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The Role of the Adult

The Role of the Adult


The Adult is a Guide

What does it mean, exactly, to be a “guide” to a child in the Montessori sense of the term? When relating to the child, the adult is present to assist the child along her natural tendencies for development. This means that the adult learns to follow the child’s direction and choices of activity.


The adult is present and aware of the child’s choices, guiding her to interact with her environment and physical activities in appropriate, successful ways. An adult presents a lesson to the child for every activity that is available so the child has a foundational understanding of what to do with each material. Once a lesson is given, the child is free to work with the activity in her own space for as long as she remains interested in the material. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the adult to step back and allow the child the opportunity to engage with her work without the adult’s immediate presence or aid.


"Now the adult himself is part of the child's environment; the adult must adjust himself to the child's needs if he is not to be a hindrance to him and if he is not to substitute himself for the child in the activities essential to growth and development." -Dr. Maria Montessori, 'The Secret of Childhood'


Observing the Child

What does it mean to observe a child who is at work? Developing keen observation skills is a major component of being a constructive guide to the child. Observing a child who is unaware of being watched allows the adult to assess the child’s behaviors. Through watching and assessing how a child interacts with her environment, the adult gains insight to the child’s learning styles, her abilities, and her strengths. 


“Even when helping and serving the children, she [the adult] must not cease to observe them, because the birth of concentration in a child is as delicate a phenomenon as the bursting of a bud into bloom. But she will not be watching with the aim of making her presence felt, or of helping the weaker ones by her own strength. She observes in order to recognize the child who has attained the power to concentrate and to admire the glorious rebirth of his spirit." -Dr. Maria Montessori, 'The Absorbent Mind'


Establishing Limits

Setting, defining, and consistently reinforcing limits within the child’s environment is a way to generate a safe, predictable space for her to have freedom of movement and choice throughout her day. The adult can use a loving yet firm approach with the child to establish what behaviors are acceptable and what is expected behaviorally from one environment to another. Providing this kind of structure helps the child develop self-discipline over time.


"The work of the teacher is to guide the children to normalisation, to concentration. She is like the sheepdog who goes after the sheep when they stray, who conducts all the sheep inside. The teacher has two tasks: to lead the children to concentration and to help them in their development afterwards. The fundamental help in development, especially with little children of three years of age, is not to interfere. Interference stops activity and stops concentration. But do not apply the rule of non-interference when the children are still the prey of all their different naughtinesses." -Dr. Maria Montessori, 'The Child, Society and the World: Unpublished Speeches and Writings'