One of my favorite Montessori materials are the Golden Beads.  These are math materials that really allow the child a concrete experience to develop an understanding of place value as well as addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division.

The first presentation with the beads allows the child to experience sensorially the differences between the categories, not only in bulk but also in shape and weight.  The unit bead, ten bar, hundred square, and thousand cube clearly show the geometric progression of the decimal system; each category is ten times the previous one.  That initial presentation is so important for understanding those differences, that I went ahead and bought the real set.  It’s not cheap, but it’s one of the materials worth the money.  (At Montessori Outlet, it’s around \$35, and at Nienuis, it’s anywhere from \$65-\$160.)

However, once I was ready to move on to Formation of Large Numbers with Beads and Cards and the Collective Exercises, I really didn’t want to pay the money required to buy the full set of Golden Beads.  (One thousand cube is \$30 and up.)  Wooden hundred squares and thousand cubes are much more reasonable (you can get 9 wooden cubes for basically the price of one bead cube), but honestly, I was doing this last minute and didn’t want to wait for a slow Montessori Outlet order to arrive.

So I starting searching the internet for homemade alternatives.  I saw a lot of instructions on how to construct your own with real beads – whether with wire, pipe cleaners, or whatever else, but I wasn’t looking for something that crafty.  Plus, I didn’t want to have to run out and buy materials.  I kept looking.

I finally stumbled across a page which had a print-out of a cube pattern, complete with the dots.  Perfect!

I printed out enough to use for both thousand cubes and hundred squares.  Now, just as cardstock paper, I was going to lose most of the sensorial benefits of the Golden Beads, so I had to do a little work.

I already had foam board on hand, so I glued the hundred squares onto foam board squares so they would be at least somewhat 3-D.  That barely added any weight however, so I grabbed some coins.  I taped two pennies onto each square, between the paper and the foam.

For the cube, I taped a penny onto each square and then glued the whole thing together.  I had thought about trying to use foam board inside these as well, but decided not to.  Six months later, I’m kind of wishing I did – several of them are a bit dented in.

The final result turned out to be…definitely usable.  They are in no way up to the quality of the bead or wooden materials you can buy, but with a low budget, they do the job.  They cost literally pennies to make!  😉

You can see here how they compare with the bead materials in terms of size.

DIY: Green Boards

I’m actually a bit baffled by the subject of this post, the Montessori Green Boards.  I have two pages about them in my Language manual, and they are presented as an important exercise in developing beautiful handwriting.  When I was preparing to introduce Drama Queen to them recently, I assumed I would likely make them, but decided to check prices online first.  To my surprise, I haven’t been able to find them anywhere!  I checked several of the discount Montessori websites as well as Nienhuis, and haven’t found anything like the Green Boards described in my manual.  A search for the term “green board” only brought up personal-sized green chalk boards on which to practice writing letters.  Strange!  I considered skipping the Green Boards, thinking that they must not be very important if no one even sells them.  However, upon further reflection, I decided that I really like them and really thought Drama Queen would benefit from working with them.  So, I gathered materials to make my own green boards.

The Green Boards are an extension of the sandpaper letter lessons.  First, the teacher gives the child one-on-one lessons with three sandpaper letters at a time until the child is familiar with all the letters.  Then the child is able to play games with the letters, such as guessing which letter the teacher is tracing in the air, writing the letters in sand, or tracing a letter blindfolded, making the sound of it, and having a friend verify the correct sound.  The next step is for the child to work with the Green Boards, which contain several letters on each board.  The purpose of the Green Boards is to help children understand the relationships between the written letters – all the letters of a similar formation are grouped together on one Green Board.  This is how I grouped the letters (keep in mind that the letters are in cursive on the Green Boards):

c o a d g q

i u w t

n m v x y z

s r j p

e l b f h k

My Language manual’s description of the Green Boards is that they are similar to the sandpaper letters in terms of the size of the letter and the fact that the letters are made of sand, to be traced by the child.  Instead of on red boards (consonants) or blue boards (vowels), they are all on, wait for it… green boards.  I didn’t want to spend the time to cut sandpaper letters or even felt letters, as I did when I made the Sandpaper Numerals.  Instead, I wrote the letters in pencil (about half the size of the sandpaper letters).

I then used a black Sharpie to trace over the top and bottom lines and the middle dashed line.  This is the child’s first exposure to lines in letter writing.

I traced over the letters in glue, then sprinkled sand from the children’s sand table over the glue.

At first I was using Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue, but it wasn’t working well.  I ended up switching to plain old Elmer’s glue.  In this pic (which I couldn’t get to stay turned the right way), you can see the top with Elmer’s and the bottom with Aleene’s.

I made these with 12×12 green cardstock I already had on hand.  I didn’t have enough of one shade of green, so I used two different shades.  Also, I couldn’t fit all the letters on one strip, so I did some taping together once the glue dried.  (I also went back over the Aleene’s letters with the Elmer’s glue.)

I let them dry overnight, then they were ready for Drama Queen’s fingers the next day.  She initially was very excited about working with them, as she is with any new material.   I first introduced the “c” board.  I explained that all the letters on that board start the same way when writing them.  We went through the letters one at a time, with me tracing, then her tracing.  It was a good review for her.  Then we traced through the whole set quickly to really feel the similarity.

After the first board, I told her she could practice with that one more on her own, we could stop for the day and continue again the next, or we could continue right then to the next board.  To my surprise, she wanted to keep going through every board that day.  At one point, she proclaimed, “I never knew this would be so much fun!”

I put them back on the shelf after the lesson, but that evening I taped them to the closet door.  In that location, they can be an easy visual reference when she is writing, and they are low so that she can still trace them with her fingers at any point.

DIY: Spindle Boxes

Here’s a great DIY for anyone whose child is learning numbers, whether you typically use the Montessori method or not.  Probably all parents have smiled as their very young child sang the alphabet song, long before the child could use those letters in writing or even identify the symbol for each letter.  The same thing occurs with numbers – children learn how to verbalize a string of numbers in order long before they understand the concept of what those numbers actually mean.  That’s where the Montessori Spindle Box comes in.

The Spindle Box has 10 equal compartments, numbered 0 through 9.  The child puts the appropriate number of spindles in each box.  Doing this work helps the child understand that each number, a quantity in itself, can be made up of separate objects.  It also demonstrates in a concrete manner that zero represents no quantity.  In addition, it is an indirect preparation for the fact that there are no other symbols but 0 to 9.

For some reason, I absolutely love this lesson, and I absolutely love the Nienhuis material for it.  It’s a pretty easy DIY material, but I still had to convince myself not to spend the \$30 to buy it!

Convince myself I did, though, and I must say that I love the result!  Dr. Montessori emphasized that materials for young children should be beautiful, and I think this one really is!

My first step was to decide what to use for my 45 spindles.  Popsicle sticks would work perfectly, but I didn’t have any of those on hand.  Unsharpened pencils could work if I had enough.  Q-tips were a possibility.  Sticks would be awesome when doing this as an outside activity.  I finally decided on toothpicks.

Next, I needed a container to divide into the ten sections.  We have a ridiculous number of Amazon boxes of all shapes and sizes tossed into our garage at this point, but I wanted something prettier.  I looked through the kitchen and found a beautiful tray that seemed like it could work quite well.

To make the dividers, I simply cut small strips of cardstock and held each in place with a piece of tape on each side.  I did my best to make them centered and equally sized.  I was a little off, as you can see, but I figure it’s close enough.

Next, I needed to add my numbers.  I have tons of alphabet/number stickers, so I just picked a sheet of those, stuck the stickers on cardstock, cut them, and taped them onto my tray.

The only other material I needed was something with which to tie together each group of toothpicks.  My manual says to tie ribbons around each group, but Drama Queen isn’t that good with tying bows yet.  Rubber bands would work, but I couldn’t find that many small rubber bands.  I was just about to decide to skip that step (I’ll explain all the steps below), when it occurred to me that I have a little girl.  Which means I have hair loops.  Lots and lots of colorful hair loops.  I raided her hair accessory container and chose 8 loops, each of a different color (she doesn’t have 8 of any one color).

To add a little festiveness, I used Christmas items to hold the toothpicks and hair loops.

The next morning, both kids were immediately drawn to the beautiful new materials.  These are the steps of the lesson, as Drama Queen did them.

1.  Bring spindle box, toothpicks, and container of loops one at a time to the table.

3.  Point at other numbers through 9, asking child to read them.

4.  Tell child and demonstrate how to place the toothpicks gently one by one, counting out loud, into the compartments.

5.  Demonstrate the first two or three compartments and allow the child to continue.  (Drama Queen was very eager to do it herself!)

6.  When all the compartments have been filled, show that the toothpick dish is empty.

7.  Show empty “zero” compartment.

8.  Say, “There are no toothpicks because this number is zero.  Zero means nothing, no quantity.’

9.  Get out loops and tell child, “We will tie together each group of toothpicks.”  Do not tie “1” since it is not a group.  This gives the sensorial impression to the child that the separate objects represent one number.  Double wrapping the loops was quite a challenge for Drama Queen at first, but she was determined to learn how to do it, so she kept working at it until she got it.

10.  Remove all loops and place back in box.  Return toothpicks to dish.

11.  Invite child to repeat exercise.

There’s also a fun Zero Game you can play with the child after she’s done some work with the spindle box.  You can do this with multiple children or just one.  Ask each child to carry out quick actions a certain number of times.  After asking a child to do something zero times, plead with her, “Why are you not doing anything?”  Allow her to explain that she was told to do it zero times.

Sequence Cards

One lesson in the Montessori two-year-old manual that I own is to make sequencing cards for the young child to put in order.  It suggests taking photos of the child throughout the day:  arriving at class, hanging up coat, choosing a work…”  Then you would glue those onto colored paper, laminate them, and make them available to the child.  (Each child would have his/her own set.)

I decided to go the easier route:  the internet.  I lazily googled “sequence cards preschool” and found a long list of sequence cards that I could just print off.  Some of them were great and seemed very useful for our family, others either weren’t well-made or were based on books we don’t have.

These are the sites I used:

I started out with a very simple one for Mr. BANG and a more challenging one for Drama Queen.  I put each in a basket on a shelf.

Drama Queen’s lesson was with a set I had found based on The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  (You would think I’m doing a unit study on that book!)

I had her bring the basket to the rug, and also got the book from our book basket.  First, we talked about each picture, one at a time.  After we talked about each one, we placed it along the right edge of the rug.

Next, we began reading the book together and I told her we would be putting the cards together in the order they appear in the book.  So as we read, she would pick up a card and place it in a horizontal line across the middle of the rug.  Sometimes I would prompt her to get the appropriate card, and sometimes she would just get it while I was still reading that page.

When we finished, I let her know that next time she works with it, she can choose to do it with or without the book.

Mr. BANG’s first sequencing lesson only consisted of three cards.  The cards told a story about a daddy tucking his son into bed at night, something with which he has personal experience.  The original version consisted of four cards, but I left out “They tell each other about their day.”  We do that during dinner in our family, so that could be confusing to Mr. BANG.

Other than the book part, we did the lesson the same way as with Drama Queen’s lesson.  I had him set out a rug and bring the basket to it.  We talked through each picture as we set them to the right.

Then I asked, “Which of those happened first?” “Which one happened next?”  “What was the last thing that happened?”  With each question, he put the appropriate picture across the middle of the rug.

I have a few more of these waiting to be prepared to take a turn on the shelf.  There were some outline-only ones that I let Drama Queen color and laminate.

(I later found a different Little Miss Muffet one that I like better, but I’ll stick with these because Drama Queen proudly did them herself.)

My plan is to rotate the sequence cards probably every week or so – always having two options on the shelf.

DIY Montessori: Geometric Cabinet

The Geometric Cabinet is a Sensorial material used with a long series of lessons that last throughout most of the Primary years (ages 3-6) in a Montessori classroom.  The cabinet contains 6 drawers, each containing 4-6 cut-out wooden shapes with knobs on top.  (I’ve posted photos of each drawer in a later post.)

• Drawer 1:  6 circles, varying in diameter from 10 cm to 5 cm
• Drawer 2:  6 rectangles, varying in size from 10×10 cm to 10×5 cm
• Drawer 3:  6 different types of triangles
• Drawer 4:  6 different regular polygons (pentagon to decagon)
• Drawer 5:  4 curvilinear figures (oval, ellipse, curvilinear, triangle, quatrefoil)
• Drawer 6:  4 rectilinear figures (rhombus, parallelogram, right trapezoid, and isosceles trapezoid)

The series of lessons starts with getting familiar with the 2D shapes by tracing them and finding the matching frame, then learning the names of the shapes, then matching the shapes with cards placed at a distance – first with a filled-in version of the shapes, then a thick outline, and finally a thin outline.

The purpose of the work is to develop visual and muscular discrimination of two-dimensional shapes, as well as visual training and preparation for learning geometrical figures.  Indirectly, the tracing of the figures also prepares the child’s hand for writing.

Unfortunately, the Geometry Cabinet is also on the extreme side of expensive:  \$506.10 from Nienhuis, \$118.95 from the much more reasonably priced Montessori Outlet.  Yes, you get a beautiful cabinet that all six trays fit in for that price, and over three years it may be worth it to spend \$120.  But whether it’s worth the price or not doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t fit in my budget.  So…homemade it is.

I did buy the demonstration tray, so I now use that as the one tray for all the drawers.  The drawers themselves are just where the figures and frames are kept when not in use.  I’m actually way behind on this series of lessons, because for a long time I thought I was just going to skip it based on the cost.  Therefore, I don’t have everything made and set out at this point, but I do have my plan.

With a regular Geometric Cabinet, children choose which tray they want to work with, slide it out of the cabinet, and take it to their rug to work.  My system is that the empty tray will sit on top of the shelf, with the drawers nearby.  Drama Queen or Mr. BANG will choose which drawer s/he wants to work with, open that drawer, and simply fit those pieces onto the tray.

To actually make the figures, I use foam sheets.  Many of the shapes are the same ones (and same size) as the metal insets (which I purchased), so those were easy to simply trace and cut out.  For the others, I just do the best I can.

The “official” colors of the Geometric Cabinet are yellow and blue, but I just go with what colors of foam I have enough of!  For drawers 5 and 6 (the first drawers you introduce), I made white frames and blue figures.  That used up all my white, though, so I’ll likely be using different colors for other drawers.  That’s not perfect, because some of the lessons involve using multiple drawers at once, and having different colors would take a lot of the challenge out of that.  So I guess I’ll either buy more foam or just allow the different colors.  (Pardon me as I refine my plan as I type!)

I bought some wooden “doll heads” at a craft store, which work well for the knobs on top of the figures.

As for the cards, I purchased the ones for the introductory tray when I bought the tray.  I plan to purchase the others from Montessori Print Shop for a mere \$3.79.  If you haven’t discovered MPS yet, go take a few minutes and browse around there – it’s amazing!  They have TONS of fabulous materials that you simply print at home! (I print on cardstock, then laminate them.)  It’s definitely one of my favorite Montessori websites.

What about you?  Have you made a DIY Geometric Cabinet a different way?  I would love to see it – especially if you have a better idea for the cabinet itself.  Hmmm…as I’m typing this, I’m thinking a puzzle shelf might make a good shelf…  Has anyone tried that?

DIY Felt Rolls

I decided to take advantage of a long car ride recently to work on a project I’ve had in mind for awhile.  I’m always on the lookout for things that will be entertaining for the kids on long car rides or other occasions when they have to sit still for an extended period of time.  The old Flannel Boards from my childhood Sunday School days came to mind.  Perfect!  Time to make my own Felt Rolls!

I made a few simple ones during that car ride.

descending shape sizes

variety of shapes

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (I was doing this free-hand in the car, so the letters aren’t perfect…or lower-case as in the book.)

scrap pieces to use as their imagination leads them

I have them each individually rolled and wrapped, ready to go.

I’m keeping them in a bag in the storage closet so I can grab and go when we’re running late.  (As if I’m ever not running late!)

I also plan to make Felt Rolls of some of their favorite stories, such as Peter and the Wolf, The Three Bears, Little House on the Prairie, Winnie the Pooh, etc. For those, I think I’ll find pictures on-line, print them out, glue them on felt, then cut around the edges of the character.  Otherwise, my lack of artistic skills would make all characters unrecognizable!!

Around Christmas, I’ll make one that depicts the story of Jesus’ birth.  I’ll do other Bible stories they love, too, such as Daniel and the Lion’s Den (their current favorite).

I also love the idea of gluing photos of family members onto felt and making family Felt Rolls.  I may make one of our immediate family, one of my side of the family, and one of The Brain’s side of the family.

Obviously, I have no intent of making those all in the next week, but overtime it will be nice to add a new one here and there.

What other ideas do you have for fun Felt Rolls?

A (Preschool) Day in the Life of… (including DIY Land and Water Forms)

I recently posted a description of how we approach children’s Bible study in our home.  This time I thought I’d take it a step further and show you step-by-step what a day of homeschool in Our Montessori Home looks like.  This particular day was last week, I think Thursday.  Not every day looks like this, but it can give you an idea of our approach.

As previously explained, we start the preschool period with Bible study.  We either do that in the reading corner of the playroom, on the front porch, or on a blanket in the back yard.  This day was a front porch day.  The children sit on the porch swing with me for catechism, memory verses, and Bible study.

Then they dance and go wild while singing hymns.  On this day, they were having so much fun, we sang 3 hymns (and I mean the full hymn – all four or five verses!), and Drama Queen sang almost all of it along with me.

After prayer time, we headed inside.  On a typical day, I give each child one new lesson, and they choose which other materials they want to work with during the rest of the time.  They only have permission to use materials they’ve already had a lesson on.

I started by giving Mr. BANG a new lesson with the Pink Tower.  He previously had the original lesson with it, where I taught him to stack each cube in the middle of the previous one.  Today I showed him a different way he can stack them by matching up a corner, making two smooth sides.

Drama Queen, in the background, had gotten out a rug and chose to work with some insect cards.

When she finished her work, she put the cards away, then rolled up her rug and put it in the rug basket.

Next, I gave her the Tactile Numbers lesson.

When Mr. BANG had put away the pink tower, he chose to work with the Sandpaper Globe.  Now, Nienhuis and copycat companies make beautiful globes for children to use.  The first one has sandpaper to represent land and a smooth surface to represent water.  The second one has a different color to represent each continent.  I skipped the globes entirely with Drama Queen, but I do really think they’re wonderful.  So I have made my own fairly pathetic version of the sandpaper globe for Mr. BANG.  I just cut sandpaper into the general shapes of the continents and taped it on a small globe a friend gave me years ago.  It’s not much, but it does the trick.

Next, Drama Queen did some more work with the Tactile Letters and Mr. BANG practiced with the Binomial Cube.

One work that Drama Queen especially likes to practice is sewing buttons.  In the left picture, she’s measuring out her thread.  On the right, she’s tying a knot in her thread after putting it through the needle.

Many times the children like to take a break and watch the other child work for a minute or two.  I have given them a lesson on how to do this without distracting the working child.  Drama Queen has sewed buttons on several of these little squares.  She excitedly tells me that she’s making a rain coat for me.  🙂

Mr. BANG got inspired I guess, because he chose the Button Frame for his next work.  Then he worked with the Snap Frame.

Both children have fun with the Fabrics and like wearing the blindfold, but don’t actually like it to cover their eyes!  So they just keep their eyes closed as I put two pieces of cloth in their hands and let them determine whether or not the fabric is the same.

The children can do Walking on the Line at any point.  It’s a good way to practice coordination and balance, but also is just a fun, relaxing activity.  We’ve made it a pattern that when it’s time for the preschool day to come to a close, I start walking on the line.  That’s the signal for them to finish up their work and put it away so they can join me on the line.

One other note about the Montessori materials.  In an actual Montessori classroom, there are about 30 children within a 3-year age range (3-6, 6-9, etc.)  A big part of the Montessori experience is having the opportunity to learn by watching the older children, and having the opportunity to teach by helping out the younger children.  I realized early on that my children were missing out on that opportunity.  So during the time I’m not giving lessons, I practice with any lessons in the room, just like they do.  That has worked really well.  I’ve noticed that it inspires them to work with materials they haven’t worked with in awhile, and gives them a reminder of how to work with the materials properly without me having to give them another direct lesson.

We usually end our preschool day by reading poetry and singing a few typical children’s songs.  I think the poetry reading is their favorite part of the whole preschool day!  During singing, again they get to dance around and play instruments, which they love!

On this day, Drama Queen did some drumming…and Mr. BANG buried himself in pillows!

This day was a little unusual.  Drama Queen had been asking to do more Land and Water Form work.  It was a great day for it, so I decided to do all the rest of our preschool work, and THEN head outside to make the land and water forms.

To do this, they first shovel some sand from the backyard into their bins.  (The sand is leftover from the previous residents, as well as from when we dump sand out of the water play table.)  If the water play table is not already filled with water, I do that.  Then I show them a card with one type of land or water form and help them construct it with their sand.  Once it has been formed, they fill in the water spaces with water from the water play table.  There is an actual Montessori material for this, but it’s one that I’ve chosen not to buy or make.

Once we do a few of those…it’s time to simply have fun playing in mud!!  😀