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.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Elementary - Sample of our Day

Here is our Monday morning thus far:
(please note, we have late evenings, so we also have late mornings - today was actually an early one!)

Rise at 8:30, morning prayers, morning chores, breakfast
(today he made wild blueberry fritters for us both)

Go over the contract for the week (this was already written out this past Saturday) - scheduled events for the week, any changes to chores or other routine tasks, mark down if particular academic items need to be done on a particular day, discuss questions, concerns, plans.

He's off to work on his Narnia unit study (a self-chosen project that incorporates many subjects) and a history timeline he is putting together; I've been working on an atrium project and two Garden of Francis orders. We are about 4 feet apart and come back and forth for occasional hugs, quick snuggles, he'll read to me favorite quotes he is writing out for his binder or show me the maps he's making.

Right now (11:40), he is preparing himself a snack of apple slices - he prefers to use a sharp knife rather than the corer/slicer because it wastes less apple and he can get thinner slices for sharing purposes. I do have to remind him that it is not a weapon as he likes to stab the apple as if he is hunting an animal.

When he is done, he plans to work on his faith formation lesson and practice for speech therapy.

This afternoon, he'll have speech therapy, then we meet with some ladies at the local atrium, followed by tae-kwon-do.

It doesn't look like we'll get to math today, but he'll have had history, practical life, geography, art, time management, grace and courtesy (interactions with me while I'm working; and with the ladies at the atrium as he assists us with our project there), family business (part of his morning chores was to take packages down to the mail-box), language arts, and organized movement. To make up for the "lack" of mathematics, we will likely play WFF: The Game of Modern Logic this evening before bed.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Current Interests: Astronomy

Being a Montessori child, my son has a lot of DEEP interests.

One of them is Astronomy.

I have presented the Keys to him, via the elementary Geography album (the geography album includes all earth/space sciences, although I've split out astronomy for my online course offering; life science is covered in the Biology album). I also presented the Keys of History to him - and that is where the pieces started coming together. Studying those Ancient Egyptians for about a year now (has it been THAT long!?), which has rabbit-trailed into other realms, including Roman, Egyptian and Greek gods, then into the constellations - and now into practical astronomy.
(Correction: it had been more than a year at the time of writing this... there's an interest that doesn't wind down in this little boy!)

See! All that messiness of elementary does come together ;) Present the keys, give time and resources to learn and explore on one's own (and encouragement and guidance when needed) - and you have a child creating his own astronomy book based on everything he has learned.

And then we discovered the Celestial Almanack. Oh my! It is WONDERFUL!
Samples are available on the website linked below - or please do ask questions!

And please do consider purchasing just one month and see what YOU think! Post back here with your reactions.

(UPDATE: January 2013 - the author of the Celestial Almanack has discontinued this offering, but has other resources available at his website. Please support this homeschooling dad and astronomy enthusiast!)

Our current top favorite ongoing, always updated resource:  The Celestial Almanack from Classical Astronomy - only $3 per month for user-friendly nightly information on the sky (and even daily information!) - my son LOVES this Almanack!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Today - Our Co-Op

Today we run a part-time Montessori co-op, renting space at a local church's school building.

The year started with 3-9 year olds and as long as we continue, I'll keep inviting the 3 year olds while increasing the upper limit. I am happy to have the older elementary children now, their just are not any in my area that are currently interested.

It has been an interesting experience having this mixture of children:

  • one with consistent Montessori experience
  • several who have attended the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium varying amounts
  • some with some Montessori at-home
  • most with no Montessori at home
  • children who can read relatively young
  • children who can not yet read at older ages
  • children for whom learning comes quickly
  • children for whom learning is a chore (or at least they think it is)
Well, I hooked the elementary children with the volcano! 

And I use "challenges" to get their hands on the primary materials that are not really intended for them. But I have a small number with the worst writing grasp, so we play games (challenges) to get them using the knobbed cylinders and other materials that encourage proper writing grasp. And, since they are elementary age, after they've worked with the challenge a bit, I ask them, "Did you know this is helping you to write beautifully?" They are amazed! And go at it with more interest. 

But what has been the greatest insight? Something I "knew" but I now I *know*?

That cosmic education begins in the primary level. In primary, each of the pieces is already being laid in place, in regards to providing the basic keys in the areas of botany, zoology, time, and more. I am ever so thankful I have one form of training (AMI) for primary and elementary - because that flow is SO present from one level to the next. 
  • I can allow the children to just BE where they need to be in any given area, allowing them to receive presentations in a given area that is perfect for them - several children are not entirely primary and not entirely elementary - I can just present to the child. 
  • I can be presenting the Timeline of Life with the elementary children and introducing the Biological Classification with the young ones. Each age has their corresponding lessons. 
  • When I follow the albums, I have the greatest sense of ease from the children; when I try to veer away, they become restless and things don't "work". They provide the keys - and I provide the time for the children to explore beyond the keys. 
Being in a co-op, I have the blessings of homeschooling, a classroom experience and mentoring the parents, providing follow-up ideas for home. 

It has been a wonderful year thus far! 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Toddlerhood - Montessori Home Environment

First our overall situation: By the time toddlerhood fully set in, our belongings were diminished in the living room (I gained access to the storage shed on our property to give me more time and space to get rid of stuff!), our roommate was married (beautiful ceremony!) and they had rented an apartment half a block down. AND we'd officially opened the daycare in our home.

The large room became the playroom and the small room we moved into as our bedroom.

At this time, the daycare was still small enough I could continue subbing at two nearby Montessori schools. My son came with me to the one whenever I was scheduled for the infant/young toddler room or stayed with our roommate/neighbor at other times. I had also begun the first level of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd formation.

(you may want to see the infant version of this post for more background)

Living Room
As a daycare, the living room served as our main relaxation area. It is where nap-time happened, as well as where overnight children slept. Our apartment set up required one corner of the living room to serve as our dining area as well.

We had quiet reading and group reading in here, our prayer table was set up here, and any activities requiring movement (it was bigger than the playroom).

Somehow I acquired a small tv during this time. I think it was because the owner of the tv had a couple of videos he wanted me to watch so he lent me the tv to do so - or maybe it was a video project I was doing for him from an Italy trip.... In any case, the tv was small enough we could set it up when needed and put it in the closet when not in use. We used this to watch home videos for the fun of it (I also somehow long-term borrowed my stepfather's camcorder).

I had some activity trays in here for quieter working:
cutting exercises
crafty activities - gluing, paint
I'd pull out specific items I'd want the children to focus on - everything was available in the "playroom" but here I could bring out a small number of items.

The children sat at the small table together at various times; or we'd all sit at the big table at various times.

Under the sink: cloth diapers and wipes (I did not use cleaning solutions for the wipes - just water and a squirt of handsoap when needed)

Toilet lid rule: always closed when done; and I did an extra toilet ring for some of the children - it was a cushioned one with low handles on the side (some of my daycare children *really* needed those handles)

Bathtub: all shampoos and implements in one of those hard baskets in the corner, up high; child items in a cloth bag suction cupped to the side

Cleaning chemicals? We didn't really use any... toothpaste and such was kept in the cabinet; medicines and such shouldn't be stored in the bathroom anyway (moisture damages them) - so these were kept in the pantry closet, along with the all-natural cleaners we used.

I did add a spray bottle of vinegar to the bathroom contents; kept on top of the medicine cabinet. I had male daycare children. Enough said.

Under the sink: small broom and dustpan; cleaning cloths - now my daycare children and my son were learning to use these things. One spray bottle had soapy water in it to spray on tables and floors.

Lower cupboards: pots, pans; plastic storage bins (we had a lot of those at the time...)

Garbage bin: the daycare inspection lady LOVED this set-up. Tall circular bin with a swing lid. We re-used plastic shopping bags, stretched over the opening with the lid holding it in place; the other bags were stored underneath the hanging bag. Everything kept together!

Shelf for children's items: so the children could get their items themselves - dishes, cups, placemats.
Placemats: I used the same placemats for my son and for my daycare children - with the shapes of our dishes traced onto them. Very good for teaching a new child how to do things like set a table.

Additional shelf for specific practical life: learning to cut a banana or a hard-boiled egg with a dull cheese-spreader; pouring practice; anything I could peripherally supervise after an appropriate presentation. I could have gone all out into the cutesy practical life stuff here. I am so glad I didn't! I kept things simple, without a "winter" or "holiday" theme for example, so that they could be applicable to a child's life any time of year without a seasonal or holiday association. (we had themed stuff with crafts, together as a group, once in a while - never during Montessori work time and never on a tray or in anyway displayed that someone would have thought of it as "Montessori").

My daycare inspector: She was aghast when first she realized there were no childlocks on anything except the pantry door (the squeezable door-knob - I had 2 older children who had behavior issues - they did not need any easy access to anything in that closet!) - but I showed her the contents of every cupboard and drawer and explained why I was doing it that way. She seemed doubtful but impressed that it was carefully thought through. She couldn't write me up for not having sufficient child-locks, because I didn't *need* any - and I *wanted* the children to have access to certain items in those cupboards (broom and dustpan and the like).

I had a toddler bed for him and a regular bed for myself (the landlord did not want the boxsprings stored in the shed), my computer desk was in there, and our dresser was in the closet. The room was now truly just for sleeping as far as my son was concerned (at least until I share the painting story...)!

This was the Montessori classroom as well as general playroom. We had our shelves, as well as a couple of bins of more "toys" than materials. I also had rotating collections of books stored in the closet.

As a note on following the child. One afternoon my son discovered the joy of slamming a door. After the usual remonstrations, I told him I would remove the door if he slammed it again. He did. And I did. I had two daycare children there at the time - ages 8 and 10. They were in shock when I meant what I said, because their mother (as all mothers) threatened and never followed through. Children need consistency - so follow them! And follow through! ;) My son has only slammed one door once since then - and he immediately apologized!

No shoes allowed. Same reasons as before, but now I had daycare children involved; some with severe allergies.

We continued with the separation of lower and upper areas - and some of the effects of this sort of conscious thinking were taking affect. I really didn't WANT to have so much stuff that had to be put up. So what remained had to be truly worth having around.

The baskets continued for the youngest daycare children, but my son was more into the trays at this point. I do have a fantastic video of him working with the pots and pans for 45 minutes - mixing and matching lids, moving them around, placing the spare camcorder battery in one, covering it, moving the lids around, finding the battery, moving it to a new pot, etc. NOTHING broke his concentration. This was one of many moments during this time period I knew we were doing the right thing!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Infancy - Home at Last

In our new home I was finally able to have things in one place and leave them there for a while!

We had a temporary roommate who would be getting married the following summer. She and her fiance were two of my son's first babysitters when he was 4 months old. Our families are still close, if not geographically! She was so open to my "odd" ideas because of her impending marriage and because her younger sisters had not been babies in so long that she loved the experience of having a baby on-hand again.

Living Room
We set up the couch so that the child's table/chair set was behind it - in a private area of sorts.

The rest of the living room was set up so that nothing down low was off-limits for young children. We did slowly let up on this because children DO need to learn limits of what they can and cannot touch. So we'd leave something of interest and teach him, "No touch."

Basket of books for his use.

Now, we had a crowded living room, but that was from my non-Montessori days, when I did my own share of traveling and having things in storage; not knowing what I had and accepting gifts from well-meaning loved ones. When we moved into that apartment, I was finally able to have all of my belongings in one place at one time and truly figure out even what I owned - our large living room was cut in half by stacking ALL boxes ceiling high in one half of the room. I had 4 sets of dishes. Yes, they were sold off eventually. And I was further driven to minimize-minimize-minimize.

Under the sink: cloth diapers and wipes (I did not use cleaning solutions for the wipes - just water and a squirt of handsoap when needed)

Toilet lid rule: always closed when done

Bathtub: all shampoos and implements in one of those hard baskets in the corner, up high; child items in a cloth bag suction cupped to the side

Cleaning chemicals? We didn't really use any... toothpaste and such was kept in the cabinet; medicines and such shouldn't be stored in the bathroom anyway (moisture damages them) - so these were kept in the pantry closet, along with the all-natural cleaners we used.

Under the sink: small broom and dustpan; cleaning cloths

Lower cupboards: pots, pans; plastic storage bins (we had a lot of those at the time...)

Garbage bin: tall and narrow with a flip-over/swinging lid; we used shopping bags for garbage and all other shopping bags were stored in the bin, underneath the currently-in-use bag

Shelf for child's items: so the children could get their items themselves - dishes, cups, placemats.
Placemats: I found some solid color woven placemats at a thrift store and drew the shape of our dishes onto them, so that the children could set their own place at the table even at age 1. My son (age 7) still likes to use his placemat like that just for kicks.

The roommate's room was off-limits.

Our room had the floor bed, stuffed animals, mobiles, the long floor mirror, and all other items (since most of my belongings were at that time still stacked in the living room!). In infancy this was all that was needed, since we did things together; or had baskets throughout.

No shoes allowed. Children crawling on the floor do not need the crud that comes in off of the roads and sidewalks; I can handle what happens in the yards better (the earth takes care of some of it), but it still doesn't really belong inside.

Lower areas were child-friendly. So a child could safely explore without constant supervision (parents do need to blink their eyes! and use the bathroom!)

Upper areas contained the more dangerous things (chemicals, medicines, knives)

Each room had a basket appropriate to that room. So if I was in the shower, the basket in the bathroom might have a book or a textured ball or something else that he could play with while I showered.
In the kitchen, it contained kitchen utensils I could name for him while I was working in the kitchen.
The living room baskets (I had 3) would vary - one was for books that I rotated; one had a variety of "toys"; the other had religious items. As he used them, I would tell him the names of the items; sometimes show one way something could be used.

This lasted until about a year and a half - even by then we had already been phasing into toddlerhood........

Friday, February 17, 2012

Infancy - our adaptations

Most families that want to start Montessori from the earliest ages, know about the book Montessori from the Start. I have mixed feelings, personally; but it is a good place to start! Just know that what you do probably won't match exactly!

Our family's differences:
  • attached
  • family bed
  • self-weaned nursing
  • we moved a lot in his first year of life
Montessori is not opposed to any of these modes of parenting. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

We had a Nojo sling - and LOVED it. I picked up a crying baby, or sang to him, or rubbed his back or tummy. He had lots and lots of floor time, but he needed to be close to people and their warmth.

I did this with all of my daycare children. I kept them close until they were comfortable venturing further away. And they did become comfortable quickly because they knew I was a solid presence and my home was for them to explore. We do this with Montessori children of all ages - above infancy and toddlerhood it is a normalization thing and a responsibility thing - both on the part of the child. In infancy and toddlerhood, it is a trust thing on the part of the child.

Family Bed
We had a mattress on the floor - but we shared it. This really worked great for so many reasons. During my pregnancy I found it easier to get out of bed with the mattress on the floor (roll over onto hands and knees and get up from there) versus trying to sit up then stand up out of a higher bed when I visited family.

When he was born and had some jaundice, we had to bring home a bili-blanket (it looks like a spaceship landing in your bedroom at 2 am when you're sleep-deprived), so this sat on the floor and was hooked up to him just fine - no dangling cords or fanagling lay-outs - we just set it up and away the jaundice went!

By being on the floor with him I was aware of drafts or anything that could be potentially harmful. I also could have him with me without fear of him falling off.

I was still in college when he was born (3 weeks before final exams!), so the whole attachment and family bed just *worked* - we were together and I could be studying, getting more sleep when he's right next to me at night (night-nursing), etc. Somewhere there's a photo of us taking one of my final exams together....

Note on the weaning: there are two definitions of weaning and we should recognize them when we start to compare "modes of weaning".
  1. completely done with nursing or bottle (think North America)
  2. first bite of non-nursing/formula (think Great Britain)
These definitions sure change some of the arguments on both sides, huh?

My son self-weaned (definition #1) sometime before he turned 3. Even by then, he would go a day or two or longer between nursings. We just kept this totally low-key, just as with the attachment section above.

Moving a lot worked to our advantage. I knew there were going to be at least 3 moves in the first year and I told my family as they planned all the gizmos and gadgets they were going to get for the new baby, "I am not going to be a moving furniture store!" It still took some coaxing but the message finally got through.

What I found useful:
  • stroller with removable infant seat - strong and sturdy, thus gifted to a new family later
  • umbrella stroller - for some reason we still have this in the closet even though he's far too old ???
  • pack and play (not by choice, but it did come in handy when I was required to have it by daycare laws) --- if I have another child, we won't be using this item
  • tiltable booster seat with detachable tray (latch to a regular chair or set on the floor or on a restaurant seat, etc. This worked great until he outgrew it (over age 4) - well worth the investment and takes up so much less space than a huge high chair)
  • boppy pillow (I still use this as a pillow for myself!)
  • cloth diaper pail and cloth diapers/wipes - all items have been re-purposed elsewhere since then
  • bouncer (not by choice; could have done without; found it useful at rare times though - would not use again for another baby)
  • lots of blankets! Can't have too many blankets! 
  • toddler: we had a toilet seat that was installed onto the regular seat - the adults would have to lift it up to use the regular seat; but the lid closed over it. Really nice! 
  • 2 stools (one for the toilet, one for the bathroom sink)
  • swingable baby gate - top of the stairs in one house we stayed
We moved 6 official times that first year; no, we moved 6 official times in the first 10 1/2 months not counting 7 weeks of constant traveling. 

At 10 1/2 months we were finally in the home we would stay for another year and a half. It was at this home, my next post describes. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Discovery of Montessori

For years I've wanted to be a teacher, and spent most of my high school time at the local elementary school as a teacher's aide, assistant, leading special topics, volunteering in other capacities, observing, interviewing, etc. Something wasn't right, but I'd determined to be a special ed teacher, working with children who have emotional and social handicaps.

I started college before finishing high school, beginning an associate's in child development so I could transfer into elementary ed at a 4-year school and have my ZA endorsement. Yep. I had it all planned out!

But a student in one of my child development classes asked about Montessori. The professor said that she didn't know much, but she'd observed one day. She described the following incident and asked us, "What is missing?"
A child went to a shelf and chose a tray with items on it. He brought it back to a table and sat down. He removed all the items from the tray, did something with them, and after a little while, he put everything back on the tray, carried it back to the shelf and replaced it. He then walked away to wander the room for a little while before choosing another tray. 
Of course we all responded, "Socialization!" But still it didn't sit right with me. Why would all these people go to an elite school (I really didn't know much about Montessori at the time except it was a unique program and anyone earning their associate's degree while working at this type of school had to have modifications made to their requirements), spend all that money, for their children to work with items on a tray?????

I didn't have time to research it, but I did sign myself up to be a substitute at all local area schools, daycares and the like.

One day I was called to sub at a Montessori school. I thought, "This will be great to see what is going on with all this hoolaballoo!"

Oh my! I had NO IDEA what I was in for! At first, I only subbed in the childcare room at this particular school - designed for the 3 and 4 year olds in the afternoon who did not nap but whose parents were working (the nappers joined when they woke up); then the elementary children came in after school until everyone was picked up. Not all of the materials were pure Montessori materials, but the methodology was there, the attitude, the respect ---- the entire atmosphere, environment and the prepared adults. I was told to just sit and observe - quietly notify the main teacher of any issues she didn't see right away, and to please do intervene for anything dangerous. Ok - that makes sense - it's a new environment for me, so I appreciated the expectation that it would be all new and overwhelming for me.

The children - get this - they *socialized!* They worked together, they played games, they watered plants, read stories to each other (whether made up or actually reading, I don't know!), they had a loft that was set up for housekeeping play (this was the childcare room after all), they had some of the typical Montessori materials, and they had some additional building materials. They even had work on trays. Everything was very well laid-out, organized, inviting... The children were cooperative with one another, respectful.... I can't say enough!


The following week or so, I was asked to cover in a lower elementary room. The main teacher would be out, and the assistant would take her place, so I was the fill-in assistant for the hours I was available. She was very gentle in guiding me in my expectations and how to interact with the children - verifying their work, rather than "checking". These children were so peaceful, so joyful, and working so hard!

The grammar materials, what I now know as the Logical Analysis material, were what hooked me at this level. These children were writing or copying these beautiful literature phrases and studying the function of words and analyzing their meanings... and of their own free will, writing them out again with the symbols above their words - and even further illustrating their work!

Another group of children were working on a BIG project that was nearing completion. I was not fortunate enough to be there for their final presentation - but if it was as good as the portions I saw - WONDERFUL!

These were "normal" children - without the typical attitude and lack of respect you find in so many other schools. They were cooperating, responsible, following work contracts and journaling their progress - and these were only 6, 7, and 8 year olds!

After that, I subbed in several of the other classrooms as well as the first two again. The infant/toddler room just threw me off. I couldn't grasp it at first or even for a quite a while, but I had a deep appreciation for it. Now I get it, but that is another story!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Welcome to Montessori Trails

As a way of introducing myself:

I am currently an elementary Montessori homeschooling mom - of a precocious, beautiful 7 year old boy - the light of my life.

I have officially been with Montessori for 15 years and have embraced it whole-heartedly. You'll see that I've made some adaptations for our particular circumstances, but they all "fit" into the Montessori philosophy of cosmic education.

I have way too much college education: associates in child development (anti-Montessori professors); associates in liberal arts; bachelor's in theology with unofficial minors in business administration and child development (still anti-Montessori); master's degree programs in Montessori education and in theology.... and AMI Primary Montessori Training for ages 3-6 (more like 2 1/2-6) and AMI Elementary Montessori training for ages 6-12.

I run two small businesses from my home:
Keys of the Universe - Online Montessori Training
Garden of Francis - homemaking, educational materials and modest clothing
Garden of Francis is also found on Etsy.

I also run a local part-time Montessori co-op, lead atrium sessions for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and otherwise keep myself far too busy for my own good!

My son has officially attended 2 Montessori schools, and unofficially attended a countless number, in addition to our homeschool and co-op. But all those details are to come!

I have also run a Montessori-based daycare in two of our homes. I had children ages 6 weeks to 13 years at varying times. I had my home available 24/7, and I accomodated part-time, full-time, routine-schedules and sporadic schedules - we lived in a college town so this worked wonderfully for everyone involved.

My hope is that this blog will provide inspiration for others while I chronicle our Montessori Trails from my first discovery of Montessori through infancy, toddler, primary, and now in elementary - to this morning when my son spent most of this time organizing "business finances" and scheduled a trip to the bank for some currency exchanging. Yes, at 7, he runs his own business too: Hearts in Wonderland on Etsy

From sub, to aide, to homeschool, to tutor, to mentor, to so many roles - please join me!