Thursday, January 31, 2013

Two Letters at a Time

Whether you are working with an 18-month-old, a 2-year-old, or a child like "Alleluia" who has passed her third birthday, helping the child to connect the sounds letters make with their "picture" (the letter itself) is a process that takes constant awareness and one that is fun!

The Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree is just cut from leftover foam.  We glued magnets to the back.

We've been taking our own sweet time around here with the alphabet and not going in any particular order, either.  Our fridge is already full of artwork and emergency numbers, so I've turned the dishwasher panel into a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree that gets to display what 2 letters we're working on.  The letters are just those cheap plastic ones with magnets inside, and we store them alphabetically on a dollar store cookie sheet.

The letters came in a pack from Toys R Us.  They aren't the standard issued Montessori style--they are multicolored--but I like that the "a" and "g" shapes match the shapes we already have on our Sandpaper Letters.

Once you've got your "letters of the day" or "letters of the week" picked out, try to find them everywhere!  This week we took advantage of a break in the weather to walk around a local botanical garden.  I purposely stopped and took photos of signs we saw all around us, whether the words were in all caps or not.

Can you read these words in the path?  They say, "GOOD THINGS STAND LIKE STONE.  KINDNESS IN ANOTHER'S TROUBLE.  COURAGE IN YOUR OWN."

On the hunt for more words....

Many of the bushes and trees have these nifty signs at her eye level.

There's an awesome treehouse with playthings inside.  We found words here, too!

Apparently even birds need signs.

Oops--there are words on litter.

You can feel the words with your fingers on plaques like this one.

It's tricky recognizing letters when they're all squished sideways.

"Hmm...I wonder why some of the letters are sideways and some aren't?"

If you look REALLY closely you can see some letters inside this sundial (but they don't spell words).

Sometimes the pictures that go with words help you figure out what the sign means.

We almost missed this one!
When children are small, learning language is a process of discovery, not drudgery.  It should involve the senses, exploration and imagination.  More on Language Work to come!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Geography on the Cheap, Part 2

Making your own knobbed continent map puzzles on foam core

For a long while now I've been stalking used Montessori map sets.  Sigh.  No luck, and even the more affordable websites that sell new materials are still too much for me, like Montessori Outlet Maps, Montessori Concept Maps, Alison's Montessori, Adena Montessori.

So an idea has been percolating in the back of my brain to try to mimic what those continent maps accomplish.  They are used in Geography work in Montessori classrooms.  They are wooden, each country is its own piece and has a knob (which I think shows the location of the capital), and each map has a corresponding control map with labeled countries and capitals.  I found several GEOpuzzles on sale a few years ago at a Parent-Teacher store for something like $7 or $9 each (Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe were there).  They are cardboard, with country and capital labels.

"Real" (meaning "real expensive") Montessori maps are wooden and I think they may have the knob placed to mark the location of each country's capital.
This project isn't for the faint of heart.  But if you stumble upon a sale, too; if you don't mind a project with multiple steps; and if your maps wouldn't be getting tons of hard, rough use, you may consider trying this.  Here are the few steps to making your own knobbed continent map puzzles on foam core.

First, assemble your materials.  You'll need puzzle maps, tacky glue, beads, aluminum foil or wax paper, puzzle glue and a paintbrush.  (Later on you'll need foam core.)

Step 1.  Spread out some aluminum foil or wax paper on a table and put together the puzzle on top.  Glue beads to country pieces (but NOT to the surrounding pieces, like the oceans, that will serve as sort of a frame around the moveable pieces).  I bought these beads at the dollar store and lucked out because their colors blended perfectly with the colors on my maps.

This glue was strong enough.  Only a few beads out of several dozen needed to be glued again.

I was working on several maps at once, so eager school-aged helpers really came in handy!

While the glue is drying on the beads, use puzzle glue to adhere all of the frame pieces (those without knobs) to each other.  Let dry. 

You actually don't need to paintbrush yet if your puzzle glue has a foam head.  Puzzle Glue.




Step 2.  Each puzzle had its own dimensions, so I measured the height and width and took these to my local office supply store where they sell foam core.  I lucked out when the gentleman behind the counter cut each sheet of foam core (your "backing" material) for free.  

Step 3.  Glue the frame pieces to the foam core.

A paint brush and tacky glue are all that you need for this step.

Apply glue to the back side of the frame.

Step 4.  Turn the frame over and carefully set it on top of the foam core meant for this specific puzzle.  Be careful here!  If your frame is just a little distorted it will make it really hard--if not impossible--for a child to use the puzzle.  I made a boo boo with one of them which could have been avoided if I had fit the inner, knobbed pieces inside the frame while the glue was still drying.  Once the glue dried I wasn't able to adjust the frame.

Step 5.  Once everything was dried we had to try out the maps!  I was still worried that maybe the glue wouldn't hold (it did), the pieces would be too tight (they were fine except for the one where the frame was distorted a little), and the humidity in the schoolroom would make it tricky to remove and use the pieces easily (that part was fine, too).  Now we have usable continent maps for half of the price of even the cheapest bought new!

Special notes:

1.  As with Geography on the Cheap, Part 1 you need to keep in mind that the standard colors used for each continent won't apply here.
2.  Keep the puzzle box.  It's good for storing the pieces and the picture on the top serves as your control.
3.  The continents are labeled a little differently than classic Montessori maps.  For instance, my map is called "Latin America," so if you sing the cute little continent song to your kids you'll have to explain "North America," "South America," and "Latin America."
4.  You have to have your wits about you when you glue the beads to pieces and when you apply puzzle glue to the frame pieces.  A couple of times (as in the photo above) I put a bead on a piece that I didn't intend to be a moveable piece (oops!).

If you try this project, please let me know how it turns out for you.  It's not a "no brainer" like the wall map is, and it involves a lot of steps.  But if you LOVE geography like I do and you don't mind the many steps involved, this may be the way to go.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Geography on the Cheap

Update as of 4/13/13:  Avail. on Amazon for $7.55!

I have been wanting one of those big fabric wall maps of the world for a while now.  You know--the ones where you can use the velcro-backed labels to identify countries, oceans, etc?  I've been stalking them but, alas, even the cheaper ones are too expensive for me.

So imagine my delight when I saw that Bed, Bath & Beyond had an affordable alternative!  Not only was this $20, but with a coupon it could be just $15.  **As of today they are on clearance for $9.99!

I was a little dubious about whether the labels and pictures would stick, but they have stood up to wear and tear in our busy hallway for two months now just fine.  (I think a couple of labels ended up on the floor, but it was probably due to laundry hamper traffic.)

Then imagine my delight the other day at Toys R Us when I saw I saw that FAO Schwartz sells add-on kits there!  Would they work on my cheapie version?  They sure do!  I bought the kit with people of the world and the one with flags of the world.  There were others, too.

If you are a true Montessori geek you will notice that the continents are not in the official colors we traditionally use (Normally Africa is green, Asia is yellow, etc).  Big whoop--this bargain in a no-brainer in my book.

Like this post?  Check out the next one, Geography on the Cheap, Part 2.

Using Montessori Materials with Your Older Children

There are a lot of reasons to love Montessori materials in the home:  they are beautiful, you can teach using just the essentials (don't necessarily need worksheets--yea!), they are "diagnostic," meaning you can observe a child using the materials and discover what concepts or skills still need to be developed.

Homeschooling with primary Montessori materials is also efficient because many of them can be used  with older children (elementary level), too.  They may be used in slightly different ways, as this article explains:

Montessori Nuggets: Primary Montessori Materials LIVE in the Elementary Classroom

Cool, eh?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Bells: Listening, Matching and Grading

When I began my Montessori training at Belmont University more than 5 years ago there wasn't a whole lot on the web about Dr. Montessori's philosophy or about how to bring it down to earth (had Pinterest even been invented yet?).  At first it seemed there wasn't much out there to add to the rigorous, time-consuming, traditional, hands-on training we got at Belmont, but then I stumbled upon 2 ideas for making Montessori affordable.  This work, The Bells, is one of them.  (I saw the idea for how to make your own here.)

The black and white areas correspond to the notes on a piano.  Clever, eh?

You see, before I made them I had been stalking "proper" used bell sets for years and SO wishing I had the space for a REAL set of bells (no way that was going to happen!).  Those things cost a gazillion dollars.  Here's a good description of the work and it's importance.  This idea of taking what is essential from The Bells lesson (part of Sensorial work, auditory) and replicating it is genius.  And can I just say that I finished making this set several months ago, I finally presented the work this week, and not only did 3-year-old "Alleluia" love it, but it transformed what was becoming a cruddy, grumpy morning into a pleasant and productive one.

That said, maybe you'd like to make these, too?  You just go to Hobby Lobby and buy two sets of the bells (don't forget your coupon!), spray paint one set white, the other set black, and make the felt board (buy foam core, adhesive spray and stiff felt in green, white and black).  So worth it!  

Although at first not amused, Alleluia stuck with the lesson and then really got into it.  The exertion required to ring the bells was decent exercise and definitely a nice way to channel her fidgety self.  Also, since we do a lot of language work ("I Spy" and letter sounds), the careful listening required to match and grade the bells was great practice.


First I had her grade (sort) the white bells by listening to the pitch.  Just like on a piano keyboard, the lowest pitch goes in the leftmost spot.  I was surprised at how easy this was for her.  If your child or student seems frustrated or confused you can start off by giving them the lowest bell yourself, then let him or her find which bell comes next.

Notice that my "keyboard" is in two pieces?  That's so that it is easy to store on the shelf.


Once she had all of the white bells on the "white keys" of the board (with lowest pitched bells on the left, highest pitched bells on the right), I asked her to find the black bell that matched each white bell.  This meant she would first ring the white bell and then take black bells out of the basket one-by-one until she found the match.  Again, this was surprising easy for her.  If your student is getting frustrated you might help by having him or her select a black bell from among just 3.


When she thought she'd found the match she rang them both at the same time.  Very exciting!  (apparently!)
Once she's found the white and black bells that seem to have the same pitch she rings them together and checks the underside (the color provides the control of error that every Montessori work should have).

Still going strong.  And this on a morning when she had been crabby and I was just about to throw in the towel.

One More Time Now...

When she was all finished she played the whole scale, up and down.  Obviously I've thrown in a lot of language ("high," "low," "pitch," "scale").  You don't have to cram all of that into the first lesson, but hey bring it on if the child is absorbing it all.

When she was all done she rang the bells, going up the scale and back down.

I don't think it's a big deal whether you put the white bells on the "keyboard" spots and the black bells on the green background or vice versa.

Other Stuff--More Advanced

You could always play games.  For instance, you might sing, "This is C.  Find me C."  You could also add the flats and sharps, teach intervals, half-steps, whole steps, etc.  Or you might ask the child to sing the scale.

Update:  Just found this video that can add to your arsenal of ideas:
Memory Game

Featured at Lessons Learnt Journal

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Silver Polishing: Drama and Suspense in a Bling Bling Package

Downton Abbey, eat your heart out.

Isn't it great when you're busy getting ready for company and your small children can help you in some real, substantial way?  Or when the craziness of the holidays gets to you and you realize the kids can help prepare, too?  This post on shoe polishing reminds us of how even a toddler can get the family's shoes ready for "Fancy Schmancy" events, and this post is about silver polishing.

While shoe polishing is part of "Care of the Self," silver polishing is part of the "Care of the Environment" works under the Practical Life umbrella.  One compelling thing about this work is the satisfaction a child can take in seeing a gross, darkened piece of silver be transformed by their own work into a shiny, reflective piece of bling bling!

Be sure to show off the tarnish!

Cotton-tipped swabs can be used instead of cloths for the application if you prefer.

A recent estate sale had several cheap pieces in terrible shape, which made polishing all the more satisfying!

We make a big deal about counting to 10 before wiping off the cream (toddlers love drama and suspense).

I put together a polishing set with baskets from Old Market, color coordinated cloths and an apron, cotton balls and Q-tips for the children who prefer those, and polish (from a Montessori catalog) that is less smelly and harsh than the kind at our local stores.  For more on making the cloths, see this post on saving money.

If your digital camera is handy, take "before" and "after" photos of your work.

Maybe throw in a free science lesson to explain the upside-down reflection?

"Ooohing" and "Aahhing" is a critical step in this work.

To see some presentations on silver polishing, check out these posts.