larger cubes."  What Gettman is telling us is that in its geometric precision, the pink tower goes above and beyond the basic aim, inviting the child to internalize basic geometry through the natural desire to explore with the eyes and hands. Nesting blocks are unlikely to measure up.

If you are teaching in a Montessori primary (3-6) classroom, I would expect for you to have a pink tower - if for nothing else than for tradition's sake. If you are teaching in a Montessori-inspired childcare for 3-6 year olds, I would recommend that you put the pink tower on your big wish list among other educational toys (it's worth it!). The home is a very different environment, however, and buying a pink tower should be considered like any other toy that is purchased for a child.

No Guilt Zone

No parent should EVER be made to feel badly for not having a pink tower (or any other expensive Montessori equipment!) in their home

If you're a parent at home who is sweating over what essentials to purchase and how to afford it, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Most Montessori trained teachers working at Montessori schools do not have to personally purchase all the materials themselves unless they are starting the school from the ground up - and they are using the materials with a LOT of students, so the investment goes much further. At home, we have to make many decisions about how to spend our money on our children: type of house and neighborhood we live in, organic or conventionally grown food, new clothes or hand-me-downs, family vacations, and the list goes on. 

No parent should EVER be made to feel badly for not having a pink tower in their home

There are wonderful ways to teach visual discrimination, develop fine motor skills, and introduce geometry and mathematics in early childhood that do not involve the pink tower. Sometimes we worry that we are depriving our children of the best by not offering every available learning tool, and this is silly. Our consumerist culture may be telling us that we need to buy, buy, buy, but in the long run, whether or  not you own fancy Montessori materials will have very little effect on your child's future. What's most important (statistically, even) for academic success is parental involvement. What makes your house a "Montessori home" is not your possessions but how you implement the philosophy in everyday life.

This is not to say, however, that I think you should have a house full of noisy, flashy junk! The toys that grace our homes should be beautiful and educational. Pick the ones that you feel will bring the most joy and focused concentration to your children. At our house, we get daily use out of a simple wooden train set, a marble run, and a basket of musical instruments. I think that if you do choose to purchase a pink tower, you just might find yourself falling in love and feeling the passion that Montessori teachers have felt since...well, since Maria Montessori invented the pink tower! 

You should have a pink tower for your home if you...

  • can afford to buy one
  • want to closely imitate Montessori classroom environment
  • are looking for a beautiful, educational toy

And if you choose the pink tower as a lasting investment for enjoyment, you need to know that they vary in quality and in price. I'll name a few. You can get a pink tower from Kid Advance on Amazon for a bargain price. You can also purchase a higher quality pink tower from Bruins, Nienhuis, Alison's (also has an bargain model), or from Hello, Wood (made in the USA with love and care).

You can also DIY or ask someone to make one for you.  I've never attempted this, but I'll give you a hint: of the ten cubes, the smallest is 1cm cubed, and the largest is 10cm cubed.

Oh, and here's fair warning... if you give a mom a pink tower, she's going to want some brown stairs...