"A child's reaction to such a lot reveals a great deal about his character."
Math is a language of the spirit.
When Montessori acknowledged that the tendency toward the construction of the mathematical mind was universal among human development, I don't think she meant rote memorization of times tables or the order of operations. We are not driven to develop our stockpile of memorized equations. But we are driven to understand the universe, to identify and define that which is universal, to develop precision and accuracy and balance and beauty. We are driven toward math.
You may find this very comforting, if you are a teacher who loves math.
You may find this very discouraging, if you are a teacher who doesn't.
Montessori describes the deep emotional connection children have to the discovery of zero. "Some remain impassive... others... express their disappointment. Others cannot conceal a smile at the novel position I which they find themselves and which will arouse the curiosity of the others." We all have that emotional reaction to new mathematical concepts. We are too often told as children, just as we too often repeat to the children in our care, that some people are "good at math," and others are "no good at math." And often, the experiences that feed into these conclusions aren't really math experiences at all, but challenges in other areas of development. Having a hard time remembering your twelve times tables? That's an issue of recall, not of math. Frustrated by a math equation that doesn't make sense to you? That may be the result of how you were taught, not whether you can understand it.
Look at your classroom: children maintain their love of Math in these classrooms, because the elegance of mathematics is presented through equally elegant materials that invite children to put their hands to work and explore. There is a peaceful engagement you can observe when a child is absorbed by the trinomial cube, or when a child is untiring in their walk back and forth across the room to gather more and more glass beads. When children are absorbed in the aesthetics of geometry through the Metal Insets, or fascinated by the way light flows through moving water in Practical Life: this is Math. When we understand how to balance, how to move through space or master our physical environment, this is Math.
Read on the history of Math, how our understanding of it built empires or strengthened faith. Read on the minds who sought to understand the world as it was represented in a series of numbers and symbols. There is wonderment, not only in the practice of math itself, but in our ability to look over the shoulder of other mathematical minds.
We are trained to think that Math is something to which we should be adverse, because its beauty, its precision and its wonder are so far from the ways in which it is too often taught in traditional settings. Give yourself the opportunity to engage in your classroom materials as the children do, and you will likely find the same peace, through precision, repetition, exactness and the development of the mathematical mind.
* A response to Chapters 18 and 19, The Discovery of the Child. M. Montessori