Observation in the Montessori classroom is a tool that is used by the adult to follow the child (to assess their abilities and readiness for materials), and developed within the child (during their early years) to help him classify, store, order, and work towards his inner needs.
The adult goal of observation is to learn about the child from a scientific and objective perspective. This can be a greater challenge to homeschooling parents as their connection to their own children tends to be more passionate and emotional than perhaps a teacher in a school setting might have for their students. As Montessori educators (either at home or in a school setting) we must keep on top of our observation skills and use them regularly.
Skills Required to Observe
We must learn to sit silently and motionless - conscious immobility. In our fast paced world this is something that many of us rarely do. Our constant physical motion means we're missing out on cues (physical, verbal, and social) from the children around us. As well, often times the adult unconsciously becomes the center of the environment; constantly directing instead of allowing the children to direct themselves. As the adult it's important to step back, slow down, and silently view the environment with fresh eyes.
We should examine ourselves introspectively; how often would you normally want to interrupt the children while they are in the 3 hour work cycle? Are the interruptions really necessary? It's easy to inject our thoughts and interfere when we see a child struggling with a concept. Our inner impulses to help, to do it faster, to do it more efficiently are unnecessary and take the action away from the child.
Are we speaking too much? Are our voices constantly interruptingthe precise work of our hands while presenting lessons? Are we over-explaining materials instead of allowing the child to spend time with the materials and investigate further on their own? Montessori materials are beautiful didactic (self-correcting) learning materials that most often do not require excessive speech/language - unless it's a language lesson!
Record your Observations
After sitting back and observing it's important to make notes and record your observations for each child and for the group as a whole. Which materials are being used and which ones haven't been used in a long while? Is a child avoiding a particular area and why? What is the atmosphere like? Has the class normalized? If not, why not? Is there a sense of respect and community in the environment?
Allow for the Possibility of Change
Allow your mind to be open to change. After recording your observations it's all in front of you in black and white. You can't deny the scientific and objective truth. Open your mind to accept the possibility that the environment isn't well prepared enough, or that you're interfering too much, or that you've not guided the children carefully enough to create the community with respect and peace. As the 'head' of your community it's up to you to use your observations to improve the community.
The following video outlines the 8 stages of Observation.