Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Art of Observation in a Montessori Classroom — Sensitive Periods, Productivity and Humor

NAMC montessori classroom art of observation sensitive periods productivity examining pinecone

A Montessori directress is a skilled observer who uses her knowledge and training to provide children with the necessary guidance to facilitate individual development. A directress frequently observes her Montessori students to determine where they are at developmentally and to guide them to appropriate lessons and activities. The Montessori directress also observes her students to determine what, if any, changes need to be made in the environment to facilitate student growth and development. Perhaps an area is too open or too narrow … a skilled observer will notice if the Montessori environment can be altered to promote safety, encourage ease of movement and overall, create a more productive work space.

Another important part of being a skilled observer is being a meticulous note-taker; doing so through checklists, narrative reports, jotting down quick comments through the day, etc. It is so important to regularly track a child’s progress to ensure you are in tune with their individual needs and to help paint a true picture of where each student is at in all aspect of his/her development.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to observe many children in a Montessori environment, including my own — and I can honestly say that I always learn something new! Observation gives the Montessori teacher a chance to see where a student is developmentally and what skills he or she is working to perfect. It is such a gift to be able to step back and observe without distractions, and I think one of my favorite aspects of observing in my Montessori preschool classroom is being able to hear the interesting and often humorous exchanges between the children.

The Art of Observation in a Montessori Classroom — Sensitive Periods, Productivity and Humor

I’ll never forget the time I was observing two students working with the World Puzzle Map. I overheard one child tell his friend that every Thursday he goes to Antarctica for skating lessons… how cute is that? Or the time I observed two children exploring the items on the Nature Table, and the little girl told her friend that the prickly pine cone felt exactly the same as her mommy’s legs. (I’m sure her mommy would have loved that comment!) Just the other day, my three-year-old student Jordan picked up a shark’s tooth and said to his friend, “Wow, the tooth fairy must be a great swimmer and very brave to have taken this tooth!” The logic of a preschooler is absolutely priceless.

Observing children in the Montessori classroom is truly a skill that takes years to perfect, developed over time with a great deal of practice.

Today, I had the opportunity to observe Jordan, and I noticed many important aspects that will help me be more in tune with his sensitive periods and individual interests. Jordan is definitely in a sensitive period for counting, as he made a point of counting anything and everything that he could find, from the smooth river rocks on the Peace Table to the cutlery on the snack shelf. I observed that he still needs practice with one-to-one correspondence, and consequently, have made a note to myself to provide lessons with the Number Rods and various other counters in the coming weeks. I also noticed that he is in a sensitive period for washing his hands. In a 20-minute period, he washed his hands FOUR times and was clearly proud to be able to do it all by himself!

Over the weekend, I think I will prepare a handwashing activity for the Practical Life area, and I am certain it will be one of Jordan’s favorites. Another observation that struck me is that Jordan has a much harder time focusing on his work when he is at a group table. He works SO much better at an individual table… the difference is like night and day! I will definitely make a point to guide him towards individual tables from now on, until his attention span increases and he learns to tune out distractions more effectively. Over the years I have definitely learned to appreciate the power of observation, and there is always something new to be learned.

This year long series looks at the experiences of teachers, parents, students, and Montessori education itself, as we follow a student through his first year at a Montessori Preschool. Montessori Insights and Reflections of a Preschool Child’s First Year is a collection of useful stories, tips, and information that have arisen from one real student's Montessori journey.

Bree — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, January 5, 2011.


  1. I really enjoy reading these posts as they are truly helpful in envisioning what a Montessori classroom looks like and how all the pieces fit together. Thank you.

  2. Hi Bree,

    When I read your words about how observing children is a skill that takes many years, I had an "Oh how I understand that"! I'v always had a difficult time making notes while I observed. I also read every book I could find about how to observe children and takes note. And yes, it took many years for me too "get it". Thank you for your post. All the post I read are so helpful in understanding the Montessori way, as it is so new to me.

  3. Hi Shelley,

    Thank-you for your kind words of appreciation and I'm pleased that you are finding the posts so helpful. It sounds like you have experienced firsthand the challenges that go hand in hand with observing children and yes, it does take a while to truly "get it". Thank-you for your comment and input!

  4. Hi Cheryl! I'm so glad to hear that you enjoy reading the posts and that they help you to envision what a Montessori classroom looks like. If I can ever provide my support or answer any questions for you, please don't hesitate to ask.

  5. very nice and should be remind in all children house !

  6. very interesting article, it remind me the things that child are doing always has purpose, so be patient and observe. jot it down before I forget. and also observe the next level of the child improving.


Have questions or comments? Let us know what you thought about this article!

We appreciate feedback and love to discuss with our readers further.

NAMC Blog Inquiries Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Search the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

Are you interested in reading back through NAMC's blog articles from years gone by, or for more information on a specific topic?

Browse a select list of our most popular categories below; by clicking on one, you will see every article posted under that topic since 2007. You may also use the lower archive menu to select a year and month, displaying all blog posts in the chosen time frame.

If you are seeking a range of information on a certain topic or idea, try this search box for site-wide keyword results.

Choose From a List of Popular Article Topics

NAMC Montessori Series

Montessori Philosophy and Methodology

Montessori Classroom Management

The School Year

Montessori Materials

Montessori Curriculum

Montessori Infant/Toddler (0–3) Program

Montessori Early Childhood (3–6) Program

Montessori Elementary (6–12) Programs

What is Montessori?

Search Archives for Montessori Blog Posts by Date

Thank you to the NAMC Montessori community!

This year marks NAMC’s 20th anniversary of providing quality Montessori distance training and curriculum development to Montessorians around the globe. Since we began in 1996, we have grown to build a fantastic community of students, graduates, and schools in over 120 countries. We are grateful for your continued support and dedication to furthering the reach and success of the Montessori method. Thank you for sharing this amazing milestone with us!