Mathematics is in everything we do. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go back to bed! How much time do I have to get ready before I have to leave the house? When we make a coffee, we judge how many spoons of coffee we need, pouring the right amount of milk; the distance in the car to drive to my destination, judging if you have enough petrol.
Our experiences in the environment shape our mathematical abilities.
Dr. Montessori borrowed the term “the mathematical mind” from the French physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal. During the first six years of the child, the mathematical mind works without awareness, observing through a comprehensive sensorial exploration of the world. We know the child has a tendency for order, exactness, repetition and abstraction. In our classrooms we offer hands on activities that support these needs.
Through Practical Life activities the child develops a particular way of thinking, these activities require precision and judgement, constant problem solving and persevering. When a child is using the pouring activity it is judging how high it needs to lift its arm for the contents of the jug to pour into the other jug and it is judging when it needs to stop. We make sure the activities are prepared precisely because we know that order and exactness attracts the child; so in our jugs there is the exact amount of rice or water that is needed.
When a child is folding they are absorbing the exactness of the fold, we show the child to fold exactly on the line. When the child is scrubbing a table they are not only developing their movement but also supporting their mathematical mind; how much soap do I need for this table? The distance I need to walk with a bowl of water without spilling it, how hard do I need to scrub to clean the table, the precision in the movement to get to the corners.
We indirectly provide positive experiences that follow the child’s natural interests, given to them to the child in a way that they can understand. These Practical Life activities provide the child with a logical progression, concentration, exactness, problem solving, persevering, judgement, distance, equations and fractions. Every day the child is provided with concrete experiences that support the mathematical mind. In a Montessori classroom nothing stands alone; one activity leads to the next, giving the child something with a little more challenge but always capable, manageable and enjoyable.
Lucy González Barsh, Nursery & Montessori coordinator (The English Montessori School)