“The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of the birth”.
From this almost mystic affirmation there comes what may seem a strange conclusion: that education must start from birth. Strange, because, how in a practical sense, can we educate a new born or even during the first two years of his life?
It has been widely shown, by recent research, that tiny children are gifted with a psychic nature peculiar to them. This phase is called as an “Absorbent Mind”. It becomes clear as we go more deeply into the details. The child has a mind to absorb knowledge. He has a power to teach himself. The child grows up speaking his parent’s tongue, yet to grown ups the learning of a language is a very great intellectual achievement. No one teaches the child, yet he comes to use nouns, verbs and adjectives to perfection.
The Absorbent mind is an unconscious, creative and non-selective process by which the brain takes in everything from the environment, takes it in like a sponge. The brain in the post-natal period is purposely not neurologically fixed so that each child can adapt to the needs dictated by his environment. This not only allows for variation in behavior but also for change and creativity. Infants are born into different environments, different cultures all over the world and the Absorbent Mind allows them to adapt to their “time, place and group”. It is a process from which the child grows and the culture that the child is born into is perpetuated. It is a fundamental mechanism for survival.
The period of the Absorbent Mind is broken down into two sub periods: the unconscious from birth to 3 and the conscious from 3 – 6 years. In the period from 0-3 years the child is unconsciously absorbing what is around him and is more reactive than purposeful in his actions. From 3-6 years the child begins to explore the outer environment through more purposeful movement and exercise. This period is when the brain begins to order and classify experiences, bringing order to the myriad of sensations coming into the brain. The child also begins to refine these experiences and to utilize them in a more purposeful way. The period from 3-6 years is still an absorbent time. Sensations are still being registered effortlessly, but the child is now beginning to act more consciously towards the world around him.
A major component of our educational philosophy should tackle the developmental periods in a child’s life and how those periods dictate how information coming into the brain, through the senses, is processed. As teachers and adults in the child’s life, the educational philosophy like Montessori guides us in creating powerful learning environments for the child. From birth to six is what Montessori called the all around formative period of the Absorbent Mind. It is the period in the child’s development that forms the foundation for later intellectual and psychological development. Montessori believed that it is of utmost importance for us to take full advantage of this unique “mind” so that we can most fully enrich the formation of the child’s mind and body.
The classrooms need to be precisely designed to fully take advantage of this formative period of the Absorbent Mind. The environment needs to be rich with experiences stimulating to all the major senses. Materials needs to be designed to help the child classify and order information and grow cognitively, socially and emotionally. And that’s what we call a holistic education!