Saturday, July 11, 2009
Review of Montessori Materials from Montessori Outlet- Read this if you're starting up a classroom!
My school is a year old now and during this vacation it is the perfect time to review some of the decisions I made back then when I was younger and less experienced. :)
When thinking of a materials company to purchase our Montessori materials for our primary classroom from, I looked for online reviews of people starting their own classrooms and what they chose. There were very few! Almost none. So I've decided to post my decision making process concerning materials for a new school here.
Since my school is private, and the start up funds were coming out of my own limited pocket I was not in the situation of big established Montessori schools that order EVERYTHING from Nienhuis. I had had the experience of working in a classroom before that had materials from Bruins, Montessori N'Such, and Nienhuis so I had a base to compare whatever I would get to.
I tried to find used materials for sale, hopefully a whole classroom set of materials with furniture and everything and through Craigslist, the "Materials for Sale" section in the NAMTA website, and random searches I found several of these options. Most of them were from schools in the US and Canada. I looked for the materials in May which is a good time to look for classrooms that are closing down. The reason why in the end I didn't choose to purchase any of these was because I felt I needed to see the materials I was going to buy and living so far away made it too tricky. I still feel that this is an excellent option for people starting up classrooms or home schools.
Because I live in Aruba and shipping costs would play a big role in the final estimate of cost, I decided it would be best to get as many materials as possible from one company and hopefully establish a relationship with them for the future.
I reviewed prices from Montessori Outlet, Kaybee Montessori, Montessori N'Such, Gonzagarredi, Bruins, Nienhuis, and Montessori Concepts. After looking over range of materials, prices, and reading the few reviews I found on quality of materials I chose Montessori Outlet.
What attracted me the most to Montessori Outlet was a statement in their webiste that says that their Corporate Advisor is Bert Nienhuis. Thinking that they had supervision from someone associated to Nienhuis was reassuring. (Nienhuis makes exceptional quality materials. Not for the weak at wallet.)
Knowing that I was not going to purchase the very Best Quality materials available, I made a personal vow to militaristically enforce grace and courtesy on handling materials in the classroom to make up for the lack of materials sturdiness.
MO (Montessori Outlet) has special packages for people starting up classrooms. I purchased Package 3 which comes with a vast range of all the basic materials needed to start a complete Montessori classroom. There were some key materials missing, but in general this package has most of the things needed for a classroom. Mainly lacking are almost all of language material (which I made myself anyway), The bead cabinet, Bells, Globes, and Multiplication Bead Box, Division with Racks and Tubes, and other math materials.
At MO they didn't have a problem with exchanging some of the unnecessary items that were included in the package (such as pink tower stand, etc.- complete list below) for the complete bead cabinet (sans the cabinet itself) and the labels for the complete bead cabinet. This was unexpected and really nice.
Customer service was excellent until all of my boxes were shipped to the wrong address (to the billing address instead of the shipping address). Since the materials were signed for at this location (by the building's security guard, I don't live there) MO did not want to correct the mistake. This was the biggest of the problems I encountered with MO.
Water under the bridge...
Considering the cost of the large amount of materials that comes in Package 3, the cost of fixing the mistake still kept MO at an advantage from other materials companies.
In general I am very satisfied with the materials, considering the price I got them for.
I got the globes from Montessori Concepts ($30 per globe), they are what you pay for. They've cracked twice. If I was doing it again, I would consider getting regular globes and trying to do refashion them into Continents Globe and Sandpaper Globe.
The Bells I purchased recently from Kaybee- we'll see.
Here is a review the MO materials themselves:
Special Option #3: Total cost: $2804
S-001.1 Cylinder Block (Part 1) S-001.2 Cylinder Block (Part 2) S-001.3 Cylinder Block (Part 3) S-001.4 Cylinder Block (Part 4) - These are all excellent, strong and sturdy, correspond with each other. They have fallen many times and only one of the cylinder tops has come loose.
S-002.0 Knobless Cylinders (Set of 4) - When I got these from the company, the green box was missing a cylinder and had 2 replacements for the thinnest block.
S-003.1 Pink Tower - Scuffs easily. Came with 3 replacements for pink tower small cube, and one replacement for brown stair thinnest rod.
S-004.1 Brown Stair (Brown Lacquer) - I got the lacquered one but really wish I had gotten the natural finish.
S-005.1 Long Red Rods Like with the pink tower and brown stair, slight rough useage or dropping of the pieces causes the paint to chip easily.
S-006.1 Color Tablets(1st Box) S-006.2 Color Tablets (2nd Box) S-006.3 Color Tablets (3rd Box) - These are excellent. Sturdy, bright, nice boxes.
S-007.1 Rough and Smooth Boards - These are good.
S-008.1 Rough Gradation Tablets - The middle tablets are too much alike, I can't tell them apart so I had to remove a pair from my box. The roughest are seriously rough.
S-009.1 Baric Tablets With Box - I don't know if there was a mistake when they shipped these to me, I got 3 small boxes with 6 tablets each and they all weigh almost the same and they are the same color. If I got the right tablets, there is no control of error. I can't do this exercise. I had to have my husband make a heavy set.
S-011.1 Geometric Cabinet - Awesome price. The drawers are made of wood and particle board and they don't slide easily into the cabinet. It takes a lot of jiggling, or an extremely precise angle. The insets fit a little too snuggly into the appertures which makes the frames sometimes come out with the inset. The knobs fall off easily (which I've experienced also with Bruins and Nienhuis materials) which means you have to reinforce ALL the knobs with glue at the beginning of the year. The insets and frames feel thinner than other ones I've used. Some of the insets have saw burns on the sides.
S-011.2 Geometric Form Cards S-011.3 Geometric Form Cards Cabinet - The cards are thinner than Nienhuis cards, but by laminating them or using them very carefully they can last.
S-012.1 Sound Boxes - Some of the cylinder's sounds don't match exactly. It seems like some of the materials inside a few of them got stuck inside and so they don't rattle the way they're supposed to.
S-013.1 Constructive Triangles In Five Boxes - These are great. The only thing different from other ones I've used is that they don't have the colorful dots behind the shapes to tell you into which box they belong, so when a child uses mixed boxes they have to remember where all the triangles belong.
S-015.1 Fabric Box - I decided to make my own in the end and not use this one. It's too large to fit on a table. The cloth swatches don't fit lined up on my tables nor on the rugs. The box is pretty wide too.
S-017.1 Mystery Bag (Geometric Shapes) - These are really great.
S-019.1 Blindfold with Velcro Fasteners - The blindfolds are small for the children with larger heads. It won't fit an adult unless they have a thin head. :)
S-020.0 Geometric Solids With Stands I got the solids with the basket and the bases and they're wonderful. They are mat finish, not glossy.
S-021.1 Binomial Cube S-021.2 Trinomial Cube - The proportions are right but the paint scuffs very easily. It also comes off on the sides of the box so the boxes get a little stained.
S-023.1 Tasting Exercises - There are 8 glass vials and a space for the spoons (I think the space is for the spoons.) I had it set up on a table because I don't have replacement vials.
S-024.1 Pressure Cylinders - I've never had pressure cylinders before and they are totally worth it. This is a great set.
M-001.1 Numerical Rods - Same as with the red rods. Paint scuffs easily.
M-002.1 Sandpaper Numerals (USA Print) - Great.
M-003.1 Spindle Box With 45 Spindles (USA Print) -Great.
M-007.1 Stamp Game - Great.
M-008.1 Large Wooden Number Cards w/ Box (1-9000) - Great.
M-010.1 Teen Boards (USA Print) - The ledges for the cards to rest in came off on the top and bottom of the boards. They need to be secured with glue.
M-010.4 Ten Boards (USA Print) -Same as with teen boards.
M-011.1 Hundred Board - I really like this presentation of it. The sixes and nines are different enough also that it is easier to know when the tiles are upright or not.
M-013.1 Addition Strip Board - Great.
M-014.1 Subtraction Strip Board - Great.
M-015.1 Multiplication Bead Board M-016.1 Division Bead Board M-017.2 Large Bead Frame - Haven't used them yet.
M-022.1 10 Wooden Squares of 100 - These are nice and sturdy, seem to be made from solid wood.
M-023.1 10 Wooden Cubes of 1000 - Super flimsly. One of them fell one time and cracked all over. They are made out of particle board. I will have to get extra ones.
M-026.1 Addition Snake Game - Really nice beads.
M-027.1 Subtraction Snake Game - Great.
M-028.1 100 Golden Bead Units - I love these beads. Although they are yellow instead of golden, and every time I say “the golden beads” I feel slightly foolish at calling them something they are not (I call them “the decimal system beads” now) the quality is really good. They are perfectly round, they have a little heft, they are almost unbreakable, they are very shiny and attractive. All the bead material from this company is really great.
M-028.2 45 Golden Bead Bars of 10 -With a little pressure they bend.
M-028.3 Golden Bead Hundred Squares - Sturdy and great.
M-028.4 Golden Bead Thousand Cube - Super hefty and wonderful
M-031.1 Teen Bead Box M-031.2 Ten Bead Box - Great beads.
M-032.1 Introduction to Decimal Quantity w/ Trays - Nice presentation.
M-033.1 Introduction to Decimal Symbols w/ Trays - These are wooden and very nice.
M-041.1 Teen Bead Hanger - I live by the sea and the hooks are already rusted.
G-002.1 Puzzle Map of World Parts - G-002.1A Circle for Tracing Hemispheres G-002.1L World Control Map - Labeled G-002.2 Puzzle Map of Europe G-002.2L Europe Control Map - Labeled G-002.3 Puzzle Map of North America G-002.3L North America Control Map - Labeled G-002.4 Puzzle Map of South America G-002.4L South America Control Map - Labeled G-002.5 Puzzle Map of Africa G-002.5L Africa Control Map - Labeled G-002.6 Puzzle Map of Asia G-002.6L Asia Control Map - Labeled G-002.7 Puzzle Map of Australia G-002.7L Australia Control Map - Labeled
The bases of the maps are made out of wood and particle board (I think), and the pieces are all particle board. If a piece breaks (Chile broke from misuse) it is pretty impossible to fix. The knobs need to be pre-glued. The edges of the pieces sometimes have saw burns.
L-001.1 Lower Case Sandpaper Letters - Print L-001.2 Lower Case Sandpaper Letters - Cursive L-001.4 Capital Case Sandpaper Letters - Print L-001.5 Capital Case Sandpaper Letters - Cursive L-001.6 Box for the Sandpaper Letters (4 sets) L-002.1 Lower Case Double Sandpaper Letters - Print L-002.3 Box for the Lower Case Double Sandpaper Letters - The sandpaper letters are really excellent. There are 4 sizes in the lowercase sets, the tall letters, the long letter (like m), and the small letters, and the vowels have their own size. They are sturdy and just the right amount of grit on the sandpaper.
L-003.2 Medium Movable Alphabet (Print, Red) L-003.3 Medium Movable Alphabet (Print, Blue) L-004.1 Medium Movable Alphabet Box (2 Sets) - I really like the design of the boxes (nested) which makes them less inconvenient to store in the shelves. The letters are sturdy and well made.
L-005.1 Metal Insets - These are made of metal and are not bendable. The knobs however, of two of the insets have fallen off. Gluing them is a problem, I think they have to be soldered back on.
L-005.1B Metal Insets Stand L-006.1 Metal Insets Tracing Tray - These are good.
L-008.1 Set of 11 Colored Pencil Holders - The holders are nice. DO NOT GET THE PENCILS! THEY ARE THE WORST COLOR PENCILS I HAVE EVER USED! These pencils were a cause of frustration throughout the year. They are terrible.
L-017.2 Additional Basic Wooden Grammar Symbols L-019.2 Grammar Symbol Box (15 Compartments) - Nice quality. I like the box and the symbols are really sturdy.
Botany Item # Description
B-001.1 Botany Cabinet - Same problems as the geometry cabinet.
B-002.1 Leaf Puzzle B-002.2 Tree Puzzle B-002.3 Flower Puzzle B-003.0 Animal Puzzle Cabinet (No Insets Included) B-003.1 Horse Puzzle B-003.2 Frog Puzzle B-003.3 Fish Puzzle B-003.4 Turtle Puzzle B-003.5 Bird Puzzle B-004.1 Botany Puzzle Activity Set B-005.1 Animal Puzzle- The puzzles are great. I think they are made of wood, they seem sturdier than the puzzle maps. We used them a lot and they withstood the use (and abuse) well.
P-001.1 Dressing Frames Stand For 12 P-002.1 Buttoning Frame With Small Buttons P-002.2 Buttoning Frame With Large Buttons P-002.3 Bow Tying Frame P-002.4 Lacing Frame P-002.5 Hook and Eye Frame P-002.6 Safety Pin Frame P-002.7 Snapping Frame P-002.8 Zipping Frame P-002.9 Buckling Frame P-002.10 Shoe Buttoning Frame P-002.11 Shoe Lacing Frame P-002.12 Velcro Frame
The frames are a tad thin. The fabric (vinyl, I think) of the Buckles Frame is TERRIBLE. The buckles stretch and rip eventually. The metal eyelets of the shoe lacing frame also come out of the TERRIBLE vinyl. The cloth ones are good.
Activity Furniture Item # Description
F-M12.1 Metal Inset Stand F-M13.1 Map Cabinet – The furniture is excellent. Easy to set up, sturdy, very attractive from all angles.
I exchanged all of these items that I felt were unnecessary in my basic classroom:
Pink Tower Stand
Box with cubes for Pink Tower
Box with Prisms for Brown Stairs (Natural Finish)
Colot Tablets (4th Box)
Paper for Metal Insets
Box for Paper
Solid Grammer Symbols
Noun & Verb Introduction Solids with Tray
Additional Basic Wooden Grammer Symbols
Small Numerical Rods
100 and 1000 Chain Frame
Golden Bead Chains of 100
Golden Bead Chains of 1000
Hanger for Colored Bead Stairs
Puzzle Map of USA
USA Control Map - Labeled
USA Control Map - Unlabeled
Circle for Tracing Hemispheres
(That together sum up to a Total of: $262.00 )
And got these two things instead:
Complete Bead Materials; Cubes, Squares, and Chains (Cabinet not Included) – Excellent beads. I had the cabinet made by my husband. The ONLY problem is that the cube chains hang slightly strangely. The metal circles that hold the pieces together don't seem to be wide enough to accommodate for a gentler hang, so the beads are kind of bunched up at the tops.
Arrows for Complete Bead Materials – As good as Nienhuis and Bruins.