The Montessori Color Tablets

Story by July 22, 2017
The famous Montessori color tablets are a seemingly simple activity, but the philosophy behind them is really quite profound.

While it may appear that the color tablets are comprised only of a series of matching activities, what lies beneath might surprise you.

Typically, when we try to introduce new concepts to children, we point out things that make sense to us. We start where we would start, as adults, as opposed to trying to start in the beginning, getting in the minds of how children might learn.

Here’s an example:

If you were going to try to teach your child what “blue” is, where would you begin? What is blue? How would you help your child understand the concept? For us, we’d probably start by pointing out an object that we often think of as “blue”. Take the sky, for instance. We might point to it and say, “The sky is blue.”

Montessori, however, takes this very idea and flips it squarely on its head. Instead of starting out with a concept like sky, she introduces the concept blue, in it’s most concrete form, before pointing out any representations.

For instance, Montessori isolates the concept of blue in a concrete form, as represented by the color tablets. Instead of pointing to the sky and saying that the “sky is blue”, when it could really be light blue, or gray, or orange, or a multitude of colors, Montessori places the “sky” in the color tablets. Which is to say, she isolates one concept at a time.

Once the child develops an appreciation of that color, whether it be “red” or “yellow” or “black”, she then encourages the child to take that knowledge and apply it back to the world. Right now, the apple is red. (Keeping in mind that apples aren’t always red!)

As you explore Intro to Colors alongside your child, we thought this logic would be helpful, especially in seeing the philosophy behind the activities.

We find that colors is one of the very best ways to see the genius of Montessori at work.

Montessori could be summed up conceptually as this: the abstract always comes after the concrete. On the one hand, the abstract exists in thought. It has no physical or concrete existence, but persists as an idea, quality or state. The concrete, on the other hand, exists as a material or physical form. It is real and solid, something tangible. Children learn best through the concrete.

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