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, February 9, 2016

Making Montessori Materials: Bead Chain Arrows

I got tired of the paper/cardstock arrows. So thin, they slip around, hard to pick up when the focus should be on counting. They get *lost*.

The file I original used has two of the colors switched; I was able to change them (after I'd already printed the wrong arrows), then ran out of ink so had to wait. One thing leads to another, years have passed and the children are just making their own arrows out of paper for those two colors. I tried to print them again, but lost the modified file and don't have Adobe that lets me modify things anymore (and don't want to pay for it). Yeah. Craziness.

I kept saying I was going to switch to popsicle sticks.

Well, I started making the Keys of the Universe elementary Montessori mathematics videos - and my mission is to work on the corresponding materials as I get to the videos that need them. So there you go - or there I go. A simple project that became a big deal when it sat in my living room for months ;)

This material is indeed very easy.

What do you need?
  • A package of normal size popsicle sticks 
  • A package of tongue depressors
  • White very-fine-tip paint marker (for writing on darker colors)
  • Black very-fine-tip paint marker (for writing on most of the colors)
  • Paint in each of the bead cabinet colors (for "gold", I kept the sticks natural)
  • I also used a gold paint marker to outline the wide stick that represents the cube of the number. 
  • Note: I did not do the initial counting up at the beginning - these ones I will do in cardstock to keep them narrow. Easy enough to replace those for primary use (elementary students don't use them)
TIME: These took less time to make then printing, laminating and cutting the cardstock arrows.... Just saying.

I chose to paint just one end - just on one side at first; but I found it was easier to sort them and use them with the bead chains when the color was on both sides. So the *number* is currently only on one side (could be on both). 

The numbers are written so the arrows are placed below the bead chain; I really could have, should have written them so the numbers are placed on the far side of the bead chain from the child, yet readable. Wasn't thinking much at the time. ;) 

They still work for elementary. Will have to test for primary.

A video from elementary:

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Homeschool Boy

Our days have been looking more unschoolish as Legoboy gets older. Not just unschoolish - but more "practical". Like making popcorn - daily. ;)

Some previous "Life in the Montessori Homeschool" posts - just a sampling of what Montessori life can look like:

Final Upper Elementary Work Plan

LegoBoy's Doings: June 2015

Montessori Homeschooling Week - February 2015 - this post has the links for each day of the week

A Week in the Life of Legoboy 2014 - this post has the links for each day of the week

A Day in the Life of Legoboy

Elementary - Sample of Our Day - 2012 - towards end of lower elementary

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

REVIEW POST: Montessori House Curriculum for Infants and Toddlers

Montessori House has been on my radar for a while. The author and I are in the same Montessori "team" on Etsy - and I have had to defend her right to utilize the team tag "TeamMontessori" on her albums.

The author has AMI training and has organized her AMI albums for use by parents and teachers. What she offers is authentic - with some caveats. 

I do have fundamental disagreements with a few areas of Montessori House: 
  • The primary - or second half of the first plane of development - ages 2.5-6 is to be kept together. No child progresses perfectly in sync in all areas nor in sync with any other child ever. Thus it makes no sense to split up the albums for ages 2.5-6 into 4 different levels. 
  • Primary only goes through kindergarten - not grade 1. Grade 1 (or first grade) should be the first year of elementary, the child has a different mind (a reasoning mind) and is need of the Great Lessons, not being held back into primary. 
  • The author says on the main website that the primary albums at least are a compilation "of the best exercises and presentations". Well, in one sense, AMI provides the keys, thus the "best" are all of them; so this could mean all of them. But I am not so sure on that, looking over the table of contents. 
  • There are related blogs and newsletters, but none seem to be producing new content of late. What is there is good however! 
  • The groupings of how to purchase which albums is odd configurations as well, which leads to confusion of "what am I suposed to get for which age/experience". But this is minor. 
Still - what is there, should be quality. 

Last week, I finally purchased the infant and toddler binders for my own use. 

Some of my own Montessori background: 
  • Before I had my son, I had spent many days at a then-local AMI Montessori school - I had no training, I didn't even barely know about Montessori when I first walked in. But I fell in love from the first 5 minutes! (it took 4 1/2 minutes to get used to the idea of "just sit in this chair and observe for a little while to get a feel for the environment here" ;) ). 
  • At that school, I spent most of my time with the infants and toddlers; second-most time in before/after care, third in elementary (6-9 and 9-12 at this school) and lastly in primary (3-6). 
  • I loved every moment - even when I was overwhelmed with confusion about what on earth was happening! Children excited about studying grammar!? Children ready to leave who spend 5 minutes picking well more than half of their "mess" from playing with a friend because that is what is done to be respectful to one another!? Respect!?
  • In the meantime, I have had an awesome son, went to AMI training for primary Montessori (ages 2.5-6) and elementary Montessori (ages 6-12), subbed at a slew of schools, spent more time with infants and toddlers (and all the other ages, including now a limited time with adolescents) - and run an in-home daycare based on Montessori principles. 
No Assistance to Infancy training is on my horizon at this time --- and the resources I have accessed have been much less than stellar (ahem - Montessori from the Start - I will post a review on that book soon - I don't recommend it anymore! I only used to recommend it with caveats.). I did use Montessori from the Start but set aside so much from it - and felt guilty for doing so (more in the upcoming post). 

I have been loving my recent discovery: Susan Stephenson's book The Joyful Child for children ages 0-3. I have a review post coming forth on that one too - I will only say here that my only caveat is the lack of some material descriptions. 

I started to write my own guide based on my own observations, readings, experiences, etc. It would have been awesome; but The Joyful Child takes care of a good deal of what I wanted to put together - and the remaining bits could be gleaned from Montessori from the Start, but still the separation of wheat and chaff was hurting me. 

Thus, I took a chance on the Montessori House Infant and Toddler binders. Spent $80-something after shipping. Then I read some reviews from others in a Facebook group, posted right after I ordered. I was doubting my purchase. Very concerned about the wasted money. There was one good review but she said she didn't want a lot of background/theory (and that portion is needed!). 

My verdict? 

YES! Just enough theory/background to get across the points without being overwhelming and spending hours upon hours of reading. And straight-forward material descriptions. 

And the emphasis on OBSERVATION! Phenomenal! Even places to record dates, notes, reactions, etc! 

Not a downside or a caveat - but just a point of interest: These albums are written pretty much without emotion; there is little in the way of wordy explanations. It is very much "here is the idea, here is why it works, go observe!" Some people may be put off by that, but just read it as a factual document and all is well! 

One issue noted by the Facebook group reviews: a lack of structure, finding some of it "vague and disjointed" - I have that part covered below ;) 

Of course I have my own personal caveats - personal to me, but also from my professional perspective. I thoroughly stand behind the infant album (up to 18 months). In the toddler album (18 months to 2.5 years), here are some of my tips: 
  • page 83: When a child shows interest in letters at this age, Montessori House says to use sandpaper letters, DON'T. That is not the most accurate match for the child's self-construction. When the child is interested in letters and words, be sure you are playing the *sound games* instead. Separately, if a child asks about a word or a letter, give the word or give the letter *sound* (not the name). 
  • The math section: Counting - YES! Making counters out of clay for the fun of it - YES!
    But please don't do sandpaper numbers at this point or do the numbers & counters activity. These come after a child has had the number rods experience later. 
  • For math, keeping going with patterning, oral counting, one to one correspondence and the like. 

Overall, these two Montessori House binders, taken together with Susan Stephenson's lovely, parent-friendly gentle book The Joyful Child, will provide all that you need for an awesome Montessori infant and toddler home experience! What the one lacks, the over fills in! 

These two resources for infancy and toddler - transition readily into Keys of the World for 2.5-6 and Keys of the Universe for ages 6-12.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Planning in a Montessori Homeschool

Planning in a Montessori Homeschool sounds like a huge contradiction in terms, depending on how you define each of those terms ;)

Homeschool - school at home, but we're not always at home; and we spend less time on "school" than children at an out-of-home school.

Montessori - seems to be a free-for-all for some; trays on a shelf for some; multi-age grouping that can only happen at a school for some; and other variations. Indeed, Montessori incorporates freedom, a very few trays, multiple ages can be addressed in a homeschool situation in another way (including for only-children - siblings have that multi-age setting built-in!)

Planning - juxtaposed with Montessori, some people flip over. You can't *plan* a child's education weeks and months in advance - especially not in a Montessori setting! No, this is correct - I cannot tell you what your child should be doing the second of week of June they year they are 4 years old; nor can I (or *anyone*!) tell you what your child should be doing the 25th week of the 3rd year of elementary. Sorry!

But what DO we have? We have a set of key experiences that are typical for the universal child within some time ranges. We can be prepared to provide for those key experiences as the child is ready for them. This part of the three-sided support that IS an authentic Montessori environment - the prepared adult. Please visit that link for the prepared adult - because it highlights some of the many things we adults need to be prepared for - items such as right use of imagination, the four planes of development, human needs and tendencies and so much more!

What about those who don't follow a schedule - and maybe not even a loose routine?
I personally still need to have an idea of what is upcoming - so we can ensure we have time, space, materials, and the right attitude (nothing like saying "Mom, I want to do the river model" when the only space available to do one indoors is the only clear space in the home because of our other projects! ;)

CAVEAT: None of the planning suggestions on this page are boxed into a particular schedule or routine. What is here, is adaptable to any kind of schedule.

The planning style that has worked in our home: 

First, I need some tools:
  • Key experiences appropriate to the plane of development of the child/ren before me. 
  • Noting the particular child's needs and interests. 
  • Something to record work done. How will work done be recorded? So I know what to plan next time? Montessori Trails page on work plans and work journals in a Montessori setting
    • For younger children, this is my own record - I can just check off a presentation or an exercise as being presented. I am planting seeds that will sprout later - giving keys for them to utilize in their own explorations and discoveries; sometimes they will repeat something, other times not - so I don't record things like "repeated, mastery, etc.". I am a homeschool parent, not a school teacher. And my current students who come to me from their own families "master" at home, not with me. If I were in a situation to worry about mastery, I would observe and have conversations to see if the concept is mastered - and have a second checkmark for that, Seriously? Keep it simple.
    • For older children - elementary children and some kindergarteners, we have a work plan/journal to look at in planning our next steps. In kindergarten and first grade, that can be as simple as moving cards of chosen work from one basket to another
  • That's it. KEEP IT SIMPLE. You are a homeschool parent, with a household and other family members to take care of - and yourself to take care! Montessori is about exploration and discovery - not about being the smartest kid in the universe! ;) 
Some early work plan/journal samples.
Legoboy's First Work Plan/Journal
Used at age 5-6 

Next, I need to put those tools together! The following photos show primary level first; then elementary. 

You'll notice I am only planning for MY presentations. At primary, the child's work is the child's choice within the parameters you have laid out. At elementary, the work plan (conversation) with the child is where the child notes what he is going to do about his particular interests and I the adult can note any outings we will be taking, any supplies to have on hand, etc. The child should be involved in this planning too!!!

THUS - the child's day might inlude a new presentation (0-5 depending on the age and the need) and their own self-selected follow-up work, which might correspond with your presentation and might not. You still have family time, free time, outings, etc. as well. 

Primary Montessori Homeschool Planning

Intervals - for starting with a child at 2 and a half years old, you can figure about 6 months for each interval. Starting with an older child? Begin with those earlier intervals but your child will move more quickly through them. Allow them to move at their speed, it is YOUR preparations that will be stepped up a bit. Beginning with an elementary child? Start with the elementary work, not the primary!

Need to organize material purchases and material-making? That is where the intervals also come in handy - focus on THIS 6-month time period. If your child gets ahead in something, then you only have that one area to look ahead in!

The first interval is only 2 pages - and decent size font at that! 

Plug into a chart - could be a weekday-based one or just a grid, with everything in order - check it off as you go. Or don't plug into a chart and just use the "first interval" (or your current interval section) and select a few activities to show your child this week - you can quickly look it over to pull out another idea if your child is expressing an interest in a particular area. 

Starting out with a 2.5 year old, this is what our chart might look like.
note I crossed off weekday indications.
It isn't about which day you do something - it is about the child's readiness.
We would do walking on the line, some language and some preliminary exercises of practical life on day 1.
Otherwise, I just pick activites in each thread and move forward;
review as needed; when ready, move on to the next stage - mastery only when clearly necessary.
These could be dated if you need that record; or just checkmark or highlight. 

draw a line to separate the threads.
Each day pick 1-5 items to focus on (some things are quick)
or each week pick a few items to focus on. Move forward from there. 

Elementary Montessori Homeschool Planning

Elementary - this can get a bit trickier because there are more "threads" that overlap one another. 

I still only plan weekly and sometimes daily for my own particular presentations for particular timing; looking ahead to the month or a few months to be sure I have materials on hand; with some days of preparing the materials right before giving the presentation or even WHILE giving the presentation! 

Children at this age can see the entire scope/sequence or just provide them the suggested scope/sequence by year. In this way, they can see what is coming up, request something or otherwise prepare for it. 

The elementary child has their own work plan and work journal, which can include more information. My son's routinely includes researching some aspect of an ancient civilization for example; and as a family we strive for routine astronomical observations and studies. These aren't planned as much as we learn about something and my son puts it on HIS chart. 

I have done a plan book at times - lay out every thread in its separate physical thread - anything that wouldn't come until after that thread is closed can be filled in after the end of the activites in that thread. So Decimal Fractions chapter comes after the Fractions chapter - I don't have an individual row for each of those. This can mean we are on separate pages in the plan book I am using, but it does allow individual pacing. One way to get around the multiple pages? cut along the lines that separate each row and paper clip loose pages together - so when I open it up, I am only on the current placement in each thread. This works for ONE child in the home; or a small number of children that you are giving the same general presentations to, with their own individual follow-up. 

And I have re-organized the elementary scope/sequence to show one year at a time - it's a large chart, but could be a useful image for the children. 

Scope and Sequence in chart form (each subject in a column,
3 pages each (some are more blank than others since threads differ in length)
Art and Music are more free-form, so are not included in this image. 
My son's plan for a while - with the threads written horizontally.
Highlight as we finished - could date them if we needed such a record.
Not all things are highlighted, though Legoboy is done;
because I couldn't keep up with it!
I needed to write it out for my own mental preparation
but then I preferred the checklist approach most of the time. 
The threads do peter out - not all are the same length.
But this gives the children time for their *own* studies:
reading, building, DOING. 

So you can see - KEEP IT SIMPLE. Use a checklist for your own presentations if that works; the children shouldn't have a checklist, but should be given the key presentations, ask questions and find ways to answer their own questions. Lots of real life experiences, outings, and lots and lots of DOING.

How do all of these plans pan out?
See this page for some samples of A Day in the Life of a Montessori Homeschool.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Tessellations - Pattern Blocks - In Montessori

Tessellations are an awesome extension of the Montessori experiences. While not a "Montessori material", they are perfect for children of all ages.

There is one modification I make to them, to align them with Montessori principles: if they come with a set of design cards, I utilize any of the cards that show how the pieces form other pieces (this is akin to the constructive triangles material); and I remove all the cards that show designs.
The three cards on the right - we like those type for some self-guidance.
The two cards on the right - I prefer the children to discover those patterns for themselves. 

Why? Because the children should use the pieces to create their own designs and discover for themselves the variety of "pictures" they can form. I find too many times over that providing the design cards, locks a child's mind into design mode and less on creative pattern discovery.

Toys in a Montessori Home - Lower Elementary
Tessellation Patterns in our Co-Op

Informative and interesting site about Tessellations:

Some 3-dimensional "tessellations" - the power of 2 in elementary and the power of 3 in adolescent mathematics.

Fractals extensions totally work off of here too!