How To Teach Zero

How To Teach “Zero”

The concept of “nothing” and the idea that a symbol can represent “nothing” is captivating for small children. Dr. Montessori explains how she teaches “zero” to children.

The Discovery of the Child

Maria MontessoriWe must make the child feel that 0 is nothing. For this we use exercises that are highly amusing to the children. I place myself in their midst. As they are seated about me in their little chairs, I turn to one of them and say: “Come, dear, come to me zero times.” The child will almost always run up and then return to his place. “But, my child, you have come to me once, and I told you to come zero times.” “But what then should I have done?” “Nothing, for zero is nothing.” “But how do I do nothing?” “Don’t do anything. You must sit still. You must not move even once. ‘Zero times’ means no times at all.”

We repeat this exercise. “You, my dear, throw me zero kisses with your fingers.” The child trembles, smiles, and stays quiet. “Did you understand?” I repeat in an almost passionate tone. “Send me zero kisses, zero kisses.” I stop. I lower my voice as if I were angry about their laughter and address one of them severely, even threateningly. “You, come here zero times. Do you understand. I am speaking to you. Come here zero times!” He does not move. The laughter becomes even more boisterous, aroused as it is by my change of attitude, first of entreaty and then of threats. “But then,” I sadly sigh, “Why do you not come? Why do you not come?” Then, all shout in a loud voice, with their eyes gleaming and almost weeping from joy and laughter: “Zero is nothing! Zero is nothing!” Ah, is that so?” I ask, smiling peacefully, “Then all of you come here to me at one time!” And they rush up to crowd about me.

When later it is a question of writing the figures, we will say at the zero: “Zero seems to be an O. Is it an O?” “No, it is not an O. Zero is nothing.”

– Dr. Maria Montessori

The Discovery of the Child Random House, 1967. Print.

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