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Top 5 Hands-on Tools to Teach Place Value & Base Ten

Place value, and understanding our base ten number system helps to lay a valuable mathematical foundation for children. Unfortunately, many of us adults may not fully understand these concepts, and therefore struggle to teach it effectively! As a traditionally trained public school teacher, I knew how important place value was for students. I just didn't have the right tools to teach it! It wasn't until I went through Montessori training that I felt like I understood place value, base ten, and exactly how to teach these concepts to students.

I also learned to evaluate the effectiveness of available tools for teaching place value & base ten. For starters, students must be able to manipulate concrete materials. These materials should be simple, exact, embody the concept, and allow the child to manipulate them. I love to borrow tools from the Montessori method, because the check all of these boxes. Plus they are beautiful! Here are the top 5 math manipulatives (borrowed from Montessori), that I use to teach place value and base ten!


Dr. Montessori had the genious idea to string together inexpensive beads into groups of 10, 100, and 1000 to teach place value/base ten. I love these because they are visual, tactile, and kids seem to be drawn to them! Children see the different shape each group makes, and can feel the difference between one unit, and 1,000. Dr. Montessori designed her materials to be attractive to children so they would want to use them. Who wouldn't want to do math with something called a "golden bead"?


Number cards are the numerical equivilant to the golden beads. Just as a child can pysically make a quantity with the golden beads, with the number cards, they can learn to create numbers. They can make and see numbers in expanded, and standard form, and then match that quantity of golden beads with the numerical symbols. While there are plastic number cards available in teacher supply stores, I love the Montessori version because the wooden versions are tactile, and color coded. The color coding helps children internalize place value and is consistent throughout the entire Montessori system (unlike traditional math suppplies that seem to just be rainbow colored because it looks cute). CLICK HERE to download a printable version of the number cards.


Did you know that in many lanugages the teen numbers translate directly to "ten - one, ten - two, etc., making it easy for children to understand the teen numbers? I find my students really struggle with learning and understanding their teen numbers, partly becasue we use words like, "eleven, twelve, etc." that don't carry any meaning about what makes up the number. My favorite tool for helping children understand that eleven is in fact 10 + 1 is the teen board. The child takes the "ones" card, and places it directly on top of zero in the number ten to form eleven. This tool is actually called a Seguin board, named after the French educator who invented it. Dr. Montessori adapted it to her system after finding it helped struggling students. The teen board is paired with the bead bars to match a physical quantity of items to the numerical symbol. CLICK HERE to download a printed version of the teen board.


The ten board, also invented by Seguin, and later adopted by Dr. Montessori, helps teach chilren to cout to 100 while, developing an understanding of place value and base ten. It is an extension of the teen board, and works the same way, by allowing the child to make a number by physically placing the "ones" on top of the zero in the tens number. So 20 + 3 placed on top make 23. Children can build all of the tens in this way, and discover the pattern of making another grup of ten after adding one more to nine. For example, 29 + 1 is 30, just as 79 + 1 is 80. I love that the ten board is both visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and systematic! CLICK HERE to download a printed version of the ten board that comes in black line, and Montessori place value colors!


One issue I constantly see with my students is that when they go to write multi-digit numbers, they are all over the page! To support them in lining their numbers up for place value, I created a variety of specialized grid paper in blackline, and Montessori place value colors. These are designed to be graduated, starting with color coding, and labeled "ones (or units), tens, hundreds, etc.), all the way to simple blank grid paper. CLICK HERE to download printable place value grid paper.

BONUS: Place Value Mats! I love these for how they help children to keep manipulatives organized when working independently! I made a set of graduated place value mats for using with place value number chips (also known as the Montessori Stamp Game). CLICK HERE to download the printable!

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