Monday, August 31, 2009

Marshmallow Sculptures

A friend of mine gave me this idea about a year ago. It's very cute, but can only be done every so often because of the sugar content involved!

Start with a bowl of mini-marshmallows, a bowl of toothpicks, and a plate. Give your child a few ideas by constructing cubes, pyramids, and other shapes. Then, pass it over to your child and watch his imagination soar.

I've done this activity with children between the ages of 6-9 and you wouldn't believe their creations. One child made a bird, one child made a tessellation (obviously a Montessori student!) and another child made a house. Of course, the best part is eating the creation!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recommended Reading

Many parents want to bring the Montessori method into their homes, but they're not quite sure where to start. I suggest doing some reading on Montessori first, so you'll truly understand the philosophy.
  • How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way, is a great starter book. It'll give you an overall impression of Montessori and direct ways you can implement the philosophy into your home immediately.

  • Secret of Childhood was written by Montessori and is, in my opinion, a great place to start for Montessori theory. You will finish reading that book a changed person.

  • Montessori: A Modern Approach was written by a woman very familiar with Montessori, and she does a fantastic job of putting the method into words most people can understand.

  • The Montessori Method was also written by Montessori, but is much more complex. It's a difficult read, but will give you a comprehensive, working knowledge of the philosphy.
The book, A Montessori Mother , is available to read online. Take some time to read through it, I really enjoyed this mother's personal account of her observation in Montessori's own classroom.

All of these books (and more) are available for current families to borrow from the school's lending library. See the parents' page of our school website for a full list of books and DVDs.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Recipe for a Love of Learning

Oftentimes, new parents will ask me "What is your discipline plan?". I will explain that traditional discipline is not necessary in the Montessori classroom. Sometimes, in the beginning of the year, I may need to stand close to one child for a few moments or even bring a child with me while I conduct lessons. Some older children might choose to work alone at the peace table if they're feeling wound up or excited. But, there is never a need to raise my voice or berate a child. Parents are curious about how a group of such young children can work together peacefully with no adult interruption or punishment. This Maria Montessori quote provides us with the answer:

The child should love everything he learns. Whatever is presented to him must be made beautiful and clear. Once this love has been kindled, all problems confronting the educationalist will disappear.

A Montessori teacher kindles a love of learning through careful observation of the child's interests, through the use of a beautiful and well-prepared classroom, and in conjunction with clear and thoughtfully planned-out lessons.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Open House BBQ

Last night, we had our 4th annual Open House BBQ. We had a nice mix of new families and returning families. For me, the most beautiful part of the evening is always watching parents who are so unfamiliar with one another, come together and become friends for the sake of the children. I saw a returning mother walk up to a new mother and greet her with open arms. These parents taught their children a priceless lesson about meeting new friends and forming a important sense of community.

For those families who were not able to attend, here are some photos of the rearranged classroom:
Cultural Studies
Peace Shelf and Peace Table

Monday, August 24, 2009

Progressive Phonics

Maria Montessori was ahead of her time when she developed her language curriculum. Teacher catalogs are now showcasing "new" tactile sandpaper letters. Some educators don't realize that Montessori created the sandpaper letters over 100 years ago! The public schools in this area are finally switching to phonetic language instruction as well. Montessori focused heavily on phonics instruction in order to teach reading. This explains why a Montessori child might point to a letter "d" and say "that is 'duh'". The language program is extensive and will be explained in detail at a later date.

In my class, as soon as children start to blend three sounds together, they become very eager to get their hands on a book. This is why we need to be sure to give the children phonetic readers that are at their developmental level. Giving a young reader a book with unphonetic words could cause a great deal of frustration. I like to use Bob books, then the Montessori Phonics Readers.

Recently, I found a great website with FREE phonics readers that you can print or read with your child on the computer. Honestly, I'm shocked that this program is still free and doubt that it will remain that way. If you like the materials, I would print them out while they're still available.

Here's the link: Progressive Phonics

A few tips for working with your young child at home...

1. Watch for signs of boredom or exhaustion and quit while you're ahead.
2. Be sure you work in conjunction with your child's teacher, communicate often to avoid confusion.
3. Educational activities should be meaningful and your child should be actively engaged. Avoid "busy work".
4. Always keep activities light and enjoyable...learning needs to be fun at this age!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Art Supplies

Here's a great way to keep your child's art space organized. Start with a tackle box. Fill it with your child's art supplies. Decorate it with foam stickers, or any other fun medium. You can also put your child's name in stickers across the front of the box.

Here are some items that can go in the art box:
  • scissors, craft scissors (the ones that cut designs)
  • markers, colored pencils, crayons
  • stickers
  • tape, glue stick, glue dots
  • Do-a-Dots (these are fantastic!)
  • stamps, ink
  • pencils, pens, erasers
  • scraps of paper, scraps of aluminum foil (great for rolling into beads or drawing on with markers)
  • yarn, pipe cleaners

Encourage your budding artist by helping him keep it neat. Rotate the supplies every few weeks to keep the activity fresh.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Attitudes on School

I was in our vet's office yesterday, overhearing the techs' conversation. The woman described a conversation she had in the car with her pre-teen daughter.

Vet Tech: "I've got bad news for you. School starts again in two weeks."
Daughter: "Are you kidding me?! Thanks a lot for ruining my day!" (Now crying)
Vet Tech: "Sorry to wreck your day, but I figured you needed to know."
Daughter: "Thanks a lot, mom." (With obvious sarcasm)

The woman then laughed about it, thinking it was so funny that her daughter was crying about going back to school. Doesn't that raise a red flag for her? This woman started off the conversation with her daughter on a negative note. How could she have gone about this "forewarning" in a more positive way? Maybe the conversation could have gone like this:

Vet Tech: "Are you enjoying your summer?"
Daughter: "Yes, I've been having fun going to the pool every day."
Vet Tech: "Well, in a couple of weeks you'll be able to see all of your school friends again!"
Daughter: "You mean school's starting soon?"
Vet Tech: "Yes, and you're also signed up for dance class...two great things happening at once!"
Daughter: "Great! I wonder who will be in my homeroom this year?"

If the mother's attitude had a more positive twist, the daughter's entire view of school could have changed. If she was more positive and her daughter was still visibly upset, maybe the mom needs to discuss this further to find out what's really wrong, or look into alternative schools for her child. Your child's attitude about school is oftentimes a mirror of the people around her. We can't control what other people or the media say about school, but at least we can control the views we reflect onto our children.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top 10 List

According to Chick Moorman, author of my favorite parenting book, Parent Talk, this is the top 10 list of the best things you could say to your child. Some of these phrases are difficult to understand without reading the book. You'll just have to read it to find out!

Chick Moorman's Top 10 Best Things to Say to your Child:
1. "I love you."
2. "You choose."
3. "Check it out on the inside."
4. "You can do anything you make up your mind to do."
5. "You always have more choices than you think you have."
6. "Every problem has a solution."
7. "What do you attribute that to?"
8. "I know you can handle it."
9. "I appreciate your efforts. Thanks."
10. "No."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ice Cooking

"Ice cooking" is a favorite outdoor pastime in this household. Simply place a few containers with ice cubes on a table or even in the grass outside. Add a bit of water, a few spoons, ladles and measuring cups and you're set. This is a great sensorial activity for the youngest of children and a fun science lesson for the older ones. G likes to see how long it takes for the cubes to melt in the sun compared to in the shade, and g prefers to simply mix and pour!

For any newer readers, I use the letter "G" to refer to my 4-year-old and "g" to refer to my 1-year-old.

Have fun!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Few Updates

1. After much deliberation, I've decided to hold off on introducing a computer to the children. Here are my thoughts on this:

  • The bells are already a new addition to the classroom and I don't want to distract from them. This is an essential aspect of the Montessori music curriculum.

  • Most children already get enough "screen time" at home (computers, tv, video games).

  • This year, we have several new students who have just turned three years old. Children of this age need to be manipulating materials, moving about and tending to their classroom.

Don't get me wrong, I do see the importance of computers in the classroom, but I don't feel that now is a good time to introduce them. Maybe next year?

2. A very kind volunteer has chosen to cut paper for the daily calendar activity. Thank you for your help!

3. I finally heard back from the My Montessori Classroom artist and the CD is ordered! I really think the children will enjoy the music as it relates to their classroom.

4. We've reached 300 hits on our blog! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

For All of Those Picky Eaters

This idea circulated the blog world about a year ago. It's a clever little concept aimed at getting picky eaters to try new things or to finish their meal. G thought it was lots of fun and I'm sure we'll be trying it again soon.

Just use a clean muffin tin to fill with an assortment of fruits, vegetables, dips, meat, yogurt, whatever you prefer! It's really very simple and the children love the novelty of it. Here I used blueberries, broccoli, shrimp, corn, whole wheat pasta and grapes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bubble Snake

This is such a fun activity to do outside with the kids. It's also a great way to introduce young children to the concept of reusing.

All you need for this project is:

a plastic bottle, scissors, a small washcloth, a rubber band, water, dish detergent, a shallow dish

Here's what to do:

*Cut the bottom off of a plastic bottle. If you do not use plastic bottles in your home, I'm sure a friend would let you snoop through their recycling bin.
*Wrap a small towel around the end of the bottle using a rubber band.
*Dunk the bottom of the bottle (the towel end) into some water.
*Now dunk the bottom into a shallow bowl of dish detergent.
*Blow gently to make a long bubble snake!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Project 365

Last December, I read about a concept called Project 365. This idea was created by a man named Taylor McKnight on January 1, 2004. He decided he would take a picture every day that year, to help him remember his life and to help him realize what's important to him. I thought I might give it a try, but New Year's Day came and went without one single shot! I had completely forgotten about the project until January 2nd! If you're still reading this blog on January 1, 2010, please remind me to snap a photo!

Why take part in Project 365?
  • You'll be able to remember just about everything that happened to you that year, as well as everyone you met.
  • You'll be able to show others a "snapshot" of your year.
  • You'll become a better photographer.

Some helpful tips:

  • Jot down a few notes about each photograph.
  • Bring your camera along with you everywhere you go.
  • Take pictures of new people you meet and new places you visit.
  • Purchase a Project 365 Kit to keep your memories organized.
  • Keep going no matter what, your children will cherish these memories!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Daily Calendar Pages

In my training (AMS), part of the Cultural curriculum includes a Time Line of the Year. I have yet to incorporate this idea into the classroom, but I think I'll give it a go this year. This activity will tie in nicely with our daily calendar time at circle. Currently, we sing the Days of the Week song and the Months of the Year song. Then we count the days on the calendar in order to come up with the current date. We talk about the concepts of "yesterday, today, and tomorrow". We also count ahead to special holidays or field trips.

In order to implement the Daily Calendar Page, every day one student is chosen to write the date on a small piece of paper. That child would then draw the weather of the day or a picture of the current holiday on that piece of paper. The teacher would then take the piece of paper and hang it on a wire that is affixed to the wall. Each day, a new calendar page is added. By June, a beautiful time line of the year is displayed along the walls of the entire classroom. The purpose of this activity is to give the child a concrete representation of the passage of time.

If any enrolled parents are interested in a volunteer opportunity, we will need approximately 200 small sheets of paper. We would need 50 sheets of computer paper cut into quarters. Please comment if you're interested- your help is appreciated!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My Montessori Classroom

I. Am. So. Excited. For six years, I have been searching for a song that I once heard in a Montessori classroom. The teacher who played the song in her classroom has long since retired. I performed Google search after Gooooogle search. Nothing.

I finally find myself on a Montessori chatroom (I know, it's an obsession). I ask around if anyone knows anything about this song. Days later, I get a response from a teacher who ordered the CD years ago. I finally find the artist's website and I call for information. I haven't heard back from her yet, but I'm pretty sure I'll soon have that song!! Here is a link to her website. Click on the sample to hear this sweet song.

If you're a parent of the school, we're going to sing several of these songs this year. You might want to support the artist and purchase a CD for your child!

Children and TV

All of us have plopped our children in front of the TV at one time or another, typically out of sheer exhaustion. I remember my oldest watching too much TV in the early days of my second pregnancy. I was sick and exhausted (excuses, excuses) and just needed a break.

Anyway, as a whole, our TV set is on for approximately an hour a day during the summer. G is allowed to watch one 30 minute program in the evening before bed and the adults watch the news before turning in for the night. Winter hours are the same for G, but are a bit altered for the adults due to the popularity of American Idol in this household.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children watch no more than 1-2 hours of TV a day. I recommend to my school families absolutely no more than 1 hour. Everyone knows the drawbacks from television watching, I don't even need to go there (ok, maybe just a bit- Did you know that increased TV viewing in children leads to overeating, aggression and high blood pressure??). Bravo to all of those families who have chosen to remove television from their homes completely.

Most of the parents I know allow their children to watch one or two TV shows a day. If we're going to allow TV watching, let's choose appropriate, educational programs. Here's my list of "approved" programs for our preschool viewers.

Currently, those are the only programs that G is permitted to watch. We try to sit with her so that we can discuss anything that might need clarification. We're fortunate enough to have a DVR, so we record these programs each day and G chooses her show before bed. Our schedule works well like this because TV slows her down. Although, this time slot would not work well for those children who get wound up by television. I must admit, Mister Rogers was my favorite program as a child and I still enjoying watching him to this day. I swear, he missed his calling as a Montessori teacher!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Three Period Lesson

Many parents wonder exactly how we go about presenting lessons to children. Montessori teachers use what's called the three period lesson to present or re-present information pertaining to any topic.

Let's say I want to teach a 2 1/2 year old the primary colors. I might use the first color box on a mat.

First Period: I would place the red tablet in the center of the mat and say "This is red." I would move that tablet aside and place the blue tablet in the center of the mat. I would then say "This is blue". I would continue this way with the yellow tablet. The first period is all about naming.

Second Period: Next, I would place all three color tablets on the mat in full sight. I would ask the child, "Can you point to red?" or "Can you show me yellow?". For children who need to move around, I might say, "Can you place blue on the snack table?" or "Can you put red in your cubby?". The second period is all about practice, hearing me say the new words.

Third Period: Finally, to assess the child's comprehension, I will point to a tablet and say, "What is this?". I'll continue asking these questions taking note of the child's level of mastery. The third period is all about naming.

Montessori teachers use the three period lesson to teach anything from kitchen utensils to the parts of a horse. Much of our language curriculum is based on the three period lesson. You can give these lessons at home, just look around the house. Maybe your child is interested in dad's tools, so choose three (the magic number for this lesson) and give it a try! Just remember, always practice first without your child!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Birth Order

I apologize for bringing up this topic YET AGAIN, but it truly fascinates me. This web page includes a chart of typical characteristics found in children as they pertain to birth order. In summary:

The first child tends to be controlling, overprotective, and is typically a people-pleaser.
The second child is the rebel, never has the parents' undivided attention, and develops abilities the first child does not exhibit.
The third child becomes bossy, is rarely taken seriously, and sometimes develops feelings of inferiority.
The only child is spoiled, self-centered, and may refuse to cooperate.

Do these characteristics look familiar? They sure do in this household. I think most parents, myself included, just shake their heads in disbelief and say, "Do you believe how different my kids are?". But, the more I think about it, the more I realize IT'S BECAUSE OF ME THAT MY YOUNGEST IS A REBEL AND STANDS UP IN HER HIGHCHAIR OR STROLLER OR ANYTHING ELSE WITH WHEELS WITH A BIG SILLY GRIN ON HER FACE!!

I think we truly need to observe our children, take note of their differences (both positive and negative), and reflect on ways we can be more fair to our children. A professor once told me "Fair does not mean that everyone gets the same thing. Fair means everyone gets what he or she needs."

Do your children display these characteristics? If not, you're doing a better job of being "fair" than I am! Check out this funny short video from other "blogger" moms. Don't play in front of young children, due to "Santa Claus belief" innuendos.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Opening and Closing

In my last post, I mentioned that my toddler is very interested in opening and closing activities. Believe it or not, children of all ages enjoy this work. I used to teach elementary Montessori and even these children enjoyed a challenging basket of containers. The trick is finding containers that suit your child's ability level. Here are some examples of great containers for children on the primary level (3-6). And here is a set that's already put together for you. Honestly, though, I wouldn't spend my money on these expensive containers when you can typically find similar items at the Dollar Store, Goodwill, or yard sales. Over the years, I've had generous families contribute containers from all around the world. Here are some possible items you could use for your child's basket of "opening of closing" work:

  • Different types of bottles with twist or snap on lids
  • Different types of boxes made from an assortment of materials
  • Try an assortment of nuts and bolts for opening and closing

In order to avoid boredom and misuse of the materials, switch up the containers once every three weeks or so. Always follow these steps when presenting work at home:

  1. Observe the child
  2. Prepare activity when child is not present
  3. Practice using/presenting the material to be sure you haven't missed anything
  4. Place the activity neatly on a low shelf
  5. Invite the child to see the new activity
  6. Present the lesson using words only when absolutely necessary (children cannot listen to you and watch your hands at the same time)
  7. Clean up the activity without putting it away
  8. Invite the child to try
  9. Show the child how to place the work back on the shelf
  10. Observe the child using the material and jot down notes
  11. Make any necessary changes to the material when the child is not present
  12. Observe again!

Hopefully, if the work is developmentally appropriate and you've presented it in a way that intrigues him, he'll choose the lesson at another time and repeat it until mastered. You can see a common theme here: observe, observe, observe! These are the steps that Montessori teachers use each time a material is presented. Typically, teachers recommend for parents to only put out practical life and sensorial materials at home, so as not to interfere with the order of the academic lessons.