Working with the Montessori community has always been a priority for us in creating great products. We make sure that we’re always aligned with the core Montessori early learning principles: ensuring everything we make is non-prescriptive, child-centred, and auto-didactic. It’s why Cubetto is hands-on, why it’s collaborative, and even why it’s made out of wood.
And now, we’re delighted to be published in the latest issue of Montessori International, the quarterly magazine for the global Montessori community. The article is written by our good friend Melissa Stockdale, a Montessori school teacher and lecturer, who conducted research across three schools to test Cubetto in a range of Montessori settings.
You can read the full article below:
Melissa Stockdale gives an account of the robot that helps kids learn to code creatively and without limits.
As an owner and head directress of a Montessori nursery school in Suffolk for 25 years, our school invested quite large sums of money on technological toys that professed to aid the children’s understanding of programmable devices and serve as an introduction to IT.
Although the brightly coloured, plastic, and often noisy, distracting toys amused the children for a brief period of time, the introduction of such items tended to disrupt the calm atmosphere and the general pattern of the children’s normal work cycle within the Montessori classroom.
Through a lack of interest, neglect, or a loss of battery power the expensive objects were then removed from the children’s reach by the frustrated teaching staff. They were either placed on a high shelf out of the child’s reach, or kept in a box of similar rejected educational toys, which itself was stored in the overflowing storage cupboard alongside yet more abandoned computer toys.
Providing these devices in addition to the Montessori materials did tick the box with the EYFS requirements, along with catering for a specific area of learning in preparation for Ofsted inspections. The presence of such IT articles in the school environment also seemed to satisfy visiting professionals that the children in our care also had access to technological programmable objects. However, the appeal of these toys to the children and the staff was limited and, ultimately, uninspiring.
Enter Cubetto. For those unfamiliar, Cubetto is a brand-new, smart toy designed by Primo Toys, a passionate team of young Italian technicians and entrepreneurs. Beautifully crafted and made of wood (no plastic or garish colours here), this small robot and programming board has been designed to teach 3 to 6 year olds of any background, language or culture programming logic without the need for literacy. Importantly it has no screen and so far it has proven to be a great hit with Montessori professionals and the young children in a selection of Montessori nursery schools in East Anglia.
Following an enthusiastic and inspiring workshop led by Lynette Brock on ‘Rediscovering Sensorial’ at an MSA Region 11 (East Anglia) summer 2015 meeting at Sunflower Montessori Nursery School, I introduced Cubetto and invited heads from local Montessori schools who were affiliated to MSA to take part in a field study on this innovative new educational toy.
Research took place in three schools, Sunflower Montessori School, Peacocks Montessori School in Diss, and Foxglove Montessori School in Stowmarket.
Cubetto was an instant success when shown to several small groups of 4 year olds. It was fascinating to observe how the children concentrated for long periods of time; all the groups were totally absorbed for nearly one hour in all settings where research took place. Interestingly, with very few instructions the children quickly identified and categorised the commands of the different coloured wooden instruction blocks that are used to operate Cubetto’s movements, and every child was able to successfully program their own sequence to achieve an end goal.
Much discussion took place between the children during their exploration of Cubetto. It was a delight to sit back, observe, and listen to their laughter and the surprisingly calm and intelligent conversations that took place as they shared this unique learning experience together.
The plain wooden robot is programmed wirelessly by the children by placing coloured instruction blocks into holes on a wooden interface board. Each coloured block represents a specific direction of movement, left, right, or forward. The children can program Cubetto by inserting either short simple commands, or more complicated sequences of movement. They can plan ahead and predict routes for Cubetto to travel across the floor, or on the grid map that is provided with the play-set. The ability to freely program the robot encouraged the children’s individual divergent thinking and creativity. As Bernadette Duffy aptly describes in her book Supporting Creativity and Imagination in the Early Years, “creative learning is about children taking control of the creative process and owning it”.’
After briefly introducing Cubetto and the interface board to the children, my presence as an adult seemed quite superfluous and it was wonderful to witness the children totally engaged in “sustained shared thinking”, working together in a real intellectual capacity to solve problems, to clarify the new concepts in their own minds, making joint decisions, predicting outcomes, and extending their understanding of abstract ideas. To see the children totally absorbed, and intrinsically motivated whilst manipulating Cubetto was a very special Montessori moment indeed.
The benefit of the design of the Cubetto in plain wood with just a few markings to represent a face on the side of the cube means that the toy appeals to both sexes, and the children are not distracted by the appearance of the robot in anyway. This allows them to fully concentrate on following the actual movements that Cubetto makes. The simple wooden design also complements the Sensorial materials that the children are already familiar with.
After each small move in any direction Cubetto signals completion of the command by quietly bleeping so the children can count each move and refer to the interface board to check that the movements that have been made match and follow the program that they have created. In a way this acts as the child’s control of error and enables the child to check and adapt the program accordingly. This aspect fits in so well with Montessori’s philosophy: “the child must see for himself what he can do, and it is important to give him not only the means of education but also to supply him with indicators which tell him his mistakes.” Teaching staff will be pleased to hear however, that this product does not make irritating unruly sounds that disrupt other children who are concentrating on their own tasks within the same environment.
One 4 year boy with severe language delay and other learning difficulties carefully observed several of his classmates programming Cubetto, whilst waiting patiently for his turn. He then surprised his peers and teachers as he calmly and positively selected the required coloured blocks and then successfully programmed Cubetto to follow a complicated route. It was over whelming to see the look of jubilation and self-satisfaction on his face as his fellow classmates acknowledged him and congratulated him on his achievements. This sudden increase in his self-esteem and self-confidence was remarkable, and he asked eagerly if he could repeat the exercise again and take Cubetto home with him.
Another 4 year old child at Sunflower Montessori School was able to complete several very complicated procedures, and after working with Cubetto for nearly an hour, he excitedly exclaimed “Wow, this is funl” Montessori reminds us that in this period of the ‘Absorbent Mind’, and particularly in this ‘social embryonic stage’ between the ages of 3 and 6 years, children can be deeply engaged and have the ability to concentrate for long periods of time without becoming tired as long as their sensitive periods for development are being satisfied.
It seems that Primo Toys may have succeeded in designing the ideal technology toy, which will not only integrate perfectly into the Montessori learning environment, but will also meet the requirements in the various areas of learning of the EYFS. Above all Cubetto will satisfy and encourage young children in an enjoyable way – one that develops their logical thinking in preparation for becoming competent and successful ICT programmers of the future without the worries of being exposed to a screen device.
Melissa Stockdale has been the owner of Melton Lodge Montessori School and The Park Montessori School in Suffolk. She has taught for over 25 years, as well as lecturing and examining students on the Early Childhood Diploma Course for MCI. She is now dedicating her time to writing books. Following the attainment of an MA in Development and Emergency Practice, she is also hoping to engage in improving educational opportunities, as well as highlighting humanitarian issues in schools in Africa.