Working Montessori Math into Homeschooling

The other day I received this question from a customer and I thought it was an interesting dilemma. Here’s what she said:

“I have a question for you, and I wonder if you can help me out when you have some time. As you know, I am homeschooling my daughter. We use Montessori materials for language and science, but for math I have purchased a homeschooling math curriculum to use. My daughter is in first grade, and understands the concepts well (addition, subtraction, patterns, etc.), however, she is reluctant to do math work. She finds it “boring and too long” (her words).

The curriculum includes practice sheet and assessments that she needs to complete, as well as a lot of repetition of the math problems. I have also tried some games with her to teach her the concepts, but none of these have worked. Math has become a bad experience for the two of us. She complains, whines, and refuses to cooperate. I feel frustrated and helpless. What can I do?”

My answer:

“I’d be happy to try and help. First, let’s step back and look at all the dynamics that are going on. When you say things like “practice sheet and assessments”, little bells go off for me. Both in Montessori and my own experience, a first grader shouldn’t need to be completing those kinds of things. This does lead to the kind of behavior you speak of – complaining and whining – but that is the only way a child this age is able to tell you: “Mom, I don’t want or need to do this!”

Children resist textbooks, workbooks, and worksheets because they sense an inherent irrelevance in the materials. A page of math problems with no real-life application is just busy work, and they know it. In a classroom situation, a child might not verbalize these feelings; they see their classmates doing the worksheets, which makes them feel like “everyone is doing it”, or they might not feel comfortable enough with the teacher to state their true feelings.

With mom, however, it’s a different story! As you’ve seen, they feel no social pressure to comply just because you’re telling them to. As I’ve browsed homeschooling websites, I found a quote by one homeschooling mom (her kids are now grown) who said: “The more I tried to make it similar to real school, the worse it was. It wasn’t until I switched gears completely and let them do the leading that things fell into place”.

Maria Montessori felt that children needed a strong foundation in concrete operations before moving to abstract. By concrete operations, I mean using objects, beads, or tiles to solve math problems rather than just doing them on paper. In this way, children begin to understand the why and how of the math they are doing. Most children (with a few exceptions) respond really well to hands-on math materials, especially if they are given the freedom to choose when, how, and where to work with them.

I’m not familiar with the curriculum you’re using, but if you take 10 different math curriculums, I’m sure that there’d be 10 different ways to teach addition, 10 different timelines for when each skill should be learned, and on and on. In other words, the “requirements” of many curriculums are mostly arbitrary. In Montessori, the math curriculum starts with a hands-on approach to the decimal system and slowly builds off of that.

I would recommend that you lighten up on math with your daughter – put out some hands-on math activities and let her be the one to choose to do them. Trust her to know what she needs to work on. If you can get a copy of Maria Montessori’s book “The Secret of Childhood”, I think you would be fascinated. She never imposes her own ideas on the child; she only observes and sees what they teach her about themselves. It’s awesome.

It sounds like this could be a pivotal moment for you as you decide what to do in the next few months. At a certain point, all Montessori teachers and homeschoolers have to relinquish some control back to the child in order for there to be unrestricted learning. It’s something that I’ve struggled with too.

The “proof is in the pudding”, as they say, and rather than worrying if your daughter gets certain test scores, or completes a certain number of worksheets, focus more on helping your daughter become creative, intelligent, thoughtful, and curious. After all, if she completes a worksheet, it begins and ends there. If she is allowed to learn freely, she can teach herself for the rest of his life.

I don’t want to be preachy, and I know there’s a lot to take in. At the very least, hopefully this will give you more options to pursue as you continue on your homeschooling journey.”

Any thoughts, readers? I’d like to know what you think about this.

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18 Responses to “Working Montessori Math into Homeschooling”

  • CL said at February 11th, 2007 at 5:53 pm :

    If only they would have done this with me as a little girl who just didn’t get math….

    Great article Lori. I passed this on again to a friend whose daughter has trouble learning math in school for most likely the very reasons the girl in the example is. Only difference is that my friend, who is Canadian, lives in Germany. She would love nothing more than to keep her daughter home and homeschool her, but unfortunately it is illegal to do that there.

    I hope she can take your suggestions and work with her around the German Public School System.

  • montessori_lori said at February 11th, 2007 at 6:06 pm :

    That’s exactly what I thought when I took the Montessori training – if only I had had the golden beads, bead frame, and binomial cube when I was learning math! How much easier and clearer the concepts would have been to learn.

    I hope your friend can do some hands-on things with her daughter at home. It makes me really grateful that I live in a country that allows homeschooling!

  • Jeanne said at February 12th, 2007 at 7:26 am :

    Montessori Math really intrigues me. Years ago I attended a homeschooling conference where a representative from HSLDA spoke. He gave us statistics about how well homeschoolers do compared to public schoolers. There was a huge difference in language arts skills, but not a big difference in math. Then I attended a session on unschooling, and it became clear that even many unschoolers use textbooks for math. I believe that the homeschoolers’ better scores reflect only the individualized tutoring they receive, because there usually is no difference in method.

    Recently I did an online search for information on long term effects of Montessori education and found this:

    It shows that children who went to Montessori schools did much better than their peers in math and science at high school.

    So I thought, here’s my answer as to how to do math. Unfortunately I can’t go get Montessori training to teach my children in that manner. So I have been considering Schiller Math, which is supposed to be based on Montessori methods. I have not seen it in person yet. I did read the list of manipulatives that comes with it and was unimpressed. Have you ever seen Schiller Math? If you have, would you recommend it for homeschooling families?

  • montessori_lori said at February 12th, 2007 at 8:06 am :

    You’re right, Montessori math definitely produces better results than traditional math. As far as Schiller math, I have glanced over it but never seen it in person.

    My advice is to stick with traditional Montessori math materials – many can be made at home and others can be purchased from lower-priced Montessori vendors. I agree with you, the manipulatives shown with Schiller Math look like common items found in the home or a teacher store – probably for a lot less $.

  • Aqueelah Rasheed said at February 21st, 2007 at 12:13 am :

    Hi Lori,
    My daughter is almost 3.5 and I am planning to homeschool her. I have decided to purchase montessori curriculum manuals. However, I am not quite sure if there is a big differnce in the quality of the manuals from The Montessori Foundation and NAMC, North American Montessori Council. I do know that there is a HUGE difference in price. Do you have any adivce on which set of manuals would be the best?

  • montessori_lori said at February 21st, 2007 at 8:06 am :

    Great question! I’m not familiar with the NAMC manuals – can you provide a link? The Montessori Foundation Manuals are excellent, but I can’t compare the two.

  • Kim at Montessori House said at March 15th, 2007 at 12:02 am :

    The cost of Montessori materials for math seem to be the biggest barrier to using them at home. The language and practical life materials lend themselves pretty well to DIY, especially with Lori’s help!

    The math spindles, red rods, red and blue rods, golden bead sets, binomial and trinomial cubes, all the math charts, and fractions material would be on my list of minimum requirements. If you use a combination of DIY and second hand purchases, it is doable…

    For the little girl mentioned in the blog, what about reintroducing her slowly to math? Have her pass around a plate of cookies, breaking the odd cookie in half, and other non-traditional exercises until the bad association with math is a bit behind her.

  • montessori_lori said at March 15th, 2007 at 7:15 am :

    I agree, the math materials definitely cost more and are harder to make than math/language/cultural. For someone completely impaired, purchasing a Montessori-based curriculum like SchillerMath wouldn’t be a bad idea.

    And of course, eBay is full of deals if you don’t mind slightly lower quality or used items.

  • Originalkat said at February 19th, 2009 at 1:41 pm :

    Although this comment comes nearly 2 years after the original post, I would still like to add my thoughts. I am a homeschooling mom of preschoolers and just came across this awesome blog and resource website. Here are my two cents on Shiller Math as a Montessori alternative for homeschoolers…
    I first learned of the amazing aspects of the Montessori method informally through a coworker about ten years ago. (I am a former “traditional” preschool teacher). Now that I have children of my own, I wanted to implement some Montessori aspects (Math, language, and geography for now) into my Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum. When I googled Montessori Homeschool Math, Shiller Math came up. I have really thought, prayed, debated, and read reviews about this program. For me it came down to…it’s really not true Montessori. Even with my limited knowledge and experience with Montessori, I believe my children will not be able to truly grasp the math concepts the way they were designed unless they use the materials themselves.
    Since I don’t have formal Montessori training, I have decided to buy the (costly) NAMC manual because it is nicely organized with full color photos with detailed descriptions of the presentations. I also think I will buy my math materials from Montessori Outlet which has quality products at a much lower cost.
    It is worth the time and money for my children to learn math the Montessori way. And you never know…your kids might want to use the materials for their own child one day!

  • Esther said at March 3rd, 2010 at 9:43 am :

    I know this thread is pretty old, but I wanted to put in a few comments about Shiller Math in case it might help someone…I bought it because I thought it was the closest I could get to Montessori without spending HUGE amounts of money…I also got it because I was feeling overwhelmed about pulling the Montessori together in a way I could present it even if I could afford the materials…(I have no Montessori training.)

    I’ve got to say I’m disappointed. First, Shiller doesn’t help me to set up materials in a way that lets my children work independently and really discover on their own. (And reading his philosophy makes me think he wants you always to be with your child, coaching him along.) Second, some of my favorite Montessori manipulatives aren’t included…I’m still making some for my kids to work with. Third, some of the lessons just seem dumb to me!

    At least for now, we’re not going to abandon Shiller. I’m hoping that by the time my oldest is done with Shiller Kit 1, I’ll be able to pull things together so we can go on with true Montessori.

  • Lori Bourne said at March 3rd, 2010 at 9:49 am :

    Hi, Esther! Never too late to join in the discussion.

    I too was disappointed with Shiller Math when I tried it. I felt the lessons weren’t well laid out and frankly, sometimes made no sense. Actually, anyone looking for a workbook-based program might want to check out “Math Made Easy” books by Dorling Kindersley. They are extremely well done.

  • viji said at March 17th, 2010 at 8:43 pm :

    hi esther/lori bourne

    where did you buy shiller math books..

    i am looking to buy only the books for Kit son is 4 yrs old and i want to start math

    any help is appreciated,,

  • Lori Bourne said at March 17th, 2010 at 8:44 pm :

    I bought them directly from ShillerMath…but as both I and Esther point out, there are better math books out there for far less money.

  • Sue said at July 30th, 2010 at 7:29 am :

    what book would you recommend for teaching your children montessori math at home?

  • Lori Bourne said at July 30th, 2010 at 7:36 am :

    Hi, Sue! Do you mean an album with the instructions for using the Montessori math materials? If you are looking for albums (including free online ones), this post has a ton of information.

    There’s no “book” that you can have the children use to do Montessori math – in Montessori, math is done with hands-on materials. The albums are for the adults to use, to know how to present the materials.

    As I mentioned in an earlier comment, the Math Made Easy workbooks from Dorling Kindersley are very nice. They are not Montessori, but are easy to integrate into a Montessori setting.

  • Sue said at August 3rd, 2010 at 1:26 pm :

    thanks, lori, i will check that post. my kids have all been in montessori for years, and i am now homeschooling so i am looking at continuing what already works! i do mean the albums and i will look at that workbook also. thank you, again.

  • Lori L said at April 3rd, 2011 at 3:35 pm :

    Well, I happened across this very late but I found it very interesting. My daughter has been at Montessori 2 years now. She is first year Lower El. now. She is excelling in all areas except reading. She is dyslexic and needs a little more than Montessori can offer. I have been trained to teach dyslexics and would like to home school her next year still using the Montessori style. I have home schooled 18 years now but had to send her to school while I was caring for my grandmother. Now that I am able to teach at home again I believe the right reading instruction along with the Montessori method she is accustomed to in her other subjects will allow her to really blossom and learn to her fullest potential.
    I found the NAMC manuals but can not find The Montessori Foundation Manuals(Guides). Can you please tell me where I can find them so I can compare prices?
    My daughter’s school uses the manuals from Montessori Foundation so I believe it would be best for me to get the same ones to continue on with.

  • Lori Bourne said at April 3rd, 2011 at 4:03 pm :

    Hi, Lori! (love your name!) I don’t know about the Montessori Foundation albums, but you can find many types here including online ones: Ultimate Post About Montessori Albums.