Monday, July 19, 2010


Sometimes it is hard to maintain a Montessori un-school. Like right now, for instance. It's the middle of summer, and why am I even trying? Because our "school" is just a bunch of things out for the kids to use, changed once in a while as deemed necessary. It keeps the kids occupied and mostly out of trouble. And it works well for us. Usually they use at least some of what's on the shelves every day, and mostly on an individual basis, though they do often play together.

But lately their imaginations have taken over. They have started "playing" in the sense of building forts and making a zoo with their animals and all those fun things that I remember doing when I was a kid. It's great, right? And even Gene is getting in on it, which is unusual... But because he is, the interest seems to last a LOT longer. One day the three of them played in the basement together for 6 HOURS straight!

Why am I complaining? Because it's completely destroying our house (I'm exaggerating just a little, but still...). While I got a lot done on that 6-hour day, the basement is trashed. They brought down so much, and mixed up so much, that it will probably take 6 hours to put everything away again. The girls' room is a mess, because there are baskets with animals and random toys everywhere. And of course, the intention is to keep them there for a long time. And then they wanted to play in the basement again this morning.

What do I do? As a normal parent, I should just let them play, right? They are all extremely happy, and they have been playing together very nicely. Not many fights, and I love to hear how they compromise and work things out together.

From a Montessori point of view, though, this play isn't very productive in the preschool years. What is learned (sharing, cooperation) can easily be learned in the regular classroom in the course of working with things on the shelves. Waiting one's turn to use something, working together to use a material (depending on the rules of the classroom), conversing during meals and's all there. Many Montessori classrooms now have "imaginative play" areas, with dress up clothes and props, usually revolving around a theme such as "grocery store" or "restaurant". The theme changes once in a while, but it's set by the teacher and allows children to imagine what it would be like to be in those places.

Our house does not have an area like that. We do have materials out once in a while that encourage that sort of play, and the kids have had great fun with it.

But the play they are involved in now is a bit different. And from a Montessori parent's point of view, there are problems with it! Here's why...
1. Many things are conscripted into use, from all areas of the house, and no one wants to put
them all away at the end of the day.
2. One person is usually the leader, and the others follow...same leader every time, sometimes
loudly shouting commands. Good for that person's self-esteem, maybe, but what about the
3. They are not "learning" anything educationally during the course of their play (besides the
above mentioned social learning)

Of those three problems, I think the one that is bothering me most is the first. Our house is fairly small, and when things aren't put away it is very obvious (i.e. we are stepping on them). We don't have a lot of things, because of the space constraint, and what we do have is used on a fairly regular basis. Meaning, we've had to spend a lot of time looking for things that we've found hiding under a blanket in the basement or in some other random spot.

Now that they've felt the exhilaration of their imaginations, however, it is hard to bring them back to the real world. Now, doing a puzzle doesn't seem that exciting when they could be in the "clubhouse" (Gene's room). They were all getting ready to go down the basement this morning, and I was really torn whether to let them or not. I ended up redirecting them, but now I hear happy noises coming from the clubhouse.

I expect that if I get any comments on this post, they will encourage me to allow the kids to imagine to their hearts' content. But I would actually love to hear from anyone who has some constructive do I allow it without letting our house fall into shambles, and has anyone else gone through this with their kids (home-schooled or otherwise)?

Thanks for hearing me out!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Homeschool set-up

Our home is our classroom. While we had a "schoolroom" last year in the dining room, this year we rarely use it and instead have various works on the family room shelves and up in the kids' bedrooms.

What I've been realizing lately is the sheer difficulty of "setting up" the "classroom" when one is homeschooling, especially using the Montessori method. There is no teacher planning period, or in-service days, or summer vacation when the children have all gone away and left the teacher to plan and rearrange and think. What I have is the children here ALL the time, and a husband in the evening once they have gone to bed (nothing against him, of course...).

So I have had to be creative, and use what little spurts of time I have available to set things up in the best possible way for the kids. It has gotten more difficult lately to do this while they are around, as I get alot of "what is that?" and "can I do that now?" or "why are you putting that in the basement?" If I want to try something out, and they see it, it's really hard to change my mind and put it away. You know?

Anyway, I am grateful for the time I have today (my dad and sister took the kids to the zoo) but it is going all too quickly:)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Middle Child...

I don't know about anyone else, but I see the "middle child syndrome" occurring in a homeschool situation as well as in regular family life. I spend a lot of time thinking about what to do with Gene (now getting closer to 7), especially since I have not been trained in Montessori for the elementary child. My sister just gave me all her albums and materials, as she is no longer planning to teach, but I don't know when I'll have a chance to look at them. It is so exciting to teach him, leading him in new directions. He takes a bit of prompting to be swayed off his beaten path (generally he is interested in only a handful of activities and would be satisfied to stick with them)...for example, he is finally showing interest in the piano (we have had one in our house for over a year now). He is playing every day, and has learned to play all the major scales and is trying to figure out some of the sharp scales (C sharp major, etc). He is really interested, and is getting good fast.

Jane is almost 3 (in a couple months) and has about mastered her numbers. She is beginning to learn letter sounds, we're playing the I Spy game from Gettman (I think she's in stage 3 or 4, but I'm not looking at the book) and this is also a very exciting stage of life. I LOVE to teach reading, and she is on her way:)

Lucy, at almost 5 (4 months away) is doing great as well. She is becoming a bookworm, and is challenging herself with the books she chooses. For instance, I began reading chapter books to her about a month ago, and began with Chocolate Fever. I let Gene borrow it when we were done, and he left it in the car. She picked it up and began reading, and made it through the whole book by herself! She reads a few books every day, but is now at a stage that doesn't require a whole lot of work from a teacher's point of view. All she has to do is keep on reading, and she'll pick up more and more through the books. She is also quite interested in art, and often amazes me with what she creates. She mostly uses paper, scissors, tape, and various coloring tools. I guess because that's what is available most often.

I realize once in a while that I am not really teaching her anything. She picks up a lot, and seems generally satisfied with her lot in life, but I think she would really appreciate a little time and attention with her schooling:) What I want to do is teach her to write. She knows all the uppercase letters (how is it that they always learn those on their own!) but we'll work on the lowercase. I'd like her to know them by the end of the summer...and I'm just devising a lot of different ways to teach her. I think she'll progress with flying colors, and should know them all soon. 26 letters...about 60 days of summer left...