Friday, May 11, 2012

All day, All year, Indoor Outdoor Montessori

*This is a "water slide" that one of the five year olds built while he was outside today.

As the year progresses and begins it's (vertiginous) wrap up, I am feeling very interested in the idea of moving our school towards an all year, all day, indoor/outdoor free flow program. I'm attracted to that idea like a moth to a light bulb, not yet sure if it's a wise choice for us...

Our current school day ends at 1:30, so we have a three hour work period in the morning, and an hour and a half work period after lunch. The day often slips through my fingers and I cannot believe it when I look up and see that it's time to clean up.

There are MAJOR reasons why I think year round, day long, free flow is the way for us to go. The truth is that in most families in our school both parents are working (at least until 4pm). Children are regularly picked up after school and taken to other places before going home. I can imagine that for a child of 3-6, having all this environment switching and rules and routine switching must be tiring. It would be more consistent and clear for them if they just have a longer day at school.

The summer is just a magnification of this issue. I'm all for families and children taking vacations together, but in most cases, the vacation in company of parents is just a few weeks, and the rest of the time the children are at an alternate care environment once again. Upon returning to school there is a re-acclimating process.

From a teacher's point of view, if the day is longer, and the year is longer, then there is PLENTY of time to give all those lessons that I am so eager to give and sometimes am disappointed when there is no time for.

With a year long, day long structure, an successful indoor/outdoor flow in the classroom seems much more realistically achievable. There is enough time to get to everything, both indoors and outdoors.

There are some mental hurdles to overcome when contemplating these changes:

1) Staffing and finances: We have a humble staff of 3 adults at our school. An all day, year long school would require more humans and more money.

2) My fear of napping areas. An all day program would require the creation of a napping set up which we don't have. I have visited several schools with napping policies that just didn't seem that awesome for the four year olds who had to lie in their cots for two hours.

3) Will the children ever choose to come indoors? At our school, one child at a time may be outside as long as he/she likes (it's like choosing a material). And we have a time before lunch when everyone may (or not) be outside (they mostly all choose to). I admit I have a fear that some children, when given the choice to be outdoors the whole day, WOULD (I know I would have as a child).

4) Supervision of the outdoor environment. In a free flow environment, I suspect one adult would have to be outdoors the whole time (if there were say, more than 2-3 children outside). That takes me back to number one.

5) The organization of this would require some letting go of some control of environment which is hard for some people. (Ok, it's me. I have a hard time with it.)

6) My own love of summer vacation. Which takes me back to number one.

I am curious if there are any blog readers who can allay my fears of taking this leap by sharing some of their experience in any of the following: ALL DAY/ YEAR LONG/ INDOOR OUTDOOR FREE FLOW

or at least kindly point me in the direction of some excellent resources... :)


(This article in itself holds the vision of what I want to move towards)


Annicles said...

The nursery my school is attached to and the younger class in my school (both Montessori )all have free flow every day, and we have weather to deal with in the UK!!

Our experience in nursery and school is that there are different ways of making this work. At Nursery, which is year round 8am-6pm, they have a full time garden teacher. In the morning the garden is open and children can choose to come and go as they want. The teacher prepares the garden, which is incredibly well stocked with all sorts of materials. Many of the materials are large versions of the materials indoors. For instance, the spindle box is a set of ten boxes marked 0-9 with 45 sticks and a wheel barrow. The child uses the wheelbarrow to transport to right number for sticks to the relevant box. Some children never touch the spindle box indoors but are competent with the outdoor version. There is a writing area, a mud kitchen a building area, room for scooters and bikes, and many teacher made activities that are introduced for specific children's interests.

At school the teachers rotate their time in the garden and activities are planned for specific children as in nursery. There is more interest in writing and recording and there are materials there that support this interest. There is a mini stage and tools for making things.

This is a small snapshot of two outdoor environments. Unfortunately, you may need another member of staff. As for naps - we don't make every child lie down for 2 hours, those who are tired and need a nap put out mini mattresses in the quiet area while most children enjoy a quiet story and then restart the workcycle after lunch. Most children don't nap by the age of 4. It would be a nightmare to try and make them!!

Susanne said...

Annicles, thank you for sharing your experience! It was your comment on the "Easing the Flow" post that got me revved up thinking about free flow in a more serious manner. I appreciate your contributions to the blog so much!


wendy said...

We are an all day Montessori preschool, running from 9am–3:30pm. We recently made the switch to an indoor/outdoor classroom, and have not looked back since.

When my co-teacher and I contemplated this switch, we revisited some of Montessori's original descriptions of the ideal classroom. She described both an indoor space as well as an adjoining garden, and, as far as I know, never spoke of regulating the time of either. We also reminded ourselves of the sage advice to "follow the child". If what a child really needs is to be outdoors, am I doing a disservice to keep them in?

So we took a deep breath and gave it a go. Immediately there was a sense of calm, one we hadn't seen all year, both indoors and out. All the children were finally getting exactly what they needed.

As we rolled this out, we made a concerted effort to provide many outdoor activities as well as replicate much of what goes on indoors in our outdoor classroom. There is a large chalkboard for writing where we place messages, words, and pictures. A reading nook with chairs and books is under a shady tree. We have an ample supply of magnifying glasses, bug cages, and paper on clipboards. We have stopwatches, a weather station, and bird feeders which the children fill. Nearly every work inside is on a tray so that it may be taken outdoors. A picnic table and a supply of blankets allow a child to settle in any space they desire. We recently let the children dig an area for a garden, and after last week's planting, they will now be able to water and weed. We have rakes, shovels, and even a small wheelbarrow. We have a stack of firewood for hauling and stacking. This week I will be setting up a laundry area where they can wash laundry and hang it out to dry. Each child keeps a pair of rubber boots at school so that they always have proper attire for inclement conditions. We have so many ideas of how to grow our outdoor works—we just need more time to execute them!

We, too, worried there would be some children who spent all of their time outside. But then we thought, "Why is that bad?" Is my agenda (giving a particular lesson) more important than what a child truly needs and the sensitive period that they're in? We do have a few children who spend most of the day outside, but we ask that they be productively working. Now that we are a few weeks in to this new routine, we're beginning to see those children begin to come inside again.

Oddly, we also had a child who chose to stay inside ALL DAY. Just as our worry was reaching the point where we were tempted to intervene, she suddenly started going outdoors again. A quiet child, I think having a calm indoors was a need that wasn't being filled for her when we had many wiggly children inside.

As for naps, we are only required to have a 30 minute quiet time, but must allow those who are sleeping to continue to do so. We are in a small indoor space, but it works out okay. Not perfect...but workable.

On a side note, we notice the morning is a time of bustling activity, while in the afternoon there is more calm. We actually find the afternoon a more peaceful time to give presentations, as by then the children have often checked off their own internal lists and are more open to learning new things.

We currently do this with 12 children and two teachers. Inevitably, one of us is inside and the other is out, which is less than ideal. Next year we'll move to 20 children and three adults. I suspect this will work much better, as we will keep a second person where presentations are being made so that they are not interrupted.

Of course, this is just my own experience, and I am new to teaching in the classroom, as I've been at home for many years. But so far, I can't imagine doing it any other way. At the moment, the benefits far outweigh the challenges!

Lei said...

My school is currently an all day 7a to 6 pm and is looking to operate only up to 330pm. The reasons you sighted we're all part of it. If you are full day all day, would require more staff, at least a full time Montessori credentialed teacher and an absolute need of free flow indoor / outdoor environment. Nap area and transitioning you classroom if space is limited. But then again, children will have to go to a different after school program and when they are back the following day, they bring with them what they have picked up from another environment.

At the end of the day, you have to weigh the cost and benefit for you and the children. My school is cutting hours because of financial reason (paying extra staff). If that is not a problem with you, by all means, go for an all day. Email me if you want to find out more details. My husband and I own the school and I am currently the lead. My school, is in Texas.

Andi said...

This year, we took the plunge into a longer day. The mornings run from 8:30-11:30. But now the afternoons run from 12:30-3, instead of 2:25. I have already seen a tremendous change in the students in the afternoons.

We just don't have the free-flow set up, yet. I wish we could get to that point, but the facility and grounds are only a year old at this location. It is going to take some time to continue to develop.

I love the article to which you referred. Thanks for this.