Montessori Observation

The twins’ school has this concept of “observation” where the parent(s) can go and sit in on the class for a short while once in a way. I thought it was a great idea. School, especially in these early days, is so much of a black box for the parents. Your kids go in, and some hours later, they come out. What goes on in there, nobody knows. The kids know, but they ain’t talking. Mrini and Tara have enough of a vocabulary and they can talk a dog’s hind legs off, but when it comes to school, they are less than forthcoming. “I played with toys” (or “tawys,” as Tara says) alternates with “I played with Navnit.” Sometimes, they volunteer alarming information like “Diya scolded me”. “Why?” I ask. “Because I cried.” This sounds like the outcome, not the cause, so I ask “why” again. “Because I bite Diya,” is the next attempt.

I think the twins are not very clear on the difference between fact and faction. To any question their answer is just as likely to be true, or completely made-up. Plausible, mind you, but not true. I don’t think they are actually lying right now… I prefer to think that it’s more like they don’t really get the difference between truth and telling stories.

So anyway, since I haven’t heard from their teachers yet that either of them has bitten anyone, I tend to ignore that part of the proceedings. But, apart from this sensational news, they don’t have much to offer. They sit through the drive home in silence, only occasionally speaking to demand to know the entire sequence of 21 songs on their favourite audio CD which has to be playing whenever they are in the car.

So, observation seemed like a good way to find out what they were up to in school. Not that we parents really need to know – as long as they are off my hands, and somebody else is handling them for a while, why do I need to know what, exactly, they’re up to? But, of course, we parents are a nosey, interfering bunch, so of course, even though we want our kids off our hands for a while, we do want to know what, exactly, they’re up to in our absence.

I spoke to the class teachers, and they said that Amit and I could both sit in for a half-hour or so one morning right after school starts. When all four of us got into the car to go to school that morning, they girls were quite happy, but puzzled. We explained that we were going to be with them in school for a while and they looked even more puzzled.

When we finally settled down in their classroom, seated on the floor near them, they both sat down to do their “work” quite self-consciously. The teacher told Amit that they were being on their best behaviour just because we were there to watch.

To be honest, I didn’t watch our girls that much. I was busy watching the other kids. Because the Montessori environment has kids of ages varying between two-and-a-half and six, you get to see what the older kids are up to and what your kids will, hopefully, be able to do, in a couple of years. I saw some of the kids working on spelling activities, another one working on a set of wooden blocks. Most of the kids were focusing on their work, though they also spent time looking around and interacting with their friends. I liked the fact that kids could choose what they wanted to do, and do it at their own pace. I saw one girl tell another that she (the first girl) wanted to do the wooden blocks, once she (the second girl) was done with them. I saw the second girl nod, continue her work, and, after some time, put the pieces back in their box and hand them to the other girl.

At one point, a boy came to the teacher and said he wanted his snack. It was still quite early, just after nine, but the teacher told him to go get his bag and sit at one of the tables in the corner of the room. A few minutes later, the boy was back, saying he didn’t want it after all. But I liked the fact that he was allowed to go and have his snack when he wanted it.

When I had sat in on the class in the early days, when the twins had just joined and all the kids were getting settled in class, it had been a much more chaotic environment. Now, it was generally silent, organized, and not restrictive. The kids all seemed somehow responsible for maintaining their environment. They pulled out chairs and tables, and put them away when they were done with them. Activities were restored to the appropriate places. Mats were rolled up and put back in place. It was good to see that the kids were aware enough and trusted enough to do these things themselves.

When we left, we said bye to both the girls and I told them I’d be back to pick them up as usual. Mrini smiled, waved, and continued to do her work. Tara waved cheerfully enough, but a moment later came out of the class in tears. The teacher asked if I’d like to take them home, but I thought Tara would be fine in a couple of minutes, and Mrini was happy enough, so I decided not to. Later on, Tara told me, “Because baba going that’s why I cried.”

Just when you think they are growing up, you realize how much they are still babies.

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