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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Celestial Almanack

The latest Celestial Almanack for astronomy studies is available!

We LOVE these things - and they go great with a Montessori education, unschooling, classical - or pretty much anyone! Including us adults ;) This is what Montessori astronomy is about :)

Written by a homeschool father; packed with gads of information on various age levels and understandings - check out the free preview over here.

NOTE: Affiliate links included in this post. This does not mean I'll get anything even if you make a purchase; it just means I might :) It all depends on credits you use, if you allow cookies, etc. :)

Beautiful Materials

When I started our little co-op last year, I did not have the metal fraction insets. We had some plastic fraction circles (each number with a different color; and not all numbers represented) and these: 

Made and cut before I made the connection that the UNIT is being divided into fractions;
This work is meant for the elementary children to do lots and lots of fraction operations. The primary children, if they get to fractions, will only work with the metal pieces - using them for making designs, discovering equivalencies, and very simply operations. We just never had them in our home environment - it would have been better if we did; but we made do with the plastic pieces (at least we had *something* hard/stiff - I found the fractions to be necessary, just not the most readily affordable). 

Now, several months ago, I purchase the metal insets used. There is one piece missing, I am ordering from a company that is taking their time getting it to me. I might just cut it out of wood for now and paint it!

The children came in to the co-op as usual; I said *NOTHING* about the new material - which is kind of in a back corner. 

Within 45 seconds, there was a group of children sitting around admiring them, picking them up very so carefully, seeing if they could put them in another place. They were in AWE. These were elementary children - not the primary kids! 

Here is what they saw on a low box on the floor: 
Used for both primary and elementary; design work AND fractions

Since then, they have also discovered these: 
Elementary Fraction Skittles
Now, I've not formally presented this material to anyone but my own son yet; but the elementary children have already "matched" them with the fractions and given them their "proper family names" of whole, family of halves, family of thirds, family of fourths and quarters (that is the phrase they chose to use!). 

Without even a presentation, the children were DRAWN to these materials. Which makes the presentations that much more meaningful. 

They beg to receive a presentation on an intriguing material - sometimes I feel like my presentation is only going to be a let-down, especially if we have to wait for several weeks, but it never once has been a let-down! 

All of these materials have been more than worthy purchases or investments of time. And I am so happy to share them with my co-op children; not just my own child :) 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Orchestra Studies - Montessori Style

My son recently discovered a deep appreciation for orchestral music. And I was surprised. I couldn't even figure out why I was surprised, which was more surprising!

I know, that sounds psychotic.

Then we re-discovered this treasure, tucked away behind our little-used tv in the game cabinet (it's an entertainment cabinet, but we store games in it, along with a small tv/vcr combo, CD player, CDs, videos/DVDs (few), tapes (yes! tapes!) and some building blocks):

Can You Hear It?

And the pieces of my surprise-mystery fell together..... 

I have played the clarinet since I was 11. Self-taught, after years of self-teaching piano and organ; then a year of cornet in the school band. I was 1st chair most of the way through middle and high school; and played in a community band for a short time in college. 

I have memories of my son at about 8 months old INSISTING on putting his little fist into the bell of the clarinet every time I'd play. It was so adorable how focused he was on feeling that sound, but at one point he bumped things just right that the reed actually cut my lip and it was too swollen to play for many days. He would touch the sore spot gently and say, "Owie." And kiss it :) 

We've always sung songs - with our daycare children and friends; in the parish atrium; at our prayer table; at church; in the car. 

As an infant, my son would fuss in the car until I started singing; he was fine as long as he could hear me sing. Not talking; just singing!

But songs with words do not build an appreciation for the orchestra. 

We did listen to jazz and classical in his youngest years but somehow music got away from us and we just didn't listen to much music at all (except in the above listed places - we just didn't have time for radio or CDs - strange as that sounds). 

We DID have the movie Milo and Otis and there is some fantastic music in there! 
At around age 4, we picked up the book above - it is listed in a few Montessori catalogs and they had it at the Montessori school he attended at age 3. 

The inside images are works of art; there are questions and suggested things for which to listen within the corresponding music selections. He LOVED it. But again, time got away from us, the book slipped into oblivion and life moved on. 

Book cover: 'Our Musical Year: Songs of Faith, Freedom and Fun'For the last 3 years, we have been using Level 1 of the music program Our Musical Year - a resource that sadly seems to be out of print :( I am relieved that we purchased level 2 already. It is set up monthly, and has two CDs - one is the background music for each song, just one verse, played slowly; for the child to learn the tune and sing the song to; the second CD has enough repetitions for all verses and is normal tempo. The idea is for the child to learn to SING, not just to match someone else's singing. We pick a new song to learn each month; most months ;) 
Last school year, he spent fall semester in the church choir. He didn't want to do it, but I want him to have basic skills in a variety of areas, while he is still in elementary (this will pay off in adolescent years - more in another post). He ended up LOVING it; and sang for Christmas morning Mass. And asked if he could do another semester - so he did preparations for Easter. He ended up not singing Easter Mass because he became dizzy during rehearsal beforehand. Now, his singing voice just isn't there yet, so it's not that he's not allowed to be in choir again, but the choir director suggests waiting a couple of years.... ;) During this choir time, I would play the clarinet for him to hear the pitches. 

This only fueled his love for music further. 
Last November, we visited a music store recently when we visited family; he was able to play a couple of guitars and try out some drums while there, thanks to the very friendly and helpful staff. And he was exposed to all sorts of new instruments and sort through music books to find Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Little did he know I was there to price the lesson books for learning piano. Grandma ordered his new keyboard during our visit as a Christmas present, but we've not yet been back for "Christmas" - so he'll have a surprise next month when we go back!

By the time we got home, he had decided that he would like to learn the recorder (we have 2 of them from a college music class I took, along with a "teach yourself how to play recorder" book). He's ok at it - but he loves it and that is what matters. 
Right about this time, I set out some items I'd ordered a while back from a homeschool swap group: The Song of the Unicorn and the Story of the Orchestra

Song of the Unicorn

He was SOLD. The CD was a great combination of story (narration) and song (almost all instrumental). 

The orchestra book goes into each instrument, highlighting a song with that particular instrument in solo, as well as highlighting individual composers from different times, with just enough information for all children to learn (providing those Montessori keys) with enough left for exploration for those interested children. 

This is where I became so surprised. But should I have been? On the one hand, music has been part of our lives; on the other hand, there has never been a focus on instrumental music. 

He can pick out instrumental sounds I never could have previously; and he recognizes themes across genres. He can tell you the likely composer or at least the style of about half the compositions we hear; and he LOVES to listen to the classical music station in the car. 

Please. Nobody tell my 7 year old son that most kids his age are NOT like this. Fortunately, we spend a LOT of time with mostly homeschoolers - who at least accept each other's differences (most of the kids he spends time with are in the children's choir he was part of last year, if that says anything!). :) 

Yes, there are some primary level nomenclature and classification cards we could use for the orchestra. But he has started on his own charts and diagrams - why mess with perfection? ;)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Keys of the Universe - 1 Month Giveaway

Latest Giveaway for Keys of the Universe at Montessori Nuggets:

$40 value (so if you're in the 16-month course, it is good for TWO months!)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Metal Insets for Writing

Our original "metal inset" material - actually made out of foam-board:

foam-board; blue pony beads attached with wires strung to the back
racks made by me

These have served us well, but we've received a "gift" of new metal insets and I'll be offering these for sale soon. They could use a touch of an exacto knife for some rough edges that have appeared over the years; and maybe some spots of foam sheets on the back of the blue pieces so they lay flatter (the wire is secured by a small foam sheet piece. I've added little pads here and there but they fall off.

I've had these for 7 years; through well over 50 children: daycare, tutoring, friends of my son's, children of my friends, homeschool.... The memories... not the first Montessori primary material I made, it was certainly the first truly intensive one. I still have some of the foamboard left over from these - I was going to make the geometric cabinet insets, but never did find the time. I finally just made those out of wood, and was able to purchase the cabinet by itself (2 weeks later, I figured out how I could have made the whole cabinet myself too!).

I'll have to see if I can find some of the design work that was done with these.

Just memories....


Friday, March 23, 2012

Primary and Elementary Mathematics - Division

Are you planning to do elementary Montessori and already do primary?

Do this for one of the division materials and save yourself $15-ish plus shipping. Do NOT order the unit division board.
I asked my son to set this up with a sample problem so I could show you all;
he insisted that 2 divided by 1 was a "good example".
Hm-mm. :)

Order the Long Division material (Division with Racks and Tubes or Test Tube Division).

Put most of it away for most of primary; but keep out one green board, the set of green "skittles" and 100 green beads, stored in a box (the box that it comes with has 4 compartments - you could maybe use 1 for the beads, 1 for the skittles, 1 for sample problems and 1 for possible answers to match?). This will be used for unit division, 1 / 1 through 81 / 9.

Pull it out again in older primary for short division - leave three boards in storage and 3 sets of skittles. Short division work ensues (the children will do 7-digit dividends with 1-digit divisors).

Pull everything out in lower elementary for long division, which has an extensive album page - and it will be used through about age 10. Well worth the investment (if bought alone, it can be purchased from IFIT for $90-100 total, including shipping).

Already homemade the unit division material? Keep that material and add:
For Long Division, duplicate what you've done to create the remaining boards and skittles; purchase or paint the needed beads; and find racks which can be painted and that will hold 10 test tubes each (each tube needs to hold 10 beads). The bowls are easy enough to find at thrift stores or Montessori Services or other places - just paint accordingly.

It's a small thing, but on our homeschool budgets!? And perhaps space-limitation? It's worth it to buy one material and use it for a variety of purposes.

TIP 2: 

Repeat the above process for the multiplication! Don't buy the primary multiplication board - just use the red board from the Long Division material. The (red) multiplication board generally has 10 columns though, along with a slot for the number (we placed ours on top), so you'll have to adapt the presentation (we just only did through 9x9 on the board and worked on the 10s separately. It worked out fine.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Elementary Supply Area

Anyone who has followed me via Keys of the Universe or Montessori Nuggets or any of the Yahoo groups to which I belong, has probably heard me talk about the elementary difference, using the example that the primary child needs trays with everything laid out and a supply shelf to replenish as needed (but still a limited quantity). The elementary child will use that supply shelf as their go-to place, along with a stack of empty trays from which to choose the most appropriate one for their work at the moment.

Here are some photographs to visualize what I am talking about:

Typical Primary level layout
(note the aprons hanging above)
yes, I'd like them laid out with handles to left/right
but this is the size of our shelf for now
Point: visual of all items; lots of trays;
items needed for an activity are mostly kept together


Elementary Supplies drawers for Geography (science) -
we need about 2 more of this size!
Each drawer is labeled with contents;
should be alphabetized.
to the left, you can see the side of our large supply shelf
for boxes and bottles of safe chemicals: baking soda,
vinegar, bottles of polish, bottles of glue, etc.
Elementary Charts, with some supplies up above
(note the blue ball in upper left corner -
layers of the earth that the children helped put
together with clay - not teacher-made ;)
you can see our black timelines, seasons strips,
timezone strips, lamp,
timelines below with our impressionistic charts

The supply shelf we used.
The drawers pull out to hold larger items
than the hardware drawers on the right. 

On the clay in the one above photo: I love elementary, because I can explore WITH the children - I don't have to know everything or even have all the materials on hand! They can help put things together; go through the planning process, decision making, budgeting, etc. and then the learning is truly MUCH more their own! 

Art supplies
(we've actually rearranged this recently - I'll update soon)
This set-up could apply to both ages;
with specific intro art lessons on individual trays nearby.

This is just part of what we have done - all these images are from our co-op but each photo shows something similar or exactly to how we had it at home (850 square foot, 2 bedroom, apartment - yep, I like elementary! It fits more into a normal household.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Day in Elementary

Tuesday: Wood-cutting day.

I run a home-business, a portion of which includes 2D wood figures among other items. My son is the mail-boy, picker-upper, and general handy-man for the business. We go to a family friend's house for the cutting of the wood; his big part there is just taking the cut pieces (in separate bags) back out to the car and keeping things separated.

The plan for the rather unschooly-school-day:

enjoy breakfast together
morning prayers
morning chores
gather school work and games

drive to the other house: listen to "Can You Hear It?" along the half-hour drive (he's re-living the joy of first using this book in primary, having re-discovered the book/CD after about 2 years of not having it around)

When we first arrive, no-one will be home; so he will do some studying while I am tracing wood; we will have conversations during this time. He will then work independently in the living room while I am with the saw. At what work? Whatever he has chosen from his weekly contract, as well as his independent research studies. This week, it is likely he will take some of the science books we have, a magnifying glass, and a drawing pad, to see what kind of crystals he can find in various locations. They also have a piano, and until he gets his late Christmas gift from Grandma (shhh - don't tell him it's a keyboard so I can start giving him piano lessons), he will likely spend some time teaching himself (one of the children in that family uses the same books we'll be using; and he's been teaching himself for the last few weeks, but only practicing once a week...).

The family who lives in the house will return for lunch and the children, including my son, will go outside to work in the garden they are setting up (we have a space there this year too!). My son has responsibility for choosing the remaining "crops" to be planted (I've made my choices; and we've chosen our mutual agreements - now he has his space to fill).

They'll then play games (more in another post! these are part of my son's schooling as well) together for the rest of the afternoon; and I'll probably have them clean out the inside of my car (since the three of them are the culprits!) ;)

 We leave after supper and go to tae-kwon-do practice in the evening. We love tae-kwon-do - it's all about self-control, self-defense, mixed ages, earning rank based on effort and merit not on "privilege", NO criticism of anyone, always being helpful and considerate of others.

So this is actually a typical Tuesday - our busiest day of the week. Lots of planning; coordinating what is going to happen when; following that weekly contract, but also being able to live a real life. Both the school and life get done not in spite of one another, but by supporting one another! 

This is the sort of day that exemplifies why I chose this approach to life and school - Montessori methodology provides the framework, the initial point of departure, and life takes care of the rest. There is nothing artificial here - only joy and peace.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Colors of the Tower and Stairs

There has been much discussion over the colors of the sensorial materials of tower, stairs and rods. Isn't natural better? It has the natural grain of the wood; it doesn't chip and need repairing; it focuses on the dimension, keeping them all the same rather than looking at the colors.

Well, I went back and forth. We had colored items to start with; sold most of them when my son was in elementary and we needed the space and money. Then I opened a co-op. Alas, I ended up purchasing all-new materials. When folks have used ones for sale, they sell fast! It's just a part-time co-op, so I want that money to stretch; so we purchased natural tower and natural stairs (I still had my original homemade red rods).

Guess what gets used? The red rods.

The little-little ones (2-3 year olds) will do the tower.

When the children were more "new" they went for the stair - blocks are something familiar.

But that was it. No amount of extension presentations, language games, challenges (what I use for the elementary children to get their hands on the sensorial material) gets them being creative. It's a dud. WHAT IS GOING ON?

I did show the elementary children how to find the volume of the cubes by building up 1cm wood cubes. That gets them using the tower and parts of the stair - and they are finding similarities. But NOONE is doing extension work.

Then I saw this post at My Montessori Moments, followed the links, and wondered..... and the pieces all fell together:

Cosmic education does not "begin" in elementary - the foundations are laid in infancy and built upon in primary; and finally realized on one level in elementary (and yet another level in adolescence).

What does that have to do with the sensorial materials?????

The sensorial materials are keys to the world - sure, we want all-natural and everything I listed at the start of this post - but there is SO MUCH MORE.

Art: look at those beautiful colors:

From Pink Princess Kingdom - so beautiful!

Our materials at co-op
(can you see which cube is missing?
I'll guess you had to search for it)

Which would YOU prefer to work with!?

The focus SHOULD be on the dimensions - not the knotholes; not the grain lines. Can you really see the dimensions if both are natural? Think about it, REALLY? In this case, all-natural does not help with the appreciation of aesthetics, and deters the child from the fullest of experiences.

With this material, the children can apply the principles they see to geometry; spatial relations when carrying ANY of the materials, or living ANY aspect of their lives. These things can be further developed by the precise way we carry the sensorial materials - and using two at the same time forces the child to "think" in the moment about how to hold this one, then that one - aiding decision making and thought processes.

Chipping: We are supposed to be teaching our children to care for the materials - and sometimes that means repair them. Yes, Montessori originally said the children could knock them down. Then she spent 4 years under house arrest in India as an enemy of the state. I don't know if that caused her to change her mind; but it certainly led to an emphasis on peace education!

When my son was an infant, he attempted to knock his glass off the table. But he couldn't! Because it was a heavy glass tumbler. We started with a shot-glass, but he would insert one finger into it, with two fingers on the outside and flip it. To train him to leave it alone, I had two options if I wanted PRODUCTIVE behavior before the age I could reason with him: provide something he couldn't flip (thereby disallowing the development of the habit) or swat his hand every time. Glass tumbler it was. He never spilled a drop or broke a glass (his whole life).

So at primary, we can show them how to use the blocks without knocking them down.

Chipping happens; then we show how to make the repairs - slowly and carefully - and let it sit until it dries. Takes the fun out of that instant impulse to knock them down, when you can't use the material for a while AND you have to sit and watch it dry (yes, I've made a child wait for the paint dry due to a severe attitude issue that causing the *hurling* of the pink tower across the room). Not a punishment - just consequences. No anger on my part; just a firm "you did this; now this is what we are going to do" - no ifs, ands, or buts. Child has proven he can't handle freedom, now he stays with the adult and follows through on natural consequences.
(said child was careful with the material after that - and when chips naturally happened anyway, he was the first to volunteer to fix it up)

Now, this post was written off-the-cuff - I have much more well-thought-out posts coming up at Montessori Nuggets - this one centers on our personal experience. 4 months ago, I still would have recommended the natural cubes and prisms - but I can no longer continue that recommendation. It may work in some situations, but it's not working here - and I have children that are soaking up EVERYTHING else. This one should have been a no-brainer - it started out fine, but fizzled. The above pictures say it all.

I'm buying paint and painting ours - I'll update here with any changes :)

Just for kicks:

red rods on steroids - how neat is this!?

UPDATE 2016:
I never did get back to updating this! YES, PAINT THEM! After 4 years, the ongoing uptake in the work, the extensions, the art designs - WORTH IT.
And please don't have them mixed up in a basket either - have them set so they display their dimensions on the shelf or stand too. This makes an ongoing difference (any change makes a short-term difference - I am speaking of months and years here...).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Elementary Language albums - our experience and comparisons

I've been asked my opinion about language albums a lot lately, but it doesn't really fit at Montessori Nuggets, since it is more personal experience than anything else.

We originally started our at-home Montessori journey with just Montessori books and online resources available at the time (not much - but what was available was given through the hearts of the people providing it!). We (I!) had a great deal of confusion. It is amazing how long someone can be in a Montessori classroom (as an assistant, aide, sub) and not really "get it" until it is time to put it into action. I thought I "got it" on so much, until I read the books and the internet and jumped in - and WHOA. Was it an experience! Fun! But also frustrating in many ways.

Language has probably been one of the most frustrating. You can read about our Adventures in Writing here. My largest issue for elementary albums is that they be continuous - the unnatural breaks just don't cut for me or for the child. With that said, going from primary even into lower elementary, the available options didn't correspond.

Grammar was the probably the biggest gray-hair causer of them all. Some things are presented across the board, with differences for planes of development; but it was like the blind leading the blind. I could not for the life of me figure out what/how was presented when/with-which-materials; when were the grammar boxes done; why were the colors mis-matched and the numbers totally off??????? The contents didn't match the sentences! Despite having The Montessori Elementary Material in front of me, I just didn't allow the answers in front of me to sink in. It was too much, at once, while in the thick of working with the children.

AND I was trying to adapt what I'd experienced in the schools into a homeschool experience with fewer materials.

It was chaos.

I tried to create order from the chaos, but in so doing, I had been trying to pull together everyone's modifications with my own observations/experiences, and the mixture spurred a chemical reaction:

We bombed it. I totally killed grammar for my tutoring kids.

I wish I had had an album in my hands. I wished it then, but couldn't afford any. I finally got my hands on some samples and was thrown off even more. It just wasn't coming together.

Now, I look back and think, "I'm glad I did not have an album in my hands at the time."


Because I look at the albums that were available then, compared with what I know now - and having had primary and elementary training... and I'm not satisfied with those earlier available albums, paid for or free. Not in the slightest. They aren't much better than what I was providing at that time; and many times conflicted so badly no wonder I was thrown off by the samples I'd seen!

Now. I am happy to say that others could still use them and find joy in them. But it would not have been there for me, in our situation. Sad to say.

There is HOPE!

If I were in that past situation today!? Or if you're in the situation I was in then (starting Montessori with only a toddler with infant/toddler experience; then a slew of 2-13 year olds to care for and tutor)!? There are OPTIONS! 

There are a variety of resources available now, or more affordable now, than there were years ago. But I would recommend starting out, to get an album - with the whole kit-and-caboodle of scope and sequence.

My two favorite available albums:
These are complete, or almost so; well-organized; and cover ages 6-12 so there is an organic development of a sequence for the child, rather than unnatural breaks during a smooth plane of development. Keys of the World provides the corresponding primary level language album. 

Both are very similar - how do they differ?
  • One is free; the other is what I received in training and available to you with online support.
  • Free: leaves out thorough descriptions of what to do with the grammar boxes
  • Keys: includes the grammar boxes in thorough detail
  • Free: includes more explicit work with punctuation
  • Keys: assumes it was introduced at primary; and has an informal write-up of how to informally address this area of writing
  • Free: seems shorter
  • There may be other differences, but these are the most key areas. 
If I could just combine those highlights right there, everything else correlates and is PERFECT! 

What do we use at home for language arts? Just the Keys of the Universe album (I did read over the punctuation in the FreeMontessori album - but I already do it all so naturally based on the informal write-up in the Keys album). My son reads a LOT so we build on what he's read; and play lots of math and language games. He does a lot of research as well so he has learned naturally about the index, glossary, table of contents, footnotes, bibliographies, and more; as well as how to re-create those things in proper context. It's not perfect yet, but he is only 7! 

If I could go back into the past and tell myself something:
Hint: You CAN provide the grammar boxes starting in primary - generally this child is a "language guru"; or has utilized ALL the primary level language materials, as well as mostly covered the rest of the materials and is hungry for additional language. This child is an avid reader and is likely (but not always) writing quite a bit - or at least composing/re-creating stories and making plays on words and phrases and plot-lines. They are already playing with language a LOT. Hence I've seen these boxes used in primary; not often, but it does happen. 

More information on the grammar boxes will be provided on Montessori Nuggets - if you're not already signed up as a follower or for a daily e-mail, I invite you to join us! 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Our Montessori library

A sample of our Montessori Library - those books we currently own.
  • Others have been loaned out, misplaced in moving, or lost in a small fire :( 
  • And the library, Montessori schools and homeschoolers are great resourcing for borrowing (just make sure you give them back! ;) )
  • Tip: if you know me IRL (in real life), and have one of my books and it's not listed here, I wouldn't mind having it back! I'll trade some fresh, homemade peanut-butter-chocolate fudge for it! hehehe

By Dr. Maria Montessori:
  • The Montessori Method (originally part 1 of 3-part series, continuing with Advanced Method below)
  • Advanced Montessori Method, Volume 1 (prev. Spontaneous Activity in Education)
  • Advanced Montessori Method, Volume 2 (prev. the Montessori Elementary Material)
  • From Childhood to Adolescence
  • The Secret of Childhood
  • The Absorbent Mind
  • The Discovery of the Child (drastically updated; previously titled The Montessori Method)
  • The Formation of Man
  • The Child in the Family
  • Education and Peace

By Mario Montessori Jr.
The Four Planes of Development (AMI)
The Human Tendencies and Human Education (AMI)
Cosmic Education (an essay available through AMI)

By E.M. Standing 
The Child in the Church (edited by EM Standing; articles by MM and others)

By Paula Polk Lillard 
Montessori, A Modern Approach

By Elizabeth Hainstock
Montessori in the Home: Preschool Years
Montessori in the Home: School Years
Essential Montessori

By Leslie Britton
Montessori Play and Learn

By Aline D. Wolf
Child-size Masterpieces (we like the style, but use larger works of art)

By Lynne Lawrence
Montessori Read and Write: A Parents’ Guide to Literacy for Children

By Susan Stephenson and Michael Olaf
Essential Montessori and Joyful Child (catalogs; beautiful cover art and Montessori articles within)

By Kathleen H. Futrell
The Normalized Child

Assistance to Infancy Reading:

Paula Polk Lillard With Lynn Lillard Jessen
Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three

By Dr. Silvana Montanaro
Understanding the Human Being 
By Louise Kaplan
Oneness and Separateness

By Ashley Montague

Amazon link to Montessori books

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Geography and Biology Chemicals

For anyone interested, the following is a list of the chemicals we use for all the elementary Montessori - quantities vary depending on the number of children, their age, how much they are allowed to repeat (not everything gets repeated by the child - sometimes it is ONLY a teacher-demonstration):

Calcium nitrate
Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts)
Potassium phosphate
Ferric chloride

Copper sulfate 
Hydrochloric acid
Potassium Dichromate
Lead Nitrate
Sulfuric Acid
Ammonium dichromate

Note: All items, except Epsom Salts (easily purchased the local pharmacy in a large bag) can be purchased at Ward Science. You'll need a school address to have it delivered (or proof from the state that your residence is a school). 

Yes, everything is stored appropriately; some items are stored in a locked cabinet and the child(ren) has/have no clue where the key is. 

In addition to the Montessori demonstrations, my son has previously loved being involved with soap-making (real soap-making - with oil/fat and lye). He's become quite used to it lately, so interest has waned. Because he gets this chemical reaction fix in a safe manner, I see him being much more judicious about his own experimentations when helping with meals and such - he will want to know what is already known about combining various food ingredients together;  before he tries it - because he'll tell you that he doesn't want to waste his time if the reaction is very certainly not what he was seeking. He considers the properties of matter and various outcomes. And always clears it with me first. And we're just talking FOOD! 

He takes using chemicals seriously, yet has a real joy in learning and exploring, while respecting the rules. I wish I could say this applies to every area of life, but at least it applies it here! 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Our Journey to Writing

Chronicling our experiences - as they are - un-edited. Caveat: things do change over time and one does learn from past experiences!

My son was just-turned 1 when I first started making primary and elementary Montessori materials for my daycare children. Clear the clutter of our home just to add more stuff! ;) But I turned a lot of the clutter into Montessori materials, so it worked out in the end! My daycare children at the time were infants through age 11; I started part-time and was subbing at a Montessori school, but only in infants, toddlers and elementary at the time. 

By this time, I'd made or fanagled most of the infant-toddler materials as outlined in Montessori from the Start (see other posts). So that age was set. 

For preschool and elementary materials, in addition to Montessori's writings, I had the books Montessori in the Home: School Years and Montessori in the Home: Preschool Years. I was too overwhelmed at the time by Advanced Montessori Method to figure out what was primary and what was elementary and when and how and compare it to the various schools I'd been to, so I made do with the little bit that was available online at the time and the above two mentioned books. Livable Learning and were both available at the time. I am pretty sure I was part of montessorimakers Yahoo group at the time (I have printouts of some of those files, so I am pretty sure!).

My first material creation for primary was the lowercase and uppercase sandpaper letters. I used the patterns the Preschool Years books, using old-style posterboard (thick stuff!), sandpaper cut and mounted, and construction paper for the colored backgrounds. I was and am satisfied with the results - they were sturdy, but I would never do it that way again:
  • construction paper fades over time
  • the letters were too small for most of my daycare children - not enough movement of the whole arm
  • the colors did not match the movable alphabets that were most readily attainable (colors reversed)
  • the letters were mounted at the bottom of a tall card; rather than placed in the middle or to the side of a "wide" card (the child should have a place to lay his unused hand to hold the board down)
  • they were print
  • capital letters in sandpaper letters aren't really necessary
  • I should have asked to visit the primary room at the school to see what they used. 
But they got the job done. And now, years later, they are serving another homeschool family. Not perfect, but functional to an extent. 

Later, I printed a set of cursive movable alphabet that could be printed on cardstock - the children were all over these! Spelling things out, copying them down, trying to link up letters.... I had picked up just one tacklebox (Livable Learning - now Teaching from a Tacklebox style!), and went back to get another and they'd sold out. I couldn't easily find it online at the time, so I picked up another two boxes (because just didn't have enough compartments) and those two boxes have been a nightmare - until I recently replaced them with the proper tackleboxes and turned those flat-bottoms into a phonetic object box and a phonogram object box (yes, just one box of each for the AMI environment). 
(at first, I did not print the capitals on the back - we needed them right then, so I didn't take the time to do it; but the capitals should be on one side and the lowercase on the others; and you can have punctuation)

My son had some speech development set-backs, and it wasn't until I started giving him naming lessons Montessori-style that I discovered how much he really knew already. We found other ways for him to communicate with me what he knew (colors, quantity (not counting!), shades of colors, Latin (another story), etc. He took everything in, he just wouldn't speak it. 

So we played a lot of language games, but I didn't know enough then to understand how important they were. He indicated in various ways where he heard certain sounds, without speaking a whole lot himself. Yes, I'd had him tested for speech delays, but every test said he was still in the normal range - the Montessori activities clearly indicated he was NOT in the normal range, and we are still suffering the consequences of delaying therapy today - but that is another post). 

So he started the sandpaper letters at 2 1/2 - just lowercase - I never did show him the capitals (and my daycare children didn't really use them, preferring the lowercase). He'd been around all the other children using them and other sensorial materials that when he showed an interest, I just went with it; if I knew then what I know now, I'd've emphasized more of the sound games FIRST - and had the phonogram cards made. 

About this time, we purchased the wooden movable alphabet because many of my daycare children had some troubles with the cardstock version - they needed something bigger and the connections between the letters were easier to see with the wood version. I was also becoming more and more troubled by "how do I go from sandpaper print to movable alphabet cursive???" That is when I made the discovery that Maria Montessori gave the children cursive to begin with. Well, I was too busy with other materials to replace those sandpaper letters..... It's one of those things that as a parent, I let slip by. 

That Christmas Grandma received a request for an all-wood, no bells-whistles-gizmos-gadgets-electricity-or-batteries barn. My son explained time and again, "I need a home for my animals." (We had a lot of Toob animals and others for language lessons and for play.)

She waited until the last minute and couldn't find one, so she got him a preschool laptop instead. Hm. bells-whistles-gizmos-gadgets-electricity-AND-batteries. Not to mention all capital block letters. The mouse broke within 2 weeks, the batteries died about that time and I just wasn't excited about it; and he was still asking for a home for his animals. 

For my birthday, she got him the barn (Melissa and Doug - PERFECT!). He still has that barn and now the co-op children use it (many times it goes back and forth between home and co-op). 

At 3 1/2 my son started a Montessori school while I was in the primary training. Finally, he could get a proper sequence from someone who knew what they were doing! They had lowercase *cursive* sandpaper letters. 

That Christmas, I handed him a set of blank cards to draw in to use for thank you cards for Christmas gifts (we did this every birthday and Christmas since his first Christmas). I was busy in the kitchen when he asked me "How do I make a K?" I came over to show him, wondering what on earth he was doing, when I saw this on the card: 
T H A N 
(capital block letters)


So I showed him on another paper how to make the K. He then asked how to spell "you" - I told him the letters and he wrote them down (I was back to working in the kitchen). He brought it to me and I saw this: 
T H A N K   Y O i

I said, "Honey, this is an 'i' and you want a 'u'". He responded, "I like it better."

I smile and nod. And spend the next week wondering where he learned to write in capital  block letters. 

Then we unpacked a box and found the old laptop. Capital block letters, with lowercase letters on the same key. 

There are still unanswered questions, that get into the absorbent mind. Enough said 

His teacher couldn't get him to use the movable alphabet at school, and then she had serious health problems off and on the rest of the year. When I covered for her and when we had another long-term sub, all the children got into all the material like they'd never had it before - it was great! Even my son was working with the movable alphabet. 

Flash forward to the following school year; we'd had some issues with the reading (another post), but we'd caught up to par; moved to another state; started another Montessori training; and was beginning a job at two local churches. My son attended a 3-half-day a week preschool program run at one of the churches; the teacher allowed me to have him there for both morning and afternoon on those 3 days and I'd join him for lunch in between classes since my office was right there and the school didn't typically have children for lunch. 

This school emphasized print. And worksheets. And getting a piece of candy or a sticker after completing every single teacher-required activity. I love the teachers - they are so wonderful and compassionate, but we were only there because it was the only local option next to the free-for-all babysitter across the road (who we used on occasion as well). 

So writing and reading fell away again. He'd write in print, but there was no joy in it; and so many times he'd make up a symbol and say it was another letter. We spent that summer working through some of that lack of joy. 

The "kindergarten" year, I long-term subbed at a Montessori school and my son was able to attend in the primary classroom. They did handwriting sheets, but they also heavily used all the Montessori materials. When we finished up there and officially were at home full-time again for the first time in 2 1/2 years, we started to use Our Lady of Victory handwriting books, starting with the second half of kindergarten, because they start cursive at that point and the layout is not like typical handwriting where the child just traces and re-creates, so the lines were sized to his ability - this book also asks questions and expects the child to answer the question in his own words with neat handwriting. Combined with the banded line Montessori paper, we finally got back to being on par. He would write short cards or very quick notes; I required at age 6 that he write the grocery list and I'd ask him to make notes for me now and again - anything to make it applicable to real-life, interesting and not a chore. At first, he was still writing in print, and I'd keep saying, "I prefer cursive; you have such beautiful cursive and it will organize your words better" (his print letters looked like one long run-on word). 

Then one day. It took off. And now I can't stop him. Everything is in cursive. 2 years later, we have a house full of notebooks, charts, graphs, lists, stories, more lists, timelines, labels, more lists (he loves lists - elementary children are collectors of things - words being one of those things!). 

If I could do it all again - it would be cursive from the beginning; much more emphasis on sound games; and a polite request at the preschool to NOT do the worksheets. Otherwise, things needed to proceed at his pace, as they did. Without force or coercion. 

I am finding a similar outcome with the co-op children. They know that cursive is required in our classroom and they are trying it out at home too. They know I respect their past and present experiences, and they also see that I have provided tools in the classroom to adapt from print to cursive. One 7 year old boy who was initially "hostile" to the thought of cursive asked me one day, "Could we please just get rid of all the cursive in this room?" I took him on a tour of the classroom, with a piece of paper, noting each thing that was in print or cursive. We did a mathematical calculation to determine that 95% of the written materials in our classroom were in print, not cursive. I didn't judge him or become upset. We just looked at it all unemotionally. He said, "Hm. That is interesting." The next class, he came back with the news he'd started writing in cursive at home, "but it is slow and hurts my hand" he said. So we then worked on writing grasp - along with all the children. And they are all writing so beautifully now! 

Cursive is an art-form and when children are creating art, it is no longer a chore, but a joy. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Goals for this Montessori Blog

My goal is to share our journey with everyone interested in using Montessori at home - whether full-time homeschooling or with children at a separate Montessori school.

As I chronicle our past adventures, and add current-day happening, please share with me any questions you have about our family did something - I am happy to share!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Movable Alphabet in our Home

In our home, the alphabet system we use is as follows, according to the AMI Montessori primary and elementary albums:

All letters are CURSIVE

sandpaper letters: 
pink consonants
blue vowels
(I made ours and our "box" is just a white cardboard box)

sandpaper phonograms:  
(we do have a nice wood box for these ones)

Small Movable Alphabet Cursive Red & Blue 5C/10V Wood Thick 3mm
The x is upside down in this photo

wooden movable alphabet: 
red consonants, blue vowels
organized alphabetically (ideal is NOT alphabetical, but this was affordable, and smaller, but still large enough to work with)

printed movable alphabet: 
(no not in print; this is cursive printed on the computer - these COULD be in print)
set 1: red
Plano 3701 Size Prolatch with Adjustable Dividersset 2: blue
set 3: black
I chose the colors - you could use green (phonogram) and black (rest of the word) to start, then add red for the later activities (red denotes "new").
All stored in a Plano 3701 Tacklebox - one alphabet per tacklebox. This box has curved bottom for ease of removing the letters; and just the right number of compartments needed in the right sizes!

NOTE: This set started out as a tile-based movable alphabet - I had the consonants in red and the vowels in blue - so that longer stories could be written. But then, we transitioned to full-color alphabets.
In a home with lots of children, you'll probably want both types - this post is just about what we have now ;)

This is not ours - but shown here to show
the contents of our tacklebox shown above :) 
For our homeschool and co-op, this has been enough thus far; but I will soon be adding another printed color set because of the number of children needing this material at co-op. For PRIMARY, 3 sets is sufficient, and you could get by with 2. For ELEMENTARY, you really want 3 sets for home use, possibly 4 for ease of use - it is used for a LOT of things, in particular word study and spelling games. It is easy to make and the tacklebox is perfect size.

At first, I did not print the capitals on the back - we needed the lower case right then, so I didn't take the time to add the capitals until we needed them and I just wrote some in; but the capitals should be on one side and the lowercase on the others; as well as cards for punctuation in one of the colors, so that longer stories can be written out. This is where children learn punctuation and capitalization - with this small movable alphabet.

So why the Plano 3701 Tacklebox?

  • With the dividers it comes with, there are enough slots for all 26 letters in the same box. You could even add punctuation if you are so inclined (there are sets in my primary album that include punctuation). 
  • the far and near sides of the bottoms are curved so the letters slip out so easily with one's fingers (flat bottoms do not allow for ease of removal at all)
  • The dividers stay in place so letters don't slip underneath (at least in my experience; the flat bottomed ones allow for sliding of the letters to the next compartment)
  • They are affordable at $10 each; and free shipping on Amazon if over $25; I've sometimes seen them in the $8 range as well. 

We have other alphabets, but this is it for our movable alphabet collection ;)

UPDATED TO ADD some close-ups of the tackle-boxes in question:

Photos of our actual colors ;)
Note the curved bottoms
(pictured is a smaller box - punctuation
 or use for numerals/operations/symbols)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Special Needs in Montessori

Montessori materials and environments can pinpoint issues much earlier than typical tests and programs; but that does not mean that treatment is available at these younger ages. Interestingly enough, treatments for older children remarkably resemble Montessori materials. Not everything can be treated or remediated in the Montessori environment, but a surprisingly large percentage can. 

Watch this video (in pieces!) by Dr. Steve Hughes, Montessori parent and pediatric neuropsychologist at the University of Minnesota. He goes through how to maximize the potential of the Montessori materials with special needs children. 

Click here for the video.
Click here for his main site where you can download a pdf of the slides from this talk. 

Dr. Steve Hughes, his research and presentations, have deepened my appreciation for and knowledge of the depth of the Montessori materials. We don't have to look beyond the Montessori materials for the main portion of a child's plan for special needs. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Elementary Geometry Lesson

I have a deep respect for Dr. Steve Hughes, Assistant Professor of Neuro-psychology at The University of Minnesota.

This link takes you to a Geometry lesson told during one of his presentations at a Montessori school in Minnesota - a parent meeting.

Watch until 6:30 for the Geometry lesson (the rest goes through brain development).