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Observation as a Verb

Posted on February 14, 2017 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (22330)

                                                By Pamela Green

The above quote by Maria Montessori is one of my favorites, offering contemplation on the active process of observation of children. To me it speaks to the possibility and revelation that, in order to see the child before us, we must open our eyes and hearts to a multi-dimensional view of the child, while also being present to what is arising inside of us. Observation is an outward and inward movement; a state of being with ourselves, others and the environment, of which we are a part. When we observe silently, softly, holding no agenda or anticipation of what is to come or what we think might be needed, we can enter into moments which strengthen our capacity for trust, patience, understanding, feeling, and, a quality of wonder.

The next part of Maria Montessori’s quote mentions the act of probing, which I find to be such an exact and rich word. If we probe at something, then I imagine an object which has become one-dimensional, one that can be affected, changed, directed, and influenced. The state of probing is not one built upon patience and trust or relationship, but is one that involves objectivity. What interests me in considering this word is the inner state of adults, when we feel the need to interrupt, direct, disturb, or probe a child’s experience. What is being awakened inside that sparks and urges us to act in these ways, and what impact do these actions have upon a child? To practice observation in this context can be helpful, because it becomes obvious, to me anyway, that our need to respond may have very little to do with the child we are observing, but more to do with the observer.

What I have noticed through my own practice of observation for many years is that when I am conscious in myself I behave in certain ways, and when I am unconscious, I behave in certain other ways. As I facilitate and mentor parents who are beginning their own journey of observation and who are starting to notice their own unconscious reactions to their child, I have heard remarks such as, “I don’t even know what happened. I just can’t stop myself from helping. Isn’t it good to step in when my child is doing something wrong?” These questions can surface during the process of observation, which sometimes partners with a difficulty in sitting silently and watching. Observation is a skill that deepens with practice, and it can bring up different states of thoughts, emotions, and feelings.

One thing I find helpful while practicing observation is to record in a journal what I am seeing, as objectively as possible, I may also have thoughts and responses rise up inside of me, and these I record as well. When I give time for self-reflection in my own life and experience my reactions and responses, I begin to see a pattern in me which is not restrictive to just the classroom environment, but one that has resonance in other parts of my life. And, these reactions usually come forth when I may be feeling something which I have little tolerance for. Through my own process of self-discovery and in observing and witnessing others in their own reactions to children, I have noticed some of these tendencies:


• Correction

• Having to verbally narrate what the child is doing

• Disrupting/disturbing the child in their process of work

• Guidance of the child, who you feel has gone off track. Whether physically or through our words

• Offering praise or punishment, (which are closely related because they have to do with US and not the child)

• Judging the work or behavior

• Asking why a child is doing something

• Telling a child how to go about a work, giving advice based on our experience

• Anticipating a certain outcome; success, failure, getting hurt, hurting, opposition

• Taking a turn away from a child by interfering….putting away work, stepping in when we think they won’t do something, not offering them              space or time to complete a task. And believing they won’t

• Having to have the last word

• Refusal to step into our adult position and walk away, disengage

• Arguing with a child, nagging

• The inability to see the child in front of us without agenda; to connect, open, and to receive


So, when these emotions, reactions, and sometimes even memories are awakened in us while with a child, what can we do? To keep things simple I will share a three step approach:


  • Stop
  • Look
  • Listen



With Stop I refer to giving pause. To allow for something unknown to occur, and for the child or children, in their wisdom, to resolve what we feel needs our help. Sometimes a child is working with a material in ways that we think were not part of the lesson, but as Maria Montessori taught….once a lesson is given it is the child’s right to explore this material in their own ways. Who knows what discoveries might take place that are limited by our adult’s mind? As long as there is no hurting of oneself, others, or the materials, then a child is free to explore.

Stop also refers to reflecting in ourselves and to feel what is happening inside. What is surfacing, and can we sit and allow this, too, while still practicing observation? These momenst for self-reflection of what we want to do, as opposed to what will serve a child, are full of potential self-learning. While pausing we can ask ourselves, is what I am about to do needed, helpful, a way to build connection and relationship, and is it something I wish to model for this small friend?

The next step, Look, involves looking with our broadest sense, deeply at ourselves, the child, others, and the entire environment. In this way it can become a sensorial work of self-discovery. If we have already given pause, then to Look offers the information of imagining what impact our actions may have on the present experience. To consider our own motivations and the feelings behind our actions, which can be very different from the words we use.

Our last step is to Listen and this, too, involves our whole Being: our intuition, a knowing of ourselves and this child, and to hear without taking things personally. To be present in the moment, not just waiting for our time to speak and make our point, but to hear behind the child’s words what feelings are there, and to be receptive in an open way.

Although these three steps may sound timely, they really can happen in moments….once we begin the practice of doing them. And in this practice we build and strengthen our abilities to have patience, build trust, and enter into moments full of possibilities, for ourselves and a child.


A World in a Grain of Sand

Posted on July 26, 2016 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (4484)

I was recently at the beach on a warm cloudy day, relaxing and reading. Very soon after sitting down my attention was drawn to a young boy of perhaps 18 months of age who stood knee-deep in the water holding a large bucket in his right hand. I began observing his movements and watched as he dipped his bucket into the water, then turned slowly, moving his feet over the small stones beneath him. Once reaching the beach, he continued to a place and upturned his bucket. Some water spilled out, some remained in, but he did not seem to care. He turned and walked back to the water, first standing with the stones beneath his feet, seeming to feel each one as he gained his balance to continue forward.

Again he dipped his bucket into the water and turned, heading towards sand. Emptied the water in the same spot, and returned to his work, which took much effort since the bucket was large and the weight of the water inside added more. He traveled this journey at least ten times when suddenly an adult pushed a large shovel into his other hand. This shovel was at least twice his size, and he barely glanced at it. But he did stop for a moment, seeming to feel the weight of two things in his hands, and settled into a new balance in his body. He then seemed to consider something and dipped the shovel into the water, then lifted it up to set inside the bucket. He peered in, perhaps seeing if any water had come off of the shovel. But it did not seem to be the right tool for gathering water.

Yet he continued, bucket in one hand, shovel in the other. Back and forth to the water; walking slowly, dipping, turning, returning to the sand and emptying the water in the same place. This was now a bit tricky with the shovel in the other hand, but he didn't seem to notice. He was at work, immersed on his path which reminded me of watching someone walking a labyrinth. The focus on his feet moving, the process leading towards center, then back again.

And suddenly something new happened. One of the adults in his family hurried towards him and pulled the bucket out of his hand, while he was just entering the water.

She said, "It's time to go, let go of this bucket and come." He stood there, knee-deep in water, then very slowly he touched her body with the shovel.

She said, "Why are you being mean?"


He marched away from the water to a place on the sand and knelt down, lifting his face to the sky. The look he had was of resignation, of despair. He flung himself face down onto the sand. I imagined a cry might follow, but instead he made a new discovery. Where he fell was a perfect spot for his body since a hole was perfectly placed beneath his face, and he peered down inside. I watched his head, just visible beneath the contours of this hole and imagined what he felt. The sand beneath his body, the way sounds might resonate with his head submerged, and wondered what he was seeing. After a moment he surfaced holding a small stone between two fingers. He held it up to look closely, moving it this way and that in the sun's reflection. Then he placed it down beside him on the sand and dipped his face back into the hole. Once again moments went by until he surfaced with another stone, studied it, then placed it beside this other one. Again he flattened himself onto the sand, and this time he took longer. Once he emerged he held between his fingers small pieces of sand, perhaps two. He rolled them between his fingers, closing his eyes. And set them aside with the others, but a bit away from the stones. This process continued for some time. Until there was, once again, an interruption.

"What are you doing! That is dirty, look at you covered in sand.

Get out of there! Now we have to clean you up!"

He was pulled to the water, frantically rinsed off, and he just stood there, stunned. His mother then said, "We are leaving. Come on. Bye, bye we are leaving you. Mommy loves you." He glanced towards her, not moving. His family walked away, until his mother returned voicing this same message mixed with warning and love. Finally, since he would not move someone picked him up and he began to kick and push them away. They laughed. Throughout my observation I kept thinking about Maria Montessori and her deep understanding of children, and the ways in which we as adults just don't get what is happening right in front of us. At the time, two of her quotes came into my mind:

"The ideal of leaving a child on his own is easily grasped, but there are deeply rooted obstacles in an adult's mind that make it difficult to realize...even if he wishes to grant a child's desires and leave him free to touch and move objects about, he finds that he cannot resist the vague impulses within himself that lead to his dominating the child."

- Maria Montessori


And also, this


"The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself."

-Maria Montessori

Through the movements and experiences I observed in this small friend he was deeply absorbed in his natural desire to discover, which came about through his body reaching out and making contact with objects, living and nonliving. He was showing characteristics of the Sensitive Periods of Learning appropriate for his developmental age. These include:


  • Movement: Coordinated and controlled. Walks, carries heavy objects using Maximum effort.
  • Small Objects: A fixation on small objects and tiny details.
  • Order: Characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition and a passionate love for established routines. Children can become deeply disturbed by disorder. The environment must be carefully ordered with a place for everything and with carefully established ground rules.
  • Refinement of the Senses: Fascination with sensorial experiences (taste, sound, touch, weight, smell) resulting with children learning to observe and with making increasingly refined sensorial discrimination.


From my observations of the adults reacting to this child, I noticed misunderstanding and interpretation of his behaviors. In their eyes, it seemed that he was misbehaving, or acting out. I find the word misbehaving so curious to me. There is behavior......and there is what is missed. To me, that seems to be the definition, and it is a subjective one. This child was doing nothing more than experiencing himself in the world—practicing, refining, sensing.

I don't feel that his parents or family were conscious of their actions, but unaware. They did not seem unkind, but caught in a habitual way of reaction. I can't help but wonder what the outcome or experience for this small boy would have been if the following steps had been practiced by his parents:

  • Observation: The act of taking notice of particular phenomena as they occur in the course of nature. We do not change the reality of what we are observing, even as preconceptions, judgments, or evaluations may arise in us. We develop in ourselves an objective and non-directive attitude in our relationship with our child. We begin to see our child for who they really are, separate from us.
  • Preparing the Environment: Wherever we are, indoors or outdoors, this is our environment. It includes everything, including us. We can have ready for our child what materials they might need that are appropriate for their size and experience. We can bring sensitivity to our language, with our words and with our bodies.
  • Allowing for Independence: For freedom of movement, for the child to separate from you, and to return to you as needed. Allow them to choose their own activity and to work at their own pace, for as long as they wish. They may repeat an activity until they are satisfied and complete.
  • Not Interrupting: Let your child concentrate without interruption. Even a word, gesture, or facial expression can distract. Any unnecessary help stops their learning. When you give space and wait, you will see how capable your children really are.
  • Show, don't Tell: If you want your child to see something, show him. At this age he learns through his senses, and no words are usually needed.
  • Making Connection: When we give a message to a child, first we wait, respecting their process. Then we can quietly go sit a bit away from where they are working, and when they turn and make eye contact with you, then you come closer and sit at their level before sharing your message. If they do not make eye contact, then enter slowly, sit at their eye level and look into their eyes before sharing your message.

Through some of these efforts, especially that of observation, I believe we can clear our vision to see our child who stands before us as full of unknown potentials, and we can discover ways to create more connection with ourselves and our child.



When Trouble is More Than Just a Board Game

Posted on June 14, 2016 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (5032)

 By Pamela Green

I was out walking recently in my neighborhood when two boys came racing by on their bikes, the first one shouting, "Boy, are you in trouble!" This reminded me of a time long ago when a group of 4-5 year olds in my Montessori classroom presented me with a wise and memorable lesson.

This small group was sitting intently talking, when I asked if I could join them. They said "yes", then continued their discussion, while I sat quietly and observed. The theme of their sharing was around the idea of being or getting 'in trouble'. There seemed to be a strong resonance in their group of shared experiences. I listened for awhile and then said that I was not understanding certain words they were using. Now, my young friends were used to me sometimes not knowing the meaning of things. It was not that I really didn't understand, but I claimed an innocence which allowed them to fill me in.


In this instance they looked at me again with patience and compassion. I said, "I know the word trouble, but I don't see how you can get in it. Is it someplace you go to,or does it come to you?" One of them quietly said, "She doesn't know because it doesn't happen here."

I said, "I know there is a board game with that name, I have played it." They shook their heads and continued thinking of ways to explain. At a certain point, with me still not catching on, a four year old girl blurted out in one long breath, "Being in trouble is when you break you mom's favorite blue glass vase and glass is everywhere!", and then threw her face into her hands sobbing. Everything went silent, as she continued to cry. I said, "The vase broke?" She nodded yes. I asked if anyone was hurt by the glass and she shook her head no. After another quiet moment I asked what happened next. She said that she was told, LOUDLY, to go to her room and clean it. We all sat quietly for some time, absorbing this new information.

After awhile I shared that this reminded me of something, and a boy said, "Me too! It's like the other day when I was drying my glass plate after lunch and carried it with only a few fingers.....and it dropped and broke everywhere." I said, "Yes, this is what I was thinking." I asked him what happened after the plate broke and he said that after we made sure everyone was safe and away from the glass, we worked together to clean it up. I asked him what happened next and he said, "Nothing, we just went back to work." We all sat silently again, thinking about this.

I finally turned to this young boy and said, "Well, if breaking glass puts you 'in trouble', should I have asked you to leave our room and go to another room and clean it?" We all sat thinking about this for a moment, when a five year old girl said, "That's just crazy!"

After this remark I thanked them for sharing and helping me to understand more. I just had one last question: "How do you get out of trouble?" This question was met with much quiet, heads lowered. Finally someone said, "You don't."

This conversation stayed with me for days, its lesson deepening. I could tell from my friends common agreement that they felt resigned to the fact that they could not get out of trouble. Not only that, but this could happen at anytime or place because it was a nonsensical reaction that wasn't based on anyone but the adult involved. If you don't know how you get into something, then how do you get out? 

With this in mind I became more dedicated to bringing awareness to my own motivations in my relationships with the children. I began a sifting process to discern whether my needs were being met, or those of the child's. Would the actions I take support a friend's next step and allow the child a full experience, or was it just.....crazy? Could I allow for enough space so that a child's experience was known in real ways, as a tangible journey, rather than something imposed on them without connection to circumstance or reason?

What touches me now, still, in reflecting on this conversation is that the children knew that something was not right. They knew the difference between a simple, natural next step, and one that was artificial. And it is this knowing in them that gives me hope when we as adults forget or ignore this difference. When we replace our own intolerance to feel what is rising up in us....with an intolerance of the child. We miss a moment in ourselves for self-reflection and change. What we do in the next breath can move us further towards relationship with ourselves and a child, or away.

Maren Schmidt: Category Archives

Posted on June 6, 2016 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (3372)

Here are some articles by Maren Schmidt, who presents the online parenting course called, Seeing Your Child the Montessori Way, which is given to each family enrolled in the Montessori Playgroup classes.  These articles, and all that Maren offers, are a wonderful resource for families!

Here is another great article from Maren about the topic of sharing:

A wonderful sharing by Maren about Declaring Independence

A number of  articles from Maren on constructive-discipline 

This is a great workshop on how to Connect with Children, by Maren Schmidt, and it's Free

An insightful sharing on the Sensitve Period of Order in the child..

To view articles in Maren's Kid's Talk newsletter, click here.

Montessori Child Development/the First Year

Posted on June 5, 2016 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (3252)

A wonderful resource for families during the first year of life. The Joyful Child book is one of our textbooks for the Parent-Infant and Child Program, and is included in the course.

Montessori Child Development Stages: First Year 

This is a wonderful writing by Susan Stephonson called, The Music Environment From the Beginning to the End

A Web of Compassion

Posted on May 13, 2016 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (7728)


In my years of teaching I have had opportunities to be with children who seem to bring disruption to the classroom. These are the ones who tend to be louder in body and voice, take up more space, make themselves heard before being seen, and at times leave others quaking in their wake.

The parents of these children might sometimes be met at pick-up or drop-off time from the classroom with a litany of complaints from others of what their child has been up to during the day. All of this within earshot of the child and his/her peers. A theme that is central in this scenario is that the behavior of this child is the focus, yet I believe that many times the child him/herself, is missed.

How is it that this much discussed and exposed child has become the invisible one?

Perhaps it has to do with where we are pointing.

The act of pointing in itself is curious, because it directs everything away from ourselves. What we bring our attention to is separation, the idea that what affects us is out there.

What happens if we turn our hands open, in invitation?

I have begun to gain a deeper and fuller sense of the potential for learning that such children and experiences bring through my own observation and contemplation of this and other questions.

Who is this child?

What happens inside me when this child acts; how do I feel?

Is this child a problem, or expressing what is alive in the entire group?

How can I best serve this child?

What is this child really asking for?


To help bring these questions more into reality, I offer the following example:

A child is working quietly at a table with two other children. Another child is walking aimlessly around the room, and finally stops beside the table. This walking child then takes the work from the sitting child and runs away. The child at the table cries, while other children run after the stealer of work and orders him/her to return it.

The crowd of children gathers around the work-stealer, voicing demands, until he/she pushes them away and someone falls. Many of the children begin talking loudly at once to the pusher-stealer, who is quiet now, turned away.

It is at this time that I have begun to experiment with certain approaches. I go slowly and quietly to the group of children, making my way to the one who served as the instigator. This direction in itself causes interest in the group; why am I going to the one who hurts and not the other?

Once I get to the child, I sit or stand beside, sometimes taking their hand. I may say nothing, or I may ask, “How are you?” Many times when I ask this, the child bursts out sobbing.

This response brings about quiet in the room. If I were to give a feeling sense to what may be happening inside this child, I would say, hopelessness. Once again he/she has ended up in the same place. This is a familiar dark corner that feels tight and self-fulfilling. But is it?

What I have experienced in this very alive moment is that there are, in fact, many doorways begging to be entered. One way to move is to simply sit together. I model this, and everyone follows. We are quiet. We look at this one crying, and it seems like veils are lifted and the person in front of us is not so one-dimensional.

Our breathing changes, we settle, we listen, and then someone says, “Are you hurt?” The child cries harder, bent over, not wanting to answer, or be seen. After a time, another says, “I didn’t know you felt anything.” After some time, another asks, “How can we help?”

It is then that a magical thing happens; we begin to untangle the web that we have woven together. In this loosening of our threads, through discussion and sharing, questions might arise. What was this child expecting when they took the work from another? How welcomed does this child feel when he/she enters our classroom? Have we ever been the one to feel outside of a group of friends, and what does that feel like?

All this time that we are talking, the crying child begins to quiet, to listen. Rather than being left alone after hurting someone and feeling the inevitable, a feeling of belonging begins to stir.

Another part of our web that comes apart is the belief that the actions of the ‘difficult child’ stand alone. How can this be true when each thread of our web is connected to another? We begin to see the ways that we support each other in every instance, whether comfortable or not; that our non-acceptance is a foundation for hurt and misunderstanding.

We can take responsibility for the full circle of our relationships, without judgement. By entering newly opened doorways we start to know what is kind and unkind, and that we must experience both to have compassion for ourselves and each other.

In both the adult and child this leads to a freedom of spaciousness, trust and joy.


What I have learned as a Montessorian Birthkeeper

Posted on May 11, 2016 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (2904)

 In my service as a Birth Doula and Montessori teacher over the past  27 years, I have often noticed a similarity in the needs of the birthing  woman and of the child absorbed in the flow of his/her learning. I  have also noted that the ways to assist each of these profound  efforts are, indeed, quite the same: to help create and protect the  environment, to respect inner wisdom, and to stay out of the way. I  experience the unfolding of labor and birth, and the engagement of  a child, as a wellspring; I watch in wonder and awe at the water  rising and falling, yet cannot know its powerful source. It is a mystery  beyond me.


 In both the woman and the child, there is a natural drive directing  their bodies and actions, which allows them control of their  experience. Each moment is a bridge to the next, bidden by the  unleashing of an irresistible inner urging. As nature intended, there  is only one way forward, and that is one of becoming through being.  A prepared environment that is centered on patience and trust is  essential to permit the woman and child to surrender to their natural  impulses. Ways to consider how to create such environments are  explained in these words, “I have been taught where women are  free, we will learn how they give birth best. They will show us. They  will trust us. Look at them and listen closely.” (Michel Odent, French  Obstetrician and Birth Advocate)


If we consider the mother as the first environment for the child, then this preparation begins as her body supports herself and her baby during the months of her pregnancy. Her sensitivity to preparing the perfect environment to labor and birth is especially acute in the last weeks and days before birth when she experiences a strong desire to be ready. This “nesting instinct” is driven by her powerful intention for the preservation of herself and her unborn child.


 Throughout pregnancy, and during the natural process of labor,  hormones are secreted in the mother and baby which help reduce stress, pain, produce good labor contractions, stimulate breastmilk production, and enhance the ‘falling in love’ period between mother and baby after birth. One hormone released is adrenaline which keeps the mother in a very alert state, where she has intense sensitivity to what might bring harm to her or her baby. If the mother is disturbed during labor, this hormone creates a fight-or-flight response in the mother, which can bring labor and birth to a stop until she again feels safe to continue. We can compare this disturbance to one in which the child who is absorbed in his/her work, becomes disrupted by some external. Once this disturbance happens, the child will cease his/her experience. The moment is erased.


If, however, the laboring mother or the child, has reached a point in their process where they are strongly immersed in their own flow of experience, then no disturbance can unsettle their journey. There is a focus and concentration which, if left alone, is untouched by what is outside. Maria Montessori mentioned this potential in the following, “The child whose attention has once been held by a chosen object, while he concentrates his whole self on the repetition of the exercise, is a delivered soul in the sense of the spiritual safety of which we speak. From this moment there is no need to worry about him - except to prepare an environment which satisfies his needs, and to remove obstacles which may bar his way to perfection." (Dr. Maria Montessori, 'The Absorbent Mind', Clio Press, 248)


These singular moments of striving for what is a common need in both the mother and child, is both simple and beyond words. In the help that we give to women and children, we can reflect on, and remember this, “You are a birth servant. Do good without show or fuss. If you must take the lead, lead so that the mother is helped, yet still free and in charge. When the baby is born, they will rightly say: ‘We did it ourselves!'” – Tao Te