Keeping it Montessori: What to Do When Schools Close – Infant/Toddler and Early Childhood

March 23, 2020

It may be said that we acquire knowledge by using our minds; but the child absorbs knowledge directly into his psychic life. Simply by continuing to live, the child learns to speak his native tongue. A kind of mental chemistry goes on within him…Impressions do not merely enter his mind; they form it. They incarnate themselves in him. The child creates his own ‘mental muscles,’ using for this what he finds in the world about him. We have named this type of mentality, the Absorbent Mind.
—Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 26.

Social media seems inundated with advice for teachers and parents for homeschooling children during the expected weeks or months of social isolation. With everything from unschooling to tightly packed schedules, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. However, when we remember why we believe in the Montessori method, we quickly realize there must be a better way.

Remembering Our Montessori Roots

What is the Montessori method? It’s about concrete, hands-on, real-life learning. Children in the first plane of development learn through their senses. Infants taste and touch everything. Toddlers pick up and examine objects, shake them, sniff them, and exclaim over their sensorial discoveries: “It’s hot/cold/rough/smooth/heavy/bright.” The child’s body and mind seem to be constantly on the go because purposeful movement supports mental learning.

“How then are we to teach children who are in the first plane of development? Montessorians know that we must respect the child, but I would go even further and say that Dr. Montessori tells us we must respect the intelligence of the child. These young children are not empty vessels that we must fill with knowledge; they are, as we have seen, capable of constructing their own knowledge. As such, we are not required to teach as much as we are required to help and assist the development of young minds. We should not help children because they are smaller or less able than we are but because they are at a stage during which great intelligent and creative work is produced. We must truly understand that to help children who are moving from the unconscious to the conscious mind, we must give them our experience rather than verbal instruction or intervention during this highly creative time. The time of the absorbent mind is not for teaching facts but for assisting in the children’s development of character and the formation of the adults to come.” NAMC Blog Article, The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 3: The Periods of Growth — Unconscious Learning

To say that that Montessori can’t be done at home is far from the truth. In fact, Montessori begins in the home. We must be mindful of what we bring into the home, making sure that it remains true to the Montessori philosophy.

If you are a Montessori teacher of young children, prepare lists of ideas for practical life and sensorial work children can do at home. This is the perfect time to focus on taking care of the family.

Some teachers have been talking about doing school online. Without your materials, it can be tempting to ask the children to work abstractly with worksheets or coloring sheets. Again, remaining true to Montessori means you are remaining true to the needs of the child. If you do have access to an online learning platform, focus on building community. You can read a story to the children or sing songs. You can have a show and tell time so the children can interact with each other. You can ask them to find objects in their environment to show you: “Who can find a blue circle?” Or “Who can find something that begins with the sound /a/?” It’s also a good time to talk about cultural subjects: science, geography, and history.

We have spent so much time creating an environment where children are free to learn according to their interests and natural drive. We invest thousands of dollars into Montessori didactic materials that begin with sensorial exploration, educating our senses first and gently progressing to abstract thought. We make sure our works are real, meaningful, and promote independence through carefully constructed controls of error. Now, more than ever, we should follow the needs of the child through our approach to Montessori child development.

For more ideas, you may like to read the following NAMC blog articles:
Montessori Learning Doesn't Have to Stop in the Summer Months
Ideas for Parents for Montessori Summer Learning - Follow the Child!
Montessori Language Arts: Poetry Activities for the Summer Time
Montessori Summer Activities: Woodworking- Teaching Montessori Students Respect and Responsibility

Visit NAMC's website and learn more about our Montessori practical life and sensorial activities for Infant/Toddler and Early Childhood.

— NAMC Staff
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