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.

14 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for the review. It sure will help a lot on my journey of finding good quality inexpensive work.

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  2. The thanks for your reviews! I was looking at IFIT too, as their prices were insanely low (comparatively) but then started to really question why they were SO low.
    Did you purchase the discount or premium line of stuff from Alison's? I'm really curious if the discount is "good enough"

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  3. Thank you so much! This is really helpful, I had no idea where to look for materials.

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  4. I agree about IFIT. Many of their products are substandard. Often it does not matter, but I have a hundred board that is virtually worthless because the number tiles are smaller than the squares, so there is a significant amount of space left over at the end of each row and column. It looks ugly and is very un-Montessori like.

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  5. Also, the IFIT golden bead materials look and feel nice, but when you stack the hundreds to show that 10 hundreds is equal to 1000, the hundred stack is smaller than the thousand cube.

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  6. Hello all. Just a heads up that Alison's Montessori has recently opened a distribution centre in Canada and are even offering free shipping for orders $200 and up. They don't carry the full range of stock the US has but if you ask them they can bring in any specific item with their stock shipments for you. Their Canadian website is www.alisonsmontessori.ca

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  7. I am REALLY sorry about everyone's bad experiences with IFIT. I have been encouraging people to consider, but I have only ever had to contact customer service with them ONCE and that was because I had ordered the wrong item. They took it back, sent me a refund; no problems.

    I have used many of their materials, some from when they were just starting out and my last order from a year and a half ago - with my son, co-op children and my tutoring children. I have not had any issues with the materials AT ALL. Yet, I continue to hear about bad experiences... considering I have ordered from them at least 10 times over the years, I am just really rather confused by the whole thing. And very sorry if I have contributed to anyone's bad experiences by encouraging the use of a company that isn't so good??? It's all so odd.

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  8. No problems with IFIT either...so weird!!

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  9. Just ordered from IFIT and I loved my experience. Customer service was great.
    I ordered sensorial materials and their maps. I really like that they test for heavy metals in their products and that they follow standards for the US and Europe for their materials.
    Maybe it's changed. I used to hear bad things about Alison's and then I heard good. Now I'm seeing more and more that their products are going down hill.
    Always ask When someone has purchased. I'm noticing more and more that this is huge. So many companies have this curve of good to bad or good again.

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  10. I, too have ordered thousands of dollars worth of materials from ifit over the years and everything is lovely. I'm sorry you didn't have a good experience.

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  11. I have ordered from IFIT many times & had no problems.

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  12. Please don't buy from kidadvance. They give you lot of problems. Very un professional, they treat customers badly. Very bad experience with them. They send wrong items instead of correct ones, there are missing items in the box
    The packing list sent was wrong, the invoice was raised with a higher value and we had to face huge problems with customs and ended up paying a heavy tax. Finally when you explain their mistakes and say because of them you have had a heavy loss, they don't accept their faults and abuse customers. Don't waste your time and energy with this company KIDADVANCE

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  13. Nice Post. Shop for Montessori Materials in India online from KidsKouch. Montessori Materials suppliers in Bangalore for quality teaching materials and preschool furniture
    http://kidskouch.com/School-Supplies/montessori-materials

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