Some schools have already been out for a while, but for much of the US, this week has seen the start of a lot of extended school closures.
If you are faced with having your children at home for an extended school closure, consistent routines will help you settle into patterns of existing in this new normal.
Children and adults thrive on consistency. If I were you, I would start by maintaining my family’s morning rituals: wake at close to the same time and follow the same sort of schedule through the day.
In the classroom, children follow very predictably, though not rigid routines. Let’s take a look at a typical day in a Montessori classroom and see how we can adapt some of these ideas for the home.
I’d also like to invite you to our free support group for parents of 3-6 year olds. We will be talking about how to manage life at home with children during the extended school closures.
The Work Cycle
Children arrive and are greeted by the teacher. They hang up their jackets and change into indoor shoes. They welcome their friends and chat for a few minutes, and then they settle into chosen work.
For the next 2-3 hours, children go through the same sequence of events daily
- selecting work from among a variety of choices,
- use the material,
- then make it ready for the next person and
- return it to the same spot on the self.
These cycles of activity vary according to the level of difficulty of the materials. Spooning beans from one small bowl to another is something younger children enjoy doing. But for an older child, spooning does not offer the same benefits to most older children. Older children can concentrate for more extended periods. We will cover more extended, specific ideas in another post.
In Montessori classrooms all over the world, between 10:00- 10:30 children experience what is called False Fatigue. You may not realize it, but you do this, too! Around ten-ish, you’ll take a deep breath, get up and take a trip to the toilet, wash your hands (for 20 full seconds, making sure to focus under the nails and around jewelry). Then you will grab a drink, chat with a few buddies either in the office, social media, or on your phone, and then settle back into work.
False fatigue is natural. You’ve expended mental energy, and you balance it with being social, nourishing your body, and moving. Children do the same thing—no need to redirect this energy unless some house rule is broken. It’s such a great skill for children to experience false fatigue, then return to work on their own. At home, they may even go outside and run around a little or take a walk around the block (as long as you practice social distancing) before settling back into work.
Between 11:30-12ish at school, the morning work cycle will naturally wrap up. At home, children can work to tidy up workspaces, re-roll the rug that defines their workspace on the floor, and prepare for lunch.
Making lunch is part of Montessori school, so is eating together. Research shows that family meals are very beneficial, so consider that “school,” too.
Afternoon Activity and Unstructured Play Outside
The afternoon are generally more relaxed.
Legos, blocks, coloring, or, the best option of all, playing freely outside. And yes, this is school! Best of all, it is supported by research.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends 90-120 minutes a day of unstructured outdoor playtime. Play, according to the AAP, offers children social, emotional, academic as well as physical and mental health benefits! Amazing, right?
Most children do not get anywhere close to that. Do not feel bad about spending the afternoon in your back yard if you have one. If you don’t have one, you can still practice social distancing outside.
Don’t have fancy equipment in your back yard? No problem. None are needed.
- Bring out old sheets to make tents,
- silverware for digging and stirring dirt,
- go on a walk and collect sticks to use to build things like fairy homes,
- string or yarn,
- paintbrushes (for water to water paint the house),
- hammer and nails for logs or scrap wood,
- the options are endless.
Gardening offers so many benefits! Children can create a container garden if you are short on space. You might also set up something for little snacks, a trash bin, some water, etc.
If children are not used to playing for long stretches, they may have to get used to it! You might want to play with them sometimes, but do not feel like you have to do this all the time. Children may say they are bored. Don’t solve that problem for them!
Boredom births creativity!
You can say, “oh, I believe you’ll think of something!” And keep reading your book or working on your laptop, or gardening. They may want to garden with you. Show them! But remember to prioritize process over product.
The afternoon will move into dinner time which offers another opportunity to involve the children! Children can
- help you cook
- set the table
- clean up
- wash dishes or load the dishwasher
Tip: Ask yourself: is there something I am doing that my child can do? If so, show them how and make it happen!
Finally, let’s talk about what may be the most important routine of your day: bedtime.
Your bedtime routine may be the most crucial routine you establish during this time.
Though schedules may vary and you may need to adjust it if your children don’t sleep, I’d suggest a pretty firm 8:00 or 8:30 bedtime. Not just for your child, but for you, too.
The bedtime routine I used with my children was as follows. (Of course, you will adjust yours to suit your needs.)
- Clean up dinner
- Put on PJs
- Layout clothes for the morning
- Read some books to your child (I’d repeat one book every night and add in one or two news ones)
- Kisses and hugs
- Then children can look at books by themselves for 10 minutes or so
- Lights out.
It is vital, during what will be a stressful time, for you to have adult time, time for yourself, time to scroll social media, eat the candy you have hidden in the tall cabinets, binge watch terrible shows, call friends, or talk with your partner.
These few hours between 8-11 will help you stay sane. I cannot stress enough how critical self-care is.
If you can’t manage it at night, get up early and have some time for yourself then. It’s not so important when it happens, but *that* it happens. It is like putting on your oxygen mask first so you can help others.
Attitude is Everything
It is crucial that you not look at any necessary household activity as a chore. The mindset of chore comes with negative feelings that your child will pick up on. We cook because we need to (and like to) eat. We clean because we like to be in a clean space. We do laundry because we like to wear clean clothes. We do all of the stuff because we live in the house. Not because someone makes us.
The messages you send to your children about this will shape their relationship to these tasks. Any aspect of the work we do at home can become an art. You may not feel like Marie Kondo, but to your child, you can inspire a unique type of relationship with housework. Be Marie.
It may take you a few days to figure out how the details of the schedule will work best for your family. All families may be a little different, but trying to keep the schedule as familiar as possible is helpful now and will be beneficial when we return to life as we knew it before COVID 19.
Let’s walk this path together! Join our free parent support group to get through this period of extended school closures.
Jana Morgan Herman
I’m Jana Morgan Herman. I have been in Montessori for almost 30 years, as a parent, teacher, and teacher trainer. My own children started in Montessori at 18 months and attended Montessori through high school. I was a classroom teacher for most of that time and for the last 5 years have been a school director. I hold 2.5-6 credential from American Montessori Society (AMS), RIE 1 from RuthAnne Hammond and Deborah Greenwald, and a Masters in Montessori education. I homeschooled my children for several years and integrated Montessori principles during that time before working in both private and public Montessori schools.
You can do this. I believe in you.
Relax. Take a breath.