Friday, January 29, 2021

More Board Games to Play with Your Older Kids

Something to Get You Through 

Updating the Board Game List from 2012

It's About Time

With more of us at home, some for months at a time, and with college kids confined to tiny groups while on campus, it's time to update our board game list!  Beware:  some of these innocent board games have "adult" or "after dark" versions.  Some wonderful games have several versions (such as "ungame"), so read the reviews before buying.  Finally, there are tons of expansion packs, so if you like a game, try those out, too!

Quick thinking card game for middle schoolers and above.

Sort of like the old-fashioned "Telephone Game" you played as a kid, but with pictures.  Multiple ages can play.  Refill of dry erase markers available (we needed these because we played this so much!).  Also comes in party pack size.  Sometimes so hilarious you'll laugh-snort.

Like a mix of Trivial Pursuit and a word game.  Team-based card game that requires you to think fast!

Family friendly--not racy or smutty (despite the title).  Clever word game for middle school and above.

Animal hero card game (D&D influenced):  slay monsters, collect heroes.  Adorable illustrations.

Our middle-schooler liked this but Daddy didn't appreciate how easy it was to die!  A card game re-make of a classic computer game.


We tried this and the card game version (below) because the computer game was a wee bit addictive.  Simplified re-make of the insanely popular computer game where you build your own world.

Same as above but very portable--can take in backpack or purse easily.

Therapists use this to encourage conversation.  Also great for those who love to talk!  Many versions.  Good way to get to know one another better.

Teaches you about birds but "isn't a boring educational game."  Clever and cute.

Build your own theme park for robots.

Dwarves!  Cooperative mining game where one bad guy lurks to sabotage all of your hard work.

Expensive, exceptionally elaborate adventure game.  Needs lots of real estate where it can be left up for a while.  "More a lifestyle than a game!"  An alternative to D&D.  Follows a script.  GOT US THROUGH A LONG SUMMER OF LOCKDOWN!!

Trivia-based estimation game.  You'll learn a lot while having fun.

Recommended by a good friend.  Next on our list to try!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Montessori Practical Life at Home: Nail Care

Care of the Self:  Trimming Fingernails

Easy Does It!

Model Patience and Care

Instead of trimming your child's fingernails for him, why not teach him how to do it himself?  This simple setup is just a tray with child-sized fingernail clippers and a tiny broom (see video below for how to use that).  Show him how the trimmers work and where the sharp parts are.  Model patience and great care, so that you don't nick yourself.  Also demonstrate how to tidy up afterwards.

Montessori Practical Life at Home: Peeling a Potato

Food Prep:  How to Peel a Potato

Montessori Hack--Remember a Non-Slip Mat

A Grapefruit Knife Wouldn't Hurt, Either

We're having Cream of Potato Soup tonight and it calls for four peeled, diced potatoes.  Dinners that require a lot of steps are great for involving children and teaching or practicing discrete skills like peeling.  Just remember:  when you introduce the peeler for the first time, point out the sharp parts! 

It's always good to model a seated position, using a quality peeler with slow, deliberate movements, and taking the time to do the work almost meditatively.  There are smells and sounds associated with this work, as well as graceful movements.  When done, demonstrate how you discard the peelings into the compost or trash.  Important hack:  use a damp towel, a non-skip mat, or a silicone baking mat under the tray to keep things from jiggling around.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Montessori Practical Life at Home: Food Prep--Peeling an Egg

Food Prep:  Peeling a Hard-Boiled Egg

Easy, Healthy Snack

Egg Slicer Makes it Fun and Pretty

It's easy to cook several eggs in advance and keep them on hand for snacks, salads, or deviled eggs.  In this Practical Life Food Prep work, a child has what he needs to prepare his own simple, healthy snack.  If you compost or use eggshells for an Eggshell Crushing work (to amend soil), show the child where you want the eggshells to go after his snack, as he cleans up.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Use This, Not That

Misconceptions About How to Get Started

Montessori Mindset Trumps "The Stuff"

Resist the Urge to Put It All in Your Cart

You don't need all of the expensive, specialized Montessori equipment that takes up SO much real estate when you are FIRST starting out with Montessori.

I get it.  You've got your mind set on teaching your toddlers and young children at home (at least for now) using the Montessori method.  You freak out about clearing out the dining room or guest room or a bedroom, just to make space for all of The Stuff.  You research Billy and Kallax, you scour the online marketplaces, you stalk thrift stores, you bookmark DIY plans and free printables.  Been there, done that!

But if you are just getting started, you should truly take the time to understand the lifestyle and philosophy of the method, and you'll realize that--especially for toddlers and young children--you can spend just a little bit of money and sacrifice a little bit of space to begin.  A house that's full of Montessori materials but whose parents still do everything for the child--brush the hair, pour the milk, wipe the spill, sweep the floor, clip the fingernails, fold the laundry, mash the potatoes, tie the shoes, zip the pants, button the coat, set the table, feed the dog, water the plants, wipe the nose, peel the carrots--is not following one of the basic tenets:  Promote independence when you can; otherwise, your "help" is an obstacle to the child's growth, confidence, and learning.

Find some child-sized kitchen tools instead.

TJMaxx has an amazing selection.

That long sentence packs a HUGE punch, mostly because actually following that advice is a ginormous shift for most of us.  How in the world do we get out the door when we have to patiently wait for our child to tie his own shoes, put on his jacket by himself, or clear and wash his breakfast dishes?  (Not to mention dealing with a child who won't cooperate!).  But THIS is where the learning and development is so important, not in the rushing around.  

Allowing space in your life and schedule can also be transformative for a family.  If you are not a patient person (Ahem--me!), then re-fashioning your life around your child's independence is a big deal.  It will be almost painful to watch your child take FOREVER to serve herself Goldfish crackers, carry the plate to her table, stop to sweep up the ones she spilled, and have a snack.  The same is true if you've ever been to a rehab facility for adults working to regain lost skills.  It requires us to stop and marvel at the amazing progress and growth of which humans are capable, if given the time, encouragement, and support.

Re-think your beginning steps.  Instead of buying the Pink Tower, you may need to replace your daughter's hand-me-down coat with the broken zipper so that she can learn to zip it up herself.  Or you may need to spend a little to buy child-size kitchen tools so that your son can peel the carrots and potatoes for borscht.  Why not?  You're making dinner anyway.  Let him work alongside you.

Here's a list of ideas of Montessori Practical Life activities you can teach your child at home:

  • Pouring (first dry, then wet)
  • Washing hands
  • Washing the tabletop
  • Washing dishes
  • Cleaning windows
  • Watering plants
  • Carrying things without bonking into the wall or other people
  • Setting and clearing the table
  • Polishing stuff--shoes, wood, metal
  • Opening and shutting doors, drawers, cupboards, boxes, all sorts of bottles, etc.
  • Folding napkins, towels, clothes
  • Peeling fruits and vegetables
  • Spreading something on bread or toast
The list goes on and on.  You should also include lessons in Grace and Courtesy, such as:

We want our children to develop self-control and an inner discipline.  In order to do that we need to give them freedom within boundaries, which requires our planning, our patience, and our own self-control.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Montessori Practical Life at Home--Independence at Breakfast

Self-Serve Cold Breakfast Sequence

Practical Life at Home

Food Prep:  Dry Cereal with Milk, Orange Juice

Our tiny workstation has a cereal dispenser and this nifty cereal bowl, complete with built-in straw for drinking the leftover milk.  The tray, which was on sale at Michael's, is smaller than a typical fast food restaurant tray, so it's ideal for young children to use when carrying heavy objects.  You can buy small glasses, similar to this one, at TJMaxx or Marshall's.  They're actually shot glasses, but they are the perfect size for petite hands.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Montessori Practical Life at Home--Independence at Breakfast

 Self-Serve Hot Breakfast Sequence

Practical Life at Home

Food Prep:  Oatmeal with Milk, Fruit and Honey Sequence

If you have a tiny workstation set up in your kitchen/classroom, it's easy to teach children to be more independent at breakfast.  Here, I've already cooked and spooned the oatmeal into a bowl.  As your child grows, he or she can learn to cook it, but this is a good starting point for beginners.

Start with the bowl of cooked oatmeal, a spoon, a pitcher of milk, some fruit  (already washed and cut in small container at left), and honey.

Another reason for lots of previous practice in pouring!

Opening this container, which has a screw-top, requires previous practice and some dexterity.  The Montessori Open-Close Basket helps children practice.  See previous post.

The honey container has another kind of lid.

I hope by now you can see how a child's mastery of simple Montessori works (like pouring, opening and closing various containers, etc.) add up to independence at home and in the classroom.  

Friday, January 22, 2021

Montessori Practical Life: Care of Plants

Taking Care of Your Environment, Inside and Out

Caring for the Plants Around the House or Classroom

It's natural for children to want to do real work:  polishing shoes, cutting and arranging flowers, folding napkins, peeling potatoes, sewing on a button, .... the list goes on and on.  These are all things a young child is likely to see older people (older children and adults) doing.  In order to take part in the same work a young child has to first master the simpler components of these jobs.  For instance, a child has to practice pouring in order to pour his own milk and prepare his cereal at breakfast.  Or a child needs to be able to walk while carrying a tray if she is to be able to carry a food prep work from the shelf to a table.

This work, Care of Plants, is no different.  Many of us have indoor plants at home or in the classroom (Aldi's has a great selection!), and they need regular care.  In this first video, I demonstrate how to check the soil to see if the plant needs to be watered and then I trim off and remove dead leaves.

In this second video I demonstrate how to use a cotton ball to wipe dust off of the leaves.  Then I mist the plants leaves with water.

It would be easy for this work to lead into a simple science lesson, but it also important on its own.  Please be careful:  some plants are toxic to children and to pets!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Self Serve Fruit Salad Snack Sequence

Practical Life at Home

Food Prep:  Self Serve Fruit Salad

Whether at home or in a classroom setting, Montessori snack is set up so that children can be independent.  Utensils should be the right size for a child's hand, and the working surface (table or counters) should either be reachable with a safe step stool or be just the right height (here, a table 20 inches off of the floor).

Start with an empty bowl, pre-washed fruit, serving spoons and a spoon.

Scoop first fruit into bowl.

(It may even make a nice "plunk" sound!)

Add second fruit.

Get your spoon and go!

Be sure to teach children how to clean up afterwards.  They may carry dishes to a sink to wash themselves, leave on the counter next to the sink, or load into a dishwasher.  Leave a comment below if you'd like to see a dish washing sequence!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Biblical Geography

Making 2D and 3D Maps of the Holy Land

In the Level 1 Atrium (for ages 3-6), Simple Geography

Hands-On Lessons in Two and Three Dimensions

When we teach the young child about the Holy Land--where Jesus's coming was announced, where He was born, and where He died and rose--we keep things simple and hands-on.  We use a raised surface map of Israel to show the important cities in Jesus's life (the 3D map) and a puzzle map of Israel with the names of the regions and waterways.  Both are doable at home, especially these days where you can use the internet to pull up maps of the area.

To make the 3D map I started with a wooden tray (any Montessori classroom has several of these!) and some papier mache.  You could make your own papier mache pretty easily, but I used some CelluClay I already had on hand.  Simplify so that the child can focus on basic impressions--where the bodies of water are, where the land is hilly, etc.  You will make three holes in your sculpted creation so that you can insert skewers identifying Nazareth (where the Holy Spirit is symbolized by a white dove and which marks where the Annunciation took place), Bethlehem (where a yellow star symbolizes where Jesus was born), and Jerusalem (where a brown cross symbolizes His crucifixion and resurrection). 

I used cheap acrylic paints to color the land and water.  I suppose it would be smart to finish with a clear coat spray for durability.  The cross, star, and dove were made of Sculpey (you could use any polymer clay) and then affixed with Gorilla Wood Glue.

I snipped off the pointy bits for safety's sake.
To see my post on making the 2D map, click here.

As a member of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd USA I had access to their simplified map of the Holy Land, but it wouldn't be hard to draw your own using online maps of the area.  Just focus on a few basic regions and bodies of water, provide labels and a control map. 

If you've read this far, you may also be interested in the Parent Pages created by CGSUSA regarding Biblical Geography.   In addition, they have created Parent Pages for teaching elementary aged children.

1001 Uses for White Boards

I am a Whiteboardaholic

There.  I said it.

For homeschooling work, weekly calendars, and running to-do lists

My "big kids" will tell you:  when they move away from home I push on them a few essential must-haves for adulting in today's world.  Crock pot:  check.  Flashlight and backup batteries:  check.  White board with plethora of dry erase markers in different colors and widths:  check, check.

Why, you ask?  You can hang them, carry them, erase them; some are magnetic (double plus good!).  You can use them for schoolwork, household organization, random doodling, taking phone messages.....the list goes on and on.

One year, after Christmas, there was a ginormous sale on whiteboards in the way back of an office supply store.  (Don't ask me what I was doing back there.  I may or may not have been hiding from family obligations and seeking some me time.)  On a whim, I bought three big whiteboards, and have never looked back.


This is one example of using a magnetic whiteboard for schoolwork.  Below is my version of a Montessori work called the Logical Adjective Game, a lesson often given to 4.5-year-olds who are familiar with the grammar symbols for nouns and adjectives.

Starting with the nouns, place each magnetic word in a vertical column to the right of center.  Say, "We have some words here that are the names of things," and ask the child to read each aloud.  (Since a black triangle represents a noun, you could draw that at the top of the column.)

Next, tell the child, "Now we have some words that describe things.  Remember adjectives?"   To the left of center, ask the child to read each word as you place each in a vertical column.  You could draw a  blue triangle at the top of this column if you'd like, since that's the symbol for adjectives.  

When you are done, each noun should have a descriptive word in front of it.  Ask the child to read each pair aloud.  Some will sound funny.  Ask, "Are there any that you want to change?"  It's fun to load the word magnets in such a way that the first pairings don't make much sense.  Help the child to match logical pairs of nouns and adjectives so that they make sense together.

Lastly, you can use grammar symbols to mark the words.  You may ask, "Which one tells you the name?" and "Which one tells you which one?"  In this way you reinforce that adjectives describe nouns.  There are some extensions of this work, such as combining multiple adjectives to describe a single noun.

Family Weekly Calendar

When you have six kids and complicated schedules to combine, seeing it all together helps immensely.  If you take after the perky, highly-organized Brady Bunch (we don't), I guess you could even have a family meeting every week where you discuss what's ahead.  Or you could just force yourself to cross-check every school calendar and class e-mail until you're relatively certain you've got a handle on the chaos ahead.

These vinyl letters, which I'm using here for each day of the week, were left over from some kid's school project.  We ended up re-using those in many ways!

Individual Homeschool List of Work for the Day

Even though our curriculum (Kolbe) included a printed list of assignments our daughter needed to do each week, she preferred to see what she had to do in each subject each day.  It also was super helpful for her to copy her assignments onto the board herself, so she could get a sense of how much of a workload she had in front of her.  The black letters to the left are just abbreviations made from the leftover vinyl letters (mentioned above).  I think they stood for Math, Science, Religion, Grammar, Reading, Vocab and Spelling, Phonics, Composition, History, and ..... hmmmmm.....not sure what "SR" was.....!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Table Washing: The Ph.D. of Practical Life/Care of the Environment Works!

Many years ago when I had my school I gave a 4-year-old boy a lesson in Table Washing.  It's one of the Practical Life works done with water, and in my AMS training it is given in 73 discrete steps!  By the end of class that day I was so proud of the work he had done, I couldn't wait to tell his mother what he had learned and accomplished.  Sadly, she seemed to have no idea what a complex undertaking her son had achieved, clueless about how far he had come.  See if you can appreciate this work, recommended for children ages 2.5 to 4 years of age.

WARNING:  If you've never read a Montessori album before or never studied the importance of order and consistency for the young child, you will likely find the following bizarrely detailed and over-the-top.  There are good reasons for presenting this lesson this way.  For instance, since we read from left to right, top to bottom, we teach the children to work from left to right, top to bottom.  Also, this lesson would only be given to a child who has already mastered pouring water.  I'll spare you all 73 steps, but give you a taste.  Except for the apron, the materials you see are all from a dollar store, Target dollar bins and/or local toy store.

1.    Invite the child.
2.    Name the work, "table washing."
3.    Find a dirty, unoccupied table.
4.    Point out the dirt.

5.    Say, "Maybe we could wash the table so it's nice and beautiful.  Let's take the chair away so we can do our work."
6.    Move the chair.
7.    Place a large floor towel on the floor to the left of the table.
8.    Invite the child to put on the apron, saying, "It's just your size."
9.    Carry basin and bucket and place on top of the right hand corner of the floor towel.
10.    Remove bucket and place in the upper left corner of the floor towel.
11.    Remove pitcher and place in the upper center of the floor towel.
12.    Remove the soap dish with sponge and place in the lower left corner.
13.    Remove soap dish and soap and put to the right of the sponge.
14.    Remove brush and put to the right of the soap.
15.    Remove dish cloth and place it to the right of the brush.
16.    Carry the pitcher with both hands to the sink or water dispenser and fill 3/4 full.
17.    Carry the pitcher to your work area and hold it over the center of the basin.
18.    With right hand on the handle and left hand supporting the "tummy," pour all of the water into the basin.
19.    Holding the pitcher over the basin, shake the last few drops out.
20.    Carry the empty pitcher to the sink or dispenser to fill it again, repeating these steps until the basin has two inches of water in it.
21.    Put pitcher back on its place on the floor towel.

"Ahhhhh!  Smells so clean!"
72.    Say, "Let's smell the table."
73.    Name the work.  "Table washing."
"Wow!  What a difference!"

Can you imagine what an undertaking this work is?!  That's why I call it the "PhD of Practical Life."  It requires sequencing, order, core strength, precision, and great body control.  If this seems too much, start with a simplified version using just a wet sponge.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

More on Starting a Montessori Co-op

[Edited to Add:  I started this post several years ago, long before 99% of us had ever heard the word "coronavirus."  Certainly our current crisis with health and education has changed our lives dramatically, especially when thinking about gathering a small group.  I'M NOT SUGGESTING STARTING A CO-OP NOW!  Still, one day we will be able to meet together again.  This post is for your planning and thinking about that lovely, free, future time.]

Lots of you dear readers are wanting to teach your children at home.  By now you've realized that the Montessori approach includes mixed-age classrooms and that the little people in your life learn more from the environment you create and from the other little people around them than they learn directly from you (curriculum-wise).

That is all fine if you have a gaggle of small people at home and have managed to organize things well enough that the toddler isn't wreaking havoc with the Golden Beads, the infants aren't trying to swallow the smallest Pink Tower cube, and the scissors, glue and pencils--all of which are easily accessible--aren't a continual source of trouble.  Well done!

But what about those of you with just one at home?  Or just an infant and a toddler?  Your older child really needs to be around children his age and a little older.  The social aspect of the Montessori Children's House experience is very important.  So how do you supply that?

A co-op.  A quick internet search yields lots of advice on how-to.  Lest it all sound intimidating, I wanted to add a few thoughts, especially if you've tried and failed.
  • Start simple
Some will say you need to add all sorts of extras and gimmicks to make your co-op "sexy."  They've been spending too much time on Pinterest.  Stick to what's essential.  Imagine hosting the co-op on one of your worst days--with a migraine or when you haven't slept--and let that set the bar, so to speak, on your expectations.  Because moms of young children have a LOT of days like that!  Par for the course.
  • Start with a story time
It doesn't matter how much you stress the starting time for co-op.  You will ALWAYS have latecomers, usually the same people are chronically late.  Assuming they don't have any more serious personality flaws, try to build a little tardiness into the schedule.  Start with story time and/or a song that incorporates a little bit of movement.  For some, having to sit or stay in one place with Mommy on the circle (even if there is no circle on the floor, just an imaginary one) will be SO HARD.  So consider this part of the co-op day educational, too, because it is.  Watch the clock so you know when to wrap things up and transition to work time.  Ten minutes or so is a decent grace period, fifteen if you are Mother Teresa.  After that, don't allow anyone to attend.  It's just too disruptive and it's hard, also, for small children to adjust to the group dynamics when they haven't had the introductory time together.
  • Weed out the flakes
If you can possibly accommodate the latecomers, do.  Even though I'm a punctual person, some of my best friends are not.  But know yourself enough to know if their tardiness is going to drive you crazy and send you into passive-aggressive mode.  Identify your non-negotiables and be clear about boundaries, both literal boundaries (if you are hosting in your house, don't allow visitors to wander and give themselves the grand tour alone) and the squishy ones (expect common sense regarding policies on sickness, absences, discretion surrounding personal observations, etc.).  
  • Make it convenient for you
If you are bending over backwards to accommodate others' schedules at the expense of your own or your family's needs, you will burn out and become resentful quickly.  Make sure it's working for you.  Your family comes first.
  • Make sure it accomplishes your goals for your family
Are you wanting a co-op so your child/children can socialize and learn to be part of a group?  Are you hoping to practice teaching on children other than your own?  Are you hoping to feel a little less trapped at home and think hosting a co-op will give you the social time you need?  Do you hope a co-op will provide structure and accountability for your teaching?  What exactly are your goals and how do you hope to assess your progress?
  • Be patient
It may take a long time to find families with whom you feel comfortable working.  Or, if you have the opposite problem and have WAY too many people interested but you know you have to weed some out, it may take time and discernment to know how to prune your list.  When you find the right chemistry with your group, someone may suddenly move away or have a major life change that prevents their attending.  Try to take the long view and pray for the right people to come your way.
  • Be always on the lookout
When I first became a mom I thought it wouldn't be hard to find other like-minded families.  Boy was I wrong!  Don't limit yourself to finding mothers the same age, of the same faith, from the same neighborhood, or with the same race or ethnicity.  Look for people who have a sense of humor, who are authentic and sincere, who are reliable and trustworthy.
  • Think outside the box
It's always easiest to reach out to strangers over social media.  But try to find families for your co-op in other, more creative ways, too:  meet people at the park, at the library story time, at a local art class.  Maybe in the check out line at Costco's or at the gym or the waiting room at the pediatrician's office.  I met one wonderful mom while in line for Confession! 

Practical Life in the Kitchen: Mediterranean Beef Ragout

We tried a new recipe from an old, familiar cookbook.  

Any time you and your children can cook together, do it.  If it is something that simmers all day and makes the place smell good, all the better.  Don't be put off by something with many steps.  There are so many skills to be learned when cooking from scratch--peeling, chopping, dicing, seeding, measuring, etc.

It turned out great!

Visual Schedules

 Many people--adults and children alike--have trouble keeping track of their mental "to do" list.  That's why having a written checklist or pictures of what comes next can help, especially if a person with ADD/ADHD has trouble with executive functioning.

We've used many systems to stay organized over the years and are constantly updating!  Here are some photos of just a few ways we've kept track of our "to do's" and built up routines over time.  For most people it takes about two months of regular, consistent practice to adopt a new habit or routine.

These are magnetic and stick to the white board or refrigerator.  We separated them into two groups of five:  half are for the morning routine before school and half are for evening, before bed.  It's not an exhaustive list, but includes things often forgotten.

When we were homeschooling we had a lot of outside activities and each day was different.  With the help of my "artist daughter" I made these strips of tagboard and velcro.  Each night I would load up the schedule for the next day.  Numbers represent workboxes with schoolwork (see below).  Picture cards are for activities that don't fit into boxes!

Based on the Workbox System, these cubbies and men's plastic shoeboxes are full of workbooks, flashcards, and textbooks we needed on a regular basis for homeschooling.
There used to be a great program called Accountable Kids, which utilized a sticker and ticket system of keeping track of chores, rewards and goals.  If you are interested in more info on this I can write another post with details and more photos.  Systems that hold young children accountable are great!