In a Montessori Math curriculum, after introducing Number Rods (see a post here) at about two years of age, Sandpaper Numbers are generally introduced next (see a post here). The third math material is usually a Spindle Box (buy here), which teaches a child the difference between the numeral (a 🔢 number/symbol written on a wooden box's slot) and quantity (substance, like when a child is holding actual spindles in his/her hands). The box has numerals zero to nine written on separate slots, and a child concretely learns that one is not a much, while nine is a lot!
Presentation: while pointing to the numeral (symbol) written on the wooden slot, say:
- “This says 0. It is empty; there is nothing." So, a child will not place any spindles in that compartment.
- "This says 1." Then, hand a child one spindle and say: "This is 1. Would you please place 1 spindle in the box that says 1."
With Adrian (at 35 months), rather than handing spindles to him, I would ask him to get spindles from the bucket and place them in the corresponding slots. Starting with number eight, Adrian could no longer hold all the spindles with just one hand, thus he knew very concretely that eight is big, and nine is even bigger!
To reinforce the concept of more/less, bigger/smaller ask the child, who will be holding the spindles in each hand: which number is bigger?
At this age, it is amazing how fast children progress! Just recently, at 31 months, while using the Sandpaper Numbers (read a post here), Adrian could only successfully complete a Three-Period Lesson with numerals one through three, answering correctly "What is this number?" With numerals four, five and so forth, however, he would confuse the number's names. Nevertheless, three months later, at 34 months, Adrian was able to correctly complete the entire Three-Period Lesson with wooden puzzle numerals one through ten in a Numerals vs Quantity post (see here). Now, a month later, he is very comfortable with numerals one through ten, and he can visually discern which number is smaller/bigger even without holding actual spindles in his hands.
Next, we are trying an extension of Spindle Box lesson by adding Sandpaper Numbers (buy here).
Adrian would first trace the sandpaper number with his finger.
He would then choose the corresponding number of spindles from the bucket, and then place the spindles in the correct slot of the spindle box.
Reinforcing the concept of a numeral (sandpaper number) vs quantity (spindles).
💡TIP: To promote gross motor control, place a bucket with spindles in a different room, so that the child can run and get the spindles every time. Adrian definitely learns better when we incorporate gross-motor movement.
Another game we like to play to facilitate number recognition with Sandpaper numbers is to keep few sandpaper numbers face up, and give a child fun simple instructions:
The goal of this game is to reinforce number recognition and have the child pick the correct number while following fun instructions.
Another fun game we play is "Knock-knock" game. Start with just three numbers (1-3) and then add numbers gradually as the child becomes more proficient. The game: the numbers are mixed up and are turned facing down. The child would knock, turn the number over, and he would say its name.
Montessori Spindle Box is also an easy DIY activity using any compartments such as utensils organizers, stationary compartments and so forth.
Since Spindle Box teaches a child the difference between a numeral and a quantity, you can write the numerals on a piece of paper and place in each corresponding slot and use something of substance to represent quantity like pens, crayons, or pencils or popsicle sticks. (See here a post on DIYs.) The purpose of this activity is to teach a child a quantitative difference in a numerical size: that one is small and ten is big, and such can be achieved with a variety of materials in your home.
I hope that Montessori materials will help your child understand abstract concepts more concretely and with ease and develop a lifelong love of learning!