Monday, July 19, 2010


Sometimes it is hard to maintain a Montessori un-school. Like right now, for instance. It's the middle of summer, and why am I even trying? Because our "school" is just a bunch of things out for the kids to use, changed once in a while as deemed necessary. It keeps the kids occupied and mostly out of trouble. And it works well for us. Usually they use at least some of what's on the shelves every day, and mostly on an individual basis, though they do often play together.

But lately their imaginations have taken over. They have started "playing" in the sense of building forts and making a zoo with their animals and all those fun things that I remember doing when I was a kid. It's great, right? And even Gene is getting in on it, which is unusual... But because he is, the interest seems to last a LOT longer. One day the three of them played in the basement together for 6 HOURS straight!

Why am I complaining? Because it's completely destroying our house (I'm exaggerating just a little, but still...). While I got a lot done on that 6-hour day, the basement is trashed. They brought down so much, and mixed up so much, that it will probably take 6 hours to put everything away again. The girls' room is a mess, because there are baskets with animals and random toys everywhere. And of course, the intention is to keep them there for a long time. And then they wanted to play in the basement again this morning.

What do I do? As a normal parent, I should just let them play, right? They are all extremely happy, and they have been playing together very nicely. Not many fights, and I love to hear how they compromise and work things out together.

From a Montessori point of view, though, this play isn't very productive in the preschool years. What is learned (sharing, cooperation) can easily be learned in the regular classroom in the course of working with things on the shelves. Waiting one's turn to use something, working together to use a material (depending on the rules of the classroom), conversing during meals and's all there. Many Montessori classrooms now have "imaginative play" areas, with dress up clothes and props, usually revolving around a theme such as "grocery store" or "restaurant". The theme changes once in a while, but it's set by the teacher and allows children to imagine what it would be like to be in those places.

Our house does not have an area like that. We do have materials out once in a while that encourage that sort of play, and the kids have had great fun with it.

But the play they are involved in now is a bit different. And from a Montessori parent's point of view, there are problems with it! Here's why...
1. Many things are conscripted into use, from all areas of the house, and no one wants to put
them all away at the end of the day.
2. One person is usually the leader, and the others follow...same leader every time, sometimes
loudly shouting commands. Good for that person's self-esteem, maybe, but what about the
3. They are not "learning" anything educationally during the course of their play (besides the
above mentioned social learning)

Of those three problems, I think the one that is bothering me most is the first. Our house is fairly small, and when things aren't put away it is very obvious (i.e. we are stepping on them). We don't have a lot of things, because of the space constraint, and what we do have is used on a fairly regular basis. Meaning, we've had to spend a lot of time looking for things that we've found hiding under a blanket in the basement or in some other random spot.

Now that they've felt the exhilaration of their imaginations, however, it is hard to bring them back to the real world. Now, doing a puzzle doesn't seem that exciting when they could be in the "clubhouse" (Gene's room). They were all getting ready to go down the basement this morning, and I was really torn whether to let them or not. I ended up redirecting them, but now I hear happy noises coming from the clubhouse.

I expect that if I get any comments on this post, they will encourage me to allow the kids to imagine to their hearts' content. But I would actually love to hear from anyone who has some constructive do I allow it without letting our house fall into shambles, and has anyone else gone through this with their kids (home-schooled or otherwise)?

Thanks for hearing me out!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Homeschool set-up

Our home is our classroom. While we had a "schoolroom" last year in the dining room, this year we rarely use it and instead have various works on the family room shelves and up in the kids' bedrooms.

What I've been realizing lately is the sheer difficulty of "setting up" the "classroom" when one is homeschooling, especially using the Montessori method. There is no teacher planning period, or in-service days, or summer vacation when the children have all gone away and left the teacher to plan and rearrange and think. What I have is the children here ALL the time, and a husband in the evening once they have gone to bed (nothing against him, of course...).

So I have had to be creative, and use what little spurts of time I have available to set things up in the best possible way for the kids. It has gotten more difficult lately to do this while they are around, as I get alot of "what is that?" and "can I do that now?" or "why are you putting that in the basement?" If I want to try something out, and they see it, it's really hard to change my mind and put it away. You know?

Anyway, I am grateful for the time I have today (my dad and sister took the kids to the zoo) but it is going all too quickly:)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Middle Child...

I don't know about anyone else, but I see the "middle child syndrome" occurring in a homeschool situation as well as in regular family life. I spend a lot of time thinking about what to do with Gene (now getting closer to 7), especially since I have not been trained in Montessori for the elementary child. My sister just gave me all her albums and materials, as she is no longer planning to teach, but I don't know when I'll have a chance to look at them. It is so exciting to teach him, leading him in new directions. He takes a bit of prompting to be swayed off his beaten path (generally he is interested in only a handful of activities and would be satisfied to stick with them)...for example, he is finally showing interest in the piano (we have had one in our house for over a year now). He is playing every day, and has learned to play all the major scales and is trying to figure out some of the sharp scales (C sharp major, etc). He is really interested, and is getting good fast.

Jane is almost 3 (in a couple months) and has about mastered her numbers. She is beginning to learn letter sounds, we're playing the I Spy game from Gettman (I think she's in stage 3 or 4, but I'm not looking at the book) and this is also a very exciting stage of life. I LOVE to teach reading, and she is on her way:)

Lucy, at almost 5 (4 months away) is doing great as well. She is becoming a bookworm, and is challenging herself with the books she chooses. For instance, I began reading chapter books to her about a month ago, and began with Chocolate Fever. I let Gene borrow it when we were done, and he left it in the car. She picked it up and began reading, and made it through the whole book by herself! She reads a few books every day, but is now at a stage that doesn't require a whole lot of work from a teacher's point of view. All she has to do is keep on reading, and she'll pick up more and more through the books. She is also quite interested in art, and often amazes me with what she creates. She mostly uses paper, scissors, tape, and various coloring tools. I guess because that's what is available most often.

I realize once in a while that I am not really teaching her anything. She picks up a lot, and seems generally satisfied with her lot in life, but I think she would really appreciate a little time and attention with her schooling:) What I want to do is teach her to write. She knows all the uppercase letters (how is it that they always learn those on their own!) but we'll work on the lowercase. I'd like her to know them by the end of the summer...and I'm just devising a lot of different ways to teach her. I think she'll progress with flying colors, and should know them all soon. 26 letters...about 60 days of summer left...

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Jane (age 2) has been doing puzzles for a long time now, and has mastered all the wooden knobbed puzzles we have. Now, she is challenging herself on my newest purchase...the puzzle map of Europe. If anyone reading this blog hasn't tried to do a puzzle of Europe, at least try to picture the continent, and all those tiny little countries in the Eastern part...very challenging as a puzzle. Especially since when we opened the box it came in, the pieces were all out of place. Needless to say, I have been quickly learning the countries and where they are- I didn't know them very well. But Jane is fascinated with it, and just sees it as an extension of the wooden puzzles she knows.

I wouldn't ordinarily have let her use it, but my training class has taught me (and also knowing Jane) that it's ok to let the youngest children in the class (and they start at 2.5 in some preschools) touch EVERYTHING in the class. They also don't start with every material on the shelves, but gradually add the more challenging things (and things with smaller pieces) as the year goes on. The only conditions are that the children don't hurt themselves, others, or the environment.

Jane is definitely not hurting the puzzle, and it is also holding her interest for a long time. She is learning where all the little pieces fit in, and when she is old enough (maybe not for 2-3 years) she can learn the names if she wants to. Right now she's happy, and I'm happy.

Oh, and one more thing. The Olympics being on has been the perfect time to introduce the countries of Europe. A lot of the European countries are competing, and it's been fun to hear their names on television. The kids know how to say and read a lot of the countries, and decide to root for one or the other of them. I'm enjoying it much more (with the kids) than I have in the past just watching the Olympics. I think the map has helped me, too!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why the breakfast dishes don't get done (or...Why I should teach the kids to wash dishes!)

The kitchen is still messy after breakfast, and we finished eating about 2 hours ago. How does that happen?? This has been a somewhat slow morning, since we don't have to go anywhere and two kids are sick with colds, but still! I am generally not done with the kitchen until probably 9:30 on a good day.

Here's my explanation: we're homeschooling, and the schooling is a day-long affair. We don't have a set school time anymore, we're doing what I will call "Montessori unschooling". And the kids are (mostly) doing very well. But it's why the dishes take forever to get done. The lessons (teaching) and assistance (help) and all those school-y things start happening as soon as the kids wake up in the morning. Along with the typical "get ready for the day" things. Here are the things that I (and a lot of other mothers!) do on a typical morning that interferes with the kitchen getting completely clean before mid-morning...and the things in bold are the extra things I did this morning:
shower, get dressed
start load of laundry
help 2yo get dressed
do hair of 2 girls
make breakfast and set table (sometimes kids help with these)
start emptying dishwasher
plan what's for dinner at same time, run to basement to bring up something from freezer
change load of laundry while down there
check on someone who's been quietly not getting ready for the day...
wipe someone's bottom
finish emptying dishwasher
Help 2yo start brushing teeth
start loading dishwasher while she brushes
help 4yo get toothpaste on toothbrush (she needs repeated lessons on this...)
make my bed and straighten up room and hallway while upstairs
brush my teeth
go back to dishwasher
help 2yo put away toothbrush and paste
get 6yo started on writing project, because he's wandered into the kitchen after finishing his
morning chart, and it's the perfect chance to work with him
remind 2yo to use potty
get toilet paper and re-fill her basket of pre-rolled wads of toilet paper
do 4yo's hair, because she's finally done with breakfast
wipe down kitchen table and counters
help 2yo get started with Memory game, and end up playing 2 rounds because I haven't done
anything fun with her yet and she's begging! And she's getting pretty darn good at Memory!
bring up more Memory cards because the old cards are getting, well, old.
clean sink and run garbage disposal- finally done!

Well, that's what I remember doing. There were probably a few more things in there. On at least 2 mornings a week I throw in packing lunches for all of us, because we're out and about at lunchtime. And who know's what else?

This isn't really a school-y post, but I started out here and I'm not up to changing it right now. Off to watch the Olympics!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Sorry I haven't posted in so long! We haven't been doing actual "school time" for quite a while now. We started out very structured in the fall, and the kids were resistant. Nobody was coming over to "do school" and it was a little too forced. While I had new things out on the shelves frequently, the kids wanted to do them on their own time, and not be told when it was "school time". So, I revamped the schedule. And here is an overview of how we're doing things now.

In the morning, the two big kids have a "morning chart" which includes the usual morning toileting activities, along with a "morning job" like dust-busting under the kitchen table or dusting or other small chores. Morning jobs switch every few weeks, depending on the interest level. Also included are some school activities, writing practice for both kids and fine motor skill practice (dubbed "finger work" on the chart) because he doesn't generally choose those activities on his own. I change around the chart requirements based on how I think the kids are doing, and this works fairly well. It takes a while for them to get "ready for the day" and be able to play, but then they have the rest of the morning as free time.

This free time, though, generally includes some schoolish activities. Gene will run, dive and jump around our house for while playing the sport of the season, and then choose to read or play a game. Lucy does lots of art projects (cutting, drawing, gluing), and both girls like to build block structures. Lucy also chooses to do the ABC game (i.e. and is allowed to do it twice a day for 15 minutes at a time. This has greatly improved her phonics and reading skills!

A few days a week in the morning we have planned activities- gymnastics for Lucy, Atrium (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd) for Gene and Lucy, and we get together twice a month with cousins for a "kid-swap" so one of the moms can do errands.

In the afternoons, we still have an enforced nap/rest time for all the kids, but before each of them gets settled in I read with them. I read two short books to Jane (her favorites now are Caps for Sale and The Little Fur Family...moving on to the level above basic board books:)) and she is now starting to memorize some of the words-in the stage where I can pause at the end of a line and she fills in the word. So fun! Lucy is really starting to read, and I read two books with her- one that is a few levels above her reading level, so she just listens, and the other that is right where she is...we take turns reading pages or lines. She's on all the beginner reading books- today we read Green Eggs and Ham, and she knew 99 percent of the words! Then I move over to Gene's room and read a chapter of the latest book. We just finished as far as we're going in the Little House series, and now we're starting Mrs Piggle Wiggle. He can read these books by himself, but he tends to comprehend a little better if I read to him, since I'm pretty sure he skips over hard words and hence misses some of the story.

During rest time, Gene plays various games or reads, and Lucy has Montessori school work in her room. I could give some to Gene, but he REALLY wants to play and read, and since that isn't exactly harming his intellect, I can't say no. I do want to put some shelves in his room and at least give him the option of doing Montessori, but it would clutter up his floor too much right now.

After rest time, we don't have any scheduled activities. The kids have snack, and I've started requiring Gene to pay for his snack. I give him a certain amount of money every week, and then he can choose what he'd like for snack and pay for it. I did this for two reasons- he was old enough to have more choice about his food (usually I lay out all the snack before rest time is over, and that's the only option), and I wanted him to learn about budgeting money. And money in general. He's been interested for a while, but didn't know even the names of coins. So we're doing lots with money now. On Mondays I give Gene an allowance, and we count out the money and change pennies for quarters and the like. I got a few ideas last weekend at my class for more money activities, and I'm excited to try them out!

What else is educational in our house? We check out lots of library books, and I think we'll start checking out topical books now- this weeks topic was volcanoes and earthquakes (after talking about Haiti a bit).

When the kids are interested in something, I try to put things out that will meet that interest. We teach them new skills as they seem ready.

I know this is really an "unschooling" house right now, and I was sure that I would never do it.'s working. We don't have to keep it this way forever, and we'll adapt and re-adapt as the kids and I need to. Right now, though, I like things the way they are:)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Improv Writing Work

Gene needs a lot of incentive to write these days. Well, he's always needed a lot, but lately I've been neglectful and haven't found any inspirations for him. I was thinking about it a lot, though, and finally came up with something...

Now, to preface this, I'll let you know that I haven't yet gone through the Language training in the classes I'm taking, and an online course I took (where I got to have access to someone else's albums) did not have writing activities beyond the initial "learning to write the letters". So, there are probably a lot of good writing activities out there in Montessori world that I just don't know about yet. Please let me know if you have any ideas!

We did a lot of writing over the summer, while we were reading the Little House books. I would write a question on a piece of paper, and he would answer the question in a complete sentence on writing paper. That was fine, but he was dependent on me writing the question and couldn't do it on his own. It also was a bit forced...he never begged me to do it with him:) But it did REALLY improve his writing, and very quickly. He went from not being able to even write about half of the lowercase letters of the alphabet on lined paper, to being able to write them all pretty darn legibly.

I also initiated a daily spelling test, and by daily I mean it happened about 3-4 days out of the week:) I based it off an idea I got from reading a book I found at a garage sale...a great book, by the way! Called An Acorn in My Hand by Ethel Bouldin, it lays out in a very easy to read manner how one teacher taught her first graders how to read and the end of the year, they were able to read the newspaper, and write 2-3 page book reports. And, most importantly, they LOVED to write and they LOVED to have spelling tests. They were up to over 30 spelling words A DAY by the end of the year. She taught them phonetic spelling rules, and then just gave out 30 new words a day based on those rules. Every week she would introduce new rules, and therefore the kids were able to spell many new words just by learning the rule!

I can't recommend the book enough. I think every elementary school teacher should have a copy, and it definitely comes in handy to lay the groundwork for reading and writing at the preschool level. I started giving Gene spelling tests in the summer, and while he's only learned about 6 rules, he can spell MUCH better than before. And it really is fun:)

But...spelling tests are also dependent on the the teacher. I did think about recording the tests so he could play them back on his own time and write the words, but I haven't gotten there yet.

We have had a break from all writing for probably 2-3 weeks now...we've been busy with other work, and then everyone got sick. So I wanted to get back into it. But in a way that Gene could be independent. And a way that he would LIKE TO DO. I started thinking that, while he can write sentences, it was a lot of work for him. I want him to get comfortable just writing words, before he tries to string them together. So, I needed a word writing activity, that he could do by himself.

Here's what I put together:

On the tray is a jar with slips of lined writing paper, on cardstock so they will be easy to get out of the jar, and a little sturdier to work with. I found a website that offers free writing paper to print, and if I right click on the image and go to "copy image" I can paste the image in a new document and save it. Once printed, it's easy to cut into strips.

So, a strip can be chosen from the jar, and a picture chosen from the pile. Then, simply write the word that corresponds to the picture. I wasn't sure that Gene would think it was much fun, so I came up with a "point of interest" to entice him to do the work.

Here's where he puts the strips once they are written on:

I found this box at Wallmart in the sewing section, to hold sewing supplies. It cost under $2, and seems pretty sturdy. I labeled the sections alphabetically, and there's enough room in each section to hold quite a few strips. It would have been most ideal if there were 26 sections, but as it is this is pretty good.

He still wasn't keen on doing it, but once I said I would do it with him, he was all for it. We took turns choosing a picture and writing the word. He got to choose the pictures I would write, and immediately gave me the hardest ones! We made it through probably 20 pictures. Then, there were still some sections in the box that didn't have any slips, so I asked him if he could think of any words we could write for those sections, even if we don't have a picture for them. He didn't really want to write more, but once I wrote one word, he decided he wanted to write a different word, and we ended up writing a few more before putting it away. It went pretty darn well!

Now, I can definitely come up with more picture cards (I actually made those cards last year by cutting out pictures from magazines and laminating them on white paper, and I have a lot more in storage), but I also had ideas for extensions:

-laminate magazine pages that have multiple items in the same picture, and have the child write words that correspond to all the items he can find. This could be fun, since some items hide in most pictures (i.e. wall, door, floor...)

-once the pictures have worn out their appeal, encourage the child to look around the house for more ideas.

-the strips of paper in each section could be counted, and special effort could be made to find words to write to fill up the sections that have the least amount of words.

-turn it into a math activity as well, and keep a tally chart under the box. Label columns at the top of the chart that correspond to each section of the box. Each time a strip is put in a section, add a tally mark to that column...and the child will always know how many strips he has. Or...for number writing practice (which Gene needs as well!) just have the child write the latest number of strips in the column...

All right- this was only the first day of use. We'll see how the Word Box actually does in the long run!