Being such a huge nerd, when I saw the golden bead material at my son’s Montessori school, I immediately wanted my own. They seemed like such a great way to visualize what numbers actually mean. I know they will be extremely useful when my kids are learning more complicated math. However, even now they are really helpful for teaching my oldest (4 years old) to count and recognize written numbers.
I briefly looked into purchasing a set, but that turned out to be cost-prohibitive. Undeterred, I decided to try making my own. Unfortunately, I quickly realized I had two options: pretty or cheap. While I really wanted to use perfectly round, hand-painted, wooden beads, I didn’t want to pay that much. Especially, when I wasn’t even sure how well the whole endeavor would work out. Therefore, I decided to go the cheap route. I bought faceted, plastic, 8 mm beads off Amazon in the least expensive color available at the time.
Next, I had a little trouble finding the plastic mesh/canvas that many people use to hold the hundred squares and thousand cubes together. I eventually found some at my local craft store, but by that time I had already made a hundred square by stringing together my ten bars with fishing line. As expected, my fishing line squares ended up floppy. Afterwards, I made one hundred square using the plastic mesh. Next, I spent a day trying to decide which I liked better. Both ways took about the same amount of time. Being a very organized, structured person, the rigidity of the plastic mesh appealed to me.
My husband on the other hand liked the floppy square better saying it was a more interesting object to manipulate. I ended up deciding to go with the floppy squares when my 4 year old squished one of the hundred squares in his hand and asked, “How many is it now?” I was a little surprised it wasn’t obvious to him. However, I was able to convince him that if it was a hundred beads when it was flat, it was still a hundred beads when you folded it in half, or rolled it up, or manipulated it any way you wanted. The floppy squares ended up being more useful conceptually.
The last decision was how many to make. I may add to my collection at some point, but for now, I decided to make 1 thousand cube (mainly just because you only need one to explain the concept of a thousand and they’re obviously very time-consuming to make), 10 hundred squares (to show how the hundreds add together to make a thousand), and 55 ten bars (which allows me to demonstrate 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100 all at the same time). Making all of this required 2550 beads. Since I bought 3000 I have 450 left over to use as singles (minus some that my kids lost).
Recommended Age Range: Preschool, Kindergarten, Elementary
Time Required: For me, it took about 2 minutes to make one ten bar, 25 minutes to make one hundred square, and about 6 hours to make one thousand cube. Since I made 55 ten bars, 10 hundred squares, and 1 thousand cube, all together this took about 12 hours. Really, I worked on this for about 15 minutes a day or so for a couple months.
Difficulty: Fairly easy, but time-consuming. Tying the fishing line was at times a little challenging in poor lighting since it was so thin and hard to see. However, all the steps became fairly mindless after the first few attempts.
Cost: ~$25 (which made 1 thousand cube, 10 hundred squares, 55 ten bars, and 450 leftover single beads.) I already had the wire cutters and pliers, so all I had to buy was fishing line (~$3), wire (~$5) (neither of which I used anywhere close to all of), and beads. I paid about $18 for 3000 beads. The faceted, 8 mm, plastic beads (Affiliate Link) shown in this post were $5.77 for a 1000 pack on Amazon, though the price fluctuates daily. After I purchased my first pack I had to wait a couple weeks for the price to drop before I bought the remaining 2 packs. (I used camelcamelcamel.com to track the price and be notified when my target price of $6 had been reached.) However, I noticed that our local craft store (Michaels) sold similar beads at $4.49 for 500. With a 40% coupon, this would have been an even better deal.
- 3000 “golden” beads (or whatever color you choose)
- fishing line (I used 6 lb monofilament fishing line, but any would probably work)
- wire (I used a 175 ft spool of 20 gauge galvanized steel wire from the hardware store, but any similar gauge would likely work. I estimate I used about 85 ft.)
Supplies & Tools:
- small diagonal wire cutters
- needle nose pliers
To Make Ten Bar
- You could string the beads first, curl an end, cut, then curl the other end, in order to ensure the wire is the right length. However, I chose to cut the wire first, that way I could do the ten bars in groups of 10, assembly style. First, I cut wire measuring approximately 4″. This was perfect for me based on my 8 mm beads and how I curled the ends, but you’ll want to try it out to find the perfect length for you. Usually I just measured the first one with a ruler, then used that one as a reference to cut a few more.
- Next I curled one of the ends of wire using the tip of my needle nose pliers.
- String 10 beads onto the wire.
- Curl the other end with the needle nose pliers.
To Make Hundred Square
To Make Thousand Cube
With 3000 beads, you will have enough to make 55 ten bars, 10 hundred squares, 1 thousand cube, and still have 450 beads leftover to use as singles (or use Montessori colored beads instead for the single digits). I chose to make a box to hold my Montessori math material.
There are lot of ways to use the “Golden” Beads. You can use the 3-period lesson to introduce the concept of a unit, ten, hundred, and thousand. You can ask your child to bring you a certain number to help with counting. You can also combine the beads with other Montessori math material such as the number symbol cards or Seguin boards.
Click here for more Mathematics activities for kids.
Montessori Learning Activities
Best Books for Early Elementary
I love how you did these! Thanks for taking the time to make them (and share with us how you did it!)
Good job. Love how easy you made it look. I’ll definitely try to make these.
I hope it works out for you. It’s definitely not hard, just a bit time-consuming. Great activity for watching movies in my opinion. :)
I like your good choice of beads. Other bloggers are giving links of very expensive beads that costs more than buying original Montessori beads. I was worried before because of the cost but now you made it easy. I just bought my beads. Thank you so much.
I’m glad. Cost was an important factor for me too. Some of the other ones I saw online were a lot more attractive, but for that much money, I wasn’t really saving anything by making them myself.
Thanks for sharing your fishing line technique. I just purchased beads to make my own bead materials and am very interested in doing it the way you outlined. It seems easier than using the plastic canvas and I like your point about it being more usable conceptually.
I hope it works out for you, Jacinta! I’m not sure if any other human being has ACTUALLY ever done this, which I understand, because it was so time-consuming, but I made these beads several years ago and we STILL use them all the time. My son is in second grade now and just a couple days ago I had him go back to using the beads to subtract 2 digit numbers. It makes it so much easier for kids to understand conceptually what math means when they can see it! I’m planning to save them for my grandkids. ;)