The Math area is an integral part of the overall Montessori curriculum. Math is all around us. Children are exposed to math in various ways since their birth. They begin to see numbers all around their environment. It is inherent for them to ask questions about time, money and questions about quantities. Math should be included in the Montessori curriculum because math materials are bright, colorful and aesthetically pleasing, math materials are clear and concrete that children are able to understand.
For example, children relate numbers with real objects that eventually become abstract ideas, many of the math materials teach different skills at the same time and children are able to work independently and are able to be successful. Materials in math are colorful, bright. In my classroom, children are drawn to the golden beads especially the one thousand cube, the red and blue rods, the bead cabinets. The smooth texture of the golden, shiny beads are so inviting to children. In my classroom, we often change objects and counters to reflect the theme or seasons throughout the year.
For example, during winter we use small snowflakes as counters. We have also used pumpkins during the fall season. We have used shamrocks in the spring. Math materials use concrete objects to teach abstract ideas like counting. The concrete is the number or quantity. And, the abstract is the numeral or the symbol. During the presentation of the spindle boxes you first say “this says 1” and then pick up one spindle and say “this is one. ” The relationship from abstract to concrete is always reinforced. Many of the math materials teach different skills at the same time.
For example, activities like the long and short chain teach addition and multiplication at the same time. Math materials teach children to work independently and thus build confidence. Many math problems have only solution and that is the control of error. Children are born with a mathematical mind, it is our job to stimulate it. They collect, sort, count and put things in order. They classify, comparing sizes while carrying heavy objects, and they’ll know this one is light or this one is heavy. Maria Montessori said that a mathematical mind was “a sort of mind which is built up with exactity.
The mathematical mind is active from the first, becomes apparent not only from the attraction that exactitude exerts on every action the child performs, but we see it also in the fact that the little child’s need for order is one of the most powerful incentives to dominate his early life” (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, pp. 189,190). The mathematical mind tends to estimate, needs to quantify, to see identity, similarity, difference, and patterns, to make order and sequence and to control error. Dr. Montessori believed that children from birth through 6 years have an absorbent mind.
During this period children have a special sensitivity for gathering information. “There is in a child a special kind of sensitivity which leads him to absorb everything about him, and it is this work of observing and absorbing that alone enables him to adapt himself to life” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind p. 62). Children have a great ability to absorb and assimilate from the world around them. Dr. Montessori also discovered that children pass though critical periods where they are able to incorporate a particular ability easily and once that “window of opportunity” passes, it becomes harder to acquire that skill. Dr.
Montessori called them sensitive periods of development. She believed that these sensitive periods are critical to the child’s self development. There is a sensitive period for order, movement, language, beauty and detail. The math area calls to all of their sensitive periods. In the math area, order on the shelf is important. The order of presentation of activities given is important. The sensitive period for movement is addressed in many activities. For example in the Decimal layout activity, children are required to move to and from the bank. This type of purposeful movement satisfies their sensitive period of movement.
The sensitive period for language is very important, and in many math activities precise language is used to. “This is”, “this says” and “same as” the hand is doing exactly what we are saying. Putting something together or mixing something as we present the activity. “This system in which a child is constantly moving objects with his hands and actively exercising his senses, also takes into account a child’s special aptitude for mathematics. ”(Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child) The sensitive period for beauty is addressed in math activities.
The activities are not only aesthetically pleasing but there is a sense of amazement. The golden beads shine and sparkle in direct sunlight. The different manipulative or objects used are colorful, the textures of of paint feels good and looks good. All of the materials are clean and complete. The sensitive period for detail in the math area is addressed in many math activities. The set up of materials and presentation needs to be detailed. The movement of the hands has to mimic the specific language used. Children are attracted to each new concept which adds to the last one and leads to something new.
There is a natural interest for numbers and numerals inherent in all children. They are constantly exposed to numbers and all around them. Children are first introduced to numbers through hearing. For example in nursery rhymes. Even if a child is not naturally interested in math, you can use their specific interest or hobby to attract them to teach math. Some children learn visually, so math materials should be inviting and easy to manipulate. Visual learners also like to pay attention visual cues from the teacher. It is therefore important for teacher to seem enthusiastic and happy when giving presentations.
Some children are auditory learners; they listen to the tone of voice, pitch and speed. Teachers have to use precise and purposeful language to adapt to auditory learners. Some other strategies for guiding children in the math area are to use precise language when giving presentations and use the three period lessons whenever possible. Also, follow the order to sequence of materials on the shelf. And, finally promote them to create extensions which lead children to many other places. A series of preparations are necessary to build up to the required skills and concepts used in the math area.
Children are introduced indirectly to these various skills such as order, concentration, coordination and independence in many practical life and sensorial activities. In practical life, sorting and grasping activities prepare them for math activities. Many sequenced, procedural activities like cutting vegetables, table scrubbing and dish washing allow children to concentrate for a long period of time. This type of concentration is needed for many math activities that require the child to sit through a long math presentation or complete an activity like the decimal layout.
Many practical life activities develop the child’s large and small muscle coordination. For example, spooning, pouring, tweezing activities strengthen their small muscle coordination which will help them later with manipulating small beads in the math area. Practical life activities also provide children to gain independence. Children learn to dress themselves, tie their shoe lace, care for their environment, all necessary skills that give them confidence and function without the aid of an adult. Preparation for math concepts can be found in many practical life and sensorial activities.
For example, concept of one to one correspondence, which means “the consciousness of a pairing of two groups of things such that each item in one group is paired with one item in the other group” (class handout) is found in practical life activities such as nuts and bolts, cooking, dressing frames. And, in sensorial activities such as sound cylinders, geometric cabinets, metal insets. With having a foundation in the concept of one-one correspondence in other areas, children are able to count objects and relate it the correct numeral in math.
In sensorial, the color tablets and the triangular box also teach the concept of combination. And, in math concept of combination is used to teach addition and multiplication. In the sensorial area, activities such as baric tablets, color tablets and the pink tower teach the concept of gradation. In many math activities, children will use the concept of gradation to further increase their knowledge in learning cardinal and ordinal numbers, the concept of less than and greater than. There are many other concepts taught to prepare children for math, such as spatial relations, temporal relations, difference and similarity.
All of these concepts are very important to reinforce their understanding in advanced math materials. In conclusion, the math area is very important in the overall Montessori curriculum. The math area facilitates children to move from concrete to more abstract ideas. Math activities strengthen the mind. Math activities should be created to be engaging and fun.
Montessori, Maria (1967) The Absorbent Mind. New York: Dell Publishing Co. , Inc. Montessori, M (1983) The Discovery of the Child. New York: Random House, Inc.