To Follow the Child

Now that Zachary is three years old, I’m constantly surprised by how differently Montessori happens at home and in school.

In a classroom, you plan your lessons in part around the child’s interests and abilities, but also based on the sequence in your album. The children are (for the most part) happy and willing to receive the presentations.  Not so at home when it’s your own child.  I’ve learned that nine times out of ten, we’ll only do anything productive if Zachary initiates it.  If I invite him to do an activity, I often get a “No, thanks”.  And honestly, I’m perfectly fine with that (not to say that it didn’t rattle me at first because I’m a planner by nature).  It’s made me think that maybe, just maybe, as guides we could try following the child a bit more…

Case in point: A couple of months ago I tried introducing a couple of sandpaper letters to Zach, since I noticed he was tracing letters on signs.  Not the least bit interested.  So I put my letters away and didn’t push the subject.

Then, about two weeks ago, while he was decorating a thank-you note from his birthday party, he asked me how to write his name.  In lieu of a moveable alphabet, I took out the sandpaper letters and introduced each one, tracing and saying the sound.  Then, I lined them up to make his name (this is not AMI practice but I was improvising) and let him look at them for a good long while without saying anything (note: I never read the name to him).

He looked and looked, and suddenly, his whole face lit up.  “That says ‘Zachary’?” he asked.  I said yes and he broke into a huge grin.  The next day, he asked me to write ‘Zachary’ on his chalkboard, which I did slowly, sound by sound, helping him figure out which sound came next.  I told his teacher about his interest and left it there.

Then, this morning I was reading him a book.  He pointed to the letter ‘g’ and asked what sound it made.  I told him, and IMG_0299he started finding more ‘g’s throughout the page.  He asked: “What words start with ‘g’?”  I said “g-g-guitar” and then he said “g-gorilla”.  We thought of a couple more words and then I pulled out the sandpaper letter ‘g’.  I traced it, said the sound, and asked if he wanted to trace it.  He said no, so I clipped the ‘g’ on the chalkboard and drew a cursive ‘g’.  I asked if he wanted me to write some words starting with ‘g’.  He said yes, so I wrote four words.  Then, he started erasing them with his hand.  Thinking we were done (and honestly a little disappointed that he didn’t want to take it further), I passed him a wet rag to erase his board.  But to my surprise, once he was done erasing, he set to work trying to write a ‘g’!!!  Happy day!

They are our great little teachers, in so many ways.  To truly follow the child, I have only to keep my eyes open for the sensitive periods and prepare the environment accordingly.  His powerful developmental drives will take care of the rest.

4 thoughts on “To Follow the Child”

  1. Very nicely done! And in the community at school the guide entices, presents, and observes–repeatedly! That’s it. If the child feels free to repeat–or not–she will respond to enticement. If the guide presents broadly and enticingly, stimulates and engages repetition, and let’s go of the results; the child will self develop and self educate in her own time, in her own way. And it will be sometimes unexpectedly but always predictably just right!

    1. Dear Donna, if only everyone thought like you. I can’t tell you how it breaks my heart to see children bored to tears because they HAVE to do certain work to appease the untrusting adults in their lives (and yes, that includes the Montessori guides). Thank you for your words of reassurance; you are a beacon of reason and faith in a fog of distrust and anxiety.

  2. So fun isn’t it! The other day Emma read her name on a gift. She said, “I knew this one was mine because there was an “ehh”, then an “mm” and another “mm” and then an “ah”. We were like, ahhhhhh! Of course Lilia is dying to write because her sister is writing. I have never witnessed learning to read and write from the point of view of a mother. It is amaaaazing.

    1. Oh Keri, it made me so happy to read your comment! I still remember Emma being barely old enough to toddle, and now this! It is such a blessing to know what’s happening and to see it unfolding before our eyes, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing!!!

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