Just as the human embryo develops from a single cell into a complex organism, so too must the brain develop. Each of us, unless we are identical twins, has a unique and separate physique. The brain, too, must develop and grow. We are not born able to run and jump, nor are we capable of speaking and reasoning at birth.
Studying the Works of Montessori - The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 6: Embryology and Behavior
Dr. Montessori tells us that “there seems to be no kind of mental personality already formed in the newborn child.” (Montessori, 1964) Personality, which includes our thoughts, emotions, and our behaviors, is that which makes us mentally unique from one another. While personality is constant throughout one’s life, Dr. Montessori believed that personality can be influenced by external factors in the environment.
Montessori points out that “the first thing one sees on the mental plane is an accumulation of material.” (Montessori, 1964) She calls this the absorbent mind. The infant, while physically helpless, is mentally alert, taking in as much information as possible and storing it for future use. During this absorbent mind stage, the mind is particularly sensitive to the specific development of what Dr. Montessori called organs. During these sensitive periods, the mind focuses on those experiences that will best develop and prepare the organs to function on their highest level. For example, during the sensitive period for language, the absorbent mind seeks to place a name with everything in the environment. It is a time when the child truly seeks to understand what “blue” is, what defines “sour,” and what the difference is between “heavy” and “light.” These sensitive periods come and go and do not last long. In addition, it is only during this first stage of development that the mind is open to full comprehension. The adult mind cannot recreate the experience, for once the organ is formed the sensitivity no longer exists.
All of this lies within the child. Only he has the power to construct himself. It is not the job of the family, the teacher, or the community, nor is it determined by heredity or social mores. The child must use the environment to become the adult he is meant to be. The potential is there. He must be free to unleash it.
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.