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Observation & Patience Part 2: A Story of looking in a mirror

If you ever wondered if your children are watching you, just know that they are, EVERY SECOND. So my youngest, 18mo, loves food. She loves to eat food, she loves to play with food, she loves the experience of food. So every snack and meal is essentially an art project gone wrong. She winds up with food from fingertips to elbows, smeared nose to chin and cheek to cheek, down her bib and in her lap, spread across the table as far as she can reach and in a ring around her chair. While we have taken some measures to reduce food waste and mess by intentional dropping and throwing, we have allowed her to dive into the sensory experience because she obviously enjoys it so much. However, the most frustrating moment is the moment that she puts her goopy, food covered hands in her hair. It is gross all day when it happens during the morning or midday meals, but even in the evenings we don’t intend to have baths every night. We have tried to provide guidance to get her to stop this behavior, but simply the mention of “hands and hair” in the same sentence, even when preceded by the word “don’t” only made the problem worse. But why was she doing it? It didn’t happen all the time and seemed a bit random when it did...until one night at dinner. I finished my meal and just sat back in my chair to relax while my children were finishing up. As I reclined I clasped my hands and put them behind my head. Then it was like watching a mirror with some kind of weird lag. My small child lifted up her arms and placed her hands squarely on her head. The light bulb went on. I had probably been doing this for weeks, maybe even her whole life. So, for her, the thing to do when you're done eating your meal is to put your hands on your head…

Another essential understanding of observation is that it is a 2-way street. Children learn vast amounts of information about the world through the observation of the other humans in their lives. Maria Montessori discovered a wealth of information by observing children observing her or the other teachers. She found when she moved slowly, and spoke quietly with few words that children would mimic her actions. They could carefully perform tasks thought to be adult work. The Montessori Community has turned this knowledge into action. Each new skill taught or tool introduced is done so with clear intention and called a presentation. It is often practiced by the adult before ever sharing it with a child. The careful movement of the hands with the near absence of words allows the young child to focus all their attention on what is happening in front of them so they can repeat it. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention that while toddlers and preschoolers do highly benefit from such carefully planned and executed lessons, they also learn so much from the caregivers in their life simply by living it with them. So don’t wait to do all the chores while your child is sleeping or away. Provide them opportunities to watch you clean up a spill and then ask if they would like to help and hand them a small cloth. But don’t forget that if you don’t want them to move the cloth around with their foot, or throw the wet cloth toward the sink from across the room, you probably shouldn’t do it either. And do remember that any skill they execute will take much repetition before they master it.


The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori

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