Friday, August 31, 2012

The Importance of Puzzles

Working on the big floor puzzles can involve movement, language,  cooperation and even strategy--for instance, do you like to flip all of the pieces over and start with the edges, or do you begin by putting together a focal point and work outward?
Puzzles of all kinds are really important at home and in the classroom.  This short blurb describes some of the benefits, and here is another.  The wooden ones with knobs are great for babies and toddlers, and then even early on the thick cardboard floor puzzles can be an almost daily component of playing and learning time.  Many of ours are either hand-me-downs or purchased on clearance, and if you check your local drug store you're likely to see some affordable ones near the Play-doh and coloring books.

Doing a puzzle together can be a good way for Daddy and daughter to unwind before bedtime.

Be sure to get the Sharpies out and label the back of each piece!  (These initials stand for "Where the Wild Things Are")

Once put together, some puzzles can be a teaching tool, like this World Map puzzle.
(Glad I labeled this one, because the kids like to get many puzzles out at once!)

If you sit back and observe two or more children working on a puzzle, you'll learn a lot about the way the children interact with each other.  I used to use "Puzzle Time" as a sort of diagnostic tool to tease out behavior issues between students.

Get Thee to a Container Store! (or wherever these doohickeys are sold)

A few years ago one of our teachers in the Belmont Montessori program treated us to a tour of her home and Montessori school.  It was amazing, and served 20-something children daily.  It wasn't cluttered or disorganized--kind of miraculous!  I remember the one burning question I had for the lady who lived there and ran the school:  "Where do you put all of your STUFF?"

She giggled and told us some of her tricks for storing backup glassware (to replace the many glasses and pitchers that break), art supplies, toilet paper, etc. etc. etc.  She laughed because really that's the KEY QUESTION, isn't it?!?

Flash forward to today.  I recently bought an over-the-door shoe organizer at The Container Store, hoping (in vain, it turns out) to inspire my teenage daughter "Wasabi" to get her room into some kind of shape.  She tends to litter her bedroom floor with shoes.  When I checked out with my purchase I was puzzled that the store clerk asked me, "So what are you going to organize with your 'shoe organizer'?"  (finger wiggles in the air, emphasizing the sarcasm in her voice)  "Um, shoes?" I stuttered lamely, though in the back of my mind I was already deciding whether--in the likely event that my teenager would reject this proposal for organization--it would be worth it to return the shoe organizer to the store or whether I should just use it for something else.

As Wasabi was out at an overnight sleepover thing, I snuck the over-the-door pocket gizmo into her room and installed it over the door.

It didn't take long for Wasabi to toss said organizer out, complaining that it covered her Dr. Who poster on the door.  Enter Plan B, executed on the back of a closet door next to the Montessori room.

Plan B:  Organize my Montessori stuff.
I hung it to house fragile breakables up top (mostly Practical Life things and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd glassware) and flashcards lower down.  I like it because I can see what's in the pockets, but only when I've opened the closet door.  When I had these materials in storage I either forgot that I had them, I had to hide them when rough and tumble visitors came over, or I just felt too tired to dig them out of storage.  This is one easy solution!

The wine decanter is used in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the watering can is used in Care of Plants (which can be part of an Atrium, too) and the spice jar is for a yeast demonstration.  A tea pot and shot glasses are in the top row (but not too high for me to reach).

Glass cruets, vases and pitchers are up high.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pretty, Funny, Happy, Real 14

The first two weeks after the kids are back in school should be called the "I Think I Can" weeks, because there's so much adjusting going on and so many late nights due to parent meetings that we're just in survival mode.  That plus the anxiety over Tropical Storm/Hurricane Isaac made for a week where contentment came from the VERY SIMPLE.


Remember those little green baby acorns we gathered a while back?
We'll see if this works as a transfer work.


I couldn't pass up this shark costume at last weekend's consignment sale.  When I was a kid I insisted on making a hammerhead shark costume -- which was a TOTAL disaster! -- so this $5 monstrosity somehow makes my life complete.


Thank Goodness it doesn't take much to make a toddler happy.


Sigh.  Our bathtub and shower has been out of commission for TOO long.  Today the handyman is fixing it.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Messy by Design

The "Practical Life" works are meant to be practiced over and over again so that young children develop the skills to be independent.  But as my mentor used to say, "This is a point of arrival, not a point of departure," meaning there's a journey to be made.  And be prepared:  the journey may be a little messy!
The first pouring work uses rice, which is easy to clean up.
Note the lipped tray and sponge...
Yep--that sponge gets a LOT of use.
The tray is small and the work is light.  Part of her job is carrying the materials to her table and returning the materials to the shelf when she's done.

Your tolerance for mess and your children's opportunities to practice skills are linked.  I only learned this lesson after having four small children in a tiny house.  A new friend stopped by my house for the first time and exclaimed, "Your house is too clean to have four children!"  After a while I kind of realized what she meant--if your house is this clean, then where can your children play?  Or work? 

Have you ever noticed that in homes that are as clean and sterile as a hotel the adults do all of the fetching, cleaning, serving, and pouring? We can become control freaks sometimes and forget that our home is THEIR home, too. Now I feel sad when I walk into a home with small children that is lacking the balance of order and a little messiness!

Children who haven't been given the freedom to practice skills--in  homes where messes are verboten--don't learn to do for themselves.  If we want our children to pour their own milk or carry their dirty dishes to the sink we need to provide simple lessons.  Enter the Montessori Practical Life works.

But don't worry--they aren't THAT messy!  Instead of milk or juice, toddlers learn to pour first with rice, then with water.  We make room in our schedule for mishaps (because they are bound to happen), and we show the children how to clean up.  In fact, cleaning up is an important part of the lesson!

As soon as Alleluia sat down with this work she poured WAY too much water into one little cup...
...but it was no big deal. The tray has a lip on it (which contained the water), the sponge was right there, and we have a clean up bucket for learning to clean spills.  Also, there is a well worn rug under her table.  I couldn't care less if it gets a little wet.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Montessori Moebius: Easy and Cheap Geometry

A Moebius Strip has no inside or outside.  

Here is a cheap and easy math demonstration you can do with your elementary kids.  All you need is:
  • one sheet of paper (it's nice to have something big, like easel paper or a newspaper)
  • scissors
  • tape or glue
  • pen, pencil or marker (best not to use a marker that bleeds through)

Step 1:  Cut a long, narrow strip of paper (about 2 inches wide).

Step 2:  Grasp each end of the strip and twist one end so that it is turned over (i.e., give it a half-turn).

Step 3:  Tape or glue the ends together flat.

Step 4:  Point out that what seems to be the inside of the loop becomes the outside, and vice versa.

Step 5:  Have the kids take a marker, pen or pencil and, starting in one spot of the strip, continue all the way around, until they meet back up with the starting point.  This proves that a Moebius strip really has only one side!

Step 6:  Pinch together one part of the strip and begin cutting to make a hole.  Then insert the scissors and cut all the way around the strip.  Shouldn't this cut the Moebius strip into two separate pieces?  No!  You just end up with a single strip that is twice as long.

Step 7:  EXTRA CREDIT -- If your new strip is wide enough, begin this process all over again.  You may find a nice surprise!  (Do you want a hint?  You should end up with two linked loops!)

For more info see this article.  They are not only interesting, they also have practical applications.  There are Moebius strips in the world around us--some typewriter ribbons and computer printer cartridges and some automotive belts are Mobius strips.  In both cases, the design allows for a more efficient belt or band. 

Montessori Monday

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"Montessori" without the "Stuff" -- A Dozen "Do's"

If you have the determination to use the Montessori approach with your children at home, you don't always need to spend money.  Yes, at least half of a Montessori education is based on using specialized materials in the classroom, but what about the other half?  At least half of the Montessori Recipe is the approach of the teacher (also called "guide" or "director").  You are helping the whole child--mind, body and soul.  You are helping the soul that is coming to life!

Get your children involved in all of the household tasks.  For the small child, his life is his work and his work is his life!
That should be good news to those of you who tell me, "I don't have time to run all over town to put together these materials!" or "I have 3 (or 4 or 5 or N) older children to homeschool.  I don't have time to devote to teaching my toddler one-on-one!" or "I couldn't possibly commit a big part of my house to a Montessori classroom!"  Knowing that the way we approach teaching and the way we care for our children's learning environment is at least half of the challenge, we should be encouraged!

Children need to work with their hands +  The car mats need to be scrubbed = Work.
Maria Montessori said, "The hand is the instrument of the intellect," and, "Never give more to the mind than to the hand."

Child needs to eat + She likes to pick the tomatoes = Work.
I've made a list of A Dozen Do's to the Montessori Approach, but keep in mind that in the world of Montessori the word "work" is used to mean a specific activity offered to practice, illustrate or teach a specific concept.  In my captions I use the word to mean something similar, but I purposely used photos of activities that are NOT classic Montessori works.  This is to emphasize that you don't always need special materials to raise your children according to the Montessori philosophy.

Be a Sherlock Holmes
You need to be a keen observer of the child.  You need to see what his needs are and try to offer the next challenge.  Know basic child development and the 11 Human Tendencies.

Teaching Them to be Problem Solvers
Help her to overcome problems by being resourceful and independent.  Think of Robinson Crusoe.  The child has the same inner drive to survive and progress!

Let Them Do It Themselves
Never do for the child what he can do for himself.  "Every useless aid arrests development," Montessori said.  If all is going well, you should fade into the woodwork!

Let Them Make Mistakes
Give her freedom within limits and let her learn from consequences.  Especially the 2- to 4-year-olds need the chance to carry heavy or fragile things!

Follow the Child
You connect the child to the work.  Pay close attention to how well he completes a task and whether you need to tailor the work to his individual needs.

Focus on Self-Control and Development of the Will
The focus on practical life activities will help the child to work and to choose.  She will gradually grow in mastery.  You need to be a good example of self control, especially when it comes to anger.  When it comes to her behavior, think of the 3D's of intervention:  stop whatever is destructive, disturbing others' work, or distracting.

Break Tasks Down into Discrete Steps
We don't realize how easy it is for us adults to combine many steps of a task into a single action.  It's confusing to a child.  To show him how to accomplish a task (like washing a table) we need to break the job into simple discrete steps.  Washing a table is a great example of an engaging work that can be broken into 73 steps!

Slow Down
Focus on the process and perfecting the work.  As my mentor taught me:  "To hurry is to harass!"

Use Fewer Words When Demonstrating
Mostly we model and the child learns from watching us.

Keep Looking for their Next Challenge
Once the child has mastered a task, give her the next challenge.  Think one step ahead.

Focus on the "Real"
In contrast to cartoons and fantasy, we focus on the awe, joy and wonder of what is real.  From 0 - 6 steep them in reality, when they can assimilate a huge amount of facts and information.

Emphasize Grace and Courtesy
We practice manners and how to get along--which are concepts rooted in charity--at all times.  As Montessori said, love is one of the essential ingredients to the classroom.  When grace and mercy are present, children aren't afraid to make mistakes.

Her birthday cake being made = Fascinating!

Children learn through all of their senses.

A child's natural joy can be fuel for learning.

"Look!  A baby bunny!"  Awe and wonder at God's creation comes naturally to children.

Water and pouring + playing in the pool = Work/Play

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pretty, Funny, Happy, Real 13

So many transitions this week!  Older kids in school (except oldest, who will leave the nest soon for college), youngest starting Montessori at home in earnest, church celebrating a special Mass with the bishop, and weather taking a pleasant turn to cooler temps.

On our first day with no other kids around, Alleluia and I went to a wonderful big indoor playplace that has this light table and animal x-rays.  I love that we can delight in the normally unseen beauty of God's creation.

Our beautiful church hosted the bishop for a special Mass.  Our two boys served.

Here's Tesla helping the bishop at the recessional.

Here's a happy toddler doing real work!  We were working  with the articles of the Mass and noticed that our chalice was really tarnished, so today seemed like as good a time as any to give Alleluia her first presentation in metal polishing.  Now she's hooked!  I've created a monster........

The cotton-tipped swabs are a lot easier for her to use when applying the polish.

It cleaned up "real good!"

After neglecting to give away our Amish Friendship Bread starter (which you divide every 10 days), we've found ourselves drowning in bags of it!  Some of the kids helped me illustrate this silly post on the math of starter bags and exponential growth.

We also got into the Halloween costumes this week.  Alleluia wanted to be a mouse all day.........

Greeting Daddy as he gets home with "Fish-and-French Fries-and-Broccoli Soup".........

(Oh, and red pepper, corn and pie!)

Earlier today Alleluia picked some beautiful dandelions.  Sadly, they don't last long, even in water.