Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Work Plans - CONFUSION

Primary children should NOT use a written work plan.
But they can have the conversation!
And they can ask for a particular presentation
(as this boy is doing - because he has plans!)
There is a plethora of confusion about work plans.

I recently posted this in the comments of an online friend's blog and decided to make it its own post. I try so hard to "agree to disagree" on many interpretations of Montessori, while presenting information from a new viewpoint --- so each individual can make an individual choice for their own situation. This is one area where I am TIRED of being attacked, name-called, my intelligence and adherence to Montessori called into question because I don't "let" the elementary children "have complete freedom." Montessori never said "complete freedom". She said "freedom with responsibility" for the elementary age. And the misinterpretation of work plans and what they are SUPPOSED to be, I am drained of maintaining the quiet stance of "well, consider this aspect....".

Time for the truth to be told. Boldly.

Work plans are the child's segue into responsibility. 

They are the child's written down thoughts/plans for the day or the week or the month, following a conversation with the adult who does not dictate but listens, offers suggestions, answers questions, poses some questions and sometimes reminds a child of an area of exploration that the child doesn't know about (or remember) that would actually HELP the child's current explorations, interests, projects. 

Work plans are not checklists or pre-assigned/designed by the adult. 

Here is what I recently posted in the comments on another blog:

I think a good deal of the confusion comes from inaccurate information given to us first; it saturates us so that we come to the accurate information if it is not MORE forceful and MORE clear and MORE everything than the inaccurate information (and sometimes even then!) it gets pushed aside, not read/understood as intensely because an opinion has already been formed.

I REALLY wish certain other places would stop with the checklists - "download, print and use this as work plan". Those are not work plans, they are checklists. And they are adult led.

We ALL have work plans - whether written down or in a planner or in our heads - we all have a plan for the day, the week, the month, the year, life-plans - and we are all working towards those. To help the children we discuss, we check-in, we guide them, we make sure they are aware of scheduled activities that are upcoming so THEY can plan to get into deep or not so deep work depending on how much time they have, we let them make some mistakes but we also offer words of wisdom at the right moments --- and the children can write that down.

I don't see "checklist" in there anywhere. I am SO happy that the truth is finally being understood and being spread (I have felt like a lone voice for FAR too long) - but I am so sad at the depth of the misunderstanding.... 

A work plan is simply a written form of the plans in your child's mind. 

A homeschooler's version might look different from a classroom version - why? Because in the classroom, you have 35-60 children working in various areas to inspire the other children, reminding them of other areas of study.

Children in classrooms can observe others' work as a review and reminder of their own past work, inspiring them to further work or a way to apply that knowledge in their current work. Homeschool children don't have this inspiration, so it is OK to have a list of all the areas that could be studied in - as that way of reminding the children. They also won't be visually reviewing (observing) as much so it is ok to remind them to review areas they have not touched on in a while.

There are many other differences between classroom and homeschool, found in other posts - and some are still in-development.

Ultimately, we the adults have the map, yes the child still has his own personal journey - but how does the child know his options if we, the adult, don't present them.

Thus we continue to give new presentations (the children have a right to know when these presentations will happen, so they can learn to plan their own day); the children have a right to know there ARE more presentations and to request them. The children have a right to know how to plan their time wisely and receive GUIDANCE in their project and study planning.

If we do not have a conversation with the children and provide this opportunity for them to talk out their previous work (work journals) and their upcoming plans, then we are doing a SERIOUS dis-service to the children.

A GREAT article and video on the "Three Essential Tools of the Elementary Environment".
Montessori Guide: The Three Essential Tools

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Montessori FAIL

So many times in Montessori - or ANY homeschool program or experience - we feel like failures.

As intentionally homeschooling parents we tend to doubt ourselves even more than other parents - are we making the right decisions? Am I doing this right? Is this really what is right for my child?

What is very true about Montessori is that it is intended for ALL children - the universal child. The key principles of observation and key-based response leads to a personalized experience for each child - that recognizes both the universal forces within the child as well as their individual uniqueness.

But when Montessori doesn't work for OUR child, we doubt. Either it is ourselves or it is the method. Or maybe Montessori doesn't actually work for every child.

Well.... What Montessori means to some people might not work for every child, but the CORE of what Montessori actually IS does indeed work for all children.

Some keys to keep in mind with authentic Montessori:

  • Montessori works on a 3-fold foundation: prepared adult, prepared child, prepared environment. Of the three, the prepared adult is the most difficult. 
  • While it is not "about" the materials, the authentic Montessori materials are the response to the observation that children need particular keys to help them organize their world and master concepts. These keys have been thoughtfully developed and prepared to meet particular needs - and each material has a DEPTH that not all albums, trainers, or bloggers provide.
  • What Montessori really about is living real life - and providing the keys when needed. Living life with respect for one another, honoring the presence of each person in one's life as well as those who came before us and those who will come after us.

It is when we worry that our child is not working with the materials, we doubt. So let's consider why the child isn't connecting with the materials?

  • it may be in our personal approach
  • it may be in the reality that our children need something else in that particular moment
  • It may be the fact that our children learn through observation (we can learn through observation too!)
  • It may also be a lack of understanding the school versus the home setting. Montessori is not about the materials but about living life. We use the materials to provide keys-based experiences, but the children in a school do NOT spend their entire 3-hour work cycle touching the materials. They have bathroom breaks, stories, conversations, watering plants, caring for animals, perhaps some gardening, snack time, walking on the line.

Questions to ask ourselves:

  • Do you have a continuous non-circular line for walking?
  • Are you doing the activities that don't utilize materials (silence game, in primary (ages 3-6) the entire first chapter of the language album (Spoken Language activities are actually QUITE extensive))
  • Are we presenting the keys, then letting the child have time to explore and discover extensions and games and the like before we introduce them ourselves - in other words, are we pacing enough to keep presenting new things (daily in the beginning - but again, not everything with materials) while allowing personal discovery?
  • How much time have we spent JUST observing?
  • Do we have a good guide for WHAT to be observing?

Practical things to DO in Montessori:

  • Observe your child. Note interests, attention span, actual needs (some of which are unexpressed).
  • Have real conversations and experiences that bring the child into life in the real world. Social situations, gardening, caring for animals, practical life of cooking and cleaning.
  • Hold your child responsible for cleaning up after himself - yes this can be with your help; the focus here is on setting that good habit of "the work is not done until is put away and/or ready for the next person."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Given Time and Space to be Creative

Children WANT to be creative. 
Let's LET them!

Just a very few samples as I sort through photos from the last few months.

They need instruction on how materials are to be used - then invited to explore with the boundaries of respect and care.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Getting Started with Elementary Montessori Homeschooling

Getting Started with Elementary Montessori Homeschooling

How do I start Montessori homeschooling? 
How do we begin using Montessori at home? 

Useful tips for starting a new classroom or transitioning in new-to-Montessori children as well.
Over the years, there have been numerous blog posts and other articles helping parents get started with Montessori homeschooling; most of these articles are addressed to the primary level; a few to elementary. None really get to the heart of the matter. Dr. Montessori intensely observed the child and his inner workings, observing what has been there since the moment of creation - and found a way to provide for what she discovered. On the one hand, nothing magical; on the other hand, so profound that it affects our very being - because that is what she observed - the depth of the human soul. Thus Montessori is about more than materials and lesson plans (album pages), more than the academics... it gets down deep and the environment MUST reflect this depth in order to achieve the true fulfillment of the child.
Elementary is compatible with primary, if you have children of both ages in your home; but it is NOT the same. The needs and tendencies are the same, the core response is the same (respect, follow the child), but the outward signs are different. Why? Because the elementary child is now in the second plane of development, which brings about a set of changes. A need for order? Yes! but order has now been internalized and the child no longer feels the need to keep order in his outer environment - now we must be very conscious about keeping our space cleaned up out of respect for the other persons in the environment and not for our own internal development. Among many other examples.
So how do we get started with Montessori homeschooling at the elementary level? What if your child has had no Montessori background or is even approaching the adolescent years. Let's take a look at what remains the same. First some previously posted articles of interest that remain pertinent to our needs in this article - these apply to both primary and elementary, with my elementary additions:
Thoughts to keep in mind as you FOCUS ON THE KEYS: 
    • A set of Montessori albums (manuals, lesson plans) will be your "keys" - your academic teasers to get the children working on their own interests. 
    • The children should be exploring their own interests; and you will need to pull in resources according to those interests.
    • You do NOT need the most expensive manuals with every possible interest included. You want something reasonably-priced with the *keys* so that you have both time and money to do what you need to do with your child's interests.
    • You WANT a theory album to explain all the background in every day applicable terms.
    • The elementary level is OPPOSITE the primary level in the following key ways:
        1. If the child is not yet reading/writing, reading will typically come first. (in primary, writing was first)
        2. We will now provide the BIG picture first; then go back and fill in the details. We will provide that big picture every single year of elementary - so there is plenty of time to come back to it; they don't need to get everything the first year. (in primary, we start with the most basic) - Cosmic Education (everything is inter-connected) - the big picture is told via stories called the Great Lessons. 
        3. It is NOT necessary to finish the primary albums before moving into elementary, if you have AMI (keys) albums that provide for what to do with children who didn't finish or didn't do primary Montessori.
So how do I suggest getting started?
(these tips are good regardless if you are new to Montessori altogether or are transitioning from primary to elementary or even if your children are nearing or even in adolescence)
  1. Follow the steps in the two articles above. This is just to get started in laying the foundation. Add in the book Volume 2 of The Advanced Montessori Method (available free online through Google Books) - just the background portions to get a feel for things. Purchase your core set of albums, or at least the "theory" album. Hint: if the set of albums does not contain theory, it probably won't suit your homeschool needs at this time; these other album options can be added later if you find your child has particular interests. 
  2. Focus on de-cluttering your home. Don't get rid of anything just yet (you'll end up wanting some of that stuff back) - just clear it out of the main living areas. Do get it out of the way - what is the purpose(s) of each room, just have what you need there. You do not need 5 tools to do the same job. You do want your children to have access to the tools they need. Consider placing strong chemicals in a high-up cabinet so that the accessible cabinets contain safe items. Consider replacing your cleaning chemicals with safe substances your children can use with you.
  3. IF you are transitioning from primary, you will be removing a LOT of trays (or keep the trays for your other littles). The elementary child now has things he needs in more logical places. Science experiments are only trays for the teacher demonstration, and when the child goes to the supply shelf to gather his needed supplies. He does NOT need everything laid out for him on a tray anymore. Trays at the elementary age, for the most part, are an insult to his intelligence. Yes, a nice basket of interesting items, requested by the child or presented once in a while by the adult is a great way to entice an interest, but that doesn't look like primary ;)
  4. WITH your children, make any necessary repairs on found items. These practical life skills are HUGE to the foundation of an elementary child's education. And a very strong preparation for a fantastic adolescent experience.
  5. WITH your children, truly clean the house. Same idea with the practical life skills. Use those safe cleaners (white vinegar, baking soda and citric acid go a LONG way; add some washing soda and borax and 99% of your cleaning is done). Use those large muscles and those tiny muscles. CARE about the environment and show them how to do so as well.
  6. On your cleaning breaks: Begin telling the Great Lessons. Just the stories, with the included experiments. You'll pull your supplies from what you have, only buy what you  need for these lessons.
  7. Work on remedial language skills IF needed. 5 minutes at a time, interspersed throughout the day - the needed keys should be in your elementary Montessori language album. The ideal is that a 1st grader can read at what the public schools consider a 3rd grade reading level. By 2nd grade, a Montessori child utilizing KEYS, will be reading at middle/high school level and your only concern from there is keeping up with maturity in regards to topics.
  8. Where do your children's interests lead? Establish the pattern of hearing a story, exploring what we think about it, what entices us, what questions do we have (write those questions down and expect them to find answers, sometimes with your help), what do we want to DO with this new knowledge (write that down too). The children can copy the chart, re-create the charts in another way, repeat experiments, seek out further information on a key point of interest.... If they have more than one idea, write down the other ideas to save for another day. Encourage a point of completion - write down the question and the answer found; draw pictures; collect ideas in a notebook; create a poster; etc. Around this time you will also be starting to work on work plans and journals - as you are comfortable and find the need for accountability, it will come more naturally. Not every story or presentation will lead to self-designed follow-up; be ok with that, but also be encouraging of the child asking questions, going further, and EXPLORING. 
  9. (this step might be a month or more in) With your chosen set of albums, go through the early math lessons to find where your child is. Keep it fun and interesting - let your child show you what they know. Let them know this is what you are doing (show a material, state its purpose and say, "show me what you know, I'll fill in the rest"). Do NOT worry about the age on the album pages when you are starting - just focus on finding where your child is since the sequence is very different from every other math option out there. Begin where needed and move forward from there. Hint: Good elementary math albums include a section on what to do with children who have had no (or limited) primary experience. Do not start a typically developing elementary child in the primary math album.
  10. Getting into the rest of the albums. By now, you should find that you are using most or at least half of the subject albums based on the child's interests (geography, music, biology, history) and the basic skills (math, language, geometry). Add in the remaining subjects when appropriate for your family.
There you have it: 10 Steps to Elementary Montessori Homeschooling.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Switching Roles: Who is Building Legos Now?

Ordinarily, I am the one working on the computer, with the sewing machine, on the scroll saw, etc - all the "electronics", while Legoboy builds with Legos. 

One day, we switched places! His new EEME kit had arrived (we are on month 2: DIY Display). So he had the computer with the internet to watch the instructional videos. 
See our review post of EEME Kit 1 here

He bought me this with his LEGO VIP points! 
The Creator series set (it is a flower cart) wasn't an actual purchase. If one purchases more than $75 at the LEGO store or website, during the month of January, it is free.

Also, during the month of January, there was a promotion that for ANY Star Wars purchase in-store or online, you could receive a free Star Wars set (retail value $4.99). Well, we were in there the FIRST TUESDAY of the month and they were GONE. The employee said they'd only received 150 for the entire month's promotion. Wow! Lego usually has better planning than that - it's Star Wars! When they have Star Wars Lego Club meetings, they have to offer two in a month and they are still booked solid far in advance of the date.... You'd think they'd send each store more than 150! As a consolation, however, she offered my son an alternate package that actually has no name.

He gave ME the Flower Cart on the way home. What a sweetie!

The box has 3 birds; the first two birds have 2 bags each.
And I think Legoboy had put the Flower Cart set in here already too.
I LOVE the design on this box!
(I love the design OF the box - reclosable!)

Each bird has its own booklet - the first half is written in 3 languages
(Spanish, French, English)
and has a full page photo of the bird, along with information about each one.
There is also an informational page on the designer of this set. 

In the meantime, the resident Lego-obsessor is watching
some videos and building an LED digital display
using generic electronic components
that he can apply elsewhere in the future. 

Not sure which is cuter:
my aviary trio
or the Legoboy foot off to the left!