Following the Child
The what & why behind this Montessori concept
“Follow the child” is a common Montessori phrased used by educators and parents alike. This concept has resonated with me from first encountering the educational pedagogy fifteen years ago in my undergraduate work. I knew that if I ever had children, I would apply this at home and at least start them out at home using this educational approach. What I didn’t realize at the time was not only could you start using the method from birth but that Montessori was more than an educational approach. It is a way to approach parenting and child care in general and it goes well with a gentle, grace filled parenting approach (which we imperfectly strive towards in our home).
Following the child is not the cultural norm but I hope that one day it will be. It is respectful and truly a gift. So what is it? Following the child means to respect the child and their interests. Which means we hold space for them to do it themselves as often as we can! (Or at least give them the opportunity to do things themselves.) We observe what actions, activities, and interests they are drawn to–especially once the environment is quietened and prepared for them. Prior to this their actions may be telling us they need us to take back their space. Following the child means that we give space to understanding and exploring sensitive periods of development and begin watching for signs that they are entering or even exiting one. We make plenty of space for movement and work to create an environment that does not restrict but encourages movement. We make space daily to get outdoors and allow open exploration (as much as is safe!).
Following the child means that we do not direct play and learning but provide an intentional environment and opportunities to experience or learn new things. It means we model then let the child try (instead of lecturing or forcing the child to learn something). We observe how they do and give space to adjusting or stepping back from materials or concepts when necessary.
When we follow the child we give consideration to the child as a whole. As a parent this means we must give space to consider their physical, spiritual, mental, and social development–not just their educational journey. Physically we observe where they are developmentally and we know where they are going. We strive to give a varied food experience and intentionally supplement and support their bodies so that they grow strong and are able to function normally–even when they are inevitably sick. In our home this means we reach for real food and have it readily available throughout the day.
We observe where they are in all areas and give intentional experiences. These experiences are growth opportunities. Then we step back and observe again! We share our culture and faith with them. Our core beliefs. Who we are. Which means we should pause and give intentional thought to what it is we believe if we have not done so already. We impart these things to our children whether we do so intentionally or not.
Following the child teaches the child that they matter. Their interests matter. Who they are matters. What they do matters. They are of value. They are loved.
What steps can you take to follow the child today? If you are brand new to this concept, just take some time to observe your child today. Step back and watch. It really is that simple!