Preparing for Fall: Materials

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While I am planning for a new school year, lessons and materials go hand and hand.  In order to know which materials I might need, I have to know which lessons we are likely to present each year.  In order to do this, I make a table for each child.  Across the top I list the *terms* for the year.  For 2016-2017 I'm using only 2 month terms to make keeping track of courses of study and needed materials more straight forward.  The more children I have, the harder it is to keep everything they need out at the same time.  This year I'm attempting a bit of a unit-study type approach to cultural studies (history, science, geography) in order to rotate materials in and out.

Terms are of course flexible and they are often based on family events/holidays that make sense to take a break.  Breaking the year down, however, allows me to make materials purchases based on when I anticipate needing things if I don't want to buy it all up front.  I also find giving myself mini-deadlines throughout the year increases the likelihood that we will finish what we plan and easier to adjust when we don't!  Down the side I list each subject area for that child.  For example, my older children no longer receive formal or regular practical life lessons or sensorial lessons and my younger children haven't added each formal subject in the same way.


To fill out the table,  I open up my Montessori albums on my iPad and look at where we are and where we will be going the next year.  This is a long process for some subjects and quick for others.  In language, for example, we have adopted a focused approach starting with grammar in the fall, literature/genre/author study in the winter, and then composition in the spring.   In this case it is merely a matter of deciding what specific genre/author will be relevant to our other areas of study.  For grammar we do a review every year of types/functions of words and sentence analysis, working with more advanced understandings each year.   This doesn't really require planning, just a note if there are any new materials I might add to make the area of study more interesting.  For grammar work, we have our new Life of Jesus Grammar Set, The Life of Mary Set, and also have two habitat mats from Waseca Biomes (Backyard Biomes & Coral Reef Biome) which come with language materials.  I also have several other free grammar materials and of course my language book, which you can find in our Teachers Pay Teacher store.

In other subject areas I choose a focus area for the year or the term.  By going through each subject and each child individually and making materials lists I can budget accordingly for new materials and also help determine if there are any materials or resources that I know we will not need this year.  In history, for example, we use a rotation.  I incorporate a lot of our geography, culture, and other work into this rotation.  For example, last year we did American History and we focused heavily on American Political Geography.  We save the Clock of Eras and Timeline of Life for years we are working on Ancient History and I can put them in storage if I don't have space on the other years (which is usually).  I actually have all of my nonfiction books color coded with stickers so I can quickly pull out the books relevant to the place we are in the rotation.  (This is also great for lending books you won't use to friends, just don't forget to write down what you lend out so you can find it at the end of the school year!)

Planning for Fall:  Materials Checklist

  • Know what you plan to teach in the coming year.
  • Make a wish list of everything you would like to purchase, including where you will purchase from.
  • Add up the cost and compare to your budget.
  • If you have gone over budget (I often do!), look for materials you could make instead of purchase or low cost alternatives.  
  • When sticking to a tight budget, look for materials that will serve more than one purpose.
  • Choose no more than 1-3 reputable companies to purchase from.  By the time you pay shipping, wait for partial orders, deal with returns/broken/incorrect orders, price match, etc... you will probably not save much money over purchasing from just a few companies that you have had a positive experience with.
  • Before you order, know where you will put each material.
  • If you have limited space, look for any materials you may not need this year based on the ages of your children or your curriculum rotation.
Companies I Have had Good Experiences With*

  • Montessori Services- I use them almost exclusively for practical life materials and for many supplemental activities in other subject areas. 
  • Waseca Biomes- I just discovered this company last year, but I have never been disappointed.  In fact, despite having to wait for my materials (they are up front that orders generally take 3 weeks to ship), I have been thrilled with every order both the quality and the professionalism of the company.  I use them for most of our geography materials now and most of the language materials I don't make myself.
  • ETC Montessori- My favorite source for timelines.  Their control timelines can be purchased separately or with the mute chart/pieces and the material they use is very durable.  I have also purchased a few of their other materials, such as the Roman and Egyptian Numeral curricula.
  • KidAdvance Montessori and Adena Montessori- Ok, to be honest I have not had exclusively good experiences with these companies.   Their price is excellent compared to other companies, but they fluctuate often and many of the materials are lower quality (I've noticed more paint chipping from these companies for example).  Their shipping can be high if there is not a good deal going on and I have often had troubles with items out of stock for extended periods of time.  That being said, when I consider price and the fact that our materials don't need to stand up to 20 or 30 kids each year they are my stand by if I need to purchase a significant number of traditional materials.  Most of our math and sensorial materials came from one of these two companies.  Of the two, I prefer KidAdvance.  If you want the best of the best, you can always order from Nienhuis and have their excellent customer service and amazing high quality materials, but I find the price too much of a distraction for our purposes.  If I was to start a co-op or preschool program I would absolutely pay the premium for materials that last longer.
  • Amazon-  Throughout the years, Amazon has added more and more Montessori products into their catalog.  Some of them are actually KidAdvance products available with Prime shipping and discounts.  Because its Amazon (and I have Prime and an Amazon Card with a 5% rebate) I find myself using them more each year.  I also like being able to get my book shopping done at the same time.
  • Discount School Supply- This is a long time favorite company of mine.  Most of our shelves and child size furniture came from here, along with ALL of our in-bulk art supplies (construction paper, glue, paint, colored pencils, etc).  As a catalog company for child cares and schools, there are lots of options for special needs products and a large age range from infants and up, even janitorial stuff.  I also rely heavily on Discount School Supply for gift ideas around the holidays.  If you aren't quite interested in full Montessori, but want a very hands on homeschool you need to become friends with this company.
If you have any questions about planning for your materials or environment, be sure to leave me a note.  I answer many questions this time of year while people are getting ready for fall.  I'm always happy to answer questions directly through email or Facebook, but if you have a question someone else probably does too so it's always nice when readers ask their questions directly on the blog!

*I have no affiliation with most of these companies, but if you make a purchase through them be sure to let them know that Heidi at Work and Play, Day by Day sent you then they know I'm promoting their stuff and may offer a giveaway or other fun stuff in the future!  This post does, however, contain Teacher Pay Teacher links, Discount School Supply, and Amazon links which I DO make a (small) profit from when you make a purchase.  Which helps when I inevitably go over budget each year myself.

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