Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How NOT to Make Your Own Geography Materials: Part Three, Landforms (again)

My landforms are finally finished! Now that the experience is over, I will say again that this is definitely a material you can make yourself. Just don't do it the way I did.

Before I get into it, please leave a comment if you have any information on the "official" sequence of geography materials. Gettman's write-up introduces the sand and water globe and then in the next or same lesson one pair of landforms. However, on Moteaco (the only other place I can find a geography sequence) the album seems to advocate the following:

  • Sandpaper Globe
  • Continent Globe
  • Puzzle Map of Hemispheres
  • Animals of the World
  • Puzzle Map of Own Continent
  • Puzzle Map of Own Country


  • Introduction of Land Water Forms

That is a big difference so I am wondering what is usually done.

Back to making the forms. I already wrote about my failure with Plaster of Paris. This time around I struggled with plasticine.

My problem with the plasticine was that everyplace that carried it locally sold it in small packages of five colors. I would have had to buy at least ten packages to have enough premixed brown this way. I read comments from a Montessori classroom teacher that said she always bought the multi-color pack and mixed the colors together because it always made brown. Mine turned a swirly grey. The worst part was that the plasticine is very stiff and I really hurt myself while kneading the colors together from the first pack. I tried microwaving it for a minute to soften it and it didn't work. This is how they looked following that processes, a bit swirly.

Following some lively discussion on the Yahoo group "Montessori Makers," I learned that plasticine can also be called "oil-based sculpting clay." Now that I have this valuable information I would order a couple of pounds of it from here and save a lot of work.

One of the websites that sells bulk plasticine mentioned that it could be melted in a saucepan. Due to the fact that I already was in possession of two packages of multi-colored clay I decided to melt it all together to mix the colors more easily and soften it up.

It melted like a dream, although I did also melt two plastic spoons in the process.

This is what it looked like as it started to melt.

This is what it looked like as I stirred it together.

Next, I got the bright idea to pour the liquid plasticine (after letting it cool a bit, remember the spoons?) into five of the containers. I figured I would avoid the kneading and pressing steps because the liquid would fill the pan and self-level. DO NOT DO THIS!

Plasticine that has been kneaded and pressed into the pan has a tenuous grip on the pan at best. This makes it easy to cut the complimentary shape into the clay and lift one out to place in the other pan. LIQUID plasticine that has been poured into a pan has a wonderful grip. This is what my bay and cape looked like after I used a knife, spatula, and eventually a spoon to pull them apart. This was also after I tried scraping and clearing the junk left behind.

As you can see, the shape I removed was completely destroyed and the "water area" left behind was a mess. I used a paper towels and my fingers to clean it up. I reshaped the balls of clay that I removed from each pan to match by hand.

This is what they looked like when I was finished (labeled for my mom).

Bay and Cape, Peninsula and Gulf

Okay...big beef here. After making these I wondered how the child is supposed to know the difference between a Gulf and a Bay. Before you say "a gulf is bigger than a bay" think about the fact that "size" is relative when you are moving between landforms, maps, and globes. Also, Google it, there technically doesn't appear to be a difference, and if there ever was, it hasn't been followed. This is probably why "Bay and Cape" are not among the landforms that many companies carry.

Lake and Archipelago

Island and Lake, Isthmus and Strait

If I had removed the plasticine from the pan after it cooled somewhat and had kneaded and pressed it into the pan like it is usually done, the multi-pack would have worked fine. Mine still turned out grey-green rather than brown. It probably would have been better if I hadn't used any of the black. However, the multi-packs were just as expensive as ordering all brown to begin with and would save having to clean up the pan (it seems to be wiping clean just fine with some paper toweling).

I also would use more plasticine than I used. I'm worried that the landforms may be to shallow.

I have decided to add a McLinky to this post. If you have blogged in the past, or blog in the future, about making your own landforms please feel free to add a link to your post in the McLinky. I thought it might be a fun way for us to blog hop and that it might be nice to catalog some DIY posts all in one place. I'm going back right now and adding McLinky's to all of my other DIY posts. Please add links there as well, if you would like. I'll organize it all eventually, and try to set it up so people can link to DIY posts on things I haven't made myself.


  1. From my understanding, political and physical geography are studied in parallel after the globes are introduced.

  2. I've always thought that making the land forms sounded REALLY hard.

    Land forms are to be presented around the ages 3.5 -4. Anytime after the map of the world has been mastered is a good rule of thumb. By this time, the child should understand the difference between land and water, and has been exposed to islands.

    In my training, cape and bay had been eliminated for the very reason you mentioned. Too difficult to tell the difference. We were presented Island/Lake, Peninsula/Gulf, Isthmus/Strait. No system of lakes/archipelago. I have both cape/bay and system/archi in my land and water forms so I do use them.

  3. P.S.,

    I'm sure I managed to MAKE it sound really hard, I've always heard they are supposed to be really easy. I'm DIY cursed apparently.

    Thank you for the sequence info, your take on it seems to split the difference between the two.

    Maybe I should talk about land water and air a bit before I do the sandpaper globe so that he understands the blue is water?

  4. Oh my goodness! These last two posts had me in tears! I was totally cracked up and snorting loudly in front of my computer for ages...
    Thanks for sharing these mishaps - I'm sure that everyone will be most grateful for the heads-up when considering this journey! They were truly funny and I love your sense of humour!

  5. Well, I guess I feel a little better about it all if someone is at least getting some entertainment out of it!

  6. You did a fantastic job with these! I love the write up and the pictures. You're also right that they are probably too shallow, but you can control that. Have your children fill them with a SMALL pitcher!

    I came here from Montessori Makers, but I'll link you (and this post!) from my own blog when I get a moment. I'm just starting to publicize it. It has a lot of links that you may find useful.

    I'm a trained Montessori teacher who has been teaching for many years. I'm also in the process of developing materials for a school that I want to open. I think I have a lot of resources that I can share with you.

    I laughed when I read some of what you've done- advanced works when you're children are young!

  7. Thank you Tracy!

    I checked out your blog immediately when I read your pink tower extensions comment. I am SOOO excited to here everything you have to share!

    You'll have to clarify your last sentence for me, do you think I'm too far ahead in the sequence? I always feel like I'm behind and going too slowly. We've been doing this for a year and I haven't even started geography. Kal-El will be four in a couple of months and I still haven't had him work on middle sounds so we haven't begun the moveable alphabet either.

    If you have the time, willingness, and energy to pass on your knowledge I am more than happy to hear what you have to say!

  8. I haven't seen your boys or what they are interested in. You know best and observation of their interests should guide you.

    Remember many areas overlap. Just like you may sometimes choose to work on the development of one material and sometimes read a book- interest vary.

  9. This is great, thanks for sharing!!! I love everything about geography, and these hands-on materials make it more fun for the kids.