A Tool in Creating an Individualized Education

A core tenant of the Montessori philosophy is observation. You will frequently see a Montessori guide sitting in the corner of the room watching the children and think, “Why is she just sitting there? Doesn’t she have things to be doing?” She is observing—one of the most important parts of a guide’s day in the environment, and the cornerstone of Montessori’s individualized education.

Observation is the tool we use to prepare the environment for each child based on his needs and interests. Instead of choosing a curriculum and lessons based on crude proxies like age or class cohort, a Montessori guide studies the child’s movements, behaviors and preferences to craft an individual plan.

Maria Montessori envisioned an educational method based on the natural development of the child, rather than a set curriculum created by an educator and then applied to children. Because of this, observation is essential to the Montessori method. It provides the greatest source of information about the individual child and therefore provides the greatest support for an informed, tailored approach to aiding the developmental process. It serves as a process to assess the child’s abilities, to decide what he is ready for and serves to link the child to the environment and to change the environment in order to meet the developmental needs of the child.

So how can we develop our ability to observe? We can make choices to simplify our lives and our environments in order to avoid the overstimulation that can make observation difficult. We can cultivate a mindful approach in order to release any expectations or judgments and embrace the moment. We can maintain a scientific attitude and approach our work as an experiment. Finally, we can say less – our words shape our thoughts and behaviors and impact the validity of our objective observations. Observation requires us to cultivate humility, patience, humor and understanding if we are to be effective.

“It is difficult to prepare such a teacher theoretically. She must fashion herself, she must learn how to observe, how to be calm, patient and humble, how to restrain her own impulses, and how to carry out her eminently practical tasks with the required delicacy. She too has greater need of a gymnasium for her soul than of a book for her intellect.” (The Discovery of the Child p. 152)