Why Concrete Reasoning Is the Foundation for Learning

Two preschool-age girls counting on hands with teacher

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What is concrete reasoning and what are some examples? How does this differ from abstract reasoning?

Forms of Reasoning

There are two basic forms of reasoning: concrete and abstract. Both are critically important for day to day life, but most people are better at one type of reasoning than the other. Children with learning disabilities may find it more difficult than typical children to reason through a problem to find a solution.

Abstract vs. Concrete Reasoning

Abstract reasoning involves thinking about and managing ideas and concepts. Abstract concepts can be surprisingly important for day to day life. For example, these very important skills require abstract reasoning:

  • Time management
  • Understanding basic geography (the concepts of a town, state, country, etc. are all abstract)
  • Completing arithmetic problems without hands-on manipulatives (numbers are abstract when not associated with objects)
  • Discussing ideas (story plots, politics, religion, and concepts such as truth, fairness, and collaboration are all abstract)

Concrete reasoning involves the ability to analyze information and solve problems on a literal ("concrete") level. We use concrete reasoning when we think through and solve hands-on problems. Concrete reasoning tasks involve skills such as:

  • Basic knowledge of names of objects, places, and people
  • Understanding of basic cause and effect relationships
  • Solving problems that do not involve theory, metaphor, or complex analogy

Examples of Concrete Reasoning

When a child is able to solve a jigsaw puzzle he is exercising concrete reasoning. Other examples include:

  • The ability to predict the likely outcome of a physical event ("what will happen if I drop this ball from a height of ten feet?")
  • The ability to read a map and understand the points of the compass
  • The ability to read, understand and act on factual texts (reading and following instructions, reading, and building from a diagram or blueprint, etc.)
  • The ability to count and do math using objects or pictures

The Importance of Concrete Reasoning

Concrete reasoning is important because it is the basis of all knowledge. Students need a firm understanding of basic educational concepts and problem-solving. This enables them to learn new ideas. It helps with later learning because it gives students the ability to link new ideas to previously learned ideas. This promotes the stronger long-term memory of concepts.

Concrete reasoning is also the basic tool for navigating the world. With concrete reasoning, we can anticipate outcomes ("If I step in front of that bicycle at this moment, chances are it will hit me."). We can also solve technical problems that arise on a daily basis (fitting foods into a grocery bag, planning a route to your next destination, using an umbrella when it rains).

Concrete reasoning provides the solid foundation upon which abstract reasoning can be built. If there are problems with concrete reasoning, development of abstract reasoning will likewise be a problem.

The childhood years without a learning disability are a progression through a solid grasp of concrete reasoning which adds in abstract reasoning as a child gets older (often around age 12.) 

How Concrete Reasoning Is Measured

Concrete reasoning is typically measured in a full assessment of intellectual ability, or IQ. Most extended intelligence tests assess several types of problem-solving abilities, including concrete reasoning. Most brief intelligence tests do not.

Methods for Helping Children With Concrete Reasoning

Students with difficulty in concrete reasoning may benefit from a number of methods and materials including:

Developing concrete reasoning can be played as much as work. Since this type of reasoning involves finding solutions to everyday types of problems, the world can be an instructor and tutor. If your child is struggling with concrete reasoning, her home life can be as important as any of the therapies above in improving her skills.

If you are feeling overwhelmed as a parent, keep in mind how many children gain many of these concrete reasoning skills: by having fun.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Borghi AM, Barca L, Binkofski F, Tummolini L. Varieties of abstract concepts: development, use and representation in the brainPhilos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2018;373(1752):20170121. doi:10.1098/rstb.2017.0121

  2. Susac A, Bubic A, Vrbanc A, Planinic M. Development of abstract mathematical reasoning: the case of algebraFront Hum Neurosci. 2014;8:679. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00679

Additional Reading

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.