The situation that we find ourselves in because of Covid-19 is unprecedented. It has had a huge impact on the lives of families – both children and caregivers. There has been an uproar that children are suddenly out of school and that they are missing out so much. And many schools have come forward to continue teaching the children through online classes, projects etc. I would like to share the example of my son’s school which is a Montessori school based in Chennai, India.
One of the first communications we received from school was a letter to the parents explaining what a great opportunity this is for children to learn life skills at home. They reminded us to make sure to involve the children in some of the household chores according to their developing capacity. Children can make the bed, dust a shelf, set the table and clear it, wash dishes, help with simple cooking, fold and put away clothes, water and tend to plants. Not all of them of course, but the children could choose what they would like to do and we need to help, remind them to do it consistently – joyfully, in a spirit of collaboration not as a manager or supervisor.
They also sent us a suggested schedule for the day with a list of many online, age appropriate resources that were carefully checked and categorized by the teachers. The list included sites where they could listen to stories or poems, worksheets that could be printed off, documentaries or films they could watch. After watching a documentary or film, there a list of questions that would help children think about what they just watched. They had the option to write down their answers too.
The collection of work was not an overwhelmingly long list. And it was not so limited that we felt that we did not have much of a choice. They had three categories. With math language and other and other included music, yoga, other physical activities and art and craft and drama activities.
All of this was optional. They said if we had found other things to do, great, no problem. But the only thing the children were really expected to do and bring back with them when school reopens was their daily journal. They had to write the date in the journal along with what they did every day. The school sent us an sample page of a journal that we could print off or just use a regular notebook.
Another thing the teachers did was to have an individual conference with each child. They set up an appointment with each child online and chatted with them about what was going on with their lives, asked them if they were comfortable with the activities suggested, if they had any questions etc. These meetings were very fluid and different from child to child.
One last thing they have been doing consistently for the past three to four weeks is having a weekly parent open meeting. The teachers and the parents of a particular class meet once a week and discuss around a topic. The first meeting was a general one where all the parents shared their own experiences and realities and the subsequent meetings were based on a theme. The teachers would first speak for a few minutes about the topic and then they opened the floor up to the parents to hear from them about how they were dealing with that issue or idea. Some of the themes so far have been – life skills, independence, choice and reading.
The last meeting that was held was on the topic of choice. The teachers first talked about how choosing something greatly enhanced the ownership and involvement of the child in that activity. If the child finds it difficult to make a choice, we can give them limited options that they must choose between. It is important that the child know both options offered so they can make an intelligent choice based on knowledge. Once chosen, the child must be help to commit to that choice and complete it.
Many parents shared about how they allow the children to choose, but later, they are not happy with the children’s choice. We must ensure that we give them options that we are okay with and once they choose, we cannot backtrack and say that that is not allowed.
Some parents shared that their children made a choice with enthusiasm and started the work, but half way through they get distracted and lose interest. In that case, if that is not a regular occurrence, we can just join the child, collaborate with them and say, shall we finish this together? And help them finish it. And then later, at a neutral moment, we could bring up that topic and talking about completing activities.
Many of the ideas and activities came from the other parents, each trying different things with their own children, some successfully and some not and we could learn from each other and help each other. As a parent, this support that we have had from the school has been both helpful and enlightening and it has helped us to realise that we are not alone.
By Prabha Karthik
Montessori Teacher, India
Certified Trainer, Arigatou International Learnign to Live Together Programme