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How to observe your child with the Montessori method
What toys can I give my baby? What activities are suitable for my 2 year old? These are questions I often get asked in my Facebook group or by parents at my playgroup. However, what activity or toys to offer is not based on age but on what a child is interested in or on what a child is working on. So it is important that you observe your child to learn this.
Read below or watch the video:
Why it is important to observe your child
You may be familiar with the saying “follow the child”, but to do this we need to know the child.
The first step is to learn about your child’s development so you can understand why they are behaving in a certain way or focused on specific toys or activities. In Montessori terms, we talk about the sensitive periods and schemas of play.
This is when your child focuses on one aspect of their environment for a period of time and is not interested in very much else. This is perfectly normal and natural but it is only possible to identify these sensitive periods if you take time to observe your child.
Maria Montessori was a scientist. She started by observing children, then designed her method based on her observations.
The teacher in a Montessori classroom is called a directress. To direct can also be understood as to guide. The teacher is a guide and so are you, as a parent.
"The vision of the teacher should be at once precise like that of the scientist, and spiritual like that of the saint. The preparation for science and the preparation for sanctity should form a new soul, for the attitude of the teacher should be at once positive, scientific and spiritual.
Positive and scientific, because she has an exact task to perform, and it is necessary that she should put herself into immediate relation with the truth by means of rigorous observation...
Spiritual, because it is to man that his powers of observation are to be applied, and because the characteristics of the creature who is to be his particular subject of observation are spiritual." Maria Montessori
What is your role in observing your child?
My initial training is as a clinical psychologist. Observation was at the centre of my training and consecutive career as a child and family therapist. I was first attracted to the Montessori education because of the scientific approach. Observing children was already very familiar to me.
But, being a parent is very different from being a psychologist or teacher. Observing my own children was different. I felt the need to observe my first-born, I felt compelled to record her progress and developmental milestones. As she grew, and as I was studying Montessori, I loved to observe her to adapt the environment accordingly. That part was fun.
But, there is something more important to observe - the observer, you the parent. You are going to influence what is happening and you need to try and keep a scientific and detached approach to your observations.
It is hard not to judge what your child is doing, not to intervene, not to want to help. Maria Montessori compared the untrained teacher to an elephant who trample a bed of flowers:
You observe to better prepare the environment. You observe to understand what skills your child needs to work on. You also observe yourself as a facilitator or a hindrance to your child’s development.
Observing your child will help you to know what to present next, to understand what sensitive period they are in and what their interests are.
But how do you observe your child without trampling on the flowers?
Tips to observe your child
When you decide to observe your child, it is not about planning set times to do so, but being prepared when an opportunity arises.
Get yourself a little notepad and pen to hand so you are ready when you have some uninterrupted time to observe your child.
Sit close by but there is no need to comment or interact with what they are doing. It is tempting to ask them questions but instead, just quietly observe what your child does.
It can be much harder to do this than it sounds! We often add judgement or worry to what we see. You may have thoughts like “she is going to hurt herself”, “not that noisy toy again”, “I wish she would play with that expensive toy we bought” for examples. Let those thoughts come and go and just focus on what you see.
What to observe
In my Montessori Parenting E-course, I provide some pointers on things you may want to observe. I go into details about the sensitive periods and the schemas of play. Here are some starting points:
You can also download my hand check-list and observation sheets!
Sign up to my newsletter to receive them in your mailbox.
Observe your child's motor skills
Observe your child's gross motor skills
Observe your child’s language skills
Observe your child’s interests
Observe your child’s social development
Another way to observe your child would be to focus on the sensitive periods or schema they are in. Sometimes your child might repeat an activity or seem obsessed with a particular material or skill. Does he only want to read and chat with you while doing activities? Maybe he is in a sensitive period to language.
Does she line up his toys? Is he upset when her routine is not what she expects? Maybe she is in a sensitive period for order.
Does she like to build fences? Does she like to go in his cot? Maybe she is exploring the enclosure schemas.
If you are struggling about what to observe, you may find my “what to observe list” handy and we go into more detail about the child’s development in my course.
Taking time to observe your child, without judgement or preconceptions, is the first step to answering those common questions. What toys can I give them? What activities are suitable for them? Your child has all the answers.
Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.
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