Making the Leap – Deciding Curriculum (Work vs. Play)

The main educational focus with my home school will be Montessori. Most of what I have studied in my training, observed in Montessori classrooms, and otherwise experienced in my own classroom, has shown me that most of Montessori’s educational philosophy is timeless. It also pertains to all children regardless of gender, race, and culture. However, also in my experience with Montessori over the last few years, I have questioned some tenets of the philosophy in relation to changes that have occurred in American culture over the last hundred years. I’m not necessarily saying I disagree yet, but some aspects are worth exploring to make sure that whatever I am providing works for the child. I’ll be expanding on many of these issues in later posts.

One issue is the distinction between “work” and “play”. Although I do believe in the Montessori philosophy and in the value of the materials, I also feel that children need to be given ultimate freedom in the amount of “play” they do, and the amount of “work” they do. This attitude reflects more of an “unschooling” approach. To allow children maximum freedom of choice requires access to indoor and outdoor activities at all times, where no part of the environment is off limits, but supervision is still adequate. Whatever captures their interests is what they should be allowed to do (concentrate on). This may not take place in an uninterrupted 3-hour work cycle. Most children are not capable, at least not in a large classroom environment.

Perhaps this is only an American phenomenon, and perhaps it is mainly because of state and other government restrictions that most schools have to abide by, but in my observations there has always been a clear separation of “work” and “play”. Ideally, there is not supposed to be any connotation applied to these actions, especially “work” being difficult and not to be enjoyed, and “play” being somehow the absence of purposeful activity. That is how adults generally understand these terms, but it is true that children are satisfied by doing their “work”, which is whatever action captures their undivided attention and brings them to concentrate on it. This can look, to adults, like work or play. Even through activities that look like play, children are constantly learning. If they are swinging on a swing, they are experiencing elements of physics. If they are playing tag, they are working on social and physical challenges throughout the game. All such activities contribute to the child’s complete development as much as any other academic “work”.

Because of safety regulations set forth by the state, most childcare centers are required to restrict general outdoor learning due to supervision requirements. But, daily outdoor time (weather permitting) is also mandated. So, children are, in effect, told when they need to be inside, and when they need to be outside, regardless of their preference or ability to concentrate on something of interest to them at the scheduled time. This commonly lends itself to one of the most classic punishments of all time, “if you don’t finish your work, you won’t be able to go outside”. In this way, “work” becomes a punishment, and is generally avoided by the children. And when children don’t have interest or passion for it, learning will not take place. In fact, trying to force learning serves to reinforce a negative attitude towards academic work, which the opposite of a child’s natural tendencies.

My goal as far as curriculum then, is to allow the child to tell me or show me his or her interests, and then provide adequate materials and environment to guide that learning. In order to be a certified home school in my state, it is important to follow the state guidelines as far as curriculum. But, between Montessori and “unschooling” lesson plans, I have no doubt that the state guidelines will be fulfilled. In addition, children’s passion for learning will be honored, regardless of what kind of learning the child wishes to concentrate on (physical, social, academic, etc.)

Making The Leap: Considering Class Size (and profit)

Before deciding to start a school in my home I had many questions, including whether or not I could make enough money. After checking the state rules and restrictions, I discovered that I indeed would be able to earn money from this endeavor, and I was relieved. Although Montessori principles encourage a larger child:teacher ratio, given the size of my home, as well as state guidelines regarding the ratio, I knew I would only be able to accept a small number of children. This was an issue for me for employment purposes for sure, but I also had to explore it in terms of the Montessori philosophy.

I have to admit, although I have seen how a larger group of children is a benefit to the children, and I would advocate for it under the right circumstances, I have also been witness to the heavy burden placed on teachers as a result of having a large number of children assigned to her class. This was part of my burden as a Montessori teacher. Just as well as good habits and friendly relationships can be formed through interactions with a large class, bad habits and unhealthy relationships seemed as likely to form in a classroom that is not yet settled and on the path to normalization. It takes a strong teacher with strong administrative support to achieve such a balance, and in my experience at large schools so far, this is a rarity. It was tough to justify such a large ratio when the environment simply was not supportive of it.

Instead, I look forward to starting a small school and having more of a “family” atmosphere here. Even though the numbers will be small, the age ranges will still be varied, and the children will still have many lessons to teach to each other and to learn from each other on a daily basis. In addition to this, more expansive social experiences can be provided in other ways, such as by joining up with other local home school programs at a park or other local event. Education would not have to take place exclusively in the home, or exclusively with the one group of children I would have at any one time. There will certainly be many opportunities for socializing and learning outside of the home environment, for myself and for the children, and I look forward to exploring those outlets.

Starting My Home School

It’s been several months since I posted on my new website. I intended to start out blogging about school issues from a teacher’s perspective using examples from daily life in the Montessori classroom. That is still the case, but now my project has taken a new and exciting turn! When I started the website I was a Lead Primary (ages 3 -6) teacher at a nearby Montessori school but I have since left that job in order to pursue starting a Montessori school in my home. So, I decided to write about my adventures in getting the school started while also sharing some other educational insights along the way. Come along with me on my journey!