How Sensory Learning Assists Math Skills

Everything we learn comes first through our senses.  Babies are able to discriminate the sound of their parent’s voice, the shape of their family’s faces, the smell of milk, and the touch of skin. This is the beginning of a child’s learning about the world.

So much of what is taught in school, especially in math is rote learning, abstract, and many students have little idea of how to put their skills to use in everyday life. How does Math make sense? Montessori education works with concrete educational materials first and later introduces abstract concepts once the understanding of the process has been internalized. For instance, in the Sensorial Area we have materials called the Red Rods. The Red Rods are 10 graduated rods, each 10 centimeters longer than the one before. Three-year-old children learn to carry these rods with two hands, one rod at a time to a work rug. As their small arms stretch to carry the last rod that is 100 centimeters long (one meter), they learn the terms short and long, longer, longest as they compare and contrast the 10 rods. This is the very beginning of measurement and base 10 system.

Teachers initiate games to help the child internalize the material. Like having the child close their eyes and the teacher takes one rod away, while closing the gap between rods. The child learns to discriminate the length of rods to know which one is missing.

The corresponding material in the Math Area is the Red and Blue Rods. These rods are identical in size to the Red Rods; however, every 10 centimeters they are painted red or blue, alternating to distinguish their segments. The children are familiar with arranging longest to shortest in a red rod. They count each segment. This material helps them visualize the concept of quantity first and the numeral second – concrete to abstract. By putting a hand around each segment as they count, they are getting the knowledge that counting is moving from left to right and is the numbers are getting bigger.

Later, in a follow up lesson they can put the corresponding numeral card next to the rod. In addition to nomenclature, the students learn about hierarchical inclusion. One is part of two; two is part of three, etc. They can also learn about addition. If I put the one-rod and the two-rod next to each other, they are the same length as the three-rod. They are able to explore similar relationships with all of the rods.

Similarly, the Spindle Boxes provide a way for children to count the correct number of spindles to go into a box with the number indicated. The boxes are labeled 0 to 9. The child picks up each spindle with one hand and transfers it to the other hand, and then into the box, the number grows. One spindle is easy for a small hand to manage. Holding nine spindles in one hand gives a sensory experience of less and more. It is difficult for a small hand to hold them all. Again, this material teaches a very concrete lesson of quantity getting larger. No spindles are put into the box labeled “0”. At a very young age, children are taught that “0” is the empty set.

If the child has counted correctly, there will not be any spindles left over. If there are left overs or not enough, somewhere a mistake has been made. The additional benefit of Montessori materials is the control of error. No person has to tell the child a mistake has been made, the child discovers the mistake and can recount. Part of Montessori’s genius was in the well thought out design of materials and the built-in control of error that allows children to learn from their mistakes.

All of the carefully designed activities that Montessori teachers put on the shelves for children to discover, enjoy and learn have elements of sensory inspiration. The pouring work with jingle bells in the Practical Life area teaches fine motor skills, preparation for pouring dry and wet materials, and makes an enjoyable tingling sound when the bells fall into the dish.

Each material is sequenced on the shelf to move from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. Materials are sequenced from left to right to help eyes move in that direction – for preparation of reading. Teachers get to know exactly where each child is in the sequence of materials to make sure that there are activities that are comfortable because the child worked with or mastered the activity before. There are also activities that provide challenge to stretch the learning and imagination going forward.

“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” ~ Maria Montessori

A New School Year – Are You Ready?

Preparing for the first days of school

Do you know people who over-commit their time and energy? Sure you do. I just have to look in the mirror! You probably can’t imagine how the Baby Boomers organized their time before we had cell phones, laptops and iPads? Being busy has become a status symbol. As we make a change from summer and vacation to a new school year beginning at Twin Parks Montessori Schools we all have to make adjustments in our sleep and active schedules. Also, take care in making promises you may not be able to keep.

Prepare your children for any upcoming event by talking about it beforehand, whether it is starting school, a shopping trip, a visit with friends, or travel out of town. Explanations can be brief with opportunities for your child to ask questions if your child wants to know more. Always leave extra time to get ready so everyone is not rushed. Be aware that constantly changing plans or making last minute decisions will increase the potential for stress. Also, take care in making promises you may not be able to keep.

Preparing for the first days of school

Children crave routine and consistency. While a new routine is being established, it is important to be consistent with mealtimes and bedtimes as much as possible. Before leaving the house to go in the morning, make sure everyone has a substantial breakfastincluding parents. Also, carry small healthy snacks and bottled water along with you.

Slow down next week and spend time at home with your children. Rest and relaxation before a schedule change is paramount to a successful transition. We are all able to handle new things when our minds and bodies are well rested and nourished. Take walks with your family. Walk past your child’s school to see how long it takes. Some parents work on getting back on a school schedule for meals, rest and bedtime a few weeks before the school year begins.

Remember to Play! Build with blocks, have a tea party under a sheet-covered table, have a pajama party. Sing in the car, at home, or any time at all. Reading to your child and singing songs are two fantastic ways that you can promote early literacy. Take walks in the parks to find hidden nooks and crannies to play hide and go seek. These intimate times with your children will have lasting benefits and create memories that can carry on to the next generation. After all, your greatest gift to your child is you – your time and your undivided attention.

Be proactive– read emails that come from your children’s schools to know what to expect the first days of school. There will be shortened schedules with new children phasing in to school slowly. Infant and toddlers will have a home visit. Mention the teachers’ names in conversation. Look for a picture of the teaching team to come before the first day of school. If this is the first time your child is attending, come to the Separation workshop on September 4th at 9:00 at our Riverside campus (202 Riverside Drive). And most of all attend the Parent Orientation to your child’s classroom on September 5th. You will meet the teachers and other parents. This is the perfect opportunity to build relationships within your child’s school community.

Goodbyes are Hard For All of Us


Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. Dr. Suess


One of the many indicators that the school year is almost finished is the Twin Parks Montessori School’s end of the school year picnics. Parents and children get together with their teachers and administrators to end the year with a whole school event. We all talk about how quickly the school year has passed. The picnic marks the end of another happy year together, learning and growing together.

Around this time, parents ask “why is my child regressing and misbehaving?” Teachers wonder why others around them are short on patience. Administration wonder why paper work is taking longer to complete. Even though we are all looking forward to summer, it means change –  in routines, in people we see on a daily basis, and expectations. Young children have a limited sense of telling time and they depend on the predictability of the school day events to assist them. That  schedule is usually gone when the school year ends and it is worrisome and confusing for our children.

You see the change in behavior at home and we see it at school. Children who are going on to elementary school become despondent at the realization that their preschool days are over and they won’t be returning to their beloved school. For many, this is the only away-from-home environment they have experienced.

Remember that most of our children operate in the moment. Adults plan months ahead. Parents are already planning on the next school year all of which can cause anxiety in children. Children are not always comfortable saying goodbye or with expressing their feelings of loss. Younger children do not know how long the goodbye will last. They are attached to their teachers and school friends and will miss them very much.

Teachers are notorious for trying to cram in so many new activities, field trips and special events that they forget to take care of themselves. They have a classroom of feeling beings in their care to be aware of and comfort. We need to remember to check on teachers’ emotions and experiences at the end of the school year.

It is best to keep our parent feelings inside even though the loss is big for us, too. Instead of talking about the next year – so far in the future, talk about one thing you will do over the summer. Keep future school plans simple and talk of them not too often. Check on each other, adults as well as children to make sure everyone is ok. We will all miss each other when the school year ends.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Winnie the Pooh

Grandparents’ Day at School


One of my favorite days of the year is when Grandparents come to visit. This past Thursday and Friday, all of Twin Parks Montessori School classrooms opened their doors and welcomed Grandparents in to visit. If a child did not have a grandparent, he/she could invite a special friend.

“Our grandchildren accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us, as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends — and hardly ever our own grown children.”  ~Ruth Goode

What I love most is that Grandparents love unconditionally. It does not matter if the child sings or not, or if the child completes work or a craft, or if he just wants to sit on a lap. Grandparents are happy to be in the classroom where their grandchild learns each day.

There are reasons why Grandparents are comfortable, easier to confide in and are able to demonstrate to their grandchildren.

  1.  We get more mellow as we age (although there are those who become bitter), we are less uptight. Our expectations are less frustrating and disappointing. We are able to see the world as it is, and we are less likely to get upset by behaviors children exhibit.
  2. Grandparent is delightful – not difficult as parenting can be. Grandparents have patience.
  3. Grandparents go to great lengths to facilitate bonding with grandchildren. Perhaps there is some spoiling involved. Grandparents can give extravagant gifts and baked good or favorite meals or outing.
  4. Some Grandparents may consider grandchildren as a chance to “do it over”. Grandparents are wiser now and with less stress in their own lives.

Whatever the reason, Grandparents are special. After all, Grandparents are like parents with a lot of frosting on top!

Are Children Suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder?

My generation grew up in a time when the children were sent outside to play. “Come in when I call you” or (horrors!) “when it gets dark”. Those were our instructions. We wandered to the fields and woods near our home. We learned to navigate the landscape, build forts, stay away from mean kids, and negotiate our desires with our neighborhood friends. We really did not understand how lucky we were. 

There was also a time in the 70s where we were trying to get “back to nature”. Grow food, make yogurt, and raise chickens. For some it was a comedy of errors for others it was a joyful time of independence and health.

Today, parents need to plan when outdoor time is going to happen. Children can’t go down 10 floors in the elevator to an outdoor space alone. Parents or caregivers must accompany them to the designated outdoor space to play and be surrounded by nature. We are fortunate to have Central Park and Riverside Park so close to Twin Parks Montessori Schools.

The benefits of spending time in nature are both physical and mental for children and adults. It puts us all in a better frame of mind. It reduces stress, depression and mental fatigue. Gross motor skills are greatly increased as well as flexibility of movement. Unstructured time in nature is best. Children learn how to take appropriate risks in life by spending unstructured time in nature.

Spending time outdoors is a great way to limit screen time. It is so much healthier to be outdoors looking at beauty and listening to nature, rather than remaining inside in front of the television or a computer screen. Plus the time spent with you on a walk while you are pointing out flora and fauna will increase vocabulary for young children.

Additional benefits include allowing children to have freedom which is vanishing in so many other situations. It improves confidence in children who suffer from low self-esteem allowing them to have peace and self-control.

Perhaps the best benefit is that your children will have a relationship with nature. One that will last a life time. Nature will be important and worth preserving for the future generations. It warms my heart and mind to see children defending wildlife, rainforests, and coral reefs. Children learn about ecosystems and what pollution does to the environment. They will help save the planet for future generations!

“The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” Richard Louv