Wednesday, November 18, 2015

School Days

Do you still recognize us? 

Kal-El has been choosing sentence analysis every day. This sentence was, "The robber boldly told the police a lie."  We use these cards from ETC Montessori.  He is just about finished with the set.  Me Too finished ALL of the grammar boxes.  Side note:  You can see in the above picture that Kal-El has switched to writing in cursive as his first choice.  New American Cursive last year did the trick.

Both boys have been receiving the presentations on divisibility.  They are a little further along on this chart than pictured.  We've also done 4's and 8's.  We still have to do 3's, 9's and 7's.  Then will have completed the numeration section of the KotU album.

The boys grab a new folder of art cards to sort once a week.

Me Too is the last section of the Nienhuis cards for test tube division.  This is only his first past through.  He is doing equations with four-digit divisors but only recording the equation and final quotient.  He will do the last section two more times, first adding the recording of partial remainders, and finally recording everything.

Me Too has also nearly finished his final pass through the last section of the Nienhuis cards for the checkerboard.  He is recording the equation and partial products.  In a few days he will move on to the flat bead frame.  In the picture above I either said something funny or he had just discovered an error.

Kal-El finished all the Nienhuis cards for the flat bead frame in maybe early October.  He has just finished redoing the last section on paper for extra practice with abstract long multiplication.   He has also finished three of five sections in the second set of Nienhuis cards for fractions.  They don't tell you what these cards practice on the website.  The first section practices converting irreducible fractions to reducible fractions.  The second practices turning improper fractions into mixed numbers and the third practices turning mixed numbers into improper fractions.  The fourth section will practice addition of mixed numbers with and without conversion.  The fifth will practice subtraction of mixed numbers with and without conversion.

Kal-El does a drawer from this ETC Montessori word study set every day.  It only takes a few minutes.   It is his favorite work.  I'm going crazy because I know I took a picture of several of the very cool "skyscraper drawers" in the compound word section but I can't find any of them.  They were actually very difficult puzzles because there was only one solution but several root words could be used in more than one combination.  I'll have to take pictures again when Me Too gets to them (soon).  Me Too only chooses one of these drawers about once a week so is moving through them more slowly.

Kal-El has since moved on to contractions.  

Both boys work on pin maps every day.  Kal-El is trying to finish up the last seven countries or so in Europe that he has never mastered.

Me Too has been working hard on being the first of us to memorize all of the countries in Africa.  The pins on the pink pad are the ones he knows and the ones on the green pad are the ones he doesn't.  He came up with this two pad system.  He stores the pins overnight on the two pads.  Any day that he is able place all the pins from the pink pad without error he adds one to three more pins from the green pad to the map and from that day forward they are now part of the pink pad.  As you can see he only has 12 countries left.  That sounds like a lot, but I think that map has 54 pins.

Truman has been trained to walk around all works and work rugs.  However, he does like to snuggle during racks and tubes and will occasionally roll over onto the boards for a belly rub accidentally.

I put "vocabulary/spelling" on the boys work plans as daily this year.  That means they must choose either vocabulary or spelling work each day.  Both boys seem to have chosen vocabulary every day so far this year.  They have explained to me that when they run out of work in the vocabulary book they will switch to spelling.

We have been working on Spanish daily this year.  We still don't move fast enough for my taste, but are making good progress.  Our Spanish program, Viva el Espanol, uses Montessori-inspired methods.  They learn using a lot of three-period lessons, following Total Physical Response commands (like the verb command boxes in primary reading), listening to taped conversations of native speakers (speaking slowly), games, storybooks, and songs.  I speak almost entirely in Spanish during our Spanish time.  Unknown verbs and sentence structures are taught by demonstrating either by myself or using a puppet (so that I have someone to converse with that can also speak Spanish).  Actually our dog Truman has nearly entirely replaced the puppet.  He is much more fun and speaks excellent Spanish (wink).

In the picture above the boys are practicing the vocabulary for clothing using paper dolls.  I introduced all the vocabulary at one point with three-part lessons using large flash cards. Here they are practicing by following commands like "Pon la falda armadilla en la muchacha." (Put the yellow skirt on the girl.)  The boys have gotten good at these so now they do a third period version of this in which one brother gives the commands to the other.  The hardest part for this is article/noun agreement and adjective/noun agreement.  They learn the article right along with the noun during the three-period lessons with the flashcards but the adjective agreement can be tricky for them. They are getting pretty good.

Above are miniature flashcards of the months of the year that the boys can use with TPR commands as well.  The fireworks are July, the kite is April, etc.,  We use commands for these that also review other vocabulary they have learned in the past.  For example to practice body parts I can say "Pon Julio en la nariz."  (Put July on your nose.)  Or, to practice classroom objects "Corre al globo y pon Febrero en la mesa."  (Run to the globe and put February on the table."

You will often see our large flashcards in the background of other pictures in the school room.  For example this picture from a previous post on the Roman Arch:

Some of our weather and months of the year flashcards are hanging across the fronts of the white bookcases behind the boys.  

I bought the Dignitet curtain wire from Ikea...

...and strung it across the fronts of that row of our bookcases.  

Important note: I also added eye hooks to the the fronts of the bookcases every few feet so that the wire could be not only attached to the end brackets but also strung through the eye hooks along the way.  I did this so that the wire is kept close to the bookcases in such a way that no one can put their heads behind the wire and strangle themselves.  

I use the curtain hooks with clips that came with mine (bought on Ebay) to hang flashcards or other visual aids up temporarily when using them.  When I taught school I used to prop things like this up across the chalk tray under the chalkboard in the front of the room.  Until I added the Dignitet I always had bit of an issue finding a place to display many of these at one time in a usable way.

I plan to use the same system on the longest wall in our basement (the longest uninterrupted wall in our house) to create a timeline for the kids to build along with their Story of the World work.  I wouldn't have enough curtain clips for that work, but did buy a bag of a couple hundred very tiny (1 cm?) clothespins that will serve the purpose well.   If you want to see what I mean, look at the sequence of "index cards timelines" on this post, which is my very favorite post ever on different methods that can be used for child-made timelines in a homeschool:

We have been doing lots of other work.  I've made a note of what I didn't have pictures of and will try to cover those things in my next post.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Audio Resources in our Homeschool

I bought a DKnight Magicbox at the beginning of September and it has made homeschooling easier.  I am way behind the times when it comes to technology so forgive me if this post seems silly to you.  We use quite a few audio resources in the course of a homeschool day here such as Story of the World and Viva el Espanol.

I looked for wireless speakers for a while before I found the Magicbox. Most wireless speakers had a price point that was too high or reviews that were too dismal.  I paid around $25 for our Magicbox and I am happy with the sound quality.

The speaker connects to your devices via bluetooth.  I uploaded all of my audio resources that were on CD to my desktop computer.  If I turn on the Magicbox and sync it to my desktop it will play anything my computer can play and we can wander around most of the house with it.  The speaker has control buttons that allow us to stop and start or move forward and backward.

Kal-El has hit the an age where he definitely has favorite songs and wants to listen to them.  I put his music into a playlist on the computer and he can now listen to his jams while he's in his room or, when he has his brother's permission, while he does his schoolwork.  That's what he is doing in today's photo.  As you can see it's rather small which is a bonus in our crowded school room.  I wish you could plug headphones into it, but apparently bluetooth speakers don't work that way.  I might have to break down and get him some kind of mp3 player yet, but I don't know what to get that will work well and not cost an arm and a leg.

I was loving the Magicbox, but not loving having to walk to the desktop computer to switch playlists or resources.  I solved this problem by adding the free app Plex to my desktop and to my iPad.  It could be added to any of our devices.  It allows me to access our digital media stored on our desktop from my iPad.  My iPad is first generation and only has 8G of memory.  For this reason, I do not have iTunes synced to my iPad.  Our music library would eat up that memory right away and we aren't paying for cloud storage.  So, now in the school room I sync the Magicbox to my iPad and control the Magicbox from the Plex app on the iPad but can play anything even if it is only stored on my desktop.  I can switch quickly from history to Spanish and access any file I need.

I also used the Magicbox at coop last week.  I wanted to play a video of Beethoven's Ninth that had visual graphics for the hearing impaired but the volume on my iPad isn't loud enough for a classroom.  I streamed the audio over the Magicbox and it worked really well.

This was not a sponsored post.  I didn't even put in an affiliate link because my Amazon account is messed up.  I missed the e-mail notices asking me to disclose if my site was geared toward children 13 or under and now my account has been closed permanently.  I'm not sure how to remedy that.  Anyway, I'm just sharing about the Magicbox as always because I like it and it's helped me.  Like I said, I am not on the cutting edge of technology.  Perhaps there is a slicker way to do this.  This is the solution I've come up with for now and perhaps it will help someone.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Yet Another Failed Experiment: Land and Sea Breezes

I am so sorry that I didn't move the jars of dog food before I took this picture.  Gross.  But yes, this is my life since we got a dog.  One of the presentations I gave the boys in the past few weeks was on land and sea breezes.  My record on Montessori geography demonstrations now stands at 3-4.  Another experiment failed.  I don't know how I messed this one up.  (You can read about how I failed at "air takes up space" here, warm air rises here, and radiant heat here. )  You can read about how to do this presentation in your albums, or otherwise the activity and information here is quite comparable, and I like the follow-up questions suggested.  Basically I put equal amounts of sand and water each into their own pie tin.  We recorded the temperature of each at the start, then after heating it on the stovetop for three minutes, and again after cooling them outdoors (it was cold outside) for ten minutes.

Any experiment that asks me to heat more than one thing on a burner at the same time for the purposes of comparison instantly flummoxes me because of how our burners are designed.  All five of my burners are different sizes and have one of two different BTU's.  There is no way for me to heat two things simultaneously but equally except placing two identical containers equally spaced over the one large elliptical burner.  While this won't get me published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, I believe this solution should be equal enough for the types of things we are doing at  home to date as long as the each vessel doesn't need to be heated uniformly.  They are both heated nearly equally here, but also heated equally lopsided.  

In the demonstration the land (sand) is supposed to heat AND cool faster than the water.  Our land heated marginally faster (two degrees?) but both the sand and water cooled exactly ten degrees during their ten minutes outside.  My only hypothesis is that I didn't use enough sand and water. If I had used a larger amount of both sand and water perhaps I would have gotten a bigger difference when heating.  Likewise, if the amount of sand and water I used wasn't enough perhaps the ten minutes outside was too long and the water reached a point where the cooling slowed drastically and then the sand caught up.

Anyway, I discussed this with the boys and we proceeded as if all had gone according to plan.

We talked about how these different rates of heating and cooling would create a sea breezes and land breezes.  

On a different day I presented "Changes in the Winds Caused by Seasons."  The KotU album wisely has five charts for this.  The first two charts show how temperatures change in accordance with whether the perpendicular rays of the sun are falling at the Tropic of Cancer or Tropic of Capricorn.  The areas of land on the Earth are color coded by temperature.  Here is an example:

The third chart is the same picture, with all of the land now in brown and the direction of variable and steady winds are added.  The fourth and fifth charts combine the wind arrows with color-coded land again, but this time the color coding reflects the amount of precipitation rather than the temperature. There is one chart for when the perpendicular rays of the sun fall at the Tropic of Cancer and another for the Tropic of Capricorn.  My friend Abbie posted about this lesson and has lots of good pictures of the charts.  Rather than repost the same here, I will refer you to her excellent post.    

The ETC charts only provide the final two charts.  Following closely on the heels of the sand and water demonstration, the boys jumped to the conclusion that the color coding referred to the temperature and that the blue areas were cold.  On those charts, the blue actually refers to rainy and those areas are hot not cold.  I always have Jessica's charts at least on the iPad if not printed so I was quickly able to dig us out of that confusing situation.  The five charts rather than the two are definitely necessary here not only to avoid confusion but also because you can lay the temperature and precipitations charts side by side and make some nice observations.  The KotU course provides printable images for all of the charts in this album.  That was a really nice feature.  I was able to show them the other charts on my iPad, pause the lesson, print the charts, and start fresh the next day with all five charts in my hands.  Thank you Jessica!

Friday, October 9, 2015

More Prime Factors

When we last discussed prime factors, the boys were using Table C to find all of the factors of a number and break them down into prime factors.  I did finally make peace with why oh why we do this when I realized the information can be used to find the lowest common multiple (upcoming lesson).   Last week the boys worked on another way to find all of the factors and break them down into prime factors, this time using the pegboard.  

Why oh why do we use the pegboard for this lesson?  If we were only using the green pegs I would guess it would be so the child could visually determine which prime numbers were factors of the non-prime factors.  But, right out of the gate we are looking at a two-digit number and are using the blue pegs which doesn't give you any visual cue.  I also wonder why this lesson comes before divisibility.  It would make sense to me to do all of the prime factor work after divisibility.  Maybe it doesn't come before divisibility.  Maybe I just think it does.

At any rate, the boys have a hard time buying anything I'm selling poorly.  Since I was clearly uncommitted to this method, so were they.  "Why are we putting pegs on the board mom?"  "Can I just tell you the factors?" So, we moved right a long to doing it the way I did it when I was a kid.

They put any non-prime numbers in a black rectangle and branched the factors of each rectangle, starting with the lowest prime factor for each, below.  Prime factors are in the red circles.  The decided what the factors are using the facts in their heads.  They enjoyed this and each did about six number a day for a week.  I planned on showing them how to use this to find the lowest common multiple this week, but the stomach flu knocked out a few of our school days.

Me Too, in particular, really enjoyed choosing his own numbers and finding all of the factors.  It was his idea to find the prime factors for one million.  He did most of the calculating  in his head because the numbers are easy enough especially when the prime factors are 2 and 5 like this.  I had to help him find the factors for 31,250 because he couldn't keep track of the remainders in his head.  Again, for lower numbers doing this before divisibility is fine because the kids can imagine what the multiplication equation will be that arrives at the original number.  However, with a number like 31250 you are really determining divisibility.  So, perhaps we will revisit this again after divisibility.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Building a Roman Arch

We have been studying Ancient Rome using mostly lessons, suggested literature, and suggested extension activities from The Story of the World.  Last week we built a Roman road, this week we wanted to build a Roman arch. Although Roman Arch block sets are sold by many Montessori companies it's an extra and therefore not in many of the albums.  I had an strong idea of how I wanted to present this, but wanted some support for the technical details.  The only album that I had with a presentation was the Physical Science album from Mid-America.  However, the method for presenting was to demonstrate assembly and then let the child do it.  This was the opposite of the approach I had planned.  I didn't want to show them how to do it.  I wanted them to figure it out like an ancient Roman (without the heavy lifting) and discover the compression and tension forces on their own.   Fortunately I found some free lesson plans online, from a non-Montessori source, that were exactly what I had in mind.  You can find them here.  I  downloaded the "Rome Lesson Plans" file and presented specific sections. If you are not doing Story of the World you might want to present all parts of the lesson.  We already had covered some sections in our previous work.  I can't give you a script here for what I did without plagiarizing the  lesson plans.  But, I can point you to the exact sections we did.

We bought our the Haba Roman Arch Building Block Set.   However, if you don't want to buy one or want to save the money or just want to give your children the extra experience, the lesson plans I linked provide instructions on page 5 for making your own blocks using plaster and ice cube trays.  

The lesson plans are divided into five lessons.  We skipped Lesson 1 Who are the Romans?, Lesson 2 What Did They Invent?, and Lesson 4 the Civilization Game.  

The lesson is structured around The Engineering Method.  I provided the kids with a laminated printout of the color chart of the Engineering method from page 12.  Then, I started reading the script starting with item two on page four and continuing through item five.  It presents the problem as a story.  A Roman Emperor has conquered a new region and need to connect each city to a water source.  

Define the Problem:  How do you move water from a water source to a city?
Do Background Research (about the geography and materials available):  We discussed what we had already learned.
Specify Requirements:  I presented the boys with the basic and advanced arch requirement pages from page 13.  They decided to satisfy the basic requirements first and move on to the advanced requirements if successful.

The fourth element in this lesson is to show the children a model or photograph of the arch and allow students a few minutes to observe the arch and ask questions. We revisited the applicable pages from City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction.  

Then, I presented the boys with the building challenge.  We put the images away and I gave them all of the pieces they needed in a large basket.  I did not give them the instructions from the Haba kit. They spent about an hour piecing these together in different ways.

Finally, they had an arch that met the most basic requirements: 
  • The arch must stand by itself.
  • The opening must be rounded.
  • The arch must be constructed using at least two "stones."
  • The opening must be tall and wide enough for a cup to fit through.

As you can see, this doesn't look like the picture on the cover of the box.  It also will not meet the advanced arch requirements which means the arch must withstand a certain amout of weight placed directly on top of the arch.

The boys decided to stop at that point for the day.  I bought them some Roman citizen and army figures that they enjoyed (these and these).  They are looking forward to building the arch outside near their Roman road and adding the figures.  They have been working on constructing some other buildings to go along with, mostly from popsicle sticks, just for fun.  

On a second day,  Kal-El wanted to meet the advanced requirements.  I presented "Lesson 3" from the lesson plans.  On page 6 we did sections 1-6, which included reexamining pictures, learning the parts of the arch, and demonstrating compression forces with a circle sit before attempting to build a more stable arch.   We used the graphic of the compression forces from page 14.  I was was surprised that I couldn't find a set of three-part cards to buy for the Roman arch.  So I made my own set of cards and a control booklet.  Terminology covered includes:  keystone, voussoir, springer, impost, plinth, pier, abutment, crown, haunch, spandrel, span, and rise.

Kal-El spent a lot of time building and building the arch and testing it with various weights.  The lesson plans suggested that the weight be determined by the class.  This was a great idea and I personally couldn't think of what we might use for this.  I didn't need to worry about it.  Kal-El decided that the bead materials, specifically the cubes, were great weights.  He tested each arch model starting with the one cube and then testing each next larger cube in turn until the arch collapsed so that he could measure the success of various models.  I never would have thought of that.  There are "testing your arch" pages in the "student journal" file on the lesson plan website but I hadn't printed them and Kal-El was just fine recording this on his own.  He never was able to create and arch that would hold anything heavier than the five cube.  So, on day three he asked for the instruction manual.

Here is the arch as built per the instructions.  There are other models available out there.  I chose this one because it was the same as on the Montessori sites, but I saw some that had better pier and abutment options.

There you have it!  If anyone else has good Montessori-friendly resources for this lesson, please share them in the comments!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Building a Roman Road

We had beautiful weather last week.  The boys and I found a great spot near our shed to build a Roman road that they can enjoy until it deteriorates.  Note:  some of the real Roman roads still exist today, but I don't think our methods were as precisely implemented.  The boys each dug a trench and they filled the trench with somewhat long, thin rocks to make a curb.

Then they dug a out between the two trenches.

Truman was the site supervisor.

building a Roman road for kids

They filled the center about halfway full with sand.

Next, they added a layer of gravel (aquarium rocks).

The next layer was a layer of concrete.  We didn't have any concrete mix around and I didn't want to buy a big bag just to use a little bit (and I didn't feel like mixing concrete).  So, we used Dap pre-mixed concrete patch instead.  It is not the same thing as real concrete.

Finally, they used flat rocks and layered them on the top like puzzle pieces.

Building a Roman road was one of the suggested followups in a chapter of Story of the World.  We didn't follow their instructions though.  They wanted you to do it in a shoebox lid with thin layers of things mixed with glue.  We followed the description of the real thing given in David Macaulay's City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction.  The Roman road page is pictured above.  It is SUCH a great book I bought us a copy to keep.  It is a great resource for arch's and aqueducts and more.

Friday, September 25, 2015

School Days


Kal-El is reviewing long-multiplication with the flat bead frame.  He original learned this work in parallel with the checkerboard back in April of 2014.  However, he wound up preferring the checkerboard at the time and didn't spend as much time on this which makes it good for using for review.  We have a set of Nienhuis cards he is working through.

This time around I laminated a strip of paper that he can use over and over again with a dry erase marker rather than having to get a fresh strip every time.  Extra bonus, I don't have to keep making strips of paper just the right size again and again.

I do have to keep strips of paper stocked for logical analysis, but I don't have to fuss about the size.  Kal-El has mastered indirect objects and started adverbial extensions ("where" in particular) last week.  I might get a photo of that this week. 

Both boys did really well with finding lowest common multiples and we finished that thread in the albums.

They did equally well with factors.  During this very first presentation, finding the factors for 18, they both figured out all of the factors in their heads while I was still showing them how to lay out the pegs on the boards to check if "two" was a factor.  So, I had them do the four remaining examples in their heads and write them all down on a piece of paper.  They made it into a race which Kal-El barely won.  So, we moved on.  I taught them how to use table C to find all of the factors for a number and then how to break down each factor into prime factors only.  This week I think we do something similar on the pegboard.  I can't wait to get past this.  I understand why we find all of the prime factors for a number but I don't understand why we break down the other factors into their prime factors.  Stuff like that makes me really dislike a lesson.  The last time I felt this way was some of the squaring and cubing games.

Me Too began the checkerboard.  We have cards from Nienhuis.  After the initial presentation he did about 15 cards over the course of three days in which he just had to build a number with beads on the board.  Last week he started doing equations with one-digit multipliers (Something that is in AMS albums but is skipped in AMI.  Probably not necessary, but we have the cards and they didn't take very long).   The hardest part for him is really writing down the equation and the product.  He is still learning how to line everything up vertically.  Both the stamp game paper and the large bead frame paper really take care of that for you.  He finished all of the one-digit multipliers this week and now can start two-digit multipliers next week.

We built a Roman road this week and I took lots of pictures.  Hopefully I can get those uploaded this weekend.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pin Maps: Finally, a Set You Can Afford that You Don't Have to Make Yourself (Mostly)

Okay, I'm going to cut straight to the summary and then go into my typical long-winded nitty-gritty analysis afterward.

There is a new source available for pin maps as used in the Montessori elementary environment.  Now you have three options at three different price points:

1.  Nienhuis "Cabinet of World Parts."  
Cost:  $975 plus $136 shipping (to my location)
Labor hours:  None
Storage:  included
Caveat:  Pins may scratch wooden map surface or chip at pre-drilled holes.

2.  New:  Pin It! Maps "Complete Map Set:  Student Package."
Cost:  $219.98 plus $15 shipping plus cost of pins (likely around $26)
Promo Code:  Save 10%  on your entire purchase until 10/31/15 with the code "allday"
Labor hours: Eight (my estimation)
Storage:  $45-90 depending on your choices.

3.  DIY:  See my tutorial here.
Cost:  $125 plus $26-$90 for pins (price depends on how you code your pins or flags)
Labor hours:  Forty
Storage:  $25 for hardware drawers.

VERDICT:  If the Pin It! maps had been available two years ago, I would not have made my own set of pin maps.  The overall quality is better than my set, the control maps are significantly better, there are fun extras, and the price difference is so minimal that I definitely would have chosen to pay extra and save myself 32 hours of labor.  I received a set of Pin It! Maps from the company specifically to review so that I could tell my readers whether or not they are comparable to the maps that I made myself.  I will be brutally honest in expressing my opinions as always.

Are these three options comparable?

I believe all three of these options are comparable in function and scope but there are differences in the level of quality.  I designed my set to be comparable to the Nienhuis set without the high price point and scratching issues.  Sara, the owner of Pin It! maps is a homeschooling mom who apparently read my blog post about the maps I made, saw an unfulfilled need in the market, and spent 10 months designing a product to specifically meet and exceed what I was looking for in a set of pin maps.  I was a muse people! So, it is no surprise that I love these maps.  They were designed to be exactly what I wanted, but better.   Even creepier, does anyone else remember my obsession with the maps command cards that I don't have from Waseca?  Sara created several similar sets and they are available as free downloads on her website.  In fact, Sara has improved the pin map concept by weaving in a bonus Waseca bend in several ways.  More on that later.  Before I get hopelessly bogged down in nitty gritty details I want to say some more things about the Pin It! Product.  When you open the box it comes carefully packaged and is well-organized.  I didn't have to spend 10 hours sorting things like I often do when I receive an ETC Montessori product, for example.  You have about 8 hours of flag/pin assembly to accomplish. I will say that Sara has tried to make this as painless as possible.  There are very clear, photo instructions for the assembly and the package even includes the roll of tape you need to laminate your flags.

Back to quality.  One might predict that most expensive option is going to be the highest quality, but I'm not sure that is the case here.  The storage for the Nienhuis set is obviously beautiful.  The flags (hard plastic flags with blunt-ended metal posts) are very sturdy and of the highest quality.  The questionable component comes down to the pin maps themselves. They are what I would call political maps.  The land is one color, the water is another.  The Pin It! maps and my own maps are what I would call physical maps that show elevations and this is a useful feature when labeling mountains.   The Nienhuis maps are wood and metal blunt-ended pins go into pre-drilled holes and the pins often scratch the paint off of the maps or can chip around the hole.

The quality of the maps for the DIY set will of course depend on where you source your maps.  I sourced the best maps that I was able to find for my purposes. Those who read my tutorial may recall that sourcing the maps was easily the most frustrating part of the process.  Pin It! appears to have had maps manufactured specifically for this purpose which is exciting (more information available in their FAQ section).

About the Maps Themselves: 

I mostly used A Beka maps.  The A Beka maps that I used are comparable in quality to the Pin It! maps but are different.  The maps are a similar size.  The Pin It! maps are just a bit larger and are uv coated.  Mine show the political boundaries a little more clearly due to the colors.  However, I would say that  the Pin It! maps use color more intelligently.  Instead of using color to boost the political boundaries (which is something I liked about the A Beka maps) they use it to show the different biomes, something I never would have thought of.   Here are photos of one of my maps and then a Pin It! map:

The level of detail is better on the Pin It! maps.  There are five rivers that show up on the Pin It! maps that do not show up on my A Beka maps.  Also, the way the physical geography is shown makes it easier to see where the highest points of a mountain range can be found.  This is probably due to the hand-shading mentioned on their site.

If you click on any of these pictures, they should enlarge.  That will allow you to see the differences better, particularly when it comes to knowing where to place the pin.  Nienhuis uses colors around the pre-drilled holes to identify the type of pin to insert.  They use a star around the capitol city.  I did the same thing (with a marker) but didn't bother with stars.  The Pin It! maps have different colors and symbols that make things even easier.  I think the symbols for volcanoes and mountain ranges are really cute.  Also, the "R" in the center of the spot for river makes it clear that it is the river that is being labelled and not just a place to put the country name or the flag.

One place the Pin It! maps blow mine out of the water is the included maps of the Caribbean and Oceania.  It was important to me that my kids learn where these small countries and other islands are, but that it is very difficult to include that level of detail on any of the six larger continent maps.  The relative size of the islands compared to the larger continents makes them very very small.  My solution was to include a separate, special map for each of these areas.  I then discovered that sourcing a map that showed those areas the way I wanted them to look was nearly impossible.  I finally found something adequate but they needed to be colored and they were not the same size or quality of the other maps I was using.  Sara had maps manufactured specifically for these areas that match in size and quality, are oriented the way they need to be (that is, shown fully with enough of the surrounding larger geography to give a reference point), and were visually what I wanted (that is, indicating the island groups in Oceania in a way that is is understandable).   Below are pictures of my maps versus her maps and you can see that mine are downright embarrassing in comparison:

MY Oceania map and physical map of Australia.  They are only 8" x 10"

Pin It! Maps version 18" x 24"

Close-up.  You can see you don' t need a separate physical map like I used.

About the Controls:

I did not make map-style controls for all of my maps.  You can see the controls I used in my tutorial post.  In short, they are a combination of puzzle map controls, an actual atlas, and charts for capitals and flags like this one:

It would have raised my costs considerably if I had made map-style controls for each type of pin.

The Pin It! maps and Nienhuis maps both use map-style controls.  Here is a picture of some of the Pin-It! controls for Asia:

You can see that the flag control is easier to check than mine.  Also, I think the way colored highlighting was used on the land and water control is very well done.  Again, you can click on these to enlarge.  I appreciate that the titles identifying each control map are color coded with Montessori colors.

Do they have a comparable level of difficulty?

One important question some people will have right away is whether all three options include the same number of flags and cover islands, rivers, and mountains at comparable levels of detail.  I literally used the Nienhuis labels for the pins so I know that my level is identical.  However, I also added quite a bit to my North America land and water map.  I also added the entire Caribbean and Oceania.  The Pin It! maps also added the Caribbean and Oceania.  I sat down and pulled out all of my land and water pins for Europe and laid them side by side with the Pin It! pins and they were nearly identical.  I was missing two pins they had and they were missing two pins I had.  It was fine.

Why do I still have to assemble my own pins with Pin It! maps?

The pin flags are already made, instructions and materials are included in the box for assembling them (right down to the tape for laminating the flags).  However, apparently the government doesn't allow 1200 small sharp pointy objects to be sold along with a product marketed to children so you have to get your own pins.  Also, this means that it is also going to cost you some hours to assemble the pins.  Sara estimates that Europe takes 2 hours and Central America/Caribbean takes 45 minutes.  So, based on my experience with these I would guess around eight hours for the whole set.

The pin design is different than the pin design I used.  There are two reasons for this, one is the different choices made for backing the maps.  The other is that the Pin It! maps were designed so you would not need glue.  Using glue is a pain and adds an extra time consuming step.  Plus I glued myself to myself repeatedly when making my own maps.

I used foam board from the dollar store to make my maps and it is only about a third of the thickness that Pin It! uses.  It's nice to use the thin foam because I was able to back every map individually without taking up too much space so each map is grab and go.  It also means I was able to use short pins without stoppers.  I find it is holding up well and is still holding the pins well.  We do have to use the maps on a hard surface to stop the pins from going in to the map too far as it would on the carpet.

Pin It! maps use .5" foam.  It has a better feel and isn't prone to warping like my thin foam could be.  It does mean that the pin design had to be different so that you don't completely sink the pin down to the flag.  Sara provides stoppers for each pin.  The combination of a stopper and clear pvc "flag poles" require a slightly longer pin than I used.  The "flag pole" prevents the pin from bending (I've not had that problem) and keeps the flag from sliding down the pole when the child pushes the pin into the map.  This is the part of the design that avoids having to superglue each flag to each pin.

Here is a picture from the website in which you can see the pins clearly:

These pins are inserted into the World Map.  The World map was another unexpected bonus that is not part of the Nienhuis set or the set I made.  Flags come with the set to label the Tropic of Cancer, Capricorn, etc.,  This means you don't have to make a working chart when you get to that portion of the geography album.  It also provides a way to practice world biomes.

I had no interest in assembling all of the Pin It! maps pins after having already spent so many hours assembling my own, so I have been using my pins on the Pin It! maps when trying them out.

The set came with two pieces of the .5" foam and two sets of special plastic corners.  This set-up is designed to keep the storage space required low.  The maps themselves take up very little room.  You choose the map you want to use, put it on the foam, and then add the corner pieces to hold the map to the foam and protect the corners.

I wondered if using the same foam for so many maps would wear out the foam in places where pins fall close together but not in the exact same spot.  Sara uses these with her own children and hasn't noticed a problem.  She points out that the foam can be turned and/or flipped as needed so it creates more spread.

Also, I will point out that replacement parts are really easy to get for these maps.  It's nice to find a Montessori material in which you can replace parts without buying a new set.  There are replacement maps, foam, flags, flag parts, everything.

About buying pins:

How much this costs is highly dependent on how much you spend on pins.  When I made my own pin maps I used a different color pin for each continent rather than writing or printing the name of the continent on the back of every flag.  Labeling the back of each flag would have doubled my flag-making hours.  Getting the colored pins at a low cost can be tricky. I managed $0.01 when I did the project but lately haven't seen better than $0.02 and if you don't find a sale they can be $0.04.  Also, when you buy in the different colors you wind up over-buying for certain colors and therefore overspending.  Yellow is the common color for these pins.  You can get them more easily and at less expense.  For example they are $0.017 today on Amazon.  If you got them locally and on sale (50% off notions) you might do better.  If you are making your own pin map set you could get all one color and just code them on the back.  If you are really hard core like my friend Abbie and want color-coded pin heads you can paint yours different colors with nail polish.  If you are buying pins in all one color for either the Pin It! set or making your own you need around 1150 pins.  If you are buying colored pins I have a breakdown on my original tutorial post.


I store my own pins in a set of hardware drawers.  If I were to use the longer pins required for the Pin It! maps and put on the stoppers and flag poles I don't think that I could fit an entire set of country names or capitals for a continent in a single drawer anymore.  Sara recommends using 4x6 Iris storage boxes (like for photos).  It is going to be more economical to source the boxes yourself than to buy them through her site.  She does sell a nifty set of labels for the boxes ready to go and color-coded.  There are 45 labels in that set.  I'm guessing there must be a dollar store version available if you look.  Otherwise you'll need to look for a sale at a craft store of some kind.

Fun Extras:

Speaking of storage, Pin It! sells a nice set of pin-cushions for holding the set of pins you are working with while you are using them.  They are color-coded to match the Montessori colors for each continent.  Here is a photo of some of MY pins in one of the Pin It! pincushions.

Remember, those are MY pins.  The Pin It! flags are not ragged on the edges, are nicely printed, and are coded on the back with the continent name.  I am using the Europe side of the pincushion.  I would flip it for Africa.  Or, I can use any color I want.

Another fun extra is a special map set Sara created for practicing the landforms.
It is 9"x 24" and comes with two controls, one for land forms and one for water forms.  It also includes all of the pin/flag making materials that you would need.  Labels for the storage containers you would use for this map is included in the labels set.  This is a separate map set.  It is not part of the student set.

If you have a coop or classroom setting and would want more foam and a second set of pins there is a classroom package available.

Another thing to consider is that Sara suggests that these maps could be used in a multi-level homeschool setting that includes primary children by using Toob figures rather than pins along with any of these maps.  Deb, over at Living Montessori Now, focused on this aspect of the package in here review which you can find here.  She also took a good close-up of an assembled pin if you want to see one.

Finally, be sure to check out the Free Teaching Materials section of the Pin It! website.  There you will find the command cards I mentioned earlier as well as card sets to help you link this map set to any Waseca biome work you might be doing.

Don't forget, you can save 10% on your entire purchase until 10/31/15 with the promo code "all day."