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When Concrete Becomes Abstract
Picture of By Claire
By Claire

When Concrete Becomes Abstract

As a layperson, with a deep interest in the philosophy of the Montessori curriculum, I often struggle to find answers to my questions.  My knowledge is patchy as I am self-taught.  Thus, I often question what may appear to be simple to the professional, but to me is intriguing.

The geometry cabinet in itself, is a massive subject.  But the question that I kept returning to was, “why did Maria Montessori choose to use two geometric form cards with different outlines for each shape?”. 

Shapes and patterns start in the Sensorial (3 to 6) environment.  Lori Bourne in her blog “The Shape of Geometry in Montessori ” reflects that “The Sensorial area of the 3-6 classroom is really the study of geometry; in elementary, this area becomes geometry.” 

In the 6 to 9 environment the Child explores the properties of the shapes they discovered sensorially in the earlier class.  When they are ready, the guide will invite them to work with the form cards, an extension to the Geometry Cabinet. 

Geometric Cabinet - When Concrete Becomes Abstract
Maria Montessori's Own Handbook

There are 35 shaped insets in the 6-drawers of the cabinet.  Each shape has 3 corresponding form cards reflecting a:

  • solid shape in deep cobalt blue on a white card
  • white shape with a broad deep cobalt blue (0.5cm) outlining this shape
  • white shape with a thin blue outline

The first series of form card with a solid image of each inset, I can understand. Being invited to learn the “plane forms”, the Child must learn a new concept of how to recognize the shapes. Now, the control of error is the visual perception, not the concrete frame used worked with previously.

The second series of form card with a broad outline was not confusing to me, but why a broad outline?  If you have a thin outline as well, why did you need the broad one?  In all my reading I had not registered that in this series…

“He is now passing to the line, but this line does not represent for him the abstract contour of a plane figure. It is to him the path, which he has so often followed with his index finger; this line is the trace of a movement. Following again the contour of the figure with his finger, the child receives the impression of actually leaving a trace, for the figure, covered by his finger, appears as he moves it. It is the eye now which guides the movement, but remember this movement was already prepared for when the child touched the contours of the solid pieces of wood.” The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori (1870 to 1952) Translated  by Anne Everett George. (Chap. XII, Education of the Senses and Illustrations of the Didactic Material:  Page 199 – Exercises with the three series of cards.)

I now comprehend that this is the exact moment when the Child moves from the concrete to the abstract.  S/He will no longer require the geometric solids or the insets with their concrete control of error to be able to recognise the shape.  Because now “he can connect the concrete reality with an abstraction. The line now assumes in his eyes a very definite meaning; and he accustoms himself to recognize, to interpret and to judge of forms contained by a simple outline.”

And so, I answered my question.  Thank you for joining me on this journey of discovery.  Reading Maria Montessori’s own words fascinated me. I took the above quotations from her handbook. By the way, the other snippet of information that I discovered in this exercise was that the thin outline was never originally intended to be blue.  Maria Montessori describes it as “in the third series, however, the geometrical figures are instead outlined only in black ink.”

Enjoy your work with the children of the universe, here’s looking to a bright new future.

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