Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why I Didn't Put Our Christmas Lights Out This Year

After many, many years and a few moves, our St. Joseph light needed to retire.
In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atrium (the Montessori space devoted to helping children fall in love with God) the children learn about when Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the Temple, where they meet Simeon and Anna.   Normally I display lit figures of the Holy Family at this time of year, but this year was different..

I didn't put our nativity scene out on the front lawn this year because St. Joseph was just too cracked.  Over the years the plastic has become brittle, so he's missing the top of his head (which we covered last year with a Santa hat) and he's missing his right hand, which held a lantern.  When it rains the light bulb shorts out, so it's time to retire this St. Joseph figure.
I thought about still setting out the Mary, baby Jesus and the ox part of our creche, but it didn't seem right.  Without St. Joseph, who would have protected Mary and the unborn baby in her womb?  Without St. Joseph, who would have taken them to Eqypt to flee Herod's soldiers?  Without St. Joseph, how would Jesus learn a living in the carpenter's shop?  Without St. Joseph who would have introduced Jesus to the scriptures, to His father's house?
All of these thoughts have been swirling in my mind as I have watched fathers this Advent:  as I watched young dads bounce boisterous babies during Mass; as I watched a father lead his two children to give up their seats to an elderly lady and her escort at the Christmas Vigil tonight; as I watched fathers here on vacation in Florida play catch on the beach; as I met some fathers (and noticed the absence of some) at a luncheon recently held for moms and their babies who had considered--and then rejected--abortion.
There are so many ways the "St. Joseph" in our lives watch out for us.  He checks the tires before a long car trip.  He fills out the paperwork so the new baby is insured.  He gets the kids out of Mom's hair long enough for her to catch her breath, or grab a nap.  He's more than the helpful neighbor or the favorite uncle--he's put his life on the line, he's committed his future to his bride and child.  He puts their welfare and well-being before his own. 
What a wonderful model of a man who was willing to die to self, who could hear the voice of God and obey, who was provider and protector!  Pope Francis recently said at his Angelus address that the Gospel “shows us St. Joseph’s greatness of soul. Joseph was a man who always listened to the voice of God, was deeply sensitive to his secret will -- a man attentive to the messages that came from the heart and from above.”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Reviewing Catechism with "The Twelve Days of Christmas"

I love this book, mostly because of its beautiful, whimsical illustrations, and because it's a board book--able to withstand all sorts of rough and tumble from toddlers!  We read part of The Twelve Days of Christmas today, which celebrates the Christmas season (from Christmas day to the Feast of the Epiphany).  While there's some disagreement about the background and meanings involved with "The Twelve Days," it's still a useful teaching tool.

I enjoy introducing this combination of art, poetry and song to children early so that each year they will learn just a little more about the hidden meaning of it.  The youngest children in the Atrium will not have heard of many of the teachings I'll list below, but the older children will recognize many.

The Symbols of The Twelve Days of Christmas

  • True love = God
  • Pear tree = The cross
  • 1 Partridge = Jesus (as a mother partridge who protects her young)
  • 2 Turtle Doves = the 2 natures of Jesus (human and divine) or the 2 Testaments (Old and New)
  • 3 French Hens = the 3 persons of God (the Trinity) or the 3 gifts of the Wise Men or 3 Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity
  • 4 Colly Birds = the 4 Gospels or the 4 Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)
  • 5 Gold Rings = the first 5 books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch, on man's fall)
  • 6 Geese a Laying = the 6 Precepts of the Church or the 6 days of Creation
  • 7 Swans a Swimming = the 7 sacraments or 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord)
  • 8 Maids a Milking = the 8 Beatitudes
  • 9 Drummers Drumming = 9 choirs of angels
  • 10 Ladies Dancing = the 10 Commandments
  • 11 Pipers Piping = the 11 Apostles (12 minus Judas)
  • 12 Lords a Leaping = the 12 basic beliefs of the Catholic Church (from the Apostles' Creed)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Painting Snowflakes: Epsom Salts on Black

There was a great piece in the Wall Street Journal this weekend on the photographs of snowflakes taken by Alexey Kljatov, a school assistant in Russia.  So inspiring!  I remembered that we learned how to paint snowflakes with epsom salt while in Montessori training, but I never learned how much salt to mix into the water.  So I experimented!  You can try it, too.  (I've provided a few links below, but honestly I can't even watch youtube videos anymore because we have so many filters on our computer!  Teenagers..........)

Cheap, ubiquitous
I used the Wall Street Journal clipping as a guide.

My first attempts with a more dilute solution actually worked better.

I think I'll make toothpicks available next time, too. 
These can dry quickly in a house with heat on!

Painting with Epsom Salt Paint
How to Make a Snowflake with Epsom Salt

Montessori Mornings Update: The Role of Baby Wrangler

The lady on the right teaches us French during our Circle Time and then serves as Baby Wrangler.
There was a lot of interest in Montessori Mornings when I first wrote about our free parent-toddler classes back in April.  It's been almost a year since we began (when most of the younger siblings were newborns), so I thought I'd mention another crucial piece:  we've found ourselves a Baby Wrangler!

You see, the newborns are growing into toddlers, and though two have been "Velcro Babies" (babies in slings or front carriers), they are getting a little old for that.  Besides, they want to see and feel and taste the world, too!  But with small pieces, glass vessels, and pitchers with water around, we can't just let them roam free in the Montessori space.

Enter the Baby Wrangler.  Madame Mervyn is not your average child minder--she can wrangle in French, Spanish, English--whatever language you ask, it seems!  With a doctorate in Spanish from Cambridge University, this new grandma enjoys spending her free time with us, whether she's teaching us a second language or playing with the babies.  She says it fills her with a love for life, so I guess this is a win-win situation!

Our Flow:

At Circle Time on the ellipse Madame teaches us French for 10-20 minutes.  Usually babies are happy to either sit with us or stay in a sling or a front carrier.  After that Madame may take a baby into a connecting room (aka "Babyland").  It is safe for babies and toddlers, has plenty of empty floor space, is stocked with board books and baby toys, and is within earshot of the Montessori space.

When this little boy was about 8 months old he first took part in French lessons, but his older brother (seen on the right) was sometimes a handful!  Having help with one sibling makes it a bit easier for the moms to come and stay.
As mentioned in the original blog post on our playgroup, we have strict requirements that the children are immunized.  The same goes for Madame, who has recently received her Tdap booster.  It's crucial that anyone around babies have this.

Here Madame is leading us in a French song, with the little boy on the left more and more a part of the group time.
 It has been a blessing in many ways to have Madame join our group.  Sometimes it can be hard for a mom to get out the door with little ones, have the patience and stamina to work with them, and still have energy for the rest of her day.  It's such a boost to have an extra pair of hands!  Also, there is a special blessing having a more mature member of our group--especially for those of us who don't have grandparents in town.

Sometimes the babies are part of the group, and sometimes they are in Babyland (just another room connected to the Montessori areas, but free of choking hazards).
This arrangement feels right.  The moms can bring their children, knowing there will be help here if they need it.  They can work with their older children one-on-one or involve the younger sibling, either way.  The nurslings are just a yelp away from mom, and there are none of the complications of dropping a child off at a sitter, daycare or preschool.  We are blessed!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Montessori St. Nicholas Day

A Christmas tree made of Long Red Rods and Knobless Cylinders
I hadn't planned anything special for our Montessori Morning today, even though it's the Feast of St. Nicholas.  Still, looking back, we did a decent job celebrating the man.  We made a Christmas tree out of the Long Red Rods and the Knobless Cylinders (3 people can do this work together).

A procession on the line
We talked about the Advent season, sang the "Liturgical Colors" song, and had a simple procession on the line.  Each child carried one thing to be placed on our prayer table (purple prayer table tablecloth, candle,  icon of Mary, angel and cross).  We sang "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and sat down for a short book together.  (Note:  I should have made sure I knew all of the words before we started!  Ooops...)

Reading from the Bible
As a group we read "A is for Altar, B is for Bible," and I re-introduced a unique work written about here (with all of the talk this season about "gifts" I thought the little presents would be a good tie-in).  Afterwards it was really nice--the children were calm and tended to choose works related to the Atrium materials.  "Fuego" wanted to sit with her mom and read from The Golden Children's Bible, which has great illustrations.  Another girl chose the Altar I work and said a short prayer with her mom.  Our newest member, a two-and-one-half-year-old boy, chose Flower Arranging.

Altar I work
 All in all, a great morning!  I think St. Nicholas would have approved.
Flower Arranging
Any ideas for next year?  I think maybe next year I'll print out a coloring page.

Everyday Optics for Kids: Caustics (You See Them All of the Time!)

I love it when our kids notice everyday things around us, ask questions, and it turns out the answers are REALLY complicated!  We search for answers and we all learn a little, even if we still mostly don't "get" the why's and how's 100%.  That's what "wonder" is all about...exploration leaving room for a little mystery........

In this case, the mystery came in the form of this pattern of light we noticed during bath time.  There is a really complex, beautiful pattern formed on the edge of the bath tub!  The ambient light is focused through a sort of lens (the convex shape of the Johnson's Baby Shampoo).  The result:  caustics.

You've probably seen them as patterns of light in shallow water or in a swimming pool.  When we are little we wonder about things all of the time, but sometimes that wonder--and the incessant questions that come with it--evaporate as we mature.  That's why it's fun to wonder along with children.

The science behind caustics is way too complicated for me to understand, much less to explain.  But I can at least share this term with you, and a few links that may satisfy your curiosity a little:

About lenses
Caustics in the water
Technical about caustics

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Montessori Upper Elementary: Easy Demonstration of Deep Ocean Currents

Here's an Easy, Cheap Demonstration of Deep Ocean Currents

Our 4th grader, "Peel," is studying the oceans in earth science these days, and I like the simple demonstrations her book recommends (it's Harcourt Science).  To better understand deep ocean currents--the ones caused by differences in water density and differences in water temperature--we did this simple activity:

1.  Freeze an ice cube with food coloring in it the night before you start.

2.  Fill a clear bowl with warm tap water.

As in our Float/Sink works for the Primary Classroom, we used these food prep containers from Sam's Club.
We let the water sit still for 10 minutes before carefully lowering our colored ice cube.

3.  We observed what was happening every 2 minutes, for a total of 10 minutes.

Peel drew pictures of each stage in her science journal.

We began to see a thin blue line of colder, denser water that was sinking.

 4.  Connect what you saw with what you know from reading.

The blue water pooled on the bottom, while the warmer water was displaced.
This demonstration shows that cold water is denser than warm water, so cold water sinks.  This helps explain deep ocean currents.  Salinity, which affects density, also plays a role (but that's for another day!).  There are several good short videos you can link with this activity:

National Geographic
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Watch. Know. Learn.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Do-able Dinners: Strawberry Salad the Kids Can Help Make

The magic dressing:  Whole Foods sells this wonderful dressing that's almost good enough to drink!  (You can also order it on Amazon--see below.)
About two months ago a friend called up with tons of leftovers on her hands.  Following a wedding shower, she had way too much food, and we--the ones with 6 growing kids--were the lucky recipients of the yum yums.  Little did we know that it wasn't the baklava and chocolates that we would like the most--it was this salad!  Ever since, we've been addicted.  (I recently had no shame in buying 4 bottles of the dressing at once.)

Enter Montessori food prep.  Kids can wash and spin the lettuce (Spring Mix is good, but I'm not picky).  They can wash and decapitate the strawberries.  Now here's the fun part:  they can SLICE the berries with your egg slicer (yippee!).  And they can crumble the feta and sliced almonds.

The fun part!!!

Recipe for Strawberry Salad:

Spring Mix Lettuce
Feta cheese
A few strawberries
Sliced almonds
Brianna's Home Style Blush Wine Vinaigrette Salad Dressing (you can also order in bulk here and here!)

Movement and Early Language Work

Language Work and Movement Really CAN Go Together!

Part 1:  Matching uppercase and lowercase letters
Once per week another mommy and I teach a Pre-K class at our local Catholic homeschool co-op.  The 12 children in the class range widely in maturity (36 months to nearly 6 years), in ability to sit still, and in ability to recognize letters and letter sounds.  What a challenge!

We recently played a game with two parts:  First, the children grabbed small magnetic lowercase letters and matched them to their uppercase counterparts.  These were large foam letter tiles that we spread all over the big room where we meet.  This took longer than you'd think and was good exercise for rambunctious kids!  It's also great to have kids of various ages working together.

Next, the children were given small laminated cards with photos of objects that all started with different sounds.  While I bought these at a toy store, you could find the cheap flash cards that are often sold in pharmacies or go to a teacher store for something similar.

Part 2:  Matching pictures of objects whose name begins with that letter's sound 

Helping each other is totally allowed!

This is fun!

Can you help me think of a name for this game?!?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Turkey Rolls with the Kids

Turkeys Made From Your Favorite Dough Recipe

Everyone at the kids' table will gobble these up.
A couple of years ago we tried an idea I had seen briefly on cable TV (before I had ever heard of Pinterest!).  I'm glad I took photos, although I can't be 100% sure which dough recipe I used.  I'm fairly certain you can use your favorite dinner roll recipe (I like Betty Crocker's Dinner Rolls).

Before baking, roll out your dough in a large circle.  Take a pizza cutter to divide the circle into equal "pizza shaped" pieces.  Next, position each dough wedge in a muffin pan hole, with the "head" of the turkey (the small, pointy end) lifted up to the edge of the muffin hole and the "tail" (the wide end) also lifted up.  Use a toothpick to poke two holes for the turkey's eyes and use kitchen shears to snip the tail, so that it will look feathery.  The best photo I have this step is this one I found on Pinterest.

Bake according to directions, but watch carefully that the poor turkey's head and tail don't burn.

If you try this, please let me know which recipe you used, or if you used store-bought dough.  I would definitely try a "test run" before your holidays (you know everyone will help you eat them!).  Happy baking, and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Do-able Dinners: Salmon Salad the Kids Can Help to Make

Summer Salad with Cumin-Crusted Salmon
Food Preparation can be a big part of a Montessori classroom, at school or at home.  Here's one dish that our children can help with and that they enjoy eating.

Sorry--this is over 20 years old and I don't know the source!
We go meatless on Fridays, so our kids are used to eating fish all kinds of ways.

First heat a non-stick skillet, add the pine nuts and stir until toasty (about 5 minutes).  In a large bowl, place all salad ingredients (reserve half of the cilantro and half of the pine nuts for garnish). 

In a separate bowl, stir dressing ingredients together.  In a bowl, combine cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Cut salmon into 8 strips and coat with spices.  Grill (or sear in a non-stick skillet brushed with canola oil) until crusty. 

Toss salad and dressing; divide on plates. Top with salmon and reserved cilantro and pine nuts.

Our kids don't help yet with cooking the fish, but they can: 
  • wash the lettuce
  •  open and drain the cans of beans
  •  wash and slice up the scallions (either with a knife or kitchen scissors)
  •  peel and cut up the orange
  •  measure out and pour the feta
  • wash and chop the cilantro
  •  mince the garlic 
That's a lot to keep little hands busy!

It's full of protein and fiber, can be served hot or cold, and it's delicious!

Do you like the meatless recipes?  If so, I have a lot more :)