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How to Approach Homeschool During a Pandemic, the Montessori Way

Or if you just want to home school your children!

With the Pandemic keeping many of us at home much longer than we initially anticipated, parents need to navigate how they will educate their children as they work from home.

For many parents faced with this challenge, their next logical question is “How am I supposed to teach my child?”

Before you can even begin to put together a home school schedule, understanding the difference in the ways young children (0-6 years old) take in information and learn can make the task of homeschooling much less stressful. They are very different in their learning style.

The Absorbent Mind

Young children have what Maria Montessori referred to as the “Absorbent Mind”. I am sure by just the name alone you can gain a foundational understanding of what she meant by that: taking in information as a sponge takes in water. My favorite analogy for how children take in information is to liken it to taking a photograph vs. drawing a picture.

As Maria Montessori stated in The Formation of Man. “A camera, with its sensitive film, can in a single instant take in anything that comes to it through light. There is no greater effort involved in taking a photograph of a whole forest than in taking that of an isolated tree. ...if one wants to make a drawing this is either easy or difficult according to the subject selected. That time required to reproduce a face in profile differs greatly from that required to draw a full figure or still more, a group of people or landscape. A drawing, furthermore, never reproduces all the details even when we want it to do so.”

Young children expend no effort taking in the environment and experiences they are exposed to. Because they do not yet have the experiences of a lifetime to guide them, they rely on this absorbent mind to allow them to learn. Compare that to an adult, or even a child of 8 or 9 years old. They already have experiences to draw on from their memory, will, and intelligence. The older children and adults can take in information, and file it away appropriately in their mind, aware of what information they know and do not yet know.

Because of this Absorbent Mind, young children do not need to “practice” or “study” new topics. They are taking in information, indiscriminately, building up the foundation of their memory. What we adults want to do is to encourage them to experience through repetition. Repetition allows the young child to get a full experience with a particular activity, self-perfecting to the point the child feels necessary, creating foundational experiences for life as they grow older. The Montessori classroom should be considered as more of a “mental playground” for the child. The intention is not that the child comes out of the classroom at the end of his years and be able to do all four operations and the ability to read at a second-grade level (although there are many instances of this occurring!), but rather they have a collection of experiences they have internalized and are deeply impressed onto their memory, so they are eager to learn more through their next phase, that of academic learning.

So why do I need to know about the Absorbent Mind?

It is very important to know this information so that as parents you are comfortable with your child going a whole week without saying the alphabet, or showing no interest in writing, or skipping 15 whenever they are counting to 20.

In my 10+ years of working with and guiding children in the Montessori classroom, I have witnessed EVERY child have a week (or weeks) of doing nothing but “easy” work. They will go through phases in which they draw all day or scrub a table all day, or walk from table to table, just watching what other children are doing.

From my adult perspective, I would panic. What are they doing?! What am I doing wrong?! Their parents are going to be so upset!! I have to do something!! I had to rely on my training, observations, and both that Maria Montessori passed on to us through her books. And you know what? All those children were able to read and write and count and do math by the time they left the Montessori classroom when they were six. This accomplishment had less to do with me making sure they received all those lessons on a timed schedule and more to do with their innate desire to learn and being provided the environment that allowed them to learn at their own pace and chase the interests they felt at the moment.

You see, it was that Absorbent Mind, that camera, that always takes in information, that did all the work. Even when we think our children are doing nothing, or when we see them just coloring, they are taking everything in, with all their senses. When they watch others do their work, they are taking in that information for when they later are inspired to try. They are hearing others sound out words, count in order, or use new vocabulary. They do not try to take this information in. They cannot stop this information from coming in.

Knowing this will help you when you are at home with your young child and you start to feel panicky that they aren’t interested in letters, or they aren’t drawing a face yet, or they continually write their “s” backward. They will get it. All you need to do is provide the environment that allows them to take in this information. You don’t need to “teach” your children. You need to create an environment that encourages your child to explore and take in what is happening and model the behaviors you want them to learn. If you want your child to read, read to them! If you want your child to know the letters, say the sounds of the letters. You don’t need to make them repeat after you. If you do these tasks frequently, they will do it as well. If you want your child to write, they will need to see you frequently writing. Whatever it is you want your child to learn, you will have to model, they will need to see you doing it. Over time, they will be ready and they will ask you how! Or you will see it come out naturally on their own! They will one day walk up to you and show you a letter they made in their drawing, or you will just overhear them counting to themselves, or counting all their socks.

In the Montessori world, we refer to ourselves as “guides” rather than “teachers” for this very reason. We are not teaching the children in our classrooms, we are guiding them. We guide them to the activity that matches their interest, we guide them to the children that are doing the activities we want them to take interest in one day, we guide them as they take in information and help them to refine that information. You can do the same at home. You can be your child’s guide, not their teacher, and they will simply amaze you.

Tell me about your experience!

Do you want to know more about how to set up an In-Home Montessori classroom? Check out my ebook! Have you experienced your child spontaneously show the knowledge of something you didn’t know they knew? Have you experienced your child talking to themselves about something you didn’t know they heard? Comment below and share your absorbent mind story!

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