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The Montessori Snake Game: Addition and Subtraction with Colored Beads

Montessori math is taught in a unique way – set apart from other methods of learning by its sensorial and concrete-to-abstract approach. The Montessori Snake Game is a Montessori math material that embodies Montessori’s approach to math.

In this article, you will learn all about the Addition and Subtraction Snake Games (Negative Snake Game), how to present them, and get activity extension ideas.

Videos and shopping links are included to make your Montessori math journey a bit easier, as well.

image of colored bead bars laid out for Montessori Snake Game.

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What is the Montessori Snake Game?

The Montessori Snake Game is an enjoyable math activity that is introduced in the primary years.

The essence of this activity is that the child looks at an equation that has been written out for them, builds a “snake” with Colored Bead Bars, then makes exchanges to come up with a total. (Addition)

For subtraction, also called the Negative Snake Game, the child looks at a pre-written equation, builds a snake out of Colored Beads and grey negative bead bars, then subtracts and makes exchanges to come up with the total.

The Addition Snake Game is introduced to the child first and toward the beginning of the child’s 3rd year of a Montessori primary program (around the age of 5) and the Subtraction Snake Game is introduced later in the year, with the introduction of several other Montessori math activities in between the two.

The purpose of the Montessori Snake Game is to let children work with concrete representations of numbers while practicing the memorization of combinations of ten.

It’s great practice for counting and making exchanges, as well.

Aims of the Montessori Snake Game

  • To aid the the memorization of addition combinations and subtraction facts.
  • Practice with addition with combinations of 10 and subtraction with minuends 10 or less

Indirect aims

  • Preparation for working with multiplication, division, negative numbers, and algebra
  • Practice with exchages
  • To experience addition and subtraction sensorially
  • Practice with equivelents

Control of error

  • The child’s own ability to count
  • Exchanging the Snake Game Bead Bars for 10-bars of the Golden Bead material and the remaining Snake Game Bead Bars with Colored Bead Bars.

Points of interest

  • Constructing the snake
  • Exhanging the bead bars and counting back the bead bars (for subtraction)
  • Working with the indicator

Materials

  • felt (Many Montessori schools use red or green felt. Many teachers find this useful, but not entirely nessecary. Whatever color you choose, the color of the beads should not blend in.)

You can use the same bead material for both the Addition and Subtraction Snake Games if you choose, however, the Subtraction Snake Game uses grey bead bars in addition to the other 3 boxes of bead bars.

So, if you are planning on buying one set of materials for both operations, you should invest in the Subtraction Snake Game material.

Just be sure to store the grey beads until your child is ready for the subtraction presentation, as it will be a distraction for them during the addition presentation.

Note: It is recommended for caregivers and teachers to practice this Snake Game on their own a few times prior to introducing it to a child.

How to present the Montessori addition Snake Game

  • Ask the child to carry the Addition Snake Game to the table.
  • Lay the felt on the table in front of the child and take the boxes off the tray, placing them to the top of the felt and order them from left to right as follows: black and white bars, Colored Bead Bars, Golden 10-bars.
  • Put the indicator down near the black and white bars.
  • Using the black and white bars, slowly demonstrate for the child how to build a stair at the top left corner of the felt.
  • Tell the child the black and white bead bars are going to be used as both placeholders and as a remainder, if needed.
  • Ask the child to lay out the Colored Bead Bars from left to right in the shape of a snake using the equation to show them which bars they need.
  • Ask the child to accompany you in counting all the beads in groupd of ten.
  • Begin counting the beads from left to right and when you get to the 10th bead in the snake, show the child how to use their finger to keep track of where they stopped counting while you insert the indicator. (Inster after 10th bead.)
  • Ask the child to count the number of beads that are on that bar after the indicator.
  • Say the two totals. For example, if there are 2 bead left after the first 10-count, say, “Ten and two.”
  • Place a Golden 10-bar and a black bead bar from the boxes (the quantity of the remainder after 10, 2 in the example above) horizontally and directly above the area of the snake with which you are working.
  • Take the indicator off and put the 2 color bars that have already been counted in the empty black box.
  • Ask the child to place the Golden 10-bar and the black bar in place of the Colored Bead Bars.
  • Invite the child to again count the beads till they get to 10, starting with the back beads.
  • Repeat the process, returning the black bead bars to the black and white bead stair and putting the Colored Bead Bars to the black box.
  • Continue in this manner until the child has constructed a golden snake. If the total number of beads is not a multiple of 10, there will be either a black or black and white bead bar at the end.
  • Invite the child to figure out the total nuber of beads in the snake by counting the Golden 10-bars and adding the total of the black and white bead bar onto it.
  • Show the child how to check their work by counting the total of the bead bars that have been returned to the black box. (See the below extensions.)
  • Invite the child to perform another equation or have them return each set of bead bars to their proper boxes.

Addition Snake Game extension activities

Writing equations for the Addition Snake Game

Lay out the Colored Bead Bars and have the child write the equation on a slip, then solve it by playing the Addition Snake Game. Then have her record the sum.

You can also invite the child to record the equation in multiples of 10 with a remainder if there is one. For example, after the child has written 7+9+2+5=23, they can write 10+10+3=23.

Checking your work (The control of error in the Montessori Addition Snake Game)

After the snake has been transformed to gold, ask the child to arrange the Golden 10-bars and the black and white bead bar, if there is one, vertically and to the left side of the felt mat.

Then, ask the child to arrange the Colored Bead Bars used in the game vertically and to the right side of the mat, in order from largest to smallest.

Place one Golden 10-bar horizontally in the middle of the felt.

Ask the child to use the Colored Bead Bars to make chains of 10 and place them horizontally and to the right of the Golden 10-bar. For example, an 8 bead bar would be paired with a 2 bead bar and placed to the right of the Golden 10-bar.

The child can use the Colored Bead Bars to make exchanges as needed until there are no more possible combinations to make 10.

Have the child compare the quantities of Golden 10-bars with the “10-bars” they constructed using Colored Bead Bars to see if they are the same.

How to present the Montessori substraction Snake Game

  • Have the child carry the Snake Game tray to the table.
  • Lay the felt on the table in front of the child and take the boxes off the tray, placing them to the top of the felt and order them from left to right as follows: black and white bars, Colored Bead Bars, grey negative bead bars, Golden 10-bars.
  • Have the child build a stair with the black and white bead bars and place the indicator below the stair.
  • Invite the child to make a snake using the Colored Bead Bars and grey negaive bead bars from left to right following the equation. (Explain to the child that the grey bead bars represent quantities that are to be subtracted.)
  • Invite the child to count the beads, use the indicator, and make exchanges just as they have done with the Addition Snake Game.
  • When the child reaches a grey bar, ask them to stop counting and remind them that the grey beads represent the quantitiy that is to be subtracted.
  • Ask the child to count the number of beads only on the grey bead bar.
  • If the quantity of the grey negative bead bar is 7 (just and example), demonstrate to the child how to subtract 7 from the snake by counting 7 beads from right to left, starting at the last bead in the Colored Bead Bar that comes before the grey bead bar. (Place they grey negative bead bar and the Colored Bead Bars in the black box.)
  • Place the indicator at the point where the child stops counting, remove the neccessary Colored Bead Bars, and make an exhange with the black and white bead bars is needed.
  • Tell the child that the snake is now going to be shorter and have them reconnect the snake.
  • Continue until the snake has been tranformed to golden.
  • Invite the child to figure out the total nuber of beads in the snake by counting the Golden 10-bars and adding the total of the black and white bead bar onto it.
  • Invite the child to check their work. (See the activity extension below.)
  • Invite the child to perform another equation or have them return each set of bead bars to their proper boxes.

Subtraction Snake Game extension activities

Checking your work (The control of error in the Montessori Addition Snake Game)

After the child has transformed the snake into gold, have them place the Golden 10-bars and the black and white bead bars vertically and to the left side of the felt mat.

Ask the child to remove the grey bead bars from the black box and place them vertically and to the right side of the felt mat in order from largest to smallest. The child should then remove the colored bead bars and place them to the right of the grey bead bars they just laid out, vertically and in order from largest to smallest.

Have the child put the largest grey bead bar horizontally in the center of the mat. Then, have them place a Colored Bead Bar of the same quantity to the right of it.

Repeat this process, making exchanges when needed and returning the grey and colored beads to the black box as matches are made.

Ask the child to them match Golden 10-bars and black and white bead bars to the Colored Bead Bars, just as they did with the Addition Snake Game. If they match up, the child performed the activity correctly.

Writing equations for the Subtraction Snake Game

Lay out the Colored Bead Bars and grey negative bead bars and have the child write the equation on a slip, then solve it by playing the Subtraction Snake Game. Then have them record the answer.

Just as with the Addition Snake Game extension activity, the child can record the equation using multiples of 10, as well.

After looking over the presentation instructions for the Montessori Addition Snake Game and the Montessori Subtraction Snake Game, you might feel a bit intimidated – don’t be.

The videos I have included are really helpful in showing how fun and interesting the Montessori Snake Game really is. Children really do love this activity!

After playing the Montessori Snake Game a few times on your own, you should feel comfortable and confident enough to show a child how to play.

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