By Nilanga Ericsson
As a child, I spoke two languages, my mother tongue: Sinhala and English, which is considered the official language of Sri Lanka. I don’t recall anyone teaching me the vocabulary, the grammar or the syntax. Yet I spoke both languages fluently. It is a common occurrence that happens every day in every country at just about the same time. It is quite an amazing feat. As an adult, if you have attempted to learn a foreign language, you know it’s not easy. Yet every child does it effortlessly. How?
Through the absorbent mind.
What is an absorbent mind?
According to the American Montessori Society, the absorbent mind is from birth through approximately age of six, the young child experiences a period of intense mental activity that allows the child to” absorb” learning from his or her environment without conscious effort, naturally and spontaneously.
Child absorbs not only the language, but the traits of his family and his community. He learns how to behave in certain situations, he learns how and what to eat. Though some of it is consciously taught, a great deal of it is simply absorbed through the power of a child’s mind.
The child’s absorbent mind can be compared to a camera snapping images of everything it sees through the lens or to a sponge soaking in everything within the environment. What the child takes in during the absorbent mind period is taken effortlessly and remains as the foundation of his or her personality.
According to Dr.Montessori, the absorbent mind can be divided into two stages: the Unconscious Stage and the Conscious Stage.
The Unconscious Stage( from 0-3 years of age)
During this stage, 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. A child during this period tends to mimic what they see. The unconscious powers do not have aims or purposes, for example, the infant who is lying on the back is strengthening his muscles and spine but he is not aware of this purpose. He acts simply in keeping with the laws of nature. During this period, the child also acquires from the environment a language. He learns to think in that language. He absorbs the customs around him which then become a part of himself.
The Conscious Stage ( from 3-6 years of age)
Around the age of three, we begin to see the emergence of consciousness, indicating the beginning of memory and conscious awareness. The child still has a sponge-like mind that absorbs information easily, but now she will consciously seek certain experiences. A child in this phase is expanding her newly developed faculties and abilities. She is predisposed toward learning things like order, sequencing, music, numbers, and letter sounds, which will eventually lead to math, reading, and writing skills. The child begins to show a strong desire to be independent, without any adult help. She wants to become the master of her own mind, body, and environment. The adult who gives unnecessary help, or creates dependency becomes an obstacle to the child.
Montessori’s understanding of the power of the absorbent mind in the first six years of life is a wonderful gift. As educators and parents, it is our duty to recognize that the child’s mind is very different from our own, and find ways to help the child to use this amazing absorbent mind to his or her advantage.