Materialized Abstractions in the Montessori Environment
the most beautiful aspects of Montessori is that it brings abstract
concepts to life so that children can truly understand what the
A concept is a cognitive unit of meaning that
has been named by humans. It is an idea that is formed in the mind,
which is usually abstract in quality. Abstract concepts are usually
difficult to understand because they cannot be referenced to a specific
concrete material or object.
Concrete materials convey abstract qualities
Montessori however, provides the
children with concrete materials that convey the abstracted qualities
from what has been perceived and named by humans. From these
concrete materials the children can understand the abstract concepts and
the characteristics of them.
Using the Red Rods as an example,
the abstract concept of length is introduced to the child.
moment the child first touches the red rods they are beginning the
sensorial journey to understanding of the abstract concept of 'length'.
They are shown how to carry the rods one by one (starting with the
shortest rod) to their work mat. They feel in their hand how each rod
becomes longer. The last few rods become so long that they have to carry
them vertically with two hands, to avoid hitting others with them as
they walk to their work mat!
When all of the rods have been
placed randomly on their work mat, the teacher begins the process of
placing the rods according to their length. The teacher visually locates
the longest red rod and places it horizontally at the top of the work
mat. She places her fingers tips from her left hand on the
left edge of the rod. Using her right pointer and middle fingers, she
slowly slides them along the rod from the far left to the right end of
the rod: making sure her left fingers remain on the left of the rod.
start of the finger slide on each
end of the finger slide on
Clearly she has to reach her
arms quite far to stretch the length of the entire rod. The
teacher has felt the concept of length. From the rods that
remain randomly placed on the mat, the teacher once again selects the
longest rod and butts it up against the rod she just slide her fingers
along. She repeats the process of feeling the length by sliding her
fingers across the rod. She continues this process for a few rods and
then invites the child to continue to build the red rods and slide their
fingers along each rod, until all of the rods have been placed in the
children have had a lot of practice with the red rods and they are able
to build them correctly, the language of length is introduced. In
order to establish the quality, the words long and short are given. If
the child grasps the language and concept then the comparative of longer
and shorter, and the superlative of longest and shortest are also
introduced. This gives the child the language they require to verbally
express their understanding of the abstract quality of length.
Materialized abstractions liberate the child
There are many other examples of materialized
abstractions in the Montessori environment, specifically in the
Sensorial area. The
materialized abstractions liberate the child to become a free thinker.
The child will not take things on blind faith if he is allowed to make his own
discoveries through the use of the materials; the child will always seek
out basic principles for himself.
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