If you have a young child who is interested in math, the Montessori method of using beads to represent quantities is a great place to start. This is a part of the whole “concrete to abstract” formula Montessori uses. The Montessori bead materials allow a child to experience the difference between 1, 10, 100 and 1,000 with his own hands.
These Montessori beads have been a long-term project of mine. I have a lot done, but I still have more to go! My main goal for the moment was to create some base golden bead materials and a bead stair. The next priority is having enough made to do the subtraction snake game. (We’ve actually done some very simple versions of that already.) And I purchased enough beads to make the basic golden bead materials and a full decanomial set (55 of each color) so we can move on to multiplication. Beyond that, we’ll see…
I used 6mm wooden beads from Fire Mountain Gems. That site gives you lower prices the more items you buy at once. Because the wood beads come in small packs of two 16″ strands, it added up to a lot of little items! I hesitate to say how many of each I got, as I’m not done yet and I’m not sure if I have the right amount yet. You can use their strand chart to help you figure out how many beads you get.
- Bead, beads and more beads! Gold, dark blue, purple, turquoise, yellow, pink, green and red. I also ordered some grey to use for negative bead stairs eventually. My brown, black and white beads are from a big mixed bag. They are actually 6mm-7mm. But they were out of brown and white when I ordered, and I was able to get a huge bag for $5 due to my volume discount. I don’t really mind that they are a bit bigger, though some of them have huge holes.
- I ordered 3″ eye pins to save myself time. You could get wire if you can find a good price. I got 10 packs of 100 eye pins for $20. The 3″ ones are long enough to fit the 10 bead golden bead bars. For the bead bars with 6 or less beads, I was able to save the extra wire I clipped off and use it to make more short bars.
- I used plastic canvas to construct the bead squares and the 1000 bead cube. I’ve seen this technique in several places, but most notably Montessori at Home.
- My beading tools from jewelry making were a must! I used my wire cutters and my round nose pliers.
Making Bead Bars
The basic steps to make the bead bars are very simple! Starting with an eye pin, load on the number of beads needed. Trim the wire so you have some extra to make a loop. My extra wire was about 9mm. I err on the long side and trim if my loop seems too big.
Make the end loop by first bending the wire at a right angle to the bead bar, then using the round nose pliers to create a loop. Close the bottom of the loop by squeezing it with the pliers, tucking the end into the hole of the top bead. If your bead holes are big, you’ll need bigger loops.
Bead Bars and Cubes
As I mentioned, I used the technique posted by Montessori at Home to make my hundred squares and my thousand cubes. I still have at least 7 more hundred squares to make!
The thousand bead cube was quite the project! Probably because it involves 1,000 beads. Hah! Luckily, it is totally acceptable to have just on beaded thousand cube and then show your child how wooden thousand cubes are models of it. So a set of those and wooden hundred squares is on our wish list.
I had a lot of extra beads in the smaller colors, so I tried out making some of the bead cubes and squares. I’d need a lot more beads to do a full set of those, so I’ll have to see Jax’s interest level later on.
Using the Beads
There are online resources that can show you the proper way to introduce the bead materials. I really like Info Montessori. Jax is a creative learner, however, so I often let him lead our activities after I’ve presented the basics. At the moment we are focusing on counting quantities with the golden beads and practicing the the bead stair. He is dying to move on to the addition snake game, but I want him to have a better grasp on the basics first. We’ve done a few simple addition games, though!
We use these small wooden number cards when we work with our bead materials.
Jax is still working on the names of the larger quantities – he gets hundred and thousand confused sometimes. He’s getting quicker and recognizing how many beads are on a bar with practice. That is one reason why I encourage him to use the bead stair right now.
Free Bead Stair Printables
I made Jax some worksheets to use with his beads. One is a control sheet that shows the colors and numbers. The other is a coloring sheet for him to color in the Montessori bead colors. I made the graphics in Adobe Illustrator and the page layout in InDesign. I’m offering our printables free for your educational and personal use!
In Our Montessori School Room
I try to take quick snapshots with my phone while Jax and I do our school in the morning. The little school room off our bedroom (that was once Jax’s nursery) gets such beautiful light! If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see many of our activities. Here is a round up of some of our recent ones!
As usual, I’m a bit late for Montessori Monday! But it is such a great way to find new Montessori resources online that I always make sure to read it! Check it out if you are interested in more great activities!