Follow the Child

There’s an expression in Montessori called “follow the child”.

“What? After using years on an expensive education you want me to ‘follow the child’? No way! The child is going to follow me!”
But it’s not like it sounds; relax. If you want to know about great white sharks, you need to follow them and observe them. It’s only then that you will understand their life cycles and behaviors. We already know quite a bit about child behaviour,  their physical, mental and emotional development, but not so much about each and every human child;  the individual child.
Look at that kid over there painting on the wall! Most would reprimand him and the child would feel bad. What would be the gain? Maybe he’ll fear or resent your rejection and won’t paint on the wall any more. But if you were curious, and tried to find out what drove the child to that behavior you might find out a number of things. You might find out that maybe it was a mindless act, and when he was asked to get busy righting that “wrong”, you may have found out he loves to wash and clean! And then for the next few weeks you might give him tasks of washing and scrubbing.  You not only then will be keeping him out of trouble, but will be making him happy! Or perhaps he was driven by the attractive possibilities of a large white surface and some paint and brushes. After he helps clean the “mess” you kindly explain that there is an easel with a place for large white sheets of paper he can use. You may later learn he expresses himself very well through artistic painting!

How often have you felt misunderstood? Can you remember being a child and feeling crushed by an adult who didn’t take time to hear your side of the story instead of jumping to conclusions? Can you perhaps remember, long ago, that you were driven to a behaviour that you could not explain; a force that led you to a new understanding or great joy or both? If you can relate to these questions then I think you can begin to grasp the wisdom in the phrase “follow the child”

Robert Fischbeck is a Montessori practitioner from Norway. He is married and has 2 children. Rob has a diverse interest and has worked in wide variety of jobs, from a sewer worker to fish cleaner; from kitchens to preschools. He studied Montessori with Waterpark in Oslo and has been working at Bambini Montessoribarnehage in Hamar, Norway since 2004.

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