Third in a series. Former Mountain Shadows parent Paul Algreen (P ’15) shares his journey as a Montessori parent.
A popular bumper sticker reads “There are three kinds of people in this world: Those who are good at math and those who are not.” While this humorous take on math abilities is good for a chuckle, it does highlight the love/hate relationship contemporary students have with learning and using math.
I have to admit, I love math. Though, I didn’t always. It wasn’t until around ninth grade that I found I truly enjoyed solving math problems and learning about the marvelous utility of math in everyday life. To this day, I see math all around me; when figuring how long it will take to get some place at a certain speed, resizing recipes, or calculating how much I need to save for retirement. Now, I accept that not everyone shares my passion for math, but I do believe that having basic skills in math is a necessity to function well in modern society. Further, as our workforce evolves in this century, it’s clear that intermediate to advanced levels of math competency is no longer the exclusive domain for scientists, engineers, financiers, and academics. From big data technology, to estimation for project management and sales, to farming, a solid footing in math concepts is now a tacit requirement.
Given that more than 6 in 10 Americans express difficulty with math, how does a parent go about giving their child an opportunity to beat the statistics? For our family, the initial investigations into the efficacy of Montessori in this area were very encouraging. In fact, some of our very first introductions to Montessori lessons and materials as parents were on the “math shelf.” Put simply, we were blown away. The elegant simplicity of the lessons was very exciting. The tangible materials for math lessons seemed to offer intuitive, hands-on experiences with math concepts that are ingeniously linked to provide a progression that lasts from Primary through to the Upper Elementary classrooms. My wife even commented, “If only I had access to these lessons when I was a kid!”
It was perhaps these high expectations combined with my own proclivity for math that led to my profound concern when, after many years of Montessori math lessons, my son admitted to me that “Dad, I really don’t like math. I’m just not that good at it.” What? How is that possible given the AMAZING math lessons you have access to? Our son’s teachers cautioned us not to worry too much that he’s not exhibiting great interest or proficiency at this age. He’s very good at math they assured us, but he’s just not that interested in it yet. That’s all fine and good for other kids, but what raced through my mind was that I want my son to be strong at math right now, lest he fall behind when the topics get more advanced! Of course, I hurried off to Target to buy as many flash cards and workbooks as they would sell me and formulated my own lesson plans for bridging the math gap. And what did I find when I set about my home instruction? As Casey’s teachers predicted, his conceptual understanding was fine, but his patience to do the work, in other words, his interest, just wasn’t there.
Flash-forward to the start of his sixth grade year, with Casey still not fully jumping on the math bandwagon, his teacher suggested a series of steps to reignite his interest in his math lessons. By primarily focusing on a few areas that he’d already demonstrated proficiency and shown confidence in, perhaps he would get over that mental roadblock and reconsider his negative self-assessment. Low and behold, with some patient prodding and consistency in his Montessori classroom, Casey’s attention and focus toward math steadily improved and his pace of uptake has grown exponentially (math pun intended)! While still not a self-professed math aficionado, his once firm fear of math substantially diminished and his confidence grew. But what’s more telling to me is that he was exhibiting clear signs of solid, if not advanced, conceptual understanding; Casey is quantitative! If he never shares my passion for math or if he does, I have confidence his Montessori-based mathematical foundation will serve him well.
Next: Is My Son in a Bubble?