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

Monday, February 24, 2014

"School Days" postings....

MBT keeps catching me ;)

I'm always sad that you don't do "school days" posts from your house. 

Why don't I? I've been asking myself a similar questions for a couple of years now. I'll post on projects, I'll post on studies, and I did do something of a sample day a while back (wow! Just pulled it up - it's from 2 years ago this month! and it was nothing 'special' but it was typical).

But really, looking at the previous post..... that's our days. We're pretty relaxed about specifics, but rigid about expectations - I expect the concepts to be mastered while balancing the reality of my son's needs. I run two businesses out of my home, teach in the atrium 5 days a week, tutor ever-changing groups of children; he has tae-kwon-do, his Lego projects and his books and games that he wants to get to, so he gets his chores done, works on his school projects mixed in with his other personal projects - and it all just sort of happens. Not always on MY time table (how many times it is 11 at night and I wanted to give a new presentation that day and need to hold off another day? Yeah, that has happened many more times than I care to admit), but when the presentation happens, it is always the "right" time.

Summary??? We just don't have "school time" - it is all mixed into our entire day. If I give a new presentation at 9 in the morning or 9 at night, is just based on our very-similar-to-unschooling approach. I have the responsibility to give him the keys; he has the responsibility to learn those keys, assure his "local educational requirements" (for this year: MY requirements) are covered; then he has the freedom to follow his interests along with the corresponding responsibility TO follow his interests, go deeper - and not just "slack off".

We have a routine, rather than a schedule.

There is one major difference between now and 3 years ago: at upper elementary, it is almost ALL projects now. Or studies of some sort. Less "new presentation on a specific skill" and more "develop the use of this skill previously learned". 

From 1st year of lower elementary -
life and school are "one"
Interestingly enough - without the Montessori materials
becoming "toys", they are part of our every-moment lives
For example in math: doing more difficult and/or more practical life mathematics problems, creating notebooks of the Primary Challenge Math (review post coming soon), working on his Pet Store math project (took a LONG hiatus when the computer holding that file fried - just pulled it off the hard drive last week).... We do have math presentations yet to do - in several chapters, but I know the reality is, I present the keys, we find a real life application for it and we review the concepts as needed. If we finish before adolescence, great (I think we will....); if we don't, there IS some wiggle room. Even if we continue to review concepts and go deeper, I fully anticipate we will have begun every topic/presentation before adolescence.

In language, he is "done" with the album, but needs some review with the sentence analysis work (mostly so I can check materials I am developing, but also for his own review), he reads and studies literature to no end, and he is increasing his depth of writing skills, he is practicing calligraphy --- but the official lessons are "done". He does need to get into a book discussion group of some sort (think "Junior Great Books" style would be perfect!). We'll continue to review the Great Lesson there. He is also doing Cover Story and writing some of his own creations.

In history, he is still going deeper and deeper with ancient history (LOVES IT!) and slowly plugging his way through US History (a huge bore for him - this has been a LONG process). He has also been going deeper with the history work in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, getting more into typological studies, History of Israel and more. At least this work is pulling him more and more into closer-to-modern times. We'll get there... right? ;)  He is technically "done" with this album as well - but review presentations and going deeper with particular topics are always a necessary thing, even in the classroom. Now is the time for his own personal studies and interests.

In music, we are definitely "behind" --- too much else going on. NEED to get those tone bars set up at home! But he continues with the piano (slowly - he is mostly self-taught, so it's taking time), loves to sing, we analyze music, he loves classical music, and all things Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies.

Biology - we're still going strong on the herbs. We're in need of doing the more complex scientific classification material; otherwise we've done the album a couple of times and will cycle through it again, going into deeper studies - with full-on animal dissections, using the microscope, and....

finishing up remaining suggested experiments/demonstrations in the biology and geography albums. We could probably work on some more memorization of things like state capitals, but we play a lot of geography games. And we do have some economic geography and a few presentations remaining in each of the chapters (except the first 2?) but honestly - not just very much "new" here - what is left is review and going deeper.

Geometry - we DO need to finish up the last couple of chapters. We just kind of stopped at one point. Interest is there - my own time is not. Area and volume concepts need to be thoroughly reviewed and solidified - all else is there.

Wow. Did I just say all that? He'd be in 1st year upper elementary at a Montessori school right now. With 2 more years to go after this one.

We are right now living exactly what I've been saying in all sorts of places: the AMI albums have allowed us to learn the keys, explore personal interests, have time for real life and relationships with other people, without having to worry about "getting it all in". Sure, there are areas I feel behind in - but I know the depth we've gone to, the amount of time Legoboy has spent in productive personal pursuits - and I'm not worried about it. I thought I was, but now I write all of this out - I'm not.

Non-AMI albums tend to have so much "more", but I'm not convinced they encourage the depth, the personal interest or the true follow-up work --- and I've seen so many families who could benefit from continued Montessori go elsewhere because they were either 1) overwhelmed with the number of presentations/materials or 2) underwhelmed at the response of the children.
And a recent survey of sections such as "human geography" (which includes economic geography) demonstrates that what is truly meaningful to the children to build up cosmic education and "peace education" - just isn't there in other albums. No wonder people keep asking me about the peace education components - I don't have them, because they are all deeply integrated into all of the albums I have.

The math album is HUGE and goes so much deeper than any other Montessori album - the concern there always seems to be on "fitting it all in". There is wiggle room, but again, if we are focusing on the keys, encouraging the children to go deep, create their own problems (with structured guidance from the adult), then they are truly mastering the concepts and CAN move forward at their own pace. If they finish before adolescence, great; otherwise, there is some time.

My son has had time for so many academic personal studies outside the Montessori albums, because he was given the keys, expected to master them, then set free to just BE himself.

To reiterate a point from above, because it is so often missed: I expect mastery of skills presented - and I expect that Legoboy will follow his interests and go deep with this studies. It is an inherent expectation, that when not present, does allow the children to fall into shallow work and never really reaching their own potentials. I expect it (in my words AND my actions), I assure the tools are available to make it happen and get out of the way when needed. :)

You know - part of this unschooling-feel is our school space. We don't have a school room or a school space. We have a home. We have an 850 square foot apartment with a library in my bedroom, sewing, tons of felt, wood-storage (the wood-cutting happens elsewhere), garden in the living room, school materials throughout every --- single -- room (Sh!! Our dissection specimens are in one of our kitchen cupboards - NOT anywhere near food, I promise), Legos (oh dear! do we HAVE Legos), art supplies, books everywhere. And yet, only the bedrooms are "cluttered" - the other rooms are just "full". My living room floor I keep clear. I need space somewhere to just breathe! I will post a "school-home" tour soon ;)

I WANT a dedicated room for school materials, even if we use it for other stuff too - just one place to display all things school. I sometimes wonder if I were ever granted such a gift, would I even utilize it as such - because we DO see all things we do as life-education. Maybe I don't want to change. I say I do. I think I do. But maybe... I don't?

Hm. ;)


  1. Saying this tongue in cheek, but a little seriously too...

    Just because the work doesn't happen during a designated three-hour work period doesn't mean you can't take some pictures of him doing his work throughout the course of a week and then share a week's progress ;)

    1. Well, that just makes too much logical sense ;)

  2. Oh, and I answered your e-mail about human geography this weekend. My e-mail has been working TERRIBLY and it had attachments so I'm concerned you didn't get it. Let me know.

  3. I was inking along the lines of your last paragraph these past few weeks. I think one of the challenges for us is that our school room is so "far away" from the rest of the home and the kids don't see it's interconnection quite yet. I love how MBT has her classroom easy access. (Though when we have guests with children who are not trained, I am very glad we can shut the door.) i wonder how we can integrate it all more.

    Also, I really like your philosophy about expectations. I don't think that this is there with my children yet. And I am thinking that this is a major missing link. Thanks for turning on that light bulb.

    1. Abbie, the topic of responsibilities/expectations is one that goes hand in hand with work plans and work journals. You can't properly have the work journals/plans without this environmental/emotional/psychological expectation that the child wants to achieve his greatest potential and that he knows this for himself.

      Without that internal and external expectation, work plans becomes a check-check-check kind of thing and many otherwise Montessori homeschooling parents turn away from work plans and cite all sorts of reasons for why they are not appropriate for children (or for their particular children), when indeed, the issue is not the child or the work plan (see caveat below), but in the environment itself, and usually in the adult.

      It's all in the conversation - and when I say "conversation" I mean the life-long conversation we have with our children from the moment they enter our lives, for the rest of time.

      Caveat: when a work plan IS a check-check-check system, it IS inappropriate for the children. Those who distribute these types of work plans are missing the whole point and setting us all up for confusion about what Montessori elementary really is. Just being honest :)

    2. I have a question spurred from reading the above, specifically the work plans being a check-check-check system. I am very much in to following the interests of my children, and allowing them to further explore anything they catch a desire to (and I remind myself of this when they all want to do some strange scientific experiment of their own, all at the same time, or some other thing), and try very hard to make it accessible to dive in as deep as they would like to in said subjects. In a way, I can understand and slightly resemble an unschooling approach - I have not always, but all too often anymore, life gets busy and we are pulled away from being able to have a 'designated work period' of three hours (or whatever some find to work for themselves). I am trying to get to a good system within our school/home life where my kiddos do successfully complete work, and can see what they have done each day, but also leave plenty of time for them to further work on whatever they may be enjoying. We currently are trying out the pocket chart style for a 'work plan' - I can't tell you how it's going, since currently means THIS week starting it. We have tried a few different ways, this one being one of them, of keeping track of a work plan, and so far none have proved very successful at meeting this goal. My biggest concern is because they sometimes see it as a means to an end of their work, instead of the intention to allow them to choose their daily structure by choosing a few areas of work daily to be sure and complete, and allow for plenty of time after (or in between) to pursue what they would like to do.I don't want to have to suggest, through work cards, each and every little thing they do every day, but at the same time, want to be sure we meet certain goals and keep them motivated to do some independent work as well. What would you suggest? (All thoughts are welcome, because while I don't ever claim a purist Montessori mindset, this is one of the things that really stuck out to me in the method, and something I truly wanted to make possible in our homeschool)

  4. Amy,

    I am guessing you have seen this page with links to some people's versions:

    It sounds like what you want right now is to add some accountability - start with a work journal. Invite the children to record how they spend their time. And phrase it like that: how time is spent.

    From there, you'll have a record of their work patterns to look over while you speak with each one of them about making plans for the week. It might 1 to 2 or even more weeks of journaling before you get to the pre-planning stage.

    It might help to consider the work plan the "planning for the week" that typically goes on in our minds, now just written on paper --- rather than a "list of things to get done". It seems that is where the blurry lines come in :)

    So your daughter wants to learn sewing - discuss with her some of the things she can work on during this coming week. You might say, "Let's start with these ideas, and we can always add more in if you're ready." (this is one thing I've said to my son a few times as part of that "conversation" about going deeper)

    Another aspect to consider regarding the work plan is that (except for any requirements or things that are scheduled at particular time), it can also initially be set up as a "smorgasbord" of ideas for the child who is not sure what TO do. He can see the progression of the work, even though he chooses his own stopping point. My son was here for a while - he wanted to have all of our upcoming Montessori presentations laid out, in order by subject/thread. Then he would work through each thing in a subject of interest for that day, reviewing until he got the concept and moving on to the next one when he was ready. When he was ready to be done, he stopped and took a break and/or moved to another subject - or he'd find a tangential interest and go study that for a while (by a "while" I mean minutes, hours, days, weeks - just depends on the tangent). But he has that visual in front of him to see that there IS more, while also knowing to truly learn each concept.
    (in fact, he's kind of asking for something similar again, as we review earlier concepts and come to the final presentation in some threads)

    Do you have access to an AMI theory album? This topic is covered in there although I'll admit it seems it could use more coverage :)

    1. To completely answer your comment in full would take up a ridiculous amount of space here - or even in an email. I have been reading off and on all day on the work journals, and everything they entail, and I have to say that my head is not swimming just yet, but that I am definitely having to take lots of notes, to go back later and sort out in to what will be the next step. I did, however, take down the pocket charts. I am still elbows deep in reading posts, but I can already tell we don't need them right now. The more I read about the journals, the more I see the benefits from starting with them, and how they are a wonderful place to start - and we may not move from them. We have tried planners, work pockets, folders with work - nothing to this point has been what they needed. Saying that, I will say that they do have this need to see what they need to do and what they have done. I am gathering my notes, ideas, where this might go for us - and will most likely post about it when I make a final decision, because posting about it always helps to finally seal my thoughts together! You are right - there is a need for accountability. But the funny thing is, it's not just my need for it, but theirs as well - they really enjoy being able to see what they need to do and what has been done in their school day. By doing so it gives them an inner feeling of structure that we all need - who wants to feel as if their day has been useless, or gone completely out of whack? I love the idea of the conversational language - 'add more in if you are ready' - and have read already some of your other posts about daily life language, which were found through the one you mentioned above - why, btw, I had read once, but never followed through much with looking in to them - lesson learned! I do not have access to the AMI theory album, unless you know of one free somewhere on the internet. It seems when I have researched free albums on the internet, most are geared towards the primary child, which is great for my two youngest (and even my middle, since some of what is actually covered in primary, she is still working with), but not much is offered for older ages. Which is the loophole in which we live, since we have been going back and reviewing many things they have had previous experience with, because they didn't grasp them well enough to remember them, and making sure they have a full understanding now - so the work they are doing is not always what others their age are doing who have been in a Montessori setting from the start, and yet the level they are at in maturity sometimes calls for the needs of a 3rd year low el or early years upper el student. Anyway, I said I wasn't going to be long, and I still was in the end. I appreciate this directional leading and will definitely be reading and looking into it to get us geared in a good direction in regards to routine and work. :)