Montessori Mathematics: The Complete Bead Material - Part 1
When those who are not much familiar with the Montessori Method hear it referred to they often have interesting preconceived idea of what it entails. Some thoughts that I've heard are as follows:
--"Oh, the schools where they have no tests and they play with educational toys all day!"
--"You mean those really expensive private schools?"
--"Montessori schools are where the smart kids go."
--"Don't they mix up grades there?"
--"Children from those schools don't adjust well to 'regular' schooling!"
--"The teachers just leave the children to learn on their own."
If you are really knowledgeable about Montessori, then you can see how most of these statements have a grain of truth enhanced by a dose of ignorance. My usual response to the above includes such explanations as:
--"No, they don't have traditional type tests in Montessori schools, at least not in the early years, but the children are constantly being evaluated on what they have learned. And all of the educational materials used are graded as to difficulty, so there is a natural progression as the child learns to master each level."
--"Yes, many Montessori schools are very expensive, but in some places the Montessori schools have been adopted into the public school system. And if you cannot afford to send your child to an actual school, they can still have a Montessori education if you put your mind to it!"
--"Montessori schools are not only for children who are intellectually gifted. In fact the method began when Dr. Montessori was working in a mental institution with the severely disabled. A Montessori classroom is an excellent environment for learning for children of any age and of any intellectual ability. Whatever the level of intelligence, any child brought into such a place and taught accordingly will end up smarter, though, and at his/her own pace!"
--"In a Montessori school each classroom is composed of kids of various ages. The idea is that those who are more advanced can teach and help those who are just learning. It is a cooperative environment."
--"Children who learn through the Montessori method become used to active learning. This is the best way for children to learn because they learn best by doing, not by explanation and reading. It also engenders a love of learning so that as they grow they become independent learners, wanting to find out for themselves about subjects that interest them. Unfortunately, 'regular' schools don't often offer this to their students."
--"Teachers often work as facilitators, teaching a lesson, then re-teaching the lesson occasionally, each time becoming a little less involved in the 'teaching' as the child takes over. This continues until the child understands the lesson enough to 'teach' the teacher, or the other children!"
As for the materials themselves, if someone has heard of them or seen them the impression that they come away with is often, "that's a lot of beads!" The reason being that the Montessori method wants to start children off by learning things not in the abstract, but in the concrete. Teachers don't explain the difference between 1, 10, 100, and 1000; we show the difference! The way we do that is with beads - lots and lots of beads!
I got lucky on eBay and was able to buy the Decimal Golden Bead Material at an excellent price. Thing is, getting the complete math bead material is a massive investment. Its uses are almost endless and reach into upper elementary. It makes traditional math lessons look positively boring, and it makes it easy for children to grasp what are usually considered to be complex concepts. The decimal golden bead material is an excellent example of this.
Above, Ella and I are doing a lesson on the decimal system. The initial idea is for the child to visually and tactilely note the difference between a unit (1), a set of ten units (10), a set of one hundred units (100), and a set of a thousand units (1000). The unit bead is simply a single bead. The ten bead bar is ten beads identical to the unit bead connected in a line. The hundred bead square is essentially 10 ten bead bars connected into a square of beads. The thousand bead cube has 10 hundred bead squares connected on top of one another making (obviously) a cube. Both in appearance and in size there is a vast difference between the unit and the thousand cube.
The next stage of the same basic lesson is to bring together 10 unit beads and set them together by the ten bead bar to demonstrate the relationship between 10 ones and 10, making sure that the child counts them out. It continues by laying 10 ten bars together, counting them out, and then showing how the result is identical to the hundred square. And finally you put 10 hundred squares together so that they become visually the same as the thousand cube. (Note, though, that the hundred squares tend to interlock when placed on top of one another - so for the purposes of the demonstration, I held them up on their edges making the cube vertically, rather than horizontally, which worked very well.)
Thing is, the golden bead decimal material is all I have. And the time has come that Ella and I can't go much further in math, at least not using Montessori lessons, without getting more bead material. If you've done much searching online for Montessori materials, you know that they can be very expensive. And when it comes to bead material, there is a lot of different items you'll need. Deciding where to get it, when, how much, and in what order can be extremely overwhelming.
I've searched all over for the least expensive mathematical bead material and the least expensive buy-it-all-completed place I've found (though if you've found one less expensive, please do share!) is IFit Wooden Toy Supplier in Vancouver, BC (And at the time of this writing, they've got a good sale on - take a peek!).
If you want to get every component needed for everything - i.e. every lesson, game, and bead activity, you don't have to buy everything. You need only buy the parts that have enough components for every lesson, game, and activity. For example: the decanomial beads have 55 of each of the bead bars for the numbers 1 through 10. If you use material from the decanomial beads, you won't have to buy any other bead stairs, nor will you have to buy additional golden 10 bead bars for the golden bead material. Albeit, you won't have all the tidy boxes and cabinets for storage, but if you can contrive to make those you'll cut down on your costs considerably.
For enough components to do all bead activities, you'd need to buy:
- the Decanomial Bead Bar Box
- the Elementary Negative Snake Game
- the Complete Bead Material
- Forty-five Golden Bead Units
- Forty-five Golden Hundred Squares
Today (November 6th, 2008) the price for the above materials from IFit Wooden Toys is $523.28 CAN or $422.00 USD - which is partly because of the fantastic sale they have on. But don't forget shipping costs when you make up your budget! For example, if I were to order it, I'd have to add 5% GST (Goods & Services Tax - Canada's national sales tax) and shipping costs ($62.86), so my total would be $612.30.
Unfortunately, that's a lot of money to spend all at once, and most homeschool families just don't have it! After all homeschool families rarely have two salaries! So even though this price is phenomenal considering what you get, it's still beyond many, myself included. Therefore you might want to consider going the route I've taken: making the bead material yourself.
My first piece of advices is: don't go tripping off to Michael's or a Wal-Mart and think that you can buy the beads there. I did and once I began to calculate I realised that it would be much cheaper, and much more efficient to buy the bead material outright! That's provided they even have enough beads in enough colours.
You'd do much better to order the beads, possibly from a wholesaler. Some of the least expensive places I've found online for buying ridiculous numbers of beads are as follows:
Lure Making - Yes, it's a fish-oriented place. But some fishing lures need beads, and they have a decent price!
John Bead - A Canadian company, although, as a wholesaler, they have some restrictions as to whom they will sell. But if you have a friend who works in a craft store...???
Consumer Crafts - Which seemed my best option until I discovered they don't ship to Canada! So, for non-Americans, you may as well just skip this link!
Bolek's Craft Supplies - The company I decided to go with for three main reasons: they will ship to Canada, and they were the least expensive, and they have a big selection of colours.
Now, before you say, "But pony beads are much cheaper! And they're available everywhere in bulk!" let me warn you: pony beads are marvelous for children's crafts, but because they are not round they cannot be used for bead material. Here's why. Pony beads work well for the unit beads, and even for the bead bars, but when you begin to make bead squares and cubes you'll notice right away that the squares are not squares but rectangles, and the cubes are not cubes but rectangular prisms! To make Montessori bead material you need beads that are as long as they are wide, as they are high, which limits you to either cube beads (and you'll never find enough of these in enough colours to use) or round beads. Faceted round beads will work as well.
The traditional colours for the Montessori bead materials are: red, green, pink, yellow, light blue/aqua, purple/lavender, white, brown, dark blue, and golden. And for some special-use beads you'd have to add: light grey, dark grey, black, and a second shade of pink. Obviously, not all companies have all these specific colours, so you might find yourself having to improvise, but if you do, you certainly won't be the first one to do so!
So, how many beads, exactly, does it take to make the bead material? And how many do you need of each colour? Well, you've struck a goldmine now, because I've already done all the figuring out for you! Hopefully all my figures are right!
- 55 RED BEADS
- 142 GREEN BEADS
- 273 PINK BEADS
- 35 PINK BEADS (for the pink/white bead stair in the snake game, you may wish to use a different shade of pink)
- 476 YELLOW BEADS
- 775 LIGHT BLUE or AQUA BEADS
- 1194 PURPLE or VIOLET
- 1777 WHITE BEADS
- 2488 BROWN BEADS
- 3411 DARK BLUE BEADS
- 10 LIGHT GREY BEADS
- 265 DARK GREY BEADS
- 8095 GOLDEN BEADS
Well, that's about all I can write for tonight! There will be other posts regarding the making of bead material in the future, as this is a topic that takes a lot of time, for the Montessori material maker, the Montessori teacher, and eventually the Montessori student!