DIY: Golden Beads

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.)

Golden Bead Tray

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.

wooden cubes

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.

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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.

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IMG_9120  IMG_9117


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.

2.  Point to “1”.  Ask child to read it.

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.

Product Review: Geometric Cabinet from Alison’s Montessori

Last Wednesday, I was SOOO excited to win a Geometric Cabinet from Alison’s Montessori and Living Montessori Now.  Just TWO days later, on Friday afternoon, I found this on my front porch:

Talk about a speedy delivery!  If their shipping is always that fast, they are THE place to order Montessori materials you need the next week!

I was pretty much giddy when I opened the box and got to start playing with my absolutely gorgeous new cabinet.  It truly is lovely, as Maria thought materials for children should be.

To give a fair review, though, I do want to share some concerns I had about it as I began to look at it more closely.

*The top of it sags in the middle.  It’s practically unnoticeable unless you’re purposefully noting the fine details, so it’s not that big of a deal.  The only real problem from it is that not every drawer can fit in that space.  I tried to move some drawers around, and realized that other drawers won’t fit there.  Strange, but not a huge deal.

*One of the drawers is not a perfect rectangle, so the frames do not actually fit.  One corner is just a little shy of a 90 degree angle, so the frame in that corner has to overlap with the frame beneath it a little.  That’s annoying to me, but again, not a huge deal.

*The oval has a point at the top.  Have you ever seen an oval with a point?  What is that??  (For comparison, I’ve included the typical oval form that is used in Montessori materials.  This is an oval metal inset, which is supposed to be the same size and shape as the oval in the geometry cabinet.)


*There was one four-sided figure in the triangle drawer.  I don’t understand why a four-sided figure was placed in a drawer that is specifically for three-sided figures.  I took it out and replaced it with a triangle I found elsewhere.

*There was a rectilinear figure in the curvilinear drawer.  Again, why?  And again, I took it out.

*I ended up with two rectilinear figures and one triangle that aren’t part of the material in my manual.  I’m simply storing those in my teacher’s cabinet.

*The drawers were in a different order than what I had learned in my training.  That may be one of those things that’s taught differently depending on what type of training you received.  It was easy to just switch around the drawers (which is how I found out the top one had to stay at the top;  I just switched the contents for that one).

I must admit that I was disappointed over some of those things, but as I stated, most of it was easily corrected.  I’m still stuck with that pointed oval, which is so strange.

Despite those flaws, though, I still absolutely love my new cabinet and am still completely thrilled that I own it.  Drama Queen got to start working with it on Monday, and was so excited!  I had previously given her all the introductory lessons with my homemade Geometric Cabinet, so for this lesson, I was at the point of showing her how to work with a whole drawer.  I think she ended up working with each of the drawers that day – she just kept going back to it!


These are each of the six drawers of the Geometric Cabinet:

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 (isosceles obtuse, isosceles right, scalene obtuse, isosceles acute, scalene right, equilateral)

Drawer 4:  6 different regular polygons (pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon,  decagon)

Drawer 5:  4 curvilinear figures (quatrefoil, curvilinear triangle, oval, ellipse)

Drawer 6:  4 rectilinear figures (isosceles trapezoid, rhombus, right trapezoid, parallelogram)

I WON!!!!!!

There has recently been an an amazing contest on Living Montessori Now to win one of three absolutely beautiful materials from Alison’s Montessori:

Land and Water Form Cabinet

Premium Leaf Cabinet

Geometric Cabinet

I have been working a step at a time to make my own Geometric Cabinet.  The way I’ve been making them has been working well, but the space issue has been a problem.  And I wasn’t really looking forward to Drawer 4, which would include making regular polygons from a pentagon (5 equal sides) to a decagon (10 equal sides).

I also did a DIY version of the Land and Water Forms – forming them in the backyard using sand and water.  Again, that has worked well, but it would be nice to have them available year round, and on a regular basis for the children to repeat the work whenever they desired.

The Botany Cabinet (called Leaf Cabinet in this case) is one I had decided to skip with my children, but would love to do it if I was given the cabinet.

So I worked persistently in trying to win one of these!  This was one of those contests where you could earn extra entries by tweeting (I started a Twitter account just for this purpose), voting for Living Montessori Now on Picket Fence, naming an Alison’s product you would like, etc.  I daily took advantage of as many of those options as I could.  I felt kind of silly doing it EVERY day.  I mean, I NEVER win these things, so I should be doing more productive things!

But I won!!!  The first thing I saw when I pulled up e-mail this morning was a CONGRATULATIONS e-mail from Deb Chitwood, the face behind Living Montessori Now.  I will soon be the proud owner of that gorgeous Geometric Cabinet!!!  WOO-HOOO!!!!!!!!!  🙂

I’ll post pics of Drama Queen working with it after it arrives!  I told her about it over breakfast this morning, and she’s almost as excited as me!

I’m rather giddy this morning.  Can you tell?  😉