Montessori Math: The Golden Bead Material, part 1

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How does Montessori teach math?

Remember how daunting math became for you when the numbers started getting longer and longer? I remember being introduced to multiplication and division around the age of 7, and by the age of 10, I was officially bored and had lost all interest in math. It was never presented in a concrete manner and never in an exciting way. The good news for our Montessori children, is that math is presented to them in a totally different way: Concrete and fun!

A set-up for introducing the Golden Bead Material.

If you are familiar with Montessori math at all, you know that the emphasis is on manipulatives over memorization, particularly in the primary years. The Golden Bead Material is brilliantly designed to allow a child to gain a tactile and muscular sensation of the numbers 1 to 1,000. These golden colored beads are presented in units and wired together in bars of 10, squares of 100, and cubes of 1,000. Not only does the Golden Bead Material further the child’s understanding of quantities, but it also introduces them to the decimal system.

The child’s first introduction to the material consists of a simple presentation, inviting the child to handle each of the quantities. The teacher might ask some questions, prompting the child to take mental note of the characteristics of each of the quantities. The teacher also introduces the child to the vocabulary that goes along with the bead quantity. At this point in their learning, the child may not yet be familiar with the words “unit”, “hundred”, and “thousand”.

Madeline, exploring a unit, ten, hundred, and thousand.

But why have primary-age children work with numbers in the thousands? What is the purpose?

The answer to this question is part of Dr. Montessori’s brilliant method of observing children to assess their interests and capabilities, instead of assuming their capabilities based on traditional standards. Though initially the Golden Bead Material was intended for elementary-age students, Dr. Montessori observed children around the age of 4 using the material in the same way they had seen it used by the older children. By the age of 6, these same children were performing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division on numbers in the thousands! Incredible! 

Madeline, discovering the Golden Bead Material.

Whether your child is enrolled in a Montessori primary program or if your family does Montessori at home, this material is sure to help your child experience joy in math!




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