Introducing the Sandpaper Numbers

The Sandpaper Numbers are an important foundational Montessori mathematics material that introduce numerals 0 – 9 to young children.

Like other Montessori sandpaper materials, the Sandpaper Numbers are tactile, inviting the child to touch and experiment. The material is comprised of 10 green boards, each displaying a number on the front from 0 – 9, cut out of fine-grit sandpaper. It is often presented in a three period lesson to young children.


The direct purpose of the Sandpaper Numbers is to teach children the symbols that represent each number, allowing them to visually identify any number from 0 – 9. In Montessori education this is specifically taught separately to counting from 0 – 9, where children often fall back on rote memorisation.

Due to the tactile feel of the number cards, the material also prepares children for the writing of numerals, which can be used as an extension activity for the Sandpaper Numbers.

Children are introduced to the Sandpaper Numbers from three years of age. Work with this material is often followed by the Number Rods, which also introduces numbers 1 – 10, and the Spindle Box, which introduces the concept of zero.

Presentation 1

  • Invite the child to work with you, and guide them to the Mathematics curriculum area.
  • Identify the Sandpaper Numbers and take the material to a table, placing the box of cards in the upper right corner of the workspace.
  • Ensuring the Sandpaper Numbers are in order. Remove the first three Sandpaper Numbers (1 – 3) and place them face down in the upper right corner.
  • Take the first card (1) and trace the number while saying the number aloud. Offer the child a turn.
  • Place the card to your left, and repeat the process with the next two cards ensuring the child has a turn at tracing the numbers each time.
  • Once complete, pack away the numbers in order, and return the material to the shelf.
  • Repeat this presentation for the number 4 – 6, then 7 – 9 in the same manner.

Presentation 2

  • Invite three children to come work with you, and get the Sandpaper Numbers.
  • Give each child three number cards a random, placing them in front of the children.
  • Ask for a number, for example: “Who has number 4?”
  • The child who has the correct number replies “I do,” and traces the number whilst saying its name.
  • They pass the correct number to the other two children, who also trace the number whilst saying its name.
  • Collecting the correct number from the children, place it upside down in front of you.
  • Select another number, continuing the process, until all have been identified and traced.
  • Once complete, pack away the numbers in order, and return the material to the shelf.

Extension Presentation

Once the child is familiar with all numbers, including zero, you can introduce the concept of writing.

In a similar manner to Presentation 1, use a tray filled with sand to show the child how to write each number after you have traced it with your finger. Ensure you guide the child through mistakes, giving them time to retrace the Sandpaper Numbers if needed.