Ask A Montessori Teacher - Tips To Survive Schooling At Home
Are you currently home schooling your children due schools being closed or due to self isolation? My two older boys have been home from school since last week. However this was Otis' (pictured, Yr 4) first week using a more formal learning platform with his teacher. It has been difficult to adjust to suddenly having the children at home and navigating the world of online schooling on top of meeting the child's every day social and emotional needs. I reached out to Montessori teacher, Meg Hicks for some advice on surviving this difficult time.
It’s understandable that families are experiencing lots of pressure and stress right now. In the space of a few weeks, everything has changed. Our carefree days of work and school are beginning to feel like a distant memory and we are all chafing with the restrictions on our movements, freedoms and entertainment.
In addition to worries about job security, housing, health and community, we are now being asked to add schooling our children at home to the list. It’s a lot of balls to be juggling... Whilst recognising that we are in uncharted waters, we also want to preserve our Montessori life as much as we possibly can. Here are ten things you can do right now to manage schooling at home while you manage everything else...
1. Remember the Human Tendencies.
Mario Montessori (Dr Montessori’s son) listed these as:
- Abstraction and Imagination
- Concentration/Repetition/Self Perfection
These Human Tendencies are innate, universal traits that require no extrinsic motivation, that guide human development and motivate human behaviour to fulfil universal needs.
We can use these Tendencies to create a healthy, functional, and supportive isolation environment for the duration of these challenging times.
This is the motivation to do something that is purposeful and meaningful, and when completed results in feelings of satisfaction and fulfilment.
Aimless laying around is okay for a few days - allowing ourselves and our families some down time - in complete contrast to our normal busy lives. But ultimately this will reach a natural limit and usually a child’s threshold for aimlessness is reached far quicker than an adult’s.
So start your day off with some intent. Set the tone for your family, by helping each one of them to set their goals for the day. Asking questions like “What do you want to do today?”, is great for kids with big ideas, but younger children and children who are reserved may need a more narrow field to choose from. “Would you like to do this, or that?”
Humans are not just bodies. We have minds and spirits that require nurturing in order to thrive. The drive to protect these unseen parts of ourselves is equally as strong as the drive to protect ourselves physically.
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs is: 1) Physiological Needs; 2) Safety Needs; 3) Belongingness and Love Needs; 4) Esteem Needs; 5) Need for Self-Actualisation. His theory of psychological health says that we depend upon the fulfilment of these needs in this order.
When thinking about meeting our own needs and the needs of our children during these trying times, let’s not forget about the needs that go beyond their physical bodies.
This is referencing our desire to familiarise ourselves with our situations, environments, and surroundings, understanding our place in that environment and functioning optimally within that space. Given that most of us would usually not spend all day, every day inside our homes, much less all at the same time, this is going to require some adjustment. When we find ourselves in altered circumstances, we are unable to focus on anything else until this powerful urge to reorient ourselves to our new circumstances has been satisfied.
So be prepared for a period of adjustment for everyone. Try not to change everything at once. Try to keep some semblance of sameness where you can to reduce the shock. If you have to introduce new rules, procedures, routines, then prioritise them and introduce them one at a time, with time to adjust factored in.
Once I have explored my own intimate environment, I am moved to explore the wider world. During this time, the chafing feelings of being trapped inside are heightened - particularly for older children - because of our inbuilt need to explore. So for now we must be prepared to meet this need for newness and exploration by providing stimulation for busy minds.
Learning a new skill is a great way to satisfy this need. Influential 1970’s educational reformist, John Holt wrote an excellent book entitled, Never Too Late, to document his learning process after taking up the cello at age 40. According to Holt, children come into the world biologically driven to learn. He suggested that the child is curious, wanting to make sense of things, to find out how things work, and gain competence and control over himself and his environment. The child, Holt said, is patient and willing to tolerant an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, and ignorance as he waits for meaning to come to him.
Provide opportunities to explore the world, if only virtually, if only through individual pursuits.
Although the sensitive period for order is at its peak in the toddler years, the human desire to create and maintain order in the face of the universal laws of entropy, remains throughout our lives. How often have you been faced with an important deadline, only to find yourself frantically cleaning the pantry or the linen cupboard?
Humans thrive in spaces that are well-ordered with a place for everything and everything in its place. But strangely, we also find it challenging to maintain those spaces. Now throw in the added of complication of the whole family being at home 24/7 for an extended period of time, and suddenly we’ve got issues.
Establishing some order in these three areas will be helpful - 1) Physical Spaces; 2) Relationships, 3) Time. Your family will function better when you can provide Rhythm, Routine and Ritual. There will be less conflict if ordered homes, stable relationships, and a predictable structure to the day are created by you, and maintained by everybody.
The tendency to interact with our environment and with each other. The word communicate stems from the Latin, communis, meaning to share or to connect. Are we not so blessed to live in a world that is truly so connected through technological developments and the human supra-nature (a term coined by Dr Montessori to describe the world created by humans). Imagine trying to navigate this 100 years ago, as in the times of the Spanish Influenza!
Honour your family’s need to connect, share and communicate by intentionally creating space for each member to express themselves, to connect with friends virtually, and to share their ideas and thoughts with others. Keeping a diary, starting a portfolio of artworks, recording a podcast...
Our human imaginations are powerful things. During the first plane of development (birth to around age 6) we use our experiences within the real world to begin to create an abstract view of that world. This passage to abstraction is fully realised in the second plane of development (age 6 to the start of adolescence) when we are assisted by our amazing capacity for imagination. The human power of imagination allows us to explore possibilities that we have never experienced, devise solutions for challenges that we are yet to face, create something which has never existed, and understand events which have never taken place.
During this time of enforced separateness, let’s do our best to provide the materials for our children to express the full extent of their imaginations so that we can fulfil their need for creativity. Try to be supportive of wild ideas and fanciful imaginings, even when your adult mind can’t see their potential.
The first step in developing the powers of concentration is interest and attention. Montessori teachers watch carefully for the seeds of concentration when observing the children in their communities. This requires careful watching, and measured waiting, always careful to never interrupt the beginnings of interest and the first directed attention a child gives to a task. An important factor in generating and sustaining interest is freedom of choice. So wherever possible allowing your children to choose their activities will give feelings of power and autonomy, which are strongly correlated with interest.
Once your child shows interest in work, and they have focused their attention on an activity, it is important that you recognise the importance of the moment. Don’t interrupt! This moment will lead to sustained concentration over time, as well as the drive to repeat until the desired level of competence has been achieved.
Children who are able to attend, concentrate and strive for perfection are well set up for success in both school and life. These cognitive self-management skills are what modern psychologists call executive functions. Montessori home environments that honour the development of these skills over time, and scaffold their development intentionally, are a great support to the child.
To be exact is to be precise. Exactness is what learning is all about. We experiment in our environment, we learn something which entices us to a deeper level of concentration, and we strive for a repeat experience with a greater degree of success. We all seek to become experts in some way. We gain satisfaction from our skill and competence and we are then motivated to sustain that activity.
If everything we do ends in frustration or failure we are unlikely to be motivated to continue that activity independently. We are more likely to require some external motivator (promise of reward, or threat of punishment - they are opposite sides to the same coin) to sustain our interest and investment in it.
Providing children with scaffolding to achieve exactness, precision and ultimately, success, in their chosen work, will ensure that they are motivated to continue that work independently and with intrinsic motivation. So if you are invested in a particular activity succeeding in your home environment, be sure to set it up so that it is interest-matched, scaffolded for success, and offers opportunity for mastery.
In conclusion, our home environments during this time of upheaval and uncertainty need not be a mirror image of our children’s school learning environments. But if we can understand the fundamental psychological principles upon which those environments are based then we will be able to meet the needs of children in authentic ways. And that will, in turn, lead to fulfilling shared experiences which feed our human spirits and keep our families together and strong.
Meghan's words are always so calming and reassuring. This is so valuable and it gives me lots of ideas on how I can support my children and my entire family. I hope you find it useful too.
How are you managing? Has your school given you a lot of work to do at home? How is the transition going? Otis' (Yr 4) teacher is working with the children online from 9am to 3pm on weekdays, Otis still has all of his usual classes like maths, art, science, even yoga! I have loved watching him work this week and feel like we have all grown so much!