Montessori Maths At Home

Published: 21st February 2012
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One thing that the sensory materials originally developed by Maria Montessori for use in early childhood learning were for was to teach basic mathematical concepts such as length, width, height, weight and the like. A child using these materials looks as though he or she is just having fun, but they are actually conducting some experiments that will get them off to a good start.

You can reinforce this learning at home quite easily. Some parents who send their children to a Montessori early learning centre go the whole hog and buy their own sets of the sensory materials. Many toy stores stock sets of equipment that are similar to Montessori sensory materials, such as stacking/nesting tubs. These can be used by the child at home to practise stacking (which requires the child to get the tubs in order of size) and also can be used in the bath or sandpit to explore volume and practise pouring skill. Having these sorts of toys at home is highly recommended, even if you can't get hold of the "proper" Montessori sets. Just remember the basic self-care and good citizenship that your child will have learnt at a Montessori centre: put the equipment/toys away properly when you have finished using them.

Alongside the traditional wooden blocks, rods and tubs that you'll see in a Montessori classroom, you can also find other learning materials for children that help with mathematical concepts. Cuisenaire rods are another classic example and can be introduced as soon as your child is old enough not to put the smaller rods in their mouth and run the risk of choking on them. You probably encountered these rods at school: a white cube measuring 1 cm in each dimension, then a different colour for each whole number up to ten (red for two, light green for three, magenta/pink for four, yellow for five, dark green for six, black for seven, brown for eight, blue for nine and orange for ten). These are used for making patterns, building towers, stacking and sorting at first - and for learning the names of colours - before they are used for learning that 2 + 8 = 10. A follower of Maria Montessori's original methods developed these rods in the 1930s as a way of making maths fun at higher levels of education (i.e. primary school).

But you don't have to buy fancy equipment to reinforce maths concepts at home. Good old building blocks, like many other common traditional toys, can be used for learning maths in a sensory fashion. The principles of physics are the same no matter what shape or size a piece of wood is, and a child will soon learn that a tower built with the small blocks at the bottom falls over. Blocks need to go from bigger to smaller when building a tower or you don't get a stable structure. Russian Babushka dolls are other traditional favourites for exploring volume and size order, and the fact that they're humanoid allows more scope for imaginative play - they easily become a family of a mother and daughters. "Sorting into families" can also be played with plastic animals: children learn to group like things together and to sort the things within this group according to size. This also introduces a basic principle of science as well, even though your child just thinks that they're finding the mummy pig, the daddy pig, the big brother pig, the little sister pig and the baby pig.

Toys are obvious examples of sensory learning materials that a preschool child can use at home to reinforce the maths learning done at a Montessori early learning centre. But if you look around your home, you are bound to find other things that can be used by your child as a way of exploring maths concepts. Here's some ideas to get you started - and they might just save your sanity on a rainy day!

Bathroom: Try sorting towels, face flannels and bathmats according to size or by shape as well as by colour when you are sorting the laundry (or have nothing to do on a wet weekend). Any group of containers of differing sizes can be used for pouring and exploring volume. Used toilet rolls can be cut up into different lengths to make a set of tubes.

Laundry: Look out for buckets that can be stacked and nested - these are particularly fun for a child, as they are like the familiar tubs and cylinders used at a Montessori early childhood centre but are a lot bigger. Some are so big that a child can sit in them, and they can at least be used as a hat. Pegs can be grouped according to colour and/or shape, depending on what sort of clothes pegs you have. Clean washing can be sorted by colour - matching socks into pairs is a useful job (self-care) and helps a child learn about odd and even numbers as well.

Kitchen: Aside from the obvious learning materials in the form of a jug and a cup that a child can use to pour him/herself a drink, your kitchen is full of learning materials. The kitchen is probably the place in your house where you use the most mathematics on a day to day basis. Laying the table with cutlery and crockery can be used to practise sorting according to size as well as being a useful contribution a preschooler can make to the household. Lay your table as if you were the Three Bears (the ones burgled by Goldilocks): the biggest plate, knife, cup etc. for the biggest person in the house, and so on down to the smallest implements for the smallest member of the family. Measuring spoons and cups are obvious sets to use for stacking and pouring, but you can do the same thing with saucepans. Saucepans have other potential uses, albeit noisy ones. Get your child to tap the side of each saucepan and listen to the note made. The saucepans can be ranked according to the pitch of the note made by hitting them as well as by size. Lids can be ranked separately from the pots, and the child can self-correct by putting the lids on the pots - if you're out of order, the lid won't fit.

Look around your home creatively - you'll be surprised at what you can find.


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