Chapter 11 of The Absorbent Mind is a continuation of Montessori’s discussion on language development during the first plane of development. In this chapter, she continues her description of the natural progression of language, speculating that the sensory-motor centers for language comprehension and production are “specially designed for the capture of language, of words; so it may be that this powerful hearing mechanism only responds and acts in relation to sounds of a particular kind — those of speech.
If there were no special isolation of the sensitivity which directs this — if the centers were free to welcome every kind of sound — the child would start making the most astonishing noises.” (Montessori, p. 119)
Studying the Works of Montessori - The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 11: How Language Calls to the Child
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” — Plato
These “noises,” Montessori says, are as wondrous as music to the newborn. “The human voice is a music and words are its notes, meaning nothing in themselves but to which every group attributes its own special meaning.” (Montessori, p. 120) Like music, there is a natural progression of speech. (For on this natural progression, please read The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 10: Some Thoughts on Language ).
What is astonishing is that by the end of the second year, the child has gone from being mute to comprehending and being understood. He speaks intentionally and at will. Fascinated by his environment, he consciously seeks to learn the names of all things around him. He vocalizes his frustration through shows of temper when his fledgling command of the language fails to be understood. Yet, this frustration ebbs as his fluency improves.
What I found most interesting in this chapter is how Montessori points out that as the child’s language develops so, too, does his sense of order. It was an “A-ha!” moment as I quickly started thinking of Montessori’s intricate and orderly language materials. The child unconsciously learns that there is a precise order to spoken communication. Nouns, verbs, prepositional phrases must all come in the right order for one to be clearly understood. This internal drive for order is manifest externally as the child strives to understand the order and progression of the world around him.
Finally, it is in this chapter where Montessori calls for “a special kind of ‘school’ for children of one to one and a half: "...I believe that mothers, and society in general, far from keeping babies in isolation, should let them live in contact with grownups and frequently hear the best speech clearly pronounced.” (Montessori, p. 126) Montessori calls for “Helpers in the Home” for children birth to age 2 who are knowledgeable in child development and who are willing to be “servers and collaborators with that nature which is creating him.” (Montessori, p. 123) The young child does not need a teacher; “The inner teacher [of the child], instead, does it at the right time.” (Montessori, p. 120)
So much is happening in the first plane of development. The child is helpless but only for a moment in time. We must understand his potential and recognize and support the internal development that is happening not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.