The Absorbent Mind- Review

(By: Maria Montessori. Tranlsated from Italian by: Claude A. Claremont. Clio Press- Oxford, England 1988)



By Amira Nagati

Note: all quotes are from the book.

In her introduction to the first edition of this book, Dr Montessori pointed the importance of education to “transcend the narrow limits of teaching and of the direct transmission of knowledge or ideals from one mind to another.”

The point is not to teach the child, he is unteachable, for the presence of a meticulous teacher within him; the point is, instead,  to give way to this teacher. The sensitivity and absorbent nature of the child makes it clear that we need to have a scientific approach to his education, or else we risk to do irrevocable damages.

It is not us who fill the child’s mind as if he is “an empty vessel”, “it is the child who makes the man.” In a culture that hails competency and superiority, it needs a flexible mind to handle the ideas of the Montessori education as seeking  “Normality” in our children.

The first step is to learn the periods of growth scientisits agree upon, each main stage is usually subdivided into two stages (subphases). From birth to six (0-3, 3-6). From six to twelve, which is a rather stable stage, usually compared to adulthood. From twelve to eighteen (12-15, 15-18), which is compared to the first stage due to the huge psychological/mental transformation (or psychic transformation, using the term Montessori used) Yet, in our schools, we treat all those various stages in the same way, sit-and-listen. “Listening does not make a man.”

“To develop a language from nothing needs a different kind of mentality.. The child absorbs knowledge directly into his psychic life… The child undergoes a transformation. Impressions do not merely enter his mind; they form it.”

So, our adult ways don’t really fit this kind of mentality. It is absurd to teach the child in our way, from our presepctive and learning patterns, instead of his.

The child enjoys the process of development and acquiring of knowledge, he has no ends, no ambitions. He is happy to work, he works to be happy. His hands are his instruments, by using them, by moving about, he absorbs the world.

“There is no competition in childhood, because no-one can do for the child the work he has to do to build the man he is making. No-one, in short, can do his growing for him.”

Dr Montessori shows us in her book, how that the mental development of man, starting from his birth, is a rendition of his physical development in the womb. She presents to us the idea of the two embryos stage, physical (before birth) and psychic (after birth, from Psyche, i.e. The mind functioning as the center of thought, emotion, and behavior and consciously or unconsciously adjusting or mediating the body’s responses to the social and physical environment.)* A kind of post-natal formative period, that shapes the rest of this child’s life.

The child’s pattern of work depends on urges. He has an urge to do a particular thing, he is not aware of why he wants to,  he has no ends but the work itself. This urge, is the force of Life, that we should revere, never to obstruct or restrict.

Why is a human baby extremely unpriviliged from a physical point of view after his birth, compared to other animals? Why it takes that much time for him to develop into a complete, fully functioning, coordinated body? It is because his physical development works hand in hand with his mental and psychological development. The child has to coordinate his movements by experience, practice, and correction of error, and this goes hand in hand with his mental development. A child cannot be educated by making him sit still in a chair, not moving, not talking, not feeling anything. He needs his hands and body to absorb knowledge. “The child uses his movements to extend his understanding.”

By observing the child, we are able to know that work is the natural instinct of man, and his well-being and happiness is dependant on whether he is able to work constructively in accordance with his tendencies. But instead, we constantly try to take away work from the child. This kind of oppression really does cause regression in children, that needs to be normalized as soon as possible.

Also one very important thing about children’s pattern of learning, is that the child’s progress is not gradual, but marked by its “explosive phenomenum“. “The quantity of inner work may be immense, yet the outer signs of it are small.” Parents always worry about  why their children are not developing, why they are not writing or reading yet, or know their numbers, while if they only wait and be patient, they will witness the result. 

Another thing is, parents usually delight in a child who is hyperactively jumping from one work to another, finishing each quickly to go to the next.  The formation of the child, instead, is largely dependant on the process of concentration on a piece of work, and repetition. “Unless [attention] does fixate, formation cannot begin.”

Control of Error: ‘There is one thing a teacher must never do, and that is, to interfere by praising a child’s work, or punishing him if it is wrong, or even by correcting his mistakes.” This idea, known in the Montessori Method by control of error, of making the child his own judge, is a distinctive basic that needs open-mindness to grab it at first. A normalized child does not care for prizes, and punishment is incomprehensible for him and does not improve him, “only exercise and experience can correct a disability.” “It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose, which it truly has.”

Then comes the problem of obedience. We have to know an essential thing, obedience to other people’s will will NOT come unless the child first obeys his inner calling. During the first years of his life, the child is guided by vital urges, we cannot ask him to restrict these urges, or we will create a deformed human being. Later, after a child creates his independence, his freedom, his will, then he can decide to obey others.

Normalization of a child takes a lot of observation, patience and perseverance from the teacher and parents. It also needs us to be sensitive to the child’s needs and changes, and very careful once the child establishes the concentration that is the start of normalization.

I recommend reading the book for much more about the child : )

Amira Nagati

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*thefreedictionary. com