The Power of Observation
The Montessori method, according to a feature on Maria Montessori, started with a group of children in an empty room at the University of Rome’s asylum clinic. While observing them, a young Dr. Montessori noticed that the children, who had no toys or materials available, resorted to playing with crumbs on the floor. She realized the children desperately craved sensory stimulation, and then went on to develop materials and a now-famous educational method to meet the need she observed.
Just like Dr. Montessori observed children to know how to best guide them, this article focuses on how parents can apply the Montessori principle of observation to guide our parenting. Observation remains the key for each Montessori parent and caregiver to discern and meet their children’s needs while supporting their learning. Dr. Montessori’s background as a scientist trained her in the skill of observation. With a little practice and the tips we outline below, you can become a skilled observer, too.
Why Should I Apply the Montessori Principle of Observation in My Parenting?
As parents, it’s second nature for us to want to help our little ones when they are struggling with something. However, it’s important to pause, wait, and give them the opportunity to problem solve on their own. These moments present the perfect opportunity for us to understand their skill level. When we understand where they are in their development, we can better guide their important early learning. In a Montessori environment, the adults learn from the behaviors of the children more than the children learn from adults.
When applying the Montessori principle of observation, the role of the adult is to carefully observe the child and prepare the environment based on their personalized needs. Observation allows adults to understand what skills a child is mastering, what the child needs to work on, and the child’s unique interests. Only then can the adult prepare an appropriate environment that supports the child’s needs.
One goal of the Montessori method is to help children gain confidence in taking control of their own learning. It can be difficult to let go of preconceived ideas of what a child is capable of. That’s especially true with your own children. However, it’s important to remember that you’re not there to dictate each moment of your child’s education. Your role is to support their intrinsic desire to learn in their own way and time.
So, when you feel the need to jump in and start directing how your child should approach a situation, resist the urge and observe how your child finds their own solutions instead. You may be surprised at what they come up with.
How to Start Applying the Montessori Principle of Observation
The Montessori principle of observation details three types of observation for the adult to focus on: direct observation of the self, direct observation of the child, and indirect observation. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to more effectively observe your child’s needs in each area of their development.
How is your child learning and using language? Are they growing their vocabulary, communicating with sounds, or using sign language to indicate their needs? Does your child enjoy reading with you? What are they telling you through nonverbal language?
What are your child’s eating and sleeping patterns? Do they put themselves down for a nap or do they come to you when they’re sleepy? Do they serve their own food or pour their own water? How are they progressing with self-dressing and toileting?
How does your child interact with siblings or other children? Are they comfortable around strangers, or do they first need time to observe the situation? Does your child constantly ask for your attention? How do they behave in group activities?
What does your child like to play with? Do they repeatedly play with the same toy over others? Are they using the materials that you’ve prepared in an unexpected way? Are they in a sensitive period?
Fine Motor Development
How does your child manipulate small objects? Do they enjoy putting together puzzles or stringing beads? How do they hold their fork or spoon?
How Should I Approach the Montessori Principle of Observation?
Although you might be tempted to plan a specific time to formally watch your child work, it may be more effective to wait for the right moment. When you realize they don’t need your immediate attention, sit quietly near them and write down what they’re doing. It takes practice to keep your observations neutral, especially when it’s your own child, but the more you practice, the easier it will get.
When applying the Montessori principle of observation, it’s important to stay objective in your observations. At this point, only write down what you see your child actually doing. You want to be as focused and present as possible. Otherwise, you might miss an important detail.
Another way to record your observations is to have a camera handy and take photos of your child’s various activities throughout the day. When you have a quiet moment, you can look back at the day in pictures and think of ways to improve the environment to meet your child’s needs. As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Acting on Your Observations
At the end of the day, you can brainstorm ideas that will support your child’s development. It may help you to have another notebook for your thoughts and another for a weekly progress journal. That way, you have a bird’s-eye view of your child’s struggles and accomplishments, and you can gain perspective on how to move forward for the next week.
When you let go of your judgments of what your child can and can’t do, you begin to lose your preconceived notions about what developmental stage your child should be in. When that happens, your child becomes the instructor, and you are there to simply support his learning. And that’s the core of the Montessori philosophy.