Mathematics · Threes to Sixes

Crafting Math Beads

Some worry that because Montessori students choose their own work, they will be left with massive knowledge gaps in the areas in which they have little inherent interest. I’m of the opinion that regardless of the pedagogy one is taught under, knowledge acquisition is a choice and cannot be successfully forced upon unwilling students. Thus one important measure of a good teacher (Montessori or not) is how well they can inspire their students to opt into their learning. It is a gift we give children when we help them make the connection between that which they love and that which they must learn, when we help them realize that their interests stretch further and run deeper than they by themselves could have imagined.

So… how can we get a craft-focused nearly five-year-old to practice her numbers? Ask her to make the materials herself! I’m setting up my niece with a kit to make her own golden beads – one of Montessori’s incredible concrete math materials. The process of making the materials will, I hope, help her solidify her number knowledge and get her started with addition!

The kit consists of two parts: a tool box with:

  • Wire, 20ft 2mm
  • Wire cutters
  • Needle nose pillars
  • Beads, 300 8mm

And a basket with four empty bags pictorially labeled with the bead creations that are to go in each:

  • Ten single beads
  • Bead chains of lengths 1-10 (one of each)
  • Ten bead chains of length ten
  • One hundred chain consisting of ten ten bead chains linked together

To create a bead chain you:

    Cut a six inch length of wire (measured using the side of the box) with the wire cutters.
    Pinch the very end of the wire with the pliers then twist the wire around the tip of the pliers to create a loop.
    Slide the desired number of beads onto the wire.
    Make another loop (beads should not be able to slide around) and trim extra wire.

Note: The hundred chain should be made out of ten chains looped together, so that it is apparent that 100 is ten 10s.

This work will naturally motivate practice hand-writing numbers since the bead chains will, of course, need labels! And she can use the bead chains of length 1-10 to introduce her younger relatives to counting work.

These beads aren’t just about counting, we can use the single bead and ten-chains to introducing basic arithmetic operations, as well as the concept of exchanging (ten ones is equal to one ten), which is key to our base ten number system.

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