Montessori Key Concept: Absorbent Mind

Maria Montessori identified unique stages in the child’s life. She observed and subsequently outlined the specific ways a child between birth and six years absorbs information. Montessori called this the absorbent mind. By understanding the absorbent mind of the child, we can understand the child’s behavior. We can prepare experiences and environments that support the child’s optimal use of his/her facility to absorb experiences and situations in life.

What exactly is the absorbent mind? Between the ages of birth and six years the child absorbs experiences from the environment. This receptivity makes the child emotionally, socially and intellectually vulnerable: the child does not filter what comes into his/her environment. When the environment supports the child’s burgeoning interest and delight in the world, the child embraces the world with great energy and gusto! The process of assimilating experiences is so automatic that with ease the child receives and absorbs what is available in his/her environment. Intuitively we know young children absorb information without effort. Montessori divided the period between birth and six years into the unconscious absorbent mind and the conscious absorbent mind

The unconscious absorbent mind does not filter sensory stimuli that impact his/her experience. Whatever is in the current field of vision will be the focus. 

Whatever is heard is what the baby or toddler turns toward. The momentary touch is what draws attention. “Choices” of what to pay attention to is decided by the sensory impulse of the moment. If a baby wants something he/she cannot have we shake something else or bring something else into view in order to “distract” the child.

The conscious absorbent mind that emerges between two and three years old makes the natural process of absorbing the world more under the child’s control. The child continues to take information about the environment into the mind in a rather effortless way. However, the child now makes clear choices as to what he/she wishes to experience. The child may look at something and immediately ignore it and focus on something a little distance away. This ability to select (based upon one’s own preferences) emerges and is rather exciting! It may begin with the terrible twos and the big “NO!”. This is simply the beginning of movement out of the unconscious to the conscious absorbent mind. (Not terribly gracious in its expression, perhaps, but important in social, emotional and intellectual development!) The years from three to six find the child continuing with an almost effortless absorbing of the world.  

How did we do last month in preparing for the child’s beginnings in the morning? Remember the selection of clothes made the night before? And an organized placement of the clothes for ease of dressing the next morning? (More about “order” in the December issue. Has the lunch been made by the child the night before? If anyone has any testimonials or suggestions in regard to preparation the night before for setting up for independence the next day please write in!

It is, indeed, the morning. The clothes are no problem and the child is dressed. In this issue we analyze the set-up of the bathroom for the child’s use. The child must have access to the sink for teeth brushing, face washing and hair combing. Is there a step-stool that the child can move into position? Can your child take the tooth brush down? Is the paste available without needing you? Have you demonstrated how to use the paste:

1.  Selects the paste first.

2.  Unscrews the paste and places the lid to the side.

3.  Place the tube down.

4.  Take the toothbrush.

5.  Pick up the tube.

6.  Squeeze A LITTLE.

7.  Place the tube down.

8.  Brush teeth.

9.  Clean brush and REALLY look to see that it is clean.

10.  Replace the brush.

11.  Screw on lid.

12.  Replace tube.

Seems more complex than you imagined? Since your child will most probably brush his/her teeth about 60,000 times you might wish to spend a moment thinking this one through, and giving it the attention it deserves. Since your child will invest about 3,000 hours in this activity you may wish to practice this demonstration just as your child’s teacher practices a great deal with each presentation that is finally given in the classroom.

Are you ready for face washing and hair combing? Think it through, act it through, check with your child’s teacher! The daily, repeated routines are the important lessons in life for the very young. Self-esteem has everything to do with self-help skills. Words of compliments mean little compared to the inner knowledge of personal competence. The child absorbs this message between birth and six years old. Prepare the bathroom, give the demonstration! This is your child’s big work! Your focus on self-help skills acknowledges your child’s “work” as important.

Support your child’s self-help skills in the bathroom this month. We will move into the kitchen and breakfast next issue!