“The instructions of the teacher consist then merely in a hint, a touch—enough to give a start to the child. The rest develops of itself.” —Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook
As an administrator at a large Montessori school, I spend a lot of time observing. And let me tell you, as a person who has spent a lot of time in the classroom, I get it. October is not always your friend. It begins with a fresh set of children and ends in a sugar high.
Some days it can feel like herding cats. What I often see observing, whether it’s a young toddler class or an Early Childhood room, the children are busy, yes, but the teachers are the ones who seem most frazzled and discombobulated.
I often hear teachers trying to reinforce grace and courtesy, reminding children not to walk around with materials, or to “choose work.” Teachers are desperate for normalization and worry “will they ever start concentrating?”
I get it. You’re clinging to some sort of routine and grasping for order amongst the chaos, but hear me out.
If a child is walking around the room with materials, take him by the hand and engage him in something purposeful, take a minute to analyze and observe the behavior to address later, or leave him be. If a child is not using the materials the way you have shown him, either engage, observe, or leave him be. If the child is not harming another child or himself, engage or observe, or leave him be.
“The teacher, when she begins work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work.” (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind)
Maybe the previous paragraph made your blood pressure spike.
You’re probably thinking, but there must be limits - freedom within limits! You’re right. Limits are important. But they’re not built in a day. When we loosen our vice grip on having complete control, and relax, we’re able to enjoy ourselves a bit more. And guess what gets a child most interested and engaged in work? A teacher who delights in being with him.
“The fundamental help in development, especially with little children [...] is not to interfere. Interference stops activity and stops concentration.” (Maria Montessori, The Child, Society, and the World)
No experienced administrator or observer that comes into your room in October expects all of the children to be working as if the teacher did not exist. With careful preparation of the environment, exciting, developmentally appropriate materials for the child to explore, and weeks or months of consistent guidance, that will come.
In the meantime, take some deep breaths. Prepare yourself. Engage, observe, and leave them be. Take a minute every day to delight in their raw, untethered curiosity. Light up as you watch them discover and let that light in your eyes gently guide their independent, unceasing exploration.
“The first duty of an education is to stir up life, but leave it free to develop. (Maria Montessori)