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What does it mean to "follow the child?"

Montessorians are sort of famous for saying "follow the child." It is often the answer to many questions about how adults should respond to a child's behavior. As the adult, we should follow the child's unique development path, and let the child show us where he or she needs to go. But, what this specifically means for a parent, that's harder to define. 

What does it mean to "follow the child?" Montessori tips for following and respecting your child

Nora loves bugs. Not any kind of bug. Nora loves dead bugs. Not just any kind of dead bug -- dead beetles. Yep. My three-year-old LOVES dead beetles. She loves them so much that we have boxes of dead beetles in our home. These are just for her to look at, to love on, to talk about, to play with, to explore, to whatever she wants with them. Each one she has lovingly collected out in nature, brought into the house and placed into her boxes.

You know what creeps me out completely? DEAD BEETLES IN MY HOUSE! Or carrying around dead beetles to place in boxes in my house. Or looking at dead beetles. Or pretty much anything to do with dead beetles. But, does Nora know that? No. Because, I follow the child. For me, "follow the child" can be boiled down into one word - respect. 

For me, to follow the child means to utterly respect my child's interests, and to keep my own feelings aside in favor of their own. It often means sitting back and watching those interests unfold at whatever time table my child chooses. It means not pushing too hard when I see an interest unfolding. So, I don't rush out and make/buy alllll the work that I could possibly make/buy just because my child is interested in something. It's often sitting on my hands, waiting for my child to show me what his/her true interest is, why they are interested, and how far that interest will go. 

For me, following the child means that I -- 
  • Observe: I take time to observe my children at work and play. I watch what they are drawn to, how their body moves, and what they repeat

  • Provide Opportunities: I provide opportunities to discover their own interests. This may be through new books, new materials, experiences in the world, and time with nature.

  • Space and Time: It also means that I do my best to give them space and time to just be. Life cannot be too scheduled so that they don't have the time to find their interests and follow them.

  • Respect: Always respect. I avoid making judgments, comments, or laughing at their interests or accomplishments. I don't show disdain, or try to persuade away from an interest. 

  • Sharing: I share in my child's joy and interest. I participate, provide chances to expand on that interest as they show me they are ready, and give them opportunities to follow their passion and share with the world all they have discovered. 
A great example of following the child was recently provided by Nora's Montessori guide. She noticed Nora's beetle jacket and asked her about it. Nora opened up about her love of beetles. Her guide listened intently, and then invited Nora to share her beetles with the class. Shortly after that, Nora brought her beetle boxes to school and her pride was so evident. It was the perfect affirmation that her interest was valid, that her path was important, and that she had valuable contributions to make. 

So, whether your child loves dead beetles, letters, cars, cats or running, respect your child, watch your child, follow your child. 

How do you follow your child? What does that mean to you? 



Jennie said…
Hi! Thanks for an awesome blog! I have a question: If the child develops an interest for something "unreal", say for example Lightning McQueen (inspired by "non Montessori friends"), does that mean you should follow along with it anyways or stick to the "Montessori realness"?
Anonymous said…
Hi this was such a wonderful read. :) I was wondering if you made those boxes or if you purchased them. I'd like to get my baby some to put anything she's interested in as well.

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