“Follow the child, but follow the child as his leader.” —Maria Montessori

Montessorians often use the phrase, “follow the child”; however, this phrase is not only intended for Montessori teachers. Actually, all parents, grandparents and caregivers can benefit from following the child, too. It’s through observation that we see the child’s needs and abilities with more clarity. By doing so, we can better prepare ourselves and environments to meet their needs. Therefore, following really begins with observing.

Maria Montessori was a scientist and physician. Because of her professional training, she conceived and based her discoveries on countless hours of observation. Hence, the Montessori pedagogical approach to educating the child was founded. Importantly, observation led Dr. Montessori to a greater understanding of the child’s skills, interests and challenges. Ultimately, it can provide clear insights

Looking and listening for clues.

As examples:

First, imagine an infant’s cry. Whether soft or piercing, it serves as an alert. As the infant signals a need for attention, it’s up to the adult to determine the cause of the cry. Is the infant soiled, wet, hungry, tired or perhaps in need of cuddling? Initially, there may be some trial and error in play. Sometimes, a diaper can be 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 cry will become more obvious. With this awareness, confusion will lessen and a much welcomed clarity will take its place.

Next, learning to roll over as an infant takes practice. During their first attempts, rolling involves strength and determination. A little struggle is necessary and helps to build core muscles. In the meantime, propping or assisting the infant can impede their natural development. As tempting as it is to help the child, it’s most important is to simply observe nearby. Of course, be mindful of the child’s safety. But allowing the child time and space to practice pulling up, grasping at objects or beginning to crawl is most important of all.

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.

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