Montessori materials on a budget
If you've ever searched for Montessori materials, you've probably noticed they can be pretty pricey. Which if like me you are working within a limited budget, it is not ideal. Fear not, as there is definitely budget friendly options. I'm going to outline some ways to save money with Language, Math, Practical life and Sensorial materials.
Sandpaper letters are to teach letter symbols, their phonemic sound and allow the child the sensory experience of tracing the letters. Now I am not going to name the brand whose price I am referring too as it would be unfair, especially as they are a brand I like because they do provide authentic high quality materials. BUT. If you're looking to buy high quality sandpaper letters you are looking around £60-80 (YIKES!)
There are cheaper alternatives online that I really don' t believe take away from any teaching elements. They are usually a lot thinner, but they're still pretty solid. They still provide the sensorial sandpaper letters to provide the tactile element. They are just as useful and a lot cheaper. Here's a more affordable set from Amazon.
Personally this is the route I chose. They were so ridiculously easy and I made them in one evening with things I already had lying around right when Jax was ready to be introduced to them. No waiting around for delivery or waiting until payday they were ready the next day and didn't cost me anything! All I did was cut up pieces of red and blue card (Blue for vowels, Red for the rest) and write the letters on them with glitter glue and let them dry.
The movable alphabet is for children to start using the phonemic sounds they have learnt with the sandpaper letters to start to "write" words. They are an amazing tool and a must have material as there is so many ways a child can use and explore them. However if you're looking to buy a traditional high quality set of the movable alphabet in their specially designed wooden box you're looking around £50. Which is absolutely worth the price by the way! but expensive none the less.
There's a few cheaper alternatives, simply a lower quality set, you can get them without the box (please don't you'll regret the chaos!) Or you could get a magnetic set of letters like I did. Now whilst I do believe these are perfectly okay and have caused Jax no confusion what so ever, the fact the colours are opposite, which was a total accident on my part, BOTHERS me and I do intend to replace them.
A really simple and easy DIY option that requires no skill or huge effort from you, is a printable option. Now they do the same job and are a good option, but I do think children tend to prefer physically holding the individual letters, feeling their shapes and curves etc. But ultimately, you can find free printables online so this doesn't have to cost you anything.
Here's a free printable of the movable alphabet from Montessori album.
Another DIY option I've seen which does require a lot more time and precision is to make your own simply out of cardboard or felt.
The metal insets are a Montessori material that on the surface seems like a bit of artistic fun, but actually they are specifically designed to train the hand muscles and fine motor skills for future writing. They are a really good material which I want to invest in...But do I want to spend £100 to invest in them? I do not.
There are cheaper options out there, some are not built for purpose where the sizing is off, the shapes are wrong and they are flimsy. But there is also some that are still metal, with the right shapes and size at a much lower price. The metal is generally thinner and they are a bit more fragile but, the original material is meant for a classroom to be used day in day out by multiple kids, if like me you're just investing for the home and for much less children, they could certainly be adequate, you can purchase them here.
DIY options for this are pretty limited, as they do need to be precisely shaped and sleek lines. But it can be done with some time and patience using cardboard. If you do want to try making your own I recommend investing in this printable from TeacherspayTeachers for the correct shapes and outlines to use.
Number rods are a very useful material. They are to teach a solid foundation of quantity for children before even introducing the written number symbols. Whilst they are very useful to have, I do think there's plenty other ways you could do this without them. But if you do want actual traditional large number rods, the going rate is £150.
For me the most logical way to make this cheaper is to buy a smaller set. There is small versions out there that can easily fit onto your shelves at home and will still provide the same concept to your children. Which I think makes more sense as unlike a lot of Montessori materials, the number rods are fairly short lived as they soon progress to the number beads which are used for years!
I have seen quite a few DIY options for number rods, from lego to printables. But you could also make your own with some wood and paint with a simple piece of wood. Each number section is 10cm so it's fairly easy maths to do to make your own. However if you would prefer a printable, you can use this free printable from MontessoriMom
Number beads/bead stair
I mentioned number beads just a minute ago as they are a material that comes after the number rods, they are primarily for learning to count. Although they also get used much later on for multiplication and skip counting. Good quality 1-10 number beads are not all that expensive honestly, but they can get quite pricey, with the more you add on. So I would absolutely go for a cheaper or DIY option to start with if you don't have the funds to invest in ALL the number beads.
Now this is sort of a DIY but it will need a small investment on your part which is the beads and some string. I made these for Jax although we're not ready to use them yet purely because I wanted to see how they turned out and I was quite happy with them. All I did was but beads from 1-10 on string, and then colour accordingly with one of his child safe markers.
If you are looking for a completely free and no hassle DIY option, I got you too! Yet again, a free printable from TeacherspayTeachers. It still provides the purpose of the number beads, albiet at the expense of the sensory element, but is still a useful option if you're not ready to invest in the full number beads set.
The geometric solids are a sensorial material to help develop a childs stereognostic sense, as well as understand 2d vs 3d forms. They are a really fun material that can be used in quite a few different ways, but the solid wood traditional material markets around £50
The cheapest option I have found is to simply get a natural finish type wood version that is not described as "Montessori". They are no different to the traditional solid wood blue ones but they are a damn sight cheaper! And to be honest, I much prefer natural wood, or you could paint them any colour you like!
The simplest DIY option is to simply use the environment. Find things with the right shape. For example a toilet paper tube is a cylinder, a box is a cube, an egg is an ovoid etc. Here's the full list of shapes:
Practical life materials
You will see learning towers in most Montessori home environments, and with good reason. They are an invaluable tool to aid in practical life activities around the home, the kitchen specifically. However, they can be extremely costly and take up a lot of space. One of the more popular learning towers I see about £140. Whilst I think it is priceless, my bank account would disagree!
A good alternative is a very popular hack using a step stool from ikea. It is a bit less bulky compared to a lot of the learning towers you might see and also works out quite a lot cheaper. If you want to use this ikea hack, it is explained really well on this post from HappyGreyLucky
This will depend largely on what you have available in your home but for us, we have this toddler table and chair/high chair and Jax uses the table to stand on. The only difference really is I need to spot him in case he falls, but that has yet to happen. Another free option is to just use a dining chair, I think we were all stood on a dining chair as a kid to do baking and as long as you are supervising and close by there is nothing wrong with it!
Dressing frames draw childrens attention in a very special way as it provides them a clear space to practice dressing skills like buttoning, zips, buckles etc. They are not massively expensive they are around £10 each for these beautiful large wooden frames. But when you start to consider the amount of fastenings and elements their are for dressing, and its one per frame (for a good reason) the cost can quickly start to mount up.
There is a few cheap options around but we personally have these ones. Now they do look very different. Fundamentally, the purpose, concept and integrity of the dressing frames is still present, albeit in a more colourful modern form. All I will say is they are board, so they aren't as solid, but for in the home I think they do the job just fine
Some DIY options simply involve building the frames yourself and stretching different types of fastenings over the frame to create a dressing frame that is not much different to the traditional ones you find in a classroom. However I think these ones from Instructables are just amazing and perfect for in the home. You probably already have some outgrown clothes and hangers lying around. You may just need to invest in some basic sewing/crafting materials.
Latch boards are an engaging material for little ones. Its as it sounds, its open and closing latches on wooden boards. A basic set of 6 latch boards comes in around £45-50. Although I do think they are a really nice material, it just does not need to be this expensive.
A considerably cheaper option which I will say, is not actually Montessori aligned. It involves a lot of fantasy based, abstract images and lacks skill isolation..BUT, it does still provide the fine motor, problem solving and general purpose of the latch boards and at least in my home I made the choice to still go with it even though it isn't strictly Montessori is the locks and latches board from Melissa and Doug. Jax LOVED this so much when he was younger, and even now if he sees it when I'm rotating his shelf he will often grab it out and do it all very quickly and put it back.
This is one of the simplest DIYs you will find in Montessori. It is simply a case of purchasing the latches (very cheap) and mounting them onto some wood. Now you can buy the wood or go to a lumber yard where they have a lot of scrap that is perfect for making these and often they will let you take it free of charge.
The pink tower is a staple in many Montessori environments. On the surface it is just a stacking tower. But it also helps with hand eye coordination and visual discrimination. What a lot of people don't know that it actually is made specifically proportioned and sized to lay foundations for later cubed roots in Math. Which explains the hefty price of £40!
A similar but cheaper option is just any kind of stacking boxes, all I would say is avoid those loud unnecessary colours and drawings if you can. This is what we have at home and Jax is perfectly happy with them, however it doesn't have the same exact proportions and purpose as the pink tower, but that's something I'm okay with and chose this instead.
The broad stair is similar to the pink tower in its purpose, but without the cube root aspect. But they can also be used WITH the pink tower as the dimensions are the same apart from length. The broad stair is marketed around £80.
Now to be honest, I haven't come across any options for a cheaper option in terms of buying one. BUT you may have noticed I left the DIY option off of the pink tower, and this is why. This amazing little template from MakingMontessoriOurs has the measurements for you to make your own of both the broad stair AND the pink tower.
The colour boxes are a really amazing material. They take a child on a journey of matching, language, sequencing and visual discrimination. They really are a must have in my opinion. But must we pay £140 for Colour box 1, 2 and 3? No we must not. Although I think it's a beautiful material, It is also easily achievable without that price in other ways.
A cheaper option by which I mean FREE is to get those free paint swatch brochures. They often have all the colours you will need along with the different shades all you have to do is cut them up and arrange into Colour box 1, 2 and 3.
This is another super easy option and is also FREE. It is to find yourself a free printable of the colour box tablets, I recommend this one from MontessoriAlbum. It is for colour box 3 but also includes the tablets needed for 1 and 2. And cut them out and put them onto pieces of cardboard. Or you could just use some paint and make your own but it can get a bit messy!
Ultimately, if you're working with a budget as long as you can get creative you will be able to give your child the materials in some form or another. As long as they aren't compromising the goal or concept of the material, then it's okay! Just be careful that some cheaper options may not have the correct elements or be a lower quality but that choice is yours.
Another thing to remember is Montessori in the home, is very different from a Montessori classroom. As such you do not need all the big expensive materials, especially if your child is in a Montessori educational setting! I think its best to leave the novelty and love for particular activities that they receive in their classroom at school. This way they learn to love school, the materials and also it is going to save you money!
Disclosure: As an Amazon associate I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases through links on this page at no cost to you :)
I believe Montessori is for everyone, I want to help everyone bring a little more Montessori into their homes and lives.