“The exercise will consist in placing opposite a figure the number of objects that it indicates.” —Dr Montessori’s Own Handbook

The Spindle Box

The Spindle Box

Roberta Frosolini


The child counts using loose quantities and is introduced to the concept of zero.


Develop the understanding that number symbols represent certain quantities of objects




  • A wooden box with the numbered compartments, 0 progressing to 9
  • 45 spindles
  • A box/basket (for the spindles)


Number names: zero, 1 to 9

Control of Error

There are precisely the correct number of spindles. If the child has miscounted the number of spindles for each compartment there will be either not enough spindles or some left over.


You may start by explaining that zero is nothing therefore no spindles will be placed in this compartment.

Point to the black symbols painted on the back of the box and ask the child to slowly read them.

If you keep the spindles in the box itself rather than in a separate container, you can spread them in the front of the box: hold the spindles on the flat part using the thumb, the index and the middle finger and remove them from the box. Ask the child to help you.

When all the spindles have been removed, start by pointing to the zero, saying: “Zero is nothing. We do not put any spindles in this compartment.”

“In the box containing the pegs there is one compartment over which the 0 is printed. Inside this compartment “nothing must be put,” and then we begin with one. Zero is nothing, but it is placed next to one to enable us to count when we pass beyond 9 — thus, 10.” — Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook

Then point to the 1 symbol, asking the child to place the correct number of spindles in the corresponding compartment. Point to the next number and give the child the opportunity to carry on if able to do so.

Allow time for the child to practice independently. If you have used a separate box, remember to return the spindles to their place once you have completed your presentation.


The Spindle Box reinforces the learning of order and requires a further level of abstraction as it contains loose rather than fixed quantities. It also aids in hierarchical inclusion as the child sees how many units of 1 form the other numbers up to 10.


This exercise is very popular in Montessori classrooms; children love performing it, either at the table or on the floor.