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, July 26, 2012

Literate Environments

When I was working on my child development degree, there was so much talk about "literate environments." Most of it made sense; but I have to admit, a good deal of it was so utterly contrived.

And then I met a little girl. She was this sweet little thing with something of an "uppity" attitude. The other teachers at the daycare were relatively annoyed with her, but they "put up with her". This sounds worse than it was; let's just say they didn't think much of her personality most of the time. She was 3 when I met her and 5 when I last saw her.

And now that I know many homeschoolers... she reminds me of homeschoolers!

NOT because of the "uppity-ness" which was mis-construed. In reality, it was a sign of normalization among children who were not normalized.

She reminds me of homeschoolers because she had a VOCABULARY. She didn't say "kitty and doggie" - she said "kitten and puppy" (and even those words she said in a sweet little voice that just made your heart melt!).

She used the word "persnickety" to describe another child's bristliness after nap-time. She was 3 1/2 at the time. And she was spot-on!

She could describe nuances of color to you - if it was gold, it was NOT yellow; and it wasn't just gold either: there could marigold, antique gold, tarnished gold, pyrite gold.... these were HER descriptors.

She loved play on words (sounds, rhyming, songs), was trying to start reading at age 5 (hindered by the environment we were in).

She had little interest in "pure fantasy." It truly turned her off (this is where part of the uppity label came in. She would say very politely, "This book just isn't for me; thank you."

Honestly, I can't believe the child didn't go to a Montessori environment.

But she did.

She had parents who developed an environment at home that centered on the following:
  • observation of the child
  • following her needs
  • fulfilling those needs 
  • respecting freedom and responsibility at appropriate times
  • providing limited choices so she could take "safe risks"
  • did not hand over all control to the child
  • did not hold back all control from the child
  • encouraged role-playing - not "fairies" but real-life-style situations. 

Included in all of that, as part and parcel: 
  • They spoke to her in REAL LANGUAGE. They did not give her the birds and bees sort of talks, but they did speak to her as a real person with a real love for real language. 
  • As she started having interest in reading and writing, her parents responded by playing labeling games at home. So things were not labeled already in the environment (as in a contrived literacy-based environment), but labeled at the time she would actually care - and get it. And she was part of it. 

So yes, she had a Montessori environment at home. And it was language-rich, and rich in so many ways, because it was an intentional environment that met her needs. 

Not because it was contrived. 

Now, her mom was an artist and her dad a musician. So, before we start worrying about lack of creativity because she didn't want anything to do with pure imagination, let's consider that she was still in the first plane of development where she's not supposed to be drawn into those things of her own accord; and that her parents certainly would have been encouraging creativity and imagination in appropriate ways. 

I wonder if they ended up homeschooling her.... :) 

So how do we create literate environments as Montessorians? 

  • real language - BIG words; WIDE vocabulary - don't dumb down the language because a child is not yet speaking. 
  • real-life situations
  • lots of real-life role-playing (grace and courtesy comes in here; but also letting them be creative and play)
  • solid foundation in reality
  • oral language games starting very young (1, 2, 3 years old)
  • continue oral languages games indefinitely
  • invite writing skills when the child is interested and at the right sensitive period
  • as they start with the movable alphabet, invite them to label items around the room
  • invite reading skills when the child has been writing for a while and you see signs that they are on the verge
  • now they can read labels and place them - with small objects, with items around the room, with items they need to illustrate themselves
  • read-aloud to them every day
  • have conversations with them
  • have lots of experiences - occurrences they can TALK about, that they will want to WRITE about, that as they learn to read, they will want to READ about to expand their knowledge in that area and build into even more experiences. 
  • Under experiences: garden, have pets, paint, listen to music, go for walks, go camping, travel on occasion, include the child on grocery store trips and other errands, visit family and friends
  • TALK (just not during a presentation that needs few words and more gestures ;) ). 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Montessori School Supply Lists

It is back to school time and my input is usually sought right about now, so I thought I'd time this post to coincide. Also see my other post on back-to-school deals that fit with Montessori.

Now, all of this is just my experience and/or intuition - please share your own ideas here too!

Every Montessori school, just like any other school, has varying capabilities to offer their children the supplies needed. Most children receive a "supply list" before school starts of the items they will need to provide. For as many Montessori schools are out there, you have as many supply lists!

Typical items might include the following:
(everything listed is presumed "if the school does not already provide")
  • lunch box/bag (for food from home); or dishes for communal lunch (if school provides food but not dishes); some sort of drink bottle, preferably re-usable
  • personal grooming items: comb/brush, toothbrush
  • outdoor supplies needed for your area and school environment
  • some school ask the children to bring a small plant to care for in the classroom during the year
  • indoor shoes or slippers
You might also consider: 
  • personal supply of sunscreen and/or bug repellant
  • wide-brimmed hat
  • seeds of choice to plant in classroom garden (indoor garden if you're in cold winter climates)
  • various donations towards classroom supplies (ie each child supplies a box of tissues, a ream of white paper, etc)

Most of the following is for elementary and adolescence, and presumes there is a classroom set of each item, as well as these individual items for quick access, and for use on Goings Out.
  • notebooks - spiral or glued binding: quadrille paper, wide-lined notebooks, 2-3 small notepads for quick notes on Goings Outs
  • pencil pouch
  • set of colored pencils
  • 2-3 writing pencils
  • good sharpener
  • good eraser
  • assignment book: NOTE - this is best designed by each school for their particular program, and provided to the children

You might also put out a general donation list to each of the parents to see if they have access to items you're not aware of yet. 
  • receipt tape
  • banner paper
  • newspaper ends
  • wood-working skills
  • other skills you'd like the children to learn/experience
  • left-over yarn and threads and needles
  • anything else in your classroom that you go through and use up
  • donation of time to cut papers, restock supplies, etc. 

And if you are a homeschooler? Check all of the above :) I have previously posted on Target dollar rack deals. If anyone again sees the miniature globes they put out a few years ago, please DO let me know! I want to stock up!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Montessori and Life of Fred

We have not yet read through *all* the Life of Fred books, but here is what I can say for the ones that we have used and where they fit into our AMI Montessori albums:

(Updates have been made 9/11/15)

Fred = silly; this picture = silly;
so does Fred = this picture?
a = c; b = c;
so does a really = b ??? ;) 
Elementary series of 10 books:
  • Beginning in 1st grade, they can be used sequentially. 
  • Beginning in 2nd-4th grade, still use them sequentially, but you might move through them faster. 
  • 5th/6th grade: intend for them to be funny stories with light review, but there won't necessarily be anything "new" - still very funny, interesting, connects the various subjects in a fully interactive manner inviting a personal response of the child (cosmic education!)
  • ADDing: There are an additional 3 books in an "intermediate" series between elementary and actual readiness for Fractions (which is FAR more than just fractions and starts the "Before High School" series).
Interestingly enough, these sets, along with the Fractions and Decimals/Percents books fill in just about all the "missing" mathematics components listed in state standards but not emphasized in Montessori. 

  • If you've been following the Montessori albums pretty closely, Fractions can start in 3rd or 4th year of Montessori elementary - OR whenever the child is ready and wanting. The author prefers children wait until 5th grade at least; and has authored 3 additional elementary books (deemed "Intermediate") to emphasize this position. The skills the author notes on the information page for use in fractions are learned by all lower elementary Montessori students following AMI albums.
  • Decimals & Percents is solidly an upper elementary Montessori book. 
  • Elementary Physics (or Pre-Algebra 0 with Physics, depending on the time of publicatino) AND Pre-Algebra with Biology would be ideal for a 11-13 year old in a Montessori setting. 
  • Pre-Algebra with Economics would be ideal for a 12-14 year old in a Montessori setting. 

I can't yet speak for the high school texts. We will likely acquire them in a few years when my son is older, but not quite ready for them, to have time to peruse them at that time :) 
ETA2: We do have some of the high school books now. It will be interesting to see where they fit in with this Montessori child ;)
As a 3rd year elementary student, Legoboy really gets a lot out of Fractions but is not quite there with Decimals & Percents - he is only just now starting the decimal fraction Montessori material. Once he gets that under his belt, I think Decimals & Percents will take off.
With that said, he LOVES to read the high school books for the story line; the math does trickle in a bit even though he's not "there" yet with Calculus ;) 

ETA: I should point out for anyone for whom Life of Fred is a new idea: the books are silly beyond belief! The subtitle for the Fractions book is "As Serious As It Needs to Be" - and in this case, means hardly at all. It turns out math can be silly and fun and STILL be educational!

9/11/15 UPDATE: Now that Legoboy is a 6th year elementary student, he is on par with the above recommendations, he has completed Decimals & Percents and he will begin Pre-Algbra with Physics in the near future (he has other subjects to focus on just now).


Sunday, July 15, 2012


It has now reached the time for my son to start calligraphy. It's just that age.

How did we get here?

He's been studying ancient civilizations for 2 1/2 years now, starting with Ancient Egypt and Old Testament peoples and branching out (and back and forth) from there.

He has also moved into the love of Medieval times: feudalism, knights, castles, magicians, dragons, valor, chivalry.

That was in history.

We incorporate art into all of our subjects, but he also does a program called "Christian Heritage Art" which has 6 lessons per "level" that are historically-based - recently he created his own coat of arms (and a few weeks later "updated" it to ensure it was an accurate portrayal of his life).

In language, we have recently reviewed the Great Lesson on the Story of Communication in Signs - he'd already been creating Hebrew, Egyptian, Greek and Chinese alphabets, among others.

Also in the area of language, his beautiful handwriting has become a bit... sloppy-ish. Yes, we Montessorians keep the children on lined paper longer than typically thought necessary because it helps to train the hand, but he was doing great with both types of paper...

but that is a sign.

It is all coming together (hint, hint: cosmic education - nothing is studied in isolation).

As part of his other studies, I finally pulled out the Book of Kells (we have two) for its historical value and for inspiration - and I purchased a book called "The Illuminated Alphabet: An Inspirational Introduction to Creating Decorative Calligraphy".
I also already have a calligraphy how-to set that I'm not altogether pleased with, but it does come with ink, pens with various nibs and markers.

I'll be honest - there is NO how-to calligraphy or how-to illumination book that is "perfect" - you'll have to find one or a small number that work for YOUR purposes. For my purposes I am in the process of creating calligraphy command cards similar to the Montessori geography command cards, biology command cards, etc. to take children through the process step-by-step - and then they have these other guides to expand or just provide some ideas for where their work can go.

And the child is inspired.

He is creating his own mini-version of the Book of Kells - and has been a boy on pristine behavior-run so that he can EARN the right to begin the early steps of calligraphy.

What BOY do you know wants to EARN the RIGHT to do calligraphy?

This is a Montessori child, through and through!

He has been studying the history of illumination (and has been allowed to "doodle" (embellish) his paper-works since he was 4), recognizes the similarities of European calligraphy with Chinese and other far-eastern cultures' writing styles, appreciates the historical "lack" of paper and how precious anything written was (not like today where you can buy a grocery bag of books at the library for $2), therefore appreciates calligraphy and illumination as the beautiful art-forms they are --- and he wants to participate in this long history.

Note on the sloppy hand-writing - it is generally sign, that if the other preparations have been made, the elementary child is ready to learn calligraphy as an historical "grown-up" form of writing. He is now participating with his ancestors. Not to mention that the first stages of calligraphy (shaded writing) require slow, careful control - so it brings more attention back to the hand and regular hand-writing should improve as well.