The concept of “parent-researcher” and Montessori


When I released this term “Parent Researcher” in 2003, many people became enthusiastic, each bringing their own definition.

I welcomed all this, while feeling that in this “container” there was a very specific contribution to serve the mission of parenting.

This led me to decipher my intuition and to confront it within a network of parents with whom I was starting a form of applied research.

This is how I built step by step the Parent-Researcher Workshops®, an educational approach where we learn to live education, the mind free from erroneous beliefs about children’s development, through a marked path we practice taking into consideration the conditions favouring the development of the child’s potential and activating his buried parental resources.

The Parent Researcher Concept

The concept of Parent Researcher was naturally rooted in the work.
Indeed, among the multitude of exciting educational proposals that I frequented as a parent, educator and then editor-in-chief of L’enfant et la Vie at the time, it was Maria Montessori’s contribution to the educational sciences that particularly struck me as the one that would become my first reference and the object of all my attention.

Montessori that I discovered in 1988, the year my first child was born, thanks to my involvement in a Nascita centre.

It should be noted that the first Nascita centre was created in Rome in the 1950s at Maria Montessori’s request. The northern one was founded by Jacques and Jeannette Toulemonde, at whose school I went for twenty years.

They had gone to the school of Michel and Fanny Lanternier formed directly by Maria Montessori and her son Mario; the two couples were also friends and close to the Montessori movement in France. So I benefited from this history passed on generation after generation. 

Child explorer looking for parent researcher

The parent who becomes an educational researcher lives with an open mind. This attention towards the “living” whatever the times and their challenges, precisely meets the expectations of the born explorer who is the child conquering the world, not to possess it but to live at ease.

Rather than a concrete or cotton wall that hurts him, he finds in the parent researcher a space where he can rest, repair, oppose and give meaning to his existence through his experiences. He likes to feel that he is welcomed into his powerful need to gain his autonomy by himself, that he is seen in his singularity, that he is taken seriously in the small and large things that make up his life.

With these adults, he has every right to be in formation, to be born to himself step by step. He then prepares secretly, slowly, to reveal and assume the unique person he becomes. 

Some of the skills of the parent researcher

The art of observation

The first skill consists in learning the art of observation, Maria Montessori says what is at stake when she writes:

It is frequent for an insignificant fact to open up unlimited horizons for us, because man is a researcher by nature, but if these insignificant facts are neither discovered nor recorded, then progress is not possible.

In this exercise, the thought is non-judgmental, benevolent, the attention is total, and the look placed on the child reveals this inner state. It is about letting go of what you think you know, or wish for, to practice doing nothing (except common sense), like the seeker looking for small signs of reality that show him the way.

This non-action has nothing to do with what might be mistaken for passivity. On the contrary, it is the result of a voluntary and courageous decision.

It is a profoundly educational and very dynamic gesture that leads to the discovery of new things, to making hypotheses (with others if possible), to making sense of the child’s self-evidence, whether or not he has the words.

This implementation leads to fewer unintentional interruptions that are so frustrating for the child concentrated in a freely chosen activity.

It promotes support as close as possible to the child’s life momentum. It leads to wonder when the observer becomes aware that he is a witness of humanity under construction.

Identifying the change

The second skill is a question of identifying the stages of change through which every child who is born and goes through over the course of the twenty-four years dedicated to his or her human formation passes.

From the psychic embryo at birth, to the politician freely engaged in the city, once a young adult, this long period is made to add, one after the other, all the components necessary for the establishment of a constructed personality.

Parents must develop their ability to recognize, observe and act according to the phenomena, which are very observable, of children’s growth laws,” writes Renilde Montessori, Maria Montessori’s granddaughter, for whom they are “human rights that are common to all humanity.

Much more than a “I know this”, it is a matter of validating – through observation, of course – this universal reality of the laws of development. Thus illuminated the adult next to the child offers a peaceful atmosphere, a chosen material that opens the child to the world.

And above all, he lives a mode of relationship in accordance with the specific needs of the child in the period he is going through. Acknowledging the existence of natural laws of child development is a real rest for the parent: he or she is not responsible for animating the child from the outside, since the child is built from the inside. 

Supporting sensitive events

The third area of work for the parent who becomes an educational researcher is to support the sensitive manifestations that occur throughout the child’s day – and sometimes at night.

Joy, peace, relaxation, taste for life or hatred, anger, sadness, feeling of injustice, humiliation, disgust, fears…, etc.

It often begins with emotions to welcome, to contain.

In a second step, put words into it, then try to understand its genesis in order to make it something of a builder for him. This is the ideal way out of emotional chaos, impulsivity and inner concreting. The more adults practice this lexical field, the more the child learns to “say” himself, too, by impregnation.

The child, the young person who accesses what is happening in him and questions him will gradually get to know himself and lead his life in reference to him. At the same time, he can also make himself known to others. The sensitive child shows that he or she is a great living person, with needs, aspirations and feelings.

I hope he meets adults who are able to receive all this with kindness and deep respect.

The research parent does not spare himself from frequenting his own inner world if he wants to be at the child’s side in this essential part of him.

Authority and self-discipline

The fourth skill is to establish an authority that promotes self-discipline, the ability to obey not one’s impulses or any form of training but oneself.

This form of authority can be based on what Maria Montessori calls “human tendencies”.

It is a set of internal impulses that pushes the child to become a person sufficiently responsible for himself to be comfortable in the world he is involved in. Very often, lack of attention or a lack of knowledge of these impulses by adults, but also caught up in “the media machinery of the globalized whim”, as Philippe Meirieu calls it in his latest book, leads the child to manifest challenging behaviours.

It thus expresses that its internal development is hindered. It is then that the war between children and adults begins; they no longer understand each other, leading to authoritarianism and laxity depending on the time and the field.

“Obedience is really the last phase of child development,” says Maria Montessori. Indeed, saying yes freely to someone else’s will means that one has gone through oneself first.

Two conditions favour this maturation: if the child feels that the other wants his good (otherwise he submits or revolts, everyone experiences it) and if what is asked of him is in phase with his “possible”.

Freedom is born of acts that generate order and its exercise makes it profoundly happy, these are landmarks for the research parent who is also a witness to this ability to refer to himself while being attentive to the common good. 

Putting the Parent Researcher Concept into Practice

I welcome into my group of childminders, Maguy, 55, and Clarisse, 30, both of whom have been childminders for the past three years.

One is a grandmother and knows nothing about new pedagogies, the other knows a lot about them and is enthusiastic about them.

Beyond the difference in age and experience, they have another thing in common: the desire to progress, to make sense of their practice despite the expectations of some parents who want their children to do as many early learning activities as possible.

The stakes are high for these children, whom they sometimes take in up to forty hours a week. There is no age to live this audacity in the face of change. 

It’s not very expensive either. Thus Justine, who sees her daughter going back and forth on this tree trunk in search of balance, still leaves her with this little moment of intense concentration effort, rather than rushing the departure. She knows that they have a long drive ahead of them. The educator or parent researcher is moving in the direction of life.

What results from the concept of parent-researcher

Being a parent researcher is not easy.

We say goodbye to the recipes that can be applied in a few quickly learned techniques; we accept that there is not THE right answer; we drop the “it was better before” and chooses to trust life and its surprises despite everything.

In this way, we fully endorse Maria Montessori’s words for whom “The only thing life cannot do is to remain stationary”.

The parent-researcher has found a certain inner seat. They are happy to be that parent in that world, alongside those children. Free, their deep values and intuitions remain a reference and a force in adversity and opposing currents. Their educational gestures, enlightened by all the attitudes they gradually appropriates, becomes creative, fertile, flexible and happy, but not easy! That’s why they don’t stay alone. 

In this environment, the child in turn learns by osmosis to refer to himself. It will be seen in small strokes until he affirms his singularity at his time! The parent researcher drops the time clock and any comparison.  

Maria Montessori’s granddaughter, Renilde Montessori, wrote to me in 2001:

It is very desirable to make Montessori at home by acting according to the principles of education as an aid to life that is Montessori pedagogy.

Renilde Montessori

By building this concept and this marked out path of the “parent-researcher”, in a constant interaction between the work and the field, I hope to contribute to it.