The following guidelines were developed by Catherine McTamaney to help visitors to observe the Montessori classroom in a manner that does not disrupt the classroom.
Visiting The Children’s House as an Observer
Montessori classrooms enchant curious observers. How can so many young children engage so independently at once? How come everyone seems so peaceful? What’s so magical about the materials on the shelves? Whether you’re visiting with a research question or you’re a friend or family member more interested in the experience of a single child, you’re welcome here.
To best observe our classrooms at work, though, you want to visit in a way that doesn’t interfere with how they work. Sometimes the enthusiasm of an eager visitor interrupts the very qualities that visitor was so excited to observe! The Children’s House is rightly named: a community of children, in which children are at home.
To make your observation most authentic, treat your visit as you’d treat a visit to someone else’s home:
- Attend to social cues about what kinds of behaviors are appropriate here. Note how quickly other adults move, how loudly they speak, how gently they interact with each other and with the children. Adults in Montessori classrooms are there in service to the children. You’ll notice them focusing on children’s needs before their own and shifting attention away from themselves by moving slowly, speaking softly and acting mindfully.
- Choose a seat from which to observe that allows you to see the area of the classroom of most interest to you. We have a number of options from which to observe. Once you’re seated, remain in your seat and avoid craning or moving around obtrusively.
- While the children understand that guests in our observation chairs are there to watch and learn from our classrooms, they may approach you or engage you in conversation. Of course, you should respond! Avoid initiating conversations with children, but feel free to answer a child who approaches you and to engage in quiet conversation. Respond to their questions, but avoid questioning children, allowing them to return to their own activities when they choose.
- Avoid interrupting children at work. Classroom materials and routines are designed to absorb children’s attention. Children who are learning to concentrate need the opportunity to practice concentration. If you have a question about a child’s work, make a note of it to ask after class has ended.
- Observe unobtrusively. You know how it feels when you know someone is looking at you? Children can sense that, too! Avoid staring at an individual child for too long. Instead, gaze gently and scan the room so that your observation doesn’t become uncomfortable for the children being observed.
- If you need to leave the classroom or move to another observation chair, move slowly and quietly. Be mindful of swinging arms or noisy feet: try instead to move through the classroom while drawing as little attention to yourself as possible. If you happen to make eye contact with a teacher, a quiet wave is enough to signal your exit. If the teachers are otherwise engaged, feel free to quietly leave the classroom. We won’t hold it against you if you’re not able to say goodbye!