Saturday, September 17, 2011

Letter Sound of the Week

We've tried something new this year in our primary classroom, and it's a hit!  My school follows Maria Montessori's teachings to the best of our ability through research and reflection.  I wanted to do something new and different to get the children a bit more interested in letter sounds, while still following Montessori's guidelines.  Although I still present the letter sounds to the children individually, I now implemented a "sound of the week" to highlight each sound specifically.  I present the sounds in the order that was presented to me during my training- the letters most commonly found in the alphabet first.

I started the week off by reading My "m" Book from the My First Steps to Reading series.  I infused the practical life activities with "m" objects, and added a large "m" to the tray of playdough.  The children rolled the playdough into a snake and formed the letter sound.  On Wednesday, the children brought in an object that started with the sound of the week.  It was so much fun to see the different ideas they came up with.  We saw a picture of a "mommy", a stuffed "monkey", a "marshmallow" experiment, and even a "merry go round music box"!

I wasn't sure if I would like this new format, but it really is a lot of fun.  The children are already more excited about letter sounds, and pointing out "m" objects everywhere they go!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Discussing the Events of 9/11 with Children

I decided not to discuss the events that occurred on September 11, 2001 with my class today.  First of all, I'm sure many parents do not feel their children are ready to discuss such tragic events.  Secondly, it was an emotional day for all of us and I'm really not sure I could keep it together.  One of my immediate family members was in the Pentagon that morning, and the emotions come flooding back whenever I think about it.  His life was saved, but many others were lost.

There are some parents; however, who feel their children are old enough (or mature enough) to handle this information.  For those brave souls, take a minute to read this article.  It's written by one of my favorite parent educators, Chick Moorman (author of the fantastic book Parent Talk). 

You can find it here:  9/11 Article

Saturday, September 3, 2011

This "School" of Ours

I've been so busy getting ready for the school year to begin, but I wanted to share this great little cartoon I came across.  It illustrates Montessori's philsophy that children are individuals with a desire to go their own way and choose their own path.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sensory Bandwagon

I must admit, I spend way too much time browsing Montessori/Homeschool/Waldorf blogs for home and classroom ideas.  I recently stumbled across some bloggers who create something called "sensory bins".  In a nutshell, they're plastic tubs based on a chosen theme, and filled with interesting, textured materials.  The sensory bins create the possibility of hours of open-ended play, as well as, practice in all the Montessori goodies- spooning, pouring, scooping, sorting, classifying.  The blog I found most inspiring was
Counting Coconuts. Needless, to say, I've jumped on the bandwagon.

This is not an activity that I would incorporate into the classroom, unless it was for a summer camp type of environment, but it's great for home.  The theme I chose was "Beach" because we'll be hitting the shore in a few weeks.  The only thing I had to purchase for this bin was the base material, which is aquarium gravel (in place of sand- not brave enough for the real thing yet).  I found the gravel at Walmart for $5.  Everything else in the bin was either from our playroom or I had in storage for practical life activities:
  • shells (real and purchased)
  • aquarium plant
  • water block
  • spray bottles
  • small cups
  • blue and green gems
  • wooden scoop
  • scented wax slices
  • plastic fish
  • plastic whales
  • mermaid

Forever the Montessori guide, I set up a few "sensory bin groundrules" before we got started:
  1. All children who play with the bin will be active members of the clean-up crew.
  2. Small objects do not go in or near the mouth/nose/ears, etc.
  3. We respect each other while using the bin.  Sharing is a great way to show respect.
A blanket or towel should be placed under the bin for easy clean up.  I included tiny spray bottles (hanging over the side of the bin) to add a water element to the beach.  I told the girls if they wanted to spray outside of the bin, they must remember to bring the bin outside FIRST.

A sensory bin would not truly be "sensorial" without an olfactory element.  I included small green wax slices called "Coconut Lime" scented wax melts.  They add such a tropical scent to the bin.  I've had them in my bathroom closet for years.  I'm so happy they're finally being used!  Even the dogs got in on the fun...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Natural Refreshment

I have two amazing assistants.  Truly amazing.  They have taken over summer camp this year so that I can stay home with baby g.  I had full confidence that they would do well, but they've really blown my mind.  Together with the children, they've grown a beautiful, sensory garden.  The garden has been incorporated into many summer camp activities.  My older children have been attending camp and come home so excited about this garden.  I was told that g ate the entire chive plant out of the garden! 

The other day, I went to pick up the girls and they were enjoying a lovely tea party.  The teachers wore beautiful dresses- one even wore white gloves and a bonnet!  What I thought was the most creative part of the tea party was the use of edible flowers called Nasturtiums.  The children picked the flowers from the garden and froze them in ice cube trays.  The flowers were later used to flavor tea and lemonade.  I wish I had a picture of the group enjoying their refreshments!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bare Bones

Welcome back!  I delivered my third daughter a few weeks ago and everyone is happy and healthy.  My two big girls- G and g - are thrilled to have a baby in the house.  I was a bit concerned about g, being that she's used to being the baby, but she's the most gaga out of us all!  Happy days ahead with three beautiful girls.

Here we are mid-summer and I'm already thinking about school.  I've planned out a third of the school year and I've started making some new work for the fall.  About this time of year, I start getting itchy to get back into the classroom.  I'm taking it easy and enjoying being at home, but my classroom is my passion!  If only everyone can say that about their work- I'm truly blessed.

At the end of every year, most Montessori teachers put away all of their materials.  They are cleaned, polished, and tucked away for safe storage.  (Check out the prices of the materials and you'll know why teachers treat them like gold.)  I've always wanted to get the children involved in that process, providing them with closure for the school year.  However, my school runs a summer camp and many of the materials are used during that program.  This means that I have to spend many hours in the classroom the week before school starts putting most of the materials away.  That's right, they stay away when the children come on the first day.

Why the bare bones for the start of the school year?  We like for the children to come into the room with a fresh start.  Full shelves can be very overwhelming for a young child.  Montessori children are taught the first days of school that they must have a lesson on a work in order for it to become a choice.  It is very difficult to police that rule when there are so many choices available.  It's also exciting for the children to see how many activities are gradually put out over the course of the year.

So, what then, do we put out those first days of school?  I know of some teachers who put out a bin of toys.  The children are free to choose from the bin.  New work is gradually put out on the shelves, and the teachers notice that the bin of toys is typically left untouched after a few days.  At that time, the teacher takes the bin away and continues adding Montessori materials.  I have never tried this method, I just don't like the thought of an unorganized bin of toys sitting in the middle of my classroom.  Instead, I usually put out Melissa and Doug-type puzzles and activities, gradually removing them and replacing them with "real" Montessori work.  I experimented last year; however, and was very surprised.  I put out play dough, simple art projects, and a few beginning Montessori materials.  I gave many lessons that first week on the Mont. materials and the children were very enthusiastic about the work.  I think I'll try that again this year in hopes that it wasn't just a fluke.  I wish I had a picture of the bare classroom to show you.  I'll try to remember to post one in September when school starts.  I'd love to post a before and after in June too!

I'm hoping to post more often now, so be sure to check back soon!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Our Newest Montessori Baby

My husband and I just found out we are expecting yet another little girl!  This makes three girls-- not including the two female dogs-- so I think my husband might go running for the hills pretty soon!

I've already started planning the nursery and how I can "Montessorify" it as much as possible.  For a person who runs a Montessori School, you would think it would be much easier to set up my house in a Montessori fashion.  However, two adults also share this space and we need to be sure everyone's needs are met.  Of course, if it were up to me, everything would be child-sized including the kitchen sink!

I've created a list of items you might want to consider when setting up an infant's nursery.  Many of these items you can either order from Lord Company or Michael Olaf.  Keep in mind, our ultimate goal being to aid in the growth and development of the child.  Lack of overstimulation, beauty, and simplicity are key.

Floor Bed

Now this is the most important aspect of a Montessori nursery, and also the one that I can't convince my husband to go along with!  A child should have the freedom to crawl to his bed and sleep at his own leisure.  He should be able to get into and out of his bed without assistance, and should never be "caged" in.  I've seen this work in Montessori infant classrooms and it's quite a beautiful thing.  The children will feel tired, and willingly put themselves "down for a nap".  Talk about independence.

Low Shelf

Here's an item you could possibly make yourself, or ask someone's father in-law to make it for you.  The shelf should be low with rounded corners.  Some people put carpeting on the shelf to avoid frustration from toys slipping and sliding.  This shelf is for age appropriate and well-organized toys.  A book or two can also be displayed on top.  Groups of similar items can be organized in baskets.  This beautiful baby shelf is from Community Playthings:


Toys should be placed on the low shelf in a neat and organized fashion.  Rolling toys can be placed in natural baskets or bowls.  Keep most toys organized out of the baby's room and rotate often to maintain interest.  Some great beginner toys are available from Michael Olaf (see link above).  The first few months of life, you should have out grasping and teething toys:

And later...

Wall Hangings

Keep wall hangings interesting and attractive.  It's very easy to find simple and attractive photographs or paintings to frame and hang low.  You can also change these pictures often to keep the interest of the child.  Think about using photographs from other cultures as a conversation starter during diaper changing.

Work Table

A low, functional table and chair should be available to the child as soon as he can pull up to standing.  The child will eventually bring his activities to the table to work.  An excellent table is available from Community Playthings- the legs expand to grow with the child.  The table should be approximately 12-15 inches high, the chair should be 8-12 inches.

When you have a chance, take a look at this Montessorian's nursery that she created for her first child.  I can only dream of a nursery this beautiful!  As always, if you have any questions, feel free to post them.  Other people just might be wondering the same thing.