When I first began exploring Montessori principles and practices when my daughter was around 7 months old, I hunted down as many ideas I could possibly find. I needed a starting place. I needed visuals. I needed a step-by-step guide. The teacher in me needed a lesson plan and a checklist. I wanted to collect all of the things and pin them neatly on organize, labeled Pinterest boards.
What I found wasn't exactly what I was looking for. What I found was one quiet message being whispered over and over, woven through and through: observe the child and follow the child. Slowly, I was being told to back away from my Pinterest board and lay my to-do list down.
Interestingly, this journey of thought-shift very much paralleled a thought-shift I experienced as an elementary school teacher. My first year of teaching I wanted to do all the things with my students, be all the things for them and teach all the things to them. I had a tight to-do list, perfected lesson plans written out months in advance, and a narrow focus on hitting the ground running every single morning I entered the classroom. To be honest, I wasn't prepared to stop on the side of the road if needed. I wasn't prepared to drive separate cars for separate children if needed. Honestly, I didn't know I needed to be ready for those things.
However, I quickly learned teaching children was far from formulaic. Yes, I needed to be thoroughly prepared. Yes, I needed to have a plan of action. But more importantly than either of those things, I needed to have a ready heart to stop on the side of the road and slow down or shift my plans if needed. I needed to have a ready heart to offer differentiation for students and drive separate cars for them if needed. And even more than having a "just in case we need to slow down or pull over" mindset, I needed to expect to need to slow down and pull over.
As I explored the world of Montessori, I found the very same to be true. Yes, it would be nice and very prudent to have a reference collection of ideas pinned neatly on a Pinterest board (or twenty.) Yes, I needed to be prepared with materials and a course of action because, as I mentioned earlier, having a prepared environment is very Montessori. But more importantly than either of those things, I needed to be ready to observe and follow. I needed to learn how to let my little one guide my plans and to-do list.
In the classroom, this meant that I needed to know exactly what tools I had at my disposal. I needed to be prepared to offer reinforcement, support, and re-teaching. I also needed to be prepared to offer enrichment and challenges. But I couldn't just make a plan for these things to follow blindly with my students. No, that was only what a good teacher would do. A true teacher would observe them and get to know their strengths and weaknesses. A true teacher would be responsive to what she saw. Her lesson plans would be guided by her students, not her own agenda.
I started to see that the same was true in my Montessori walk with my daughter. Especially because I was new to Montessori and especially because my daughter was so young, my main focus needed to be observing her. I needed to watch what intrigued her, what kept her focus, how long she could maintain her focus, what concentration looked like for her, what textures she liked, how she responded to her environment, how she responded to stimuli, and so on. I needed to be a student of my daughter.
The next step I needed to take would be to follow her. This is where my Pinterest boards could actually come into play. (Que internal cheering!)
- Did she have a fascination with the buttons on my shirt? Go hunt for button play ideas.
- Did she prefer wood over plastic? Find more ideas of wooden toys.
- Did she loves playing with and in baskets? Hunt for all of the baskets around the house she could play with and explore.
- Was she mesmerized by fire and ceiling lights? No clue what to do with that one. Off to Pinterest I could go for ideas!
Are you seeing the pattern? The lesson plans and adorable Pinterest ideas don't come first. They come second. They come after careful observations. Time spent watching and observing. Observing my daughter taught me everything I needed to know about further engaging her and offering the right materials for her to explore and discover.