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, October 18, 2012

Montessori and 'Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding'

One non-Montessori resource we use is Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, Volumes 1, 2 and 3. Together, these books comprise 109 (or 110) lessons covering grades K-8, with approximately one lesson per month for a year-round school (give or take in Montessori fashion! Technically it comes out to 12.2 lessons per school year if you really want an average...).

I use these volumes to guide my further conversation within the context of daily life. Guide "natural" follow-up experiences; help me to be sure I have the bases covered beyond the AMI Montessori albums.

But why am I adding in this resource when I have these fantastic AMI albums?

Short answer: because AMI albums tell you to do so.
(people want me to give a short answer, but my short answers always beg more questions ;) hehe)



You want a longer answer ;)

Long answer: 

  • AMI albums are a framework with lots of meat. But if your children learn ONLY what is in the albums, they will not have everything they actually need. The point to the framework/meat analogy is that there is a LOT there - but your children are SUPPOSED to be exploring their own interests, going deeper. They are NOT supposed to have everything handed to them. Period. No long tedious lessons just because they need to get it (even if it is a great Montessori lesson! if it is long and tedious and does NOT spark interest, toss it out!). If you present everything in AMI albums AND provide time/space for interests to develop, THEN your children will get *everything* they need. 
  • Therefore your children will NEED other resources. Of your choosing as to appropriateness, but of their choosing as to personal interests. 
  • Yes, you can dictate some outside requirements (have I said this before? ;) hehe) - family requirements, local educational standards. But these requirements plus the Montessori albums should still not be ALL your child learns. 
  • Thus children should be taking cues from the lessons, exploring on their own and with classmates and coming to new discoveries of new subject areas. Positive peer influence! We want more of that!
  • But within a homeschool setting, especially with an only child (or the oldest child), well... it doesn't happen quite as much. You will want something to spur on conversation and interest that replaces that classroom dynamic. You don't want more work for work's sake, but you do want to provide for what is negatively lost when homeschooling Montessori. We do this in a variety of ways - doing work when the children work; creating materials when the children are working; doing a lot more Goings Out; focusing more on the family dynamics. And pulling in resources that will help guide our conversations. 
  • And if you have limited science background or just don't trust your background/skills, the AMI Montessori albums are great, but what do you do with those expanded interests that are outside the realm of the albums? (ah! now I am seeing why so many people want the fully detailed albums with an album page for every single topic and possible interest of science and geography! despite the fact that now the child's interest will be dictated by the album rather than the inner guide. I understand those feelings - I am a homeschool mom too - and there are areas where I had doubt in my abilities too! there is hope!)

Benefits of BFSU specifically:
  • BFSU is set up as a conversation of sorts - it is NOT meant to be read to the child or even with the child; it is meant to be read by YOU and then discussed with your child. Dr. Nebel lays out the information your child needs for the topic at hand. This is a great way to take the Montessori lessons and extend them. MOST especially for those people who are just not confident in their science skills and knowledge. You probably know more than you think you do; but it is nice to have a guide to show that to you! 
  • There are 4 main threads (Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science, Earth/Space) which are interwoven with suggested flow charts - COSMIC EDUCATION! 
  • All the lessons point out ways to look for the taught concept in daily life. Cosmic Education again!
  • The Earth/Space section is a blessing when it comes to fleshing out the AMI albums (one weak area in AMI - see previous posts on this one), without adding undue stress of a multitude of lessons. It is one of two bases I am utilizing to organize an AMI astronomy album. 
  • The idea is to spur interest - at 12.2 lessons per year, it's ok if a new lesson doesn't happen every week; it is ok if one lesson takes a month because (get this!) it spurs interest! And conversation! And insight in daily life. 
  • The threads can be intermingled and jumped around or follow one straight through the particular volume until interest and ability hit a brick wall. Then take a break and jump somewhere else. Just like AMI albums!
  • There is a lot of what we in the Montessori world would call "theory and application" so that the adult comes to have confidence in oneself. 
  • The author focuses on science we can see and experience, so until ONE lesson at the end of the 3rd volume (intended for middle schoolers), there is no direct discussion of evolution or not. However, there is a lot of preparation for it (Baloney Detector guide, development of scientific process and reasoning) so that the child is prepared to deal with the plethora of information that fly from both sides and can enter into the conversation leaving emotion out of it. 
  • Downloadable (but not printable) pdfs are available for $5 at the publisher's website.

  • Those of you with a strong science background and/or are very-very confident in your abilities in this area, will find it stifling. Don't use it - it's ok! 
  • Planning: Some people have commented about planning taking too much time. I have not personally found this to be the case, but perhaps I approach it different? I look ahead to suggested books and resources, try to locate those on Netflix, library, etc. Make sure I have any needed materials on hand (almost everything is from around the house or the grocery store). Then read through the lesson before I do it with my son. I might read it a month ahead, a week ahead or right after I tell him, "Hey (insert the pet name I use for him on that particular day), meet me in the big chair for snuggling and a chat in 5 minutes." I really-really-really try to emphasize the rather impromptu nature of science, because the principles are ALL AROUND US all the time, so science is not something that is 20 minutes every day or 1 hour once a week. It is always - all the time. Exploring. Asking questions. Testing answers. Finding exceptions. How do they all fit into the big picture? Yes our Montessori work plan might say that we meet at a particular time (and we do), or it might say "cover this lesson at some point" and we do it that way too. Some things just have to be planned into a time slot. 
  • It IS one more thing to read ;) 

One last benefit: 
  • I have put together a spreadsheet with the title of every lesson and where it is found in AMI primary and elementary Montessori albums. This is NOT a perfect work, but a general idea of what connects where. Please use this as a guide only - for introducing the Montessori album page and material, and following up with BFSU (right after, or even years later); or starting with BFSU earlier on and working on the Montessori album pages later. At least you can see basically what fits together. 
  • The document is here (click here and it should download to your computer) currently in Excel; open to modification (and spell check! My keyboard keeps sticking and Excel does NOT have spell-check!). Please leave a comment or send an e-mail if you have any feedback, suggestions for changes, questions, type corrections, or you want to come help me clean my house ;) (just thought I'd try anyway ;) ). 


  1. Thank you for recommending this! We used it for the first time on Monday. The Montessori lesson on the layers of the earth led to an interest in magnetism rather than anything else I expected. However, there was only a sentence or two (that I found) in the albums about magnetism. I have the BFSU book on my iPad so I just tapped over from the albums to BFSU and, Voila! We jumped right into magnetism. There was enough in there to do with the materials in my thankfully stocked classroom for the day and it bought me time...time to get to the library where we found some books and videos and time to get iron filings and the like in order for the next day to do more work.

    1. yay! I am glad it is working for you!

      I have spent many sick hours in the last 3 weeks, along with 2 8 hour drives (with no child in the car to keep my brain occupied), and the one thing that I keeping about is the differences between homeschool Montessori and classroom Montessori - and how to bridge that gap. (what strange things go through our minds when we are sick!) So I hope to have more posts about such issues coming up.

      On magnetism, there is the one album page on Attraction and Gravity in the Geography album. The thrust of the album page is to present an introduction, entice interest, review each year and take it a different direction (or take it any direction if interest wasn't enticed the previous year/earlier months). So this is where being in a classroom would have more "environmental inspiration" from the other children, and the teacher asking, "So what would you like to do with this?"

      buying time.... how nice would that be if we really could.... ;)

    2. Just to correct this previous comment because my keyboard was obviously still sticking at that time:

      "I keep thinking about the difference between homeschool Montessori and classroom Montessori" - not whatever it was I said above ;)

      And to be a bit more clear - MBT states exactly the case: the AMI albums provide the framework, in this case a light introduction. The seed has been planted. Then, that seed will sprout forth at the proper time for that particular child.

      In her case, her boys took off with it right THEN. In my son's case, he's still not quite there with magnetism but he sure got into a study of gravity and what it means to "death-defy gravity" - ultimately setting up a LOT of science experiments on that topic (true experiments, not demonstrations), and eventually tying that in with the differences of gravity in various locations on earth and in our solar system. We'll get to magnetism some day ;)

      This is one difficulty of homeschooling just a small number. We are not always going to be fully prepared for every interest in the moment - both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it keeps us on our toes and keeps our eyes wide open; a curse because sometimes we spend hours preparing to no avail and now need to prepare something else!

      That's why I like BFSU for fleshing things out - definitely buys the time needed to prepare, while still nurturing the child's interest.

  2. We started using BFSU this year along with our Montessori. I took a look at it when you first recommended it and I really liked the way it was laid out and the amount of information that was taught. I have started it with my 6 and 9 yr olds. Both of the the kids really love animals so we started the year with a focus on the Life Science in the first book. So far it has been great. They really enjoy it. I went thru some of the lessons quite quickly since they have had previous experience with some of the topics.

    1. We've done a LOT very quickly too - then slowed down where either interest or need for more information came in.

      To anyone: please do let me know if the chart is helpful, could be corrected or revamped somewhere, or any other feedback on it ;)

  3. Replies
    1. You're welcome! Please let me know if you find any issues with it :)

  4. Thank you for your wealth of knowledge. Have not heard of BFSU until now, but definitely will look into it. Thanks again!