by Jessica Renée
A new visitor to a Montessori classroom will likely notice many unusual and intriguing materials, laid out on wooden shelves, as if calling out to be touched. This is exactly what happened recently at my dual-track school where some classes follow the traditional school model, and other classes follow the Montessori model. We were blending classes to do some Christmas activities and the children from the traditional classes were visiting my Montessori room for the first time. It was interesting to see how many of them were drawn to the beads. They would wander over, touch them gently, comment to each other about how beautiful they are, and then come over to me to ask me what they were for. For this reason, I was inspired to write a brief introduction to these beautiful beads.
The Montessori Bead Stair (a.k.a. the Short Bead Stair or the Colored Bead Stair)
The Bead Stair consists of colored bead bars that concretely represent the numbers from 1-9. These bead bars with their characteristic colors are used to learn countless math concepts from basic counting, to skip counting, to addition, to multiplication, and even to the squaring and cubing of numbers.
The first step is to understand the quantities and the symbols for 1-9. Montessori children also learn the color that is associated with each number.
1 – red
2 – green
3 – pink
4 – yellow
5 – light blue
6 – purple
7 – white
8 – brown
9 – dark blue
In many classes, children also complete extension activities like my Bead Stair booklets.
At first, children may color the beads the wrong color. This simply means that they have not yet mastered the complicated process involved in this work. To complete this work, the child must first count the beads in the booklet, keep that number in mind, find the bead bar with the same quantity of beads, remember the color of that bead bar, choose the matching pencil, and finally color the bead bar in their booklet. They will continue to work with these booklets until they reach mastery. Later, they will move on to learning the teen numbers (i.e. 11-19), skip counting with the chains, and doing linear addition with the Snake Game.
The Golden Beads
The Golden Beads are a key material for teaching the decimal system. It is through the Golden Beads that Montessori children come to understand place value and what it means for a number to consist of units, tens, hundreds, and thousands. Once the children have a solid understanding of quantity and are able to name and form quantities using the beads, they will learn to associate those quantities with their numerical symbols (e.g. 3235). This is often done using the wooden numeral cards and in some cases using extension activities like those in my Golden Bead Booklets.
Because of their concrete nature, the Golden Beads are also used when introducing the concepts of addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division.
Jessica is a Montessori-trained teacher from Vancouver, British Columbia, where she currently teaches a combined Kindergarten and Grade 1 class, in a public school. In Vancouver, public Montessori programs are becoming increasingly popular with parents who want something different from the traditional school model. She also develops Montessori-inspired extension activities to use with her class and to share with others on Teachers Pay Teachers.