Dr. Maria Montessori was a medical doctor and a scientist, and after many years of study, travel and experiments, the most critical tool in her set has always remained observation. She saw immense value in it, and believed it to be a crucial part of the process to help understand children as individuals, and for them to be able to express themselves without interference. 

“The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge.  He has the power to teach himself. A single observation is enough to prove this.”
~ Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori was a medical doctor and a scientist, and after many years of study, travel and experiments, the most critical tool in her set has always remained observation. She saw immense value in it, and believed it to be a crucial part of the process to help understand children as individuals, and for them to be able to express themselves without interference. 

Why is observation so important? 

Observation offers so many wonderful and important benefits, the main of which is to “follow the child”. This helps us gain a deeper understanding of the inner workings of their mind, their behaviour and motives, as well as allows the child to be in charge of their environment and to learn, explore and discover at their own pace. This sense of freedom is tremendously beneficial to fuel the child’s sense of independence. Following the child also means meeting them where they are, not where we expect them to be. This is observation without judgement, an aspect that was stressed by Dr Montessori. 

There’s so much more to the art of observing than recording the skills children have mastered. One of these, for example, is detecting what Montessori calls “sensitive periods” in the child’s development – a heightened interest in a particular subject or skill.  

Observation is also a critical component of lesson planning and classroom management. When the teacher observes that a student has mastered a concept or skill, she can introduce new lessons.

Types of observation

Dr. Montessori spoke of three types of observation, each of which are useful in their own way.  

  1. The direct observation: turning our attention to our own feelings, thoughts and reactions, and noting them consciously. 
  2. The direct observation of the child: we quietly sit and watch as attentively as we can.
  3. Indirect observation: we observe while carrying out other tasks at the same time.   

How to observe your child at home

For parents who want to implement the Montessori approach at home, observation is crucial, because you cannot centre a home around children if you do not stop to observe them first to understand their needs. 

Tips for observing your child 

  • Keep the reason and aim in mind – to allow a deeper and better understanding of your child. 
  • Find a comfortable spot with a good view of your child, and sit down with a pen and paper to write quick notes
  • Take care to never write why or how well your child did something (this is subjective), simply focus on the facts (objective). 
  • Do not interfere – simply watch your child’s actions. 

Examples of observation 

  • Observe what your child likes to eat, including their favourite fruits, veggies, and other healthy foods. Instead of telling them what they should and should not be eating, include some of their favourite healthy foods on their plate at mealtime.
  • Observe your child’s daily activities to determine if you need to adjust your home environment. For example, if you observe that your child likes to dress himself, set up a little self-care station where your child can get ready on his own with clothes, brushing hair, teeth, etc.
  • Observing your child during playtime will give you insight into where they are developmentally, and if you need to adjust the prepared environment at home or include activities and materials that will challenge them.  

In summary

Observation is a wonderful tool for us to better understand our child, see through their eyes, and look at how we can support them in the best way to help them grow. We are quietly watching, observing and following the child to lead the way along the best path suited for them.