Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 18: Character and Its Defects in Childhood

It follows that the child’s character develops in accordance with the obstacles he has encountered or the freedom favoring his development that he has enjoyed.
—Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 195.

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 18: Character and Its Defects in Childhood

In today’s era of political correctness, to use the term ‘defect’ with children seems harsh and out of place. We think of things being defective, not people. Etymologically speaking, the term defect means a failure or falling away (desertion) rather than in reference to something being broken. When looked at in that respect, we can read Chapter 18 less defensively. In this case, the defects in character do not stem not from the child but from the behavior of the adults in the child’s life.

Montessori grouped character defects in children into two categories: characteristics shown by children with strong wills “who resist and overcome the obstacles they meet,” (Montessori, p. 197) and characteristics shown by children with weak wills “who succumb to unfavorable conditions.” (Montessori, p. 197)

Strong Will

  • Capricious
  • Tend towards violence
  • Destructive
  • Temper tantrums/fits of rage
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor eye-hand coordination
  • Noisy
  • Tease others
  • Greedy

Weak Will

  • Passive
  • Idle
  • Easily bored
  • Need to been entertained
  • Clingy
  • Easily frightened
  • Untruthful
  • Poor appetite/digestive troubles
  • Poor sleep habits/nightmares

(Montessori, p. 197–8)

Dr. Montessori strongly believed that “every defect of character is due to some wrong treatment sustained by the child during his early years.” (Montessori, p. 199) Whether neglected or coddled, left entirely alone or having everything done for them, the child acts and reacts according to the treatment he receives by adults who are often well meaning.

Based on observations in her own schools, Montessori learned that when children were given the freedom to actively experience their environment, their character defects all but disappeared.

When the children had work that appealed to their real interests and that actively occupying their minds, they no longer acted out. “The disorderly became orderly, the passive became active, and the troublesome disturbing child became a help in the classroom.” (Montessori, p. 199)

Montessori cautioned that neither punishment nor undeserved kindness would help the child develop a strong character. The key, she advised parents, is to engage the child’s mind by giving them something useful to do. Children don’t need more toys. They need real and interesting work that prepares them to become independent and less reliant on their parents. It is in the very nature of the child to grow and become a fully functioning member of the community.

Montessori also told parents to allow the child to work uninterrupted — to refrain from helping and allow the child to learn on his own. Adults should not use threats and punishment; they should consistently model the behavior they want children to demonstrate. In short, “One does not need to threaten or cajole, but only to ‘normalize the conditions’ under which the child lives.” (Montessori, p. 200)

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 Tuesday, July 29, 2014.


  1. Marvelene RichardsAugust 7, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    The Absorbent Mind: Character and its Defect in Childhood
    August 7,2014

    Since children at this stage in their lives, which is around 3-6, children tends to copy the social skills of adults. This could be either good or bad behavior. Therefore it is so very important for the adults in their lives, to model positive behavior at all times.


Have questions or comments? Let us know what you thought about this article!

We appreciate feedback and love to discuss with our readers further.

NAMC Blog Inquiries Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Search the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

Are you interested in reading back through NAMC's blog articles from years gone by, or for more information on a specific topic?

Browse a select list of our most popular categories below; by clicking on one, you will see every article posted under that topic since 2007. You may also use the lower archive menu to select a year and month, displaying all blog posts in the chosen time frame.

If you are seeking a range of information on a certain topic or idea, try this search box for site-wide keyword results.

Choose From a List of Popular Article Topics

NAMC Montessori Series

Montessori Philosophy and Methodology

Montessori Classroom Management

The School Year

Montessori Materials

Montessori Curriculum

Montessori Infant/Toddler (0–3) Program

Montessori Early Childhood (3–6) Program

Montessori Elementary (6–12) Programs

What is Montessori?

Search Archives for Montessori Blog Posts by Date

Thank you to the NAMC Montessori community!

This year marks NAMC’s 20th anniversary of providing quality Montessori distance training and curriculum development to Montessorians around the globe. Since we began in 1996, we have grown to build a fantastic community of students, graduates, and schools in over 120 countries. We are grateful for your continued support and dedication to furthering the reach and success of the Montessori method. Thank you for sharing this amazing milestone with us!