In all the ways through which Montessori classrooms seek to support and promote the intrinsic peacefulness of children, perhaps the most important is the concept of "follow the child." Some adults interpret this to mean that any choice of the child should be honored, that children benefit from environments without limits. In Montessori classrooms, however, there are plenty of limits. Any one person's freedom ends when it imposes on the freedom of another person.
Instead, Montessori's concept of "follow the child," leads adults to observe children carefully, to understand both the predictable trends of children's development and how that development is expressed in the unique experience of an individual child. It reminds us that, while the materials and classrooms may look similar across the world, the experience of the environment is unique to each child, a complicated dynamic of the nature of that child and the experiences he or she has had. It admonishes us from making quick judgments about a child's intent, and encourages us instead to treat children as though they are already the people we believe they will become, even when they're cranky. Even when we are.
"Follow the child," respects that children, unblemished by the mistakes we've already made in our journey to adulthood, hold in themselves the potential to create a world that is more collaborative, more kind and more peaceful than the one we've built. It reminds us that, with environments free of obstacles to their development, children will develop into better adults than we are. It emphasizes for us our role as scientists, servants and saints, observing the child, preparing the environment that will best serve the child, and modeling in our own behavior the character we hope to inspire in the children we serve.
"Follow the child," is that underlying tenet of Montessori that leads to the rest of the Peace Education model, that belief, firmly held in the responsive design of our environments, the precision and elegance of the materials, the modeling of grace and courtesy, the connection to the rest of humanity as "children of the world," and the Great Lessons that instill stewardship and fellowship, that these children, these exact children in front of us right now, are the ones who are going to make the place better. "Follow the child," inspires us, as teachers, parents and caregivers, to remain humble and curious, as we look together to the future we believe this model will create.
In this Season of Peace, I wish for each of you the peace and optimism this perspective instills. The child is, as Montessori observed, "both a hope and a promise for mankind." May our work protect that hope and preserve that promise.