Montessori sound cylinders (like the ones above) are commercially available from many sources and suppliers. However, it is easy and much more inexpensive to make them yourself at home!
What is a sound cylinder?
Traditionally the cylinders are wooden, and there are 2 boxes containing the cylinders, one with a red lid and the other with a blue lid. In each box are six cylinders. Each cylinder contains a different material that makes a distinct sound when shaken. Each cylinder in the red box has an exact match in the blue box. The child selects a red lidded cylinder, shakes it, listens to the sound it makes, and attempts to match it with the blue lidded cylinder that makes the same noise.
Truth is, you really don't need such complicated materials to make this engaging lesson at home. All you need are some simple (free!) materials, some cheap fillers you already have around the house, and if you wish, some paint.
The first step is to gather together the containers. My personal favorite option you have is to go to a photo developing counter and ask them for some film canisters. Most photo stores save them up for recycling. When I went to our local drugstore photo counter, I told them I needed them for an educational project. The lady reached under the counter and handed me a bag of 30 canisters. They are usually very happy to give them to you.
Be sure to select the film canisters that look like this:
This type of canisters hide the contents. If you get the white kind of canisters, they are somewhat transparent and you would have to spray paint them to make them usable for this lesson (which is easily done as well).
Next, gather small-sized contents for the canisters. These can include uncooked rice, unpopped popcorn kernels, marbles, uncooked oatmeal, cereal, glitter, small balls of aluminum foil, paper clips, coins, sand, pieces of gravel, seeds, small bells, q-tips, soil, metal nails, pieces of hard plastic, thumb tacks, pieces of hay, and anything else that is small enough to fit inside and won't decompose, mold, or melt. In other words, select items that are non-perishable.
Next, make pairs of your canisters. You have choices here: you can either put a colored dot (using a sticker or paint) on the bottom or paint the lid of each pair of containers as shown above, or just leave them blank & uncolored. If your sounds are distinctive enough, the sounds will be self-correcting and your child will be able to make the pairs without the use of the colors. I didn't use colors on mine and the children made pairs without trouble. If you do choose to spray paint the lids, select a spray paint like Krylon Plastic Fusion that is made to adhere securely and attractively to plastic products.
Now, fill the canisters with a small portion of the contents you selected. Be sure you fill 2 canisters with each item. For example, you will put uncooked popcorn kernels in 2 canisters, coins in 2 canisters, and q-tips in 2 canisters, etc. This way the child will be able to make pairs. Try to put the same amount of the "sound maker" in each of the paired canisters so one isn't louder than the other. Also, don't stuff the canisters full- be sure the contents have room to move around and make noise when the child shakes them. Put the caps on and test them out. When you have your canisters filled, glue the lids on with a strong glue. If you are only going to use this as a supervised activity, you may choose to skip this step, but be sure to watch the child when they are using the materials to ensure they don't empty out the contents and/or put anything in their mouths.
If you can't find film canisters, baby food jars also work great. You will need to soak off the labels and paint either the inside or the outside of the jars entirely in black (or other solid color) to ensure the child cannot see the contents inside of the jar and matches them based on sound only. You could also decoupage paper around the inside of the jar to make it opaque using Modge Podge or other similar product. Be sure to let the decoupage dry with the jar lid off completely before filling it with the contents and sealing it. Again, you can choose to glue the lids on, or not, based on the way you will be using them. The activity is so economical that even if you glue the lids on, you can remake the cylinders with different contents over and over again to make the activity new again.
Other ideas for things that would work as containers (but are much larger & require more storage/shelf space) are margarine tubs with the snap-on lids, small tupperware style containers (you would have to spray paint or decoupage these to make them opaque as well), oatmeal cylinders, milk cartons, small wooden boxes (often found at craft stores), drugstore pill/medicine bottles or tylenol-style plastic bottles with child-proof caps (again, you would have to paint or decoupage them to make them opaque after removing the labels), individual serving-sized yogurt containers (with the snap-on lid), glitter containers or salt and pepper shakers (don't forget to tape over the holes!), empty glue stick tubes, or spice jars/vanilla bottles.
If you want to separate the cylinders in the same way as the boxes shown in the first photo above, you can either use shoe boxes or a smaller cardboard gift box, or a gallon ziploc bag. Be sure to provide a way (like a color) for each group on the cylinders and the box or bag so the child (and you) will be able to see where each half of the pair belongs.
As an extension for this activity, keep a list of the materials you use in the cylinders. It will be fun for your child to guess what is in the cylinders. You could even have them draw a picture of what they think is making the sound they hear. Then, you can tell them the actual contents. If your child is older and is completing the activity more independently, the child can use the list and attempt to match the cylinders themselves to the materials on the list.
Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or ideas on other containers or items to use inside the containers, I'd love to hear!