Follow the Child
There are these terms in Montessori Education that are used, but sometimes, we don’t really think about what they mean. “Follow the Child” is one of those.
We thought we’d discuss this meaningful phrase in this post, and if you’d like to listen to more, there’s a podcast, too!
So, Follow the Child. What does it mean? What doesn’t it mean?
Closely tied to Follow the Child, is Trust the Child. Trust the Child to show you what she needs. Follow her, by meeting her development. By giving her what she needs, when she needs it.
Children need us. We care for them, support them, protect them, provide opportunities, and share learning. Follow the Child doesn’t mean follow them off a cliff. We’re not trusting that a child will always know and do what’s best for her. A young child cannot be held responsible for meeting appropriate nutritional needs, and thus if she decides no more protein, we should go with that. Or if she’d rather keep playing at the park, we should just skip dinner bath bedtime and play until she passes out in sheer exhausted bliss.
For a young child, who still needs adults to provide scaffolding and support, doing whatever she wants can feel scary, like abandonment, and this isn’t the spirit of Follow the Child.
“She’ll figure it out” is only true if she has the model, resources, opportunity to practice, and feedback required to acquire a skill or meet a development.
A child not exposed to a language will not learn that language. If no one in her life cleans up after themselves, a child will be contented leaving a mess. If no one reads around her, a child won’t become literate.
She will only grow into those qualities which are part of her environment, her daily experience.
In the classroom, we Follow the Child through observation. We give a child a new presentation because she’s showing readiness — through mastery of previously presented activities, through interest in what comes next — not because we did that yesterday so we’re doing this today, or because I said so, or because you’re four now and this is just what four year olds do.
We Trust the Child to show us what she needs. Time, space, opportunity to practice, a friend to show off to, a new presentation, a review of skills needed to master this next step. We Follow the Child by looking for what she is ready for, and giving her exactly that.
At home, Following the Child takes on a different form. We’re not necessarily giving presentations the way we might in a classroom setting, but we are giving opportunities.
Follow the Child means noticing what your child is drawn toward and finding a way to work that into your life. Being patient when a baby is working on rolling over or sitting up, and not hurrying her along to the next milestone. Being patient when she is developing hand-eye coordination or mastering a new skill. Being patient when an hour-long walk only takes you to the end of the block, because she stops and watches every ant, bird, and squirrel along the way.
Follow the Child means a trip to the park with climbing equipment when she’s mastered walking and now wants to climb everything. Leaving the party when the signs of tiredness emerge, rather than waiting for the meltdown which makes both parent and child feel uncomfortable. Letting the toddler feed herself, even if it ends up a bit more messy than when you feed her.
Follow the Child at home translates to sometimes providing a bit more support, sometimes relinquishing a bit of control, sometimes sitting on hands and biting tongues. It’s the Long Game, it’s the child development equivalent of a retirement fund. A bit of patience now means a more contented child later. Finding a way to make this accessible now means more independence later. A genuine “yes” now means the “no” later is heard and respected, because the child knows, this is a person who I can rely on.
For more on how to Follow the Child and what this means, and doesn’t mean, listen here!
Written by:Charlotte Snyder