Recently, I posted to a Montessori Facebook group asking for other people to share their opinion and experiences on affordable Montsesori products. I was tired of the assumption that because these were lower-priced products that consumers gave up the right to expect a modicum of quality in the products. “You get what you pay for” had become over-used and I found myself bristling against the phrase because I don’t believe that lesser quality should also equate to no quality; while these “discount” products might not have the outstanding quality of their higher-priced counter-points, I don’t think that schools, daycares, or parents on a budget need to give up all hope at purchasing good Montessori learning materials.
This is one post in a series covering all of our Montessori materials and I will update as we purchase more.
This review will attempt to touch on and assess the value and quality of the Montessori Math materials that I have personally purchased. I will not go into use, presentation, or extensions but will link where possible. I compare the cost of the discount products to Nienhuis because they have been largely considered the standard in quality Montessori materials, although I have never purchased from them.
Hanging ten bar, Adena, $14.03
Hanging teen bar, Adena, $20.76
Reviewed together because they are essentially the same. Simple, not sturdy but doesn’t really have to be. The hooks were very small, I think for a classroom setting they should be thicker/blunter, but they work well. This material could be cheaply DIYed to the same results, so if you have the time and are looking to save money this is one material where you wouldn’t lose anything by going the DIY route.
Scale, Montessori Equipment, $20
I did notify James (owner) that I was unhappy with this product and he disclosed that they are phasing it out. It appears to be the same one sold at a couple of other discount sellers, but I’m not positive. The scale works, but is incredibly flimsy — those plates are basically tin plates suspended by fishing wire. I am much happier with our Learning Resources one*, which has more opportunities for exploration but is not “official Montessori.”
Long division material, Adena, $69.56 (> $255 Nienhuis)
Its hard for me to truly grade this material, as I haven’t experienced better quality versions, but I will say that for the price its a mixed bag. The painted materials feel plastic-y in the hands and the boards feel chunky rather than sleek and heavy. That said, while it would be hard to replicate or DIY this material exactly, I think I might have tried to find a bulk pack of game pieces (like those from “Sorry”) and some wooden bingo chips/tiles, and then just made laminated “boards”; I will be doing a similar DIY for additional multiplication, addition, and subtraction boards. But, if you’re committed to having a wooden (real) version, this is the best price that I have seen, and the quality is not bad — I do think it will hold up to heavy use.
There is also the option to download Making Montessori Ours’ long division printable; at $7 it is a great deal and will save you the hours it would take to figure out a DIY version!
Gold bead material, Adena, $38.15 (> $65.50-159.50 Nienhuis)
I’m tempted to just write “ugh” for this review and leave it, but I’ll give you more to go on… These beads are unattractive, dingy plastic. While the tray provided is decent (not flimsy, but not what I’d consider sturdy either) I just find the whole presentation so unappealing which will inevitably detract from its worth and use in the classroom. I am planning on DIYing the rest of the bead material; if you were doing the bead work, I would either DIY or go for a higher-end product (like Nielhuis which uses glass beads).
You can also see from my close up to the left that the beads are slightly different colours and the edges on the hundred and thousand cubes are “rough” — almost as if the beads were shaved off of a larger unit.
That said, I know this material was very affordably priced compared to other options and most DIY options would still end up costing at least half of this price, so this is a personal judgment about the (lack of) attractiveness of a material and what savings that is worth.
Spindle Box, Adena, $21.32 (> $115 Nienhius)
Very light-weight spindles and boxes; properly divided in the original “two box” format and the spindles are thick enough to avoid being snapped. A box to hold the individual spindles was not provided. A great value for the price, but this is an easy DIY so unless you really were committed to having the “real thing,” I think you could achieve the same means with dowels or even popsicle sticks.
(If you do purchase, make sure you select the two box option, not the singular box, as this gives you more options and is easier for storing.)
Hundred Board, Montessori Equipment, $25 (> $85.50 Nienhuis)
I couldn’t tell by the pictures on the website, but these are good-quality, wooden tiles — smooth and durable. Personally, I would recommend just buying the 100 Number Tiles separately and DIYing the board, saving $18. The board is good quality, but I don’t think its worth $18 for its purpose (considering you can get another material for that price!)
Stamp Game, Montessori Equipment, $23 (> $97.70 Nienhuis)
Highly recommend — I know that this can be DIYed, but the effort that would go into finding the properly coloured, sized and weighted tiles, as well as matching the chips and the pegs, and then numbering all of the tiles… I think this DIY would potentially cost more than just buying the material (and I don’t think paper can substitute). If you were committed to DIYing, you could buy the tiles and then fashion the pegs and chips from clay, but it would still be more work than the savings.
Great quality, this material is used for addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication so its well worth the investment.
Large number cards, Montessori Equipment, $23 (> $68.50 Nienhuis)
These are great quality, very durable but lightweight — although I think with this material, being lightweight is an asset as children have the carry the whole box at once.
Multiplication board, Montessori Equipment, $16 (> $37.40 Nienhuis)
A simple, good-quality material. I think for the minimal investment its definitely worth buying rather than attempting a makeshift DIY.
If you did do a DIY, I would try to make a magnetic version so that the beads/chips didn’t move and proof frustrating.
Table Number Rods, Montessori Equipment, $23 (> $120 Nienhuis)
I purchased this after also having made a DIY version with dowels — the only added benefit this has is the number tiles. Great quality, a much more affordable investment than the full-sized number rods (which I also DIYed). They have a great, sleek feel to them and I find the children are very drawn to them — the smallest piece is a choke hazard though so it would not be appropriate for some 3 year olds who might otherwise be ready for the number rod’s concepts.
These boards appeared white in the Montessori Equipment online pictures but are actually a light khaki green; I’m not sure why that is, I would think the material should have been left white or natural wood, as green is the colour for division. That aside, I’m impressed with the general quality, though I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage someone else to DIY, or purchase a printable version. I don’t think much would be lost from using laminated strip boards and either DIY the wooden number strips, or purchasing those separately.
Sandpaper Numbers, Montessori Equipment, $14 (> $29 Nienhuis)
This is a material that will get heavy use so good quality is essential. This version has held up well to a lot of use, but I would still probably go for a DIY version if you had access to dye-cuts and were interested in doing DIY sandpaper letters as well (as it wouldn’t be much extra work). just to save the $14 for a material that couldn’t be as easily DIYed.
Decimal System Material, Montessori Equipment, $160
This is a small portion of the full set of materials, which is extensive and takes up a large basket all on its own.
The materials are good quality, much more attractive than the Adena golden beads described above, but the weight of the hundred blocks is simply not there — its good for visual representation, but the reason that these materials were traditionally beads is because of the weight that it creates. The full set of golden bead material is $100 more, so if you were willing to pay $160 maybe that’s not much more of a stretch… but personally, I would advise buying a smaller set, a cheaper plastic version or DIY.
Ten Board and Teen Board, Montessori Equipment, $60 for the set (> $150 Nienhuis)
These materials were purchased together, so they’ll be reviewed together! I’d say they’re great quality for the price, but I’d leave it up to individuals if they think the purpose/function is worth the price. It would be a hard DIY if you were committed to wooden, and I feel that something would be lost with most paper versions unless it was something truly ingenious — has anyone seen a really great DIY?
Printed Arrows with Boxes, Montessori Equipment, $35 (> $97.90 Nienhuis)
The boxes alone are worth purchasing, but the arrows would be a simple (but time consuming) DIY if you weren’t concerned about the boxes or already had a good solution for them (small Tupperware or mason jars). Very happy with the quality of the plastic boxes.
Bead cabinet, Grandpa’s Montessori
This is one of three materials that I have purchased second-hand from Grandpa’s Montessori. It is incredibly sturdy after use in a daycare and is now reversed and being used as a stage until my kids are old enough to use it for its intended purposes. I’m pretty sure that Grandpa’s is out of business, but I would not hesitate to buy any of their materials second-hand.
I also have several beaded materials from Montessori Equipment that I am happy with, but I will be looking at DIYing the remaining beaded material. The beaded material is an easy DIY with minimal equipment needed — but you do need to be willing to invest the time. I’d rather save a couple of hundred dollars than a couple of hours.
Please share your own Montessori math materials reviews!