Visiting the Infant - Toddler Classroom
It's a time of transitions for many Montessori schools here in the US, when children are saying goodbye to familiar environments and preparing to join new ones. Even the children who will remain for another year in a multi-age classroom will have some change to accommodate, as the children who have moved on are replaced with younger children and as they assume new roles in the classroom.
If your child is preparing for one of these moves, you might be spending more time than usual observing in their classroom right now. That's a good thing. Most Montessori classrooms are used to being observed, by teachers, prospective parents, other class parents and teachers or students from other schools. You should feel welcomed into your child's classroom to observe, either in the room itself or, if possible, from behind the privacy of an observation glass or camera to allow you to see the classroom more naturally. And while you may feel welcome to observe, what to do once you're actually there may feel foreign and weird.
There are some limits we'll ask of most observers. Because we want you to be able to see the classroom as it functions without an observer, we'll ask that you make yourself as unobtrusive as possible. You might be asked to sit in a particular chair or in a particular spot on the floor. You may be asked not to initiate conversation with the children. You may be reminded not to interrupt. These are all limits that help the children to overlook a new adult in the room as much as possible and help you to see the class more authentically.
In the Infant-Toddler class, specifically, you might observe some things you're not sure of. Remember: these are spaces that are designed to allow free movement for very small people. You may be surprised to see infants and toddlers moving independently from chairs to floors to beds, up climbers and back down stairs, standing up for a diaper change or lying down in the middle of the kitchen under a stream of sunlight from the window. You may see children look as thought they are about to fall or stumble or drop something. And you may see teachers seeming to look at other children at the same time.
You're going to want to help.
Infant Toddler classroom teachers are well prepared in observing what's happening in their classrooms and, chances are, they know both what the children are individually capable of and when they're in over their heads. And we also know that children need to have real experiences, including real consequences to the actions of their own bodies, to understand how the world works. We won't let the children get hurt, but we also won't stop them from stumbling. We'll help them back up. We'll support them as they find the pieces of the materials they've dropped and put them back together. We'll comfort them in their frustration or help them to self-soothe as they encounter challenging tasks.
You might also see children who seem to be making a much bigger mess of their food than you'd expect at home. You may see children feeding themselves and getting as much food on their faces as in their mouths. You might watch a child struggle to use a spoon or fork, or pouring more water into their cup than you know the cup can hold. You may see children using all their concentration to pick up a single green pea or black bean.
You're going to want to help.
Trust that the teachers in the classroom see these things, too. We're not going to let the children starve. These processes, even the really messy ones, are part of the process. Children need to feel the mess to understand why to avoid it. That's why you'll see Montessori teachers encouraging you to dress your child in clothing that's easily cleaned and not too precious. We don't want the messiness of learning to be hindered by its impact on a favorite dress or jumper. We want children to be able to experience the world as it really works, even when it goes wrong, as they learn to master it.
It may be a challenge to sit on your hands while you're observing, especially if you're watching your own child's classroom. You might want to sit close to your child, or talk to them while they work, or help carry heavy things for them, or wipe down their (table, floor, face) when they need it. You might want to do a lot of things for your own child when you're observing. Don't. Follow their lead. Let them come to you, and offer companionship instead of assistance. If your child is busy and engaged, let them be... this is their classroom and you're the guest in it. They may want to be involved in their own activities. Trust that that's normal and remind yourself that you chose Montessori because of the child-centered nature of the classrooms. Remember, too, that your child enjoys a classroom that is focused purely on their development right now. There are no schedules to juggle in their classroom, no commutes, no stresses with other adults, no laundry to interfere, no groceries: in short, none of the things that can interfere with your home being as child-directed as the classroom is. You may seem them behave in different ways than they do at home. Take note, and after the observation, ask you child's teacher to tell you more about what you've seen.
But while you're observing, you're going to want to do a lot of things that will change what you see. Hold yourself back. Watch the classroom as it really is and make note of the things you want to know more about later, and in the meantime, remain curious and inquisitive. There's a lot to see, and each new question you develop about what you observe will help you to understand your own child better.
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