Helpful tips for health and wellness at your child’s Montessori school

When people  send their children to a Montessori school, one factor that can be an unknown for parents  is the school’s sick policy.  How many times is it normal for your child to get sick?  What is being done to prevent the spread of illnesses?  What happens if staff are out sick?  What can staff do to stay well, not get sick, or recover as fast as possible from being sick?

Here are my thoughts and feedback on the topic of wellness in a Montessori program, especially one for infants and toddlers, who are the most vulnerable to the illnesses and “diseases of childhood”, as they are called in Montessori training.

Know thy health and wellness policy, and follow it, everyone.  It is critical that everyone who is affiliated with a program try their best to adhere to a school’s health and wellness policy.  Everyone means “everyone”.   The parents/ children, as well as the staff, and even the administration need to do their part in upholding the policy.  Otherwise, the policy isn’t policy, it’s a suggestion.  I have worked at schools in the past where certain staff were notorious for not requiring that parents uphold the H & W policy.  They would allow sick children into their classroom; and sure enough, the babies in that room were constantly sick.  That nido caught practically every disease of childhood there was.  I have also worked alongside assistants who knowingly come to work sick.  I can’t stand it when this happens; however, I also empathize with the very low pay ECE workers make.  Some schools also don’t hand out default PTO; so if we don’t show up, we don’t get paid.  And for some of us, if we don’t get paid, we can’t pay our bills.  So we’ll come to work sick if we have to.

Wash the children’s hands as part of the arrival routine. Hand washing is a hallmark activity of Montessori classrooms because Maria Montessori was an M.D.  before she became a teacher. If you don’t want germs to spread around a classroom, it really helps if everyone is required to wash their hands before engaging with anything in the classroom! Just like before a doctor starts their exam with a patient. ::lightbulb moment:: Wash thy child’s hands, I implore thee!

 Get your vaccines.  I know this topic is very controversial; and touchy.  But addition to abiding by the school’s health and wellness policy and staying home while sick, it is also strongly recommended and mandatory in some places that your children get vaccinated. But I always get a flu shot; and I’ve received every vaccine that was recommended for a child born in the 80s.  If not to protect me, perhaps not catching the flu myself will protect the children I take care of every day because I won’t pass it on to them if I’m not catching it.  When I went to grad school, we were taught about the importance of vaccines, the traumatic impacts of these diseases that can be controlled by receiving a vaccine,  and that the whole autism-vaccines myth has long since been busted.  What’s not a myth, however, is that measles is coming back.   And I’ll be damned if my child is going to be blind-deaf because I chose not to get them vaccinated.  My children will be vaccinated, rest assured.  I can’t control if my child is going to be born healthy and well. And I don’t  mean to sound harsh, but the last thing I need a kid with autism AND the measles. We will vaccinate our children.

Know where to find the health and wellness policy, so you can refer to it rather than wonder. Every strong Montessori school will have a very clear health and wellness policy typically found in both the staff and parent handbooks.  An exceptional school will post the health and wellness policy in plain sight.  I forced my last job to post the health and wellness policy outside the door of my classroom, so that it empowered all staff with the right to turn an obviously sick child away at the door if need be.

If your child has a fever that isn’t related to teething, please keep them at home. If they had diarrhea or vomiting yesterday/ last night, they don’t get to come to school the following day.  There have been enough stand out moments in my career so far where children are brought to school and the parents know fully well that the child is already sick.  The kid comes in, and instantly throws up in the entryway of the classroom.  Or they spend the entire morning sleeping in what I call the “soft spot” (toddler version of a peace corner/ calm area) and we have to call parents anyway.

All parents should have three (3) alternative contacts/back-up carers on deck for the day the kid inevitably gets sick.  It is normal for a child to get sick up to 12 times a year in their first year of preschool.  Another repeat issue I observe is that parents don’t have back-up care.  Which compels them to knowingly send a sick child to school.  I’m sorry; but if you chose to have a child, you chose to also find 3 back-up carers.  Care.com or sittercity.com are great resources for on-call nannies.

In some rare instances, there is that kid who keeps on getting sick more than the other kids. I have seen this happen twice in my over-a-decade-long career of teaching toddlers.  For whatever reason, some kids have a weaker immune system and they just keep on getting sick.  In these instances, the doctors will recommend that they are pulled out of school until their immune system is ready to handle group care.

In a solid school, they will have a very clear protocol for what to do when contagious illnesses are observed in a classroom.  Now, I have worked for schools that did not seem to take the spread of contagious illnesses seriously.  They basically manipulate the system and only tell who they are legally required to tell based on their licensing structures.  For example, if pinworms broke out in primary, and each classroom is under its own license, the school is not legally required to tell any other classrooms about the pinworms outbreak– even if the primary children spend before care and after care in the toddler classroom.  I have worked at schools that don’t inform staff of illness outbreaks and thought it convenient to tell parents but not us.  I have also worked for schools that don’t take the treatment/ sanitizing after an outbreak seriously.  As in, pinworms were reported but they didn’t clean any of the curtains, held a staff meeting that very same night before vacuuming the giant rug in the classroom we were required to sit on, or they didn’t empty out the sand in the sandbox.

A solid classroom or program will take illness seriously and basically sanitize every last possible surface or even keep the kids outside for longer than normal in order to clean what ought to be cleaned.  Pillows and linens will disappear until the lice disappears.  You will receive reassurance that the classroom is doing everything in its power to clean and disinfect.

Don’t hesitate to ask about the substitute protocol at your child’s Montessori school, or a school you’re considering.  If a teacher is out sick, will there be a substitute provided?  Or will the staff who do show up be expected to pull extra weight?  Does that school have a sub list?  How will the team being down a member impact your child’s day?  Let me tell you.  Most schools I have worked for did NOT have a sub list; and the rest of us who showed up that day just had to do the work of an extra person. It puts a huge strain on the experience.  There are legal ratios most states in America require schools to maintain; and then there is the reality of what it’s like to have to take care of over 10 toddlers at a time.

The truth is that at any given time, chances are high that the team of staff is out of legal ratio because one of the toddlers will need help in the bathroom.  As a parent, you are not paying for a ratio of 1:11.  But that’s what happens when there is a poorly designed classroom, and too many children enrolled in a program.  It is really hard on everyone when teachers are out sick, and the school won’t pay for or find sub coverage. Yet that is how the cookie crumbles all the time because most administration are cheap and/or out of touch with how hard it is to take care of too many toddlers at once.  I once had to threaten my boss that if she didn’t create a sub list, I would do it for her via facebook. True story.

So one thing you can do indirectly related to your child’s health and wellness, actually, is choose a school with the lowest possible enrollment number.  Don’t be fooled by ratios– make your decision based on how many kids are enrolled in the class.  The lower the number of children enrolled, the better.  It means that if a staff is out sick, you don’t have to worry about inadequate adult coverage.  It also means that there are less children in general, which means less children coming to school with illnesses, and less children touching everything, sneezing on everything, and putting everything in their mouths.

Feed your child fresh fruit and veggies on a regular basis; make sure they drink plenty of water, and consume a lower-sugar diet.  Diet is another thing that might seem indirectly related to your child’s health and wellness.  But actually, an alkaline body is inhospitable to viruses and bacteria.  Sugar is a host for viruses and bacteria.  Water keeps the body hydrated and detoxed.  Now, when it comes to vegetables specifically, so. many. parents.  don’t feed their children vegetables.  How do I know?  Because I worked at two programs that were enrolled with anywhere between 18 to 24 children; and barely any of their parents packed vegetables in the children’s lunches.

I’m not a nutritional expert, but it is becoming common knowledge that if you want a healthier body, you will eat a healthier diet.  If you want a healthier child, they, too, need to eat a healthier diet.  One that includes vegetables on a regular basis.  If you feed a baby veggies from the start, they are more likely to continue to eat veggies throughout the lifespan.  Here are some of my favorite resources about this: How Not to Die (Michael Gregor, M.D.),  babyfoode.com ; sweet fire (Mary Toscano),  and pickuplimes.com .  I will never forget the day we watched “sweet fire” in my child, health, and nutrition course.  Sugar is a real problem in the American diet.  And children are now sucking it down in pouches, and drinking way too much juice rather than water.  Capri Sun is not juice, folks. It’s basically sugar-water.

Every 4g of sugar is a teaspoon of sugar.  Now go look on the back of that food pouch or Capri Sun.  One 8oz glass of orange juice contains 22g of sugar– that’s 5 teaspoons of sugar!! Diary is also not the best if your child has sinus issues, ear infections, or a cough because it promotes the production of mucous and inflammation.

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I hope these tips help your child stay well at Montessori school!

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