Montessori Summer — Actually Follow the Child
This post is part of our summer podcast series about Montessori outside school. If you’re just joining in now, we encourage you to check out the previous posts in this series, and to check out podcast episodes 72-75.
So, you might have heard the phrase “follow the child.” If you haven’t, check out this post for what “follow the child” does (and doesn’t!) mean.
In essence, “follow the child” means the child will show us what they need. You’re probably more familiar with this than you might think. Every parent knows the signs that their child is in need of a nap, or a hug, or a snack.
In the context of Montessori, we’re raising our awareness, identifying not only what a child is ready for, but also what, if anything, we need to do about it. Sometimes we need to do something, such as a wiggly or cranky child needing to be done with errands and have some time and space for themselves. Sometimes we need to sit on our hands and bite our tongues, such as when a child is concentrating, brow furrowed and biting their own tongue, working really hard on a task that we could fix in mere moments. In both scenarios, a child is demonstrating exactly what they need. It’s up to us to pay attention to the signs and to listen and to choose how to act.
This is not to say that every option is an option. A child climbing the fence when a lion sleeps on the other side is not to be followed. This mistake is easy to make, and the tongue-in-cheek joke is “to follow a child… off a cliff.” This is a misunderstanding of following a child. Our first responsibility is to care for a child’s well-being, and merely being attentive to the signs a child is giving is not enough, we still have to act in the child’s best interest, we still have to be The Adults.
Summer, with increased opportunity for adventure and different schedules, is a great opportunity to actually follow the child. Here are a few ideas.
(1) Go on a walk. After dinner or after nap, or whenever it’s convenient for you, go on a walk with your child. Have no destination in mind. If it’s helpful, set a timer for when you’ll need to start moving back home. Follow the child.
Where should we go? Are they eager to set off, finding a walking stick and striding confidently, or are there ants working their way out of a crack in the sidewalk not even one house down? Is there conversation to be had, or is this a time for waking up or winding down, and just enjoying one another’s company is enough. Your child will tell and show you what they need, in their own way.
(2) Find an adventure. Is the neighborhood park calling your name? Do you have a membership or a yearning to visit the zoo? Is it finally warm enough for sand between your toes and saltwater in your hair?
What do we want to do while we’re here? Sit in the shade and read a book? Take a nap with the sun as our blanket? Spend the whole day counting spots on a giraffe, or run through the whole menagerie lightning quick? A child will tell you, and you get to choose how to respond.
(3) Make waiting, listening. We all have those few “in between” minutes. We thought the dentist appointment was at 2 but it’s actually at 2:30. A sibling isn’t quite done with their activity yet, and we have a few quiet minutes. That actually went quicker than we had planned, and now we have some time, what to do?
Use your expertise in your child to know what to do. Is it good to be quiet and cool in the air conditioning? Is this a perfect time to play together, swinging as high as you can, or encouraging running “as fast as you can! Ready, set, GO!” in this wide open park while T-ball is finishing up? You know your child best, you know exactly what this moment requires, and this is what Following the Child is truly all about.
Following the child means not having an agenda. A child’s development is our only plan. It doesn’t need to take over everything, after all, we’re acutely aware of all the “other stuff” that needs to happen in order to function as a family, which is why the Montessori classroom, the Prepared Environment, stays the same day after day — we don’t need to make it to soccer practice on time, or to squeeze in a quick trip to the grocery store, or make sure everyone is fed and bathed before bed time. We have the luxury of just meeting the needs of this group of children for these few hours each day.
Taking time, making time, to Follow the Child can be joyful. It can be a time to eagerly anticipate what you see just on the horizon, and how much a child has grown in what seems the blink of an eye. Memories are made here.
Written by:Charlotte Wood