Sunday, December 14, 2008

I love Montessori! I know I've probably said it before on this blog, but it's the truth. It is working so well for our family. Case in point today...we had just eaten brunch after church, and were starting to clear the dishes, when the kids pulled some work off the shelf and were quickly absorbed in it. Gene started making a "Christmas Chain", a work just presented on Friday that he hadn't tried yet, and Lucy got some paper and a pencil and drew pictures. They were so calm and peaceful, and we were able to clean up quickly while they worked.

It was nice for us (as parents who appreciate a quiet house), but I am writing this post mostly because I am so excited and happy for them. In my pre-Montessori days (i.e. a few months ago) I would sometimes wonder how I would ever do art projects (or any craft-type project) with them. I would try once in a while, pulling out all sorts of materials to make something-or-other, and then Gene would say he wasn't interested. Or he would attempt the project for a couple minutes, and go back to what he had been doing. The problem was that we were doing projects on my time. Montessori allows children to work on their time, to take a "prepared" project off the shelf and work on it whenever they feel like it. This means they are actually interested in the project, have NOTHING else they would rather be doing, and will probably work on it for a while and do a good job on it (or at least as good a job as they are capable of).

Gene cut, colored and glued together 5 paper rings, and was so proud of himself. Norah worked on it on Friday, and they are both excited to hang the chains on their respective Christmas trees. Yeah, Montessori!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Ideas

I have had a few good ideas for Christmas activities, and I am way too tired to take any pictures of what I've spent this evening assembling, but here is the rundown... I found some red and white beads and a green string, so we will have "Christmas" bead-stringing on the shelf tomorrow. We have a stringing activity out often, but because of limited shelf space it is not always available. It does tend to be popular, however (being one of those "classic" preschool activities). I also sorted through our duplos (which are rarely used in our house...I think the children think they are boring because all they know how to do is build towers with them...they have yet to use their imaginations!) and put all the red, green and white duplos into a Christmas-decorated basket. We'll see if that makes them attractive enough. I also spent a while cutting out Christmas pictures from catalogs- Christmas trees, wreaths, stockings, candles, etc. I will put it out as a collage/pasting work tomorrow.

One other idea I had (though haven't gotten ready yet) is having the children cut paper to make their own paper chains. For anyone reading this who is also teaching young children, this would be excellent cutting practice. My children have been using scissors more often lately, but cutting on a line (especially a long line) is more difficult for them than I thought it would be, and yet they lack incentive to improve that skill. What is the point of cutting a bunch of lines drawn on a piece of paper (which is one work offered on our shelves)? But, if the point is to cut strips of paper (nice looking strips!) and then make a decoration from them, they might have more reason to work on their cutting. I can't wait to give it a try!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wednesday, December 3

A nice, peaceful day today. Everyone got to work and settled down fairly quickly once we returned from picking up Norah. I never know how long it will take to get started once we pick her up. Gene and Norah usually race ahead and wait for Lucy and I, but now with snow on the ground everyone wants to pick it up or eat it or whatnot. Lucy was intent today on picking up a huge chunk of dirty snow and carrying it with her the whole way home. And then she wanted me to carry it because her arms were tired! I'm getting sidetracked. Anyway, my point is that there is often some distraction on the way back to our house. And once we get there, they have to remove shoes/boots, mittens, hats and jackets, and put them all in their proper places. Then they wash hands before starting any work. Sometimes (and I don't know how) it seems to be close to 9:30 or even 9:45 once in a while before all three of them are actually working. And we go to pick up Norah at 9! I wonder if we can improve on that:)

The highlights today were as follows:

coloring a picture
sandpaper letters
all the dressing frames
cutting paper
reading a book

putting dimes in a bottle
putting pins in a shaker
lesson on coloring a picture
bean bowl

pins in a shaker
pooh puzzle
butterfly puzzle
duck floor puzzle

Here are the new works I just mentioned:

"Coloring a picture"...I have been printing out coloring pages from online (look up "free winter coloring pages" for instance), and then laying out a couple choices for coloring. A child would choose a picture, and take it with a bowl of crayons and scissors to a table. Placing the materials on an art mat (we have some wild crayoning kids and the tables don't appreciate it) they can color the picture. That part is obvious. Then, if they want, they can cut on the lines that you may be able to faintly see in the picture...I drew lines above and below each picture, so that when cut the picture would be completely free of "computer lingo"...the words that always print telling the website the picture was printed from, etc. I am trying to incorporate some cutting practice in, as well as coloring, and it has been really popular. Gene is actually coloring, and learning to color in the lines! (He was never interested in coloring books, and loved to scribble on blank paper, but that's what it would be, lots of scribbling. So, this is a new step for him:)

Below is "Pins in a shaker"...I will take votes on new names for this. I bought some long sewing pins with colored heads, and they fit nicely in this vintage sugar shaker I found at a thrift shop a few weeks ago. I first saw this work at Go Like the Wind Montessori school I visited over the summer, and have been wanting to put it together ever since! It has been used every day since I put it out...The shaker is turned over, and all the pins are dumped in the small red tray (really a cardboard lid for a wine gift-box, but such a pretty lid I had to find a use for it!). Then, carefully, a child can pick up a single pin and put it into a hole in the shaker. They can put them in any holes they like, but when they are ready to put it away they must put the pins around the edges again.

And here is a picture from a few days wasn't during school-time, but Gene and Lucy pulled the Magneatos out, and I was finally able to interest them in building three-dimensional towers. They watched as I started one, and then helped to build a little of it. But then, they went back to their comfort zone and began putting them all end-to-end to build "roads"...

Also, at circle time today, we finished up reading a Bill Peet book (Zella, Zack and Zodiac)...I had never read any of his books before, but am pleased with what we have read so far...they are long but interesting picture books. I am enjoying reading random picture books during circle times...we don't have a theme to what we read, but I find that the books hold the kids' attention, and help them to settle down for the other activities we do. We also recently read "The Rainbow Fish".

And then, at the end of circle time, we build a couple "pink and brown towers" all together. It was fun for them, and I am hoping to interest them in using the cubes and prisms a little more (actually, at all...they have not been chosen by anyone by me!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Choices

As I mentioned, there are some new works on the shelves that I haven't posted about. And some have been pretty popular lately. Here they are, in no particular order:

This is "leaf rubbing", and it has been out on the shelves for maybe a month now. Not a ton of use, but more so lately.

It took me a while to figure out how to present "leaf rubbing"...but this seems to be working. The leaf is real, and taped to a square of cardboard. To do this work, a child gets a piece of "metal inset" paper, puts it on top of the leaf and attaches the paper with the clothespins. Then they can rub the crayon all over, pressing harder to really bring out the veins in the leaf. Once they have rubbed a leaf, I will put tape on the back, and they can stick it to a branch of the tree I drew on our wall (I will post a picture sometime...right now it is too dark in the schoolroom to do the tree justice).

This is a "sewing cylinder" least that is what we call it. I got it from Montessori Services, I think.

There are many holes to put the large wooden needle into, and it is a pre-sewing exercise. Basically the wooden needle goes through multiple holes until the string is used up, and then it can be taken out again. But it is trickier than it looks...getting the cylinder unthreaded takes a lot of patience and requires good eye-hand coordination.

Sorting money is a very new work. Gene has been dealing with money for the last year or so, and very interested in it, but I realized that Lucy has barely touched a coin and couldn't tell the difference between any of the silver coins. So I pulled this together last night and presented it today. Everyone is pretty good at sorting, but it is fun to introduce new items to sort. And eventually they will learn the names of the coins, and learn more about them. But first things first!
These are the magneatos...we got them for Christmas a couple years ago, from a children's toy magazine. There are two sizes of "sticks" and many balls, and they are all magnetized. Here are some ideas of things to make with them, but so far the most popular has been to just stick them all together in a long line. Hopefully they'll get a little more creative soon...

I had fun with them, anyway. Maybe seeing what I did will rub off on somebody!

These are the sound books, which have been filling up with "sounds" at various rates. Gene has begun filling his yellow sound book, and Norah and Lucy are about halfway through their red sound books. They are very simple...I draw one big letter on each page as they are introduced to that particular sandpaper letter. Then, every time I give a lesson on a new sandpaper letter, I have the child show me how they trace the previous letters in their book. It is built-in practice.

This is the first sound in each red sound book. I just draw them in, though I know that Laura in the blog My Montessori Journey has the children in her class paste in a die-cut letter. I like that idea, but for now drawing seems simpler. Everyone has been fascinated, however, watching me color in the lines. I think we need a coloring activity...we haven't used many coloring books, mostly because Gene was never interested in coloring and Lucy was too little. But now that coloring is more popular, I think they need to appreciate the art of "coloring in the lines"...someone actually asked why I was doing it that way!!!

Wednesday, November 19

Here's what we've been doing the last few days at preschool... Playdough, playdough, playdough! At least, Lucy and Norah have. But, I've got to admit they are getting good at it. Norah has perfected her snake-rolling and sometimes makes multiple "squirmy-wormies" and Lucy continues to work on her creativity. The other day she asked me to come and see the "tweezers" she had made...and how they opened and shut. Today she made a hamburger (with cookie-cutter cutouts for the buns and burger), a birthday cake (the hamburger with a candle on top) and a lollipop. This may not seem astounding to anyone else, but I haven't taught her any of this. And Gene was never very interested in play-dough, and doesn't have the same creative spark that Lucy seems to be developing.

Above is a "butterfly"...I can kind of see it. What I see most of all is that Lucy realizes that butterflies are symmetrical.

So...besides a heck of a lot of play-dough, here's a few other activities that have been off the shelves lately:

Gene- transferring water with a sponge (will post about this soon)
bean bowl (mostly spooning beans between big bowl and a smaller bowl)
duck floor puzzle
pooh puzzle
sandpaper letters (multiple times)
drawing with markers (another favorite)
magneatos (will post)
zipping a jacket

Norah- playdough
sorting money (will post)
bean bowl
transferring marbles
toothpick jar
sweeping on table (with small dustpan...sweeping playdough crumbs)
rubber bands on dowel
sandpaper letters
butterfly puzzle
small alphabet puzzle

Lucy- spooning beans
cylinder block #1
rubbing a leaf
sewing cylinder (will post)
toothpick jar
pooh puzzle
sesame street puzzle
duck floor puzzle
world map puzzle
drawing with markers, crayons and pencil
drawing lines with a ruler
butterfly puzzle

Lucy with a magneato "carpet square". Everything she makes now is "something"... It's not just "look what I made Mama" anymore. It's "Mama, look what I made. It's a...carpet square." But whatever she says it is, it actually looks like. So I don't have to fake my understanding.

Note: the reason there are so many pictures of Lucy posted is that she has realized that she can ask me to take a picture of her work, and she has been asking more lately. I let Gene and Norah know this as well, but they haven't taken advantage of it. And I don't usually think to take spontaneous pictures during a normal busy school morning...

A brief synopsis...I will post soon about the new works mentioned above. I have put quite a few new ones out on the shelves.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sandpaper letters are awesome!

I remember worrying a few months ago that Gene was getting too old to learn how to write. The Montessori books I had read mentioned (repeatedly!) that children usually have their "explosion into writing" around age 4.5. This is after they had been in a Montessori environment since age 2.5 or 3 and had been using many of the "pre-writing" materials- metal insets to learn pencil control, sandpaper letters to learn the shape of each letter, moveable alphabet to learn how to put letters together to make words. I thought since Gene hadn't been doing any of those things consistently (the only material he had used once in a while was the moveable alphabet, but he usually just made the letters dance around and talk to each other!), that he would move past the critical age, and not be able to master writing as quickly or easily.

Well, we'll see how fast he actually MASTERS writing, but the interest is definitely growing. He has been learning the sandpaper letters rapidly, and practices tracing them with his fingers multiple times a day, not just during preschool times. And this is great for the girls as well, because they have seen Gene taking the letters off the shelf so many times, they have asked for lessons on them as well. So, I have confidence now that Gene WILL write, and that Norah and Lucy will learn as well. And as proof of that, Lucy spontaneously wrote a capital "E" today, in the middle of scribbling a picture...and she came up and showed me. Way to go, Lucy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday, November 12

I introduced three new works today- folding cloths, zipping a jacket, and "getting water". The folding work is something I know will be used, and it is a stepping stone to other folding activities (i.e. folding paper, or folding clothes)...I have often tried to get Gene and Lucy to help me fold the laundry, but only occasionally are they interested, so we'll give it a shot on the shelf.

This is the basket of folded cloths.

The first step is to take them all out of the basket, and pile them up.
Then, select one cloth, spread it out on the mat, and fold it. The kids can choose to take out and fold all ten cloths, or if that seems too challenging they can just take out one or two.

"Zipping a jacket" is something I've wanted to put out for a while, because none of the children can get their own jacket zipped, and with jacket season beginning I am going a little crazy getting everyone ready to go outside. Once they can zip themselves, they will be able to get completely ready on their own...good for all of us! I also want to put out a jacket with buttons on it, but that will have to wait until I find a good one. I found this pink jacket amidst all of my youngest daughter's outerwear (she was given about 20 jackets and sweatshirts and sweaters, not kidding!) and it has a little hood that completely unsnaps...a fun bonus!

"Getting water" is also something I'd wanted to put out for a while now. There are a lot of Montessori water activities that are very fun, but they all involve the children getting their own water to use. Stepping up on a stool to get water from the sink, and then stepping down again, is fairly difficult to do without spilling, especially for the younger children. So, a water bucket is a way that many schools use to make water accessible to everyone. The children scoop up some water from a full bucket on the floor, use it for a certain activity (such as pouring water between two pitchers, or using a sponge to transfer water between two containers). At the end of each activity, the water is disposed of (I think we'll have a "used water" bucket). And that means we don't have to keep water in the containers on the shelves...a good thing when a curious toddler is living in the same house.

Here's what we were up to today:

Norah worked on playdough (first this time), the butterfly puzzle, and the bean bowl. She is very consistent. But she feels really comfortable doing these activities, and needs a little encouragement to branch out, I think. But, in the meantime, she is learning how to get out, clean up and put away what she does choose to work with. And she is definitely observing what the other children do...watching someone else do an activity a few times makes doing it oneself much easier.

Gene worked on folding cloths (before I even gave a lesson on it- he was that interested!) He drew a few pictures with a pencil (one of his "comfort works") and then moved on to pouring beads, the duck floor puzzle, a sesame street puzzle, and reading books. One of his accomplishments was writing his own name on one of his pictures. I told him I wouldn't do that for him any more, now that I've seen him do it a few times...and he remembered to do it by himself today.

Lucy learned a new sandpaper letter today (f) and was then able to get a lesson on "object box activity that matches up letters and objects that begin with those letters. There are four objects and letters in the box, and after she had four letters in her sound book she was excited to match up the objects. I'll try to take a picture of that work, as well. She also did stamping for a while, and copied Geno's name with letter stamps that I had put out. Maybe she'll do her name sometime... She did the duck floor puzzle as well, and the butterfly puzzle. I was amused to see that she had sorted the butterfly puzzle pieces before putting them back in the puzzle...she has been sorting everything lately!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday, Nov 10

Occasionally (or more often if I can...every day would be stretching it though!) I will post a short post about what we've done in school that day. Nothing long or elaborate...just a bit about what each child worked on. It will be another record for my teaching purposes, and serve as a way to let the parents of the students (that would be you, Karen and Tim!) know what is going on. So, here goes:

Today was very cold and everyone had winter jackets and hats. I came up with a basket to put accessories in that the children could reach themselves (and we keep it by the "shoe spot" in the open closet). They were pleased to have a place besides the floor to keep hats and mittens. We also recently put some magnetic hooks on our garage door so they could hang up their own coats! Why didn't we think of that years ago! We found the hooks at, and were pleased with them. They are easily moved if we need to, but they can definitely hold a kid's jacket (and they come in varying strengths, if you want to hold something heavier).

So, the children soon got to work. Norah immediately spotted a new puzzle (a butterfly) and chose that as her first work. But while she was washing her hands, Lucy got it from the shelf so Norah watched Lucy finish it, and then had a turn. Norah was so interested in it (it was a bit challenging, being a kind of foam rubber and not wood) that she immediately did it again. Way to go! She moved on eventually to the bean bowl (which had a new ladle and a container to fill) and she was set for a while. Playdough rounded out her day, as it has for the last few days of preschool. There were a couple cookie cutters and a rolling pin, and she was focused and quiet for a good half hour. In between somewhere she looked through a book we had read last week called Action Alphabet, and she practiced acting out the actions that were described.

Gene made a beeline for his work binder once school began. We started putting them together on Friday, sorting and hole-punching all the work the children have created and putting them in the binder so they can be organized. All artwork and drawing (and later math and language papers) go on top of the dining room table so I can put a name on them (though later that can be done by the children) and they stay there to dry if need be. They are then put in the work box (just a big red box with a lid) until Friday. On Fridays we will sort through the work box at the end of preschool, and everyone can choose their best work to keep in their binders.

Gene had not finished putting in all his work on Friday, so on his own initiative he got the hole puncher and finished (Lucy wanted to watch). Then he took out the newest work I had shown him, writing on a chalkboard. He wrote a few letters (tracing the sandpaper letters with his fingers if he forgot how to make them), before wiping the chalkboard down with a wet cloth and putting it away. He did a Winnie the Pooh puzzle, the butterfly puzzle, and then worked on spooning beans. The first time he had done that in a long time. He also drew a few pictures with a pencil, and then I showed him how to use a ruler to make parallel and horizontal lines, and he colored in the squares that resulted with markers. He read a few books as well before preschool was over for the day.

Lucy had a puzzle day- she did the butterfly puzzle, a duckling floor puzzle (thanks Reenie!), and a small ABC wooden puzzle. She got a new letter drawn in her sound book (now she has r, a and m) and also spent a good deal of time using playdough. We took a picture of her creation, though, because it was quite unique:

She cut out a bunch of stars, made a hole in the center of each with the end of the rolling pin, and then gave them each two "eggs".

To go home, everyone could reach their own coats, mittens and hats, and Lucy even tried to help Norah button her coat. We really should put that coat on the floor and let the childen practice on it. It seems a little more appealing than the button frame, and maybe it would entice them to the frame...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Brown tower breakthrough

Geno actually built the brown tower with the prisms!! He has never, ever attempted even using them before, and we have had them since about a year ago. I made a booklet last week of different things that could be built with the brown prisms and pink cubes, and combinations of both of them...took pictures, developed, laminated and put them together in a booklet that sits on the shelf with the prisms and cubes. Well, that booklet really peaked his interest, as I was hoping, and he built the tower. He had also just spent the previous evening building towers with the family, so perhaps he was still feeling motivated to build.

The funny thing is, I had been thinking that he was avoiding them because he thought they were too easy. But, perhaps it was that he really didn't understand, and it was actually a bit too challenging, since he has never been very interested in building. Whatever the reason, it was great to see, and I look forward to seeing all the children take more interest in these materials!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

He's writing!

I introduced the Movable alphabet to the children today, intending it be mostly for Gene right now, but the girls were welcome to use it as well. He didn't seem very interested, because he had used it last year a bit and had grown tired of it. But, he has sure come a long way! I started using it nearby once I saw that he was just sitting down and looking bored, and sure enough he came over to see what I was doing. I had written a few words, which he read and then asked if he could help me. He helped me put the letters away, and then I quickly turned it over to him. I told him that I would ask him a question, and he could try to write the answer. Here are the questions I asked, and then check out his answers! This is his very first writing, besides writing his name.

Questions: What is your name? What is your favorite food? What is your favorite animal? What is your favorite color?


Helping Out

At two different moments during preschool today did I notice a spirit of generosity and helpfulness that I (unfortunately) don't get to witness as much as I would like. But the Montessori classroom is supposed to foster this helpfulness in children, and I am excited to see it in our classroom.

Norah was using the bathroom and asked for me to get her a wipe. I have a basket of pre-folded wipes that sits on the back of the toilet, and she had forgotten to get the basket down before sitting down. Before I could help her (and I am intentionally slow to help when I know that I am not REALLY needed) Lucy jumped up and went to help. She was extremely polite and gave the basket to Norah, "Here you go that better?" And then when Norah was getting down and starting to struggle with her pants, Lucy again offered her 2-year old wisdom, "Do you need a little help with that? It might work if you sit down." It is SO much better to hear it from a fellow classmate than from me, the all-knowing adult. I much prefer it this way, because Norah did sit down and did get her pants back on by herself, and was very proud of herself for doing so. I wasn't needed at all!

Later in the day Lucy was working on sweeping beans on the floor (she had quickly mastered sweeping cotton balls on the table and the floor so she could sweep beans) and they had gotten all over the place. Gene was near and offered to help. They both worked together for quite a while to get the beans back in a sweepable pile. If I had asked him to, he probably would not have been so cheerful or stayed with Lucy for so it is, it was his initiative and they were both pleased with themselves when the beans were back in the pile.

Prayer in School

So I haven't posted for a LONG time, but that may just be the ways things go around here! I will try to do better, though, because it is really nice to keep up with a blog that actually keeps up with itself- i.e. I love reading the blogs that post at least two or three times a week. So that will be my goal...and posting really does help to organize my thoughts about school and show the progress that is being made by all the children. So, here is a short post about how we incorporate prayer in our school-day.

We begin every circle time with a short prayer for the day, and then the Glory Be. Everyone knows that prayer now, and I may change the opening prayer now to the Our Father (or another short Catholic prayer) so that they have a chance to learn something new. But we ARE in the midst of learning something new prayer-wise every day...the Nicene Creed. I decided that was one prayer Geno probably did not know all the words to, or at least what it meant (he picks up on oral words so quickly, especially at church, that I'm never sure just what he knows). So they could all learn it together. We have learned one new line or part of a line every day, and always say it twice to incorporate the newest part...I am very impressed with them! We are about halfway through the prayer now, having just added the part stating "through Him all things were made". At the rate we're going, everybody will know the entire prayer by Christmastime, or shortly thereafter. It is really neat to see them learning it so quickly, and I am excited to teach them more. It is so easy at this age!

Friday, October 3, 2008

What a Wonderful Friday!

We had a great day at preschool today...what a good feeling it is to see the children all working and then putting their work away and choosing something else... They are all becoming accustomed to the way the classroom works, and it is a relief on my part to see the pieces falling into place. Not that school will ever run perfectly smoothly, but today I realized how good it can be, and WILL be:)

Two new works were on the shelves today- crayon rubbing and breaking styrofoam. I had been wanting to put crayon rubbing out for a while now, since we have a bunch of chunky crayons that don't have labels on them and would be put to good use, and I would also like to have the children rub over leaves pretty soon. I put out a piece of rough sandpaper(very rough- the kind that is used to attach to a floor-sander) and the children chose a piece of paper to put on top and then rubbed a crayon over the paper.

The pictures that resulted had a lot of dark dots, and then lighter dots and splotches...not extremely beautiful, but I'll see if there is more interest before putting out some leaves.

The breaking styrofoam work is having a trial run on the shelf, and may be pulled and replaced with something else. We got some styrofoam peanuts in the mail the other day, and I thought the children would enjoy a chance to break something apart (making a neat sound in the process) in a controlled activity. I planned to use the small pieces in a pasting activity (maybe making snowmen in the winter). However, it became obvious rather quickly that when the pieces were broken into extremely small pieces, they were hard to get in the bowl (static cling!), and eventually there were small peanut pieces ALL over the table and floor. So, we'll see.

Here are some other new works that have been put out recently:

Putting rubber bands on a dowel gives the children good practice at using rubber bands. They have to open them up wide enough to fit over the end of the dowel, and then scoot them down so that more will fit on. A fairly popular work...and once they master this, they can go on to doing work that requires putting a rubber band onto a pack of picture or word cards.

Spooning rice looked enticing to the children, and a couple of them tried it, but it was hard to keep on the spoon, and even harder to pick up all the individual pieces of rice. So next to it I placed:
Spooning beads- The beads are larger and easier to pick up when spilled. When a child masters this work, they will then be ready to try spooning rice again. Until then, it can rest mess-free on the shelf.
The pasting tray has offered a great opportunity for the children to practice their pasting...and they are getting rather good at it. There are cardboard circles (roughtly 6-8 inches diameter) under the basked of shapes, and the paste is in the jar with the white lid. A child can choose a q-tip, dip it in the paste, and then brush it on a shape before applying it to the cardboard. A popular work, that has been used almost every day.

These are some examples of the pasting that has been done so far. There have also been projects with many shapes all of the same color.

Geno working on a pasting project.

This is "cylinder block #1", and it is basically a puzzle. Match the cylinders to their holes in the block. There are a total of 4 cylinder blocks, with cylinders ranging from thick to thin (#1), tall to short (#2), large to small (#3) and I can't describe #4...the first cylinder is tall and skinny and the last is short and fat... There are lots of activities to do with the cylinder blocks, and my favorites so far involve using more than one block and mixing all the cylinders up, and then trying to find the respective holes without any mistakes. This generally appeals to 2 year olds, but the older children have also shown interest.

Norah has enjoyed working with the bean bowl...she chooses it at some point almost every day.

What a good week. We have had 14 days of preschool so far...I can't wait to see what we do in the next month!

Monday, September 29, 2008


Motivation is very important in a Montessori classroom. It is what inspires the children to choose a work, complete it and then choose something else. Sometimes motivation is inspired by noticing what another child has chosen, and then choosing that work when it is back on the shelf. Sometimes a child is motivated to do a certain work because something about it (whether color, shape, or whatever) catches their eye and it looks appealing. Sometimes motivation is a direct result of having attempted a work before, and wanting to do it again and get better at it.

But...sometimes motivation has to be gently crafted FOR a child. If something has sat on the shelf for weeks and has not been touched (at least by a particular child), then the teacher has a job to do. How do you convince an almost 5-year old boy that pouring beans between two jugs is fun, and that he actually wants to do it, without making it seem like he HAS to or that I WANT him to do it...? The answer, at least for this particular boy but I think it would be the case for most children, was to give him an incentive. And no, not a reward exactly. But I let him know that when he got pretty good at pouring beans, and could pour them without spilling any, he would be able to move on to other pouring activities, and eventually would be able to pour water. That did it for him, and he went right over and took the bean pouring from the shelf. Yeah!

Every child is motivated by different things, but this kind of motivation clearly works in a Montessori classroom. Knowing the reason WHY you are practicing and working to master a certain activity can definitely help, especially for those tasks that seem too easy for an older child. The right motivation certainly keeps children interested and moving ahead...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Popular Work

There are some favorite works in our classroom, and the interest in them spreads from one child to another. The Montessori method utilizes the "horizontal learning" that children are so good at (learning by watching another child do something as opposed to learning directly from a teacher) by teaching children how to watch one another work (with permission, and with hands behind the back and mouth shut). This is the formal way to watch, but the children always notice what is being taken from the shelves and used...and they often remind each other in this way of what is available and how interesting it is!

The favorites of the classroom right now are puzzles! We have two wooden animal puzzles with about 12-15 pieces each that are challenging but do-able, and a new ABC puzzle that I have been putting out in installments (2 new letters a day...we are approaching the middle of the alphabet, and the kids are thrilled that it now requires three floor mats to complete).

Other favorites are the metal insets (individual shapes that can be traced with colored pencils and then filled in with lines or shading, and can later be combined with other shapes); putting rubber bands on a dowel; pasting; tonging cotton balls; sorting buttons and cutting paper.

Each child already has their own favorites, and that is fine. The works that they want to do are generally waiting for them on the shelves. And if somebody is using the desired work at the moment, the child is free to wait until it is back on the shelf...but usually they just choose something else. And that often lead to developing a new "favorite" work!

Montessori vs. Unschooling

It occured to me one day that the Montessori method and the method of homeschooling called "unschooling" are surprisingly similar. I had learned about unschooling in college when I researched different methods of homeschooling. It struck me as a beneficial way for children to learn (by being able to choose what, when, to what extent and for how long they learn) yet I was pretty sure I wouldn't unschool my own children. What if they grew up never wanting to learn about math, or learn to read, or (fill in the blank...)? And by establishing that they were in charge of their education, it would leave me as their worried parent with no power to teach them if they chose not to learn something. I read a number of glowing examples of children who excelled in the unschooling method, but still...not for me.

Montessori education is unschooling with structure. It gives children freedom to choose what they learn, when they learn, to what extent and for how long they learn...within the confines of a classroom. They are (at least in the preschool years, and the majority of the elementary years) limited in their choice to what is laid out for them by a competent teacher. And there is a game-plan to the Montessori method, though the children are largely unaware of it...they are led gently step by step through various interesting materials and lessons, entirely at their own pace, advancing when they are ready.

Structure is integrated throughout a Montessori classroom. The children learn how to take care of themselves and others, how to interact with each other, and how to care for the physical space they are in. They learn to respect the work of others, and to admire a job well done. There are many "rules" in a Montessori classroom, but they are not taught in a harsh no-nonsense way. They just become a part of the joy of learning- something else to be learned, and practiced, at a child's leisure. For example, note the difference in tone between a rule at a public school ("No running in the halls or you will go to the principal's office") and a Montessori school ("This is how we walk quietly at school. Do you hear a noise as I (the teacher) walk? You may practice walking quietly whenever you like, and when you think you are able to walk without making a noise you may come and ask me to listen to your feet.") The latter rule offers a challenge to a preschooler, who does often walk quite loudly, and also demonstrates the goal quite clearly.

Montessori and unschooling are both great learning methods, but Montessori takes unschooling one (large) step further by offering needed structure. As a teacher and a parent, that is a huge relief to me, and that is why I am still a huge Montessori fan.

Monday, September 22, 2008


It is amazing what good memories children have! And what a poor memory I have sometimes. This week I introduced a few new materials, one of which was the "pasting tray". I like the sound of that better than "gluing tray", but once I decide something like that, I need to get the name of it firmly into my head, as well as all the respective parts of the work. There was the container of q-tips to apply the paste, a basket of colored foam shapes to paste on, and a stack of large cardboard circles to use as a base. Also, a small tea-rest (actually, I don't know what it is called) that is meant to hold a tea-bag once it's been used. I showed the children how to put the q-tip onto the holder when they needed to put it down somewhere, so as not to get paste on the table. But I referred to the paste a couple times as "glue", and someone caught me and reminded me that it was "paste". A good reminder to me to give every part of a work a name and memorize them BEFORE I present. What a learning process this school-year is for me as well!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Work and some thoughts...

We are in our third week of school now, and it's been a great learning experience for the children and myself...they have kept busy with all the different activities that line the shelves, and I have kept busy showing, reminding, and insisting that the rules be followed (i.e. put your work away before choosing another, put your work on the shelf where it goes and not just the nearest open place, etc...) I've also given lessons on new work and on new ways to use old work. Sometimes, when the kids are peaceful, I will choose a work myself and find a spot to sit and relax for a minute. I often sit near a child who has not shown interest in the particular work that I am using, or has forgotten how to use it, in the hope that they will notice what I am doing and use it correctly in the future.

The power of observation is stressed for a teacher- observing the children in the classroom to determine what they are working on, what they are ready for, what is giving them trouble, etc. Much of the role of the teacher is to simply observe, and then in the future act on those observations by giving new lessons or re-demonstrating a previously given lesson. But...children are also keen observers, and that is part of the magic of a Montessori classroom. The children in a classroom are all working on different work, but at the same time they notice what their peers are working on, and also HOW they are using the materials. They rub off on each other! And I have noticed it with our school as well...all three of the children have been using many of the works on the shelf, and they all tend to gravitate toward those they are comfortable with. But, though they each have their "favorite" works, seeing someone else rush to work with a certain material is a great motivation to give it a try at some point...

Here is some new Practical Life work that we have done lately:

Above is "Using Stickers", and the purpose is simply to become familiar with peeling a sticker off a backing and sticking it onto a particular spot. I drew some lines on strips of paper, and the children try to completely cover them with stickers. I will change the sticker selection in the future, but for now I wanted it to be plain and simple. And it has been pretty popular!

Sorting button has been a favorite as well since it was put out on Monday. The buttons all begin in the middle, and one by one are sorted into the twelve surrounding areas. Not TOO challenging for the children, but it still requires a bit of thought because some of the buttons are pretty similar.

I've also introduced two dressing frames, which are intended to help the children learn to completely dress themselves. Right now we have out the "snapping frame" and the "large button frame". I will post pictures as some point, but they consist of two pieces of material in a wooden frame, connected by snaps/buttons, and a child can fasten and unfasten to get practice in these skills.

That is all for now...I will continue to post as we add more materials, and have more to share.

By the way, this is a "private" blog (i.e. only those people I have invited can read it) but if you will let me know of anyone you think SHOULD be invited to read it, I will gladly do so. I don't mind letting people read it, I am just a little wary of a complete stranger stumbling onto it and reading all about my kids...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sensorial work is here!

I just introduced the first of the sensorial materials to the children...these are the next step after practical life, which we have been doing exclusively for the past 3 preschool sessions. Practical life focuses on the physical skills that children will need to get by in life- pouring, spooning, snapping, tying shoes, using various kitchen utensils, washing hands and brushing teeth (we may introduce this as an activity at some point, so stay posted...) While we will continue to do PL activities and add new ones as the year goes on, we will also begin with the Sensorial activities (and later Language, Math and Culture will arrive on our shelves as well).

Sensorial work is a group of activities that Maria Montessori came up with, based on her extensive work with special-needs kids in Italy, to teach children about their senses- touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. She created materials to teach in a way that the kids couldn't help but learn (they are fun!) but could also check their work themselves and know whether they were correct or not (this is actually how ALL Montessori work functions). Today, for example, I introduced the "pink cubes" and the "brown quadrilateral prisms". And yes, that is actually the name of the work. I will try to refer to them with that name as much as possible, but I think "brown prisms" may suffice. The object is to order the cubes from largest to smallest, and the prisms from thickest to thinnest. There are various other activities to do with the cubes and prisms (such as use them both to build a "brown and pink tower", but I introduced the basics first (ordering them both horizontally and vertically). Here are some pictures:

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday, Friday

Day #2 was fairly successful, though I think the second day of any new thing is always a little bit of a letdown. On first days everything is so new and so exciting, and the excitement always wears off a little by the second day. However, the kids did well and did work for a LONG time! They washed their hands and we began circle time with the Days of the Week and Months of the Year, and Norah seemed to be following fairly well (my kids know these songs very well, but enjoyed having something to do when the particular day/month was sung). I demonstrated how to carry a rug (with two hands, vertically) and then they were free to choose work. Again today, they all did a little of everything. Norah worked for quite a while at cutting with scissors (she told me she was going to cut all the strips in the basket, and she actually did!) and then flitted back and forth for the rest of the session. Getting a lesson is a popular thing right now, and the kids were asking for lots of lessons so they could use new works. However, I realize that I still haven't given a lesson on all the works on the shelves to each kid, so there are more lessons to come! I will continue to introduce new works slowly over the course of the year, but right now the kids are becoming acclimated to what is on the shelves.

As I said above, they worked for a long time, about 2 hours, and I think I should have stopped the work period before the time we had the last circle time they were all a little antsy. But they were still wanting to work, which is why I let it go so long. Next time, I think 90 minutes works about right, at least for now. We will work up to two work periods of 90 minutes on either side of circle time...but that is for the future. And, that is only a goal. We'll see how much work the kids can actually handle!

Norah cutting with scissors. She took over Lucy's spot from yesterday for a while this morning.
We had quite a long reading session in the middle of the work period. Gene and Lucy read to themselves, and then I read a couple books to all the kids.
Lucy having snack. We had grapes and graham crackers again, and we will probably change up snack a little bit next week (maybe raisins and graham crackers).
The control cards do make it easy. Notice there are only 5 grapes on Lucy's plate...the control card kept her from taking ALL the grapes left in the bowl, so Norah could have her snack too.