Returning to the Montessori Environment

Friday 14th August 2020

Across the world, schools and early years childcare providers are facing the challenge of returning to school, in a constantly changing global picture of Coronavirus response.   Particularly in the case of young children, keeping the environment as safe as possible while creating a welcoming and joyful atmosphere is a challenge all schools, teachers and administrators are facing. But what is it about Montessori education which makes this transition easier to understand for children? 

The uniqueness of Montessori education and its prepared environment, combined with its focus on the human rights of the child and their independence, means that a Montessori classroom is able to cope far better with the uncertainty that a post-COVID world brings. As many of us are working hard to reassure parents and children who are nervous about the return to school, here are 8 ways that the Montessori approach can help children and adults return to school more safely and happily: 

1. Spacious and cared for environments

Montessori classrooms offer an uncluttered and welcoming environment specifically designed for children at each stage of their development. Authentic Montessori classrooms are meticulously cared for, by the children themselves. In a Montessori classroom the respectful use of materials is a large part of the learning approach and even the under 6s are aware from the first day that these materials need to be returned in the same condition that they were found in. This level of respect means that Montessori children can easily adapt to a state where either limited resources need to be shared or they need to be cleaned and replaced carefully. 

2. Independent and confident children

The Montessori approach is focused on child-led learning which nurtures children’s independence and confidence. Because of the greater freedoms and responsibilities they experience, Montessori children are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and be considerate to others. This means that when faced with extra adjustments in a virus situation such as, new one-way classroom systems or temperature checking, Montessori children are able to take that responsibility, and not always rely directly on the teacher.  

3. Hygiene and self-care

From an early age, Montessori children are encouraged to practise good hygiene and selfcare. They remove outdoor shoes and put on slippers on arrival and hang up their own coats and bags. They are capable of setting up their own lunch and snack tables and take turns to clear up afterwards. They are aware of the responsibility of washing their own hands and faces after eating, going to the toilet, or playing outside. It’s an easy step to increase the emphasis on good hygiene and more frequent hand washing that is needed in a COVID world. 

4. Outdoor learning

One of the main pillars of the Montessori approach is a focus on integrating nature into children’s daily learning throughout the year. In Montessori children are encouraged to work outside as much as possible and are regularly encouraged to take their indoor learning outside – such as exploring nature, working with maths materials, reading or art. As the children already see outside spaces as learning zones as well as places for play, an increased focus on outdoor learning is relatively seamless.

5. Calm and considered behaviour

Visitors to Montessori schools are often surprised by the atmosphere of calm they find and the children’s ability to concentrate for long periods of time. This is because an authentic approach to Montessori includes a focus on “Grace and Courtesy” – this is where children practise and model behaviour such as waiting for others to pass while walking around the room, acting respectfully towards others, taking care of materials they and others work with. This greater self-awareness and respect makes the concept of social distancing more achievable, even with the youngest children.

6. Healthy living

Montessori children often learn how to grow their own food, maintaining gardens and sometimes even being in charge of livestock! The youngest of children are taught how to navigate their way around kitchen utensils and can prepare food, gaining an understanding of what good, simple and healthy food is. It’s already part of their daily routine to make sure food is prepared in a clean and hygienic environment and they are able to maintain that approach with little extra guidance.

7. Freedom within limits

Those who think that a Montessori classroom allows children to just do as they like are misled. Children work within a set of recognised parameters, which demonstrate respect for the children around them. Any rules are devised to enable children to ‘live well with others’. Children over the age of 6 create their own rules together and are therefore more than capable of creating and following new rules which the Coronavirus can impose.   

8. Sustainability 

The idea of sustainability, care for the environment and the planet, is an integral part of Montessori education. A consideration of the positive impact the lack of travel and movement has had during the Corona lockdown can be understood by many, but a Montessori child’s connection with sustainable approaches to life builds in them a strong desire to care for the world and people around them.

School Children Eating Thailand