As many homeschooler’s are getting ready to start back to school, I’ve seen many questions on Facebook about Montessori materials vendors. Although I purchased most of my materials secondhand, or made them myself, I did buy quite a bit from one vendor, IFIT Montessori. Despite a couple of criticisms, I have been overwhelmingly impressed with the quality of their materials and their range of selection along with typically lower prices and a frequent free shipping over $200 offer. I just looked up my history with them and over the past 4 years, I have spent $1200 with them. So here is a review (with pictures!) of the materials I’ve received:
Geography Map Cabinet, Eight Puzzle Maps and Control Maps
This includes the World Puzzle, the 6 Continent Puzzles (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia) and 8 control maps with country labels. (Sorry for the blurriness of the picture.) I had initially purchased only three of the maps and tried to stack them on the top of my shelves with no rack. These maps are huge and that didn’t work for my son, so I splurged on the rack. If you’re going to have all the maps available, you really need a rack to store them, and it makes a nice place to store the globe and some culture items as well. I use the control maps as a dust cover because they are easier to dust than all those little knobs! I initially bought both labeled and unlabeled, but my son couldn’t read at the time, so I for the rest of the continents I just bought labeled (since I don’t know all of the continents either!)
The actual puzzle maps are beautiful and are one of my favorite Montessori materials. They are framed in a nice wooden frame, the colors are vibrant, the pieces do not chip or scratch and the knobs are solidly connected. When I received Australia, the New Zealand piece arrived broken. I contacted IFIT customer service and they offered me a sizable cash discount to just live with it. But I’m a perfectionist so I declined and they mailed out a replacement piece (that fit perfectly) that day.
There are some minor issues that may be more annoying to others. For the smaller countries, they are painted onto the puzzle piece of a neighboring country. I can understand that for the very smallest countries, but I was disappointed that Yemen and Oman were painted onto Saudi Arabia when there are other pieces (Sri Lanka?) that would be smaller than those two. Also, the map designers seemed to have difficulty deciding where to divide Asia and Europe (don’t we all?) which would have been fine but they didn’t stick to one dividing line for the two maps. So on the Asia map, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia are painted onto the frame of the puzzle map and labeled on the control map. Then on the Europe map, those three countries are now puzzle pieces, but they aren’t labeled on the control.
Geometric Cabinet, Demonstration Tray & Cards
The Geometric Cabinet is probably the second most expensive item I’ve purchased from IFIT. Like the maps, the cabinet is solidly constructed, the colors are vibrant, the pieces are thick and don’t chip or scratch. All of the pieces fit properly in their slots and those that are meant to spin (circles/polygons) do so properly. The control cards that I purchased as a separate item, matched well and were on nice, glossy card stock. The one item I regret purchasing was the Demonstration Tray (not pictured here because I’m storing the fraction squares/triangles in it instead). I learned after buying that the Demonstration Tray is completely redundant and not needed in a homeschool. The tray has a circle, square and equilateral triangle and those exact three pieces are also in the Geo Cabinet. So save yourself the money and skip it!
Decanomial Bead Box & Elementary Negative Snake Game
Oh, the beauty of these beads. I have a number of different beads acquired secondhand and from Alison’s (their Complete Bead Material) and I have not seen anything as nice as the IFIT beads. They are shiny, with pretty colors and good secure wires. And I just love how they feel. The boxes they come in are also solid and pretty. You can see the lid to the Decanomial Box propped up behind it and each of the Snake Game boxes has a lid painted the same color as the box. We haven’t used these too much yet, just a little Addition Snake Game but I’m looking forward to using them daily this coming year.
Here is a close up shot for you:
Fractions: Metal Circles, Squares & Triangles and Plastic Cut-outs
These are the newest items that I have purchased and their quality was what I had come to expect from IFIT. The green and red insets are metal and are thin so they fit together precisely. They are so visually appealing my son was drawn to them instantly. Note that they do NOT come with the wooden stands. I put our Geometric Metal Insets into our Botany Cabinet and used those stands for the Fraction Circles. Then I put the Geo Cab Circles and Demonstration Tray pieces into storage and put the Fraction Squares & Triangles in those drawers.
Here is a screen shot showing how thin the metal fractions are. The box of plastic fraction cut-outs are each labeled with their fraction and come in a nice wooden box with a lid. These will be used for doing addition, subtraction, multiplication & division of fractions so I haven’t put them to use yet.
Grammar Symbols: Solid with Tray and Wooden with Box
These is are more new items that we haven’t put into use yet. I bought the full Grammar Solids Tray on a whim but in retrospect, I probably should have just bought the Noun & Verb alone. I think I wasn’t expecting the wooden pieces in the box to be so nice. The wooden pieces will get a lot of use with the Grammar Boxes and during presentations. They 3D solids will likely only get used once as each type is introduced and then will just sit pretty on the shelf.
Movable Alphabet & Sandpaper Letters/Doubles/Numbers
Now we get to the area of materials that I used extensively and they were adequate to the task, but probably not something I would purchase again if I had to. Don’t get me wrong, the movable alphabet is nice. The pieces are solid, the colors are bright, the box is sturdy. But I had three problems with the material. 1) This is the “small” box and yet it was so large it took up a whole shelf by itself and my son struggled with being able to efficiently get letters from the box and place them in his work area because he couldn’t reach. This became very clear when I moved to a smaller printed alphabet and he began using it readily instead of grudgingly. 2) The slots for each letter are so oversized that there was no way short of major OCD to keep them orderly in the box. 3) And the issue I struggled with the most was the oversized vowels. They were annoyingly larger than all the other letters (and the letter p was particularly smaller than even other consonants) that is just made our work look sloppy which is never a goal of Montessori. There are vendors out there that have all the letters the same size (meaning all the circles match, all the tails match, etc).
I don’t have pictures of the Sandpaper Numbers because they are in storage, but they were nice and I have no complaints about them. All of their sandpaper cards are on thick wooden boards (though not as thick as Neinhuis which were just bulky in my opinion). The sand did not scratch off easily and didn’t leave messy trails all over. The sand was also not so rough to be uncomfortable to use, just enough to get a sensation of the shape.
The issue that I had with these cards were the lead lines. If I had my preference, I would buy cards with no lead lines but at the time I didn’t know that the best place to find that is on Etsy. But – if you are going to have lead lines, they really ought to flow nicely into the letter rather than as if they were added on separately. Take a look at the letter Q. The lead line is almost perpendicular to the circle. How awkward is that?
Globes: Sandpaper & Continent Globe
I don’t have a picture of the sandpaper globe because it is in storage but it was identical to the continent globe in every way except the color/texture of the continents. When I purchased these, they were marked as “Clearance” due to poor quality and I really liked the price. I can see what they probably had complaints about. The globes come apart at the dividing line you can clearly see in the photo and then can be put back together out of alignment, which was a major distraction for my son. The pin holding the globe on the base also dug into the wood of the base on the sandpaper globe and I had been worried it would continue to eat into it until it would no longer stand, but after 4 years that didn’t happen. So, in the end I am very glad I had the opportunity to pay a cheap price for an item that isn’t used extensively anyway.
So there you have it. Not a perfect experience but definitely an overwhelmingly positive one. I am very glad I purchased mainly from IFIT and I will continue to do so as I need materials for our elementary years. Over the years that I have purchased from IFIT they have added many items to their catalog and now have a decent amount of elementary materials, particularly in mathematics.