The Botany Cabinet, sometimes referred to as the Leaf Cabinet in the Montessori classroom, is a child’s introduction to the world of botany, and also great practice for visual discrimination of forms.
Physically, the wooden cabinet consists of three drawers filled with leaf forms. Two of the drawers have six shapes, and the third has two leaf shapes and four wooden squares. All of the leaf ‘pieces’ are green with wooden knobs in the center, by which the child picks up the piece.
So how, exactly, does the child interact with this material?
During the first presentation, the child and teacher will examine a few of the leaf forms together. Holding the piece by the knob, the child will trace the shape with the dominant hand (pointer and middle together).
Some classrooms have a small wooden pencil for this purpose, an orange stick, with which they trace the outside of the shape. However the child accomplishes it, they come to learn the contours, similarities and differences of each leaf.
As the child becomes comfortable working with all of the drawers, there are several extensions the guide can incorporate.
The first is using matching cards that correspond to each leaf form to play a simple matching game. There are three types of cards: ones with the leaf shape completely filled in, ones with a thick outline of the leaf, and ones with a thin outline of the leaf. See the photos below for examples of each!
When first incorporating the cards, the guide might isolate three cards. The child’s task is to find the three leaf shapes that match, placing them on the cards one at a time.
Alternatively, the guide can choose to isolate one leaf form, and ask the child to find the corresponding card from the stack of cards.
For a child who has some experience, a fun game to play is matching from a distance. Perhaps the child will place a drawer on a floor mat, and on a separate mat across the room, a selection of cards. The task will be to go from one side to the other, relying on memory to find the correct shape! A similar activity can be played with the Geometry Cabinet and Cards.
Directly, the Botany Cabinet is a great activity for a child to develop visual discrimination. The activity relies on the child being able to distinguish one leaf shape from another.
Indirectly, the Botany Cabinet is preparation for further botany work in the Primary and Elementary classroom, including developing appropriate language and investigation of the natural world!