Updated: May 8, 2021
In training Montessori guides have to observe for hundreds and hundreds of hours. Dr. Maria Montessori had a scientific approach to her methods, and observation was an integral part. Montessori guides observe every day to ascertain if the prepared environment needs to be amended, how students work, what they work with, when they are ready for new lessons, and if they discover anything new etc.
If there is a problem, we observe to try and figure out what the source is and what to change.
Example: If a child doesn't hang up the coat when coming inside, we don't step in and scold them, but sit back and observe what is actually happening. Is the child trying? Are they in a rush for some reason (perhaps they need to go to the toilet, someone is calling them, are they hungry etc)? Is the environment set up for success? (low hanging hooks that are not full of other jackets etc, the jackets have a hook to hang them by, there's general order). After observing neutrally, we come up with a hypothesis. In the case above, we may decide the reason might be that all the hooks already have coats on them. We decide to remove a few coats to make more space and have more order. We then execute, observe again and evaluate.
Now you'll see people recommending you observe your child at home, but what does that actually mean in reality.
How to observe
First of all, observations take place all the time. We observe when cooking, cleaning, talking etc. We notice new words in the child's vocabulary, new skills, things they can do independently and what activities they need help with. When talking to parents, some tell me they have never observed their child. Yet, they are always capable of telling me what their child can do.
Aside from the ongoing observations we do all the time as parents, it can be good to take the time to sit down and do scientific observations.
Focus on what the child actually does and says without trying to interpret it.
Be quiet. If you interrupt or ask questions about what they are doing, they may lose focus or start taking an interest in what you are doing instead.
Observe at different times and in different situations. A child may be shy when talking to strangers but feel more secure at home. They may be restless in the afternoon, but more focused in the morning.
Observations can be done in different ways. Take notes, take pictures, talk to your partner, grandparents or childminder etc about what they noticed.
Record your observations. Get yourself a special notebook for the purpose. Dates are easily forgotten. It is good to know how fast the child is learning letters or when they start taking an interest in specific activities.
I like to have a notebook and a pen availeble at all times. Sometimes I discover patterend based on my notes that I might have missed if I didn't have one.
What to observe
A Montessori guide observes the classroom before even letting children inside it. We sit down at the childs height and note what they can see and what they can not see. We walk through their day and make sure they have what they need. This is easily replicated at home by taking a moment to look at your home through the eyes of your child.
Which activities are used the most? How are they used?
The work cycle
What activities do the child start with (usually a lighter work to start the day), which activity do they use the longest (usually something the child is figuring out and feel they want to master)
How do they handle materials?
Do they need more presentations on how to carry a material, how to place them on a mat / table. Think about what your child needs to learn these skills that we take for granted as adults.
This is a major part of observation, but often neglected. How are you feeling? Is something triggering you, are you staying neutral when observing? Have you attended to your own self-care?
“As we observe children, we see the vitality of their spirit, the maximum effort put forth in all they do, the intuition, attention and focus they bring to all life’s events, and the sheer joy they experience in living.” —Dr. Maria Montessori The Child, Society and the World (Unpublished Speeches and Writing)
Find a piece of paper and divide it in two coloums. In the first write "What I think I see" and in the second write "What I actually see".
Observation is like any new skill. You need to do it regularly to perfect it. It can be hard to sit without judgement, preconceived notions or concern over what you are seeing. Try to remain mindful and free yourself from other thoughts. When your mind wanders, just note that it has and bring it back to the present. What have you observed recently? We'd love to hear about it.
Co-authored and edited by Mie Mari Sløk Rusdal and Jude Saffron
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