“I observed little children; I sensed their needs; I tried to fulfill them: they call that the Montessori Method.” – Maria Montessori
I have been thinking (and reading) about Maria Montessori’s emphasis on observation. In fact, observation is really the centerpiece for how Montessori educators approach their work.
Between news feeds, social media, email, texts, phone calls, capturing and editing photos and short clips, etc. it is hard to really force ourselves to pause, calm our minds, and observe our children. I remember coming across a series of photos by American photographer Eric Pickersgill, who edited out the smartphones and digital devices from portraits of everyday life. It was a stunning representation of how bizarre, and yet normalized, our behaviors have become since smartphones became ubiquitous. I am often shocked at the end of the day with the amount of time my phone tells me I’ve use it. These devices, which also have provided a tremendous benefit to our lives, demand our attention and rob us from developing our observation skills.
We know the only way to truly understand the needs of our children is through observation. Without this immediate, informative, and powerful tool, we are jumping from one trend to the next for how best to raise our kids. Instead, if we are able to take to the time to pay them the attention they deserve, we will as parents and educators, activate our imagination, creativity and intuition on how best to meet their needs.
Maria Montessori was a scientist and a medical doctor who was trained in making careful observations of phenomena. She applied those observation skills to children, much like an anthropologist or botanist observes the smallest details.
“When dealing with children, there is a greater need for observing than of probing” – Maria Montessori.
When I think of the my own connection to observation, its value resonates on three levels.
- One is with the environment. How is it prepared? How is it influencing the behavior of the classroom or singular child.
- The second is how the child presents themselves; mood, movement, words, areas of interest, relationship, etc.
- Lastly, the value of observation in relation to a meditative process for the observer. With humility, suspended judgement, and without an agenda, observation can turn into a practice that deepens the observer’s appreciation for all of life. It becomes an act that is enthralling, joyful, and even spiritual. It provides an opportunity to connect to the phenomenon of what it means to be alive.
“The teacher must understand and feel their position of the observer: The activity must lie in phenomenon” – Maria Montessori
This past week, an alumnus of TNSM passed away. His name is Marcus Goodman and he was 20 years old. Marcus was one of the most loving and charismatic kids I have ever had the privilege to teach. He had a presence that emanated goodness. Marcus was a part of our Shakespeare Club which met after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He played the part of Romeo in our production of Romeo and Juliet. I remember having one of those deeper moments that intentional observation offers during a rehearsal. He was so emotionally alive in the role of Romeo that while I watched, it wasn’t about what direction to give next or how to change the blocking of the scene, but rather a deep gratitude for being alive in a moment that allowed me to watch this amazing child perform with sensitivity, confidence, and joy. I am sure Marcus provided that experiences many times in his life for the many people lucky enough to know him.
Enjoy your weekend, and take time to look at each other with love, humility, and appreciation.