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)