Friday, January 16, 2015

Homeschooling, Mixing It Up, and Montessori Enrichment

A Little of This, A Little of That.....

The Tree of Life work from Waseca is pretty to look at and is a good way for "Peel" to visualize the plant, animal and fungus kingdoms.
With my older kids in school and just one fifth grader and one Pre-K child home three days per week I feel like I'm finally getting into a good rhythm this school year.  Both homeschooled kids are out of the house two mornings per week, and I'm using a mixture of "canned" curriculum and Montessori for both.  It finally feels right, and I wanted to share our mixture in the hopes that it could help others out there struggling.

Whether you are struggling to balance your children's school work with their social life, or balance the time you wear your "teacher hat" with the time you wear all of your other hats, the perfect combination isn't easy to find.

I love it when siblings can share an activity!

Mixed Ages

Montessori classrooms are always comprised of children of mixed ages.  This works well for families who homeschool children of various ages, and it's very convenient when you must chauffeur your kids to outside activities.  For us, Tae Kwan Do and piano are "one stop shopping" for both girls, and many Montessori works we do at home can be done together.

5th Grade--"Peel"

Canned Curriculum:  Kolbe
Montessori Enrichment:  Animal and Plant Kingdom works, some Level 2 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd works, Math review and Grammar review
Co-op:  Math and English are done twice per week in the mornings
Music:  Weekly Suzuki violin and weekly piano
Physical Education:  Tae Kwan Do three times per week
Art:  Online, live art class for homeschoolers
Religion:  Weekly CCD class at our parish
Extracurriculars:  Weekly Jr. Legion of Mary group with children from local Catholic school and with homeschoolers
Other:  When our computer is working, a little Spanish (which is review for her) on CDs.  We dropped some Saturday classes for gifted students.  Though several were very good, our last was a total dud.

"Peel" can work very hard on her own, but after a few hours wants to do something different, whether it be go to the creek, play cards with kids her age, or do Mad Libs with a friend.  Staying home all day every day is not an option for her!  She also gets "blah" and sleepy if she's not moving.  In addition, she benefits from learning things in different ways, like through videos, songs or board games.

The co-op has a great teacher, nice kids and animals!

Mixing It Up

I recently bought some episodes of Horrible Histories on iTunes and spent $5 for all 40 episodes of Liberty's Kids on DVD, since they pertain to the history she's been studying this year (we already have the awesome Horrible Histories book set and my kids love it!).  This seems to improve the mood around here.  I also am trying the Kindle Free Time app on the new Kindle that Santa brought me.  While I hadn't ever heard of this child-friendly app, I'm so glad I decided to try it!  It's dramatically increased the amount of good, outside reading that Peel does.  I set her daily goal to 75 minutes of reading, and she's hit that goal almost every day since.  And these are not just junky books--these are good books, mostly classics, that I have wanted her to read.  For some reason the classics don't seem as boring and hum drum when they are on the Kindle!  Here's an article about that app.

Don't worry--the nerdy charts are only on the refrigerator temporarily.  We're not THAT nerdy!

In addition to these small changes, I've also ordered some expensive Montessori materials I've been wanting for a long time.  Waseca makes the yummiest products, and since Peel has had an enduring interest in animals, plants, fungi and dinosaurs/geology, I splurged on the Tree of Life, Plant Kingdom chart, and the Fungus Kingdom chart.  We've used them already and I hope to go back to them from time to time.

Finally, my husband has dusted off some of his board games that correspond to the subjects Peel is studying.  For instance, her study of the Civil War is coming up, so they've been playing Battle Cry.  There are 15 different battle scenarios that the players can work through.

As far as hobbies go, Peel got a book about sewing felt animals for her birthday, and she's doing that in her spare time.   She is also cooking dinner once per week or so, and has recently discovered a TV show called "Master Chef Jr." that has her even more excited about learning to cook.

As far as life skills go, Peel and her older sister are learning the fine art of cleaning the bathroom every Saturday morning.  Hurray for bushy-tailed New Year's Resolutions!


Canned Curriculum:  Pre-K two days per week at a Catholic parochial school
Montessori Enrichment:  Two to three days per week of Primary work and Level 1 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
Music:  Weekly piano lessons and one music class per week in the Pre-K program
Physical Education:  Weekly Tae Kwan Do
Art:  Once per week in the Pre-K program
Religion:  Weekly afterschool Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program at a local Catholic school
Extracurriculars:  Weekly Jr. Legion of Mary group

Even though I run a small mother-child Atrium in my home each Friday, it's nice to get out and join another Atrium with school kids at an after school program once per week.  I learn a lot, too!
Alleluia's life is more streamlined and simple, with plenty of sleeping in and playing and just hanging out.  While there doesn't seem to be as much "mixing it up" with her schooling, she is still adjusting to being away from Mom two days per week and ever-so-slowly becoming more independent.

Alleluia still does 2-3 days of Montessori basics at home with me.
It's taken me a year and a half of homeschooling these two--with a lot of trial and error!--to find a good balance.  I hope some of you will find helpful ideas here.  Do you have any additional thoughts?  Things that have helped you find a good homeschooling balance?  Please share!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Liebster Award!

I am so excited to be nominated for the Liebster Award!  Still pinching myself that anyone (besides my mom and my husband) actually knows my blog exists, and I am humbled that the blogger who nominated me is one of those larger-than-life stars, in my eyes.  Thanks,  Suzanne Wilhelmi from Teaching from the Tackle Box!

So first I answer Suzanne's questions....

1. What's your blogging story? When and why did you start blogging?
I love photography and really missed it since my days as a journalist and my college days in photography classes.  I also missed writing, adult conversations, being able to finish a thought, etc.  That, combined with the coming-of-age of my toddler to the Montessori primary years, was the perfect storm:  I was driven to take lots of photos and go on and on about one of my favorite topics:  Montessori.  I started in April 2012, just to keep myself sane and to help other moms and grandmas home with their toddlers.

2. What's the favorite/greatest gift you have been given by someone else?
When he was alive, my father used to give me three things:  great food (he was very good cook), wonderful books (remember those?) and the occasional compliment.  I hadn't realized how much I missed the compliments until, recently, a family friend praised the job my husband and I are doing raising our children.  It suddenly hit me that I missed getting that yearly pat-on-the-back for the thankless work we do!

3. What is your favorite board game?
Sorry, I hate board games.  My husband and our 6 children LOVE them, though.  I don't even think they could pick a favorite.  We literally have hundreds.  (My husband has interrupted to tell me that the exact count is 207).

4. What would you do without electricity for 48 hours? and what would you miss the most?
I love it when the power goes out!  The only thing I start to get anxious about is whether I can still get a cup of coffee (the elixir of life, or of my life anyway).

5. Do you name your vehicles and if yes share why you named your car(s) as you did?
Yes!  I am hyper weird about this and always insist that other people in my life name their cars, too.  My first car was Francis, because he was teal blue like the water and the sky and reminded me of St. Francis, one of my all-time favs.

6. How do you network/promote your blog?
Um, I don't.  I'm very lazy.

7. What is your favorite /and your least favorite social media site and why?
I am a big doofus when it comes to social media.  I keep forgetting my passwords and have to ask my kids what they are.  I get information overload when I try to learn new things online.  I want to go suck my thumb and curl up in the fetal position until my teenagers get home and help me navigate the big, scary web.

8. What was your favorite craft or DIY project from 2014?
I am trying to make all of the materials for Level 1, 2 and 3 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atria.  This year, with help from a nice retired engineer from church, I made a 3-D model of the old city of Jerusalem.  So.  Much.  Fun!

9. What's your blogging niche? What do you like most to write about?
I'm struggling with that one.  I began writing about affordable, simple Montessori activities for moms, grandmas and teachers, but more and more my Catholic faith is a central part of what I want to write.  There are several blog posts in my head that I've never written because they are so specific to my faith.  So I'm sort of stuck not knowing what to do--start a second blog?

10. What is your favorite blog post from 2014 - yours or someone else's?
Well I'm not sure it's from 2014, but I loved this one on a cheap version of the Montessori bells.  I've been stalking the Montessori bells for years, but they are so expensive and take up so much space that I just kept hemming and hawing UNTIL I read this post and created her version myself!

11. What are your plans for blogging in 2015?
I hope to finally use dozens and dozens of photos I've taken for short, informative posts on Montessori at home.

Next I List 11 Random Facts About Me...

1.  Before marriage I spent two months in the Nashville Dominicans as a postulant.  I loved it, but not once did any of the sisters break out into song with, "Climb Every Mountain!"

2.  I am a twin (older by two minutes.  I love to rub that in.).

3.  I am addicted to coffee.  There.  I said it.

4.  I start books and then never finish them.  I don't see a problem with this, but my husband is constantly teasing me about all of the books in our library with bookmarks still in them.

5.  I am a militant napper.  Every day after lunch.

6.  I briefly worked in a morgue.

7.  In college I played a little bit of underwater hockey.

8.  I'm shy, but I have found that interviewing people is a great excuse for talking to someone!

9.  I love Downton Abbey.

10.  I love thrift shops and garage sales.

11.  I got to meet Mother Teresa and attend an audience with John Paul II.

And then I nominate some other awesome blogs:

Why Do You Ask
Second Hand, Second Thoughts
What Did We Do All Day
The Beautiful Music Challenge

Here are the 11 Questions for THEM to answer:

1.  What's your favorite word or sound?
2.  What's your most pressing new year's resolution?
3.  What's your favorite blog post (written by you or someone else)?
4.  What is the last movie you watched in an actual cinema?
5.  What book are you currently reading?
6.  Who was your favorite teacher and why?
7.  From whom or from what have you learned the most?
8.  What random thing makes you happy?
9.  If I had the courage I would __________ (fill in the blank).
10.  What is your favorite way to spend a Friday night?
11.  On a vacation, would you rather relax and read a book or get up early and try something new?

Thanks again to Suzanne from Teaching from a Tackle Box!  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Montessori's Epiphany: A Play on Words

Did she say, "Follow the child" or "Follow the Child"?
My Montessori Philosophy album reads:  "On Jan 6, 1907, as fellow Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, she [Maria Montessori] opened the first Casa dei Bambini.   Montessori, a Catholic, read aloud the Gospel reading for that day, an excerpt from the Book of Isaiah 60: 1-6."
"Rise up in splendor!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples;  but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory....."
Montessori is often quoted as saying, "Follow the child."  Observe the needs of the child's inner life, this is what drives him or her.  Looking for answers to the big questions--Who made me?  Why am I here?  Why is there suffering?--is one of those drives we see in children.  So why don't we recognize it more?  Why don't we, following the example of Maria' life, follow the Child?   The Epiphany was the manifestation--the physical showing--of God with us, the divine here with us, as a baby.

It's hard to imagine that many parents who are believers themselves won't bring their children to church (or to their place of worship).  In this recent article in First Things magazine the author makes some good points.
We—the Christian parents of America—should not leave our kids to make up their own minds about religion. We need to go against the grain. If we really believe the Gospel, we ought to join the shrinking ranks of those pushy parents who insist their children attend church with them. We make our children eat their vegetables. We make them brush their teeth. Let’s make them go to church.
Honestly, it doesn't matter to me if you are Jewish, Christian, Buddhist--please impart to your children your faith.  You may not be around forever, and what could be more important?  It's looking more and more like we aren't allowed to mention God or a Creator even in online groups, much less in a classroom.  So how exactly are the inner needs of the child addressed?  And if we as believers are chased off of social media, then we aren't part of the conversation.

I write about this now because many parents and teachers who love the Montessori approach to education don't realize that Montessori was practicing Catholic and that her faith was very important to her. She wrote a beautiful book on the Mass for children and this book includes writings of Montessori on God and the child. If we have embraced her philosophy and approach with children, we owe it to ourselves to learn more. We as parents and as Montessorians are fooling ourselves if we think that connecting our children with their Creator is not part of our work. It is essential. Our children our like sheep among wolves. When we are gone, what then? Have we helped to answer their questions on who made them? About their purpose? About good and evil? About suffering?

Back to the child and the Child. If Maria Montessori followed the Child Jesus and found the child, maybe it wouldn't hurt to allow some divine seeking, in ourselves and in the children. Could we as Montessorians have a epiphany of our own--an eye-opening discovery that Maria's faith was central to her work, that she wanted to much to share her insights with others.

Only this week I made a comment on a Facebook group for those interested in the Montessori philosophy.  There was an article listing the most basic needs of children, and I commented that it was missing just one thing:  connecting the child with his or her Creator.  This immediately caused a stir, with one reader angrily writing that she didn't find that important at all and, from the moderator, a gentle reminder that I read the group's new rules (apparently words like "the Creator" are a red flag!).  I confess that I didn't read the group's new rules, I just "unjoined."

And finally, a word of warning.  G. K. Chesterton is often quoted (though there is some disagreement about his exact words) as saying, "He who does not believe in God will believe in anything."  If we don't give our children at least some direction, aren't we leaving them vulnerable?  Only the Good Shepherd would risk His life for the sheep.  Watch out for the wolves.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Gifts for the Montessori Nerd in You

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

So you know a Montessori teacher or a neighbor who is homeschooling.  What better way to say "I Care" than to give her the tools she needs every day!

My BFF:  the laminator!
Wondering what to give the Montessori nerd in your life?  (Or looking for a way to give a hint to your loved ones?).  Look no further.  Here's a list of some things that would make GREAT gifts this holiday season, even if the nerd in question already has a Pink Tower!

Have I left anything out?!?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Atrium from A to Z

The chunky Mary is from this set.

"A is for Altar, B is for Bible," ...

... is a book you'll see in many atria across the country, including ours.  We don't use it much, though, so I recently created a new "Fetch" work (similar to other classic Montessori fetching games) with this book, some letters my daughter had made out of Perler beads, and the items in the Atrium.  It was a hit!

You could use the Moveable Alphabet, too--we just wanted to put these recently-made letters to use.
We just laid out a long mat, arranged the letters from left to right (saying the letter sound as we did so) and began to find things in the Atrium that were in the book and started with the letter.  After we were done with each letter, we returned the items to their proper place.  The whole work took about 45 minutes.  (It doesn't matter what style of letters you use--even those plastic magnetic letters would be fine for this.)  It was a GREAT way to work some movement into our cold, gray morning!  Also, it could easily be done with a friend or two.

"G" is for the Good Shepherd!  "Alleluia" liked to compare
the illustrations in the book with what we have in our Atrium.
 It was a great way for "Alleluia" to incorporate all that she has learned in the Atrium so far!  We had to look for things from early works, later works, and really think hard to guess what would be on the next page (we tried to guess what would represent each letter before turning the page).

"I" is for Isaiah, so we got brought the prophet statue out...
... and "n" is for Nazareth....
... and "t" is for Temple.
Were you wondering what the "x" word would be?  It's "crucifix."  
Note:  My daughter "Peel," who is in 5th grade, made the letters when she was bored one day and had a lot of time on her hands.  She used this pattern book, but you could use any sort of template you'd like, including one like the cursive Sandpaper Letters.  If you have enough of each color, you could also stick with just red and blue, to match your vowels and consonants.  Also, we had to tweak the design of the letter "a" to match what we use in the classroom.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Montessori Mentoring: Help for the Family

In our 4th parenting discussion led by Dr. Steve McFadyen-Ketchum (who is retired now!), we focused on how couples can work together, as a team, to bring up their children.  Here are notes from the last meeting.
What do lunchtime phone calls, bedtime Skyping and scheduled text messages all have in common?  They are predictable ways Mom and Dad can touch base with each other throughout the day, whether one is out of town or between surgeries, a few time zones away or just stuck at work late.

These are some of the ways our couples have tried to support one another in raising young kids.  Coming up with a plan to communicate and following through are key, says Dr. Steve.  We may not have seen our own mom and dad parenting this way, so we may need some help picturing how this works.

Enter the mentor.  Or mentors, I should say!  Because, according to Kerry Ann Rockquemore from the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, there are many different types of mentors, each of whom helps us in a specific way.  Rockquemore came to town to give a lecture to university professors on the importance of mentors in the life of academics, from graduate students to post-docs to tenure track assistant professors and beyond.  A lot of her information seems to me to apply to marriage and family life, too, so I'll review some of her key points:

Carving out time on the calendar to meet other couples, or just go out without your children, is part of making your marriage and family life a priority.  It's a win-win:  a stronger marriage is a wonderful gift for your kids!

Rockquemore says to academics:  Identify your needs and get them met.  Ask yourself how many of the needs of academics may apply to you as a parent or teacher (I won't include all of the ones she mentioned):
  • A mentor to tell you how to do things (for example, how do you Skype?)
  • A mentor to give you emotional support, to "hold your hand"
  • A mentor to introduce you to the intellectual community (a book club, parenting group or Montessori co-op)
  • A mentor to serve as a role model (parents with children of similar ages, interests, special needs, or with similar professional demands or similar financial straits or similar faith background)
  • A mentor to hold you accountable for what matters (a spiritual director who understands your marriage and children, or another Montessori teacher who can remind you of your goals)
One of my mentors told me to get a good calendar...
...and as a homeschooler I use the calendar along with a Teacher's Planner.
Different people will fulfill different roles for you.  It's a shame that I often see young parents who are only friends with other young parents, lacking role models and mentors.  They may be confident of advice they read on the internet, but lack support when they encounter questions or problems best addressed by a mentor.

Some of the other things that Rockquemore said about academics which also apply to parents of young children (both in their relationship as a couple and as parents to young children) are:
  • Things that matter the most (such as discipline, routine, character development) have the least built-in accountability on a daily basis.  How can we make sure to check how we are doing on a regular, frequent basis?  Have we set specific goals for our children or for our marriage?
  • Do we align our time with our priorities?  In other words, if we look back over the day and over the week, have we spent our time in a way that makes sense, given our goals?  For instance, if we want to work on better communication in our marriage, have we set aside some uninterrupted time to communicate?
  • The most productive people don't wait for big uninterrupted blocks of time to work towards a goal.  In other words, whether you want to improve your communication within marriage or help your toddler learn his letter sounds, start with small, frequent assignments instead of waiting for a week-long trip to the beach with your spouse or a month-long boot camp on phonics.
  • Perfectionism reduces productivity.  Don't wait until all of the conditions are right to start working on improvement--just make a plan and start working on it.
  • Problems arise from poor day-to-day decisions, and these can have a snowball effect.  Be careful!  Our family has a habit of doing a daily examen of conscience at night.  Maybe you could apply this to your goals, too?
I try to keep track of the progress of the children who come to use the Montessori materials during our open class time and during our weekly Atrium time.  Everybody needs some kind of system!  It doesn't have to be this.  Actually, just taking photos of the children working is a decent way of keeping track, too.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like.....

The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through....

The Kingdom Parables

In the Atrium we present the parables Jesus gave us to describe the kingdom of heaven.  One of those is the simple illustration given in Matthew 13: 33.  After a very short reading from Scripture we mix 3 T flour, 1/4 t. quick rise yeast and 2 T warm water in one bowl and in another bowl mix just the flour and water.  If you set these aside for 30 - 45 minutes the children will be able to see a difference in the two.

You could spend time discussing with the children important points like:

  • the kingdom Jesus talked about was very different from any other kingdom
  • when you mix the flour and yeast together you can't separate them
  • something so small (the yeast) can make a huge difference in the dough

      .... or you could just launch right in, which is what we did!

I used clear glass bowls so that each child could have his or her own and so that we could see the air pockets more easily later.
Not for eating!  But feel free to smell :)
The children can practice patience and some self control, resisting the urge to keep stirring or touching the dough until the time is up.  Once it's time to investigate your dough again, you can always call the students back together to talk about what happened.  I intend to re-present this work the next time we meet or after we've discussed some of the other parables.  It slowly becomes clear that something small can become big!

There are some good resources on this work, including: