Math Letters

No, we’re not doing that kind of Math where you see more letters than numbers yet (though we’ve been enjoying the unpainted Trinomial Cube these days and while we’re appreciating it as a sensorial puzzle for now, it’s really algebra).

I mean letters as in mail! Math word problems written out as letters to the Four Strange Brothers.


The Four Strange Brothers is a Montessori Math story written by Montessori Michael J. Dorer which is included in his book The Deep Well of Time: The Transformative Power of Storytelling in the Classroom. The book (also available as an e-book) talks about how and why we tell stories in Montessori environments, how we can be successful storytellers and how we can make our own stories; and it includes over 40 stories that we can weave together with Montessori work and materials that ignite the child’s (usually those in or on the brink of the second plane of development ages 6 to 12) imagination and fuel further exploration and study.

One of the stories is The Four Strange Brothers–the first brother always puts things together to make more, the second brother puts things together but only groups of the same amount, the third brother always takes away to make less, and the fourth brother gives things out while making sure everyone gets the same amount. I bet you can tell what the Four Strange Brothers represent–Addition, Multiplication, Subtraction, and Division.

My daughter and I retell the story here:

I like telling this story when the child has had some time and experience working on each of the four operations and we’re ready to mix it up and see which of the four operations we’d have to use in a given situation.

That’s why I came up with this extension of the story where the Four Strange Brothers receive letters from different people in their village asking for help (which are really Math word problems):

I made 10 sets of these Math Letters (like the one in the video)–each with 4 word problems (1 for each operation)–which you can download here to get you started.

“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American proverb

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