Maria Montessori used her understanding of child development to design a philosophy for teaching math to the young child. Children are exposed to numbers and math in their daily lives, as they see numbers on calendars, clocks, and other daily objects, or hear their parents discussing money or how many of something exists. In the classroom, all of the other subject areas provide a foundation for math: Manipulatives give the child experience in handling objects with fine motor skills necessary for math works, Practical Life objects can easily be counted and provide the repetition and focus necessary for math works, Language teaches the association between a symbol and its name. The Sensorial area provides the most direct link to many of Montessori’s math materials, as she moves from distinguishing by size to naming that size by number and turning the size into quantity. This shift from using the sensorial materials to the math materials, from concrete to abstract, brings the learning of math to the conscious level in the child, as he combines the symbol with the quantity and uses it for basic arithmetic. We won’t get quite THAT far yet, but we will begin with a round-up the Montessori-inspired math activities I have used for my children from 6 months to about 3 years old.
Introduction to Numbers — 6 months to 2 years
Number as Symbol — 1.5 to 3 years
Patterns — 2.5 to 4 years
One-to-One Correspondence — 2.5 to 4 years
Pi Day Fun — 3 to 5 years
It is pretty common these days to run across parents who want to have the “smartest” kids, or insist that their children memorize numbers using flashcards and count higher than all the other kids. That’s fine and dandy — except that those children aren’t really learning anything (other than memorization and how to please their parents). The Montessori method of teaching math involves much more than just memorization. The materials involve the rest of the body, specifically the hand, so that the mathematical concepts can be felt and internalized. As Montessori scholar Paula Polk Lillard writes, “Because every intellectual idea is given to the hand first, the children develop a deeper mathematical understanding.”
L didn’t show a ton of interest in numbers until just recently, so I didn’t push it. All of a sudden, just before she turned three, she developed an interest in identifying numbers. Montessori is all about “following the child” — observe your child and gently guide her based on what she is ready for. Because she’s ready for it — not because the kid next door can count to 300. Your child will learn at her own rate, and the best thing you can do for her is to allow that to happen.