As featured in the Gainesville Sun, October, 2008

Bob Herbert, in his commentary of October 16th, asked for a discussion and analysis of several pertinent issues facing our country’s future. As a teacher and president of a private Montessori school, I would like to contribute to a discussion on the quote from Sara Rimer: “The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both boys and girls, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, a new study asserts.”

It comes down to this; we must prepare the minds of preschool children for mathematical thinking if we are to reform mathematics in the United States. The early preparation of a young child’s mathematical mind follows a natural and definite pattern. At first a child absorbs information subconsciously. It is after his subconscious has done its work of building and organizing that it comes to the light of consciousness.

We all know that Children learn from experience and repetition and young children are like sponges, able to absorb information effortlessly. An example of this is a young child’s ability to learn a language completely and without an accent before the age of five. In preschool, Montessori education provides children with the freedom to select from a variety of activities, carefully presented by the teacher, what attracts them in their classroom environment. They are allowed to “work” without interruption for as long as they like with hands-on manipulatives that are precisely designed.

There has been much research in the past forty years on the importance of manipulative learning tools. Manipulatives refer to objects that can be touched and moved by students to introduce or reinforce a concept. Children learn best through active, hands-on activities with concrete materials.

In a Montessori preschool classroom, children as young as age two are introduced to hands-on materials that are carefully prepared to aid the development of their mathematical minds. These materials are beautiful and the children are drawn to them. The materials are weighed and measured to be precise in every way. They carefully progress from simple to complex in how they are designed and used. They move from concrete expressions of an idea and gradually become more and more abstract.

As the children get older they have a tremendous foundation for mathematical abstraction. They love to explore because they are used to learning by discovery. I am amazed at how quickly my elementary and middle school students can conjecture and reason logically. These children are not behind students in other countries. Their higher level thinking skills surpass many adults and their creativity is enhanced through the beauty of mathematics which is based in reality and truth.

Until a significant amount of preschool children in the United States are given the opportunity to develop their mathematical minds with a precise hands-on sequential curriculum, such as Montessori, it will not be possible for our emerging adults to compete in a global society.

If you are interested in seeing young children in the process of developing their mathematical minds, I welcome and encourage you to come observe at my school.

Christina Miller
President/teacher; Millhopper Montessori School, Inc.

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