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.