It may be a Montessori mantra to observe the child, but for those new to this style, there may still be quite a bit lost in translation. What exactly does that mean? What does it mean to observe your child?
I am sure there are many Moms out there saying, "Obviously I watch my kid. Why does everyone judge moms these days?" No. no. There is just a bit of background behind that word 'observe'. Let's spend some time focusing on those details for a bit.
#1 See More Than One Thing
Look up from where you are. What do you see? I see my kitchen window. If I want, I can call that sufficient and look back down at the computer screen. But I would have missed the green of the fig leaves, and the mockingbird on the jujube tree. I would have missed the neighborhood kids with their heads bent together in what looks like a most intriguing conversation. All three give me valuable information!
The children give me a reminder that at every age we consider what we have to say very important. A subtle reminder to respect the individual wholeness that is my child. My children are complete all on their own, and God decided for each of them that the world needed that particular wholeness.
The green leaves of the fig are beginning to curl up just a touch on the corner. They need water. The Mockingbird is eyeing the tomato plant. I need to go pick those now or I won't have any left by dinner... actually. I'll be right back....
#2 See Habitually
Observing your child needs to happen daily. Make it more of a habit than a one time check list item.
If I only managed to notice the fig trees today, I would have missed the fact that the leaves are actually a different color this time of year. In the heat of July and August, the leaves dull. They become more gray... a bit more blue. They loose that vibrancy of Spring. This is valuable information. My tree is on the "still coping" side of summer stress. It needs to be cared for a touch more than other times of the year. Perhaps your child is in a season where they just need more hugs. Observing allows you to give those from a place of informed empathy and love.
Because I have noticed the mockingbirds for many years now, I know there is a lull in wild summertime food options. My August tomatoes are in far greater peril than my April ones. Similarly, a trip to the store works better with a handful of nuts to pass to the toddler.
And because I have sat typing at this window for years now, I can tell you that beautiful complete wholeness in my tiny neighbor friends existed even as their mother was walking around the block with a little baby bump.
#3 See Without Expectation.
All three of our examples must be intentionally SEEN because they are there every day. The human brain is set to fill in the information it already knows about an environment. It's one of our more interesting evolutionary traits. Our expectations color our world. Have you seen the basketball study covering expectation of events? If not... check out here. It's hilarious! Seriously. Go ahead. I'll wait. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo
Let's take a look at an actual snapshot from my day. What do you see in this picture? Answer for yourself before scrolling down and reading my own thoughts.
(You can find this Chunky Melissa and Doug Puzzle here!)
I see a smile.
I see a giraffe.
I see a giraffe head next to a giraffe head.
I see the giraffe sideways.
It would have been so easy to only see that adorable smile. But I would have missed an important detail about why Little Bear was smiling... The realization that the giraffes match! Careful though. If you go in with the expectation that Little Bear knows those giraffes match, you will miss the fact that he hasn't quite yet realized they must also align in order to fit the piece in the puzzle. He is matching the giraffe sideways, a common first step in toddler puzzle piece work. This assumption could lead you to a midnight Amazon puzzle purchase. If he can do this one, he must be ready for something more difficult! The next month would be filled with confused tears from everyone. Don't ask me how I know. (Completely unrelated public service announcement: don't wine and prime, friends.)
#4 Don't Interfere
Little Bear is working so hard here! And so joyfully! He does not need me to stick my nose in and say, "Wow! look at you matching the giraffes!" He is stuffed full of intrinsic motivation here.
My comment would only accomplish two things. It would knock him out of his zone, and he is in a good one! It would also tack an external motivator onto something that is best left internal. Now, if he looks up and wants to share his joy with me, I will gladly partake! "Wow! Those giraffes match!"
In five minutes, when the frustration of not being able to get the giraffe in the space correctly starts to mount, I am tempted to interfere in a different manner. It is incredibly tempting to help him solve that problem. I want to save him from the struggle! When he invites me to share his frustration, as with joy, I gladly partake. "I can see how frustrated you are feeling. I do not like when I feel frustrated. I have to take a breath like this."
If I fix his problem for him. He will just pick up the hippo and give it to me. He will lose some of that drive to find the solution by wiggling the puzzle piece. He will learn that the way to play puzzle is to give each new piece to an adult.
No one ends up happy in this situation. I end up constantly bugged and he ends up feeling helpless. Trust me. This is one of the least helpless young men I have ever met!! But I could convince him he is so in such a snap. This is a boundary you must do your best to hold, both for the development of your Sweet Joy and your own mental calmness. You have enough problems to solve as Mama. Don't start taking on the problems of others. Your kiddo's developmental struggles are their own to get through. (Remember my neighbors up at the top. Children are complete, whole people. Do not make them smaller by stealing their daily lessons.) Time and play will fix this problem. You need only be a loving companion on the journey.
#5 Pause Before Acting
This is especially difficult for me to remember when the children are fighting. Now if someone is being hurt, fix that immediately! But be careful about jumping to conclusions or stepping in to deliver discipline. Emotions are running high and children are tunnel-visioned. They will each have a very valid side of the story. It is super tempting to jump in on team "little sister", but it is not always correct. Sometimes little sister threw a giraffe at the six year old's head. Ladybugs are tough little monsters.
Many interpersonal interactions require help on the part of the caregiver. Help if you are needed, but be sure that you remember to pause and observe first. If you have not observed first, you are only replaying an old scene; the blind leading the blind.
Bonus #6 Filter Your Observations Through LOVE, And A Love of Learning
With my first child, I did not yet realize that turning the giraffe sideways was a common developmental step to puzzle works. I was observing my child, but I was lacking the wisdom necessary to filter my observations into usable information. There is no easy answer to this one. You must do your diligence. Keep reading works by Montessori, Reggio, Piaget, Waldorf, Erikson, Vygotsky, and the rest. Keep adding to your toolkit. Keep learning. Then when you observe, you have many lenses with which to interpret what you see.
Keeping that filter set to love will be the most important job you do as a parent. (In my humble, yet annoyingly full of opinions, opinion.) Some days are HARD. Really hard. And I know you love that Sweet Joy. But it is incredibly easy to set your lens to "can't we just get through the grocery store without chaos? Just once!" Filter first with love, always, and you will be on the right path.
There is so much that is packed into that little word observe. Isn't language amazing?! Almost as amazing as these beautiful babies.
I hope that our journey inspires your own,
Buckets and Berries