Friday, February 15, 2013

Follow the Child

People, especially new moms, often ask me when it is time to help their children move to a next stage.  Be it potty training, eating, sleeping, walking, etc., parents want to know when they should do something to help their child progress.

Isn't it funny how we think we are somehow in control of when our children develop a certain skill or progress to the next stage of development?  I guess in a way we are; we can certainly hinder their development by not providing the opportunities of independence and exploration that they need.  However, when it comes to pushing them to the next step, we really don't have much influence at all.  Maria Montessori figured this out.  She proclaimed, we must "follow the child!"  As parents or teachers it is our job to follow the child allowing him to develop at his own pace according to his own schedule.

This is difficult, because we feel like it is our job to teach our children.  How can we teach them if we are following them?  Shouldn't we lead and they follow?  If we always lead our children, than all that we can hope for from them is to someday be where we are.  Don't we want more for our children?  I want my children to know more than I'll ever know and to accomplish more than I will ever accomplish - to reach their fullest potential.  Rather than teach them what we know, let's allow them the freedom to surpass even our wildest dreams for them, on their own path and in their own way.

To follow the child successfully we must first prepare their environment.  A prepared environment is one that allows the child to follow his inner teacher, to explore things that are of interest to him and to learn through his own endeavors.  Children who are allowed to play/work independently without constant instruction and interruption from the adult respond with joy and deep concentration.

A prepared environment for your child will contain: developmentally appropriate toys, real (glass, wood, metal) objects, child-sized tools (utensils, scissors, dishes, etc) and furniture, beautiful things (art, flowers, nature), and a clear and easy to maintain order.  The environment will be constantly changing as the child grows - this is where the following comes in.  As caregivers we observe the child, and based on those observations, we adapt the environment to meet the child's needs.  We don't give him things to do that are senseless and without purpose.  We don't give him things that are either so easy that he is bored or so difficult that he is defeated by them.  We pay close attention to where he is at, and more importantly, where he is headed, so that we can provide the exact tools he will need.  We prepare the environment, and then we step back and give him the freedom required to master a skill or one's self.

In Discovery Of The Child, Maria Montessori wrote, "That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendour during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration.  It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom."

I encourage you to take some time and follow your child for a change.  You might be surprised where he will lead you.

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