Our Montessori school has just started school year 2021-2022, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to write about how exactly we do Montessori homeschooling.
(By “our Montessori school” I mean the school my son goes to, not that we own our own Montessori school.)
If you’ve heard of Montessori before, you probably know that it involves a lot of hands-on work. Montessori students, especially the younger ones, work with a lot of what we call materials, whether it’s in Math or science or geography or history.
And we did work with Montessori materials when we were doing face-to-face classes at school. But of course, since the pandemic started, we haven’t been doing in-person classes, and so we don’t have our usual access to all the materials that we have in school.
So one possible question that you may have about Montessori homeschooling is regarding the use of materials. Do we still use materials? Do we have to buy our own?
Another thing that you may be wondering about is the actual process — like what does the students’ day actually look like? Has it become like the online classes of traditional schools where the entire class is in a Zoom meeting or a Google classoom and the teacher lectures to all of them at the same time?
Because something you may or may not know about truly authentic Montessori programs is that students are usually self-paced and self-directed when it comes to their lessons. What that means is that, first of all, if they’re learning something new, they have what is called a “presentation” with their teacher, which is usually done one-on-one with the teacher, or with a very small group. But, aside from presentations, which are scheduled, students usually decide for themselves what they are going to do — what lesson they want to work on first, what activity they’re going to do next, etc. So there’s a lot of freedom given to the students, and that’s actually one of the hallmarks of the Montessori pedagogy. Students are trained to take initiative, to be independent, to own and take responsibility for their time.
So — how does this work when we’re doing home-based learning in a Montessori school?
These are the questions that what we will answer in this article.
First of all, my son goes to Children’s Paradise Montessori School (CPMS). It’s an authentic Montessori school in Cebu that places a lot of emphasis on being nature-smart, values-oriented, and strengths-based. Their teacher-to-student ratio is around 1:12, at most 1:15, so the teacher is really able to get to know and spend time with each child, and really guide them in their learnings the Montessori way.
Like all schools, CPMS was deeply impacted by the restrictions brought about by the pandemic but they were able to adapt fairly quickly. Even since the start of the last schoolyear, they have had an online learning management system — MontessoriHomeProgram.com, or MHP for short — where the students can access their lessons.
When you enroll your child, you are actually given two options.
Option A is like a regular Montessori classroom setup, so you have your teacher and your classmates, and you meet everyday — except that you meet online in Zoom. So it’s like a virtual Montessori classroom. (More details about this later.)
Option B is modular. In this option, the parent has more responsibility and is the one in charge of supervising the child everyday using the curriculum and learning materials given by the school. So it does take up more of the parent’s time — but it’s also cheaper. It’s perfect for stay-at-home moms or other moms who can really devote the time needed to personally educate their children. It is the option that’s closer to traditional homeschooling. This is what my son and I have been doing in the last school year. And even though I’ve never seen myself as the type of person who has the temperament to be a teacher, I’ve surprisingly found this setup very satisfying and rewarding. I love the freedom that my son and I have with Option B and that’s why we decided to continue doing this modular system of home learning this coming school year.
Having said that, the reality is that not all parents can afford to really dedicate a huge chunk of their day to homeschooling their kids — because they have to work. A lot of parents also want their kids to be able to work and interact with other children their age.
And so a huge majority of the kids at CPMS are doing Option A, or the virtual Montessori classroom, so that’s what we will discuss more here.
How does the virtual Montessori classroom work?
To answer that, let me describe a regular day in the life of the Montessori homeschooling student doing Option A. This is based on my son’s experience this past summer with the CPMS Montessori Enrichment Program, which used the Option A setup. The teachers and the school in general have had more than a year to fine-tune their process, and they’ve also taken into consideration the feedback that they’ve received from parents and students, and it really shows in how smoothly their virtual classroom works now.
First, the school day starts at 8:30 in the morning. The students log on to the MHP — at MontessoriHomeProgram.com — and they mark themselves present in the Attendance page. They also log in to Zoom, where, upon arrival, they are assigned to a breakout room. So it’s like arriving in school and then going to a classroom — they go to Zoom and then they are transferred to a breakout room. Each section has their own breakout room; they can see their teacher and their classmates there. And each section has just 12-15 students — sometimes not even 10 — so it’s really a small group, the way Montessori should be.
Each day, the teacher prepares a class routine, which she posts in the MHP. It’s like a program, or a schedule, for what’s going to happen that day.
The class routine could look like this:
At the beginning of the day, everyone gets together for circle time and the teacher will go through what’s going to happen for the rest of the morning. And then maybe everyone has a spelling exercise at 9:00, and afterwards they check their own work. (It’s not graded but it gives them an idea of what words they tend to misspell so they know what to take note of and work on in the future.)
And then at 9:15, the teacher starts doing one-on-one sessions with the kids.
First up is John. The teacher presents the lesson on Degree of Comparison to John in a separate breakout room.
While they are doing this, Mark and Zoe stay in their class’ main breakout room. They can choose what to work on from any of the lessons listed under their Independent Work. All the materials they need for these Independent Works are in the MHP website, so it’s easy for them to work without, or with very little, supervision. And the works assigned to each child are really given careful consideration by the teacher. The teacher makes sure that each child is ready for that lesson and that they can spend as much time as they need to master that lesson. So, for example, maybe Mark is still mastering the concept of division using the Montessori Stamp Game material, but maybe the teacher sees that Zoe is ready to move on to doing long division on paper, and so each student is given individual work that meets them where they are.
When John is done with his one-on-one session, he returns to the main breakout room and begins doing his Independent Work, while Mark takes his turn for a presentation with the teacher. And so on.
Basically, a day in a virtual Montessori classroom operates in a similar way to how it would work in a real classroom in real life.
What about materials?
At CPMS, the school loans its Montessori materials to the students. There’s a two-week loaning period and a rotation of materials, such that one student can use a certain material at home for two weeks, and then they return the material to school. The materials are disinfected by school staff. Then another loaning period starts, and the students get to borrow another material for two weeks, and so on.
If it’s the student’s first time using a material, they will have a presentation (or a lesson) with the teacher in the virtual classroom, or with their parent if they’re doing Option B. They then make the most of the time that they have with the material to master the lessons that are related to it. A lot of the Montessori materials are actually used for a lot of different lessons — for example, the bead chains can be used for addition, for skip counting, for construction of a square, etc. — so it’s up to us to maximize the time that we have with the material.
There are also Montessori “materials” that can be worked with online, such as those made by Pocket Montessori and Virtual Montessori Materials. They’re not quite the same, of course — because actually touching and manipulating materials creates entirely different neural connections — but they’re good enough for repetition and mastery.
Of course, if we want to, we can buy our own materials. There are quite a few Montessori materials in Shopee and while they may not be AMI-standard, they’re perfectly usable. The beads, the stamp game, the multiplication and division boards, and even the binomial and trinomial cubes are just some of the Montessori materials available in Shopee. (They’re probably available in Lazada too; I’m just more used to Shopee, so I browse there more often.)
Finally, we can also improvise the Montessori materials that we need using things that we already have at home. For example, we used tree branches and twigs to learn about angles. We used kitchen materials to learn about density. We made our own nomenclature cards. It was actually more fun that way because we got to use our imaginations and our creativity, which is totally in keeping with Montessori philosophy.
We also have extracurricular activities organized by the school. For example, we had a songwriting workshop where the participants got to learn from the amazing Jude Gitamondoc and the one and only Jose Mari Chan.
And because Montessori does things differently — it’s thorough but not high-stress — we also have enough time and energy to do things outside of school, such as learning a new language (Italian in our case).
So it’s been a really good experience, the pandemic notwithstanding. My son and I have grown even closer, and we are looking forward to learning more and growing more this school year.