CARLI Digital Collections Featured Image: Montessori Broad Stair

From the Elizabeth Harrison-Chicago Kindergarten Movement (National-Louis University) collection in CARLI Digital Collections.

The Broad Stair is an educational toy developed by Maria Montessori in the beginning of the 20th century, and it is designed to teach a student about shape, small differences in size, color and also to prepare them from working with a decimal system. The object of this game is for the student to learn how to arrange the blocks on the floor, from largest to smallest, to create a stair shape. The exercise is very similar to 2 other block set games using the Pink Tower and the Narrow Stair. Working with these kinds of toys, the students eventually learn to distinguish small differences in size just by sight, while at the same time improving their hand-eye coordination and their ability to put objects in order.

This block set, like most Montessori toys, is based on the number “10.” There are 10 blocks in the full set, each 20cm long, the cross section of the largest block is 10cm squared, with each block next in the stair being 1cm squared smaller on the cross section then the previous block. Her purpose for this was to make students comfortable working with, and thinking of terms of, the number 10. She believed this better prepared students to work with mathematics later in life, which is a system also based on the number 10.

All the Montessori toys at National Louis University were brought from Italy by the American Kindergartener Elizabeth Harrison in 1912 after traveling to study Maria Montessori’s methods. Harrison later published a comparative study of the Montessori and Kindergarten Methods for the US Bureau of Education, The Montessori Method and the Kindergarten, in 1914.

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