Getting Ready for Distance Learning – Independence, Structure and Consistency

While Villa di Maria, the school, is temporarily closed in the collaborative effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Villa di Maria, the community, is just coming off Spring Break and ready to jump back in to what we do best—learning!

Our incredible and dedicated guides have been working to create distance-learning plans for each of our levels—the Children’s House, Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary—to keep our children connected to VdM and inspired to keep learning. Each level’s plan is designed to meet the particular developmental needs of its children (in true Montessori fashion!) but they all share a common framework—independence within structure and consistency.

In today’s post, we’ll share some ideas for getting your home and your family ready to take on the challenge of the upcoming weeks—to get ready for distance learning.

Model calmness, while being both patient and flexible… this transition is new to the children. Children will need help orienting to the new structure and routine, and it will take time for all to adjust.Lower Elementary Guide Megan Eilers

Independence-Inspiring Spaces

As Montessori children, our kids thrive on independence and self-direction. From their first day at our school they have learned that they are capable of working at and mastering even the most challenging of tasks, all by themselves. As we head into this extended break with our children (with them every minute of the day), it is important to remember that they are, by their very nature, capable of working independently. And not just capable—they are motivated by their curiosity and rewarded by their own competence. Working independently boosts their confidence and inspires them to continue to learn.

Of course, they might need to be reminded of this. This past week (a week that feels like a year) has been constant change. There’s been a huge disruption to our daily lives plus the uncertainty about what comes next. This is anxiety-inducing for everyone, and especially so for children. What came naturally to them in their classrooms just a couple of weeks ago might feel impossibly out of reach right now.

To facilitate their confidence-boosting sense of independence with a few modifications to your home environment. Have your children help prepare their work- and play-spaces by tidying them up, organizing the materials they might need for work, and setting those items out for your children to easily access. For younger children, these items might include  scissors, paints, pencils, paper, picture books, and flowers; and for older children: books, work journals, lined and graph paper, rulers and protractors, clay, yarn, flowers and leafy plants, and laptops/tablets.

So that’s step one—create a space to inspire and facilitate independent learning for children while they’re learning from home. Which brings us to step two…

Structure and Consistency

It is a common misconception that independent learning is a free-for-all, that children are let loose in the Montessori classroom to just “do what they want.” In fact, their competence as independent learners comes from the overarching structure that their guides and assistants provide. Children rely on structure and consistency—on routine—to feel secure. When they feel secure, their bodies and brains are at their best; they are able to tap into their natural love of learning.

Ideally, we at home would all be able to create rock-solid routines that we can replicate every Monday through Friday during this extended break from school. In reality, many of us will need to manage our own work-from-home schedules with the learn-from-home schedules of our children. Use the ideas below to help create the best routine for your family.

  • Waking up and morning jobs – Start the day at the same time every day and with consistent jobs (make bed, make breakfast, wash breakfast dishes, etc.).
  • Morning work cycle – Try, if you can, to replicate the uninterrupted three-hour work cycle at home. Set aside the three hours before lunch for your child to do school work independently. Once distance learning begins, VdM guides will be supporting their classroom families to help facilitate this. For now, the important first step is to carve out that time in your family’s schedule.
  • Lunch – Whether you’re making lunch for your children, they’re making it for you or you’re making it together, try to eat lunch at the same time, together, every day.
  • Recess/Free time – Get your children outside every day for an hour or so after lunch to play, exercise and relax. It is crucial to their (and your!) physical and mental health. On days when the weather does not cooperate, do yoga, a dance video or play games inside.
  • Afternoon work – At VdM students work for two hours after recess. Much of this work is independent and some of it is guided with more structure. For Elementary students, this time often includes special projects, foreign languages, art, music, etc.
  • Afternoon jobs – At school, children in the classroom end each day by caring for the environment with specific jobs. Some examples are sweeping, collecting the recycling, dusting, straightening… anything related to their work space.
  • After-school activities – If your child had been going to after-school activities one or two nights a week, try to replicate these at home. If she was going to basketball, have her practice/play with the basketball in the backyard on the same day/time as her class. If the class cannot be replicated, find a substitute activity that your child can do at home.
  • Evening – Try to return to family time on weekdays at the same time you did before the break. Maintain your family’s routines around dinner, screen-time, and getting ready for bed.
  • Bedtime – It really is so important to get to sleep at the same time every night. Consistent sleep is crucial to a healthy, happy, less anxious child.
  • Last but not least, weekends – This is going to be a challenge for many of us. Working from home can make it very difficult to clock out for two days. But as much as we can, let’s try to set aside the weekend for family time. With the exception of assigned reading in Upper Elementary, children should feel free to ignore their work spaces on Saturdays and Sundays. Reserve the weekends for home-related chores, family games, movies on the couch, long walks in the neighborhood, and virtual social time with friends.

At Villa di Maria, we take pride in our community. We are absolutely dedicated to working with and supporting each one of our families as we power through these uncertain times. We can do it, as long as we stick together. In the coming weeks, the blog will offer ideas to help cope with the extended break, as well as feature more of our fantastic families. Stay tuned!