We know children learn through their senses. For example, they touch water to understand wet vs dry. They watch to see how mom or dad complete a task, then copy those movements to do it themselves. They listen and mimic sounds to make words.
Maria Montessori understood this concept of experiential learning and made it integral to the structure of her classroom over 100 years ago! So how does she help children use their senses to learn things like math and language?
It’s through a process that’s called moving from concrete to abstract. Let’s look at some real-world implementations of this idea.
Sounds then Letters
Children are exposed to the spoken word all throughout the day. They hear loved ones speaking or voices on TV and radio. This is a concrete part of their environment: Sounds.
When it’s time to begin language learning, a Montessori guide will explore these sounds with a child. They might begin by taking one sound, sss, and thinking of words that begin or end in that sound. The sound sss will be very concrete in a child’s mind before they look at a letter, at which point the teacher might say, “This is what sss looks like.” Finally, after working with this visual representation of a sound for some time, a guide will introduce the abstract: “The name of this sound is S.”
Quantity then Numbers
A number is an arbitrary symbol that represents a specific quantity, so to make learning numbers more concrete, children first learn what 3 of something looks like. For example, what do 3 spindles look like? What about 3 rocks or 3 books? How does 3 units look compared to 2 or 4 units?
Then, when children have a concrete understanding of “3” of any concrete material, they are introduced to the symbol that represents that quantity: The number 3.
Color then Association
The way children learn colors in the Montessori classroom is another example of concrete to abstract. A traditional classroom might use a red apple as a sample of what “red” means and looks like, but really, apples aren’t always red. The sky isn’t always blue. So instead, Montessori isolates color in the form of a color tablet (picture at the top of the article).
Then, children practice matching colors, working with color gradients, and learning the names of colors, but in an isolated setting. This concrete representation of color can then be applied to anything in the whole world! Like a red apple, a red firetruck or a red ribbon.
Recommended for you: