Tag Archives: Montessori Math

My Kids Hate Math

To be perfectly honest…they don’t really hate math. Rather, they hate the repetitive practice of doing math problems on paper.

A picture of Scholastic's Mega-Fun Card-Game Math

A good resource to help reinforce math vocabulary and simple memorization

My kids hate math

I can’t remember disliking math in school. It was pretty easy (except for those proofs in geometry) and I liked how it was complete. There was (seemingly) no open-ended math problems. There was an answer and it was my job to ferret it out and find it. Plus, I was good at memorizing…something I’m sad to say has been greatly diminished by motherhood. Plus, I was good enough that I didn’t have to take any math in college. So, I didn’t. Why is that?

In an attempt to change my children’s attitudes toward math, I’ve been seeking out different math-based activities to help them realize how useful math is in our daily lives. Here are some ways we’ve been playing with math.

1. We played store.
Then, we went to the real store with some money. I gave them each $20 in cash and asked them to buy all of the ingredients for a particular meal. They had their list and my ten-year-old had to add the cost as we went. He had to add up his items (on paper) and be sure that he had  enough money to pay for his groceries. He even finagled some junk food because he had left over money!

A picture of hand-colored paper maps for "sale"

A homemade store is a great way to learn about money.

A picture of money and a calculator.

The kids made their own money and determined what they wanted to “sell” at the store.

2. Before playing store, we played Money Bags. A lot.
I have followed these activities with some paper-based problems (adding and subtracting money with static decimals), but they don’t mind these nearly as much…perhaps because they understand the value of being able to add and subtract with money?

A picture of kids playing the game, Money Bags

A short game that has kids adding money as they “earn” it doing chores.

3. We use legos.
We use them for discussions on area, for counting and creating, and for game markers when playing math games. Yes, they get distracted and start building other things. But, I can usually redirect them. If I can’t, then we put the legos away.

A picture of a sheet of paper with a 1-9 multiplication grid. Also shown are two card - 2, 6

Products and Factors Game from Scholastic’s Mega-Fun Card Games for Math

4. Games, games and more games.
Multiplication Bingo, SUM 20 and ‘Factors and Products’ are paper-based games that we have been using lately. This book has been a wonderful resource and reinforces concepts without resorting to boring paper and pencil work. My kids are in love with this app, and although I don’t think it has a lot of educational value, they think it’s fun to do repetitive math since you get to be a ninja in-between problems.

We also love Zeus on the Loose, Rat-a-Tat-Cat and Addition/Subtraction War.

5. Bedtime Math – Books & App
The parent of one of my students turned me on to these fabulous books. My kids love to listen to these and will beg me to keep reading. Recently, I stumbled across this article and was delighted to see that the FREE Bedtime Math app has been scientifically proven to raise math scores. Woo! I downloaded it that evening to our ipad.

6. Write down their feelings toward math.
Usually, a little reminder about choosing a growth mindset  is enough to get my kids back on track with the right attitude. If that doesn’t work, I recommend letting your child write down their feelings about math on a separate sheet of paper – before doing the math. Are they anxious? worried? hate to struggle or be wrong? Acknowledge their feelings by letting them express them and listen as they describe their feelings about math. After acknowledging these feelings, move on. I don’t argue that they are smart enough or diligent enough to master math. I know they can do those things…and I think they do too. So, I ask them if these feelings help them to learn their math and they say no…and well, that’s that.

A picture of a black line made from electrical tape and a lego EV3 line-following robot

R tested out the robot’s line-following abilities – using the color sensor.

7. Teach them to use Scratch or Lego Mindstorms.
Scratch was meant to be used the way a painter uses paint. Students certainly learn about computer programming by using it, but they can also use it for other projects, such as demonstrating their knowledge of a particular historical event.  As they progress and want to learn how to do more things with Scratch, the more they will encounter various math concepts, such as the xy-grid, random chance or operations. The best part is that students will choose to encounter these complex problems, and all they need is a good facilitator to help make the connection to advanced math concepts. The same could be said for the complexity of the Lego Mindstorms brick (and robots in general). You are introducing very complex terminology (compare, degrees, etc.) before they have technically “learned” about them in math class. And, although they might not grasp the concept completely this way, it will make it much easier to visualize when they do come across it.

8. Be mindful of others who “aren’t good at math.”
We are very social creatures who are heavily influenced by others (even if we try not to be). This is especially true with our attitudes concerning math. Some of us have a lot of anxiety about it and if we pass that onto our children, we can negatively influence them. I think my children might be parroting some friends who struggle with math and in the interest of solidarity, decided that they too don’t like math. Gently remind your children that they use math daily and even if they struggle with it – that’s because their brains are growing. That’s how we learn.

If that’s not tough enough…here’s another study that says that parental attitude toward math can affect children, but only if you help with homework!

9. Spend time doing some math with them.
I know this contradicts the above statement, at least if you are math-phobic, but as a homeschool parent, it might be in my best interest to do some math with them. Notice – I said with them, not for them. I will often try to bow out of doing math with my kids. After all, they need the practice, not me. Besides, I have plenty of other work that I need to be doing. However, I recently read the book Mindstorms, and I realized that they might not see the value in it because they don’t notice when I use math. After all, they see me reading and writing quite often.

It’s something we should consider as teachers…to work on some math…and let our children see us do so. Or, come up with a different way of ‘teaching’ math that doesn’t require abstract learning and memorizing and find a way for them to construct their own knowledge about advanced math concepts. At my house, that might mean I need to invest in some upper-level Montessori materials…

A picture of a K'nex record player with a price tag of $100 and a model of the solar system - sitting on a shelf

This K’nex record player costs $100 because it took a while to make.


The Brick Chronicles :: Lego Addition Problems

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

Picture of lego addition problem 10=8+2

Lego addition problem made by C, age 6.

A few mornings ago, I was working with A to reinforce multiplication facts and was introducing the concept of area, while using graph paper and legos. We had the legos out and that drew the attention of the other two boys. Since C is only six, he gets a pass when it comes to a lot of formal learning…especially now that he is reading chapter books. I tend to let him have a lot more leeway with the type of work that he does. So, when he started playing with the legos, I told him that he had to do something with math. Otherwise, he had free reign. I was envisioning him adding the dots to make numbers, but then he busted out the above addition problem.

“It’s backwards,” my husband whispers to me. Yes and no. He is actually demonstrating a great way of re-writing the problem…something many elementary teachers will recognize.  Kids need to become comfortable with the quantities and learn to play with the numbers and numerals – not just memorize the way it’s set up in their math book. He placed the equal sign on the left, but the problem was correct : 8 + 2 = 10.

Now, I just need to figure out how to make ALL math lessons this intuitive and self-directed. I’m working on it.

And, the answer makes 10.

And, the answer makes 10.

Composition of Numbers

As promised in a previous post, (and a bit of surprise to my scatterbrained self), Ronan is indeed composing numbers up to the thousands place. We start "composing" the numbers last week after a few months of practice with the small card layout and "golden beads."

Beforehand, he was just keeping the units, tens, hundreds, and thousands in proper place order. Then, I added the quantities (one bead set of ten for 10, etc.). After a few months of playing the "bank game," he was ready for making the numbers and moving to the abstract (written) concept.


Add a too-small train conductor outfit with some complex math concepts and voila! Success! (On this particular problem, he was creating numbers himself – then he would read the numbers off to me). With a little help from Calum, of course.


Doesn't this look like the ideal homeschool work environment? As if this wasn't just minutes before Calum decided not to share these layout cards with Ronan, or the fact that Ronan decided he would just take them by force, which then resulted in a crying Calum (removed from the room by me) and an unhappy Ronan (because he was lectured again, about how important it is to use a nice, asking voice when trying to get things back from his brother). But, it all works out in the end…some days just work better than others.


Math and pre-reading

We're combining tens and units (and in another few weeks, hundreds and thousands), both in written form and in bead form. The teens stil give him trouble, but that's normal for most kids. (Those pesky teen numbers which say their unit's number first – fourteen).




The pictures were all taken by Ronan – he was quite proud of his work. These beads are from Montessori Outlet. I like them for math and geography materials, but would not recommend them for language stuff (it's too small and not quite helpful for small hands).

And, since Calum has started to calm down a bit more (and we're doing our lessons pretty consistently in the morning), he wants to do some "work" too.


He matched half of the letters before he got bored and started goofing around. A pretty impressive feat for a barely two-and-a-half year-old. No, he cannot recognize any one letter by sound or by name (though, Ronan and I have started teaching him "m"). This is a homemade alphabet roll. I traced the letters on muslin and painted them with fabric paint. Then, once dried, I sewed double-fold bias tape to the edges which connected the two pieces of muslin (one that was painted and another for the back). I used this in my classroom and it was a requirement for my Montessori certificate.

Montessori and the concept of tens

While we have been doing a few different types of activities these past few weeks, I've really been concentrating on helping Ronan to master some math and language activities. Namely, teens, tens and blends.


He has a special aptitude for math and he really enjoys it (as opposed to say, language activities in which he could leave behind and allow Joey or I to read to him for the rest of his life)! He always wants to "do" math and it's a joy to show him these activities.


In a tradional Montessori classroom, the teens board and the tens board are connected and quite large. But, since this is home and I have small rugs (and didn't cut the numbers as large as the bead tens…), well, we made do with a few spaces in between. A small part of me thinks that it works a bit better.

With the tens, you teach them to equate the units (ten) to the written numeral – ten. And, gently remind them to count the tens as they go, "one ten, two tens, three tens, etc." After they've mastered the quanity to written numeral, then you can go ahead and give them the names of the numerals, i.e. "this is two tens or twenty."

We will continue to do this work over the next few weeks and reinforce the teen numbers (always a tricky one since the name is based on the number of units). And, I've finally gotten into the rhythm of remembering to set up movable alphabet work for Ronan – everyday. He needs everyday.


I had him look at the picture and I told him what it was (especially for putt and dump). Then, he attempted to spell them with the movable alphabet. He checked his work against the written labels and fixed the spellings. (Note: some Montessorians would put these two-letter words with spelling work, but some do not. He can read them just fine, but sounding them out is a bit more difficult — for obvious reasons). He had a hard time hearing some of the separate sounds in the words – especially dump and ring – something about the n and m sounds being so close to another letter. I've also realized that he needs to do his language work earlier in the day since he can't concentrate nearly as well after lunchtime.

We'll continue to work on these works next week – as a reinforcer and so that he can memorize the words. He seems to do a bit better with a whole language approach and I am trying to incorporate that as well.

addition and sewing

I love that as part of my homeschool "curriculum" for Ronan, I can include both addition and sewing and they both are equally loved by this child. These activities were on the schedule for the week and he chose when and where to do them.

Addition with Objects (red is the preferred color that AMS Montessorians choose for addition work):


The second time he did this work (on Saturday, no less), he turned to me and said, "Mom, this is boring. I already know this stuff." Ha ha. And, he's right, sort of. Adding numbers to make ten or less is a simple concept for him, But, I told him that once he could look at one of those problems and know the answer, then he would be truly finished with it. (He's done it with the plus 1 problems). However, it was a good thing for him to hear the words: addition and plus and equals. So, after he decided he had mastered addition, he went to work some more on his embroidery work.

Earlier in the week, I had introduced him to the concept of an embroidery hoop — complete with a requested car drawing. He finished it within an hour and only got stuck a few times. (Of course, I did tie a knot so the thread wouldn't slip out and we did talk about making knots – a work for another day, I think).


And, while I am completely impressed with his skills and interest in this project, it was his next initiative that I think is the most important. Immediately after finishing the car, he wanted to do another one (or make a small pillow). I asked him what he wanted next – maybe a tractor or a fire engine? I would find a line drawing and set it up for him the next day. Well, in the morning, I awoke to him presenting me with his very own drawing of a semi-truck. And, with only some minor alterations, his next project was born.


So far, we are both liking this homeschool thing.

Learning numerals 1-5, Montessori-style

I had every intention of posting about some of the very cool books I have been reading lately, but I've got Montessori on the brain (I'm finishing up my 3-6 Language album). I've been skimming my pictures as I write and I came across these two:


(Sea-Life matching)
These are two activities I came up with for my Montessori math album originals. Since I am not teaching this year, these two activities were created specifically for my son, who turned three in November. I don't have the sandpaper numerals and they were never a big hit in my classroom with the younger kids. So, I was trying to think of a way to continue to expose him to the numerals 1-5 and their associated quantities. Ta-da!

(Play-doh numeral shapes)
This activity was based on a reverse of another I saw at the training. I was hoping to get him to notice the shapes of the numerals by filling them in with play-doh (or salt-dough). Unfortunately, in September, when I tested these on him, this was a little too advanced. But, I am happy to say that he is now making a few of the numerals – and I see him trace them with his finger. Ooh – I am so making some sandpaper numerals (or salt dough numerals) for him this weekend. Plus, he expanded this work and we started to make little balls to fill in the black dots.

He has outgrown the Sea-Life Matching and has 1-5 and their corresponding quantities down pat. I am brainstorming a new activity that will address numerals 6-10 in the same manner.