Friday, January 24, 2014

The Absorbent Mind: Chapter 1 - Studying the Works of Montessori

NAMC studying montessori the absorbent mind chapter 1 girl blowing dandelions

“But although education is recognized as one of the ways of raising mankind, it is nevertheless, still and only, thought of as an education of the mind.” – Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 3.

As we begin our journey of discovery through reading Maria Montessori’s book The Absorbent Mind, we must, as Dr. Montessori did, examine the purpose of education. It is unfortunate that the idea of education today conjures up the idea of standardized curriculum and skill-based testing. Education is not a means to an end — to earn a degree and obtain employment. In fact, in recent years the concept of a “lifelong learner” serves to emphasize the idea that education is a process that evolves over time and not the idea that it ends with the procurement of a diploma.

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” ― Socrates

According to Plato, education is a deeply moral endeavor. Teachers must search for truth and virtue. Education, he said, “is teaching our children to desire the right things.” Montessori, having lived through two World Wars, saw a world full of conflict and reconstruction. She believed that the future belonged to the children and envisioned a “harmonious and peaceful society” (Montessori, 1964). She struggled with the fact that there was continued strife and war although we were teaching noble ideas and high standards. “And if education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of mans’ future” (Montessori, 1964).

Studying Chapter 1 of The Absorbent Mind - The Works of Dr. Montessori

Montessori, like Plato, felt that education should take into account the whole child. She believed that we should educate not just the mind but the body and spirit as well. Beginning at birth, we should demonstrate a new method of education, for it is during the early years that the greatest growth and learning takes place.

NAMC studying montessori the absorbent mind chapter 1 with young children

Montessori calls our attention to how infants learn language as an example. She notes that an infant does not learn through direct instruction. Parents do not use lectures, textbooks, flashcards, and workbooks to teach a child to speak. Instead, adults converse with the infant while interacting. We watch what the infant is doing and we respond. We delight in his first word — a word he has taught himself to speak. Soon, he is stringing words together and communicating with those around him. There are no formal lessons; instead, the child absorbs language using all his senses and teaches himself how to communicate. This, Montessori saw, was true not only in Italy but with children around the world.

And it is not just the spoken word that children learn in this way. Dr. Montessori observed time and time again children as young as three and four spontaneously learn to read and write without being formally “taught.”

verb \ˈtēch\

: to cause or help (someone) to learn about a subject by giving lessons

: to give lessons about (a particular subject) to a person or group

: to cause or help (a person or animal) to learn how to do something by giving lessons, showing how it is done, etc.

To teach…nowhere in the above definition ( does it suggest anything spiritual. Montessori argues that “education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being” (Montessori, 1964). She goes on to say that “[education] is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment” (Montessori, 1964).

Not a day goes by when we don’t read about the latest piece of modern educational reform. However, Dr. Montessori vehemently argued that true reform will only come when it is truly child-centered: “Man himself must become the center of education and we must never forget that man does not develop only at the university, but begins his mental growth at birth and pursues it with the greatest intensity during the first three years of his life” (Montessori, 1964). When we recognize the innate ability of children to learn, we “will become able to direct and to mold the future of mankind” (Montessori, 1964).

Works Cited
Montessori, M. (1964). The absorbent mind. Wheaton, ILL.: Theosphical Press.
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, January 24, 2014.


  1. Thank you for providing a resource for parents and "educators" to learn more about Maria Montessori's ideas.

    Her use of the word “psychic,” in "The Absorbent Mind," is foreign to me. Her work is challenging me to understand her use of the word by inference. Have you every written any articles specifically unraveling what Maria Montessori means when she uses the word “psychic”?

    I appreciate your pointing out the the definition of “teach" does not “suggest anything spiritual” in Merriam’s dictionary. It seems like Montessori's use of the word “psychic” includes “spiritual,” but I’m unsure.

    The following passage challenges me, and pushes me to read and re-read her first couple of chapters to fully understand her division between human intelligence (and agendas) and the human personality, psyche, soul, spiritual, etc.

    "It is as though nature had safeguarded each child from the influence of human intelligence in order to give the inner teacher that dictates within, the possibility of making a complete psychic construction before the human intelligence can come in contact with the spirit and influence it.”

    Montessori, Maria (2012-11-28). The Absorbent Mind (Kindle Locations 82-84). . Kindle Edition.


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