Monday, February 24, 2014

When Visiting Schools.......

This is the season when nervous mommies are frantically visiting schools, trading notes with other mommies about who is signed up for what in the fall, exchanging critiques of competing programs, etc. I thought of this as I recently re-read something by G. K. Chesterton in Heretics:
But there are some people, nevertheless--and I am one of them--who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe.  We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, is it important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy.  We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy's numbers, but still more important to know the enemy's philosophy.  
When we are choosing a place for our child to spend a big chunk of his or her waking hours we should know something about the worldview of the staff and--for older children--even the worldview of the other children attending the school.  I've visited very expensive Montessori schools where even the youngest children were hard at work but no one smiled (adults included).  I've changed my mind about sending our kids to a well-known, academically rigorous school because, after spending some time in the carpool pick-up line, I sensed that the middle school children lacked the innocence, light and joy my own children had.  I withdrew our oldest from a preschool after just one day when I saw his classmate fall down on the march back to the classroom and no one except our 3-year-old had the compassion to stop and ask if his classmate was okay.

Montessori wrote about the absorbent mind of the young child.  What about his absorbent heart?  His attitudes and beliefs and character and habits of loving are all being shaped by the people with whom he will spend his waking hours.  Please make sure that hours are spent with the best of souls.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Liturgical Calendar (or the Church's Year)

"Purple and Green, Red and White....."

With the Liturgical Calendar the children see the importance of preparing for the 3 big feasts of the church:  Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.  They also see how important the "growing time" (i.e. Ordinary Time) is!
Today we unveiled one of the the most impressive works of the Level 1 Atrium:  the Liturgical Calendar, which teaches that Christ is the center of our year and that there are cycles and patterns to our worship.  This particular calendar (made from a sort of masonite material that was just leftover packing stuff from a furniture shipment) is MUCH bigger than I've ever seen.  These are usually the size of a large dinner plate and are usually made of wood.  This just goes to show:  you can make these works with whatever you have handy and modify to suit your group.  The gentleman who made this is a seasoned grandpa, so he made chunkier pieces that are safe both because they are too big to choke on and because there are no pointy pieces.

For single use with just a few children you could make this with construction paper or make necklaces with colored pony beads (thanks to Dominican Sister Mary Charles for the necklace idea!).
Your liturgical calendar needs to have 3 concentric circles.  The outer ring separates the year into the Cycle of Easter and the Cycle of Christmas (the largest rings seen above).  The medium-sized ring should be made of 52 equal-sized wedges (in our design the 3 feasts of the year--Easter, Christmas and Pentecost--become rays that take the place of 3 of those wedges).  The smallest ring defines the seasons:  Advent, the Christmas Season, Ordinary Time, Lent, and the Paschal Season.

Once the wood is cut and primed, you're ready to paint!  
 It's a confusing puzzle to create and to put together, so just keep singing the song to yourself as you go:
"Purple and green, red and white
Are the colors of the year..........
Purple for preparation,
White is for celebration,
Green is the growing time,
Red is for Pentecost."
Paint the Pentecost wedge with red.  Later you can add the dove as the symbol for the Holy Spirit.  Note:  some atria use flames as the symbol for the Holy Spirit.  You just need to be consistent across the works in your room.
I wanted the lettering to look nice, so I used a compass to create a guideline.
I found a pretty font, printed out the words I needed for labeling, wrote them onto my calendar pieces and then went over that with a Sharpie.  These steps took a LONG time of careful concentration!
I also made a control chart by tracing all of the calendar pieces onto an old piece of foam core,  labeling everything and coloring it in.  That way the children can move everything from the puzzle to the control chart and back again. 
So far, the only complaint I've had is that the symbol I painted for Pentecost looks like an airplane instead of a dove!
Lots of focus!
One important thing to point out:  while a clock goes around clockwise, we use this calendar counter-clockwise to remind us that "God's time is not our time."

Many thanks!

Thanks very much to this friend of the Legion of Mary for creating this work!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Elementary History: Medieval England, Hands-On

Hands-On History!

What a cool idea!  Get those metal rings from an office supply store and make a version of chainmail.

One of the fun things about having children of different ages is that sometimes an activity with one child can enhance and improve upon something you're doing with another child.  That's what happened this week, when I took "Wasabi" to Texas to look at colleges.  We got to stop by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where an exhibit on the Magna Carta had just opened!   I got some great ideas for "hands on history" stuff to do with our 4th grader, who just learned about the Magna Carta last week in her Kolbe curriculum, and who is learning about medieval European history in her weekly co-op, too.

First the exhibit showed a rather crude privy made of mud and sticks--a great way to grab the attention of children!  It even looked like something a crafty homeschooling kid could make.  Also, the discussion about all of the uses of urine in those days was truly disgusting and eye-opening.

Next were some hands-on textiles, examples of the different kinds of clothes that people from varying classes would wear.  Of course I had to squeal to my daughter, "Oh, this is SO Montessori!" and take a photo.....

Then, even though it's behind glass, I had to take a photo of the crossbow, as "Chop" is into these right now.  People hunt with these a lot where we live, but seeing an old one is kind of cool.

Also titillating to those who like weapons, this lance display allowed us to try to lift the long, heavy pole with just one hand.  It's REALLY hard to do!  At home you could emulate this with a long heavy dowel.  I have one of similar dimensions that I bought from a fabric store that went out of business.

In general, museum displays can give you lots of good ideas for bringing a subject home.  While I'm used to stealing ideas from science museums, it was a delight to find such Montessori-ish ideas for hands-on displays from a history exhibit!

To learn more:

  • Click here and here for more background on the Magna Carta.
  • Click here to learn about making fake helmets out of cardboard.
  • Click here for a free printable pack for younger kids.
  • For really crafty, independent older kids, click here and here to learn about making fake armor.
  • Click here for a ginormous list of resources, including games from that time period.
  • Click here for some links from the Usborne site that goes with "The Usborne Internet-Linked Medieval World" I have on my bookshelf
  • The curriculum of Rolling Acres School which has many wonderful links and ideas for homeschoolers.  Here are a few:

And last but not least, this would be a great time to bring in Robin Hood.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Tagalongs at Doctor's Appointments

When "Peel" had her eyes checked, 4-year-old "Alleluia" got to tag along.
When you're homeschooling a 4th grader, almost anything can be turned into a lesson.  When you're homeschooling a preschooler, too, it can be a fun challenge to make that lesson work on two levels.  Last week we had an appointment to have Peel's eyes checked at the ophthalmologist--what a wonderful way to talk about how our eyes work (or don't), the physics of light, color blindness, depth perception, careers in name it!

Even an elevator ride is exciting when you're 4.
Since it was a long appointment, both girls brought stuff to do.  Luckily we are familiar with both the doctor and staff here, so we felt comfortable and welcome.  First,

....Peel had a basic test of her vision while covering each eye (the letters are projected on the wall to the left).  That's the tagalong, Alleluia, in the lower left.

Then we got to go into another room where the doctor did some more testing.  Lots of equipment!

When he wiggled his finger he was testing her peripheral vision.  (Here's a cheap, simple thing you can do at home to learn more.)

Since one of my sisters has amblyopia and another has acute closure glaucoma, I am very grateful for thorough eye exams!  When the girls get older we can talk more about what those disorders are.  If you google "eye exam + kids" you will get helpful sites like this.

He checked the pressure in her eyes......

...and then she was tested for color blindness.

Then Peel got to wear special sunglasses for the stereo vision test.

Finally, her eyes were dilated, which meant she didn't have to do anymore homework for at least 6 hours!  Yea!

Look how big her pupils got!  
The models and  posters in his office were great teaching tools.
The final step:  checking the health of the eye.
All in all our appointment was 2 hours long.  Alleluia did great and wasn't too disruptive, and we sure had a lot to talk about on the car ride home.  If I had several children at home (like I did when my oldest was 10) I would probably have left the squirmiest ones with a sitter or arranged a play date.  That way the doctor's office isn't overwhelmed and only the children who are mature enough to get something out of the "field trip" go.

Have you done any similar tagalong field trips?  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Two Things to Know About the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

The artwork, the music, and the colorful vestments appeal to our senses and draw us in.
Soon after Maria Montessori opened her first children's house, Pope Pius X suggested that she apply her methods to religious education.  Many teachers and aides in Montessori classrooms aren't aware that Dr. Maria said her method found its fullest expression when it was applied to the teaching of the Catholic faith!

St. Louis Cathedral
If you've ever been to a Catholic Mass you know that all of the senses and much of our bodies are involved in worship:

  • our ears hear the music and the Word of God
  • our eyes see beautiful art all around us, the decorative flowers, the colorful chasuble of the priest 
  • our noses smell the incense
  • we genuflect before the tabernacle and kneel, stand and sit at various times
Lots of music!

Everywhere we look we are inspired.

The bells!
 And on special feast days we may even have a procession or the priest may sprinkle us with holy water (cold!) or we may get to hold a lit candle (making mom nervous!) or a blessed palm (but don't poke your brother with it)--all of these things are terribly exciting to small children!

I've always known in my gut that the Catholic liturgy and the Montessori approach in the classroom had a lot in common, but I never knew that Montessori herself considered religious education the highest example--the pinnacle and summit--of her unique method.  She also said that true respect for the child is only possible when we have respect for God in the baptized child.  So that's the first thing to know about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Texture, the play of light, the smell of pine--a true Montessori smorgasbord!
The second thing:  the teacher must attend to her own soul before she can guide the child.  I need to examine my own conscience regularly and, through works of humility, try to become more and more Christlike.  I wrote about that here, but I also remember Montessori specifically mentioning anger and pride as the primary stumbling blocks we teachers face.

More on our new atrium, Our Lady Queen of Hope Atrium, coming soon!  To see photos from a presentation we did last year during a Montessori Morning, click here.

"Montessori Catechesis" by Margaret Wickware, The Sower, July 2007
The Church and the Child by Maria Montessori and Others, by E. M. Standing