When my son was four years old, I talked with him about taxes one day. (I cannot recall what prompted the conversation.) I told him that when one earns money, the government takes some of it so that it can pay for the traffic lights and snow plowing. The next day, he heard on the news the phrase, “unstable government.” He said to his mother, “I hope the government falls down so that it doesn’t take money from the people anymore.”
Around that same time, I was driving through western Massachusetts with both of my children in our minivan. I said, “Look kids! There’s a river.” My son (still four) said, “Yes Papa. It’s the Connecticut River.”
And one night, putting my then three-year-old daughter to bed, we took that one last trip to the bathroom. When I commented to her that she looked very sleepy, she said, “Papa, certainly I am not going to sleep on the toilet.”
Again, when my son was his wise four-year-old self, my wife, attempting to remind him of a person on television said, “You know, he’s one of those people who you see on TV.” To which he responded, “Do you mean a television character, Mama?”
Never mind that my son remembered our tax conversation; but, how did he know the word "unstable"? Further, neither my wife nor I had taught him the names of any rivers. My daughter was three. How did she pick up the word, “certainly”? And it was kind of my son to help his mother remember the word “character,” because, clearly, she needed help with her vocabulary.
There was a time when I could track every iota of their learning. I knew who taught my son the word “ball” and why one day he thought it was okay to step on an ant. I knew every song that my daughter knew and the sign language that she knew, even the signs that she and her brother had invented.
There came the inevitable time, much to my initial chagrin, when their learning began to happen outside their parent-supervised realm. It was a stage during which their learning leapt exponentially and, as parents, we could not keep track of it if we tried. It’s the result of the phenomenon of the "Absorbent Mind" which Maria Montessori identified so many years ago and which subsequently has been substantiated by brain and learning research. She recognized that children under the age of six, with no conscious effort, absorbed the language and customs of the culture into which they were born, simply by being around other people.
It is an exciting time, and it comes with more than a little trepidation on our part. The minds of our children are absorbent. What they absorb depends on where they are, whom they are with, and what experiences they are having.
I will be forever grateful that my children were in such rich Montessori learning environments when they were so primed to absorb.
Kevin Clark, Head of School