The truth is, unless you have a lot of spare time and you love making crafts, attempting to replicate Montessori materials from scratch is probably something I wouldn’t recommend.
I have experimented with making my own Montessori materials many times over the past 8 years, with a few successes and many more wasted hours and dollars. Today I’d like to offer an example of one material that, although it has it’s flaws, has certainly stood the test of time – bead material.
Montessori math, as I’ve previously mentioned, is manipulative-based. So, when introducing the number 32, for example, a wooden “tens board” will display the number, and beside it you would set 3 “ten beads” and 2 “unit beads”. The “ten beads” are simply 10 wooden (or gold-painted) beads strung tightly together with wire. You can make some of these at home.
I purchased spools of wire at Walmart; you can find them at any craft store in the jewelry section. The beads I used are black, simply because I happened to have on hand over a thousand plastic black beads. Would I like these better if my beads were made of wood? Sure. But my kids haven’t cared.
String 10 beads onto the wire, then make a 90-degree fold at the end. You may need to experiment to get just the right length of fold here.
Push the beads firmly together, then use a wire-cutter to cut the wire, leaving sufficient room to make a circle of wire on this end, also. When you get 10 of these “ten beads” completed, you can weave wire around them tightly to connect them into “hundred squares.”
At a minimum, to get started with bead materials, you will want to have 9 unit beads (in a small, open container,) 9 “ten beads”, 9 “hundred squares” and 1 “thousand cube.” You will also need containers to hold them all. The initial presentation with these beads is called the Introduction to the Decimal System. As the child progresses through the presentations, you will want to have as many more of these pieces as you can make or purchase.
My favorite supplier, Alison’s Montessori, has this introductory set on sale for just $20… I purchased this set a few years ago, and love using it. I use our “black” beads as supplement to the other materials we have.