Maria Montessori believed that even though the child is not able to talk before the age of 1.5 years, it does not mean that he is not learning anything. In fact, a young child's mind is able to absorb knowledge exposed to him and also has the power to teach himself, despite not being able to speak. This is what Dr Montessori refers to as the child's absorbent mind which is in fact ‘at work’ during the first three years of the child's life. During this time, the child “learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so he possess little by little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love". (Absorbent Mind, p.26)
By this, Montessori means that the child is able to learn simply by absorbing everything that he hears around him into his unconscious mind. As “there is in the child a special kind of sensitivity which leads him to absorb everything about him, and it is this work of observing and absorbing that alone enables him to adapt himself to life. He does it in virtue of an unconscious power that only exists in childhood". (Absorbent Mind, p.62) He does not just learn the words of the language, he learns the sentence structures as well. This probably explains why we are able to speak our Mother Tongue languages very well since it is a language that we learn during our infancy. The information absorbed will be stored in the child's unconscious mind and it will be slowly passed to his conscious mind when he becomes more aware of the things around him. Only in the conscious stage does the child start to become aware of what he actually learning. This unconscious mind is present only in the young child as “a mind different from ours is needed to take that step (and) the child has other powers than ours, (as such) the creation he achieves is no small one; it is everything". (Absorbent Mind, p.23) This absorbent mind is present only in a young child, thereby helping him to learn things easily and effortlessly. However, “no sooner do we become conscious than every fresh piece of knowledge costs us effort and hard work". (Absorbent Mind, p.26) This explains why it is more difficult for us to pick up a second or third language later on in life.
According to Dr Montessori, before the age of three, a child learns about his environment by absorbing the impressions that he sees. The child does so by “(undergoing) a transformation (whereby) impressions do not merely enter his mind; they form it (and) incarnate) themselves in him. (As such) the child creates his own ‘mental muscles’ (by) using The Absorbent Mind". (Absorbent Mind, p.26) As such, the first three years of a child's life is very important to what the child can accomplish in life because should his development be obstructed in any way, it will not be fully developed.
By this absorbent mind, the child is not only able to learn his language(s), he is also able to absorb every experience in his environment. Thus, it is crucial for the parent to expose the child to different experiences as “the child can only develop fully by means of experience on his environment" (Absorbent Mind, p.88). Therefore, “the first thing his education demands is the provision of an environment in which he can develop the powers given him by nature". (Absorbent Mind, p.89) In order to teach the child about the world, it is necessary for the parent, especially the mother, to bring her child out with her so that he can see and hear what the mother experiences.
When the adults around the child talk, the young child is actually listening intently and is absorbing everything that he hears into his unconscious mind. This piece of information will be stored until the child is ready to make use of it. For example, if we want the child to learn a specific language, we can immense him in an environment whereby the language is frequently is used. Isolating the child will have detrimental effects on the child's language acquisition because “it is when he hears the full discourse of grown-up people, and can see their actions which make their meaning clear, that he grasps little by little even the construction of sentences". (Absorbent Mind, p.105) As such, the parents must be very careful what is said before the child because he will learn the language, habits and culture from what he hears and not from what he has inherited as “the manners, habits and customs of his group can only be derived from mingling with those who possess them". (Absorbent Mind, p.102)
This Absorbent Mind will stay with the child until he is about 3 years old. After which, nature will decide on the time when he will be able to make use of the information in his conscious mind. Slowly, the child will establish memory, develop the power to understand and acquire the ability to reason. When these skills are fully acquired, which will be about the time when the child is 3, the conscious mind will take over from the unconscious mind. Nobody can have any control over when such a transition will take place because “children grow according to natural laws". (Absorbent Mind, p.93)
By this time, he will be more conscious of the desire to do work. He will learn to read, write and do many other things without feeling exhausted easily. This is the period when the child will find work itself to be a stimulation for him to want to learn. Just as he had always been to keen to learn knowledge about the environment around him, now he has a stronger desire because he is aware of what he is learning. He is no longer simply absorbing information into his unconscious mind. He will suddenly find that he can do a lot of things like reading and writing without being taught because they had been in their unconscious mind and he can now make use of the information effortlessly. This will provide him with a stronger desire to learn more.
Stella Mak is a qualified school teacher with over 18 years of teaching experience and a mother of two. She runs an informational website that provides informative and resourceful ebook purchase and educational, as well as parenting, tips. To take advantage of this useful knowledge and to grab the first special report that she is currently giving away free for a limited period only, make sure you check out Stella Mak's website at http://www.eduknowledgeworld.com