Friday, August 22, 2014

The Trickle Up Effect

Atrium Mommies + Their Children + A New Friend
It seems like, based on the "hits" for each of my blog posts, the posts that describe our co-op have been some of the most interesting to our readers.  So I wanted to just say one thing about having a co-op Atrium:  the mommies are learning just as much--if not more--than the children!

Since the moms are here when lessons are presented, they absorb the same catechesis as the children.  For some of us, who were raised on the "Glitter Jesus" curriculum of the seventies, these simple, profound lessons are timely.  We are SO ready to listen to God's Word!  We are hungry for the essential lessons of our faith.  We are grateful to meet other mommies seeking the same.

I noticed early on in my training as a catechist that the same transformation I was hoping to see in my young students was taking place in myself and in my fellow classmates.  I saw the same joy and wonder on our wrinkled faces that the children have on their fresh, innocent faces!  I saw it when we realized the Good Shepherd calls us EACH by NAME, when lighting those small candles from the Pascal Candle and proclaiming, "Emily, receive the light of Christ," and, "Joseph, receive the light of Christ," and so on, and then I noticed that the light is spreading, just like the light of faith is spreading, and when I pondered the Annunciation, when Mary's troubled heart quickly became an open, trusting, receptive heart (which makes all the difference).

There are many goosebump moments in the Atrium, despite some occasional crying or spilling, despite the general hubbub, passing grumpiness and the messy humanity of it all.... I recommend THIS kind of co-op because it will benefit you, your children, your families and your faith.  The lessons will trickle up!  And that will make all the difference.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

More Impromptu Works at Home

Works All Around Us, Part II

In my last post I wrote about turning a silly little everyday thing into a work for a 4-year-old (getting rid of all of the junk pens and pencils, etc.).  Since then I've noticed A ZILLION such tiny chores that "Alleluia" would not only be good at, but would love to do.  Such as.....

Reinforcing Torn Holes in the Cookbook

Does your favorite cookbook look like this?  :(

After 20 years many of the pages have come out :(
Have no fear--"snowman stickers" are here (actually, they're reinforcement labels, but we use them in the winter for easy snowmen on construction paper).  This cookbook was a wedding present, so it had sentimental value.  Also, it has some of our favorite recipes, so fixing the torn pages was a good task for a 4-year-old, who is old enough to realize its importance!

As with any impromptu work, first show the child the tools you'll need.  Whomp up as much drama over the torn pages as you can muster.  Then demonstrate how to peel each label and carefully put it around the hole, turn over the page, and carefully do the same to the other side.  If your child is able to do this pretty well, oooooh and ahhhhh because really it's pretty darned difficult!

(Superhero costume optional.)
"Alleluia" did well on centering them, but every so often I showed her how to fix any crooked ones.
It takes a steady hand to put the label on the other side.
Be sure to check that it lines up nicely.  "Well done!"

Re-Working an Old Story

In a classic Montessori classroom there is a lot of storytelling going on.  We recently came across a book that first tells a traditional folktale, and then asks the reader to re-tell the tale using different elements.  What a great idea!

This could easily become a work that you do in a formal setting (as school work) or in an informal way, like when you are stuck in traffic or waiting for a while.  All you need is to first tell the story the "right" way.  Then identify which elements can change, such as the setting, the main characters, etc.  Lastly, re-tell the same basic story with the changed elements.  For some reason, this 4-year-old finds this hilarious!  (Incidentally, our 10-year-old did similar work for a creative writing class!)

Playing with a Dictionary

I used to LOVE looking up words in the dictionary, because I would get sidetracked and learn all sorts of amazing stuff along the way.  So even though my older children often use an online dictionary, I want the younger ones to use the "old fashioned" kind.  There are LOTS of good children's dictionaries out there.  So first ask your young child what one thing would be fun to look up ("Alleluia" has been going through a phase of being obsessed with turtles, tigers and robots, so we knew they'd be on the list.)  For instance, let's look up turtle.

"What sound does that start with?"  "T!"

The first time you may go straight to the letter T and then find the prize quickly.

Cool turtle!  (Obsessions have their advantages.)
After reading all about turtles, ask for another word to look up.  "Robots!"  "What sound does robot start with?"  "Rrrrr!"  This time, show your child how the dictionary is organized alphabetically.  You might sing the alphabet song quietly to yourself to figure out where R is found.   Once you've found R, ask, "What sound comes after 'rrrrrr' when we say, "robot?"  "Oh...."  Then show your child how to look for the letter O as a second letter in the word.  Don't take too long or the whole thing will get too boring!  Pretty soon you'll both see a photo of the beloved robot and read all about it!

Replacing Dead Batteries

(**note:  no small batteries should EVER be around young children, who can swallow the button batteries!!**)
The next time a toy, remote, tuner, or smoke detector battery is out of juice, call your child over to replace it for you.  All you need (besides fresh batteries) is a battery checker (well worth the money!).  In our case, our guitar tuner and remote control car were out of juice on the same yucky rainy afternoon.  So first, show your child how the thingy ISN'T working (if they haven't already figured that out and come screaming in frustration).

No worky.
Next, introduce the handy dandy battery checker.  If you are really smart you can explain electricity, otherwise do as I do and just point out that the needle thingy is in the red.

Toss the old battery and test another one, this time (with hope!) the needle thingy will be in the green.

Woo hoo!
With some kind of batteries you have to point out details, like the terminals on the 9-volt.

Eating Outside

Table washing is a traditional Montessori work, so if your family is eating outside tonight get the kids to help get ready.  If they've already done indoor table washing and gone thru the rigmarole they know the basic procedure, but outside it's usually WAY more fun because the table may be REALLY GRODY and because it could easily turn into an excuse to put on your swimsuit and play in the sprinkler afterwards.

Pretty self-explanatory.....

Cleaning Up After You Eat Outside

How might you "Montessori-ize" the clean-up process after dinner?  Bring out a trash can, a plastic wash basin, a rubber spatula and a dollop of dishwashing liquid.

Ask each family member to scrape their scraps into the trash and put their empty plates in the basin.

Carry the full basin inside to the kitchen sink..........

....where the washing up is made a bit easier!

Car Wash, Wagon Wash, Tricycle Wash--It's All Good...

If it's the first wagon ride of the season, or if the last passengers had popsicles that dripped all over the place, a good scrub may be in order.  This kind of job is great for a toddler, who may hate sitting in yucky stuff or who may take great pride in his or her ride.  It also takes a lot of energy!

Mixed Ages, too

I am a big fan of any works that involve mixed ages.  This is a work that can get very detailed and can take a long, long time if you need it to.

We got these car wash supplies at least 10 years ago and they seem to make this work more attractive (yippee!).

What impromptu works will you notice this week?

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!