A close friend used to joke sometimes about “seeing what we’re looking at” but that is exactly what Dr Montessori did. With scientific training to support her, she “looked to the child” to learn about who he really is and how he really learns. It was through her careful observations of children that she developed materials to meet their real needs. She wrote, “The teacher must derive not only the capacity, but the desire, to observe natural phenomena. The teacher must understand and feel her position of observer: the activity must lie in the phenomenon.”
It is because her work is based on what she observed, what actually happens, that so many people comment about her work “making sense”.
Infants love to observe themselves in the low mirror. They love to observe (and imitate) the adult mouth as it moves and speaks. From their supine position they observe the goings-on all around them and then, with movement capability, they join in! With the "hundred billion neurons" at work to make sense of their new surroundings from the moment of birth, infants are absorbing everything. What they observe (see) is "absorbed" into their being. Do they see trees swaying in the breeze, or do they see television? Are they connecting to reality or to a virtual world?
In the 3-6 classroom, one can often see younger children observing the older ones before they find themselves feeling confident and engaging directly with materials. Once they do they’re off making their own observations about the nature of things through their hands-on experiences with the "sensorial" materials and involvement in practical life activities.
The older children have the satisfaction of being of assistance to their younger classmates, and also have a view of how far they themselves have come. We observe others, we are inspired by what we see and we learn about ourselves!
Observation is also a large part of the work of the adults in the classroom. We observe without judgment and intervene only when really necessary. When a Montessori teacher (guide) observes a child having difficulty with a material she doesn’t step in to correct or give the answer; she waits, and maybe offers a lesson that will address the challenge perhaps the next day.
It’s not always easy, but when we observe, truly observe without judgment, we are in a good position to do what I call “narrating the moment.” To articulate what one really sees without the addition of judgment helps young children build awareness, build vocabulary, and build trust. It engages the brain beyond the ‘survival’ response to higher level thinking.
A quick search on the term “observation” brought me to these two statements that I found particularly apropos:
· Observation is an activity of a living being consisting of receiving knowledge of the outside world through the senses.
· Observation, in philosophical terms, is the process of filtering sensory information through the thought process. Input is received via hearing, sight, smell, taste, or touch and then analyzed through either rational or irrational thought.
It is the work of attentive adults in the classroom to make scientific observations of the child's development. These observations are made on the level of concentration of each child, the introduction to and mastery of each piece of material, the social development, physical health, etc.
It is through thoughtful interactions with children and involvement with "sensorial" materials and practical life activities in a supportive, prepared environment that children come to understand that they (and their true needs) are seen (and tended to) and that they, too, have the freedom to “see what they are looking at!”