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!