“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
Maria Montessori used her advanced skills of scientific observation to understand how children learn. She learned many useful lessons that hold true today. The first lesson is that children learn through their senses and they absorb knowledge through their surroundings. Children have an incredible interest in manipulating materials and tools with their hands. Given time to explore and discover, they can teach themselves more than adults imagine.
The second discovery Montessori made was that children have sensitive periods when they are at their peak learning capacity and are tuned into certain skills like learning to walk, talk, toilet, skip, read, write, and learn mathematical concepts. The development of materials for each curriculum area came from her knowledge of sensitive periods. Sensorial materials help develop the senses. Practical life work develops eye-hand-mind coordination, control, concentration, independence ,and order. Language and math areas continue the work on discrimination skills that begin in sensorial and practical life. Using the sense of touch with Sandpaper Letters develops muscle memory for later writing. Math concepts begin with one-to-one correspondence and objects of varying sizes promote the concept of greater than and less than which leads to linear counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
Montessori teachers prepare the classroom with each student in mind and to anticipate the next steps that each child will take and the materials necessary to assist with those steps. Children are encouraged to follow their interests and independently make decisions about the work activities they will do. However, the teachers also have a plan to introduce the next steps in the child’s learning. Montessori followed each child’s interests and growth and development. Children were permitted to work with the same activity until they determined they had completed the work.
Following the child for teachers follows a cycle of observation, analysis, planning for the child and then observation again. Through observing the actions of children, teachers can determine what children need to do. If a child is throwing things, give him objects that are safe to throw and a container to aim the throw into. If a child is climbing, encourage a time and place to climb safely. As long as children are interacting with the materials in the environment and being respectful of the materials and others, the teacher can stand back and observe without interfering. Following the child gives her the freedom of choice and the ability to be independent.
“Trust in the child, take your lead from the child, support the child, entice the child, don’t rescue the child.”
Margot Garfield-Anderson, The Montessori Foundation