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!

This post contains affiliate links.

6 - 12, On Parenting, Theory and Practice

What Matters In The End

“If it’s not my idea, I don’t want to do it.”

This seems to be my seven-year-old son’s motto these days, which is kind of annoying because we’re spending the summer in a city with a wealth of world-class museums that I want him to experience.  I know he’ll enjoy them once we’re there, but transitions have never been his strong suit.

After some trial and error (and many arguments) trying to motivate him to leave the house, I’ve found a two-part formula that seems to work.  It both gets him excited about a particular museum AND allows us to continue the learning journey once our visit is over.  I’m sharing it with you in case you find yourself in the same boat.

I used to try to persuade him (and get some stealth teaching in) by reading him books related to the topic of the museum we’d be visiting, but he was never interested.  So then I started showing him short introductory videos from the museum websites.  Voila!  Immediate interest!  I realized his fear lay in not knowing what to expect; once he knew where he’d be going, he was more inclined to cooperate.

Then I discovered that if I waited until right after our visit to read him a book related to the topic of the museum, he was a million times more receptive, connected, and interested.  It reminded me of the Montessori/Orff concept of giving the child the sensorial experience before the symbol/language.

By following this simple two-step approach, we’ve been able to explore several wonderful museums.  It took some observation and creativity, but I found an approach that minimizes my son’s insecurity and maximizes his learning potential.  And isn’t that what matters in the end?If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn. - Ignacio Estrada.png

 

 

 

6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Theory and Practice

The Un-Checklist

If you’re a teacher or homeschooling parent who uses checklists to encourage a child’s organization and accountability, then you already know just how quickly checklists can turn into a battle of wills between adult and child.  You also probably sense that checklists hinder freedom of choice.  And you’ve surely noticed that checklists shift the focus of the child’s work away from self-development and flow, and towards task completion and industrial efficiency.

While checklists can work beautifully for a pilot safety-checking an airplane or a hospital staff preparing for a surgery, they wreak havoc on a child’s innate ability to follow his interests in the quest for true mastery and understanding.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting children to develop organization skills and hold themselves accountable.  So, how can we reach these well-intentioned goals without the drawbacks associated with checklists?

In our house, my son and I had a conversation about the reasons for practicing each of the disciplines that are currently a part of his homeschooling journey.  I made a large watercolor circle for each subject and wrote our combined thoughts.

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Then, on one sheet of paper, I started a mind map with the six subjects he’s currently exploring written in the same colors as the individual watercolor circles.  We re-read the reasons for exploring each subject area, and I asked him to think of some interesting topics he might want to learn about.  I connected those interests to the relevant subject areas.  We talked about some topics that I wanted to share with him and I wrote those down as well.

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This became our learning map, and we turn to it daily throughout the month.  Some days I choose what to present and other days he takes the lead.  We add topics to the month’s map as he discovers new interests, and I direct his attention towards the areas of the map that we haven’t visited yet.  Next month, I’ll start a new map and together we’ll discuss what he’s explored to his satisfaction and what he’d like to transfer over, in addition to the new topics we’ll be adding.

I love seeing him stand in front of the learning map, taking in the depth and breadth of explorations and learning opportunities he’s had in just one month.  This map doesn’t begin to capture the richness of his homeschooling experience, with daily adventures in nature, countless opportunities for social interaction, and freedom to play and daydream.  But I think it sends a message that’s developmentally appropriate for his age: Learning is a journey across a vast and varied landscape.  You may spend more time exploring some lands than others, but every stop along the way will enrich you and change you forever.

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

The Puzzle-Child

Over the years of working in Montessori classrooms I’ve met many children who are eager to attend lessons, engage in follow-up work, and share their new knowledge.  And then there are the occasional “puzzles” (as my son’s Primary guide once referred to him).  How do you know if you live or work with a puzzle-child?

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Puzzle-children are those for whom learning comes easily but who see most teaching as a hindrance to their own learning agenda. On a good day, they grumpily humor your agenda for a short while and then stealthily slink away to pursue their own interests.  But most days, your invitation will send them into fight/flight/freeze mode: they either become argumentative (fight), run away from you (flight), or shut down (freeze), refusing to speak or make eye contact.

I used to think puzzle-children felt intimidated by the work or lacked the desire to learn.  But these children aren’t insecure or apathetic – quite the contrary!  I started taking the time to connect with puzzle-children to understand why they rejected lessons, and the phrase they said again and again was: “I already know that.”  Upon gentle prodding, it became clear that indeed, they did understand the concepts I was trying to present.

Puzzle children don’t care about your ego. In fact, in a battle of egos, theirs will always win.  They don’t care about sitting politely through your carefully planned presentation or showing you what they know.  They don’t care about your album sequence, the state standards, or your lesson plan.  They know what they want to learn, and they know they can use you as a resource to overcome any gaps in knowledge that pop up as they pursue their own explorations.

And that right there is the key to engaging successfully with a puzzle-child.  You have to be like a floor lamp: present but unobtrusive, and willing to shed light on whatever topic the puzzle-child approaches you about.  The puzzle-child will often be found with his nose in a book; tinkering with random objects; or using Montessori materials in ways that might seem sacrilegious at first but that, upon closer inspection, constitute legitimate intellectual explorations.

Conversations are essential for connecting with the puzzle-child.  But you have to watch your tone of voice: puzzle-children detect the moment you switch to a “teacher” voice, and in that instant you’ve lost them.  They also detect when you’re trying to quiz them.  You’re better off assuming they’re already experts. Use precise terminology when chatting with them; rest assured they’ll pepper you with questions if they don’t know what you’re talking about!

Puzzle-children love stories and experiments, and they are cosmic thinkers (meaning they’re able to effortlessly make connections among seemingly unrelated topics).  They’re autodidacts who focus on a topic until they have filled their cup. And then, just as quickly as the interest blossomed, it seems to disappear (but rest assured that the knowledge remains).

For puzzle-children and their adults, the most difficult times are those when the puzzle-child is between interests.  They’re often restless and irritable, flitting from one activity to another.  This is an important time for puzzle-children, and one should not jump in to fill the void with busy work or adult teaching agendas.  For it is precisely the space and boredom of their aimless roaming that will help them find their next “big thing”.

Puzzle-children don’t need to be taught how to learn.  If anything, they need to be protected from well-meaning adults who want to impose their teaching methods at the expense of the puzzle-child’s creativity and resourcefulness.  It’s a blow to the adult’s ego not to be needed, especially when your entire identity rests on being a transmitter of knowledge.

For teachers and parents of puzzle-children, it’s time to change that identity and protect these powerful and eccentric learners.  Help the puzzle-child learn how to communicate their needs and let them know you’re there as a resource.  Prepare their environment with quality books and essential Montessori materials. Provide open-ended tinkering, building, crafting and drafting materials.  Go outside together and explore nature through their eyes.  Listen, observe, document, trust, and wait.  Be flexible, creative, and honest, and above all, be genuine.  Follow the child.

“Our care of the children should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

 

On Parenting, Practical Life

Boundaries

On a brisk and sunny Sunday three weeks ago, prior to heading out to a Christmas concert, I made my family a healthy and tasty lunch.  Both of my kids (ages 6 and 3) scoffed at it and my husband had to beg them to take their (mostly full) plates to the kitchen.  I cleaned the kitchen by myself while my husband and the kids played, and then we headed out, leaving behind a living room covered in toys and puzzles that I didn’t have the energy to fight about.

On the way to the concert, both kids began to whine that they were hungry and wanted to go to a restaurant.  My husband told them that we’d go to one after the concert. We arrived early, so my husband and the kids played on the lawn while I sat in the sunlight, too exhausted from making breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, folding the laundry, doing the groceries, putting them away, cleaning out the fridge, unloading the dishwasher, making lunch and cleaning the kitchen again (plus putting in a 50-hour workweek at school, commuting, and making daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners).

A mixture of anger and sadness welled up inside me.  Where had it all gone wrong?!  Here I was, Ms. Full Montessori, with all my degrees, certifications, research and experience… And my kids were acting like entitled little brats!  Furious thoughts whirled through my mind as we entered the chapel where the concert was being held.  I tried to breathe out the negative thoughts and enjoy the music, but then my son began whining because I wouldn’t buy him a cookie from the concession stand and my daughter started melting down (because, no lunch, remember?).  Something inside of me snapped, and the tears began streaming down my cheeks.

We left the concert at intermission (see: pre-schooler and mommy meltdowns) and quietly piled back into the car.  We drove home in silence, and as soon as we got there I grabbed notebook and pen and fled the scene.  I needed to think, to reassess our lives.

I sat at a coffee shop and furiously made a list of all the responsibilities I shouldered in our home.  It was two pages long.  Then I marked those tasks that could be done by either my husband or my children, and sorted them into lists under their names.  As I crossed out chores from my list, I felt a considerable weight lifting off my shoulders.  I wrote out a “Who Does What” plan for mornings, evenings and weekends.  Then I headed home.

That evening, I called a family meeting and explained that I was feeling overwhelmed by all the responsibilities I had chosen to undertake.  I apologized for failing to give them opportunities to contribute to the household, and pointed out how capable they had become in just a few short years.  I shared all of the tasks I knew they were capable of doing, and showed them the plan that outlined all the family contributions.

I also talked about lifestyle changes: no eating between meals; restaurant dinners were limited to Friday evenings or special occasions; and my husband and I would leave the kids with the babysitter and go on date nights every other Saturday.  At the bottom of the list I wrote: “No moaning/groaning/whining.”

My kids seemed excited by most of the changes.  My husband, not so much…

Stay tuned to find out how our lives have evolved in the past three weeks since I set these new boundaries and expectations, and what tools I’ve been using to shift us towards more gratitude and less entitlement!

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Language Development, Montessori Materials

On Our Shelves: materials for a 9-month-old and a 4-year-old

I recently posted a picture of 9-month-old Nadia’s shelves on my Facebook page, and several people wrote to me asking for links to her toys and materials.  I hope this helps you when you set up your baby’s shelves!

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Top row of cubbies (left to right):

Takane ball: I made the ball for Zachary when he was a baby, and both kids have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of it.  I used this tutorial from Beautiful Sun Montessori, but there are many other tutorials out there if you search for “takane ball instructions”.  I have very basic sewing skills, so if you have a sewing machine (and time), you can make one, too!

Wooden grasping toys: Ours were gifts from my lovely A-to-I trained friends, and Nadia has loved them since she was a tiny baby (I rotate them in and out).  You can find them on Etsy.

Wooden car: We have a set of wooden cars made by the German toy company Grimm.cars  They are sturdy and lots of fun for toddlers to crash!  For Nadia I rotate one at a time, but when Zachary was a toddler he enjoyed racing them with mommy and daddy.  You can find them here.

Fabric shapes: Our lovely babysitter hand-stitched different shapes and stuffed them with cotton.  She used a solid fabric on one side and a patterned fabric on the other.  It’s an easy DIY project that could also be done with different textures of fabric (such as corduroy, denim, etc.)

Basket o’ rattles: These are different noise makers we’ve picked up along the way… A maraca from Mexico, a wicker rattle with pieces of tin inside, a doll with a rattle inside, and a couple of Hape rattles, including this funny one (link).

Bottom row of cubbies (left to right):

Object permanence box: She LOVED this from the moment I took it out of the box. The quality is remarkably good for the price, and we just switched out the object-permplastic ball it came with for a sturdier wooden ball because it has a more pleasing sound when it hits the bottom of the box.  Here’s the link. 

Peg and two rings: The peg comes from this Melissa & Doug toy (link) that we got as a gift, which she’s still too young to use, and the rings are napkin rings from the local thrift store.  I have different kinds of rings (metal, wood, ceramic) that I switch out for variety.

Geometric shape puzzle: The shapes are part of a Melissa & Doug three-puzzle set that includes six animals and three shapes.  I think the set I have is discontinued but this is a great alternative (link).

Wooden nesting/stacking bowls: They’re also from the Grimm compabowlsny, and they are one of her favorite toys.  We had a three-year old friend come over to play, and she had a great time stacking them, so it’s a toy with plenty of growth potential!  The wood is beautiful and very high quality.  You can find them here (link).

Geometric solids: These belong to the Hape Shape Sorter (link). shape-sorter She’s not old enough to understand sorting yet, but she likes how the shapes rattle (they have little balls inside).  Once she’s old enough to sort, she’ll already be familiar with the shapes!

If you’re curious about some of the materials on the top shelf that my 4-year old son uses, they are as follows:

World globe: I really like this one from Reprologe (link) because it has the tilting andglobe swiveling base that allows you to see the South Pole without having to flip the base over.  It has raised topography and up-to-date political geography.  The reviews are mixed on Amazon because sometimes the meridians don’t line up, but ours is defect-free and it’s been a HUGE hit with Zachary.

Sandpaper letters: These lower-case cursive letters (link) are a great investment, since the children use them from the time they’re learning sounds (around 2.5/3 years of age) until they’re perfecting their handwriting (lower elementary).

Basket of objects: These are miniature objects I’ve collected though the years, including animals, furniture and cooking utensils.  These are also a great investment, since you use them for language development when they’re toddlers, then Sound Games at 2.5 years of age, and then as inspiration for writing words with the Moveable Alphabet.

Moveable Alphabet: I am in love with this medium cursive alphabet (link)!  The letters mov-alphare made out of wood, they are sturdy and attractive, and they have a nicer weight than the more expensive plastic ones from Nienhuis that most AMI classrooms have.  Plus, each compartment has its corresponding letter printed on it, for easy clean-up (another thing that more expensive plastic model don’t have).  For a homeschooling family, I think this is the ideal Moveable Alphabet.

Feel free to drop me a note if you have any questions about any of these materials, including how I present them to the children!

Disclaimer: Some of these links are affiliate links, and The Full Montessori will get a few pennies from your purchase through Amazon.  Thank you for your support!

 

Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory, Practical Life

Your Child Has a Secret

nut-boltIf you’ve been following the Voila Montessori video series, you’ve probably had the opportunity to give several presentations to your child by now. She might have shown interest in some activities, and completely ignored others. Do you feel frustrated when that happens? All that hard work to put together the material, and your child isn’t interested in it!

Find out why this happens and what you can do about it by clicking 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

 

 

Social and Emotional Learning

Bursting the Montessori Bubble

“At what point do you burst the Montessori bubble?” a friend recently asked.  She has two young children in Montessori, but is considering enrolling them in a traditional private school after they finish Primary.

My first thought (as a former Montessori child and current parent and teacher) was, Why would you want to burst it?

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But my friend is not alone in her concern: many parents feel that Montessori shelters children from tests, grades, and competition.  Based on their own childhoods, these parents believe that only a conventional approach to education can provide the tough experiences that will prepare children to be successful when faced with the hardships of real life.

Finding myself at a loss for a coherent answer, I posed the question to pediatric neuropsychologist and Montessori parent Dr. Steve Hughes over dinner.  He looked at me from behind his glasses for a moment, and then asked:

“Which is the real bubble?”

His question was all the answer I needed.

Because the truth is, success in life is not built on a foundation of standardized tests, but on the freedom to make difficult choices and experience their consequences.

Success in life is not built on grades and percentages, but on self-awareness and self-improvement.

Success in life is not built on artificial competition among same-aged peers, but on genuine collaboration between generations.

Success in life is not built on cheating the system, but on having the wisdom and courage to transform it.

In Dr. Maria Montessori’s words…

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?… The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future.  If what we really want is a new world, then education must take as its aim the development of these hidden possibilities.” 

Uncategorized

All in Good Time

Dr. Montessori realized early on that young children were concrete thinkers.  This means that their brains have a hard time interpreting concepts that cannot be isolated and experienced through the five senses.  Color is one such concept.  Hues are almost always connected to an object: “red” apple, “blue” sky, “yellow” duck.  The very young child struggles to separate the name of the color from the object it belongs to, and this can bring about imprecise impressions that take time and effort to sort out.

tabletsTo support the child’s precise assimilation of these concepts, Dr. Montessori developed the Sensorial materials.  She isolated the concept – in our example, color – and made everything else about the material the same.  The Color Tablets vary only in color and can be sorted and classified, allowing the child to have a clear and tangible experience of an otherwise abstract concept.   We in Montessori refer to these tangible experiences of abstract concepts as “materialized abstractions”.

There are some abstract ideas, however, that can’t be completely “materialized”, and which only become accessible through daily life experiences once the brain reaches a certain level of maturity.  One of these is time.  In Elementary, we have a material that the children use to learn to read an analog clock.  We also provide children with experiences that allow them to “feel” and “see” the passage of time, but the concept can only be truly grasped when the brain is ready to do so.  timer

Cooking gives children many opportunities to experience the passage of time, and it’s one reason why it’s one of my favorite developmental tools.  During our recent Thanksgiving feast preparation, a six-year old and a seven-year old were making cornbread in a crock pot.  The recipe called for the bread to be cooked in the slow cooker for two hours.

The seven-year old took one of our two kitchen timers, the type that goes up to 60 minutes and is set by twisting a knob, and turned to me: “The recipe says ‘two hours’.  Our timer only goes to sixty minutes.  How do we time the bread?”

I said, “Hmmm, what could you do?”

The boy thought for a second and his face lit up.  “We can turn the timer to 60 minutes and when it rings, we can turn it to 60 minutes again!”

The six-year old, who had been listening quietly to the exchange, suddenly got very agitated.  He took the other kitchen timer, ran over to us, and cried out with excitement: “No, I have a better idea!  Let’s set BOTH timers!  One hour and one hour makes TWO hours!!!”