Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 17: Acquisition of Culture — Imagination

NAMC montessori absorbent mind ch 17 imagination. boy and teacher with globe
Is the child’s mental horizon limited to what he sees? No. He has a type of mind that goes beyond the concrete. He has the great power of imagination.
—Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 175-76.

One of the great arguments against Montessori is the idea that Montessori education is “anti-imagination.” I assure you, nothing can be further from the truth! Montessori believed that “picturing, or conjuring up, of things not physically present depends on a special mental ability of higher order.” (Montessori, p. 176) If our knowledge was based only on what can be gained through our senses, we would have a very shallow grasp of the world around us.

When do children develop their imagination? During the first plane of development, children are very concrete thinkers. They must experience the world through their senses in order to process information about it. Montessori found that children who were 3–6 year olds could make abstract connections. For instance, children working with the Sandpaper Globe were able to name what was represented by the globe: land, sea, continents, etc. Montessori realized that “the child’s mind between three and six can not only see by intelligence the relations between things, but it has the higher power still of mentally imagining those things that are not directly visible.”

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 17: Acquisition of Culture — Part 2: Imagination

NAMC montessori absorbent mind ch 17 imagination. boy with magnifying glass and butterfly

Montessori wondered why, if children have this great gift, we only allow them to fantasize with toys and fairy tales rather than encouraging them to discover the truths of the universe.

She rationalized that toys and fairy tales were often given to help achieve mental development and mastery of the environment. However, she also realized that if we help children imagine that which is real, not fantasy, we prepare them for their life’s work.

We often forget that imagination is a force for the discovery of truth.
—Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 177.

Copernicus, the great Renaissance thinker, mathematician, and astronomer, dared to imagine a solar system that did not orbit the earth. Up until then, the Ptolemaic geocentric model was the basis for explaining the importance of earth and the movement of the heavens. Copernicus did not simply fantasize about a new model. Instead, he based it on his observations of what was already known. Only by being able to understand the relationships of the sun, planets, and stars was Copernicus able to introduce a new way of thinking, thus ushering in the dawn of the Scientific Revolution.

NAMC montessori absorbent mind ch 17 imagination. girl with telescope

Children, like adults, see the truth. We can see this by the increasing amount of questions they ask. Montessori believed that rather than feeling overwhelmed by their questioning, we should see their questions as “the expressions of a mind longing to know.” (Montessori, p. 178)

Knowing that children learn from the environment, adults need to understand how to satisfy this burgeoning curiosity. We can help this by giving the child information in small batches, according to his developmental needs, so that he can process and internalize it.

He is then able to synthesize and apply the information in new contexts using his imagination.

Works Cited
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate
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 Wednesday, July 9, 2014.


  1. my feedback is this in first plane of development child tried to learn something real like culture , attitude beliefs , behavior's of the people around them .and children explore there culture through environment, studying ,geography ,language arts etc.

    in this article Montessori believed to present the things in a real manner not fantasy show in front of the child like nature & culture and these things increase a child mental capacity . child are concrete thinker 3-6 years of children they have an absorbent mind if we show the things like about nature pictures in front of child's so that they can understand the real things in the world.

    The child’s mind between three and six can not directly understand the things and they are not intelligent the relations between things, but they have a more power of mentally imagining those things that are not directly visible but we can show through real pictures & conjuring up and do some activity with material work that they can understand very well . and then they can understand what is fantasy things and what is real things in the world.

  2. Alison Bernadette Gallardo SouxDecember 7, 2016 at 4:25 PM

    I think that children have the power of imagination, and they can create scenes based on the real information that is provided to them, if we give them the real names and the truth about how things work around them and in the world, they will understand and they will imagine for example the seas, and the animals that live in them, they don't need to see them in front of them to create all the possible scenes that animals can do at the sea. I think that it is very important to let them know what is fantasy and what is real life so they can discern one from another.


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