Montessori: Key Characteristics of Early Childhood

The Absorbent Mind

Intellectual development is guided by the “absorbent mind”, the special psychic capacity the child has to take in the whole as well as all of the details of the world around him. Images are stored in a special kind of subconscious memory, forming engrams of knowledge that await the emergence of the conscious mind. Through the absorbing quality of the mind the child is able to take in and inculcate the culture that he grows up in, truly becoming a full member of his community. The growing number of constructive experiences that the child has prompts the will and conscious mind to emerge.

Soft, Short Limbed/Easily Sick

The physical characteristics of the child are distinct in the 1st plane of development. The body is chubby and soft. The limbs are short, and the proportion of the body is not fully formed. It is a time of rapid growth. The child is often sick, as he builds up his resistance to illness that comes from increased social contacts. It is a period of great physical achievement, with mastery of control and coordination of movement being the prime focus. In the 1st plane of development the child refines his senses while his growing perceptual abilities provide the means by which he absorbs new experiences.

Here and Now/Reality Based Education

During this period the child is urged by inner guides to be active and inquisitive. She explores the environment with her senses, latching on to the physical, tangible and concrete. Dr. Montessori believed that this is a time of reality-based education, and that the imagination has not yet emerged.

Sensorial Explorer

Sensitive periods are evidence of the guiding inner inclinations the child has to acquiring human traits. Of key importance are the sensitivities to order, human speech, and the development of the conscious will that allows the child to exercise freedom of choice.

External Order

The child has a strong sensitivity to order, which helps him to relate experiences and discover relationships between things. The young child responds dramatically to events or routines which are changed or are not done in the way the child is used to. This is because the child’s experiences help her to get a grip on reality. Without consistency and order the child will struggle in understanding key relationships that are fundamental to her growth.

Repetition

The 1st plane of development is a time of repetition for mastery, with brief but intense periods of concentration on specific activities which are self constructive.

Moral Directives

Moral development on this plane is an era of obedience, first to inner urges, and later to adult direction which builds awareness of what is good and bad. The child questions little, but strongly follows inner directives.

People are Environmental

Social development takes the form of ego centric behavior in which the child’s social awareness builds only with his mental growth. His real focus is on developing his individuality. Loose friendships are created and the child prefers to work alone or in small groups.

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