Cosmic Education, Language Development, Science

Unschooling: Soap Bubble Edition

My four-year-old found an old bubble wand and asked if we could make bubbles, so I googled this recipe and we set to work.  She had a great time measuring, pouring and stirring, and she got to experience sugar disappearing in water to make a solution (yay, science and vocabulary!).

We were having so much fun blowing bubbles on our back patio that my seven-year-old decided to join the party.  He wanted to see how far the bubbles could travel without popping, and noticed that there were several updrafts and wind currents that moved the bubbles along.  We talked about how hot air rises, and about how wind currents change direction at different altitudes.

We also tried out wands of different shapes and made our own out of pipe cleaners to see if they affected the shape of the bubble.  My little one came up with a fun experiment where she dipped a pipe cleaner in bubble solution and then pierced the bubble film on a wand without popping it!

IMG_4325Then we tried making bubbles holding our fingers in an OK sign, which led to catching bubbles (this is much easier if your hand is covered in bubble solution).  That led to talking about surface tension and surfactants, which led to observing the bubbles we were holding in our hands.

My son noticed swirls that flowed on the surface of the bubble, and I vaguely remembered seeing an experiment with milk, food coloring and soap that looked similar to the swirls.  I stealthily snuck inside and googled “swirls in soap bubbles”.  That led me to the Marangoni effect, which led me to the experiment I was thinking of, and I had everything I needed to continue our learning journey when the bubble activity died down outside.

After lunch, my four-year-old and I poured milk and dye into a plate, and added one drop of soap.  My seven-year-old, who claimed not to want to learn anything else about bubbles, was instantly drawn to the experiment and repeated it three times.  During his second attempt, I pointed out the milk’s surface tension (really easy to see on a flat plate!) and asked him what effect he thought the soap had on it.

And to wrap up a fun day, we took the solution and wands to the park and invited a couple of neighborhood kids to help us chase and pop bubbles.  Whew!  So much learning, so many discoveries, and so much fun… And all because my daughter found an old wand, we didn’t have plans for the day, and I chose to say yes.

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6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Favorite Books, Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory, Science, Theory and Practice

Moon-tessori (haha, couldn’t resist)

“You’re great at this homeschooling thing because you’re a teacher… I don’t think I could do it because I don’t know much about anything.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this phrase since we started homeschooling two months ago, coming from the most capable and well-prepared mothers in my circle of friends.  So here’s a little secret… I don’t know everything.  Heck, I don’t know most things!  But I don’t let that hold me back from learning and sharing with my children.  Here’s an example of how I facilitate learning, and how you can, too!

The moon is a topic that seems to keep coming up in the Full Montessori household.  Over the past few months we’ve read several fiction and non-fiction books about the moon (links at the bottom of this post) and we play games trying to find different shapes (a rabbit, and old man) on its surface.  Seven-year-old Zachary had been asking why the moon changes through the month, so I knew it was prime time for a moon lesson.

Truth be told, even after 12 years as a Montessori guide, I could never quite grasp HOW the moon moved in relationship with the Earth, why the lighted part changed throughout the month, or how to tell when the lighted part was growing or shrinking.  But the beauty of being a guide is that you don’t have to know everything, you just have to “learn ahead of your children” (I love that Charlotte Mason phrase).

So, I found these two extremely helpful videos and FINALLY understood how it all works (thank you, Google)!

Then I dragged my kids to the craft store to buy a foam sphere (without telling them what it would be for); printed, cut, and laminated these free Moon Phases cards; and practiced the Moon/Earth/Sun demonstration when my kids weren’t around.  Yes, sometimes it takes That. Much. Work.

But, you know what?  It was so worth it!  I invited my son to sit down and told him his head was the Earth (my three-year-old daughter wasn’t interested, because, hello concrete thinker!).  I then began slowly moving the moon around his head, and he saw how the lighted part of the white sphere grew from waxing crescent to first quarter.  His eyes widened and his mouth stretched into a knowing smile.  I continued moving the moon around his head and I could tell he was enjoying the discovery process as much as I had.  When we were done and I had casually sprinkled the terms for the moon phases into the demonstration, he got up and went downstairs to play with his sister.

I waited for a lull in their play and pulled out the moon phases cards.  I told him we were going to play a moon game and put the “New Moon” card on the rug.  I lined up the other cards randomly on the edge of the rug and said, “Hmm, which card might go next?”  Eager to apply his knowledge, he quickly fished out the Waxing Crescent card and completed the entire cycle on his own.  He mixed up Waning Crescent and Waning Gibbous, but I didn’t say anything.  I just offered the control chart and he caught his mistake on his own.

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If you’re a Montessorian, you might be wondering why I used the control cards for the lesson (heresy!!).  If you must know, my son has little tolerance for three-part cards.  They just don’t resonate with how he learns.  If he knows the information, he isn’t the type of child who will humor you with busy work just to show you what he knows.  And if he doesn’t know something, he wants to get straight to the knowledge and understanding part right away – and three-part cards just don’t give him that.  I knew (from experience) that if I went through the whole rigamarole of having him lay out the picture cards, finding the corresponding labels, and then using the control cards to check, I’d lose him for sure.

There are about a thousand different ways to help your child solidify their knowledge of the moon phases, or any other concept they’re curious about.  My intention here was to illustrate how I go about preparing myself to facilitate my children’s learning – and often, my own!

it is not enough quote

Favorite moon books:

Fiction: Luna and the Moon Rabbit, Kitten’s First Full Moon

Non-fiction: Jump Into Science: Moon, The Moon Book

The books mentioned above are affiliate links.  Purchasing through these links helps support the quality work you enjoy on this blog, at no cost to you.  Thank you!

Favorite Books, Montessori Materials, On Parenting, Practical Life, Science, Social and Emotional Learning

Food for Thought

I’m reading an excellent book called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, published in 1978. The author is not a scientist, and never claims to be. He doesn’t have answers, just observations and questions that most of us have never even thought to ponder.
 
There’s a section that talks about how television messes with your senses.
 
Think about it: On your screen, you’re watching a shot of two people walking on a distant hillside, yet you can clearly hear what they’re saying (when in reality you shouldn’t). But what you can’t hear are the ambient sounds that your brain would normally expect to hear if you were standing where the scene is being shot. Meanwhile, you’re “smelling some chicken roasting in the kitchen and you’re drinking a beer.”
 
The author points out that, “Television has attached two of your sensory modes to a distant spot, altered their natural arrangement to each other, but left other aspects of your sensory apparatus at home in present time… [This] takes on importance when we understand that the average person submits to this condition for four hours every day [it’s currently five for adults, 4.5 for kids], and while in this state is receiving important information about life. All of the information is narrowed to fit the sensory transmission limits of the medium and distorted by the sensory disconnections in the human.
 
“One can imagine the emergence of a new psychological syndrome: ‘sensory schizophrenia.’ The cure will involve exercises to resynchronize wildly confused senses with each other, with the mind, and with the world.”
 
The author’s 1978 description of “sensory schizophrenia” immediately made me think of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), defined in the book The Out-Of-Sync Child as “a common problem in which the central nervous system misinterprets messages from the senses.” So, I tried seeing if any studies had been done on the relationship between TV and SPD. None. Yay science.
 
What I DID find were several forum threads where parents discuss their SPD child’s relationship with TV. In every single thread, over and over, parents mentioned how, from the time their kids were babies, they fed them while the child watched TV. They also mention how at home they have the TV on ALL THE TIME because the adult likes (needs?) background noise.
 
The author’s suggested cure, “exercises to resynchronize wildly confused senses” made me think of Montessori’s beautiful Practical Life and Sensorial materials, which engage all of the senses and help re-center (or indeed, “normalize”) the child.
 
Food for thought… (Just don’t eat it in front of the TV.)
This post contains affiliate links.
Language Development, Practical Life, Science

If You Only Do ONE Montessori Activity…

Spreading-Cream-CheeseI challenge you to think of one activity that exposes your child to math, language and science, while helping her develop concentration, motor skills, and delayed gratification. It’s not found in workbooks, and you probably won’t see it taking place regularly in most schools (unless they’re Montessori schools).

If you want to know what it is, click here!

Language Development, Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Practical Life, Science

Bathroom Botany

I was sitting outside, enjoying a bit of sunshine, when Zachary walked out of the bathroom and approached me with an inquisitive look. “Mom, can plants grow with pee?”

The question from my just-turned-four year old caught me off guard.

“Uh, I’m not sure.”

He reasoned: “Well, pee comes from water, right?  So maybe they can.”

“Huh.  Maybe they can.”  And then I realized the potential this question had.

“Hey, do you want to do an experiment?  We can try to see if plants will grow if we water them with urine.”  His face lit up and he followed me inside.

beansWe hunted for some cotton, six glass jars, a handful of beans, masking tape and a Sharpie.  I showed him how to separate the cotton and prepare one jar – cotton layer, three beans, and another cotton layer.  Then he prepared all the rest on his own.  I asked him what sounds were in the words “agua” and “pipi” (he’s bilingual), and carefully wrote the words in cursive as he watched.  And then, because he had just used the bathroom, I invited him to drink a big glass of water.

An hour later, we were ready to start watering!  We separated the glass jars based on their labels, collected his urine, and I showed him how to use a dropper to get the same amount of liquid into each jar.

We have three jars that are being watered with tap water (our control group) and three being watered with urine.   Every day, he reads the labels, separates the jars, and uses the dropper to provide equal hydration to all the beans.dropper

It’s been a week, and we’re waiting with bated breath for the results of our experiment!

Apart from learning whether his hypothesis was correct or not, there’s SO MUCH peripheral learning taking place with this activity!  He’s perfecting his use of a dropper, learning how to set up a controlled experiment, reading labels, sorting & classifying, practicing proper hygiene, developing persistence, delaying gratification, and experiencing the beauty of botany!  Once our beans germinate, there will be new vocabulary, comparisons, and conclusions.

Children are natural scientists, and with a little help from us they can develop skills that will last a lifetime!

“We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

 

 

Language Development, Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory, Science

Extensions

One of the activities I felt was lacking in my child’s previous Montessori experience was the use of extensions.  No, I’m not talking about artificial hair pieces!  Extensions are activities that are introduced after the initial presentation with a material, in order to encourage the child to re-visit the material and solidify the skills and/or concepts it’s designed to provide.

Yesterday, my son came out of his new school with a huge smile, holding this painting:

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This is a perfect example of an extension.  In his classroom, there’s a tree puzzle (aff link), used to give three-year olds the names of the parts of a tree.  Once the child has mastered the puzzle (which Zach probably did at his old school), there’s not much he’ll spontaneously do with it.  And most children won’t voluntarily re-visit a material once they’ve figured it out.

Zachary’s new teacher invited Zachary to build the puzzle on top of a white sheet of paper, and trace the outline.  Then, she showed him how to use finger paints to create all the different parts of the tree.  This forced Zachary to slow down and really analyze the shapes of the tree parts and the relationship between them.

When I asked him to tell me about his painting, he pointed out the roots, trunk, branches and leaves.  Through this enjoyable activity (which probably kept him focused for a while), he learned new words and became aware of the relationship between the parts, while enjoying some fun finger painting!

Language Development, Montessori Materials, On Parenting, Practical Life, Science

Getting Back on the Montessori Wagon

With the birth or our daughter, I found myself slacking off in the “Montessori parenting” department.  Gone are the days when Zach and I could spend 30 minutes cooking together, and my patience and resolve are minimal these days due to sleep deprivation and meeting the needs of a tiny human 24/7.

When I started noticing that my 3-year old was acting a little like an entitled brat, I knew that the changes to his lifestyle were to blame; I realized I had to modify his environment, routine, and expectations to nip this issue in the bud.

After cutting myself some slack for the first six weeks of Nadia’s life (the hugely important symbiotic period), I decided to take some baby steps to provide Zach with the activities and stability he needs.  Here’s what I’ve done and how I’ve done it:

Practical Life:

Our meals are a lot simpler now that I have to juggle a baby, but I am trying to include Zachary in the meal prep at least twice a week.  It can be as simple as scooping frozen peas into a pot of water, but at least he feels like he’s contributed to the evening meal.  I’m also encouraging him to dress himself, because we had gotten into the habit during the school year of helping him with his clothes to speed up the process and be on time for school (yes, even Montessori teachers take shortcuts!)  He has been helping my husband with simple repairs around the house and has been helping me with things like bringing the box of wipes during the baby’s diaper change.

Responsibilities (aka, chores):

To help Zach feel less entitled and more of a contributing member of the family, while avoiding becoming a nag about chores, I wanted to set up a Responsibilities Chart.  I don’t have time to make my own, and online at first all I found were sticker charts that reward children for behaviors that shouldn’t need to be rewarded.  Then I found this AWESOME chart called “Do-N-Slide”.  FullSizeRender

It comes with a label for each day of the week, along with about two dozen pictures of child-friendly chores most three-year olds can do on their own.  I picked out the ones that were relevant to our home, Zach and I talked about them together, and then I invited him to choose five chores for one day.  He slipped them in his chart and as he completed them, he moved them from the “To Do” side to the “All Done” side.  Some chores he was already familiar with (like clearing the table) while others required a brief presentation and some patience (like putting the clean laundry in his closet).

I have to make sure the environment is set up for him to be successful (i.e. make sure the watering can is on the porch, leave his laundry in a basket in his room, and clear a space on the kitchen counter so he can successfully place his dish and cup there) but a little effort on my part goes a long way!

Toys and books:

Zach’s toys and books were getting out of hand.  We got him a few extra toys to keep him entertained while I cared for his sister, but they somehow all ended up on his limited shelf space, which made for some massive chaos!  He was being careless and messy, and it was stressing me out.  Seriously, who needs Duplos AND Legos?!  His books were in two massive piles in the bathroom and in his bedroom, and he would only request the same few books over and over.  FullSizeRender_1

After a particularly stressful incident involving clean-up (or lack thereof), I hit rock bottom and put about half his toys in a storage box.  I made careful choices about what to leave out: Legos, train set, wooden blocks, a numbers activity, a shapes activity, a science activity, a geography puzzle, a few crayons and blank paper, two airplanes and a bus, and the sandpaper letters.  I also carefully selected a few quality books and placed them facing outwards in his new bookshelf.

The change was positive: He began playing with the blocks and then the geometry material, both of which he hadn’t touched in weeks, and he also repeated the science experiment three times.  Eventually, he asked for one of the toys in the storage box, so I invited him to pick one toy to put away for each toy he wanted to take out.  This has worked beautifully and I’m a lot less stressed because there’s a lot less mess!

Montessori activities:

I chose to keep Zach home over the summer instead of sending him to Montessori summer camp so we wouldn’t have to rush in the morning and so he could bond with his sister.  While this was the right decision for us, it also meant that the burden of keeping him going on his burgeoning reading, writing and math skills would lay on me. He had *just* started reading three-letter words when school let out for the summer, but I know he still doesn’t know all the letters of the alphabet.

He was not the least bit interested in doing three-period lessons and kept rejecting any activity that reminded him of school, so a few days ago I introduced the “sound of the day”.  Based on whatever conversation we’re having as a family in the morning, I’ll pick a sound from the Sandpaper Letter box and feature it in a see-through napkin holder (for example, we had read a book about a “giggling gull” so the sound of the day became the “g”).  The entire family takes turns tracing the letter and we all think of words that start with that letter.  Then, throughout the day, I’ll casually bring Zach’s attention back to the letter ifFullSizeRender_2 he uses a word that starts with that same sound.  It’s worked BRILLIANTLY and is a low-stress way of introducing the sounds!

I also put together a simple “Float or Sink” activity with objects I had around the house, and have started introducing the concept of numbers through making and labeling Duplo stacks (in lieu of the Number Rods).  I’m working on other easy-to-make activities like matching hardware store paint chips at a distance and then later finding objects around the house that are the same color as the paint chips; assorted punching activities; and a couple of sewing activities.  I’ll try to post them as we try them out.

Getting back on the Montessori wagon after lowering our standards hasn’t been a walk in the park, but when I feel like throwing in the towel after butting heads with a three-year old I think of the long-term repercussions, and it gives me the strength to take a deep breath, walk away to regroup, and try again later.

Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Science, Social and Emotional Learning

Letting the Child Lead the Way

You might be familiar with the idea that children learn best when they are following their interests.  But you might not know that by “following the child”, you’re also helping them develop executive functions: skills like impulse control, delayed gratification, problem-solving, strategizing and concentrating, which are much bigger determinants for success in life than IQ.

I recently attended a talk by Dr. Steven Hughes, where he focused on the development in childhood of executive functions.  I learned that when a person engages in work that challenges them, satisfies them, and gives them a sense of purpose, their brain produces just the right amount of a hormone called dopamine, which is responsible for managing drive and motivation, and regulating executive functions.  This explains why children rarely misbehave or make bad decisions while doing productive self-chosen work.

I did a little more research after his talk and discovered that boredom is related to a lowered production of dopamine, which explains why most children have to be bribed to do uninspiring school work (receiving bribes increase dopamine, but also leads to a bribe addiction because the motivation isn’t coming from within the child).  It also explains why children act out when they’re bored at school; they are not producing enough dopamine to remain in control of their behavior!!

Meanwhile, even low levels of stress (like those caused by threats, assessments, and externally-imposed deadlines) lead to a dopamine flood that shuts down the prefrontal cortex – the rational part of the brain that regulates executive functions.

In other words, when we pull the child away from his self-chosen explorations and force him to do the work that WE thinks is beneficial for him, along with killing his love of learning, we are also impairing the development of his executive functions. 

So, please, it’s time to start listening to Dr. Montessori and to modern science.  Let’s stop thinking we know what’s best for the children and start allowing their creative and productive energies to lead the way.  Are you ready to follow the child?  I know I am.