Friday, June 27, 2014

Works All Around Us!

I love it when I'm puttering around the house with "Alleluia" and some chore we stumble upon becomes a decent impromptu Montessori work.   This morning I was trying to let the rest of the household sleep in ("Wasabi" had returned from a month in France late last night).  I was tired myself, so when everything Alleluia wanted to do was just too loud, I gave her a quiet job to do:  sort through the mess of pencils and pens we store in one big tote and get the supplies ready for the next school year.

This job, it turns out, requires plenty of skills, such as:
  • sorting pencils and mechanical pencils from pens and markers
  • setting aside colored pencils (more on that later)
  • figuring out which pen caps go to which pens
  • throwing out broken pencil pieces and pen caps that had no mates
  • setting aside crayons for Alleluia's backpack
  • testing pens and markers so she could discard yucky ones
  • setting aside the extra thick pencils for the Atrium
  • setting aside hair ties, pencil sharpeners and pencil grips (which I put where they belong)

Once she had made a big pile of colored pencils she sharpened them and put each in its correct cup.  This was challenging, since several shades of pencil were kind of "in between."

In the end this took at least 25 minutes of focus and concentration, and--since she uses the pencils every day--she will not only benefit from her work, but her siblings and the children who come over to use the Montessori materials will also benefit.

What about you?  Have you enjoyed any impromptu works lately?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Jazzing Up Your Board Books After the Toddler Stage

Adding a tutu to the skating elephant has just kicked this up a notch!  (From Jamberry)

How to Add Oomph to Your Board Books

We are still working with "Banjo" (the almost 6-year-old boy with multiple disabilities) to find ways to reach him through his senses.  His family members read to him a ton, so his mom and I have been adapting some favorite board books.  You may want to try these tricks, too, although PLEASE don't try this if your audience still puts small things in their mouths!

1.  Find a book you love, whether for the art or for the language.

We both like Jamberry!
We've also worked on Doggies, The Very Hungry Caterpillar,  and Carl's Afternoon in the Park.

2.  Either be a pack rat or ask the help of one.  

Junk galore.
I happen to be the pack rat!  Textured wallpapers, pipe cleaners, beads, ribbon, old Barbie clothes--you name it, I got it.  So my house is kind of messy, but who do you come crawling to when you need a Lilliputian-sized set of binoculars?

3.  Heat up the glue gun.

Normal glue won't cut it.

4.  Add something every page or two...

...even if it's just a googly eye.

5.  Use clips or clothespins to make the pages easier to turn.


  • You may want to use wax paper or parchment paper to trace a shape before cutting.
A laundry pen or Sharpie helps, too.
  • Barbie clothes have a lot of different textures, even within the same outfit!
Sorry, Barbie (that outfit was so 80's anyway!).
  • Glue gun goo makes pretty good "water."

Voila!  Try this, and you'll fall in love all over again with your board book collection!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Parenting Reminders

A Little Positive Feedback Goes a LONG Way

This was our third parenting discussion with Dr. Steve McFadyen-Ketchum, senior lecturer at Vanderbilt University and expert in child psychology.  We talked about spouses supporting each other and expressing gratitude toward one another.
Our parenting group met again recently and, while questions about sibling rivalry were on the agenda, it was the importance of being positive that was the real take-home message.  But here's the twist:  we need to not only find ways to catch our children being good--we need to also find ways to regularly thank our spouses for what they do.

In our previous posts here and here we mentioned the importance of being positive and specific with our children.  For instance, you might say, "Susie, thank you for the good job you did unloading the
dishwasher this morning."  It wouldn't hurt to give a high-five, two thumbs up, or do a little dance of joy with Susie--non-verbals get the message across, too.  Dr. Steve said, "Children learn most readily what is required by parents when they do something that fits the requirements and it gets noticed, commented on, and reinforced..."

We also talked about making time 4 or 5 times per week to discuss how things are going with the kids WITHOUT them present. If one of you travels a lot, this may mean regular texts or Facetime- or Skype-ing it. Whatever works--just do it!

So all of this you may have found to be true already.  But did you know that we need to also make time to be positive with our spouses?  That may mean a quick call over your lunch break to say, "Thank you for remembering John's lunch money when I forgot," or "I'm so glad you got all of the patches sewn on Mary's Brownie costume--you're the best!" or "I'm so blessed to have your help in raising these crazy kids!"  Maybe an e-mail, a note in the lunch box, a welcome home squeeze with some specific kind of thank you is what works for you as a couple.  Just make sure you do it, and do it often (Dr. Steve says 4 or 5 times per week).

Any ideas you want to add?

Monday, February 24, 2014

When Visiting Schools.......

This is the season when nervous mommies are frantically visiting schools, trading notes with other mommies about who is signed up for what in the fall, exchanging critiques of competing programs, etc. I thought of this as I recently re-read something by G. K. Chesterton in Heretics:
But there are some people, nevertheless--and I am one of them--who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe.  We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, is it important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy.  We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy's numbers, but still more important to know the enemy's philosophy.  
When we are choosing a place for our child to spend a big chunk of his or her waking hours we should know something about the worldview of the staff and--for older children--even the worldview of the other children attending the school.  I've visited very expensive Montessori schools where even the youngest children were hard at work but no one smiled (adults included).  I've changed my mind about sending our kids to a well-known, academically rigorous school because, after spending some time in the carpool pick-up line, I sensed that the middle school children lacked the innocence, light and joy my own children had.  I withdrew our oldest from a preschool after just one day when I saw his classmate fall down on the march back to the classroom and no one except our 3-year-old had the compassion to stop and ask if his classmate was okay.

Montessori wrote about the absorbent mind of the young child.  What about his absorbent heart?  His attitudes and beliefs and character and habits of loving are all being shaped by the people with whom he will spend his waking hours.  Please make sure that hours are spent with the best of souls.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Liturgical Calendar (or the Church's Year)

"Purple and Green, Red and White....."

With the Liturgical Calendar the children see the importance of preparing for the 3 big feasts of the church:  Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.  They also see how important the "growing time" (i.e. Ordinary Time) is!
Today we unveiled one of the the most impressive works of the Level 1 Atrium:  the Liturgical Calendar, which teaches that Christ is the center of our year and that there are cycles and patterns to our worship.  This particular calendar (made from a sort of masonite material that was just leftover packing stuff from a furniture shipment) is MUCH bigger than I've ever seen.  These are usually the size of a large dinner plate and are usually made of wood.  This just goes to show:  you can make these works with whatever you have handy and modify to suit your group.  The gentleman who made this is a seasoned grandpa, so he made chunkier pieces that are safe both because they are too big to choke on and because there are no pointy pieces.

For single use with just a few children you could make this with construction paper or make necklaces with colored pony beads (thanks to Dominican Sister Mary Charles for the necklace idea!).
Your liturgical calendar needs to have 3 concentric circles.  The outer ring separates the year into the Cycle of Easter and the Cycle of Christmas (the largest rings seen above).  The medium-sized ring should be made of 52 equal-sized wedges (in our design the 3 feasts of the year--Easter, Christmas and Pentecost--become rays that take the place of 3 of those wedges).  The smallest ring defines the seasons:  Advent, the Christmas Season, Ordinary Time, Lent, and the Paschal Season.

Once the wood is cut and primed, you're ready to paint!  
 It's a confusing puzzle to create and to put together, so just keep singing the song to yourself as you go:
"Purple and green, red and white
Are the colors of the year..........
Purple for preparation,
White is for celebration,
Green is the growing time,
Red is for Pentecost."
Paint the Pentecost wedge with red.  Later you can add the dove as the symbol for the Holy Spirit.  Note:  some atria use flames as the symbol for the Holy Spirit.  You just need to be consistent across the works in your room.
I wanted the lettering to look nice, so I used a compass to create a guideline.
I found a pretty font, printed out the words I needed for labeling, wrote them onto my calendar pieces and then went over that with a Sharpie.  These steps took a LONG time of careful concentration!
I also made a control chart by tracing all of the calendar pieces onto an old piece of foam core,  labeling everything and coloring it in.  That way the children can move everything from the puzzle to the control chart and back again. 
So far, the only complaint I've had is that the symbol I painted for Pentecost looks like an airplane instead of a dove!
Lots of focus!
One important thing to point out:  while a clock goes around clockwise, we use this calendar counter-clockwise to remind us that "God's time is not our time."

Many thanks!

Thanks very much to this friend of the Legion of Mary for creating this work!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Elementary History: Medieval England, Hands-On

Hands-On History!

What a cool idea!  Get those metal rings from an office supply store and make a version of chainmail.

One of the fun things about having children of different ages is that sometimes an activity with one child can enhance and improve upon something you're doing with another child.  That's what happened this week, when I took "Wasabi" to Texas to look at colleges.  We got to stop by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where an exhibit on the Magna Carta had just opened!   I got some great ideas for "hands on history" stuff to do with our 4th grader, who just learned about the Magna Carta last week in her Kolbe curriculum, and who is learning about medieval European history in her weekly co-op, too.

First the exhibit showed a rather crude privy made of mud and sticks--a great way to grab the attention of children!  It even looked like something a crafty homeschooling kid could make.  Also, the discussion about all of the uses of urine in those days was truly disgusting and eye-opening.

Next were some hands-on textiles, examples of the different kinds of clothes that people from varying classes would wear.  Of course I had to squeal to my daughter, "Oh, this is SO Montessori!" and take a photo.....

Then, even though it's behind glass, I had to take a photo of the crossbow, as "Chop" is into these right now.  People hunt with these a lot where we live, but seeing an old one is kind of cool.

Also titillating to those who like weapons, this lance display allowed us to try to lift the long, heavy pole with just one hand.  It's REALLY hard to do!  At home you could emulate this with a long heavy dowel.  I have one of similar dimensions that I bought from a fabric store that went out of business.

In general, museum displays can give you lots of good ideas for bringing a subject home.  While I'm used to stealing ideas from science museums, it was a delight to find such Montessori-ish ideas for hands-on displays from a history exhibit!

To learn more:

  • Click here and here for more background on the Magna Carta.
  • Click here to learn about making fake helmets out of cardboard.
  • Click here for a free printable pack for younger kids.
  • For really crafty, independent older kids, click here and here to learn about making fake armor.
  • Click here for a ginormous list of resources, including games from that time period.
  • Click here for some links from the Usborne site that goes with "The Usborne Internet-Linked Medieval World" I have on my bookshelf
  • The curriculum of Rolling Acres School which has many wonderful links and ideas for homeschoolers.  Here are a few:

And last but not least, this would be a great time to bring in Robin Hood.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Tagalongs at Doctor's Appointments

When "Peel" had her eyes checked, 4-year-old "Alleluia" got to tag along.
When you're homeschooling a 4th grader, almost anything can be turned into a lesson.  When you're homeschooling a preschooler, too, it can be a fun challenge to make that lesson work on two levels.  Last week we had an appointment to have Peel's eyes checked at the ophthalmologist--what a wonderful way to talk about how our eyes work (or don't), the physics of light, color blindness, depth perception, careers in name it!

Even an elevator ride is exciting when you're 4.
Since it was a long appointment, both girls brought stuff to do.  Luckily we are familiar with both the doctor and staff here, so we felt comfortable and welcome.  First,

....Peel had a basic test of her vision while covering each eye (the letters are projected on the wall to the left).  That's the tagalong, Alleluia, in the lower left.

Then we got to go into another room where the doctor did some more testing.  Lots of equipment!

When he wiggled his finger he was testing her peripheral vision.  (Here's a cheap, simple thing you can do at home to learn more.)

Since one of my sisters has amblyopia and another has acute closure glaucoma, I am very grateful for thorough eye exams!  When the girls get older we can talk more about what those disorders are.  If you google "eye exam + kids" you will get helpful sites like this.

He checked the pressure in her eyes......

...and then she was tested for color blindness.

Then Peel got to wear special sunglasses for the stereo vision test.

Finally, her eyes were dilated, which meant she didn't have to do anymore homework for at least 6 hours!  Yea!

Look how big her pupils got!  
The models and  posters in his office were great teaching tools.
The final step:  checking the health of the eye.
All in all our appointment was 2 hours long.  Alleluia did great and wasn't too disruptive, and we sure had a lot to talk about on the car ride home.  If I had several children at home (like I did when my oldest was 10) I would probably have left the squirmiest ones with a sitter or arranged a play date.  That way the doctor's office isn't overwhelmed and only the children who are mature enough to get something out of the "field trip" go.

Have you done any similar tagalong field trips?