As we try to begin a new school year in this most trying of times, many parents of young children are finding themselves in very difficult situations. Many preschools have not reopened, and many parents simply don’t feel safe to send their children back to the ones that are opening. So while we may have older kids learning now on laptops and Zoom classes, what do we do with our younger ones?
The concept of “Microschools” or “Pod schools” has emerged recently as a new viable option. I had been fortunate enough to enter into such a journey about five months ago, back when schools were first starting to close, and children had to stay home. I had already been working with this awesome family pre-COVID as a consultant, and like so many others, they had to figure out how to support their children in this situation. They have two boys, a 3 year old and a 10 month old, and both parents are busy working professionals, now working from home.Their initial request was, “Do you think you could help us with the kids this Tuesday for 4 hours?” This worked really well, which brought them to ask, “Would it be possible to do this, Monday and Tuesday, as those are our busiest days at work?” We agreed this would be a good situation for the children, and we felt confident because both of our families had been under strict shelter-in-place, and we were following all the preventive protocols. Almost immediately we recognized we were in front of something good and decided to create a small school environment in their home.
For this, we designated the bottom floor of the house. This space has a bathroom, is by the laundry room, has access to outdoor space, and it is separate from the parents’ work area. We prepared this area with items the family already had such as open shelves, a child-sized table and activities for children (puzzles, paint, markers, playdough, etc.) I also made and prepared other activities and materials as needed to continue the children’s math and language development. This was a good beginning for the “few weeks” we would be in this situation. We also decided to do a full school day, 3 days a week. Children would be dropped off downstairs at 9:00 am, and picked up at 5:00 pm. I built a specific daily routine (work periods, meals, naps, etc.) for each of them based on their age and needs. And we agreed that the parents would not come to the class during the day, even though they were right upstairs, working from home.
Just a couple weeks later, after hearing about how wonderful things were going, a neighbor family asked about joining our little setting. The parents also work from home, live across the street, and have a 4 year old and 1 year old. We thought it would be a good idea since both families had already been going to the same school and wanted to continue with Montessori education for their children. This would also allow the children to socialize and have peers to work with. Both families and I agreed on the strict safety protocols we would all follow to stay healthy and responsible. I would limit my exposure by driving instead of using public transportation. We would limit our visits to the grocery store, wear a mask when going out, and even set grocery delivery if possible. I would change my clothes at arrival and departure, children’s materials would be disinfected on a daily basis, and if at some point we were to visit our extended family, all the adults involved would get tested for COVID before that family gathering. With all this agreed upon, we felt safe and confident to move forward with our project.
After a couple months, we realized this arrangement would be a more semi-permanent situation since the virus is far from being under control. Because of that, we have spent the last five months enriching the environment, preparing and ordering new materials for the children, and adapting together to our current reality. We were even able to invite one more family to join us just a couple weeks ago. Now, we have a fully-functioning, mixed-age microschool of 5 children (8 mo, 10 mo, 1 yo, 3 yo and 4 yo). The families and I are a safe social pod, and the children have had the opportunity to continue learning, developing and socializing in a relatively “normal” way in this very not-normal world we are living in.
Microschools or pod schools are doable, and can be a very positive experience for children and their parents. I understand that many people might not have the ideal house set-up that we are fortunate to have. My advice is to not overthink or worry about having the "perfect" setting or the perfect age group. It is still possible to adapt a space in your home and to have a successful program with mixed ages. It is also possible to use the resources and materials the families already possess to enrich the learning space. Finally, those groups who cannot find or don’t have the budget for an educator to run their program, may still be able to work with a stay-at-home parent or a trustworthy nanny. With the right support and guidance in how to set the environment, how to manage the group, how to create the routine and how to plan/follow the curriculum, this caregiver can successfully direct your microschool. So, If you know other families you feel comfortable starting a microschool with and if this group has a stay-at-home parent, outstanding nanny or an educator willing to run this program, you have all the components to be successful. And I would be happy to help guide you through your individual process. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for your free consultation. We are all in this together - stay safe!