Montessori and the Pandemic
“Am I hot? No Cameron I’m not!” says Mom, a little confused. It’s Saturday morning, and 3-year-old Cameron runs out of the kitchen to the dining table, climbs on his chair and marks out something on a piece of paper with his pencil. Then he runs back and asks “Cough? Shneeesh?”
“Errrr, no Cam…” says Mom, kneeling down in front of Cameron, and still trying to figure out what he’s up to. He quickly whips out a large building block out of his pocket and holds it close to her forehead, and then looks at it intently. Then he runs back to his paper on the table to make a note on his list.
“OH MY GOD! You’re screening me? Like Ms. K does at school in the morning? Is that what you’re playing, Cam? Did you just take my temperature?” asks Mom, with a giggle.
“I’m not playing, Mom. Important!!! Ms. K says we have to be safe!”
What Works Well at Montessori…
The pandemic has affected all of us in some way or another. And though many of us don’t realize it, children are affected too. When Learning Tree Montessori in Whitby reopened after three months at the end of June, many parents decided not to return their children to school immediately. It was heart wrenching to see children remember their friends when, one by one, they returned to school, and then didn’t quite know if they could hug their friend or not.
Many ask what changes we’ve made at our Whitby Montessori school to adapt to the threat of Covid-19. A lot of the changes we’ve made have come at the recommendation or insistence of the Ministry of Health, or the Ministry of Education. Screening in the morning of everyone who enters the school is one of them. Even teachers and assistants are screened by asking a few questions and checking everybody’s temperature. Enhanced cleaning is another challenge we’ve had to, and quite frankly want to, overcome. Separating Cohorts where children and staff from the different rooms don’t mix is another precaution we take very seriously.
But the Montessori method itself seems geared quite well towards distancing expectations. It’s very difficult to keep children of this age apart from each other, especially when they do activities together. A child entering another child’s personal space is natural as it’s how they tend to socialize. However, in a Montessori environment no two children are working on the same material. They each pick their own activity, and take it to their own place at a table or their own mat on the floor, and no other children interferes with what they’re doing. So, through most of the day, the children see what each other are doing, but generally stay apart as they’re trying to accomplish something different to each other. When they’re working hard at their activities, it’s quite easy to keep everyone apart.
And What Doesn’t…
Having said this, the adults in the room can’t wait till this challenge of the pandemic is behind us. Teachers in the room do wear masks all day. This is bothersome, but they are quite used to it now. What bothers them most is when they communicate with the children. A lot of learning happens during communication.
When you talk to a child, you’ll often see them look at your mouth. They stare, and they often slowly mimic the movement of your mouth. And then we’ll feel annoyed because they still didn’t seem to listen to us! This is how a child learns words and how to communicate. It’s not just sound, they naturally observe the movement of the mouth and tongue. Unfortunately, children miss out on that when the speaker is wearing a mask!
This is quite apparent when Montessori adults introduce activities to children. Most of it is done in silence! They’ll demonstrate using their hands and fingers, and a child will follow what they’re doing. As soon as the adults speaks you’ll see a child whip their head up and look at the adult’s mouth. And this distracts from the purpose of showing the child the activity. But other activities, like teaching a child the sound of a letter, require verbal communication.
A child not being able to see our mouths is quite a frustration. But, as with every challenge the pandemic has brought on us, we must learn to adapt.