Addition Snake Game

A funny name for a presentation no?

The addition snake game is a way to learn addition memorization, addition exchanges, number bonds, among other things.  Here is one way to present it:

How it works

Hopefully the video explains it so much better than what I’m about to describe.

Basically you first lay out a black/white bead stair.  Then you create a rainbow snake out of various length bead bars.  Now you start counting up to 10, exchanging that for a 10 golden bead bar and using the black/white bead bars for the remaining numbers.  Start counting from the black/white bead bars and exchange for 10 golden bead bar.  You keep doing this until you’ve got a golden snake with a little rattle.

What We Did

I think the video pretty much explains what you’re doing with the addition snake game.  So I really want to document what I saw when I did it with Astroboy, what I learned about this presentation in the primary curriculum, and really, how I fall more in love with Montessori math each time I see it in action.

As I keep mentioning, last year Astroboy was really into counting and in the last few months, he’s started to verbally add numbers together during our daily interactions.  Last year, I showed him the Addition Snake Game, but he usually did not want to do it except with me during presentation.

I thought I would re-show him the Addition Snake Game since he’s interested in adding now. I was really surprised at how differently he handles the material this time around.  We played it a bit loose and did not use the black/white bead bars.

snake game

I first showed him that when I count to 10, he needs to exchange it for a 10-bar and for the remaining beads on the bar, find the equivalent color bead bar and substitute.  Then we can discard the original bead bars.

After doing this twice, he started skipping.  For example, he would see the 6-bar and instead of counting to 6, he would start counting at 6.  Often, he would visually see what’s remaining without counting.  Or, maybe he would count an 8-bar and 5-bar, and instead of counting up to 10 and then exchange, he would count to 13 and get a 10-bar and a 3-bar.

Each time he exchanged, he would say, “The snake is shedding!  We’re making a golden snake!”  He wanted to stop only when we got to 100 (or 10 10-bars).  He actually switched the last bead bar out to make that 100.

Here are a few things I learned watching him do this.  And many of these are kindergarten standards.

  1. I never quite understood where the snake game fit with all the memorization activities.  And what the difference is between the strip board and the snake game.  Now I see that developmentally the next natural step for a child is wanting to add after they’ve learned to count.    The Snake game fits in because it allows them to still count a lot, unlike the strip board.
  2. I love how concrete materials illustrate so many different concepts that are covered individually in worksheets.  That it’s so much more intuitive, and allows more variations, when you use concrete materials.  For example, through this activity, Astroboy naturally sees that sometimes more than 2 numbers can add up to 10.   It all depends on how he wants to lay his bead bars out.
  3. He also see his number bonds quite easily.  He sees a 6 and knows that 4 more gets him to 10.  He sees that 4 is used in a 9-bar and knows that 5 is left over.
  4. He learns how to add 2 numbers with sums less than 20.
  5. A child tells you so much when you really observe them, and lets you know exactly what they need to work on.  For example, given the ease with which Astroboy is at adding now with the material, I now see that this is the math level he is at.  He’s not getting frustrated at the long process of counting a golden snake, because he knows to take short cuts; which is also another sign that he’s starting to master the concept.
  6. I also learned that I need to be patient.  A child will naturally show you when they’re ready for something.  That I should not get discouraged when he is not interested the first time around.  Also, that it is okay they don’t come back to a presentation till weeks later.  I know all of this was discussed in How We Learn.  In a way, our brain knows the optimal way to learn something.  But it is oh-so-hard to not feel that pressure.  Every time I learn this lesson, I don’t take it to heart, and I continue to stress out about what we’re not learning.

I really want to apply this lesson to other subjects.  Thumper not quite getting math?  It’s just not her time.  Astroboy not interested in counting to 1000, maybe he’s not ready.  But I have a hard time, especially when it comes to the basic reading and writing.  Especially because there is a state standard that says, kindergartners learns xx and yy.   If you know how to train your brain to ignore such pressure, I would love to know.

Did I mention that I love Montessori math because of how one material allows you to see the connection in so many math concepts in one go?  I know Math-U-See kind of does the same thing, and others too.  But Montessori is the only one I know that goes all the way from super concrete materials for 4 year olds up to 6th grade.  The materials all link to each other.   I know that you can learn math through worksheets and books.  Many people have gone that route and turn out just fine.  However, now I realize how manipulating materials allows me, even as an adult, to make math connections and see how math work that I would not make by manipulating number symbols.   If there is one Montessori subject I can teach, it would be math!


2 thoughts on “Addition Snake Game

  1. OMG! you totally save my time because I’m just planning to do “addition snake game” this week. Love the sections about what you learned from this game and why you love Montessori Math. We are doing Montessori Math too and we love it a lot but I can’t put my feeling into words just like what you did. Love reading your post.


    • Hahaha. I felt like I was circling around why I love Montessori math and never quite getting there. It’s just neat watching them work and thinking to myself, “He’s learning this math concept! and that math concept! and that one too!” all with one material. And even better, since the materials connect, he can take this to the next abstract level easily.


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