Parents who embark on a homeschooling journey often find that they need the wisdom and support of mentors who can help guide them so that they can in turn guide their own children. Join us this week on the podcast for a guide to Montessori homeschooling.
by Letty Rising
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Chelsea Roberts is an Elementary Program Manager and Coach for Guidepost Montessori Homeschool. She works closely with families as a highly respected advisor for homeschooling parents. With her AMI Montessori elementary diploma for ages 6-12 and her M.Ed. from Loyola University, along with her years as a Montessori elementary teacher, Chelsea has the knowledge and experience to guide parents interested in homeschooling using the Montessori approach.
Chelsea shared her experiences working with families and children on the Montessori Talks podcast. Here’s the edited interview.
What aspects of Montessori Elementary are the easiest or hardest for parents to implement in a homeschool environment?
Many parents are great at noticing their children’s interests and allowing their children to follow those interests. These parents are in tune with their children, and I see this attunement when they begin their practice.
The parents I work with are excited to make Montessori homeschooling work for their families. When I was a teacher, it was my job to understand every child who entered my classroom. Even in homeschooling, no two families are alike. So, watching these parents individualize education for their children and family adds harmony to what they’re attempting to do.
It’s always fascinating to see parents notice their children’s developmental shift in the elementary years. They realize that they need to pivot to meet the child’s developmental needs in a way that they had not been oriented to before. And I love seeing that transition.
Have you been partnering with parents in the program you are working in?
I’ve always been really invested in attempting to partner with parents. This dynamic where the parent is the teacher and I am their supporter has flipped the responsibility dynamic on its head. Although I’m technically on the sidelines, the lessons, assessments, and educational goals are all the parents’ responsibility.
When I came on board with Guidepost Montessori, I was only supporting parents who had elementary children at home through a coaching and mentorship relationship. I later transitioned to a full-time position where I also started to give parents the information that they need to be independently successful in this incredible goal they’ve set for themselves. I also encourage them to be part of a larger community. The Montessori homeschooling community is growing, but it’s still quite small.
Do you know any reasons somebody might be dissuaded from starting Montessori-style homeschooling? How could those people be more supported to continue doing this?
It’s difficult to separate our experiences from our children’s experiences. And so, comparing our experience in traditional schooling and what we see in the culture can dissuade families from attempting Montessori-style homeschooling.
Some parents feel like they want to stop because of overwhelming insecurity and fear that they are not doing right by their children. So, they don’t see a reason to even try, and I really empathize with them because I’ve experienced that feeling.
Even though I had my training, I still worried that I wasn’t giving perfectly timed presentations in the classroom. I eventually learned that at the end of the day, my kids just needed lessons. So, some lessons were better than no lessons.
I often talk to parents about setting a larger goal, especially with elementary children. It’s important to work in collaboration with them to set a grander vision for what they want homeschooling to look like. As families focus on that vision, they use that to orient their decision-making, time management, and whether those things get them closer to that goal.
Even when the families may not have all the Montessori philosophy or may not completely understand the scope and sequence, a family-specific vision is often a wonderful way to start. At the end of the day, the parents and children need to work in harmony as much as possible.
I always encourage parents to keep work journals in parallel with their children’s work journals. These might help satisfy some attendance requirements if they’re in a state that has that. And when they feel like their homeschooling practice is slow, going back to their personal records will help them realize the threads that have carried through in their children. The work journal can also be a tool of accountability for our children.
How can parents motivate their elementary-aged children to get excited about their work? How do you spark interest in the home environment?
Some parents are so understandably invested in the product of their children’s education that they lose all sense of humor, imagination, and curiosity about what their child’s process could look like. This is mostly because they find it difficult to remove the parent hat when interacting with their children in a homeschooling setup.
Children are innately in process, and the extent to which parents can join them in that process reframes collaboration, buy-in, and the possibility of how children can spend their time to show that they’re learning. And so, it’s necessary to get excited with the children.
When you’re at home with a 7-year-old who has no Montessori experience, sometimes you have to be the 9-year-old. You have to come up with creative projects together. That creative project will forever be engraved in the child’s mind, and they can apply it as a follow-up activity for any lesson they’re working on.
Some lightness, humor, and removal of oneself from a situation can be helpful in giving the power back to the child. This will enable them to come up with a new plan or just laugh about whatever ludicrous situation they found themselves in.
Children in the second plane of development have a gregarious instinct, and that is probably one of the more challenging aspects of homeschooling. Do a lot of your homeschooling families have ways to socialize or collaborate with other kids?
Yes. I see this gregariousness and hunger for input manifesting a lot in the way children want to share about what they’ve worked on. Children get a sense of pride, completion, or purpose knowing that they can share something they worked on with someone else they love, whether it’s a sibling, a grandparent, or a co-op group in our program.
We have a virtual platform where children share pictures of their follow-up work and other children will comment on it. So, families continue to find a way. We often try to buffer this external validation, but this is less about validation and more about children wanting to share what they’ve learned with people they know. With every iteration of a co-op, social group, or an at-home going-out program, many families are very creative with what they’re doing.
How long does it take for a new homeschooling parent to feel confident implementing some of the basic Montessori principles and practices at home?
We see a lot of people coming in with excitement and fervor, and then they tend to feel overwhelmed within the first 30 days. Sometimes they’re just trying to orient themselves and wrap their brain around all the components.
By 90 days or so, parents don’t know exactly where they’re headed but they’re now comfortable with that. They feel like they know enough about their reasons for Montessori-style homeschooling. In turn, this makes them trust its contribution to the dream they had for their children.
Are they able to reach out to you whenever they have questions and do you have orientations when they sign up? In what ways do you front-load support for new families?
We’ve got experienced homeschoolers and Montessorians on our team. With the Guidepost program, we’ve been trying to find a perfect combination that works for most people. Our homeschool team is always available via email, ready to handle logistics, curricular questions, or child development questions.
We also host a weekly question-and-answer session for parents. They tend to stick around and listen to other parents’ questions as well. The sessions also show parents that they’re not alone in their challenges. This creates an opportunity for them to feel like a part of a larger community.
We have also tinkered with how we want to give parents as much information, support, and resources as we can so they can feel successful without feeling overwhelmed. Within the first five weeks of their registration with our program, we share written and practical resources, as well as logistical support particular to homeschooling. The resources we provide are evergreen because the practice is always evolving.
What cool activities have you seen some of the homeschooling children do at home?
A sibling pair shared their custom birthday walk that one of the children made for herself. They live in the Northwest, and it was very cold where they were during her birthday. So, she took the idea of the sun in the center and all the months around. She made this incredible outdoor version with frozen-colored ice blocks and a fire in the center. She was so proud of it.
Those siblings also did an incredible timeline of Maria Montessori for her birthday. They used some of their fraction inserts to frame different portions of the timeline. They made miniature versions, from baby Maria to adolescent Maria, to adult Maria.
Another family I’ve worked with has rituals at the end of every school year for their family. They put together a big performance for all their extended family at the end of the year. They hang their best work from the year as an exhibit, and they plan a series of songs to sing. It’s always wonderful to hear how homeschoolers are making the experience their own with their children.
Inviting extended family also gives parents a bit of credit for deciding to homeschool, which can be scary for all families. Their extended family can see the children’s progress and capabilities.
As the program manager of this relatively new homeschooling program that you have been helping to design, what would you say are some special aspects of the program?
The most special part of Montessori homeschooling is the pioneer parents who are doing it. I learned far more from them about what it means to keep this commitment going on a day-to-day basis. I share as much as I can from the Montessori perspective, but the community of people who are doing this is genuinely special.
In 50 years, we’ll look back and the community will have hopefully quadrupled. I hope we’ll look back and see the incredible lives lived by these Montessori homeschooled children.
I’m a reformed purist, but I still believe in the power of these high-fidelity Montessori lessons. I truly believe in the power of these key lessons to open up avenues of exploration for children. So, I’m really proud to work with a program that is delivering high-fidelity Montessori lessons to more children than otherwise would be reached in other school environments.
You are mainly supporting parents through conversations, material kits, and a video library of lessons that the children can watch. Can the children create their own follow-up work?
I see parents and children using their access to those resources differently. Sometimes it is simply the child one-on-one with the video lesson, especially when it’s a story-based lesson. Parents often use those video lessons to orient themselves to the material and do the lesson offline with their children. Then, they give options for follow-up. So, it’s really flexible.
Some people advocate for making sure that the classroom stays true to Montessori philosophy while also integrating with the 21st-century resources we have. Would you agree with that?
I totally agree. After the pandemic, parents were able to see into their child’s educational experience more clearly. The pandemic gave parents the confidence to turn their child’s otherwise negative schooling experience around. I hear stories where parents say their children started to hate learning during the pandemic. Montessori has been the salve for children who otherwise would be heading to a difficult set of elementary and adolescent years.
Regardless of availability, private Montessori schools will not always be accessible to all families. So, I would rather more children have more exposure and opportunities to engage with this style of independent learning. And I think it’s a net gain; I see happy, healthy, really serious, and wonderful children.
I love to talk to a lot of people about different aspects of Montessori, particularly Montessori Elementary. So, read on for some of the amazing experiences we hear about on the Montessori Talks podcast. This was only a snippet of my conversation with Chelsea, but you can listen to the full episode at the top of this post.
Letty Rising has been involved in Montessori education for over 15 years. She holds a B.A. in Sociology, a California State Teaching Credential, and an AMI elementary diploma for ages 6-12 and an M.Ed from Loyola University in Maryland. She has held positions as a Homeschool Education Specialist, Montessori Elementary Teacher, School Director, Principal, Montessori Coordinator, and Consultant in several public and private Montessori school communities throughout the years. She currently supports schools around the world through professional development offerings, consulting, and mentoring.