Why Your Child’s Brain is like a Sponge

"The absorbent mind is one of the most important ideas in early childhood education. The absorbent mind makes our adult lives possible." - Mary Ellen Maunz

For the First 6 Years, Your Child Absorbs Everything

Your baby is born with an amazing brain. When you think about everything your child will learn and accomplish in just a few years, it’s really quite astounding!

“…if we compare our ability as adults to that of the child, it would require us sixty years of hard work to achieve what a child has achieved in these first three years.” - Maria Montessori, “The Absorbent Mind”

From birth to (approximately) age six, your child’s brain works in a very different way than an adult’s does. At this age, her mind is like a sponge, soaking up huge amounts of information from her environment. She is absorbing everything around her, effortlessly, continuously, and indiscriminately. This is what Maria Montessori referred to as “the absorbent mind.”

The child has a different relation to his environment from ours... the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear. - Maria Montessori, “The Absorbent Mind”

The development that is taking place during your child’s first six years is enormously important. Children develop 85% of their core brain structure by the time they are five years old. Your child will now build on this core foundation for the rest of her life.

The Two Stages of the Absorbent Mind

Montessori separated the absorbent mind stage into two sub-stages: the unconscious and conscious stage. From birth to age three, your child absorbs information unconsciously or unknowingly. She learns to sit, stand, walk, use her hands, and speak, etc., without conscious effort on her part. She is developing her basic “faculties” or functions through mimicry.

  • Parent’s point-of-view--You will notice your toddler imitating what she sees. She is building herself into the person she will become and working toward the next phase: the conscious

From three to (approximately) six years old, your child will pass into the conscious stage of development. She still has a sponge-like mind that absorbs information easily. But now she is consciously seeking specific information as she expands her newly developed faculties and abilities.

During the conscious stage, your child is predisposed toward learning things like order, sequencing, early math, music, and letter shapes/sounds. These are the building blocks for the math, reading, and writing skills to come. She will also continue to refine her control of movement, balance, and basic physical mechanisms during this phase.

  • Parent’s point-of-view--you will notice your three to six-year-old demonstrating an intense desire to make choices for herself or to accomplish tasks independently. Maria Montessori referred to this as the ‘help me do it myself’ stage.

Building a Strong Foundation

Your young child’s absorbent mind has an extraordinary capacity to absorb information from the environment. Studies have shown that certain parts of the brain will not develop without stimulation during these early, formative years.

Development is sequential. These early foundations are necessary in order to move on to more complex concepts.

It begins with a knowledge of his surroundings. How does the child assimilate his environment? He does it solely in virtue of one of those characteristics that we now know him to have. This is an intense and specialized sensitiveness in consequence of which things about him awaken so much interest and so much enthusiasm that they become incorporated in his very existence. The child absorbs these impressions not with his mind but with his life itself.

Maria Montessori, “The Absorbent Mind”

Loved this article? Learn more about the essential Stages of Child Development.

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