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6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Montessori Theory, Theory and Practice

Craving Freedom and Needing Structure

Amidst all the color-coded hour-by-hour homeschool schedules flooding social media, I want to offer a different take on how to help your child organize their day if you have a child who paradoxically craves freedom and needs structure.

I created for my eight-year-old twice-exceptional second-grader a pie graph showing the amount of time (out of a 24-hour day) he can spend exploring/reading/playing/learning what he’s passionate about, vs. the amount of time I would like him to focus on practicing and developing specific academic skills (writing, math, grammar, spelling).

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Need For Structure

The structure comes in the form of a weekly learning journal that shows him the concepts we’ll be working on.  We choose the topics together, based on what we’ve covered the prior week. The order in which we visit the subjects is up to him.  Together we decided that this type of work was best done immediately after lunch, when he’s already downstairs at the kitchen table and isn’t engaged in creative projects or silent reading.  However, he gets to choose daily whether he completes his academic practice in one sitting or takes 15-minute breaks between subjects.  Breaks can include making popcorn, throwing the ball outside, walking the dog, etc.

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Need For Freedom

The freedom comes in the form of a prepared environment, free of screens or other electronics (including no audiobooks Monday to Friday).  He has a big selection of books (fiction and non-fiction at all reading levels) and spends hours a day reading.  He has lots of LEGOs and spends many hours building crazy contraptions.  He can whittle, draw, do experiments, ride his bike, play Hot Wheels, explore the neighborhood, and cook.  We do daily read-alouds in Spanish and English, read a bit of poetry a couple of times a week, listen to beautiful music in the car, and he knows I’m available to have conversations about random questions that pop into his mind.  (Before quarantine, we also spent time in museums, at a STEM maker-lab, with our Montessori learning community, and enjoying nature with friends).

Freedom and responsibility are the yin and yang of the elementary years; they’re the rhythm of the delicate and ever-evolving dance between parent and child.

“The emphasis on freedom is for the development of individuality. The emphasis on discipline is for the benefit of the individual and of society.” – Maria Montessori

 

6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Science

Worm Moon

Tomorrow we’ll have the first Supermoon of the year – the Worm Moon!  Do you know where the name comes from?  Here’s a short story I wrote (meant to be told orally).  I hope you can share it with your children, or at least enjoy its message.

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Look up!  What do you notice?  Did you observe that the full moon is larger than usual?  We call it a Supermoon, and your eyes aren’t deceiving you… The moon IS larger than usual because it’s closer than usual, and that’s because the moon’s orbit around the Earth isn’t perfectly circular – it’s elliptical.

Every Supermoon has a special name, and today I want to tell you where this one’s name comes from.  Let’s go back five or even ten thousand years ago, to when the native people of this country lived in harmony with nature.  During Winter, the humans who lived between Lake Superior and New England in what is now the United States hunted, wore animal skins, made fires, and took shelter from the snow.  They waited patiently for Spring to come, but they didn’t have calendars like we do. Instead, they observed nature to know when the seasons were changing.

Every year, around this time, they noticed tiny, dark brown pellets on the cold, slowly-thawing ground.  These pellets – we call them castings – were a clue for them, a message from nature that warmer weather was ahead. When these castings appeared, so did something else: robins – grey birds with bright orange breast feathers.  The robins weren’t eating the castings, because castings is just a fancy word for poop! They were preying on the animals who left the castings. Can you guess which animals the birds were eating?

Yes, worms!  Earthworms! The appearance of worm castings told humans that warmer weather was on its way, because the ground was now soft enough for the worms to move through it.  The presence of worms also indicated that the land was almost ready for planting, since these animals do the important work of aerating the soil and their castings help plants absorb more nutrients. 

Earthworms came to signify the end of winter and the approach of the planting season, which meant fresh food and survival for another year.  And thus, this Supermoon became known as the Worm Moon.

Other human groups have given it different names, like Crow Moon, Crust Moon, and Sap Moon.  You can investigate the stories behind these names and let us know what you discover. But for now, when we look up at the Worm Moon, we can think back to those patient and resourceful people who didn’t need paper calendars, because they lived in harmony with the Earth.

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3 - 6, 6 - 12, On Parenting, Siblings, Social and Emotional Learning

Raising Creative Problem-Solvers

Do you constantly referee children’s disagreements?  Do you tend to side with one child, frustrating the other?  Or do you offer solutions, only to be ignored?  If you’re nodding in response to any of these questions, this will help…

The scenario:

My 4.5-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son share a room.  It’s the only place in the house where they’re allowed to play LEGOs, so the plastic pieces don’t take over ourBLW_Two_Bacchic_Putti_Fighting living room/homeschool area. Both kids love LEGOs, but my older son likes to listen to audiobooks while he builds, and my younger daughter prefers to work in a quiet space.  This causes quite a few arguments and screaming matches. They both came to me frustrated and in need of help to share their living space.  It was the perfect opportunity to engage in problem-solving through brainstorming!

Step 1: State the problem

I asked them a few guided questions to come up with a statement defining the problem.  We determined the problem was “Difficulty building LEGOs at the same time in the same room with different noise preferences.”  Try to state the problem as clearly and precisely as possible, to encourage effective brainstorming.

Step 2: Brainstorm solutions

I told them they were both creative problem-solvers and we’d use their skills to find a solution that works for everyone.  During brainstorming, possible solutions are written down without being evaluated.  Anything goes, even the craziest solutions.  You might have to remind children (and yourself) of this because our brains are wired to immediately weigh solutions for their effectiveness, and it can be hard to sit with the discomfort of what are clearly implausible answers.

If you’re worried that the children will waste your time coming up with useless harebrained solutions, remember that they are motivated to solve their problem.  If you don’t react and just write down their ideas, they’ll eventually refocus on tangible solutions.  Plus, some of those crazy solutions are a great way to let them exercise their imagination (and who knows, they just might work)!  Resist the temptation to offer suggestions, even though you can probably see a clear path towards an amicable solution if they just did what you think is best.  This is their problem, and they have to own the solution by coming up with it.  You can act as the scribe so they can focus on finding solutions.

My children’s brainstorming list included:

  • wear wireless headphones;
  • be allowed to play LEGOs downstairs;
  • lower the volume of the audiobook;
  • take turns using the room (while the other person plays non-LEGO games downstairs);
  • no more audiobooks;
  • put up with the noise;
  • read books downstairs;
  • play in the room together listening to audiobooks part of the time and without audiobooks the other part.

Step 3: Eliminate implausible solutions

Once they’ve exhausted their ideas, review the list with them and tell them that they get to cross out any ideas that don’t meet the following criteria:

  • Respectful (to all involved, including bystanders),
  • Realistic (ideas you can execute within the boundaries of your environment),
  • Related (the solution must attempt to solve the problem)
  • Helpful (improves the lives of all involved)

Keep the process objective by focusing the four criteria.  If a child says, “That idea is dumb,” you can invite them to elaborate by asking, “Is it respectful? Realistic? Related?  Helpful?”  Here you CAN give your opinion, but only after your children have had their turn nixing ideas.  In our situation:

  • They realized that their ideas to “put up with the noise” and “ban audiobooks” weren’t respectful, so they crossed those out.
  • The suggestion to “read books downstairs” wasn’t related to the problem.
  • They’d tried “lowering the volume” in the past, but my daughter was still able to hear it and it meant that my son had to have one ear glued to the device, so that wasn’t realistic.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with my son walking around with wireless headphones all day for several reasons (health, safety, disconnection, etc.), so I mentioned this and we crossed that one out.
  • “Playing LEGOs downstairs” isn’t realistic or respectful because we know from experience that the little plastic pieces quickly overtake our common living/learning area. It goes against the boundaries of our environment, so it was eliminated.

Step 4: Choose one solution from the ones remaining

By the end of this process, the children were down to two solutions: “play in the room together listening to audiobooks part of the time and without audiobooks the other part” and “take turns using the room and playing something else downstairs.”  They chose the latter, and we discussed the details of how that would look (the younger one plays downstairs from wake-up to lunch, and then they switch in the afternoon).  Then I told them that we’d try the solution for one week, and revisit it to make adjustments if necessary.

Step 5: Set them up for success

This is where YOU come in.  Your role is to help them adapt their routine, environment, and expectations so they can stick to the solution for the week.  Without a solid plan, it’s very easy to fall back into old habits (and arguments).  You are there to hold boundaries, remind them of their solution, and empathize if things aren’t working out the way they envisioned.

Solutions are rarely perfect at first, and require fine-tuning.  Observe what’s working and what isn’t, so you can guide their follow-up session.  For example, two days into the trial period, my daughter approached me with a different solution.  I acknowledged her viewpoint, reminded her of our agreement, and told her we would revisit the solution in five more days.

I’ve used this Positive Discipline approach with children in my Montessori environments for years, and after a few guided sessions, the children begin to use it on their own.  It’s a fantastic way to empower them, raise creative critical thinkers, and remove yourself from the middle.  Let me know if you try it, I’d love to hear how it goes.

6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Science

Story of Chemistry: Part I

I wrote this story a while back for the Upper Elementary group I inherited that hadn’t been exposed to chemistry.  I never got around to writing Part II but if you take on that challenge, let me know!

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Pretty much all that we see or touch in our seemingly solid existence is made from an unimaginable number of tiny atoms, each a different type of element or building block. When you combine these atoms in different ways, they make up everything that we can see in the Universe.

Do you remember when we told the story of The Origin of the Universe? We talked about an enormous cloud of gases that swirled in Space. These particles started to come together as the Earth cooled. Some became solids, some turned into liquids, and some remained gases. The rain, the oceans, the rocks, and the air were all made from different combinations of elements, and later on, life also emerged from these same building blocks.

Humans have tried to understand elements since the dawn of recorded time. Copper, for example, has been used since at least 9000 BC. That’s more than 11,000 years ago! By the time of the Ancient Egyptians, around 5,000 years ago, seven metals had been discovered and were being used for everything from weapon-making to jewelry. The Egyptians had a strong connection between the metals, the cosmos, and their fertile land, and called this study Khem.
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The ancient Chinese, around the same time period, thought that everything was made of five elements: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. They used these ideas in their development of acupuncture. In India, they were also studying matter, and discovered how to use the color of fire to identify different types of metals.

When the Greeks conquered Egypt in 332BC, they became interested in the Egyptian theories of how matter was made. They turned the word Khem into Khemia , which became the Greek word for “Egypt.” Around that time, the Greek philosopher Aristotle decided that the building blocks of all matter should be called elements. According to him, there were five: earth, air, fire, water, and quintessence, which formed the heavens.

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In the 7th century AD, Egypt was invaded by the Arabs, who added the prefix al- to Khemia. And thus, the science of alchemy was born. For centuries, Arab alchemists used what they knew about elements to try to discover a way to make a substance that would make humans immortal. They also wanted to turn ordinary metals – and other substances – into gold, the most valuable of metals.

When the Arabs invaded Spain, they brought their ideas of alchemy with them and kindled the curiosity of many scientific minds in the European continent. The search for a way to make gold, known as the “philosopher’s stone,” drove many scientists to try some very odd experiments indeed! A German alchemist, Hennig Brandt, tried boiling down urine, thinking he could find gold in the yellow liquid. What he discovered, quite by accident, was a new element: phosphorus!

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Why was this so ground-breaking? Because phosphorus, rubbed the right way, would burst into fire (guide lights match). It went on to be used in the invention of matches. Brandt had proven, by accident, that substances commonly found in nature could be “turned” into something valuable. He hadn’t really turned urine into phosphorus; he’d just separated the phosphorus from all the other elements that combine to make urine.

Brandt’s discovery caused many alchemists to look around and wonder: What’s all of this made of? Have you ever wondered that, too? Think about air, for example. Humans have always felt air and they’ve seen its effects during hurricanes and tornadoes, but they never understood what it was.

In the late 1700’s, this all changed when an amateur British scientist named Joseph Priestly discovered several “new airs,” as he called them. Priestly wasn’t a scientist by trade; he was a teacher and writer. However, he loved to play around in his lab at home. One day, he poured acid on a powder, trapped the air it produced, and used it to to put out a flame. (guide performs “carbon dioxide extinguishes fire” experiment) He had discovered carbon dioxide, and later went on to discover eight other gases!

In 1767, Priestly lived next to a brewery – a place where they make beer. He noticed that over the vats where the beer was fermenting, there was a haze of carbon dioxide. He collected this gas, mixed it with drinking water, and invented carbonated water, which he called “windy water.” (guide opens bottle of carbonated water and serves to children)

Now, around that time, sailors in the British Navy were suffering from a deadly illness called scurvy. As you can imagine, a Navy full of sick or dead sailors can’t win any wars! Priestly thought that his windy water could be a cure for scurvy, so he wrote to the British Navy asking them to test his theory. The French Navy was also struggling with this malady, and Priestly’s potential secret remedy was stolen by a French spy! It made its way to the French Navy, who contacted one of France’s most intelligent scientists, a young man named Antoine Lavoisier.

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It turned out that Priestly’s windy water, though refreshing, was useless against scurvy. However, it would help to transform alchemy into a serious science: chemistry. But that’s a story for another day…

3 - 6, 6 - 12, Theory and Practice

Montessori Red Flags

Some parents choose a private school based on location, ratio, or test results.  But if your child is in a Montessori school specifically because you want them to reap the benefits of a Montessori education, I have some disconcerting news: The burden is on YOU to ensure the school is following authentic Montessori practices.

The name “Montessori” is not trademarked, so anyone can use it and steal the educational philosophy’s reputation (and your hard-earned money).  And many so-called “Montessori schools” pick and choose to which principles, if any, they adhere.

You may be wondering, isn’t a little Montessori better than nothing?  Not really.  Imagine the Montessori approach as a finely tuned instrument, whose parts work together to bring out the musician’s full potential.  If the strings are too loose, the sound is warped and uninspiring; tighten them too much and they’ll snap.  Similarly, out-of-tune Montessori programs are either:

  • Too loose: They let students do whatever they want, resulting in children who don’t develop self-discipline, accountability, and social responsibility; or
  • Too tight: They drastically restrict students’ freedom, producing anxious children who lose their curiosity, creativity, and love of learning.

Lucky for you, here’s a list of six red flags that will let you know whether or not a school follows authentic Montessori practices.

RED FLAGS

Short work period with pull-outs or other interruptions: Authentic Montessori schools give children (ages 3+) three solid hours of uninterrupted work time in the morning and two in the afternoon.  Uninterrupted means NO pull-outs for art and music; NO break for whole-group snack; and NO mandatory circle time.

Age groups that don’t span at least three years: Authentic Montessori schools group children by developmental stage (Primary is ages 3-6; Elementary is 6-9 and 9-12 or 6-12; Adolescents are 12-15).  Schools with a “transition classroom” for kindergartners; those that group kindergartners and first-graders together; or those that only have a two-year age range from Primary onwards are denying children the powerful benefits of the mixed-age group.

Co-teachers that split subjects: Authentic Montessori classrooms are directed by ONE adult who’s trained and certified to work with that particular age range. One or two assistants serve as support staff for safety and to satisfy state ratio laws.  Co-teachers that divvy up subjects (where one only teaches math and sciences, while the other focuses on humanities) are not following an authentic Montessori model.

Elementary expectations in the third year of Primary: Authentic Montessori schools protect the right of five- and six-year-old Primary students to put into practice the skills they developed in the prior two years (independence, self-regulation, collaboration, leadership, etc).  Schools that claim to be preparing third-year Primary children for Elementary by mandating daily math and writing, requiring they only work on paper, giving them checklists and work plans, or limiting positive social interactions are impairing the very abilities the children worked so hard to develop.

Traditional education techniques: In authentic Primary and Elementary Montessori classrooms, children learn through the hands-on exploration of Montessori materials.  If you visit a classroom and see the materials gathering dust on the shelves or being used to solve worksheets, you can be sure you’re not in an authentic Montessori environment.  Other red flags include mandatory spelling tests (or tests of any kind) and grade-level lesson groups, which segregate children by age and effectively eliminate most mixed-age interactions in a mixed-age classroom.

Rewards and punishments: Authentic Montessori schools see challenging behaviors as opportunities to practice and teach empathy; they celebrate growth by acknowledging effort and progress.  Classrooms with a “thinking chair” or a time-out corner, where a child is sent when their behavior is deemed inappropriate, are not following Montessori principles.  Neither are those where the children are rewarded with stickers or phrases like “good job” or “you’re so smart.”

So, what can you do if you’ve just discovered that your child’s school needs some fine-tuning?  Take action!  Choose one red flag, educate other parents, and talk with school leaders.  Then choose the next one, and the next.  Schools often stray from Montessori because they think parents want a more traditional educational approach.  Prove them wrong! Your return on investment from a Montessori school should be an education that respects and supports your child’s development.

 

6 - 12, Nature, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

Why We Hike

“Why do we have to do this hike?”, complained my almost-eight-year-old son, his arms drooping by his sides.  We had been hiking for almost two hours, had just conquered a half-mile 500-foot elevation gain, and still faced another mile uphill before reaching the summit.

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My husband, unable to stomach my son’s complaints, put our younger daughter in the carrier and charged up the hill.  I took a deep breath and silently asked myself, “Why do we make them hike?”

Walking beside my son at his maddeningly slow pace, I prayed for patience and a clear head. “One reason we hike is because we can; because we’ve been blessed with two strong legs and a healthy heart.  Not everyone can hike… Remember your friend J?  His heart isn’t strong enough to do what we’re doing, so we hike in honor of him and all others who can’t.”

I waited for his reaction, but he just kept shuffling along, so I continued.  “We also make you hike so you can learn that the stories you tell yourself in your head are just stories, and not reality.  You might be telling yourself ‘I can’t do it’ but the truth is that you can.”

“But the most important reason why we make you hike is because it’s hard, and we want you to know that you can do hard things.  You will face some hard times in your life – we all do – and doing hard things now will prepare you for later challenges.  Not every part of a journey is enjoyable.  Sometimes the messy middle sucks, and instead of backing away from it, you have to just ’embrace the suck’.”  He smiled.

I stopped and pointed out a trio of ravens that were performing acrobatics on a draft of warm air.  “Look,” I told him.  “We’re as high as the ravens.”  He perched on a rock and watched them quietly for a few minutes, until the ravens flew away, heading towards the summit we had as a goal.IMG_6303

“Why did they fly away?” my son asked.

“Maybe they want us to follow, they’re encouraging us to make it to the summit.”

And so, hand in hand, we did.

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On Parenting

Why You NEED to Take a Day Off (Hint: It’s not about self-care)

I just spent the afternoon listening to the legendary author and feminist Gloria Steinem.  Among the topics she addressed was the issue of democratic heterosexual households.  She argued that society has convinced us there are “male” qualities and “female” qualities.  However, when we realize that the “qualities necessary to raise children – patience, nurturing, attention to detail, empathy” – are HUMAN qualities, we’ll have taken the first step towards a democratic household.

Why don’t many men readily display these qualities?  She argues that it’s because they haven’t been given the opportunity to raise children.  Which brings me to my story.

My husband and I have what you’d call traditional gender roles.  He works outside the home; I work within it.  When we’re together on the weekends, I’m still on the clock: making the food, holding the limits, and managing the logistics, as I do during the week.  This is both convenient and devaluing to my husband.

I recently decided to step away from my home for 12 hours every Sunday, leaving my husband 100% in charge of the home, the children, and the schedule.  I’m launching a couple of projects and wanted time to work on them, but I also knew that I needed to give my kids and husband space to build their own relationship.

Is my husband thrilled about it?  The jury’s still out.  Is my absence pushing him out of his comfort zone and allowing him to become more organized, patient, and empathetic?  Yes.  Is he rocking it in his own way?  Absolutely.

Switching roles one day a week is helping both of us cultivate qualities that have lain dormant for a long time – qualities that make us more human, more whole.  And this is slowly but surely leading to a more equal partnership.

The road to true equality is long, rocky, and treacherous.  The archaic claws of tradition and enculturation threaten to pull us back at every turn.  But I’m strengthened by the words of Gloria Steinem, who reminds us that “women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal inside it.”

Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal inside it.

6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory, Theory and Practice

The Art of Introducing a Lesson

Often, the most challenging part of giving a lesson is getting the children excited and ready to learn.  Here are seven strategies to ensure your presentation gets off to a good start.

1. Check your attitude: You need to believe in the value of what you’re going to present. The children will smell your fear or hesitation a mile away.  If a particular topic scares you, spend more time with it.  Read, listen to podcasts, watch videos, use your hands to explore the concept, and find new ways of looking at the subject.  When you love it, your students will likely love it.  If you’re worried your lesson will be boring, practice ahead of time. A trainer once told me that during the first year you teach in a classroom, you need to practice every single lesson ahead of time.

2, Prime the pump: Sometimes, I’ll  start a conversation about the topic a while before the lesson (like at breakfast or in the car). And that way, when it’s time for the lesson, I can say: “Remember when we talked about how angles can be found in buildings, trees, baseball fields and playgrounds? Well, did you know that some of those angles you saw have names, just like you have a name? Look over here…”

3. Play to their sensitivities: Second-plane children have a sensitivity for imagination.  For the first time in their lives, they can craft in their minds wondrous images that they’ve never seen or experienced before.  They also have a sensitivity for knowledge and culture; they want to know the why and how of everything.  Use that to your advantage by starting your lesson with: “Have you ever wondered…” or “Have you ever noticed…” 

4. Tell stories: “We’re wired for story”, writes Brene Brown.  And it’s true.  I recently told my seven-year-old son a funny story about dealing with a pushy bike salesman; he asked me to re-tell it five times in a row and laughed heartily each time.

“Travel stories teach geography; insect stories lead the child into natural science; and so on.”

– Dr. Maria Montessori

Tell lots of stories! In the car and during meals, get used to telling funny, interesting, and moving stories about your own life.  Do this to hone your craft, but also because when you introduce a lesson by saying, “I have a story to tell you”, they’ll be more inclined to listen.

For story-telling inspiration, listen to this podcast episode where master storyteller Jay O’Callahan shares his strategies for crafting a good story (and tells a wondrous story of his own along the way).  For stories that tie into the Montessori elementary curriculum, read “The Deep Well of Time” by Michael Dorer.

5. Entice them with interesting follow-up work: Sometimes it’s great to let children choose how and when they’re going to follow up on what you’ve presented, but other times, dangling an enticing follow-up activity will draw them to the lesson.  Don’t divulge too much information; offer just enough detail to draw them in.  You could say, “How would you like to draw all over the kitchen floor?  When we’re done learning about different types of angles, you get to do just that!”  Suddenly eyes are wide open, faces are turned towards you, and the children are ready to learn.  If they ask you questions about the mysterious follow-up, you can just lightly say, “Ahhh, you’ll find out soon enough!”  This approach works particularly well for lessons that are more dry and straightforward.

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6. Ask for helpers: To get and keep children engaged, let them get their hands on the materials as soon as possible.  Give them jobs ahead of time so their presence at the lesson has some significance to them.  “Today I want to show you something the Ancient Egyptians discovered five thousand years ago, that we still use in our lives today.  Zach, can you be in charge of the push pins?  Bill, can you be the stick selector?  Olivia, can you be the label reader?”

7. Be ready: In my trainings, I was told that you prepare all the materials with the children prior to the lesson so they know where everything is and what they need.  However, I’ve found that in my homeschooling environment, it helps to bring out the materials ahead of time, feature them attractively, and direct the children’s attention towards the rug or table when they seem to be at a good stopping point in their other work.  This works particularly well for my seven-year-old son and his elementary-aged friends who visit us to use our materials (I still follow the more traditional approach with my Primary-aged daughter).

Now, go forth and, as Dr. Montessori used to say, “seduce the child”!

_The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Our aim therefore is not merely to make the child under (2)

*This post includes affiliate links.

3 - 6, 6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Language Development, Math and Geometry

Cosmic Calendar

Connecting math, language, history and other academic subjects to your child’s real-life experiences makes learning relevant, increases participation, and supports development.  A hands-on home calendar is an ideal tool to learn and practice a variety of skills (whether you homeschool or not!).  It also provides many opportunities for cultural explorations.  Here’s how we use it in our home…

MATH: The first day of each month, I take down the calendar numbers, divide them into three piles (1-10, 11-20, 21-31), mix them up within their piles, and invite my four-year-old to order them and insert them into the calendar slots (I tell her on which day of the week to start).  We also calculate how many days are left until a particular event by counting linearly.

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LANGUAGE: We read the month card together when we re-set the calendar, as well as the days-of-the-week cards when the numbers are being arranged.  We also talk about yesterday, today, tomorrow and next week (to crystallize past, present and future language).

HISTORY: My seven-year-old son recently wanted to know where the names of the week come from, so with the help of these cards we explored the origins of these words and then substituted the control cards for the calendar’s original days-of-the-week cards so we could have a daily reminder of the celestial body and mythological god from which our days of the week originate.  Our calendar also comes with cards for all the federal holidays and the major religious holidays from Christianity, Judaism and Islam.  We label holidays accordingly on the calendar and sometimes research their origin or how they’re celebrated.

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SENSE OF ORDER: Most children thrive on consistency and routine.  I made a daily slip that sits behind each number and helps my children know what is happening each day (e.g. ballet each Thursday, allowance each Friday, etc.).  We also use small sticky notes to color-code their “show night” (they each have one night a week where they get to pick one episode of one cartoon).  The calendar also comes with special “field trip” and “birthday” cards for special events.

The exploration of time can start sensorially years before a child can grasp it abstractly.  This simple and engaging tool provides countless learning opportunities and is a mainstay in our Montessori homeschooling environment.  Let me know if it works for you!

*This post contains affiliate links.

 

3 - 6, 6 - 12, Math and Geometry, Montessori Materials, Uncategorized

Long Live the Short Chains

The Montessori Short Chains and Arrows pack a big learning punch and are often under-utilized.IMG_4716  They’re great for a homeschool environment because they don’t take up any shelf space.  Their initial purpose is to help the child first count linearly and then skip-count.  But when your child is comfortable with these two concepts, you can use the chains for much more!  Here are four ideas…

IMG_4657Find the number: Ask the child to set out the hundred chain with the corresponding arrows, while you cut up a few blank paper arrows (cut little rectangles and trim the corners to make arrows).  Write a number on the arrow (any number between 1 and 99) and have the child place the arrow on the corresponding bead.  If you notice mistakes, you can either let it be for now (and encourage more practice) or invite the child to count from the nearest tens-arrow (e.g. if the paper arrow says “26” and it’s in the wrong spot, invite the child to count linearly from the “20” arrow).

When they get comfortable with this activity, you can place blank arrows on random beads along the chain and ask the child to write down the numbers on the arrows. Later the child can do the same activities but without the tens arrows as guides.  You can ask questions like, “What number would you reach if you added 10 beads to 26?” or “What number would you reach if you counted backwards 8 beads from 45?”  You can do all these activities from around the age of 5 if counting skills are solid.

Find the missing number in a sequence: When a child knows how to skip-count, youIMG_4500 can present a new challenge by having them find the missing number in a number sequence.  The first few times you do this, you can use the regular arrows for any chain and hide one behind your back.  Ask the child to lay out the arrows and tell you which one is missing. (e.g. The child lays out 5, 10, 20, 25 and tells you that 15 is missing.)

Later, with the ten-chain, you write sequence numbers on paper arrows and the child has to use addition and subtraction to figure out the sequence and which numbers are missing. (e.g. Make arrows for the numbers 2, 19, 36, and 70 and the child has to lay them out and then figure out the pattern in the sequence and what number arrows are missing).  Help the child verbalize the process he’s using in order to solidify the concept and extend it to any number sequence without the material.  The first part of this work is great from the age of five, and the sequence activity is great from six onwards, increasing in complexity.

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Rounding to the nearest ten: The concept of rounding is not presented in isolation in the Montessori elementary, but is instead part of an ongoing conversation when working with money, estimating, etc.  However, if a child isn’t understanding the concept, you can use the hundred chain to support their comprehension.  Have the child match the tens arrows to the bead chain, and then talk about how the tens are numbers that we can work with easily. Give examples of when we might want to work with numbers rounded to ten instead of exact numbers.

Write the number 62 on a paper arrow and ask the child to place it on the corresponding bead on the chain.  Then ask him what “ten” the arrow is closest to, and explain that 62 can be rounded down to 60 (or is closest to 60).  Do the same with a couple of numbers with the units under 5.  Then make an arrow with a number that has the units higher than 5 (e.g. 68).  Ask the child what “ten” that number is closest to and point out that 68 rounds up to 70.  Then write a number with 5 in the units (e.g. 65) and tell the child that our rule is that if a number has a 5 or above in the units, you round UP to the nearest ten.  Give a couple of examples for the child and then encourage him to make his own examples.  The book “Sir Cumference and the Roundabout Battle” has a lovely story that fits well with this activity.

IMG_4719Polygons: The chains provide a fun exploration of shapes, from triangle to decagon.  Have the child carry all the chains on a tray to a large rug and ask her to make a closed shape with each chain imagining that the center was pressing out evenly on all sides.  Then ask her how many sides each shape has.  If you have a Geometry Cabinet, ask her to find the corresponding shape from the cabinet and put it inside or next to the bead shapes.  The child can write on a slip of paper the number of sides each shape has, and then you can give the names.  You can do a three-period lesson with a Primary child, and you can make an etymology chart with an Elementary child.  The child can also build the shapes around each other, with the square surrounding the triangle, the pentagon surrounding the square, etc.

I hope these fun chain activities bring new life to your bead cabinet!

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