When we think of the way that most of us learned about addition, we think of the classic: 2+2=4. Most people think that small children need to start with small addition. Some of our first experiences with addition probably involved a chalkboard or worksheet. If any of you are like me, math was not my favorite subject, and it was a challenge for me. I vaguely understood the concepts I was taught, or managed to remember them long enough to regurgitate them onto a test, and then they left my head pretty much as quickly as they entered.
I’ll never forget how my perception of math all changed once I took the training to be a Montessori Guide. I had so many “aha moments” where I saw math concepts in a whole new way; they made so much more sense. I remember at one point thinking, “If I had only learned math this way when I was a child, I would have probably actually loved it!” It is for this reason that I love presenting the Montessori math materials to the children in my class. I love seeing the moments of clarity and understanding and the way they are able to grasp such abstract concepts after exploring with these materials. Not everyone loves math, but if you would like to learn how math is taught in the Children's House, keep reading.
Montessori Math Curriculum
Math in Montessori is all about exploring with the senses. Children learn through exploring with their hands, manipulating materials, and using their senses to take in information. Maria Montessori believed that children could learn math in the same way. Math in itself is an abstract concept, but if these abstract concepts are put into a concrete material that the child can manipulate, they are able to learn those concepts at a much younger age, and have them stick with them for a long time.
Golden Beads: The "Montessori Math Beads"
It is for this reason that we first introduce children to the concept of addition by adding big, 4 category numbers, rather than the typical 2+2. We do this with a material called the Golden Beads (a lot of people don't know the real name and call it 'Montessori math beads'.) The Golden Beads help children learn about the decimal system and understand the categories of unit, ten, hundred, and thousand, and how the categories relate to one another (ten of one category makes 1 of the next higher category).
These materials were originally created for Elementary age children, but Dr. Montessori saw that the younger children were fascinated by them. Originally she thought that 3-6 year olds were too young to grasp these concepts of large numbers, but the children showed her they were ready for it. The way the Golden Beads are constructed is what allows the young child to be able to work with them. Because the large quantities are bound together, the child can comfortably count the large numbers.
If units can be counted up to 9, then so can tens, hundreds, and thousands, as long as they are bound together. Once a child has an understanding of the categories, we introduce the child to the concept of addition, using 4 category numbers. We may ask one child to bring 1,345 and another to bring 2,764, and another to bring 3,712. Then we put all those quantities together on a big tray, and count how much it made, telling the children, “This is called addition!”
When children are adding 4 category numbers, the sum is quite large and therefore makes a bigger impression. They not only work together to add the beads and figure out the answer, but can actually experience with their senses what addition really means. They can see on the tray that when they put their smaller numbers together, it made a really BIG number. They can feel how heavy the tray is as well, making another sensorial impression. This really sticks with them. Later on when we do any other addition work, we review this with the child and talk about what addition means, and they may say something like "That's when we put numbers together to make a REALLY big number!”
Later on, after a child has experienced the 4 operations in that very concrete way with the Golden Beads, they begin to work with the operations with materials that are more abstract. They begin to use paper and pencil along with the math materials to work on memorizing their essential math facts such as 2+2=4, for instance. Because they had that sensorial experience with addition through working with the Golden Beads, they now have an understanding of what addition means, and there is more relevance to 2+2=4. They are truly understanding what they are learning, and not just memorizing facts.
Math Can Be Fun, Really!
To many of us adults, math is seen as a drudgery, but if prepared properly, the child will view math in a completely different way. They will not dread it or find it hard, but instead they will understand the concepts with ease and at their own pace. If you would like to learn more about how we teach math in Montessori, contact us to schedule a visit to observe children who love, love, love math!