Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bead Materials and Montessori at Home

Note:  This is a popular post on the site and I've edited it slightly from it's original form for clarity.

We are nowhere near ready for bead materials yet, but I am posting about them today anyway.

I want to make sure that all of you know about a quiet Montessori blog you may not have visited yet. While it is relatively easy to find examples of people making their own spindle boxes and sandpaper letters, it is much more rare to see someone tackle cylinder blocks or bead materials. The author of Montessori at Home takes on DIY Montessori tasks that are not for the faint of heart.

I am constantly referring people from other blogs and on Yahoo groups to her series of posts about buying and making your own bead materials. I have finally decided it would be easier to link back to a post here than to repeatedly look up all the links I need and past them into unforgiving message boards and comments boxes.

This post was triggered by a post I read today on the blog Walk Beside Me. The author wrote: "I especially love the versatility of the bead material, but it would cost a ton to buy everything."

One solution is to make your own. The author of Montessori at Home has detailed exactly how many beads of which color you need, where to buy them, and the trials and tribulations of making them. I'll put the links in at the end.

The other solution is to buy only what you need. A homeschool is very different than a full Montessori classroom. To teach at home you only need enough beads to do all of the activities, you do not need enough beads to have all of the activities on your shelf at once. Lucky for us, Montessori at Home has gone ahead and figured out which materials you need to buy in order to have the minimum materials necessary for all activities. They are:

  • the Decanomial Bead Bar Box
  • the Elementary Negative Snake Game
  • the Complete Bead Material
  • Forty-five Golden Bead Units
  • Forty-five Golden or Wooden Hundred Squares
  • 9 or 45 wooden 1000 cubes (one golden cube comes in the complete bead material)
EDITED TO ADD: (11/10/11, 5/13)  I found out the hard way that some suppliers (cough, cough, Adena) don't include the short chains in their "complete bead material." 

EDITED TO ADD AGAIN:  (5/12) The different 45 layout activities only took each child two to three days, one of which doesn't use the beads.  I don' t know that it was worth having all those 1000 cubes just for that.  You will want nine for the collective exercises (golden bead operations work).

Unfortunately, this is still going to run you more than $400. However, that is probably half of what you would pay to have it all. Another bonus is the 100 hours or more of your life you will not spend beading your fingers together trying to make it yourself.

For the broke and the brave among us, here are the links to the information you need to make the materials yourself:

If you would like to see a ton of beautiful pictures of someone making their homemade bead materials as they are in progress, you can see them at Aide a la Vie.

I am currently following the Montessori at Home instructions for making my own continents globe (and starting to wish I had just spent the $20!): (instructions are in the comments section)

And for those of you who are truly adventurous, please check out her series on making your own Sensorial materials:

And my personal favorite:

If you have made your own bead materials please add your link if you would like to the McLinky below.


  1. What I've done/decided to do is buy the Intro to Decimal System and Decimal Quantity, the 100 chain and the 1000 chain from one of the discount supplier. Then I made the short bead stair and bead chains, but I made them in the Math U See colors because that is what the elementary kids use. The Math U See blocks are like plastic base 10 blocks, but each quantity is a different color (a unit is green, a 5 bar is light blue, etc.)
    I bought the starter set of Math U See (and am going to buy the completer set) so that is basically the decanominal box. Then I have wood base 10 blocks for the rest of the golden bead material. (I got them from a local teacher supply store when they were having their 25% off sale.)

    That way, I haven't spent TOO much money, and I haven't had to spend TOO much time building my own, and then my own preschool aged children ease right into Math U See.

  2. 45 golden hundred squares? Any reason why just one plus 44 wooden ones wouldn't work? I will buy them all if necessary but that puts me at $576 without the bead cabinet...just wondering if I misunderstood you.
    Thanks for all your work on presenting this information to the rest of us!

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  4. 2p,

    No, no reason at all. The mom I was quoting here was MAKING her own materials so had the luxury of making everything from beads. Once you are doing your own beading it is probably easier to keep going with beads than to also learn how to make the things from wood. I purchased 45 wooden hundred squares. I also felt as though 45 thousand cubes was "missing" from this list so purchased those as well.

    The thread of "who" I was quoting and "why" probably got a little lost there.

    There are instructions for making your own wooden hundred squares and thousand cubes in the Ultimate Homemade Montessori Materials Collaboration under "Math."

  5. OK, that's exactly what I was thinking. My husband is wondering if the 1000 cubes are necessary but, as far as I'm concerned, if the whole point is to visualize (and get the "feel" of) what 1000 or 9000 is, it's a must. Thank you so much for your time!

  6. I am so impressed with all of the materials that you have made. Your tutorials are a "Godsend" to everyone that reads your Blog. You are a very creative student of mine. Bravo! Karen

  7. Wow! I'm honoured! I can't believe that someone else has an entire blog post about my blog!

    You were correct when you answered 2p's question about why I was making 45 hundred squares. It actually takes less time and effort to get them done with beads than it would to have them in wood. Not because of the actual length of time it takes to make the material, but because of the length of time it takes me to get my father to set up his saw and help with the cutting.

    Plus, as a man who personally cuts all his own wood, for firewood and for building, he just about has a fit any time he finds out that I've actually paid money to buy wood (whether dowels, blocks, or anything else).

    Someday I'm going to get my own saw (though I have yet to decide whether I'm going to go for a mitre saw or a table saw), but until them I'm at his mercy!

    By the way, I'm going to soon be continuing the series as I'm currently working on the long and short bead chains in anticipation of upcoming lessons in skip counting.

    Thank you so much, My Boys' Teacher, for all of the positive press. I've been getting a lot of referrals from this post and I was so encouraged to find your glowing review.


  8. I know I'm years behind, but just stumbled upon this classic post and had one suggestion: the short chains lay flat in front of the squares in the bead cabinet (Nienhaus has a beautiful picture in their catalog) - no extra hangar necessary!

    One thing I am trying to figure out for home use is whether the complete bead material is necessary, or if I can get away with just the 1000 chain to show all pre-cubing concepts... (Along with the short bead chains and squares, of course, and the golden bead material.)

    1. Jen,

      Just found your comment. My filter must have eaten it. You are, of course, right. The bead chains do lay in front. Except, oddly, the 100 chain. There is no groove for it and it always falls off.

      Anyway, I can't fully answer your question yet because it is too early for me to tell. Yes, in primary you could get away with what you said. However, the long and short chains are used quite a bit in elementary. We haven't gotten to the "squaring and cubing" section of the elementary album yet so I can't say with experience, but it looks like you will use them a lot then. But as you said, that is for "cubing" concepts and you were asking about a pre-cubing concepts. So, no, you don't need the cubing chains and the cubes for the pre-cubing work. Wow. That was a mouthful.

  9. Regarding the wooden thousand cubes, they are totally worth it if you move from the 45 layout to the bank game. They allow your kiddo to do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of 3 digit numbers with concrete materials, which allows them to intuitively understand the 'carrying' that they put such emphasis on in public school...since you mentioned multiplication above, you probably already knew this, but thought I'd mention it in case others aren't aware of these additional uses :).

    1. Just to clarify for everyone, the "Bank Game" technically refers to a work that is done in elementary with cards from 1-9,000,000 and NO beads. However, tons and tons of people also call the operations work that is done with the golden beads (officially called the "collective exercises") the "bank game" also.

      One thing I realize now that I wasn't clear about in my edits was how MANY wooden 1000 cubes and 100 squares you need. In order to do the 45 layout you need, well, 45 of each. However, you are not going to use more than NINE 1000 cubes in the collective exercises. You will use more than nine 100 squares but certainly not 45. You can't use more than nine 1000 cubes because the child doesn't learn what to do with 10,000 and higher until they do the hierarchical material.

      So yes, you definitely want nine wooden 1000 cubes and as many 100 squares as you see fit but you don't need *45* of them unless you are going to do the 45 layout and that might not be worth it for a homeschool.

    2. Editing that comment above...You WILL Need 45 100-squares when you do division with two-digit divisors.

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  11. You may have noticed that I left two comments above and then deleted them. I did that because I realized I was asking my questions before I'd done enough research on my own. I was trying to limit the amount of material that I need to buy right now and get the rest later. From what I can tell, it looks like I can. I made a post about what I learned: if you have any advice to offer it would be welcome!

  12. Hi, I just remembered that in this post you mention that Adena does not include the short chains in their complete bead material. So what do you have to buy in addition to what is listed? I looked for "short chain" at Adena, and didn't see anything. Thanks!

    1. Well, I guess their search doesn't work that well, because I just found it, but they are out of stock :)

  13. I just had a question.
    Aren't all the hundred cubes and beads included in the golden bead material, or are these needed in addition to it? Also which decanomial bead box is better? The one that has 10 of each or the larger set.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. As mentioned in the post, only ONE cube comes with the golden bead set. So yes, the others are needed in addition.

      At the time I purchased the only decanomial box available had only ten of each. I had to combine with bead bars from the snake games in order ot have enough for some of the activities. There is a presentation or two in which that would STILL not be enough, but it only affected us for a couple of days and it was only the 8 bars or 9 bars. I made some photocopies of the bars to do those activities.