Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cards and Counters - Which One Would You Want To Work With?

At the Centennial Celebration and refresher course in San Fransisco, we were encouraged not to only use the catalog version of the cards and counters that are found in so many primary classrooms but to also make our own. The speaker said that Mario Montessori asked that beautiful things be used for the counters such as beads, shells and semi-precious stones.

I take an extra look at this material when I substitute in various classrooms so as to see if the teacher has put together one herself or purchased one. Today I photographed a child using a cards and counters material that I was drawn to myself. I wanted to sit down and do the work after him just so that I could touch it and experience its beauty.

Besides the aesthetic quality of the material, I really liked that the object for the one was larger than several of the objects used for greater quantities like 6 or 9. I have found that a child making a short bead stair will be thrown off if the bead bar for 4 is longer in length than the one for 7. This happens when a bead bar is lost and is replaced with one from another set.

On many occasions, I have told children to count the bead bars and note their quantity, rather than visually assessing one to be larger and therefore judging it to have more value. But, again and again, I have seen children become upset as their sense of order tells them its incorrect.

In today's set of cards and counters, the objects are the same if they collectively represent a specific quantity. Their common attribute is that they have something to do with the ocean or beach - shells and sea glass.

Look at each picture below and ask yourself which one you would want to work with. Let me know via your comments.

Catalog cards and counters:



The cards and counters in today's classroom:


(I just noticed he has three shells under the 3 and the 4. I am substituting in the same class tomorrow. I will check to see if there is a shell missing...)


P.S. Montessori said...

I actually really love the catalog cards -- the actual cards (the ones I have are the cut outs), but not so much the counters. For this reason, I use little bells for counters. So I like both. I don't like that the objects aren't the same size, it bothers me for some reason.

While we're on the subject, some of my cut out numbers have broken. Any suggestions for making beautiful cut out numbers or cards?

Susan Y. Dyer said...

I have seen some beautiful numbers in craft stores for scrap booking - I would check JoAnn Fabric's or Michael's.

Susan Dyer
The Moveable Alphabet

Kylie said...

I love the shells. (although I have the catalogue set currently on order)I also think that as you have mentioned using objects like these would make a great lesson in checking and not just assuming because of the length.

Tracy said...

Oh boy...I must be like your little ones. While I love the beautiful sea shells it really bothers me that 10 is not the longest. And you don't have that nice 1-10 triangle. I would get around this little personal issue of mine by using my counting mat. It is a big quilted mat with squares stitched for 1-10 items. Then you can have your fun counters and your order too. Right now I have lots of miniature harvest vegetables and fruits out. I like having different objects for each number so the older children can sort them first.It makes the work more challenging making sure they have the same items all together. The younger children can just count and not sort.

Anonymous said...

Before I got to the bottom of your post, when I saw the shells, my first thought was: What a PAIN to replace the pieces if one or more got lost. You would have to have extra shells of each type in the closet in case one got lost.

That's the practical side of me. The aesthetic side of me absolutely LOVES the idea!! I'm curious, though: with the set-up in the first and third pictures (green counters and shell counters), how would you show the concept of odds and evens?

Susan Y. Dyer said...

I will ask tomorrow how this teacher does odds and evens and get back to you. I don't know about the green set-perhaps AMI has changed the presentation...I will have your answer either by tomorrow or early next week.

Susan Dyer
The Moveable Alphabet

The Special K's(0: said...

Hi! I've been an observer of your blog for a little while (found it attached to a friend's blog) and LOVE it! May I ask though, what are some alternate uses for the counters, other than lining up like in the pictures? Thanks!(0:

pooja said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pooja said...

the material is absolutely lovely! in our class we use cowrie shells (the shells used for 9 in the picture) but i am puzzled at the fact that there are different objects for each number. Isn't this an added 'difficulty' for children just starting with the cards and counters?
is there one set for the younger children just starting off with cards and counters and this set for the older ones? am curious as to how it works.

N from the Learning Ark said...

I love the shell ones. In our school we have the standard set with counters for the first presentation and we have sets of different objects to count for the child to work with for further practice. The different shapes and sizes are really good once a child has mastered the counting.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, I do love the idea of having the original numbers and counters work and then a follow-up material to promote more time spent exploring the concept.

The Special K's: I once used the counters to show 1:1 correspondence when working with an autistic child, as a segue between the numbers and counters and the memory game of numbers, because he was absolutely unable to associate a number with an actual quantity of objects in the classroom. You can also show odds and evens if the counters are lined up in a specific way.

Paul and Ines said...

I definately believe that cards & counters should have the same doesn't have to be red..but the same. The shells are beautiful but isn't that more along the lines of the "sets baskets"..."which group has only 1 in its pile?" It is a hassle to replace when one when it gets lost but it's great for the child who can identify & reconize numerals easily.

Susan Y. Dyer said...

Wow! I love all of your comments and they tell me that we need more hands on workshops at conferences in regards to material making and presentations of extensions.

I would love to go to a mini-pre-all day workshop at an AMI conference in the morning or during lunch in which people showed up and said, "This is what I put together as an extension and this is how I present it. I am seeing it in my mind now...a creative forum for the teachers to share their ideas face to face.

Susan Dyer
The Moveable Alphabet

Myra said...

(warning - long) I've read all the comments so far and i am wondering if the shells provide a control that is not in the all-alike counter sets? When all the counters are alike, you can make a mistake and not know it. But If every number has different counters, than you just line them up and it will be the right number, provided none are lost. However, you do have to count to see which numeral to put them under. I actually did have a set like this with colored plastic fish and I started thinking that it was "wrong" so I took it out. I like the idea of having two sets. Maybe I'll put my fish back. Or you could use different rocks. Actually, replacing would not be a problem, because if you didn't have a replacement, you could find a whole new set for that number. I love being creative but sometimes I feel pressured to use the standard stuff in order to be "correct". I'm glad thay Mario gives us permission to make our own stuff. That's why I like this blog so much; Susan is so creative.

Myra said...

P.S. My cards are plastic laminate tile samples with a number sticker. They have lasted for years. Each one is a different color but all are the same size. My counters are colored glass gems, all the same color (green). The young ones can't wait to get to do this work because the want to work with the "jewels". They are all kept in a wooden "treasure chest".

Susan Y. Dyer said...

Myra - In the photo of the shell cards and counters there is a large empty space to the right of the counters. This is where children count out the shells before they put them under the correct number. I have watched several children use the material and they all count them first. I can see your point though that they might just assume these shells are for six and those shells for eight. I would prefer larger number cards for this material. I looked at the cards and counter set made at My Montessori Journey Blog and she made one from smooth stones. It looks lovely. Again...a mini workshop where Montessori teachers show up with their materials and share would be great. As when knitters show up at their weekly gathering with new designs for mittens...I would love it.

P.S. Montessori said...

Just letting you know that I updated my numbers and posted on my own Cards and Counters. I used Myra's advice on the sticker idea. Thanks for the inspiration! :) You can see pics of mine at

Kevin said...

Hi Susan,

I'm still a little new to the Montessori thing but really enjoy your blog and the others I read.

I have a question about this - wouldn't having the correct number of shells for each number lead to the work being about organization and not counting? In the picture the child has put the same number for both 3 and 4 as well as 8 and 9. This leads me to believe the child was focused on organizing all the 8 shells together since they seem to be the same shape and size (even though the 9th one in the 8 column should really be in the 4 column).

I suppose the guide did this to create a tighter control of error but having 55 pieces was Montessori's original control of error. Do you think that makes a difference to the child's learning?


Susan Y. Dyer said...


I think that the guides intention was to draw the child to the work, to reinforce the concept of quantity and symbol and to make the work beautiful so that the child would return to it. I hear you regarding the control of error issue - go to Meg McElwee's earlier blog for a little discussion of that in the comments of this post:

Thanks for your comment. My hope with this post was just to stir the pot - to reflect and consider this classic Montessori material - cards and counters.



Aimee said...

Hi, I'm new to reading your blog, and newish to Montessori in general. (My daughter's just over 15 weeks old and I started "preparing" to Montessori homeschool when she was 4 weeks.) Your blog is a really great resource, I am very much enjoying your insights and experience. Since I've started learning about the activities and materials, I've felt kind of lost, but some of the ideas in your blog and in the comments by your readers have given me a few "A-HA!" moments. I'm definitely going to keep my eye on your blog. Thanks for all the wonderful articles you write!

I like the idea of using the shells for the aesthetic appeal, but like other people have said it concerns me that it doesn't isolate the quality. But, then someone suggested using the cards and simple counters preliminarily and then later advance to using the shells to make it more complicated, and that sounds like a great idea. But then, I have never used either, I've just read a little bit... probably just enough to get me into trouble. :^)

Susan Y. Dyer said...

Yesterday, I was substituting in the same classroom where the shell cards and counters are and YES, she does present the traditional all red circles with the red numbers first and then later they use the shell set. Just thought I would let all of you know.

Susan Dyer
The Moveable Alphabet