How to Link "Appropriate Work Choices" to "Inspired Learning"

“To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself, that is the first duty of the educator."

Maria Montessori
Source: The Discovery of the Child (1948), Ch. 8 : The Exercises, p. 141

I read a social media post about a 4-year-old who was not choosing challenging work…according to the adult who wrote it. In her post she said the girl loved the land and water forms and would do them over and over. The adult appeared to be dismayed at this behavior and frustrated that the child wouldn’t choose things like writing letters or some sort of number work.

How do we get children to choose work we think they are capable of doing, when they persist with work that we believe is far beneath their abilities? 

For me, the answer is observation. Present and watch. Present and watch. Take note not only of what the child chooses, but also the level of enthusiasm, the timing of when the choice takes place (right after the presentation, or days after), the level of success, the amount of time focused on the work. Let these observations guide your next steps.

Still won’t choose appropriately? Continue with observation: What does the child choose? How often? When do they stop? What occurs at the moment of deciding to put the work away: an invitation from another child? a spot at the snack table? a lesson given to another student? 

Dr. Maria Montessori was a scientist. Scientists observe continuously, seeking hidden secrets that will lead to understanding and “right action,” not validation of thoughts and beliefs we already hold. 

Observation leads us to take action, actions that may or may not succeed in achieving what we’d hoped. But the outcomes we observe NEVER fail to give us more information about the child before us so that we may continue to choose the actions we take with each and every child. This is the reality of “Follow the Child,” Montessori’s simple and effective directions. Our thoughts of what is appropriate may be right on and require our inspiration, but they also could be dead wrong.

Montessori’s observations led her to incredible discoveries about children and human development. In response to this new understanding, materials were developed that would both connect to and enhance the children at the place they are along their own developmental path. The materials are incredible responses to her discoveries, and they are fabulous. But the materials are not the method. The method, the Montessori method, that results in the magic and success we are all seeking, is rooted in observation.