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.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Change of Routine - Teaching Full-Time - Child-care

I don't usually announce when I am taking a subbing position, but this year, and this position, things are different.
  • We have a good routine going, despite having a crazy-busy life. It's going to be put on hold. 
  • I have a goal of keeping this blog updated at least twice weekly with either historical happenings (as I go through older photos and scrapbook items) or current AMI Montessori elementary homeschooling - what it looks like for those of you either at this age already or getting there. I really want to keep that going. 
  • Projects are closing up - slowly - around our home; and I am slowly cycling around to what needed to be done years ago. Using resources wisely. I really want to keep that going to. 
  • I think it is fair to give you a heads-up, so if YOU are in the situation I will be in for the next month (working full time and Montessori homeschooling), you'll have some inspiration - and I'm sure a strong dose of "what not to do" as I hope to be humble enough to share our failures as well as our successes. 
  • Thus, this upcoming experience may be of some benefit to others. 

Many of you know that I routinely sub for Montessori schools; I also pick up babysitting here and there (I want to have a daycare in my home again - perhaps if/when we move again!); tutoring on short and long term basis; random projects for random people; run two website-based businesses from home; and homeschool my son.
And 5 days a week in the atrium. 

It sounds like more than it really feels like - and maybe I'm not really looking at the full reality. Admittedly, avoiding the picture of "full reality" is probably what keeps me with a smile in my heart when I snuggle with my son at the end of a long day. 

So - our blog will take a bit of a turn this coming month - focusing on what Montessori elementary homeschooling looks like when the child is with different people each day of the week and mom is working OUTside the home, full-time --- in a Montessori school no less. 

First decision - Enrollment, Childcare, AKA: "what-to-do-with-the-child-during-work-hours": 
I thought about enrolling him for the month; I did that when I was long-term sub as an aide in the upper elementary classroom at this school several years back (he was primary at the time) - he attended 3-4 days a week and went with a babysitter in our hometown 1-2 days a week; I paid a pro-rated daily tuition for him and we still did some homeschooling (not much because it is a Catholic Montessori and he was really getting everything he needed) ---- hmmmm - that could be a blog post too. Homeschooling when child attends part-time Montessori..... not many people in that situation, but could provide some creative ideas for others in somewhat related situations. 

  1. that was primary, now he's in elementary - more long-term projects, group dynamics (be there for a bit then pull him out again - I don't mind the starting in the middle of the year as much as I do the pulling him out mid-year after only a month (could be slightly longer). 
  2. that was the start of the year - this is right after winter break - sure the kids are likely be starting on some new things, but there is still a LOT of tie-over from pre-holidays
  3. money. I'll be honest. I want to keep as much of it as possible. The principal is being generous in paying me a bit more than the typical daily rate for subs to help with gas (it's a drive for me) and childcare. It's not that I'll be keeping the money really anyway - I have school debt to pay off yet - I've considered setting up an anonymous blog with some details there, count-down style - to help others in serious debt, because I'm not comfortable sharing that stuff associated with my name, etc. I know I've come up with some creative solutions though - I know because friends/family/acquaintances come to me for advice ;) But the debts aren't paid off yet. The local lady who does the sitting doesn't charge much; local homeschool families I could trade some tutoring or Garden of Francis materials for childcare... Gotta love bartering. ;) 
  4. he does have speech therapy (in a town the opposite direction from the school) - I do not want to pull him out. That year he was in primary at this school, we just didn't start up speech therapy until afterward (the school couldn't offer him services even though he was enrolled, because we were out-of-state residents - we still are). Now he's in speech, I don't want to pull him out. But it means re-scheduling for another time and finding someone who can take him. 
  5. And it was part-time - if I send him to upper elementary, it really needs to be the same hours the other children are there. 
  6. Primary is about individual development; elementary is about community development - a weekly atrium is fine because it is long-term; other part-time activities are fine as long as they are consistent; but in/out of a full-day classroom just isn't appropriate for any child or the group dynamics - it's just not consistent. They couldn't make proper plans - the upper elementary children really think long-term. 
So I am looking at childcare options for him. We have a fall-back sitter I know we can call. But my first choice is for him to be with someone with whom I can barter services - such a person is also likely to be in any of a variety of frames of mind that will correlate better with our desire to continue homeschooling through this month. Time with Godfather, time with close family friends, time with homeschool families (they don't have to teach him, just give him a corner with his books or he can teach their kids how to build fancy things with Legos - or their older children can show him a thing or two ;) ).

If a different person/family could take him each day of the week, that would actually be fantastic - he could get the benefits from each family without me thinking we're becoming a burden. And if someone ends up sick or otherwise can't take him, that still leaves 4 other people who might be willing to take him an extra day just that one week.

And this is where I have to be somewhat flexible unless I want to get up at 4 every morning to get him to the right place --- e.g. one family might take him overnight one night a week in order to watch him the next day. They won't take him until later at night, so I'll still be with him the usual hours - we just won't be together overnight. It's one night a week - yes, my mommy-heartstrings are pulled, but it's temporary. We've done the overnight thing before and we have a great relationship - a few overnights won't destroy us.

This next point is less about me being flexible and more about me being both realistic and focused on "life" - I have no problem with families watching my son and taking him places - running typical errands, going to the library, visiting their Grandma/Grandpa - whatever. That's life! He needs to see real life - one of the many reasons we homeschool. I used to care for children in my family daycare that expected that we would never go anywhere or do anything outside of my little property - yet I offered a 24/7 service, so I needed to get groceries at some point; we loved going to the park; the local libraries (we were blessed with 2!) had fantastic children's programs and nice children's sections - of course we would be getting out and about - but it would all be family-oriented. So I am good with my son experiencing that with others - even when it means being in the car all day - he's with people who care for him, keep him safe, and live a real life.


Please pray that it all works out. Things are looking good, but I have a couple of days yet to fill in.

Next dilemmas - a blog post each?  
  • Changing our schedule/routine - this really only affects our clock schedule because only speech is affected. This one will be hard. I am SO a night-owl - I don't sleep any more than a typical person, but we typically have a routine shifted a few hours later than others (or maybe we're many hours ahead of everyone else ;) teehee)
  • Food-planning - packed lunches; dinners.... breakfast.... snacks.... Yep. I have a solution. But I have to get it into place! 
  • where do the Montessori presentations fit in? and the follow-up work? upper elementary is a different cookie, but he does have some lower elementary review he needs (because we're at home and not in a school)
  • when do I get to be home???? I'm SO a domestic female ;) I want my home to be a sanctuary - and we all know that being home for limited time allows messes to build up without allowing time for clean-up ---- so how do I keep my home a sanctuary regardless of the time spent there? 
  • when do we snuggle???? And typical outside-home activities - how do we adjust these to accommodate caregivers, family time and child-needs? 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Small Home Montessori: Impressionistic Charts Storage - UPDATE

The original post on the Impressionistic Chart Storage in our home.

I have had this over-the-toilet unit since Legoboy was a baby:
Sample at Amazon (not an affiliate link) - I bought ours locally
haha! yeah right we have that much space around our toilet! 

At the time, I did not want to put baby locks on everything - I had a swing gate at the kitchen door and a variety of outlet covers (mostly ones that could allow things to be plugged in but still locked - child couldn't pull the cord from the wall either).

For daycare licensing purposes I did need a safety handle on the pantry door (because I had to keep the cleaning chemicals below the food - despite that most of the cleaning chemicals WERE food such as baking soda, vinegar and cornstarch... I digress).

When it comes to safety equipment, that is all we had. Our lower drawers/cupboards contained only child-safe items; lower cupboards in the bathroom held cloth diapers, mom's cloth items, towels and washcloths, cup of extra tooth brushes, and toilet paper. All else was stored in the cabinet or on the shelf shown above. It was high enough for daycare licensing, but I still kept "attractive and somewhat dangerous" in baskets on the shelves to minimize attention.

Times have changed. I now have few consistent young visitors to our home - and for them I can close the bathroom door, keep them in arms, or mom is with them.

And I needed the shelf somewhere else:

This shelf fit perfectly (I had to disassemble portions of it to get it to fit under the upper shelf in the closet, but once in, it fits perfectly) and is currently the only place I can safely store the long division with racks and tubes. The charts fit perfectly underneath it - almost like they were made for each other! The bonus is I can now use that space between the charts and the upper shelf much more efficiently. While I am still trying to be cautious what I bring home permanently (from our rented co-op) - to only bring home what we'll use - now I have found a bit more space I didn't know I had!

One bummer: our blue lamp we use for the sun still doesn't fit. I'll get it figured out.

In the bathroom, I was able to place a very low shelf in the corner that held all the things I thought I still needed this tall shelf for (and it has empty space! AND my bathroom looks so much more spacious now!!!). We're obviously far from cloth-diapering at this point and we've gone even more food-based and all-natural with our cleaners, etc. that we just don't have as much as "stuff" in the kitchen and bathroom anymore. Plus in this apartment we do have a small bathroom closet to hold towels and washcloths and art supplies.

I remember having every nook and cranny crammed in with nothing but STUFF. I wish I'd known then what I know now! But it's a journey, that's for sure! And we're not entirely where we want to be just yet.

Hm. Perhaps a photo of our bathroom is in order. Only because this bathroom is actually larger than most and it is the primary place to do artwork. Sounds strange? I'll get photos ;)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Blogging Holidays and Craftiness

I was recently asked why, despite my son's craftiness and the fact that I do nothing except make-make-make-make things (ok, I sleep sometimes too ;) ) - why don't I have an AMI-inspired crafty-type post around the holidays - to show how it's done in AMI.

I had to actually think about this response. It's not that we don't do crafts; it's not that AMI doesn't do crafts; it is this:

I have chosen to blog here, on Montessori Trails, about our AMI Montessori Elementary homeschooling, as well as our past experiences in infancy and toddler (only partly AMI) and primary (AMI to the core when at home).

There are so many fantastic Montessori homeschoolers and schools out there sharing their Montessori-inspirations, I just don't feel the need to do so.

I had a hard time in my early Montessori-at-home/pre-training days sifting the "core" from the "peripherals that are great for particular families or situations but may not be so great for my household". And this was me coming into it with a LOT of experience in schools, but without any formal training. The albums I could access didn't correspond with what I saw on the blogosphere either. I had some arrogance and pride, but I think (?) I can safely say that I was humble enough to realize that reading every Montessori book, working in schools and reading lots of blogs did NOT make me an expert. It made me confused. Today there are so many available resources that with the right savvy and the right personality (there are many of you out there!) you can certainly cut to the core and "get it" - but self-trained true understanding wasn't even remotely a possibility when I began.

I don't want to continue that confusion about what is "Montessori" and what is "Montessori-inspired" and what is "just plain too much fun to leave out of your family's childhoods even though it's not labeled Montessori". We do a LOT of that kind of stuff around here (want to know how to make 3,934 styles of paper airplanes - ask Legoboy - but I'm not posting it on Montessori Trails ;) ). Above all else, I love sharing what happens when we present the "core" or "keys" and follow the child's interests, allowing the child to truly be responsible for his own work as per core Montessori practice - I share the results of our writing experiences with my son's first paper for an outside-of-home requirement - or how we managed to study astronomy by starting with an ancient history study (that we started because of Legoboy's desire to "read through history" after working with the core Montessori history presentations).

I want to show off the "core" and YOU decide what to modify or add in for YOUR family. That is my goal anyway.

Some facts:
  • As homeschoolers we have more time with our children - we're going to do more crafts, projects, etc. We're going to live life together in a way that Montessori schools can't. We are going to do a LOT together as a family
  • But even one AMI school will be different from another AMI school - not in the core materials, but in the culture of the children attending. 
  • Homeschools or schools - we each have our own paths and interests
  • Present the CORE - then work with the interests and the particular children before you. 
  • Elementary Montessori does utilize many resources beyond the albums - but the specific resources required are dictated by the child's particular needs, not an album page.  

AMI just isn't SHARED online as much. And AMI is SO beautiful! Thus my aim with my internet presence is to share the core of Montessori. The essential. At Montessori Trails, I strive to share our home experience focused more on the specifically AMI Montessori so as to minimize the confusion I experienced of "what is core and what is for this family?" You've seen I post about other topics, but I find these other topics directly relate to the core Montessori experience of utilizing keys, respect, and cosmic education. 
  • Montessori Nuggets: Core AMI Montessori tidbits found here
  • Keys of the Universe: information site for AMI Elementary albums available for purchase
  • Keys of the World: AMI Primary albums available for purchase as well as "re-organized" albums focusing on specific topics for those who just want a very focused experience on a particular topic
  • Montessori Station: Sharing of core-Montessori-friendly resources
  • Genesis Montessori: For those teaching with a 6-day creation focus

Really want to see what all we do in our Montessori-influenced home? 
  • Hearts in Wonderland: My son has a blog here where I try to post some of his creations from time to time (I have a serious back-log)
  • Seeking the Plan of God: Our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd adventures can be found here along with home/faith adventures related to core CGS themes. 
  • Catholic Hearts Domestic Church: Random Catholic and frugal-living posts (as well as some of our non-HFCS recipes) - some duplicates from Seeking the Plan of God - my first blog so the early posts are of mixed topics. 

Just for random fun sharing: 

As I type this, Legoboy is lounging on the couch with his umpteenth reading of Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling - he is waiting to use the computer to research the presence of a particular set of Lego building instructions before he goes off to create his own set of instructions - he doesn't want to replicate but do something different. This is an appropriate use of technology in upper elementary, although his time is still limited to "enough time to accomplish the goal, working steadily" - no by-the-clock time limit, but Mommy can nix the screen at any time if the work is not diligent.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review Post: Kingdoms of Life Connected

I have the current edition as of December 2013: 2nd printing, published in 2008/9
Kingdoms of Life Connected: A Teachers Guide to the Tree of Life
I own the pdf version;
purchased for my own use

Short story: I cannot highly recommend this resource. I can recommend it with much trepidation and with several caveats - as a potentially useful resource for an older discerning student (adolescence and above).

This resource is not appropriate for elementary Montessori students except those who are keenly interested in the subject matter at hand.

If you have a focus on Biblical-based Creation, this is NOT the resource for you at all. It is clearly an evolution resource, with no qualms about pointing out the outdated beliefs of Creationism. There is simply too much modification work to be done, to really be of value (unless you receive a copy for free - even then, the modification work is heavy). Could you gain some tidbits? Probably; not worth spending the money for the tidbits though.

Short-short story: I find this book at odds with the Montessori approach to scientific classification at the primary and elementary ages.

The author presents a great lay-out and makes an earnest attempt to "update" the Montessori scientific classification materials. There are so many examples of snubbing what has been previously given to the children that it leaves a bad taste about the rest of her words, accurate words or otherwise - it leaves me questioning her rather strong bias. If the information could be presented without the strong emphasis on anything but the information in this book being "outdated", implying that children have been harmed in the process of their past learning - and without the accompanying emphasis that "we don't have a final system in place but we have to teach the children something so we're going to give them something that is based on what they can't observe and that is changing very quickly in the scientific world, so we'll go with this one which will ALSO be outdated very soon" - well, that just doesn't sit well with Montessori - so if she could leave out the very strong statements to these affects, I could work with the remaining information much more easily. Except that elementary need to work with what they can observe. Molecular levels need to be saved for strong interest and middle/high school.

Thus this resource is simply a mis-match of content and age, if the bias is left out.

There are a few places where she lists old names with new names, which is oh-so-helpful for those of us genuinely trying to "update"; I think this information can likely be found elsewhere though.

From chapter 1 - some quotes - italics and parentheses are mine:
Classifications with fewer than five kingdoms belong in the history of science, not in current studies.
(ignoring that for the young children first presented with these concepts in a Montessori setting, 5 Kingdoms is getting too detailed - instead we focus on "plants and animals" and slowly build from there as the child is ready to explore how Kingdom Vegetalia has been replaced with 4 other, more accurate Kingdoms --- we need to leave children room to explore, pointing them in the right direction and providing the materials - by giving them too much, too soon, we risk (and very likely are guilty of!) filling them with information rather than exploring with them. Best to start with plants and animals, add in fungi upon interest (typically before 1st grade), then the other two in middle to upper elementary)

What changes have recently been made in the kingdoms and phyla? 
Changes are part of classification. They reflect the dynamic nature of science. Students need to learn terms that they will encounter in current encyclopedias and juvenile literature, not obscure or obsolete labels. Here are some suggestions for changes in lessons on classification. At the same time, older publications may have useful information about organisms, and it helps to know something about previous identities of organisms.
(So do the children need to know the obscure and obsolete labels or not? The auther is not clear.)

For introductory study, it will be better for them to define plants as organisms that are adapted to life on land.
(yet many children have direct experience with aquatic 'plants' (algae are not plants, they are protists) --- fish tanks... If she is striving for greater accuracy in teaching an evolutionary hypothesis (yes, she says the arrangement taught is only an hypothesis), and is upset about the present/past Montessori experience of scientific classification, then let's keep these definitions accurate too!)

This part, I am ok with:
Should we use kingdoms to classify life?
Kingdoms classify whole organisms. Children who are able to perceive the characteristics of whole organisms, but not yet able to think abstractly about cells and molecules are likely to be most engaged when they are working with kingdoms. They can learn that there are three “true” kingdoms (fungi, animals, and plants), and two “kingdoms” that we group together for convenience (prokaryotes and protists).
(we are saying here that we can indeed start with what children can observe (fungi, animals, plants) --- and move into the prokaryotes and protists which are less easily observed (these are not going to be a typical lower elementary study - and almost never a primary study)).

The straight information on observable characteristics is great. The activities contained in the book that could be perfect for elementary and middle school students are readily found in other resources on the same topic. Nice to have in one place? Yes.

In the end, the biggest factors for me relate to the BIG picture being presented:
  • too hypothetical - while I agree that we need to teach children what we have available even if the information is changing as new discoveries are made ---- there is TOO much hypothesis here that is CONSTANTLY changing - links between the different forms of life
  • the children can't "see" it - boh because of the hypothetical nature and the reality that the children can't go back in the past - when they look at a set of organisms, Kingdoms of Life Connected will lead to children believing that they can't trust their own sense of observation, but instead must be fed information by someone else before they can do any real work with classification. Rather the Montessori way is to provide "keys" and encourage the children to explore, to come to their own conclusions, to discuss and share and perhaps change their conclusions - but ultimately learning to trust in their own powers of observation and intuition as well as collaboration with others. I see the "direct teaching" happening far more heavily on the front-end here, in contrast to the Montessori way of exploration first.

Thus even as an evolution-based resource, I CANNOT recommend this resource at the elementary level. Perhaps at adolescence and/or high school. 

A more useful reference for biological studies that does not get into creation OR evolution (minus the potential of the last chapter), but simply what children can observe with their own eyes:
The World of Biology by John Hudson Tiner
(I have neither read, reviewed nor utilized any of his other books)
Good basic information on each kingdom - easily understandable. Combine with some good living books and videos and real life experiences.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Continent Folders - Primary Montessori

Continent Folders? You're thinking, "You mean Continent Boxes, right?"

Nope. I mean Continent Folders.
They actually also go by "Montessori cultural folders" as well. Either name is accurate and neither name fully describes them!

These were originally going to be our Montessori Continent Boxes.
Now they are toy boxes. 
I like the idea of the continent boxes (cultural boxes) - and I had even bought a set of stackable drawers to use for just such purpose, before I went to AMI Primary Montessori training. We could still use them as continent/cultural boxes, but I never really found the need for them in my household. Instead I re-purposed them to hold Legoboy's small toys: small animals, train tracks, cars, small scenery pieces, etc. He still uses them, but now has them reorganized according to his own (internalized, elementary-level, crazy-from-the-outside) organization.

Ultimately, I went with what I received in Montessori training. Folders. The continent/cultural folders spark discussion, they promote interest... and then we can pull out the objects we have around the environment which the child is surrounded by for further discussion and experiences: books in the reading area, artifacts used as decoration around the environment (also used for polishing, dusting, flower-arranging, etc.), games to play with friends and family, etc. The objects and experiences are throughout life, rather than kept together in one box. The child is surrounded by cultural objects rather than having them boxed up. The child can go into the environment and gather appropriate objects for this study.

LATER UPDATE (just this paragraph) - these materials seem so SIMPLISTIC and many people have told me "no, the cultural/continent boxes are a much better idea because it is all 3-d; some pictures can be added there too." That is your choice. Here are some points to consider to ensure a full Montessori balance/experience:
  • are you providing keys? so that your child can explore and have something to discover for his own self? 
  • do you still have some cultural objects around the environment that your child can discover and say, "Oh! this is the Eiffel Tower from France! We have a picture of this in our Europe culture folder!" And it is something they can polish, clean, draw, etc. thus part of the environment around the child. 
  • the continent/cultural folders are also intended to incite conversation and story-telling (these are extensions on the album page)
I personally decided that this one material, the Montessori cultural folders, allowed me to provide ALL of the above, with fewer actual objects from the get-go --- we could explore culture and continents and countries without spending hours/days/weeks/months/years collecting objects before even getting started. We could get started with the images, then discover all the cultural items already around our home! For me, my time is precious and I chose not to spend it on deciding which continent box to place a polar bear in (polar bears are present in Asia, Europe and North America by the way - and I have photos of each kind of polar bear in their proper continent - so much easier to find pictures than objects - and cheaper ;) -- then we have a few polar bears around and we discuss what all continents they belong on). 

At the time I created these cultural folders, I was just coming off a $5/month Montessori materials budget (I upped the budget a bit for during the training course - I spent what was needed, but also strove to minimize expenses - I think with lamination (paid at the training center), folders, colors, pencils, colored paper (most of which I had on hand already but a few things I purchased), donated magazines, I MAYBE spent $4 on the entire set - if that. I also pooled resources with other trainees, which helped. Time: 4 hours, plus 1/2 hour gathering items, 1/2 hour cleaning up ----- 5 hours. 


Image traced on with a print-out of the continent
or with the world puzzle map pieces
Colored in.
Displayed in an elevated rack
The images inside the cultural continent folders contain a variety of images from that continent - mounted on appropriate colored paper or cardstock, with a brief description on the back. They are intended to spark conversation and questions - leading to further studies as the children get older. This work can start at age 3 after they have worked with the world puzzle map and we want to share information on each continent. There are animals represented, people from various cultures on that continent, photos of food and national dress, etc. Our images all came from National Geographic magazines, but cut-up books could be used, images printed from the internet, etc.

The continent folders then sub-divide into a variety of topics (not photographed here) - these can be smaller packets or pouches, or even a book on the topic (that's what we did - just read books, watched videos, or had real-life experiences with the sub-topics).

This work is found in the Spoken Language section of the AMI Language album.

The continent folders photographed here I had made for training and then used them at home with Legoboy. I was marked down for them because I didn't use all lowercase letters (since these are for such young children - younger Montessori children will write in all lower-case to start, then move to capitals at age 5 and 6, without the use of sandpaper letters). Technically I could have left them unlabeled altogether and not been marked down at all.

Disclaimer though: My son has a hard time "caring" about capital letters anymore (despite starting to write with capital block letters) - so I do not regret having this material available to him with proper capitalization. At least he KNOWS where the capital letters go.

How was this particular set of cultural folders made? 
It is a set of file folders - 1 file folder for each continent (in this set) - I chose to keep the tabs all in one place, but could have alternated them (the original plan was that the sub-sets would have tabs in different locations, so the children re-sort them easily based on the tab location). I used packing tape to close up the sides; then covered it in color construction paper (wish I'd used cardstock because construction paper fades) just over the folds. Laminated the whole thing (had to slit the lamination to re-open the pouch).

If I were to do it again, I think I would prefer to use contact paper - only because the contact paper could wrap around the sides more securely. Or use colored pocket folders (now that pink and white are more easily found than when I was in primary training) and laminate those for sturdiness.

I always thought Legoboy would add to these picture sets in elementary - that was/is his typical thing. For some reason, he didn't; instead he delved into cultural studies, loves reading books and watching videos - he can talk to you about different things when he is interested - and he loves to learn about other cultures. But he has never sought to add to the images. Just when I think I have him pegged ;)

Continent folders can be an alternate to the bulkier continent boxes - or can be an addition to them. I highly recommend having multi-cultural items around your home - not just in the boxes. Alternate what is out at various times so that items can rotate into the box and out to the environment. I personally prefer to have an image of someone using the chop-sticks, with a quick description on the back, have a conversation with my child - then he "discovers" we have chopsticks in the kitchen where they would actually be used (instead of as an artifact in the box) - perhaps because I conveniently left them where he would find them (hehe - that's called strewing - homeschool moms get good at that) - and then we pull up a YouTube video to show us how to USE them. It just feels more real to me.

In the end, I see the benefit of both continent boxes and continent folders, and lean towards the cultural/continent folders as my "core" with the boxes as peripheral. Your mileage will vary ;)

Links for additional information on continent/cultural folders: 

This continent folder set doesn't quite match what is in my own AMI albums:

Downloadables of animal images - though still not quite the same description:

One sample of using pocket folders - hers gets to it but my training dictated colored background on the cards (could be an optional feature if you have coding somewhere else so the photos can be re-sorted to their proper folders):

This continent folder set looks really neat actually:

And these cultural folders sound about right too:

Friday, December 6, 2013

Keys of the Universe - Blog Articles

100_1240Keys of the Universe now has an Article section with infrequent updates on topics of interest to the elementary Montessori parent. Take a look!

Keys of the Universe - Articles

Current topics include:

  • Periodic Table of Elements
  • Getting Started with Montessori Homeschooling
  • Wooden Hierarchical Material - Number Cards
  • 8 Principles of Montessori Education
  • Montessori and Common Core
  • Primary Album Supplements for Geography and Sensorial
  • and more as time goes on :) 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Astronomy Review: Signs & Seasons

The following is a copy of the review I posted on an online bookstore website for this resource:

While this book is geared more for middle and high schoolers, my elementary son is already gaining a LOT from it.
I am a Montessori-trained teacher and prefer to avoid most textbooks for many reasons - low quality; lack of correct information; textbooks are usually beyond tertiary sources while primary sources are most appropriate for children's learning; and more.
But this is one textbook we will use again and again. At 8, my son is reading through it with me to gain an overview of astronomy; we combine it with our own personal studies according to his interests and my requirements as his homeschooling mother. We will likely go through it again at age 10-11; then again in middle school - as review and to cull its depth further, as much of the information is quite deep (a typical elementary children would not have the interest my son has in this textbook - but this is an interest of his).
The "average" elementary child will not be ready for this book - but a homeschooled child who is very interested, or a Montessori student, will be quite ready for it - probably around age 9 or so. Even then, it should be re-visited at an older age, because much of it will not be absorbed the first time through. It is THAT rich!
Montessori elementary children with a deep love of all things astronomy will appreciate having this book as a read-together text, coupled with many hands-on experiences (such as looking for the things described in the book, as well as some of the field activities in the back of the book, and following their own interests).
Montessori elementary children with a limited interest in astronomy will prefer to utilize this book in the upper elementary years (ages 9-12).
Definitely useful for middle schoolers of all ages.
I only WISH the public schools I attended would have provided an astronomy class of ANY sort, let alone THIS book. We had blips of astronomy here and there - nothing like this. I took an astronomy course in college and this text would have been the best foundation for that course. I loved it, but was easily overwhelmed.
There is an optional field guide, separate from the text, to flesh it out for high school credit. Do not let the negative review stating this is not a high school textbook throw you off - this book is indeed excellent for high schoolers, but yes if you want a full credit for it you will NEED to flesh it out for the simple fact it is a textbook. NO textbook should be the be-all-end-all in gaining a credit for school - and this textbook is no exception in that regard.
Those who might say this book is not deep enough for high schoolers should consider the importance of spending TIME with the material, doing the field guide suggestions, working with the field journal - and experiencing the annual cycles of astronomy (and sometimes multi-year), while also exploring it within its historical context and development, in such a way that true DEPTH is reached. Not just racing through, taking a test and being done.
Signs and Seasons IS the exception in that it provides a well-balanced, well-laid-out approach to classical astronomy - astronomy without the use of fancy tools (although telescope and binoculars are pointed out as useful in their proper places) --- something all of us should have experienced in our lifetimes.
Black and white (but wonderfully done!) illustrations keep the price of printing to an affordable range so that this book is accessible to many more people.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Montessori Astronomy - Elementary

I am having the absolute worst time finding the time and the proper resources to finalize the AMI-style astronomy supplement. I'm just not satisfied with it - to the point of "it's not even in a share-able format even if I'm not satisfied with it." In the end, I think I am trying to justify others' experiences that may be valid for a few children, but are not necessarily valid for the universal child.

So to try to bring myself back into this, I am organizing some thoughts on our own experiences in light of AMI Montessori training and observations in various Montessori schools on this topic.

Previous Montessori Trails on Astronomy:
Non-Montessori Resources we have used: 

Montessori Experiences, Presentations, Materials Specific to Astronomy: 
  • God With No Hands (First Great Lesson for the elementary age)
  • Geography (elementary): Sun and Earth chapter

Various Montessori studies that led to astronomy - but were not specifically astronomy at the out-set: 
  • History studies (ancient history ---> worship of gods ---> constellations and planet names ---> clocks and calendars (through history and names of days, months) ---> ASTRONOMY
  • Mathematics - history of math, use of math
  • Geometry - shapes, patterns, degrees, circles, angles
  • Language - basic language skills
  • Geography - land/water forms, formation of our own planet, form and matter
Paying close attention, you'll see that we didn't really use many Montessori materials or specific experiences. This is exactly as it should be: lay the foundation with the properly prepared environment and the key presentations - and the child will "get there". 

We've not used fancy equipment beyond the sunshades and occasional use of binoculars (and a very cheap telescope that only works during the day). 

We've not even used computer-based items except for watching a few DVDs. It is has been hands-on (eyes-on???) exploration of the night and daytime sky, predicting what we will see, following-up, lots of reading and lots of map-making (Legoboy likes his maps). But yes, several trips to observatories and planetariums - and THEIR high-tech equipment ;) 

But I have been in Montessori homeschools - and I know that those parents without Montessori training really need more guidance on these topics. You typically don't have just children within one age range (primary or elementary or adolescence) - but are spread out across several planes of development, with few or one child in each. So yes - difference between school and homeschool in the environment again. Not a bad thing - just a truth that needs to be addressed. 

My son and I haven't even used 3-part cards and beautiful booklets and charts found at the various online printable sites. He created some of his own with stickers and information from books. For US, that worked great! I will include that experience as a suggestion in the Montessori Elementary Astronomy Supplement. 

Other thoughts: 
  • Almost all my observations in schools on astronomy have been contrived - the children may have learned something, but in no different manner than they would have learned it at another school - and the information didn't stick with them any better than if they'd learned it elsewhere. 
  • The Montessori primary level astronomy options available also seem contrived or more appropriate for lower elementary, or just plain fluffy. There are some REALLY great activities in there! But I find those ones more appropriate for the elementary age. Why? Because primary children are very concrete - and need to focus on what they can actually experience: seeing the stars, perhaps some of the very obvious constellations, phases of the moon, beautiful sunrises/sets --- but mostly focusing on the weather patterns and outer layers of our own planet. Study home first - move into outer space in the imaginative "big picture" elementary years. 
  • I am trying to create something that fits in with what is already available. That is likely my biggest mistake. I need to focus on the keys - get it pulled together - and let individual families decide how/if they would like to utilize other resources. 
  • ALL OTHER SOLIDLY scientific and age-appropriate materials introduce astronomy in upper elementary or middle school (the depth of astronomy - you can certainly get into phases of the moon and the patterns of the sun in earlier ages). Not that we Montessorians follow non-Montessori scope and sequences very closely (since most of them are not based on careful observation). But there is something here.... When Dr. Nebel, who is more Montessori-like than he knows, doesn't get into astronomy with the children until volume 3 for grades 6-8 --- well, I start taking notice. 
  • And then there are local educational requirements - which, again, Montessori tends to be far ahead of, but even pulling down their requirements 3-4 grades (before Common Core), brings astronomy barely into the beginning of upper elementary. 

What I am taking from my own notes laid out as above: 
  • consider the "keys" to modern life understanding of astronomy, along with historical development from what was observable through to what is inferred. What is key so that a homeschool family can hone in on the necessary pieces - and leave room for exploration, interest, follow-up (or leaving out the extras for the sake of time/space and FOCUS)
  • primary level: focus on only what is observable - experience-able - by the young child
  • lower elementary: take what we have in the albums and provide specific follow-ups for the most clear connections into astronomy, along with tips for the child whose interest entirely goes there. 
  • upper elementary: move into Montessori-style presentations that cover the typical local educational requirements for astronomy through middle school

Ok, time to get on with this!!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Montessori and Creationism

Legoboy and I have been busy with Cover Story, catching up and going deeper with reviewing our herb studies, preparing to sprout new seedlings and begin our herb garden anew, finishing up the major material-making projects for my 5 atriums, and getting caught up with Garden of Francis (including a site revamp, still to be posted) - all with limited internet access. Keys of the Universe discussion community has a life of its own, for which I am eternally grateful!

Legoboy has been assisting me in almost all of this - mostly happily, sometimes a bit more grudgingly. Somehow he still gets his Lego and reading time in - and all I get is a sore throat, lost voice and swollen lymph nodes (love those herbal remedies! I'd still be sick if on regular medications). But big sigh on being an adult and not an invincible child anymore!

One other project we have been working on is modifying the Keys of the Universe albums to specifically address those who believe in the 6-day creation of the earth, approximately 6,000 years ago. We have been studying resources in-depth to see what we can do with our lower elementary Montessori materials and presentations, most of which currently support an old-age of the earth even the ones that don't particularly emphasize evolution (some were already modified to remove "evolution").

The fact is that Maria Montessori lived at a time when long-term evolution and the Bible were potentially going to be reconciled; so she combined them. The last century has certainly brought about many changes in scientific processes, our ability to look in more detail at the presented evidence, and begin to realize that some holes just aren't going to be filled in, specifically because there is nothing to fill it in.


My household is Catholic. I am Catholic. Our homeschooling is imbued with the Catholic Faith.

I receive many questions about how we combine Montessori and the Faith, particularly in regards to the origins of the world. That part is the easy part.

The hard part is the persistent lack of understanding in our world, especially among Catholics, about what Catholics must believe about the origins of the world. Required to believe:
  • God created the world. 
  • God created two parents, each with an eternal soul and free will. 
  • There was an incident that lost Grace for the human race. 
  • He promised a Redeemer, who became incarnate as Jesus Christ. 
  • God is implementing Salvation History with the cooperation with the free will He gave to humans. 

From there it is open to interpretation. HOW did God create? How long did it take? Evolution, 6-day Creation, something in between? The Church allows us to look to the evidence for ourselves and believe what we will, if anything at all, on these matters.

That is not to say that people within the Church have not strongly put forth their own conclusions, and even made it sound authoritative.

In the Catholic Church, it is not authoritative as a required dogma of belief (what one must believe in order to be a true Catholic) unless it is promulgated by the Pope. Even the Popes who have believed, for themselves, one way or another on matters of creation that have been left open, never spoke dogmatically on those topics.

Respect for free will - especially when the Holy Spirit has not revealed it to us.

I personally lean VERY strongly to 6-Day Creation. I used to be VERY strong (devout?) believer in long-term evolution - I saw all the evidence and believed, I saw all the evidence and ignored all the holes. Then I started asking questions about those holes. This is MY experience. I will not push it off on others when the Catholic Church leaves us to interpret for ourselves. I suppose I will only receive the final knowledge on this matter, if (when?) I reach Heaven and the Beatific Vision myself.

Legoboy and I are putting together resources to help out others wanting to do Montessori with 6-Day Creation at the foundation.

Genesis Montessori is the slow fruit of our labors.

We don't have anything actually available for sale or review just yet. We are establishing the framework, then slowly filling it in so that we can then focus on each detail with confidence in the structure. It is really fun to work on this with my 9 year old at my side - and many times at the helm!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Herb Love

Here's a post that has been a while in the making - for something so simple! 

Our indoor garden went downhill fast after some dear friends over-watered; and we had a pest issue with the mulch used - our treatments were too-little-too-late :( 

But the marshmallow lives on! Can't beat that!

We started Herb Fairies when they opened up this past spring. We're not exactly "fairy" people in our home, but it is a neat concept and storyline to teach the various properties and uses for a wide variety of herbs. 

Each month, a new story is released. Legoboy reads the book via the computer and takes a look at some of the other information. He's more on top of things than I am ;) 

Eventually (generally long after that month has passed), I will sit down and print out selected pages for our binder. 

We then listen to the audio-book together while we each color our own coloring page. Again - we're not exactly coloring page people here, but it is nice to color in the flowers and leaves of the plant at hand while listening to a story about it. 

It is really much better to do the stories in the month they are received, because that is the when the plant is already in bloom and going to be in bloom out in nature already. We attempted to grow things inside, but we had a series of unfortunate events - now that winter is soon upon us again (we have a south-facing window and grow tomatoes inside during the winter - they don't grow as much in the summer for us), I think we'll start again with fresh seeds.

I try to print on the lowest ink setting possible - and use up low ink cartridges - so our pages turn out light. It just means we can fill in the details we like (and get the information through our hands again!).

The great thing about our binder is that, even if we did the work in the actual month provided, there is SO much there - that you can easily pick and choose a few things this year; and cycle back around to it next year. We also have a beautiful binder full of recipes, crafts, additional activities, uses, journal pages and background information (like scientific classification information). One would have to cut back on other studies in order to do everything provided in one month. It has really been worth every penny spent.

I myself am really learning a lot and enjoying every minute of it!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Elementary Biology - Scientific Classification

Within the AMI elementary biology album, there are two levels of classification:
  • simple classification - primarily for the lower elementary student as plants and animals are being explored; simple classification based on observable characteristics - essentially "practice sorting" while being able to explain one's choices
  • scientific classification - primarily for the upper elementary student. The "traditional Montessori" system utilizes a dichotomous system for Kingdom Vegetalia and a not-so-dichotomous for Kingdom Animalia.

The simple classification is truly simple - it is organizing specimens that are on hand or through photos. No extra or particular materials necessary. 

The scientific classification though... not so easy. And that is where Legoboy is heading in less than a very few number of days. I have intended to get this material prepped at various times over the course of the last 4 years, but it just hasn't happened. So here we are. 

And oh my. What a chore! 

What troubles I am causing for myself: 
  • studying up on others' takes on the Montessori approach, including a prevalent science author with materials available on several Montessori websites. I purchased some of the material to get a feel for it. It doesn't sit well with me - particularly the sections that say, "We'll use those old outdated ways for now until the scientists get all the new naming structures in place." It is all just very complicated. And if you're looking at anything from a faith-based perspective? Well, her intention straight-out in the introduction to the book I own is to get away from humans as stewards of the earth - we are simply part of the earth (she's puts the words "an important part" in parentheses perhaps to downplay the anti-stewardship statement she'd just made?). Sorry - the whole attitude rubs me entirely wrong. 
  • studying up on more recent scientific classification methods, without the Montessori component. Yep, up in the air. At least the above-mentioned author is right on that one. So whatever I create now to "match" will be in-progress anyway, needing updates sooner and often. 
  • There are so many varieties of classification. 
  • the fact is that evolutionary-based classifications, which can only be based on current hypothesis (which change as the times change) are simply not appropriate to provide to young children. We want to give them the unchanging facts first - then with that solid foundation we can build upwards into the unknown or unclear areas. 
  • And some kids won't care - so let's give them the foundation they need for a solid education and let them be, without over-complicating the matter. 
  • Convincing myself that the Montessori materials for scientific classification are outdated - is spinning me around in circles. The only clear path is to accept the materials as they are, present these to the children.....
  • and leave "The Tree of Life" and other materials for adolescence, where they belong; NOT in elementary.

With that load off my shoulders, I can move forward, create the materials I received in training, enjoy my son's childhood instead of nitpicking all of these details - and if it works for him, we'll pick up further biological studies down the road. 

So our material might still include phylum for the plants - and that may be outdated for now (the above author states they might come back but with a different name) - but this system is based on observable characteristics that an elementary child can handle. 

Like utilizing the mind for foreign languages, this work will prep the children for further classification down the road - it is not the only way to organize the world - it is ONE way. And it is one way that works for the elementary child. 

UPDATE 10/15/2013: Progress is being made! I hope to have a download available for purchase at Garden of Francis and Keys of the Universe very soon. Keys of the Universe discussion community participants will access it for free ;)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Writing Experiences - Upper Elementary

Reading The Remarkable Journal of Professor Gunther von Steuben
Legoboy was finally able to start his Cover Story program we ordered a few weeks back. Through Homeschool Buyers Co-Op, we got it for a significant discount and we were one of the first people to receive it. He has long had his eye on their high school "One Year Adventure Novel" (he kind of prefers their follow-up program on Science Fiction and Fantasy, but he knew he would do the Adventure version first) - and was SO excited when they created the middle school level "Cover Story." At the time we learned this, he was in an online middle school literature course on Lord of the Rings with my favorite college professor - so he already had an inkling he might be able to do this middle school writing course sooner than "6th grade". 
Well, it took a few weeks for our lives to settle into the current school year (our school year still adjusts at Advent, but we have school-year-based activities and programs we join or I lead) - and he had a few requirements of my own before I was entirely certain of his readiness: I wanted him to review the lower elementary grammar boxes material (ostensibly to help me with some errors I had in the files, but also for his own review since we're not in a classroom where built-in review just happens), he also had some more language analysis work to work through - we will finish that up concurrently with his writing program. Otherwise, his "language arts" for the 'year' is in this box: 

I say 'year' in quotes not just because of our Advent school year change - but also because, well, it's Legoboy. He's creating a magazine about (guess!). I just have a strong feeling things won't take a typical school year. Although - they might. We shall see. I do anticipate by Easter, he will have produced his own magazine, but I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a Christmas thing is all ;) 

What is in the box?

Teacher guide; student text; Journal (reading/writing); DVD set

The DVD does most of the teaching, with a lesson watched each of three days a week. There is a bonus DVD on grammar in case the child needs some additional work there; otherwise the program assumes the child has a good foundation there. Each of the core lessons are followed with a tiny number of pages done in the...

student book: focuses on exercises which clarify their topic, get them thinking about their topics, looking at different styles of writing, reading some short story selections and analyzing.

Write in the journal 5 days a week - instructions are given on the DVD. It alternates between the "Professor" and sets of blank pages to be filled in by the student. In the beginning days, the student writes sets of questions that come to mind - could be unrelated to one another - just to get started on "thinking": just asking the questions. Later they start to look at how to find the answers to those questions. Hm. Sounds a bit like "research" ;) The journal assignments build from asking questions, to describing interesting details, to a 5-sentence paragraph, to dialogue, to a paragraph describing a person, to a paragraph "mini-story" - and that's just the beginning!

If you follow the program to a T, it comes out to 3 days a week of DVD and workbook; 5 days a week of writing in the journal. Not very much time spent at all, which is great for someone with a full schedule. I really like this simplicity, because it means we have so much more flexibility with it when it comes to possible sickness, scheduling, and focusing on developing relationships with other people.

This first week is picking a theme - Legoboy is doing all the exercises in this section even though he has his theme already so that he gains experience for the future, when perhaps he won't have a topic already picked out that is acceptable to the current authority - i.e. college.

This is where I am (again!) so in love with the Montessori method of education and living. We keep things to the essential keys - and then we can flesh out interests, pull in other resources at will, and enjoy the learning process. Yes, I'm gushing. ;) I enjoy these moments as they come!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Rolling Mats at Home

When we moved several states over for Montessori training, my son attended a Montessori school full-time. Despite having learned how to roll mats and the like at home, he truly honed in on this work within the school setting.

So much so that he brought his work home with him. One evening, after he had rolled literally everything sensical that he could find to do so - he took my paper and began to roll it as well! I was laughing too hysterically to think to photograph the rolled blankets, aprons, placemats, coats, washcloths and towels - but I did get the paper!

So much for the ladies at the training center telling me that children who attend Montessori school will be put off by having the materials at home (it didn't happen in our case - his work was enhanced by me making materials at home for him to "test" despite being at school 10 hours a day in a fully equipped classroom).

A few weeks later, he started in a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium at our local parish (yay! I was so happy to be at a parish with an atrium! He had such a wonderful catechist too!) - and he was showing HER how to roll the mats because apparently she didn't do it the way HE had learned it. ;)

Hi Mama! I'm rolling mats!
(notice the one behind him? already rolled)

He even PATTED the ends - just like the teacher did!
I so did not teach him that part.

Unrolling his work.
Got to to do it again!!! Unroll and do it over!
Now it's a fun game because Mama is laughing and the camera is flashing. 

Oh the memories this brings back...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Montessori Co-Op Language materials

I have these two language materials stored in my elementary impressionistic charts box - mostly left over from co-op, but Legoboy recently found this one and loves it:

I made this parts of speech display for my elementary co-op children - to remind them what each symbol meant. They had not had these symbols in primary, so this was a very helpful chart for them. 

This is one of the handwriting charts from my AMI primary language album. It used to be framed - not sure where the frame went ;) This is a sample of the banded line paper (faded on one side), placement of the letters on the paper and one of the several handwriting charts the children should have in primary (and sometimes in lower elementary) - I find the ones with cursive and print together especially helpful for children who learned print first.

These two very simple charts allowed my lower elementary co-op children with no primary level experience to fully integrate into a part-time Montessori classroom, without the need for outside resources or modifying the true Montessori experience in any way - any modifications made were the same ones I would use in a full-time classroom.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

First Paper - On Respect

Recently, Legoboy was required by his tae-kwon-do instructor to write a one-page paper on respect. This is the first outside "assigned paper" he's ever had, outside of some paragraphs here and there. At home, we've had other types of writing assignments, easing into writing "papers".

The pictures throughout this post are some of the resources he used to write that paper.

Despite having all the keys he needed, he felt quite overwhelmed. So, while I was occupied with my own work, I non-chalantly reminded him of the writing process:
  1. get your ideas down on paper (wide variety of options - notecards, bubbles, lists, etc.)
  2. organize those ideas under main headings
  3. consider any other headings that should be included (look at "audience requirements") - edit as needed
  4. physically organize all these ideas in order, and begin writing on paper with complete sentences.
  5. Edit from there as needed.
Praying for Gifts of the Holy Spirit

So he did just that list. As he considered the types of respect, he decided to divide it up under "Mom (and Dad, if ever)", "Teachers/Instructors" (to include all the teachers and instructors he has such as catechists, speech teacher, TKD instructors, any camp leaders, etc.), and "Other Adults of Authority" (godparents, grandparents - the sort of people whose opinion and advice he seeks out on a routine basis). 

He then proceeded to write his paper - one paragraph for each type of adult. It turned out great! And he even capitalized where he was supposed to do (an ongoing idiosyncrasy of his is to leave out capitalization).

learning the names and definitions of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Before I proceed forward, let's look at some background: 

Why do we homeschool?
We homeschool because it is the best available option for us at this time. If we had a full-time local Catholic Montessori school - or if I could open one at this time - Legoboy would attend. 

Why Montessori or homeschool and no other option?
I want my son to think for himself, be a productive and contributing member of society, be self-assured and live as a true Child of God. Unfortunately, I find these things difficult (not impossible!) to achieve in a public school or most of the locally available private school settings (including our local Catholic schools). The local school system is an excellent one - it just doesn't meet our needs. Legoboy interacts with a full society on a daily basis, as he would in a multi-age Montessori classroom with Goings Outs. 

Level 3 (ages 9-12+) - Peoples and People of God
Peoples are the nations and civilizations that have risen up,
made discoveries, invented, created gifts -
then faded away - but left their gifts to others (horizontal connections amongst peoples).
The People of God are the Jews and Christians.
This work explores the connections amongst peoples, and the moral responsibility
to utilize the gifts received from others, develop them, and pass them on
on a national level - and on a very personal level.

I also do not believe in wasting time. Rising before 6 am to be on a school bus with ages 5-18, before 7AM, to return after 3PM, with a total of 90-120 minutes on the bus each day - when you are 6 years old (now 9yo) is not a good use of time. Driving back and forth to pick-up/drop-off is not a good use of my own time (I did this for 2 years when I had in-home daycare - picking up and dropping off children during what would have been our family prayer-times - but I was paid to do that). Legoboy has been able to accomplish the schoolwork of the public school in a matter of minutes each day, without additional homework time; he has time to explore his own interests and go very deep with them. He has time to participate in activities that others have to say "no" to (or that others say "yes" then back out when it gets to be too much).

My son is learning to maintain his commitments, because he does not over-commit. Each new activity, whether on-going, short-term or one-time, we are able to discuss the realities of the situation and make an appropriate commitment level, such that we don't break promises. We have the experience repeatedly with children attending full-time schools of broken commitments, tired children, cranky parents who over-step their boundaries in public. It is simply not a culture we seek for ourselves. 

source for the Gifts: Scripture itself
Scripture is the primary reading reference in our household
It is so easy in school to just "get by" - our Montessori-homeschool is based on mastery: while we might move on to other areas of study within that subject, we continue to review and work on skills that need to be mastered - they don't just get passed over and left behind as so readily happens in schools. As homeschoolers (and Montessorians), we review just what needs to be reviewed and reinforce all else. 

Some of the definitions - particularly COUNSEL

Also, we can take our time when needed - have a deadline for a project at school and turn it in late? Grades get knocked down, but you move on with life; don't do so well in 5th grade, you move on to 6th grade without enough time to ensure basic skills are thoroughly covered. Most schools simply cannot handle the developmental needs of a child who has a wide variety of ability levels - one-room school-houses and Montessori schools address these appropriate developmental needs of their students. It is not the fault of most teachers - it simply how "the system works". What a sad fact. How many times, I (the "good student") learned how to play the system when I was in school - sometimes to my own long-term benefit, but many times to my own long-term detriment. "Playing the system" is NOT something I want to my son to learn. I want him to respect legitimate authority, learn to function within it, and know when and how to properly address concerns. 
The Mystery of Life and Death

As a Montessori homeschooler, we have our foundation and framework provided by the Montessori albums ("lesson plans") and we have the construction of this growing human being fleshed out by his own interests, local educational standards (he's been studying US History because that is what the local schools do in 3rd grade - that is the ONLY thing they've done to date that's he wouldn't have done on his own), and parental requirements. To flesh out these interests and go deeper with our work, we utilize other resources. This is a Montessori practice at elementary. 
Level 2 (ages 6-9) Maxims Cabinet
maxims are moral statements of Jesus calling us to our "maximum"

He has responsibility for his own work - my responsibility lies in assuring he has the necessary keys to get the job done to his greatest potential.

Level 3 study of some of the moral parables

What does this have to do with writing a paper?
Short answer: I don't do his work for him. I don't homeschool to DO his work, his study, his learning, his projects FOR him. I know this is common practice in schools - for the parents to do so much for the kids. NOPE. Not a chance in THIS house. My mother didn't do my work for me when I was in school - my experience was my own - for better or for worse - and for that I am SO grateful. I wish she'd been on my case a bit more, but there's another bonus to homeschooling. Want Lego-playing time? Get that project of yours done.
(funny thing is - those parents who do the work for their kids - could spend the exact same amount of time homeschooling their children instead - and there'd be a lot less stress in those homes, a lot more responsibility, and time to just be together as family - all the reasons I homeschool)

Legoboy has been writing with pen and paper since he was 3 1/2, when he started writing "thank you" on cards of his own accord (I thought he was drawing pictures until he asked me how to make a K). Not consistently and he wasn't writing out a college thesis at that age (he's still not ;) ). I do not consider him a genius, but I do consider that he has had the proper keys to learning, via Montessori and homeschooling, that allow him to blossom forth at the proper time for HIM. 

We have used some writing resources outside of the Montessori keys: 
  • Creative Communications: a series of writing exercises designed to get the children thinking and utilizing real writing skills - nothing arbitrary here! These are assignments from me, but he enjoys them. 
  • writing prompts from the history and science magazines he reads - these have never been "assigned" by me, but have been freely worked on by Legoboy
  • Typical writing experiences: letters to family, grocery lists, write-ups to me about why we should spend our hard-earned money on specific purchases (what would be the benefits and drawbacks, how much will it cost, how long will it last, maintenance, where will it be stored, etc.)
  • summaries of Scriptural passages, with some quotes
No formal writing - he's not even in middle school yet. We did purchase this resource to utilize when he is done reviewing some elementary materials for me: 

He is REALLY excited to do this work, because over the course of the curriculum a magazine is created. He's already selected his topic. Anyone's guess what the topic is ;) (I'm not telling - it's too obvious!)
I have looked the material over and I know that at age 9 1/2 he is just barely ready for this middle school work. Go Montessori! (and homeschooling!)

I repeat the short story: I DON'T DO THE WORK FOR HIM. That is ridiculous to think of anyway - who checks his work? Me. Who doesn't assign grades? Me. If it basically wouldn't be considered "A" or "B" work in a school setting, who works with him to make sure he understands the concepts at hand and has him re-do it? Me. Who is with him every step of the way and knows the progress he is making? Me. 
So why would I do any of it for him!? I spend my time TEACHING him (or providing the tools that he uses to learn it for himself) - what benefit do either of us get for me to do his work for him? I don't have to report his work or show it to anyone. And it would go against all my parenting goals of raising a responsible adult.

Reading the Scripture itself

The Respect Paper:
So there we are, in the level 3 atrium at our local parish - I am working on materials and organizing boxes of mixed items. He is sitting at a low table surrounded by the Moral Formation materials, working on his respect paper. He reads the first paragraph to me (about parental respect) - great; he reads the second paragraph to me (about teacher/instructor respect) - not so great - I am a HUGE stickler against blind-obedience. So we discuss that I only want him to obey when it is not a sin (my words) - he can do a tae-kwon-do form wrong by instruction, his speech therapist can correct his pronunciation wrong - and these he needs to obey and speak to me later about it - but if someone tells him to commit a sin, he is NEVER-NEVER-NEVER to obey. So he re-wrote his second paragraph to say that he would "obey all moral instruction" - perhaps "morally correct instruction" would have been better, but at the time I let it go, because he got the concept and this is HIS paper. 

His words. 

Not mine. 

Level 3 Prophet studies - moral and messianic
Then he struggled with the 3rd paragraph - he struggled for quite a while on this one - he knew what he wanted to say, but didn't have the words for it. I, in my impatience at the sound of a whining voice and busy with my own work, tired and hungry at the time, told him in a rather (too?) sharp voice, "You have everything you need to figure this out - use the materials in the atrium if you have to."

So he did.

He wrote about seeking the counsel of those who have moral authority over him and considering their words when making decisions of his own. 


I thought it was great. I was so proud of him. I AM still proud of him. 

Typology studies - this one is creation (How does creation continue today?)
Legoboy has also studied Sin (How do we fight Sin today?)
and the Flood (How are we renewed by God today?)

So here I am feeling guilty about snapping at him - when he's writing a paper on respect. Seriously, talk about a hypocritical Mama, right!? 

He was told by the tae-kwon-do instructors to re-write it with the insinuation that Mom did the work; that he couldn't possibly have written it himself. Later, after I explained that he had taken bits and pieces from several of the atrium materials to construct this paragraph, the accusation was changed to him copying it from somewhere. There was so much mis-communication during this time period, I am not sure how any of us got to the other side of it (but we have!).

The two instructors involved continue to state that Legoboy is obviously intelligent, surpasses his peers in many ways especially academically, they see the books he reads. So why is it so hard to believe he could write this paper BY HIMSELF? 

Because for every belt test there is a paragraph supposed to be written - and he previously only wrote a sentence. Well, no-one told him to do otherwise. Once he was told to write more, he did. He's a boy - and a child - and it's not school-work - he's going to do the bare minimum needed on something that is not of direct interest. So if you want more, TELL HIM - then he'll do it. He also took a short-cut (which I stopped as soon as I caught him) - he went through the entire book and tried to fill them all out something like 4 belt tests ago - he is supposed to write one PER belt test - the progression of growing and maturing is supposed to be shown. He's efficient, I'll give him that. 

The one instructor then had the audacity to tell me that Legoboy couldn't have written that 3rd paragraph specifically because if he'd written those words, he would be living them out in his life. Ummm.....

This man is a father of several grown children and he has already forgotten that head-knowledge isn't always heart-knowledge? And that sometimes the act of writing something down and thinking through what one believes about something turns it into heart-knowledge. That's not copying - or getting help - that's figuring it out and making it one's own (one of the other reasons we Montessori and homeschool).

Ever since Legoboy wrote that paper, he has been living it out - to a T. He didn't "live it out" beforehand because he hadn't organized all these thoughts and teachings yet - this paper has been GOOD for him, let us allow the child to grow up now and not hold him to his understanding BEFORE the paper!

10 Commandments and the Level 3 maxims
(same as the level 2, on smaller tablets - and 5 more of them)

I appreciate the assignment from them, because of this growth in my child. 

I also appreciate the bitter side of this gift in that I see my son growing stronger through being in appropriately accused of something - yet still respecting the very people who falsely accused him. 

Level 3 History of the Gifts of God
(level 2 is bigger but covers the same concepts)
Level 3 requires personal responses
regarding the Gifts we have received.
Yes, I'm offended. This started a month ago - and the more I consider it, the more I pray about it, the more I let it go - the more I realize how much pain could be inflicted here, how much trust is being broken, how much my son is hurting because of the pain and the dropping trust - and how much he is growing by working through that adversity and forgiving. He is a better person than me. 

We ALL have so much to learn from the children.

In the end, Legoboy was asked to provide examples of respect - because I refused to have him re-write his legitimate work, and I am his ultimate authority here on earth. I think this is the first time ever I have modified a requirement from someone in authority over him. So they provided a new assignment. Since they didn't give any other guidelines to it, he created a "graphic paper" for them:
UPDATE 10/7/2013: It turns out they loved the fact he used a combination of art and some words to show the examples. They also love the examples he utilized. Success!

For the PUBLIC record - I edited the first page of his paper entitled "respect in graphic" - I replaced his name for obvious reasons - you can tell where that was/is.
He provided 5 examples of "this/not this":

  • practicing low-block while the instructor isn't watching (do it right, or do it sloppy)
  • putting a book on the shelf properly in our home (yeah, there's a history here on this one)
  • saying no to drugs
  • seeking counsel (I love this one: say "hmmm" to consider someone's counsel - or say "I don't care what you think" in the other)
  • speech therapy (he listed the things the could think about if being disrespectful (Legos, etc.) compared to what he would think if respectful (whatever it is she is telling him to work on)).