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.