The time has come where Montessori school programs are faced with the task of re-opening in the wake of quarantine. As schools unfold their updated policies and procedures, I think there is a difficult but necessary reality check Montessori practitioners are having around what our future careers are about to look like. Just when no Montessori practitioner ever thought s/he was signing up for virtual learning, we never expected to have to do our work in the post-quarantine conditions that are being asked of us.
If I didn’t know any better, I might guess that these policies were created by someone higher up in healthcare policy making and disaster-response who has never spent an entire day in a room full of babies, toddlers, or preschoolers in their life. But if we want our paychecks and jobs back, we must go back to some arguably absurd working conditions. And the harder reality is that many of us will actually end up in continued furlough or laid off (which I’ll flesh out later in the post).
Where is our model Montessori school we can all look to for how to adapt? Where is our “Casa Dei Corona”? Where is our post-quarantine “glass classroom”? How desperately I wish Dr. Montessori was alive to show us all the way.
This post is going to explore my current thoughts and ideas around the future of 0-6 Montessori programming in response to COVID-19. My colleague said there have been dialogues out there addressing the functional, day-to-day realities of how to do our actual jobs while maintaining the quality of Montessori education. So hopefully you’ve been able to find those. I was not keen on them. Nevertheless, here are my initial thoughts upon reflecting upon my job’s policy updates.
Post at a glance:
- individualized, differentiated learning
- montessori vs daycare: what’s now outta the game
- drop off procedures
- ratios and enrollment numbers
- social distancing and 0-6 year olds
- realities of pathogen and germ spread in preschool environments
- expecting toddlers to wear face masks
- environmental design and layout
- program flexibility and adaptation
- Montessori at home as a supplemental product offering
INDIVIDUALIZED AND DIFFERENTIATED LEARNING: THE SERVICE PROVIDERS ARE THE “GO-BETWEEN” GERM SPREADERS
So here’s a hard truth no one wants to accept about Montessori programming: the crux of successful Montessori education is individualized and differentiated learning. That means the guide’s job is to go between students and give them each individualized lessons. This “individualized contact” reality is not unique to Montessori programming only, if your alarm bells are ringing. But it is absolutely hallmark of all 0-3 group care programming on the face of the earth. Why? Because babies and young children cannot change their own clothes or toilet themselves. We’re not talking about elementary school where the kids can basically just sit there and listen to the teacher talk, or do their own work at a stationary desk. Most Montessori schools are preschools.
Trying to keep the kids separated in the midst of an airborne virus miiiiiight decrease pathogenic spread…. if in reality there was no adult hopping from child to child like a frog jumping lily pads in the pond of Corona each and every day. It’s like the staff essentially create a pathogen-spiderweb type of effect. The “watering hole” is both the space, and the service providers.
Families are also inherently connected to the “pathogenic spiderweb” that makes up the whole school community thanks to drop off procedures. So go ahead and keep the people 6 feet apart– that won’t prevent thousands of “germ spider webs” from being strung between all the points of contact. Mom goes to the grocery store and gets corona, brings it home to her family, hops in the car, brings it to school. The staff at the pick-up line touches that child, then goes back and forth, back and forth, chauffeuring every other child who arrives at school that day into their respective classrooms. All parents just need to accept that if you choose to resume group-care educational formats post-quarantine, you choose to accept the risk that your kid might get this disease and bring it home. Point blank periahd. There’s no getting around it.
DOING AWAY WITH ACTUAL MONTESSORI, & ESSENTIALLY TURNING PROGRAMS INTO DAYCARE
Another major factor in reopening Montessori preschools is that there are hallmark Montessori activities that essentially are now banished from the curriculum because they are too “high risk” for the spread of pathogens. Ironically, once upon a time, hand washing as an exercise was created because Dr. Montessori was a pioneer in understanding that practicing hygiene was going to improve health outcomes for children in school settings, LOL. My, how times have ironically, #coronically changed!
Food prep is out, works containing water are probably out, and in some Montessori schools even outdoor play equipment is out. Working rugs? Out, b/c my school said we have to reduce or eliminate materials that can’t be easily wiped clean and we don’t have a washer and dryer on site (the working rugs used to be sprayed with disinfectant and laundered weekly). Cloth linens, out. The cozy corner/ peace corner with pillow where I allow the children to rest or recollect their emotions: out. Handshakes: out. Hugs: probably out.
Plant watering? Probably out. Because the watering can and the child is going to move from plant to plant to plant around the room. Circle time? Good luck keeping toddlers 6 feet apart for a circle time gathering. I was even told that talking too loudly will spread the virus further. So my director said she would put it into policy that we couldn’t talk too loud. Have you tried even speaking through a cloth mask, LOL?
It is the children who are going to suffer the most as a result of all these ridiculous policy changes. Not the parents. The teachers will have to work harder, yes. But ultimately it is the children of a post-COVID reality who will not get to learn the same way everyone before them received the opportunity to learn. You don’t get to re-experience toddlerhood, where the first three years of your life encompasses the majority of your foundational brain development.
Montessori activities as they were meant to be, and be delivered, are the building blocks of our curriculum. Our entire careers. We went away to training to learn how to deliver Montessori education because Montessori education is unique and effective. Parents are paying thousands of dollars per month in tuition so that their children’s lives can be upgraded, not just by preschool, but by the Montessori method. No one expected daycare when they signed up for Montessori. But that’s what Montessori for 0-6 could become if people aren’t realistic about how to essentially save chunks of our curriculum from the fear surrounding this pandemic.
THE DROP-OFF PROCEDURES
Does everyone magically think that we can somehow transport entire classrooms from a car drop-off line into their respective classrooms while keeping the children 6 feet apart? Or that the drop-off staffpersons are not germ spiderwebbing? Or that the child is not germ-spiderwebbing from their family cars into the rest of the school? People can fully be asymptomatic carriers of this virus, by the way.
I was joking with a colleague that we would need a 60-foot walking rope with handles 6 feet apart; and that we can wait by the car drop-off line with our giant walking ropes, take temperatures child-by-child with a socially-distant thermometer laser beam. Like, care bear stare the temperatures at all the children or something? Just getting through a classroom’s worth of temperature taking every morning is going to be a site to behold.
Furthermore, depending on your school layout, the children may need to walk through the same hallways and corridors to get to our respective classrooms. This is an airborne virus. One sneeze is all it takes, because it’s not like all the kids will be wearing N-95 masks, they’ll be in cloth masks. It’s not like every class is occurring in its own separate house (which, that would be amazing if that could exist!). So again, those germs are gonna spread; and the work they’re expecting of staff is about to become unreal, from the moment the parents drop off.
Last point about drop off… what if you’re school can’t even keep enough staff hired to maintain drive-thru drop off? That means twenty something parents will be interfacing with the school twice a day. And it may not even be the same parent doing drop off and pick up. So in reality, that would mean you’re looking at about… 50+ people potentially interfacing with a school campus just based on drop-off and pick-up alone.
THE RATIOS AND NUMBERS OF STUDENTS
Another reality to this is that many schools cannot service the same number of students we once did prior to quarantine. If the school loses even more money, its entire business model might not even be viable. Some schools out there are paying very high rent and they will only stay in the black if there’s enough butts in those tiny seats.
Limiting the number of enrolled students also means that many children are going to find themselves without a spot in school, which is that families’ current daycare provider. Does that mean those families have two weeks to magically land a spot in some other school that they need to try to tour new schools and register? Is that even a possibility if all of the schools are being limited in the number of enrollees they can take? The act of touring other schools is going to spread germs; so I doubt that will be allowed IRL.
Some schools are making the decisions around who gets to be enrolled using a random lottery system. What about single parents who absolutely need childcare to go to work? Some Montessori schools in this country won’t let staff bring their other children to school if their schools remain shut down. And they have no alternative child care; so it leaves those single moms screwed, basically. And that policy doesn’t even make sense because those moms are interfacing with their elementary-aged children at home all day erryday. Which means they would bring their germs into their Montessori jobs regardless. So why would Montessori schools not support their own staff by allowing older siblings to be present for basic childcare?
If those moms can’t go to work, their entire family is out on the street. Is that what Montessori schools want? Kids and their moms homeless on the street?? I’m sure that would horrify Dr. Montessori.
Another factor is that because the schools’ business model depends on enrollment numbers, they are also cutting fully qualified guides and assistants from the program. Not only can they not keep the staff paid and working, but the legal ratios of adults to children don’t merit the extra hire if numbers are so low. So for a program where your child once had this ideal ratio, there will now only be one adult for every 12 preschool children, depending on their age and what state you work or live in.
One colleague of mine works at a school that won’t even let teachers work if they live with someone high-risk. Now there’s a slippery slope of infringing upon someone’s right to work, if I’ve ever heard one. That school is asking to get sued. Here in Hawaii, families include grandparents by default. Ohana means family; and literally every grandparent I know lives with the rest of their extended family, which is generally huge. My family is so big that we would violate gathering rules just to have a family dinner (not even a family reunion, but just, a family dinner with your basic extended relatives who live nearby). So if your school is making absurd policies around who can and can’t work based on who you live with, well… I don’t even know what to think about that.
Lastly on student and staff ratios, I imagine altered student to staff ratios would make Montessori teaching while sanitizing all the toys, washing hands, and taking all the temperatures all day long real interesting, y’all. Not to mention that diapers are not going to change themselves. And when the preschoolers pee their pants and need to change clothes, someone needs to help them and someone else needs to clean up the urine puddle. So…. how was that all supposed to work, exactly? The fact is, people are about to lose their jobs, and ECE staff is already very low paid as it is. So most of us are living paycheck to paycheck and we can’t afford to build a savings.
THE REALITIES OF EXPECTING BABIES, TODDLERS, AND PRESCHOOLERS TO SOCIAL DISTANCE
Anyone who has spent their day with a room full of infants or toddlers knows that this whole social distancing expectation for any child under age three is a hyuuge ask. It is not in the nature of the toddler to sit still or stay in one small space. I literally have to chase children in my classroom sometimes. They run indoors. They sprint, actually. And they are horrible listeners. So if you think we’re going to magically be able to keep toddlers at desks like adults in cubicles, you have never lived life with a toddler.
And by the way where did all the single desks and chairs magically get furnished from? Because when I left my classroom we only had one (1) single-person chair and table. All the rest were 2, 4, or 6-person tables because my school is AMS. And not to offend the AMS style but they have more communal tables generally. And we have fared perfectly fine without many 1-person tables… except that now, corona.
THE REALITIES OF PATHOGEN AND GERM SPREAD, CLEANING, AND SANITIZING
Anyone who has spent 8 hours with a baby or toddler knows that they are germ-spreaders by default. They lick and mouthe everything. They sneeze and cough spontaneously and huge blobs of mucous literally plop out of their noses all over their faces and the environment. Everything they touch gets spread to like, a 5-foot radius. They pee on the ground if they’re toilet learning. They want to touch everything and be as independent as possible.
They also have very short attention spans and might only engage with a material for like, 5 seconds before they decide they’re done; and then in post-quarantine policy it will need to be removed and sanitized. Does any school out there have like, double its Montessori materials supply? Because you’re gonna need that in order to sustain Montessori programming given these absurd demands.
We would need to go Boy In the Plastic Bubble status to keep young children from spreading germs. Sanitizing left and right is NOT the answer, nor is it a feasible request to make of any 0-3 Montessori environment; not to mention I can speak on behalf of every school that I’ve ever worked at (at least 6 of them) and they do NOT have adequate sanitizing equipment and protocols in place to the degree that a deadly disease would merit. I hope every preschool is sponsored by Clorox. Because most schools I have worked at don’t have steamers or sanitizing machines.
For infants and toddler Montessori environments, it takes hours to sanitize and clean the materials and surfaces daily, doing it old school style with sanitizing sprays and rags, or even with disposable clorox wipes. For primary communities, the materials and shelves are typically cleaned once a week because the volume of materials is so high in a Montessori primary classroom. To expect primary teachers to sanitize every single day deeply is honestly inhumane. If that was needed, schools would want to look into hiring sanitation crews.
We had a hard enough time maintaining sanitation when there wasn’t a deadly virus going around. A lot of the time my assistant and I would forgo our full lunch breaks in order to do the cleaning. I’m about to be frighteningly, embarrassingly honest right now– I was washing all of our cloth linens from lunch by hand daily at my school before quarantine. Because we did not own a washer and dryer on site at the school. Literally I was doing laundry the Montessori way: scrubbing it all with a scrub board, and hanging it up to dry outside on clothes pins.
Thank God Dr. Montessori included this work in the curriculum because I will also be candid that I did not know how to do laundry in bulk, by hand, prior to AMI training, LOL. My grandma who bore and raised her whole family in Hawaii used to joke that my sisters and I were “California girls” who didn’t know how to hang up laundry correctly. She was right; because in Cali we all typically use a washer and dryer if you can afford one. It’s not like Hawaii where the weather permits line drying 365 days a year. My grandma also didn’t believe in the dishwasher and whenever she came to California to babysit us, we had to break out the dish strainer, specifically for her. She’s over 90 now, so there’s something to be said for practical life work!
People also think that containing the material belongings of each child in one place will magically stop the spread of germs. Again, this is an airborne virus. You can’t stop the spread of air. Sanitize surfaces all you want. People’s germs from their homes are going to enter the classroom atmosphere aerially. The cirque du soleil of airborne virus will be leaping off of everyone’s clothing… or back onto it before it goes home.
Another valid point worth considering: if your preschool didn’t have a washer and dryer on site before COVID-19, I’ll tell you right now, sending laundry home with families is probably no longer an option. And if you think you can send it home with the teachers, mmmm… that doesn’t sound very kosher given how much extra sanitizing work they’ll have to do already, on site. A washer and dryer on site is pretty much a post-COVID must for Montessori preschools. And probably steam cleaners for toys, and maybe a dish washer or a sanitizing machine.
THE FAULTY LOGIC OF EXPECTING TODDLERS TO WEAR MASKS TO SCHOOL
Next in line for discussion is this idea that you can get toddlers to don masks for most of the school day. Here is the crack behind that logic.
They can’t eat or sleep with a mask on. So that means there will be a 3-hour period of the day when the children are breathing in a mask-less environment. This is an airborne virus we’re talking about. It’s not like someone has to come up and kiss you to get this virus. It just gets breathed in. So if there is a three-hour window where all of the kids are mask-free indoors each and every day, and if everyone is supposed to be social distancing anyway, does that not negate the point of wearing masks all day?
Oh, and good luck getting them to not play near each other outside, where masks won’t be required at all schools and daycares. Does that mean if someone right next to you outside coughs in your face, you won’t be spreading germs? Because I assure you toddlers fully do cough straight in your face.
Secondly, there is a basic safety risk behind requiring toddlers to don masks, because the staff won’t be able to see their noses or mouths. Toddlers absolutely do sneeze spontaneously and globs of boogers just pour out. And they’ll let it just sit there on their faces, because they don’t care.
You can’t just not be able to see a toddler’s nose if you want to keep everyone’s basic health and hygiene managed. If I had a dollar for how many times I need to go around wiping noses on a daily basis, I’d be so rich! They also stick materials in their mouths and I’m fairly confident they’ll find a way to do so even with those masks on. What if the masks come off when staff needs to change their dirty clothing? Toddler boys do pee on their own shirts sometimes; and getting the shirts with tight collars over their disproportionally large toddler heads– I could imagine that pulling off a face mask, easily.
Thirdly, if teachers are already required to do a thousand extra things every day behind sanitizing, hand washing every hour, and being low-staffed, how on earth are the staff supposed to manage 10 toddlers masks, too? It also requires that parents buy a ton of masks and wash/replace masks. And we already know parents are not washing the masks. Children come to school with the masks full of food crumbs from whatever that child was eating; and toddlers uncontrollably lick the masks, leaving them soaked with spit.
I’m not kidding when I say it is a huge feat just to get parents to bring in clean clothing and clean underwear regularly. I love my parents, but I’m just sayin’. Parenting ain’t easy. I have a sense for how hard it is after becoming a dog mama– you have to leave the house with hella extra stuff in tow. And it is hard for a lot of parents to stay on top of provisions for their child in the classroom. That’s why every preschool has a stash of loaner clothing. By the way, I hope every child out there finds a way to have unique-looking masks so everyone knows whose is whose.
ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN AND LAYOUT
The guide is going to have to adapt the way she designs and lays out her classrooms. I do not believe it needs to be necessary to get rid of all of the hallmark and classic work that makes montessori Montessori. But I do think guides will have to get very creative about how the classroom is laid out in order to reduce the freedom of movement, manage the foot traffic, and still offer quality Montessori education.
Maybe it’s possible to allow one child to utilize practical life water works each dayand then cover them up after they have been used once. Maybe it is possible to do food prep in a disposable way, such as using those paper food trays they used to use in my elementary school cafeteria. But I’m sure all the directors will be paranoid and veto food prep and most practical life work. AMI doesn’t include preparatory activities in a toddler environment, but for primary, it’s going to have to become a one-time-a-day affair. And dry transferring is about to be with pony beads, fish gravel, and fishtanks marbles only because those can get sanitized.
Architects of the future are going to have amazing jobs designing classrooms that are pathogenic-proof. All I gotta say. Now is also the time to recruit any of your parents who work in architecture or remodeling firms to get more sinks installed in your classrooms for hand washing; and maybe a second toilet on the other side of your classroom so children can go pee all day without breaking social distancing requirements.
My classroom only has one bathroom, multiple kids will happily run in there when they need to pee; and literally we only have one hand washing sink that the entire class has to share, including the staff after poop diaper changes. And the children have to climb up stairs to access the sink because it wasn’t built for a toddler’s stature. Does that mean they will have to sanitize the stairs in between hand washes? because if you touch the stair rail to climb up, with germy hands, and you touch it again to climb down with your clean hands… Even if they’re required to hand wash every hour? (which yes, that’s in the policy) LOL. Geez this is all so ridiculous.
By the way, has anyone out there done a socially-distant fire drill yet?. I used to work at a school where the fire alarm would go off habitually because the fire alarm was broken… or the local crack heads used to turn it on for fun or something (it was a school downtown). If your school abides by fire alarms, it means you’re looking at… socially distant fire drills?? Do you know how long that would take? Or if the fire alarm does off during lunch or nap, and no one is wearing masks, is everyone just like “screw it, we’re all getting corona today?”.
THE NECESSITY OF ADAPTING YOUR PROGRAMMING AND BECOMING A LOT MORE FLEXIBLE
Both parents and school staff alike are all going to have to be willing to be a lot less rigid, controlling, demanding, and limited in your flexibility. We are all going to have to think way outside of our typical box and beyond our typical tolerance level in order to make reopening Montessori programs post-quarantine realistically possible. Honestly I believe people are going to have to realize that all of these policies are a bit ridiculous to expect from any 0-3 Montessori atmosphere, and probably for the 3-6 year olds, too. But teachers and parents will be so desperate for paychecks and childcare everyone will oblige.
After working in this industry since 2012, I have generally encountered a LOT of rigidity from school administration and from parents across multiple school work experiences. The directors love to shoot down innovative ideas and impose ridiculous changes upon staff that staff have to just go with all of a sudden. The teachers and kids can’t be the only points of flexibility if the schools want to make this work.
This is also NOT the time for power trips. This is the time to literally be recruiting a free-flow of ideas. To open your mind to alternative possibilities and the desire to be collective, innovative, and adaptable.
In these times, I genuinely believe that all of these policies should be soft policies, tentative to observing the actuality of what works and what is possible to actually implement. Unless, like I said there is currently some model post-COVID Montessori dream school somewhere on earth that is currently making it work.
If your Montessori program cannot adapt and think creatively and collectively, you will probably struggle. The only thing worse than having to lay off half your staff and lose half your business revenue is to look back on moments when your staff was offering you viable solutions, and knowing you shot them all down.
Directors must also adapt policy realistically; because you cannot make absurd demands of your staff and children, magically expecting human beings to keep up with a reality that is basically inhumane. It is the realistically innovative and flexible that are going to be able to adapt and make it through the reopening of our Montessori schools; just like it has been the realistic, innovative, and adaptive countries who have been able to keep their corona counts under control.
Guides from everywhere should also be in the loop, and regularly meeting virtually to put our heads together to develop and implement the best ideas for our classroom age range. I recently discovered that I have not fully been in this loop. So make sure your Montessori association memberships are current, talk to your colleagues from other places, and don’t depend on your school director to be the only deliverer of information around how other Montessori practitioners and schools are making changes.
IS MONTESSORI AT HOME IS GOING TO KEEP TRUE MONTESSORI ALIVE? EVERY SCHOOL NEEDS TO ADOPT IT AS A SUPPLEMENTAL AND COMPLEMENTARY “PRODUCT” TO BOLSTER YOUR BUSINESS REVENUE
… Or better yet, every guide who is laid off needs to jump at this opportunity. Clearly your job has proven that they are financially insecure. So maybe it’s time to go into business for yourself.
I have mentioned this earlier in the post but I genuinely believe there is a time-sensitive opportunity for Montessori at home to rise in popularity as a Montessori delivery model specifically with 0-3. This quarantine has shown us that parents are struggling in the home environment not knowing how to keep their child engaged, learning, and under control behaviorally. The quarantine has also shown us that the home is indeed the safest place to be if you want your baby and your family to avoid catching COVID-19.
So if you can work with a practitioner remotely, or if you trust one to come into your home to set it up and work with you a few times, you will probably catch a lot less germs than if your kid was surrounded by 11 other children and all of their families’ germs. I can’t speak on behalf of the AMS trained 0-3 guide. But I do know that every AMI-trained 0-3 guide is fully qualified to offer in-home Montessori consultation for families.
Furthermore, the home is fairly limitless; so it is possible for the children in the home to do all of the wonderful Montessori curriculum that the campus-based programming cannot offer due to the fear of pathogenic transmission. There can be working rugs, hand washing tables, food prep, and all the wonderful Montessori activities your child’s heart desires in the home setting. And your child won’t have to have their temperature taken a billion times per day, or have their freedom of movement limited to a specified quadrant of a germ-filled, germophobic and tense classroom environment.
So if you don’t get a spot in a school-based Montessori program, consider finding a trained Montessori guide near you, get yourself some MontiKids sets, and an in-home consultation. And it’s possible, socialization not withstanding (don’t even ask me what socialization is even going to look like at a school right now anyway), that your child might have an even stronger opportunity to benefit from the Montessori method in the safety of your own home.
Thanks for reading this very long post, hope it helps (: