This is cool, ya’ll. A Montessori store opened up not too far away. It is called Natural Acorn. They have such gorgeous wooden puzzles and manipulatives. But the thing that really caught my eye were the soft learning mats. They are neatly embroidered. Dozens are available to choose from. They reinforce basic concepts like colors, shapes, and numbers or more complex learning like phonics blends, sorting for science, or color shading.
I bought a couple of cute puzzles for Rainbow Baby’s stocking, but kept thinking about how I could use what I have for Montessori style learning mats. My first few ideas were too much work, required too much time, and used too many materials. The mats seemed expensive until I thought about all that went into them. Looking through what I had at home, I hit upon an idea. Pillowcases! I had made pillowcase dresses and had a pile that were not pretty enough for dresses in my fabric stash. And so were born my DIY Montessori Mats!
My thought was to create a set with two or three reusable mats that could have heading changed out. I wanted one with three sorting columns that could be labelled: Land, Air, Water; but could also be Herbivores, Carnivores, and Omnivores. Then for younger children the same three columns could be re-labelled: Red, Yellow, Blue or Circle, Square, Triangle, for sorting simpler objects. I knew my middle daughter had collected Safari, Ltd. Toobs through the years. If you are not familiar, Toobs are plastic tubes of little animals figurines or other figures that fit the theme of the tube, like these:
|Down on the Farm|
These Toobs would be perfect for such science class sorting. I decided to use print the headings on paper, laminate them, then use velcro for attaching the headings.
To create the mats themselves I whipped out the old sewing machine. First, I cut the pillowcases in half, shortways, across the middle. I sewed the opening shut by turning the pillow case inside out, sewing it most of the way, pulling the pillowcase right side out again through the little opening I had left, then sewing that opening closed.
Next, using contrasted threads and choosing a wide, decorative stitch on my machine, I made the columns. The wide, decorative pillowcase seam made a natural heading on one of my mats, but the mat I had made from the bottom half of the pillowcase needed a thick, fancy seam to denote the heading. On the next set I left the heading out altogether and liked that design the best.
I started off making a mat with only two columns, for categories like Big and Little, or Floats and Does Not Float, but soon realized the mats were plenty big to make three columns and just fold one over if it was not needed. On my next batch I even made one with five columns for: Mammal, Reptile, Fish, Bird and Amphibian. It could also be used to cover lots of phonics blends at once, such as: bl, pl, sl, fl, and gl.
Looking over every Montessori style learning mat I could find I came up with lots of sorting categories. I already mentioned quite a few in this post. Others include: Magnetic and Non-Magnetic, the alphabet, numbers, singular and plural, flowering and non-flowering, and seasons. I also made a few blanks that can be written on with permanent markers or dry-erase markers. Next I printed out the lists, laminated the whole sheets of paper, then cut out each word. I used a hot glue gun to glue the hook side of the Velcro to the back of the words. The loop side I sewed to the header portion of my mat, one Velcro rectangle for each column.
There is lots of flexibility in these mats. I chose neutral colors because I want to use colorful figurines to sort, and hardware store paint chips for the color and shading games. A soft, fabric mat is more durable than a paper one and can be folded or rolled easily for storage without permanent creasing. To use the mat for colors I would lay a blue, a yellow, and a red paint chip , one on each column. The student has a piles of objects in those colors that she must sort into the proper categories. Even Matchbox cars can be sorted by color!
For shapes, the columns are headed by the three (or however many columns you have or choose to use) shapes, and the pile of figurines, plastic math manipulatives, or pictures cut from magazines are sorted into these categories. The letters work the same way. Whatever three or fours letters you are emphasizing that day are the column headers and the pictures or objects get sorted on the basis of the letter they start with. You could let the child look through old magazines for pictures to fit in the categories, if they are old enough to cut.
For the science themes you can again choose figurines or pictures to be sorted into the lesson’s categories. For Floating or Sinking you can have real objects out and a tub of water for testing. The mats are washable! For Magnetic or Non-Magnetic you can have a strong magnet and experiment as you sort. For Flowering and Non-Flowering (or Seed Bearing) you can have an identification book handy and have gathered plants from the park or neighborhood. The Seasons are an especially fun! Doll clothes can even be sorted according to season.
I was happiest with my 3, 4, and 5 column mats. Two mats can be laid together for extra columns, or a column folded under quite easily for fewer columns. Of course, this can be done on paper for a more temporary sorting project. I’ll bet you can think of other uses for these cool learning mats! Please share your ideas in the comments!
For other great DIY projects see my DIY Splash Fountain!
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