In the Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori describes the first period of development–the period in which character is formed–as the most important period in human development. For the child at this time, “impressions do not merely enter his mind, they form it.”(The Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori, Laurel 36). The child is endowed with creative energies that belong to an unconscious mind. These energies become conscious through work and life experience. If the creative work of the child is impeded, it will lessen his chance of achieving perfection and developing his character. “This is the new path on which education has been put, to help the mind in its process of development , to aid its energies and strengthen its many powers.” (The Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori, Laurel 38).
Although this seems like a huge responsibility for the Montessori teacher, her role is simply to provide the best conditions, a prepared environment, where the child may absorb on his own the works of life. “The child absorbs his environment, takes everything from it, and incarnates it in himself.” (The Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori, Laurel 74). The responsibility of the teacher is then to provide this environment that is prepared so that the child may act freely on his own initiative, where he can choose works and develop his own social contacts. In this environment the didactic materials contain within them the control of error. In this space, the child educates herself, choosing her works, using the hand as “instrument of the brain.” (Maria Montessori, Her Life and work, E.M. Standing, Plume 111). Thus, the Montessori teacher, by creating a prepared environment, allows the child to “perfect himself through his own efforts.” (The Montessori Method, Maria Montessori, Schocken 172). For, as Dr. Montessori states, “a man is not what he is because of the teachers he has had, but because of what he has done.” (The Montessori Method, Maria Montessori, Schocken 172).