It has been two months since we returned to our classrooms. We knew this wouldn’t be easy and there are likely more challenges ahead, but we are proud to have taken a measured step forward at a time when other organizations chose to step back. In doing so, we have learned so much about children and ourselves. For the rest of the world, COVID-19 has pointed a spotlight on what it really means to be a teacher. When it comes to young children, Montessori guides have stood out for more than 100 years -no matter the circumstances. However, we usually tend to work outside of that spotlight.
Times being what they are, it is not so easy to get together and share our thoughts like we used to. That part of the school/family connection is something we all miss. However, the exchange of ideas has always been an important part of our school culture. We won’t let this frustrating pandemic change that! So after two months of “school in the time of COVID”, we asked MAB faculty to share what they think and how they feel right now. Plus, it turns out, when you’re spending the day with Montessori students, there’s a lot to be happy about.
We hope you’ll enjoy what the teachers had to say and maybe you’ll find a little happiness and inspiration at a time when we all could use it.
Where are you finding courage and inspiration?
- Children will make the most out of any situation. The laughs and joy while growing their minds and hearts inspire me to come to work every day. Knowing I’m an important factor to that growth makes me feel valued and gives me courage to overcome my own fears.
- Just seeing the happiness of the children in our class when they are talking with each other. There are so many smiles, laughs and a general harmony amongst the children in the class this year. I’m so happy they get to experience this – being back at school in person – and the benefits it is giving their social and emotional health.
- I am encouraged daily, after working hard to prepare our classroom, when I see the children enter each morning ready to get started with their day. They greet each other with a smile or a laugh and are happy to come together after an evening apart. They arrive wearing masks, but no one complains, no one is hyper focused on the difficulty of wearing a mask, it is simply what we do in our room for now. I am encouraged because despite these challenges, quite honestly a frightening time, the children remain joyful, share laughter, acceptance, and hope in our classroom each day.
- At home, it is so easy to get caught up in the discord and worry that seems to be surrounding us, but immersing myself in the innocence and unfiltered joy of young children and seeing their confidence blossom each day is all I need to remember what is really important.
- I often find inspiration from being out in nature. Having this time to feel the warmth of the sun and the cool breeze has turned into something really special. It’s the children’s excitement of seeing the insects buzzing around in the garden, noticing the changes of the season day by day, and the blossoming flowers. The best part of it all is experiencing the calmness in the children and admiring the pure joy on their faces. This also gives me the courage to continue to find new ways to meet their needs even when it takes some creativity.
- My courage and inspiration come from my students, entirely. Any nervousness or anxious feelings I might have endured during these unprecedented times were quickly reduced when I stepped in the classroom. The presence of the children and just being back in our environment brought back normalcy to my personal life as well. The innocence, pure joy, and excitement of the children to be in their classroom is the best inspiration.
- I have found that I draw inspiration from my own two Montessori boys who are having the “best” days ever in their Montessori Elementary classroom. Their eagerness and true love of being at school is a beautiful thing to witness.
- My courage and inspiration definitely comes from seeing these children so happy to be at school again. After being apart for so long, our “MAB Family” is back together again.
- We have made our outdoor class an atmosphere of peace. With our jazz music playing through the air and the option to eat snack outside, the kids are on cloud nine. From day one, it has been such an inspiration and joy to see the kids work so naturally and beautifully together in the garden. It has become such an inspirational and special part of our classroom and community as whole.
What has been the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
- The days leading up to our return to school seemed to amplify just how much we didn’t and still don’t know. I’m used to having an organized, planned out beginning to the school year and this was almost the exact opposite from any I have experienced as a teacher. At some point during that first week, I don’t remember exactly when -or for that matter, how, but I became comfortable with not knowing. In spite of the changes, I began to relax and enjoy my time in the classroom. Nearly two months later, I think the process has helped me to partner with the students, who continue to teach me by their own examples.
- My biggest challenge was trying to discover fun and creative ways to teach the children about “social distancing”. I wanted to make sure that I continue to foster their natural social connections and still create a connected classroom community. As I continue to gently remind the students of these new boundaries, we all are getting much more comfortable with our new norm and they are thriving.
- I didn’t have any reservations, fears or anxiety over coming back to work. I am happy and feel fortunate to be in the classroom with the children as so many do not have this opportunity at this time.
- I was one of the first teachers to return when Summer Camp began. My co-teacher and I brainstormed, researched, planned lessons and tested out different ways of social distancing (or what we thought it should look like) with the three to six age group. Taking on Kindergarten specials of PE, Music, Sign Language, Art and Peace and doing it all in our classrooms was a big hurdle to jump over. But we’ve made it work and the children deserve our best.
- Mine was indeed a challenge, but it was not I who overcame it. I was worried that wearing a face mask might make it hard for the children to connect with me. Half way through our first day together, I knew that I had underestimated them. Children never cease to amaze me.
What has been your most memorable moment since returning to school?
- My most memorable moment returning to school was on day one -how I felt being back doing what I love to do. You often think of how wonderful it might be to not have to work for a living but after the quarantine not only am I happy to have a job, I have a job I love.
- On the very first day of school during morning arrival a student quickly jumped out of her minivan and ran up to me with open arms while shouting my name. She greeted me with the biggest hug and warmest smile and shared how much she had missed me. I immediately teared up. It was such a great start to our first day back after several months apart.
The first week of school we were working in our outdoor classroom. Some of the children working independently, some socializing or receiving lessons. A neighborhood woman walking her dog passing by was brought to tears when she said to me “It’s so wonderful to see children together again.” My eyes welled up too as I finally got to first-handedly witness the magic of children fill a classroom again. This is what we are meant to do as humans, being together and creating positive change. Together. I could not be happier to be a part of what we’re doing here at MAB right now.
- So many moments! When a child just said the funniest thing….The moment when I see a children really focused and concentrating on a work….the moment when a child realizes they have accomplished something all by themselves….I’ve seen or heard these things on a number of occasions over the last several weeks and it is a great reminder of how much Montessori does for children and a few of the many reasons I love my job.
- My most memorable moment and moments have been the walks I take with the children. Finding examples from lessons given in class to the sights seen on the walk can really connect the children to the world. For example, we talked about iron forming at the core of the earth since it was so heavy. Later that week on our walk we passed by some wrought iron gates. I asked the children to feel the iron gates and contemplate the strength that gate must have over its neighboring wooden gates.
- Recently, my head teacher and I decided to sing one of our Halloween songs during circle time with the most dramatic flair we could. The room turned into a full broadway rehearsal with dance moves and harmonies. It was by far one of the most memorable moments we’ve shared as a class and one I hope we will revisit. We have some future performers in our class 🙂
- One morning Beaux and Robin (2nd and 3rd yr elementary students) brought two of their chickens to visit our class as an experiential lesson. The children were all so excited to find a cage with two hens waiting to greet them as they arrived in the morning. Montessori schools strive to place children in an environment where they make a difference; this is certainly true when it comes to the care of animals. We enjoy our class pets, find joy when they are happy and sadness when they get sick. Having the chickens visit, if just for the morning, was such fun! We all stood outside in a circle around the chicken’s cage as Beaux and Robin presented a brief but informative lesson on chicken care. A child in the audience exclaimed, “Aaaa, I’m having chicken for lunch today!” I smiled (through my mask). I’m sure the students will keep those memories for years to come.
- The first day of school, I watched the children walk through the door with a huge smiles on their faces and pure excitement to be back with their friends and teachers. No tears, just enjoying their work environment and socializing with each other.
- We had a visit from the fire department after an impromptu fire drill caused by a smoking flourescent bulb in the teacher workroom. The elementary students were all so composed at the sight of the smoke and immediately began collaborating to solve the problem and acted in an orderly, team-like manner. After the event had ended, I mentioned to a student how great it was that the fire fighters were able to show up so quickly. He agreed, but added “The elementary students can take care of ourselves.”
- I walked into the classroom and a child came running over to me and told me how much she missed me. She went to hug me, but stopped in her tracks and then asked me if it was ok to give me a hug (which, of course, shows she is practicing what we teach). There was no way I was going to turn down a hug (which was actually a great step for me in dealing with/overcoming my germ issues).
How do you nurture the child’s emotional spirit and need for connection while social distancing?
- I’ll admit, helping children come together while encouraging them to keep their distance requires a lot of creativity. One child may find her own way of connecting with peers while others may need help choosing the right time or the right words to make it work. We meet them wherever they are.
- Sing. Whether your voice is great or can barely carry a tune, the children make you feel like a rock star. It doesn’t have to be a group sing along. Sometimes I just sing what I have to say instead of speaking it. The children light up and their joy elevates the entire room.
- We spend more time outside. Nothing brings children together better than simply being in nature. There is always enough fresh air, sunlight and dirt to connect us all to one another and the earth.
- The spirit of generosity and love that a Montessori environment puts off is obvious to anyone who enters the enviornment. Even though we are encouraging social distancing you can still feel those feelings in the room.
- In the elementary room, the students wear masks during indoor work time. We have taught the children to speak with their eyes and pay attention to the eyes of their friends. We’ve also added American sign language, which the children have enjoyed using to communicate with each other. As a result, the children’s friendships and daily socialization appears just as connected as it has always been in our classroom..Fresh air, sunlight and togetherness can lift anyone’s emotional spirit. I feel like we’ve been able to provide this for our students this year in ample amounts. Rarely, but occasionally I’ve had to mention to a child that someone may need space between their bodies. I can even go as far as saying that I really don’t think the children in our class have even noticed any “big” changes or that what we’re doing is even different at all. They’re just being, doing, enjoying freely and beautifully, working as one with nature and their own small community
- With so many children isolated in their homes, the experience of simply sharing space with someone outside your immediate family, especially another child, offers great opportunity to nurture the social and emotional spirit.
What do you think will be one positive outcome from this unprecedented time?
- I hope that spending more time at home, adults will realize how simple the needs of children really are. We can all scale back a bit, reduce the choices and focus upon the basics. Perhaps somehow that will lead us to take a deeper look at how school can educate the whole child and lead to a better world.
- I think one of the things that will come from this unprecedented time is how much we value the human connection. “Happiness is only real when shared.”
- A greater understanding by the general population that educating the whole child is really key – yes academics is important, but getting into nature and learning other key life skills is equally important. Making sure children have confidence, empathy, joy, love, generosity, adaptability, problem solving skills…the list goes on and on. These are all skills that can be learned by getting outside and loving nature.
- I hope a higher value in the outdoors and nature will be an outcome of these times. The knowledge that can be learned in a outdoor classroom is almost effortless for a child.
- People will spend more time enjoying the small things in a much bigger way.
- I would like to believe that the world has slowed down a bit. People have spent more time as a family, stopped and smelled the roses, gained more empathy, and realized the true important things in life (health, family, faith = priceless).
- I often hear people saying they can’t wait until things go back to normal. However, I find value in how we have changed our focus to the things that truly matter and understanding the value of time, family, and self-care. My hope is that we continue on that path.
- I have already been seeing a positive outcome as to the parents. I feel they are more supportive and have a new appreciation for the teachers. Many of my parents have expressed how dedicated we teachers are by putting our “lives on the line” for their children everyday; being supportive, compassionate and nurturing.
- I think the incorporation of ample outdoor time has been the most positive addition to our classroom. Previously, we would let the children work in the garden but there was very much a separation of outside and inside. Now, the children see our outdoor environment as part of the class. They take work outside, eat snack outside and use the same grace and courtesy in both places. I feel that we will keep this up even after this time and I am glad that we got to embrace our outdoor environment as much as we could. It is wonderful to see the sense of respect and love that the children give to nature each and every day.
Any advice for parents?
- Let the challenges of both this pandemic and the national social upheaval guide your views for the global citizen you hope your child will be and make those your permanent educational priorities.
- Your children will thrive, even in times like these, if we insulate them from our adult doubts.
- Get outside… There is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing 🙂
- Keep adult conversations about COVID to the adults.
- My advice is for everyone. Be cautious, but not fearful. Proceed in your life with confidence, and lead with your heart and positivity. Put simply, shine your light! Even though many are experiencing hard times right now, there are still so many things in this world in which to find wonder.
- This pandemic should remind us all of the importance of adaptability. Find ways to help your child develop this valuable skill.
- This time can be hard, different, scary, uncertain but there ARE ways you can make this work. You might even find your family needed this change. Enjoy and love your children, give them that certainty they need now in your connection with them. Look at this as an opportunity with your child you never would’ve had otherwise. Soak it up. Enjoy the little things together. Have fun! Partner with your child. Make them feel heard, important and loved. Keep the screens at a minimum. Test yourself, can you keep the screens off for a whole week? Maybe more? Read everyday, if you have an hour and they want to sit with you, read for an hour. Even if the laundry didn’t get done and emails didn’t get read, do it later. You will see how both of you will blossom from any time spent together.