Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Five-Year-Old in Montessori: A Bird's Eye View of Language and Math

Wow, this post got way too long.  Please admire Alleluia's birthday cake--YUM!
This post is for you if:
  • you often wonder if you are on the right track with your Montessori kid
  • you feel overwhelmed by all of the separate works you need to learn about and don't know what comes next
  • you like chocolate (oh, sorry!  how did that get in there....)
  • you secretly wish you had a stack of tacky worksheets to prove that your child is learning 
"Alleluia" just celebrated her fifth birthday.  School-wise she's made it halfway through my Language Album and has been doing Math for about six months.  Because it's been a while (!) since I've taught a 5-year-old, I am constantly consulting my Albums to see which works come next and to check that she's progressing okay.  If you are new to Montessori it can be confusing!  And if you are setting up your shelves as you go, this age can feel overwhelming--there's so much Math and Language being presented simultaneously.  I'm going to try to simplify things so you can breathe easier.

Children schooled in the traditional way and children taught using the Montessori method all end up at the same destination--literacy, ability to work with numbers--but their paths are VERY different. 

The iconic "Farm," with which you can teach parts of speech, but which most of us secretly want to play with.


The Montessori child has been steeped in Language works and games since 2 1/2 (or even before!).  By 5, there has already been a huge amount of work, including (brace yourself):
  • I Spy Game ad nauseum
  • Enrichment of Vocabulary (Name Game, 3-part cards, give language with Sensorial lessons, etc)
  • Stories, Rhymes, Self-Expression, I Wonder....
  • Preparation to Write (usually around 4 1/2, if the child's hands and mind are ready)
  • Sandpaper Letters (including digraphs like 'sh' and 'ch')
  • Moveable Alphabet (3)
  • Metal Inset (3-5)
  • Writing with Chalk (4-5 1/2)
  • Phonetic Object Game (4-5)
  • Phonetic Reading Cards (4-5)
  • Phonograms (4 1/2 - 5)
  • Sight Words (4 1/2 - 5)
  • Reading Classification (4 1/2 - 5)
  • Parts of Speech (4 1/2 up)
Language:  Parts of Speech boxes along the left...

Your little whippersnapper is working on three aspects simultaneously:  phonics, sight words (words that aren't spelled phonetically), and phonograms (2-3 letters that can't be sounded out).  If things have been going pretty well, Junior might be writing simple words phonetically now, starting with short vowel consonant-vowel-consonant words like hot, cat, sis, etc.  "Writing" means using the Moveable Alphabet.  

Huh?  Isn't that cheating?

Many 4-year-olds don't have good control of the pencil yet, even if they do have a good pencil grip.  Finger strength is another issue.  While the Metal Insets and other works focus on good pencil control, using the Moveable Alphabet helps to isolate the child's ability to spell phonetically.

Here's a couple of works all squished together:  she used the Moveable Alphabet to write words that I read aloud (then I gave her the printed word to check her work).  She also wrote the words in her journal, following the letters I wrote for her in yellow marker.  
The classic use of the Moveable Alphabet is to make up stories.  An adult can copy them down in the child's journal afterward, and the child may even like to illustrate.

Yes, Montessorians spell first, read second.  And yet it's common to put a Bob book (or other simple reader) in the hands of a child this age, if he or she is sailing along well with writing.

In the Phonetic Object Game the child sees you actually write (gasp!) with a pencil and paper.  This may be a rare occurrence these days, but important modeling for writers-to-be.

Metal Insets help practice writing with a pencil without tearing up the paper.  Plus, it's good practice for staying within the limits of lines.  The tray is just for carrying the materials to the table,  not for working on.

Function of Words/Parts of Speech

Learning about the function of words (noun, article, adjective, verb, etc) is introduced at 4 1/2.  If you don't have the materials for these works, they are super easy and cheap to make.  (Readers, please let me know if you'd like more info on that.)  Also, you don't necessarily teach your child terms like "Article" during the lesson (only in naming the lesson), but if he or she happens to remember that term, imagine all of the super fun games of MadLibs you can play!

Those colored triangles are Grammar Symbols.

A Note on Sounds:

With the Sandpaper Letters and Sandpaper Digraphs the children learn 40 basic sounds (26 letters in the alphabet plus 14 double letter sounds, like 'th'). When you begin to teach the Phonograms (which include the 14 digraphs), the number of non-phonetic sounds goes up to about 25.  I am being vague because I only kinda sorta get it myself..........

Digraphs like 'th' are two letters that make a unique sound.  Phonograms can be 2 or 3 letters together that make a freaky, non-sensical sound, like the "-all" in "ball," "call," "tall," etc.  Yikes, English is weird!

Moving Right Along.......

At 5, you're just building on the foundations.  Your child identifies verbs (action words), learns syntax (what sounds correct and what just sounds strange), and basically becomes a total Grammar Ninja.


If the child has been progressing well in Language before his or her 5th birthday, you may have already introduced:
  • Number Rods (once the child is well advanced in Language and is beginning to read and write)
  • Sandpaper Numbers (same as above)
  • Number Rods and Cards (4-5)
  • Spindle Boxes (4-5)
  • Cards and Counters (4-5)
  • Memory Game of Numbers (4-5) 
If you introduce Math before your child has a good start on Language, you are ignoring what we know about the sensitive periods.  Alleluia seemed to be doing fine with Language, so she had done these basics.

Chalkboard numbers aren't listed in my album, so I just squished them in along with Sandpaper Numbers.  (Too bad you can't see the extremely cute baby I'm holding on my lap!)
If things seem to be purring along well, then these can also be introduced:
  • Decimal System:  Presentation with Beads (4-5)
  • Decimal System:  Presentation with Cards (4-5)
  • Teens and Tens:  11 - 19 Beads Only (4)
  • Teens and Tens:  The Teen Boards (4-5)
  • Teens and Tens:  11 - 19 Teen Boards and Beads (4-5)
  • Teens and Tens:  11 - 99 Ten Boards with Beads (4-5)
  • Linear Counting:  100 and 1000 Chains (up to 5 1/2)
  • Teens and Tens:  Skip Counting--Number Chains with Squares and Cubes (up to 5 1/2)
  • The Formation of Complex Numbers with Beads and Cards (4 1/2 - 5)
Teen Beads

The Decimal System:  Introduction to the Bead Material
Forming Numbers with Beads and Cards

Skip Counting with Number Chains

Anyhoo, ...

You get the picture.  This is what a normal progression for a brand-spanking-new 5-year-old might look like.  The only sense in which specific timing matters is knowing the sensitive period that your child is in (Language comes before Math) and knowing the progression of works (which comes first, then which comes after, etc.).

I hope this post was helpful!  Please correct my mistakes, make silly comments or share ideas for 6-year-old birthday cakes with me!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Homeschooling, Mixing It Up, and Montessori Enrichment

A Little of This, A Little of That.....

The Tree of Life work from Waseca is pretty to look at and is a good way for "Peel" to visualize the plant, animal and fungus kingdoms.
With my older kids in school and just one fifth grader and one Pre-K child home three days per week I feel like I'm finally getting into a good rhythm this school year.  Both homeschooled kids are out of the house two mornings per week, and I'm using a mixture of "canned" curriculum and Montessori for both.  It finally feels right, and I wanted to share our mixture in the hopes that it could help others out there struggling.

Whether you are struggling to balance your children's school work with their social life, or balance the time you wear your "teacher hat" with the time you wear all of your other hats, the perfect combination isn't easy to find.

I love it when siblings can share an activity!

Mixed Ages

Montessori classrooms are always comprised of children of mixed ages.  This works well for families who homeschool children of various ages, and it's very convenient when you must chauffeur your kids to outside activities.  For us, Tae Kwan Do and piano are "one stop shopping" for both girls, and many Montessori works we do at home can be done together.

5th Grade--"Peel"

Canned Curriculum:  Kolbe
Montessori Enrichment:  Animal and Plant Kingdom works, some Level 2 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd works, Math review and Grammar review
Co-op:  Math and English are done twice per week in the mornings
Music:  Weekly Suzuki violin and weekly piano
Physical Education:  Tae Kwan Do three times per week
Art:  Online, live art class for homeschoolers
Religion:  Weekly CCD class at our parish
Extracurriculars:  Weekly Jr. Legion of Mary group with children from local Catholic school and with homeschoolers
Other:  When our computer is working, a little Spanish (which is review for her) on CDs.  We dropped some Saturday classes for gifted students.  Though several were very good, our last was a total dud.

"Peel" can work very hard on her own, but after a few hours wants to do something different, whether it be go to the creek, play cards with kids her age, or do Mad Libs with a friend.  Staying home all day every day is not an option for her!  She also gets "blah" and sleepy if she's not moving.  In addition, she benefits from learning things in different ways, like through videos, songs or board games.

The co-op has a great teacher, nice kids and animals!

Mixing It Up

I recently bought some episodes of Horrible Histories on iTunes and spent $5 for all 40 episodes of Liberty's Kids on DVD, since they pertain to the history she's been studying this year (we already have the awesome Horrible Histories book set and my kids love it!).  This seems to improve the mood around here.  I also am trying the Kindle Free Time app on the new Kindle that Santa brought me.  While I hadn't ever heard of this child-friendly app, I'm so glad I decided to try it!  It's dramatically increased the amount of good, outside reading that Peel does.  I set her daily goal to 75 minutes of reading, and she's hit that goal almost every day since.  And these are not just junky books--these are good books, mostly classics, that I have wanted her to read.  For some reason the classics don't seem as boring and hum drum when they are on the Kindle!  Here's an article about that app.

Don't worry--the nerdy charts are only on the refrigerator temporarily.  We're not THAT nerdy!

In addition to these small changes, I've also ordered some expensive Montessori materials I've been wanting for a long time.  Waseca makes the yummiest products, and since Peel has had an enduring interest in animals, plants, fungi and dinosaurs/geology, I splurged on the Tree of Life, Plant Kingdom chart, and the Fungus Kingdom chart.  We've used them already and I hope to go back to them from time to time.

Finally, my husband has dusted off some of his board games that correspond to the subjects Peel is studying.  For instance, her study of the Civil War is coming up, so they've been playing Battle Cry.  There are 15 different battle scenarios that the players can work through.

As far as hobbies go, Peel got a book about sewing felt animals for her birthday, and she's doing that in her spare time.   She is also cooking dinner once per week or so, and has recently discovered a TV show called "Master Chef Jr." that has her even more excited about learning to cook.

As far as life skills go, Peel and her older sister are learning the fine art of cleaning the bathroom every Saturday morning.  Hurray for bushy-tailed New Year's Resolutions!


Canned Curriculum:  Pre-K two days per week at a Catholic parochial school
Montessori Enrichment:  Two to three days per week of Primary work and Level 1 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
Music:  Weekly piano lessons and one music class per week in the Pre-K program
Physical Education:  Weekly Tae Kwan Do
Art:  Once per week in the Pre-K program
Religion:  Weekly afterschool Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program at a local Catholic school
Extracurriculars:  Weekly Jr. Legion of Mary group

Even though I run a small mother-child Atrium in my home each Friday, it's nice to get out and join another Atrium with school kids at an after school program once per week.  I learn a lot, too!
Alleluia's life is more streamlined and simple, with plenty of sleeping in and playing and just hanging out.  While there doesn't seem to be as much "mixing it up" with her schooling, she is still adjusting to being away from Mom two days per week and ever-so-slowly becoming more independent.

Alleluia still does 2-3 days of Montessori basics at home with me.
It's taken me a year and a half of homeschooling these two--with a lot of trial and error!--to find a good balance.  I hope some of you will find helpful ideas here.  Do you have any additional thoughts?  Things that have helped you find a good homeschooling balance?  Please share!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Liebster Award!

I am so excited to be nominated for the Liebster Award!  Still pinching myself that anyone (besides my mom and my husband) actually knows my blog exists, and I am humbled that the blogger who nominated me is one of those larger-than-life stars, in my eyes.  Thanks,  Suzanne Wilhelmi from Teaching from the Tackle Box!

So first I answer Suzanne's questions....

1. What's your blogging story? When and why did you start blogging?
I love photography and really missed it since my days as a journalist and my college days in photography classes.  I also missed writing, adult conversations, being able to finish a thought, etc.  That, combined with the coming-of-age of my toddler to the Montessori primary years, was the perfect storm:  I was driven to take lots of photos and go on and on about one of my favorite topics:  Montessori.  I started in April 2012, just to keep myself sane and to help other moms and grandmas home with their toddlers.

2. What's the favorite/greatest gift you have been given by someone else?
When he was alive, my father used to give me three things:  great food (he was very good cook), wonderful books (remember those?) and the occasional compliment.  I hadn't realized how much I missed the compliments until, recently, a family friend praised the job my husband and I are doing raising our children.  It suddenly hit me that I missed getting that yearly pat-on-the-back for the thankless work we do!

3. What is your favorite board game?
Sorry, I hate board games.  My husband and our 6 children LOVE them, though.  I don't even think they could pick a favorite.  We literally have hundreds.  (My husband has interrupted to tell me that the exact count is 207).

4. What would you do without electricity for 48 hours? and what would you miss the most?
I love it when the power goes out!  The only thing I start to get anxious about is whether I can still get a cup of coffee (the elixir of life, or of my life anyway).

5. Do you name your vehicles and if yes share why you named your car(s) as you did?
Yes!  I am hyper weird about this and always insist that other people in my life name their cars, too.  My first car was Francis, because he was teal blue like the water and the sky and reminded me of St. Francis, one of my all-time favs.

6. How do you network/promote your blog?
Um, I don't.  I'm very lazy.

7. What is your favorite /and your least favorite social media site and why?
I am a big doofus when it comes to social media.  I keep forgetting my passwords and have to ask my kids what they are.  I get information overload when I try to learn new things online.  I want to go suck my thumb and curl up in the fetal position until my teenagers get home and help me navigate the big, scary web.

8. What was your favorite craft or DIY project from 2014?
I am trying to make all of the materials for Level 1, 2 and 3 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atria.  This year, with help from a nice retired engineer from church, I made a 3-D model of the old city of Jerusalem.  So.  Much.  Fun!

9. What's your blogging niche? What do you like most to write about?
I'm struggling with that one.  I began writing about affordable, simple Montessori activities for moms, grandmas and teachers, but more and more my Catholic faith is a central part of what I want to write.  There are several blog posts in my head that I've never written because they are so specific to my faith.  So I'm sort of stuck not knowing what to do--start a second blog?

10. What is your favorite blog post from 2014 - yours or someone else's?
Well I'm not sure it's from 2014, but I loved this one on a cheap version of the Montessori bells.  I've been stalking the Montessori bells for years, but they are so expensive and take up so much space that I just kept hemming and hawing UNTIL I read this post and created her version myself!

11. What are your plans for blogging in 2015?
I hope to finally use dozens and dozens of photos I've taken for short, informative posts on Montessori at home.

Next I List 11 Random Facts About Me...

1.  Before marriage I spent two months in the Nashville Dominicans as a postulant.  I loved it, but not once did any of the sisters break out into song with, "Climb Every Mountain!"

2.  I am a twin (older by two minutes.  I love to rub that in.).

3.  I am addicted to coffee.  There.  I said it.

4.  I start books and then never finish them.  I don't see a problem with this, but my husband is constantly teasing me about all of the books in our library with bookmarks still in them.

5.  I am a militant napper.  Every day after lunch.

6.  I briefly worked in a morgue.

7.  In college I played a little bit of underwater hockey.

8.  I'm shy, but I have found that interviewing people is a great excuse for talking to someone!

9.  I love Downton Abbey.

10.  I love thrift shops and garage sales.

11.  I got to meet Mother Teresa and attend an audience with John Paul II.

And then I nominate some other awesome blogs:

Why Do You Ask
Second Hand, Second Thoughts
What Did We Do All Day
The Beautiful Music Challenge

Here are the 11 Questions for THEM to answer:

1.  What's your favorite word or sound?
2.  What's your most pressing new year's resolution?
3.  What's your favorite blog post (written by you or someone else)?
4.  What is the last movie you watched in an actual cinema?
5.  What book are you currently reading?
6.  Who was your favorite teacher and why?
7.  From whom or from what have you learned the most?
8.  What random thing makes you happy?
9.  If I had the courage I would __________ (fill in the blank).
10.  What is your favorite way to spend a Friday night?
11.  On a vacation, would you rather relax and read a book or get up early and try something new?

Thanks again to Suzanne from Teaching from a Tackle Box!  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Montessori's Epiphany: A Play on Words

Did she say, "Follow the child" or "Follow the Child"?
My Montessori Philosophy album reads:  "On Jan 6, 1907, as fellow Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, she [Maria Montessori] opened the first Casa dei Bambini.   Montessori, a Catholic, read aloud the Gospel reading for that day, an excerpt from the Book of Isaiah 60: 1-6."
"Rise up in splendor!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples;  but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory....."
Montessori is often quoted as saying, "Follow the child."  Observe the needs of the child's inner life, this is what drives him or her.  Looking for answers to the big questions--Who made me?  Why am I here?  Why is there suffering?--is one of those drives we see in children.  So why don't we recognize it more?  Why don't we, following the example of Maria' life, follow the Child?   The Epiphany was the manifestation--the physical showing--of God with us, the divine here with us, as a baby.

It's hard to imagine that many parents who are believers themselves won't bring their children to church (or to their place of worship).  In this recent article in First Things magazine the author makes some good points.
We—the Christian parents of America—should not leave our kids to make up their own minds about religion. We need to go against the grain. If we really believe the Gospel, we ought to join the shrinking ranks of those pushy parents who insist their children attend church with them. We make our children eat their vegetables. We make them brush their teeth. Let’s make them go to church.
Honestly, it doesn't matter to me if you are Jewish, Christian, Buddhist--please impart to your children your faith.  You may not be around forever, and what could be more important?  It's looking more and more like we aren't allowed to mention God or a Creator even in online groups, much less in a classroom.  So how exactly are the inner needs of the child addressed?  And if we as believers are chased off of social media, then we aren't part of the conversation.

I write about this now because many parents and teachers who love the Montessori approach to education don't realize that Montessori was practicing Catholic and that her faith was very important to her. She wrote a beautiful book on the Mass for children and this book includes writings of Montessori on God and the child. If we have embraced her philosophy and approach with children, we owe it to ourselves to learn more. We as parents and as Montessorians are fooling ourselves if we think that connecting our children with their Creator is not part of our work. It is essential. Our children our like sheep among wolves. When we are gone, what then? Have we helped to answer their questions on who made them? About their purpose? About good and evil? About suffering?

Back to the child and the Child. If Maria Montessori followed the Child Jesus and found the child, maybe it wouldn't hurt to allow some divine seeking, in ourselves and in the children. Could we as Montessorians have a epiphany of our own--an eye-opening discovery that Maria's faith was central to her work, that she wanted to much to share her insights with others.

Only this week I made a comment on a Facebook group for those interested in the Montessori philosophy.  There was an article listing the most basic needs of children, and I commented that it was missing just one thing:  connecting the child with his or her Creator.  This immediately caused a stir, with one reader angrily writing that she didn't find that important at all and, from the moderator, a gentle reminder that I read the group's new rules (apparently words like "the Creator" are a red flag!).  I confess that I didn't read the group's new rules, I just "unjoined."

And finally, a word of warning.  G. K. Chesterton is often quoted (though there is some disagreement about his exact words) as saying, "He who does not believe in God will believe in anything."  If we don't give our children at least some direction, aren't we leaving them vulnerable?  Only the Good Shepherd would risk His life for the sheep.  Watch out for the wolves.