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!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Learning Update

Here are a few things that the kids have been up to the last couple weeks...

Decorating the Lima Bean bowl (Lucy):

Using the red rods to build a tower, a maze and various other things (Gene and Lucy). Jane watched, and was very excited to walk through the maze with the other kids. She then asked to use the rods. Now, she hasn't used any of the preliminary Montessori sensorial building materials (Pink Cubes, Brown Prisms) and is pretty young for any of them in a traditional school, but as I have newly determined to "follow the child" and not say no to a rational choice, I allowed her to take them out. She said she was going to build the maze!

She very carefully took them out one at a time, carried them the way I had shown Lucy, and brought them over to the mat by our front door that we use for the rods (because it's big enough). She got tired about halfway through, and announced she was going to put them away again. And she did, in the stand we have for them, each in a spot though not in the correct order. She had a great first experience with them, and will learn over time how to use them in a more meaningful way. For now, though, I'm sure she'll go back and want to use them again, and I'm looking forward to the day when she truly gets them. For now, though, take a look at her "maze"...she had gotten the point that we put some rods on one side of the mat, and some on the other:)

Another activity that Jane has shown interest in way ahead of her time is cutting with scissors. She pulled out the cutting tray a few days ago, and went right at the paper strips with her scissors. She got her fingers in the right holes, finagled them open, and shut them again. She has chosen the work numerous times since, and I finally made her a separate beginner cutting tray, with a bowl to put the cut pieces in. Here she is in action (using her left hand, but she cuts most successfully with her right...a little experimenting won't hurt, though):

Jane got a set of fruit and veggies to cut for her birthday, and it's been a popular activity. I tried it myself, and it really does feel like the real thing. Pretty fun!

The surprise of the week was Lucy's To-Do list. She has been interested in writing letters for a long time, and has conquered most of them now (half uppercase, half lowercase, but at least she feels confident that she can write all the letters in one form or another). She's been writing her name for awhile, and a few other random words, but this was the first big writing project for her. It was completely self-initiated, I think inspired by a Frog and Toad story that we have read before (but not recently). She just got some paper one morning, told me what she was doing, and went at it. She then crossed off a few things as they came up over the course of the day, and I don't remember what they were, but here's what was left when I took the picture:

Go to bed
Wake up
Clean up
Get in your bed

Translation: Go to school

Pretty neat, huh?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Things I have Learned

So...I am in the midst of taking a training course to become a real Montessori teacher. Someday maybe I'll actually teach in a real school. We'll see. But, while that is on hold, I can at least apply the things I'm learning to my own kids, right?

One thing I've learned is to not say "No". That came as a big surprise to me, because we definitely say "no" often to our kids. But this applies in a strictly school in, a Montessori classroom should only display things on the shelves that are accessible to ALL the children in the class. The shelves start out with safe, larger objects so that the youngest children won't hurt themselves or swallow something. As they get more proficient at using the safe materials, gradually the materials are exchanged for others that are smaller, messier, sharper, etc.

But that is just the Practical Life section. In the other areas of the classroom, as well, the materials start off easy. In math, there may be just number puzzles out at first. Language, a bunch of books. Other materials are introduced, but the classroom starts off this way so that the youngest children will feel welcome. Imagine a new barely 3-year old, coming to school for the first time, who watches some bigger kids do something that looks really neat and exciting...and the teacher tells her, "No, you can't do that" when she goes to take it off the shelf once they're done. Anything the teacher tries to show her next won't look as exciting as what she had chosen herself.

I said "No" a lot last year during our school sessions, and I saw the difficulties of it. The kids were sad they couldn't use the materials they wanted to.

But, there are always some limits in the classroom. It is definitely okay, and even a must, to say "No" when a child is misusing a material in a way that is hurting it, them self, or another person. The teacher can help them put it away, and say that they can't use it until the next day. But they will be given another chance, with perhaps a lesson first on the proper use.

I have put this into practice this year in our classroom. Everything on the shelves is accessible to everyone, even to Janie (just turned 2). If she chooses something that I don't think she is ready for, I still show her something she can do with it. Something educational...if not the complete lesson, then at least a mini-lesson. For example, she was in awe of the Numbers and Counters- laminated cards with the numbers 1-10 on them, and a bunch of colored stones to place under each number. She watched the other kids use them, and one day she got them out and put all the cards (in random order) out on the mat, and then put some counters on top of each one. She also counted (up to 20 or 30) as she put them all out, but she wasn't exactly counting them as individual stones. Last year I wouldn't have let her take it off the shelf, but this time I just watched her, and she was concentrating very well, and not hurting the material at all. She used them for probably 10 minutes (pretty good for a toddler!) and then put the cards in a fairly good pile, and asked for help with the rubber band. Since then she has chosen it almost every day we do school, and someday she will get the concept of exactly how to use it. For now, though, it doesn't hurt to let her do her thing.

One more example- scissors! I would never have given a 2 year old scissors. But she chose the cutting tray, and put her fingers in the scissors, and tried to cut a strip of paper. And she actually did (a little!). She has chosen this work a few times, and if I sit with her and run through the process of what to do with the strip after she has cut it (put it in an envelope, along with any pieces she has cut off), she really enjoys herself. Now, I really should make an easier cutting work for her (without an envelope, and just a container to put pieces), but for now this works. And I should have a tonging work out, and other works to strengthen her hand, but for now this works...

Not saying "No" creates a much more peaceful, pleasant environment:)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Art Update

I have recently added "Painting with a Brush" to our school shelves, and it's been a hit, especially with the younger crowd (i.e. the girls). Everyone has tried it once now, but Jane and Lucy seemed like they really enjoyed it. Gene wasn't reluctant about it as he was about finger painting, but he didn't seem thrilled, either.

I have it set out so they can get everything they need, but I did ask that they bring the paint bottle to me to pour into the cup. And school things are only allowed during school time, so I'm bound to be right there when Janie decides she wants to paint.

She chose to work on the floor, probably because that's where I did the presentation of it. She was pretty wiggly, but really enjoyed herself and kept wanting to wipe her hands and the tray with the wet cloth (pictured in a tupperware container on her far left in the above picture). She kept going until the whole paper was blue, even (proudly) painting over the pieces of tape I had used to secure the paper to the tray.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Circle Time Update

I think Janie is enjoying our Circle Time (CT) the most! She is a great lover of routine, and also an avid "follower" ("copy-cat" being the less polite way of putting it). So, needless to say she joins right in with the big kids. She must use the toilet first (see this post for explanation) and then she climbs up in her seat at the kitchen table. We start with praying a (shortened) decade of the Rosary (yes, we're Catholic!) Jane likes to pass out the Rosaries, but sometimes someone else will do it...usually whoever is ready first. They spend some time finding the right bead to start on (but they're getting quite good) and I show a picture of that decade from a small "Praying the Rosary" book. Then I read the story that goes along with it from my Bible. A little over their heads, at least the girls, but I keep the stories pretty short and it works ok. We pray the Our Father and three Hail Marys...and Jane says about every other word to both prayers. She probably could say more, but the rest of us just can't talk slow enough for her!

Then someone collects the Rosaries and we move on to...singing. Definitely their favorite part. The "Songs We Know" notebook has been a big hit! We are up to 23 songs now that the majority of us know (and Janie chimes in for a good number of them). We try to add a new song or two every day, realizing how many songs we actually know. If we can't think of one, we practice a song on the "Songs To Work On" paper I keep in the notebook. Then we go around the table and everyone gets to pick one song for us to sing. This is a great way to review the songs we already have written down, and the kids have a great time picking. The big kids usually pick a different song every time (favorites are Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Grand Old Duke of York) but Janie's favorite is Skidamarinky-Dinky-Dink...she calls it "Dinky-Dink". And she tries to do the hand motions that we saw at a Gemini concert recently!

After singing we go on to "Poems We Know". We are just a few lines short of knowing A Little Shadow...but I am the one that is holding them back! I keep forgetting just one line, every time, and I also make a couple other little mistakes that I always get corrected on. Oh well...helps them learn, right! We add a line a day, so hopefully we'll get it by the end of this week.

And then we move on to Exercise Time. Sometimes I forget, but lately since it had been so nice out (I'm not counting today!) we've gone out for a sidewalk run. The kids run up and down the sidewalk, sometimes on a bike or scooter, and get their energy out. This morning we did get out before it started to rain and get cold...and Jane was the one with all the energy. She's recently learned how to run, and this time ran about 5 times up and down our block! Gene was keeping pace with her and promising to protect her from tripping over the bumps:)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pudding Paint

So fingerpainting has been out for a week. Lucy has done it a couple times (today she painting a "dragon" with talking clouds above him that were making him angry. I don't know where that came from ! Jane chose it once, and Gene hasn't chosen it at all. But, I did make chocolate pudding the other day and we fingerpainted with it.

Gene was VERY unsure about it, and once he came closer and looked at his little bowl of pudding, he said, "Mama, this smells gross!" It just smelled like chocolate pudding...kind of like brownie batter. He kept complaining, but did get his fingers in it and smear them around...a little. Just not his thing, I guess. Lucy, however, loved it and I had to convince her to stop after AN HOUR of sitting at the table, once the pudding had really decided it was too warm to stay on the table and started to drip on the floor. She ended up eating almost the whole bowl, after it got onto the table and was smeared around, just by licking her fingers every couple of minutes:)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Art 101

Our first art lesson this school year is Fingerpainting. I am still trying to figure out how to make it accessible to the kids, so they can choose it when they want to, but I just wanted to do it today, so we did it all together. I haven't fingerpainted in ages...I tried to do it with Gene a couple times when he was younger, but he always ended up watching and it just wasn't any fun to do it by myself like that.

This time was great. I taped the kids' papers to the kitchen table, gave them a small bowl with paint in it (just one color) and we went to work. The girls loved it, and Janie especially kept asking me to "look, Mama" as she made a line or a squiggle or something. Gene wasn't so thrilled, and wanted to stop after a minute, but I told him he had to use ALL his paint. And I showed him how he could write words in the paint, or make designs. He was somewhat interested, but Lucy went and wrote "Hi".

We'll see if they choose it once it's on the shelf. I have a feeling the girls will choose it EVERY DAY and I'll regret putting it out because Janie at least will need a lot of help. But, oh well. I've neglected this part of mothering for the past 5 years...I think I can do it now!

Monday, September 14, 2009

First Couple Weeks

Well, we're starting the second week of homeschooling, and so has been alright. I am not on top of things as much as I'd like, but we're getting there, and we have established at least a few basic school routines. We have started a daily Circle Time in the morning, after we all get dressed, clean up the upstairs, do hair, have breakfast, and brush teeth (in that order). I wanted to have them all up by 7 to get started on the day, and that has been working fairly well, as they've been up by 6:30 on many days! (I'm not quite ready for them then).

Circle Time the first two days consisted of my trying to teach them a song and a poem, and a short prayer was mostly a flop. Janie wanted to sit RIGHT next to me, but then also move around a whole lot. She was also very noisy, and yet wanted to participate and wasn't interested in playing by herself! Lucy was mostly bored and didn't want to sing, and Gene was mostly interested but annoyed by the girls. So, after this same thing the second morning (while also dealing with a potty accident on the kitchen floor and a 2 year old slipping and falling on her back in it!) I was a little frustrated! But after thinking for a while, I came up with this:

New and Revised Circle Time-
Pray decade of rosary (everyone picked their Rosaries ahead of time, and we'll keep them without trading for at least a month...last year there were a lot of tears over Rosaries!)

Pray a short prayer for each person in our "close extended" family- immediate family, grandparents, aunts and uncles (only those who aren't married in) and the priests we know by name. We put the name of each person on a popsicle stick, and we divide them up and each pray for a few each morning. I hope to add "married in's", cousins, friends and special intentions, but we are starting with these.

Work on filling in our "Songs We Know" notebook. I thought an incentive for learning a new song would be being able to write it down. So, we have a list of songs we're working on, and the kids and I brainstormed and came up with a few that we all know ("know" meaning know ALL the words). It was really fun, because they were actually trying, and realizing which songs we all knew was enlightening. Janie knew all the words to Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and a few others. But mostly we count just myself and the 2 big kids.

Work on filling in our "Poems We Know" notebook. I asked them the first day of our new routine what poems they knew, and there were blank stares! So, we started learning A Little Shadow (don't know who wrote it). I taught them the first line, and once they could recite it a couple times, I wrote it down. We're up to four lines now, and it is fun to do it all together. And again, the notebook is a good incentive. It's not just Mama wanting them to learn a poem, it's learning a poem together so we can write it down and say we know it. Much better!

Then, I read a Bible story from my Bible. I decided to do this instead of reading from their Children's Bibles, though we haven't put those away, it's just that they know the basic stories and I want to introduce them to the language of the Bible. However, we haven't quite figured this out yet. Gene is interested, and wants to sit next to me and follow along with the story. Lucy and Janie want to be there, to "see" but can't sit still, can't stop touching the Bible or each other, and can't BE QUIET. I may just start reading to him during quiet least he appreciates it!

That's the routine. I decided to try and stick with it for a few weeks before changing anything, to wait till they get adjusted. I think I usually try to change my mind too soon on things, and the kids get confused about what we're doing.

As for other schoolwork, Gene has a chart of things to work on every day, and a few things to work on for each week. Daily- writing, math, art and spelling test. Spelling is a favorite (we're doing it phonetically so he learns a few spelling rules and can spell many, many words). And art is becoming so. I gave each of the kids a "story book" and they dictate a story to me and draw pictures. The art part comes in here, with the illustrations. Gene hasn't drawn much before this year, and now I'm strongly encouraging him to draw people, animals and whatever else from his stories. It's going well, and he's quickly building his confidence. For writing, it counts for now that he dictates a story (yesterday he dictated 4 pages double spaced) and we'll soon move into journal and letter writing.

I'll keep this updated as much as possible. We're just getting our bearings again:)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Beginning Again...

This is a quick post, but I will have more (though still sporadic) throughout the upcoming months. We are planning for another round of homeschooling, after many months of seriously considering sending the kids to a local Montessori school. To put it briefly: Brendan's company was affected by the slow Michigan economy, and he started looking for another job back in early spring. We decided that I would try to talk to local M schools and see if I could get a teaching job (and send the kids there as well). I talked to two schools, and one said they had a position and I would qualify for it if I signed up for a teacher training course. I was very excited, and we started talking with the school and working out the details. The kids all came into the school and were given an informal evaluation, I filled out initial paperwork, etc. The school kept me waiting, though, to actually fill out the final paperwork until they knew their enrollment figures for the fall. And as I was waiting and waiting, I had a feeling that it wasn't going to work out. In the end, it did come down to enrollment- they were short 20 preschoolers (they only have two preschool classes) and didn't need/couldn't afford to pay another teacher.

I was pretty sad to think of all that my kids would miss by not going to that school. Besides a traditional Montessori curriculum, the school also offered a large playground (with three sandboxes), a sledding hill and ice-skating rink in winter, swimming lessons for the Kindergarten and Elementary kids, and the chance for Gene and Lucy to make some new friends. I was also excited about the toddler program for Jane. It would have been kind of like homeschooling, just away from home, since we would all have gone together, and come home together, and the school in between would have been a great version of what I try to do at home.

Regardless, I am mostly over feeling sad and now am getting excited for the Fall. I will post more about what we'll be doing, but it will be a mix of traditional Montessori (as much as I can afford or have time to make) and a few other activities (Gene loves worksheets, and I will take advantage of that as long as it doesn't become a chore for him!) We will have some daily work (math, writing, spelling), Montessori choices out on the shelf for free choice, and a weekly or biweekly art and science lesson. I was sadly lacking in my art and science presentations last year, and I am going to try and remedy that this year. I found a neat book that presents art in a Montessori way- skill based instead of project based- and I will post about how the kids like it.

We start the day after Labor day, if I can get everything ready. And even if I can't, we're still going to start...!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer Busyness

So...I realize I haven't posted in a long time. I don't think of blogging as something that I necessarily need to do often, but I do enjoy reading other people's blogs, and the ones I enjoy most are the ones that post the most. That said, this blog probably doesn't have a lot of regulars!

Anyway, our school has wrapped up for the summer. I was seriously considering keeping it going until August, thinking the kids would need something to do or else they would start going crazy, but I hadn't realized a couple of factors:

-there is enough for them to do in the summer without school, factoring in outside time, vacations, having friends over, etc.

-I don't have time to do school in the summer...there is plenty enough for ME to do! I had forgotten about things like mowing the lawn and keeping up the gardens, as well as garage sales and swimming at my mom's house. Also, my husband and I are training for a triathlon, and that eats up a lot of extra time. I could possibly see having the actual school-time still, but I have no time for prepping new materials or changing the shelves around. And nothing new to work on results in bored kids who may be better off doing something else, anyway.

So...we did a couple weeks of "summer school" and then kind of abruptly ended. There was no "closing ceremonies" so to speak, which looking back on I kind of regret, but so be it. The kids are young enough that closure isn't as important to them, as it is to older kids. I think after how bored they were getting, they were kind of glad to be done with it:(

But...we had a great year. I just looked back at all the previous posts, and they sure did come a long way. I am really glad we did school the way we did it, and would do it again in a heartbeat!

Stay tuned for news on what we'll be doing in the fall:)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Toddler Montessori

So, my daughter Janie is 19 months now, and has been "doing school" with us for the last 4 months. She has never fit in extremely well to the classroom, but we've made do. I put some learning materials/toys out on the floor against one wall, and she can take them to a table or work with them on the floor. She sometimes gets out a floor mat (she loves those!) and will work there.

It has been hard to be consistent with her, because she is so much younger and doesn't respond as the older kids do. She wants to use a material at a table, so she goes over and sits down...for about 30 seconds. Then she leaves the material there, and goes to see what is going on across the room. Then she'll get a floor mat and try to scoot as close as she can to someone else's floor mat...this occupies most of her time, and the work she was thinking of doing on the floor mat is forgotten. She also likes to roll up other people's mats, whether or not they are done working with them. Oh, and she is a chronic chair-stealer...sitting down on someone's chair while they are on it (or slightly off it...) In short, she has contributed to a lack of concentration on the part of all the kids (though they don't really get upset with her...they tolerate her and generally enjoy having her around...they just don't get as much work done). She is really a good lesson in practical life for the big kids (how to get along with a toddler), and a lesson in patience and perseverance for me.

Well, all that perseverance is going to pay off soon. After some deliberation, I decided to give Janie some shelf space (two small shelves in our classroom are now for her materials). That way she can get them when she wants them, and not just during school time (usually I put her materials away after school, as I wanted them to be fresh and keep her interested as long as possible). They were a "diversion" before, but now she's old enough to somewhat join our school. I also made a temporary table for her to work on, so she won't steal the other kids seats.

Two stools from Ikea and a board work wonders! She's sitting on the bathroom stool...

Anyway, I realized that now she has taken on (with the acquisition of shelves) a degree of responsibility she's never had before. She must now put things away before using other things. And she understands this! This doesn't mean she is eager to follow directions, but I know she'll get there. She wants to take her work all over the house, but understands now that it must stay in the schoolroom. She wants to leave work on the table and go play with something else, but if I bring her back and ask her if she's done or if she wants to keep working, I know she get's it. She's growing up!

Congratulations Janie!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Taping- update

So Lucy has really been interested in the tape dispenser lately, and this morning I came down from a shower and saw that she had just been leading Janie in a coloring session. On her own initiative, she got a piece of paper and a crayon for Janie, taped the paper to the table (like I usually do) and let her draw. They proudly showed me Jane's picture when they were done. My stipulation: that she stay right with Jane to help put the crayon away!


My kids know how to do the snapping frame, but they can't snap their own clothes. The snaps on the frame are super-easy to press together (made of plastic) and clothing snaps are almost always made of metal and really require a strong force to close. So, I found some clothes that no one wears right now, and put them in a laundry basket. They all have at least one snap on them. I put the snapping frame in their too, and am going to show my kids today informally (we don't have "school" on Saturdays). I think they'll like it, but we'll see if they actually master any of those tricky blue-jean snaps!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Paper punching- update

So, the paper punching work is a hit, at least with Gene. He has chosen it every day, and has now moved on to punching longer lines (the length of an index card). He didn't complete a whole line, but asked to put it away and finish it later. He was really motivated when I talked to him about the ultimate pin-punching goal- tracing out and punching the pieces of the world map puzzle. He is really excited about that, and would love to just try it...I almost let him try to trace a continent, but I KNEW he would be frustrated and not want to do it again. He needs a lot more work tracing the metal insets and some other stencils I've put out. But, he could also just practice tracing around the continents pretty soon...when he feels confident with that, he could then go ahead and punch one out. What a fun incentive!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


What a frustrating day...and it was just my kids today, Norah having a sick brother at home, and Janie throwing up last night (I'm not sure if she's sick or not...but better safe than sorry). I decided to do a bit of school to give us something to do for the morning.

I realized that my frustration mostly stems from expecting perfection from the kids. I want Janie to do her work in a designated area, and instead she wants to carry it all over the room. I want the kids to speak in quiet voices, and instead they talk normally and sometimes even shout. I want them to use the works on the shelves exactly as they have been shown, and instead they "get creative".

Examples of what went on today:
-Janie wanted to work right next to Lucy, and kept scootching her chair, and later her floor mat, so she was almost touching Lucy. It didn't seem to bother Lucy, but it sure bothered me!

-Lucy drew a picture and then proceeded to cut it up and tape the pieces onto another piece of paper. She took the tape from the "taping tray" where it was designated to tape colorful triangles onto white paper.

-Gene used the taping tray correctly (all the kids are learning how to get pieces of tape's harder than I thought it would be!) but then got some markers and colored it as well. This wasn't terrible, but the markers weren't designated to go with the taping tray...

-Gene spilled a whole cupful of beans all over the hard floor, where they scattered all over. This interrupted everyone.

I find myself wanting to correct them alot, but this doesn't serve the purpose I wish it would. It makes them feel bad for being creative, especially when they are really excited about what they did. And it makes me feel like the big bad mama.

What a Montessori teacher would do (I think!) is to give lots of lessons during circle time and privately about the correct way to use materials. And not at the time they are being used inappropriately. At a completely different time, so as not to make anyone feel bad. At the moment of incorrect use, a teacher would simple come over to a child, and either redirect them to another work (if it looked like they were either bored of what they were doing or didn't really want to be doing it) or ask a leading question (such as, which triangle are you going to tape on next?) Asking questions like this should hopefully lead the child to remember what they are doing/supposed to be doing and get them back on track. If it doesn't, they could put the work away and choose something else.

This is a great way to keep the school environment under control...but alas, with a toddler things become much more difficult. Because these things don't work for a toddler. Janie can't handle lessons or circle time yet. She doesn't have the attention span to watch me do something...I can simply do the first part, and then let her explore with the rest. Most of her works are things that don't have a specific purpose, like blocks, small bean bowl, playdough, shape sorter, etc.

I find myself constantly trying to re-direct Janie or help her with something. At the same time, I am fielding questions from the other kids and noticing if things aren't being used correctly (but can't always address it right away). At circle time, when it would be nice to address some of these things, Janie is getting really tired of "behaving" and often just wants to play with the kids. Maybe this would be a good time to give her "crib time" as the Babywise books suggest... (I don't know how to link to another site, I should learn sometime, but the idea is to have a certain amount of time (probably up to 30 minutes at 19 months) for a child to play in their crib (and later just in their room) quietly. I have never tried it, but it's appealing.

Anyway, I haven't done my job very well, and I am suffering the consequences. And the kids are, too, because their concentration is often broken and things seem to be escalating. And hence the frustration...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Paper Punching- solved!

My kids have never taken to paper punching (punching out a shape drawn on paper using a small push-pin...a skill that strengthens the muscles used later for writing). I put it out earlier in the year, at Christmas time, because I was sure they would want to punch out Christmas trees. A couple of them tried it, but they punched a few holes around the edges and then thought it would be ready to come out. It was hard for them to grasp the concept of punching SO MANY holes. So, this activity has been retired for a few months. Until last week...

I realized I could break it down a little, and teach them the concept of punching enough holes, close enough together, to at least be able to tear out a very small shape. Or, in this case, they can punch on the line (perhaps 20-30 holes will do it) and then they can tear off a small piece. This is very do-able. Kind of like cutting with scissors...they can keep punching and tearing more pieces off, until they have had their fill. Done in short spurts, they could theoretically accomplish at least one "tearing" in just a couple minutes. Once they have grasped the concept, and feel confident in their punching abilities, we can progress to punching out shapes and other figures.

I think this will work! The pictures below demonstrate how the work is used. Oh, and I almost a point of interest, once a small piece has been punched and torn off, it can be put in the small cardboard box by slipping it through the slot in the lid.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mealtime Battles

After every preschool session, the kids have a chance to play for a while, and then we have lunch. Norah has been staying to eat with us, and then a little more play time before I read her a book and send her home (well, now she gets to call her Mom on the phone before going home). Since I am feeding four children, one of whom with food allergies who usually has to have a separate meal fixed just for her, I can't take special orders from the other kids. Here's how we handle lots of kids at lunch time:
  • Everyone gets half of the main dish (sandwich, pizza...) on their plate, a serving of vegetables, and a cup of milk.
  • Everyone must eat everything on their plate before being excused. If I know in advance that they don't like something that is being served (i.e. Lucy doesn't like lettuce, Norah doesn't like peas) then I give them a very small serving, but they still need to eat it.
  • Once they have finished everything on their plate, they may either be excused (in that case, they must finish their milk as well) or eat the other half of their main dish, which is kept on a large cutting board placed in the middle of the table. It is easy for them to reach when they are ready.
  • They never have to finish the second half...they may choose to be done at any time.
We have been using this method at lunchtime for at least a year now. It is simple, and routine, and solves all sorts of eating issues. A couple adaptations are as follows:
  • Norah told me she didn't like jelly on her sandwich the first time I made pb&js. It took a while to figure out a solution to this, but we did. I put jelly on one-quarter of her sandwich, and this goes on her plate (instead of the usual half). The other three-quarters go on the cutting board, without jelly. After a couple days to get used to the system, she will now happily eat the jellied sandwich quarter. She even told me that now she likes jelly! (Though she wasn't begging for it to be on the other quarters).
  • Both Lucy and Norah have trouble finishing all their milk. Lucy sometimes tells me that so much milk will make her have to go potty...(yes, but...) So now I put a butterscotch chip (we're out of chocolate chips) next to their cups, and if I don't have to remind them to drink all their milk, they can eat the chip when they finish it. They very quickly caught on, and the cups empty very quickly.
  • I'll sometimes put extra food on the cutting board, and if anyone is still hungry once they have finished ALL of their food, they can have some of the extra food.
Sometimes I use this system for breakfast and dinner, but usually the food we eat at those meals isn't very conducive to being cut in half and put on a cutting board. So it remains a lunchtime routine for now...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mixed-up order

Montessori works are notorious for having a "right way" to do them. As a teacher, I present this "right way", and then expect that the kids will follow it. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. The trickiest part, for me, is knowing what to do when they don't.

Example- the "numbers and counters" activity. The first step is to lay out the number cards in order from one to ten. Then the little counters are placed under each number. But when a student refuses to lay out the cards in order first? And insists on laying them out in "mixed order"? The key in this case is knowing the student. I have observed my kids long enough that I am learning what is really going on in those little heads. In this particular instance, either I could have gone along with it, let the student lay them out in irregular order, but still asked them to lay out the appropriate counters. It could have been a way to increase the challenge of the activity. And in that case, it would have been okay and I would have gone along with the change. The point is, after all, to make sure they can lay the counters out. And I would have only done this if I knew the student COULD have laid out then number cards in order.

However, in this particular case, I realized that this student wasn't really ready for the order demanded from the activity. What was really wanted was a chance to play with and sort the counters. That is what I so appreciate about Montessori. Everything in order, even in the order of materials presented to children. Practical life activities are always presented first, way before math and language, and these include many sorting activities and chances to handle small, enticing objects. The kids can get their fill of that kind of thing, and get it "out of their system" so to speak, before moving on. However, practical life also includes learning to follow directions. Even in the sorting, spooning, tonging and pouring work, there are certain rules to follow. The materials are not completely open-ended, just not as complicated as those that follow. So, the ability to follow directions is honed at the beginning as well.

Well, what if that ability to follow directions needs more fine-tuning? Well, that is something that all the kids are working on. And something, perhaps, that I need to learn how to teach better as well. All of them insist, in their own ways, on HAVING their own way when it comes to using certain materials. And that is where I struggle a little. It is important for the kids to use the materials appropriately...that is the point. Otherwise they may not learn what the material intends to teach. But, is it just that they don't remember how to use it? Or is it that they choose not to remember? All the kids have their stubborn, sticking points, and it is my job to choose which battles to fight.

From anyone reading this, I would appreciate hearing any feedback you have on how to teach children to use materials correctly. Should I insist on correct use and threaten to take the material off the shelf if not used the way it is intended? When I have done this, I notice that the material is usually just avoided for a period of time instead of used correctly. A silent protest, I think. But also an indication that the child was perhaps either not ready for the material, or too advanced for it...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sick teacher day

I've been sick the last few days, but this morning when I took my temperature and wasn't feverish, I realized I couldn't stay on the couch any longer. Yesterday I was blessed to be able to be a couch potato all day, because my sister took the kids away and left me in absolute peace and quiet. One of the not-so-often realized dreams of every busy mom. So, I was somewhat disappointed to not be sick anymore, but grateful to be getting better nonetheless.

I decided to have school, and was able to drop Jane (18 months old today!) off at the Mitzels' (thanks Karen!). One of the benefits of being a Montessori teacher was really evident once we began...I didn't have to do anything! I sat in a chair or on the floor for the majority of the morning. I taught one lesson, assisted on a couple things, but otherwise I just had a good day of observing. I didn't even have to talk very much (good on a somewhat-sore throat).

I am grateful we did school today. If I had decided to call it off, it would have seemed easier, but in the end the kids would probably have spent the morning running, hiding under blankets, playing basketball, and fighting with each other. I chose the alternative, and had a morning of peace.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Learning in a Montessori environment

When a child is in a Montessori classroom, sometimes the "learning" that he/she is doing is not evident. A parent may wonder why the child hasn't learned what so-and-so has learned who is the same age as their child, or even why a younger child knows something that their child does not. This is especially evident when it comes to language and math. Some kids learn their numbers and are beginning to read when they are three, and others learn these at a much later age. Some homeschooling books (though not Montessori-based) that I've read even suggest that a parent can wait until age 8 or 9 before teaching their child to read, if the child is not interested. And I am reading Farmer Boy to Gene right now, and was just reminded that Almanzo (the "boy" of the title)didn't start school until he was almost 9.

So, that said, each kid has their own timetable for learning things, and some just take longer. However, being in a Montessori environment does teach children much more than just their numbers and letters. Here is a brief list of the things that the children in my preschool have learned since we started in September (some of these things one or more children may have known already):

-how to put their outdoor clothes away before beginning work
-the routine of washing their hands before beginning work
-how to wash their hands
-how to carry a tray without spilling what's on it
-how to use a work the way it was presented
-how to clean up a work and put it back in it's spot before choosing another
-how to clean up a mess before choosing another work
-how to wait patiently for a popular work (by putting their nametag in the work's spot on the
shelf, they can claim it next)
-how to work quietly without disturbing others
-how to speak quietly to each other when necessary
-how to ask a question of the teacher
-how to get ready for circle time (put work away, get carpet squares)
-how to take turns sitting in the middle at circle time (this was a BIG issue in September)
-how to let someone (especially a toddler) watch them work
-how to ask someone if they can watch them work
-how to wait patiently for a turn at the snack table
-how to eat snack and clean up the table for the next person
-how to cut food (bananas, pears, cheese) using a small knife and cutting board
-how to spread (peanut butter)
-how to drink out of a non-lidded cup

There are probably more I haven't thought of, and we are definitely still working on some of these, but it is a pretty extensive list.

One more point, that I have been realizing lately...many of these things will prepare a child for later work in language and math. Especially "using a work correctly"...many of the works, if used correctly, are SPECIFICALLY meant to prepare a child for later reading and writing work, as well as math. I won't go into detail on this, as it would take too long, but many materials that Maria Montessori originally included in her classrooms were designed for these purposes.

And one final point, the kids have learned how to concentrate, and have been perfecting their concentration skills. They have learned that no one else will touch what they are working on, and they can work on it as long as they want. And they typically work with materials for 15-20 minutes at a time, or sometimes more. This REALLY does wonders for their mood at the end of preschool. If they have had good periods of concentration during the morning, they are usually quite happy and peaceful at the end of our work period.

That's all for now. The kids really have come a long way. Sometimes I wish I could do much more with them (as in, supply many more materials) but when I remind myself how everyone was at the beginning of the year, I am ok with where we are now. And we still have more school days to come...

Favorite Things

The favorite works lately of each child in our little preschool are....(drum-roll please)...

bean bowl
50 piece Land Before Time puzzle (he just moved up from 24 pieces!)
number rods
drawing with markers
pattern blocks

bean bowl
play dough
pins in cinnamon-sugar shaker
tearing edges off paper
taping shapes on paper (using a large standing tape-dispenser)

drawing with markers
cutting paper
folding paper (no work for this yet- any suggestions??)
puzzles (24 piece)
command cards (she's learned to "read" some simple commands like run and sit and loves to flip
over a card and do what it says)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

New works

Just came up with an ingenious way to use a huge box of old (and I mean old) computer paper my parents gave me. It will both give the kids something new to learn, and be a solution to the incredible amounts of paper we are going through at the moment. Here it is, a new work, Tearing Edges Off Paper:

A pile of paper (I did have to tear the individual sheets apart, they come all attached to each other, as most people probably remember who had a printer back in the 90s). And a bowl to put the edges in.

When the bowl is full, I put the edges on our cutting tray, and the kids can cut them to pieces. They put the nicely de-edged papers on the paper tray, where it will sit for no more than a few minutes before being colored on, and then potentially cut into pieces and/or rolled into a tube by a creative 3-year old.

Below is a work I made for that same little person, who constantly cuts up her pictures. It is on her shelf now, but will make it's way around the room. I think all the kids are ready for this. The object is just to cut on the lines, and each line requires more than one cut, making it a little trickier. The markers are for coloring, as an incentive to cut the strips in the first place.

I was just visiting a friend and realized that kids are capable of cutting out shapes and much harder things by age 4-5, but...we haven't gone there yet. I only got kids' scissors last year! So, we are behind in the cutting game but soon to catch up I think:)

And our bean bowl, with a new addition, a milk-carton funnel. I just cut the bottom off a clean milk carton, and the top is a great funnel. I was having trouble using other funnels with the beans, because the opening at the bottom was never large enough. This is perfect, and has been very popular!

Montessori math

I am just starting to do math with Gene- he's been learning about numbers (how to count, etc) just by talking with me and reading books, but we haven't done any formal work. Now we are just beginning with some of the math materials I've bought, and some I am in the process of making. I wish I just had them all to use as he is ready, because my gut feeling tells me he's going to speed through some of the beginning activities. But Montessori always emphasizes beginning at the beginning, and not skipping any activity. So, we've been using the number rods or "red and blue rods", and going in order. I am just going to describe them: long wooden rods with stripes of red and blue painted on them. The "one" rod is maybe 4-5 inches long, and is all red. The "two" rod is twice as long, the "three" rod is three times as long. Increments of that same 4-5 inches are measured off on each rod in alternating red and blue. First lesson is just laying them out in order and then labeling each with a number card (from 1-10). Then, once that is easily done (and, it sounds easier than it is...Gene can do it but the first couple times the actual laying in order took a little longer than I thought it would) you can take the ten rod and lay it by itself. Put another rod next to it (say, the 8 rod) and ask the child to "make ten"...i.e. find the rod that laid next to the 8 rod would make 10 (so they find the 2 rod).

Then a new material- numbers and counters. I printed off some number cards (could be the same as used with number rods) and found some little stones in my collection of random objects in the basement. The cards are laid in order, and then the little stones (could be other small objects, all matching) are laid under each card, in pairs of two (see picture below). This is a counting exercise, but also lays the foundation for easily learning about odd and even numbers. Odds have a single stone at the bottom, and evens have two stones at the bottom.

The next few lessons introduce math beads...I'll post more about those as I get them ready. I can't buy any more materials right now, so I am printing "beads" off the computer. Should be interesting...we'll see if it actually works. The test will be if Gene is interested in using the "beads", because I have heard that actual Montessori beads are very appealing to children. The appeal is what makes a kid want to work with materials, so I hope this works!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I put a bowl of toothpicks with the playdough on the school shelf today, and they were a big hit. Lucy and Norah built snowmen, using the sticks to prop up playdough balls. Quite ingenious. I wish I had taken pictures today! I think Lucy got the idea because when it last snowed, Brendan and the kids built a snowman and used a stick to hold the head on. I only found out because when the snowman started to melt, it leaned WAY over but the head was stayed on. Only a stick could have managed that!

Also used today- metal insets, pattern blocks, the number rods. I introduced a numbers and counters math material to Gene, and it was a hit. It is a traditional Montessori math work, but I just got it together last night. Much more to it than I thought...I'll try to post pictures soon, and a better explanation.

Oh, one last random thing. We read a book today for circle time that is one of my all-time favorites- A Fly Went by, by Mike McClintock. An early reader book from awhile ago, but it is a FUN book to read aloud. And very appealing to kids. One of those books I rarely get tired of reading. Just thought I would let anyone who reads this know. Try it out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

God Bless America!

We sing a lot in our house, and I thought I would do a quick post about teaching songs to kids. We do listen to tapes (yes, I still have some around from when I was little!) and CDs occasionally, and we play a lot of classical and oldies on our computer, but that doesn't do a great job of teaching lyrics. My kids don't learn the words by listening to music, unless it is prounounced VERY clearly. For example, Gene "knows" the Notre Dame fight song ( I went to school there, so we play it once in a while) but when he sings it to himself, he mumbles through half the words, and makes up the rest.

The way my kids learn the words is for my husband or I to sing a song to them. They have learned a lot of classic songs this way, and the one that prompted me to write this post is God Bless America. It is a tooth-brushing song. My husband will sing it to them while brushing their teeth, and they know the words perfectly. We also sing Catholic prayers when putting them to bed ( Hail Holy Queen, the Litany of the Saints, Liturgy of the Hours).

Sing to your kids. Sing so that they learn the words. Sing songs that you want them to know when they grow up, not just "kids' songs". They can start learning as early as 2 years old (in my experience) and it is a great confidence-booster. My kids gain confidence every time they learn something...

As for our preschool music experience, we have been singing some little kiddie songs and fingerplays, but now that I mention it I may look for some good classic songs to work on. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What We've Done Lately

Here are some pictures from the last couple weeks. Everyone has been busy, and they have really been enjoying having their own shelves. I will definitely keep it this way for now. The only downfall I see is that sometimes they really DO want to use something on someone else's shelf, and it's a little hard for me to say no when I think they would benefit from using it. So, for now we are still sticking with the original plan, but I'll think about revising it.

Above is a "Christmas Tree" that Gene made out of the pattern blocks. He had not been interested in them when they were out before, and had made a couple towers with them since Christmas. But he finally noticed what other people were doing with them, and since they were on his shelf he used them. I like the ornaments he decorated with!

The bean bowl is one of Norah's favorite works...she was getting frustrated with is (actually, I think it was just me that was frustrated) because she would try to fill up the cup or container that I put with it. But there would be too many beans, and they would get all over the floor. Now I put three cups and a small cup in the bean bowl, and the beans fit in the cups, with a little room to spare. Much better!

Above, Lucy is working with the cutting tray. There is some scrap paper on the tray, scissors, and a bucket to put the cut pieces in. Sometimes there are drinking straws, and I am thinking of other things to put on the tray because it is a very popular work.

I made a bean activity for Janie, and she used it with supervision. She really liked it for a few minutes, transferring the beans by handfuls to the other bowl. But I have to really keep an eye on her...she won't put them in her mouth, but she'll get them all over the floor.

We are taking a day off tomorrow due to sickness at Norah's house, so I'll work on more materials. Norah and Lucy are really ready for more language work- they both know letter sounds, and I think they are ready for some little objects with matching labels- cat, hat, lid, etc. Gene's next step when he was learning to read was a bunch of cards with words on them, and he would sound them out and then go on to the next one. I put them in a jar and called in a "word jar"- he loved it! But he was 4.5 then, and had been doing on the computer for a while. I think the girls aren't quite ready to just start reading yet, but they are close! It is so fun to see the connections they are making! Lucy has been using the "command cards" that I made for her...little cards with a word on them like "jump, sit, walk..." and she turns them over one at a time and does the action the card indicates. I did it with her the first couple times, but then she kind of memorized them, and could tell just by looking what they were. Not exactly reading, but a fun step in the right direction!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Keep it simple...

This is something I have been coming back to again and again since I've had kids. And today, I want to write a little bit about it. Here are some thoughts that relate to this topic:

-I have read lots of Montessori books, am following quite a few blogs, and have also observed in Montessori classrooms. I get a lot of REALLY good ideas that I would love to incorporate into our school times. just can't happen. I can get maybe one new work out every day, and sometimes we go a few days with nothing new. I read last night of something fun to do with the sandpaper letters- tracing the letter with a finger on someone's back and having them guess it- and I thought that I could do it with at least one or two kids. It was easy, and required NO advance preparation. But, things happened and the morning was over before I thought of it again. Even if I had remembered it, it probably wouldn't have happened this morning. My big kids were a little sick, and Jane (my toddler) was clingy, and I wasn't in a great teaching mood (though I was praying my way through!). So, I cling to the fact that the kids ARE learning and are doing well in school. And they didn't know what they were missing today- they were too busy doing other things.

-I also get lots of great ideas to use in our Circle Time, the 15-30 minutes we sit down together at the end of the work session, and do group activities. There are so many things I want to do with them! But, again, Jane is clingy and insists on climbing in my lap during this time...and then climbing out, and climbing in again...I still need to decide what to do with her... Anyway, my point is that what I am doing is simple, and I think for this reason the kids actually enjoy it more and look forward to circle time. The routine is pretty set now: a couple songs and fingerplays as they are putting their work away and sitting down with me, short prayers of thanks by me and the kids (though they generally thank God solely for the dinosaurs...), then we learn a new line of a Catholic prayer (we have learned the entire Nicene creed now (!), and are starting the Our Father), and then start at the beginning and say the whole prayer. Then someone will choose a book from the book box I have out by the window, and I read that book to the group. Sometimes we'll finish at this time, and sometimes I'll introduce a new work or we'll play a game or two. To dismiss them from the circle, I'll say, "Whoever is sitting on their carpet square, and wearing pants, and white socks, and has a headband on her head, may stand up and put her carpet square away, and go and play." The first few words remind them to sit (sometimes they are getting antsy by this point) and then they are looking at themselves and each other trying to figure out who it is I am describing. It is fun to see their faces light up when they realize it is their turn to get up! is a simple Circle routine, and while I wish I could do more, right now I can't. And that is okay. Sometimes less is more, and what they are missing in knowledge and facts and whatnot that I COULD squeeze in to our preschool days, they are making up for in comfort and security of the routine. And, like I said, they are learning. And, like I have to remind myself, they are still very young. They will be fine!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Three New Works

So, I've come to the conclusion that I can't say "children" anymore! It's driving me crazy! I re-read some of my blog entries, and they sound so formal and boring...not like how I would talk at all. So, I'm turning over a new leaf and just writing "kids". That's how I refer to them, and it doesn't seem like slang to me. It makes them seem more personable. "Children" are very well-behaved and intelligent..."kids" are fun and cute and I love 'em!

So...back to what I was writing about. Here are a few new things on the shelves for the kids:

Shelling peanuts has been a VERY popular work (and also very messy!) Above is how it's laid out on the tray. And this is how it is laid out on the table:

A close-up of the nutcracker. I got it from Montessori Services- they said it was easy for kids to use, and it really is. Just keep twisting, and voila- a nice snack! Here's a close-up:

It has been messy, but everyone is learning to hold the nut-cracker OVER the bowl to crack the peanuts. A hard concept, I'm realizing...but they learn when they have to sweep both the table and the floor afterwards. At least, I hope they learn. I would welcome any suggestions on making it easier for kids to clean up this kind of mess after themselves. What if they don't know how to sweep a floor yet? It's easy for me to get frustrated when there's a huge mess, and I have to mostly clean it myself. We have to work on sweeping lessons, I guess...

Here's another work that has been fun, and produced nice results: pasting! Or gluing, or whatever. We started calling it pasting in the fall, so that's what it's remained. I cut a bunch of circles with the help of a wonderful friend's die-cutting machine (thank you!), and this is the tray on the shelf:

When someone wants to paste a collage, they bring the shot glass to me and I put a little glue in the bottom. It really takes just a little (maybe just covering the bottom, or even less). Then they can lay it out on an art mat:

The brush and shot glass are great. It took me a few tries to figure out the best method for us, but so far this is a winner. We don't have any painting works out (and I don't know if we ever will...maybe!), so this gives them a chance to practice using a paintbrush. It's easy to control, and doesn't waste glue. Here are some of the pictures that we've made so far. They're hanging up on our front door where I see them every day, and I really like them! They actually make me smile when I look at them, and I can't say that with the average kids' art project!

Here's one more, sorting nuts and bolts.

The pieces of felt give the kids a place to put the nuts and the bolts, and then the trickiest part is matching them up again. And then getting the nut on the bolt. Just the right challenge, so far.

We have school tomorrow...maybe I'll remember to take pictures of the kids actually using some of these materials. I do like to do that...the problem is remembering. And then not getting distracted by a crying toddler, someone needing more toilet paper in the bathroom, or someone begging for a sandpaper letter lesson. We'll see...the chances are slim.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What We've Done Lately

Here is a brief overview of what the children have been working on (at least what I've been able to photograph):

Everyone has been working with the puzzle map of North America. It is a fun, large puzzle and they are starting to grasp rudimentary geography.

Beginning in January, my youngest daughter Jane joined our has been an expected challenge (she is not quite 17 months old) but she is adapting. Gene really helps out, and gives her attention when I cannot. We keep some of her things in the schoolroom where she can reach them.

Lucy using one of the dressing frames- small(ish) buttons.

Lucy using one of the geometric drawers- this drawer is a conglomeration of shapes that don't fit any other category. The other drawers have circles, triangles, rectangles, polygons, etc. Children can use them as puzzles, finding where the shapes go back in, and also match them up to cards. In the process, it is easy for them to learn the names of all the shapes.

Norah was the first to build a maze with the red rods (originally used to learn length- short, long, shorter, longer, etc.) But this is a fun extension, and the other children begged to walk in it as well.

Here's an example of our snack table. The children love snack! They usually check to see what snack is as soon as I lay it out (around 9 am!) and some of them choose to eat pretty early. These pictures show our "cutting a banana" snack. I started laying this out about a month ago (before Christmas) and they love to use the little knife and cutting board. The bananas have a small slit in the peel so the children can peel it without help. Then they can eat it whole if they want, but they all choose to cut it in slices with the knife, put the slices on their plate, and then eat from there.

There is always a control card laid out with snack. It has the name of the food written on top, and then a picture. The point is for the person having snack to lay out the food on the card, and then put it on their plate. This helps especially to control quantities, so one child won't eat all the snack. Though it still happens sometimes...

There is always a glass of water and a plate for each child. They eat snack, wipe their hands and face if needed on a wet cloth I leave out, and then dry them on a dry cloth, or the kitchen towel. They bring their used dishes to the "dirty dish bin" left on the floor of the kitchen. They wipe their place, and leave it ready for the next child. Only one child at a time can eat snack, but their is often someone else waiting to race into the kitchen as soon as the snack table is vacated.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

So, I just rearranged the whole school area. I gave each child their own set of shelves, with their own materials on them, and after one day of school (Friday) I can say that it is a very good arrangement!

My reasoning:
1. We were running out of room on the shelves, but I didn't want to put away some of what I considered to be essential materials of the school, in case someone was interested in doing them. And I was having trouble deciding what to remove to make room for new works.

2. Some of the materials were not being used AT ALL. This would usually not happen in a Montessori classroom, because there would be at least 15-20 children and one of them would certainly be interested in a certain work... But I didn't know how to excite interest in some of the basics...pouring, spooning, the sensorial materials.

3. The children seemed a little bored. They would do their 3-4 favorite works, and then want to be done! Even though there were some things that I thought they should be interested in...I couldn't force it. And I have had Janie (my 16 month old) for a couple weeks now, and she'll be staying with us for the rest of the year. While I enjoy having her home more than sending her away, it makes it a little more difficult for me to give quality attention to the other children...and they also tend to be more distracted by her as she likes to babble and move constantly around the classroom. We just have to work with her, and around her...

So, I am feeling really good about the shelves as they are now. I am able to put out just a few of the materials that each child is working with (the ones they tend to choose most), and I put all the rest away. Now they have a more limited choice (maybe 9-10 options total, plus one shelf full of things that are for everyone to use- mostly art materials). I also put out some things on their shelf that I WISH they would work with, and we'll see how it goes. I can talk those materials up a bit, because they are specifically for one child and there is a sense of ownership there that I think helps them be more interested.

If someone wants to work with something on another person's shelf, they may come to me and request that it be on their shelf soon. I don't want them working with another child's materials, even with that child's permission...I would rather they focus on their shelf.

We'll see how this works. It has just been one day, but I can't see how we can go too wrong with this!

I'll post pictures of new works soon. I know the pictures are what really makes a blog I'll do my best!