Monday, 30 October 2017

Simplifying Montessori: Why We Should Follow the Child

Maria Montessori was a scientist, and as such, followed the scientific method in shaping her method. Her findings were based first of all on observation, and this is why she stressed that we, as Montessori guides and parents, start with observation.
We must observe the needs of the child, observe how they interact with their environment, observe their behaviors. In observing them, we are able to “provide an environment that is receptive to the needs of the child […] removing obstacles in the environment that deter his normal development.” {The Essential Montessori, page 48}

If observation is how we can provide for the needs of the child, as well as removing obstacles that will hinder the child's growth, it is obvious that observation is no small thing.

The prepared environment, a fundamental aspect of Montessori, hinges on it.

What Is Following the Child?

In the Montessori method, this observation is referred to as following the child.

According to Dr. Montessori's findings, children are lead by an inner guide according to a plan of development and laws which are natural to the child.

We will be of more help to the child if we attempt to understand and follow the instinct of the child than if we impose our ideas of what, when, and how the child should learn.

As a Montessori parent, it is my task to stand back, to observe my children, to not interrupt reasonable forms of activity. And based on these observations, to prepare the environment to suit the particular needs of my children.

Practically How Can Parents Follow Their Children?

You may be asking how someone who is not scientifically trained in observation (as Montessori was) go about doing this?

That is, if you are anything like I was.

First of all, I have found it is helpful to keep some kind of journal, as a Montessori teacher does, and set aside time once a week to observe and record your children's work.

An Example of My Journalled Observations

After breakfast:
Worked on a few things from the shelves together before the boys went on to their individual activities. 

  •  Jerome still prefers that I sit with him while he works
  • it is helpful for him if I begin working with him and leave once he is concentrated
  • boys still need me to invite them to work with the self materials, although they are free to use them whenever they would like.

Goes straight to the books and pulls out a few I have noticed him choosing often lately, all relating to animals
Quietly flips the pages, lingering especially on Dear Zoo which he loves for the flaps
Mutters the few animals noises he knows  
Need to read with him more. He often reads to himself independently and never tires of me reading aloud to him, so I know I need to make this a priority
Need to prepare some animal work for him to learn more sounds. Should pull out some of the Schleich animals which correspond with Dear Zoo.
Chooses the Beleduc body puzzle and removes all the pieces. Keeps trying to put the top layer first
Becomes frustrated after trying by himself and calls for me to help
I suggest he move the pieces of the top layer off to the side
Still too frustrated to continue, so I suggest he move on to something different
He moves on to play with cars on the carpet

A few minutes later he is back working on his puzzle
Asks for my help again, I repeat my suggestion, this time he complies
Finishes the puzzle (with me telling him, keep trying from across the room) and immediately starts again
Need to develop his confidence in working without my encouragement
Happy to see he is repeating this work, know this is important for his concentration. Perhaps include another more difficult puzzle in his shelf work.

This is just one example of a very deliberate moment of observation, but I believe, especially as a parent, you observe and notice more about your children than you may even aware of.

I think it can feel overwhelming to consider observation in this way, but have found it to be so natural, as well as beneficial. I really recommend reading this article on observation if you are wanting specific suggestions on what to observe, with questions such as how well your child can concentrate despite disruptions or what they do when they are finished working with a material.

It is helpful to make a habit of definitively observing your children at work or play at least once a day, with some specific questions or behaviours you are focussing on in that session.

Last of all, now that I have talked a little bit about observing so as to provide an environment receptive to the needs of the child, I wanted to touch on the second part of Maria Montessori's observation quote: removing obstacles which deter from the normal development of the child.

Part of observation involves troubleshooting the environment or material, such as how I separated the layer of the puzzle which was distracting for Jerome, so as to encourage successful independence and communication for your child. 

Some obstacles I have observed for my children, which I have done my best to remove are: noticing Jerome cannot reach the taps in the bathroom and providing a stool to remedy this, as well as many other solutions for our environment. Observing that they become restless in the afternoon and therefore, adding a routine which helps focus and calm them at this time, such as reading together or having an art tray available. Something we often encounter is Jerome becoming out-of-sorts over the weekend, as his regular routine and prepared environment are disrupted, so I will always try to bring him something to encourage concentration, such as the dominoes I packed for this weekend and will institute little routines, like putting lotion on his hands and feet which we do both at home and away, to help him feel calm and connected to me.

Overall, it is important to trust your child and their instincts. When I feel overwhelmed, or that I may be falling short in some way, I find it helpful to remind myself that my children are resilient, that the answers to what they need from me are always available, and that it is most beneficial for me to hold back and observe before reacting, intervening or judging a situation. And of course, because I am Catholic, I pray for guidance, and for peace in this a lot.

As always, thank you so much for reading. For more posts in my simplifying Montessori series: Practical Life | The Work Cycle | The Value of Concentration | Obedience and Self-Discipline

If you have any questions about Montessori or our family, please feel free to contact me either through the blog, Instagram, or Bloglovin' (all of which are linked in the About Me tab) and I will do my best to answer your questions, or will point you in the direction of another Montessorian I know will be able to assist you.

God bless,
Olivia Fischer


  1. So well put! I haven't read that book, but am definitely going to check it out, it sounds great. I recently posted about observation too . Love your blog!

    1. Thank you! It is a really good and really short read (which is nice sometimes, it took me so long to read the Absorbent Mind because it was such a meaty book). I will definitely have to check out your post!