Observation [ob-zur-vey-shuh n] noun. The act, the practice of noticing.
“Even when helping and serving the children, she (the teacher) must not cease to observe them, because the birth of concentration in a child is as delicate a phenomenon as the bursting of a bud into bloom.” —Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Maria Montessori was a scientist and a medical doctor, trained to make careful observations. She applied the same observation skills to observing the children in the classroom. Dr. Montessori’s observations enabled her to provide for the needs of the child. She never stopped observing the child.
A cornerstone of a Montessori teacher’s training is learning how to observe. At each level there are required hours to observe children and observation write ups to be completed before teacher-candidates can work with those children.
Observations are the foundation of Montessori with two perspectives: those observations made by the teacher and those observations made by other members of the community (i.e. parents).
Teachers observe their classrooms for different reasons: to understand what the group needs (grace and courtesy), to follow the child to know what materials need to be presented that will be appropriate for the child’s development, to understand why a child is having difficulty and how to break that lesson down for easier understanding, and to understand what the work cycle is. Observations are a continuous part of a teacher’s work.
All adult members of the community are welcome to observe a Mountain Shadows classroom. Just as scientists prepare for their observations, so should adults prepare to observe a Montessori classroom. We all have expectations, but a key part to the observation is removing judgment from the encounter.
Instead, breathe and be open. We want you to watch carefully for the most meaningful, beautiful experiences that class life provides. Sometimes you will get to listen to or see the most heart-lifting things a child has to offer. With our busy lives, we don’t always get to see these meaningful and beautiful experiences. This is a chance to experience just that.
What can you expect?
- There will be a buzz (maybe a little louder than a buzz), but what should be more overwhelming is the diverse amount of work going on in the classroom.
- Does the buzz rise and fall, where does it come from? Is it excitement, discovery, is it shrill?
- Try to watch the entire class, rather than just one child (or your child).
- Everyone learns in different ways; look for the child that is working by herself; the child who is working intensely, children working in groups, or working with a friend. Some might not be engaged at all, but they are likely absorbing what is going on around them.
- Notice the different learning patterns, listen to how the children are talking to one another, the level of respect, the normal push and pull that happens. Is someone asking for help or telling someone that they are disturbing their work?
- Do the children help one another with the materials? A spill?
- Do the older children help the younger children?
- Do the younger children respect the older children?
- Do the children gather to catch a spider? Do they socialize, do they watch the rabbits?
- Are the adults guiding or directing?
- How do the adults interact with the children? How much do they do for the children? Do they rescue them? Do they correct them, how often and with what material?
- Watch for the independence of the children. What are the children doing for themselves?
- Notice how the materials are carried; how do they use the materials to do their work and how do they return the work to the shelves?
- Notice the class environment as a whole.
Remember, an observation is just a snapshot of the life of the classroom and a/your child’s interaction in this environment.