In these first days at home, you may feel pressure to “keep up with schoolwork.” We’ll get there. Remember that your child’s school experience benefits from the undivided attention of professionally prepared teachers, in a space designed for learning and specifically for the learning of the handful of children who populate it. You may eventually be able to incorporate some of the larger curricular goals of the classroom setting at home, but you should first focus on supporting your child through a difficult and emotional unsettling and preparing your home environment together to be a place in which you can all live, work, and learn together.
The concept of the Prepared Environment is key to Montessori classrooms: that idea that children are naturally peaceful, motivated to learn and contribute and community-focused and that, given an environment free of obstacles, the child’s natural state will emerge without force. In Montessori classrooms, we ask particular design questions:
What concepts do I believe the child is interested in learning?
What materials can I make available for that learning? What does a child need to already know in order to learn this new idea?
How can I make sure the material is didactic? Self-correcting? Beautiful?
How can I support the child in learning independently and with their own agency, choice and voice?
What do I know about these specific children?
What are the limits?
You can ask the same questions at home, and in ways that are developmentally appropriate for your own children. Your child’s teacher at school can rely on their professional preparation, the beautiful Montessori materials and the society by cohesion of the classroom community. You will need to make some other adjustments, and you’ll need to involve your child more in the decision-making for design.
With children in the earliest plane of development, ask these questions as you go about your day together. Step away from your fear that they’re missing something at school and replace it with your attention to the time you can spend together, time which, for most of us, is rare. Let your child participate with you in all the routines of the household.
Today, let’s think about Meal time? What are the concepts your toddler may be interested in doing? What materials do you need to have available for them to explore those concepts? How can you present it beautifully? How can you support your child in doing so independently? How about with children in preschool and Kindergarten?
Today: ask yourself, “How can I make mealtime more supportive to my child’s learning and more peaceful for us as a family?” You’ll have far more time together now to prepare meals with your child, to think through preparation, service, sharing the meal and cleaning up. Let today be focused on thinking through the systems you’ll need to engage your child in the kitchen more often.
Start here: This Montessori teacher, Christina Clemer, offers some great ideas for designing your kitchen to be welcoming to your young Montessori child.
And remember: if your child’s school provides particular curricular expectations while you are at home, complete them, but look for ways for them to happen while you’re together as a family rather than trying to create a school setting at home. Home is not school. It has its own dynamics and comforts, challenges and supports. If your child’s teacher has provided specific learning goals (electronic work to complete, for example, or videos to watch together,) incorporate those into your family time and talk with your child about what you’re viewing or exploring together. Because there are fewer processes to attend to, your child will not likely need as much time at home with your support as they may need at school to accomplish the same academic tasks- there’s no need to think about replicating eight hours of school every day at home- but they will need your help to process through what they’ve learned, to talk about new ideas and ask questions. Look for ways to work those academic goals into your time together. You can have a worksheet open while you’re washing and drying fruit to prepare, slice a banana for the fruit salad, finish two problems on the worksheet, slice an apple, finish two more… by integrating the “have-to’s” of school with the “want-to’s” of time with family, you can model for your child that learning isn’t punitive, even in these unusual times, and that the best learning happens in environments filled with purposeful work and joy.