Parents naturally wonder if their child is on track with his development. We all want to make sure our children are making progress physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively as they get older. So, I am not surprised when parents ask me, “Is my child behind?” or “Is my child on track?” Montessorians don’t ask that question; for us, it is irrelevant because each child works to his ability and where he fits in a bell curve doesn’t matter. It can also be a premature question relating to some children.
It is easy to compare children who are the same age. Some people expect them to be on the same developmental level. For an example, you may notice a child, the same age as yours, walking while your child is still crawling. Or you find out from your neighbor that their six-year old child is reading chapter books and your child, who is seven years old, is just starting to read. Should a parent be worried that their child is behind when they hear information like this? The answer is no. Each person is unique just as each flower that blooms.
When a gardener plants flower seeds in the earth, not all of them sprout at the same time. Even though they all get the same rain and sunlight, the birth of each flower will bloom in its own time. The same is true for the development of children. We don’t know the exact time each child will reach the developmental level we seek, but we do know as we nourish our children each one will reach full potential in a time appointed for each of them. If we expect every student to meet the same skills at the completion of a school year, then every child will meet mastery or make the expected grade of 100 percent at the end of that year. We must remember, children of the same age do not have the same set time to reach certain milestones and academic skills.
One of the main reasons why I love the Montessori philosophy is because it emphasizes the fact that each child is unique. It reminds us to not compare children to each other. As a child grows, develops and mature, the only comparison to be made to that child, is the success of that child to himself. The comparisons that we make are only valuable to see how far that child has progressed. It can be premature to say a child is “behind” because he has not reached the goals that we have set. So instead of looking for our goals, we should look for the day that Dr. Montessori described the day when mastery (or, “completion” in a traditional context) has taken place: “One day some little spirit awakens; the ego of some child takes possession of some object; attention becomes fixed on the repetition of some one exercise; executive skill perfects itself; the irradiation of the child’s countenance indicates that its spirit is being born anew.” So, that child, on that day, is on time and not behind.