By Helen Prochazka

TODAY parents are grappling with the prospect of maintaining their children’s education in the wake of the prime minister’s announcement that schools will be closed from Monday.

For many young children, interacting with physical learning materials is key to their development. Unfortunately, the online lessons touted as a solution to school closures will not be sufficient at this crucial stage in their education. Parents will be concerned about how to ensure children continue in their educational development whilst being required to stay at home.

For 23 years, my colleagues and I at Montessori Partnership have trained countless educators to teach, based on the premise that all children have a natural desire to learn and that children learn best at their own pace.

Many of our graduates are home schoolers who wanted to provide their child with quality, structured learning, without the rigidity of mainstream education. That many people successfully provide an excellent education at home should be a reassurance to parents. If you are facing the possibility of home schooling your young child because of the Covid-19 pandemic, then rest assured that you already have valuable teaching materials and methods at your disposal.

Children have a strong developmental impulse that drives them to observe adults and imitate the things they see them doing. Their developmental mission is to grow up able to function as an adult. Encourage your child’s development by allowing them to explore your home and its contents. Real saucepans that are big, heavy and noisy do much more to develop young children’s gross motor skills than a toy version, for example. Consider organising a lower-level cupboard with various unbreakable and safe items from your kitchen for your toddler to explore.

Early years are where core mathematical principles are learned and are the ideal time for developing an understanding of abstract concepts like weight, shape, size and quantity. Look to your kitchen for teaching opportunities. Cooking is maths in practice – weighing, measuring, counting sultanas… when you make a meal, involve your child and teach as you go. A delicious meal will be a great incentive for children to put their mathematical learning into practice.

Opportunities for language development and vocabulary expansion are available at every turn. Walk with your child around the home, listing the correct terms for any object that catches their attention. Squeegee, spatula, wooden peg – don’t simplify your language – encourage your child’s vocabulary expansion by introducing them to terms they won’t have heard before.

Interject sentence structure through creating songs and rhymes wherever possible. Think of routine events as an opportunity to teach, “This is the way we brush our teeth… this is the way we scrub the dishes…” Using situations that your child will encounter regularly helps them to put their vocabulary into practice.

For older children, more concrete structure is required. However, don’t stifle independent thinking by providing too much direction. Our principles allow them to develop problem solving skills, resilience and self-confidence. Set challenges, such as developing a report on the life cycle of a garlic clove or creating a scale model of a famous bridge. Ensure you are available to answer questions, but don’t over-instruct – the goal is for your child to work out how to solve the problem independently.

Sparking and encouraging curiosity will be key to helping your children learn during this challenging time. Although for now, we must all close ourselves off from the world, we don’t need to ask our children to be closed to the amazing discoveries that the world can offer them.

Helen Prochazka, PhD, is Director of Montessori Partnership