Academic journal article Curriculum Matters

Montessori Mathematics in Early Childhood Education

Academic journal article Curriculum Matters

Montessori Mathematics in Early Childhood Education

Article excerpt


The Montessori movement recently celebrated a century of international education, spanning from early childhood through to tertiary experience. The first Casa dei Bambini, or children's house, was opened in Rome, Italy, on 6 January 1907, and within three years the influence of Montessori education began to reach New Zealand shores.

This article outlines the Montessori approach to early childhood curriculum in general, and discusses findings from a small research project examining mathematical concept development in children prior to school entry. Initial findings of the project indicate that the Montessori approach may have a positive impact on children's numeracy knowledge and strategies at age five.

This research arose from the involvement of the authors of this paper in the development and delivery of teacher education degrees at early childhood education (ECE) and primary levels that include a Montessori specialty in their final year. Our experience in sharing both the Numeracy Development Project and the Montessori mathematics curriculum has resulted in many discovery moments for our students. This has led us to suggest that wider understanding and dissemination of Montessori curriculum ideas may help to progress discussion on early mathematics development.


This year (2007) marks the centennial of the founding of the Montessori education approach. Montessori is an education and peace movement, which reaches from early childhood to tertiary education in many countries and communities throughout the world. It has, nevertheless, been largely absent from curriculum discussion in New Zealand. In this paper we introduce readers who may have a passing knowledge of the Montessori system to some ideas that may contribute to curriculum debate in New Zealand, and particularly to the topic of early mathematics.

Shortly after the opening of the first Casa dei Bambini in Rome, word of Montessori's children reached New Zealand shores. Schools were quick to see the possibilities of the Montessori child-centred approach, but a selective adaptation of the philosophy led to an incomplete replication of the original results, and in less than 10 years most had moved on to other ideas (Miltich-Conway & Openshaw, 1988; Shuker, 2005). Following a revival of Montessori education in both the United States and Europe, a second wave of interest began in New Zealand in the mid-1970s and there are now nearly 100 early childhood centres, a further 30 primary classes (often within state schools), and two secondary schools that draw on the Montessori approach.

What is the Montessori approach?

The Montessori early childhood centre is sometimes described by its original name, Casa dei Bambini, which means house of children. In this place, which ideally has a home-like atmosphere where all the fittings and fixtures, tools, and activities are adapted to the size and capabilities of the children, the goal of the teachers is simply to assist the child to reach his or her potential. They provide children with the means to help themselves by patiently modelling many self-care activities. In addition, as they work with a multi-age group spanning a three-year age range (ideally from three to six), a social community is created where mutual respect and collaboration are fostered. Older children are able to share new-found skills in helping the younger ones, and the younger children frequently observe and absorb new ideas from the activities of the older ones.


Children in a Montessori early childhood centre have access to many precisely formed materials, enabling visual and hands-on exploration of concepts such as the relationship between size, quantity, and form. The founder of the approach, medical doctor and anthropologist Maria Montessori, believed that the child in the early period of life learns best when all the senses are stimulated. …

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