Montessori Math

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Dr Montessori loved mathematics. In Italy in the 1880 she chose to attend a boy’s technical school just so she could study mathematics. This love of mathematics is very visible in the wonderful materials she designed so young children could share her enthusiasm. In the Montessori view the ‘mathematical mind’ is a manifestation of several human tendencies. “Humans are driven to explore and to investigate their environment. To this effectively, they need to orient themselves in an ordered way” (Feez, p. 127) If these tendencies are shared by all humans, then all children should enjoy mathematics, and do well at it. With this in mind, Dr Montessori designed an array of intriguing objects that materialize abstract mathematical concepts. Children in Montessori schools first experience mathematical concepts represented in the form of concrete objects. After repeatedly manipulating and rearranging the objects materializing a concept, children, in their own time, construct the corresponding abstract for themselves. Too many people leave school believing math is an impenetrable subject accessible only to a select few. A feature of Montessori mathematics materials is the way they transform mathematical process, even one with a reputation for being difficult, so it becomes both accessible and fascinating. During Montessori teacher training courses many people are astounded to discover they can become completely absorbed in their finer points of, for example, long division, multiples and square roots. (Montessori and Early Childhood, p.128) Ideally, in early childhood, shared mathematical experiences are as much a part of everyday life as, for not to think of math as something that only belongs at school. There are books and Internet sites with many ideas for how this might be done. From the Montessori perspective, everyday activities are a rich source of mathematical experiences that contribute children’s independence both in the Infant Community and in the Children’s House. In the Montessori Infant Community, for example, children set their own place at the table. The shape of each item of cutlery, as well as of a plate and a cup is embroidered onto the place mat. Infants set their place by matching the objects to the embroidered outlines. (Montessori and Early Childhood, p.132) When children use the Montessori mathematics materials, they explore mathematical concepts using movement and their senses. Since Dr Montessori’s time, and perhaps in part thanks to her pioneering work, this idea has become commonplace in many early childhood settings. “Young children in early childhood settings everywhere are introduced to mathematics through play-like activity with concrete materials” (Feez, p. 129) There is an abundance of novel resources available in a variety of colors, textures, sizes and shapes. Many have multiple uses and are valued for their imaginative possibilities. Beside this array, the Montessori mathematics materials, just like the Montessori language materials, can seem a little austere and inflexible. (Montessori and Early Childhood) Sensorial training is of great importance in learning the basic of arithmetic. Montessori has a wide variety of materials for this purpose, thus allowing the child to become familiar with numbers at an early age when he is most responsive to this type of experience. The child of three has a very logical mind and is interested in sequence and order in his daily life. This follows through into his subsequent learning of arithmetic, enabling him to learn easily and enthusiastically. “The idea of quantity is inherent in all the Montessori arithmetic materials and the conception of identity and difference in the sensorial exercises is built up from recognition of identical objects and gradation of similar objects.” (Hainstock, p. 78) The fundamental feature of our number system is the decimal system. Because we count in tens, all the early sensorial materials are limited to sets of tens, until the...
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