Thoughts On Montessori & Observation
"Observation is my method. I will not teach it to you. You will struggle to understand it.” –Dr. Maria Montessori
"When I am in the midst of children, I do not think of myself as a scientist, an observer, or a theorist. I am NOBODY – and the greatest privilege I have when I approach them is being able to forget that I even exist – for this has enabled me to see things that one would miss, if we were somebody – little things, simple, but very precious truths."
-Dr. Maria Montessori
Did you know that a Montessori teacher spends a lot of time sitting on a little chair watching the children in the classroom? We have a more formal term for it, we call it observation. Observation is possibly the most important component of Montessori Pedagogy. Our Montessori teacher’s actions, decisions, and plans stem from what they have observed in children.
Observation has two purposes in the Montessori classroom. First, it physically removes the teacher from the environment. This is important because Dr. Montessori believed that the child is born with everything he needs to become a person, and often the adults get in the way of the unfolding of this process. With the teacher observing, the child is allowed to move and act according to their own will.
Second, observation allows the teacher to take a micro-perspective of the child’s experience. Have you ever sat down on the ground to see the world from your child’s vantage point? At this place, close to the ground, you may notice what draws a child’s attention.
Perhaps you notice how an errant string hangs from the cupboard - just beckoning to be pulled. This string is the frayed edge of one of your bath towels, and of course, if pulled, the entire pile of neatly folded towels will spill onto the floor.
However, at the child’s level, you see for a minute why this string is so intriguing. Why the child almost must carry out the experiment of pulling it. When the teacher is observing at this micro-level she/he is analyzing the precious truths within each child. The teacher notes what motivates a student, why they do the things they do, and note their strengths and areas for growth. This method is in stark contrast to managing the whole room and only noticing the outcome of the rumpled towels.
I encourage parents to take the time to observe your children. This is harder than you think. It is challenging to take one’s self out of the equation. I used to have to sit on my hands to remind myself that I was observing, and to keep myself from interacting, helping, or interrupting the child. I often encourage new teachers to trust the child; what I mean by this is just at that moment when it feels as though you need to intervene (they are about to pull the string of the frayed towel), don’t. Wait and see what happens, usually the worst thing is that you end up giving a lesson on how to fold stack a pile of towels.
Good luck observing your little ones, it can be truly magical.