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Concrete to the Abstract - Putting Ourselves in Our Child's Shoes
Concrete to the Abstract - Putting Ourselves in Our Child's Shoes
Conrad Wildsmith
Monday, February 03, 2020

A few weeks ago we hosted parents for our first ever Montessori Journey. The purpose of the Journey was to help parents build a better understanding of Bay Farm’s unique, artsintegrated Montessori program by allowing them to spend time at each level exploring the materials our children work with every day. 

We gathered together in the Great Room, organizing with name tags and notebooks and set off for the Toddler House. Having ten plus adults in a toddler house classroom demonstrated how purposefully prepared these spaces are for tiny bodies. Giant parents squeezed into 12-inch chairs and used childsized materials — a clear reminder to me of how uncomfortable a child might feel in an adult-sized world. The evening progressed from Toddler to Children’s House, to Elementary I, and Elementary II and the furniture grew to a more comfortable size. As physical comfort expanded, the content became more complicated, more abstract, and for many, much less comfortable — another reminder to me of how uncomfortable it can be to jump into the abstract without a firm grounding in concrete understanding. 

Many school curricula demand rote memorization of equations and facts without concrete experiences. The outcome is we learn how to solve equations without learning what the resulting solution means. At Bay Farm, we believe in Dr. Montessori’s research backing up the creation of materials that establish abstract ideas as fundamental concrete experiences. The amazing thing to me about these concrete materials is that often they are self-correcting, so the student cannot “solve” the work without arriving at the correct solution. 

During last week’s Journey, I was particularly taken with the way parents focused on the materials in the Children’s House. The silent concentration was very similar to what we all see daily with our children. The expressions on many parents’ faces were a mixture of confusion and seriousness. You see as adults we have to work backward from the abstract to see the connections. Many of us are products of traditional schooling models where the expectation was to arrive at an answer by using accurate calculations in a chosen equation. In contrast, our students develop an understanding of the application of the concept before getting to the abstract. 

This event was an excellent way for us all to explore the connections between the concrete work children perform in the younger years and the abstract work they see when they reach the older levels. At Bay Farm, from the littlest students onward, their education is grounded in purpose-driven, meaningful work. This deep learning helps to develop young people with an ability to think academically and ethically, capable of creating a better, more sustainable future for us all. 

- Conrad Wildsmith | Head of School