“The child has a different relation to his environment from ours... the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” - Maria Montessori
Every little child learns to speak his mother tongue. And no one teaches him the vocabulary, the grammar, or the syntax. It happens every day in every country at just about the same time. It’s a rather amazing feat! If you have tried to learn a foreign language later in your life, you know it is not so easy. Yet every little child does it effortlessly. How?
Through the Absorbent Mind
What is an Absorbent Mind?
The Absorbent Mind is called “the mind of the child”. The ability begins from the moment of birth and lasts till the age of about six. The young child experiences a period of intense mental activity that allows the child to absorb learning from his or her environment without conscious effort, naturally and spontaneously.
The child’s absorbent mind can be compared to a camera snapping images of everything it sees through the lens or to a sponge soaking in everything within the environment. What the child takes in during the absorbent mind period is taken effortlessly and remains as the foundation of his or her personality.
According to Dr. Montessori, the absorbent mind can be divided into two stages: the Unconscious Stage and the Conscious Stage.
The Unconscious Stage (0-3 years of age)
During this stage, the child unconsciously or unknowingly gathers impressions from his environment. He/she learns to sit, stand, walk, and speak without conscious effort. An infant will look at everything intently without discrimination or choice. The child mimics the behaviours of those around them. The unconscious powers do not have aims or purposes, for example, the infant who is lying on the back is strengthening his muscles and spine but he is not aware of this purpose. He acts simply in keeping with the laws of nature. During this period, the child also acquires a language from the environment. He learns to think in that language. Children absorb not only language, but also the traits of their families and communities. They learn how and what we eat, and how to behave in certain situations. During this phase, the child works on becoming independent from the adult.
The Conscious Stage (3-6 years of age)
During this stage, the child’s absorbent mind begins to transform from unconscious to conscious. The child is more aware of the process of learning. The child still has a sponge-like mind that absorbs information easily, but now he begins to select more of what he wants to learn. A child in this phase is expanding his newly developed faculties and abilities. He is predisposed toward learning things like order, sequencing, music, numbers, and letter sounds, which will eventually lead to math, reading, and writing skills. The child begins to show a strong desire to be independent without any adult help. She wants to become the master of her own mind, body, and environment. The adult who gives unnecessary help, or creates dependency becomes an obstacle to the child.
The Three Components
The Absorbent Mind consisting of three pillars: mneme, horme, and nebulae.
The memory of a child works differently during the Absorbent mind stage; their mind is prepared for information in a different way than that of the adult. It is a complete and detailed memory and the experiences during the birth to six years phase stays throughout the life even though the individual may not consciously remember it all. Instead of simply learning information and storing it, the child is using their experiences to construct themselves.
The Horme is the unconscious will power that drives the child to exert themselves, come into contact with the environment, and learn. It guides the child to accomplish their goals. The horme is naturally present in all children from birth and it supplies them a deep inner urge and unrelenting force to absorb continuously and use their tendencies to achieve all their needs.
The distinct potentials in the child are named “nebulae”. These nebulae or potentialities spontaneously adapt and develop in response to the cultural environment in which the child is born. It is through this adaptation process that the potentialities develop into the behavioural characteristics of that culture. That is why the child is attracted to all human attributes.
Dr. Montessori posited that the unique success of the human species lies within our ability to adapt to and manipulate our environment. Flexibility and adaptability that the Absorbent Mind gives us is what has allowed us to construct enormously complex, diverse and successful communities across all of the areas of the Earth. Absorbent mind takes in all the impression from the environment and helps in self construction. The Absorbent Mind is a great power of the child bestowed by nature.