It’s hard to think of a way to make maths more attractive to a child than with a treasure chest of jewels. The Montessori Short Bead Stair is appealing to adults and children alike. It is irresistibe! There’s something about the colours, the compartments, the order, the shiny surfaces which is so inviting that you want to find out what this box is all about.
What is the Montessori Short Bead Stair
The beads are a material used by children throughout their primary school years to learn mathematical facts and processes. From straightforward counting to simple processes like counting on and addition to step counting and even multiplication and the decimal system the Montessori beads have a role to play in it all.
In Montessori mathematics is always concrete. Children can hold mathematical realities in their hands, they understand the physical properties first and pair them with the abstract (number names and symbols) second. The point isn’t just to count the beads, they allow multi sensory learning as the child identifies the quantity by its colour, length or even weight. For example one will always be a single red bead wether it represents just one unit (one red bead) or 11 units (one gold ten bar and one red bead) or 111 (a gold 100 square, a gold 10 bar and a red bead)
How To Use The Montessori Short Bead Stair
Here’s some of the first activities we did with Alfie using the Montessori Short Bead Stair.
Building the Triangle
This is the ‘official’ activity of the Short Bead Stair. The activity is very simple, a child simply arranges the beads in order from 1-10. The material is self-correcting as the bars won’t form a a triangle if a bar is misplaced. It was the first activity we did and Alfie didn’t enjoy it! He did it when asked but it killed the wow factor of the beads just a little bit!
Modified Snake Game
This is a very simple version of The Snake Game which is a way of teaching addition to older children. In our version Alfie and I build the snake while I tell a silly story about a snake living in the jungle. After that one player closes their eyes while the other removes a bar. When the player opens their eyes they must count the beads on the bar before the gap to find out which bar has been taken. Alfie loves this game!
Alfie’s always pointing out numbers that are relevant to him eg “Oh look, there’s a three that’s my age!” Or “We’ve stopped at petrol pump two.” This showed me he was interested in numbers and starting to read. So we introduced the number symbols as a matching game.
In the future…
I’m going to arrange some worksheet style activities for Alfie with stickers or colouring of the beads.
I’ll also create opportunities for him to see equivalence, eg four individual red beads is equivalent to a yellow four bead bar. This is something we’ve come across when counting up scores after board games but he’s not quite ready for it yet.
I will also create images of bead snakes that total ten, eg a snake made of a four bar and a six bar. These are NOT Montessori activities but Alfie just loves this kind of work so I’m following the child! The beauty of a home education is that you can create your own learning path.
Memories of The Short Bead Stairs
I LOVED this material as a child. I remember having a sort of ‘friendship’ with the beads. For example I loved the colours of 3, 4, 5 and 6 while I thought 1 and 2 were great because they were so tiny. I disliked the colours of 8 and 9 and avoided working with them when I could! The 10 gold bar was also part of the super fancy golden bead tray that looked to me like a pirates treasure chest, only the older kids could use it and I worked so hard to be able to use them! Funnily enough when I left Montessori at age 10 (and lost all access to physical maths) the times tables and sums I struggled with all involved an 8 or a 9!
It might also be worth mentioning that in our school there was a choice of beads, ones made from printed strips of wood or ones made of beads. Myself and my friends usually chose to work with the materials made of individual beads. They were far more interesting not to mention detailed than the flat alternatives.