absorbent mind
Montessori theory

Montessori Theory: The Absorbent Mind

Have you ever thought that your child’s mind works very different to yours? Or that you wished you could jump into their mind just to understand them a little better? Maria Montessori had these exact same questions. To answer them she observed her children and discovered that the child’s mind is indeed a different mind to ours. Not only are they still constructing their brains but it has a different purpose to our own.

When Maria Montessori worked at The Orthophrenic School (an institution for children with neurological disorders) she observed that children under six years old had a greater capacity to learn and work with their hands compared to the older children, despite their disabilities. What made the young child so adaptable to the new activities? Why could the child under six years old learn so much seemingly effortlessly? After some time, Dr Montessori shared her observation on the children and coined the term the ‘Absorbent Mind’.

absorbent mind

The Mind’s Sponge-Like Capacity

Maria Montessori suggested that the absorbent mind is the sponge-like capacity to absorb from the environment what is necessary to create an individual from his or her specific culture.

In other words, the child is absorbing everything around them to create themselves. Every single interaction, movement or comment is being absorbed. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are able to understand it but there is this ability to retain all these experiences.

During the absorbent mind period (ages 0 and 6) there is a huge transformation. Montessori split this developmental plane into two sub-planes. The first, ages 0-3, is known as the unconscious creator, and the second, ages 3-6, is called the conscious constructor.

The Conscious and Unconscious Creator

The great task of adapting and orienting to their time and place has begun for children aged between 0-3. The absorbent mind assists by giving the child a bit of a break. Maria Montessori theorized children don’t have to reason/understanding at this age, all they have to do is do. The child develops their brain through experience and exploration.

The second sub-plane is named the conscious constructor. All the experiences from the first sub-plane become something important, that the child constructs through organising. The Montessori environment fosters this organisation by encouraging repetition.

The Absorbent Mind

Montessori was well aware of the phrase ‘practice makes perfect but then took it a step further to theorise about the neuroscience behind it. The repetitive action of practising something strengthens the neural pathways in the brain. Now, Montessori couldn’t see these neural pathways during her time, but she could see the outcome of it. Montessori developed specific materials not to be mastered but instead for them to be manipulated many, many times.

I have noticed it in our space, too: one child was pouring sand into a glass jar about 20 times and repeated the exact same motion every time. Another would stand for 10 minutes washing their hands repeatedly, concentrating on creating as many bubbles as possible. These are examples of our children solidifying neural pathways through repetition!

Brain synapse development

Many years after Montessori theorized about this brain development, neuro-imagery became available. Above we can see a diagram of the synapses that occur during the first plane of development. Each of the dots and lines are neurons being fired in the brain because of a certain stimulus – a kick of a leg, or a warm hug. As the child ages, one sees more separate impulses being sent to the brain. The child begins to experience more with their body.

By the time the child is two years old, so many of them are clumped together that it looks like a complete mess. This period results from Maria Montessori’s theorised period of the unconscious creator.

After the age of two the synaptic pruning begins. This is where repetition comes in. The more the child repeats a certain activity, the more the synapses become solidified. All the impulses that do not get repeated fall away.  The child begins to organise their mind by weeding out that which is not beneficial to their development.

Personal Development

Unfortunately, all of this is invisible to a teacher or a parent. So, we do not know what is truly beneficial for the child’s personal development. Our trust in the child lies here. This trust manifests by creating a safe, nurturing and developmentally suited environment for the child. And then, observe the secrets of the child unfold.

By the age of 6 we see a clearer image in the diagram. A firm foundation for reason and understanding has been laid. By understanding the mind of the child, and trusting Maria Montessori’s findings, our part in the child’s developmental journey becomes more intentional. Our love deepens as we understand another and our nurturing becomes more profound.

Let’s discover our children as they develop themselves.

Food for Thought

If we trust what Montessori says, how does our engagement change with our children after knowing that the reasoning mind only comes at 6? What sort of experiences and activities can we promote at home that will feed the absorbent mind? 

Explore Hatfield Montessori today.

Written by Ellen-Anne Williams                                                                    

06 April 2022                                                 

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