2020 has been a year of reflection bringing into focus the essentials that really matter. As we approach one of the most celebrated holidays of the year, I keep thinking about the homeschool pod that we started this fall for our kindergarten child. She is in her third year at Shining Stars Montessori here in the District. Earlier in the spring I stumbled through my new role as homeschool teacher, while desperately trying to balance work obligations. My daughter was equally frustrated with the new arrangement, but above all missed the social aspect of school. As the school year ended we knew a fresh approach would be needed in the fall.
The Homeschool Pod
Our new reality of having limited visits from family and friends opened up new possibilities of how we use our home. A few years ago we finished out our basement to create a flex space for guests to stay or entertain family. Since we were no longer using the basement as much it became the perfect candidate to host a homeschool pod. The space was ideal since it was isolated from the rest of the house for safety, and also has a separate entrance, bathroom and kitchenette for convenience. We connected with other families in our daughter’s class, Angelou Stars, that were interested in a different approach to this new frontier. There are numerous homeschool pod models, but we settled on a co-op approach that involved four parents sharing time to lead the pod.
The first priority of the pod was to keep everyone safe. All of the parents took covid tests before participating in the pod. We also decided to log daily temperature checks of the kids to help detect when they were getting sick. Our “check-in station“ is equipped with the log, temperature gage, hand sanitizers, and masks. Speaking of masks, the kids crafted beaded mask holders with their names so they wouldn’t lose them. This was one of the many activities that our co-op parent and former elementary teacher, Ms. A, came up with to keep the kids engaged.
In the spirit of keeping distance for safety each child took over a corner of the room with their desk and school-supplied chromebooks. The kids brought their own desks from home to the space. We did end up purchasing a couple mobile caddies from ikea to store school supplies. They attend two short classes each day – a rotating small group session every morning, and one-on-one sessions twice per week in the afternoon. They also have one Library and P.E. session each per week. The virtual classes are conducted through Google Meet which required that each child use a headphone to communicate with the teachers.
When not in a class, the kids socialize constantly throughout the day! This was by far the most gratifying aspect of the pod. Preschoolers are social creatures and a large part of their development occurs during socializing. They usually start their day coloring or making art, but lately they are obsessed with hanging out in forts built from amazon boxes and blankets. Before lunch we go on a walk to one of the many parks or playgrounds nearby. At lunchtime they love having a picnic in the backyard and take pride in spreading their own blanket.
After lunch they pull out their sleeping bags to have a nap with the lights off and blinds pulled. While they sleep, I usually get a decent block of time to quietly catch up on work. After their afternoon one-on-one class they’ll play for a bit then clean up the pod for the next day. Each child is assigned a chore – wiping tables, clearing away toys, vacuuming or trash duty – which they’re usually good about doing.
It took some time getting used to the loudness of the basement with 7′ ceilings and four kids running around. I’m sure the fabric sofa and rug help to absorb some of the sound, but I initially considered putting up some absorptive panels to help. Headphones are used during the group classes with mics muted to control echo, and the kids take turns talking. The one-on-one classes usually occur near the snack counter while the group is taking a nap on the other side of the room.
The Real Teachers
It would be remiss of me not to point out the amazing work that our “Real Teachers” have been doing to continue learning during the pandemic, even while balancing their own duties as parents. The classroom teachers have a done a wonderful job keeping the kids engaged in the virtual sessions and a variety of weekly assignments. One of the recent assignments was a science experiment documenting the reaction of plants to the addition or removal of sun and water.
Ms C, the librarian, always has an interesting book to read on Tuesday mornings, which includes a lively follow-up discussion and activities. I especially enjoyed last week’s story “Dragons love Tacos” and also the quick visualizations that settle busy bodies. The P.E. Instructor, leads Friday morning sessions with either exercise, yoga, or dance. Periodically, she’ll also do a quick meditation or a health class focusing on nutrition. For P.E. we’ll rearrange the furniture to a “bench layout” that allows more room for movement.
These virtual sessions have given us great insight into the amazing people that Shining Stars have on staff but also how ill-equipped I am to be a teacher. I now have a better appreciation of the tactile nature of Montessori since I have been assisting with the teaching tools. Compared to the traditional schooling that I was raised on, Montessori is more sensorial, offering multiple ways of learning. I am looking forward to when our kids can go back to school, but also recognize the need to keep kids, teachers, and school staff safe and healthy.
The kids look forward to their pod each day, often asking “who’s the (parent) teacher today?” They’re also sometimes sad in the evening when parting ways, just like they would be at “real school“. In the spring my daughter didn’t have a favorable attitude to her dad-teacher, but now I get “you’re a funny teacher” comments. How have you been handling homeschool during the pandemic? What are you grateful for this holiday? Please share in the comments below. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!🍁