With a teacher in tow and our group of families, which I wrote about in my previous post about the operations of our home school setup, the next set of questions we tackled in August and September revolved around what to what the learning environment and school materials would be like.
No more theoretical questions in the world of my research and writing, we were forced to compromise and stray from our ideal – and we made several mistakes along the way.
The learning environment
Being outside – although we felt comfortable with the children being unmasked with each other – was important to us, both from an educational point of view and from a layer of additional security. How to do this in New England with the cold was much less clear.
We decided early on to start the mornings away from home, at a nearby playground or farm.
John Ratey research on the importance of physical exercise to increase brain plasticity and boost student learning – and the findings that the brain is ready to learn directly after physical activity is learned – guided our thinking. The opportunities for social development and learning on the farm with its array of animals and produce were also appealing.
Also, the kids wore masks when they weren’t with us, even though Massachusetts didn’t require it at the time, so they could remember we were living in a pandemic and practice safety. for the society. Creating some separation from our home – where the capsule would be housed – for our children was also important for them and other children. Sharing, after all, can be difficult.
Finally, we iterated a lot on how to set up the outdoor space so that the children can help themselves to the different jobs, learn in rainy or colder weather, and protect the learning materials. Three hypotheses guided our reflection.
First, we assumed that – just as Maria Montessori had managed in the great outdoors in India without extensive learning materials during World War II – so too our natural exterior could be used creatively to construct an environment prepared for children.
Second, with the teacher and other families, we recognized that running the program in extreme winter temperatures, particularly in January, was unlikely, at least on a regular, daily basis. On hot days we could gather outside, but not on freezing days. So we decided to consider the calendar as an annual calendar that would continue until August with intermittent breaks – like the one in January – where we could take vacations. After all, we were responsible for our children’s education, so why not create a schedule that worked for us? Conventional calendars need not apply.
Third, we decided we needed some sort of covered structure, preferably with heating options. We began to consider and lightly experiment with everything from our garage to wedding tents with flooring and yurts to sheds and tall tunnel houses. We also realized that we needed to create systems – and allocate our own time – to manage facilities and operations, from trash, recycling and composting to dishwashing, laundry and outdoor hand washing.
As we started, we realized that our teacher was not Maria Montessori. She did not like to use the existing outdoor space as an important part of the program and the prepared environment.
Whenever we suggested an alternative to buying expensive Montessori materials, the ideas were turned down because they wouldn’t live up to the “self-correcting” nature of pre-made materials. It didn’t matter that we were living in a pandemic, or that trying to replicate an outdoor Montessori classroom for seven kids wasn’t advisable, or that many of the favorite items weren’t meant to be self-correcting materials. . And never mind that a do-it-yourself approach to creating the learning environment with the help of children offered a huge set of opportunities for learning and ownership development.
The philosophical differences with the teacher left us at a crossroads. But since some of us parents have chosen to prioritize giving our children the opportunity to experience something resembling normality, we have decided to invest far more in classroom materials than any ‘between us had planned in the interest of speed and promoting harmony between parent and teacher.
It hurt – on many levels – but the teacher seemed happy, so we hoped this would translate into a better experience for our kids. A spoiler alert for a future piece: Spending more money doesn’t automatically create harmony or a better experience.
When the materials started arriving at our doorstep, my wife realized that our teacher had omitted large parts of the curriculum from her purchases. Our trust in the teacher was eroding, so my wife stepped in to do the work herself: cut, laminate, build, and make a variety of curriculum choices. It required hours and hours of work and was costly in terms of sleep and absence from work.
Although the set up was difficult, the ultimate reward seemed worth it in the smiles and laughter of the children.
At first, they wore masks around each other and kept their distance. But at the end of the second week and 14 days of strict behavior from all the families, telling them they could take off their masks and hug produced a tidal wave of emotions that I don’t was not prepared.
Shouts of joy rang out as each child hugged each other, a practice that continues to this day when they greet or say goodbye. This human contact is something that apparently none of us, from the youngest to the oldest, will take for granted again.