Thoughts on the importance of observation as a respectful form of education.
Observation is a natural capacity that enhances awareness and kindles a desire to learn in the same way that silence is necessary to develop a healthy mind and body. As adults, we sometimes forget to value the process of deep reflection. Often, we interact with children through structured learning and overtly adult-guided experiences. However, quite observation is necessary for learning, and vital to the process of becoming ourselves. It is important to allow children to spend time in deep absorption and reflection without distractions. For example, when we organise an activity, the children come to interact (or not) on their own terms. We do not interrupt a child’s concentration on something else to tell them to come. It is not necessary to announce when we have an activity prepared. Children are already masters of observation. We set the scene and then allow the (interested) children to come to the activity when they are ready to interact within the setting in their own natural way. In these moments, the most of the communication occurs as facial expressions, eye contact, gestures and seeing the arrangement of the activity. We, of course, vocally communicate a lot with each child throughout the day in times of confirmation of actions, explaining different ways we may need to interact, explaining a process, setting limits, reading a book, singing songs together, while changing a diaper, communicating through a conflict, letting them know we see how they put a lot of effort into a plate of “invisible” food, etc. We reinforce self awareness by communicating with the children about what is going to be done, or is happening, while allowing plenty of time for them to respond.
It is true that infancy is a time of dependency. Nevertheless, children should be allowed to do things for themselves. We provide a safe appropriate space for the infant to freely initiate their own movements and investigations. In moments of struggle, we pause to see if the child is capable of consoling themselves or solving their own problems or conflicts. Often in these moments, we vocally let the child know that we see that they are trying to discover a solution as we observe their needs.
Giving children choices as often as possible gives them the autonomous comfort that they have some control of their lives. Through allowing them to make simple decisions, we help them to develop positive self-esteem. This prepares them to adapt to situations in which they don’t have the option of making a choice.
“We observe carefully to understand the infant’s communications and his needs. The more we observe, the more we understand and appreciate the enormous amount and speed of learning that happens during the first two or three years of life. We become more humble, we teach less, and we provide an environment for learning instead” — Magda Gerber