From birth, children are sensorial explorers—they discover their environment using their senses. At these young ages, how do children become aware of abstract concepts—like mathematics—that they cannot see, hear, or touch? With mathematics, toddler teachers introduce these concepts indirectly, setting the stage for future, more accurate and exact appreciations of the world around them. This building of awareness is called the “Awakening of the Mathematical Mind.”
After an extended period spent in a Montessori environment, the child becomes aware of the order and structure of the classroom, and can begin to perceive and evaluate their space. This ability to evaluate is one quality that Dr. Montessori identified as a component of the mathematical mind. Here are a few ways that practical life activities set the stage for future mathematical work.
Perceiving and Measuring
Through practical life activities in the environment, a child around 2.5 years old starts to appreciate objects from two points of view, and starts comparing and establishing certain relationships on a sensorial level. At this stage they may evaluate what’s available to them, less or more, small or big, long or short, lighter or heavier, etc. Their interest does not yet extend to exact evaluations such as how much bigger, how much lighter, etc.
Focus and Concentration
Practical life activities also help the child develop focus and concentration. Choosing an activity spontaneously and performing it repeatedly makes the child perfect their movements and master the activity. Practice makes perfect, and the child builds self-esteem and confidence in themselves.
Verifying Their Work
Verification is another important factor in mathematics education. When a child returns the activity to the shelf for others, they verify at the end of the activity that everything is present. Working with these activities, the child also gains a certain capacity for mental calculation. For example, the amount of water needed to soak cloth during a “washing cloth” activity.
Completing Challenging Work
Finally, toddlers also develop the habit of completing an activity and not giving up in-between, which is very important in solving mathematical equations later in life. A young child takes on challenges with ease, and enjoys being challenged.
Through practical life activities in the Montessori classroom, our toddlers are developing work attitudes that will help them for the rest of their lives.