Wheaton Montessori News
Montessori classrooms rely heavily on the art of observation. You may see it in action some time, or you may have an opportunity to try it yourself (which we welcome and encourage!). If you ever walk past a classroom and see the children working intently, while the guide is quietly sitting in a corner with a clipboard, know that guide is working intently as well.
Dr. Maria Montessori was a scientist and a physician. Her education and background helped her look at the world in a way that is different from most traditional educators. Observation of children was what inspired her work in education, and she used it to develop her methods. Not only that, but Montessori guides all over the world rely on observation to learn about their students, gain insight about developmental phases, inform our decision-making, and to assess the children’s mastery of skills. So what are the main goals of observation in the classroom?
Formal observations – A Montessori guide will likely observe in the classroom most days, or multiple guides may take turns observing. These observations typically last between fifteen and thirty minutes, but the amount of time can vary. While each guide has their own preferred method, they typically sit quietly and use a notebook to record what they observe. Children are taught about the importance of this work and they know not to disturb the adult at this time. Sometimes a guide will sit in a specific chair or use a special clipboard to signal to the children that they are working. For new guides, the temptation to intervene can be powerful, but we learn that unless a child is in danger it’s often best to wait it out and see what happens. Most classrooms have a second adult that is able to redirect a child who may be overly disruptive, allowing the observing adult to continue. During this time the guide simply watches and takes lots of notes. It is important that the notes be strictly observational and that any judgement or inferencing be reserved for another time.
Whether you are considering Montessori for your child, they are in a program but getting ready to move to a new level, or if you’re just curious and want to learn more about the philosophy, observation is one of the greatest tools available to you.
When you enter a Montessori classroom to observe, it is very important to know that the children will be engaged in their work and the goal is to watch without disturbing them. In many other scenarios in life, we announce ourselves upon entering a room, perhaps even greeting others enthusiastically. When observing in the classroom, we ask that visitors refrain from doing these things, tempting as it may be! You will likely be greeted by an adult or child and directed to a chair. Having a notebook or clipboard is helpful, as you are sure to experience moments you will want to record. If a child approaches you and greets you, by all means please feel free to briefly greet them in return. In general, however, you will need to sit quietly and observe in a way that the children forget you are there, leaving them free to focus on their work. Montessori children are quite used to visitors, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
Some questions that will help guide your observation include:
When your observation is complete, it is best to slip out of the classroom quietly. In this situation you are not expected to say any formal goodbyes.
While home is very different from the classroom, there are ways that parents can apply the basic concepts of Montessori observation. While trying to engage with our children, it can be easy to fall into patterns in which we begin directing their play. Every once in a while, sit back and watch as your child plays. You may notice them using their toys in surprising ways, and this may give you insight to their interests and maturity. Similarly, it can be tempting to jump in and help any time your child spills something, falls down, or struggles to do something. Instead of rushing to the rescue, wait. If they ask for help, of course, lend a hand, but oftentimes they will want to address the situation themselves. Watching to see what our children are capable of and nurturing their independence is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
Do you have a classroom observation scheduled for the new year yet? You can sign up to observe in your child’s classroom here!