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Observing Your Child

"And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being."
—Maria Montessori

Montessori Education Week: The Last Week of February

This time of year, we Montessorians celebrate the history and success of the Montessori method, and recognize the contributions of Dr. Montessori herself. Children are introduced to Maria Montessori, the real person who created the classroom materials children use every day. Schools often find ways to promote further understanding of Montessori education in their larger communities. There are so many delightful ways for schools, teachers, families, and training centers to celebrate this week!

"Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities."
—Maria Montessori

What can one person do?

What if there were one simple, personal way to incorporate this week into your life and work? A way to improve your time with children and deepen your understanding of the Montessori method... A little something to do in a thoroughly Montessori way...

Here it is: Sit still. Yes, that impossible task. Sit and be quiet. Sit and observe.

Sit and notice all the things your child or children are doing. Children do come with instruction manuals—all you have to do is sit patiently, watch, and listen. They will tell you everything if you are quiet enough to hear it. You'll see their perspective on things, the way they physically interact with their environment and the things in it, their preferences for work, and their curiosities.

This is how Montessorians "follow the child" and, frankly, we can't help but marvel at each child and the infinite potential right in front of our eyes.

Sit and observe your children at play. Sit and wonder as you notice what activities they choose when they are alone and what things they prefer to do with others. How they speak to different friends. How they integrate themselves into a group, how they hang back sometimes. Sitting back and observing is integral to understanding who our children are. Isn't that the ultimate gift for them and us?

Sit and observe areas in your home or classroom. How are they functioning? Are the children successful in these areas or do cabinets, shelves, or drawers, need simplifying or a little reorganizing? Can you provide something for the children in the environment so that, next time, they can follow their urges and complete their responsibilities by themselves?

"Education demands, then, only this: the utilization of the inner powers of the child for his own instruction... There is a part of a child's soul that has always been unknown but which must be known...since it means the bringing forth of an indispensable element for the moral progress of mankind."
—Maria Montessori

Observation illuminates the path ahead.

Observing is the ultimate education on what matters most...the children themselves. It gives us the understanding we need to proceed in serving the child on his or her own unique path. Whether you are a teacher or a parent, observing can foster more positive relationships, allow for independence and growth in your child, and ensure greater satisfaction and fulfillment for you.

As teachers, this is our most important work and sometimes the hardest to squeeze in, as we attempt to ensure that each child is getting the lessons needed at the right time and take care of all else that needs to be done for the classroom itself. Yet, we find a way.

As parents, observing can be tough. We aren't always objective. It can be hard to hang back, and it can be the last thing on our minds as we are busy multi-tasking and managing a busy family life. Yet, observing is truly the most illuminating gift—the gift of understanding our children.

—Kelly Griffith Mannion, M. Ed. Kelly's credentials include a Montessori Primary and a Lower Elementary Credential, as well as a Master's of Education in Early Childhood, Montessori Education. Kelly has worn many Montessori hats, acting at various times as a teacher, administrator, teacher trainer, and board member. Her current passion is the creation of a public Montessori Elementary Charter School in Petaluma, CA.

—Originally Published 2008

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