Friday, March 14, 2014

Montessori’s Use of the Term ‘Psychic’ – Developing Personalities in Childhood

“Special care should be shown for the psychic life of the newborn child. If it already has such a life at birth, how much greater will this be as it grows older? If we understand by ‘education’ a child’s psychic rather than its intellectual development, we may truly say, as it is said today, that a child’s education should begin at birth.” — Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, p. 29.

NAMC montessori psychic developing personality early childhood happy infant

Word meaning and usage evolve over time. The word “psychic,” for example, today conjures up fortune tellers and people who commune with the dead. It can have a negative connotation that leaves one skeptical of these professed mental powers.

Dr. Montessori used the word “psychic” in a somewhat different context, referring to the psyche, or one’s mind and soul, and the development of one’s personality.

Montessori’s Use of the Term ‘Psychic’ - Developing Personalities in Early Childhood

This development lies outside the concrete and observable development of one’s body. It is the most abstract development of an individual – one that is, at best, difficult to observe and assess.

In chapter five of The Absorbent Mind, Dr. Montessori describes the intricate details of the creation of the physical being while in utero. She quotes Julian Huxley: “The passage from nothing to the complex body of the fully grown individual is one of the constant miracles of life. If we are not struck by the greatness of this miracle, it can only be for one reason, that it occurs so often under our eyes in the experience of everyday life.” (J.S. Huxley, The Stream of Life, 1926) Physical development, agreed Montessori, is observable.

“It follows that the newborn child has to do a piece of formative work which corresponds in the psychological sphere to the one just done by the embryo in the physical sphere.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 60)

NAMC montessori psychic developing personality early childhood curious toddler at window

Montessori used the term “Spiritual Embryo” to describe the newborn child “when the psychic characters of the species are awakening.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 82) The first three years of life are a time of intense mental creation. Using his keen senses, the infant absorbs everything around him, storing it unconsciously and using it to develop his character and personality. “If the work of man on the earth is related to his spirit, to his creative intelligence, then his spirit and his intelligence must be the fulcrum of his existence, and of all the workings of his body.”(The Absorbent Mind, p. 61) Montessori told us that this psychic force controls the body, noting that “physical disturbances are often caused by psychological states, the spirit no longer exercising proper control.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 61)

“There are many who hold, as I do, that the most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed. But not only his intelligence; the full totality of his psychic powers.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 21)

NAMC montessori psychic developing personality early childhood girl running on beach

Childhood is a time of psychic creation. It is during this time that we develop our morals and our attitudes toward life. Along with our intelligence, we build our character and our sense of self by our environment and community. “During this early period, education must be understood as a help to the unfolding of the child's inborn psychic powers.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 4)
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, March 14, 2014.


  1. I absolutely agree with this article!!! Maria Montessori was truly ahead of her time. =)


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