To observe is more than to see, it rather means to think about what you see and to shake off outside ideas that creep in to tell you what you are seeing. It means not to be afraid of surprises and to see what is really there, not what is supposed to be there. You can’t even see it if you aren’t looking for it. Even scientists find it difficult.

We have come a long way in our knowledge of childhood, but we still cling to the old ways. We also have a few prejudices of our own times. To really see children we need to look between the cracks because the true nature of the child requires special conditions if it is to reveal itself and to develop.

There is nothing new about child misunderstanding. Long ago children were considered miniature adults and were dressed accordingly. Most of the sins against children are committed by well-meaning adults who see what they expect to see. Today we still tend to think, in spite of evidence to the contrary, that children, as long as they are loved, need mainly custodial care until they are about two, then comes the need for getting them to be clean and neat and to stop touching everything. Most mothers now work, by desire or necessity. The women’s lib movement asks them to be “free” of the care of children that is so very confining, boring and exhausting. Such menial work is not deemed to help a woman realize her potential. Parents come home tired these days and lack the patience required by the little ones. There is not enough time even to observe, so we tend to fall back on the old untruths.

We see what we expect to see, and our expectations seem to have an effect on what children think of themselves, and on their behavior toward the adult who comes up with the expectations.

Children, as they appear to the ordinary person, seem to be clumsy, careless, lazy and destructive. They cry to “get their own way,” or to “get attention.” Of course they do. How are you going to find out anything about the real world if you are left in a playpen with plastic toys? With this sort of expectation there comes a restlessness which the adult cannot dominate. No sort of “discipline” helps. Even when the adult appears to have son, there are the other reactions of naughtiness or tears, greediness, possessiveness. Such a child will not feel capable of doing anything unsupervised and will resent being told what to do and how to do it.

It takes hours and hours of practice to train fat little fingers to grasp and hold things of various sizes and shapes. Children who are called “clumsy” tend to believe it, especially when they watch the dexterity of the adults. Sometimes they stop trying. In one way or another, they react.

Most of us feel that children need to be “trained.” In this training you tell the child “no” then administer punishment, that being all you think he can understand at the early age of three. The fact that he can and does learn at least one language complete with all the grammar by that age is completely discounted. Artificial intelligence experts have yet to come up with a computer data bank equal to such a child.

Children are considered cute, lovable little minions, doing our bidding, coming up with funny little mistakes in syntax, funny little conclusions about things they see. Adults laugh at their mistakes indulgently. They are not even supposed to be embarrassed by such ridicule. In adult company they are to be seen and not heard. Any questioning is impertinence, not to be tolerated.

Children are considered both lazy and incapable. Teachers work very hard to get them to work, to make the school assignments interesting and easy, as if children want to idle away their time. The children need and want to be told that they are special because the adults do not really believe it.

A few years ago all school desks and chairs were fastened to the floor or made so heavy that the children could not move them. This was to keep the children from moving and making noise, which it thought their nature to do. They needed to be listening to the teacher or they could not possibly be learning anything. The need for physical movement came during the half-hour gym periods scheduled carefully by the adults.

Children are held to have a short attention span. This is due to the fact that they do not want to listen all day to what they are told to do. I wonder how many adults would lose their long attention spans under such treatment. The fact that a child will spend hours putting his shows on and off is not even considered except as a nuisance. Adults do not do such things.

As adults we tend to want activities to be a bit useful. We say, “Now you are clean, that is enough, stop. “You are getting all wet.” they say when a child plays in the wash basin. How are you going to find out the properties of water anyway? Listen to a lecture on it?

We must, as we live with the children, be aware that while we work to get something done, they work to perfect their movements. They do things over and over again to get the sequence of actions fixed in mind. It is a thing we cannot do for them, and they demand the chance to do it themselves. They have no sense of time, and will insist on tying their shoes when there are only a few minutes to spare in the family routine. It is most aggravating if you are not aware.

When we speak of a person behaving childishly, we mean that he is silly, inconsiderate, not knowing the proper behavior. Curiosity is not considered childish, whereas it is one of the greatest characteristics of childhood.

When our friends come to visit we show off our children. We dress them up, ask them to count to ten or to play the piano, using an artificially high voice. We make some other demand so that our friends can see that they are obedient. Subjects never neglected are school performance and sports performance.

One of the most fearful expectations is that if the parent does not properly curb all inappropriate behavior the child will grow up spoiled, probably a criminal or a dope addict.

The child is a person that you can only see if you are looking, see the reality under the appearance, the child who works with joy to plumb the depths in himself, trying to tie shoes, climb stairs, put things in the right place, throw a basketball, do everything exactly right. Each conquest brings feelings of joy and love for the environment that enabled it to happen and for the adult who helped just enough and not too much. This real child is eager for knowledge of every sort. He or she will be frank and open, not pandering to adults, but rather respectful and loving.

This is the child you must expect to see underneath the appearances. If you can do this, this is the child you will get. You will be able to stay in charge and not need to demand subservience. You will begin to under temper tantrums better. Best of all, you will be able to relax, you will not need to be constantly on guard lest your precious child grow up badly.

Northwest Montessori School was founded in 1965 by Marietta Rawson, who began her career in education as a public school teacher. After attending a lecture on the Montessori method of individualized education, Marietta was so inspired that she traveled to Italy to take Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) training. Upon her return, Marietta started the first Montessori school in Seattle.

Today Northwest Montessori remains one of a select few AMI-recognized schools in the Seattle area.