In a world where creatures come equipped with innate instincts, human babies stand apart, born not just with reflexes, but with endless possibilities. It’s a wonder to ponder – the blank canvas of a child’s mind awaiting the brushstrokes of life’s experiences that will shape them into remarkable individuals.

Dr. Montessori realized that children’s minds operate in a fundamentally different way. Children under six are absorbing everything in their environment. She observed children from a scientific lens and over time she concluded that the kind of creative work children are capable of could only happen with a mind that was different from the conscious adult mind. She realized that children’s minds operate in a fundamentally different way. In The Absorbent Mind, Dr. Montessori states:

“The child has other powers than ours, and the creation he achieves is no small one; it is everything. Not only does he create his language, but he shapes the organs that enable him to frame the words. He has to make the physical basis of every moment, all the elements of our intellect, everything the human being is blessed with. This wonderful work is not the product of conscious intention.”

Well before brain scans, Dr. Montessori discovered so much about how children’s brains function and she called this special mental functioning, the absorbent mind. Her book, The Absorbent Mind, was one of the last books she compiled.

The words Dr. Montessori used to describe the child’s absorbent mind were chosen deliberately. The word absorbent implies “taking in” and integrating into the whole. What is absorbed becomes a part of what is doing the absorbing. Children take in their experiences and impressions which become part of the structure and content of their brains.

“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.”

The absorbent mind is a superpower of children from birth to around age six. Because children under six are absorbing everything in their environment, our actions need to reflect what we expect. If we want children to sit at the table to eat, we need to sit at the table to eat. If we want children to talk with quiet, calm voices, we need to talk with quiet, calm voices. If we want children to carry one item at a time, using both hands, we need to do so, too. The key is to model this behavior at all times. Children are absorbing indiscriminately. We may not think they are looking, but they are taking it all in!

We can share an example of this from a Montessori classroom. Once upon a time, a tall toddler teacher would always squat down in front of the low shelves to select a material to show a child. After squatting down, she would pick up the item she wanted to show. Although all the toddlers were at the right height to easily take the item, the teacher noticed that they would walk to a shelf, squat down, and then pick up the material. Even though this movement was much more difficult for the toddlers, they had unconsciously absorbed the steps the teacher had demonstrated: walk to the shelf, squat down, and pick up what you want.

So in our Montessori environments, we are very careful with how we move and what we do. When the adults want a snack, we follow the same procedure as the children. We wash our hands, use a plate, and sit at the snack table. Doing what we expect the children to do also gives us a wonderful opportunity to see how the process can be improved. By having snack and cleaning up after ourselves, we can experience the process. Are the dustpans easy to access and in a place that makes sense? Do the spray bottles work well for spraying and wiping the table? What parts of the process feel cumbersome? What flows well?

We can also look at our home environments from our children’s perspective. Sometimes it helps to even kneel or sit on the floor and look at a room from a child’s height. What do they see? What stands out from their vantage point? Is the space welcoming and beautiful? What attracts attention?

Let us remember that the absorbent mind is not just a phase, but a wondrous gift that deserves our utmost respect and nurturing. Here are a few ways we can enrich this magical journey:

  • Cultivate Purposeful Experiences: Craft an environment brimming with sensory-rich experiences. Thoughtfully choose materials, colors, and sounds that stimulate the senses. Every interaction is an opportunity for the child to absorb knowledge, so make every moment count.
  • Be a Reflective Role Model: The child absorbs not just actions, but attitudes and emotions. Cultivate a sense of empathy, respect, and curiosity. When you approach tasks with enthusiasm, patience, and care, the child absorbs these qualities as well.
  • Nurture Language and Communication: Surround the child with language. Engage in conversations, read books, and share stories. The absorbent mind effortlessly absorbs language patterns, vocabulary, and the art of communication.
  • Create a Calm and Orderly Environment: A peaceful setting fosters focused absorption. Maintain a well-organized space where materials have a designated place, allowing the child’s mind to absorb the tranquility of an ordered environment.
  • Encourage Exploration and Discovery: Provide opportunities for hands-on exploration. Let the child engage with various materials, textures, and activities that ignite their curiosity and feed their thirst for discovery.
  • Offer Freedom Within Limits: The absorbent mind flourishes when given a sense of autonomy. Offer choices and independence within safe boundaries. This empowers the child to make decisions and absorb the essence of responsibility.
  • Embrace Mistakes as Learning Opportunities: The process of absorption includes absorbing challenges and setbacks. Encourage a growth mindset by embracing mistakes as steppingstones toward learning and growth.
  • Engage in Meaningful Interactions: Interact with the child in ways that promote deep understanding. Instead of asking “What did you do today?”, engage them with open-ended questions like “Tell me about something that made you curious today.”
  • Connect Nature and Learning: Nature’s wonders are a treasure trove for the absorbent mind. Explore the outdoors together, fostering a deep connection with the world around them.

Our young children’s brains are hardwired to effortlessly absorb what is around them. Because our children are full of potential, we want to provide them with the best! Remember that every gesture, every word, and every interaction leaves an indelible mark. Our role in guiding these young minds is an honor and a privilege. We have this incredible opportunity to shape the foundation upon which children will build their futures.

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