More good questions! Perhaps Maria Montessori had some left over pink paint? Perhaps she noticed that children were attracted to the color pink. Today, in many schools, the tower is no longer even pink – it’s a natural wood color. (I imagine that even when the tower is no longer pink, a teacher might still use the name ‘pink tower’ just out of habit!)
I believe the color was never the point of the pink tower. What’s important is that each of the ten cubes of the tower is identical in shape, color and texture, and only different in size. When a child is working with the cubes, there is no doubt that the child is exploring dimension/size. The pink tower consists of ten cubes varying in three dimensions from 1cm cubed to 10 cm cubed. The child can focus on grading the cubes according to size, and building the tower in order, starting with the largest cube, and proceeding cube by cube to the smallest cube.
Consider the alternatives offered to many children when they are working with building materials. Each piece is often a different color and a different shape, and maybe involves numbers, patterns and/or texture. Building becomes complicated and confusing. With the pink tower, there is no confusion. The child can understand the point of the exercise – finding out about size. This allows the child to focus.
The pink tower is a wonderful tool for teaching vocabulary – small, smaller, smallest, big, bigger, biggest. This is especially useful for English language learners. When the teacher points to the smallest cube, and says, “Small”, there is no doubt that the teacher is talking about size. That’s the only difference between the cubes.
When Montessori teachers talk, they might use expressions like ‘point of interest’ or ‘isolation of point of difficulty’ when discussing materials like the pink tower. The ‘point of interest’ of the pink tower is size. The pink tower isolates one feature – size – and makes everything else the same (pink, smooth, cube). A young child only has to focus on the difficult task of arranging the cubes in order of size to be successful.
Most Montessori materials follow this same design – simple, focused, explicit – to allow for ease of learning. Therefore the long rods focus on length (and yes, they are often red, but now, just as often, they are plain wood), the broad stair focuses on width, the sound cylinders focus on sound, the color tablets on color, the geometric solids on three dimensional shape, etc. All of these materials mentioned are part of the sensorial area of the classroom, and aim to help children to make sense of the vast array of external stimuli the child receives all of the time from the world. The sensorial materials help the child develop a sense of order and a vocabulary with which to describe the world.