There has been nothing especially Montessori about 2020 so far as the world has experienced the Covid19 pandemic. However, the many stories shared by Montessori practitioners of this period of time, reflect the importance of relationships and the sense of belonging to a community, mirroring the experiences of other early years educators.
The announcement of lockdown 1.0 in England earlier this year, challenged many Montessori settings. Like most settings in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sector, owners as well as employees were anxious about the survival of their business and this has continued during this new academic year. There is no doubt that many in the PVI sector are struggling to balance their books in respect of the 30 hour grant funding, the additional policy and procedures burdens that Covid19 has brought with it, and the income they are losing out on. Not all families are sending their children back to their setting as they themselves reassess their financial situation against family needs and possibilities of future work.
As the terms of furlough were announced, many early years educators took the opportunity to extend their learning and engage with their own families. The government expectation that parents would home-school their children, was supported by setting educators who remained in employment, by providing families with ideas about activities, and in some cases even lesson plans for these activities. Additionally, they engaged the children in story, music and movement time delivered via zoom, and prepared activities which they delivered to the children’s homes.
New relationships were established between the educators and families, particularly in settings where the owners and managers realised that parents themselves may need help and support. Settings contacted parents for a chat and to find out how they were doing, and recognised the challenges of isolation, juggling work and parenting, as well as anxiety and real concern about their children’s wellbeing. They reassured parents about the value of engaging children in tasks of daily life activities such as helping with cooking, washing and keeping one’s rooms tidy. They talked about spending time together, playing and exploring nature, be it in local parks or the countryside. Parents and carers developed an appreciation of learning through play, recognising it as a very viable option when sensitively shared with young children.
But for many children from toddlers to teenagers – home is a home – not a school; and parents are parents – not teachers. Children were missing out on socialising with their friends, and teaching is a skilled occupation, so when the doors of settings finally re-opened, children, teachers and parents were happy to see each other and reconnect. Children’s play offered glimpses into their experiences in these unprecedented times and the reality of their everyday lives. As the teachers observed, they realised how much the children had benefitted from being with their families, how much they had learned since they last attended their settings.
And here we are, only a few months later. Around the world, with the return of a serious second Covid19 wave, various forms of lockdown are being reintroduced or are still in place. In the UK, schools and early years settings remain open in lockdown 2.0, bringing with it similar but also new challenges as owners and managers, still feeling the impact of the first lockdown, juggle new guidance on how to operate, alongside supporting families as well as staff anxious about exposing themselves and their children to the risk of catching Covid19. Job insecurity is driving some parents away from childcare and Government guidance is to work from home, further impacting setting occupancy. This inevitably impacts settings’ finances, leaving owners and managers with the additional anxiety of how to keep their business afloat.
Turning to Montessori, then, in this rather un-Montessorian year, perhaps we can find support from each other in these overly challenging times. Education remains a “help to life” and we are all “united in a common aim…in the delicate work of formation” (2007:15) of the child. Coming together to learn with and from each other knowing we stand united, may well be our strongest tool as we whether the storms ahead.
Join us at our webinar for EY Montessori Setting Leaders and Managers as we explore together how we can run our settings during a pandemic. In small break-out groups, we will share our challenges and our best practices, thereby learning from and helping each other. Monday, 9 November, 7 pm (UTC). Register here.
Barbara Isaacs, November 2020
Montessori, M. (2007) The Absorbent Mind, Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company