DIY Basic Montessori Materials

How to DIY Basic Montessori Materials

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Montessori materials are based on years of experience and scientific observations. There are some key characteristics that are common to all the real Montessori materials. When you try to DIY Basic Montessori materials, there is no promise of retaining all of these characteristics. But they can be just as effective as the real ones if you know how to present them properly.

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Sandpaper Letters, Movable Alphabet, Language Mat, Sound Cards, and Picture Cards are some common Montessori language materials. Number Rods, Sandpaper Letters, Spindle Boxes, Cards and Counters, and Short Bead Stairs are common math materials.

First, let’s talk about the common characteristics and then find out how to DIY them.

Sandpaper Letters & Numbers

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Characteristics of Montessori Materials

  • Direct and indirect purposes – Each Montessori material has more than one purpose. E.g., The direct purpose of Practical Life activities is to prepare them for the future. They allow the child to experience real-life tasks. But these activities indirectly prepare them for reading and writing as well. “Left to right” concept, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and concentration are skills that the child will acquire by engaging in PL activities.
  • Control of Error – most Montessori materials have control of error built-in. Control of error helps the child self-correct himself when he makes a mistake. E.g., Cards and Counters is an activity where the child has to count counters and match to the number cards (1-10). The activity has exactly 55 counters. If the child makes a mistake there will be extra/fewer counters at the end. The child can identify his own error and correct himself without being told by the teacher.
  • Goal to Achieve – Montessori materials are different from toys. When the child is engaged in an activity, he is working towards a certain goal. He is driven by his natural desire to accomplish that goal by repeating it over and over again. This helps the child develop his concentration as well. 
  • Concrete to Abstract – Montessori materials give a concrete touch to abstract concepts. E.g., Numbers are symbols that represent certain quantities. They are abstract when there is no knowledge of quantity. Therefore, Montessori Math learning starts with quantity. Montessori introduces quantity using the Number Rods. When the child counts the alternating sections of red and blue, he can see the rods getting longer and longer. When the child has a good understanding of the quantity, he can be introduced to the symbols.
  • Isolation – Each Montessori material focus on a single “quality” or “difficulty”. If the activity is for teaching shapes, all pieces are the same colour and size. Only the shapes will differ. The same goes for any other “quality”

“If, for example, we want to prepare objects to be used in distinguishing colours, we must make them of the same material, size, and dimensions, but then see that they are of different colours.”,

The Discovery of the Child, pg. 101      
  • The Gradual Progression from Simple to Complex – Every Montessori material has several levels of difficulty. They allow the child to gradually progress from level to level when the child is ready. E.g.,

“After discovering length sensorially through the Red Rods, a second set, coloured red and blue, can be used to associate numbers and length… A third set of rods, much smaller in size because the initial dependence on sensorial learning has passed.”,

Montessori A Modern Approach, pg. 62       
  • Designed for an Active Child – Montessori materials are not teacher tools. They are part of the classroom environment for the child to actively engage in. The child can choose what he wants according to his interests and needs.

“In fine, it may be said that our materials are not a new means to be placed in the hands of an “active” teacher to help her with her teaching”, The

Discovery of the Child, pg. 149
  • Proportionate and Precise – Montessori materials and furniture are built according to the size of a child. This allows the child to experience many “adult” tasks without any difficulty. E.g., materials like dressing frames, brooms, dustpans, dusters. They are inviting and free of obstacles. and encourage the child to do a real task with a practical goal.
  • Coordinated Materials – Some materials from different areas coordinate with each other. E.g., The sizes of the squares of Pythagoras square are similar to the sizes of the Pink Tower. The colours correspond to the Short Bead Stair. Most sensorial materials are indirectly connected to mathematical concepts.
  • Possibilities for Creativity – The initial presentation of each material has certain direct and indirect purposes. Most activities have extensions and variations as well. But once the child masters all these levels, they can experiment with the materials in their own way.  There are endless possibilities for the child to mix and match and be creative.  

How to Make your own Montessori Materials

If you are working in a preschool, you can buy the materials for your classroom. There are many online stores that you can find affordable Montessori materials. But if you are looking for your homeschool you can always DIY them. There are tons of free printable teaching materials online that you can download. But you might have to do a little bit of cutting and pasting to get them together to use as materials.

I have put together all the printables that you will need to DIY both language and math materials. Browse through and find them here at Montessori Pulse Resource Library

Language Materials

  1. Sandpaper Letters
  2. Movable Alphabet
  3. Language Mat
  4. Picture Cards and Sound Cards

Sandpaper Letters

 Real Montessori Sandpaper letters are wooden slabs with sandpaper letters. The purpose of sandpaper is to give the letters a concrete touch to build muscle memory of letters. They also indirectly prepare the child for Writing.

  • We can replace the wooden slabs with cardstock.
  • Print out the Sandpaper Letters from the Language Resource Pack.
  • Print them directly on card stock to avoid the extra step of pasting them on cardboard. If you are using letter outlines, print them on colored cardstock. (consonants in pink and vowels in blue). If you are using the colored letters, print them on white cardstock
  • Glue something tangible to fill the letters.
    • Glue and Sand– Super easy. Super fun. This can be a fun craft project to do with your child. (Keep in mind that it cannot be a free craft. Because we want a perfect letter shape at the end)
    • Gem stickers – choose the ones that come as lines.  
    • Glitter/Foam Sheets – Cut out the letter shapes with glitter or foam sheets (see below) – for this method do not print directly on the cardstock. Print them on regular paper and use them as outlines or guides to cut the same shapes with glitter sheets. Adhesive glitter sheets will make your project much easier. But regular ones are cheaper and will work fine.
    • Pipe cleaners
    • Sandpaper – Cut out letters with sandpaper. This is the ideal option and the closest to the original Montessori material. But it can be hard to cut letters out of sandpaper unless you are up to it!!
    • Anything tactile that can provide muscle memory
Unique Materials to use instead of Sandpaper
Unique Materials to use instead of Sandpaper
Steps to DIY Sandpaper Letters Easily
Steps to DIY Sandpaper Letters Easily

Movable Alphabet

Real Movable Alphabet letters are wooden cutouts. They are kept in separate compartments, for the child to easily pick the right sound.

Movable Alphabet Real and DIY with Printables
Movable Alphabet Real and DIY with Printables
  • Print, cut and Laminate, the Printable Movable Alphabet from the Language Resource Pack.
  • If you are using all black letters, print the consonants on red and vowels on blue cardstock.
  • This material can be used repeatedly for many activities. These can also be used to make many Language Centers Activities. So it is a good idea to get these laminated. We don’t want them ripped in a few days.     

Language Mat

  • If you are using the real Montessori Movable Alphabet, the mat should be around 25” x 15” big. Because the real letters are bigger. You can use red and blue permanent markers to draw lines on the mat.
  • But if you are using the Printable Movable Alphabets, you can print out the (A4 size)Language Mat. You can use this laminated mat as a Dry-erase Board as well. This is a great way to practice writing on the line.

Picture Cards and Sound Cards

Preschool phonics sound cards and beginning sound picture cards
Sound Cards and Picture Cards

Collect a box of tiny objects to associate with the beginning sound you are going to introduce. It can be small toys or real objects from around the house. For example, a small plastic dinosaur for “d” or a small cup from a toy tea set for “c”. You don’t have to worry about finding objects to go with all the sounds of the alphabet. You can always replace them with Picture Cards. But, it is better to have objects at least for the first few sounds. Because the objects are more tangible and concrete. Montessori philosophy encourages starting with concrete materials before moving on to abstract concepts.

  • Print the Printable Sound Cards and Picture Cards.
  • Cut and laminate. It’s ready to use!

Now you have everything you need to take the first step to teach Writing and Reading. These 5 simple materials may seem like a few. But in reality, your preschooler could take months to get through this level. Unlike spoken language, learning to write and read does not come naturally. We have to use strategies to help the children learn them. Montessori identified that children between 0-6 years are Sensitive to Language. It is best to introduce these activities during this period.

Math Materials

  1. Number Rods
  2. Sandpaper Numbers
  3. Spindle Boxes
  4. Cards and Counters
  5. Short Bead Stair

Number Rods

This is the first math material. These are wooden rods, divided into sections of red and blue.

  • Find 10 wooden craft sticks decreasing in length. They don’t have to be 10cm-100cm. It could be 1’’- 10’’. But you have to make sure that they decrease in length proportionately. Meaning: if “one” rod is 1’’, then “two” rod should be 2” and so on)
  • Then paint or use coloured tape to replicate the  Number Rods. But if you are unable to find the proper craft sticks you can use red straws and blue tape(or vice versa). The best thing about using straws is that it is easy to cut to your desired size. The picture above shows a DIY done with cardstock.
  • The picture below shows another method using electrical tapes and wooden dowels.

Find Digital and Printable Montessori Resources at Montessori Pulse Teachers Pay Teachers store

Sandpaper Numbers

Sandpaper Numbers Real and DIY
Sandpaper Numbers Real and DIY
  • We can replace the wooden slabs with cardstock.
  • Print out the Free Sandpaper Numbers.
  • Print them directly on card stock to avoid the extra step of pasting them on cardboard. If you are using number outlines, print them on coloured cardstock.
  • Glue something tangible to fill the letters.
    • Glue and Sand– Super easy. Super fun. This can be a fun craft project to do with your child. (Keep in mind that it cannot be a free craft. Because we want a perfect number shape at the end)
    • Gem stickers – choose the ones that come as lines.  
    • Glitter/Foam Sheets – Cut out the letter shapes with glitter or foam sheets. (see below) For this method, do not print directly on the cardstock. Print them on regular paper and use them as outlines or guides to cut the same shapes with glitter sheets. Adhesive glitter sheets will make your project much easier. But regular ones are cheaper and will have the same results.
    • Pipe cleaners
    • Sandpaper – Cut out letters with sandpaper. This is the ideal option and the closest to the original Montessori material. But it can be hard to cut letters out of sandpaper unless you are up to it!!
    • Anything tactile that can provide muscle memory

Spindle Boxes

This is a fun and engaging activity.  I have observed that children tend to choose this activity, even after they have mastered it. This activity gives a concrete touch to the quantities. We also use this specific activity to introduce the number Zero.

  • You can replace the box with anything like pencil storage boxes, mason jars without lids, or even cups.
  • Label them with numbers from 0-9
  • We can use unsharpened pencils, thick straws, craft sticks, wooden dowels, or popsicle sticks for the spindles. Have 45 “Spindles” in total for the child to successfully complete the activity.

Cards and Counters

Montessori math material: Cards and Counters
Montessori Math Material: Cards and Counters

  This is one of my favorite Math Materials. We can use this to introduce multiple Math concepts and is very useful to have on the shelf. The child can learn the correlation between the symbols and the quantities.

  • You can replace the wooden Number Cards with cardstock Number Cards.
  • Download the Printable Cards.
  • Print them directly on cardstock (to skip the extra step of pasting it again on cardstock)
  • Laminate 
  • For the counters, you can use anything at hand. It can be small rocks, poker chips, or small lego pieces.  Have 55 counters in total for the child to successfully complete the activity.

Short Bead Stair

Montessori Short Bead Stair real material and a DIY

Short Bead Stair is a set of bead bars representing quantities 1-9. Each number has its own colour. 1 is red, 2 is green, 3 is pink, and so on.

  • You can make these bead bars using coloured beads and metal wire. You can get them from any craft supply store. Make more than one set if possible
  • The picture above shows a laminated Short Beads Stair.
  • Print and laminate the Printable Short Bead Stair from the Math Resource Pack.

Dr. Maria Montessori created Montessori materials over 100 years ago. She was inspired by her teachers, Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin. She studied under these two pioneers and started her career at Orthophrenic School. There, she worked with children for two years. Maria Montessori regarded these years as her “true degree”. She observed children throughout the day, made notes, and reflected on her work. She spent after-school hours preparing new materials for her children’s learning needs.

Conclusion

Real Montessori materials are based on years of scientific observation and experience. They have unique characteristics that foster children’s natural needs. Even though printable DIY materials will not have all of these characteristics, they can be just as effective. These few materials are more than enough to lay a solid phonics and math foundation for your preschooler.

Find Digital and Printable Montessori Resources at Montessori Pulse Teachers Pay Teachers store

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8 thoughts on “How to DIY Basic Montessori Materials”

  1. Very informative post! I have been interested in Montessori, but didn’t know much about it. This really helped me understand what it’s all about.

  2. Wow this was a really interesting read! I have heard about Montessori before, but thought you had to buy certain materials and toys. This post to do Montessori DIY style was right up my alley! Thanks!!

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