Monday, September 19, 2011

observing a child

i wanted to share this lecture on what it means to truly observe a child the montessori way... great read

“Observing a Child”

by Karen Tyler

In Montessori education class we talk a lot about the “Observation” of a child. But try and look-up on the internet to find out what that means and you will not find a lot of information! Observing a child is a process in which you will need to experience it in order to understand how to do it. I will try and explain it a little better for you.

Let’s start with what a traditional teacher might do when observing a child:

Betty was putting a puzzle together and picked up the pieces and threw them at the child that was sitting next to her. Her teacher saw this happen and ran up and told her she needed pick up the puzzle and go sit in “time out.”

In this situation the teacher observed the misbehavior and corrected it. Right? Now let watch how a Montessori teacher would observe this situation:

Betty was putting a puzzle together. Her teacher was sitting in a chair facing the children and watching the entire room in her periphery vision. She knew that Betty was putting a puzzle together. She also knew from observing Betty many times before, that Betty tended to get frustrated when she found work challenging. The teacher got up and went and sat down next to Betty without saying anything. She brought a puzzle of her own to do. The teacher took the pieces of her puzzle out of the frame one at a time as Betty was doing.

At the exact moment that Betty was going to throw the pieces the teacher turned to Betty and said, “Betty, would you be able to help me with my puzzle?” “Sometimes I feel upset when I do work because some jobs are harder for me than others.” “Would you help me this time?”

As Betty helped the teacher they chatted about being frustrated and what that meant. They talked about way they could learn to not worry about doing everything fast and easy.

The teacher knew from her observations before that day that the reason Betty would get frustrated was that most work came easy to her. When a job was more challenging she thought she was dumb and the children would laugh at her.

When a Montessori teacher sits down and observes a child doing work (which should be often) she needs to watch with her heart as well as her eyes. As adults, we often jump in when we shouldn’t and then there are those times where we should have done something and we didn’t!


Only after observing a child, will we know what activities should be presented next. If a child is having trouble, it’s because we are going way too fast. Remember a child’s time and ours is different. A child feels that they have all the time in the world to check out their environment. Adults feel that time is always too short and it’s always running out! Pay attention to the moment when you are observing a child. Watch how they interact with the materials and how they go through the steps. Do they skip certain steps? What is their body language telling you? Are they uptight? Are they smiling and relaxed? Is their tongue sticking out in concentration? Are they easily distracted? Which children do they watch? Is the job too easy? Is the job too hard? These are some of the questions that you should be thinking about as you are observing the child.

With practice, you will be surprised that observing a child become almost automatic. I find that I am always observing people around me and trying to figure out the best way to serve them in honor and respect for who they are. With practice, you will be able to see clearly what to do and when to do it with a child. You won’t be frustrated or at a loss anymore. But you have to start now and you have to practice! “How often?” you ask? I think that you should intentionally observe each child every day for 10 minutes. The goal is for you to be able to know when something is not going right with a child and then taking deliberate time to observe them. Other times the goal will be for you to learn how to make observing children as automatic and natural as breathing.

Give it a try! Slow down and give it a try! You won’t be sorry! Know that in the quite of the moment of observation, you are joined by other teachers that are doing the same thing as you are at the same time!