Social Development at a Distance
Spending time away from my family, friends and colleagues has not been a joyful experience. Even though I can hear their voices through phone calls and see their faces through video conferences, I have moments when I long for physical interaction. During this season of change, over the past few weeks, I have seen the effects of social distancing and what happens when the natural process of social development is altered in children and how the Montessori method really fosters the perfect environment for children.
Like many learning environments during this season, our class joins each day through video conferences to learn and share with each other. During the first couple of weeks the students demonstrated an urgency to join the meetings. It did not take them long to learn the functions, such as turning on the video camera, the purpose of mute and how to change their backgrounds to look like they were in space, the rain forest or other places. I was happy to see their enthusiasm each day. However, by week three the momentum for some of the children, mostly 5- and 6-year old’s, changed. They were not interested in joining the video meetings anymore and were not interested in completing the activities assigned for the day. I am not an expert in child psychology but I believe I have worked with children long enough to know that the children who showed the change in momentum were longing for social interaction. They were missing their friends and classmates.
In a Montessori classroom, one can find three different ages of children having a choice to work in groups or alone. Children work together in one classroom, among their peers with minimum disruption from others for three or more hours. They are able to take breaks, communicate with their peers, ask for advice from their peers and eat together. It is really not about the adult in the classroom but rather about the prepared environment. The Method that Dr. Montessori designed fosters the perfect environment for social development with the appropriate age groups.
So, what advice could we give to help the struggling students who were developing social skills and are now practicing social distancing and learning from home with their parents and sibling? After much thought and some research, I have several suggestions to offer.
· Set up a video camera for the children to see and talk to each other.
· Schedule virtual play dates for their children so they could interact with their friends through video conferences. Children of the same age usually have similar toys. They are already in “their” perfect environment, familiar with everything they have. The children will begin to make up their own rules for their playtime, just as they would if they were physically together.
· Allow the children to work on their assignments together at the same time, just as they would if they were in class. They may not be doing the same assignments but at least they are with their peers and not alone doing school work. It also offers them motivation to get it done.
· Plan activities such as board games like Bingo, coloring sheets or challenges to build the same structures with Legos. The point is to spend time with their BFF (Best Friend Forever) even if it is by computer screens.
After sharing the virtual play date ideas with parents, some parents have said their child was much happier. One even said her child meets with her BFF every day to play just as if they were at school. By weeks 4 and 5, some of the children’s class video conference attendance and work performance improved. Shortly afterward, I practiced it with my peers, family and friends. It changed my perspective on socializing from a distance. We cannot just sit and wait for things to return to what we are custom to but find innovative ways to keep the social development growing as time moves forward. And now, I feel a lot better.