It's always fun to save $600 on Montessori materials by making your own. The original materials are, of course, made of wood. My million cube? Just a box. The originals are also based on metric measurements and range from 5mm to 50cm. Mine are based on some friendly U.S. customary units...you know, inches.
If you want to make your own hierarchical materials out of wood and with the original dimensions my favorite tutorial is over at Le Jardin de Kiran. There is also a tutorial at Making Montessori Ours that uses the original dimensions but makes everything from a wood and cardboard combination.
I reached a whole new level of laziness with this material and didn't even have to cut my cardboard or take out a proper tool. By changing the dimensions, I was able to use pre-purchased materials already to size or nearly already to size.
- My million cube? A standard 20"x20" shipping box from UPS. I had a couple in the basement. I wrapped it in green Dollar Store wrapping paper.
- My 100k square? A 20" pizza box that I picked up for free at a local pizzeria. You'll have to do a little research and find out who sells pizzas that large in your area. It is wrapped in
- My 10k bar? I had some leftover blue poster board from my History Question Chart project. I cut, folded and taped it.
- My 1000 cube? I cut some floral foam to size with a steak knife (it was already a 2"x2"x8" prism. I just had to lop it off to 2".). Wrapped it in some more dollar store wrapping paper.
- My 100 square? I cut it from 2"x3/16" balsa from the craft store. I used a sharp kitchen knife to cut it. That stuff is really soft. I spray-painted it with red paint I had left over from making constructive triangles.
- My 10 bar and unit? Both are cut from a 3/16 wooden dowel from the craft store (make sure you buy a square rather than round dowel). Because of the way wood is measured, the 3/16ths is closer to the 2/10ths I needed for this all to work out proportionally. Again, I used spray paint I already had.
Are they perfect? Certainly not. I got the idea to wrap the large items with wrapping paper from the forum at Keys of the Universe (good idea jwesmama!). If you are going to obsess about accuracy you should spray paint instead of wrap because the paper will billow slightly. You will also want to consider using an actual saw rather than a kitchen knife.
However, with the lines drawn on with a Sharpie and a metal ruler, it is very obvious how many units of this fit into that and the material will be able to do its job. It cost me less than $5 to make this material. Even if you have to buy spray paint you are still looking at a very cheap project.
I made extras of the smallest pieces as insurance against loss or damage.
You can print the number cards you need to go with this work for free at Making Montessori Ours.
The purpose of this material is: to give the idea of the entire decimal system, show quantity, to have the child experience quantity, to give the language (simple family, thousand family, million family), and provide indirect preparation for analytical geometry. After this material, the child will be able to work on the large bead frame in all four operations.
You can watch a video of a Montessori guide giving this presentation to a child via YouTube: