The concept of the Absorbent Mind is the idea that all children derive conscious intelligence almost instinctively from their environment in specific periods of mental and physical growth from birth to age six. Maria Montessori’s ideas on the mind of the developing child are based on scientific observation. The term sensitive periods is used to describe profound and moving events in a child’s life.
Maria Montessori was a medical doctor and took meticulous observations of the children she worked with. Maria compared the mind of the child to that of the butterfly that undergoes many physical changes in its life.
“We must, then constantly bear in mind that the growth of the child from birth to maturity is not like that of an oak tree which grows by simply getting bigger but is rather to be compared to that the butterfly; for we have to do with different types of minds at different periods.”
From her observations Maria Montessori found that children have minds like sponges and they have an extraordinary ability to absorb experiences in the environment and incorporate them unconsciously into their life. She broke down human development into planes of development.
The Montessori planes of development are as follows:
1. The Absorbent Mind (0-6 years old)
a. Period of instability
b. Unconscious Absorbent Mind (0-3 years old)
· Focus is on the external environment
· Mind is “like a sponge”
c. Conscious Absorbent Mind (3-6 years old)
· Refine tasks learned in first 3 years of life
· Independent Work = heightened self-esteem and a healthy orientation to the environment
· Tendencies Displayed During this Period:
1. Repetition – leads to mastery
2. Coordination of Movement – children learn through movement during this stage of development
3. Work – Children want to do REAL work (practical life, care of self, care of the environment)
4. Order – Environment MUST be ordered for the child to successfully negotiate their surroundings
8. Communication – Both verbal and nonverbal
2. 6-12 Years Old
a. Shift from focus on the environment to focus on the intellect (rather than ordering their environment, they are ordering their mind)
b. Period of stability
c. Fantasy play – the distinction between fantasy and reality becomes clear
d. high social
3. 12-18 Years Old
a. Period of instability
b. Resembles 1st Stage
a. Period of stability
The child is in perpetual motion, the changes and transformations are intimately bound to corresponding physical changes that take place at the same time. The first stage of being is the time the child enters this world at birth. Montessori refers to this time as the spiritual embryo or psychic embryo when the transition from the womb to the world takes place and must be smooth and conditions should be so that the baby has the least amount of trauma as possible. This is a period of huge transformation from 0-3. Montessori believed that this first part of the child’s life, the unconscious absorbent mind, is a time of adaptation for the new being, a time when every experience is absorbed and stored in the unconscious. The child’s work at this period is to become independent of the parent. They learn to speak, walk, and to master bodily functions. Once these basic functions are attained the child’s mind moves into a new state of being which Montessori referred to as the conscious absorbent mind.
“[At] the age three, life seems to begin again; for now consciousness shines forth in all it’s fullness and glory…what he wants to do is master his environment” -Montessori
The fundamental tasks at this time in life are of freedoms. Freedom is key; the freedom to concentrate, the freedom to move purposefully, and freedom of choice. As the child grows their sensitivity to environmental conditions grows with him and open doors of discovery everywhere.
“[From] the age of three till six, being able to now tackle his environment deliberately and consciously, he begins a period of real constructiveness” -Montessori
A cornerstone of Montessori’s contributions was use of the term sensitive periods describing several overlapping periods during which the child is particularly sensitive to certain type of stimuli. Sensitive periods are when a child changes a potential in to a skill or ability. Components of that skill reach down into the unconscious where instincts from environmental stimuli around him have helped him adapt to his surroundings. The sensitive periods are critical to a child’s development. He unconsciously knows that the time to learn a specific skill is now. For, once the period passes he will have to learn the skill with much more difficulty than before. Sensitive Periods are not always detectable. However, through careful observation one can determine when a child is in a Sensitive Period. The child repeats and repeats until their need is satisfied. When that skill is mastered, the child experiences great satisfaction and joy. Acquiring a skill after the Sensitive Period has passed does not come as natural. As educators and learners ourselves, we need to understand that we cannot plan their development for them, so we should watch the child closely to see where their mind goes to next. We must make full use of the child's natural and impulsive need to gain knowledge during the Sensitive Periods.
The sensitive periods are as follows:
Birth to 6 years
The absorbent mind: the mind soaks up information like a sponge using all five senses - touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing - to understand and absorb information about his or her environment. The child has a natural interest in sensorial impressions. They are very sensitive to their surroundings and can make distinctions with a clear perception of the senses. Now is the time when their senses are most heightened and open to exploration
6 months - 5 years, strongest around 2 – 2.5
ORDER: Child needs external order to create internal order. Consistency for points of reference allowing for orientation and adaptation to the environment. Change in routine can cause frustration and insecurity
3 months - 5 years
Auditory – The child absorbs the pitch of the language around them and sound of the human voice
Visual -watching the mouth of the speaker, parroting, making sounds Understanding that words have meaning- learning languages
1.5 – 3 years
Storing vocabulary - "explosion" into speech, child absorbs experiences related to vocabulary
1.5 – 4.5 years
Attention to detail: heightened awareness of every detail. A child will notice small objects and be fascinated by them. Montessori materials are prepared with scientific precision. Their preciseness is what draws the child to them. Anything unattractive will repel the child, because he will focus on the imperfection rather than on the object itself. Development and coordination of fine and large muscle skills, advanced developing grasp and release skill
2 to 4 years
Very mobile with greater coordination and refinement of movement, increased interest in language and communication (they enjoy telling stories), aware of spatial relationships, matching, sequence and order of objects. Children develop coordination of movement through repetition. They have a strong interest in practicing tasks that are challenging to their coordination (think of the one year old who is constantly climbing the stairs). To meet this need, we offer children Practical Life activities. Each activity offers a challenge to their coordination. The exactness required to complete these activities engages the child's mind and body. We should be sure to offer activities for both coordination of hands and of the whole body
3 to 6 years
Interest in and admiration of the adult world: they want to copy and mimic adults, such as parents and teachers.
4 to 5 years
Using one’s hands and fingers in cutting, writing and art. Their tactile senses are very developed and acute.
4.5 to 6 years
Reading and math readiness, and, eventually, reading and math skills.