Friday, October 30, 2009

Sweet Stories

We had such a sweet day all around. It is so much fun watching the children try to compose themselves during the school day, just knowing that the excitement of Halloween is just around the corner! U.P. wrote and illustrated a Halloween story:
Once upon a time,
there was a ghost in a village.
He was nice. He didn't hurt.
One day he met a girl.
They were friends.
Now that's a Montessori ghost story if I've ever heard one!

This student, RB, must be trying to control his excitement with the Individual Silence Game. He waited there with the lavender pillow for a full minute of silence. After rolling up the mat and putting the work away, he noticed a framed picture of Maria Montessori. He brought the frame over to me and asked, "Who is this woman?". I replied, "It's Maria Montessori. She loved children. She invented most of these materials you see." RB's response was this, "Oh. That's sweet of her."

Have a sweet Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2009


In the spirit of Halloween, we studied spiders today. We used the lightboard to trace a complex spider web, then we added spiders with ink thumbprints. I was so happy to see many of the children adding eight legs to their spiders, after we read a book on parts of a spider. U.P. loved the word "arachnid" and wanted to know more about these animals. We also discovered that spiders can make as many as seven different kinds of silk, each used for a different purpose (egg cases, wrapping prey...). Can you believe that a thread of spider silk is stronger than a thread of steel that is the same thickness?

Here's a spider web activity you can try at home. Finding a web is easy on foggy or dew-covered mornings because the water droplets reveal the silk threads. You'll have to wait to see the spider at work because a spider can't catch a meal until its web dries out. If your child would like to check out the intricate design of a web, here's a trick biologists use to make spider webs visible.

Step One: Put one sock inside the other to make a double-thick bag.
Step Two: Fill the bag with cornstarch or talcum powder.
Step Three: Close the opening by tying a knot in the top of the "bag".
Step Four: Hold the bag next to a spider web (not over the top of it).
Step Five: Pat the bag gently to force poweder out of it onto the web. Hint: Stand upwind so the air carries the powder onto the web.
Step Six: Keep patting the bag until the web is lightly dusted.

Another great extension to this topic is installing a Garden Spider Web Frame from Montessori Services in your backyard. With a little time and a lot of patience, children can observe a web being formed and eventually a spider hunting for a meal.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Halloween in a Montessori classroom is much different than in a traditional setting. There are no scary images posted around the school and the children are not coloring pictures of witches on their brooms. Instead, the children are learning about bats and the way that they "hear" with echolocation. They are studying the many uses of a pumpkin and exploring the pumpkin life cycle. Check out this book from your local library, it's fantastic. You can also preview half of the book here. We do sing Halloween-inspired songs that allow for use of the imagination, but are not scary or threatening. The children haven enjoyed singing Stirring the Brew, while adding their own concoctions to the brew! We also sing Five Little Pumpkins, but we remove the word "witches" and replace it with "bats". Here are the lyrics if you'd like to sing it at home, also, each child gets a chance to shut off the lights when we sing "out went the lights" near the end. That's their favorite part!

"Five Little Pumpkins"
Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate,
The first one said "Oh my, it's getting late!"
The second one said "There are bats in the air!"
The third one said "But we don't care."
The fourth one said "Let's run and run and run!"
The fifth one said "We're ready for some fun!"
Woooooo went the wind and
Out went the lights!
And five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.
There are several different variations to this song, but this is the one that we've always liked. If you would like to make a "Five Little Pumpkins" mini-book at home, follow the directions here.
Scroll down to the printable templates at the bottom of the page. On Halloween celebration day, we continue to sing songs and I will paint little decorations on their faces. We do not dress up for several reasons. Many times children dress up in very scary costumes and this changes the child's peaceful personality entirely. Younger children spend the day frightened and/or crying because of these costumes. Also, parts of the costumes break easily or are lost and the teacher spends much of the day consoling or trying to fix swords and wands. Instead, we have lots of fun and enjoy a non-threatening aspect of the holiday.
Have a fun and safe Halloween!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maitri Learning

In order to expose the children to zoology, we teach a series of lessons. Ideally, the first lesson is an introduction to the animal through actual observation. As with all Montessori activities, we start with the concrete then move to the abstract. Our children have daily interactions with our classroom fish and sometimes with our school dog, but the reptile, amphibian, and insect are a bit more difficult. If anyone at home owns a reptile or an amphibian, we'd love to borrow it at some point throughout the school year! Next, the child is introduced to the zoology puzzles. These puzzles surely are a classroom favorite.
Next, we teach the children the language of the parts of the body. Typically, I use the puzzles to introduce the vocabulary, but we were able to purchase the Maitri three-part nomenclature cards this summer. I was very excited about these cards, but I wasn't sure how the children would respond to them- you never really can gauge their reaction to new materials. It turns out, they LOVED them. I introduced the parts of the horse cards to a small group of two children and by the end of the lesson, I had five "observers". The cards and beautiful and very well made.

Each "part" of the horse is highlighted on the card. The children thought it was amazing that only a small part of the horse was colored in and they thought the pictures were gorgeous. Check out the website for information and references for parents.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pumpkin Science

I put out a new science experiment yesterday entitled "Pumpkin Sink or Float". I have this work set up at a permanent "station" so that the children can just sit down and perform the activity. I leave work out like this on rare occasions, maybe if it's only going to be out for a few days and I want the children to see it and work with it, or if there are too many parts involved in the work for the child to carry from the shelf to a table.

On the table, I have a tray, an apron, a large bowl, a sponge, an orange colored pencil, and a stack of experiment papers in a plastic folder. The experiment paper has an area for predictions (a space for a picture and a line for the word "sink" or "float") and a similar area for conclusions. After putting on the apron and filling in the paper, the child carries the bowl to the sink. There is a black line drawn on the bowl to show the water's surface line.

Now for the fun part...the child carries the bowl back to the tray and places the pumpkin gently into the water. It typically bobs up and down for a few moments and then settles on the surface of the water. It fools them all! Finally, U.P., my afternoon kindergartner, commented "We keep guessing that the pumpkin will sink. And it floats every time. Will the answer ever change?" That is the point of the experiment. Are there any factors that change the composition of the pumpkin so that it will sink? I'm curious to see if any children will alter the pumpkin in any way before putting it in the bowl. I'll keep you posted on any progress of the pumpkin experiment!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Diwali!

This weekend starts the Indian holiday Diwali/Deepavali. I was told of a story about a good prince named Rama who traveled to save his wife, Sita from an evil king. Rama prevailed and returned home following a lit path of candles. Hence, the holiday is oftentimes referred to as the "Festival of Lights". Another Indian parent told me the holiday acts as their New Year. I find it fascinating that different regions of India celebrate the holiday differently and even refer to it by different names.

We had two Indian parents come into the class to give demonstrations on Henna designs, or Mehndi, and also to distribute Bindis. One mom explained to the class that the purpose of the Bindi is to strengthen concentration.
The children were fascinated by the beauty of the Indian culture. We are very fortunate to have such a diverse school, the children come to know and respect other cultures as much as their own. Thank you to our parent volunteers for contributing your time and energy into our classroom. You make such a difference!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Look What I Found!

I stumbled across this great article by the author of Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn. Please take a moment to read it, hopefully it will open your eyes the way it has mine.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


We're gearing up for conferences here at our little school. An important fact for parents to understand is that Montessori schools do not distribute grades on traditional "report cards". Instead, we respect each child as an individual and compare him only to his own progress, not to his classmates' progress or to progress set forth by a "standard".
In previous years, our progress report was made up of a list of lessons given throughout the year. There would be six columns next to each lesson- enough space for two semesters during the course of three years. In each column would be a symbol. The first side of a triangle meant the child was presented the lesson, two sides of a triangle meant the child was practicing the material, and a full triangle symbolized mastery. A short narrative was also given for each subject area.
This year, we started a new record-keeping system which contains a program for Montessori progress reports. The layout is very similar to our previous reports, but with some minor changes. Change is difficult for everyone, and it's taking some time for me to get used to this new approach to reporting. I know, however, that this approach is more convenient and more state-of-the-art. Overall, my goal is for each parent is for them to get an overview of their child's behaviors, strengths, weakness, likes and dislikes.
I do ask my school parents to bring along questions that they have in order to make the most of their conference time. Here are some sample questions that a parent might ask:
  • What is my child's favorite work?
  • Does my child prefer to work alone or with other children?
  • Does my child seem eager to receive new lessons?
  • How often does my child share thoughts during group time?
  • How does my child express himself artistically?

I am truly looking forward to meeting with each and every parent to discuss goals for their children this academic year.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


There has been a tremendous amount of interest in cultural geography this year in BOTH the morning and afternoon session. I have been giving lesson after lesson in the globes, maps, and continent poking work.

The "poking work" is easily a class favorite this year. I have all of the continents traced on to corresponding card stock. The children choose a continent, a piece of felt or cork, and a "poker"- this could be a large push pin or any other device with a fine point. These items are placed on a tray and brought to a table. The child pokes out the shape of the continent and pulls the completed shape out of the paper. We do not use scissors for several reasons. The poking aspect significantly strengthens the fine motor skills needed for writing. This activity also is a lesson in focus and concentration. After many hours, or even years, of continent poking exercises, the child has a concrete image of every continent etched in their brain for life! If children were to use a scissor, the small angles of a continent would most likely be cut off and an inaccurate representation would be left. After poking all seven continents, the children create their very own Map of the World. The children trace both hemispheres onto a large piece of paper and paint them blue to represent the oceans. After waiting a full day (the hardest part of the activity), the child can then glue on all of the continents. Some children choose to label the continents, but others like the look of just the land and water. Eventually, the third year students start to create maps of Australia, South America, and I have even seen one child accurately poke out and label every country in Africa.

In her book, To Educate the Human Potential, Maria Montessori said, “If the area of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than an interest and more satisfying. The knowledge then acquired is organized and systematic. His intelligence becomes whole and complete because the vision of the whole that has been presented to him, and his interest spreads to all, for all are linked and have their place in the universe on which his mind is centered. . . No matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe.”

HM and NC poking the continents.

LD completing his Map of the World

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Feeling Angry

We've been talking about feelings this week and today we focused on the feeling of "anger". The children typically have a lot to say on this subject, so I planned for a long circle time. I'm glad I planned ahead- I heard story after story of children feeling angry at times and not knowing what to do with their anger.
I read the book Feeling Angry and we discussed several aspects of the book. First of all, it's important to stress to children that anger is O.K. The hard part is what we can do with this energy called anger. It's not healthy to bottle the anger up inside our bodies, and it's not healthy to physically put our anger on other people.
Before reading the book, here were some answers to the question, "What do you do with your anger?":
  • "slam doors"
  • "hit my sister"
  • "cry to mommy"
  • "stomp my foot"
  • "push my friend"

After the book, here were some answers to the question, "What could we do with our anger instead?":

  • "count to ten"
  • "breathe deeply"
  • "go outside for a walk"
  • "squeeze playdough"
  • "hit my pillow or my bed"
  • "talk to the person that made me angry"

Immediately following our discussion, I asked the children to close their eyes. I told them to pretend they were very angry and then imagine what anger looks like. They opened their eyes and were given the opportunity to draw "anger". Some children drew angry faces, others drew large, violent-looking explosions. Today almost felt like a children's therapy session, but it was a healthy discussion and could very easily be reinforced at home.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Apple Picking Mini-Tour

Our school made a trip out into the community on Friday to visit a local farm with a pick-your-own fruit operation. Before visiting the farm, we discussed types of apples, changes in an apple tree throughout the four seasons, and the legend of Johnny Chapman, or Johnny Appleseed. Here's a glimpse of our fun apple outing.

Bumpy ride to the orchard on HALF of a school bus!

Children choosing apples and "turning them up to the sky" to pick.

Great demonstration in the school house, reinforcing Johnny Appleseed and changing of the seasons.

Goats, Alpacas, and Pot-Bellied Pigs, Oh my!