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, February 28, 2013

What should be in a Montessori environment?

I started one blog post and it became two! So I just finished writing them both together, then I'm separating them, so you might see some similar sentences here ;)

What physical things and areas should be in a Montessori environment, homeschool or otherwise?

For many of us homeschoolers, on the internet, we get overwhelmed - or we get bored - when we set up what we think is the perfect Montessori environment only to discover that it's not working for us the adults, or it's not working for the child(ren).

In that case, it's not a Montessori environment ;)
The environment must meet the needs of the children. 

At all ages, there is a freedom of movement, a freedom of choice of work, a respect for the internal workings of the child... but how those needs are met vary with age. At infancy/toddler, we provide smaller spaces with various items to explore. At primary we have more "academic-looking" materials, and the child has few to no requirements for his 3 hour work cycle (keeping in mind that group dynamics help the classroom setting; at home the adult does need to provide SOME guidelines). Kindergartners are moving into the initial use of work-plans, so that by elementary there is a work plan or work contract, along with a work journal. Nothing prohibitive - this does not make it "school by choice" (meaning a child must do all typical school work but at his own pace or in his own order) - instead, the plan is worked out between child and adult, with some items to ensure proper foundation/framework and the adult helps guide the child in his project planning.

Yes, that's right! Projects! Elementary children should be working on PROJECTS! Research; timelines; creating their own materials! OH! The FUN!

If your elementary children are not exploring their own interests (or they express an interest and you fill in too much, too fast for them), consider backing off for a bit. And examine your environment.

Start with the psychological environment - what nuances are you putting out there in your speech, your gestures, your focus during your child's school time. Are YOU learning? Exploring? Connecting with the world? Asking questions and seeking answers? Using your own creativity to explore possibilities?

Then start to consider the tools you need to get there or remain there.

The most obvious inclusions in a Montessori environment will be the materials described in the albums of your choosing (and YES, you should have albums - pulling it together from the internet is not going to give you REAL Montessori - I've been there! I know!).

The one trouble with albums is that not everything is laid out so precisely when it comes to the physical and psychological nature of the environment, hence the emphasis by many about not really "getting" Montessori unless you've been trained. But even training doesn't promise full understanding; I have many trained Montessorians come to me with videos of their environments and ask me, "What is going on here? It's not working - what should I do to change it?"

The following is a list of items and areas that SHOULD be in a Montessori environment that may or may not be specifically delineated in your albums (but it IS there if you have a truly Montessori set of albums - and very likely is in the theory album (that if you don't have - you have NO IDEA what you are missing ;) ):
  • art area (some albums have art lessons, some don't; some have it in practical life or in culture; but it is rarely in an elementary set of albums - because it is presumed that you have the supplies for the children to research and create their own projects)
  • project-making supplies (boxes for dioramas, posterboard, mat board, clay, etc. - while this area kind of goes along with "art", consider this the "junk drawer" of creative art projects)
  • historical tools of the (various) trade(s) - you might rotate these in/out or explore them on Goings Outs to historical locations -- in primary we like to teach the children to wash cloths on a washboard; in elementary we can use hand-mills, soap-making tools, combing cotton or wool and spinning it into yarn, and much more.
  • hand-craft work such as weaving, knitting, crocheting, cross-stitch, sewing... in primary this is practical life; in elementary it is part of the child's life.
  • Minimal tray work in elementary; minimal themed sets; we want the children to be thinking, imagining, creating - and to be building practical skills so that they can fulfill their imaginations. Too much planned out for an elementary child or too many (in this case, too many is a very low number) themed sets and the children's imaginations are thwarted and/or are developed in an artificial manner. You provide the basic materials and LET them start combining stuff to create their own themed sets. 
  • Science supply area (in elementary) - you want the generic supplies available, along with a few resources to generate ideas, so that if they have a question about something, they can work it out relatively quickly. Anyone using AMI-style elementary albums now have the option at Home Science Tools to purchase a kit for the geography and biology albums - with just about everything you need in one package! (I do not make any money when you purchase that kit - it is simply something I set up to make the obtaining of the needed materials easier for those who are using AMI elementary Montessori albums). 
  • I cannot under-emphasize: STREWN BOOKS. Read a book yourself that you want your child to read; let him see you read it. Have a small book basket in each room with a small number of books you'd like them to read. Just this environmental touch provides a huge fuel for interest-led studies. 
  • A work-plan and work-journal - elementary. Accountability. Not something that hinders, but something that provides boundaries. It is interesting to note that the most creative artists will tell you they need boundaries in order to harness their creativity and create something beautiful. Totally open-ended? It just won't happen. Framework and foundation. 
  • Beautiful works of art - not just 2D work, but all forms - nice tables and chairs and furniture (or nicely covered!). Think "aesthetics". When the mind is at peace, it can flourish in beautiful ways. 
  • Space: your elementary child in particular needs space to spread out - he will get messy and look disorganized; while he still needs to be expected to put this things away properly when he is done, while working he SPREADS. Let it happen! ;) 
  • Outdoor space - playing, plants, animals, air. 
  • Phone books and other resources for locating appropriate Goings Out. 

Consider that you WANT the children to be creative and have as many practical skills as possible in the creative arts, BEFORE they hit the emotional/hormonal times of adolescence. Trust me on this one. And if you don't trust me, there was previously a Margaret Homfray video up where she said the same thing. ;) 

The above listed materials sound a lot like project-based learning, because PBL indirectly stemmed from Montessori. But I have separated that post out for tomorrow! ;)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Students Not Engaging: My Student Teaching Experience

UPDATE: If you are looking for more details, please visit this page for more of the nitty-gritty.

This blog is intended to detail our entire Montessori journey and part of that journey included my own training. I had AMI training at both primary and elementary. Primary was done "academic year format", with weeks in the fall for observation of at least 10 Montessori schools (1 full week in one; 1 full week in another; then additional mornings spent in a variety of other schools for a total of at least 90 hours of observation and one very sore bottom ;) ). Student teaching was done in the spring, with two full weeks at each of 2 schools.
At the first school.
Checking the records. 

Some of you will recognize that doesn't sound like much, especially compared to AMS' 1 full year of student teaching. I had one Montessori school principal I know say that AMS teachers come out of training strong on the "teaching" aspect, and AMI teachers come out of training with intuitive depth of the materials and how to apply it to various situations.

This past fall, I heard a woman speak to this question of "what is the difference? and isn't the 1 year better?" and her response was: I can't speak for AMS. I can only speak for AMI. I came out of training with 10 different classrooms of observation, 2 very intensely; and 2 more classrooms of putting it all into practice. When I started teaching I had 12 different ways I could approach a situation with a child. 12 different role models to guide my responses. And I felt like I breathed those materials. I didn't need to bring in anything else, because I knew Maria Montessori had already provided a solution in the materials we had on hand.

Hm. Interesting. So, in that regard, AMI teachers DO come out knowing how to teach - they've just not had *as much* practical experience just yet.

My experience was a wee bit different than most of the other ladies in my training.

I loved my primary training; and I loved my student teaching experiences - as different as they each were.

Summary of the first session:
The kids weren't working. They'd not been truly connecting with the materials consistently for a few months (only when I filled in for the teacher). They were cutting each other's hair and creating golden bead birthday cakes instead. Can we say 'madhouse'? The assistant was about to quit. The lead teacher was sick and had to take a leave of absence. The sub came in and was PHENOMENAL - but she could only be there part of the day. She and I made things happen - and part of that serious, intent work with the sensorial materials, with the language materials, with the math materials. We worked intensely with the children and they THRIVED.

My second set of student teaching days were at a Catholic Montessori school, with a well-run, peaceful environment that truly felt spiritual. When something happened (outside of school and I don't recall now what it was) that a child suggested they pray a rosary for the intention, the children went about their work, while praying the rosary, some with beads, some without. It was so beautiful to experience!

Oh, and there was one little boy with these large eyes, who just watched my every movement. When I invited him for presentations, he just watched my face with these large eyes - I had to remind him to look at the sandpaper letter. The teacher and the aide thought he had a crush on me! He just melted my heart with those eyes, his soft eyes, and his "Yes, Ms. Jessica." to everything I said. :)

It was such a blessed relief and a balm to my soul to be in that school. And those are the days when the joy returned - the joy of working with children - the joy of being in their presence and exploring the world WITH them - not as an automaton as they wanted in the child development program I was in (at two different colleges, no less!). Sigh. I loved that school!

My first student teaching wasn't so heavenly. In fact, it started out QUITE the opposite.

I had this van that was having issues - serious issues. And unbeknownst to me, I'd just given it a HUGE one (I'd put too much oil in at one point - it leaked oil pretty bad - I was waiting for it to leak out enough to deal with putting more in - I should have just gone in for an oil change - turns out it was measuring accurately and it ran OUT of oil. Completely. While driving. On the interstate. Yeah.)

Such peaceful displays as this
 uncluttered but
nicely decorated shelf.
The children kept the order
and decorated the room.
(Catholic Montessori)
But before I knew about that part.....

I had requested to student teach at the school where I'd been working the mornings most of the school year. That was no-no #1. They want you to expand your horizons. That's great and all, but let's just say I was already the back-up replacement for that position as it was ('morning hallway aide' to ensure state licensing; the original lady was in training with me and couldn't handle working and training - they hired me with trepidation because I would be working, training AND I was a single mom to one of the students...) - then once I was in, the before-school caregiver asked if I could take over her position as well - so I had two positions! (that's another blog post- by the time of student teaching, I'd already subbed for the lead teacher several times as well, at least for the mornings; in the afternoons on those days, the k-ers just went to non-Montessori "afternoon care")

and they didn't have anyone to replace my position(s) for such a long period of time - they could fanagle ONE block of student teaching if I could agree to work the after-school care from 3:30-5:30 (that parent volunteer would come in the mornings to cover my before-school position, and a rotation of parent volunteers would cover my normal morning position). During my time of student teaching with them, the usual aide would take my usual position during the morning, but I would still do the before-school portion of my position(s).

No-no #2: it was my son's school - they only had the one classroom. They don't want you student teaching in your own child's class.

No-no #3: The children were not in a state of normalization. Everyone knew it.

One way or another, my wonderful trainer finally said YES.

I go in the first day - all went well. I mostly observed the afternoon routine and gave a couple of presentations in the morning and a couple more in the afternoon. Went home "early" (end of the actual school day, rather than not picking up my son until 5:40). I had also been told I could rearrange the classroom if I saw fit. This seemed odd to me, but then, I had worked with this teacher all year and she did want me to have the best student teaching possible. Little did I know!

Day 2: Legoboy is acting funny. Not funny like "my mom is in the classroom messing me up" funny - just funny. "Something is off" sort of funny.
He went down for nap IMMEDIATELY after lunch. Didn't eat much - maybe 2 bites. Then sat there. He looked wiped out.
About an hour after literally conking out, he sat up, crying (he doesn't cry). The main aide came to get me and when I walked in, he had green slimy lines running down his face out of his eyes. I called his doctor and we got right in. By this time, he was asleep and didn't really wake up for anybody or anything.
Diagnosis: influenza, double eye infection, single ear infection. Go get meds, go home and rest.

Well, the meds were going to take some time so I took him home and a friend of mine picked up the meds and brought them over for me (went totally out of his way to do so!).

Day 3: 19 hours after his last bite to eat, I sit down on the couch next to my son who has not woken up, not eaten, fights me when I wake him enough to use an eyedropper for meds into his mouth, and barely lets me put the eyedrops in... I pick up Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to read for a bit. Author bio at the beginning: Lewis Carroll died of influenza.


I call the doctor: "At what point do I start pureeing food and injecting that into his mouth like I do the meds? He hasn't woken up since we were there yesterday. He's not eaten in 19 hours."
'Bring him in in 40 minutes and we'll take a look at him.' (that's how long it would take them to clear their waiting room of current patients so he doesn't spread anything)
15 minutes later, I am gathering his snowsuit, getting ready to lug him down three FULL flights of stairs (I'd just carried him UP the afternoon before), when he sits up - looks right at me - "I'm hungry. I'm thirsty."

OH! The words of the LIVING!!!!

The kid ate half a box of graham crackers and a TALL glass of water before coming up for air.

I called the doctor and canceled the appointment.

DAY 4: We came in later in the morning and he stayed away from the other children, but he wasn't contagious by this time according to the doctor and he was calmer, but otherwise normal. I was able to do some work with the children, and still go home at an "early" time - I liked this!

DAY 5: Finally a normal student teaching day. I don't remember much from that day. But I have it on my calendar as having happened. That may have been the day the teacher unloaded on me all of her personal problems (no children were present). It is the day I realized why she'd given me so much control.

DAY 6 (Monday of week 2): I come in, do the usual before school stuff, transition the children into the children's house environment because the lead teacher isn't there yet and I just got started; the teacher finally comes in a bit late. "Jessica, you have the prime opportunity! You are now the lead teacher for the next 2 weeks. I need a break, I cannot work." While not entirely out of the blue, I had a feeling Molly (my trainer) wouldn't like this!

  • No-no #3: Being in charge of the classroom more than an hour or so at a time. 
  • No-no #4: Being in charge of the classroom as the lead teacher - there *must* be a lead teacher there to monitor the student teaching experience. 

She called Molly. And Molly called me. They  made arrangements for me to teach in a different school. I could NOT do my student teaching alone. I was NOT to be the lead teacher. (remember all the subbing problems just to replace me??? now to replace HER too????)

I did finish out the rest of the day because it was impossible to set up anything fast enough for that day.

DAY 7: Drive van through lots of inner-city traffic to this other school. Due to not being able to drop off Legoboy until 7:30 and dealing with traffic, I arrived 45 minutes late. Minnesota weather; it's still winter. Enough said. I sat and observed, got to know the children and the classroom. I LIKED it, but the teacher insisted I must be there on time the following day.

Drove back to get Legoboy and called Molly - I can't do this. I will be late EVERY day, I'm already a week behind if you're not counting this past week's experience. My van can't take this! Then the aide realized I'm in the office crying on the phone with Molly; he silently hands me two chunks of hair in two different colors. He mouthed the names of the girls to whom the hair belonged. He made a cutting motion and mouthed the culprit's name. My big eyes must have invited him to then proceed to indicate "golden bead birthday cake - (with a large scattering motion) - you NEED to be here."

I shared this with Molly. She was livid about the situation; she felt I was trapping her despite my assurances I was so stressed out at the time I wouldn't even know how to trap someone! ....but - but - but - within 20 minutes, we finally had a sub - they'd found a sub for the school that was, get this: AMI trained - and WONDERFUL! (we didn't know THAT part at the time) While it was NOT in Molly's list of preferred circumstances, she very reluctantly let me do it: Go back to my son's school. Finish student teaching there. "You MUST make the most of your second student teaching and I will observe you THERE." (turns out she observed me at the first school because she realized she had schedule conflicts - the Catholic Montessori was a ways out). An hour of tears, no food since lunch, scared of what I would find, not sure WHAT I was getting myself into, I looked across the after-care room at the aide. Just stared at him. He told me later, he thought I was saying, "This better be worth it!" He said I looked dead.

I thought I was over-reacting. Turns out, I wasn't reacting enough.

I went to see the damage in the classroom. Oh my. It was bad. Really bad. I can't even describe it. But let me try:

  • more hair. 
  • golden beads. Everywhere. Did I mention, "Everywhere." We had a fish tank. With fish. They like birthday cake too. Or so it would seem. 
  • nothing - and I mean nothing was on shelves where it belonged. 
  • can I just admit I've blocked out some of the memories??
  • Oh those poor fish. 

Who subbed that day? I don't even know! But by this point in the year, these children should have been able to handle ONE morning in that environment without a Montessori trained adult present. How do I know this? Because I've seen that too! And Montessori herself describes it! 

Took care of the incident reports and the discussion with the president of the parent board (his daughter needed some hair repair that evening and he was LIVID - anyone noticing a theme of anger here? This is NOT Montessori!). All these livid people. And I just want to student teach! (insert WAHHH!!!!) I assured him I would take care of it, but I was not yet ready to divulge those details. (besides the kids will share it anyway, right?).
(by the way, I DID take care of the situation)

DAY 8: Usual before-school stuff - greeted the before-school care children warmly - perhaps overly so. The birthday cake girls came in. Upon finishing their breakfast, I set them up in the children's house immediately. You have used this material inappropriately. I will show how it works later this morning. Right now, you will gather every single bead and organize it thus. (I placed a sample of each item where it belongs) Come get me when it is properly in place. Do not touch the fish tank. No emotion. Very matter of fact. Get it organized. It's not anyone else's responsibility. You are all 5 and 6 years old and know better.
Yes the hair-cutter was in this group. She had some additional sweeping to do when the bead work was pulled back together.
The joy in his eyes while
doing this work. WONDERFUL!
She was later given the initial presentation on how to cut with scissors, keeping the tip of one blade always touching the table or mat. She was not allowed to do anything else with the scissors until she showed some responsibility. Harsh, perhaps - but she could have nipped an EAR or an EYE! Thus she clearly  need to go back to the 2 year old presentation on the scissors.

Meet the new teacher, explain the situation. She would be running late each day since she dropped off her brother at an adult care center. Ok. I'm there, I can get things started.

OH. Was SHE FANTASTIC! Because she so emphasized the sensorial materials, delving into their depths with children of all ages, I was able to take the math and the reading with the 5 year olds and focus in on them. We both mixed things up (I needed to do everything for student teaching and she needed to cover everything since I'd be gone for 2 weeks), but we had our primary areas of focus. Mixing it up allowed her to get to know all the children before I left for my "other" student teaching, and I could learn from her too.

Did I mention the word MARVELOUS yet!? The regular aide stepped out to become the hallway aide, but he kept poking in and asking, "are you sure these are the same children?"

Reading with the K-ers
Kids who couldn't read to save their lives, were reading 2nd grade reading level 2 weeks later. I worked with them all for 2 weeks  (we had 5 weeks off of training to do our student teaching, with Friday afternoons required to come in to the training center - two weeks at each school, with one week for spring break - well the way the schools had different spring breaks and the way things were going.... I didn't take a spring break).

At the end of DAY 8, the usual aide and I rearranged the classroom (not so much in areas, but more the items on the shelves) to perfectly align with my albums. It was like a visual album for me. And the children felt that flow of the work when they came in the next day. The environment was just so much more soothing for them and truly met their need for order.

DAYS 9-15: 

  • Children not reading were reading. 
  • Children who could have cared less and had low self-worth were smiling proudly and holding their heads high. 
  • Parents were commenting that their children were different kids at home - not whiny or complaining or overly tired, but peaceful and joyful. 
  • The aide decided he didn't like me after all when I had the thousand chain stretching into the lunch room and nap/after-care room from one afternoon into the following morning. It really messed up his work. Yeah well, we're there for the kids, right? This kid held his head up HIGH - and his mother couldn't believe he could count to 1000. He had to show her! This was a child with low self-worth previously, mumbled all the time, was routinely crabby and you could tell would be the child in regular school who "just doesn't care" because he doesn't learn the same as everyone else. Yet, he could count to ONE THOUSAND! THIS was meaningful work! 
  • I played the bells with them every single day. This really set the tone. Those bells are SO valuable!!!!
  • Some of the bells exercises were re-designed to be group in nature to get the older kids up to work that was valuable to them, deep enough for them. The younger ones were then presented with the basic presentations individually or in pairs, to get the work going. 
  • The children saw the work coming next and anticipated it. They better prepared themselves for what they saw was coming. Because it was already out. 
  • Once the work got going, it SAILED. 

The difference? They were engaging with the materials. We each (the sub and I) observed the children's needs and found a material that fit their current spiritual needs. Sometimes, that meant we skipped some of the basic presentations because the older children needed what for them was "real" work. For most of the children that meant telling them their choices of A or B, and then they could choose something else. It meant more presentations than usual for that time of the year. But it was necessary.

They were doing REAL WORK. And THRIVING.

Then I had 2 weeks of student teaching at the Catholic Montessori school. Wonderful. The joy finally returned and I can't speak of the teacher and her environment highly enough! Everything I experienced affirmed everything I had just done at the first school; and I was still going back to the first school in the after-school-care hours, many times still working with the children on reading practice or math presentations, just to keep them going.
(on my way home that first day is when the van's engine blew out, due to having no oil; during my 1st student teaching time, we'd mostly walked to the school (a block away) and I only drove the 1 1/2 mile to the training center on Fridays; no time for the engine to heat up and use more oil... I made it to the school and almost made it back. It was bad. For the next several days I actually borrowed the car of the original teacher's husband who was out of town - then a good friend of mine had parents who were looking to get rid of their van; so it was given to me and Legoboy. There were and continue to be many blessings such as these that keep me humble! Thank you to EVERYONE who took care of us during that time!)

When it all ended, I was tired. But I had definitely grown in my faith in the method, my faith in remaining TRUE to the teachings of Maria Montessori. There is just no going back for me. And there is no compromise. We can use other resources, for sure! But the underlying methodology will always be Montessori for me. It just meets the children's spiritual needs.

Now, don't get me wrong. I loved Legoboy's guide. There were personal problems. She did come back after 6 weeks of absence and finished out the year. Enough foundation remained that the rest of the year was good, but the parents commented that they felt the difference and some of the unsettled nature had returned.

She went back to her home-country for most of the summer, as she did every year. When she returned, she intended to come back to work, but she passed away before the school year started. She had already been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had sought treatment. I pray for her soul every day. She was wonderful in so many ways and I know she wanted what was best for those children and her own two young sons.

Her experience shows me there is one downfall to Montessori: if Montessori is not coupled with a spiritual expression, it CAN leave people hanging. Even Maria Montessori herself said something loosely to this affect. We are meeting the inner needs of the child, which will touch their souls, their identities as they construct themselves from all that we provide.

I had one little girl in the children's house there with whom I was working on the bead material. She sailed through everything I had in my album with the chains and all. She loved it and just ate it up and worked with it for hours (and still worked on reading skills, the language games, the sensorial materials work for 5 year olds and had time for practical life - she was really busy and loved it!). When we got to the last work I had for her, she asked me what is next? I said, This is all I have for now. "When will you have more?" I didn't know what to say. And she looked downcast. As if she were standing over a precipice and there is nothing there. I had taken her to such heights and (not having the elementary material to move into), I had left her hanging there. I felt terrible.

But then it was like a whisper in my heart. I knew her family was Catholic, so I asked her mom if they prayed the rosary. "No, I'm not sure she could sit through it - it's so long - we do the introductory prayers as a family." I suggested they do it. Just see where it goes.

This girl came in the next day, headed straight for the bead chains and started counting them up, making various matches to the rosary beads - "5 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Marys, but it was really 50 Hail Marys; 3 Hail Marys at the beginning. 1 for the creed." She laid out all the corresponding chains. Then she got out the bead bars and created the rosary on her mat with the bead bars. Then she changed up the colors. Finally, after about an hour or so of this (with minor interruptions to tell friends what she was doing), she came over to me to say, "I found something more! I can pray while doing math! Jesus is with us always and if He created the world, He created math too!"


That precipice had a golden bridge!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Work Journals - Starters

(I re-posted this because it wasn't showing up in blog readers and I know some people were waiting for it it show up! So I've copied everything here to a new post and deleted the original (there were no comments yet) ;) ).

A work plan goes hand in hand with a work journal, but the ideas can be mixed and matched to suit any individual child's purposes.

Some people just use a checklist, which has benefits and drawbacks, more or less so depending on the style used.

Other use movable cards - in or out of baskets or plastic pockets.

Others only concern themselves with keeping any generated physical work, such as math papers and the like, stored in binders or folders or notebooks.

Others might add photographs.

These are what I would personally call starter journals - and they are great! They get the child thinking about his day, what he has accomplished, reviewing his work, collecting it into a notebook or binder - being able to go back and see his progress. These are fantastic!

Ultimately a lot of that can become something a portfolio for the child's work, and the above processes, in one form or another definitely continue throughout their school years and perhaps into life (family photo albums and scrapbooks, for example ;) ).

When I can wrest them from my son's bedroom, where he likes to horde his favorite stuff, I'll post a photo of a couple of his own portfolios.

Here are two articles from elementary Montessori schools that use work journals:

The work journals described in the above links are what I personally typically see in an elementary classroom - or some form of it.
The child writes the starting and ending time of his work, along with the name of the material and sometimes what it is he is doing with that material.

This is where I suggest (based on my son's recommendation!) to parents of children who are just not wanting to write - to draw something related to their work. I did this with my co-op children this past year - they did not have to write the times, but anytime they did geography/science experiments, they had to illustrate or write out the results of what happened or something interesting related to it.

Work Journal: Noting how time is spent
Those of you with a clock stamp could offer it to the child to put in his work journal to record the times.

Honestly, I didn't have my son start recording times of his work until 2nd year in elementary and then only sporadically. Now that he's 3rd year and a half, I am requiring it. He really needs the habit formation of consistency, tracking how his time is spent and more appropriate planning of his time - we can only DO so much in one day ;)

Since the stamp we have is rather large, it also means that he has more space to write - the start time on the left; the end time on the right; with the words in-between - so I have him write what he practiced or learned during that time --- basically, what value did that spent time just have for you. And hey, that could be "relaxation" or "reviewing past math skills." I'm good with that. But I want HIM to be cognizant of it, hence he selects the words and writes them down.

He can then also note what he would like to do next with that area if/when he comes back to it. Just a quick note for himself - then when we plan the next work plan, or when he is looking for something to do, he can check his work journal and see where he's been and where, at the time, he wanted to go from there. I don't always hold him to those ideas, because they are just that: ideas. But many times, the "idea" is an upcoming presentation anyway.

As he completes any of those past "ideas", he placed a check-mark with the date that he did do it. Then he can flip ahead to that date and see the progress of his work. And sometimes he discovers he has already done the next steps, or that he is no longer in need of what he previously indicated. So we mark those accordingly (either indicating date done, or NLN (no longer necessary)).

This part is still a work-in-progress for our own household, but it really seems to be working quite well - even though it does need several reminders until the habit is formed.

I wish I would have required the time-marking sooner. My own regret for our personal situation. It is REALLY good for him. He says, "Especially when you tell me that I've not done any math this week and I can show you that I have worked on math a total of 5 hours and 40 minutes all week!"

As with any of the work plan (work contract) or work journal posts here - everyone will get different mileage with each idea - consider the options, consider making up your own, and see what works with YOUR elementary child right now. Next year, it might be something different. So PLEASE share all of your ideas :)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hopping Around Washington DC

No, we're not on a Going Out, but how fun would that be?

I used to live outside of DC and this game would have been great to have on hand beforehand! It's a map of DC and you use tokens and coin stacks to move around the board, putting your people into the White House, Congress and Supreme Court, with LOTS and lots of variations.

(Affiliate Link)

Legoboy found this game at Half Price Books early in a week, and by the middle of the week he was connecting the locations with various we've studied in our US History studies. Though we are moving very slowly through that study, he has been paying attention to things such as President's Day, MLK Jr Day, presidents on money and the like. So as we study the eras that cover the people associated with the buildings as well as the buildings themselves, he'll already have some familiarity. 

And it was great fuel for discussion on how the Library of Congress is NOT *the* Congress - and how the LoC organizes books, their purpose, etc. 

Each round of the game goes relatively quick - and contrary to the one reviewer on Amazon, you don't hover around the White House - you've got to get guys in congress and the supreme court too. And you can pretty quickly move to the advanced game, which is definitely advanced! Creating bills, trying to get them passed, changing the rules of the game, etc. A bit like government that way ;) 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Work Plan - Balancing Freedom and Responsibility

One more work plan post - then I promise to start posting about our journals :)

MBT over at What DID We Do All Day? has put up some posts that have generated quite a hubbub of conversation. (what would we all do if MBT shut down her computer??? ;) )

Part of the conversation in the comments on the posts, as well as private e-mails with individuals, have revealed a few more questions....

The main one being - how controlling are these work plans?

The answer is... Follow the Child.

I'm not very creative on that one, huh? ;)

What follows are totally random thoughts as I sort through e-mails, past blog posts on work plans, the current ones with their ensuing conversations, and questions raised in elementary training.

I will try to organize these thoughts, but in case I run out of time, I wanted them out of my head at least! ;)

Here's the thing - I personally homeschool and I personally chose Montessori (whether school or homeschool) because I want to live in a structured environment that can handle spontaneity. Thus, I have chosen to Montessori homeschool so that we can live out moments like this:
LEGOS!!!!! Yes, we really LIKE our UPS man here! 

His goofy smile - when he's the MOST excited!
Um. The work plan is out the window for the *rest* of the day!
Although he'll still do his daily stuff at some point. 

Structure: For a child just starting out, you'll provide as much structure as they need to assure that all subject areas are being covered in some manner at some point - the details are up to YOU, your environment, your child.

Individualized: Every subject every day is unrealistic and does not provide near enough depth. But however you rotate through a week or a month, or work in blocks - no-one can plan that out ahead of time for a child unknown to them; hence work-plans that are already set up for "February cover these things" - are most likely not going to work because your child might be ahead or behind in varying subjects.

Freedom and Responsibility: We want the child to still continue to choose their own work and not be locked into this work plan/contract dictating their every move and interest. HOWEVER, it should also be built according to their needs as well as their interests, which in elementary don't just always correspond.
3rd year elementary example: Legoboy needs more work in decimal fractions; but is much more interested in history (it's always history around here!) - thus our work plan balances "this specific presentation in decimal fractions on Tuesday or Wednesday"; "enough follow-up to truly master the concept" (this can't be checked off until it is mastered); "possible new presentation if ready"; and what he tells me are the next things he plans to do in history for the week - "I'd like to look for books on the Vikings at the library" - "I would like to look up more information about the evidence for monasteries in North America before Columbus arrived". These are specific, but also child-led.)

Responsibility with freedom. Freedom with responsibility. 

THE BASIC DEFINITION: Essentially, we are at first taking their primary level "morning planning in my head" that they did, and putting it on paper or some other visual format. We are not DICTATING at this point as much as getting them visually organized.

Work Plan as External Order: Remember at the second plane of development, they have internalized the order they've had around them during the primary years, for good or bad, and an elementary child is outwardly "messier" than the primary child. THUS, the work plan is one place to have that outward order in place. Something to show the order that is in their minds.

Plus there are simply expectations of elementary children we just didn't have for primary children (local educational requirements and the like).

Meetings and Nuances: Most of the nuances of the work plan/contract - no matter the format you choose - is going to be in your meeting/discussion. The children should know they have these requirements but they should also be verbalizing their mental plans with you so those things can be noted. They should also have enough freedom to learn the consequences for their work choices - the good, the bad, and the ugly!
(I worked hard Monday through Wednesday - I have Thursday and Friday as light days; vs. I slacked off Monday and Tuesday, and now Wed/Thurs/Fri are going to be harder ---- these sorts of things should be worked out in a loving manner with the adults involved, so that lesson is learned but spirits aren't quelled - best done in homeschools ;) ).

Type of Requirements: The requirements can be vague (something in "math - squaring") or very specific (Math - squaring/cubing - Game 3A) - and usually a combination of both. I might have 2 presentations to give to my son in history this week, but he is expected to do something more with it of his own choosing; or he is expected to follow-up with a previous presentation.

Verbally discuss the plan for the day/week: We can ask the child to plan his day - not everything needs a particular time, but to say, "When do you plan to work on Game 3A? Let's plan a time so I can make sure I am available to show you." Now, this could be "after I am done with XYZ" or it could be "Tuesday at 1 pm or so, when the baby is down for nap".

Working beyond the plan/contract: Then the child is expected to find additional work to do - again, this needs to be emphasized within the environmental set-up, which includes the conversations and nuances with the adult. That just because they have done one bead chain, doesn't stop them from doing much more.

Work plans should match the child: My problem with reading and seeing such examples as a child NOT doing another bead chain because they've already "checked it off" - is that those are the children who have the wrong kind of work plan for their needs. They need something that will set them off to do MORE work, while assuring they have a base minimum of variety. There is a clear mis-match AND the adult has not set up the proper environment.

MBT has a neat system where if her boys work heavily with something, they could see it disappear off their plan for the rest of the week. In terms of a written work plan, such as the one I posted yesterday, if there are 5 boxes to checkmark, they could mark off all 5 in one day! (in which case, I might ask for something to be followed up later in the week or to move on to the next presentation in that sequence, just to keep things going).

Routine check-ins: Hence, in the beginning we want to check in throughout the day; then at least daily. As homeschooling parents, unless we have very large families or lots of other commitments, we will probably touch base every day; in schools or those with very large families/commitments, it might be touching base with each child 2-3 times a week. At least through lower elementary and possibly into upper elementary; older children might do a longer-span work plan and officially check in with it once a week. Throughout all of that, you are still going to be involved, so it's not like you don't know what they are doing  and can offer guidance along the way.

Areas of Interest are included or not - usually both: A child should also be working in his areas of interests - perhaps those are planned in (once your daily stuff is done, you work on your own items; or you work on your own project for the morning and the afternoon is the required stuff; or you don't have to say anything; OR if there is something your child needs, such as a trip to the library, you write that on the work plan - "Thursday morning: library").

Daily requirements???
Depending on your work plan style, yes a child could foreseeably do nothing but math on Monday, nothing but language on Tuesday, etc. And if that works for the child - GREAT!

But typically we do have a very tiny number of items that are daily (but are also generic - just something that meets my definition of real work (see yesterday's post) must done in these areas each and every day) - in our home, it is daily math skills, piano, tae-kwon-do practice, drawing, and Latin practice.

Our Montessori, spontaneous, work-plan organized crazy thing we call life: 
Back to those Legos above? It was mid-morning when they'd arrived; he had already done some of his daily stuff, and started on a project in history. I let him spend 20 minutes or so exploring the box and its contents, long enough to decide he really wanted to set everything else aside for at least a few hours. He then spent some time cleaning things up he'd gotten out; then finishing up a few chores so he wouldn't have to stop to do them later. He made himself some lunch to have on hand so he could keep building. Then he DELVED right in!

He had time to spend with it; then made some proper plans so he could spend longer with it; executed those plans; and had one HAPPY day!

I attribute almost all of that to Montessori and a good deal of it to the process of working with an adaptable work plan and journal system that taught him those skills of organization, planning, follow-through, consequences (he could work for 4 hours on those legos, but then be hungry and grumpy, having "missed" lunch - so he prepared ahead of time (I would have made him something at the proper time, but HE thought to make his own food for himself and not "burden" someone else with the task of waiting on him - thoughtfulness! Now, I did have to bring him water later - he'd forgotten to get that ;) )) - and again:

Freedom and Responsibility in action. 

One more time because I LOVE this smile! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Work Plan - Planner

Here is yet another work plan that we have used. This one has lasted the longest, but I am seeing the need to move away from it for a bit; try something different according to my son's current needs (described in previous posts, such as this one)

This was inspired by my long-term subbing work in an upper elementary classroom, but for us it worked well for two years of lower elementary. 

I used the first page to fill in our current resources - the sample here is a generic one I set up with not too much on it. At various times we have used various resources to pursue particular interests such as astronomy books, math books, science kits and more. Sometimes I would do this on the computer and print it out for myself; other times I would fill in a blank one for myself with our resources and goals. This chart might last ME anywhere from a month to a semester-ish. 

Then the blank page, I printed 2-3 on one side, then one less than that on the backside. They could then be folded together to make a booklet for the 'month'. Legoboy got lots of practice writing in the dates for the week up above. He also could decorate the cover and the back; or leave space for additional notes. 

We would fill in the information needed for the week; he used the small boxes on the right to check off when he was done. If something needed daily practice or more than once a week, we'd draw that number of squares next to the activity so that he could check each one off as he did it, filling the main box when all was done. 

What do we write in there? It might be the page numbers of something we are reading together or the name of a book he wants to read on a subject; it might be "new presentation from mom"; 

The blank space at the bottom left was used for recording his commitments, such as choir, speech, atrium.

Yes, for us, in our situation (work at home), I felt the need to include even our family stuff - so for *us* this work plan was really more of a "family planner" for the week. Most families just need a work plan for the school hours; but this kept us organized in all areas ;)

He didn't do every subject every day, and over the course of a month, various weeks might be very light in some areas and heavier in others. The goal was proper pacing and planning. 

At the time we put this in place, I intended to start having by-the-clock work periods. It never actually happened. We have our routines, and work periods fit in there, but they are NOT by the clock by ANY means ;) Thus, rather than say "the work period is over, you may choose to continue working or you may have free time" we had to work things out by day so that he knew when he was "done" regardless of how long it took. Many times he still would do more, but sometimes he was ready to be done for the day. 

Each morning (or the evening before), we would mark the upcoming days' items with the letter for the day; we would discuss his current work and what he wants to do next and I guided him in learning how to assure he gets both his interests and his responsibilities in. These two items are NOT exclusive of one another - my requirement might be to do something with history this week (could be specific, could be vague), his interest in ancient history means that almost everything he does is history - he just has to record it as such. 

And no, I didn't make a huge deal of him not finishing a particular day's works if he was working deeply. If I didn't see him truly working, then I would comment that he chose not to work well that day, it would mean more work the next day.
(note: if you've not quite noticed yet, I'm a single mom; while what I just said above might sound a bit "harsh" to some, the fact is, I have to provide a lot of that "boundary" stuff in a way that doesn't come natural to me; by having just such conversations as I just now mentioned, my son is aware of his boundaries, aware of the consequences both good and bad, and it is really starting to show through his work on the tae-kwon-do STORM team - a bragging post for another day ;) ). 

Definition of true work: diligence, depth, interest (even if the interest is a "requirement"), appropriate breaks as needed. 

If you are interested in a Word (.docx) file of the above shown items - entirely adaptable to your own use, here it is: 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wednesday - and done with the WEEK!?

(I am typing this on a Wednesday)

Legoboy woke up this morning to check his work plan before getting some breakfast. He discovered that despite our busy days Mondays/Tuesdays, and other than the daily practice stuff, he is actually done with the work plan for this week.

He has some choices -
  • we could go over things and see where to go deeper with work, adding a bit here and there to maintain and/or grow throughout the week
  • blow off the rest of the week and just play with Legos (aka live in  heaven for a week)
  • re-write a new work plan for the rest of the week
  • hire himself out to Garden of Francis for the rest of the week and finish earning money towards this next tae-kwon-do belt test
recognize it? ;) He's been making all
sorts of things out of Legos lately.
Montessori things
Well, Mama has stitches in her finger and lots of orders to still work on - SO. He has committed to reviewing math every day (via Life of Fred elementary series and the Fractions book), and hiring himself out. With some Legos on breaks. 

And he had one last request: listen to more of the Maestro Classics CDs. He is studying them one at a time, just listening for now and making lists of project ideas he has on each one. He would later like to do a day for each CD to just work on his chosen projects - down the road a bit. Right now he says, "I'm just absorbing it."

Sounds good to me! Nice relaxing week - he earned it! 

Click here for our original post about Maestro Classics.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sharing Work Plans and Journals

I have set up a separate page on this blog to share links to posts about Montessori work plans and work journals.

I just put up a couple of sites that I've read most recently with the topic, but I know I've read others and I'll add them as I have a few minutes here and there.

In the meantime, please feel free to leave a comment with a link to your own posts or articles/posts that are particularly helpful for you. I'll add them to the main part of the page. Best yet, if you have a search tag so we can link to the blog/site and just have those posts up :) Though particularly insightful posts I will likely link directly as well.

Eventually, I'll put together a chart showing some options.

I DO have more posts coming - everything is in draft form for now (stitches in my finger have slowed down my typing!). However, I also wanted to answer two questions about work plans/journals:

1) The work plan (or work contract) are what YOU make of them - signed by the adult/child or just a loose agreement or a verbal discussion about the child's plan for the morning/day/week. A checklist feels great to those of us with more traditional backgrounds, but if it is a pre-filled checklist with work options by month, then it's probably not going to fit YOUR child who has particular needs and interests, may be far ahead in math and not so much in language, or vice-versa. You might not have some materials ready; a child's interests might be something else of equal (or greater value); etc. So that is my one very personal and very professional piece of input: design it for YOUR situation; try not to make it look like "school at your own pace" - we are aiming for exploration, responsibility, freedom, community dynamics... :)

2) Pretty much the same goes for work journals. Pair up a contract(plan)/journal combo that works for YOUR situation. Mine won't always fit yours; yours won't always fit mine; but swapping ideas encourages creativity and we adjust and adapt as time goes on (see my own previous posts about Legoboy's changing needs).


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Prepared Card Materials

prepared card material - one of the definition stages
What are the benefit to already prepared/purchased cards over ones created on the fly? 

That answer depends on the age of the child!

Consider how the cards are supposed to be used - a teaching tool or review?

At primary, the language album (in AMI the language album includes some of the music, science, geography, and the like, thus almost all-encompassing) emphasizes that the card material should only be brought out after the child has had experience with the real thing.

So we bring out the classifications of vertebrates/non-vertebrates and the sets for classes of vertebrates, AFTER visiting the aquarium, the zoo, the farm, pet stores, or having had some of those creatures as pets or visitors. Then we use the cards to emphasize the vocabulary, review the concepts learned and provide an easier method for sorting the animals. We can also introduce new micro-concepts with the cards at this stage (such as "animals of another continent").

We bring in the leaf nomenclature cards, and the botany cabinet, after going outside and exploring leaves on the trees and other plants.

We do have some cards already prepared that are "keys". Otherwise, it is preferred to follow the child's interest at the first plane of development. And you'll likely want to purchase sets either already printed, or to be printed, rather than make them up as you go - fun, but time-consuming if someone else has already done the work. (but if you do make more - share them with the world ;) ).

In elementary, we have a very few (MINIMAL) number of prepared "keys" card sets that the children utilize in different ways than they did at primary. And there are definition cards/strips (could have been added at age 5 in primary, but the elementary definitions are split up different), and other components - making these more "5-part cards".

The main thrust at elementary though, is still review. The child must still have real experience or study first, then the cards come after. Unless something is a key (found in a key-based album), or is on the local educational requirements, then the children should be creating! Creating charts, diagrams, nomenclature card material for his own review or to create as a game or presentation for other children (yes, it's ok for these things to come from the other children - because it inspires the recipient children to then know they can create their own as well!).

The above is my professional opinion. 

My personal opinion as a homeschool mom is that even with the local educational requirements, it is very possible and potentially even preferable for the children to still create their own material. Rather than hand them a timeline of American history for study, our local educational requirements for 3rd grade, actually require the children to MAKE the timeline - and that's not even Montessori! Yet timeline making is a very big deal in Montessori history, thus it seems to an odd mis-match that the public schools want it child-made and Montessori schools/homeschools could just hand it to the child. And honestly, really, this mom is busy and just wants to spend TIME with the child, not always creating, finding, printing, preparing, or otherwise working to earn the money to purchase materials, that he can TRULY do himself.

Legoboy has taken various sets of nomenclature material, re-created it himself, making his own booklets and charts; then moving into elementary starting making his own subject matter. We (or he by himself) do some reading, watch some videos, go see/do real things, then he chooses the media and method of his own review: a notebook of lists, photographs, nomenclature cards, nomenclature charts, games, Legos, clay figures, crafty projects, word-based projects (such as reports), or I can't even think of what all else! Off and on, he is working on a now 3-year project of combining the timelines of various ancient civilizations, only looking at the ancient time period itself. Could I hand him a timeline from ETC Montessori for just this purpose? YEP! Am I gonna? NO!

This was HIS project; HIS idea; HIS organization; HIS learning. If I hand him that timeline, I have taken away everything that makes the work personally his. Everything that makes it valuable. By allowing him to create the timeline, think through the placement, change things up, he is learning SO much: even spacing, how much spacing, how to add more details in busy areas (fold-up pages was his solution; sometimes he has little booklets glued on), decisions on colors that will keep things organized and visually appealing. What happens with a BIG mistake? how do we correct that? (problem-solving, emotional control, channeling of anger and disappointment into something constructive); What ARE the most important events? which events are just interesting? which events are so funny they have to be included? Which ones make no sense or have uncertain dates - how shall we note those ones? storage of the material while in-progress; at what stages do we want photographs or ready to share it with someone? Perhaps there are places to add a little pouch into which are inserted homemade 3-part cards for these various civilizations? I can't remember what all he has on there right now, but I know he has Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Mesopotamia, specifically Ancient Israel, Ancient China just for comparison.
(and no, this was work was not initially inspired by the Timeline of Civilizations, but its continuation most certainly was!)

The creative expression, the cultivation of the intellect and the imagination as an integrated unit. 

That was my goal and despite not always feeling up to par in many areas, this is one goal that has been achieved and is still being achieved - and it is why I fell in love with Montessori.

So, yep, I'm passionate about ;)
a girl re-creating a biology impressionistic chart

It is an aspect I see fading away in so many of the schools I visit or sub at - where the children are handed "everything" instead of just the "keys" - and the outcomes are such that I would not want to send my child to that school.

Montessori without creative expression is what so many people see when comparing Montessori Waldorf or even Charlotte Mason. But Montessori without creative expression isn't really Montessori.

ON THE FLY MATERIAL: The children should be making it, not the adults.
BALANCE: Provide the keys with prepared materials along with the tools needed for the children to create their own.

But what about those personal interests? How do we provide without going crazy with constant last-minute preparations?

Provide resources on the subject at hand: books, videos, outings, opportunities, discussions. Discern the pertinent information and invite the child to take notes on keywords with bare-bones descriptions (so they don't end up plagiarizing - and yes, note taking can start in primary, with keywords and pictures, and the adult can write a minimal amount for the child). To inspire the child, the adult might need to show a list of keywords/images on paper or on notecards just once to show how it might be done. Just enough to get them started!

Provide paper varieties, pencils, colored pencils, paints, clays, Legos, wood, whatever! Provide a few basic tools, then provide a few more basics as interests expand.

Don't break the bank or your patience! ;)

Tracing the beaded 100-square. Why nine circles in each row/column?
Because those are the gaps between the beads - not the beads themselves.
He accidentally discovered the concept of "negatives"
and the art concept of "negative space."

Recognize this one? His ode to completing the material.
He says, "It is so beautiful I had to make it just one time!"

Re-creating scene from a piece of literature

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Work Plan for 6 Year Old - Yes? No?

I was asked to give more information on the following statement I made in a previous work plan post:
     With that said, I find that 6 year olds without a work-plan at all, are missing out on a *huge* piece of Montessori elementary. 

Aren't we supposed to follow the child?

YES! That is why there should be some form of a work plan and/or work journal, and best is both - starting around age 6.

Remember the 4 planes of development?

In the first plane, the inner teacher of the child directs their learning and growth. Children will generally grow and learn and develop certain skills regardless of what WE do. Most parents know to give their children food, warmth, snuggles, conversation. Thus children who are even abused and neglected gain SOME skills, develop at least SOME. I realize there are extreme situations, but here we are focusing on *most* parents.

The child's inner teacher guides that growth. All that we adults can do is provide the *optimal* environment. I say "all that we can do" - but I also say "that IS what we should do."

And we trust that inner guide to utilize the good things we have placed in the environment to develop that child before us.

By the second plane, as the absorbent mind peters out and the social connections become hungry, children now need societal expectations; they live on rules and order - creating their own clubs, their own languages - that herd instinct that still craves identity. The first plane achieved strong identity of self, the second plane now works on strong identity of group dynamics.

Just as we fed that ego in the first plane, now we feed that need for group dynamics in the second plane. If the need is fulfilled now, we will have adolescents who seek to be members of the world, not clinging to the vestiges of "group belonging" that should have been fulfilled in the second plane.

Wow. What does that have to work plans? ;)

This work plan and/or work journal is one small way we create those societal expectations. We also have the following:

  • studies on the fundamental needs of man
  • meeting those needs throughout time
  • reasons for laws in society
  • taxes
  • continuing the same skills from primary - preparing work for the next child, completing a work cycle
  • environmental expectations (chores)
  • Goings Out - formal or informal - interacting with society
  • prepares for 3rd and 6th year in elementary when the child should be working a bit with the local school standards
  • there's more but Legoboy keeps interrupting me with some Lego creations I need to post about soon!

In essence, the true definition of following the child is to observe carefully, note the child's needs, have an understanding of where things are going and providing those things that fulfill current needs in order to lay a strong foundation for what is coming up. 

The work plan does not dictate a child's every waking moment, or even a majority of it. It simply says, "Here is a slightly bigger plan than you usually have in your mind right now" (for some children it might be a morning, or a day, a couple of days and most 6 year olds can handle seeing a week) - and "here is what we can likely work on this week/today" (keep it light at first). Now today is Monday (or it is 8 am and we have lunch at noon). Today (this morning), let's continue that language study you started last week and I have a new presentation for you in biology. Come get me when you are ready for those things."

Or "Tomorrow, we have the men coming to cut down those dead trees. They will be here at 10 am. Let's write that down on our work plan. If you would like to watch, here's where you can take a chair, will you want your camera?" (then write those things on the work plan, as a reminder). 

Then for the work journal - anything will do - a notebook of blank pages - note the date, write down what was done; later the child can be required to write the beginning time or the ending time, then both times. It can be drawings of what was done, a sample sentence/problem, an interesting statement - pretty much anything that notes that the child is recording his/her choice of time spent. So when Grandma asks, "What are you learning in school?" The child will stay say, "Nothing," but Mom can pull out their work journal and say, "Maybe you can show these things to Grandma?" Although Grandma likes to see the art work and actual math problems ;)

The work journal is most handy when preparing for the upcoming work plan - review what was done, how much progress was made, ask further questions.... "You didn't really do anything after our story on the (fill in the blank). What have you thought about that story since then? Let's have another story in that area this coming week - here are some choices, which would you like?" (this doesn't force an interest, but does develop other important social skills, such as making choices in an area of no interest, taking some ownership for learning, and could potentially develop an interest). 

One last thought - an analogy: 

When we grow plants - at first we let them grow how they will. See which ones will be strong. We cannot control which seeds will sprout - but we plant them all, give them all the optimal conditions for growth. 

Then it is time to transplant them - or perhaps you're not needing to transplant them because you planted them where they will stay. Ok. 
(end first plane of development)

But now those tomato plants are going to go all over if you don't stake them; that tree sapling is going to bend in the strong wind, so we prop it up. We provide it *guidance* as to where to go, modifying and later lessening that guidance as time goes on. 
(second plane of development, moving into 3rd and somewhat the 4th)

Eventually the tree is strong enough to do what it will do without our interference and the tomato plants are producing fruit. 
(fourth plane and life beyond)