Phasing In & the Parking Lot
The first few days of school are full of excitement and chaos. This is when all kinds of trouble can happen just because the families, children, or staff aren't quiet on board with the whole school procedure thing. This is why it's a really good idea to bring the returning families back before we invite the new children to start. Now usually we're just thinking about the children and from their perspective, this "have the older kids come back first" approach works really well. Everyone gets time to boisterously reconnect and review the core grace and courtesy they learned the previous year. But what I'm really thinking about is the parking lot. You want people in the car line who know what they're doing! The new families will have a better chance of getting with the program if they have some role models to follow. I mean if 90% of the people are only using the right driveway lane, that says something!
So once all the old families and children are back and in the swing of things, invite the new families to come but not all at once. There are a few ways to do this. One is to add 3-4 children per classroom per day over the course of a week. Another is to stagger that even further and have them arrive at 30-minute intervals. This way, each child gets one-on-one time with the teacher as they are brought into the most amazing classroom environment. They can be carefully and intentionally introduced to the work cycle and how to be in the room with so many other children. If you can't stagger arrival times, you might want extra staff to stay in the hallway or the playground to keep the other children happily engaged while you invite them one-at-a-time into the classroom. I mean, the secrets of the world are in that room! They need an introduction that fits the majesty the room holds.
If you're starting a new class, I recommend you do what Susan Stephenson helped a class in Butan do... individually introduce each child to the room. The assistant teacher held court in the hallway reading books, singing songs, standing on her head, whatever she had to do to keep the children happy while the lead teacher took a few minutes to guide each child in on his/her own. She helped them settle, find something to do, and engage before moving off to guide the next child in. Imagine if we were all treated with such care and individual attention... what a world this would be :)
Jane M. said:
We have been using a version of this for several years, refining it every year and this month we had a much smoother integration of new children in the classroom. Now the children are much more relaxed and comfortable in the classroom as we value and respect them in relation to the value and respect we ask them to give the materials in the classroom. The seasoned parents are able to help the new parents and we are all more invested!
I think it is also very important to spend focused time with the new parents and families in the orientation as this reflects on the feelings about the classroom and how we value them in the Montessori Community.
We’ve had similarly positive results. I think welcoming the returning children back first and giving a one-on-one introduction for each new child/family is the key. Thanks for posting!