Over the years numerous studies have reported mixed results regarding the use of manipulatives in teaching math to 3-6 year-olds. So, after a looking over many studies, some scientists decided to look a little deeper. They discovered evidence that shows Montessori kids do better in math than kids taught in traditional or non-Montessori environments. And since Montessori kids all use manipulatives in math, Montessori manipulatives must be very different than the manipulatives being used in other quarters.
The researchers highlighted four concepts that, if adhered to, would lead to success with hands-on materials. In all four instances, Montessori education is particularly well-suited to deliver results. The four pillars are as follows:
~Use a Manipulative Consistently, Over a Long Period of Time
~Begin With Concrete Representations and Move to More Abstract Representations Over Time
~Avoid Manipulatives That Resemble Everyday Objects or Have Distracting Irrelevant Features
~Explicitly Explain the Relation Between the Manipulatives and the Math Concept
In Montessori classrooms throughout the world, these principles form the cornerstones of success. So the question must be asked, "Why don't all other methods using manipulatives incoroporate these principles into their classrooms?" One possible explanation might be that educators have tried to "pick and choose" the parts of the Montessori method that makes sense to them, which then waters down the use of manipulatives. Another reason might be that a full-blown carbon copy of a Montessori classroom is not easily administered. It can cost $10,000 or more to train and certify a Montessori teacher, not to mention the purchase of expensive Montessori materials, many of which are handmade from beautifully finished wood. If children are lucky enough to be enrolled in a Montessori classroom, little do parents realize all that goes into making the classroom's materials a true success.
To read more about Montessori math materials and how they differ from other manipulatives, click below.