“Follow the child, but follow the child as his leader.” —Maria Montessori
“Follow the child” is a very common phrase Montessorians use. It’s an approach not only intended for Montessori teachers; it’s meant for parents and caregivers as well. Maria Montessori was a scientist and her method of education was conceived and based on countless hours of observing young children. To follow the child, the adult must learn to observe and assess like a scientist. This will lead to a greater understanding of the child’s skills, interests and challenges, and will provide the helpful insight needed to provide a supportive environment and developmentally appropriate opportunities .
Imagine an infant’s cry. Soft or piercing, it serves as an alert signaling the infant needs attention, and it’s up to the adult to determine the cause of the cry. Is he soiled, wet, hungry, tired or perhaps in need of cuddling? Initially, there may be some trial and error in play— a diaper changed unnecessarily or food prepared only to find there’s no interest in eating. But observe long enough and the reasons for the infant’s different cries will become more obvious.
Perhaps the infant is on a play mat and is trying to roll from back to stomach. It’s important to quietly watch and allow him a slight struggle in order to build the muscles necessary to be able to roll over. It’s not helpful to prop-up or assist the infant as that defeats the “work” or natural development taking place. To not assist the infant, as he is perfecting movements like pulling up, grasping at objects or beginning to crawl, takes mindful discipline on the adult’s part.
The infant is guided by natural urges that instinctively encourage exploration and absorption of all that is in the environment. When he is happy, focused and engaged in something, do not interfere or interrupt (unless there is a safety concern) because it’s during this activity that the most meaningful development, learning and self-construction is taking place. In a well prepared environment, the child should be free to explore and discover all within his or her reach.