Why are number rods introduced later in the Montessori method when toddlers are already exposed to incidental counting?

The purpose of the number rods is to offer the child concrete, manipulative material through which he/she gains an understanding of the numbers of the decimal system, the basic foundation of the decimal system. Through the handling of the various rods – varying in length from 10 cm to 1 meter – a child comes to experience the physical difference between 1 and 8 or 3 and 6, etc. There are a variety of different experiences /games using the number rods to solidify the concept of 1-10.

The work with the number rods is built on a child’s experience with the Red Rods (or Long Rods), from the Sensorial materials, which is an experience of manipulating length and learning the language long, and short, with the comparatives and superlatives.

When toddlers are saying the numbers – usually 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 4 – etc, not in sequence – they are simply repeating the language of numbers. Toddlers usually give the numbers 1-5 in the correct sequence but then mix the numbers following. They have heard this language in their life and so at this stage, it is language – not mathematical concepts they are expressing. The absorption of this language will support their work with the Number Rods once they are introduced to them.

Once a child can consistently do the work with the Red Rods, they are ready for the Number Rods.

Number rods