The Absorbent Mind
Dr Montessori used the term ‘absorbent mind’ to define the characteristics of the young child’s learning from birth through age six (known as the First Plane of Development). The first six years are the most important period of growth in a human’s lifetime. This time creates the foundation for all future learning and development. The absorbent mind describes the young child’s ability to absorb their environment in its entirety and use it to form their mind. This absorbent mind allows the child to adapt to the life and world that they were born into.
The power of the absorbent mind can clearly be seen when we think about how a baby learns to speak. It does not need to attend classes or receive direct lessons on their mother tongue. Instead, the child spends its first years of life absorbing the language happening all around them. Once their bodies have developed enough for them to produce and control the sounds necessary to speak their language, they are able to begin to express this knowledge that they have absorbed.
The child is not conscious of this way of learning. They seem to be directed by an inner teacher that helps the child direct themselves towards what is most important for their survival and development. Dr Montessori described this unconscious learning as being like a camera. It captures everything with great detail and no bias. It is apparent when observing young children, that this learning process comes easily to them. They do not become fatigued by the effort of learning like adults or older children might. It is as if just by being alive, they are learning everything they need to know.
The young child absorbs everything from movement, attitudes, relationships, belief systems, feelings towards things and people, language, and more. The child does all of this learning just by being present and interacting with their environment. This is why a Montessori classroom is so specifically and meticulously designed for children under the age of six. The environment with which they spend their time quite literally becomes a part of them.
From birth through age three, this absorbent mind is completely unconscious and can not be directed by an adult. The adult’s influence is through the environment they are creating for the child. The child is purely absorbing their world. From age three to age six, the child is beginning to build their memory, comprehension, thinking powers, and developing their will. During this phase, the child is more directly influenced by the adult and has a strong need to imitate. However, their learning is still happening through the absorption of the environment and the experiences that they have.