Montessori Materials: The Stamp Game

This post is the first in a new series we are so excited about. Each month, throughout this school year, we will share information about a different Montessori material. Doing so will help parents who are curious about what goes on in our classrooms, but it will also give unique insight into Montessori principles and how the method was developed in the first place.

Today we talk about the stamp game. A beloved math material that is used by children sometime between their kindergarten and second grade years (depending upon their readiness), it allows young children to add, subtract, multiply, and divide using numbers into the thousands. Using a material such as the stamp game allows children to learn a concept in concrete terms, rather than abstractly (which is what they will be doing when they eventually complete the same types of problems with just pencil and paper).

Think back to when you learned basic math computations: it was very likely done abstractly, and you memorized what must be done when your numbers added up to more than ten in one column, or you needed to borrow some from the next column, and so on. Being taught that way certainly gets the job done, but what we are effectively doing then is teaching children to memorize the process.

Using a material like the stamp game? This allows children to physically manipulate the numbers in a way that provides a deeper and richer understanding of mathematical processes. Instead of feeling tedious and confusing, the stamp game provides a stepping stone that makes them excited to discover the secrets of numbers and operations. Many Montessori children have reported that as they get older and find themselves working on much more complicated math concepts, they still picture the movement of the tiny stamps in their minds. They have a lasting visual image of what the numbers are doing as they work; it’s not just rote memorization.

Please bear in mind that prior to being introduced to this material, the child will have a solid understanding of place value, as well as the basic concept of adding numbers. These skills will have been gained through other Montessori materials that were carefully developed and intended to be used in a specific sequence.

So let’s get down to the important part: how the stamp game is used.

A child or small group of children will be seated on the floor across from their guide. A work mat will have been unrolled, and the guide will stand up, walk across the room, and carefully select the material from the shelf, carrying it carefully to the work mat. Even this small action has purpose: the guide is wordlessly teaching the child where the material can be found and where it is expected to be returned, as well as modeling how it should be carried around the room.

When the box is opened the guide may ask the children what they notice. They may comment on the colors of the wooden tiles: green, blue, and red.