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!