Montessori Key Concept: The Unconscious Mind

The Unconscious Mind: The Horme

Montessori defined the child’s unconscious mind very differently from the Freudian view of the unconscious. For Montessori there are three major aspects of the unconscious mind, which she details in To Educate the Human Potential. Firstly, the unconscious mind has an impulse to experience life, to experience the world. This vital force she called the horme. The child’s task is to modulate the impulse to experience the world with enough impulse control to respect the needs of others. Secondly, the mneme records the details of everything that happens in our life. The memory traces of our experiences are recorded in details as engrams in the child’s unconscious mind.  Thirdly, the integration of the engrams to effortlessly solve a problem (the “aha!” experience), sometimes called inspiration, Montessori called association of engrams.

Simply stated, there is an inner, unconscious drive to experience the world (horme), to record those experiences in the unconscious mind as engrams (mneme), and to integrate the engram to solve problems (association of ideas).

The mneme, horme, and association of engrams in the unconscious mind have parallels in the conscious mind. In particular the conscious mind has the “will” which parallels the horme of the unconscious mind. While the unconscious horme propels the child to experience life, the conscious will must be developed to temper that impulse. Montessori is rather explicit in specifying that it is the role of the adult to provide the limit setting that develops the will of the child under the age of six. The will then provides the rudder in guiding right actions. Without the guidance of the conscious will, the impulse to act in the environment (horme) will run loose without direction or regard for the needs of self, others or the environment.

Montessori’s concept of the unconscious impulse of the child to interact with his/her environment is discussed on the front page. If you observe your child you notice a rather constant activity as the child moves into and interacts with the environment. This impulse allows for experiences in the environment to occur and to be recorded in the child’s mind. Later these experiences are remembered and used to help solve problems that arise in the child’s life. For optimal survival the child must act on the environment. The mental recording of the activity is automatic in the child’s unconscious mind. Our task is to support the child in developing his/her will so that impulses become focused and purposeful.

The task begins with observing your child. Scattered, helter-shelter movement does not develop much that is useful in the child’s memory, nor does it discipline the will. You may reflect on the thoughtful times when your child “reads”, colors, or works on a puzzle. These times are excellent, extended activity time that develops concentration.

Let us examine, however, the moment-to-moment time when you are with your child. Often this time is transitional, i.e., going between the home and school, the school and the bank, the school and the supermarket, and then home. Observe how your child handles these transitions. If you can imagine that all his/her activity is being permanently recorded in your child’s mind you may slow down that activity to allow your child to truly experience the activity. In walking from the car to the supermarket allow the child to observe the passing cars, to move when it is safe, to help with the pushing of the shopping carts. Imagine going through the routines of the day more reflectively with your child. You may verbally make comments or ask questions about what the child is doing, feeling, seeing.

Increasingly, children are being diagnosed with “attention deficit disorder” (ADD) when they arrive at elementary school. Montessori might say that the child’s earlier experiences were not slowed down and reflected upon. Those early, scattered experiences in the unconscious mind are then drawn upon in the child’s elementary school years. These memories are not early experiences of order and focus. These disorganized experiences are the child’s foundation from which he/she is drawing! No wonder that there is such an increase in ADD.

Slow yourself and your child down in order to really have organized, focused transition time. Your child will profit in securing organized and focused memories that provide a secure foundation for later problem solving.