The Use of Concrete Experiences in Early Childhood Mathematics Instruction

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Addressed are four key issues regarding concrete instruction: What is concrete? What is a worthwhile concrete experience? How can concrete experiences be used effectively in early childhood mathematics instruction? Is there evidence such experiences work? I argue that concrete experiences are those that build on what is familiar to a child and can involve objects, verbal analogies, or virtual images. The use of manipulatives or computer games, for instance, does not in itself guarantee an educational experience. Such experiences are worthwhile if they target and further learning (e.g., help children extend their informal knowledge or use their informal knowledge to understand and learn formal knowledge). A crucial guideline for the effective use of concrete experience is Dewey's principle of interaction—external factors (e.g., instructional activities) need to mesh with internal factors (readiness, interest). Cognitive views of concrete materials, such as the cognitive alignment perspective and dual-representation hypothesis, provide useful guidance about external factors but do not adequately take into account internal factors and their interaction with external factors. Research on the effectiveness of concrete experience is inconclusive because it frequently overlooks internal factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Child Development and Behavior
EditorsJulie Sarama, Douglas H Clements, Carrie Germeroth, Crystal Day-Hess
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages52
StatePublished - 2017

Publication series

NameAdvances in Child Development and Behavior
ISSN (Print)0065-2407


  • Concrete learning
  • Early childhood
  • Hypothetical learning trajectory
  • Manipulatives
  • Mathematics education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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