Make Your Own: Racks and Tubes

Racks and Tubes or Test-Tube Division. A landmark elementary Montessori material. But with a price point starting at $150, and running up to $270 for a premium version, it’s not a material that’s easy to purchase for one or two homeschooling children – especially if you’re starting mid-way through your child’s education and they might not even use the material.

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Funball is not one who loves the materials. She’ll sit through a presentation, but she doesn’t like doing tedious things over and over. She tends to see a new concept, lets it sit in her brain for a while, and then gets to the abstraction quite quickly.

Looking for a cheaper option, I made my own!

I picked up a set of 4 division boards on eBay or Merkari. You’ll have to hunt for these. I believe I paid $20. I WILL have a Cricut .svg file available to cut your own division boards at some point, but the file isn’t ready yet.

I ordered plastic test-tubes from Amazon. A pack of 50 tubes and lids is currently $8.99. The particular set linked to fits 10 pony beads per tube. Some of the other brands with the same measurements have a rounder base and don’t fit 10 pony beads. I ordered and returned a few sets.

So, you can either make a small set of racks and tubes with units, tens, hundreds and thousands and you’ll need 40 tubes. If make a full set, adding on ten thousands, hundred thousands, and millions you’ll need 70 tubes or two packages. Test tubes for the full set costs $18.

For the beads, I bought single-color packages from JoAnn fabrics (red, blue, green). We use the extra beads for the individual multiplication and division boards, and for the peg board factors work. Each pack is $3.99, or a total of $12.

Now, for the cups and racks I built files and gave to my dad to 3-d print for me. Total cost was the spool of plastic I bought to replace his supply, about $25. For the racks, this is the best option I see on Amazon, however it’s not great because it’s not color coded. If I were to make my own racks with easily available materials I’d probably adapt kraft watch boxes, putting 10 holes in the top of each box, and color coding as I wished. For the cups I’d visit an Asian grocery store and pick up little soy sauce dishes, or use the tiny 3oz paper dixie cups.

I also bought and painted peg dolls for the skittles. You may already have these from the stamp game, but I didn’t. Peg dolls cost $12.99 for more than I needed, and I had the acrylic paint on hand already.

space-saving storage solution

After all that, it looks like my total cost for a full set of racks and tubes was $88. I would have bought the beads with a coupon, and I may have had the peg dolls on hand already – I can’t remember. The DIY version comes out to half the price of the cheapest pre-made version, if you make the full set. To be perfectly honest, unless you already know your child loves working with big numbers from past experience with the dot game, stamp game, and bead frames, the smaller units-one thousands set will cover the knowledge needed.

If you need some sample equation sets to go along with your test tubes, or you like making your own materials and want a (MUCH more) inexpensive way to make the bead squares and cubes, check out some of my other pages.

Let me know if you give it a go by leaving a comment! Also, if you’d be interested in the 3-d printer files, let me know and I’ll find a place to host the files.