If children acquire real familiarity with numbers early on, what they learn is known perfectly and not hard to recall.
Maria Montessori believed that children should be introduced to mathematics during the early stage of natural interest in sensorial work so as to acquire a real familiarity with numbers; what a child learns through the senses at this age is absorbed into the unconscious; it is known perfectly; it is easy to recall.
Therefore when young children enter a Montessori environment they are introduced to mathematical concepts via songs and number rhymes. And many Life Skills and Senses materials and exercises have already been dealing with numbers in some way.
Children learn by watching; language is kept to a minimum during initial presentations. They imitate and repeat exercises and tasks, working independently at their own pace. They handle and explore 2- and 3-dimensional shapes, blocks, rods and cylinders. They touch and explore tactile materials and objects of beauty. They develop and refine motor skills alongside concentration, perception and problem-solving skills. They make discoveries about weight, dimensions and relationship, sequence, series, sets and order; about similarities and differences.
Body movement and cognitive development are interlinked; through children’s tactile encounters they build their own knowledge. This provides scaffolding for future understanding of abstract mathematical concepts in preparation for the Mathematics curriculum.
Our system of numbers is decimal; in Montessori this is made apparent from the beginning, as all early sensorial material for dimensions — the cubes and stairs — are in sets of ten.
Once the units are mastered, the next step is learning numbers and counting in the entire decimal system using beads and bead bars. Children naturally learns the names of the hundreds and the thousands, then with the aid of number cards learns how these numbers are written. In all this children never learn a meaningless label; a number is always associated it with a certain quantity of beads.
‘Conservation of objects’ is the identification of an amount of objects in varying situations. This concept is explored and developed through the use of materials such as the Apple Tree Counting Set, where the child uses numerals and groups of objects laid out in various combinations.
The Montessori method introduces the fundamentals of mathematics to preschool children while it is so easy for them to absorb concrete information. Children work with this material patiently and with interest for many years before attempting to work sums on paper. Such a mathematical foundation given to preschoolers has a life-long effect on their learning ability.