Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Geometry Command Cards

Legoboy (new nickname for the blog ;) ) is working on the Geometry Command Cards, partially because he needs review on geometric concepts, partially because I need the materials checked before I offer them to others and partially so I can get some updated images to correct the incessantly annoying mathematics album files!

He is rushing through some of the work, but I thought I'd post some of it anyway :) 

Working on convergent and divergent lines: 

Reviewing the concept with the geometry sticks

parallel - the children are
neither happy nor sad
convergent - connecting of
paths - the children are SO happy!

divergent - paths are going two ways
the children are so sad!

Fast drawing the concept on paper
From a command card for "two lines"
note the opposite direction of the stick work
showing mastery of the concept in a different layout

ETA a link to the sample geometry command cards my son used above. These are also being added to the Keys of the Universe Geometry album, along with more advanced versions for older children. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Homemade Vanilla

The resident child (hehe) has been studying a bit about herbs of late. And it has been on our plans to make homemade vanilla extract for quite some time. 

Obviously, not something he can do on his own... He can cut the beans, he can drain the extra fluid, he can drop in the beans, label it all and seal it up, he can store it. 

But I had to make purchase. My first alcohol purchase of my life! The things we do for our children! It does seem ironic I just purchased an alcohol for my son, though! 
(for the record, I am not opposed to alcohol, I just don't tout it or drink very much, and I have not had a reason to purchase it before now.... wait.... when I lived in Belgium, I bought some wine to bring home to family, but that was a different culture - alcohol was out with the sodas!). 

Grandma was given this kind of rum/vanilla; and we
were so happy to find it stocked at Kroger.
It has fantastic flavor, so we are excited! 

The beans we purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs

We have the "1oz Vanilla Bean organic and fair trade" and it smells right! ;) I do wonder if we got quite the driest beans (apparently you are supposed to use grade B beans - but I also wanted fair trade, etc). These seemed more most than I anticipated. So we'll see. Either way, it will work from what all sources say - it's just a nuance ;)

He has been looking at the history of the use of vanilla - and true to Montessori style, we want to look at the PEOPLE involved. Most fascinating is that a 12 year old child worked out how to hand-pollinate the vanilla so that it could be grown outside of the Latin America countries. 

Forget gold and corn and other such things - the greatest gift that the Europeans found in the Americas: VANILLA! 

Ever had chocolate without it? 

We did! Never again, thank you! 

Vanilla brought chocolate to the impoverished Europeans! And now they make the best chocolate in the world. One plant changed the world! One little boy's discovery! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Practical Life in our Day: Mint

We are trying to be good stewards of the earth, while not letting the earth get in the way of the most important gift of human beings: relationship.

It is even better when the two are the same thing :)

In this case, we are growing mint in our living room. As it grows long, we trim it, hang it to dry, grind it up and make tea... and more... While it is drying (upside down so the oils flow back into the leaves, maximizing their potential), we have a beautiful decoration that makes our home, truly homey. Comforting. And there is a natural inclination towards being with one another in a cozy, homey home ;)

Once it is fully dried, we spend time together pulling the leaves off into a large bowl (easier to collect everything then, transfer in small quantities to the mortar and pestle). I bought a set of 3 of these on Amazon years back (affiliate link there) that have been simply fantastic!

The mint leaves are stored in a jar to use for making tea, or to add to our homemade toothpaste or anywhere else we need some mint flavoring.

That leaves the stems - which are fine for adding to the composting, but well, we have an interesting set up with our apartment management and mouse-traps get pricey when management does little to alleviate the issue. But fresh mint keeps them away.

My mother will cringe when she reads that I tuck these stems in all the places where the mice have been spotted. Despite her cringing, I can confidently report success (so far!) - ice-free and my home smells so nice! We freshen them up when we harvest new mint and THEN we compost the stems. There may be other purposes for them, but that is what we do for now :)

mint, dried, laying on the stove
because our counters were full at the time. 
grinding mint leaves with mortar and pestle

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Daily life Montessori style

I've received a few comments that I don't post much about my son's actual daily work and it would be nice to see how it all works together.

The trouble is - I don't monitor everything he does. I wish I could! But he has his work plan, his work journal, times to meet with me, and he does a LOT of independent researching; a LOT of building with Legos; a LOT of reading high-quality literature (re-reading Fellowship of the Ring as I type this); and as much snuggle time as we can get in. Within there somewhere are the Montessori math materials, the language materials and some geometry yet. But mostly at this point he is working with materials that are not specifically Montessori in nature, but are used in a Montessori way.

That is the result of a Montessori education ;)

We start with the Montessori materials and presentations and totally branch off from there.

For example, this past year we delved into the Montessori botany album heavily again, re-discovering eco-systems, parts of seeds and plants, classifying leaves, etc. A friend offered some space in his not-so-great-but-better-than-nothing-at-all garden space and we planted beans, broccoli, squash and watermelon. We didn't get much (in fact we got a bit more off our balcony space and that wasn't much either!) but it did provide lots of all-too-real lessons on sunlight, wind, soil, gravity and nutrients. We also had a variety of plant leaves to explore; flowers to dissect; unripened and underdeveloped fruit/vegetables to explore the various stages of growth (did you know certain squash, if under-developed, can be treated as though it were zucchini - just chop it up and add in with mixed vegetables where you would have zucchini. ???)

This same friend gave us some mint to grow in our home. Noone can kill mint. HAHA! I did! Three times over in fact! And then, suddenly, it lived! And we have had our own fresh mint tea for several months now! This, along with references to natural poultices in his literature as well as his Young Man's Handybook, led to some interest in plant usage for more than food and fun tea.

mint, dried, laying on the stove
because our counters were full at the time. 
grinding mint leaves with mortar and pestle

Somehow or another we discovered a children's herb book on Amazon. I finally purchased it and it arrived. My son was interested but not overly excited at the time of its arrival. Perhaps that is because the order also included the long-coveted Minotaurus Lego game ;)

But he did sit down to read it - and now he is devouring it! It is so nicely laid out for children, including silly songs, interesting information, decent size font, with non-cluttered pages.... recipes, remedies, history, and more; it even gets into the best materials to use for tea-making (earthenware and the like is best; stainless steel if metal must be used, but preferably not) and all the reasons why. It far exceeds my expectations! And he has started a list of herbs he wants to start growing this winter inside - just a few for the most important things.

He gets a kick out of this one:
He said to me, laughing,
"Just give me this when I start whining, Mama -
you'll never have a problem with me again!" ;) 

I could get used to this song ;) 

All this, from starting with the Biology album again!

So, in a nutshell what happens in elementary Montessori is that the albums are used heavily at first - but then you SHOULD BE MOVING AWAY from the albums. Mathematics is relatively continuous, but all the other albums keep moving away and coming back, moving away and coming back. The albums are touchstones to personal and practical research, daily learning and personal growth. We don't need an album presentation every single day, because we are taking advantage of a multitude of learning opportunities - branches off from the album presentations.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

American History

Now that my beautiful baby is a great big 8 year old, he is now responsible for meeting the 3rd grade requirements of the state in which we live.

Ok. Let's put it all out there: 
  • Our state's homeschool laws require "180 days attendance" starting at the 7th birthday if the child will be private schooled (homeschool here counts as a private school), or 180 days of instruction at a public school starting in the school year that a child turns 7. Public schools MUST follow the state standards. Private schools (including homeschools) do not. The state cannot impose such definitions. Neither can the state impose a definition of attendance on private schools; public schools can only count full days, half-days count for nothing. 
  • That's it - no reporting; no other record-keeping; NOTHING. And we can define our attendance - so 5 minutes counts. 
  • But *I* am a Montessorian, and just because the state doesn't care what we do, doesn't stop me from teaching my son to be a responsible citizen. And part of that is following the Montessori practice of introducing the local education requirements (public school requirements or state standards) at 3rd and 6th grade (or the grade ending at age 9 or 12 in your local region if grade levels are marked different). 
  • I also want him literate in what the other children are learning. It is hard to be a responsible citizen if you don't speak the lingo - in a healthy way (I am not referring to negative issues). 
SO. Here we are. And this is how we address the fact that Montessori children DO speak a different lingo and DO have different foundations in their education. For those people who want to add things to the Montessori curriculum, THIS is the place and the mannerism it fits into Montessori.
(See? Montessori covers ALL the needs of the child - including the needs of the child entering into larger society, whether going on to a non-Montessori public or private school, or simply interacting with other people in society). 

As for our current situation: 

One thing we noticed right away is that despite my son's love for all things ANCIENT history - modern history is a bust. Now, I could SO easily wait for this interest to perk up - and I have faith it will - but the corresponding goal is responsibility - even if we really don't have an interest. 

The public school requirement is United States History. The requirements are loose enough to have plenty of wiggle room - and I LOVE that they actually WANT the children to make their own timelines! How Montessori!

So, NO, I will not be purchasing United States history timeline. I am sure they are beautiful - but this IS the child's work after all. 

He balked at the idea of studying such a topic. He has NO interest. Again: responsibility. So we do the work together. He will learn how to get over hurdles of things he is not excited about and still get the task done. We've been leading up to this for a long time and now here it is. 

(insert laughter!)

  • Reader's Guide to American History - available from a variety of sources, but this is where I got mine. It is NOT overly Catholic or even Christian in nature - I can't find any specific references anywhere. It is simply a fantastic resource guide to the main eras of US History, with book lists, date lists (very short - and we can turn those into our timeline cards!), list of names to be familiar with, suggested extension activities, and a list of educational standards the era addresses. There is a bit more but that is what I remember off the top of my head. Each era has only 2-4 pages, with lots of white space. It is a FANTASTIC framework! 
  • A History of the United States and Its People by Edward Eggleston. I have to admit I was not overly excited about this book at first. But it seemed the least terrible of the worst (and only) options available. The fact is, that history books come with a bias. Good, bad, indifferent - it's a bias. And I want my son to have a fair amount of balance. So, while we are devoutly Catholic, NOT ONE Catholic history textbook has ever or will ever cross the threshold into my house - unless a truly balanced one comes into existence (a possibility, however slim). Anti or Pro a particular religion, group of people, political correctedness, lack thereof - all are unacceptable - just give the facts please - and let the reader form his own opinion. BUT I did want an overview story of the history; then use the above guide for more specifics on topics so we can research the original sources.  I am surprisingly pleased with the first two chapters of this book. While the emphasis is still that Columbus "discovered" America, it does not unduly toot his horn either. It lays out the facts as they were known at the time of publication. This leaves us so much room to explore the meaning of the word "discovery", the Vikings, the early monasteries present on US soil, history of the Native Americans (called Indians in this book for obvious reason of publication date). I can handle the few idiosyncracies present. 
  • Use the story-based book together to read the chapters corresponding to an era in the guide book; visit the library to select a few books; perhaps watch an appropriate video; and create a timeline with notecards with the pertinent dates (use the notecards to either mount or copy onto actual "timeline paper" (banner paper)). 
  • Read the Little House series along the way. 
  • Call it good. 

  • Read the chapters aloud to mom on car drives; working on pronunciation, speech, diction and more - all while extrapolating where needed right in the moment. 
  • Child creates a list of research ideas (before even seeing the guide!). 
  • Timeline materials are already being gathered.
  • Family time; lots of discussion; child finds a way to meet the requirements while minimizing cutting into personal work time -- if we're going to do it might as well enjoy it along the way, he said to me today! 
  • He is really getting into it! 
(ETA he's still not "excited" about it, but he is responsible and thorough in all that he studies)

So yes, sometimes requirements are good things. Everything in balance.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Elementary Practical Life

Primary level practical is so beautiful - all those trays, with neatly laid out items.

The Exercises of Practical Life can be such a conundrum though!

Most of society does not eagerly embrace the idea that a 3 year old can safely and appropriately utilize a very sharp utensil (the sharper, the safer!) to chop carrots. Among other beautiful practical life activities.

Those who embrace the Montessori way of observation and response, DO see this ability and strive to respect it in the best way each person can (with personal limitations). Thus we provide this necessary work for the child's development - with all of its benefits that go far beyond knowing how to cut a carrot. We embrace it, we love it, we multiply to the point it no longer is "practical" just because we can! It is almost TOO easy! I've been there too, so I am not condemning those who might "EPL" that are not really truly practical life ;)

On the flip side, most of the society recognizes that elementary children are capable of chores and some responsibilities, thus there is recognition of the value of "exercises of practical life" in that regard. Still there is little to no recognition of work for work's sake, or work for the sake of developing the inner person.

And us Montessorians do not have a pretty laid out practical life section in our elementary albums. There are lots of lists of ideas - and all are fantastic! But gone are the nice, neat trays - replaced with supply shelves that look more like real life; gone are the nicely laid out album pages - replaced with presentations that look more like grace and courtesy style and can (and sometimes SHOULD) look like a LOT like you're teaching on the fly. Which is ok! Because that is real life!

but it so hard for us to let go.

YES. We need to think through as much as we can (analysis of movement; hence the umpteen steps in the primary EPL); but if your child is ready and has the necessary background to make you scrambled eggs and cheese in pita bread for breakfast... might I suggest you NOT  (meaning me) hold him back because YOU (meaning I) have not been able to analyze the 327 steps in preparing such a meal not to mention clean-up - he's probably ready. If you've given the foundation, then HE knows how to analyze movements and slow down and think through what he is doing (imperfectly perhaps - but we all start from somewhere) and he has confidence and just enough skills to challenge himself on something that is just within his grasp.

Enjoy the moment! Seize the day!

Eat the eggs! Have the courage to ask for more!


A VERY delicious breakfast! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Infants and Toddlers at Home

How do we provide a Montessori environment for the littlest ones?

It is so easy and simple - that it is complicated.

Your best bet is start with nothing and add what you need; but most of us do not have that luxury. Instead we have to wade through the *stuff* to purge what we don't need. Ugh.

First, learn about your child's developmental stages - read Montessori's writings and attachment parenting books about this age, before really looking at other resources (even if you don't plan to attachment parent - the information is very sound). These writings will be based on observation and responses given to children of this age for the last 6000 years at minimum.

Train yourself in observation and response. Subtle cues. Environmental. People. Temperature. The sounds of silence.

Establish a peaceful home. A joyous home. Filled with love and light.

For materials - consider what you REALLY need. Babies need very few contraptions - on the contrary, they need room to explore.

Consider human needs and tendencies as they will be displayed in a very young child, even one in the womb. How can you meet these needs and tendencies? Fulfill them?

Through simplicity. Focus. Yes there are mobiles and images that are strongly recommended, but in the end, YOU can come up with most of what you need with only a small nudge for the rest. Trust YOURSELF, trust YOUR instincts. Develop your instincts. Follow your gut.

Observe and Respond.

(NOTE: Blogger is being funny with the photo arrangements - if you see a HUGE blank space below, please keep scrolling down for the rest of the post!)

Start with one piece puzzles and large knobs
(geometric shapes best to start with -
see the top puzzle of the stack on the left)

So happy to be at the table with the big people :)

booster for at the table
(doubles as high chair with detachable tray;
also tilts back for infants
and has 2-3 height settings)

booster that doubles as high chair when needed.
Less furniture and smaller. 

Attachment parenting
confidence that mom is always there

Real food; real utensils
the bowl was in my hands at the time of the photo

Time with family, participating with the family

Drinking from bowl of cereal for the first time!
This photo: about 12 months
visiting at a friend's house
their kids thought the toy would neat
he ignored it ;) 

Building and exploring
does not have to be Montessori materials
although plain colored blocks are best,
if you have colored, have 1 color for each shape


Visiting at friend's house - no glass tumblers available
plastic is ok from time to time, but has no weight
plastic is easier to knock over than heavy glass
glass encourages control of movement
This photo: 12 months
start with glass tumbler: 7-10 months

Lots of real experiences in natural spaces

Experiences - get out with baby!
In this photo: pointing at the birds around St. Peter's Square
shouting "Duck! Mama look! Ducks!"
(birds, ducks... well... he *was* only 23 months!)

Freedom in nature

Controlled exploration

Floor-mirror next to bed. 

Floor mirror
I'm not excited about that duck thing.
But sometimes you have to compromise for family peace ;)  

Freedom of movement as much as possible
get in or out at will most of the time
then stay in seat during regular family meal time,
church services, prayer, etc. 

What the child sees on one of the infant mobiles

One of the infant mobiles
I made some pieces reversible to conserve materials

Lots of reading
as much reality as possible,
but don't mess with Great-Grandma's preferences ;) 

Lots of babies and other children!

A proud happy boy after Thanksgiving meal 

Own table to utilize between family meals

Quality time with godparents :) 

Quality time with godparents ;)
Yes, they are both genuinely asleep ;) 

about 20 months
eating with regular bowl and spoon

Collecting peas that had fallen off of dish during mealtime

Explore lots of textures (not all at once!)

Thinking he is ordering for himself ;)
Probably about 11 months here. 

~1.5 year old at Thanksgiving
Serving self from controlled portions
in small dishes

Real experiences - snow! 

Lots of space to crawl and move. 

Experimenting - this time with a drain in our kitchen floor.
What will fit? 

1 year old at Thanksgiving
Eating with own real utensils and drinking from glass
I love those little lips puckering out in concentration. 

Lots of other children
does not have to be all the time -
enough to learn proper social skills

Toileting when ready
(the attached child seat was
not appropriate for his anatomy,
thus we added the removable one with handles)
Step-stool for toilet
and step-stool for sink

Watching the infant mobile

Climbing on staggered couch cushions;
floor mirror is on back of couch to entice interest
for new infants in my daycare

All those photos and not a good one of our family floor bed. It is hinted at in some of the photos. For the most part, we used a regular mattress on the floor and called it good. And when I was pregnant it was FAR easier to get out of bed off a mattress on the floor than out of any of the taller beds I slept in when visiting family. Roll over onto hands and knees on the floor, then slowly rise from that position - stretches all the appropriate muscles to bring blood flow throughout the body, controlled any possible light-headedness or low blood pressure, and gave a bit of exercise in preparation for a smooth birthing experience. Very nice. And a fantastic transition into having baby on the floor bed, family style.

There are other photos missing as well - such as the coffee tin with the slit in the lid (for inserting poker chips) and the Discovery Toys ship with the balls that roll (we removed the colored rings and the hammer and just dropped the balls in; add the rings and press hard at an older age - no hammer). Too bad I didn't keep a daily diary at the time (ha! in what time!?) ;)

See other Montessori Trails for lists of the items I did utilize as well as practical life ideas.

By 2 1/2 the primary albums can be utilized to work on early language, early exercises of practical life and early sensorial. But don't rush things before that. Don't worry about providing knobbed cylinders - just have lots of exploration with real materials that provide experiences with shape, size, colors, weights, muscle control - and LOVE.

An AWESOME resource for this age: The Joyful Child by Susan Stephenson - available at PLease note, this is a book, not a catalog; The Joyful Child, not A Joyful Child; Susan Stephenson, not another author ;) There is some confusion out there. This book is written for parents in a natural friendly tone, specifically for infants and toddlers!

Please see our other Infant and Toddler experiences on Montessori Trails.