The young child’s sensitivity to order is intimately linked to what Dr. Montessori referred to as the “mathematical mind,” a term she borrowed from the French philosopher Pascal. This term does not relate specifically to the ability to understand mathematics but rather to the tendency of the human mind toward exactness.
Montessori reasoned that since the child is endowed with a “mathematical mind” and since mathematics is a precise science that the learning of mathematics should be a joy “. . . if only its roots can be implanted in the absorbent mind.” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind) The period of the absorbent mind, from birth to age six, is the time when mathematical concepts can be most easily absorbed from experiences with concrete and precise math materials.
The children are prepared indirectly for grasping mathematical concepts through the exercises of practical life, which develop skills in sequencing and ordering, and through the sensorial materials. The order, clarity, and precision of the sensorial materials satisfies and further develops the child’s mathematical mind, preparing it for higher intellectual activities. The base ten system is inherent in many of the sensorial materials. Children who have had repeated and varied experiences with the sensorial materials “possess all the instinctive knowledge necessary as preparation for clear ideas on numeration.” (Montessori, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook)
Since the process of internalizing mathematical concepts must begin with concrete experiences, the math materials are concrete representations of abstract concepts. Child in our program joyfully explore numeration to one thousand, the base ten system of units, tens, hundreds, and thousands, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, squares and cubes of the numerals from one to ten, fractions, time, money, and geometry. For Montessori children, the learning of mathematics is a delight. Many adults upon seeing the math materials exclaim, “I wish I had these to work with when I was young!”