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.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Montessori Materials

SOAP-BOX ALERT! This post is about me and my reactions to current materials offered by Montessori companies. It is not about my son or his education, at least directly. It's about me and my emotions.

I will not be offended if you choose not to read this. I do not intend to offend anyone with the following words, but I feel certain that someone will think I have said something offensive.

Let me say here and NOW: each family must choose for themselves and I don't judge the "extras" that you choose. We have extras too. My soap-box has to do with the impression of Montessori in the public sphere because of these "extras".

Feel free to stop reading and join us tomorrow for our regular daily reports of Montessori elementary (or previous primary or infant/toddler) experiences.

Click the next line if you don't mind reading my soap-box ;)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Amazing Myself

Sometimes I amaze myself.

I entered a giveaway with Alison's Montessori. I won! I thought I'd won a Power of Two cube - it was a crazy time in our lives that particular week, so I didn't entirely pay attention...

I recently received my new Montessori material. It's the Power of THREE cube! It is BEAUTIFUL!

18cm cube demonstrating the power of 3
Thank you Alison's Montessori!

But see, here's the kicker: my AMI Montessori albums do not have a material for this presentation! The children should be working on some level of abstraction when they receive this presentation! I have an album page - it just doesn't require a material. (so the "amazing myself" part is that I entered to win, and WON, an item I would not have purchased to begin with - however, it is SO BEAUTIFUL! have I said that yet!?) ;)

If we provide a material for *everything* (especially at upper elementary), the children's creativity will decrease, their exploratory learning will diminish, and it will be more difficult to reach abstraction. I've just seen it happen too many times.

Our solution? We're going to use it in lower elementary as a sensorial exploration (kind of like having the binomial and trinomial cubes in primary); then I'll still give the presentation in upper elementary as-is according to my album page. And if my son or my co-op kids make the connection themselves, all the better. But since I only have my co-op kids a few times a month, the sensorial exploration will be PERFECTION for them!

As it stands, my son (just-turned-8) has already figured it out. He was putting it together blind-folded within 30 minutes of receiving it ;)

UPDATE 1/3/2016 After almost 4 years, an update is in order ;) I did end up selling this material (at cost for shipping) as we found it just wasn't necessary, it was an easy "puzzle" and nothing was really coming from it. Afterwards I saw that it is included in the Adolescent Mathematics album that does take it deeper. Ok, that is great, but honestly? The pieces are too big. the material is quite combersome. I have found a way to create this material from folded up cardstock that is not only smaller, but more enticing. Essentially, start with the Power of 2 Cube and add in the pieces you need from there. A post will be forthcoming in 2016 on this topic. ;)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Multiples in Mathematics

Lower elementary multiples example - this is typically first year in lower elementary if the child has had a decent amount of primary mathematics. It could happen in later first year if the child is brand new to Montessori altogether. 

each number is circled according to its multiples
see my son's key in the upper corner :)
who says Montessori children don't learn how to use legends?
right here it is - they just don't have an album page for it ;) 

my sample for how to highlight a particular number
again - using a key ;) 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Embellish your work!

Sample from other work I've seen
Borders around the page or around sections/problems
Separators between sections
Just to fill in some space
In Montessori we say, "DOODLE!"

Ok, so we don't say that. We DO say, "Embellish!"

We want the children to cherish their work, so we allow them the opportunity to personalize it, fulfilling the fundamental human needs towards vanitas: to embellish oneself and one's environment.

All Montessori parents and teachers reading this, raise your hand if you have NEVER been tempted to embellish the children's environment on some level or another - to the point of being TOO much?

Not ONE hand should be raised! ;)

We want the children to learn balance, so we allow embellishment from the beginning, integrating art and daily work, even when the subject matter is not necessarily art.

But isn't it all art? Math is art, language is art, music is art, history is full of art and those timelines are works of art, geometry is pure art in my mind, geography is an art --- all these things have grace, beauty, boundaries, creativity ---- ART.

So why isn't this information available online anywhere, on all those Montessori blogs and all those Montessori albums that provide samples!? I don't know! It's a bit frustrating, because it is so basic to Montessori, especially elementary Montessori. But it starts in primary with the stamp game in particular - embellishing the row between two problems.
My son's sample today. He chose to use markers
for the first time. Please note: Markers do not mix well with
colored pencils. Any work done in pencil should be
embellished with color pencils, NOT markers.
Use markers as a medium to themselves on their
own separate sheet of paper, if at all. 

My son has always done embellishment of some kind and he LOVES it. The work means something to him and he's perfecting his art skills.

 I will show you an example of one I'm not proud of because he rushed it. It was not meaningful and he even said so. We discussed the reality that if he doesn't WANT to embellish, he doesn't have to.

And we discussed the reality that markers and writing pencils and colored pencils don't mix well. The aesthetics are lost.

Therefore, all is not lost, because this experience prompted discussion on balance, necessity and art media usage.

What about work plans and work contracts? Well, these should generally not be embellished - perhaps very lightly (instead of a checkmark, a creative child could use another symbol) - now the work journal could be a place for art, if you use one for the child to document his or work! The work journal can be embellished in any way the situation allows. While it is not the place for the child to store finished work (only a place to record time spent and what was done; perhaps answer a follow-up question), many children prefer to draw their work into these journals or separate entries with fancy designs.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Playing with Language

You know when you've been doing Montessori very well in your home, specifically the grammar boxes and sentence analysis, when your child speaks in transposed sentences without even thinking about it - no hesitation. Just as natural as can be.

"Son, what are you doing right now?"

"Apple cutting core and it Mommy peeling an." With a big bright smile :)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tessellation Patterns

While there is no specifically AMI Montessori album page for tessellations - they are just plain fun! And when presented right, with the right materials, they fit right in with Montessori.

While we do not encourage the children to create images (we want them to explore the shape, and the function of each shape - not be focused on creating boats and flowers) - elementary children do utilize them to create images. I encourage the exploration of shape and function and steer them away from creating images until it is inevitable.

Some samples of our work:

a friend's toes

exploring different kinds of flowers

what if we just use hexagons? what would happen?
note: this particular mode teaches far more
 more than creating a flower teaches a child ;) 

she was exploring pure shape; filling in gaps with other shapes,
seeing where it would lead (this is a transition stage into
creating intentional images)

Purely exploring with shapes - and look at the beautiful pattern emerging!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Long Division - Final Results

I did the writing, because he insisted on doing it with colored
pencils, which would have been too faint for our camera.
And I wanted him to focus on the step at hand: multiplication.
He has not yet embellished this page because he wants
to do more long division problems on it first. 
My son is just at the final stages of long division - writing without the beads. It is a work we started quite a while ago; he has flown through it relatively speaking, however he will continue to utilize the beads and boards for quite a while to come. (this material starts in year 1 of the elementary Montessori mathematics album - and claims to be done by age 8 - well, that's the presentations being done at age 8 - the work will continue into upper elementary --- this expensive piece of material (approximately $100 after shipping with IFit) is worth EVERY PENNY).

This is sort of bitter-sweet! My just-turned-8-year old is doing long division on paper!

Tomorrow, we will go over the basic steps of estimating the answer, then multiplying AND checking with the beads to be sure we get each step correct.

After that, the last step is using trickier numbers and estimating.

This material is beyond amazing! Once the process is mastered, the understanding just FLOWS. I recall a woman in my primary training crying when she finally understood division - and that was the same material just doing SHORT division - as an adult she was able to comprehend how the long division would work; but as a child she had been terrorized by what is now a joyful experience for her.

I strongly encourage the use of graph paper in doing mathematics. The children can embellish their work in so many ways with graph paper, plus it keeps their numbers lined up and organized. The more complicated the operation at hand for that particular child, the more you want graph paper (ie stamp game for a 5 year old is complicated; stamp game for a 8 year old maybe not so much; long division - get the graph paper!).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Nouns: Singular and Plural

My son asked me to share a sample of his singular and plural noun booklet from last year.

With the study of the grammar boxes, there are many follow-up presentations for the article/noun box (grammar box 2), the adjective box and the verb box in particular.

For nouns, we have noun number (singular and plural), noun gender, noun classification of abstract, concrete, material, collective and the 3 types of abstract nouns. Number and gender can come just before or after presenting grammar box 2 (usually after), while noun classification comes at around 7-7.5 years old or at least a few months after presenting the other noun material, giving the child time to assimilate and an opportunity to come back and review those nouns.

As my son can attest, it is not necessary to do ALL the sets in a particular album page, let's say noun number, before moving on to noun gender, the next grammar boxes, and other language studies. Just exposure is necessary - there is plenty of time for review and follow-up. He likes to do things to completion in order, but even with these, I think we moved on to noun gender before finishing up the number cards.

Without further ado, here is something my son put together of his own accord - a booklet describing the rules for singular and plural - 1 rule per page or pair of pages. The translation (since he abbreviated) is in the caption. I tried to keep his punctuation and style - just writing out the words he abbreviated.

1: for some words add -s. (for example desk becomes desks) 

2: some words add -s. the difference is that
these words end with "e."
(for example ledge - ledges.)

Other things I've seen children do: create a chart or list of the rules; just state them aloud; explore more nouns that fit within each rule (we do NOT give them every example within a particular rule); create booklets of words; create additional card material.

For our material, I broke with the rules a bit. You are supposed to have a few sets of cards, then the remaining noun number sets are in booklet form for the child to study. I found it easier on me as a work-at-home single mom to just make cards of all the material; then my son (who loves booklets) makes his own and illustrates - so the singular is on the left side of the page and the plural is on the right side, and there might be two words and pictures on the left, with the corresponding words on the right. He then extrapolates the rule and writes it on the last page. If you make booklets, you'll make them as I just described, and still invite the child to extrapolate the rule (not necessarily the first time through, but they tend to be pretty quick with these).

How was the booklet made?
Take a regular sheet of printer paper (you don't want paper too thick for this or it won't fold right).
Fold it in half, unfold and fold it in half again the other way (making 4 section on your paper).
Now take the short side and fold it into the middle line; repeat with the other short side; unfold everything.
You should now have 8 sections - if you are holding the paper vertically (as if reading a printed letter), you will have 2 columns of 4 rectangles that are horizontal (longer than they are tall).
The tricky to describe part: see that long line you folded down the middle? On either side of that line are 4 pages; you are going cut ON that line just in the middle 2 section. So if you are still holding that paper vertically, your top row will be uncut, your bottom row will be uncut, but your middle 2 rows will be separated on the crease with a vertical cut.
Now fold the paper in half ON that line that you just cut. If done right, those middle pages want to "poof" out. Let them.

Ultimately you have 4 double-thick pages kind of in the shape of an x or a cross. Just fold them along their creases (don't create any new ones) and you have a book. I find I have to flip the pages around a couple of times to find the most "comfortable" fold so that nothing is sticking out at an odd angle.

Want a longer book? Make two or three of them, and glue them front to back. My son used two for his Singular and Plural Book.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Grammar Boxes - Objects

When doing the grammar boxes with your children, you want to have objects that match all the words in the boxes, so that the children can actually *bring* those objects - this is a movement work, not a sit-still-read-and-copy work.

Got a little boy? Legos work for a lot of the pieces!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Grammar Boxes without the Boxes

There was a time before we had the grammar boxes but my son was totally ready for them. 

I have NO images for what we did, but I can describe it! 

I took the images of the grammar boxes from photos taken when I was in classrooms. 

I then diagrammed them all onto posterboard (cardboard would have been better; covered with posterboard perhaps). I then cut little strips of cardboard to glue on as "edges". 

NOTE: the compartments were intentionally made just a bit wider than the cards, but not as tall, so that cards lay at an angle against the back edge. 

The back of each compartment was covered with an appropriately colored piece of construction paper (hint: don't use construction paper - it tends to FADE - I ultimately colored over each one with colored permanent marker). 

I then proceeded as usual with the presentations, except the cards were placed mostly flat within each "compartment" (leaning against the back "edge"). 

Interesting tidbit: the original grammar boxes as imaged in the Advanced Montessori Method book also do not have tilting insides. The compartments were vertical and the card fit in them such that they lay flat against the bottom of the box. If I were to make ours from wood, with my simple scroll saw, I would make ours similar, but with the compartments narrower from front to back, so that the cards tilt against the back of the compartment. I could have made them out of cardboard that way too - but had made the poster boards already; then was gifted with the modern style wood ones. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Grammar Boxes - Review

Just for kicks, my son and I are reviewing the earlier grammar boxes - mostly to check out the material I've recently developed, make sure there are no errors.

I figure we'll do videos of this work another time.

Even though I am *not* requiring him to bring each object for grammar box 2 (the first grammar box), he is bringing EVERYTHING! I actually told him to stop and he just really doesn't want to. He is giggling SO hard!

What a hoot!

he brought a box for the table, since we were working on the floor :)
Oh the humor of little boys!

(note: please ignore the colors of the cards - my printer is out of some colors and this is just review for my son - we're just assuring the proper words and sufficient amounts :) )

Keys of the Universe - Mother's Day Special

Ok, I have this idea worked out and I am happy to be able to offer it to everyone!

As a Mother's Day gift and preparation for the coming school year, I would like to offer anyone who has entered a Keys of the Universe giveaway on any site $15 off a new enrollment in the course, if they join before Tuesday May 15; and $10 off if they join before Saturday May 19.

8-month courses are $40/month - 16-month courses are $20/month - full-pay is $300.

All you'll need to do is go to, create a new account; then send me a message with the e-mail used on that account, which course you want to join (8-month, 16-month, or full-pay) and the location of your giveaway entry (only one gift allowed per person ). I will send an invoice for the adjusted amount and add them to the proper course manually.
OR you can send the proper amount to using Paypal, including a message with the location of your giveaway entry and which course you are joining; and I'll know to add you that way too 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Primary albums in our family

The primary albums I used for my son were my AMI primary albums in exercises of practical life, sensorial, language and mathematics. All the other subjects were interspersed into appropriate places therein (ie art was spread out, music, geography, botany, zoology - all was spread out in the appropriate subjects).

I am slowly adding these albums for sale at Keys of the World. While I found them complete in themselves, many people may like to use other albums available online for supplementing for interested children or just for another perspective.

While I am entirely sold on pure AMI for elementary, I feel there is more flexibility with the primary years. As long as the same topics are covered; a child is neither forced ahead and intentionally held back, most of the primary albums available are wonderful options. I'm just throwing my own into the mix for a good AMI balance. I will not be specifically providing online support for the primary albums, however most people reading this blog know that I am more than happy to be of service privately or at any of the online groups where we meet :)

TIP: No matter what albums you use, start with the theory album - at the appropriate level. It's the nitty-gritty and allows you to utilize ANY album in the proper manner. It's where the "real Montessori" is.

UPDATE: I have primary and elementary theory albums, as well as the elementary Biology album posted at Keys of the World. Online access and online support are available for the elementary albums at Keys of the Universe Course Access Site.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sneak Peek - Montessori Nuggets on Grammar Boxes

There is a series of Montessori Nuggets coming up on the grammar boxes.

The one I include here is not scheduled until June 9 - but I am fielding so many questions about this material, so thought I would share it here.

UPDATE: There is one coming up on June 9 but I have changed that upcoming Montessori Nugget to provide a more detailed *suggested* outline for presenting the grammar work (the entire "Parts of Speech" section of the elementary Montessori language album).

The original post:

The child in question is not my son - he is another little boy I once knew. My own son loves to do things sequentially, so wants to do all the grammar work grouped together as much as possible - so all noun/article; then all adjective. Now, he does plateau at times and we move on, returning at the appropriate time to review previous learning and build more on the nouns and verbs. (in the between times, he chooses the work for his own follow-up, so he is reviewing in between presentations; as well as participating in my large group presentations with the co-op children).

Homeschools will have to consider the best method of ongoing review for their particular situation. Classrooms have other children working on the material, so it is reviewed by mere observation and by jogging the child's memory - "ah yes, I remember working on that! that is the "past simple tense" work" - and this keeps review going by keeping it in the forefront of their minds.

Without further ado - the (original) June 9 Montessori Nugget:

There is no ONE proper sequence for presenting the Grammar work at elementary, except perhaps to do anything that kills interest ;)

The grammar boxes with all language work should be presented before the child's 9th birthday - this does NOT mean the children need to have mastered it all. It just means the child has other things that require grammar as a strong foundation.

But what about all those exercises? 

Well, "all those exercises" really refer to the noun and the verb. The remaining parts of speech (grammar boxes) do not have so many associated activities. And those exercises are mostly the *contents of the remaining filler boxes* - therefore can only come AFTER the grammar box has been presented.

While I have personally seen many Montessori schools presenting the grammar boxes in the 1st and 2nd years of elementary and I have not personally witnessed a new introduction of the grammar boxes in the 3rd year (unless the child is altogether new to Montessori elementary) and I have never seen the grammar boxes presented as the "capstone" of all grammar work, I do see these references online in various places - in charts and diagrams on how to present what/when.

That method might work too.

This Montessori Nugget is focused on two things: Follow the Child - and Have Fun.
Grammar is a fun game - keep it that way! :)

Let's take a look at one particular child:

He received all the grammar work at primary; he moves into elementary and has quick review with those parts of speech and even begins hearing the name of the part of speech. The noun activities by themselves do not have a grammar box (it would be grammar box 1 as the boxes are labeled by compartment number) - so this child moves right on to the article, where he may have an oral introduction to the noun, some noun activities, and then immediately do Grammar Box 2 on the article (which includes the oral introduction given in primary).

Now he MAY do some of the noun activities; but he needs time for them to percolate, so he goes on to the adjective (grammar box 3) before finishing all the noun activities.

He has an oral introduction (a review of what he learned in primary); does Grammar Box 3 with the first filler box; then proceeds through some of the associated activities; alternating between more noun work and more adjective work.

In the meantime, he is exploring the other parts of speech as well - like an introduction to the verb followed by that grammar box; then more review work; then another grammar box. And suddenly he does 3 grammar boxes in the same week and he's done with "new" presentations - now he just keeps working with the previous filler boxes (not all children need all filler boxes; but they tend to be fun enough for the children to WANT to do most of them - just don't require them to copy out the phrases).

This all happens rather quickly - within a few months at the most. And well-run Montessori classrooms have at least an introduction to every grammar box with some activities long before the end of the first school year the child is in elementary Montessori. With plenty of work left for review in the 2nd year. By the 3rd year, many children might have received everything; and those who haven't (because they have been focused elsewhere in their studies or are new) will receive the remainder. There is time for percolation, and those who are ready can move into logical analysis in usually their 3rd year, sometimes starting in 2nd year and some children not until 4th year of elementary.

And again - those later grammar boxes don't have as many associated activities; and some of those few activities are best done AFTER the grammar box presentation. So things DO move rather quickly as you reach the final grammar boxes (and again, there may be more activities in nouns and verbs even after a child has done ALL the grammar boxes).

A good deal of the verb work is intended for approximately 8-10 year olds - after they've worked with ALL the grammar boxes and are simultaneously working with the sentence/logical analysis material - it means more to them now as they are evaluating those different parts of speech, trying to classify them.

The grammar boxes and associated activities lay the foundation for further work in language analysis.

Language analysis extends the work of grammar into practical use.

I hope this is not overwhelming. The point is this:


Follow the child's interests and abilities. The child is using interjections and conjunctions every day, why wait until age 7 or 8 to introduce them? Why turn a fun interesting game (the grammar boxes) into a tedium of a series of exercises that may or may not be beneficial at this time (and can be harmful if it kills the child love of language study)?

Have fun with it! 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Short Division and Long Division with Racks and Tubes

In primary, we give the children short division on the racks and tubes (test tube division). They use just the units board, dividing a 7-digit dividend (into the MILLIONS!) by a 1-digit divisor. This would come after their experience with the wooden hierarchical material (golden beads on steroids - it goes into the millions!).

Children CRAVE big numbers - and using big numbers gives a great deal of repetition without it being a worksheet drill.

We write the problem in a linear fashion at this level. The focus is on the sensorial experience of short division. Only one board is used (for the 1-digit divisor).

When they have completed this work, they will have done
the equivalent of 6 division problems on a worksheet.
Except that sensorially, they understand the
concept on a much deeper level.
They are actually DOING the division.

In elementary, whether they have done that work or not, they move into the racks and tubes fairly early (assuming a mostly full primary experience), using a 4-digit or 5-digit dividend and a 2-digit divisor. They then  make up their own problems with as many digits in both dividend and divisor as the material allows (7 is the max for the dividend; 4 for the divisor).
  • They work with combinations of zeroes in various places. 
  • They record their answers in the proper places using long division notation. 
  • The slowly build up through a series of exercises to writing more steps on paper. 
  • Finally they do the work on paper and only check with the beads (usually somewhere between age 8 and 10). 

Some of my son's work when he first began this work at elementary:

8,492 / 34 

He then extended into his own problems, including 3-digit divisors and just being plain silly.

3,457,486 / 9 - just to prove to himself he could do short division. I modified one of the digits to be sure there would be no remainder (a great control of error in the beginning)

8,457,486 / 6 - just to use a similar number with fewer beads - it was a bit ungainly at first

9,999,999 / 99 - his first completely on his own (he was surprised at this answer!) - he only needed reminder where to place the answer; otherwise he covered all the steps himself.

7,657,776 / 214

8,222,743 / 1,234 

This was ONE afternoon, not even the entire afternoon. How many 1st grade worksheet problems is this equivalent to? For most curricula - NONE. They don't do division in 1st grade. But for the sake of counting it up anyway, I'm still not sure - how do you quantify the number of individual division problems in 8,222,743 / 1,234 - technically, there are 4 distribution steps, but over 4 boards each time. Essentially we are looking at 12 division problems, but there is also the sensorial understanding of how it all works that just doesn't come from facing a worksheet of repetitive math problems.

My son made these numbers up himself. They mean something to HIM. And in these 4 division problems he has covered the concepts of 3 years of division work by most curricula.

And that's only exercise 1. Follow-up exercises introduce the writing out of the problem in stages.


You can see a lot of my own writings - helping him to find a problem that had no remainder just for the sake of focusing on a different skill at that particular moment - choose your divisor and quotient and multiply them; this provides the dividend; just don't share the quotient with the child until they've discovered it themselves - for some children this is like MAGIC! It's a fun game to play - "I have written a number on this piece of paper, I wonder if you will get the same number if you divide out this really large number, but I'm not going to show you until you've done the work - we'll see if we get the same number!" (if the child makes an error in the beginning, ah well, the numbers don't work and the magic wasn't active that day) :)

This work brought a lot of joy on an otherwise very rotten day. Who'd've thought that long division brings JOY!? :) This was big work, it was meaningful (he turned it into food distribution for a king whose populace were facing a drought and had to come to the king for a fair amount of food), it was long, it was challenging, but he was ready and capable. He was playing a game with numbers and finding some patterns.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why is Elementary Montessori Less Popular?

Short answer: it's less "available" on the blogosphere; elementary Montessori homeschooling has been even more eschewed by Montessori trainers than primary; and the options available are overwhelming at best.

Something else that has been difficult to pinpoint: you canNOT DO Montessori in any subject without the theory behind it. 

You CAN DO Montessori without any subject albums, if you have all the theory. 

That is enough to ponder right there. Montessori is not a SUBJECT; it is not entirely a philosophy or even a methodology;
it is Education as an aid to LIFE.
Therefore, the theory is CRITICAL.

The following is MY personal experience. Your experience is just as valid, even if you have an entirely outcome than I do  :)

For families who did primary and consider doing elementary, but choose against it:
  • theory albums are not readily available for either age; nor are they encouraged as much as they should be
  • primary was overwhelming enough - all those materials, and all those differences available online (which one should be chosen for any given family? too many questions!)
  • again on the materials (few parents realize elementary has FEWER materials; and the CHILDREN can help create them! Indeed many materials the children SHOULD be making, especially if they are homeschooled - there are far too many elementary materials available for sale that are not necessary to be "sold" -- and many materials available for sale are more follow-ups, for interested children, and are not going to be for "every" child). 
  • there are few/no "state expectations" for preschool/kindergarten, so parents feel freer
  • parents always intended to send their children to a school environment in elementary, so elementary Montessori at home has never been on the radar
  • there are SO many options for (non-Montessori) elementary that all are quite enticing
  • there is a SEVERE imbalance on the amount of Montessori information - not just primary versus elementary; but AMS, AMI, etc. And with AMS being more open, AMI being so closed-mouthed, and bloggers/families making their own adaptations, it becomes difficult to see through the modifications (which are necessary!) to see what is actually the key presentation and what is follow-up, what is a particular child's interests, what is a particular region's educational requirements, what is a particular family's requirements. 
  • the elementary albums that are available are overwhelming all by themselves. Seriously, if *I* as a Montessori and CGS trained adult tried to use any other elementary albums with my own son, we would be doing nothing but my own requirements for him; his own interests would be seriously stifled and our enjoyment level would plummet. There is no way those other albums can be used when a family has children of other ages too, without a lot of things being lost (and sanity almost being the least important of the lost things) - time, quality, ability to take care of other household responsibilities, etc.
  • hence many people I've spoken to that started elementary OR just looked at the albums - and stopped - tell me it was too much. It was impossible for them to achieve. I can't disagree. 
  • AMI has been so close-mouthed about things, that Montessori has an unbalanced appearance out "in the world" - I am not opposed to other ways of doing the same way, I am just opposed to the lack of balance. 
  • interesting tidbit: elementary Montessori covers 6 years - and should not be arbitrarily divided into 6-9 and 9-12, because then we are trying "finish" something before going into upper elementary that is actually a continuation and a deepening of 6-9 - not a BREAK - but a CONNECTION. Any given presentation is not upper or lower elementary. There may be logical times, but if a child gets it early or late - SO WHAT!? FOLLOW THE CHILD
  • The albums I tried to use previously; the samples I can access now; the pages that people share with me asking my thoughts/feedback - they are all overwhelming, detailed to the point of "hole-in-the-head" syndrome for both the kids and the adults.
  • I've seen others that are just too plain. Not enough to even spark a kindling of interest. And/or they don't provide all the necessary subjects. 
  • Few know how truly FREEING Montessori at elementary can and SHOULD be. 

So call me Goldilocks ;) I've got to have it just right, or I am NOT doing it in my home with my son or with any of the children I teach.

My motivating factor for offering my albums to the public:
  • yes, families of all shapes and sizes CAN do elementary Montessori. 
  • the curriculum is not intended to be overwhelming, but FREEING (AMI albums provide this - I have not yet seen ONE elementary album that provided this freedom, without a serious dumbing down of the material or cutting out critical presentations, while leaving a lot of the "extras" from other albums). If you have one that is perfect in this regard, I am very happy to peruse it and will happily point it out as a suitable option. 
  • my own experience has been that we use those other albums for particular follow-ups, but if I didn't have them, we would find other sources for the same information. 
  • the children should be working to both outside expectations AND their own interests, developing research skills, analytical skills, relationship skills, and more, along the way. Not following any one curriculum to a T and leaving it there
  • AMI albums (this is my favorite part of them!) allows us to provide the KEYS; then utilize ANY other resource that fits with our learning at any given time - that includes methodologies like Charlotte Mason and living books and nature walks, particular textbooks, time to do endless science experiments/demonstrations, add in Living Math books and games, whatever we NEED at the time. 
  • When I tried to use other albums, I hit a brick wall. I hit it hard and fast, just like some other families. I almost burned out. 
  • I want to share the JOY and the FREEDOM of elementary Montessori. 

Here is a key my child. What door would you like to open? Oh, you would like to save that one for another time? Ok. Ah! That is the key you would like to use! This key opens these doors - which one shall we start with? 

And we are off on our journey. 

Here is a key my child (a new presentation for which they are academically ready - straight from a keys-based album).

What door would you like to open? (follow-up work - can use any resource, including other albums, books, videos, Goings Out, visitors, etc)

Oh, you would like to save that one for another time? Ok. (they've done some follow-up or not; fulfilled any requirements; the interest just isn't there, or they have an idea for something but would like to finish up some other project first).

Ah! That is the key you would like to use! (they have an expressed interest)

This key opens these doors - which one shall we start with? (you provide the guidance as needed, but are ever-developing the child's own planning skills; you provide requirements as needed for family/state requirements, but the child does most of the planning and the material creation). 

And we are off on our journey. (Freedom, responsibility, cosmic education, living life together, joy)

Is this why you are interested in Montessori? For the freedom? For the JOY? 

It IS possible!

Pick up a proper theory album for the elementary age - the FULL elementary age. You don't need materials to make it happen! I promise!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Our Journey to Reading

What did we use for learning to read?

The longer post: ;) 

I originally found the pink/blue/green series before I went to AMI primary Montessori training. I printed out all the cards from a site that offered them for free (thank you to all you WONDERFUL resource providers out there! low-cost or free - I owe each of you so much!). I had some instructions for their use and several blogs and sites with further ideas; but since I couldn't combine that information with anything in any of Montessori's writings, or any other Montessori-topic books I could purchase at the time, I was LOST. It just didn't connect with any Montessori experience I'd had and I didn't have a chance during that time period to get into a school to see what it was I missing.

So I took the printed words and sorted them out by the lessons I did have in books like The Advanced Montessori Method - and tried to adapt them to fit what I could grasp at the time.

It worked, but I still found myself combining it with learning-to-read series like Catholic Heritage Curricula's Little Stories for Little Folks, graded readers and other non-Montessori reading lessons. I was not entirely satisfied. And I was SO looking forward to learning to use the "real Montessori learning-to-read materials (aka pink/blue/green series)" when I got to primary training.

Was I in for a shock!? They didn't have it! NO pink/blue/green!? I asked about it and my trainer said, "Well, I have looked into it and considered how to use it within our environments, but we find it to be too curriculum-like, too scheduled, too much for the child; therefore too slow and inappropriate." Well, that explains why it wasn't in any of the writings I'd read - because Maria didn't develop it! It was developed later to deal with our English language rules; and AMI considered it and passed it by. Interesting.

I couldn't discuss it in detail with her to get more specifics, because I still didn't have much experience with it at the time. And I had to set it aside because AMI training is intense (and I was a single mom and working part-time at my son's school). What I DID discover while I was in training is that my daycare children had received from me something that looked VERY much like the AMI layout for reading. Both my methodology and Montessori's methodology as laid out in the AMI albums were based on careful observation, providing the keys, and providing real life experience - no dumbing down, no graded stages.

So where did things go askew with my own son? ;)

My son followed the AMI way perfectly his first year in primary. He began reading (and writing) at home and at school, until a little girl told him, "You can't read; I'll read this book for you." She was playing around, he took her seriously. And told me at home, "I can't read yet." Uphill battle until the following summer we worked through some of the issues and he was reading again.

The following school year, we were far away from any Montessori school and he was attending a part-time very non-Montessori preschool. The children LOVED that he could read to them. Until one girl said, "We're not supposed to read until we're in Kindergarten!" So he told me just that line at home (he did not know I was in the room next door to the preschool and heard the whole interaction). We spent Thanksgiving RE-training his confidence. But it just didn't really pick up again.

We started again that summer just after he turned 5. He was picking it up. Then for 2 1/2 months he attended a lovely AMS Montessori school that used a very nice combination of reading strategies, but my son's confidence was shot at this point, so he would do the minimum requirements for the day and no more - he was busy in other areas. When we were back home full-time and I was actually home with him full-time, we delved into the reading sequence, starting at the beginning of the AMI language album.

There were some struggles - because he was honestly far beyond the work I was presenting; but his confidence and BELIEF in himself needed to be nurtured, as well as conquering his insistence that he would not be "ready for Kindergarten until I'm 9 or 10" (a bit of confusion set in when the one girl told him that children don't read until kindergarten). Yes, he told me that when I told him he would be starting Kindergarten at the one Montessori school. He has his hand up, palm-forward, and everything - so serious! Speaking to me like I was the child! Well, he got over that in a hurry!

The first "book" he truly read independently at this time was not a booklet from any of the reading activities (AMI, Dwyer, etc.), but it was the first of the Biological Classification booklets - about living and non-living matter - he just went in to his room (the school room was in his bedroom), picked it up and started reading it. Prior to this, during his bouts of reading, he had made up some words as he went along, but it always sounded good, even if not correct. The story or narration made sense. But now he was really reading! Word for word, entirely accurate! And it wasn't lesson time!
(interestingly enough, his "mis-read" words from before not only made sense in context but were ALWAYS a synonym-of-sorts of the same word - so he would exchange feline for cat; God for Jesus; Jesus' mother for Mary; fled instead of ran; leap instead of jump - usually using the more "complicated" version of the word - this was EVERY TIME he mis-read a word --- clearly he could truly read the words in his mind).

But by January of that school year, the frustration level was high, because he just kept having an attitude about "I can't read" (even when he was!); attitude was a serious issue. Then he really wanted to read Magic Tree House and I kept holding him back, because I wanted him to be successful with them (and I didn't like them to begin with). And the attitude continued, until finally I said (not so nicely, I must be humble and admit), "Fine. You may read one chapter. You may not ask me for pronunciation, you may not ask me for help. If you want to read any additional chapters you will need to work through x-amount (I actually specified at the time) of the other work, including y-number of the booklets."

He took the book into his room and I sat in the living room wondering if I was really cut out for this. Whatever "this" is.

He read his chapter.

He calmly returned to me and requested the next booklet. He completed the expectations I laid for him. He read the next chapter. Within 48 hours, he had finished the book and 4 months of typical language album work.

After finishing everything else in the primary album over the course of the next week, he picked up The Oz Chronicles Volume 1 (set of 7 Land of Oz stories written by L Frank Baum - 5th grade reading level - NOT the paperback Oz Chronicles you might find on Amazon). And ate it up.

He then proceeded through the Narnia series.

He then read through a pile of books I can't even list.

And 2 1/2 years later - he hasn't STOPPED. At last "testing" he was reading at an 8th grade level.

For his 6th birthday, just a couple of months after bursting into reading, he received a set of "readers" from 2 friends of his, that were far below his reading level (they'd read them at age 7 so thought they'd be at his reading level ;) they meant well! and the stories were lovely! But the readers were read in a matter of an hour or so). 

This experience is typical. Children who learn to read the Montessori way, will READ. There aren't levels; there aren't experiential steps; they just READ. They need some additional cues now and again in specific areas, but when they start to read, they READ. This happened with my daycare children, my tutoring children, other children I've worked with; it happens throughout Montessori's books and books about Montessori. They go from no reading level to 3rd grade in less than a week or two; then steadily increase from there.

Mama's lesson learned: don't hold them back. Yes, build the foundation; but don't let strife enter into the picture. BEFORE strife sets in, allow them to move forward while making an agreement of continuing to build the foundation.

LESSON FOR EVERYONE: do not make the child read the words aloud until they are ready. There are times it is natural to read the words aloud (phonetic object box, the child will end up saying the name of the item while placing the ticket with the object, for example), but even then, the child has "read" the word in his mind at least a few times before saying it.

If I had it to do all over again, I would utilize the AMI sequence to a T, supplementing only with the Little Stories for Little Folks because of our family's faith, OR (with other children) utilizing a series of books I need to re-find. One Montessori school I worked at had them, and they are the perfect supplement for those who need the "comfort" of a graded reader without unduly burdening the child. I'll post them here if and when I find them!

Now the main point is not for the child to parrot back the story; but to have a logical discussion about it. They should be able to not only tell what happened, but think through the story or the reading - how does this apply to another experience, or what can we learn from it, or how was it interesting/boring/funny/mind-boggling.
  • When children are free-reading, we let them just read; but bring up something from the book in a casual conversation at another time. 
  • Use sentences and phrases from their reading selections when doing language work (sentence/reading/logical analysis, etc)
  • Use artwork in other ways throughout the room - bring out materials to create a particular art form seen in a book. 
  • Experience something in the book (does it have a new food? Redwall books are GREAT for that!)
  • Talk about the author and his style. 
  • Etc. etc. etc. 
  • Keep it natural and integrated into the rest of life. 

Now the funny thing is, he loves to read the Clifford books at the library. Right now, he has taken a break from his bird studies (he drew out some birds he saw, brought the drawings and notes to the library to use bird books to identify their names, what they eat, and types of nests; wrote up some charts on them - some serious deep work), and why take a break from such excellent work? to read Clifford's Christmas. It's "candy" - it's a fun break ;) And he's elementary so I don't have to worry he's going to confuse reality with fiction (no dogs bigger than human houses around here!). I just think it's funny that my 8 year old wants to read Clifford books. 


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Celestial Almanack - AVAILABLE NOW

Celestial Almanack is available for this month!

I've posted about it before - it continues to be a fantastic resource for us as we study the day and night sky, explore the world and universe Montessori-style and just plain have fun with learning something our ancestors knew intuitively.

Perfect Montessori astronomy - multi-age, minimal equipment except one's own capacities, pertinent to the current time, yet entirely timeless.

Just like Montessori history and the way we present everything in stories, this astronomy resource helps connect us with our ancestors' knowledge of the cosmos as they could experience it; as they LIVED it. It gets reconnected back to something that has played not just an important role, but sometimes THE foundational role in historical events and ways of life of humankind.

No equipment is needed for most things, though binoculars and eclipse shades come in handy; the author also sells eclipse shades (MAY 20!!!!), a homeschool curriculum text, storybook, moon chart and more at

Unfortunately, production of the almanack will cease after June, so get the current and back issues while you can over at CurrClick - the sole distributor of the Celestial Almanack.

Don't have an account with CurrClick?
Perhaps if CurrClick didn't charge so much for selling items on their site (30% or so for being the sole distributor, they keep something like 60% of the sale price if they are NOT the sole distributor), the author of the Celestial Almanack could have utilized a wider variety of outlets, gained a wider audience, and made his time more worth it - he works full-time and needs time with his family too. In any case, setting up an account is easy, very safe, you can use Paypal OR use your own credit card.

International addresses work out great - because it's all downloadable.

$3 for the current issue; $2 for back issues.

Get them now while you can - the information is timeless!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Learning to Read - Montessori

I've been asked a lot lately about learning to read the Montessori way.

Well, there are two lines you could follow (and could partly overlap) - I tried both and ended up sticking with just one. It was easier to choose one or the other ;) Besides, with Montessori, you provide the keys, the main tools, and then there is the rest of the world to explore based on particular needs, interests and temperaments, using whatever individual components of anything else that make sense, fit and enhance the provided keys.

We officially tried:
  • AMI (similar, not identical to Muriel-Dwyer)
  • Pink/Blue/Green/Purple
and dabbled in others, including non-Montessori (this was a partial requirement, ie for my tutoring children).

Short post: We do not use the pink/blue/green (now purple too) series; my son never used it, though my daycare/tutoring children were my experiment with it. We used the AMI approach, which is more similar to Muriel-Dwyer but NOT identical, and we used the pink/blue/green cards in other ways.

The AMI way is a combination phonics/whole language that gets the children reading for real, very naturally. The lack of emphasis on 3 letter CVC words is FANTASTIC - as, if a child can read phonetically, he can read 10 letter phonetic words with the same ease as a 3-letter word. And once he knows some puzzle words - he is off and running!

I just could not wrap myself around the pink/blue/green/purple series. I do have some album pages now (thank you to the kind soul who shared them with me :) ), but I've not had a chance to really comb through them as carefully as I would like.

Now, I want to be clear - I am SURE it works for others. I think it is SO widely known because of AMS and other Montessori groups utilizing and promoting it. I am SURE it works! It just didn't fit for us, specifically me ;)  For ME, I have to agree with my trainer on this one, now that I'm further down the line (see tomorrow's post!).

Ginni Sacket has a GREAT series of YouTube videos that lead from the beginning activities for language into the first activity with the phonetic object box when the child makes the realization that he can read. I wish it went further than that, but I LOVE the content of these videos.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Further thoughts on Cursive

I've been asked about cursive in many places of late. While I have upcoming Montessori Nuggets on the topic, I thought I would share some of my own personal thoughts here. Yes, you may translate that phrase as "soap box." I won't judge your choices if you won't judge mine. I just ask that you hear me out. :)

My son just turned 8. In a regular school, he would be entering 3rd grade this coming fall. In our area, 2nd graders in their 2nd semester start learning cursive. It is a big milestone for the children.

The teachers also complain that academic work in other areas drops. Drastically.

Some random thoughts - in no particular order - hence random:

  • my son has been writing in cursive since age 4; yes we had some print experiences in there too (see Adventures in Writing)
  • by 5 1/2 he could write anything in cursive; he just didn't; I continued to state "I'd prefer cursive and soon it will be a requirement" - one day he just started doing it - and has never gone back. 
  • In January of last year, the 2nd graders (a year older than my son) in his atrium class were just starting cursive and writing on the chalkboard in the atrium. They were still learning and the results were interesting and quite beautiful, if not entirely legible. I loved their enthusiasm! However, all the children were just amazed that my son could already write so well, without thinking about it. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, "I learned when I was ready." (can't improve on that answer!)
  • During that time of learning to write, he was in the strongest part of the sensitive period for language. While we were towards the end of the part when re-focusing on the cursive, we were still able to utilize it. 
  • Older children just don't have that sensitive period. 
  • Maria Montessori worried about teaching the children print (she'd taught them cursive first). Then they started reading Gothic words on the calendar. They taught themselves print
  • If she stopped worrying, why should I worry?
  • Since children are in a sensitive period, their interest and focus is right there; they learn easily in a form of writing that comes naturally anyway (curved lines allowing a variation of creation, versus straight lines being a standard of perfection that is hard to achieve). 
  • Again, they learn easily - thus it doesn't take away from their other learning. 
  • But in 2nd grade, it DOES take away from their other learning - because they have to consciously RE-learn everything know, RE-learn a natural instinct that was trained OUT of them in kindergarten and 1st grade (and preschool if they went). 
  • Print is everywhere - but that does not mean I need to dumb down my handwriting for my child. I do NOT dumb down my vocabulary - why would I dumb down the handwriting? 
  • Print is everywhere - more so than in Montessori's time - and the children figured it out all on their own then. Since my son was writing in capital block letters at 3 1/2 (noone taught him, except perhaps the keys on that laptop that Grandma gave him ;) ), it would seem that print is prevalent enough to be learned by anyone at any time. Why spend time teaching it? Time that is best served elsewhere? Like making cookies with my son. 
  • we have to print on forms. Ok. Fine. But we don't fill out forms all day every day. We DO write grocery and to-do lists, letters to friends (e-mails aren't even printed - they're TYPED), thank you cards, all the copy-work my son does, etc. 

And this list doesn't touch the practical reasons of cursive such as assistance with dyslexia, spacing of words, understanding of concepts of words (a word is connected as a single unit), etc. This list only touches on some of the thoughts running through my mind for OUR situation. 

Is it the end of the world if your child learned print first? No! 

But how much more wonderful use of their time to teach cursive first and not bother to teach print at all (since it just comes). 

Ok. So I know at least one reader of this blog will be thinking "why should we *teach* cursive at all if print is so much easier?"
  • cursive is for writing; print is for reading (we type print for books and computers; original printing press wasn't for handwritten books)
  • cursive is actually EASIER at the primary age compared to print because children naturally curve their lines. Straight lines are perfection; variations on a curved line become an art form.
  • Cursive is an art form. It is beauty. It is individual. It is expressive. 
  • Print is actually harder to teach at the primary age, dyslexia or not. 
  • Kids with dyslexia NEED cursive writing to help with the orientation of letters, groupings of words, and general confidence building. 

I hope this information helps! Or at least provides food for thought!