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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BOTW: The Story of Money

Is your child afraid of math?  I know many who are.  I also know that one of the most effective ways to help them overcome their fear of math is to give them an allowance.  In addition to teaching your child patience, opportunity cost, and the value of things, money is a hands-on way to work through many math skills!

My son got hooked on math through his allowance.  At the age of four, he wanted to save up for a LEGO kit. On a piece of graph paper, I marked one square for each dollar he would have to save.  Whenever he got his allowance, he would color in the associated squares and we would count how many more squares – or dollars – he needed to reach his goal.  By the age of five, he was using addition to calculate his goals, and by six he was multiplying.  Now that he’s seven, he has a money journal, where he writes down his debits, credits, and current balance.

His interest in money, and his age, led to the question: “Why do we use paper money?  Why don’t we use gold or computers?”

I’m glad we had The Story of Money in our home library!  This lovely book, written by an elementary teacher, traces the fascinating history of world currencies from the time of the very earliest humans. The engaging illustrations and clear text will take you and your child on a journey through ancient civilizations like Sumer and China.  You’ll then make your way to colonial America and discover how the dollar came to be. storymoney

The Story of Money is written in the style of Montessori’s Cosmic Stories, which helps children stay engaged from start to finish.  My son loved looking at all the different ancient coins, all carefully illustrated to actual size.  This book can inspire many avenues of research for elementary students, from timelines to coin collections.

So, the next time your child feels scared of math, connect math to money, and money to human history with The Story of Money, and watch their fear turn to enthusiasm!

(This post contains an affiliate link.  Purchasing through this link helps support the quality work you enjoy, at no cost to you. Thanks!)

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The Valentine’s Day Story

Zachary, age 7, asked me how Valentine’s Day started.  I told him we could research that at the library, but later that night I got curious and went online.  I found conflicting information, so I decided to put together a Cosmic Education story to tell him the tale of the origins of Valentine’s day.  I shared it with him and it inspired us to make care packages for the people experiencing homelessness in our area.  I hope it can inspire acts of kindness, or at least get some conversations started, among the children in your life.

Note: I don’t follow any religion, and I’ve tried to make the story as secular as possible so it can be used widely.  I use the lower-case “g” in all instances of the word “god”, but if that bothers you, feel free to copy/paste and edit at will.  This story is meant to be told orally, as are all Cosmic Education stories, so you can adapt it to fit your audience and/or beliefs.

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The Story of the Origin of Valentine’s Day

Have you ever wondered where people got the idea to celebrate Valentine’s day?  Historians don’t have much information to go on, so I’m going to tell you one of their theories.  For this story, we’re going to go back in time, almost 2,000 years ago, to a country in Europe called Italy.

Italy was the home of the Ancient Romans.  The Roman Empire was very powerful, with a large army and a series of emperors that controlled land from Northern Africa to Western Asia and a large part of Europe.  The Ancient Romans believed in many gods. You’ve probably heard of Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune… Before they were the names of planets, they were just three of the hundreds of gods the Romans worshipped! Keeping the gods happy was of utmost importance to the Ancient Romans, and the Emperor would throw in jail anyone who didn’t believe in these gods or who refused to make sacrifices to them.

One of the groups of people at risk of being jailed were the Christians.  This small group believed in only one god – a god very different from the Roman gods – and felt their mission in life was to help people who were poor, sick or hurt.  After receiving help from the Christians, these people would often convert – they’d stop believing in the Roman gods and start worshipping the Christian god.  As you can imagine, this made the Roman Emperor very, very angry!

One of these Christians was a priest named Valentinus.  He helped the poor and the sick, and many of those he helped were so grateful that they decided to convert.  When the Emperor heard what Valentinus was doing, he locked him in jail to stop him from helping and converting any more Romans to Christianity.  However, Valentinus did not forget about those he’d helped.  He wrote letters to them from jail and signed them “From your Valentinus.”

Valentinus died in jail on February 14th, which was around the time of the Ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia.  This rowdy party celebrated love, and when the Christians became more powerful than the Romans, they replaced this raucous festival with a day to remember the work of St. Valentinus.  And thus, Valentine’s day was born! You can research how the holiday evolved to include chocolates and love poems; it’s quite an interesting story that will take you to Medieval England.

I look forward to hearing what you discover.  But for now, when we celebrate Valentine’s day, let’s take a moment to think about how we – like Valentinus – can make the world a better place by helping those who are poor, sick or hurt.  Because that’s the true spirit of Valentine’s day!

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On Parenting, Uncategorized

One Day

For more than 12 months, Zachary threw stuff when he was tired, or angry, or couldn’t find the words to communicate how he felt or what he wanted.  Toys, food, china and silverware; it all flew across the house.  And then one day, it stopped.  Limits helped.  Consistency helped.  But what was the magic bullet?  Time.

I practiced elimination communication with Zachary.  By the time he was one, he was diaper-free all day.  By two, he was diaper-free at night.  Then, when he was 3 1/2, his sister was born  and he had an insensitive teacher, and it all went into the crapper. (Figuratively, of course, because actually NOTHING was making it into the crapper.)  He had the mother of all toileting regressions.  For almost a year we struggled, first with wetting and then with soiling.  And then one day, it stopped.  Limits helped. Consistency helped.  But what was the magic bullet?  Time.

For a long time, Zachary has been singularly uninterested in being helpful around the house.  Pick up his toys?  Nope.  Clear the table?  Never.  Put away his laundry?  Unthinkable.  And then one day, it all changed.  “Mommy, how can I help?”  and “Mommy, am I being helpful?” are now the most uttered phrases in our home.  Limits helped.  Consistency helped.  But what was the magic bullet?  Time.

So, whatever you’re going through with your child right now, put it into perspective.  Limits help.  Consistency helps.  But what’s the magic bullet?  Time.

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Wait and Connect

You know when your child does something – like throw his toys on the floor – to show his frustration over a perceived injustice, and you tell him to clean it up, and he refuses, and you insist, and he digs in his heels, and your ego is insulted and says “How dare he?!”, so you resort to punishment because you feel powerless, and then he gets angry at you because “You’re so mean!” and sees himself as the victim, and you lose the opportunity to teach a lesson about dealing with frustration?

It would be great if our kids would snap to attention the moment we demand they fix what they’ve done wrong.  But most of the time they won’t… Because they CAN’T.  When a big emotion takes over, it floods their rational brain with stress hormones, so their instinctual brain takes over.  It’s the “fight, flight, or freeze” brain, which is why most children will either run away, become aggressive, or totally shut down when confronted with an overwhelming frustration.

Here’s an experience we recently had that shows the importance of waiting until the rational mind has a chance to recover, what happens when you don’t, and how you can support the process.

Zachary (4yrs 3mo) has recently been having a hard time leaving places where he’s having fun (like the park or a friend’s house).  We’ve tried empathizing, sharing our feelings, setting alarms, giving 5-minute warnings, acknowledging his helpful choices… You name it.  Yesterday was no exception; I picked him up from a friend’s house and he flipped out.

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When we got home, he dumped a box of PVC piping joints all over the living room (he uses them to build).  I told him to pick them up (yay, me!) but he yelled “No!” and ran upstairs. When I went to look for him to try to acknowledge his feelings and work through them, I saw he had dumped the neatly folded contents of two large laundry baskets all over the floor.  Well, I wasn’t in much of a mood to empathize then!!!

I felt anger bubbling up inside me, and I said, “You need to put those clothes back in the baskets right now!” (I know, *facepalm*)  He yelled, “No!” and I didn’t know what else to do; I felt so powerless.  So I did the only thing I could do (and the first thing that made sense): I closed the door and left him there.

I ran downstairs and flipped open my computer.  I pulled up this article from Dr. Laura and quickly re-read it (for the fifth time).  When I got to point #1, I was SO GLAD I had closed the door when I did!  I had to move myself from anger to empathy before I could help him do the same.

Reading the article calmed me down a great deal, because I felt like I had a game plan that would work.  Just then, my husband came home.  I quickly told him what happened and asked that he not try to punish him or shame him into cleaning up.  He looked confused but agreed.  I called everyone down to dinner and we had our normal “How was your day?” conversation during the meal.

After dinner, Zachary gets to play with his dad for 30 minutes before bedtime, so I said: “Before you start playing, I’d like you to please pick up the PVC joints you threw on the floor.”  He refused, so my husband said: “What if mommy times you to see how quickly you can pick them up?”  No four-year-old can resist a one-person race!  He jumped up and began flinging joints into the box with a goofy smile on his face.

They then played and did the rest of their bedtime routine while I put the baby to bed.  When I came out of the baby’s room, Zach and my husband were reading a book a friend lent to us, called “I Love You Because You’re You“.  The book’s message is simple but profound: no matter how you behave, we’ll always love you.  I think it was exactly what Zachary needed to hear, because when I walked in to kiss him good-night, he asked me to read the book to him.  When he climbed into bed, I stroked his hair and said, “Tomorrow we can talk about what happened and then you and I can work together to put the clothes away.”

Before going to bed, I re-read Dr. Laura’s article.  Game on!  This morning, I asked my husband to stay with the baby when Zach woke up.  I went to his room and read him the book again.  That put a big smile on his face.  Then I said, “Can you tell me how you were feeling yesterday?”  He told me he didn’t want to leave his friend’s house and asked if he could return.  I pointed out that he had refused to clean up when his friend’s mom asked him to, and he had started yelling and crying when it was time to leave, which he knows frightens his friend.  I explained that he’d have to talk with his friend’s mom to see if they’d be willing to invite him back, and asked him what he was going to have to do differently if he wanted to be welcomed at their house.  He said he was going to clean up when asked and leave without crying.  We practiced how he would talk with his friend and his mom.

Then I said, “Do you know what we need to do now?”  He replied, “Clean up the clothes.”  He hopped out of bed and we walked into my bedroom.  I explained that I would pass the clothes to him one by one and he would stack them neatly in the baskets.  About a third of the way through, he complained that it was a lot of work.  I said, “I know!  That’s why I felt really frustrated when I saw that you had dumped them out.  I work very hard during the day so that you all have clean clothes.”  He kept working quietly and didn’t complain again.

While we worked, I asked him how I could help him feel less frustrated when it was time to leave his friend’s house.  He said, “I just want to stay there all the time.”  So I asked, “If you knew that you were going to visit your friend’s house every Thursday, would it make it easier to leave?”  He said yes, so I suggested we talk with his friend’s mom and try to set up a regular visit once a week.

I felt so proud of both of us!  He had been cooperative and communicative, while I had once again proven to myself (and my husband) how important it was to Wait and Connect.

To learn more about how your child’s brain is wired and what specific techniques you can use to discipline effectively, I highly recommend reading “No-Drama Discipline” by Daniel Siegel.

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Share Your Floor Bed Story!

If you have a floor bed success story and would like to share it with other parents and Montessori enthusiasts, please send a brief (3-4 paragraph) description of your experience to  thefullmontessori @ gmail . com

Thank you for your help (and thanks again to those of you who’ve already shared their floor bed journey)!

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Cursive Cards

For the past few weeks, Zach has shown a strong interest in sounds and letters.  He’s constantly pointing out letters and asking what sound they make, and then thinking of words that start with that sound.  However, he’s not keen on tracing the sandpaper letters.  I can’t say I blame him; ours are pretty rough (because they’re new) and his index and middle fingers are very sensitive because he sucks them!

It irritates me that he doesn’t see cursive letters anywhere except in school (most signs that he sees are in upper-case print and books are in lower-case print), so I made some cards to spark a conversation on sounds and hopefully help him associate the cursive letter with the sound while his interest is strong.  I chose pictures of objects that he’s interested in and found a great font that is almost exactly like the one used in the Montessori sandpaper letter and large moveable alphabet materials.  Please note that these are not an AMI-approved material, but simply an extension to support my son’s burgeoning interest.

I’m sharing them with you but ask that you don’t use them as flash cards to drill your child.  They’re only intended to start a conversation that then leads to the child thinking of more words on his own, and that sparks interest in and awareness of cursive letters.  Also, please don’t use them with young toddlers.  The images are not to scale, and it’s important to provide accurate scale for children younger than 2 1/2.

To make them, simply print them out in color on white card stock, cut, and then laminate (or print on regular paper, mount on colored card stock, and laminate).

Have fun and let me know how they worked for you!

PS: the letter “x” doesn’t have any images because its phonetic sound is not used at the beginning of any word.  But, this in itself is an interesting point to discuss with the child!

PPS: There are only four cards in each PDF because the alignment would get all funky if I tried to put more cards in the same document.

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Turning Picky Into Practical

Toddlers are famous for their food fixations.  I’m blessed to be raising a very adventurous eater, but even Zach has some toddler quirks that would drive me insane if I chose to let them bother me.

This morning, I pulled out a container with a few strawberries from the fridge.  I asked Zach if he’d like some with his breakfast and he said yes.  I told him I had to rinse them first, and he flipped out.  While he screamed, I washed the strawberries, put them in a bowl, and took them to the table.

(Yes, I know I should’ve acknowledged his upset, asked questions to clarify his discontent, blah blah.  Honestly, this was pre-caffeine and I’d been up since 2am with a kicking fetus and a coughing toddler who hogs the bed and puts his feet in my face.  He’s lucky I didn’t eat the strawberries myself.)

He sat down, pushed the strawberries away, and said: “I don’t want them.”  I was genuinely puzzled, as they are one of his favorite foods.  I almost said, “That’s fine, you don’t have to eat them,” but fortunately my husband (who doesn’t have a kicking fetus in his belly nor toddler feet in his face, and could probably sleep through both) stepped in first.

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

“They’re wet,” Zach answered.  “I don’t like wet strawberries.” (Mind you, he’s happily devoured mountains of wet strawberries all his life.)

Now, I am NOT the kind of mom who will bend over backwards to make the food look just right for her picky toddler.  I had a million things to do, and I wasn’t about to hand-dry each strawberry.  But his quirk gave me an idea.  I took a paper towel, placed it next to his bowl, and showed him how to dry his own strawberries.

Problem solved!!  He was incredibly focused and productive, and even gave my husband a lesson on how to dry strawberries.

I wonder how many food quirks could be nipped in the bud if, instead of taking it personally or labeling the child as picky, we could empower him to to be an active participant in his own need for order.

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Pom-Poms vs. Broccoli

Practical Life activities should be, above all else, practical: real activities that have a purpose and a goal. Practical Life IMG_0309should never, EVER be busy work. Busy work is insulting to the child’s intelligence and developmental drives.

So, let’s say you want to introduce transferring with tongs. Instead of the ubiquitous pom-poms you see all over Pinterest, how about using broccoli?

Here’s what I did with Zach (who just turned 3), when he asked if he could help in the kitchen:

I had already chopped some broccoli (before he asked to help), so I put it in a bowl and had him transfer it piece by piece from the bowl to the hot buttered pan with a pair of long tongs (he has small ones but I didn’t want him to burn himself by getting his hand too close to the pan).

Then, I showed him how to use the tongs to toss the broccoli so it would cook evenly. When the it was ready, I invited him to transfer it back to the IMG_0306bowl.

He’s been cooking over a hot stove for over a year now, so I only had to remind him at the beginning to work carefully and not touch the pan or the heat source. When he was transferring the cooked broccoli back to the bowl, he dropped one stalk.  He picked it up with his hand, and immediately dropped it again.  It was hot!  Good learning experience…

He was so proud of his contribution to our meal, and he learned so much in that short amount of time.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take broccoli over pom-poms any day.

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To Follow the Child

Now that Zachary is three years old, I’m constantly surprised by how differently Montessori happens at home and in school.

In a classroom, you plan your lessons in part around the child’s interests and abilities, but also based on the sequence in your album. The children are (for the most part) happy and willing to receive the presentations.  Not so at home when it’s your own child.  I’ve learned that nine times out of ten, we’ll only do anything productive if Zachary initiates it.  If I invite him to do an activity, I often get a “No, thanks”.  And honestly, I’m perfectly fine with that (not to say that it didn’t rattle me at first because I’m a planner by nature).  It’s made me think that maybe, just maybe, as guides we could try following the child a bit more…

Case in point: A couple of months ago I tried introducing a couple of sandpaper letters to Zach, since I noticed he was tracing letters on signs.  Not the least bit interested.  So I put my letters away and didn’t push the subject.

Then, about two weeks ago, while he was decorating a thank-you note from his birthday party, he asked me how to write his name.  In lieu of a moveable alphabet, I took out the sandpaper letters and introduced each one, tracing and saying the sound.  Then, I lined them up to make his name (this is not AMI practice but I was improvising) and let him look at them for a good long while without saying anything (note: I never read the name to him).

He looked and looked, and suddenly, his whole face lit up.  “That says ‘Zachary’?” he asked.  I said yes and he broke into a huge grin.  The next day, he asked me to write ‘Zachary’ on his chalkboard, which I did slowly, sound by sound, helping him figure out which sound came next.  I told his teacher about his interest and left it there.

Then, this morning I was reading him a book.  He pointed to the letter ‘g’ and asked what sound it made.  I told him, and IMG_0299he started finding more ‘g’s throughout the page.  He asked: “What words start with ‘g’?”  I said “g-g-guitar” and then he said “g-gorilla”.  We thought of a couple more words and then I pulled out the sandpaper letter ‘g’.  I traced it, said the sound, and asked if he wanted to trace it.  He said no, so I clipped the ‘g’ on the chalkboard and drew a cursive ‘g’.  I asked if he wanted me to write some words starting with ‘g’.  He said yes, so I wrote four words.  Then, he started erasing them with his hand.  Thinking we were done (and honestly a little disappointed that he didn’t want to take it further), I passed him a wet rag to erase his board.  But to my surprise, once he was done erasing, he set to work trying to write a ‘g’!!!  Happy day!

They are our great little teachers, in so many ways.  To truly follow the child, I have only to keep my eyes open for the sensitive periods and prepare the environment accordingly.  His powerful developmental drives will take care of the rest.