What does “Follow the Child” Mean?
If you are a parent interested in enrolling your child in a Montessori school, you will frequently come across the phrase “follow the child” in your research, as it is a core tenet of the Montessori Method and the foundation of Dr. Montessori’s philosophy.
“Follow the child. They will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves, and what area they need to be challenged in. The aim of the children who persevere in their work with an object is certainly not to ‘learn’; they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life, which must be recognized and developed by its means.” – Maria Montessori
As an authentic Montessori preschool in the Polaris area, following the child is prevalent in our interactions with the children in our classrooms. At Villa Montessori, our certified teachers use this tenet to guide their students throughout the day and through the Montessori curriculum. We believe, as did Maria Montessori, that children have natural and unique qualities that lead them to learning. Our job is to create an inviting environment that facilitates curiosity and the love of learning and then we must get out of the way.
“When a child is given a little leeway, he will at once shout, ‘I want to do it!’ But in our schools, which have an environment adapted to children’s needs, they say, ‘Help me to do it alone.’” – Maria Montessori in The Secret of Childhood
One must understand that following the child does not mean there is no supervision and that children can do whatever they want whenever they want. On the contrary, it is an acknowledgement that each child has a unique pattern of learning, and the key to unlocking this pattern is observation. But this tenet encompasses so much more than just observation.
The Montessori philosophy includes four key components:
- The prepared environment
- Honoring the child’s spirit and independence
- Taking a pause and resisting interruptions
The Role of the Teacher – Observing and Preparing
“The teacher, when she begins work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work.” – Maria Montessori in The Absorbent Mind
Dr. Montessori was a scientist. And as scientists do, she observed and gathered research and evidence to make hypotheses, test them, and then share her understanding and knowledge. She created the Montessori Method based on those observations. Her work gave us the materials and lessons we use today in our classrooms.
Teachers must continue the work of observation to better understand the needs of the children. They approach the learning process with an open mind and respect for the child’s instincts. Their constant observations of the children in their care aid in preparing an attractive and nurturing learning environment, providing mindful guidance towards mastering activities that are developmentally appropriate for each child. In a nutshell, our teachers support each individual child’s unique learning journey.
Academics are just a small part of how Villa Montessori nurtures our children. Our focus is on developing the whole child which requires observing children’s behaviors and social interactions. Teachers watch and listen and do their best to record observations without judgment. They then use this information to make changes in the environment as needed.
The Prepared Environment
“Children acquire knowledge through experience in the environment.” – Maria Montessori The 1946 London Lectures
The prepared environment is a clean, organized, warm, and inviting space in which learning takes place in Montessori classrooms. Walk into any of our classrooms and you will find child-sized furniture, materials and activities placed neatly on shelves, and children engrossed in their work either at tables or on mats on the floor. Looking more closely at the activities on the shelves, you will notice that they are real-life activities versus mostly toys. For example, children participate in snack participation, serving, and clean up. They will learn to sweep, clean tables, water plants, arrange flowers, pour liquids – just to name a few!
The prepared environment serves a great purpose – essentially a primary educator to the child. It is our responsibility to ensure that the children have rich and meaningful experiences as they interact with their environment. Our Montessori teachers spend a great many hours analyzing the effectiveness of their prepared environment. If the children have not been using certain materials for a while, the teacher knows it is time to put them away and introduce new ones.
Trust the Child
“The child who has never learned to work by himself, to set goals for his own acts, or to be the master of his own force of will is recognizable in the adult who lets others guide his will and feels a constant need for approval of others.” – Maria Montessori in Education and Peace
The best thing about a Montessori environment is that it allows the child to work, develop, and learn at their own individual pace. They have the freedom to choose what they would like to explore. Children are guided through lessons by their teachers that are developmentally appropriate; and through their work with the materials, they build upon their skill set with each mastery.
Believe it or not, people are not born with an inherent need for external praise or desire for rewards. This is a learned behavior. When children receive empty praises or prizes, they are learning that they do their work to meet the approval of others. However, when we trust that they want to learn because they are curious, and feel joy from the experience, that is exactly what will happen!
“The fundamental help in development, especially with little children of 3 years of age, is not to interfere. Interference stops activity and stops concentration.” – Maria Montessori The Child, Society, and the World (Unpublished Speeches and Writing)
As Montessorians, we must trust in the process and let the children experience things on their own for the sake of the experience. Our children want to work and do things for themselves. We just need to let them!
Following the child is a reminder to teachers and parents to not immediately jump in to help when you notice the child struggling with an activity. The most important thing we can do as educators is to pause when approaching a child. Is the child engaged and focused? Are they enjoying what they are doing? When a child is concentrating, it is best to not interfere. Even if they are not doing the activity in a way we think is “right,” if they are being careful and safe with a material, they are likely getting something from the activity. Remember, we learn from mistakes. If we are constantly jumping in to assist our children, they are learning nothing.
Are You Ready to Enroll?
Maria Montessori observed that children naturally want to learn about the world around them. Following the child is a core tenet that emerged from her belief that learning cannot be forced. Giving children the freedom to explore their environment and learn what they want helps them stay focused and interested. Accelerated learning and growth are natural by-products of the Montessori Method.
We would love for you to learn more about our Montessori preschool. Call today at 614-721-4410 to schedule your tour today and see why we are a premier school in the Polaris area!