Absorbent Mind - by Maria Montessori

my notes:

I, too, believe that humanity is still far from that stage of maturity needed for the realization of its aspirations.

Noble ideals and high standards we have always had. They for a great part of what we teach. Yet warfare and strife show no signs of abating.

The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future.

During this early period, education must be understood as a help to the unfolding of the child’s inborn psychic powers. This means that we cannot use the orthodox methods of teaching, which depend on talk.

No longer is it for the professor to apply psychology to childhood, but it is for the children themselves to reveal their psychology to those who study them.

No one teaches the child, yet he comes to use nouns, verbs and adjectives to perfection.

It is as if nature had safeguarded each child from the influence of adult reasoning, so as to give priority to the inner teacher who animates him.

If this be true- we then argued- if culture can be acquired without effort, let us provide the children with other elements of culture.

And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.

The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.

We then found that individual activity is the one factor that stimulates and produces development.

Education, as today conceived, is something separated both from biological and social life. All who enter the educational world tend to be cut off from society.

What happens then is that young people leave the university with their minds so shackled and sacrificed that they have lost all power of individuation and can no longer judge the problems of the age in which they live.

Sociologists call upon the school to remedy these evils, but the school is a world apart, a world shut off from such problems. It is an institution of too ancient a lineage to alter its traditions from within.

What about the period from birth to the sixth or seventh year? The school, properly so-called, takes no interest in this.

The various contributions for science are like stones from the quarry already squared for placing in the building. All we have to do is to find people ready to put them together and so erect the new structure which civilization so badly needs.

Instead of education remaining aloof and ignored by society, it must acquire the authority to rule over society.

Is there anything more immovable, stagnant, and indifferent than the education of today?

It we ask a statesman for his views on education, he will say it is no concern of his, that he has left his children’s upbringing to his wife, who in her turn has entrusted it to a school.

We used to say it was the mother who formed the child; for it is she who teaches him to walk, talk and so on. But none of this is really done by the mother. It is an achievement of the child.

There is nothing hereditary, therefore, in any of these acquisitions. It is the child who absorbs material from the world about him; he who molds it into the man of the future.

Thus, the authority of parents does not come from a dignity standing on its own feet, but it comes from the help they are able to give their children.

We, also, when we speak of education are proclaiming a revolution, one in which everything we know today will be transformed.

Development is a series of rebirths

The facts are that the child of six has become- in popular parlance- sufficiently intelligent to go to school.

A being from another planet, who did not know the human race, could easily take these ten year olds to be adults of the species supposing they had not met the real adults.

Yet educational theorists have been slow to perceive that if a child can go to school, find his way about and understand the ideas put before him, this means that his mind has undergone a great development, for at birth he could do none of these things.

Experience tells us that in this period the child can submit himself to the regime of mental work demanded by the school.

Throughout this whole period, he is constant in his work and strong in health. That is why it is thought to be the best time for receiving culture.

These young men have spent years listening to words, and listening does not make you a man. Only practical work and experience lead the young to maturity.

There are many who hold that the most important period is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed.

If we call our adult mentality conscious, then we must call the child’s unconscious, but the unconscious kind is not necessarily inferior. An unconscious mind can be most intelligent.

WE say that he is blessed with hearing and listens to human voices. But we must still ask how it is that among thousands of sounds and noises that surround him, he hears and reproduces on those of the human voice?

These impressions must be so strong, and cause such an intensity of emotion- so deep an enthusiasm as to set in motion invisible fibres of his body, fibres which start vibrating in the effort to reproduce those sounds..

Our adult minds would would not be able to do what the child’s mind does. To develop a language from nothing needs a different type of mentality. THIS the child has. His intelligence is not the same kind as ours.

The child absorbs knowledge directly into his psychic life.

Impressions pour into us and we store them in our minds; but we ourselves remain apart from them. The child undergoes a transformation. Impressions do not merely enter his mind, they form it.

How marvelous if all knowledge came into our minds simply as a result of living, without any need for more effort than is required to eat or breathe.

The child’s way of learning; he learns everything without knowing he is learning it, treading always in the path of joy and love.

The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.

What a service we should render mankind if we could help the human being to acquire knowledge without fatigue.

The child, unlike the adult, is not on his way to death. he is on his way to life.

So the whole life of the child is an advance toward perfection, toward a greater completeness.

The child’s life is one in which work, the doing of one’s duty, begets joy and happiness.

“Germinative leaves” layers of cells:

- external, Ectoderm, give rise to the skin and to the sensorial and nervous systems.

- medial, Mesoderm, produce the skeleton which supports the whole of the body and muscles

- internal, Endoderm, develop the organs which provide nutrition

How interesting is this vast difference between the cells, for each has come from the first set which were all alike. Yet, in preparing themselves for their future missions they have changed, so that each can do something it never did before! But once they are altered, they can never change again. A liver cell can never become a nerve cell. It follows that, to do their work, they have not had, as we used to say, to prepare themselves but to transform themselves.

Practising of a profession does not just mean learning a technique. Dedication to it produces inward changes necessary to success. More important than technique is the acquisition of a special personality suited to the work. This makes it a man’s own ideal. It becomes the goal of his life.

And once all three layers have developed, the stages which follow are so similar in many species that it is easy to confuse the embryo of one with that of another.

Mental development as well as bodily development seems to follow nature’s same creative plan.

The first thing one sees on the mental plane is an accumulation of material, which may be compared to the multiplication of cells that we saw to occur on the physical plane. It is done by what I have called the Absorbent Mind, and on this plane we see the formation of psychic organs around about points of sensitivity.

None of these sensitivities occupies the whole period of development. Each of them lasts long enough for the construction of a psychic organ. Once that organ is formed, the sensitivity disappears.

When all the organs are ready, they unite to form what we regard as the psychic unity of the individual.

So here we see a great new upheaval in our ideas! The purposes of the living seem to be related rather to the doing of work needed by the environment.

The harmony of nature on the earth’s surface is produced by the efforts of countless living beings, each of which has its own duties. Such behaviors serve purposes far beyond the mere ministering of each to its own vital needs.

Certainly, the idea of evolution can no longer be entertained in its old linear form, which was that of a series of progressive steps towards an indefinite perfection.

Universal end concerning the total world environment, a kind of oneness with nature.

Life is not present on earth merely to preserve its own existence, but to carry on a process vital to all creation, and therefore necessary for every thing that lives.

And this makes us wonder what is the place of human infancy in biology

There exists another force, which is not just an impulse toward survival, but a force for harmony, uniting the efforts of all, so that they work toward a common end.

How amazing to find that the child also brings with him into the world none of the acquisitions of his people and race, not even those of his family, but that he himself has to construct all of these.

If the work of man on the earth is related to his spirit, to his creative intelligence, then his spirit and his intelligence must be the fulcrum of his existence, and of all the workings of his body.

If the nature of man is to be ruled by a “spiritual Halo which enfolds him” the first care given to the newborn babe must be a care for his mental life, and not just for his bodily life, which is the rule today.

Adults admire their environment, they can remember it and think about it, but the child absorbs it. He incarnates in himself all in the world that his eyes see and ears hear. “Mneme”

There is in the child a special kind of sensitivity which lead him to absorb everything about him, and it is this work of observing and absorbing that alone enables him to adapt himself to life.

Nothing that is formed in infancy can ever be wholly eradicated.

Except when he has regressive tendencies, the child’s nature is to aim directly and energetically at functional independence.

A vital force is active within him, and this guides his efforts toward their goal, It is the force called “Horme” by Sir Percy Nunn. This force can be likened to “will power”, the divine urge, the source of all evolution.

So this is the psychic picture of the normal child. FIrst, he takes in the world as a whole, then he analyses it.

The stomach starts to secrete the hydrochloric acid necessary for digestion. The first tooth appears. And the result is that by 6 months of age the child can live without his mother’s milk or at least he can combine this with other kinds of food.

It is almost as if at 6 months he says, “i dont want to live anymore on my mother. I am now fully alive and can feed myself.”

once the child can speak, he can express himself and no longer depends on others to guess his needs.. He seems to acquire simultaneously both hearing and the power to use words.

Soon afterward at one year of age he learns to walk which sets him free from yet another prison. So man develops in stages and the freedom he enjoys comes from these steps toward independence.

No other mammal has to learn to walk. It seems as though we are born helpless because our constitution is so much more intricate that it takes longer to build up these powers.

In nature’s language, the word “create” does not just mean to make something. It means that what has been made must also be allowed to function.

The one thing that life can never do is stand still. Independence is not a static condition.

WE must understand that when we give the child freedom and independence, we are giving freedom to a worker already braced for action.

The deviated child has no love for his environment because he feels it to contain too many difficulties.

WE cannot make a genius. We can only give to each individual the chance to fulfil his potential possibilities.

The child’s adaptation to the world is thus favored on natural lines, because there is a special bond uniting mother and child, almost like a magnetic attraction. The mother radiates invisible forces to which the child is accustomed, and they are a help to him in the difficult days of adjustment. The child has merely changed his position in regard to his mother: he is now outside her body instead of inside. But everything else remains the same and the communion between them still exists.

Manners, habits and customs of his group can only be derived from mingling with those who possess them.

The treatment of children should really be considered a matter of social importance.

How can we be the judge of what will interest the little child?

The reply of modern psychology is this “the baby cries and becomes disturbed, has screaming fits and rages, because he is suffering from mental hunger.” The child is bored. He is being mentally starved, kept prisoner in a confined space offering nothing but frustration to the exercise of his powers.

However intelligent men were, this alone could not produce the deliberations and agreements between them which are necessary for achievement. Language is an instrument of collective thought.

Between this vessel and the word ‘jug’ there is no logical connection. The only thing that gives sense to these sounds is the fact that men have agreed to give them a particular meaning.

At first sight, one would think that language was something given us by nature, but we are forced to conclude that it is something over and above nature.

It spreads in all directions, like an unlimited network by which everything can be expressed.

To carry out their projects, men must agree.

WE adults cannot even detect all of the sounds we hear. No one but a child can construct his own machinery and so learn to perfection as many languages as he hears spoken about him. This is not the result of conscious work. It is something done at an unconscious level in the mind.

The truth is that a continuous inner growth is taking place, which suddenly appears in a series of discoveries leading to rapid change. THen there follows another period of calm and slow development, before the next vigorous outburst.

Wonderful things for the future may lie waiting for explosions in the inner life which is hidden from us.

Some Belgian psychologists have found that the child of two and a half has only two or three hundred words, but at six he knows thousands. And this all happens without a teacher. It is a spontaneous acquisition. And we, after he has done all this by himself, send him to school and offer as a great treat, to teach him the alphabet.

We have to remember that speech is produced by a natural mechanism, and not by logical reasoning. It is really nature which is being logical.

The central part of the ear reminds one of a harp, with strings that can vibrate in response to various sounds, according to their length. The harp of our ear has 64 strings arranged in gradation. Because the space is so restricted, they are arranged spirally like a seashell.

If the child is born at the seventh month, the ear is already complete, and is ready to begin its work.

None of the animals have music and dancing, but the whole of mankind, in all parts of the world, knows and makes up dances and songs.

I believe that mothers, and society in general, far from keeping babies in isolation, should let them live in contact with adults and frequently hear the best speech clearly pronounced.

The first explosion is therefore one of words, the second explosion is one of thought.

It is often we who obstruct the child, and so become responsible for anomalies that last a lifetime.

It often happens that children do not react violently. It might be better if they did, because the child who gets angry has discovered how to defend himself, and may then develop normally. But when he replies by a change of character, or by taking refuge in abnormality, his whole life has been damaged.

If we have a brain, sense organs and muscles, all these must cooperate. The system must exert itself in all its parts, none of them being neglected.

To perfect any given activity movement will be needed as the last stage of the cycle. A higher spirituality can only be reached through action.

One of the greatest mistakes of our day is to think of movement by itself, as something apart from the higher functions. 

In reality, no one ever acquires all the muscular powers of which they are capable. Man is like a person born to enormous wealth, so rich that he can only use a part of his inheritance, but he can choose which part he will use at his pleasure.

Movement is that which distinguishes the living from the non-living.

To have a vision of the cosmic plan, in which every form of life depends on directed movements which have effects beyond their conscious aim, is to understand the child’s work and be able to guide it better.

It is clear that we must not carry the child about, but let him walk, and if his hand wishes to work we must provide him with things on which he can exercise an intelligent activity.

His main idea, in whatever he does, is not merely to practice, but to exert the maximum of effort (how different from us)!!!

The old idea was that all we adults had to do was to behave in our usual ways, and the children, by imitation, would grow up to do likewise. This ended our “responsibilities.”

The example set by adults only provides the aim, or motive for imitation. It does not produce a successful result.

No one can ever become great JUST by imitation

The adult’s usual anxiety is to relieve the child of the weight of an activity, but help of this kind, interrupting as it does the child’s activity, is one of the most harmful forms of repressive action we can take.

The child’s way is like that of the first tribesmen to wander the earth. To the educator, the child who goes for a walk is an explorer.

Just as man does not create his body by logical reasoning, so he does not follow a line of argument when creating the form of his mind.

“We are always in the tentative stage.”

The small child has no sense of right and wrong, he lives outside our notions of morality.

We serve the future by protecting the present.

A child of six may show an accumulation of characteristics which are not really his own, but are the result of earlier misfortunes.

What advice can we give to mothers? Their children need to work at an interesting occupation: they should not be helped unnecessarily, nor interrupted, once they have begun to do something intelligent.

Man is an intelligent being and needs mental food almost more than physical food.

His health is restored because his mind is normalized

The essential thing is for the task to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality.

we have to organize a world of ‘progressive interest’ the result is an educational technique based on the psychology of infantile development.

One is tempted to say that the children are performing spiritual exercises, having found the path of self-perfectionment and of ascent to the inner heights of the soul.

Teachers of youth often complain that, although they can teach the subjects of science, literature, and so on, the pupils before them are unable to learn, and this not for lack of intelligence, but for lack of character. Without character there is no ‘drive’

All have a tendency, however vague and unconscious, to raise themselves up; they aspire to something spiritual.

The secondary type of possessiveness: the interest in knowing how things work.

His interest has become intellectual and his possessiveness takes the form of knowledge.

Humanity begins by seizing and destroying, and ends by loving and serving by means of his intelligence.

The child is the spiritual builder of mankind, and obstacles to his free development are the stones in the wall by which the soul of man has become imprisoned.

The teacher must be quiet and passive, waiting patiently and almost withdrawing herself from the scene, so as to efface her own personality and thus allow plenty of room for the child’s spirit to expand.

The spiritual life is really built upon the fundamental basis of a unified personality, well attuned to the outer world.

It is for her to judge whether it is better for her to raise her voice amid the general hubbub, or to whisper to a few children, so that the others become curious to hear, and peace is restored again. A chord played loudly on the piano may end the discord like a whiplash.

The child who concentrates is immensely happy; he ignores his neighbors or the visitors circling around him.

When he comes out of concentration, he seems to perceive the world anew as a boundless field for fresh discoveries.

He becomes friendly to everyone, ready to admire all that is beautiful.

So it is with the human spirit: to exist and mix with our fellow men we must sometimes retire into the solitude and acquire strength; only then do we look with love on the creatures who are our fellows.

The demands of these children may overwhelm an unpracticed teacher.

She bears in mind the words of John the Baptist after the Messiah had been revealed to him: “He must grow while I diminish.”

Perfection and confidence must develop in the child from inner sources with which the teacher has nothing to do.

What interests the child is finishing his work, not to have it admired, nor to treasure it up as his own property.

The Montessori teacher is always looking for a child who is not yet there.

The teacher should study her own movements, to make them as gentle and graceful as possible.

The teacher, before concentration has shown itself, must be like the flame which heartens all by its warmth, enlivens and invites.

The duty of the teacher is only to present new things when she knows that a child has exhausted all the possibilities of those he was using before.

True spirituality realizes that even to help can be a source of pride.

True kindness serves the needy without disclosing itself.

What is the greatest sign of success for a teacher thus transformed? It is to be able to say, “the children are now working as if I did not exist.”

Children unaided can construct an orderly society.

Adults have strong and often fierce convictions which separate them into groups, and when they fall to discussing these they easily come to blows.

The child is the only point on which there converges from everyone a feeling of gentleness and love.

Whenever we touch the child, we touch love.

Prophets and poets speak often of love as it if were an ideal; but it is not just an ideal, it is, has always been, and will ever be, a reality.

Man, alone among living creatures, can sublimate this force which he has received and can develop it more and more.

This is the path that man must follow in his anguish and his cares if, as his aspirations direct, he wishes to reach salvation and the union of mankind.