The use of materials is based on the young child’s unique aptitude for learning, which Dr. Montessori identified as the “absorbent mind.” In her writings she frequently compared the young mind to a sponge. It literally absorbs information from the environment.
The process is particularly evident in the way in which a two-year old learns his or her native language, without formal instruction and without the conscious, tedious effort which an adult must make to master a foreign tongue. Acquiring information in this way is a natural and delightful activity for the young child who employs all his or her senses to investigate his or her interesting surroundings.
Since the child retains his or her ability to learn by absorbing until he or she is almost seven years old, Dr. Montessori reasoned that the experience could be enriched by a classroom where the child can handle materials which would demonstrate basic educational information to him or her.
Over sixty years of experience have proved her theory that a young child can learn to read, write and calculate in the same natural way that he or she learns to walk and talk. In a Montessori classroom the equipment invites the child to do this at his or her own periods of interest and readiness.
Dr. Montessori always emphasized that the hand is the chief teacher of the child. In order to learn, there must be concentration, and the best way a child can concentrate is by fixing the child’s attention on some task he or she is performing with his or her hands (The adult habit of doodling is a remnant of this practice). All the equipment in a Montessori classroom allows the child to reinforce his casual impressions by inviting the child to use his or her hands for learning.