“We have to let children experience the beauty of arithmetic… it is always something to discover and to perceive by the hand before being understood by the mind.”—Philip D. O’Brien, from the introduction to Psychoarithmetic by Maria Montessori
Math concepts are made fun and simple in the Montessori curriculum so that math is an exciting discovery, not a subject to be learned. Using manipulatives, the math lessons begin with a very concrete experience that later leads to abstraction.
Many young children learn to count at an early age but without the understanding of what numbers mean. As our students count they also practice one-to-one correspondence, learning that a number represents a quantity. They then use the sandpaper numbers to learn numeric symbols, 0-9, and finally they combine quantity and symbol. We have a lesson dedicated to teaching the concept of “0”; the children place the correct number of spindles into a box labeled 0-9 and then discover that the “0” section remains empty because “0 means nothing.” Children experience the concept of odd and even by using numbers and counters. All the counters under the even numbers have a partner; the last counter under the odd numbers is left without a partner.
Once 0-9 are mastered, they move on to the teens and the tens. The teens board combines the 10 bar with the 1 bead to make “11”, the 10 bar with the 2 bead to make “12” etc. The tens board puts two 10 bars together to make “20”, three ten bars combine to make “30” etc. Adding units, they make “34” or “67” or “92”……… Repetition with these boards leads to an understanding of teens and tens. Using the 100 board, they learn number recognition and number sequencing. Skip counting is fun using the linear chains to count by 2s, 3s, 4s, etc.
Older children start building big numbers with the “golden beads” that teach the decimal system. They can feel the weight difference as they carry a tray across the room that includes 1000 cubes and 100 squares vs. units and tens. Using the decimal system cards, they discover that a “1” has no zeros, “10” has one zero, “100” has two zeros and “1000” has three zeros.
The concepts of addition, multiplication, subtraction and division are learned, again using hands-on manipulatives. Once the concepts are understood, the math facts are practiced with a variety of lessons. The older children learn money, time and measurement.
The math curriculum in the 3-6 class builds the foundation for later learning and takes the fear of math out of the equation. Math isn’t taught – it is joyfully discovered. The Montessori Services website has a great article about Montessori math.