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By:  Heather Brostron   (October, 2011)

It is that time of year again when we wish to invite you as parents to come and observe in your child’s classroom.  As we are inviting you to come and observe, it seems to me that it might be helpful for you to have some ideas as to how to do just that.  Here are some things to think about while you are observing:

A little bit of observation etiquette

When you arrive to observe, we will have set out a chair for you to sit down in that will be in an area that will not disrupt the children’s work.  Consideration is also given so that you will have a good view of the whole classroom; this is usually just inside the doorway.  Please come into the classroom and sit down quietly, greeting the children and/or the teacher briefly.  As you are observing, chances are there will be some children who are interested in interacting with you.  Please smile and be polite but do not engage them in conversation.  A good line to use can be, “I am Johnny’s mom I will talk with you later, I came to see you do your work today!”

Observing your child

Most likely you will be anxious to observe your child to see what they are working on.  Please know that your child will probably behave slightly (if not completely) differently in front of you than when you are not present.  This can manifest itself in many different ways but is not cause for alarm, simply something to take into account as you watch.  They may choose lessons they have mastered and feel comfortable with or they may take out their newest lesson.  In any case, it is best if you do not interfere with your child by asking questions about their activity.  Remember that the children are strengthening their abilities to concentrate, we mustn’t disturb this.

The children in the classroom

While you are in the classroom, please take time to alternate between observing your child and taking note of a wide view of the room.  There is so much more to the classroom than the activities of one particular child, and it is simply amazing to see!  Listen to the activity level as it rises and falls.  Are there some children participating in group activities?  How many children are engaged in individual practice?  Are there children wandering around?  Are they really just wandering?  Think about these questions and their answers in relation to a child’s ability to concentrate.  Take time to note the ease and joy with which the children work, and if you are lucky, catch the self gratification that comes with a success. 

The classroom itself

Think about the organization of the classroom; are the materials clean, neatly arranged and attractive?  Are the children carrying/handling the materials carefully and returning them to the shelves properly?  How many of each material do you see on the shelves?  How do these attributes aid the children?  Note the time, lighting, temperature, weather outside, etc.  

Where is the guide? 

Take a moment to observe the guide’s interaction, or lack of interaction with the children.  Does she correct the children?  Listen for her tone of voice.  Is she teaching the children or becoming more of a bridge for them to the environment? 

What is the culture of the classroom?

Note the older children offering assistance to younger children, as well as one another, with things they have mastered.  Listen to the way the children speak to one another.  Is there a general level of respect?  Find an instance in which you can see a younger child absorbing an older child’s work simply by being nearby.  Don’t be surprised to hear one child telling another not to disturb their work; it is their right to do so. 

“We cannot create observers by saying ‘observe’, but by giving them the power and the means for this observation and these means are procured through education of the senses” – Maria Montessori

These are simply beginning points to your observations and some ideas of what to look for.  Bring a paper and pen along and jot down what you see along with any concerns or questions that may arise.

Your children are becoming natural observers of life through the education of their senses in the Montessori environment.  As your children’s guides, we work hard to keep you, as parents, up to date with their progress and activity through conferences and reports as well as regular communication.  We also strive to help you understand the classroom environment, the materials and procedures through parent education meetings.  All of the reading, meetings and updates cannot truly help you understand the goings on in the world of a Montessori classroom, however, without seeing it for yourself, through the art of observation.  We look forward to seeing you soon!