The Absorbent Mind


I recently re-read Maria Montessori’s The Absorbent Mind. Published just a few years before her death, it is arguably one her most quoted books. The observations she made in child psychology and education were ahead of her time. Here are my top take-aways from the book:

…”[W]e discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment.” (p. 19)

…”[T]he most important period of life is…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. But not only his intelligence; the full totality of his psychic powers.” (p. 33)

“Our mind, as it is, 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 of the same kind of ours.” (p. 35)

“Impressions do not merely enter his mind, they form it. They incarnate themselves in him. The child creates his own ‘mental muscles,’ using for this what he finds in the world about him. We have named this type of mentality, the absorbent mind…. It is the child’s way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so he passes little by little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love. (p. 36)

“The discovery that the child has a mind able to absorb on its own account produces a revolution in education….At no other age has the child greater need of an intelligent help.” (p. 38)

“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. (p. 70)

“The child’s conquests of independence are the basic steps in what is called his ‘natural development.’ In other words, if we observe natural development with sufficient care, we see that it can be defined as the gaining of successive levels of independence. This is true not only in the mental field, but also in the physical…” (p. 90-91)

“Everything in the living world is active. Life is activity at its peak, and only through activity that the perfectionments of life can be sought and gained.” (p. 98)

“The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than a learning of ideas. It includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit.” (p. 136)

“But mental development must be connected with movement and be dependent on it. It is vital that educational theory and practice should become informed by this idea.” (p. 145)

…”[C]hildren need to work at an interesting occupation: they should not be helped unnecessarily, nor interrupted once they have begun to do something intelligent.” (p. 199)

“The children in our schools have proved to us that their real wish is to be always at work – a thing never before suspected, just as no one had ever noticed the child’s power of choosing his work spontaneously. Following an inner guide, the children busied themselves with something that gave them serenity and joy. Discipline in freedom seemed to solve a problem which had hitherto seemed insoluble.” (p. 202)

“Mental order and the co-ordination of movement guided by scientific standards are what prepare for concentration….[W]e have to organize a world of ‘progressive interest.’ The result is an educational technique based on the psychology of infantile development.” (p. 206)

…”[I]f a child has to be rewarded or punished, it means he lacks the capacity to guide himself….But supposing he he sets himself to work; then the addition of prizes or punishments is superfluous; they only offend the freedom of the spirit.” (p. 242)

…”[I]t is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose, which it truly has.” (p. 243)

“Under proper conditions, the will is a force which impels activities beneficial to life. Nature imposes on the child the task or growing up, and his will leads him to make progress and to develop his powers.” (p. 249)

“Free choice is one of the highest of all the mental processes.” (p. 265)

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