I’m a firm believer in the Montessori method and its underlying philosophy. I vastly prefer my kids to do their learning with materials that they can pick up and manipulate, rather than on a tablet or computer. I really do believe that the motor planning, fine motor skills, and sensory feedback kids get from wooden tiles, or puzzles with pieces in the shapes of the continent, are important input. And yet…
I’ve been trying to engage E in learning to write her letters for months now. I had one success; then E went back to refusing to do anything resembling schoolwork. I have tried writing the letters in kinetic sand, shaping the letters with play dough, writing letters on the windows and mirrors for each other to find, having her trace in pencil the letters that I’ve written in highlighter. So far, nothing has been successful for more than a minute or two.
In a Montessori classroom E would have observed the writing lessons being presented to other children; she would be familiar with the materials and might eventually be curious about them. I don’t have a classroom of children around her age. Clearly, a lot of the motivating elements of Montessori are absent if you’re not in a Montessori classroom.
Meanwhile, R has asked me to find her a cursive writing workbook so she can learn it too. I started Googling, and very quickly came upon lists of cursive writing apps. A year ago I might have scoffed at the idea and extolled the benefits of learning to write with pencil and paper. Today I took a look at the app, made sure it was ad-free and had features I liked, and I hit “Buy.”
I got out our convertible tablet/laptop and told E that I got a new app just for her. That was enough to fuel her excitement. I then realized that the kids lost the stylus that came with the device (of course.) Not to be deterred, I made a DIY stylus out of a Q-tip, an empty pen barrel, and some tinfoil (and yes, it works!)
I introduced E to the app. She was instantly enchanted by the animation that follows each writing attempt. She worked diligently with the stylus and tablet for at least twenty minutes. She told me excitedly that it even lets her practice writing her numbers.
When I first imagined homeschooling E, I pictured peaceful mornings of working with the wooden movable alphabet and then writing the words down on paper. Having her work on a tablet for half the morning would have been on my list of things not to do. But in some ways homeschooling is just like every other aspect of parenting. You go in with ideals and principles, and after a few months or years you’ve accepted that you have to do whatever works, even if it doesn’t look the way you wanted it to.