Barbara Isaacs looks at the lessons learned during the last six months…
There has been nothing especially Montessori about the first half of 2020 as the world has experienced the Covid pandemic.
However, the many stories shared by Montessori practitioners of this period of time reflect the importance of relationships, of play and sense of belonging and mirror experiences of other early years educators.
The announcement of lockdown has challenged many Montessori nurseries. Like most settings in the voluntary independent and private (VIP) sector, initially the owners as well as employees were anxious about the survival of the business and this is very likely to continue as the new academic year begins.
There is no doubt that many in the VIP sector will not be able to balance their books in respect of the 30-hour grant funding, the additional policy and procedures burdens that COVID has brought with it and the income they will receive from the returning families.
There is also strong evidence that not all families will send their children back to nursery as they themselves reassess their financial situation against family needs and possibilities of future work.
During the months of lockdown we have witnessed a stronger bond growing between settings and families as parents came to realise and appreciate the daily challenges faced by early years educators.
The government expectation that parents would be able to homeschool was supported by many settings by providing families with ideas about activities, and in some cases even lesson plans for these activities.
Suddenly many commercial organisations started to offer free activity packs and suggestions of how to educate children at home.
For many children from toddlers to teenagers – home is a home – not a school, and parents are parents – not teachers, and so it was inevitable that conflicts have arisen and parents realised that teaching is a skilled occupation, and that supporting learning through play is a very viable option when play is sensitively shared with young children.
As the terms of furlough were announced many early years educators took this opportunity to extend their learning and engage with their own families.
Those who remained in employment engaged in story and music and movement time delivered via zoom, prepared activities which they delivered to the children’s homes, started regular conversations with their key children.
They also realised how much they missed the children and their discussions with colleagues at the nursery.
At the same time new relationships were established between early years educators and families, particularly in settings where the owners and managers quickly realised that parents themselves may need help and support.
We found many nurseries have contacted parents for a chat and to find out how they were doing.
They recognised the challenges of isolations, juggling work and parenting, as well as anxiety and real concern about their children’s wellbeing.
They reassured parents about the value of engaging children in tasks of daily life such as helping with cooking, washing and keeping one’s rooms tidy.
They talked about spending time together, playing and exploring nature be it local parks or the countryside.
In many cases these conversations established a closer contact with families and so when the doors of nurseries finally opened children, teachers and parents were happy to see each other and reconnect and be a part of their social bubble.
Everyone benefited from the more relaxed play-based learning, much of which was taking place in the outdoor classroom.
As children played and teachers observed, they realised how much the children benefited from being with their families, how much they have learned since they last attended nursery.
They came to appreciate the value of open-ended play which offers glimpses into children’s experiences in these unprecedented times and the reality of their everyday life.
I wish them well as they prepare for their new experience in their reception classes in September and hope the opportunities to open ended play will continue to support children’s learning as we navigate the “new normal”.
MCI offers distance learning Level 3 & 4 Diplomas in Montessori pedagogy – Birth to Seven (Early Years Educator). Visit montessori.org.uk/mci_training
Barbara Isaacs is a global Montessori ambassador.