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Mathematics Materials for Early Childhood

Of all the Montessori apparatus, the Math Materials are the most glamorous. They are beautiful, showy, and in their simplicity, supremely intelligent. They give children a sensorial experience of the abstraction that is mathematics, allowing them to store concepts so that when the time comes to deal exclusively in abstract terms, the understanding is already there. In a word, they are magical.

Before working with the Math Materials, the children are well prepared. The Exercises of Practical Life have given them the opportunity to develop logical and sequential thought patterns. The logical order of the Practical Life activities is complimented by the mathematical order inherent in the Sensorial Materials. These materials allow the children to work with the quantities 1-10 in several different dimensions and then with using the Math Materials, they are given their numerical value.

The Montessori Materials offer a clear example of indirect preparation, a principle that is rooted in the child’s natural manner of learning. Each piece of material isolates one concept, and these isolated concepts integrate to form the basis for a further step in the development of the child’s mathematical understanding.

Another area is that of indirect preparation. In this series of exercises, the children are presented with the four operations of Math in concrete form. When performing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, they literally carry and borrow and change the quantities involved. As they put them together and take them apart, they perceive unconsciously the interplay of the numbers, which prepares them later to explore and memorize the tables with another series of exercises that again, isolate the particularities of each operation.

Through all this, the children will consciously pursue the exploration of mathematics in a manner appropriate to the characteristics of their age. All their work done previously has prepared them to master the skills of mathematics, and in the end the child’s brilliant, adventurous mind can take off to explore the untold reaches of the mathematical sciences.