The Montessori prepared environment is very important, and the 3-6 classroom will have a wide range of age appropriate materials, this is an environment planned for the children and they have complete freedom to explore it.
A child’s exploration of the classroom is key to following the child, and our job is to show respect by observing a child’s needs, introducing material to a child who shows an interest in it, which, in turn develops sensitive periods.
Because of the 3-6 year age range in the classroom younger children will see their older peers work with more advanced materials and may want to give it a go too.
How should a teacher handle it?
A teacher could at this point demonstrate the material to the child, invite the child to observe an older child using the material, or encourage the older child to mentor the younger child, in doing this a teacher gets a good feel as to whether the child is keen to follow through or not. The child may have a go and discover that they really have no interest in it after all, which is normal, and put it back on the shelf. This is following the child.
The teacher may identify that the child is showing a sensitive period and can actually work with the material, therefore following the child.
An important discovery is that the child has come to a conclusion and decision independently about their own work and the teacher has trusted this and followed the child.
Should a child choose a piece of material that the teacher knows is too advanced, say a 3 year old wanting to work with the sentence parsing with Farm 2. The best way to follow the child in this respect is to acknowledge his interest and invite him to come with you and show him something age appropriate but with the same material, for example using
Farm 1 noun box to sound out 3 letter words. In this way a teacher is able to steer children in a 3-6 classroom to materials she/he knows they will enjoy and work with, you will not need to say “no” or discourage a child from their chosen work.
They will become independent and will develop self esteem and the joy of learning.
The teacher will have earnestly Followed the Child.
The goal is “The children are now working as if I did not exist”. (Maria Montessori)
Empower the Child