As we look ahead to the return to onsite learning with joyful anticipation, feelings of overwhelm, confusion, sadness or anxiety may also arise in children and adults alike. With a year of big changes and fluctuations under our belts, a return to on-campus learning will be yet another big adjustment.
In our work as Montessori educators, we know that the best way to manage the unexpected is to prepare thoughtfully for what is predictable. In preparation for this big change, the return to on-campus learning, we have brainstormed a list of things that may be supportive of the children and adults who are returning to school and work.
Independence and Self-Direction
Independence and self-direction are key attributes we focus on at school because they build the child’s competence, which leads to confidence and resilience. These qualities are naturally developed as children engage with the prepared classroom environments and develop concentration.
Before the pandemic disrupted our normal school days, the oldest children on campus were working towards an impressive level of independence and self-direction. As a consequence of the limitations of Distance Learning, they may have grown more reliant on adult direction for work choices and structure over the past year and a half.
With this in mind, it is helpful for parents and caregivers to provide plenty of opportunities for independent work and play at home. It will be helpful to have your child practice independently structuring portions of their days. In the classroom, we use a three-hour work cycle, which we believe is a good amount of time for work and rest. At home, this might look like screen-free independent play, chores, gardening, artwork, or reading. Getting our students reacquainted with making wholesome, independent choices will help to achieve a smoother transition back to the classroom.
Reducing/Eliminating Screen Time
This summer will be a great time to unplug as much as possible. Fortunately, the summer weather pushes us all to get outdoors and enjoy nature more often! Screens reduce the child’s need to seek additional sensorial stimulation in their environment. We encourage you to move away from so much screen time and towards more puzzles, games, and outdoor activities to support your child’s return to a screen-free environment.
Some children have become tremendously tech savvy, and their investment in their online activities may require some strategic weaning. Some children may be most successful with a clean break away from their devices, while others may wish to continue some of their computer-based pursuits. However, reducing screen time is perhaps the most important way you can support your child’s engagement in their in-person experience at school.
Building Trust with Other Children and Adults
Younger children will benefit from practicing goodbye routines and rituals as a Grace and Courtesy Lesson. For example, your child may want to, “hug, squeeze, kiss!” then wave, and walk through the door. It is fun to establish and practice these routines at home, and then practice them when you drop your child off with a grandparent or at a playdate.
For children who have been learning from home, we recommend that you begin to find ways to separate from your child for short periods of time this summer, if at all possible. Consider enrolling your child in outdoor sports activities, camp, or play group, as you feel comfortable. Other options include having a sleepover at a relative’s house, or having some playdates where you drop off your child and return later, to get your child accustomed to being away from their home family unit.
If your child has been learning from home, they may be rusty at navigating social conflicts. Frequent discussions and real-life practice in active listening, talking through disagreements, and resolving issues will support their communication skills.
Hiking with friends or family will create the need for sorting out disagreements, such as which path to take when there is a fork in the trail. Pausing when someone needs to stop to tie a shoelace, take a rest, or have a sip of water, will allow your child to practice patience, and put the needs of the community before their own.
It will be an adjustment for children to spend full school days with other children and adults. These social situations outside of the home will offer your child opportunities to practice interacting with other children, and to develop a sense of empathy for the needs of others.
Children often let their guard down at home, since we all feel most safe with the people we love. They will need to rebuild their will, using what they know of Grace and Courtesy to communicate respectfully and kindly, even if things do not go their way.
Create Eating and Sleeping Routines
As we get closer to September, getting back on a regular sleep and eating schedule will help your child be best prepared for full days back on campus. Decreased energy levels may impact your child’s social, emotional, and physical stamina. It is wise to start talking now about your child’s lunch and snack preferences, as they will not have the liberty to browse the kitchen throughout the day when they are at school! Plan on creating an evening routine that supports an earlier bedtime and allows time for planning and packing protein and energy-filled snacks and lunches for school.
Older children will benefit from having their own alarm clock, so that they can become independent and responsible for managing their time at home, as well as at school. A suggestion for children who are independent writers and readers: invite them to make a chart listing the things they need to accomplish before leaving for school each morning, such as: packing a lunch and a snack, getting dressed, brushing teeth, making bed, clearing dishes from breakfast table, et cetera. This list can be used to guide and build your child’s independent functioning during their evening and morning times at home, which in turn increases confidence in their ability to manage some personal and community needs at school.
Celebrating Growth and Preparing for Transition
We have all learned a lot about flexing with change during this long, strange year. Through the experience, perhaps we have become stronger as individuals and as a community. Still, as we approach yet another big transition, a delightful shift back to in-person learning, we must make the time to prepare ourselves and the children.
We are always here to support your process, so please reach out any time.