When parents ask me when to introduce a particular material or how best to teach a particular concept, or which toy or book to choose, I always say, “follow your child”. But what does that mean? Simply observe the child. But how?
What does observation mean?
There was this middle school Science class of mine that became quite famous. At the beginning of the Botany section, I handed each child a humble leaf. Before I had distributed all the leaves, my enthusiastic children had already identified the parent plant and were calling out the names of the plants. I shushed them and asked them to just observe and note their observations.
We then read out each observation and discussed.
A simple observation like “My leaf has 10 veins. ” led to multiple points of discussion like Why doesn’t mine? What is a vein? Does the number of veins change with size.
By the end of the unit, the kids not knew nuch more than the scope of the textbook.
Anyhow, I digress. This is what observation is. You already know a lot about your child. But remove all that extra noise and watch your child through keen, curious eyes. Note everything in an objective way so that you know your perspective is not getting in the way.
For example: V loves art. Vs V used her art materials thrice today.
Why should I observe my child?
When dealing with children, there is greater need of observing than of probing.Maria Montessori
Many times, although we may have the best interests as heart, we end up bringing our conditioned thinking into learning opportunities. Observing the child helps us see what the child needs and wants, unclouded by our judgement.
It actually helps to write down our observation in a journal. Especially if one is tracking progress or helping the child with a particular need. But, that seemed like too much trouble for me, distracted V and I couldn’t be in the moment. Do whatever works for you.
There is no specific place or time. Just be vigilant and observe at every presented opportunity.
Do not interrupt or jump to a judgement. Believe me, I know how difficult it is to swoop in when the child opens and closes the same box a gazillion times. It is difficult to not think, ” oh gosh, not the Gruffalo again. Why are you picking up the same book when there are a dozen others on the same shelf? “
It requires training your mind to ignore those thoughts and just observe the child from a blank lens.
As we observe children, we see the vitality of their spirit, the maximum effort put forth in all they do, the intuition, attention and focus they bring to all life’s events, and the sheer joy they experience in living.Maria Montessori, The child, Society, and the World
What should I be observing?
Here is a brief idea of what to observe. Does one need a whole day to observe? Not at all. You could choose pockets of time you’re fully present and observe. You could also choose a particular area and focus on it. For example, if a child is being extraordinarily fussy, one may choose to only observe eating and food aspects.
What does she do?
Is my child able to grasp? Which hand does she prefer? What level of challenge is she at when doing a particular motor activity?
How does she communicate? Does she make eye contact? How many words can she sound out? What are the words she spells easily?
What does she like? Which activity is she gravitating towards? What chore does she volunteer to do first? Which book, toy, colour does she like? ( there was a brief period when every choice V made was dictated by whether it was yellow).
What kind of puzzles does she like? What does she keep repeating? How does she go about it (logic/ memory, etc) ? How long does she do this activity? How does she relate new content to previous learning?
Does she communicate with her peers? Does she offer help?Is she observing others?
Does something trigger her? What makes her happy? How does she like to be comforted? How does she behave when upset?
I also observe if she shows repeated patterns in play for schemas. Or if she is in the sensitive period for any skill?
What are the personal and house chores she can perform independently? Eg- eating, dressing, kitchen work, folding napkins, etc.
Is her environment supporting her? Can she reach her toys and books on her own? Is she able to open and close her shelves? Is there enough calm in her room or is it too stimulating?
Observe the self
But truly, all this is meaningless if one doesn’t observe ourselves.
How do I offer praise? How do I react when she does something I do not like? How do I respond when she tests a boundary? Why does a particular behaviour trigger me?
Now that I have observed, the next question is, How do I support my child? Now that you know your child’s interests, needs, triggers, etc, you know where and how to offer support.
For example, I could start offering the crochet rattle to V2 only once she showed readiness with increased time of open fist. Or when V started doing free play with the 100 piece jigsaw and abandoning it, I realised she was bored and needed to level up. Or when I observe that V is in enveloping schema, I provide activities like fort building to support it.
Is this complicated? Not at all. Just taking a pause and sitting quietly with all our senses present, is enough. You don’t need anything except to be fully present. Our children, as always know and show the way.