Montessori Math: Concrete, Hands-on Experiences

By Reena V. Morgan, Primary Director

New parents exploring a Montessori program for the first time will often see classic materials such as a pink tower of blocks, colorful bead chains, and knobbed cylinder blocks. These and a variety more are just some materials that help prepare children to learn mathematical skills.

In December, we held a Parent Education called “Exploring 3-6 Montessori Math,” which answers parent questions about the integration of math at our school. Spoiler: preparation for math begins right away with lessons in our 2s classrooms.

The key is that our Montessori math materials give children concrete, hands-on experiences to practice and manipulate numbers, large quantities, and numerical operations in a visual, tactile, and fun way!

Concept Exposure

So how does math instruction happen for children at the 3-6 level? It’s all about exposing children to concepts as their interest guides them and laying the foundation, first through the Sensorial curriculum and scaffolding lessons and learning from there! 

Sensorial materials such as the pink tower visually show the exponential growth of a cubic centimeter. The knobbed cylinders give visual and tactile experiences with width, height, diameter. The triangle boxes allow exploration of acute, obtuse, and right angles — which allows children to see patterns on how shapes form (two right-angled triangles = a square!)

Building a Number Sense

Once a child has experience with understanding quantity, then we help them match the number symbol to that quantity. For example, we see if a child can successfully count eight pieces of Cheerios one at a time. Then we introduce the number symbol, “8,” to match the quantity. This matching progresses in difficulty: understanding teens, the double… triple… quadruple-digit numbers and quantity! 

A great way to build number sense at home with 3-6’ers is to make it fun and practical! “Can you please set the table — we will need forks and spoons for all 4 of us — how many pieces of silverware will we have altogether once the table is set?” Collecting coins, rocks, marbles, and seashells are all great fun and can be a great counting activity: “Can you line them up in rows of 10 pieces each? Wow, you have eight rows of 10; that’s 80 coins!” 

Happy counting!

(And quantifying… and adding, taking away, and sharing equally among.