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:

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Trickle Up Effect

Atrium Mommies + Their Children + A New Friend
It seems like, based on the "hits" for each of my blog posts, the posts that describe our co-op have been some of the most interesting to our readers.  So I wanted to just say one thing about having a co-op Atrium:  the mommies are learning just as much--if not more--than the children!

Since the moms are here when lessons are presented, they absorb the same catechesis as the children.  For some of us, who were raised on the "Glitter Jesus" curriculum of the seventies, these simple, profound lessons are timely.  We are SO ready to listen to God's Word!  We are hungry for the essential lessons of our faith.  We are grateful to meet other mommies seeking the same.

I noticed early on in my training as a catechist that the same transformation I was hoping to see in my young students was taking place in myself and in my fellow classmates.  I saw the same joy and wonder on our wrinkled faces that the children have on their fresh, innocent faces!  I saw it when we realized the Good Shepherd calls us EACH by NAME, when lighting those small candles from the Pascal Candle and proclaiming, "Emily, receive the light of Christ," and, "Joseph, receive the light of Christ," and so on, and then I noticed that the light is spreading, just like the light of faith is spreading, and when I pondered the Annunciation, when Mary's troubled heart quickly became an open, trusting, receptive heart (which makes all the difference).

There are many goosebump moments in the Atrium, despite some occasional crying or spilling, despite the general hubbub, passing grumpiness and the messy humanity of it all.... I recommend THIS kind of co-op because it will benefit you, your children, your families and your faith.  The lessons will trickle up!  And that will make all the difference.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

More Impromptu Works at Home

Works All Around Us, Part II

In my last post I wrote about turning a silly little everyday thing into a work for a 4-year-old (getting rid of all of the junk pens and pencils, etc.).  Since then I've noticed A ZILLION such tiny chores that "Alleluia" would not only be good at, but would love to do.  Such as.....

Reinforcing Torn Holes in the Cookbook

Does your favorite cookbook look like this?  :(

After 20 years many of the pages have come out :(
Have no fear--"snowman stickers" are here (actually, they're reinforcement labels, but we use them in the winter for easy snowmen on construction paper).  This cookbook was a wedding present, so it had sentimental value.  Also, it has some of our favorite recipes, so fixing the torn pages was a good task for a 4-year-old, who is old enough to realize its importance!

As with any impromptu work, first show the child the tools you'll need.  Whomp up as much drama over the torn pages as you can muster.  Then demonstrate how to peel each label and carefully put it around the hole, turn over the page, and carefully do the same to the other side.  If your child is able to do this pretty well, oooooh and ahhhhh because really it's pretty darned difficult!

(Superhero costume optional.)
"Alleluia" did well on centering them, but every so often I showed her how to fix any crooked ones.
It takes a steady hand to put the label on the other side.
Be sure to check that it lines up nicely.  "Well done!"

Re-Working an Old Story

In a classic Montessori classroom there is a lot of storytelling going on.  We recently came across a book that first tells a traditional folktale, and then asks the reader to re-tell the tale using different elements.  What a great idea!

This could easily become a work that you do in a formal setting (as school work) or in an informal way, like when you are stuck in traffic or waiting for a while.  All you need is to first tell the story the "right" way.  Then identify which elements can change, such as the setting, the main characters, etc.  Lastly, re-tell the same basic story with the changed elements.  For some reason, this 4-year-old finds this hilarious!  (Incidentally, our 10-year-old did similar work for a creative writing class!)

Playing with a Dictionary

I used to LOVE looking up words in the dictionary, because I would get sidetracked and learn all sorts of amazing stuff along the way.  So even though my older children often use an online dictionary, I want the younger ones to use the "old fashioned" kind.  There are LOTS of good children's dictionaries out there.  So first ask your young child what one thing would be fun to look up ("Alleluia" has been going through a phase of being obsessed with turtles, tigers and robots, so we knew they'd be on the list.)  For instance, let's look up turtle.

"What sound does that start with?"  "T!"

The first time you may go straight to the letter T and then find the prize quickly.

Cool turtle!  (Obsessions have their advantages.)
After reading all about turtles, ask for another word to look up.  "Robots!"  "What sound does robot start with?"  "Rrrrr!"  This time, show your child how the dictionary is organized alphabetically.  You might sing the alphabet song quietly to yourself to figure out where R is found.   Once you've found R, ask, "What sound comes after 'rrrrrr' when we say, "robot?"  "Oh...."  Then show your child how to look for the letter O as a second letter in the word.  Don't take too long or the whole thing will get too boring!  Pretty soon you'll both see a photo of the beloved robot and read all about it!

Replacing Dead Batteries

(**note:  no small batteries should EVER be around young children, who can swallow the button batteries!!**)
The next time a toy, remote, tuner, or smoke detector battery is out of juice, call your child over to replace it for you.  All you need (besides fresh batteries) is a battery checker (well worth the money!).  In our case, our guitar tuner and remote control car were out of juice on the same yucky rainy afternoon.  So first, show your child how the thingy ISN'T working (if they haven't already figured that out and come screaming in frustration).

No worky.
Next, introduce the handy dandy battery checker.  If you are really smart you can explain electricity, otherwise do as I do and just point out that the needle thingy is in the red.

Toss the old battery and test another one, this time (with hope!) the needle thingy will be in the green.

Woo hoo!
With some kind of batteries you have to point out details, like the terminals on the 9-volt.

Eating Outside

Table washing is a traditional Montessori work, so if your family is eating outside tonight get the kids to help get ready.  If they've already done indoor table washing and gone thru the rigmarole they know the basic procedure, but outside it's usually WAY more fun because the table may be REALLY GRODY and because it could easily turn into an excuse to put on your swimsuit and play in the sprinkler afterwards.

Pretty self-explanatory.....

Cleaning Up After You Eat Outside

How might you "Montessori-ize" the clean-up process after dinner?  Bring out a trash can, a plastic wash basin, a rubber spatula and a dollop of dishwashing liquid.

Ask each family member to scrape their scraps into the trash and put their empty plates in the basin.

Carry the full basin inside to the kitchen sink..........

....where the washing up is made a bit easier!

Car Wash, Wagon Wash, Tricycle Wash--It's All Good...

If it's the first wagon ride of the season, or if the last passengers had popsicles that dripped all over the place, a good scrub may be in order.  This kind of job is great for a toddler, who may hate sitting in yucky stuff or who may take great pride in his or her ride.  It also takes a lot of energy!

Mixed Ages, too

I am a big fan of any works that involve mixed ages.  This is a work that can get very detailed and can take a long, long time if you need it to.

We got these car wash supplies at least 10 years ago and they seem to make this work more attractive (yippee!).

What impromptu works will you notice this week?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Works All Around Us!

I love it when I'm puttering around the house with "Alleluia" and some chore we stumble upon becomes a decent impromptu Montessori work.   This morning I was trying to let the rest of the household sleep in ("Wasabi" had returned from a month in France late last night).  I was tired myself, so when everything Alleluia wanted to do was just too loud, I gave her a quiet job to do:  sort through the mess of pencils and pens we store in one big tote and get the supplies ready for the next school year.

This job, it turns out, requires plenty of skills, such as:
  • sorting pencils and mechanical pencils from pens and markers
  • setting aside colored pencils (more on that later)
  • figuring out which pen caps go to which pens
  • throwing out broken pencil pieces and pen caps that had no mates
  • setting aside crayons for Alleluia's backpack
  • testing pens and markers so she could discard yucky ones
  • setting aside the extra thick pencils for the Atrium
  • setting aside hair ties, pencil sharpeners and pencil grips (which I put where they belong)

Once she had made a big pile of colored pencils she sharpened them and put each in its correct cup.  This was challenging, since several shades of pencil were kind of "in between."

In the end this took at least 25 minutes of focus and concentration, and--since she uses the pencils every day--she will not only benefit from her work, but her siblings and the children who come over to use the Montessori materials will also benefit.

What about you?  Have you enjoyed any impromptu works lately?