The Cards and Counters bring the abstract to the concrete, allowing a child to feel the units as they count.
Cards and Counters is a material that consists of 10 number cards, 1-10, and 55 round, red counters, each approximately the size of a nickel. This work is typically organized on a floor mat in the Montessori classroom, as it requires a bit of space.
First, the child, with the help of the classroom guide, places the cards in numerical order, starting with 1 on the far left upper corner of the floor mat. As with most things in the Montessori classroom, an important part of this work is keeping it organized and neat on the mat. The cards are placed with a bit of space in-between each, in a nice straight line on top of the rug. Not only does it appeal to a child’s natural sense of order, it’s also very visually appealing!
After the cards are in order, it’s time to start counting. The red counters each represent one unit, and this emphasizes for the child the fact that each number is made up of different quantities. So, naturally, the child begins with 1. The guide might ask, “How many counters do we place under 1?”.
As you continue to 2 and 3, it’s important to note that there are specific places for each counter. For example, the even numbers are placed in rows of two, stacked upon one another. But for odd numbers, like 5, the odd counter sits centered below the last even row of two. Indicating the difference between odd and even numbers is one of the direct purposes of the Cards and Counters.
A natural control of error occurs at the end of the activity. If there are too few or too many counters, the child knows they have to take a second look over the material to make sure they’ve counted correctly. In this way, the child isn’t dependent on the guide in the classroom, but rather has the satisfaction of learning independently.