Sunday, March 30, 2014

Introduction to the Large Bead Frame

The Large Bead Frame is a Montessori material that is mainly used for long multiplication. It is a wooden frame with seven wires, each containing 10 beads in one of the hierarchal colors. Green represents units, blue represents tens, red represents hundreds. The section with the white on the left is simple (1, 10, 100), gray is thousands (1000, 10000, 100000) and black is millions (1000000).

You can purchase this material, it is a fairly inexpensive piece of Montessori equipment. I purchased one (along with a large order of other defective materials) and it arrived with a missing bead. We needed it right away and I didn't really have the time to wait to buy a new one (and pay shipping costs). This material was actually pretty easy to make with materials we already had on hand. Its not as nice as the real thing but it didn't cost much and we had it made in about 20mins.  T helped me make this material as well. We used some disposable chopsticks that we kept from take out, I hot glued them together to make the frame. We used pipe cleaners for the wires, they don't move as easily as they could but its not too difficult. If you have plain wire it would probably work better. I saw somewhere that someone put stir stick straws over pipe cleaner to make them slide easier (sorry i can't remember where I read it to give credit), I didn't have it on hand so we skipped that. The beads are just regular plastic pony beads. I painted the colors on the left side, which is two chopsticks glued together. The number labels are just card stock with sharpie.

When introducing the child to the large bead frame, they are normally a bit younger than T. We didn't have one so I skipped ahead to some of the more complex math with materials we had. This caused a small problem for T in that normally you would start with addition on the large bead frame before starting multiplication. T had already been working on addition for so long that he could do it on paper with no materials into the billions and then the trillions. He was so excited about doing addition and subtraction into the trillions and then it occurred to him that it really isn't any harder because its just adding digits. He was so proud of himself, even though he said it was easy.

This was his work the day before we introduced the large bead frame

We really didn't have any further to go with addition and subtraction at this point and we really needed to move on to multiplication past the memorization work that he has done. He really enjoyed building numbers on the large bead frame. I would read a number aloud to him and he would build it on the large bead frame. He thought it seemed very much like a secret code. It was fun until I wanted him to try addition on the bead frame. Since he could already do addition (and subtraction) so easily without the aid of any materials, he found the large bead frame to be tedious. Those of you with Montessori students probably understand what I mean by this. Montessori students are not made to do busy work. They want to do work that is challenging. It was like I was forcing him to take a step back in his math progress and he was not having it. I got some great advice from some other Montessori homeschooling moms and we just built numbers long enough for him to understand how the bead frame worked and then jumped into multiplication. It worked great!

We started with short multiplication to get the hang of how to use the large bead frame paper. We used the free download of this paper at Livable Learning. It works wonderfully, the only part I dislike is that we can only do about 3 problems of short multiplication, which means probably only 1 in long multiplication. 

At the top of the page there are two main columns. The left side is for the problem to be written, the right side is for the break down. Within each column are colored columns separating each place value. T selected his own problems.

Here is a closer look as an example:

On the left the problem is 6352x9. On the right we break it down into 2 units, 5 tens (50), 3 hundreds (300) and 6 thousands (6000) all multiplied by 9. The child then multiplies 9x2 in their head and moves 8 unit beads and 1 ten bead over on the bead frame (they can also count the beads and do an exchange if they can't do the simple multiplication in their head). The next problem would be 9x5 and the child would move 5 ten beads and 4 hundred beads (9x50=450). Then 9x3 and move 7 hundred beads and 2 thousand beads (9x300=2700) but there is an exchange because there were already 4 hundred beads before adding 7 hundred beads so one bead would be left in the hundreds row and another thousand bead would be moved over. Finally, 9x6 and move 4 thousand beads and 5 ten thousand beads. This would leave us with 5 ten thousand beads, 7 thousand beads, 1 hundred bead, 6 ten beads and 8 unit beads giving the answer of 57,168. The child would then record the answer below the original problem on the left 6,352x9=57,168.  As shown on the bead frame below

We will be moving on to long multiplication this week. Long multiplication works the same way except the multiplier has more than one digit. My advice to anyone wanting to use this material is to start with addition early, before they can do it all on paper. Many Montessori schools introduce this material in the primary class around age 5, some wait until lower elementary around age 6. T is starting multiplication on the large bead frame at an ok age, usually around age 7 (he is nearly 8). Waiting didn't cause much harm since he jumped in without needing addition on this material but he would have been more comfortable using this material had he already used it for addition. If you don't want to buy or spend a lot on this material, it works fine to piece it together with materials you have on hand. Its not as pretty but it does the job just fine.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Where NOT to buy Montessori Materials!

Today I would like to share my experiences with purchasing Montessori materials for homeschool. Normally, I do not like to review stores/items that I am not happy with because it gives them advertisement that I feel they do not deserve. I have decided that I would write a review including some stores that I was very unhappy with, in the hopes that it will save my readers the same trouble.

If you are homeschooling using the Montessori method, you already know that the materials are expensive. There are so many materials and its often difficult to move on in the lessons if you do not have all of your materials ahead of time. In my experience, shopping for materials is quite stressful. There are very few brick and mortar stores that carry Montessori materials (I'm not sure there are any that are open to the public). We as homeschooling parents rarely have the budget to buy the top of the line materials from places like Nienhuis. We rely on discount Montessori suppliers because they offer the materials we need at a fraction of the price and the quality is usually good enough for a few children to use, even if it would not be the best for a large classroom of students. There are not that many discount suppliers out there but it is still difficult to know which one to purchase from. I would like to share my experiences with you.

First, I would like to share my #1 tip for buying Montessori materials for homeschoolers. Look for used materials first! Check your craigslist or garage sale listings for individuals or schools that are selling materials. I was able to find two different Montessori schools who were selling used items at a huge discount. One of the schools had closed due to the owner retiring, she had an entire primary classroom of high quality materials to sell, all about half the price of even the discount suppliers. The other school was still in business, but they were trying to clear out the storage of materials they no longer needed. Some materials were brand new but they had multiples of and they didn't have shelf space for them. Other materials were old and worn had been replaced but still worked fine. I was able to get items that were almost all Nienhuis, Bruins, Boston, etc, top of the line for so much less. If you don't see listings, call around and ask your local schools if they have items to sell (or donate) to your homeschool. Also, check online swap groups for used items, sometimes they will live in your area and you can save on shipping. I found a homeschooling mom who's kids had moved on to upper grades and she no longer needed her manuals or materials so she sold them discounted and I saved on shipping since she lived in my area.

Now I know its not always possible to find these good deals. I didn't find all of these when I really needed them. I had to buy quite a bit new because we needed it. I'd like to share my experiences with some of the online Montessori suppliers and the quality of their materials. I will not include the top of the line suppliers because I do not feel they are relevant. I do love the quality of Nienhuis, Bruins and Boston in the used materials we have but I would not spend the money to buy them new, since we could not do it financially.

My top choice:

I love the quality of the materials from Alison's Montessori. A large amount of the used items I purchased are from Alison's and they look almost new even after another family had already used them for two children. The wood is much more sturdy than other discount brands we have. I don't see warping at all on these materials. All of our golden bead materials is from Alison's and the beads are plastic but quite nice to handle. The color of the beads matches our bead cabinet (Bruins). Our geometry and botany cabinets and botany/zoology puzzles are also from here and they all look and feel great. The wood has a nice stain to it and it feels like it has a protective seal that helps prevent chipping and dents. There customer service was always helpful when I contacted them.

Second place:

I love the customer service of this store and the materials we have received from them. My child received an item as a gift from this store and it broke very soon after we got it. I contacted them and they sent out a replacement immediately with no questions asked (even as a gift without even asking for the purchaser's info). My only complaint with this store is their lack of true Montessori materials. They have quite a bit for cultural study, books, preparing the environment, small tools (especially their partner For Small Hands), but they do not carry many of the actual Montessori materials (especially for elementary)

Third place:

My first experience with purchasing Montessori materials was from this store. I didn't really know what I was doing or what we needed at first. I actually bought more primary materials that my older child was mostly done with (luckily I have a little one who will use them). I was happy with most of the materials I purchased. The wood used at KidAdvance is softer than Alison's and several pieces developed chips in the paint soon after we started using them. Our puzzle maps came from here and I think they are ok but not the best. The boards warped quickly, which I think could have to do with the  style cabinet we got to put them in. They have two styles, one that has shelves and another that is open in the center and the maps rest on ledges on each side leaving the center of the map hanging. I think if we had the full shelf under them, they wouldn't have warped but I can't be sure. All in all, I was happy with the quality for the price of the materials I purchased from KidAdvance. I did have to send back our bead cabinet because one of the cabinet pieces was not drilled properly and I could not assemble it. They were very easy to work with in the return and they provided return shipping. I ended up buying our bead cabinet used instead. The beads from KidAdvance are not as nice as our Bruins cabinet, and they aren't quite as nice as the Alison's golden beads we have but I am happy with the ones we have in some of our other math materials. I would buy from KidAdvance again.

Fourth place:

I do not have any experience with buying directly from this company. We have just a couple of used materials from this store and I am happy with them. I think the quality is equivalent to KidAdvance. I would buy from this store if they lowered the amount for their free shipping. I rarely spend $500 in one order and the price of shipping is so high on these heavy materials that it has kept me from buying from this store.

Last place:
(also known as montessori equipment)

This store is dead last! I will never order from them again and I would urge my readers to stay away from this store! This is definitely the where NOT to buy Montessori materials store!
I purchased a fairly large order from this company this past fall. We were in need of a large amount of math materials and I was searching for a store that had all of them in stock at the time. I was planning to purchase from Allison's but they were out of stock of a few of my items so I decided to try out IFIT. BIG Mistake! I ended up with a big box of unusable materials. I order 7 items and some spare beads and the spare beads were the only items that were not defective. I was shocked at how bad it was! A large bead frame and a golden bead frame BOTH had missing beads. Every piece that was wooden and painted had chips and dents straight out of the box. Several items had missing pieces. Some measuring devices were misaligned. It was horrible! Their customer services was worse yet. They accused me of lying about the condition of the items and asked for pictures. Once they got pictures they told me that I expected too much for the price. I spoke to the owner every time to make things worse. The owner of this company is well aware of the horrible quality of his merchandise but he feels that the discounted prices makes it ok to sell them. I had to open a credit card dispute to get my money back and it took almost 5 months. I am not that picky about materials, I expect them to be useable and to not arrive already damaged. The materials from this company are far, far lesser in quality than Montessori Outlet or KidAdvance and yet the prices are fairly close. Please, stay away from this store!

I hope this review of Montessori materials suppliers helps others when choosing which store to make your purchases from. I have not received anything in compensation for my reviews from any of these companies. I have shared only my honest experiences.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Spring has Sprung!

We live in Southern USA, the weather is beautiful here right now. We have been enjoying some mid 60-70F days outdoors. Spring has sprung here and it is the perfect time for nature walks.

The three of us enjoyed walking around a local pond and spying the first signs of spring. B pointed out the animals she saw. She also was very excited about all the colors that come about in spring. B is newly two and colors have become her favorite subject of discussion. She has become very accurate with most colors, although different shades do sometimes throw her off. She is really good at matching colors though. I will have a post about this soon, Id like to share some of her work.

T had a little more to work on than B while we were walking. I asked him to just observe while we walked around the first half of the pond. There is a large gazebo halfway around the pond that has a picnic table. He decided to stop at the picnic table to do his work. I asked him to draw a picture of what he observed in his main lesson book. (yes, that is B doing acrobatics on the seat behind him)

I haven't talked about the main lesson book before, because it is not a Montessori material. I took this from Waldorf practices. The main lesson book is used in Waldorf for each subject, it is not unlike the Montessori notebooks in that it is a bound book that you do not tear pages out of. The main lesson book has only 32 pages but they are a nice landscape 32x24cm size. They contain high quality drawing paper and a card stock cover. We only use these books for art, not all of the subjects since the paper is not lined. T also brought along his wooden watercolor board with him to use as a traveling desk. It is just the right size to hold this book and it works great, especially if there are not tables available.

Once he had finished his drawing we went back to our walk. I gave T that camera so that he could take some shots of things he found interesting. Enjoy!

I took B over to the little playground while T explored the water edge. 

Nature walks are one of our favorite parts of homeschooling. It is so wonderful to just be out in nature exploring and learning together.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Happy pi (π) Day!

We had so much fun celebrating π day on Friday! I will explain for anyone not following. π is a Greek letter that represents a mathematical constant number. π = 3.1415..... the number goes on forever as far as anyone has determined. We celebrate pi day on March 14th because the date is 3/14. FYI, next year will be extra special because it will be 3/14/15 so the first four numbers of π will be represented in the date.

T is 7.5yrs right now and he actually has not had any experience with π in the past. We started out the day with basically the same description that I just gave of what pi day is. I got a few looks from him, he may be starting to figure out that his parents are math and science geeks.

Then I busted out the girl scout cookies for our first lesson in π! 
We measured the diameter of a girl scout thin mint cookie and multiplied it by π to determine the circumference of the cookie. Go ahead and check out the picture below, I know you have always been curious! (remember you can click on all of my pictures to make them larger)

T wanted to try his hand at drawing the symbol for π. 

The fun continued by measuring the diameter and radius of a paper plate and then calculating the circumference. Sorry, this picture is a little hard to see, we used colored pencils, markers would have worked better.

T went on the hunt in our classroom for other circles to measure. We found a nice variety of sizes.
He measured each of their diameters and then he calculated their circumference using a calculator.  I think when T is a bit older (maybe next year) I will have him do the math without the calculator. We have not gotten much into decimals yet except for comparing them to fractions.

We ended our little celebration with a book from one of our favorite series Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Story of Numbers: Great Lesson #5

We have made it to the final Great Lesson in Montessori's Cosmic Education. This fifth and final story is known as The Story of Numbers. It is closely related to the fourth Great Lesson which was The Story of Communication in Signs. First we learned about where the alphabet came from, now we are learning about where our numbers came from. In both lessons, we learn about early civilizations and how they communicated both in their own groups and also with each other.

The Story of Numbers tells us how ancient people kept track of items, time, distance, etc. It is interesting to look back on a time when there was no standardized units for people to compare things. When making a purchase at a market, you could just simply say it costs X amount of dollars or cents, but you would need to determine how much of something else your items were worth. Trade was the first form of currency. It is helpful for children to understand the basics of currency before doing this lesson. My son has been interested in money for quite a while now so he had the basics down. 

There are actually several different stories for this lesson I have found. I looked through my resources and chose the one I liked best. I have in the past used my Montessori R&D manuals for this, but we do not have whichever manual this particular lesson is in (History maybe?). I do like for her Great Lesson pages but her History of Mathematics was much shorter than the others. I decided to use the Story of Numerals from because it had lots of info and some small pictures (the pictures are for me to keep track of the charts).

There are several charts that are used in this lesson to show how numbers changed over time. I had a bit of trouble finding these charts so I would like to share mine with you. I simply drew these out on white card stock (letter size paper) with a black sharpie. They are normally a larger size for classroom use but in the homeschool setting, this was plenty big enough (plus it takes up less room when its sitting on the shelf for follow up use). You can click on the photos below to make them much larger.

Once we finished our story and looked over the charts a bit more, we explored a few library books. I have mentioned before in my posts, we love the library. I love that we can borrow books for free and then not have to store them in our already overflowing bookcases. We can also explore many more than if I were purchasing them. I encourage you to check out your local library for resources. Sometimes we will go through 10 books on a given topic before we find the one gem that has all the info we wanted. Anyway, here are a few that we found helpful.

Roman Numerals by David A. Adler
I love this book! It has lots of examples that help make Roman Numerals easy to understand. There are also some games included to make it fun. It also talks about some of the older number systems. This is an older book, this author has a newer one that may be an updated version. 

Here T is writing numbers on one size of small pieces of paper and Roman Numerals that match on the back. Then he can build numbers and only needs to flip them over to check his work.

The Story of Money by Betsy Maestro
We really enjoyed this book. It showed lots of info on how money came to be.

This is a fun Roman Numerals game that he will be working on Monday morning while B and I are at her toddler music class.  (on a side note, we also love this game from the same blog that is math related Multiplication Area dice game). This game is an intro to adding and subtracting Roman Numerals. 

We had fun learning about the evolution of numbers, ancient civilizations and Roman Numerals. It really feels nice to have finished our Great Lessons for the year. Last year we only made it through the first. I feel like we really accomplished something big this time. Cosmic Education seems like such a wonderful foundation and I have witnessed it in my son over this past year. There have been so many instances where he has learned a new topics and it ties into one of the Great Lessons we have already studied. He loves the fact that he has a reference point for all of these BIG subjects when new details come up.