A Simple Explanation of the Absorbent Mind

Let’s talk about the Absorbent Mind. Have you ever wondered how it is that a child learns to talk without anyone sitting down and teaching him? Or how all babies tend to follow a similar progression of milestones at relatively the same time? Isn’t it interesting that experiences that we can’t recall are the foundation of our lives?

It does seem interesting that a child, so small and vulnerable at birth is capable of doing all these things. A child possesses unconscious powers and if provided a prepared environment he will live in, what Dr. Maria Montessori calls “the joy of life”. While there is a lot to be said about the state of the Absorbent Mind, let’s first dive into a simple definition and then into the four pillars of the Absorbent Mind.

a child squating in the sand with sand on his hands. Text says "the Absorbent mind explained"

What is the Absorbent Mind?

From 0 to 6 years of age or the first plane of development, a child has the gift of the Absorbent Mind. This time is the most significant period of life for an individual. A child will absorb his environment, language, and experiences. This time in a child’s mind is so valuable because the unique mental powers of young children, also known as the Absorbent Mind, only exist within these first 6 years of life. We as adults will help aid the unfolding of life and the child will enter into his environment and absorb everything with ease and joy. A child will go through sensitive periods during this time, but more on that in another blog post!

“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.”

The Absorbent Mind, 2007, pg. 55

Four Pillars of the Absorbent Mind

Four key elements make up the power of the absorbent mind. The Horme is the driving force during the first 6 years of life. The inner teacher is the natural progression of human development that is consistent for all children, a sort of blueprint for the various milestones. The sponge aspect of the absorbent mind is the Mneme, referring to the memories during this time. The fourth and final pillar of the absorbent mind is the nebulae. The nebulae are the potentials within each human being at birth, waiting to be awakened. It is important to note that there are two phases of the absorbent mind. The unconscious mind (0-3 years old) and the conscious absorbent mind (3-6 years old). Let’s look a little bit closer at each pillar.

The Engine That Won’t Stop: The Horme

A young child is so curious. Loves to explore and seeks out activities of all kinds. This isn’t because a child is being “naughty” but because they have, what Dr. Montessori referred to as the Horme. The Horme is what urges the child to explore their environment. A child cannot resist it. It is what makes the child move and the force that calls them to life. The Horme, or this engine inside a young child, is stronger than the will of the adult.

It seeks activity. We can guide this through a prepared environment. The child will seek what he needs from the environment through his senses. The horme is not the will of the child but it is something that unconsciously and irresistibly drives them to activity.

The Inner Teacher

It is as if every child has a blueprint pre-programmed into their being. Typically speaking, children meet milestones and progress in relatively similar ways. Every child is different but it is almost like there is an inner teacher within each child that is steering this engine (horme) to meet specific milestones at key moments in their life.

“…if his hand wishes to work we must provide him with things on which he can exercise an intelligent activity. His own actions are what take the little one along the road to independence”

The Absorbent Mind, 2007, pg. 138

Mneme: The Unconscious Memory

 Adults have conscious minds, but the mind of a young child is unconscious which allows him to absorb an environment with ease. The child’s unconscious memory is the Mneme, which has also been referred to as “vital memory”. As adults, we remember our environment but a child absorbs it. Dr. Montessori gives the example of a camera and a child viewing an environment through the lens of this camera and, “click”, he absorbs it.

An adult doesn’t view the world through the lens of a camera but through drawing. For a camera, it is no more challenging to capture a forest of trees or one single tree, this is the ease of the unconscious mind of a child. The conscious mind requires more effort to take in their environment, and it is understood that they will miss parts. Just as drawing can’t capture all of the details that a camera can, this is how the conscious mind works.

The Mneme holds emotions and impressions forever. Young childhood experiences, even those we don’t recall, have had a lasting effect on us. We don’t remember how we learned to walk but our body does remember how too. This is the lasting power of the unconscious memory. The same is true with language. A child does not learn his language but he acquires it through absorption. 

Memories as Engrams

            These lasting impressions on the brain are engrams that have created a physical manifestation that will last forever. These marks are created through experiences the child has. The child will retain these impressions as engrams; which have been created during this time of their Absorbent Mind, and the Engrams are stored within the Mneme. These three unconscious powers all work together to store experiences that the child has absorbed.

The Best for the Youngest

Dr. Montessori talks about bringing the best to the youngest; the most formative time in a child’s life is the first six years. Dr. Montessori says,

“Thus it is not the experiences in themselves, but the traces of them left behind in the mneme, which make a mind powerful, such traces being known as Engrams”

To Educate the Human Potential, 2007, pg. 13

There is a call for all adults to know this knowledge about the human brain, and to let this information resonate with them because the experience the child has during this state of the Absorbent Mind will be imprinted forever within the Mneme. We are responsible for the environment that the child exists in during this period of the Absorbent Mind.

The Potential: Nebulae

The nebulae are the distinct potentialities of the human being. Music, language, and mathematics are all potentials that a child has a birth. Things that are dormant at birth but can be awakened. The child thirsts for an understanding of so many things, and this time in his life is dedicated just to the absorption and exploration of it all. The child gives us hope; Dr. Montessori says,

“This absorbent mind is indeed a marvelous gift to humanity!”

The Formation of Man, 2007, pg. 61


Graphic with a baby progressing from sitting to walking and text that says "Montessori and the Absorbent Mind"

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