Observation of children is a vital component of Montessori education. In my opinion, it is the most important yet one of the most difficult. It is definitely a skill that develops in a parent or teacher over time and with practice. Without careful observation, a parent or teacher cannot possibly follow the child’s interests and progress in order to provide the next challenge. The child would be, quite bluntly, stuck in a learning rut.
I say that observation is a skill that develops over time and practice because, well, I miss it sometimes. Luckily, my toddler sometimes ends up showing me that I’ve missed it when he goes ahead to the next level without my lead.
Cutting with scissors is an example of how I missed the observation boat.
For months, I’ve been putting the “first level” of the Montessori scissors cutting forms for him. Since we are at home, I leave this work on a tray — a pair of scissors with one or two cutting forms. He’s doing an ok job, but still misses the mark on some lines. I misinterpreted his lack of perfection for his need to continue practising the same cutting form.
But he had stopped choosing this work for a long time, nor did he want to do it when I suggested working on it. I embellished the cutting form with stickers, with pictures of his favourite characters … but nothing worked.
I left the scissor work on the shelf anyway because it’s one of those activities that are perennial and in my mind should never be removed.
It must have been over the holidays that he saw me cutting lots of wrapping paper, or perhaps he saw big brother cutting lots of construction paper for arts and craft. Whatever it was, one day, Z (2.5) took out a piece of his scrap writing paper that was half a letter-size and started cutting right through it.
I didn’t stop him, of course, but it surprised me that he suddenly knew how to cut deeper into a piece of paper (i.e. cutting a longer line). At the “first level”, we were only cutting little 1/2” snips.
It didn’t occur to me until a few days later that perhaps I should check my album to see what the next cutting form is. I was blown away when I saw that the next cutting form is exactly what Z had started on, only freestyle (i.e. without guide lines).
In my opinion, the interpretation that follows an observation is the crux of Montessori observation. The correct interpretation will lead to correct action, and vice versa.
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I parallel this with medical terms to make it easier for me to understand:
- Doctor records all the patient’s symptoms — Parent/Teacher observes a child’s behaviour
- Doctor arrives at a diagnosis — Parent/Teacher comes to an interpretation of the behaviour
- Doctor prescribes a treatment — Parent/Teacher takes action to remedy behaviour
Looking back at my experience, the symptoms were clear — he showed lack of interest, even boredom. He also showed that he hasn’t yet perfected the cutting form.
But I misinterpreted his lack of perfection for the need to continue practising the current cutting form. I forgot that mastery of a skill does not equal perfection. This was my mistake in diagnosing the situation. And I interpreted that his lack of interest means that he needs a fancy twist in what he’s cutting. Thus my action was to embellish the existing cutting forms.
If I had not mis-equated perfection for mastery, I would have seen that he has mostly mastered the current cutting forms, diagnosed it as boredom due to an activity that is no longer a challenge, and provided him with the next challenge.
Oh well, I learn every day. (On a side note, thank God I’m not a doctor!)