The Absorbent Mind

The absorbent mind is a period of time in child development from birth through around the age of six, where young children experience a period of intense mental activity that allows them to absorb learning from the environment without conscious effort, naturally and spontaneously. The child absorbs not only language, but also the traits of their family and community. They learn how to behave in different situations, along with simple tasks like how to eat properly. Some of this learning is consciously taught, but great deal of it is simply absorbed naturally by the child’s mind.

Through Maria Montessori’s research, she understood that children from birth to 6 are influenced a great deal by the environment which surrounds them. She called this period of time The Absorbent Mind, and likened the child’s development to that of a construction site, where the child uses local resources  to build his or her mind and because those are the only resources on hand to work with.

It is worth pointing out that this time of development is very different to the reasoning mind which follows later. Montessori said that when a child grows to the point of using the reasoning mind, they can actively make decisions based on logic & patterns already established by the brain, but during the time of the absorbent mind, the child merely journeys through life, learning and growing, influenced by their environment.

The Absorbent Mind has Two Stages

According to Montessori, the absorbent mind can be divided into two stages: the Unconscious and Conscious stages. The difference between these stages is primarily defined by whether the child is passively absorbing information from the environment around them, or instead actively seeking to learn new information and master new skills.

The Unconscious Stage

From birth to age three, the child absorbs information unconsciously or unknowingly. He (or she) learns to sit, stand, walk, speak without conscious effort. An infant will look at everything intently without discrimination or choice. Children during this period tends to unconsciously mimic what they see, but lack conscious goals or purpose to their actions. During this period, children also acquire language skills, and begin to absorb social customs from the people around them that they internalize into themselves. Parents will see children in this stage imitate everything they see, which they incorporate into their own personality as they build towards the conscious phase of the aborbent mind.

The Conscious Stage

Around the age of three, we begin to see the emergence of consciousness, indicating the beginning of memory and conscious awareness. The child still absorbs information easily, but now motivated to consciously seek particular experiences. A child in this phase is expanding newly developed faculties and abilities, and tends to learn things like order, like music, numbers, and letter sounds. This learning will lead to math, reading, and writing skills. During this phase, children also become more independent, and seek mastery of their mind, body, and environment. Parents will see children in the conscious stage of the absorbent mind demonstrate a desire to make their own choices and complete basic tasks on their own – something that Dr. Maria Montessori described as the “do it myself” stage.

The Absorbent Mind is Like a Sponge

The child’s absorbent mind is like a sponge, soaking up knowledge about everything in the local environment. What children learn during this period is taken in easily, and becomes the foundations of the child’s personality. As parents & educators, it is important that we recognize that the importance of this developmental stage and find ways to help the child absorb the best experiences possible.

The absorbent mind in young children has a remarkable capacity to soak up new knowledge and literally absorb information from the environment they live in. This is more than simply an ability to learn – it is a natural part of growth, and without proper intellectual stimulation, research shows that certain parts of the brain will not develop without without stimulation during the formative years of a child’s life.

The development of the child’s mind through the two phases of the absorbent mind happens sequentially, and creates the foundation of the child’s perceptions that helps them to understand more complex concepts as they continue to develop. Learning begins with what is available: a basic knowledge of the child’s surroundings – and as complexity grows, the child begins using symbols, organizing information, and thinking more abstractly over time.

The period of time we call the absorbent mind is a truly unique time in human development that we all pass through, and provides us with an intensity and sensitivity to the world around us that helps us rapidly create our own picture of the world inside our own mind. The absorbent mind does not simply create a model of the world, however, it also helps the child create a model of themselves – which is why providing proper enrichment during this time is so critically important for laying the foundations of an intellectually full & rich childhood and later adult life.