The Absorbent Mind: A Guide for Casa Parents
Maria Montessori believed that education begins at birth. All other mammals, besides human, can walk in some form soon after birth, as well as make the noises recognized as the sounds of their species. However, the human infant remains helpless for a great length of time. They are not inert during this time, they are learning how to be a human. Just as some animals physically adapt to their environment, the infant psychologically adapts to their environment. From birth to age 6, the child possesses the unique ability to absorb information from their every day life, simply by existing. Without any conscious effort, they are able to use their senses to adapt to their culture. They will learn their native language in this way, by watching those around them speak. Their various observations will help form their mind. Montessori called this aspect of development ‘the absorbent mind’. The absorbent mind has two phases. The first, from birth to age 3, is quiet and takes place without perceptible outward effort on the part of the child. For example, the child learns to walk and talk by watching others do so. During the second phase, from ages 3 to 6, the child begins to actively seek out knowledge with their new ability to ask “why?” and “how?” They also continue to learn through constant observation of their surroundings. This is an ideal time for children to enter the Montessori Casa program.
The absorbent mind is one of the cornerstones of the Montessori philosophy. In view of this, the prepared environment of the classroom is set up to be the perfect place for the child’s mind to flourish. The child is naturally interested in the world around them, therefore everything in the classroom is child sized and made to be attractive to, as well as safe for, children. The mirrors and any decorations are put at a level that the child can easily view. The materials appeal to the child’s various senses. The child is free to take in everything around them without impediment. Spontaneous activity is encouraged. The goal is that the classroom environment will allow them to observe and practice learning by themselves. Since the child has within themselves the tools for their own education, the role of the teacher is to observe the child and serve as a guide and facilitator.
One example of the absorbent mind in practice is the way that children enjoy repeating the same action. For an adult, repetition of the same task is often tedious. However, every time a child performs a task they are able to reinforce or make a new impression, which changes their perspective. In the classroom, a child may take out and replace the same puzzle pieces over and over for 10 minutes or more. They are taking advantage of the opportunity to take in a retain information. Similarly, children often gravitate toward the same story until they know it so well they could recite it to you. While repeating these activities, the child appears calm and happy. Parents and caregivers can aid in this process by recognizing and supporting the child’s impulse to repeat tasks. Since, as Montessori believed, education begins at birth, family life is an essential part of the child’s education.
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