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Reopening Best Practices

Everyone is busy figuring out or enacting their pandemic reopening plan. I thought it would be helpful to post the things other early childhood schools are doing that work.

As I reached out to schools, I found a lot of ideas I hadn't thought of before; like using a hula hoop to help children maintain social distance when walking in line!

Thanks to Riverbend School in Natick, MA for letting us share their video of hula hoop distancing.

Of course, when you develop your own plan, you'll have to consider your licensing/state requirements. There is no one-size-fits-all way to 'pandemify' your school procedures. That's why we need a lot of ideas!

The following ideas are compiled from schools with an early childhood component in the US and France. Please add your own experiences in the comments below (including your location). Together we can compile the best practices that work in different situations (and with different licensing requirements). It takes a village!

July 21, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Face shields instead of masks for early childhood

This week, I have spoken with and heard from many teachers/school owners who are struggling with how to reopen school for fall (that's just a few weeks away in many states). Trying to sort through federal guidance from places like the CDC and State Education Departments is cumbersome, confusing, and leaves one with more questions than answers.

One big question is the use of face masks. Is it developmentally appropriate to use face masks in early childhood settings? Are face shields for young children and their caregivers a better option?


DuoKids face shield

Note: The photos are from Wish and DuoKids but many other child-size face shield vendors exist. According to the CDC, the face shield should extend from ear to ear and below the chin (CDC, June 28, 2020). You also want to test it yourself to make sure it doesn't create a visual challenge because of its curve.

July 10, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Developing the attention span via polishing

Parents often ask Montessori teachers why their children are cleaning the school. Children in Montessori early childhood classrooms are learning how to wash dishes, sweep the floor, dust, and even polish silver. Can't the school afford to hire their own cleaning staff?

The answer has nothing to do with keeping the classroom clean. In fact, teachers often have to go back after school and "re-clean" what the children have cleaned. The reason we teach them these "practical life" activities is all about aiding the child's development.

A mom I know on Instagram (big shout out to @montessoriinmotion) posted a video of her daughter that illustrates some of the benefits of practical life activities. It's just over one-minute long and is so rich in things to notice that I asked her permission to write about it here. Watch the video on your own first and then read on (and yes, she is sporting the matching Maitri Learning blue flower apron and mat).

June 30, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Developing Letter-Sound Knowledge: Montessori Sandpaper Letters

Learning the visual appearance of each letter in English and the sounds that each letter makes is an essential beginning step towards literacy. In the Montessori approach, we do a huge array of spoken language activities with the children to prepare them for writing and reading (see our many other blog posts on spoken language for more information). But we have one primary tool for teaching children the shapes of each letter and their individual sounds: the sandpaper letters.

Note: If you don’t own a set of sandpaper letters, you can make them yourself using our downloadable template.

The Presentation

As shown in the video, the general approach to the sandpaper letters is to choose 3 or 4 letters (depending on the interests and abilities of the child), show them how to trace a letter, say its sound, and then say a few words that feature that sound.

April 09, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Why are we staying home? A free e-book for children

ma stay at home book

Montessori teacher Angela Ma (Follow the Child Montessori, Raleigh, NC) has written a lovely picture book for you to share with your children. Ms. Ma offers a simple yet elegant explanation (with gorgeous illustrations) of why so many of us are home-bound during this pandemic. She has made it available free for anyone to download.

Here's what Ms. Ma has to say about her motivation for writing this story:

"I wrote this social story, complete with a drawing of my own adorable family, to offer a simple explanation for the reason we're all staying-at-home. Presenting a perspective of helpfulness and community empowers our young children to feel a sense of agency and connection. When we enter back into the community on the other side of this global experience, the opportunity to focus on social solidarity may likely have a more positive and protective impact on our children’s sense of security and well-being. I hope it is helpful to families who are looking for ways to support their children through this experience."

Print it out, bind it with ribbon, and read often! Then, inspire your children to make their own books about things that are important to them. Win-win!

March 30, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Language Activities for the Unexpected Homeschooler

If you are looking for ways to help guide your child in the Montessori method from home, here are some quick and simple activities you can try. These should be of interest to children from around ages 3 to 6 years. Adapt your pace to match your tongue twisterschild’s interest and abilities. Keep in mind that we always want the child to think that they are too smart for the work, not that the work is too hard for them. When they witness themselves succeeding, their self-confidence will grow.

Spoken Language Activities

Recite poems together, rhyming or otherwise. Start with shorter ones and encourage memorization (try to memorize them yourself before asking your child to). Sing songs together. Recite tongue twisters and try to say them fast!

March 26, 2020 by Julia Volkman

The Perfect Apron

Perfect Montessori Apron

matching placemats for montessori apronsWhen I visit classrooms, one of the common challenges the adult's face is finding or making the perfect apron. We want our aprons to be color-coded to match each of our ever-changing practical life activities. We want them to fit all of the children in our environment, from the petite 2.5 year-old to the towering 6 year-old, from the little heads to the rather large heads and/or hair styles. We want them to be washable and water-resistant. And we want them to have matching table/floor mats so that it is clear which items belong with which activity. In short, we want perfection!

But what about independence? Should the aprons be able to be used independently by everyone in the room or should they offer opportunities to practice different fastening techniques and/or solicit assistance from other children? What is the right level of fastener challenge? In short, how do we create an apron that is attractive, effective, a mode of activity (purposeful work in and of itself), and that the children can put-on properly (no arm elastics scrunched up on the shoulders or straps hanging off the sides)?

February 23, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Action Research in Your Classroom

research chartThe recent bloom of published research from Montessori environments has been inspiring. Following the groundbreaking work of Angeline Lillard, we have the launch of the Journal of Montessori Research. On top of this, there are a growing number of graduate students undertaking Montessori-related research projects for their theses and dissertations. This is all most excellent news for the Montessori movement!

If you’d like to take a peek at what is already out there, go to scholar.google.org and search for Montessori. If you exclude patents and citations, you’ll get over 150,000 results! If you further refine your search to just what’s published in the past 4 years, you’ll still get nearly 17,000 results! Get a nice cup of tea and browse through the titles you see to get a sense of what is happening. Click through and read some abstracts. Then, start to think about what you might study in your own environment.

Here are the big picture steps involved in conducting your own action research:

  1. Identify your focus/interest
  2. “Muck about” to see what’s already known
  3. Define your research question
  4. Get Approval/Support
  5. Design your study/data collection/assessment tools
  6. Conduct the study/collect data
  7. Organize your results
  8. Analyze your findings
  9. Adjust and start again or share/repeat

Read on for details!

January 13, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Books we love

My dear friend Susan Banon* went through great pains to put together a list of books that she could recommend for families (in English and French). She collaborated with me and other Anglophones/Francophones and together we all came up with the results listed below. Of course, there are so many more books that we could recommend; it would be impossible to give you a finite list. Instead, we just wanted to wet your whistle and get you started.

Read on for the full list!

January 06, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Guiding Wild Preschoolers

Preschooler dissatisfactionSometimes the children in our classrooms seem about as far away from our vision of the Montessori “normalized” child as they can get! Don’t worry. The potential to concentrate and manifest peace is actually there within every child (and adult). Here are a few quick points to help you remain calm and be helpful if you find yourself with a room full of firecrackers.

Key points to remember

First, in the preschool years executive functions (like inhibitory control, or inhibiting unskillful actions) are just developing. Children don’t arrive at school with their self-regulation all in place. A large part of our work in the preschool years is to help children develop the capacity to regulate their own behavior. We do this by teaching them how to follow a logical sequence, respond to natural consequences (e.g., spilling water and cleaning it up), be kind with others, etc. So, if you are seeing lots of challenging behavior, it could just be normal development. They may need more time immersed in an environment of Freedom with Limits and opportunities to concentrate.

November 08, 2019 by Julia Volkman