Magazine article Montessori Life

Counting or Playing?

Magazine article Montessori Life

Counting or Playing?

Article excerpt

One day in December, I was fixing the computer at work when the phone rang. I answered it, and was greeted by the parent of a child in my class. We talked about Christmas coming, how annoying it is to go Christmas shopping these days, and laughed at how the weather forecasters can never seem to predict snow accurately.

After the small talk, the parent told me the reason for calling.

"I'm concerned that Cindy [names have been changed] is not doing very much work in school." Cindy, a 4year-old, is a very hard worker who really enjoys learning. "All I hear about when Cindy gets home is how she played with Susan all day. She said they got the beads out today and sat at a rug and played." Cindy's mother explained how, at home, Gndy is able to add 2-, 3-, and 4-digit numbers. We already knew about Cindy's fantastic reading skills. Her mother's main question was whether there was something more challenging for her daughter to do than play with beads.

This is a common Montessori parent question, and a classic example of the important role perception plays in how we understand things. Imagine the following scene:

Cindy, looking around for some work to choose, walks over to the math shelf and sees the materials there. Deciding on a work that is a little more difficult, she invites Susan, who just walked by, and they work together. They roll out their rugs, lay out the materials, and begin. During this time, they learn that 5,491 is not simply "five thousand four hundred and ninety-one" but actually 5 thousands, 4 hundreds, 9 tens, and 1 unit. They begin to understand that as you get 10 units, you can exchange the units for another 10, and as you get 10 tens, you can exchange them for 1 hundred. After about 20 minutes, the girls put their work away. Eventually, it is time to go home, and when her mother asks, "What did you do in school today?" Cindy's simple answer is "Susan and I played with beads all day on a rug."

Notice what has happened. The child does not perceive this work in terms of its academic intent, the understanding of important math concepts. Cindy is not going to say to her mother, "I began to understand the decimal system in very concrete ways using materials mat were designed with a high degree of control of error." Cindy's perception was that this was a time for her to play with beads with her friend. That perception, passed on to her mother, prompted the call to me.

What's a Teacher to Do? …

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