One of the main core principles of a Montessori upbringing is to Follow the child. What does that mean exactly? You may be thinking, I already spend my day following my child around the house cleaning up after him/her, while we probably all do this at some point this isn’t quite what we mean in Montessori.
In Montessori, when we talk about following the child, we mean observing your child and giving them opportunities to further explore their interests. To be successful at this, we must do two things: give our child the freedom to explore and interact with their surroundings uninhibited, and watch with intention making thoughtful observations.
Give your child the freedom to explore and interact with their surroundings uninhibited.
By giving your child the space they need to explore you will see what your child is drawn to or interested in. You may observe your child going into the cupboards and trying to open and close containers. Perhaps you observe your child covering their body with blankets or mom’s scarves. You may notice your child trying to pull off a pen cap and put it back on over and over again. When your child has the surrounding environment at their fingertips, they will show you what they are interested in and what skills they want to practice. If your child spends much of their time in a playpen with toys you have chosen for them, you are limiting their options and limiting their opportunities for learning and development. Instead, you may choose to create a home open to your child and give them accessibility to promote independence. By letting your child explore on their own, you give them the chance to develop a sense of self, practice decision making skills as they make choices about what to play with and how to use it, and show us exactly what they need to be learning.
Of course when you open your home to your child you must think about having a prepared environment. After making sure your home is safe, you can start to think about how to set up your home to promote independent exploration for your child. A simple way to start this is by placing your child’s toys on low shelves and storing books on low front-facing bookshelves. At an early age babies can crawl up to the shelves and start making their own choices of what to interact with.
Watch with intention making thoughtful observations.
Now comes the second part, you must be watching and observing carefully to see those patterns of interest. Trust your child to show you what he/she needs to be learning. Observing can be a true challenge as it requires us as parents to step back and watch. As hard as it may be, try not to interfere, interact, or engage with your child when observing. Any interference may distract your child from the task at hand.
For example, if your child is attempting to put a cap on a non-matching bottle, resist the urge to interfere and hand them the correct bottle or the urge to explain why the bottle cap doesn’t fit. If the bottle cap doesn’t fit, the child will move to the next bottle or cap, if it still doesn’t fit, the child will move to the next one until matched. Your child is learning on their own as they attempt this task. Instead, make a mental note of what your child is working on and the challenges/achievements during this time and use those observations to prepare future activities for their Montessori shelf. Of course, you will not be observing your child in this way ALL the time. We have plenty of time throughout the day to interact and engage with our children. Just be sure to give your child uninterrupted time each day and to make thoughtful observations while they work.
What to do with your observations.
Once you recognize your child’s interests you can follow them to create a prepared environment fit for their needs.
If your child is often trying to see what you’re doing up there on the kitchen counters, perhaps a Learning Tower would be a good investment to let your little one help in the kitchen. Give your child tasks that you feel comfortable with such as washing fruits and veggies, peeling garlic skins, scooping out ingredients, or mixing ingredients.
If your child keeps climbing the backs of the sofa and up onto the tabletops, a Pikler Triangle may provide them with a safe space to practice those climbing abilities and explore their limits.
Follow their lead as you prepare the Montessori shelf with activities that your child is interested in and that will help develop the skill he/she wants to practice.
For example, if you notice your child often playing with the clothespins as you hang laundry, place an open box of clothespins on their shelf to practice clipping the pins onto the sides of the box.
If your child is showing interest in your house plants, take this opportunity to teach them about care for living things. You can set up a tray with a cloth or sponge next to a bowl of water and model for your child how to polish plants. Go one step further and explain why it is important for plants to stay clean so they can better absorb sunlight and stay alive and grow. Observing your child's activities gives you the opportunities to expand on their interests and develop their love of learning and curiousity at an early age.
With a nurturing and prepared environment that allows the freedom to explore, your child will develop and grow into an independent and confident individual guiding their own learning. As hard as it can be at times, try to step back and let your child lead. We at Góc Montessori hope you found this article useful.