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Montessori Cards and Counters: Explanation and Presentation

The Montessori cards and counters activity is a mainstay Montessori math activity in classrooms all over the world. It’s also a Montessori homeschooling favorite, as it is fun for children and easy for caregivers to present.

In this article, you will learn what this math material is, its purpose, and how to present it in your home.

image of child working with Montessori cards and counters.

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What are the Montessori Cards and Counters?

Montessori cards and counters is math material presented in the primary years, typically toward the middle of the second year.

It consists of a set of wooden numbered cards and small red wooden circular counters. These generally come in a wooden box with separate compartments for each item.

The purpose of this activity is to help children associate quantities with numbers. Prior to working with this material, children have worked with quantities without numbers, like with the number rods, as well as a couple of other 1:1 correspondence math materials, such as the spindle boxes.

With this activity, children are also introduced to the concepts of odd and even numbers.

Some Montessori schools and parents who Montessori homeschool choose to purchase a set of Montessori numbers and counters instead of the cards and counters and this is an acceptable alternative.

The materials are very similar and accomplish the same goals. The only difference is the numbers and counters have the added sensorial component of the child being able to feel the shape of the numbers.

Montessori schools often have only one set of either material, not both.

There are also sets available that contain both cards and numbers along with the counters. This is also a perfectly acceptable alternative to the Montessori cards and counters material.

There would just be an added step in the presentation.

Some Montessori teachers and parents choose the number cards as they find the loose numbers to be both distracting and frustrating for some children. Children will sometimes focus on lining up the loose numbers just right and quit the activity before the counters have even been placed.

If you are planning on presenting this Montessori activity in your home, these are things to consider.

Direct aims of Cards and Counters activity

  • associating quantities with number symbols
  • counting and sequencing

Indirect aims

  • introduction to the concept of odd and even numbers
  • prepares a child for future work with remainders
  • prepares child for future skip counting

Points of interest

  • the pattern of counters
  • the different visual effect of odd and even numbers
  • putting the counters below each number

Control of error

  • the total number of counters in the set

Montessori Cards and Counters activity Presentation

  • Invite the child to carefully carry the cards and counters box to the table for an activity.
  • Remove each card from the box and place them around the table in random order.
  • Ask the child to find the 1-card and place it on the left side of the table.
  • Ask the child to find the 10-card and place it on the right side of the table. (If you are using the numbers and counters material, show the child how to put a 1 and a 0 together to make 10.)
  • Ask the child to order the remaining cards between 1 and 10.
  • Point to the 1-card and say, “One”, and place a counter below it, saying, “One” as you lay it down.
  • Point to the 2-card and say, “Two”.
  • Place a counter below the 2-card and to the left and say, “One”, and place another counter to the right of the first counter and say, “Two”.
  • Repeat the procedure for the 3-card and place the third counter below and to the center of the first 2 counters and say, “Three”.
  • Continue with this procedure and invite the child to participate when they feel ready.
  • When all the counters have been placed, invite the child to name each number card and count the number of red counters below.
  • Ask your child to return the material to the shelf or see if they would like to try the activity themselves.

Cards and Counters Montessori extensions

Differentiating odd and even numbers

After the initial activity has been correctly completed, sit with the child to notice with them the differences in the composition of the counters below each number card.

They should notice that some numbers have counters that are not paired up. Explain to the child that the numbers with only paired counters are called even numbers and the numbers with an unpaired counter are called odd numbers.

Odd and even number identification

Invite the child to order the number cards without laying the counters below them. Then, ask the child to identify which are even and which are odd.

The child can check to see if they are correct by placing the proper number of counters under the number cards.

After the child has mastered this extension, the number cards can be randomly scattered on the table and the child can be invited to identify them as even or odd when they are out of order.

Sorting by odd and even nubers

Write on 2 index cards, “Odd” and “Even” and place one card on each side of the table.

Invite the child to place each number card below the “Odd” or “Even” index card where it belongs.

The child, again, can check their work by placing the proper number of counters below each number card.

This is a great math activity that my children all reach for on a regular basis. They find it fun and engaging, even after they have mastered it.

Have you introduced this material in your home? If so, how much did your child enjoy it?

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