Sunday, January 27, 2013

Geography on the Cheap, Part 2

Making your own knobbed continent map puzzles on foam core

For a long while now I've been stalking used Montessori map sets.  Sigh.  No luck, and even the more affordable websites that sell new materials are still too much for me, like Montessori Outlet Maps, Montessori Concept Maps, Alison's Montessori, Adena Montessori.

So an idea has been percolating in the back of my brain to try to mimic what those continent maps accomplish.  They are used in Geography work in Montessori classrooms.  They are wooden, each country is its own piece and has a knob (which I think shows the location of the capital), and each map has a corresponding control map with labeled countries and capitals.  I found several GEOpuzzles on sale a few years ago at a Parent-Teacher store for something like $7 or $9 each (Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe were there).  They are cardboard, with country and capital labels.

"Real" (meaning "real expensive") Montessori maps are wooden and I think they may have the knob placed to mark the location of each country's capital.
This project isn't for the faint of heart.  But if you stumble upon a sale, too; if you don't mind a project with multiple steps; and if your maps wouldn't be getting tons of hard, rough use, you may consider trying this.  Here are the few steps to making your own knobbed continent map puzzles on foam core.

First, assemble your materials.  You'll need puzzle maps, tacky glue, beads, aluminum foil or wax paper, puzzle glue and a paintbrush.  (Later on you'll need foam core.)

Step 1.  Spread out some aluminum foil or wax paper on a table and put together the puzzle on top.  Glue beads to country pieces (but NOT to the surrounding pieces, like the oceans, that will serve as sort of a frame around the moveable pieces).  I bought these beads at the dollar store and lucked out because their colors blended perfectly with the colors on my maps.

This glue was strong enough.  Only a few beads out of several dozen needed to be glued again.

I was working on several maps at once, so eager school-aged helpers really came in handy!

While the glue is drying on the beads, use puzzle glue to adhere all of the frame pieces (those without knobs) to each other.  Let dry. 

You actually don't need to paintbrush yet if your puzzle glue has a foam head.  Puzzle Glue.




Step 2.  Each puzzle had its own dimensions, so I measured the height and width and took these to my local office supply store where they sell foam core.  I lucked out when the gentleman behind the counter cut each sheet of foam core (your "backing" material) for free.  

Step 3.  Glue the frame pieces to the foam core.

A paint brush and tacky glue are all that you need for this step.

Apply glue to the back side of the frame.

Step 4.  Turn the frame over and carefully set it on top of the foam core meant for this specific puzzle.  Be careful here!  If your frame is just a little distorted it will make it really hard--if not impossible--for a child to use the puzzle.  I made a boo boo with one of them which could have been avoided if I had fit the inner, knobbed pieces inside the frame while the glue was still drying.  Once the glue dried I wasn't able to adjust the frame.

Step 5.  Once everything was dried we had to try out the maps!  I was still worried that maybe the glue wouldn't hold (it did), the pieces would be too tight (they were fine except for the one where the frame was distorted a little), and the humidity in the schoolroom would make it tricky to remove and use the pieces easily (that part was fine, too).  Now we have usable continent maps for half of the price of even the cheapest bought new!

Special notes:

1.  As with Geography on the Cheap, Part 1 you need to keep in mind that the standard colors used for each continent won't apply here.
2.  Keep the puzzle box.  It's good for storing the pieces and the picture on the top serves as your control.
3.  The continents are labeled a little differently than classic Montessori maps.  For instance, my map is called "Latin America," so if you sing the cute little continent song to your kids you'll have to explain "North America," "South America," and "Latin America."
4.  You have to have your wits about you when you glue the beads to pieces and when you apply puzzle glue to the frame pieces.  A couple of times (as in the photo above) I put a bead on a piece that I didn't intend to be a moveable piece (oops!).

If you try this project, please let me know how it turns out for you.  It's not a "no brainer" like the wall map is, and it involves a lot of steps.  But if you LOVE geography like I do and you don't mind the many steps involved, this may be the way to go.


  1. This is really inspiring. Thank you for sharing! I barely ever see truly attainable (for someone like myself on a tight tight budget) DIY ideas.

  2. Thanks! That means a lot to me, because I mostly feel like a crazy lady with a messy house and too many craft supplies :)

  3. I absolutely LOVE this!!!! Just wonderful:)

  4. Trying to do this right now! Thanks for sharing this fantastic idea.

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