Montessori math: Basics for young learners

Math can be a scary topic for many children… And sometimes adults, too! But, by introducing early math skills in a way that is positive, calm, and fun, your young ones will be set up for success once they enter Kindergarten.

At the preschool age, they are ready to discover the exciting world of shapes and numbers, practice problem-solving, and develop spacial awareness skills. Let’s talk about how to do this – The Montessori way!

Is Math Important for a Young Child?

Learning math is critical to your child’s development since math is around us each day. Whether shopping for groceries, measuring out ingredients for your baked goods, or calculating how much paint is needed for a home renovation, we all use math every single day in our adult lives.

Children can practice these life skills through activities such as play and by their caregivers engaging in math talk with them. This will set them up for success as they prepare to enter pre-school or Kindergarten. Studies have also concluded that learning math at a young age increases a child’s future academic success rates.

Today we’re going to look at what the Montessori approach to teaching math is, and how you can implement these strategies at home! This method is an excellent way to introduce your children to mathematical concepts in a fun and engaging way.


If you aren’t yet sure what Montessori education is all about, hop over to my post titled “Montessori Education: Is it Right For You?”


montessori math

Montessori Math: An Introduction 

Since the Montessori method is all about hands-on learning, so it makes sense that most of their activities are focussed on exploring mathematics through manipulation and visual learning.

Sure, worksheets are great for older children, but at this stage of life, math should be simple and fun! That’s why I love learning through the Montessori method.

Maria Montessori developed her method with the understanding that engaging the senses while learning (in this case – touch) results in deeper and longer-lasting learning.

What Do They Learn?

To teach math to young learners, we begin by introducing concrete concepts. An example is counting out circles together, then saying “Good job! You have 5 red circles in your hands!”

Another example, like in the photo above, is when learners use physical materials to represent mathematical problems. The teacher works with concrete materials, like golden beads, wooden rods, or wooden shapes to help connect the number they are learning with an amount. Here, the child can directly associate the number 5 with the number of objects they are physically holding.

Once children have a strong foundation in the concrete, teachers can then move on to explain math through more abstract concepts. Abstraction in math is the kind we use in our adult lives – Where math is represented through equations and symbols rather than manipulative materials.

The Montessori math materials that are used by educators are purposefully designed to develop the child’s mathematical mind, helping them to grasp a concrete understanding of basic math.

Spending time teaching children about math through manipulatives will increase their success once they enter school, too. Many teachers use physical Montessori math materials, like base ten blocks, every single day to help children visualize quantities. Using math materials helps as they learn concepts like counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and place value.


Is Montessori Math Effective?

I sure think so! So do many researchers around the world.

To ensure success, though, it has been argued that the way manipulative objects are used to teach math is imperative in successful promotion of learning. This was found to be especially true for learners aged 3-6 in Laski et al’s study “What Makes Mathematics Manipulatives Effective? Lessons From Cognitive Science and Montessori Education”.

Ultimately, they found 4 emergent principles that increase success in learning Math. The best part about this finding? They can all be reinforced by Montessori-style learning at home!

  1. Manipulative objects have to be used consistently. The longer they are used, the more effective the child’s skill retention is
  2. Begin with the concrete concepts we discussed above (then abstract later!)
  3. Make sure that the objects used for math are not everyday objects & that all the features are relevant (the less distraction, the better)
  4. Clearly explain the relationship between the math problem a child is working on and the objects they are using to solve them

Because Maria Montessori designed her education method around similar principles, Montessori learning materials naturally replicate the findings from the study above.

Before diving in to which products you may want to use in your home, let’s take a better look at #4 on that list. To do this, we are going to re-visit the statement I made at the beginning of the post about math-talk.


math activities for toddlers - montessori education

What is “Math Talk”?

Well, it is exactly what it sounds like! This simply describes math-based conversations that are important to have with your young learners.

Doing this at home supports the skills they are learning through manipulative play while helping them to connect the abstract relationships between numbers and real-world objects.

The ways that we can do this are never-ending, but here are some great examples for the preschool level. Not all of them use manipulatives, but these should give you an idea of how you can help your little ones connect math to the environment around them.

  • Everyday counting: You can incorporate counting into almost any activity!
    • When putting away toys you could say “I see three blocks – Can you help me put the three blocks away?
    • While on a walk find an object to count. Try “Look! There are two trees there! Do you see any more trees? I see one more! That makes three trees!”
    • On the swings at the park you could ask “How many times would you like me to push you?” Then count as you push them. After, try “Okay, I pushed you five times… How many more pushes would you like?
  • Casual Conversation:
    • Whenever your child shows interest in numbers, try to count with them using objects or using your fingers. For example, your little one may say something like “2+3=7!” Even though this isn’t correct, it’s still a great learning opportunity. Try saying “Nice math!! Did you know that 2+3 is actually 5? Watch, I’ll show you!” Exemplify this by counting first to 2 on your fingers and then adding 3
  • At the Store: Shopping involves lots of math! Here are some easy examples:
    • Ask your child something like “How many oranges do we need to buy?” Talk through how you figure out how many to buy by counting how many people are in the house and how often they will be eaten
    • If shopping for a specific recipe, you could ask “Do you remember how many bananas we need for banana bread?” Then count them together as you put them in the cart. This is even better if you have the recipe with you! Then they can connect the amount they put in the basket to the amount on the recipe sheet

There are so, so many ways you can engage in math-talk with your little ones. Aim for longevity of conversations and give them the opportunity to test their knowledge by answering open-ended questions. This will help them solidify what they have learned.


montessori math ideas

Where Can I Buy Montessori Math Supplies?

Looking to purchase Montessori materials for your home? Here are a few companies worth browsing!

  • Thinkamajigs: A great Canadian company with a super user-friendly platform. Simply click which age range your children are, fill up your cart, and get to teaching Math at home – Montessori style! 
    • Click here for a direct link to their Math and Geometry products
  • Montessori Outlet: Implement Montessori learning in your home without breaking the bank! 
    • Their Mathematics section has a great range of products that are much more affordable than the items listed below, but they are still great quality.
    • Remember, though, that the prices are in USD! You may need to contact the company to be sure they ship to Canada or any other country, since their Canadian website is not yet ready
    • Also, for an idea of exactly which products are suitable for your child’s age, you may need to surf some of the other websites for ideas as you cannot sort by age on this site
  • Amazon: Of course, Amazon also offers a wide array of Montessori-based sellers

If you are just starting out with Montessori at home, I would also suggest reading Natural Beach Living’s post titled 30+ Montessori Math Activities for Preschool and Kindergarten. There are so many great tips and tricks there, including DIY activities!

Montessori math

AMI Certified Math Educational Products

The following manufacturers create their materials based on Association Montessori Internationale blueprints. This association is the body that oversees Montessori programming and associations worldwide. AMI ensures a high quality standard and offers consistency between the products you will be using at home and what your children will engage with in the classroom.  

  • Nienhuis
    • This site offers international shipping, and has fast become one of the most popular distributors of Montessori materials
    • Unfortunately, you cannot shop by subject, rather by age groups in this shop. That’s fine, too, though! They still have a large variety of products
  • Gonzagarredi
    • This Italian-based company has an excellent international reputation, and allows for shopping based on age and subject
    • If you’re looking to incorporate Montessori furniture into your home, too, then this is a great store to check into!
    • As great as this website is, though, the prices aren’t listed online – rather you need to fill your cart and request a quote

wooden counting toys

Montessori Math Materials

There are many math materials available to help children learn the basics of math. A lot of these will likely be found in the primary classroom, and have been successfully used to teach children the basic operations children need to succeed in math.

Here are some other common Montessori math materials that you may come across:

  • Bead Boards: Small beads used to create mathematical arrays on a wooden board
  • Sandpaper Numerals/Sandpaper Numbers: Tacile number cards meant to help children identify and write numerals and mathematical symbols
  • Ten Boards: Allow children to explore multiples of tens
    • Bead Chains: Pre-counted chains with beads, meant to help children learn the base-ten number system
  • Spindle Boxes: Used to practice counting objects from 1-9. The child places wooden rods into a wooden frame (spindle box) as they count
  • Number Rods: Helps children to understand quantities and numbers while introducing them to the decimal system.

All of these materials are fundamental in the Montessori classroom when teaching young children their basic math facts. In fact, there are many more materials that a Montessori school will likely use to enhance the child’s understanding of mathematical operation. This is by no means an extensive list.

What I hope to establish here, though, is an understanding of the sensorial impression of basic facts, and some of the materials used in te primary Montessori classroom.

Here’s a Few More Resources to Check out:

If you are looking for a more in-depth explanation about Montessori Math, check out the Montessori Primary Guide. This gives an excellent overview of how young learners are introduced to the Montessori teaching method through mathematics. We can see here how by categorizing math concepts into 5 “families,” this approach introduces children to the concepts of arithmetic, geometry, statistics, and calculus.

Each stage of your child’s development also offers new opportunities for concept introduction! Silver Line Montessori provides a great overview that will help you understand which plane of development your child is in right now.

Essentially, developmental psychology provides the framework for grouping learners together in groups of 3-year increments. This means that there are four ‘planes of development,’ including; Birth-Age 6 (Early Childhood), Ages 6-12 (Childhood), Ages 12-18 (Adolescence), and Ages 18-24 (Maturity). To learn more about what characterizes your child’s stage of development, check out their article here. 

Other Montessori Posts You May Also Want to Read…

Montessori vs. traditional educational methods

Creating a Montessori playroom in your home

Montessori kitchen tips for parents & educators

Elke Crosson

Elke Crosson has her BA in International Relations with a minor in Spanish at UBC (Okanagan). She is currently in her second year of the Master of Teaching program at the University of Toronto, with dreams of becoming an elementary-level teacher.

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