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, May 17, 2014

Weather Studies - Attention versus Interest

Workbooks in Montessori? Egads!

Some history:
Years ago, my mother gave my son a "workbook" with the Sesame Street character Elmo. The book went through quantities of 1-10, colors and probably a few other concepts I can't remember. At age 3, Legoboy loved it. He was "doing school" as he had seen many of my daycare children doing their homework - mostly he just colored it in. A year later, he picked it up again and carefully filled out each page, only occasionally asking me for clarification on the instructions (yet insisting he couldn't read, rather insisting he was just "figuring it out from the pictures" - ok, maybe. Doubtful.).

When my elementary trainers found out my son was using a workbook (let's forget the part where they know I am a devout Catholic, I intended to homeschool him, and all the things they did NOT know about our home lifestyle (attachment parenting, Montessori materials at home even when he attended a Montessori school - yeah, I was the black sheep of the training already ;) ) ---- there were no uncertain terms about the damage I was doing to my son. My response: he enjoys it, he learned all that information from real life experiences so this was just consolidation, and it was a gift meaning it is not something I intentionally purchased nor intended to use on a regular basis. NOT going to hurt him!

The response: arsenic is deadly in small portions.

I just raised my eyebrow and smiled that mom-smile-of-death that says "Don't even go there."

History part 2: See this post on how we utilize the local educational expectations (public school standards) in our home - namely the age-equivalent of 3rd and 6th grades.

Flash forward to the present-day:
Legoboy finds out that the local public school kids know something about weather studies - a topic that has never drawn his interest. This past week, however, it drew his *attention* - and in the Montessori-world, that is close enough to interest, with a slightly different response.

See, he tells me, "Just the facts, please. Basically, I just want to have a conversation. Can we do something along the lines of a lightunit?"
(yes Legoboy uses the word "basically" at the start of many sentences - all drawn out - baaaasssiklyyy)

Oh - and what is a lightunit? Close family friends of ours utilize a curriculum from Christian Light Publishers. Each subject for each year is broken down into 10 workbooks, that they call lightunits. We have utilized components here and there over the years; for several months, due to personal circumstances, we had to get away from the directly Montessori materials for a while, during a time it was less easy for him to plan out his own studies to work on away from home - so we used specific topics of lightunits to fill in the gaps. And then, not every lesson, not every page within a lesson, and not always every question on a page.

Lightunits are designed to be as child-independent as possible. MANY people tell me, "see it's just like Montessori." Ummmm. That's not Montessori at all, actually; Montessori has a connection between real-life, face to face human beings sharing information and experiences, then the child planning his own follow-up studies in cooperation with the adult who guides his work and assures that proper hands-on real life experiences are available to meet the needs of the particular child before him, something no published step-by-step curriculum can replicate. (but by then, the person who thinks CLE and Montessori are alike is already off doing something else)

While thorough, and the CLE curriculum does trust that a child can learn more abstract concepts if presented properly at a younger age - therefore a curriculum I feel is much more age-appropriate than most - let's just say there was utter relief to come back home to using the Montessori albums full-time.

On to Weather:
Well, we happened to have some of the science lightunits boxed up - and sure enough, in the level 4 set was a lightunit on nothing more perfect than "Weather." The demonstrations within use very basic at-home materials (absolutely nothing fancy until you need the thermometer with Celsius and Fahrenheit (can be two separate thermometers, but they need to measure down into cold temps as well as warmer temps - but our home thermometers that go that high are for cooking - and our cold temp ones aren't aligned well enough for the activity that needs it --- so I printed a chart to cover that part).

And I have to admit. There is something comforting on the part of the adult to hand a child a workbook and say "do such and such pages" (I've not actually had to say to him, since this was his choice); check it when he's done; light conversation and move on. It's so easy. And I don't have materials to prepare, I can DO anything else but sit with him to show him how things work.

But 1) no human connection.
2) I'm not with him - might as well send him to school.
3) If he hasn't truly learned it, I'll spend MORE time working with him - or he'll spend MORE time in remediation than if he'd learned it well, with the proper real-life experience to begin with.
4) Definitely better to go with the Montessori materials and presentations - sure, the child might get the concept quickly, but the child's time is not wasted, true mastery is achieved and you have time for doing "attention vs interest" things via workbook ;)

In my mind, I believe he has learned the material. But has he really? He's not extending the knowledge any further than using the vocabulary words appropriately (look at all that precipitation!), like he would with his other studies.

But again - this was an "attention to" a topic, not an "interest in". His goals seem accomplished; the upcoming public school standard on weather will be fulfilled. And perhaps he will come back around to it and do his own thing later. He has the keys he needs (via the elementary Montessori geography album - work of air, work of water, sun and earth...).

I think I am reticent about this because 1) his typical studies are intense and deep and there are clear signs he is really getting it.
2) while I trust the information in the book, it was just ONE source of information - and we are much more of primary source people here, utilizing a wide variety of resources when primary sources are harder to obtain or understand.

But I will force myself to let this one go.

  • Legoboy set a goal; 
  • he found suitable resources to meet that goal; 
  • and he achieved his goal. 

So yeah. We did a workbook. Well, HE did a workbook. I guess I see it as more of a study guide. Since it is one teeny tiny component of a much larger homeschool and life and experience, he knows that should he have true interest, he can always delve deeper.

How would I have responded if this were a true interest? At this age (10), it's not even so much MY response as my SUPPORT:

  • Look to the related key album pages for some review, specifically with weather in mind
  • Library trip for books and other resources they have
  • Netflix, educational websites for interesting videos
  • Noted the weather throughout a day, from one day to the next, start noting patterns including temperatures, barometer readings, etc. 
  • Watch weather reports on the news
  • Read through weather websites: is useful
  • Through all of that, different types of severe weather would have come up - probably inciting some type of interest in a particular form: hurricanes or tornadoes or the like. Study them - watch StormChasers, etc.
  • Somewhere in all of that, we probably would have come up with some good demonstrations or even experiments to try out. We'd then check for materials and try them out. 
  • Etc. 


  1. Thank you for this! This could not have come at a more perfect time. My son is in the middle of tornado obsession and I was just thinking I needed to go over the Work of Air and Water sections in the albums. You've given a great explanation of follow up stuff as well as resources! Perfect! Also reminds me to check into the public school standards for this age range. Thanks a bunch!

    1. It was so randomly written ;) I hope there is something useful in there!

      I don't find local standards just too helpful most of the time; but once in a while is a topic that we pull in so that we are speaking the same language, which still bites us back, because Legoboy truly learns the material and the school kids forget after their test. Not all, but most.