Learning and Development

Montessori numeracy activities – How to teach numbers outdoors

  • Montessori numeracy activities – How to teach numbers outdoors

Learn how Montessori settings teach numeracy and try these outdoor Montessori numeracy activities from Barbara Isaacs…

Research has identified children’s ability to recognise quantity soon after birth. Maria Montessori also acknowledged these unique qualities by speaking about children being born with a ‘mathematical mind’ (Montessori, 2007).

By this, she meant that as children mature they develop an ability to match, pair, sort and classify information and organise it in a logical way.

How do you teach numbers in Montessori?

In Montessori nurseries, children explore and learn to identify shapes. They pair sound cylinders and sort natural materials, such as shells, pebbles and conkers, according to size or texture.

They also develop grading skills when using activities such as the colour tablets. We introduce them to 1:1 correspondence when matching cylinders with appropriate sockets in the cylinder block. Children also explore length, weight and size through their play.

When they’re ready and show interest, we introduce children to counting with the help of number rods and sandpaper numerals.

They gradually learn about both cardinal and ordinal numbers, and their relationships with the written symbol.

Working first with quantities, children focus on sequence as well as patterns of numbers such as odd and even.

At all times children have objects to manipulate and organise to enhance their mathematical understanding.

Decimal system

Unique to Montessori is her approach to the decimal system. We introduce children who know numbers up to ten to the names of the hierarchies within the decimal system. For this we use the bars, squares and cubes made out of the Golden Beads. 

With the help of these ‘fixed quantities’, young children are able to count up to 9,999. To enhance their understanding of the decimal system hierarchies, they have access to numeral cards. These use colour to represent the hierarchies.

The cards also highlight the place value of zero. With the help of these materials, you can introduce children to numerical operations such as addition or multiplication. They have the opportunity to work with large numbers long before they learn to add or subtract units and tens.

Outdoor Montessori numeracy activities

Mathematics activities are easy to plan and prepare outside too. For example, why not number all the nursery bikes, tricycles and scooters?

Attach the same numbers to a fence to act as ‘parking’ places for them. Encourage children to leave them there when they’re finished.

This approach also avoids having a pile of bikes in the middle of the playground or fighting over who uses them and when.

The garden provides opportunities for counting too. Have a collection of pebbles or shells that children can count into flower pots marked by numbers from 0–10. Organise these into a number line by attaching them to a wooden board.

Fill different-sized buckets with sand and weigh them. Encourage children to sort old flower pots by colour or size. Wash and hang up dolls’ clothes on a washing line, sorted by size, colour or garment.

Sunflower seeds or daffodil bulbs are ideal for adding or subtracting. Measure the volume of the watering can by filling it with the help of ladles, cups, jugs or buckets.

Finally, a collection of large packing cases is not only great for making dens and creating large constructions. You can also see how each shape fits inside another or compare the sides of each case to discover if it’s a square or a rectangle, or even an interesting conical shape or pyramid.

The opportunities for outdoor Montessori numeracy activities are endless. Why not try to introduce some of them in your nursery this summer?

Barbara Isaacs is the academic director of Montessori Centre International.