Friday, July 30, 2010

Practical Life "Beef Up"

I'm in the process of "beefing up" my Practical Life area in the new classroom.  I have very mixed and complicated feelings about Practical Life, which I'm sure I'll explore further in another post. Mostly, I'm concerned about how some schools have taken away the richness and importance of Practical Life in the classroom.  I am certain, however, that the Practical Life aspect of the curriculum is the cornerstone of the Montessori philosophy.  Real-life activities, directly teaching children how to care for and run the classroom, should be incorporated throughout the entire school day.  Children should be found watering the plants, dusting the shelves, caring for animals, washing dishes, gardening, polishing shoes and washing windows.  These experiences give children the ability to follow multi-step tasks, they develop hand-eye coordination, and ultimately build self-confidence.

I spent the last few years slowly adding to the Math and Language areas of the classroom, to be sure I had a logical sequence to these activities.  Now it is finally time for me to work on Practical Life.  I'll soon be placing  an order with Montessori Services, my favorite online spot for Practical Life goodies.  I'm filling in some of my curriculum gaps with the following activities:
I'm very fortunate to have a friend of a friend who is making my cloth washing and dish washing stands.  Otherwise, the price for these materials just get way out of hand. 

I have already incorporated silver and shoe polishing into the curriculum, and they are certainly class favorites.  I'm excited to show wood polishing to some of my returning students.  They will truly enjoy transforming a dull wooden figure into a piece of art with a brilliant sheen.  My youngest daughter will most definitely have some well-polished wooden animals in her Noah's Ark!

If you wish to incorporate wood polishing into your home activities, here's what you need (remember, try to color coordinate whenever possible):
  • a basket or tray with high sides
  • an apron
  • non-toxic wood polish
  • a sponge
  • a small glass bowl
  • a waterproof mat
  • wood polishing cloths (you can order just the cloths here
  • cotton swabs
  • wooden object in need of a good polish
You can find directions on presenting this activity to your child in this online Montessori album:  Wood Polishing.  Be sure you have everything you need first, before presenting this work to a child.  Present activities slowly and deliberately, using the least amount of words possible.  As I've metioned before, if your child is enrolled in a Montessori school, check with the teacher to be sure your child is ready for this work at home.  This activity is suitable for a child who is 4-6 years old.  Be sure to rotate wooden objects often to maintain interest.  When your child eventually masters this activity, move on to wooden shelves and eventually pieces of furniture!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Montessori In the Home: It Works!

In one of my previous posts, I gave some suggestions on how to "Montessorify" your home.  It gave me inspiration to work on my daughters' rooms.  I spent the afternoon working in their rooms today:  organizing, getting rid of clutter, collecting a bag for donations, and cleaning out closets.  My older daughter, G, walked into her room and said "Wow, I love this room!".  That was an hour and a half ago.  I was going to ask her to help make dinner tonight, but I think I'll just let her enjoy the cleanliness of her room. 

My younger daughter, g, walked into her room and went straight to one of her favorite toys, her wooden ark.  For her second birthday, we purchased an heirloom quality wooden Noah's Ark set.  I searched for a VERY long time to find just the right one and was so pleased when I found it on ebay here.  It's handcrafted by the Amish. Yes, it's very expensive, but I'm hoping we can pass it down for years to come.  And it's one of the only toys in her room.  We have it neatly displayed on this unit, which fits directly under her window.  Her books are stored in the milk crate baskets beneath.  Now, she has not really entered her Sensitive Period for order, she's still working out the Language phase.  Therefore, she was not quite as affected by the "new" room.

Keep in mind, their rooms were not disasters.  But there were certainly small things scattered about that were no longer played with and a desk that was starting to get cluttered. When organizing your children's bedrooms, less is definitely more.  They will enjoy spending more time looking at books or playing with their quiet toys when their rooms are clutter-free.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Inspection #2

This week we passed our inspection with the Department of Environmental Protection.  We officially have safe, healthy drinking water.

Our final state inspection takes place mid-August.  We've really got the ball rolling now!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Montessori at Home...Where to Begin?

A parent recently spoke to me about incorporating Montessori into her home.  She noticed that her child seems so calm and fulfilled in school, but at home he is wild and frustrated.  She believes her parenting beliefs are in line with the school's, so it must be something else.  Immediately, the answer to her question popped into my head, but I was fearful to tell her the truth.  I've visited her home and the children's spaces are disastrous.  Again, I was hesitant to say something to her because God knows my home is not spotless.  Ahead of her time as always, Montessori discovered that too much clutter distracted a child's mind, decreased focus, which therefore increased negative behaviors.  She deduced that children between the ages of 3 and 6 are in a Sensitive Period for order.  Simply put, children at this age enjoy orderly rooms and play areas.  You may see children at this age lining up their cars or blocks in perfectly straight rows- again, this is a way to create that sense of order.  Read more about Sensitive Periods here.

Back to the inquiring parent...I did finally mention to her that one of the key aspects of the Montessori classroom is a clean, orderly environment.  She immediately understood what I was getting at, so I was able to give her some organizational tips.  Here are some tips on how to get started:
  • Put 75% of your child's toys in organized storage.  Store toys based on age groups (0-3, 3-6, 6-9) or by theme (building materials in one labeled bin, art supplies in another).
  • Place the remaining toys neatly on low shelves.  IKEA has some reasonably priced shelving.  Puzzles should not be stacked, they should be displayed nicely.
  • Organize the playroom into little "centers" based on your child's interests.  This particular little boy was very interested in pirates and dressing up at the time.  I showed her how she could put a full length mirror on the wall, next to a "tree" coat rack, and some pegs hung low on the wall.  She could display 6 dress-up items at a time on the pegs and all of his pirate hats on the coat rack.  Any additional dress-up items should be stored away in a bin or chest.
  • Rotate toys and dress-up clothes every 2-3 weeks or when interest wanes.
  • The playroom should include a reading area.  Invest in a bookshelf that displays books rather than a typical bookshelf where only spines are showing, such as this library panel.  Place a small lamp and child-sized chair to add a warm touch.  Again, rotate books often. 
  • Keep the area tidy with your child's help.  Reinforce putting toys away immediately after use, but be sure to clean up any remaining items at night so your child can have a fresh start in the morning.
Bathrooms and bedrooms are just as important to your child's behavior because these rooms help to start and end each day.  Keep the rooms as clutter-free as possible.  Books and soft toys should be arranged nicely in the bedroom.  Keep loud or musical toys in the playroom. 

Check out how this Montessori mom organized her home for her now mobile toddler:  Sew Liberated.

I think this post has inspired me to get upstairs and re-organize my kids' rooms!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Wonderful Surprise

I received a totally unexpected email the other day.  It was from a former student who has just received her DRIVER'S LICENSE!  She is doing very well and fondly thinks back to her memories from Montessori school.  She recalls her "favorite teacher" and the sense of community she enjoyed in the Montessori environment.  This compliment could easily go to my head and boost my ego.  However, many people do not realize it's not the Montessori teacher or the materials that are the children's "favorite", deep down it's actually the philosophy.  Children who attend Montessori schools for 3+ years truly take away from the experience more than just a solid, well-rounded education.  Their core personality is formed and they leave the school caring, active leaders of the community.

Reflect on your "favorite" childhood teacher.  Did the teacher instill a sense of independence and community in the classroom?  Did you feel a sense of ownership over the classroom?  Maybe it was really just his/her philosophy of teaching that you preferred. 

...Or maybe she just let you erase the chalkboard from time to time. lol.

Friday, July 9, 2010

First Inspection

Well, we've got our first inspection under our belts.  It went well and was much less stressful than I imagined.  The inspector was thorough, but she wasn't at all critical or condescending.  I've had many years of experience with these inspections, and they're not typically enjoyable.  The only thing we need to "fix" is a missing form from an employee's file.  Not bad, if you ask me!

This inspector was not very familiar with the Montessori Method, but she seemed open to learning about it and understanding the purpose of the materials.  Of course, once I get on a roll there's no stopping me. I gave her a detailed explanation of the materials and the sequence of materials in each area of the classroom.  After some time I realized I probably didn't need to go into so much detail, but she did seem to maintain interest throughout my rambling. 

So our next steps are inspection number two from a different agency in two weeks, and a board meeting in August.  I'm going to try and focus on this first hurdle that we have successfully leapt before worrying about inspection number two.  Take a look at the finished product:

Sensorial Materials

Language Materials

Math Materials

Practical Life and Art

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

I've been absent from the blog lately because we have our first inspection this Friday!!!  I've been rearranging our new furniture, moving boxes to the new building and setting up materials on the shelves.  Once again, I have to mention my respect for the quality of furniture from Community Playthings.  People walk into the classroom and are struck by the beauty of the tables, chairs and shelves.  It certainly is quite an investment into the school, but I know it will pay off.  Other directors mention that they've never had to replace a piece of Community Playthings furniture.  Can you tell I'm a bit excited about it?  We received 46 boxes of furniture and had it all unloaded and mostly set up in one day.  One looong day.  Here are some pictures of our progress...
So, it's coming right along.  I've been imagining this classroom for over ten years now, and the dream is coming alive right before my eyes.  I can hardly believe it.  I was over there working until past 11:00pm and I just had to sit down, look around, and take it all in.  I can only hope that this school will be passed down to my daughters and loved and cared for for many years to come.

I don't think I'll be posting any more pictures until the classroom is completed.  Should be within the next couple of weeks!

Enjoy the holiday weekend!