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 22, 2016

Nature in Montessori Education

Nature experiences are at the foundation of a full Montessori education, but it isn't blatantly obvious. Some people like to "combine" Montessori with Charlotte Mason to incorporate those nature lessons - but they are already included!

SO many of the Montessori experiences anticipate a child has already had real life experience with plants and animals - trees and insects - soil and air and rain - and all else.

Then the follow-ups to much of the biology work at both primary and elementary is to "go out and find these things for yourselves".

Art experiences include learning how to draw what you see. Grace and courtesy lessons on various outdoor skills. So much more.

So we take our real life experiences, have key Montessori experiences to organize those experiences, then go back to real life experience to apply those key experiences.

There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature; to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature.
“It is also necessary for his psychical development to place the soul of the child in contact with creation, in order that he may lay up for himself treasure from the directly educating forces of living nature.” 
The Secret of Childhood - Dr. Maria Montessori 

Even so, reality is that many of us grew up in a world that was only just realizing that we must maintain a connection to the natural world in order to live to our fullest potential.

Nature education - just BEing in nature - being comfortable in nature - knowing what to "do" or not do (this one is more important!) - just doesn't come naturally for us anymore.How can we pass what we don't have?

Thus we need guidance.

Some of the resources used in my family or by those I know - or that I recently found at our local museum center that I really appreciated the portions I saw - couple with a spiral sketchbook and a basic set of nice colored pencils and off you go!

The Kids' Nature Book has a week represented across a two-page spread with daily simple activities. Simple activities - gets to the point. A list of generic items to always have on hand is at the front of the book; index, additional resources and additional information are all found at the end. 

Some reviews on Amazon state there are some irrelevant evolution notes - use them or set them aside as you like. I didn't find them problematic to adjust for personal beliefs (children aren't reading this book - the adult is).

This one is great for someone who just wants to be told what to do without needing a whole lot of preparation or fore-knowledge. I wish I'd had it when my son was smaller and our time was limited, even given I grew up on almost 20 acres of land, woods, ponds, fields, gardens, and animals. As it is, I am getting it for use with my foster children.

Perfect for any age beginner - I will be using with toddler and preschoolers mostly, but also school age children. Just as a loose guide to ensuring we are doing something with nature every single day.

The pages I have seen in The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook one I really liked. This one is for elementary children to use themselves. There are some pages to fill in, but they give a website to print out additional pages as needed.
(I now own it - the reviews on Amazon about printing mistakes must have been corrected in the meantime because our copy is *perfection* - LOVE this book!)

I will use this with elementary children; while including younger children in some of the activities at least on a verbal level (or artistic!).

This book is similar to The Kids' Nature Book in that it follows the year (modify if you are in a different climatic area), with activities suggested by month and season. Before the first month section though, there is a whole section on observing the cycle of the moon and other cycles of the sky such as seasons, caring for nature properly, quick drawing lessons, and the like - these portions should be interwoven with the monthly sections (which provide about 14-16 pages per month).

My Nature Book is another one I like for elementary and older children. It is set up to BE a journal - done in any order, with pages for drawings, pages for lists, pages to note "first hike" and "what would you do" scenarios. It is thinner than the workook so more portable. This is one to really get the children connecting with their inner selves. My plan is to provide a copy of this book to each of my children; then go through it myself to create a list of activities and opportunities that I then ensure we do - activities such as hiking, opportunities to just be outside for no particular reason but to be there.

This journal and activity book is more "free form" though it gives guidance on each page - nothing stands out as needing to be done in order or at a particular time of year.

This one we had - and mostly used. It was tough though - part of it is that this is an adult-read book with adult-led activities (at least to get started). Not for the feint of heart, but not overly advanced and technical either. Let's go with "upper-intermediate" level on this one. Of the activities we did in this book, we loved them all. Of the ones we didn't do - many we came to later via a different route or we never found to be our "thing".

You could say this focuses more on "art" than on pure nature exploration. Art and nature go hand in hand of course!

I have sold off our copy; I am considering re-purchasing it for the sake of the foster children; but first I would like to work through the above two books and see where that takes us.

As I pull up the list of activities in this book, I see that it was written by a Waldorf teacher. Perhaps that is part of the combined appeal and the mis-match for me. The components of Waldorf that match with Montessori (nature, key experiences) and the components of Waldorf that don't fit with observed child development (I won't list those things here). Short story: this book would be great for those with Waldorf leanings!

Seasonal activities and crafts include:
Leaf Banners
Wheat Weaving
Leaf Crowns
Nature's People

Caring for the Birds and Squirrels
Star Windows
Snow Scenes
Finger Knitting
Yarn Dolls

Round Wind Wands
Dish Gardens
Butterfly Pop-Up Cards
May Baskets
Pressed Flower Cards

Shooting Star Streamer Balls
Walnut Boats
Parachute People
Paper Birds
Moving Pictures

We actually have many more in our home. Dangerous Book for Boys; Tin Cups and Tinder; A Kids Herb Book; My Nature Book - and who knows what else is hiding in our library ;) - A Classroom Without Walls - Deepening Children's Connections with Nature

The current plan in our family:

  • I create a list of pre-planned activities to ensure we actually do them somewhat routinely. 
  • Use The Kids' Nature Book as an activity we do each day. 
  • Each elementary and older child receives a copy of My Nature Book and The Nature Connection - the journal for their own use to have a dedicated weekly time to their private use (more if they want it) and the workbook for family activities with their personal follow-up. About 4 pages a week. 
  • So at least two dedicated "longer" times in nature each week (ideally daily) - once for private time and once for family time; with a short time each and every day for sure. 

Whatever you do, take the key experiences and get outside to apply them!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Foster Care and Montessori: Human Needs

Montessori has identified a specific set of human needs and tendencies - through her anthropological studies and through careful observation of many children and adults around the world across socio-economic levels, mental abilities and cultures.

Check those links for more details. In summary, the human needs are the following:

The five (5) physical needs of human beings include 
  • sufficient food
  • appropriate clothing
  • shelter
  • defense
  • transportation

The four (4) spiritual needs human beings include 
  • love
  • arts/music
  • vanitas (to improve and embellish one’s environment)
  • religion

And the human tendencies that aid in fulfilling those needs are the following:

  • exploration
  • orientation 
  • order
  • communication
  • to know/to reason
  • abstraction
  • imagination
  • the mathematical mind
  • work
  • repetition
  • exactness
  • activity
  • manipulation 
  • self-perfection
Each human need and tendency has historical implications, as well as cultural, modern, practical, educational, spiritual and physical implications. 

Let's look at just the needs for a few moments:
sufficient food, appropriate clothing, shelter, defense, transportation, love, arts/music, vanitas (to improve and embellish one’s environment), religion

And what do you suppose we learned in the last of our resource parent trainings?

The human needs - and how they pertain to a foster child.

We were given an exercise - consider the 9 needs that they listed, fill out a form with information for each one of them as it is fulfilled in our own lives. Separate the sections of the form so that all 9 are a separate piece of paper.

Now, the instructor comes around with a recycle bin - give up 3 or he will take from you of his own choice!

How do you feel? Angry, frustrated, confused... Lost.

Give up 3 more - quick! Here he comes! He'll take the three he chooses!

Now you have 3 remaining. Lost.

Now two more!? Might as well take them all - depression, giving up, suicide (if this were real) - you've taken everything from me, what does the rest matter now? Nothing is precious. Nothing is truly mine. I have lost everything....

Information/Knowledge, Significant Person, Group. Meaningful Role, Means of Support or being provided for, Source of Joy, System of Values, History, Place

sufficient food, appropriate clothing, shelter, defense, transportation, love, arts/music, vanitas (to improve and embellish one’s environment), religion

It doesn't matter how you organize them, quantify them, define them --- they are fundamental human needs that can be recognized anywhere we actually pay attention. And how can anyone live a healthy fulfilled life without ALL of them?

Information/Knowledge: defense, transportation
Significant Person: love
Group: love, defense, religion
Meaningful Role: love, religion
Means of Support: sufficient food, appropriate clothing
Source of Joy: arts/music
System of Values: religion
History: religion, love (in this sense, history is about having a purpose in one's life)
Place: shelter, vanitas

Children will do what they need to do to get these fulfilled - or cut themselves off from them so they don't get hurt again. This is why children act out - even in trying to push people away and hurt people. They just want to fulfill their own lives - out of pain or love, their tendencies will get them there.

LOVE them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Making Montessori Materials: Bead Chain Arrows

I got tired of the paper/cardstock arrows. So thin, they slip around, hard to pick up when the focus should be on counting. They get *lost*.

The file I original used has two of the colors switched; I was able to change them (after I'd already printed the wrong arrows), then ran out of ink so had to wait. One thing leads to another, years have passed and the children are just making their own arrows out of paper for those two colors. I tried to print them again, but lost the modified file and don't have Adobe that lets me modify things anymore (and don't want to pay for it). Yeah. Craziness.

I kept saying I was going to switch to popsicle sticks.

Well, I started making the Keys of the Universe elementary Montessori mathematics videos - and my mission is to work on the corresponding materials as I get to the videos that need them. So there you go - or there I go. A simple project that became a big deal when it sat in my living room for months ;)

This material is indeed very easy.

What do you need?
  • A package of normal size popsicle sticks 
  • A package of tongue depressors
  • White very-fine-tip paint marker (for writing on darker colors)
  • Black very-fine-tip paint marker (for writing on most of the colors)
  • Paint in each of the bead cabinet colors (for "gold", I kept the sticks natural)
  • I also used a gold paint marker to outline the wide stick that represents the cube of the number. 
  • Note: I did not do the initial counting up at the beginning - these ones I will do in cardstock to keep them narrow. Easy enough to replace those for primary use (elementary students don't use them)
TIME: These took less time to make than printing, laminating and cutting the cardstock arrows.... Just saying.

I chose to paint just one end - just on one side at first; but I found it was easier to sort them and use them with the bead chains when the color was on both sides. So the *number* is currently only on one side (could be on both). 

The numbers are written so the arrows are placed below the bead chain; I really could have, should have written them so the numbers are placed on the far side of the bead chain from the child, yet readable. Wasn't thinking much at the time. ;) 

They still work for elementary. Will have to test for primary.

A video from elementary:

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Homeschool Boy

Our days have been looking more unschoolish as Legoboy gets older. Not just unschoolish - but more "practical". Like making popcorn - daily. ;)

Some previous "Life in the Montessori Homeschool" posts - just a sampling of what Montessori life can look like:

Final Upper Elementary Work Plan

LegoBoy's Doings: June 2015

Montessori Homeschooling Week - February 2015 - this post has the links for each day of the week

A Week in the Life of Legoboy 2014 - this post has the links for each day of the week

A Day in the Life of Legoboy

Elementary - Sample of Our Day - 2012 - towards end of lower elementary

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

REVIEW POST: Montessori House Curriculum for Infants and Toddlers

Montessori House has been on my radar for a while. The author and I are in the same Montessori "team" on Etsy - and I have had to defend her right to utilize the team tag "TeamMontessori" on her albums.

The author has AMI training and has organized her AMI albums for use by parents and teachers. What she offers is authentic - with some caveats. 

I do have fundamental disagreements with a few areas of Montessori House: 
  • The primary - or second half of the first plane of development - ages 2.5-6 is to be kept together. No child progresses perfectly in sync in all areas nor in sync with any other child ever. Thus it makes no sense to split up the albums for ages 2.5-6 into 4 different levels. 
  • Primary only goes through kindergarten - not grade 1. Grade 1 (or first grade) should be the first year of elementary, the child has a different mind (a reasoning mind) and is need of the Great Lessons, not being held back into primary. 
  • The author says on the main website that the primary albums at least are a compilation "of the best exercises and presentations". Well, in one sense, AMI provides the keys, thus the "best" are all of them; so this could mean all of them. But I am not so sure on that, looking over the table of contents. 
  • There are related blogs and newsletters, but none seem to be producing new content of late. What is there is good however! 
  • The groupings of how to purchase which albums is odd configurations as well, which leads to confusion of "what am I suposed to get for which age/experience". But this is minor. 
Still - what is there, should be quality. 

Last week, I finally purchased the infant and toddler binders for my own use. 

Some of my own Montessori background: 
  • Before I had my son, I had spent many days at a then-local AMI Montessori school - I had no training, I didn't even barely know about Montessori when I first walked in. But I fell in love from the first 5 minutes! (it took 4 1/2 minutes to get used to the idea of "just sit in this chair and observe for a little while to get a feel for the environment here" ;) ). 
  • At that school, I spent most of my time with the infants and toddlers; second-most time in before/after care, third in elementary (6-9 and 9-12 at this school) and lastly in primary (3-6). 
  • I loved every moment - even when I was overwhelmed with confusion about what on earth was happening! Children excited about studying grammar!? Children ready to leave who spend 5 minutes picking well more than half of their "mess" from playing with a friend because that is what is done to be respectful to one another!? Respect!?
  • In the meantime, I have had an awesome son, went to AMI training for primary Montessori (ages 2.5-6) and elementary Montessori (ages 6-12), subbed at a slew of schools, spent more time with infants and toddlers (and all the other ages, including now a limited time with adolescents) - and run an in-home daycare based on Montessori principles. 
No Assistance to Infancy training is on my horizon at this time --- and the resources I have accessed have been much less than stellar (ahem - Montessori from the Start - I will post a review on that book soon - I don't recommend it anymore! I only used to recommend it with caveats.). I did use Montessori from the Start but set aside so much from it - and felt guilty for doing so (more in the upcoming post). 

I have been loving my recent discovery: Susan Stephenson's book The Joyful Child for children ages 0-3. I have a review post coming forth on that one too - I will only say here that my only caveat is the lack of some material descriptions. 

I started to write my own guide based on my own observations, readings, experiences, etc. It would have been awesome; but The Joyful Child takes care of a good deal of what I wanted to put together - and the remaining bits could be gleaned from Montessori from the Start, but still the separation of wheat and chaff was hurting me. 

Thus, I took a chance on the Montessori House Infant and Toddler binders. Spent $80-something after shipping. Then I read some reviews from others in a Facebook group, posted right after I ordered. I was doubting my purchase. Very concerned about the wasted money. There was one good review but she said she didn't want a lot of background/theory (and that portion is needed!). 

My verdict? 

YES! Just enough theory/background to get across the points without being overwhelming and spending hours upon hours of reading. And straight-forward material descriptions. 

And the emphasis on OBSERVATION! Phenomenal! Even places to record dates, notes, reactions, etc! 

Not a downside or a caveat - but just a point of interest: These albums are written pretty much without emotion; there is little in the way of wordy explanations. It is very much "here is the idea, here is why it works, go observe!" Some people may be put off by that, but just read it as a factual document and all is well! 

One issue noted by the Facebook group reviews: a lack of structure, finding some of it "vague and disjointed" - I have that part covered below ;) 

Of course I have my own personal caveats - personal to me, but also from my professional perspective. I thoroughly stand behind the infant album (up to 18 months). In the toddler album (18 months to 2.5 years), here are some of my tips: 
  • page 83: When a child shows interest in letters at this age, Montessori House says to use sandpaper letters, DON'T. That is not the most accurate match for the child's self-construction. When the child is interested in letters and words, be sure you are playing the *sound games* instead. Separately, if a child asks about a word or a letter, give the word or give the letter *sound* (not the name). 
  • The math section: Counting - YES! Making counters out of clay for the fun of it - YES!
    But please don't do sandpaper numbers at this point or do the numbers & counters activity. These come after a child has had the number rods experience later. 
  • For math, keeping going with patterning, oral counting, one to one correspondence and the like. 

Overall, these two Montessori House binders, taken together with Susan Stephenson's lovely, parent-friendly gentle book The Joyful Child, will provide all that you need for an awesome Montessori infant and toddler home experience! What the one lacks, the over fills in! 

These two resources for infancy and toddler - transition readily into Keys of the World for 2.5-6 and Keys of the Universe for ages 6-12.