The young child innately loves learning, simply the process of learning. Children are so magnificent to observe. The process of gaining knowledge is such a deeply sacred experience to a child and to allow yourself the time and space to absorb such beauty and revelation would provide great insight into the matter of importance to the child. It is only through keen observation that one may peer into the true development of a child independently of their peers.
At some point during our educational process, we as adults felt the need to provide product in order to feel acceptance, meet expectations and gain approval. It is understandable once you delve into the educational systems we are surrounded by within our public schools. Educators today are not only teaching academics, testing, recording data, but are now stewards of children’s character and moral building as it is deflected from the home to the schools. It is no wonder the process of observation has become a luxury.
Observation allows for a sense of independent accomplishment, mastery, development and frustration. This requires an adult to leave all skepticism and dependency behind as they begin to witness the process of learning unfold before them simply by building prior knowledge of the expectation within the environment and preparing a well-thought out, rich atmosphere for safe learning and safe failing. Yes, that is right, I said safe failing! Allowing the child to fail without running up behind them to save them, even from putting a shoe on the wrong foot, enables them to feel empowered, capable and independent. They learn to SELF-CORRECT. The Montessori environment provides this type of environment where a child does not get scolded for spilling or breaking. The child does not get interrupted while struggling to reach a hook, or put on a coat upside down. We give them power to succeed and feel confident with their own choices.
While a child is learning, she is not worried about bringing home a product for mom or dad. She is engaged, focused, concentrated, confident and building independence. We do not put pressure on them to complete designated tasks which is why the work cycle is a free moving environment for up to 2 hours. The child chooses at-will what she impulsively feels intrigued by or drawn to. The Head Teacher is trained to be keen on what that child is “sensitive” to, meaning we notice and take note as to what they are ready to learn and soak up. Our small group and individual lessons are driven by the observations we make creating a completely individualized curriculum and pace. Again, this process is impulsive, but the teachers notice the trends of the impulses and make necessary connections. Throughout this process, the child is not made to “produce” but encouraged to work meaningfully. Many works within the classroom do not produce a paper-product to take home. Some do, but the child also has the option to keep or throw away their “product.” It is the process that provided the gratification and engagement for them so the product is not as meaningful.
As the year progresses and the works build upon themselves, there are more opportunities for products and when they come home, consider it a privilege. As a parent, my suggestion would be to ask what works your child did during the day in the Sensorial area, the Practical Life area, the Math area, the Language area, the Science area or Cultural and Geography area of the classroom. Understand that many of the works they may talk about will make little sense to you as they may use the proper names of the works, “I did Pink Cubes,” “I worked on the Sets Basket,” or “Today I poured.” Encourage them by using concrete praise and mirroring what they discussed. “It sounds like you worked hard on the Pink cubes,” or “You must have worked hard in the Math area today!” When they do decide to keep their paper products and they are sent home, don’t make a big to-do, just start a conversation about their work. Ask, “Can you tell me about your work?” “What is this a picture of?” If it is non-representation still, expect anything! This is such a fun process to witness as a parent. Feeling acceptance at this young age isn’t as important as it is to encourage them to feel good about their own choices during their school day. Remember this is their sacred time in their own space, their own environment. Some children may feel a need to keep to themselves what they learned during the school day and others may not be able to recall what they did, which is why we encourage observation. Take time to visit your child’s school for at least a 30 minute time frame to witness the goings-on within the environment. It is ideal for their to be a private observation area, but it is not necessary to achieve an authentic observation. Sitting quietly within the environment, not engaging with the children, will provide a very insightful experience for you!