Dear Ask a Montessorian,
I’ve been teaching Children’s House for quite some time and am excited to be entering my first year as an Elementary teacher next year. What parent education topics would you suggest for our Elementary families, especially when it comes to the home environment, screen time and academic expectations?
Sharita, Des Moines, Iowa
Dear Sharita, welcome to the Elementary community! With a background in the Children’s House, you will have wonderful contributions, knowledge and experience, especially with the first year students. Your question poses an important discussion that all schools and guides should consider. Creating a relationship based on an open communication between parents and the school serves to benefit our main goal in education: the spiritual, emotional and academic development of children.
Sending out a survey is one way to get an idea of what parents are concerned or have questions about. Parents of first years may not know what to ask besides logistical questions, but parents of second and third years will be able to express what they’d like more information on. This will also give you an idea of the interest level of the parents, and if you are to hold a parent evening focusing on a specific topic.
One topic I would suggest starting the year off is a “Montessori 101.” This would answer questions, such as: What is Montessori? Why is it important? What are the differences between Montessori education and a traditional setting? This is where you WOW your parents. The parents should feel your excitement, and no one will misunderstand why you’re there!
Many schools hold “Back to School” nights during the first month of school where classroom guides introduce themselves and review procedures and routines for the school and individual classrooms. Topics such as homework, projects, field trips, volunteering and expectations should be reviewed. You can go over the curriculum, or you can have a special experience such as “The Montessori Journey” or “The Silent Journey.” This is a wonderful whole school education event that exposes parents to the curriculum and the unique Montessori materials and lessons that demonstrate and support. I’ve experienced a wonderful afternoon where the focus was one academic subject, in this case, math. In each classroom, they highlighted the journey of mathematical knowledge and skills for the three-year cycle. At the end of the event, parents walked away with a sense of how a child would experience math from a toddler classroom all the way through high school (depending on how far your school goes through). It’s wonderful to bring to attention how some materials resurface at different levels, for example, the binomial cube at the primary, lower elementary and upper elementary classrooms. An alternative approach to The Montessori Journey may be to focus on main topics in each curriculum area instead of one topic.
Most likely your students’ parents did not attend a Montessori elementary school. Be conscious and empathetic that parents often struggle with building the bridge between a Montessori classroom and home environment. Often times, parents are unaware or just need reminders on how independent and capable their children are at school and how this can translate to home activities. A workshop giving specific suggestions is highly recommended. This may include incorporating a responsibilities routine and setting up a prepared environment in a child’s room, playroom or kitchen. For example, elementary children are capable of preparing their lunches, help with meal preparations and simple cleaning jobs, such as washing dishes, laundry, wiping tables and sweeping floors. You may want to discuss allowances and how to use intrinsic motivation without rewards. Depending on your school policy regarding homework, you can give suggestions on incorporating real-world experiences without using textbooks and worksheets. Kids can cook, create reports and presentations on family vacations, go on walks with field guide books, do mindfulness activities or have your child plan out your next weekend with a focus on where to go, expenses (parking, entrance fees) and travel notes using a map (such as travel time, distance, fitting it into the schedule for the day).
Screen time can be a tricky topic since parents have their own opinions on how much, when and why. I would suggest backing up your suggestions with current research and your school’s policy and recommendations. Companies have convinced parents there are “educational” apps or games. They market more screen time, or even convince parents their child will be “behind” the norm unless they purchase their app or product. Give alternatives to how parents can encourage academic growth without increasing screen time. This may include family board game night, walking outside after dinner, practical life activities, or just reading books. Encourage reasonable screen time limits that are enforced. A brief reminder of the downfall and dangers of unsupervised screen time might be necessary.
In addition to those above, I would suggest additional parent education topics, such as:
- Sensitive periods
- Freedom within limits
- Curriculum (Cosmic, Language, etc.)
- Practical life in elementary
- What does “Follow the child” mean?
- Why Montessori works
- Summer parenting the Montessori way
Thank you for you questions. Educating our parents is a crucial component in keeping a strong, positive school community. I would suggest planning a parent education class once a month. I understand it can be exhausting for classroom guides to prepare and present parent workshops. An alternative would be to search your Montessori community for consultants, like myself, who can present these topics in person or online. There are also online courses for parents or guides. Good luck and have a wonderful school year!
Jacqueline Grundberg has spent 20 years in the field of education with 16 as a Montessori classroom teacher. She is currently an Instructional Guide with The Center for Guided Montessori Studies and an independent consultant to families and schools. Learn more about Jacqueline here.