This is a guest post by Amy from Midwest Montessori on Following the child.
Follow the child. Possibly one of Maria Montessori’s most renowned phrases. So often repeated, yet so often misunderstood.
I find that when I put the phrase too far in the forefront of my parenting, I am letting myself be overrun by my toddler. And then I am reminded.
“Follow the child, but follow the child as his leader.” – Maria Montessori
Following the child does not mean that we give him free reign of our household. It does not mean that we let them break the rules whenever they please. It does not mean that we cave when our child prefers television over playing outside. Or when they prefer milkshakes to fruit. Or when they don’t want to go to sleep despite being overtired.
Following the child as their leader requires a deep knowledge about the child’s current and upcoming development. It requires a prepared environment, one that is created with the child in mind: both his development and his interests. It requires respect for the child’s autonomy by providing opportunities for independence. It requires two-way communication between caregiver and child, which most often means lots of observing and decoding on our part.
Following the child means putting our own agenda for our child aside and observing his natural development and interests. I have to remind myself each time I admire Sixtine et Victoire or How We Montessori that I am looking for inspiration, ways to improve our environment, and preparing myself for future stages of Charlotte’s life and that I need not compare my daughter to Sixtine, Victoire, Otis, or Caspar (or Solu, or Kade). Nor do I need to compare myself to their amazing mothers (Deb, Kylie, Junnifa, and Beth). Following the child means following my child—observing her as an individual with needs, desires, and interests that may not always align with what other children are up to.
The goal of Montessori education is not to have the most advanced baby, toddler, child, adolescent, or adult. The goal is to facilitate a natural unfolding of a child’s learning by capitalizing on their natural development (sensitive periods) and interests (following the child). The hope is to keep from stifling the child’s innate desire to learn with our own agendas, benchmarks or milestone expectations.
Montessori is so much more than a set of materials, it is a way of life. I recently wrote about what I consider the most important aspects of Montessori in the home, and following the child should be added to that list.
In the past year I have learned how much smoother our life goes when I choose to follow my child. Like when…
- I tried to night wean until I realized that nursing her once in the night helped us both sleep better and made days so much better. Eventually she showed me when she was ready to night wean.
- I anticipated her interest in her object permanence box for nearly 6 months before she tried it out. She taught me that she had other things to work on (gross motor development) before she was ready for it. Just when I thought she would never progress in this area she started putting the ball in the hole over and over and over one day (at 11 months). The next day she tried out her single shape puzzle. She knew when she was ready.
- I watched her take one or two spoonfuls of pureed food for a few weeks before I figured out she was more interested in soft finger foods. She wanted to feed herself. Eventually decided she was ready spoonfuls of applesauce, hummus, and guacamole and now she even tries to feed herself with her spoon and fork.
- She began to resist diaper and clothing changes until I realized she wanted more of a hand in the process. Now our diaper and clothing changing areas are on the floor (at her level) and involve more collaboration.
- She showed so much interest in my car keys that my mother-in-law finally decided to make her a set of her own. She plays with them while we are in the car and has even taught herself how to use the whistle on the keychain.
- She is naturally drawn to certain toys and materials. She loves her farm animals, her stuffed rabbit, her musical instruments, her bucket, her car keys, and her stacking cups. She has dozens of toys, but when she shows interest in certain ones, she communicates her preferences so I can expand on those elsewhere.
- Her desire to throw things led us to creating two baskets of objects to throw in our house: soft blocks and soft balls. Now when she shows a desire to throw things we direct her to those, rather than materials she could damage. I love that we can say “yes” to her desire to throw, rather than constantly telling her “no.”
- She has so much joy when we are outside. Because of this interest, we take child-led walks almost every day. She walks along the sidewalk in front of our house and along our flower garden. She has some garden tools, a walker wagon, a trike and a kiddie pool in the backyard.
In addition to following our child in these ways, we also try to have our home prepared each day and for each stage she enters. We gather so much inspiration from Deb’s prepared environment for Sixtine and Victoire. Our child friendly spaces include her bedroom and bathroom; our kitchen, dining area, and living room; and our outdoor spaces. Here is a sneak peek into a few of her areas.
Complete with floor bed, nightstand, low shelves with a few toys, rocking chair for nursing, and a dressing area that encourages independence.
Charlotte has slept independently in her room since before she was three months old. She has the freedom to get in and out of bed as she pleases, though she seems to stay in bed all night. I love being able to lie next to her and comfort her if I need to and when she falls asleep I can drift away without having to transfer her.
Kitchen and dining area
Fortunately our family is blessed to be able to share three meals a day together, so Charlotte sits with us in her knock-off Tripp Trapp. In the next six months or so, I anticipate removing the bar so that she can start climbing up and down by herself.
Charlotte also has a weaning chair and table for snacks. Her hand-built kitchenette serves as storage for our daughter’s dishes, as well as a place for her to wash her hands and get a drink, since it has running water. Soon she will be able to practice washing dishes and prepare snacks on it.
We hoped you enjoyed getting to know our family and our spaces as much as I enjoyed sharing them. We hope to continue following Charlotte as her leaders through our interactions with her and in our preparations for her. Thank you for having me, Deb, and thank you all for reading.
Thank you for letting us into your home Amy. Your family is beautiful and is sure to inspire many other families.