This week Otis (6 years) had a panic attack at school. He has recently transitioned from the Cycle One (3-6yrs) to the Cycle Two (6-9yrs) classroom and the change has been difficult for him. Sometimes the transition from one class to another is smooth and seamless, other times it can be a little bumpy.
The physical layout of our school and their more formal processes have led to a less natural transition than I have previously experienced and would have liked. His panic attack is a reminder that children need support through this process, even if the outward signs are that they are coping.
During the transition, the relationship between the teacher and the child is very new. Montessori teachers require an intimate knowledge of the child and how they learn and this takes time to establish. The child also needs this time to learn about the teacher, to find their place in their class and to adjust to their new peers.
So what can parents do to support their child through this process?
First I would recommend that parents have some understanding of the new environment and the teacher's expectations. In Cycle Two the child is required to be a lot more independent and the Cycle One class is designed to prepare them for this. I suggest parents:
- Meet with the new class director or teacher before or during the transition process to discuss expectations, get to know each other and to ask any relevant questions.
- Know and understand the logistics of the new class, what can the child take for lunch, is there a refrigerator or microwave, what day is sport or music, where do they put their belongings, do they need to bring their own pencils, how is the best way to communicate with the teacher.
- Book an observation of the classroom. This is especially relevant if the parents haven't observed in a Cycle Two classroom before.
- Read, research and educate themselves about Montessori education and the child in the second plane of development. Child of the World, Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+ and Children of the Universe, Cosmic Education in The Montessori Elementary Classroom are both important books.
- Talk to other parents who have children in the same class or who have recently gone through the same process. Ask questions and learn from them but remember every child (and parent's) experience will be different.
How can parents support their child at home especially if they feel the child is struggling? Parents can provide:
- Space and time. Space to think and talk, time for quiet play and free play. This isn't the time to schedule extra after school activities.
- Familiarity. Familiar sounds, foods, smells. This isn't the time to make any (other) big changes in the child's life.
- Patience and understanding. Patience for mistakes, for outbursts and for up and down emotions.
- Unconditional love. When Otis is upset he lashes out at his brother, so this love and patience needs to extend through the family.
- Possibly more one-on-one time. This can be a good time to take some extra long nature walks or participate alongside the child in some of their favourite activities (baking, painting, gardening etc).
If the child has transitioned without any close friends I recommend asking the child who they like to work with (in the new class) or who they play with at lunch and arrange some playdates outside of school. As much as possible I recommend making the playdates with just the two children to build up trust and the connection between two friends, with group playdates there are often times when children get or feel left out. It's nice also to bond with other parents from the same class and this is much easier to achieve in a one on one environment. I wouldn't arrange a playdate without my child's permission, don't set them up with a child who you think they might like to play with (you could be wrong) and it doesn't have to be with the child closest to them in age, sometimes children a year or so apart can become good friends too! Let it be child led!