Schools and nurseries across the country are desperately trying to work out how social distancing can work now and into the future. With no timescale for when the Covid-19 crisis will end, it is not just a question of meeting government guidelines but allaying the fears of parents.
Many people will be wondering how these environments could ever be compatible with social distancing. Yet the authentic Montessori education we offer at the Maria Montessori Institute School, which focuses on child-led learning based on the original approach devised by Maria Montessori could offer some surprising solutions. In this blog, featured in The Telegraph, we outline five ways Montessori education can support social distancing and maintain our children’s well-being:
Reason # 1 – Spacious and well-ordered environment
Montessori classrooms offer an uncluttered and enticing environment specifically designed for children at each stage of their development. At our London Montessori school sites we are lucky that our children enjoy large spacious rooms with fewer pupils per room, but the careful use of the space is also key. Our classrooms are meticulously cared for, which encourages the children to take care of them too. The children return learning materials to the shelf after they have used them, so it is only be a small step to encourage children to clean materials after use too.
Reason # 2 – Independent and confident children
A central part of the Montessori approach is the focus on child-led learning which nurtures children’s independence and confidence. Our children are given greater freedoms and responsibilities which encourages them to take responsibility for their actions and be considerate to others, making it easier for them to comply with social distancing measures and more emotionally prepared for change. The focus on independence of mind also stood our pupils in good stead for the remote learning we offered during “lockdown”. Elementary (6-12-year-old) pupils have achieved some amazing things at home such as producing stop motion animation films or setting up their own Etsy shop.
Reason # 3 – Hygiene and self-care
From an early age our children are encouraged to practice good hygiene and to care for their own person. They remove outdoor shoes and put on slippers on arrival and hang up their own coats and bags. Children take it in turns to set up lunch and snack tables and to clear up after mealtimes. They are responsible for washing their hands and faces as necessary after eating, going to the toilet or playing outside or with art materials. As the Covid-19 crisis unfolded in March 2020 we increased our emphasis on good hygiene further with more frequent hand-washing and our children are ready to continue these practices and adopt further measures as necessary.
Reason # 4 – Outdoor learning
One of the main pillars of the Montessori approach is a focus on integrating nature into children’s daily learning throughout the year. At our school children are free to work outside as much as possible. Our children do specifically outdoor activities such as gardening, sports or fixing a broken bike, but they are also encouraged to take their indoor learning outside – such as working with maths materials, reading, art or practicing a play with other children. As the children already see our outside spaces as learning zones as well as places for play, an increased focus on outdoor learning is relatively seamless.
Reason # 5 – Calm and considered behaviour
Many visitors to our school are surprised by the atmosphere of calm they find and our children’s ability to concentrate for long periods of time. This atmosphere is no happy accident but a carefully cultivated way of behaving and interacting with others. Our authentic approach to Montessori includes a focus on “Grace and Courtesy” – this is where we practice and model behaviour such as walking around the room, sharing materials or making an apology. From the age of 2½ years our children use breakable plates and glasses and learn to be careful with them; every one of our desks has a flower in a glass vase and the children carefully navigate the room and the vases are rarely knocked over. This greater self-awareness and self-control makes social distancing more achievable even with the youngest children.
Whatever the future holds, our children’s happiness and safety will always be our first priority but we are reassured that their Montessori education will help them to cope in these extraordinary times.
Acting Head of the Maria Montessori Institute School