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Montessori Math: Introducing Number Symbols

I feel like a broken record saying this, but so much of our day right now is numbers. Teddy just really loves them right now. Earlier this year, I started brining out some of our Montessori work that connects the concept of quantity to the actual symbols. 

Disclaimer here is that I’m not planning on full time homeschooling Teddy. This is for fun this year to fulfill developmental needs I’m seeing in him while he was too young to start school. So, this might look a bit differently than it would in a strict Montessori classroom. These are the ways we support this learning using Montessori and Montessori friendly materials here at home. 

Montessori at Home: Introducing Number Symbols in Preschool

Once my toddlers have a solid understanding of quantity and are starting to more accurately count in context, I introduce the number symbols. I do this through the sandpaper numbers. I present them three numbers at a time starting with one, two, three. Then, moving up to 9. Zero I introduce on it’s own at the very end. 

Montessori preschooler sits at home and places colorful chip counters on top of silicone number symbols as he learns to count.

When I’m presenting these numbers I’m very careful to say, “this says four.” I always want to make the distinction that the numbers aren’t the actual quantity but a representation of that quantity. It’s a small distinction and I don’t go into other explanations with Teddy at this time. 

Once I’ve introduced the number symbols it’s just a matter of providing some opportunities for practicing. While the sandpaper numbers are a great material, in and of themselves I don’t find that my children have reached for them a ton on their own. So having a few different materials to connect quantity to the symbols has been helpful. These aren’t necessarily materials to learn what to do with the numbers (not introducing operations) but work to help learn the language around the number and how much that really represents. 

Montessori Friendly Math Materials to Consider for Early Counting

Montessori toddler uses wooden board to count jelly beans as he learns numbers in his Montessori playroom

There are so many toys or materials that you could find to support a love of counting and math as you teach number symbols in preschool. Far too many to even list. So instead of listing them all, I look for a couple things when I am choosing Montessori friendly math materials:

  1. Concrete/Tactile: I want there always to be a concreteness to the work that a child can manipulate 
  2. Control of Error: It should be pretty obvious if the child has the right quantity connected to the number symbol. I want to be able to remove adult correction, 
  3. Connecting Symbol to Quantity: I want materials that reinforce the quantity and symbol together. The numbers alone are fine, but better if we can see what they mean. 

For us, these specific materials have been really popular with Teddy at 3.5-years-old:

We will stay with the concept of numbers and quantity for a long time. Eventually I will introduce the concept of writing the numbers on their own, but Teddy isn’t quite at that point yet. Operations will come closer to 4 and beyond. I want to really make sure he is very comfortable with the number symbols before moving on. 

Introducing numbers in Montessori is a big step for any child. It’s been a fun one to be able to watch unfold at home and these materials have really helped!

Montessori takes a unique approach to introducing numbers to children, here is a look at how and when we introduce numbers in our Montessori home. This includes which toys and activities we use to help our toddlers and preschoolers learn their numbers.

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.


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