“More has changed in education this month than we’ve seen in the last 100 years,” I heard on a Zoom call while keeping one ear attuned to the needs of my two children now working from home with me. Even though I appeared to nod casually, my posture straightened a bit as this statement instantly energized me.
I am a Montessori parent brand new to pairing my communications career with the education sector, and the amount of innovation, commitment, and tenacity to overcome that I have seen from educators has been one of the most inspiring bright spots during this otherwise trying time. It inspires me not because of how it helps us parents endure this pandemic, but because it goes so much further than the pandemic. We are on the cusp of a new era between educator and parent – one where the child’s education is better treated as the holistic, non-linear journey that it is, and where the foundational role of the parent and the home are inclusively supported and empowered more than ever.
While I am inspired, I am also admittedly overwhelmed. One of the immediate adaptations we are fielding as parents in this context is accessing educational support virtually. How does this work for my 2.5-year-old toddler and my booming 4-year-old, especially as a screen-conscious family? I had so many questions, and, so I did what I do best, and I asked Montessori Educator Lisa Kathleen to sit down with me, virtually, for some guidance and wisdom.
For parents like me with young children under the age of 6, what role does virtual learning have for families?
Virtual Learning plays a role in planting the seeds for our youngest children. We don’t recommend platforms that ask a young child to spend a lot of time online; but rather, a limited amount of time spent online in a strategic way can allow the child to engage in new ideas, creating enthusiasm for activities that happen in the real world. The purpose, then, of time spent online is not that the child will be deeply engaged while online–it’s that they will translate what they learn online into real-world engagement off-line.
How can parents know if virtual resources will be age appropriate in these early childhood years, especially with concerns of screen time on developing little minds?
The most important thing for children under 6 is that their screen time moves at the pace of life. What that means is that the screen is not creating a pace that is not natural. For example, the child may spend time watching trucks at a construction site; skyping with grandma where grandma is doing real things in real time; or watching a video of animals at a zoo. The goal would be that the child observes real things, and in the case of watching a person, that they are interacting with that person in a way where the child can imitate what they are doing. Mr. Rogers is a great example of this, where he moves at the pace of the child to show them everyday items and experiences that they can grasp.
The goal is that the child becomes active as a result of the selected programming–actively observing, imitating, participating–as opposed to passively entertained.
How does Montessori education fit in within this space of virtual learning?
The focus of Montessori is always to activate the child. It's not about putting specific ideas or concepts into the child’s head, but rather, it is about opening the door so that the child can practice and discover on their own–allowing the child to fully activate their own learning potential through the keys that we offer. So, in the case of our virtual offerings at Guidepost, the intent is to leave the child with something tangible that inspires opportunity to be active in the world. Virtual learning in a Montessori context is about inspiration.
We have an additional service for parents to support them in understanding how to take something that may have happened online and keep it alive so it becomes something that the child can pursue. An essential part of implementing Montessori in the home is understanding how to arrange the home environment so that the children in the home are engaged learners and active participants.
With all of this in mind, then, what should parents look for when choosing a virtual resource for their children at home?
Parents should look for something that translates into real, ongoing activity for their child. Secondly, the content should be meaningful and relate to the child’s life. We’re not focusing on appealing to the youngest child’s imagination in a fantasy world because the youngest child’s imagination is imitative. Young children want to understand the world, and they want to imitate activities, so look for content that focuses on simple daily life activities like cooking or cleaning or making a simple craft, or things they will see in the world, like construction vehicles, birds, plants, animals, as opposed to fantasy. The other thing is format–a virtual learning program for young children should keep online time short. Young children don’t need two hours of screen time; just 15 to 30 minutes that translates into ongoing opportunities for independent exploration is ideal.
Last, parents should look for virtual programming that honors the importance of the parents’ role in these early childhood years. If the home is prepared to support the child, then the parent can be successful in helping the child to be engaged for longer periods of time, and that should be the goal of virtual learning for toddlers and preschoolers – inspiration for engagement.
A deeply engaged child who does work that they find meaningful is a happy child.
Lisa Kathleen is an AMI-trained Educator, Parent Coach and manager with Higher Ground Education’s Prepared Montessorian Team. She is actively helping families navigate at-home learning and Montessori parenting through Guidepost at Home’s new Family Framework program, where virtual resources help translate the early childhood Montessori system into families’ homes. To learn more, visit elearning.guidepostathome.com. This online Montessori community is run by Montessori Educators around the world and offers two different paths: a free community where parents can take the lead in utilizing at-home resources with their child on an as-needed basis; or enrollment in a monthly Montessori-at-home program that is supported by a Parent Concierge for the parent, and a Montessori Guide and classroom for the child.