One thing you hear often from Montessori schools and parents is the term “follow the child.” As a core tenet of the Montessori philosophy, Follow the Child is seen in many elements of the classroom and curriculum. For teachers, Follow the Child permeates every action they make, and it helps them guide their students through the day more successfully.
The precept of Follow the Child is more than what it seems. Here is everything you need to know about the core tenet, including how it’s used and ways you can follow your child, too.
What Does Follow The Child Mean?
Dr. Maria Montessori began her task of figuring out how children learn in the early 1900s. She studied a group of children who had little to no prior learning, who were from socioeconomically depressed regions of Rome, Italy. Since these children were unruly, Montessori decided not to force them to do anything. Instead, she watched.
During this period, Montessori discovered something amazing—that the children taught themselves. It was then that her philosophy “Follow the Child” came to be.
Key Components of Follow The Child
Follow the Child is not solely observation. It’s so much more. There are four parts to the philosophy, including:
- Prepared environment
- Trusting in a child’s independence
- Resisting the urge to interrupt—follow, don’t lead
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Observing and Preparing
Follow the Child is a concept developed by a scientist, and when scientists want to learn, they first observe. In order to figure out what serves your child best, you need to watch them. Montessori teachers do the same. They spend time standing back and observing the classroom. They watch what materials are popular, which child is drawn to what, who appears confused or focused, and so on.
Behaviors, social interactions, and emotions are all considered when a teacher decides to make changes to the classroom.
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The Valuable Environment
Another tenet of the Montessori philosophy is the Prepared Environment. Montessori instructors spend long periods of time organizing their classrooms to make it the most effective. The space is clean, neat, and gives space for movement and exploration.
You can do the same at home. Child-sized furniture in the kitchen and bathroom are a good start. For example, giving your child a stepping stool to reach the sink to wash their own hands facilitates good hygienic practices. Offering a low hook on the front door is an opportunity for them to hang their own coat.
Trusting The Child
In The Theosophist by Maria Montessori, she writes, “The child looks for his independence first, not because he does not desire to be dependent on the adult, but because he has in himself some fire, some urge, to do certain things and not other things.”
When a child is working on something, they aren’t seeking your approval (as crazy as that sounds). It’s when you give your child empty approval that they start seeking more of it. Trust in the process and let them experience things for the sake of the experience. Let them enjoy the discovery that they themselves find.
Also, don’t overlook a child’s attempts at independence. When they ask to help with chores, don’t tell them no. Give them a chance. It might be slow going, but it is a key moment in your child’s development. Allowing them to try things helps them be more independent in the future.
Following the child is also a directive for the teacher and the parent. Yes, it’s going to be tempting to take your child by the hand and help them as they struggle, but it is all part of the learning process. Helping your child every time they hit an obstacle teaches them nothing.
If you see your child struggling, don’t immediately rush over. Instead take a moment to pause and reflect on what they are doing. Do they look engaged? Are they enjoying what they are doing? If the child isn’t looking for feedback, if they are at least engaged, then you should leave them alone.
Want to acknowledge their effort? Don’t commend them with a “great job!” Ask them how the task or action made them feel rather than judging what they did.
Does Follow The Child Work?
There are many skeptics out there who say that this precept of Montessori isn’t viable. That’s because most institutions haven’t tried it yet. Most traditional schools are focused on testing and academic competitive. Neither of these respect the individual and their desires.
The truth is that most children do not learn in environments that use incentives or punishments. The philosophy behind Follow the Child works because it keeps in mind how learning really happens—through discovery.
Nothing is more enticing and exciting to a child than figuring out something they didn’t already know. And when they are having fun on their own, they are much more motivated to delve even deeper than when they are coerced.
Follow the Child makes learning almost effortless. If you allow learning to happen, it will happen.
Here are some tips to make Follow the Child work for you at home (because Montessori methods can be used anywhere):
- Let your child start activities or discussions on their own. This might mean dealing with awkward silence, but you will get used to it with time.
- Allow your child to make mistakes instead of interrupting them. Mistakes are all part of the learning process. If they spill milk, for instance, show them how to clean it up and let them try again.
- Look for ways to make their environment work for them. If they need to be reminded of a chore, adjust their schedule. If they show a need for physical activity, work that in. Swap out toys they are no longer interested in.
- Get down to their level when speaking to them or observing. Not only will you strengthen your bond, but you will be able to see the world from their point of view.
Looking for a Montessori School?
Montessori believed wholeheartedly that learning cannot be forced. Human beings naturally want to learn about the world around them. Follow the Child is a core tenet that emerged from that belief, and it continues to play a significant role in Montessori classrooms today. Letting the students guide themselves helps them stay focused and interested, and it promotes exceptional growth.
There is so much your child could learn in a Montessori school, so why not enroll them in one of the many programs at Fishtown Montessori? Give us a call today to schedule your virtual tour!