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5 Tools to Teach Counting to 10 the Montessori Way

The Montessori method of teaching children to count to ten is fully hands-on. Lessons and tools are visual, tactile, and kinesthetic! Each activity isolates the difficulty, introducing one variable at a time, and with progressive complexity. There is often a built in control of error and a self teaching aspect to activities, while still requiring the child to think. The activities are sequenced, non-distracting, beautiful, precise tools. In a Montessori setting, the three period lesson is used to present each new material with as few words as possible, in order to focus the child's attention. The three period lesson first tells what something is, "This is seven". Next it asks students to identify what is new without needing to remember the name, "Point to the number seven". Finally the child is asked to recall the name, "What number is this?"

Once introduced in a lesson, the tools for counting to ten should be on an open shelf for the child to access, and always in the same place. The child should not be allowed to use the tool incorrectly, but can repeat the activity as much as they want. There is a natural tendancy for young children to want to repeat tasks, so repetition should never be forced. If a child makes a mistake, there is no need say, "that's wrong", just show them the lesson again on another day. Research shows that it takes three to twenty times to learn something new. Remember to always show the child how to do the activity first, then watch as they repeat it. The idea is not to explain, but to show the child how to use each Montessori tool in a short presentation so they can discover the concept themselves through interaction with the material.


Dr. Montessori did not have children using a pencil to learn to count to ten, because holding a pencil is a unique and difficult skill for a young child, as is tracing lines on a paper. However, there are many wonderful Montessori activities designed to help prepare a child for writing with paper and pencil. For many children, a task becomes much more difficult when you layer on additional unmastered skills. Children learning to count the Montessori way are relieved of needing to control their hand for writing in order to be able to count, although they will know the form of the numeral from the sand paper number cards. Allowing children to focus on one skill in isolation helps them to be successul, to learn quicker, and to feel joy in learning. Below are the five core tools used in Montessori to teach children to count to ten, and how they are used.


The red and blue number rods represent a fixed quantity of alternating red and blue blocks in 10 cm increments. They are brought to the floor from the shelf one at a time, so the child can absorb a sensorial impression of their different size, and weight. They are carried by holding the rod horizontally, with one hand on each end. Once the rods are all on the floor, they can be ordered from smallest to biggest, and named. They are returned to the shelf in the same way, one at a time.


These give a sensorial impression of the shape of each number symbol, or numeral. The child is shown how to trace the numeral with their pointer and middle finger as they say the name of the number. Only a two or three of these should be introduced at a time using the three period lesson. Then they are matched together. Click the image below for FREE printable sand paper numerals template.

Rods + Numerals: Once the child knows how to order and count the number rods, and knows all of the sand paper numbers, they can be combined. The rods can be placed in order from least to greatest, and then matched with their corresponding number card. On another day, the rods can be placed in mixed order on the floor, and the cards placed in mixed order on a table. The cards are then matched to the number rods.


After the child has combined the number rods and sand paper numbers, they can be introduced to the spindle box. The spindle box has numerals in a fixed sequence with a loose quantity of exactly 45 objects of all the same shape, size, and color as to not distract from the purpose of the activity. It also introduces the concept of zero. All the spindles are removed and placed in a pile. They are then placed into the slots, in order so that each number has a matching quantity of spindles. When all of the spindles are in their boxes, there should be none left over. There should also be exactly enough to fill each slot. This is a control of error, and helps the child catch their own mistakes. When the activity is done, you can point to the zero slot (it should be empty), and simply say something like, "this is zero, it means nothing". Click the image below for a FREE printable spindle box.


After the child has worked with the spindle box, they can get further practice counting with the red cards and counters. This activity requires more of the child because now there are loose numerals & loose quantities. As with the spindle box, there should be an exact amount of counters, all the same size, color, and shape. First demonstrat for the child how to put the cards and counters down, one at a time, then give them a chance to complete the activity. As a secondary purpose, this material also introduces odd & even. You can simply point to the counters with a match and say, "this has a match, it is even", then point to the counters without a match, and say, "this does not have a match, it is odd." Click the image below for a FREE red cards & counters printable.


Bring me games are an informal and fun way to reinforce counting. They also help the child to see that objects around them can be counted. You can place small objects in baskets, or just have a child find a certain number of objects in the room. For example, you might say, "bring me five crayons", or "bring me seven blocks." You can also have a child do a certain number of movements, for example, three jumps. Click the image below for a FREE bring me games printable.

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