What is Mathematics?
“The laws of Nature are written in the language of mathematics.. the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word”. Galileo Galilei
Maria Montessori understood that mathematics is a language we use for interpreting and understanding the the world around us. She realised that mathematical concepts need to be first absorbed through the senses before children can abstract mathematical information.
For this reason the Montessori mathematics curriculum moves from concrete experiences to increasingly abstract representations. Before children are asked to learn symbolic representations of numbers and memorise number facts and rules, they should first be immersed in a myriad of sensorial experiences with numbers. In the Montessori classroom, the sensorial curriculum prepares children for later abstract work with numbers.
When using the sensorial materials children experience various dimensions and shapes and relationships between these. The materials isolate one concept and are self correcting and encourage independence and problem solving. Each sensorial piece of equipment is designed using the base ten system. Children need to know numbers to ten to work with the decimal system.
As children work with the materials they unconsciously absorb the relationships between numbers one to ten. When a child works with the red rods for example, the tenth rod is ten times longer than the first. When they work with the pink tower, the smallest cube is 1cm3 while the largest is 10cm3.
The exactness of the materials allows children to make their own mathematical discoveries. When using both the green and yellow sets of knobless cylinders children can create the rainbow number facts to ten.
As children progress through the mathematics curriculum they are gradually introduced to the symbolic representations of number. Children work with operations with numbers and also use the materials to help memorise mathematical facts.