Nurturing The Absorbent Mind
“Impressions pour into us and we store them in our minds; but we ourselves remain apart from them, just as a vase keeps separate from the water it contains. Instead, the child undergoes a transformation. Impressions do not merely enter his mind; they form it. They incarnate themselves in him. The child creates his own "mental muscles," using for this what he finds in the world about him. We have named this type of mentality, The Absorbent Mind.” Dr. Maria Montessori, (The Absorbent Mind)
If you have spent time with children, newborn to six years of age, you will probably agree that they are very different from adults, and even from an elementary aged or older child. This is because they have an "Absorbent Mind." The Absorbent Mind is an amazing thing in that it allows them to unconsciously and effortlessly take in the world about them. The child is driven to explore, with all the senses. The child takes in this information, and as Dr. Montessori states, "impressions incarnate themselves" within the child. The child is not simply gaining information, the child is forming who he/she is as a human being. The child's mind is clearly very different and the brain is working with incredible speed as neurological connections become wired with life-long implications.
As a Montessori guide, I've often shared the example of a bowl of liquid and a sponge, where the child is the sponge. As adults, we must consider what sort of liquid we are immersing the child in. Is it a bowl of water - a healthy environment where the child develops to their full potential? Or a bowl of vinegar – a sour environment where the child's development is impeded?
Let's work towards as much of a healthy environment as possible. This starts with us as the adult who is the guide and parent of a young child. The child is developing language, movement, intelligence, will, and emotions. The child is doing the work of self-creation. The adult is the role model and the child self-creates by taking in how the adults control themselves, express their emotions, and share their intelligence.
We can help the child by
- Allowing the child to make his/her own discoveries
- Refraining from interrupting the child's concentration
- Giving the child time to figure out solutions
- Refraining from providing unnecessary help
- Listening and responding with love to our child's communication
"In the home, the ideal environment for the child should also contain child-sized furniture, and utensils which he can handle himself. This is not practical in every home, but at least the adult can provide the child with a suitable spiritual environment. The adult must not interfere, must not act instead of the child. Give him the means and let him act." Dr. Maria Montessori Speaks to Parents
We can also prepare our homes, rich in stimulus, beauty, and order, to invite the child in the work of self-creation:
- With beautiful and attractive books that are filled with reality, the child's vocabulary and language skills grow. Our conversations become richer and the child's curiosity is fueled to continue exploring the world.
- With child-sized tools (that actually function for their intended purpose!) that are readily available for the child to take care of personal needs such as dressing and needs of the home such as preparing food or caring for plants and animals.
- With a well-organized toy room, so the child is able to quickly find toys, books, and art materials that support physical development, intellectual development and self-expression. When these items are limited in amount and placed in an accessible and inviting manner, the child's Absorbent Mind will be able to satisfy its developmental needs and the child will be given a strong foundation to create the future human he/she will become.