How To Use The Montessori Math Material: Number Rods

One of the key materials used in Montessori education is the Number Rods, which is a tool that helps children learn about number concepts and develop their mathematical skills.

What are Montessori Number Rods?

Montessori Number Rods are a set of ten wooden rods, each painted in alternating colors of red and blue, varying in length, ranging from 10 cm to 1 meter.

number rods

The length of the rod corresponds to the value of the number it represents. For example, the shortest rod is colored red and represents the number one, while the longest rod with 10 alternating red and blue colors represents the number ten.

DIY Alternatives

How to Use the Number Rods


  1. Invite an individual child and introduce the materials.
  2. Show them how to carry the rods, like the red rods.
  3. Point out that the red rods should always be placed on the left side.
  4. Isolate the first three rods.
  5. Give a three-period lesson, naming the “rod of 1”, “rod of 2”, and “rod of 3”.
  6. First period: “This is the rod of x.” Place your hand on each section and slowly count each one. Repeat, “This is the rod of x.” Repeat all three names again.
  7. Second period: Count and move the rods out of order.
  8. Third period: Ask for the names, but not necessarily in order.
  9. If the child is interested, add two rods at a time and repeat the above steps.

Note: On subsequent days, verify that the child knows the previous work before proceeding with new information.

Exercise 1: Finding a rod at random

  1. Gather all the rods and place them on a mat in a mixed order with space in between each.
  2. Ask for a rod by its number (rod of x) and say, “let’s verify,” demonstrating how to count each one.

Exercise 2: Identifying the quantity of a random rod

  1. Mix the rods as in Exercise 1. Isolate one of the rods.
  2. The child identifies the rod and counts to verify.

Exercise 3: Finding a rod from a distance

  1. Set up two mats across the room from each other. Place the rods on one mat and sit at the other.
  2. Ask for a rod by name. Before the child goes to retrieve it, ask, “Which rod are you going to bring?”
  3. Have the child verify when he brings the rod to the mat.
  4. If the child brings the wrong rod, say, “You brought the rod of x, let’s bring the rod of y.”

Extension Activities with the Montessori Number Rods

  1. Number Comparison: Ask the child to compare two rods and determine which one is longer or shorter, or ask the child to identify which rod is greater or less than a given number.
  2. Number Sequencing: Ask the child to line up the rods in order from least to greatest or greatest to least.
  3. Rod Patterns: Ask the child to create patterns using the Number Rods.

Associating Quantity with the Number Symbols

Once the child has known the names of the rods and the quantity of each represents, the child is to learn the numerical symbols associated with each rod.

How to Use Number Rods AND Cards


  1. Invite one child to sit on a mat. Put the number rods on another mat, mixed up like before. Put a sitting mat to the left of the number rods mat.
  2. Take out one number from the box at a time. Say the number and put it on the sitting mat in random order.
  3. Hold a number, “This is ten. This is how we write 10. Can you find the rod of 10?”
  4. Ask the child to count the rod to verify and show them where to put the card (on the rightmost section of the rod).
  5. Pick another random number and put it aside. Ask the child to find the rod for that number, count it, and put the card on the last section of the rod.
  6. When all the cards are on the mat, check to make sure they are in the correct places.
  7. Mix up the cards and rods again and repeat the whole thing.

Exercise 1: Show the card and bring the rod

  1. Set up two mats: one with the rods, and the other for sitting with the cards.
  2. Show the child a card. The child says its name and then retrieves it.
  3. Repeat this process with all the numbers.

This step can be done by either bringing the rod and returning it, or by bringing the rod and keeping it.

Exercise 2: Show the rod and bring the card

  1. Begin by setting up the activity as described above. Sit on the mat with the rods.
  2. Select one of the rods and ask the child, “How much is this one?” The child should count the rod and retrieve the matching card.

Exercise 3: Rods and cards in sequence

  1. Set up a sitting mat to the left of the working mat.
  2. Ask the child to build the rods in order at the top of the working mat.
  3. Invite the child to place the number cards randomly on the sitting mat.
  4. Point to a random rod and ask, “What is this?”
  5. Verify by counting. Choose the corresponding number card and place it next to the rod.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all cards are matched with their respective rods.
  7. Count up and down.

Exercise 4: Impression of addition

  1. Build the rods in order at the bottom of the mat.
  2. Invite the child to place the cards on the corresponding rod.
  3. Isolate the rod of 10 and place the card with it at the top of the mat.
  4. Repeat this process with the rod of 9.
  5. Ask, “Can we find a rod to place at the end of 9 that will make it the same length as 10?” (1)
  6. Count to verify that the total length is now 10.
  7. Isolate the rod of 8 and repeat the process.
  8. When you reach 5, show that it can be flipped over to add up to 10.

Exercise 5: Sensorial impression of subtraction

  1. Use the rods and cards at the top of the mat to make combinations that add up to 10. Set aside the 5 on the lower part of the mat.
  2. Ask, “Do you remember what 6 and 4 make?” Verify the answer by counting.
  3. Ask, “What if I put the rod of 4 down here below 5 – how much is left?” The answer is 6, because 10 minus 4 equals 6.
  4. Repeat the process with 3 and 7, 8 and 2, 9 and 1 – until all the rods are organized back into their usual pattern at the bottom of the mat, except for the rod of 10.
  5. Lower the rod of 10 and explain, “If I could cut this one exactly in half, I would have 2 fives – so 10 divided by 2 equals 5.”

Extension Activities with the Montessori Number Rods and Cards

  1. Number Recognition: Ask the child to identify the numerals on the Number Rods and match them to corresponding numeral cards or objects.
  2. Coloring and Matching: Print outlines of lined up rods. Invite the child to color each rod matching the actual rod. Match it with the numeral or word.
  3. Coloring Ring Cards: Cut the strips and have the child color and trace accordingly
  4. Count and Identify Worksheets: Match (or write) the numerals to every rod in the worksheet
  5. Making Equations: Ask the child to create equations using the Number Rods, such as “3 + 2 = 5” or “6 – 4 = 2”

The Montessori Number Rods are a versatile and valuable tool for teaching math concepts to young children. By using the rods in a hands-on and interactive way, children are able to develop their mathematical skills, as well as their cognitive, physical, and social-emotional abilities. The step-by-step presentation and extension activities outlined here provide a comprehensive guide for introducing the Number Rods to children in a Montessori setting, but these concepts can also be adapted for use in a variety of educational contexts.

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