There have been several posts on social media from various individuals and organisations commenting on schools providing “work” for children to do at home, taking the route of “home-schooling” and criticising those Montessori schools who have taken this path.
As a Montessori school owner, principal and guide for almost 30 years, I respectfully share a different perspective. Our school has chosen to go the route of digital learning for many reasons but the two most dominant are – to ensure our school survives Covid-19 and to ensure our children maintain a connection to school their friends and their learning experiences.
Let’s look at the first reason – the reality is that schools are both learning community and businesses. Not profit making machines – simply businesses. This means we require an income to cover our expenses. And 75% of our expenses lie in our human resources – our teachers, assistants, support staff such as cleaners and grounds men and outsourced experts. In order to get parents to see the value and importance of continuing to pay their school fees (our ONLY source of income), we need to give them value. And for parents this translates into meaningful and continued learning experiences for their child.
To tell parents to find ways to bring Montessori into every day life is simply not enough. It sounds lovely – until you consider most parents are working from home, no longer have the support of domestic workers and are juggling much more than usual.
As a single parent, I most definitely appreciate all of the direction being offered to me in order to engage with my son – and I am an experienced Montessori teacher. Imagine the parent in your school who is, under normal circumstances, a Chartered Accountant whose knowledge and experience of children is limited to the age of their oldest child. This might be 18 months.
Whilst I totally agree that a worksheet-based approach is not ideal, and is misplaced in a fully prepared Montessori classroom, in this instance it is not the end of the world. We have taken responsibility to carefully curate our digital content to offer much more than a worksheet. But if the child at home chooses to do a worksheet, is this not considered choice? And is that not “Montessori”?
Let’s come to our children/students. Our Montessori Philosophy works in part from the famous triangle of the child the prepared environment and the teacher.
The child remains the child wherever they are. They are the easy part of this equation.
The environment needs to be prepared, based on the child’s needs, sensitive periods and tendencies. To expect parents to suddenly know how to respond to these needs at the different planes of development, without direction is just crazy – considering how many other balls they are juggling.
We need to become the Guides or Directresses of the Parents so that they have a way to help their child engage in meaningful work.
And the ONLY way to do that under the conditions we currently live is digitally.
And so the digital classroom becomes a prepared environment – curated by the same people we love and trust to do this every other “normal” day. Essentially that is what an actual Montessori environment is – a curated, bespoke space created to meet the needs and tendencies of the children who use it.
And like a classroom, the contents of the digital classroom are critical. We are obviously limited in providing the concrete, beautifully crafted Montessori materials. So what do we do if no one has equipment? Say sorry we can’t provide any education…
Absolutely not. We use our own human tendencies of creativity, exploration, discovery, and more to provide the best possible alternatives. It is a true test of our Montessori training and experience.
In this crisis, do we need Nienhuis Red Rods or can we encourage children, through their parents, to go into the garden, find sticks and twigs of differing lengths, arrange them from longest to shortest. We can even encourage them to explore with a tape measure and make a fairly accurate set of rods. As an additional extra, if we sent a worksheet with it of the red rods to cut out and arrange in order, paint, stick them onto a piece of paper – what is the harm? Is the child still not learning about length?
Having a digital classroom does not mean you lose your authentic practice. It simply means be creative, support the children by allowing them to continue learning with their parents – and with guidance for the parents.
None of this is easy, it is new for everyone and needs collaboration, integrity and putting in the very best effort we can. Not any different to in-school practice.
The reality for this generation is that digital learning is a reality. Part of what Dr. Montessori emphasized in her approach was ensuring there is adaptation to the environment in which the children live. We need to be looking not only at our response to Covid-19 but to our response going forward.
That is what will contribute to the sustainability of your school - your authentic Montessori school.