The Importance of Observation in Montessori Nurseries

montessori nursery set up

Montessori education is a method based on self-directed activity, practical learning and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms, children take the lead and make creative choices about their own learning. Working individually and in groups, children explore the world around them, finding answers to problems for themselves.

This leads to enhanced problem solving skills, independence, and maturity which lay the core foundations for future learning.

Developed by Dr.Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, Montessori learning places great importance on the pivotal role of the child in their own development and the suitability of their environment in terms of furthering this development.

The role of the teacher is to observe in order to determine what stage the child is currently at and whether or not they are ready to move to the next stage.

Inside a Montessori Classroom

Montessori classrooms are fun, happy places, beautifully crafted to meet the developmental needs of every child at every stage of their learning. Every piece of equipment, material, and set-up, is arranged around the child to enhance their development.

As there is no focal centre to the classroom, it shows that the teacher is not the focus of the child’s attention, but that they are all one community together. Montessori teachers are often called ‘guides’ as they support the child through their learning rather than instructing them. This enables a child to develop an intrinsic passion for learning based on their own curiosities and preferences rather than those of the teacher.

When a child enters a Montessori classroom, there is a moment of realisation where they become aware that this environment is built for them.

It is crucial the classroom is designed to allow children to move freely around so they can discover new things and find what they need. This enables children to feel inspired to work, fosters independence, and allows safety and comfort.

This experiential learning leads to a deeper understanding of language, science, mathematics, music, social interactions and more as they are taking control of their own progress. By learning from their own experiences and at their own pace, children develop knowledge of how to respond to different situations which builds a strong foundation for future learning.

History of Montessori Education

Dr.Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian Physician who dedicated her career to child development. By observing children all over the world, she identified patterns of development regardless of a child’s age or cultural background.

In 1907, Maria was responsible for caring for a group of under privileged children in Rome’s San Lorenzo district. These children were previously unschooled, but Maria was determined to create a quality learning environment through engaging, hands-on experiences. She began to notice that whilst the children were unruly at first, they soon exhibited peaceful behaviour, deep periods of concentration, and a sense or order. They started to absorb knowledge from their surroundings, and essentially, started to lead their own learning.

Maria carried her vision around the world and was recognised for her efforts by several educators, psychologists, and political leaders at the time. Her associates included Anna Freud, Erik Erikson, Mahatma Gandhi and Jean Piaget.

To protect the integrity of her teaching, Maria founded the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in 1929, which continues to support the training of teachers worldwide.

Over the past one hundred years, lots of children have benefited from Montessori education that supports, nurtures and protects natural development. Some of the materials used in Marias early work with children are still used in classrooms today, creating an environment that fosters a child’s natural desire to learn.

“My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification… but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual.”
-Dr. Maria Montessori, Introduction From Childhood to Adolescence.

Why is Montessori Learning Important?

Have you ever seen a classroom where children are sitting on the floor intently engaged in an activity and the teacher is sitting back observing and making notes?

These observations are key as they allow the teacher to gain an insight into the child’s development, make decisions about what level the child is at, and assess their capabilities. These observations can then be used to instruct future lesson planning based on the interests and ability of the child moving forward.

Observations also allow teachers to achieve the following:

Planning Appropriate Lessons

Whilst traditional teacher programs usually only require students to take a course on child development, this is the absolute core of Montessori educators. This makes these teachers an expert in every part of a child’s development which they can put into practice in a real classroom setting.

As Montessori educators have extensive knowledge about the stages of a child’s growth, they recognise occurrences that signal any change in development, no matter how insignificant these may seem to others.

For example, a toddler who has mastered toilet training and is now spending more time engaged in practical life activities, is making the transition necessary for a primary school classroom.

The role of the guide is to observe and identify when a child is entering a new phase of development so that they can structure their teaching to support their growth.

Making Sure the Environment Serves the Children

As discussed, Montessori classrooms are focused on the needs of the child so they can explore their knowledge of the world around them and achieve their maximum potential.

Every aspect of a Montessori classroom including furniture, shelves, dishware, and utensils are scaled to the child’s size allowing them to be easily accessible. There should be no barriers to the child’s learning and their environment should not restrict them in any way.

For example, if children learn best sitting on the floor, desks will be moved and there will be plenty of floor cushions to make the setup comfortable for them. If a certain piece of material hasn’t been touched for weeks then it will be re-introduced or moved off the shelf altogether as the lack of interaction from children shows that this resource is not useful.

Furthermore, their movement should not be restricted by the teacher unless they are in danger. This allows them to move freely between activities, choosing how they want to spend their time and focussing their interests. This is a highly important element of self-regulated learning as they are deciding for themselves which activities they enjoy.

This allows nursery teachers to observe a child’s movements and match the child’s natural interests with the activities available.
montessori toys being played with

Assessment of Skills

A Montessori nursery does not determine capability through test results but instead through observation. Teachers determine a child’s development by watching them and identifying how they solve a problem through actions.

In a practical sense, this means observing a child who can independently place number tiles on a hundred board. This shows they recognise numbers and understand that they belong in an ordered sequence. Now they have grasped this concept, they are ready to move onto higher and more challenging activities.

This information helps teachers plan future lessons as they understand the child’s capabilities and know they are ready to take on more challenging tasks.

Different Types of Observations

As we’ve covered, observations are key to allowing teachers an insight into the progression of a child so they can tailor lesson planning to suit. These observations provide clear indicators of a child’s current development stage and whether or not they’re ready to advance.

By observing a child’s behaviour and movements, it allows the teacher to monitor their progress and make a plan moving forward.

There are two different types of observations for a teacher/guide:

Formal Observation

These observations will likely take place in the classroom on most days, and sometimes multiple guides will take turns observing. Typically lasting between 15 and 30 minutes, guides will usually sit quietly with a notebook and record what they see. Children are told about the importance of these observations so they know not to interrupt or disturb the observer. There is often a second adult in the room who can intervene if a child is being particularly disruptive so the observer is left to keep on observing. For new guides, it can be extremely tempting to jump in and interact with the child but it’s important to sit back and watch what happens.

Informal Observation

During the working nursery day, teachers make all sorts of observations as they come into contact with different children. From simply walking across the classroom to speaking to a child, teachers will gather lots of useless information. This can then be recorded and used to enhance the learning experience of different children based on what the teachers have seen throughout their day-to-day interactions.

Montessori at Home

Although a home environment is very different from a classroom environment, there are things parents can do at home to apply the principles of Montessori observation.

Every now and then, sit back while your child is playing and watch them engage in different activities. You might be surprised at what toys they choose to play with or how they interact with their toys when you have no involvement. This gives you an insight into their interests and what activities they enjoy when the decision is their own.

However tempting it may be to intervene, try and resist as the key is letting your child direct their own learning. Sometimes they might need a little help, which is then fine for you to jump in, but often, children will want to resolve the situation themselves. This lends itself to their independence and maturity.

For any parent, gaining an insight into your child’s development is key so you can work out how to best support them on this journey. Through observing their playing habits, you identify useful information which can direct your level of support.

child playing with sand

Froebelian vs Montessori Approach

There are many theories when it comes to child development and learning. Two of these theories are offered by Freidrich Froebel and Maria Montessori who believe children learn about the world through direct experience with it.

Both approaches are based on the concept that early childhood learning is intertwined with the development progression of a child.

They are both constructivist theories and believe a child learns by constructing their own meaning of the world through experience. Children are active participants in their own learning according to Froebelian and Montessori.

However, where these approaches differ, is their belief about how a child constructs their own learning through classroom materials and the role of the teacher.

In a Montessori classroom, materials are selected and prepared in a purposeful manner, and children engage in them in a purposeful manner. Each material serves a specific purpose. Materials are chosen for growth in 3 main areas: practical life, language development and sensory education. The materials for practical life would include items such as brooms, dish sets, and wooden dressing frames. Children learn independence and confidence by following a sequence of instructional apparatus.

In contrast, a Froebelian classroom is centred on open-ended play which is not seen as purposeful as much as self-directed understanding of how things work. According to Froeblian, children learn best through play as this is the avenue for discovery and comprehension.

Froebelian developed a set of materials called ‘gifts’ and ‘occupations’ which were presented to children at different stages to encourage development through construction. Gifts were wooden boxes, cylinders, cubes, and various geometric shapes which they could use for block play and for building their imaginations. Occupations involved weaving, clay-making, and paper folding to increase attention and fine motor skills. By giving children a range of materials they are able to explore different activities and choose which ones are most appropriate for their stage of learning.

Although both approaches view the teacher’s role as one of facilitation, Froebelian believes the teacher should observe and gently guide the child, but never interfere with the creative process the child is engaged in. Montessori on the other hand, believes that teachers should introduce children to materials and support them through a certain sense of structure. Montessori is based on the idea of ‘freedom within limits’, and it is the role of the teacher to carefully craft those limits. Montessori teachers are often called ‘guides’ as they set boundaries and help children navigate within them.

The Importance of Observation in Montessori Nurseries

Children are active participants in their own learning and make their own creative choices. The classroom environment and the highly-trained Montessori teacher supports this learning and offers age and stage appropriate activities.

By making their own choices and learning from their own experiences, children develop a solid understanding of the world and harness skills they can apply to future situations.

The goal of a Montessori classroom is to observe children as they engage in an activity, without disturbing them. Children need to be freely focussed on the activities at hand which they have chosen for themselves.

From a teacher or ‘guides’ point of view, it can be difficult not to get involved in the child’s learning or offer help if you can see they’re struggling. However, it’s important to remember that a teacher’s role here is to observe and facilitate learning rather than taking the lead. The child needs to forget that you’re present so they can take control of their learning and develop skills such as independence and self-regulation.

As a teacher or parent, we understand the importance of being involved in a child’s development. It’s an exciting journey that you don’t want to miss out on, and with the Learning Journals platform, you don’t need to. Observations can be easily uploaded and shared so you don’t miss a moment, and you can leave comments to interact with different posts. Want to try it for yourself? Get in touch for your free trial here.