Maria Montessori (a world renowned physician, humanitarian and educator who was years ahead of her time) often talked about “Following the Child.” It was her belief that each child had it’s own particular talents, needs and interests and that the teacher/parent should follow and nurture these. This is imperative for education as well as for developing healthy self-esteem and great emotional wellbeing. There are ways in which this theory can be put into practice in the classroom as well as at home in order to nurture a child’s unique emerging spirit. It’s essential to be open-minded and to be the kind of adult that these children can look up to and respect – respect is earned when given! Following the child as a unique individual is the highest form of respect you can give to a child – don’t forget that!
In Regards To Learning
By providing an environment and the materials pertinent to the individual, a child is able to follow their own curriculum at their own pace. This kind of preparation and guidance allows education to flourish organically as a result of children being fully engaged and interested in their learning. Rather than a “one program fits all” approach to education filled with objectives that everyone must achieve, this type of teaching and learning is individually based so that each child has their own program designed to meet their own unique agenda. When we provide the tools and skills for a child to learn in a way that suits their individual learning and when we allow them to choose subject matter that intrigues them, we not only give a child the skills to learn for life but we also empower them with a love of learning.
Use Common Sense
There are times when an adult needs to take the lead and carefully guide a child through life’s situations. Mainly because a child is not always mature enough to make the right decisions. There are also certain things that a child needs to learn or do regardless of whether they want to e.g maths, making their bed, chores, etc. But what is really important is that the adult always tries to follow the child’s needs, wants and interests by asking, observing and careful listening. Too often, adults think that “they know” what a child needs and wants. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it so wrong. By actively listening to and observing a child, most of the guess work is taken out. And while this must all be taken with some common sense, it makes perfect sense to follow the child. In addition to this, it gives children a sense of autonomy and helps to develop a healthy self esteem.
Here are some times when you can and should “follow the child” and allow them to make their own choices:
When deciding what project they will do – In a class situation where a teacher has no choice but to structure it in a mainstream way, they can make some small changes. One of these is allowing children to choose a topic that they would like to research rather than giving all children the same topic to study. This is fairly easy as children can borrow library books or use the internet to do their research and they can work individually or in small groups. Learning therefore is an exciting process of discovery rather than a chore.
When picking extra curricular activities/ hobbies – Let them decide if they want to play the piano, do judo, dance or play netball, etc. Advise or inform, sure, but never ever make a child live the childhood dream that you wish you had lived by making them choose the hobby you wished you had excelled at. Let them decide! Yes they may end up hating it but who cares at least they tried, on the other hand it may be exactly the right thing for them. So give them the choice, it is their life – not yours – after all!
When choosing what to wear – On weekends, in holidays, or if your child is lucky enough not to have to wear a uniform – let them choose their own clothes. Clothes are a reflection of our own style and personality, so let your child’s individuality shine through by allowing them to make some simple choices. Maybe at three or four you might like to help them a little by giving them two or three choices and letting them decide. By the time they are five there is no reason why they can’t choose to wear whatever they like with some assistance e’g summer clothes on a winters day is not practical so you may still need to advise.
When deciding what they would like to eat – Of course your home is not a restaurant and they can’t choose from a menu – I’m definitely not suggesting that and I don’t believe in creating spoilt brats! Sometimes they will have to eat vegetables they don’t like or a dinner that they don’t particularly love. All I’m saying is let them have some role in decision making. They could go shopping with you and choose a few vegetables and/or they can make their own lunch, choosing from anything you have in the fridge, etc. If your fridge is stocked with healthy lunch options this shouldn’t be a problem at all. They can also pick a piece of fruit from your carefully selected fruit basket and decide what flavoured yoghurt they would like to eat, etc.
When choosing a bedtime story – Even if you have to read the same story each night for two weeks – allow your child to choose the book that they would like to hear not necessarily the book that you would like to read. This is giving them a small choice in a day filled with choices that are out of their control. It is important for a child to feel relaxed, secure and happy when they are going to bed and having some choice is a small thing that makes a big difference to a child’s emotional wellbeing.
This list is really only a snapshot of how you can fit the concept of “following the child” into your own life. It is not exhaustive and there are so many other ways in which you can do this so please endeavour to give your children the tools they need for optimum spiritual and emotional growth and development. Always treat children with the respect that they so rightly deserve and remember: They are not becoming people – they already are!
Darling Precious Children