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, September 27, 2012

Fiction versus Fantasy - Thoughts

It can be so hard for a family coming into Montessori yet wanting to provide the stories they had as a child: Beatrix Potter, fairy tales, and more.... Then we discover that Montessori is heavy-handed about "only reality" for the first plane of development, ages 0-6.

Here are some thoughts and experiences from a recent post I made on a Montessori group. Just random thoughts concerning our experience. I am happy to share more details and answer specific details :)

I personally and Montessori-wise hesitate to suggest any titles of the particular sort you request, because my own experience as well as the Montessori "way" is to build a very strong foundation on reality at this age. 

This (strong!) foundation in reality provides fodder for the greatest of imaginations in the elementary years. They can understand timelines, grasp the concept of ancient times and future years, with an intensity those of us who lived in a fantasy world in our primary years can never fully grasp. When a child know what is reality, what is possible; and in elementary years begins to see that all is not well with the world, by adolescent years, the child can fathom great but realistic plans for DOING something about it. There is a JOY in delving into moral tales and imaginative tales in the elementary years, and a TRUE HOPE that carries them through the adolescent  years, sometimes already truly DOING BIG THINGS. 
(sorry all caps - it is for very heavy emphasis ;) ). 

If we give too much fantasy before age 6, that JOY, that HOPE... is gone before it starts. Yes, it can be inflamed to a point (and should be whenever and wherever possible! it's not ALL lost), but the intensity is gone. The depth.

Look at our world of teenagers living in fantasy worlds that are self-destructive, because they didn't get a strong foundation in reality in their primary years. Do we want that for our own children? Really? 

I have personally found that when children are only exposed to reality during this precious first plane of development, they are ready to delve into stories with talking animals, bears on bikes, etc. around age 5 (even earlier than the official "end" of the first plane of development); however, when you wait to expose the world of pure fantasy to them until at least 5 1/2, you will find an intense love, an intense JOY, they will not be calling Beatrix Potter stories "baby books" - instead, they will be delving into them wholeheartedly and with true JOY.

The child can then delve into fairy tales (which are actually "moral tales" - intended to teach right from wrong in a strong-image-based way - not just to "entertain") on the level the stories were intended.

For example, my son right now LOVES to explore fairy tales - he is a healthy, normal 8 year old boy - yet all those fairy tales that his friends call "girl stories" or "baby stories", he an tell them about the knights, the fighting, the red-hot-iron shoes and the birds pecking out evil stepmothers eyes - and he can explore the question of "what if" these characters came to life today; what if someone we know is living the Cinderella life (before she became princess) - there are no fairy godmothers, but what can WE do to help? 

All of this because he had a STRONG foundation of reality. He can truly just ENJOY the tale without wondering about the possibility of magic ruining his life or unnaturally helping it thus that he owes a debt to it (Rumpelstiltskin). He also learns moral lessons on debts, on black magic (which is real), on attitudes towards others, on maintaining hope, on making the choice to help others in need, etc. etc. etc. THESE are the lessons of fairy tales and his male friends who have lost that, are starting to get a taste of the depth of these stories from my son telling them about it in a way they never thought possible.

And he can ENJOY all those books about animals doing human things, although he wishes some of them were written with the vocabulary of an elementary child. 

We CAN give fiction in the first plane - but realistic fiction. Something that could actually happen. While a child who has had lots of fantasy fiction can verbally tell you it's real or not real, in fact, they are still confused in their minds; little girls starting watching for their fairy godmothers or for a prince to "save them", they worry about curses being placed them; little boys also worry about these curses as well developing unnecessary fears of things in the dark, when we want to build them strong to face those fears.

Now - will little boys fight dragons even if they've never heard of them? YOU BET! There is something in the human memory about some sort of creature of this type. And THAT is fine! But magic swords are not yet appropriate for the first plane child (0-6). Wait until age 5 1/2 at least and watch how deep it goes! It IS amazing!

And do I WANT my son to fight dragons??? YES! I want him to recognize those dragons for what they are in the "real" world and fight them whole-heartedly, with confidence, a humble fear that keeps him prudent in choices, and LOVE.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

Wow. I am still in shock.

As I reflect on the letter I received today (I am typing this on Friday afternoon), I thought I'd share some thoughts that answer some private questions I receive from time to time.

Basically, these questions center around the relationship between Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and Montessori education - for US. In OUR family.

Altar Cloth and Linens - Click Image to Close

Quote from the acceptance letter:
"With your great Montessori background, it's easy to want to include many wonderful materials in the atrium, but especially in an atrium used for training, we need to be true to Sofia and Gianna's understanding of the essential."

I appreciate what is said here, but I have some concerns as well.

  • I came to Montessori THROUGH Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Yes, I found Montessori first, but I had levels 1 and 2 formation in CGS before I went to AMI primary Montessori training. The above statement makes it sound as if Montessori came first. Then level 3 CGS and elementary Montessori training overlapped. 
  • AMI is foundational. It does not participate in "fluff" and it too focuses on the essentials. 
  • I have full respect for Sofia and Gianna, and I have equal respect for Maria Montessori. All three ladies focused on the essential with the children, yet Sofia and Gianna's work was founded on Maria Montessori's work. This is getting a bit into the chicken/egg syndrome, so the main point is that we canNOT separate the Montessori method from CGS without losing KEY QUALITIES. 
  • Many of those foundational Montessori principles that are given in CGS formation courses (silence game, walking on the line) are losing their strength in the passing from one adult to the next. But when such exercises are fully present in the atrium, you find children who are centered (normalized), at peace, and working deeply. 
  • For me personally, CGS informs my application of the Montessori method in the academics far more than Montessori affects my CGS work in the realm of faith formation. I am not necessarily taking the above comment personally, but I do feel it is a blanket statement that reflects a division between the two rather than a recognition of CGS's roots in Montessori - the condition of the roots reveals the condition of the potential flowering. 

Some interesting tidbits on the relationship between CGS and academic Montessori - or how Montessori can and SHOULD apply to CGS:

  • Walking on the line and the silence activity are being watered down in CGS and the fruits are not forthcoming. These are *essential* Montessori principles that CGS needs to hold onto tightly, or it will become simply a mental exercise in religious education, such as Godly Play has become. 
  • Evolution and Age of the Earth: The academic materials that inspired such level 2 works as the Fettuccia and Blue Unity and History of the Gifts - has NO MENTION of the specific number of years since the birth of the Earth.  Yet originally these CGS materials were made to represent a certain number of years and specifically TAUGHT evolution. I will not get into evolution versus creationism vs something in-between here. I will simply state that it is NOT the place of the atrium to get into this topic either. The atrium's place is to emphasize that God created the world and provided these gifts without mention of length of time. Let the children's imaginations, their schools and parents work it out. These modifications were finally made, but only after the Montessori community looked even further down on CGS for even trying to say that a rib on the grosgrain indicates 1,000 years - pure Montessori has no such material, neither should the atrium. 
  • I have had SO MANY children struggle with the concept of going from a globe to this flat map of Israel, with little to no connection to where we are now (other than on the globe). This is an area that CGS atriums should be introducing a brief preliminary geography material. Starting with the globe, then a round ball of clay, cutting the clay into two (hemispheres) and rolling them flat to show the two halves of the earth on a flat surface; then showing the puzzle map of the world, with Israel and the atrium's locations marked. 
  • We have Exercises of Practical Life in the atrium, but so many catechists are NOT focused on the Montessori essentials and they introduce "fluff" into the EPL area, at the same time they ignore what is most essential. Yes, the children need EPL. It fulfills developmental needs that allows the catechist to then get into the theological presentations. HOWEVER, transferring puff balls from one bowl to another is not necessary in the atrium, unless you have the children using tongs to get fresh cotton balls for the polishing work. 
The tray on the left should be glass
or hard plastic; I was using it elsewhere
the day this photo was taken. 
  • Polishing: I have personally streamlined my AMI album pages on glass, metal and wood polishing, so that ONE presentation can be given and the child now has all the polishing available to work on. The only differences are the actual polishes in the bottles, the type of tray, the ring and the dish for the polish and cotton ball - designed to indicate what that polish is to be used for. 
  • There are a few ways that the Exercises of Practical Life within the atrium can be freshened up, so as to focus on the essentials, while meeting children's developmental needs, and leading more fully into the life of the atrium, the family and the church. 
  • Last EPL thought: consider how the children are to be responsible for the atrium and the church; provide those materials (polishing, flower arranging, cleaning, sweeping, folding cloths (ie for the altar)). Consider what preliminary work they need in order to accomplish those works (eyedropper transfer for polishing, introductory cloth folding, carrying trays and mats). If you need a few more preliminaries at the beginning of the year, fine! Then pull them out by the second month of atrium so the children are not matching colors or transferring puff balls all year when they have other work that more fully meets their developmental needs. 
  • Language: Some people add far more 3-part and 4-part cards than are entirely necessary. I fully agree with CGS's current materials manuals in how much they provide, with one exception: it is nice to have the 3-part cards for the cities of Israel for the level 1 children. But I have seen some people go much, much further and label *everything*. It gets to be too much. 
  • Summary: So in many areas, the Montessori influence is not balanced. Too much or too little and both to the detriment of the potential of the album. 

In all other aspects, CGS is separate from the academic Montessori, which includes something good and beautiful (we call it Cosmic Education ;) ), but is separate from CGS in that Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is theology at its richest and deepest. 

I recognize what I would be doing in a formation course; but I wonder how I would go about assuring that stronger, balanced Montessori foundation. 

Again, though, CGS has impacted how I do the academic portion of Montessori far more than my Montessori background will ever impact CGS. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Montessori Albums - Part 2

My last post got so wordy!

I wanted to answer some questions about the AMI Montessori albums I use, and offer for sale, but from the perspective of being a mom, a homeschooling parent, a Montessori homeschool co-op teacher, and not just a Montessori teacher or seller of albums.

I USE these albums. In their entirety. Yes there is one area I am saving for upper elementary (discussion of evolution), but that is a personal family choice; within the albums I sell, everything is left where it belongs from AMI training.
  • I have provided minor adaptations to improve continuity. 
  • I am adding a small astronomy album. 
  • I am fleshing out the art section so that it is more clear what the expectations are. 
  • I am looking at typical state standards and trying to tag where the most pertinent "hidden" presentations might be (i.e. graphing starts in geography, not in math)

I have had one person tell me that the albums have been dumbed-down for homeschoolers - this is simply not true. The entire main content is straight from my training, what I submitted for album review, what was returned to me with comments, the changes I made in response to those comments and instructor requirements and what I received in final album checks - within the context of AMI training. All I have done is correct typos, write out material descriptions more clearly, change a few sentences in the elementary language album (there was a solid week where almost all sample sentences used in my training had references to alcohol (long story) - I do NOT find these appropriate to have within albums that you will use to present to children, even if you do not use THAT sample sentence. My son READS my albums from time to time - my albums are intended to guide me in presenting materials to children. (my last post mentioned by abhorrent feelings towards my particular elementary training). Stepping off that soapbox.)

The point is, I have made minor modifications to the album pages themselves. I did add a substantial number of references for quotes and statistics noted in the introductions and theory albums. These items make the material at hand meatier than what I received in training, not less. I have not chosen just my favorite album pages or presentations - I have included EVERYTHING, in its purest form, so that *you* and *your family* can choose to make the modifications (or none) that *you* see fit.

UPDATED 2/1/13 - for the accusation of 'dumbing down,' it is interesting how many errors I still find with ALL those album checks. Including a safety error in the geography album (which has now been corrected). Indeed, the albums are much more academically sound, professional appearance and still open to further clarity.

I also use these albums to tutor other children. When I have been in schools, these are the albums I use. I *rarely* need to go elsewhere for alternate album pages, although the temptation is always there ;) Why don't I need to? Because the children's interests are enticed to explore on their own - and the children have TIME - and they end up studying all the areas I would have pulled in something from another album anyway.  or they go so far beyond the album, that I have little to do myself ;) (haha like a homeschool mom, CGS formation leader, atrium and co-op teacher, who also runs two businesses from her home as "little" to do!).
For example, my son is studying a high school geometry book right now (another post).

So yes, these albums are usable in a homeschool setting, though designed for classroom use. Does that mean they are perfect? Not a chance! But I do have a fantastic group of ladies online and a couple of local families that report any discrepancies to me, so that they will be one of the best options available for homeschool families. I also provide online support via e-mail or online discussion board. And I am slowly but surely adding in a few components that others have found truly necessary to pull from other albums. These sections I am writing myself in the same format as the rest of the album, so that they are as comprehensive as possible while still maintaining the "foundation and framework" structure that makes them so perfect for my own family.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Keys of the Universe and Keys of the World - Montessori Albums

I'd like to speak on a business-related topic, but as a mom/teacher/catechist/homeschool-mom - not necessarily in that order!

What is the story behind Keys of the Universe and Keys of the World? In a nutshell.....

Keys of the World albums are my AMI primary albums, with very minor modifications; they cover ages 2 1/2-6. Eventually, I would like to fine-tune these albums more specifically for homeschool purposes, but for now, they are pretty much what I created in my AMI Montessori training and are still quite useful for homeschooling purposes. I LOVED this training!

Keys of the Universe albums are my AMI elementary albums; they cover ages 6-12; I created 75% of the current content during training, with the remaining AMI portions filled in afterward. I offer online support for these albums and am currently revamping the certificate of completion requirements for those folks needing certificate. The certificate is not required; and the assignments are only required if you want the certificate (or for your own personal use). The albums themselves are available with or without the certificate.

There are portions that are NOT AMI contributions, but are my own creations specifically to smooth out the album pages or sections in areas where, frankly, AMI is a bit out of touch with reality. For example, one major section I am adding is a separate album just for Astronomy. It will be a thin album, designed to provide the basics and encourage the children in exploring their own interests. This is an area that AMI needs to update - when we have NASA screening candidates to make a 2-year visit to Mars, well... this is ONE area that could be refreshed.

I noted above that I loved my primary training - as much as I loved primary training, I abhorred elementary training at least twice as much. Not because of the content, which was great, but because of the instructors. Because of their verbal and emotional abuse of anyone who thought or lived differently from them. Because they could not accept that perhaps, if Dr. Montessori were alive today, she may have seen some things that even she didn't consider during her lifetime (astronomy for example, but also homeschooling, among others. I don't KNOW what she would have done, but I can rarely accept someone else telling me what she would have said - I do not idolize Maria Montessori - I respect her - therefore I will not pretend to know her mind). More on this last thought in another post.

I *firmly* believe that AMI offers the most foundational and pure Montessori principles of all options available; I firmly believe that AMI offers the best albums available today. They do not provide more than what you should present to most elementary children (there are some things in the math album that can be saved for adolescence if needed, that is the one exception; but only an exception because there are children who get to that work in elementary, thus you have everything you need for potential elementary topics); neither does AMI provide "fluff".
----I have seen albums that don't provide enough even for a framework. I mention to someone a (in my album) crucial exercise to a particular material and I get flabbergasted responses that, "I never knew that was an actual exercise for this work!"
----And albums with inappropriate work: the work extensions that are either not included where they should be, or "fluffy" extensions are included that seem like requirements when they should be marked as a child-thought-of extension (not an adult-directed activity) - another topic altogether ;) Even these extra things can be quite meaty - but if the children should have been guided there rather than having it handed to them... it becomes fluff.

But that does not mean AMI albums are "perfect" - my goal is to make them as homeschool-user-friendly as possible, without compromising one iota of what makes AMI albums so wonderful.

One of the best aspects of AMI Montessori albums? They provide a structure with the minimum amount of knowledge a child must learn, and leaves you with ideas, suggested resources and above all else TIME for the children to explore on their own - this self-exploration being a key point to Montessori education. Children MUST have this time; and albums that try to cram everything in, become quickly outdated, quickly and intensely overwhelming for the parent or teacher trying to cram everything in when some of that "everything" is frankly not even necessary for *every* child; not to mention that we want to entice interest, not dictate it.

Yes we have "assignments" (the work plan, with some teacher-directed work, mostly child-directed work, and some things from the local educational requirements); but we also have flexibility.

If I just present to my son at home the things in my albums, and leave him with time to explore on his own - I have done EVERYTHING I need to do academically.

BUT. I need the theory album to know everything to do - because the subject albums do not contain everything.

And I have room to pull in other resources as HE needs them, because the Montessori Method at the elementary level is very clear that neither the teacher nor the albums should provide everything for the child. We WANT them to explore, not be spoon-fed. Isn't that why we come to Montessori? ;)

So. Theory. Subject albums. Focus on the essentials. Provide TIME.

Recipe for success ;)

These AMI primary and elementary Montessori albums, combined (in our family) with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and our own personal selection of outside resources has provided wonderful fodder for a rich, sound childhood and family life.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Starting Montessori with a 2 year old

How to start Montessori with a 2 year old is a very popular question.

The Pink Panther at age 2
Regardless if you have been doing infant/toddler Montessori, the child will be transitioning into the primary age somewhere around 2 1/2 and you'll do the same things with the children regardless if they are new to Montessori or have had a Montessori environment already.

For a 2 year old, the best places to start are:

  • practical life
  • sensorial
  • language

Practical life:

You may or may not want an album right away for the Exercises of Practical Life. If you do, look for the following in the table of contents: preliminary, care of self, visual art, control of movement (walking on the line and the silence game), grace and courtesy, care of the environment. Interspersed are skills for food preparation, care of animals, etc.
Otherwise, just consider those areas and apply them to YOUR practical life :)

Introduce a new activity every couple of days in a variety of areas. These materials do not have to be fancy (ie learning to button might be a vest or jacket with large buttons, hung on a hanger such that it faces out towards the child - work with it on the hanger, or lay it on the floor or a low table to work with; teach the skill of hanging hangers on the rack; shaking out small rugs (we have a rug in our home where shoes are placed when we come in - a small child can easily take that outside and shake it out - even take some muddy shoes and knock them together outside to get mud off)).

The main thing in practical life is: keep it REAL. You might have a few trays of sample skills to practice, but keep the it REAL. A real banana to slice (not a wooden one with velcro - this can be kept in the toy area); real dishes to place on the table.

And you want to have practical life practice areas in their appropriate areas - in a classroom there is an EPL area; in the home, it is nicer to keep food in the kitchen; laundry folding where YOU do laundry folding; etc).

Sensorial: think textures, colors, sounds, etc. A good sensorial album for the primary age is good to get for age 2 1/2 and older - the very beginning work with the pink tower, color tablets, etc. can start with the 2 year old, but will also contain extensions for 5 and 6 year olds (see if you can check that part before making a purchase). The sensorial album should also include beginning music activities, so check for those in the table of contents.

Language: you want to work on real vocabulary and sound awareness. So you'll play sound games, listening for sounds at the start of words, end of words, and eventually the middle of words; play games like I Spy or very similar with objects around the room, the house, the yard, etc. First you will give the language in a 3 period lesson ( 1) give the name of 3 items 2) play games with asking the child to touch, move, hide under, hide it behind his back, etc. 3) when period 2 is successful (might be that day, at that sitting; might be another time), point to the object and say "What is this?" if period 2 is not successful, point to each object and say it's name - and be done for that sitting - come back to it later).

A language album is not necessary until age 3, but if you get one, be sure it lays a SOLID foundation of the sound games and spoken vocabulary building. The spoken language portion of the album is ALL you will need until age 3 1/2; then you will start introducing the sandpaper letters, etc.

If you start just those things at age 2, you will be laying a very strong foundation.

In the meantime, pick up a primary level theory album and Montessori's books for your own reading pleasure and to fully prepare for the primary ages of 3-6 :)

The not so Pink Panther;
with clean bed and wall behind him

Saturday, September 8, 2012

BC AD Timeline - some thoughts

As I was preparing a new BC AD timeline I had a few random thoughts - entirely random!

Making it: 
More images to come! 

  • This timeline is VERY SIMPLE. And should be kept that way so that is remains multi-purpose. I have seen several fancy (and therefore expensive or trickier to make) versions available. Bleck. Keep it simple! It can be made WHILE you are presenting for the first time! Measure out your white strip (ribbon, receipt tape, strips of white paper that you tape together as you go (this last idea would be the easiest for measuring if you are making it while presenting)). Start in the middle with the life of Christ. The year Zero is placed written in red - but see note below on color options. Make a vertical line above and below the zero. 
  • Now we start marking an inch back (or two inches back or whatever distance you ultimately want) for the first century before Christ. Mark the same length ahead for the first century after Christ. These are black vertical lines broken only by the number in the middle - 100, 200, etc. (choose if you want to have BC/AD repeated on each one but usually this would be a NO - too much of a crutch for the children). 
  • Continue with the second century before and the second century after. You are drawing vertical lines down to mark each century equal distance from the one you made before it. 
  • Ultimately we are going back the same length of time as we come forward, so that the timeline is balanced. 
  • Then go back to the red/gold zero - write in BC and AD in their appropriate places and explain what they mean.  

Modifying it: 

  • The 0 is the only writing in red because this is the hinge point. All other years are in black. BUT if you are making this material within a setting (homeschool or school) that is somehow connected with CGS atrium experience, I would consider writing the BC numbers in red; the 0 in gold; and the AD numbers in green (to coordinate with the Books of the Bible presentation of Old Testament and New Testament). 
  • Or if you are only loosely connected or not at all connected but are a family of Christian faith, then BC numbers could be purple (preparing for Christ), 0 in gold, and AD in green for the growth of Christ's light throughout the world since His resurrection. 
  • In the spaces thus created you could add "1st Century", "2nd Century", etc. I still would not add the "before Christ" or "after Christ" on the writing but would add that phrase in the SAYING. We want the visual to have the most power. 
  • ONE POSSIBLE ADDITION to the material that is actually quite useful: Adding in the Roman Numerals to represent the centuries (perhaps in place of the words "1st Century" etc from above). Alternatively, this could be a separate strip created to lay below the BC/AD timeline in coordinating length and segments (it too could be created while presenting). Second alternative: these could be on small cards that fit onto the original timeline and the children sort them out accordingly. (or combine both alternatives - set of cards to place and a second timeline to roll out to check their work)

Presenting it: 

  • If a child has been in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, this timeline could come much earlier. They have had experiences from a different angle - that of focusing on the life of Christ (the moment of Redemption) then extending out to the moments of Creation and Parousia. To a child with solid level 2 atrium experience, I would give this work at the middle or end of year 1. I wish I'd made that connection with my son already ;) 
  • This effect is possible with Godly Play but there are no timelines in Godly Play, so while the stories would fit into place on the BC/AD timeline, the visual hasn't already been there - this would be their first visual of it. 
  • It is ok to create this material while presenting it. Invite the child to make their own if you are in a co-op situation - they can take it home and expand upon it there. 

Follow-ups to the BC/AD Timeline will depend on the age and experience of the child: 
  • If you have story cards for pretty much anything (from the Montessori presentations, Godly Play, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Bible stories, world history stories, etc, etc) place them on the timeline in about the time they happened. See where things fall.
  • Do some mathematics word problems. How many years between 200 AD and 500 BC. If a building were started in 320 BC, could it have been completed *before* 350 BC? Older children get more detailed, with numbers more closely matching - trickier; younger children make it more obvious. Come back to it every year and expand. 
  • Upper elementary: This timeline and 99% of American society is based on this concept centering around the life of Christ. Now with older children explore other timelines with different resulting years - Chinese calendar, Jewish Calendar, Mayan Calendar, etc. What are their calendars centered around? Do they have a "before" anything aspect?
  • Sometime between 2nd and 5th year: explore the calendar updates - what changed in the AD portion that forced us to "lose" days - sometimes MONTHS depending on our location. 
  • This leads back into calendar study of course but gives it another perspective. 
  • Introduce CE and BCE (Common Era and Before Common Era) and the reasons why this notation was introduced. 
  • Be sure to emphasize there was life and history before the first timeline actually shown on the timeline, we are just showing here where our time markings came from. 
  • Work with the Roman Numerals as noted above. 

And yes this very simple timeline should be visited every year, with some sort of follow-up or discussion or word problem set with it.