Monday, October 29, 2012

My Favorite Lower Elementary Montessori Material: The Montessori Checkerboard

NAMC montessori math favorite lower elementary material checkerboard boy doing big math
Doing big math with the Montessori Checkerboard
My lower elementary students know that the Montessori Checkerboard is my favorite lower elementary Montessori material. The Checkerboard is used for multiplication. It is a BIG work that leaves quite an impression on a young child.

Before using the Checkerboard, the child has been introduced to basic operations and hierarchical materials through the use of the Golden Bead Material, the Bead Cabinet, basic operation Finger Charts, Bead Frames and the Montessori Hierarchical Material. The Montessori Checkerboard reinforces those concepts with a new way of presenting the information, while at the same time allowing the child to increase his knowledge and skill level.

My Favorite Lower Elementary Montessori Material: The Montessori Checkerboard

The Checkerboard has four rows and nine columns of 7 cm squares arranged in hierarchical colors: green for units; blue for tens; and red for 100s. These are the same hierarchical colors found in previous Montessori math materials. The columns range from the simple class to the millions, while the individual squares account for simple units through one billion! The individual rows not only represent place value, they represent the partial products of multi-digit multiplication. Squares located on the diagonal have the same place value. You can certainly do big math here!

As you can see, this is a BIG material. You really have to grow a bit to carry it! Then, you must return to the shelf to get the Checkerboard Bead Box. Both of these materials take up quite a bit of space. Setting up the Checkerboard involves more than just moving the hand. For a small child, it requires whole body movement.

The Montessori Checkerboard is a concrete material that allows the child to move along the passage of abstraction at his own pace. Because the child uses bead bars, there is no need to have multiplication facts committed to memory. A child may multiply large numbers while skip counting on the beads. With increased use, math facts are mastered. This is opposite to conventional wisdom that says a child may not do multi-digit multiplication without memorizing the multiplication tables.

In addition, the Checkerboard is carried over into the upper elementary math curriculum. Students continue to explore and develop their abstract multiplication skills using the Checkerboard to progress into category multiplication. It also serves as the precursor to the Montessori Decimal Checkerboard, which is similar in form and function, but allows students to learn about place value while multiplying decimal fractions.
NAMC montessori math favorite lower elementary material checkerboard decimal checkerboard
The Montessori Decimal Checkerboard is used in upper elementary mathematics

There is a sense of awe when I invite children to their first lesson with the Checkerboard. They have seen their older peers working on it and see the work as a rite of passage. The older children see them and smile, knowing their young friends have joined the ranks of advanced mathematics!

NAMC montessori math favorite lower elementary material checkerboard smiling girl
Lower elementary Montessori students gain a sense of accomplishment as they master the Checkerboard

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Monday, October 29, 2012.


  1. I LOVE this material!

    I also appreciate I am not the only one promoting its use where it belongs: in lower elementary. I have seen so many instances where it is not being used until upper elementary (when the children should be "done" with it as far as their main work). It's just doesn't suit those older children as well or as long!

    I've worked with older children just coming into Montessori who gained a lot from it, but they also moved on pretty quickly, because they just needed to.

    My 8 year old, just today, decided that to show his appreciation for this material, he would create a miniature out of Legos. It was really neat to see!


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