The Value of Observation

Last week I had the experience of accompanying my grand daughter Claire to her Montessori School Halloween costume procession. I was struck and not for the first time by the way these preschool children have been taught to conduct themselves. The children approach one another with a directness of gaze and openness of expression that communicates interested curiosity. They have a way of approaching one another, signaling interest and then waiting for the approached child to respond. As I observe them behaving in this way sooner or later a child approaches me, looks me straight in the face and asks “who are you- are you Claire’s Dad”? “No”, I reply. “I am her granddad”. The child then tells me “You talk funny”. Of course what they are referring to is my New Zealand take on what in Britain is referred to as BBC received pronunciation of the Queen’s English. My heart opens under the direct gaze of such curiosity which is devoid of judgement and filled with innocent observation.

Montessori education strikes the modern world as somewhat odd in its description of the educative process as work and its belief in the child controlling the pace of their own learning. I approve of this and have always been impressed by the way Claire has been taught to communicate with the world around her. Long before she could talk she was taught the phrase “I need help”. Armed with this simple phrase she was able to elicit appropriate responses from those around her which avoided the build up of frustrated rage so often seen in little children battling to make their desires known. Like her class mates, she too approaches the world with open-faced innocent curiosity which facilitates observation rather than snap judgement. Observing two children arguing one child simply offers the other the observation, “those are not very nice words”! How different our world might be if we adults could emulate this practice of offering one another observations on behavior. If we could simply report to one another the impact for us of an other’s words or actions we might avoid the escalation of anger and hurt that results from our usual practice of delivering judgements upon one another in accusatory tone and form.

I am left wondering how many of my life’s hard lessons I could have been avoided had I enjoyed  the kind of formational start in life that it gladdens my heart to see 5 year-old Claire enjoying?

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Episcopal Priest currently Interim Dean at Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona.
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