The Children Are Showing Us How It's Done

Posted: Aug 25, 2020

“In the child is much knowledge, much wisdom. If we do not profit from it, it is only because of neglect on our part to become humble and to see the wonder of this soul and learn what the child can teach.” — The Theosophist
In recent months, our world has been turned upside down. As parents, educators, and members of the human race, we are facing a time of turmoil, change, upheaval, political and social uprisings. As we face this moment in time, this 2020 that is so unlike what we hoped for the start of a new decade, a time that we supposed, back in December, that would be filled with promise, hope and goodwill, many of us are frightened, wringing our hands and experiencing the first huge upheaval and societal fear in our lives. We don’t know what to do with ourselves in this uncertain time. And we certainly don’t know how to guide our children through this. So perhaps, we should let them guide us.
As a Montessori educator, and as a person who has worked with children for the past two decades, I am trained to observe children. I know how to watch them, to follow their interests, to let them show me how and what they want to explore. And through my time in my beautiful Montessori community, I have learned that children are very, very wise. They understand, innately, what it means to be part of a community. They know how to adapt to new environments. They learn new languages with ease. They can support and help one another. And through this pandemic, as I have watched very young children adapt to our new classroom community safeguards against the coronavirus, I have found these young children to be a source of hope. In fact, I find that children (and adolescents), are finding ways to adapt to our “new normal”, and to find happiness in these difficult times that impress me daily.
In addition to being a Montessori guide for a community of 2.5–6 year olds, I am also the mother of an 11 year old and a 14 year old. They have been Montessori educated for 9 years, and now are both transitioning to their local school district for the 2020–21 school year. In spite of these incredible changes in their lives, they are thriving. Thanks to access to social media, they have been able to stay connected to their friends, and even make new ones. My 11 year old has found penpal from Denmark, and has spent much of her free time learning Danish to be able to communicate with her new buddy.
Over the course of quarantine, after completing her e-learning assignments, she took time to become proficient in ASL, take Zoom dance classes, learn how to play the ukelele, train for a 5K, develop her painting and drawing skills, redecorate her room using things we already had in the home, make a wooden table by herself in the garage, raise butterflies and tadpoles in her bedroom, and to make sushi.
My 14 year old has found ways to stay connected to her friends with socially distanced outdoor picnics, and after her e-learning classes ended, dedicated her time to honing her makeup skills, partaking in her dance company through Zoom meetings, developed her painting and drawing skills, taken advanced online English classes to prepare for high school, joined her high school color guard team as an incoming freshman, started babysitting for a neighbor’s children, developed impressive cooking and baking skills, asked for counseling services where she can meet with a counselor via Zoom because she “knows that the transition to high school during Covid will be tough, and she needs some support, but not someone in the family , mom, no offense”.
Talk about flourishing and innovating.
Now, after all of that, I have one question for you: Do you actually think that wearing masks is a problem or challenge for these young people?
If students can adapt to e-learning, resiliently develop new skills and stay positive and connected during this difficult time, we do them a great disservice to assume that they are incapable of wearing masks to protect one another and their teachers and families. Young people are fiercely connected to their friends and communities. They understand the responsibility they have to protect one another. And they will be just fine doing it.
Ok, you may think, it’s ok for an 11 or 14 year old, but what about a 5 year old, or an even younger child?
Let me share my experience since re-opening my 2.5–6 year old preschool/kindergarten community. My school reopened on June 8th for summer camp/childcare with new safety protocols in place. Children and adults are required to wear masks and social distance in the classroom and on the playground. Many people ask me how it has been going. My honest answer is that the children have barely noticed the changes, and have seamlessly adapted to wearing masks and sitting further apart. As of right now(6 weeks into camp), the children in my care have completely adapted, and are thriving.
They still play as hard as ever. They still work as hard as ever. They still get into mischief. And they do it all with their masks on. All day. Even the 2.5 year olds. They take off their masks when eating a snack, having a drink of water, or eating lunch, during which time they are 6 feet apart at individual tables. They wash their hands a lot. We stagger recess and play in a smaller area of the playground to reduce extra contact. Children can pull their masks down during recess when they are playing tag. Many children keep their masks on for the entire recess by choice. Even the smallest ones. My assistant and I wash down the tables and the materials a lot more often. And you know what? It’s completely doable.
I started back on June 8th with 10 children in the classroom. It has now expanded to 15, and some of these children who have joined are completely new to the school. So, they have joined an established community that has children and adults who wear masks to keep each other safe. And because children are wise, adaptable and able to adjust to the expectations of the community, they just wear their masks. Period. I wear one too. It’s really, honestly, not that hard.
So, when you question if your child can wear a mask all day, the answer is, of course they can. So can you. One simple action you can take to help them is to find a mask your child likes! One child in my class had all white cloth masks which he was then encouraged to decorate with permanent markers. His parents then washed the masks and he proudly wears his personalized masks to school. He is 4. Like so many other areas of life, if you just believe in your child, explain why mask-wearing is required and important, model mask-wearing yourself, and have the confidence that they can do it, then they will. And if you don’t have the confidence in them, I do. And so do the 40+ children in the different self-contained cohorts of my school’s summer program right now, wearing masks every day to keep each other safe. And when we start the 2020–21 school year with more students, we will have lots a of great role models to lead the way.
There is so much we can learn from children. And there is so much we can worry about. Wearing a mask to school doesn’t need to be on your worry list.
And so, I will repeat the quote from the start of this piece, and hope it resonates with you.
“In the child is much knowledge, much wisdom. If we do not profit from it, it is only because of neglect on our part to become humble and to see the wonder of this soul and learn what the child can teach.” — The Theosophist
Let’s observe the children and learn from them. They’ve got this.