The Absorbent Mind
Probably, as you read these lines, someone is saying those words somewhere in the world. Or several at once, “Children are like sponges.” An unappealable truth, but to be exact, perhaps we should talk about super sponges. Because there comes the point where a sponge cannot absorb more, but the child’s mind does not understand limits. His brain assimilates all the information he receives, continuously and indiscriminately, effortlessly, and without pauses. This learning mechanism is very different from that used by an adult. Not only because it is more powerful but because of the transformations it triggers. Montessori deduced it by observing children; over the years, neuroscience has been able to prove that she was right.
“We are recipients; the impressions are poured into us, and we remember them and treat them in our mind, but we are different from our impressions, as water is different from the glass. The child instead undergoes a transformation: the impressions not only enter his mind, but they also form it. They are embodied in him. The child creates his own “mind,” using things that are in the environment. We have called this type of mind an Absorbing Mind.
Child Brain Development 0-6 years
Here’s why children are like sponges. Think for a moment about everything a child learns from birth to six years old. Communication is undoubtedly among the most impressive milestones. In the early years, he learns a language with its vocabulary, its grammar, its syntax… At the same time, he can understand and assimilate non-verbal communication. During this time, he also progresses in the mastery of his body: first, he sits, then he sits up, then he walks, runs, jumps, and uses his hands skillfully. Furthermore, he internalizes the norms of the community to which he belongs. He learns how to feed himself, relate, and behave.
Children are like sponges and acquire most of this knowledge effortlessly, without anyone deliberately teaching them. Instead, they learn by living, observing, listening, and feeling. This is what Maria Montessori defined as an absorbent mind.
“If we compare ability as adults with that of children, it will take sixty years of hard work to achieve what the child achieves in his first three years.”
From the Unconscious Creator to the Conscious Worker
In her book The Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori establishes differences between the stage from 0 to 3 years old and from 3 to 6 years old. By crossing this border, the child ceases to be an “unconscious creator” to become a “conscientious worker.” His brain is still an amazing sponge, but he can seek out experiences to improve his acquired skills.
“At three years of age, it is as if life began a new, for then consciousness manifests itself, complete and clear. These two periods, the unconscious period and the later period of conscious development, seem to be separated by a perfectly marked line. Possibility of conscious memory, in the first period it does not exist; and when consciousness arises, we already have unity in the personality and, therefore, memory”.