Sunday, February 7, 2010

Continent Boxes: The Challenge

For some reason I found starting my continent boxes a little bit daunting. At the time I felt like I really had too many pans in the fire at once already, so I looked into filling them for a fee here at Montessori for Everyone.

Don't get me wrong, I love Montessori for Everyone. I have purchased from them in the past and will purchase from them again in the future. However, after looking at the list of what was included (printable pictures of the following: maps, flags, animals, plants, people and places, facts, map-labeling arrows, and three-part cards for much of the things mentioned) I realized I would be spending around $120 to fill my boxes with little pieces of paper. More specifically, little pieces of paper that I would have to print, cut, laminate, and cut myself. This was right on the heels of spending something like five hours making my own geometry and botany cabinet cards myself and afterwards realize my DIY cost-per-card was the same as if I had purchased the blasted things. I thought that certainly for about the same amount of money I could fill my box with actual things.

So, this is what I did.

The Continent Swap!

I was fortunate enough to participate in the continent swap hosted by Jo over at A Bit of This and a Bit of That. We
exchanged currency, postcards, stamps, recipes, and photos, "day in the life" photo stories, average daily menus, "photo stories" of a festival, photos and information regarding religion and dwellings as well as souvenirs and surprises. It occurs to me that I have no less than six posts to write
so I can show you what we received.

It is difficult to give a "cost" for this part of my project. Because I was doing Africa (finding Montessori homeschoolers in Africa is tricky) I was able to make the items for my swap using free internet resources and by sharing some African items I had already collected. I sent out six packages and shipping was about $8 per package. It is certainly possible to do this project without doing an exchange. However, I spent 15-20 hours putting Africa together and I am glad I didn't have to do that for six more continents. It also was a really neat way to make the boxes "personal."

I knew I still needed more for my boxes so I hit up my blogroll, message boards, and Montessori-N-Such for inspiration and this is what I came up with:


I plan to rotate books from the library in and out of these boxes on a regular basis. However, I noticed that MNS carried a set of books, one for each continent, that would take care of a lot of the "all about Africa" type of information. My boys really enjoy books, so I thought it would be nice to have these as in there as something of a standby. MNS sells the set for $57 plus shipping. Ouch. However, I found the same books for sale on Amazon for $7.99 each. Now I realize seven continents multiplied by 47.99 is $56, but these books are part of the "4-for-3" promotion so I received two for free, also my shipping was free because my order was over $25, and I had a $14 gift certificate hanging around. As a result I was in business only $26 later. In hindsight, these are probably the most expensive and most dispensable part of my collection.
Cost: $26


Rather than photographs of animals, I filled the boxes with miniature animals using the Toob animal collections. I will be able to use these toobs for future biome and habitat work and many of the objects are useful in my phonics miniatures collections. I found the following tubes useful:

If you wanted, the Wild Toob would provide a lot of African animals, but we have a decent Scheich collection of African animals already. I'm not sure how to account for the cost of this, because we had the forest and desert toobs already for their assistance with phonics objects. We also have the "coral reef" toob and "in the water" toob and ocean toob which may or may not prove useful. Again, at $10 each on Amazon these could be expensive. However, Michaels carries them for $6.99. I like to poke around there frequently anyway and picked up the toobs I needed with 50% off coupons leading up to Halloween (found and printed online) so they were only $3.50. The cost of the ones I bought specifically for this project were $14 total.
Cost: $14


For $13 (the price has gone higher since) I bought a random set of 50 Uncirculated Foreign Coins and 25 Different Uncirculated World Banknotes. It took a whole afternoon to identify what I had but it represented all of the continents. Oddly, it was most heavy on Asia and even there most heavy on currency from the former USSR. This was a struggle for me because most of those countries didn't have names when I studied geography. I also had a hard time "Googling" words off of the currency to identify it that are in Russian (or in any case have letters that look, to me, backwards). I don't know how to type that type of thing on a standard English keyboard.
There were no representative coins or bills from the "usual suspects." Nothing from China, England, Germany, Spain, France, Mexico, Japan. Even the "Australian" coins were from "Cooks Island" not Australia proper. That is probably fine, because those are the countries that are easy to turn up coins from. Also, I was able to receive more representative currency in my Continent Swap.
Cost: $17 with shipping


I obtained these through our continent swap. There are inexpensive collections of stamps for sale on Ebay all of the time.
Cost: $0


Free! I belong to the Yahoo group Montessori by Hand. There is downloadable music available in the "links" section.
Cost: $0


I realized I already own these. I bought this world map, flags and stand set from I-Fit a year ago when I was buying something else and saw it sitting on clearance for about $20. I'll borrow the flags from this for a while.
Cost: $0 (borrowed from another work)

World Landmark Cards:

A small collection of world landmark cards can be downloaded for free from Beautiful Sun Montessori. However, I bought the Rand McNally Schoolhouse World Facts & Landmarks Flashcards And Games. I paid less than $3.95 for these. Shipping was not only free, but they are also part of Amazons 4-for-3 promotion.
Cost: Less than $4


I have not done this yet, but can photocopy parts of my control maps for my map cabinet or print out many types found online. I am waiting on this because I'm not sure how necessary their inclusion is.
Cost: $0


I would love to have a real doll dressed in real fabric representing traditional dress from a country from each continent. However, I have fulfilled this need adequately through the "flat stanley" type dolls we all included in the continent exchange. Another way to do this is through Dover or Amazon. Dover makes many books of paper dolls, such as African Girl and Boy Paper Dolls. They are available through Dover or through Amazon. On Amazon they are part of their 4-for-3 promotion and the prices on some are as low as $1.50. You could get a book for each continent, or you could get one of the bigger books for $10 that covers all of them.
Cost: $10

I didn't include the paper, copying, and laminating cost for anything that I printed because if I had purchased the Montessori for Everyone set I would also have additional paper, copying, and laminating costs.

So there you have it! I personally spent about $70, excluding the continent swap items. The continent swap adds another $50. This is precisely the amount of money I almost spent on downloadable files. However, instead of a box of paper I have books, currency, stamps, dolls, miniature animals, music CD's, plastic flags, souvenirs, etc.,

Continent Boxes: South America


  1. I can't wait to see them! I've been having a tough time with our boxes. For a few of them I ordered the files from Montessori for Everyone, and like you, I love MFE, but my 4-year-old would MUCH rather have objects than pictures. His fave part of all of our continent boxes are the Toob animals.

  2. For the preschool continent box, I did almost the same thing as you did, minus the continent swap. I put the preschool continent boxes together about 3 years ago, and I have the same books from MNS, I used Toob animals and other plastic animals that we had, and then I used some National Geographic cards for Places of the World and Animals of the World (I got them at Target years ago). I also got some little World Dolls from the Dollar section of Target a few years ago. I also threw any coins or other artifacts that I had for a particular continent. I'm always on the lookout for other things too, and pick up things here and there, especially at thrift stores. I haven't put maps in the continent boxes.

    I also have a felt world map by the maps and our current continent box (we study a continent a month or so.)

    But for the homeschoolers, I have purchased the continent kits. They are WONDERFUL, but I just don't think that they would be as useful for children under 6 or so. Plus, the homeschoolers don't need as much hands-on activities, and my kids already used the preschool contient boxes when they were in preschool with me! I buy them as we study them instead of buying it all at once. I spend a little more that way, but it is easier on my monthly budget!

  3. Thanks for all the links. The list of things I want from Amazon is piling so high, I hope I get some gift cards for my birthday.

  4. Thank you so much for putting this post together. I am just about to start putting together my continent boxes and am very grateful for all these links.

  5. I can't wait to get a closer look! Thanks for the detailed info!

  6. Oh I am so hanging out to see your continet boxes. In fact I am waiting to start mine until I see yours. No pressure or anything LOL!!!!

    I love the printables from Montessori For Everyone, but also want to include lots of items to touch and feel as well. Wit older kids I think I will end up having both in my boxes...I'll probably need bigger boxes I guess.

    I also think I will host my own Continent Swap but on a small scale. I'll provide the Australian part and then I would just need others from their respective continents.

    I too am currently feeling up to my arm pits in having to print, cut and laminate materials but at least when the younger kids move up all the work will be done for me!!!

  7. I have been waiting approval for joining the Montessori by Hand group for probably a month now. I sent an email to the list owner but no response. Any ideas? Do you know who I could email directly?

  8. Sheryll,

    Try this e-mail:

    Keep me posted.

  9. I know this is a sort of old post, but I thought I'd add how I'm filling my continent boxes. My husband is in the military, so he just 'bribes' his deployed friends (usually with candy, snacks, and other tasty things lol) to send us things from the places they're at. As a result we have a ton from all of the middle eastern countries, Japan, and Germany but some of his navy friends have been turning up in the southern hemisphere lately so we've gotten Australia, Chile, and a few others as well. It technically works out to more per country, but since we'd be sending many of these care packages anyway I don't really track cost of our 'bribes'