The Birth of a Mathematical Mind

Ooooh look, the square root of twenty five!

All humans are born with mathematical minds. Let me say that another way: all human babies come into this world naturally hardwired to learn mathematics. Why then, you ask, are so many of today’s children growing up to be ‘mathematically illiterate’ adults? Because--as great thinkers such as French mathematician Blaise Pascal and Dr. Maria Montessori knew a century (or more) ago--if mathematical learning is not part of the child’s early experience, the numerical part of the mind goes undeveloped and learning math becomes much more difficult. Dr. Montessori often used of the term, ‘Mathematical Mind,’ a reference to Blaise Pascal’s theory that “…man’s mind was mathematical by nature and that knowledge and progress came from accurate observation” (The Absorbent Mind, 17, pg. 169).

"We are born with a core sense of cardinal number."

Recent studies continue to confirm this truth. "We are born with a core sense of cardinal number," says Brian Butterworth, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychology and Author of The Mathematical Brain. He further explains that babies, even those less than a week old, can grasp what he calls the “number module,” long before they have learned the names or symbols of numbers. By “number module,” he means a core ability to recognize quantity or groupings of the same amount. Butterworth believes these core numerical concepts are instinctual. True, the instinct must be honed and developed through experience, but base faculty is present from birth.

Children display a universal love of mathematics, which is par excellence the science of precision, order, and intelligence.”  - Dr. Maria Montessori

It is a common misconception that children under the age of four or five years old lack the cognitive ability to learn early mathematical concepts. Unfortunately, the current educational standards in the United States were established using this misinformed way of thinking. In reality, the “mathematical mind” of the child, a core foundation of human intelligence, should be stimulated and developed as early as possible.

Dr. Montessori put it this way, "Great creations come from the mathematical mind, so we must always consider all that is mathematical as a means of mental development. It is certain that mathematics organize the abstract path of the mind, so we must offer it at an early age, in a clear and very accessible manner, as a stimulus to the child whose mind is yet to be organized."

The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” - Dr. Maria Montessori

Dr. Montessori also observed that young children learn early mathematical concepts through touching, stacking, sorting, and handling objects as they count them. It is through this manipulation of various materials that children learn to recognize quantities, sequence, and patterns. This is the groundwork for basic mathematical principles.

“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori

Butterworth has recently found more evidence to support a connection between the use of hands and mathematical learning. Butterworth’s team has observed a correlation between people who suffer from dyspraxia (a disorder that affects fine motor skills) and those with lower than average math abilities. “They tend to have particularly poor finger dexterity,” explains Butterworth. “We have anecdotal evidence that these people are worse at math than the average, both as children and as adults.” I doubt that this discovery would have come as a surprise to Dr. Montessori.

“The human hand, so delicate and so complicated not only allows the mind to reveal itself but it enables the whole being to enter into special relationships with its environment. We might even say that man takes possession of his environment with his hands.” Maria Montessori

Our children are born with amazing potential! Our children are born with amazing potential!

Whether we choose to listen to the tried and true wisdom of Maria Montessori, or any of the numerous studies that have followed since, the bottom line is that our children are born with amazing potential. Too often, that potential is lost, squandered by an inadequate and slow-to-change educational system. Fortunately, there are ways for us parents to ensure that our children master the fundamentals of mathematics. Come join Age of Montessori’s Early Preparation of the Mathematical Mind online course. Maria Montessori’s profound understanding combined with the expertise of Mary Ellen Maunz provides us with a clear and sure path to follow. We know this information will prove of practical use to you.

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