As the Frog Song children have come in from outside lately, they have felt a pressing need to change finto warm, dry clothes. Things being what they are, this sometimes requires a look in the Spare Clothes Drawer. And, day after day, I seem to offer a sweater, sweatshirt, pants, or seemingly-perfect socks that, when held up to the actual child in need of a spare, could not possibly fit. Then it occurs to me, or they point it out themselves: I’m offering something that fit a child last year, but just doesn’t fit any more.
It’s a reminder of the value of observation, and observation is at the heart of Montessori education. We strive to offer just the right thing at just the right time. When we get it right, it’s beautiful:
Children do real work
Choose their work freely
And their work inspires concentration (which the rest of the classroom community protects)
So how do we know when a child is ready for something? We observe with interest and curiosity, and join in when we see a space for something we can offer.
We allow others to unobtrusively observe as we learn and practice what we know.
We accept that a work or game that fit last year might well be too small, but with variation, can grow a little larger. By creating freedom within guiding limits, we encourage that variation.
In a world of standardized sizes, standardized tests, and standardized expectations, we worry. Will she ever learn the letters and the sounds? Will he ever learn how to politely ask friends how to join in their game? When will these drawings become representational instead of abstract? At a time of year when gatherings of family and friends can lead to comparisons, it is especially important to extend grace and openness to ourselves, our children, and each other. When a real concern emerges, it is valuable to reach out to people we trust, including professionals like teachers, therapists, and pediatricians. But, absent these barriers to growth, we actively believe that the children to choose challenging work for themselves, work with joy and concentration, and know when to ask for help and when to reach for the next just-right thing.