Making Montessori "Metal" insets Tutorial

In our quest to teach Tips Jr. basic skills the Montessori way, we have realized that Montessori materials from even the 'discount Montessori stores' are still waaaaaay out of our budget as we pay of our debt for the next two years. So until we pay off our debt and I have a little bit more money to buy Montessori materials for Tips Jr. and future children - we have to stay on 'this side of cheap' and be creative in making our own materials. By that time, TJ will be 4 and well past some of the important absorbent stages.
In all reality, it shouldn't be that hard to make most of these materials myself since most of the materials Dr. Montessori had for the first Children's House in the San Lorenzo district in Rome over a hundred years ago were made by hand by herself and the young 'teacher' she had observing the children. 

In any case... a much needed item that costs between $30-40 (plus whatever shipping is) at one of the less expensive online stores is the metal insets.

This material not only teaches a child the different shapes (there are 5 curvilinear shapes and 5 straight edge shapes), but they learn to first trace on the inside of the shape frame and then remove the frame, place the inset over the shape they just traced and proceed to trace on the outside of the inset while holding the inset. This is a challenge because it takes more concentration and effort to trace on the outside of a shape rather than to trace the inside of the shape. 

A dual purpose of this material is to teach children how to draw letters without actually drawing letters. By repetitive use of this material they learn refine the motor skills needed for writing and at the same time also develop the ability to draw a complete shape without picking up their pencil - similar to what they will do once they begin to write letters. This is a pre-writing skill.  

As TJ is still in the early stages of learning how to even trace on the inside of the shape - I will just detail how I made my own 'metal insets'.

I tried going to Michael's and other craft stores in town to see if I could buy scrap mat board. However, these big box craft stores don't do their framing in house like Porter's in Rexburg, Idaho does (I went to school at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg and we often would buy mat board there for our interior design projects). I also didn't want to buy an entire mat board for $10+ or so since I knew I wouldn't need it all for this project. 

On one of the Montessori Yahoo groups I belong to (can't remember which one it was), someone suggested going to a local art & frame store - and actually one of the Michael's employees suggested I go to our local art & frame store that is literally down the street from me (as opposed to the next city over which is where Michael's is). I went in and they had TONS of mat board scraps for sale - along with foam board scraps. Each bag was $2, so I bought two and brought them home. 

I got out my trusty pencil, Olfa cutting mat, Xacto knife, and Friskars clear ruler and started trimming down the larger mat scraps to 5-1/2" squares. 

I then brought out the Gesso and foam paintbrushes and went to work priming the matboard with Gesso. This is a VERY IMPORTANT step. If you don't use Gesso on matboard first, then it will warp after you paint it with the paint!!!!

Previous to this I had printed off shapes that happened to be the correct size and had Tips help me cut them out. Once the boards were dry, I placed each shape in the center of each square and traced around it with pencil. 

Then I used my Xacto knife and took my time cutting out each shape all the way through. This took me a LOT of time, especially the curved shapes since I didn't want to slice through the matboard. I was not completely satisfied with the end results because most of my insets have to be put back in the frame a certain way, unlike the metal insets in which it is all perfectly uniform and you the ovoid or quatrefoil can go in 'upside' down. But for now I am hoping this will suffice. We shall see how much wear they get with Jr using them. 

Also, I did do some light sanding to smooth out the stray matboard 'hair's hanging off the edges.

I had bought an 8 oz bottle of Delta Creative Cermacoat Lisa Pink Acrylic Paint (this is the 2 oz bottle) at my local craft store. I was able to use a 50% off coupon so the bottle only cost me about $3. I bought this size because I plan on using this paint when I make my sandpaper letter boards and also when I paint my chipboard moveable alphabet (a future project!). And I bought this color because when I took my Montessori-n-Such catalog to the store with me, this seemed to be the closest color to the "Montessori Pink" I could find. 

I removed the insets and painted each frame with the pink (covering my surface with newspaper).

 Then I painted each inset blue. The blue I used for the insets is Liquitex Value Series Student Grade Basics Acrylic Color - Cerulean Blue Hue but lightened with some Gesso (also Liquitex Value Series Basics). The Cerulean Blue Hue is leftover from my college days in the interior design program, so I didn't have to buy it for this project. I have half a bottle left so I'm really hoping I can finish my other projects with it! If not, I just did a search for it and my 4oz bottle is about $4. The local craft store I bought my Delta Ceramcoat also has the Liquitex brand - and I know our local university bookstore has the Liquitex Value Series Student Grade Basics in their art supplies section. 

 When the paint was dry on both the frames and the insets, I did have to sand both the inside of the frame to get the insets to fit inside the frames again. 

To attach the knobs, I used a nail to poke two holes through the center of each inset and then threaded a piece of 22 gauge green floral wire about 3 inches long through the wooden bead until I got half way. Once the bead was in the center of the wire, I threaded each end through one of the holes and then crossed them on the back of the inset and threaded the wire back up through the opposite hole. Once the knob was tight with the inset, I trimmed some of the wire from each end (so imagine wire sticking up on either side of one of the knobs in the picture above) and then fed the shortened wire back through the bead to finish it up and prevent TJ from stabbing himself when he pulls the inset out with his finger or when he is holding onto the inset while tracing around it.

Comment if you have any questions and I will try to clarify! But hopefully my tutorial made sense!


You are very brave for having done this huge project. Congratulations!
Evenspor said…
Very nicely done!
Anonymous said…
They look great!
Ginger said…
where did you get the pattern
marsedo said…
Wow I am so glad I came across this! I am in the middle of my synthesis project for my Montessori training and was wanting to make my own metal insets but with shapes that have to do with my topic!!! I can't wait to go to the framing store today!

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