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Concrete to Abstract Learning

Montessori’s Theory emphasizes one key concept that has revolutionized the way children learn – the transition from concrete to abstract thinking. This approach involves immersing children in hands-on experiences with real objects before moving on to more abstract concepts and ideas.

The purpose of teaching through a concrete-to-representational-to-abstract sequence of instruction is to ensure students develop a tangible understanding of the math or any other concepts or skills they learn.

The young child moves from concrete thinking to abstract thinking as he begins to experience the world. As they acquire more concepts, they are able to mentally sort through these concepts and identify similarities and differences. They become more able to predict how new situations might develop.

When teaching kids anything new, it is important to remember to start with the concrete and move to the abstract. Many things in life are abstract (for example: addition and subtraction, a foreign language or phonics or vocabulary). It helps our kids  tremendously if we start by teaching concepts in a concrete manner and build up from there. By concrete, I mean they can see it and manipulate it with their hands.  If it applies, they can use all five senses so their brains can make as many connections with it as possible, building prior knowledge and a sturdy foundation for learning.

Take, for example, these three items: 1- the word apple, 2- a picture of an apple, and 3- an actual apple.

CONCRETE: an actual apple–it can be felt, manipulated, cut into, eaten, observed

LESS CONCRETE: a picture of an apple

ABSTRACT: the word apple

If a child has not had experience with the real apple, the word apple will not mean too much to her. It is the same with reading many unfamiliar words.  Our kids need to be able to feel it, manipulate it, “cut into it”, “taste it”, and observe it to make understanding come easier.

Ideas for moving from Concrete to Abstract


Pick activities that appeal to the five senses.  The more senses you can integrate into the lesson, the better!  It can be as simple as playing with ABC puzzles or manipulating magnetic letters to spell sight words. Segregation of 2 pulses into different bowls along with counting. Or patterns making or sequence building with different type of objects like spoon and bowls .


Visit a local fire house, a grocery store, a farm, a post office.

One mistake we can make with field trips is that we go after we’ve studied a certain subject to “wrap up” our study.  But going first would actually be better.


Take a trip to the mountains.  The beach.  The state capital.  The zoo.  Anywhere you can see something new.  Feel the sand between your toes.  Breathe in that mountain air.

Happy Parenting!


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