What Does it Mean to “Follow the Child?”

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“Follow the child, but follow the child as his leader.” – Maria Montessori

If you have a child already enrolled in a Montessori-based school, you’ve probably heard this term thrown around quite a bit. But, what does it really mean to “follow the child?”

In Montessori, it is believed that the child knows instinctively what they need to do. There are several different parts to following the child, it’s about letting them explore and learn the way they want to – but, in a safe manner. For example, instead of dictating which activity your child will do for the next half hour until lunch time, give them several different options of activities and let them choose which one they would like to do. This way, they will continue to learn because you are giving them educational activities, but they still have a choice in what they want to do. If your child shows interest in climbing a tree outdoors that looks unsafe – find a safe alternative where they can climb instead of transitioning them into another activity or something indoors. This way, they will still be given the opportunity to climb.

A big part of following the child is taking a step back as a parent or teacher, and letting the child learn and explore on their own. This can be difficult, especially for parents who tend to be more “hands-on.” However, it is extremely important when we are following the child. Let the child do what they are going to do and only intervene if the child is in danger (to themselves or others).

Maria Montessori breaks up Montessori learning into six year increments. Following the child can change gradually with each stage, for obvious reasons. An infant will not be exploring the same things a 7-year-old will, so in these instances “following the child” will change. However, even if the activities change throughout the years, the basis and definition of following the child will never change.

If you haven’t tried this method, it is always worth it to give it a shot – what do you have to lose? You may even learn several things about yourself and your child in the process!

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