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

Sensorial Materials

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.

Mathmatics Items

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.

Geography Items

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.

Language Items

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.

Practical Items

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
Bank Game
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.


Montessori Moments said...

Thanks for this wonderful post

Zonnah said...

Wow! This must have taken a bit of time. I just wanted to say thank you for the info. I have been looking for something like this :)

Jess said...

Wow! What a fab review! Thanks so much - Im sure this will be helpful to many. (:

Becky said...

I really appreciate the time you took to review this product. It's so helpful for people like me who are always looking for what companies to buy from!

Thank you!

Unknown said...

Thanks for providing such a comprehensive list!

Cat said...

Another thank-you! I wish more people would do reviews like this. Keep up the great work!

Sharada said...

Thanks for this very useful post.

What is your opinion on connected beads? I saw that Alison's has a bead material package for $160 but it has connected squares and cubes. I feel that the connected cubes may feel lighter due to the lack of metal. But I am not sure whether that is good or not.

I am trying to order all my beads from one place for consistent colors. Would love to hear what you think about this.

I was also wondering about the red stair (used in the negative subtraction snake game) for negative remainders? How is red a logical choice? Shouldn't all negatives in the Montessori material have some grey in them?


Susanne said...

Hi Sharada!

I had a set of connected beads one year and they worked fine. The children understood them. There are some advantages to connected beads... Lack of metal can be a good thing especially if you live by the ocean. Also, strung beads (on metal wire) tend to get warped eventually with use and abuse.

The disadvantage I think is that they may not be as perfectly clear when presenting the concept of for example, 10 units makes 1 ten, as separate beads. They are less visually accurate.

Color agreement is an important part of the way Montessori materials should be organized, but if you can't get them to agree, or if you have things a different color than what you know they are supposed to be and can't fix it, I think it's ok. As long as you present the lessons clearly you should be fine. My trainer said, if you have a material that is not perfect, it is better to present it to the child even with its imperfections, than not to present it. I go by that rule a lot, living in Aruba where I can't get my hands on a lot of things...

If you are looking for a good price on bead material I would recommend the Montessori Outlet beads. I think they are super. They are beautiful and strong and round (which some of the Nienhuis ones are not!) and bright. I think they are a bargain for what you get.

Good luck, let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.

Warm regards,


Sharada said...

It is reassuring to have a teacher say that presenting the lessons accurately is more important than the material itself. It matters a lot especially when we have to furnish a classroom with out-of-pocket funds.

Did you have a chance to use the unit division board? I was wondering whether it is wooden or particle board.

Have you ever purchased anything from Alison's Montessori? What was your experience?


Susanne said...

Hi Sharada!

The division board is layers of wood. I think plywood.

I haven't gotten anything from Alison's yet, but remember considering it when I was first choosing a company for our materials.

If you do end up purchasing something from them, let me know how it went!

Warm regards,


Montessori Geek said...

Hello Beautiful Sun! I have just stumbled onto your blog and I have only read a post or two and I am Hooked! I love the way you type (I am not much of a blogger...) and the things you write! Totally amazing! SO did you start you own school? is is in a house?
I am right now working on getting my own school started by August '10 and your list is SO HELPFUL! you have no idea (actually maybe you do! :)) I would love to stay in touch with you, would it be ok if I asked a few questions on how you got started?

Susanne said...

Hi Montessori Geek! :)

Congratulations on even speculating to start your own school. Once you commit, things just start to align themselves to your purpose.

I don't know how much of a resource I can be for you on your project- the laws here are quite different than in the US, but count me in! Feel free to email me through the school ( and I'd be happy to contribute in any way I can.



Unknown said...

Hi Susanne!
Thank you so much for your time and help, unfortunately people like you are very rare. I too am opening a new Montessori school in Casablanca Morocco next year (the first in Morocco), and was hesitating what company to get the materials from...thanks to you the choice is clear!

Anonymous said...

I work in the South Carolina, and am in a School that has purchased Thousands of $$$ (50,000 to be exact) worth of materials from Montessori Outlet, and I have to say that it was a BIG mistake.

The materials have not even lasted six months: the maps came in warped and have never been replaced by the company.

The pink tower/brown stairs/knobbed cylinders are light and hollow in weight.

The customer service there is horrible-and don't answer our calls. Promised us replacements, which have never arrived. Perhaps they have been nicer to the owner of this blog because of her review and they know that so many people are looking at this blog.

The school will be filing a complaint with the BBB and Consumer Affairs against Montessori Outlet, and there are others who have done the same.

Again, nice review but I have to say that it is very misleading. The way of advertising their products is very deceptive, and unethical.

Teacher (Montessori Early Learning Center)

chimarucu said...

You are a true Montessorian, you are sharing so much with the rest of the world, right down to the details! Thank you so much for this!
I am starting my own classroom as well, and you have inspired me that much more! Take care, and success!

David said...

I would like to warn other readers about using the site I ordered a set of gold bead material for my sister-in-law who is a homeschooler. When I went to instruct her on how to use it, I discovered that the hundred squares did not add up correctly to make a thousand cube! Nine hundreds corresponded to one thousand, and the remaining hundred was completely above the thousand cube. When I called to complain, the man who answered the phone was very rude, and demanded photo "proof," and assured me that all of their materials are of good quality; perhaps only my set was wrong. However, the site brags that they manufacture their own materials in China. I will definitely never order anything from this company again!

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Anonymous said...

Where did you get your furniture?

Anonymous said...

Just a follow up from our previous comment from Teacher (Montessori Early Learning Center).

We did receive five replacement geometric cabinets from Montessori Outlet and five Map Stands.

We have the same problems as before. The Geometric Cabinet drawers don't open, and the maps don't fit into the map cabinet.

So, now we have ten non-working Geometric cabinets and ten map cabinets taking up valuable space in our school.

We would not recommend buying from this company ever again. Just too dishonest with their way of doing business, and then selling a product that can make some schools close down due to their poor quality.

MontessMom said...

I just ordered for the first time from Montessori Outlet and do not recommend them. Compared to friends' materials, they are cheap and flimsy even though I paid more! The square of pythagoras was made out of cheap cardboard even though it costs $33.95. I could have made it myself for a few dollars out of thicker cardboard. The addition box is really tiny - it's 1/3 the size of a friend's addition box that she bought from a different discount company and is not made out of wood. They charge a restocking fee of 15% even though their quality stinks. I would avoid - I've had a much better experience with other companies. Don't let their advertising re: using Neinhaus templates fool you into ordering as it did me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thorough post on the materials at MO. I am an "unschooler" teaching my children the montessori method at home. You are quite right, the price at MO can't really be beat and I only have 2 students so I am hoping the materials I purchase will hold up well. Cheers to you! I see your review is from a few years ago. I hope your school is doing well. My children are montessorians but we live in South Korea now and so I must teach them the method at home (cost & location prohibitive here). The budget was the biggest issue. This post helps me greatly!
Isabel Schmitt

Anonymous said...

great post. thanks!

i'm also homeschooling and i'm in bangkok.

isabel, just wondering what materials you wound up purchasing?

our situation allows us to get reimbursed for materials but i don't want to go overboard on the MO packages.

beautifulsun, do you think package 1 is adequate? i have a newly 3yo and an almost 6 yo and have a few of the math materials already - 100 board, beads, numerical rods, pink tower, moveable alphabet, sandpaper numbers 0-9, cylinder block (part 2) but want to add more math and also geography, practical.

any resources out there - free, on-line - you recommend that walks you through all of these materials and how to present them?

what else do i need? advice greatly appreciated! feel like i need a consultation :)


Susanne said...

Hi Katie,

When we initially purchased our set of materials- I made a lot of adjustments to the list. I had lots of materials exchanged for others within the package. We ordered package 3 (with lots of substitutions) which had most of the basic materials for starting our classroom. Through the years we have added a lot more materials that were missing. I would not recommend the puzzle maps from MO- their particleboard maps are very delicate and they don't sell replacement pieces. It's worth investing in better quality maps from another company because these will be used a LOT by different age children throughout the years. There is a list somewhere on this blog (and maybe in the files that has the progression of the materials the way they should be presented (roughly- depending on the child). There are many online albums that you can download with instructions on how to present. However, nothing beats going to actual Montessori training. If you can afford it, it is the ultimate best option.

Good luck!

Beatrice said...

Thank you so much for this, it's a real help!

steve said...

Did you buy from Allison's? What was the quality of their materials?