The last time I visited the United States I had difficulty finding the correct bill I needed for my purchase. I would have to pull out a wad of bills, flip through them to find the $20 bill I required. (It also discouraged me – most of the bills in my stack were only ones). I was so accustomed to coloured Canadian bills, that I had taken them for granted. Often laughed at for our coloured money, colour coding makes it very easy for us to identify which bill we need. I am sure my fellow Canadians will concur.
Dr. Montessori had a similar goal in mind when designing her materials. Below is a picture of the short bead stair. Each bead bar represents a number, and is coded by colour. Students learn to identify numbers by colour. Ask any Montessori student and they will tell that yellow symbolizes four, white seven, and green two; just as we associate green with $20, brown with $100, and blue with $5. These coloured beads carry over into other work involving skip counting and multiplication.
So why is colour coding important? Colour coding “make[s] it possible for children to distinguish and classify.” Through allocation, order is achieved in the child’s mind. “This order conduces to an economy of time and strength.” Just as we can swiftly pay for our purchases; “[t]he child can…react to stimuli in a briefer space of time and perform a greater quantity of work.”
We aren’t the only smart countries to have figured this out. China, Indonesia, Colombia, India, Bolivia, and several more use coloured bills…even Monopoly has coloured money 🙂