Thursday, January 30, 2014

Biosphere Nesting Boxes, Parts of a Biome Cards

"Thank you" polar vortex.  Due to my husband being home from work two days this week the boys had two days off from school.  I used the surprise extra time to complete several lingering projects.  One of which was the biosphere nesting boxes.  Now that these are completed we are back to "full steam ahead" on our biomes study.  These nesting boxes are my frugal version of the beautiful biosphere nesting boxes sold by Waseca

These are similar to, but a little different from, the "cosmic nesting boxes" or "geography nesting cans" you may have seen on my Pinterest boards.  "Thank you" to Kingdom of the Pink Princesses for sharing her "cosmic" nesting boxes and giving me the idea to make the biosphere boxes this way.  

Cosmic or geography nesting materials generally show the progression:  universe, galaxy, solar system, Earth, continent, country, state, city, house.

The biosphere boxes are a little different . Waseca states, "They are meant to illustrate the 'systems thinking' approach of how life is structured and connected." The purpose is not to stack them, but to "turn the set of nesting boxes over and take off each outside box in turn to reveal the system within."  Our boxes progress as follows:  the galaxy, solar system, biosphere (Earth), biomes of the Earth, ecosystems, populations of plants and animals, individual plants or animals, tissues and organs of an individual plant/animal, cells, atoms.

I started with the boxes nested, open sides down, largest box on top and named each level as they were revealed.  

We stacked the boxes as we named them.

Here are some closer looks at our boxes.  They are the same alphabet boxes that Kingdom of the Pink Princesses used.  I had a set that the boys played with as toddlers sitting in the "sell" pile in the basement and rescued them.  I printed images I found online, laminated them, superglued them to the box and covered the edges of each cube with clear packing tape.

8/5/2014 Edited to add:  I just read a post today on The Helpful Garden in which more cosmic nesting boxes were made also using M&D nesting boxes.  Her execution was different so go check it out.

The images are the same on all four visible sides of the lower boxes.  When I reached the "groups of plants or animals" level I changed to two images per box (one for plants, one for animals).

The boys also worked with the "parts of a biome" three-part cards this week.  These are elementary three-part cards with an image, label and definition.  The entire curriculum AND blackline masters are available for free on the Waseca website (this link is to the elementary version.  There is a primary version as well. The links are about midway down the page).  I chose to buy our cards because I didn't have enough hours in my life to color all of these by hand with colored pencils. The cards are well-made and have numbers on the back for additional (unnecessary) control of error and are also labeled so you know what set the cards belong to if a piece become loose.

I'm sure I'll get asked a ton of questions if I don't address how the Waseca curriculum fits into the traditional Montessori web and/or why we are using it.  The biome curriculum is truly just a subset of what is already contained in traditional Montessori geography albums plus a few extension materials/exercises that are pretty neat.  You do not need both.  Some people find the Montessori geography albums daunting because it is really a big collection of key lessons that you can give in almost any order that follows the child's interest.  The biome curriculum is really just one possible linear path through a good portion of the material in the Montessori geography album.

Why are we using it?  It doesn't mean we are NOT using our AMI geography album.  The album is basically "unlocked" by the telling of the first Great Lesson and I will still keep presenting key lessons from it in any order as dictated by my children's interests.  However, my children are greatly interested in maps, continent boxes and the like.  You can see some of the contents of our continent boxes on this page, but you'll notice that I never posted Europe or North America.  When I began putting together items for these continents, continents I'm obviously the most familiar with, I began to dislike the structure of the continent box.  It felt really wrong to throw both a polar bear and a roadrunner in the "North America" box and call it a day.  I'm sure if I were equally familiar with life on the other continents I would have similar feelings.  We still have NA and EU continent boxes, but I decided I would much rather approach the study of these continents according to the animal and plant life, people, food, clothing, shelter, transportation and culture of each biome.  I felt it was most necessary to do this with our home continent and purchased the North America biome cards.  I'll show you how we keep all these organized and stored another day.  I'm certain that once the boys study North America this way they will want to follow suit for all of the continents.  It would be expensive to buy all of the card sets at once, so I plan to buy one or two sets each year.  We will be, of course, using these in conjunction with our continent stencils cabinet.     Because there are a certain number of geography lessons that are prerequisites for the NA biome cards the Waseca elementary biomes curriculum outlined the straightest path from point A to point P.

Have you made any of your own Montessori materials lately?  Be sure to link them to the Primary or Elementary "Ultimate Montessori Homemade Materials Collaboration" in the left-hand sidebar!

Montessori Monday


  1. You are welcome! I had the same issues with our continent boxes (they are the heaviest) but had no clue what to do about it. I had previously looked into the Waseca Biomes but never really looked hard. Time for it again! Thanks!

    1. The kids are really enjoying these! I'm so grateful for the idea!

  2. It is really expensive to be a fan of your blog. Every time I get on here I am introduced to something else I "need". :) So much beautiful fun stuff. Sigh.... :)

    1. I know the feeling! If it makes you feel any better there was a couple years in-between getting this idea and making it happen.

  3. Interesting. T's former teachers speak so highly of Waseca and I've seen, in person, many of their materials. I've never thought about how to integrate their format into our curriculum, but I just downloaded their booklet for a look. You caught me right in the middle of my planning on paper so this research will fit in nicely now.

    You mentioned geography overlaps. Do you think that botany and zoology also overlap? I am asking not having read their literature yet. Off to do that now.

    1. It's nice to hear that the established schools like the materials as well. The materials are just beautiful.

      Yes, I should have mentioned, there are definitely botany and zoology overlaps. They also have language overlaps (readers, etc.,) and history overlaps (the next "lesson" in the manual is to actually give the first Great Lesson with the "big bang" charts as part of the explanation of "energy." I can skip that (partly) because we've done that. I DON'T have the the teacher's manual for each continent specifically and I know there are even more zoology/botany overlaps in those. As it is, when you learn about trees they provide three-part cards for parts of a plant/tree. The elementary curriculum came with several "parts of sets" for the classes of animals and plants, etc., That's going to be a big help to us because the boys haven't been interested in doing the parts-of again as "zoology" but they will as map study I'm sure.

  4. Wow! These are so cool! I must admit I feel quite behind having seen these.