The Value of Working with Montessori Materials to Prepare for Abstract Learning

September 05, 2023
This system in which a child is constantly moving objects with his hands and actively exercising his senses, also takes into account a child’s special aptitude for mathematics. When they leave the material, the children very easily reach the point where they wish to write out the operation. They thus carry out an abstract mental operation and acquire a kind of natural and spontaneous inclination for mental calculations.
—Maria Montessori
The Discovery of the Child, p. 279.

In Montessori education, the practice of learning through hands-on experiences and concrete materials holds great significance. Adults who are not familiar with Montessori principles sometimes find the materials to be fussy and time-consuming to use. However, to young learners, these hands-on materials are fascinating. Exploring and working with the Montessori materials provides children with a valuable, concrete means of understanding concepts, laying the foundation for abstract learning.

The Power of Concrete Materials

One of the fundamental principles of Montessori education is providing children with concrete materials that represent abstract concepts. These materials engage multiple senses, allowing children to explore, manipulate, and internalize complex ideas in a concrete and tangible manner. As children practice using these materials, they develop a strong foundation of understanding which makes the transition to abstract thinking far easier. Concrete materials, such as the Sandpaper Letters for language, facilitate hands-on learning experiences that accommodate different learning styles, ensuring a deeper level of comprehension.

Building a Solid Foundation

By engaging with Montessori materials, young learners gain a thorough understanding of the concepts they represent. For instance, before moving to pencil-and-paper methods for addition or subtraction, children are introduced to the Golden Beads material. This material helps them grasp the concept of place value and understand the regrouping or “exchanging” process, as they physically exchange units for tens, tens for hundreds, and hundreds for thousands. By actively participating in this concrete practice, children develop a profound understanding of mathematical operations, paving the way for successful abstraction later on.

Sensorial Exploration and Mathematical Concepts

The Montessori approach recognizes the importance of the senses in a child's development. Sensorial exploration serves as a bridge between the concrete and the abstract, aiding in the acquisition of mathematical concepts. A material like the Pink Tower, which is introduced around age 3, seems like a simple stacking exercise. However, as the child works with the Pink Tower, they are gaining a hands-on understanding of the properties of diameter, height, width, length, area, and volume. The Pink Tower also concretely demonstrates base 10 in both quantity and measurement: there are 10 pink cubes and each successive cube increase by one unit (1 cm) on all sides; therefore, the cubes increase in size in three dimensions — length, width, and height. Another early childhood material, the Constructive Triangles explore geometric shapes, allowing children to visually and kinesthetically experience how all non-curvilinear plane geometric shapes can be constructed from triangles, the closed figure with the fewest sides. Through these experiences, children develop spatial awareness, visual discrimination, and an intuitive understanding of mathematical relationships.

Fostering Engagement and Interest

Montessori materials have a remarkable ability to captivate children's attention and foster a genuine interest in learning. The carefully designed materials are aesthetically appealing, inviting children to explore and discover. The use of engaging materials encourages active participation, concentration, and a sense of accomplishment when a child successfully completes a task. By utilizing Montessori materials, educators provide children with an enjoyable learning experience, laying the groundwork for a lifelong love of learning.
As Montessori teachers in early childhood, lower elementary, and upper elementary classrooms, it is our responsibility to provide children with ample opportunities to work with the Montessori materials, fostering a strong foundation of knowledge and understanding. Let us celebrate the beauty and effectiveness of Montessori materials, embracing their intricate nature and allowing children the time and space they need to explore, practice, and truly comprehend abstract concepts. After all, it's only time-consuming if you're an adult. For children, working with the Montessori materials is a captivating journey of discovery and growth. 

Learn more about Montessori materials and how to present them when you enroll in NAMC's Montessori Early Childhood Diploma Program and when you purchase NAMC's Montessori Early Childhood Curriculum.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

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