Good, Cheap or Fast?
Note: I edited two parts of this post regarding how many pins I bought and how much I spent on them to try to make that clearer.
My goal today is to tell you how to make a set of pin maps approximating the contents of the Nienhuis Cabinet of the World Parts ($975 plus $136 shipping to my location) without breaking the bank and in as few hours as possible. Many people refer to the relationship among "good, cheap, and fast." You can't have all three.
When it comes to making Montessori materials, I often feel that I have more money than time (at least if I buy discount materials). This is not only a big-ticket item, but it is an odd case in which people who own the real thing (wooden maps) say they would prefer a homemade version because the wooden maps scratch over time. I set out to find a way to do this at a price I could afford without completely losing my sanity. There might be cheaper ways to accomplish what I did (and I'll give you some tips on where you can save some cash if you are strapped for it) but I sprinkled in a healthy dose of "fast" and a tiny bit of "good" that brought the price up a little.
What is the Cabinet of World Parts? This is a set of six maps (one for each continent) for the child to use to label the major geographic and political world parts. The child places pins in the holes on the maps identifying the major features. Each map comes with six sets of flags: green for countries, red for capitals, white for islands, yellow for desserts and mountains, blue for water, and the last set has the flag of each country. The set also includes control maps.
The big supplies you need:
- TWO copies of DK Ultimate Sticker Book: Flags of the World $6.29 each
- Cabinet of World Parts: Set of Name Stickers, from Nienhuis $16.70
- 1-3 sets (I bought one, but essentially used two) of 17.5" x 22.5" World History Maps from A Beka Books. $31.00
- Many long or extra-long Dritz quilting pins. Hancock Fabrics. .01/pin
- 6-13 pieces of foam board. Dollar Store. $1/ea
Some supplies that are nice:
Plastic hardware drawers $15
Smaller items you need:
I, of course, used a lot of other items in the making of these that I already keep around the house and used a small amount of such as: laminating film, paper, cardstock in several colors, glue stick, permanent markers, packing tape, and super glue.
How much did I spend?:
I'll explain this more fully as I get into the details, but I think I spent about $175 on this project not counting racks and cabinets that I repurposed.
I put my pins in a 30-drawer spare parts cabinet from Wal-Mart. I originally bought this as an alphabet objects bin when Kal-El was 2 or 3. This cabinet has been making the rounds in our classroom for quite a while because our miniatures collection outgrew it long ago. I used traditionally Montessori colors to color-code the cabinet according to continent with cardstock. The color of the head or ball on the pins coordinates with these same colors for each continent (mostly). The stickers on top of the cardstock indicate what color the flag is on the pin, or rather the type of pin it is (Again, green for countries, red for capitals, white for islands, yellow for desserts and mountains, blue for water, and the last set has the flag of each country)
This is what my pins look like across several drawers.
You will find dividers to be handy addition. Some continents fill the drawer completely in some of categories. Others do not and the divider keeps them for moving around excessively. Also, in my 30-drawer cabinet I had to have the yellow and white flags share a drawer.
How did you make the pins?
The actual pins were purchased from Hancock Fabrics. They are the only place I could find pins in all of these colors. Edited to add: to be clear, other places carry Dritz pins, but Hancock Fabrics was the only place I found that sold a box of just red pins and just green, etc., No one seems to make orange, ball-type quilting pins so I substituted white for North America. My "brown" pins for Oceania are actually gold, but close enough. I got the gold ones out of this box that I also used for its purple pins to make the Caribbean islands their own map (I put dividers in the North America drawers and put the Caribbean pins in the back section of each drawer). If you need to spend less on the project, you can shave off quite a bit by not color-coding your pin heads according to continent. You can get the pins more cheaply if you buy plain pins, pins in a large quantity of all one color, or t-pins. You could always paint them with nail polish down the road (poor Abbie). The benefit to the color coding is that if you find an "Atlantic Ocean" pin on the floor you know where to replace it.
I made the pins from strips of colored cardstock. The strips were 3.25" long and .5" tall. To make a pin:
- Fold cardstock strip in half.
- Slather one half with glue stick.
- Put pin in the crease of the paper.
- Hold the two halves together for a few seconds with your fingers.
- Apply "name" sticker to the cardstock.
- Slide the paper down to the middle of the pin.
- Put Loctite ULTRA Gel Control Super Glue the top .5" of the stick of the pin until it just touches the ball.
- Quickly slide the cardstock "flag" back up onto the now super-glued upper .5" of the pin until it touches the ball.
- Hold in place a few seconds.
Fun times. I glued myself to myself many, many times.
I tried five or six different kinds of super glue and the Loctite ULTRA Gel Control Super Glue worked the best. Some were to runny, some dry too slowly. At this time I have chosen NOT to cover all of my little cardstock "flags" on my pin and, consequently, the ball of the pin with packing tape. I am literally unable to remove the "flags" from the pin so I don't think they are going to come off. My kids are careful with the materials and so far nothing is being damaged. If I see signs of wear I may do that at a later date to protect my investment of time and money.
I used a different method to make my "flag of the country" pins and will tell you about that later in the post.
Edited to Add: Prices change over time, usually not for the better. I am noticing nine months later that prices are a little higher.
Edited to Add: I waited for a 50%-off sale on "notions." This was helpful because you need a LOT of pins and it saved me $50 to buy them for a penny apiece rather than two pennies apiece. I think I spent $50 on pins, but that number might be high. Judging by what I used and have left over it might have been closer to $40. I went to the store twice and didn't save the receipts. (Except one receipt for a single box I went back for.) I also overbought because I didn't know how many pins I needed. I have a lot of pins left over but I know I'll use them on future pin maps. I was able to find almost every color I needed. Here is a chart of how many pins I needed for each type of flag for each continent:
Where did I get the names for my pins?
I bought a set of Cabinet of World Parts: Set of Name Stickers, from Nienhuis for $16.70. It saved me from having to write six hundred or more words on little cardstock flags with a Sharpie. I wouldn't have done this project without them! I still did some of that, but it was very minimal. The Nienhuis labels had the side benefit of teaching me what level of detail is typically appropriate for this particular stage of this material.
A brief review of the Nienhuis labels:
I will warn you that the Nienhuis material is clearly very Euro-centric when it comes to the blue, yellow, and white flags. This is why I had to write on some little flags with a Sharpie after all. If we rank "level of detail" from 1-10, "1" being the most general and "10" being the most inclusive, Nienhuis prepares the labels for Europe at about a level "seven" and North America at about at level "three." Ideally I wanted every continent represented at about a level "five." The solution was to eliminate quite a few blue flags from the Europe set (for now, I put them aside for the future) and add quite a few to the other continents.
I had to set aside about 15 blue river flags for Europe and that was after I drew a few rivers onto the map with a Sharpie that were otherwise too small to be depicted on that scale of a map. If a river has a tributary, they named it. That's even after I went ahead and included lots of things I maybe shouldn't have. For example, they don't just give you a label for the Mediterranean, but they also divide it up into all of the various "seas." They include many islands, split up the European mountain ranges into named parts and identify several peaks. On the other hand, for North America the Sierra Madres aren't even included nor is the Bering Sea or Bering Strait. They don't identify the tributaries of even the Mississippi. And, the island coverage is strangely spotty. Basically, unless it's a Caribbean island they don't provide a label for it. Except, rather oddly, they picked four random tiny Aleutian islands and labeled them individually (rather than just labeling the whole group the "Aleutian islands") and completely ignore Baffin island, the fifth-largest island in the world. This was an easy fix and frankly you'll want to customize your own level of detail anyway. It was super to have the Nienhuis labels as a starting point.
This is what the physical map of North America looked like when I was finished adding my flags:
Why did I buy maps?
At one point I became really frustrated by this project. I've lost track of the number of places I've read about making your own pin maps over the years. This is usually referred to as a "cheap and easy project." How hard can it be to print some maps, mount them on cork or foam board, and stick pins into them? Not hard at all...except for finding and printing the maps! I remember more than one source cooly mentioning "choose from many free maps available online and print what you like." There is a reason they don't say, "Go to this website and print this map for this continent." The benign explanation is that homeschooling parents are particular about maps and there's no telling what each family will like. However, the reality is that printable maps, in the proper format, unlabeled, and appropriately-scaled for this project either don't exist or I was too dumb to find them.
What you want for this project ideally are relief maps that show the political boundaries in a non-intrusive way. You can find these for free at Joho Maps, but not always unlabeled and not for every continent. The problem with these or any of the "pay for download" maps that I found is that they are sized to fit through your printer on 8.5" x 11" paper. Let's look at the 8.5" x 11" map of Europe I made from Joho Maps with all of the "country name" flags in the holes:
PIN MAP FAIL!
This was ridiculous and absolutely no fun to work with.
I wondered if I could print the map across several pieces of paper somehow. I determined that it would have to be across four pieces of paper. However, I was unable to find any way to crop the map into sections and successfully print them in a way that worked. I tried this many different ways in several different programs, but either the program or the printer would change the scale of various pieces so that they wouldn't match up when I tried to reassemble them.
If your project is slightly different than mine and you only need political outline maps, you can find them at Owl and Mouse. You will be able to print their maps in a variety of sizes from one page to a map almost seven feet across using an ordinary printer. I printed the four-page version of their Europe map just to try it out and all but one of the pages lined up perfectly.
I was unable to find a similar source for relief maps. If I did, I would have had to print twelve maps, in color, each across four pieces of paper and then laminate them with clear contact paper. Colored ink cartridges are expensive and this would use a lot of ink. I decided that buying maps the appropriate size would be just as economical, nicer, and less time-consuming.
I chose the 17.5" x 22.5" A Beka World History Maps because our church uses them in the boys' Sunday school classes. The shipping was free on these! It was easiest to go with something I had seen in person and knew fit my needs. I wanted the relief and political maps intertwined. If you would like them separate, another great source would be the large-scale laminated maps from GeoMatters. You can buy them individually or as a set. They are also available not laminated.
This is how our A Beka map of Africa looks with the island, water, and desert/mountain flags in their holes:
How many maps do I need to make for each continent?
In the "supplies" section of this post I mentioned that you will want to buy 1-3 maps per continent. How many you need will depend on how many types of pins you want to place on one map and what you plan to do for your controls.
The Nienhuis materials come with one wooden map for placing pins and three paper control maps for each continent (you don't put pins in these). Their maps are set up so that the holes are color coded and ALL the flags for each continent can be placed simultaneously on the same map. I knew right away that I didn't want to do that at this time. Looking back at the picture of my failed map of Europe you can imagine that even on appropriately-sized 19x22 map it would be very crowded if we placed a country, capital, and flag pin on each country and also added the landform flags. This is how my new, LARGE Europe map looks with the flags in:
The aerial view looks rather spacious, but you can see from the front that it is still crowded...
...I just can't imagine adding two to three MORE pins per country to this map. So, for each continent I decided to make one map for landforms (white, blue, and yellow flags as seen in the Africa map above) and a second map with one hole per country. The holes in the second map are placed in the location of the capital but the country name, capital, OR flag pins can be used. I bought only one set of A Beka maps because I already owned a set of blank political maps in the correct size. When I bought our Montessori puzzle map cabinet for primary I dutifully bought both the labeled and unlabeled control maps to go with it and we never ever ever used the blank control maps.
Here is a picture of Kal-El actually using one of the maps with the "country name pins" to give you a sense of the scale. If you would prefer these to the A Beka relief/political map combination they are available for as little as $2.99/map from Kid Advance. They are available labeled and unlabeled, which brings us to why you might want a third set of maps, for the controls. As mentioned previously, I already own labeled controls from the puzzle maps that are useful for country names. I made a special kind of control for the capitals and flags (Nienhuis' flag pin maps and three controls for just South America look like this. Some of mine are similar, some are different.) We also own a great, HUGE (11" x 15") Rand McNally Atlas that Kal-El loves to use for a control when he works with the yellow, white, and blue pins.
This a peek at one of the maps in the Atlas that Kal-El uses frequently with the pin maps.
The A Beka and GeoMatters maps all come with controls, on the back. That will not work because you are going to be mounting these on foam board or cork. You might have need of an extra set of maps to use as the control.
Making the Flag Pins (and control)
The fastest and cheapest way to make these is using two sets of the DK Ultimate Sticker Book: Flags of the World.
Each book comes with a "large" (around 15/16" by 5/8") flag sticker and one smaller flag sticker for each country of the world. By buying two sets I was able to stick the two large flags together back-to-back sandwiching the quilting pin between rather than the method I used for the other pins. I used one of the small sets of flags to make my control charts. You could also stick them directly to a large-scale political map to make a control that looks like the Nienhuis control. Since you have two sets, you could do both. My control chart for capitals and flags look like this:
I am offering the download for these free here:
The charts for each continent vary from 1-3 pages. I taped mine together in an accordion fashion so that you can turn pages or spread the whole chart out in one long line. They are alphabetized by capital city. The idea is that my kids already have the country location memorized and, if they don't, it's the easiest thing to look up on our control maps. What is likely is that they will pull a capital city pin out of the drawer and not know what country it matches. They can find the capital city alphabetically on the chart, match it to its country, and then know where to place the pin. If they pull the flag pin out of the drawer they can match it visually on the chart and then, again, find the country that it matches. The download is a printable of the country names and capitals. You would have to place your own mini flag stickers on the chart.
Where do I store the maps and controls?
My Oceania and Caribbean Maps
I theorize that a lot of people have a lot of trouble placing the individual Caribbean islands and islands of Oceania because they get lost the way maps are split according to continent and they are too small to show up on the world maps. For this reason I made separate maps for these areas. I wasn't happy with any maps I was finding online (very difficult to find unlabeled) so I bought this resource at the teacher supply store: The World Reference and Map Forms: Grades 3-6 $13.28
I found adequate Caribbean and Oceania maps here. I also used the physical maps for each continent as a "cover" for my control charts. They don't include everything needed to use as a control for the yellow, white, and blue pins but they include most of it. I also felt that it is difficult to get a sense of the size of the deserts on both the relief maps and Atlas maps. These were worth using as the cover for the control charts for that reason alone.
I copied them on my printer and laminated them on top of color-coordinated cardstock.
Here is an aerial view of my Caribbean map. In the near future I plan to make a set of white pins for the islands that are not countries. It would be sad to be listening to the Beach Boys and not know where "Aruba" is.
How did I mount my maps and make the holes?
I was able to buy 20" x 30" foam board at the dollar store for $1 per piece. If you pay more for your foam board it will add up fast. So, if you don't find it at one dollar store location it could pay to check a few other locations.
- My large maps did not need laminating, but the maps I made on my printer (Oceania, Caribbean) did.
- I traced the outside of the map onto the foam board and then cut the lines with a utility knife and the aid of a metal yard stick.
- Afterward, the foam board just snapped apart at the lines.
- I color-coded the edge of the foam board with a strip of cardstock.
- Then, I put the map on top of the foam board and secured the edges with clear packing tape. You can get packing tape at the dollar store also, but it is really stinky and terrible to work with. I lose the end. Every. Time. And it wrinkles. You'll have an easier job if you use the good stuff.
- I made the holes by poking the pin right into the map.
- After I placed all the holes, I removed the flags. As I removed each flag I made a "dot" on top of the hole with a red permanent marker so we could find it again. If you are making Nienhuis-style maps you'll need more colors of markers.
Below is a photo of the two Australia/Oceania maps I made (physical and political). They do not have the pins in so you can see how the red permanent marker shows up around the holes.
- Use your pin maps at a table or get a piece of hardboard for use when on the floor. Otherwise your pins will protrude through the back of your map.
- You can avoid mounting on foam board by using cork. One might be able to use ONE cork board, say from the geometric sticks, and put whichever map you want to use in the moment(with holes punched and highlighted) on top of the cork board. I haven't tried it.
- Montessori Print Shop sells printable maps, labels, and flags. However, they will be 8.5" x 11" and are colored political maps. If you want to cover your pin flags with packing tape, all the steps are available on her website here.
- I also have the unlabeled control map for the fifty states lying unsuspecting in the puzzle map cabinet. I sense a little acupuncture in its future.
How long did it take?
I wisely spread my work out over three months so that I wouldn't burn out. I estimate that I spent about 40 hours on this project. That was plenty of time spent. I would have spent many more hours if I had printed my own maps, printed the cardstock tags for each pin, or printed and cut all the flags for the pin. It also would have taken more hours if I had to paint all my pin heads with nail polish (again, poor Abbie).
Wrapping it up:
I am really happy I made these. Kal-El, my very-elementary stage-two child, greatly prefers the pin maps to the puzzle maps. Me Too, my still somewhat-primary child prefers the puzzle maps. Since these made their appearance in our school room, Kal-El has re-mastered the country names for several continents, mastered all the flags for several for the first time, and has moved on to capitals. He LOVES working with the relief maps and what we call "the landform" pins (yellow, white, blue). This work has also ignited some elementary landforms work. I see the boys taking out all four kinds of maps (puzzle, pin, biome stencils, and the atlas) together and making comparisons. Awesome!
As Jessica points out, these maps are not a "required" part of a Montessori experience or "key." Their use depends on your family's feelings regarding geographical memorization (yes, please!) and your child's interest (Kal-El's favorite subject is geography.). Okay, maybe I shouldn't imply "my family" encourages memorizing geographical information. I should say "I" encourage memorization. When I started glueing cardstock to pins my husband said, "That looks like a lot of work. Can't you buy this?." I show him the Nienhuis listing, he counters, "What would happen if you just didn't do this unit. I'm pretty sure we didn't learn this in school." I don't know if that was the "royal we" or what, because I'm pretty sure we did, but in that "too little, too late and only learned for the test" kind of way. I am hoping to avoid this (one part funny to two parts sad). I do want to point out that my husband remembers the state capitals like a champ (I can never remember some or most of those capitals).
Have you made any Montessori Primary or Elementary Materials? Looking for ideas? Please visit the Ultimate Montessori Homemade Material Collaboration project in the left-hand sidebar.