Monday, April 13, 2020

School Sessions

Upon mandatory school closures we decided to offer daily school sessions for our one room Primary School. Trying to base our sessions on Montessori theory and child development here's what we came up with.

Our Daily School Sessions

We decided to offer our sessions on Zoom because it is free, accessible to parents on most devices, has an easy interface and was recommended by teachers who had already been using it for remote learning. We chose it and decided to stick to it because we didn't want to overwhelm parents with too many things. Google classroom, Class Dojo, and many other great resources out there seemed a bit overwhelming and perhaps too much to ask parents to also have to learn to manage.

Daily sessions, offered live, five times a week give children the opportunity to see their teacher and classmates every day. I figured this was the most conducive way to giving a sense of daily connection. Our sessions are 45 minutes long, which is short enough to keep our youngest ones engaged, and long enough to keep our oldest ones wanting more. It's basically a whole group meeting, with roughly 20 out of our 24 children attending give or take a few. 

I looked at the children's sensitive periods and developmental needs when figuring out what to offer. I wanted what we chose to be founded on the principles of Montessori and child development, not just a knee jerk reaction to the stress of having to come up with 'something'.

What are we supporting?

Our main focus has been to support the social emotional development of the children. This is a chaotic and possibly traumatic time, families are experiencing momentous change. We want to be a balsam to the children. We are offering a moment of connection and fun that touches on what is familiar, safe and comfortable for them. The emphasis of our session is social, so that they can stay connected to their school and to their community. This part has to come first, before any learning can occur.

The sense of order that is so strong in children ages 3-6 is triggered with all this change. By offering a consistent program, at the same hour each day, that follows the same format, whose elements are familiar and include lots of repetition we aid their sense of order.

Movement is a key element of the sessions and part of why a live session works best. You can give real time feedback. Children are interested and learn well when their need for movement is supported.

It is easy to fulfill the need for language during the session. There is opportunity to have exchanges with each other, for the children to talk to their friends too, but also for integrating lots of new vocabulary with different elements involved.

Thinking of the children's sensitive period for sensorial impressions it seemed logical to include the many games we play in the classroom related to the sensorial area.

The development of mathematical thinking is aided by incorporating collective math games with the children live onscreen. The same games we would play in the classroom we bring online.

Below I've listed the elements that comprise a session, I don't do all of them every day but the ones with asterisk are the ones that I do daily. The rest I mix and match each day depending on what seems relevant to the day.

Elements of the school sessions

Just like when they arrive at school and I'm waiting at the gate to greet them and have a short exchange with each one, ten minutes prior to the official beginning of the session I am onscreen to greet each child individually and have a brief exchange. I do this by muting all upon entry and unmuting the children invididually as they arrive (and muting them back after our brief chat). I make sure I acknowledge each one.

I am usually holding a large clock during this arrival period that shows ten minutes to 9 so they can visually see how much longer before we start the session.

As soon as it is 9 o'clock I begin the session by singing a Good Morning song. Usually I sing the same one every day and improvise something about each child as I say their name. This keeps them interested even when they've heard the song a million times.

I count the children that are present as I hold up number cards and always ask one of the children to tell us the total of children while I hold up the last number card. Integration of teen numbers of numbers beyond 20 is happening.

Sometimes I play an introduction game with all of them at once such as the “What are you wearing” song with or without variations such as using sandpaper letters for first letter of their name or sandpaper numbers for their age, "If you're happy and you know it" song, or I show cards with their names written on them and they have to do something when they see their card, etc.


I don't do it every day but on Mondays and Fridays or if there is a special event coming up I'll bring over our paper calendar and mark it. We introduce the calendar by singing the Days of the Week Song, or the Months of the Year song.

*Breathing Exercise

Before continuing I pause and we do a breathing exercise such as the 5 breath (counting up to five with fingers on the inhale and subtracting the fingers on the exhale), Faucet Breath (when you put your hands out in front of you and inhale to “fill up the faucet” and exhale by running the water with a woosh sound, Starfish breath (extend out arms and legs for inhale, relax on the exhale), etc. There are lots of fun breathing techniques. We also sometimes do some shoulder rolls, head rolls, spine twists, or arm stretches to relax before we begin the other things.

Message or News

If I saw something positive in the news, or if something happened to me or a member of the community we talk about this. I use this time also to introduce things that are happening around us such as "What face masks are and how they are used", "What is Shelter In Place", "What is curfew", "Why can't I visit my grandma?", etc. It's sort of a touching base with what is happening around us at the moment. I try to keep this visual too by adding photos (on Zoom you can share your screen if you have photos that you want the children to see).

Special Guest

I've had special guests, like my mom from Costa Rica, read to the children on Fridays. I've brought my pets to the sessions to greet the children. There are LOTS of fun possibilities with that.

*Book Reading OR True Story

I read a book or tell a true story every day. We use this as a platform to talk about feelings. We talk about the feelings of the characters in the book and how they may associate to what children may be feeling at home at the moment.

Grace and Courtesy

I try to tie in the Grace and Courtesy lessons to the feelings we talked about. Ways of expressing anger, fear, frustration are things we practice often.

Art lesson and extensions

Sometimes I show and art lesson or extension such as how to draw something from the book we read, or a craft they can do at home. I also have our assistants from home video tape themselves making recipes of things children can make at home such as moon sand, slime, etc, and include those in the session (through Screen Share on Zoom).

Something from Nature

I will share something I found outside or at my home or a photo of something amazing from nature and tell a short story about it and initiate a short conversation.


By this point the children have been sitting for as long as I think they can really manage easily. So I make sure to start the game at this point. There are so many great collective games we play in the classroom and these work really well with the children at home too. This is many children's favorite moment of the session. It's kind of like scavenger hunting in your home.

Sensorial Matching games: finding objects in the environment by color, color gradation, size, shape, material they are made of, temperature, taste, etc.

Language Matching games: “bring me” objects in classification from home (objects from the bathroom, kitchen, for baking, for setting a table, from a bedroom, from a living room etc)

Math collective games: from our training the Memory Game of Numbers (everyone gets the same number), Counting Game, Zero Game, or games where I ask them to show me amounts on their fingers.

Controlled Movement

We do controlled movement games too such as Songs with Movements or Fingerplays, Dancing with coreographed steps, Yoga, Plain old exercises (jumping jacks, pushups, squats etc), and on Fridays when it's the end of the week we play the children's favorite game Freeze Dance (I've discovered it is very fun to play this online).

*Surprise Friend

Surprise friend is when I split the whole group randomly into pairs or groups of three and send them into Breakout Rooms. This is really easy to do on Zoom. Children can choose to join or not depending on whether they are comfortable or not with it. Then they get to have a little one on one or small group time with a few friends. They never know who they are going to get so there's a surprise element to it. I thought this would be the highlight of Every Child's session, but some children find it too intimidating and they choose to stay with me in the “main room” where we are all unmuted and have a more relaxed conversation. I allow about five minutes for these visits. I sometimes ask them to bring something as a prop to show to their surprise friend that helps them think of things to say to each other. As the weeks have progressed children have gotten much more comfortable with this element.

Practical Life Lesson

Just like I would do at school, I give a practical life lesson of something they can do that will be helpful at home. Lessons such as how to set a table, how to clear a table, how to put toys away before you choose something else to do, how to ask someone to help you pick up, how make yourself a snack, how to clean a spill at home, etc. The lessons are meant to be relevant to the children's home life and hopefully helpful to the parents. I ask parents to let me know if they need help with anything specific at home that I can give a lesson on. The lessons also give the expectation to children that they should help with these things at home.

Kindness Job

This is what I consider the children's “homework” each day. It may be something as simple as remembering to say “thank you” when given something, or to clean up their toys at the end of the day, or to give thumbs up to policemen when they drive by, or to thank their grocers for their service during this time. It's basically acts of kindness.

Silence Game

I like to often end the sessions with a minute of mindfulness. We sit in silence while a timer ticks the minute off, or we do mindful listening of a bell, or of sounds around you, or we play the silence game from home so the children all close their eyes and open them when I whisper their name. It's a good way to end the session, with a calm moment.

*Group Goodbye

I have a goodbye song that I sing every day to mark the end of the session before I unmute everyone and we wave and say bye to each other in a big chaotic celebration.

I do have to mention that I live a 10 minutes walk away from our school, so I can walk over every day and do the sessions from the classroom which allows me access to our materials which is really helpful. On days when we've had more severe restrictions I've done my lessons from home and that has worked well too.

This is our main offering for parents at the moment, but we also send an individualized work plan (checklist) of things that the older children can do each week that are more academically inclined.

I write a large newsletter each week to parents on Mondays (more on that on another post) which intends to bring Montessori and better understanding of children's development to the home culture. On Friday afternoons I compile the photos parents sent me during the week of their children doing all sorts of different things at home and share it with our whole community as a way for them to be inspired by each other.

There is a kind side to all this, I've certainly been learning a lot in the process of coming up with solutions to the remote emergency learning situation. We are currently being shaped by the changes in our environment, I look forward to seeing what long term benefits come from this time.


Anonymous said...

Can you please explain the numbers part mentioned in the first part?

Susanne said...

Hi, Sure. I'm not sure which numbers you mean in the first part, but let's see... I hold up number cards from 1-24 and count off the children while showing the number as I count. I just made these out of cardstock. Then for the math collective games there is the Memory Game of Numbers, where I have small envelopes with one number from 0-10. I will open one "secretly" and show it to the children and then they have to get that same number of objects in their home. If I show number 3, for example, they have to bring 3 things to the screen. The Counting Game is when I ask them to do something a number of times (clap 3 times, blink 8 times, etc. and I count as we do it together), or I ask them to show me an amount of fingers and we count them together. This is mostly math for numbers 0-10, but it is what we can do with the whole group. Sometimes I also randomly say, let's count from 50 to 75 and we just count together too. Hope this is helpful. :)

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for sharing such a valuable resource. I was wondering, how do you end the "Surprise Friend" sessions without interrupting the children's conversations?
Thanks again.

Susanne said...

Hi, the truth is I don't know if I'm interrupting their sessions (I keep them short at about 5 minutes) but a window automatically pops up on their screens that lets them know the session will end in 1 minute and I hope that helps them get a sense of wrapping up. I follow up by mentioning that if you had a really good time with your friend, you can always invite them to a playdate online later. Maybe these short experiences are helping them warm up to the idea of seeing friends on screens if that is something that parents want to encourage as a means for socialization at this time.

Icube Montessori said...

Thank you for making it the Montessori way, we haven't started yet but this will be a huge help.. Thanks a ton ❤

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. This is really a great help. May I please know what you're goodbye song is?

Susanne said...

I have made up different ones, but the one that has stuck is to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell", I say: "It's time to say goodbye, it's time to say goodbye, high ho the merry oh, it's time to say goodbye." And then I unmute them all so that they can say goodbye to each other in a happy frenzy. :) Makes all the sessions end happily.