Monday, October 28, 2013

Re-Working Your Transfer Works for Ten Dollars/Ten Minutes

Basket + tongs + stuff  = transfer work

Tired of your transfer works?  Looking to punch up the shelves in your classroom without spending a lot?  On a recent trip to Sam's Club to buy groceries, I bought some things I figured I could use both for holiday entertaining/family reunions AND for Montessori works.  For under $10 I "re-worked" what I had around the house.  After coming home with new tongs and plastic food baskets, it took all of 10 minutes

Always try out your new transfer works before giving them to your students. Here 9-year-old "Peel" helps me make sure none of them are too difficult for the hands of 2- and 3-year-olds.
You need to use the tongs to transfer the corks into the empty Trader Joe's tartlet pan and make them stand up!

Just moving marbles......
River rocks from the dollar store
I've used these small rubber balls for teaching how to sweep, how to use chop sticks, for sorting by color, too.

Pom-poms are another staple at our house.
My teenager noticed these pumpkin marshmallows at the store and thought they'd be good for transferring.
And who doesn't have Duplos?!?  (note the Trader Joe tartlet pan again--we have several!)
Sam's food storage containers have been helpful for other works, such as Float or Sink.

The squeeze bottles can be used for paint, although the kind with covers are friendlier.

The little sauce cups are good for transfer works, containing small metal brads on a tray, holding paint, etc.

I've used the tubs for small, portable sandboxes and for storage.  They'd be great for messy winter boots, too.
What about you--any ideas to add?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Playing Outside and Awe & Wonder

It's important for even young toddlers to be outside A LOT.  Some of my most colicky babies have quieted down as soon as we began a walk outside, and I think we as parents often relax, too.  An apartment or living room can't contain a child for very long, and it can't offer the things that "come naturally" outside:  the air is different, the sounds are different, the light is different.  Unless you live in a concrete jungle, the excitement of God's creation is right there for the taking, every day, regardless of the weather.  Sometimes it's when the weather is lousy that you see the most interesting behaviors among the bugs or animals, or when it's dark outside that you see the flowers that only open then. While I haven't had experience with autistic children or children with sensory issues, I can attest that my own children AND I need plenty of time outside every day, even if it's just puttering around the block.

There's "every day" getting outside and there's "one per week" getting outside and then there's the occasional "going on a trip!" going outside.  Here's some visuals to jump-start your imagination:

Cheekwood Gardens, Nashville (just around the corner)
On a cloudy day, just before some rain. 

Is it soft or prickly?  (Answer:  soft!)
Can you see the orb weaver?  We've nicknamed her Mabel.
Hello, gorgeous!
Captiva Island & Boca Grande, Florida (near grandparents, often a Christmastime destination)

  If you can make it to a beach every once in a while, it's a blessing!  Everyone can find something to do on the beach.

Observing natural oddities can really absorb a child.  One afternoon we noticed that several of these fish had washed up on shore (they were dead when we found them). 

Mixed ages do well on the beach.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee (a rare family vacation with everyone)


Finding creatures prompts lots of questions and piques curiosity, but sometimes you just have to take in the grandeur....
... (or throw rocks)...
The Backyard

"See the baby bunny?"
Even weeds are pretty.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Taking Kids to Church: Multiple Opinions

It's not always easy to bring toddlers to church, but asking a teenager, neighbor or relative  to help can make all of the difference!  As parents, we need the grace we get at church and our children need our example.
I'm disappointed that my earlier post didn't get more comments.  Specifically, I thought for sure I'd get some comments about taking toddlers to church.  Although that post suggested that it was too much to expect children younger than 3 to sit still for an hour-long service, I know plenty of families who do!

The post specifically said:  "Most children aren't ready to sit still and be quiet for [an hour] until they are 3, although the expectations of each church differ (how still and quiet they are expected to be)."

We bring our young toddlers to church with us, but they sure don't sit still!  We don't expect them to.  Our church is full of babies at the early Mass, which is one reason we chose that Mass, so our toddler noises can blend in better.  Each family has their own way of coping.  We tend to bring Cheerios and sippy cups when they are little.  With one of our children we brought Catechesis of the Good Shepherd-style cards with each of the articles of the Mass, so our daughter was interested in finding each item as it was being used.  For a while we brought Magnifikids to church, which was great for a range of ages (it's written for 6-12 but the younger ones like the pictures).  We allow a certain amount of freedom of movement, as long as it's not distracting to the other people in church.  We don't expect a toddler to pay attention to the services or to sing along, but we remind them of our expectations on our way to church.  If they meet our expectations, they get some kind of special treat afterwards.

There's a reason that we should care about this issue:  too many parents use their kids as an excuse to skip going to church, when kids should lead us in the OPPOSITE direction!  Our children belong to God and we need His help to raise them.  Just because something is difficult doesn't mean we give up.  In fact, most young parents I know NEED the strength that only God can give, not the mention the support, example, advice and encouragement of their faith community.  (If you aren't getting that from your church, try finding one that can provide that.)

I am not primarily saying we should all bring our children to church, although that would be great. Like the flight attendant who tells "those traveling with children" to put the oxygen mask on themselves first and then assist their children, we need spiritual strength to be good parents in the first place.

Also, it's not just our children we are trying to lead to God.   What about us?  What about our spouse?  If we stop coming to church we are cutting off a source of grace and choosing to live without God--eternally!  In other words, if you are Catholic it is a mortal sin to miss Mass.  If you are sick, taking care of an infant, or have some urgent work you can miss Mass, but otherwise, get thee to church on time.

Mother church is clear about the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days., and EWTN has a good Q & A about this worth reading.

Let's quit fooling ourselves:  many of us can find a way to get to Mass, even if we have to trade off with our spouses (one goes to Saturday vigil, one goes on Sunday).  If we can't handle the kids during Mass, can we find someone else to watch them at home?  Come on--use your noggin!  We do so many mental gymnastics to accommodate other areas of our life, why can't we apply the same genius to getting our spiritual lives in order?  Surely that should come first!

We all know many young mothers who will move heaven and earth to train for a half marathon or to arrange a Girls' Night Out or something else they really want.  Does the same time and planning go into getting to church?  If you're traveling or looking for a more convenient time, try this site.

As parents we really need the supernatural help to stay married, to stay faithful, and to raise our children well.  That includes taking them to church when they're old enough and providing the crucial example of going ourselves.

There are many articles out there with advice.  While I don't agree with all of the tips in these articles (that would be impossible, because some are contradictory!), these should give you food for thought:

Newsflash: Those Little Pumpkins Float!

Spoiler alert:  don't let your kids see this photo--make them wait until you try it in person!

This is really an addendum to my Float or Sink post.  Remember that I said it's the kind of work that you add to over time?  It's the kind of work where you go about your day and suddenly think, "Hey, I wonder if chalk would float or sink?"  Since we noticed that most of the things from trees tended to float, I wondered about those tiny pumpkins for sale right now.

The moment of truth!

What about those weird gourds?   Does anyone have any more Halloween or Fall ideas?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Float or Sink

This Rubbermaid 2.5 quart food prep container is the perfect size for this tabletop work.
 Science lessons can be so simple!  "Float or Sink," for example, is a simple work that "Alleluia" loves.  All that you need is:

  • Clear, deep plastic tub (at Sam's you can buy these in the food prep aisle)
  • Basket to hold items to be tested (mine was less than a buck at Target's on clearance)
  • Towel to put under your work area
  • Index cards labeled "FLOAT" and "SINK"
  • (Optional)  Child-sized apron
  • Random objects to test, such as:
Pine cone, buckeye, maple tree seeds (aka "helicopter seeds")
Tops to the milk or OJ containers
Cork (mine is a coaster but you can use a good old wine cork)
Wax candle
Styrofoam (salvage from a box)
Ping-pong ball, other balls
Various floating toys (such as a fish taken from our toy fishing set)
Painted wooden block
Soap (both Ivory and another kind of bar soap)
Coin (beware of choking hazards, though!)
Jingle bell, paper clip
We've added things to our "Float or Sink" basket over time.
You can lay the index cards out on the towel to separate two columns, one for items that float and one for items that sink.  Talk about what kind of things float first, such as things that hold air, things made of wood, etc.  Then ask the child to predict whether the item will float or sink.  Sometimes you'll be surprised yourself!  You can introduce the term "buoyant" and "gravity" and "surface."  Older children may be interested to note that while a bar of Ivory soap floats, most others will sink.  Why?

Do you have any other ideas for items to put in our basket?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Go Deep: How Teaching Children Requires an Examination of Conscience

"Go deep!"  At this time of year (football season) you might think that's a direct quote from the quarterback at Friday night's homecoming game.  Nope.  It was from a priest at a Morning of Recollection (a short, mini-retreat) this week, and it got me thinking:  to guide children and to correct them in the classroom is a lot like the spiritual work that we--as adults--do on a daily basis.

"Go deep" means to get to the root of a problem.  Does a disruptive child need more structure?  What might be the "key" to engage his imagination?  We first have to ask if we have presented things poorly or not prepared the environment well.  Beyond that, to "go deep" may mean examining why we struggle with our same faults over and over.  Is my impatience with my children caused by a need to control everything?  Or by a failure to see the good in them?

Maria Montessori said that we as teachers need to make a regular examination of our consciences, so that our own faults don't get in the way of our ability to guide children.  That means our classrooms--whether at home or at a school--become schools of virtue for us.

Tonight I read a good reminder, "Unholy Anger:  Disciplining Ourselves Before Disciplining Our Children," by John F. Crosby (I found it on  In it the author takes a quote from St. John Bosco, the man who started the Salesians and the care of juvenile delinquents.  In a letter to priests he wrote:
 "They are our sons, and so in correcting their mistakes we must lay aside all anger and restrain it so firmly that it is extinguished entirely. There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement."
So let's "Go deep," do a regular examen (a prayerful reflection of our faults), and it'll be a win-win:  we'll grow in holiness and be able to help the children around us.