Montessori Math Number Rods


Montessori Number Rods, Sandpaper Numbers, and Spindles are first concrete numeracy materials to introduce math to a toddler or preschooler starting at about two-years-old.

Traditional Montessori mathย materials are excellent to teach a young child about quantity versus numeral association.ย In the early Montessori mathย curriculum, Number Rods are among the very firstย math materials to introduce to a toddler at around two-and-a-half years of age, followed by Sandpaper Numbersย and then by Spindles. With the help of these concrete materials, a child learns numeracy through hands-on lessons rather than abstractly. ย 

After a child is familiar withย SENSORIALย Red Rods, you would start with a MATHย curriculum, by introducing the Number Rods (which have red and blue segments).ย During this lesson, we are combiningย Numbers Rodsย with number cards, spindles from the Spindle Box, andย Sandpaper Numbers. ย ย 

Adrian has been counting till ten in two languages since about at 27 months, however, I realized that heย memorized the number sequence abstractly (like we recite a heart-learned poem). ROTE counting is very different from RATIONAL counting. Thus, we need to work on number recognition and quantity association, becauseย when I would ask him to show me the numeral (“Where is number 2?”), he would getย confused. So, it was time for Numbers Rods (also called Montessori Numerical Rods) ~ learning that one is small and ten is big!

Montessori NUMBER RODS


Toddlers need gross-motor stimulation, so positionย the Rods stand in the other room to offer a childย an opportunity for movement. Ask a toddler to start bringing rods one by one startingย with the smallest unit “1” (limiting to 3 rods per presentation.) Start with a Montessori Three Period Lesson.

Montessori 3 Three Period Lesson:

  1. (P1) โ€œThis is 1, this is 2, โ€ฆ.3โ€ – introducing the quantity, actual rods (for example, for the “two rod” you can take a single unit rod and show 2 parts … we are just making 1 bigger)
  2. (P2) โ€œWill you show me 1? Will you show me 2? โ€ฆ 3? “
  3. (P3) โ€œWhat is this? โ€œ

*If a child makes a mistake, rather than correcting, reiterate the lesson. For example, if, to your question: โ€œWill you show me 2?” the child points to 1, you may proceed by saying: โ€œThis is 1, This is 2. Will you show me 2?โ€

For more, read here a post on Montessori 3๐Ÿ…ฟ๏ธ๐ŸŒ  Three Period Lesson in Action (using First Phonetical Set: s m a t).


Once a child very concretely understands that rods have a different numerical value simply by feeling the difference in size and weight, you can add an extension to this lessonย by usingย number cards. By integrating number cards, a child will be able toย associate quantity (holding actual rods) to an abstract concept of numbers/numerals (symbols we choseย to represent the actual quantity). Here, the 1st Period would have a slight variation:

  1. ย (P1) โ€œThis is 1โ€ (lay an actual rod),ย andย โ€œThis says 1โ€ (show a numeral card)
  2. (P2)Will you show me 1?”
  3. (3) What is this?”


Adrian is exploring the quantity, as he applies abstract number memorization to practical implementation by counting three spindles.


He then placesย spindlesย next to the “3” numeral – a symbol representing aย quantity ofย actual rods he just counted.


Adrianย would then find the corresponding numeral amongst the Sandpaper Numbers trace it, and place next to its quantity.

For the 2nd Period, ย โ€œWill you show me?”ย Adrian accurately points to all three numbers. However, with theย 3rd Period:What is this?” he doesn’tย always get it right.

DSC_1159Second Period: “Show me 1” – he finds one and traces it.


With a Three Period Lesson, you would generally introduce three numbers at a time, so you would stop at number three. To instill the love of learning, we shouldย end before the child’s attention span starts to wane, or the childย becomes tired, overwhelmed, or overstimulated. The next time, you would introduce the next three numbers and so on. When the child is familiar with all numbers rods, you may also show that a larger number rod is made up of smaller units. ย 


Byย counting the “8-rod” using “1ย unit-rod”, he realizes that number 8 is comprised ofย 8 units!ย 


Having the muscular impression of length really solidifies the concept that 8 is big!ย 


The difference between the Numbers Rods and Red Rods is that the former is a math material (Numbers Rods), while the latter (Red Rods) isย a sensorial material. Red rods is aย material for teaching length:ย where the shortestย piece is a unit of measurement for all the rest. As such, the second piece is double the first, the third is three times the first, etc., and, whilst the scale of length increases by ten centimeters for each piece, the other dimensions remain constant (i.e., the rods all have the same section). Presentation: show the child how to carry each rod to the mat by holding each rod at the top with one hand and at the bottom with the otherย in an upright position as to not bump into others (such gives the child a muscular impression of length). The rods should beย randomly placed on the mat. Show the child how to build the rods starting with the shortest rod. Then, using your middle and index finger lightly trace along the entire length of the rod. Find the next longest rod. Bring it into position next to and above the previous rod and trace along its length again etc till the stair is entirely built. Pause and admire the stair and then mix up the rods and invite the child to try. Once the child has successfully built the stair, show him how to fit the shortest rod into each successive stair. Put them away starting with the longest first.ย 



Here is a FUN extension for Number Rods! Find small objects that will fit on each segment and COUNT UP! This lesson is also great to reinforce RATIONAL counting, 1:1 correspondence, and the concept of cardinality. Cardinality is the total number/quantity of items in a set โ€” your last counted manipulative. That is the cardinal number for each rod will be the number displayed on a wooden card.


Here, we are using animal figureens to practice important counting skills! Invite your child to place an animal on each rod’s segment.ย  One ~ giraffe. Two~ a lion and a lioness. Three ~ deer family. Four ~ gorilla family. Five ~bears: brown, black and a polar bear and their cubs. Six ~ family of cats: black panther, tiger, jaguar, cheetah,ย and a leopard.ย  Seven ~ horses.ย  Eight ~ farm family. Nine ~ birds. Ten ~ forest animals.ย 

Tell me and will I forget. Teach me and I will remember. INVOLVE me and I will learn!

Benjamin Franklin

Children learn BEST when they are engaged in what they are doing!ย  So, to teach them RATIONAL COUNTING, offer them to TOUCH each manipulative as they coun ALOUD, matching each number to the corresponding numeral! Thatโ€™s 1:1 correspondence in a nutshell! We want a child to match a set of objects to its corresponding numeral and recognize that a number is a symbol we use to represent quantity! Young children often learn โ€œrote countingโ€ without having an understanding ofย  1:1 correspondence! Children might count till ten just like a heart-learned poem! (That is they memorize the numerical order without really understanding what each quantity means.) To lean RATIONAL counting, they need to learn to associate quantity to numeral! How? PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!

Rote vs. Rational Counting

The difference between ROTE and RATIONAL counting is that the former is a process of sequentially memorizing number names while the latter is the process of understanding number value. Merely reciting numbers in order, just like a heart-learned-poem, does not indicate the actual mathematical understanding of numbers. Thus, once a child is able to count to 5 or 10, shift focus from making that number bigger to making sure that a child can reliably count a small number of manipulatives and assign that quantitative sum to a numeral. Trust me, 1:1 correspondence is a much better indication of your childโ€™s mathematical mastery than a long list of memorized numbers. And the best part, you can introduce 1:1 correspondence starting at an early age by modeling through hands-on Montessori math materials, real-life manipulative (like counting objects), and hands-on DIYs. Invite your child to TOUCH each object and provide various hands-on invitations to count, by offering play dough, buttons, beans, blocks, Lego pieces, food items, etc. Make sure that experiences are fun and engaging in order to sustain curiosity and develop the love for numbers and math.

Please always supervise your child.

Have you downloaded my NEW eBook THE BASICS? It has everything you need to know to get started on your Montessori journey, as well as a CURRICULUM outline reference guide, the order of lessons, and the age when they should be introduced, in my opinion. See details HERE.


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