Unit Planning for Kids - Work Space Organization & Our Montessori Manuals

We have had many questions over time about the Montessori Manuals we are using, and why we purchased them. We looked at many different manuals and there were a few things that helped us make our decision. Quality, comprehensibility, transparency (being able to read the entire index beforehand and see sample pages), customer service, reviews, and price!! There was nothing in the manuals that made me feel as though this could not be accomplished in our home.

Montessori Research and Development turned out to be our all round first choice!! I loved the fact that I could check out the complete index of each manual, because it helped me in terms of materials planning while I waited for their arrival. I found the lessons to be simple, concise, and provided amazing complete lists to make all of the support materials needed, especially for Elementary 1&2. I loved the fact that if you so choose, you could make basically all print materials needed for the curriculum at home. That being said... this is a tremendous amount of work, and some choose to do this... some don't. The fact is though that there are amazing free printables out there created by home teaching moms, dads and mainstream teachers, that are AMAZING!!!!
I usually pair up materials I make with great free, or purchased materials. The print materials I purchase are most often Montessori Print Shop ( they have extremely beautiful materials at a great price), Montessori for Everyone (I really love the depth of her materials especially elementary), and Montessori for Learning (amazing materials for and incredible value). There are many others as well that are wonderful. Personally as I said, I consistently do a mix.
I make things that I specifically want using our manuals, and print the rest.
One big mistake I made in the beginning (speaking for myself) is thinking I needed to find a complete set of any material from a single source. My Pink, Blue & Green (our Montessori reading program series) series materials, and a combination of many different sources. This gave us great depth, and range of materials.

 Anyone using the Montessori Method and Curriculum can attest to the amount of support materials required to teach in this manner. It is not just about the amazing manipulatives, but all of the little things we add in to create further lessons and extensions (more advanced lessons and variations) for our materials. Montessori Research & Development manuals helped me to do this. The common thread over and again with Montessori lessons and units, is the variety of support materials we use.

I have a few critical components when I am creating and planning a Unit Study...

We always have some form of hands on activity, experiment, craft, figures... any first hand concrete and tangible experience for basically everything!

We visit museums & historical sites and outdoor areas every chance we get!! This has added such an incredible amount of richness to our learning experiences.
We add in some great printables that are very specific/targeted, and isolate the facts and information we are presenting, usually that involves 3 part cards and nomenclature books, simply because they are highly effective in doing this. The child is completely self directed and can verify their own work, and that is an extremely powerful thing for a child - anyone really!
We add in great books and other ready made print materials. 
Computer resources and iPad use, television, and documentaries.

So our units are multilevel and faceted, to accommodate further progressive learning opportunities on a particular subject. Creating unit materials this way has given us great flexibility  to incorporate both children. Ava and Xander have three years between them, but work together on most things. I love Montessori because basically all of our materials have some version that can work for both children, working at the same time.
For example, if we are working with three part cards and nomenclature books the solar system - Ava can be playing solar system memory match with the 3 part cards, or matching planets to cards, while Xander is reading the nomenclature book/books etc. Xander often reads to Ava.

Another example would be math work, this work is very specific for each child. Montessori math materials and manipulative s are just stunning and appealing to any child, so it is natural that a little one would want to check these things out while an older sibling may be working with them.

Basically as soon as I was assured that Ava could safely (not putting things in her mouth or ingesting anything harmful) work with/near him, she did.
An example -I gave her a coloured bead box (I'd made for Xander in the beginning) just for her. In the beginning it was purely for exploration, and then she moved on to building bead stairs (pyramids to her), snakes, and that sort of thing. There are lots of early math bead extension cards for matching and she would match beads to cards etc... I also did the same for Golden Beads. Now of course Ava has her own work, but versions of his work are extremely appealing to her and keep her happily engaged along side her brother when/if this situation should arise.

Our Work Plans  I started to make work plans in the beginning and while this works amazingly well for some, it did not for us. We are far more strategically "Life Learners" at heart and we work throughout the day/evening/weekend, when it works best for us. I also found that in following/observing my guys it is often unpredictable as to where our materials would take us. For instance art led to science, and so forth.
Often the kids work far longer on some things than on others, so we do not work from a scheduled calendar for this reason (again though, this type of scheduling works very well for some).
To stay organized... I printed the index pages from our manuals and placed them in a tabbed binder, and use this as a plan to stay organized and make notes. For me (not for everyone) I found that this is all I needed to stay on track. I love this option. I place blank sheets between for note making.

Affording Montessori at Home This is an ongoing battle. I have been asked this question a ton. We have been so blessed in that many of our traditional materials were purchased for us as gifts. We have also handmade everything that we possibly could to cut costs.
We purchase very carefully, and mostly from amazon.com because the savings are just so incredible (not to say there are not great deals to be found elsewhere). We also keep our eyes open for sales, dollar stores, yard sales, online adds etc. The majority of our home organization is Montessori inspired, so with that the items that the children own stay in relatively great condition. We carefully purchase toys that grow with them. We love anything involving design and construct. We also have a large collection imaginary play things in terms of dress up, puppets/theatre, Playmobil, kids kitchen, tools/workbench, trains etc. This is hugely important to us, and our children. We store their things carefully to try and ensure longevity.
There are also many associated costs with mainstream/public education, so many things would balance out I am sure. Private education costs are an entire other story, and essentially we are providing a learning experience more along those lines so there are always extra costs to consider.

Organization with Spreadsheets
I also keep simple spread sheets in ms excel. I have a sheet filled with unit study headers, and keep adding in materials, links, and other things that I come across. I also add to do lists for each unit  including materials I need to print or purchase. New Units arise for us depending on what the kids express interest in.

I have a material shopping spread sheet. When I am price/shipping comparing I have columns for the retailers I use, with subjects and the materials listed on the side. Then I can do a quick sum from each retailer and see what makes sense weighing in shipping costs, a major thing for us to keep in mind.

I actually do a spread sheet for Christmas and holiday shopping throughout the year as well.
These sheets can be as pretty as you want to make them, but I keep mine very simple with little formatting because they change up so quickly (just my preference).

Back to our manuals I love that they are so complete and so economical (not that any manuals are cheap to purchase) in comparison to others. Also if you are unable to purchase all of them at once you could certainly start with Math and Language, and go from there depending on interest and/or fill in with free albums/manuals found online. There are many options.

They have given me some great book selections, and as I've said in the past really encourage handmade materials. The versions I have do have some diagrams, so I filled in any visuals on my own (I would have done this anyway) in terms of researching the materials through videos, other great blogs, and articles and free manuals online. As I mentioned I add in materials and lessons from other sources as well, if they are compatible and the kids are further interested.

I was so excited having used and loved MR&D manuals from the beginning, when they asked us for photos for the covers of a few of their new manuals!
This was was/is so exciting for us. These manuals have meant so much to us!!

Ava was diagnosed a little over a year ago with Urea Cycle Disorder and has had many challenges, but there could have been many more in terms of learning and behaviour. I can't even begin to say how grateful we are for the Montessori method, these wonderful manuals, and the amazing online community, and sharing we have experienced.

So if you haven't checked out MR&D manuals, please do... because they are wonderful, and so are the people who create them!!

There are two additional covers where you will find Mr. Xander in Elementary 

A little about storing our Montessori curriculum support materials. This includes all of the printed activities, nomenclature, books and cards etc... There are a vast amount of support materials for our manipulatives. They look so beautiful and simple in the beginning sitting on our shelves, but the fact of the matter is that there are many extensions and later work to accompany them.

These links will take you to a few posts showing how we deal some of these items. There are many amazing ideas out there for this, but if you wish take a look.
Books are always a challenge for us, and we keep them in several areas of our home that make sense to us. In the following posts you can see various ways we organize our books.

Scroll down in this one to see of research book shelf. http://makingmontessoriours.blogspot.ca/2013/04/our-back-yard-nature-identification.html

This is our story book, reader, and language game storage, at the bottom of the post.

Xander's quick picks for bedtime reading are on his book rail. We built this out of scrap pine, a dowel, and painted it white. There many ideas for these, but we were looking for a custom length.
His room is also lined with book shelves mainly to hold his Lego works :) But... also to hold his collection of books that he loves, though it's time to transfer some out to our story shelves for Ava. This shelf includes our (mainly) vintage collection of Dr. Seuss books that my husbands mom saved for him as well :)

The kids rooms are small so we need to make the most of vertical storage, and Ava's bed has been positioned centre on the back wall with a small tower on either side for her special things, and bedtime book choices. She is loving boxed book sets right now so they are on her shelf (sorry it's hard to see - on the left).

This is barely worth mentioning, but we use this little magazine caddy for colouring books and a few books we use during unit studies. I often set up unit study work on this table in our living room, and this leaves the table a little more clear. We live in a very old home with lots of windows and very deep ledges, so you will often see various work sitting in them. The window ledge beside this table is great for extra unit study materials overflow.
While we do work in our second floor education space, we work all over the house!! The kids LOVE to work at the dining room table as well!!

The table protector is in this post here.

Below... sandpaper number work with our salt (could be sand or whatever you like) tray, that Ava chose and transported downstairs. When she is finished it will return to it's home. Our living room has an area carpet, and the kids often work there as well.

I truly believe in two sayings...

A Place for Everything and Everything In Its Place
I have seen so many struggle with organization is many areas of the home. I have definitely had those struggles myself (would not check out our garage at the moment!). I just think that if "I" as a parent am overwhelmed when I look at their toys... spaces... things... and don't know where it lives... I think it's pretty impossible to expect my child to. 

It doesn't have to be perfect... it just has to be...
I have found myself paralyzed many times by the perfection syndrome, and decided that if I was waiting for... the perfect time... perfect materials... perfect behaviour... perfect place... perfect idea... AND... all in unison none the less!!
NOTHING was ever going to happen for us. This is something I continually work on...
Good luck with all of your planning endeavours!! I am hoping that you find something here that is helpful to you:)

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  1. Wow! This is a wonderful post! I have to say that the last paragraph about perfection really spoke to me. I have been struggling with the Great Lessons and trying to collect or make all the timelines and charts and it seems so impossible. My husband recently told me the same thing about needing to stop trying to make it all perfect because then nothing would ever get done. I need to keep hearing/reading this!
    We also love the R&D manuals, its so awesome that your kids are on the new covers!! I think Im going to go back and reread what you wrote about organization, i need to work on that.
    I just started my own montessori homeschool blog recently, id love for you to check it out.

    1. Thanks Erin!! You know I found all of the timelines amazing, but sooo expensive and labour intensive to make. There are not many out there that are hand made and shared. I have a post coming about how we addressed the Great Lessons. I also found some amazing VERY affordable timelines and alternatives. I will have this post out soon. We have covered all of them to some degree.

      Organization is tough for us because our space is limited. Maybe it doesn't always look like that in photos, but photos are just a snippet of reality. We are constantly changing things as our needs change. We are in the very early planning stages of a great room addition, and hopefully this will solve some of our space issues:)
      I checked out you blog!!! I look forward to reading about your adventures!! Your space looks just amazing Erin!!!

    2. I have added a link to your blog from mine on my Favorite blogs list.

    3. Thank you so much Erin :) You are on my list!! :)

  2. Wow! This post is full of useful information!!!!

  3. Wow! I have been missing bunches from you. Xander and Ava look awesome on the covers of the manuals. You packed a ton of useful information in this post. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. We are very excited about it!!!! thank you:)I feel like we haven't stopped we've had a very busy summer!!

  4. Cherine Hello,
    I have just discovered your blog tonight and just LOVE it! I am now a subscriber too. A quick questions regarding the manuals: do you have the teacher's manuals or the student's ones?
    Thank you so much for all the info you put out there. This is going to be a huge help!

    1. Hi Isabelle! I'm so happy you found us :) We have the Teacher's collection from Montessori Research and Development. We really love their manuals! Thank you for taking the time to visit us!! If you are interested we also have a printables blog and giveaway running right now! http://makingmontessoriours.blogspot.ca/2014/09/making-montessori-ours-printable.html


I greatly appreciate your friendly comments and feedback. I love to see what others are making, so please feel free to include a links and share your site with us!!! If you have any questions regarding any of the materials we have made...I'd love to help!!! Thank you for visiting us:)



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