Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back - A Look On The Year That Has Gone

A YEAR AT A GLANCE


JANUARY AND FEBRUARY
Started this blog, had a blast in the snow, and did my first full and mini themes - Valentine's Day and President's Day



Had a blast doing some fun shopping for wish list items, two fun new games were born (the money game and pantry shopping), DIY play-dough and DIY Moveable Alphabet came in very handy for an Easter theme, and we spent LOTS of time at the library!


We had so many picture opportunities in May and June, including Spring Pictures, Mother's Day, and Baseball season! We also had an amazing weather unit, and some sensory fun with dyed rice and DIY sound bottles!


Summer came, and brought swimming, extra library trips, TONS of reading, fireworks, painting, and a mini-ocean unit!


We started the 2013-2014 school year in style, with half work days, park trips to ride the train, and bicycle riding. We also enjoyed new sensorial materials, a fresh classroom, a new little reader, TOT school (huge step!), and DIY experiences including a new hundred board and hands on science with milkweed plants.



November and December brought more TOT school fun, with yellow, green, orange, brown, pink, and purple weeks! We had new experiences with multiplication, addition and subtraction, and don't forget a little snow thrown in there! (6 inches - a lot for us down in the southern states, although your northerners might now be too impressed!). We also hit two wonderful milestones - my husband and I celebrated our 11th anniversary, and we finally got family pictures made, after five children and so many years!


We have had an amazing year, with many ups and downs, but so thankful that God kept us protected and safe through it all! As I look back, I can't believe how fast time has flown, and how excited I am to see what 2014 holds for us!

If you follow me, my prayer is that you have a wonderful New Years, that the holidays have been all you hoped, and that your new year is one that will bring many exciting challenges and amazing memories to last when even 2014 is gone!!!


Happy New Year, From Amy@No Greater Honors




Friday, December 20, 2013

Tot School - Pink and Purple

                *LINKING UP TO TOT SCHOOL GATHERING PLACE*

Seeing as how these are such 'girl colors' (yes, in our house, they are still girl colors! We have enough girls that we have never had to tell our boys that they are girl colors - they figured it out on their own!), I wasn't sure how much Buddy was going to enjoy these colors.

In fact, oddly enough, I had the least of all for these colors, I think. I had a little of this, and a little of that, but nothing that screamed out for much creative genius in tot trays. So we went a little simple with the ideas - things that were easy to put together, which is a good thing since life seems to be extremely busy for us here lately.

Here are the trays:


Pink and Purple Sorting


Pink and Purple One-To-One correspondence - hand transfer


Pink and Purple puzzles: Purple Grapes and a Pink and Purple Elephant


Pink and Purple Sensory Bucket:
Pink Scoop - Target Dollar Spot
Pink Cup - Dollar Store
Pink Flowers - I honestly can't remember where these came from.
Purple Flowers - (same as above!)
Purple poms - Walmart
Clear gems - Dollar Store


Buddy Boy in Action:

The one and only picture I caught of him doing this work, although he did work on transferring several times, sometimes multiple times in one day.



The sorting work, however, was another story. With a great deal of coaxing, he did sort about half the objects in to the right bowls.




He did a whole lot of THIS...
(no that's not really a stretchy key chain, it's got to be some sort of wonky necklace, right?)


and THIS...
(yes, he said he was going to wear the shoe!)



and THIS on his own.... 



before deciding that the small purple puzzle piece erasers would fit nicely together - to make bowling pins. And he bowled.... 



(it's hard to see in the picture below, but he had just completed his first toss of the prickly *bowling* ball)



 He enjoyed the puzzles again this time, and wasn't the least bit confused that there were two of them - he was able to correctly match the pieces to the right puzzle board each time. 


I love the concentration!







The sensory bucket was so simple, I was pleasantly surprised that he enjoyed it so much. I guess there's something to be said for the joy in pouring and scooping!



That was our fun in pink and purple! We have one more color group to work on - black and white - which will happen after the holidays! I wanted to have all colors finished before Christmas, but sometimes our best laid plans have to be pushed aside for the sake of sanity and enjoying what's going on around you!


On Hiatus..... Temporarily!!!

So I have been totally MIA from the blog lately. I haven't written anything, haven't kept up with my  normal reading, and have barely begun to draft ONE tot school post. Life sometimes just smacks you in the face, doesn't it? I have never wanted to take an 'unschooling' approach at all, because I feared that just wouldn't be enough, and yet we've done so much more *life school* the last month or so than usual. I don't know where it started, or exactly when - I just realized last week that it had been probably three + weeks since we have had a completely productive day in our actual lesson plans.

*whew* Now that I've gotten that confession out of the way... Enter the unplanned unschooling that has gone on during this unplanned break. 

Little Mama declared a few days ago that she knew what decimals were all about, since she understood money, she knew what half of 7 would be, because half of $7 was $3.50, so half of the number '7' would have to be 3.5. BOOM. Decimals, abstractly, and I've totally missed my chance to teach her first - can you tell I'm totally NOT disappointed? I love that she has been thinking on it herself - especially when it comes to something in Math. 


Hoss is in love with multiplication, and I have to admit to considering not going through every exercise with the memorization charts if he shows good mastery of how and why with multiplication (I haven't made that decision just yet - I am waiting to see if he stays excited, or begins to lose interest towards the end. I would rather stop sooner than make him complete every single exercise and lose joy).

Miss Priss has begun subtraction - I did manage to snap some pictures of her first concrete presentation - and she LOVES it.


How we set up her work - 2 glass bowls, one with 20 glass gems, one empty.


I did the first two or three equations with her, explaining that in this particular work, the largest number we will have is 20. We did a quick oral review of how an addition equation is set up, and the commutative rule of addition. Then I showed her that in subtraction, we are starting with the largest number (the glass bowl of 20 gems) and taking away (subtracting) a smaller number from the largest number. I showed her that we couldn't start with a small number and take away a larger number, because, as she could see, there wouldn't be enough. So it was easy to understand that you have to start with the largest number.


With the first equations, I used slips of paper (shown above) and wrote the number 20, then took a small handful of gems away  myself and had her count them. I explained that this was the number we were *taking away-subtracting*, and was the second number in the equation. We took them away and placed them in the second bowl, and removed it from the  mat. Then, she laid the remainder out on her mat, and counted what was left over - the difference.


Afterwards, she wrote the answer to the equation on her slip, and laid it to the upper right of her mat. After about three assisted equations, she wanted to do it on her own. I am honestly not sure how many little slips of paper I grabbed before this presentation - it was fit in to about an hour or so of time we had one morning to devote to work alone. However many there were, however, were used up. She decided that she would work through equation after equation until she used them all up - a safe guess would be around 20, give or take a few. She has since repeated this work on her own some. I haven't pushed any of it - we truly haven't had the time - but I know that when school starts back up in January, we will be quick to return to this, and move forward with subtraction with the bead bars.



Bug, well - she's doing good to take care of herself :) . We are still working on good work habits in school. She did, however, find something new that she loves. A fun extension to the sandpaper letters - letter rubbing!





Buddy Boy is moving along at his own pace, and some changes to our tot school will be going on in the beginning of the year 2014, but I will talk about those in a separate post. He does, however, LOVE to follow along and do as much as he can of what the bigger kids are doing.




I am in the middle of moving things around and trying to prepare for even more updates and changes in the school room for next year. I will also admit to being a bit overwhelmed as our family got busy, and I realized that I needed to slow down a little bit or I would end up not being good for anyone (not my children or my husband). Just writing this post has been refreshing, however - it gave me a chance to realize time hadn't been wasted, and remember that it never is wasted when we are together, doing things together. Truthfully, there is SO much I want to do and so much I want to introduce to them, and I am hoping to get a good jump in to the second semester in January.

With Christmas upon us, and my husband having most of the next two weeks off work, though - I will probably not be around on the blog. I hope to enjoy our time together, and have time to work on setting up a solid work plan of my own, something to help me get on track, and stay on track.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Years, and look forward to updating you after the New Year on what's going on around here and where we will be going with the first part of our 2014 school year!





MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November Tot School - Orange and Brown (with some Fall inspiration!)



Well, I am finally getting around to posting about our Brown/Orange weeks!  Since I didn't have as large a variety in the two colors, I decided it would be ideal to combine them. Add to that the season change, and Fall fit right in with the colors!

It worked out to just devote the entire month of November to the brown/orange theme with some Fall inspiration. I also wanted to keep it simple because it turned out to be a very busy month! Due to that, I only started with three main trays/activities to see if 'less was better' with Buddy Boy.

Without further ado, here are the trays:

The first one was oh, so simple: A basket of brown and orange Unifix blocks :)



The second was a small puzzle that I found at the Dollar Tree in a 3 pack. This one just so happened to be a brown and orange monkey.


He also had a brown/orange/Fall sensory box!



The first week, his sensory box contained:
BROWN leaves (table decor - Target Dollar Spot)
ORANGE pumpkins (table decor - Target Dollar Spot)
BROWN gems (Walmart, I think)
BROWN numbered acorns (printable from a book - I can't tell you where it came from)
ORANGE pumpkins with removable lids 
ORANGE felt leaves (Napkin rings from Target Dollar Spot)
BROWN bag (confiscated on the sly from my husband's Oakley sunglasses! Shhh! Don't tell!)


The next week, I added to the sensory bin :
ORANGE silicone ice cube tray (Target Dollar Spot)
BROWN Horse (Bullseye - Toy Story collectible)
And of course, who can take the trusty steed with the cowboy? Woody had to join in with his BROWN hair and BROWN cowboy boots and BROWN hat!
BROWN horse puzzle piece
ORANGE Tiger puzzle piece
I also added some orange carrot erasers, but they somehow didn't make it in to a picture!



Of course, he still loves the sensory boxes/baskets the best! Miss Priss and Bug enjoyed getting in on the action. It was fun to see the different ideas they came up with.

Many times he spent a lot of time filling the pumpkins and dumping them out. Then, with the help of sisters' good idea, he would fill two and we would talk about which one weighed more than the other, etc. 


After I added the ice cube tray he enjoyed a lot of one-to-one correspondence with the leaves, pumpkins, gems, and carrot erasers.


The most played 'game', however, was a great stereognostic activity.  Buddy (and Miss Priss and Bug) would grab a handful of leaves, gems, and pumpkins. Then, after placing them in the bag, they would tell me what they were going to find, or have me tell them what to find, and use their sense of touch to find the right item. Buddy boy mastered this very well, and would often find something in the bag and tell me what he had before he pulled it out.


"A brown leaf!"



He didn't choose the puzzle as often, so I was glad to see him want to do it the day I was taking pictures :) 


  
The level of difficulty on this one was a little harder than some he's done in the past, and I questioned my decision a little, but of course, he surprised me like always! He was VERY proud of himself for finishing it up so well, and repeated it several times this particular day after figuring out where the pieces went. 


(side note - yes, that IS a laundry couch in the back ground! I hope I'm not the only mommy who finds it very easy to keep the machines moving, but not always easy to stop what you are doing and put everything up in the  middle of the school day. With five kiddos and a husband, waiting until night time to do laundry is not always a workable plan, either!)


I only managed to get one picture of him working with the blocks, but they got a LOT of use! He has really enjoyed building 'towers' here lately, which was the inspiration for this oh-so-simple basket. He was able to distinguish between the colors with them put together, many times saying "You build a brown tower, and I will build an orange tower" or vice versa.  

I was going to add more in to what I offered him - I had more of each, but I realized that what he had, he was enjoying, and he wasn't bored or acting as if he wanted something different. It was quite the busy month for us as a whole, so have less to choose from ensured that he was going to be able to enjoy each activity, and not get frustrated when we had to spend a little less time with tot school than normal. It was also very easy for him to enjoy when I was working with the others and not able to be right beside him the entire time (I try to make sure I am right there working with him during tot school - that is the goal and it's generally easy to do - but sometimes I just get a little busy trying to work with the others as well, and it's nice to know that he can work with his trays independently!) That's all we did for our orange/brown tot school weeks! :) I know it sounds simple, but sometimes - simple is best! :) 

I hope you are enjoying your tot and having a wonderful Fall!













Thursday, November 21, 2013

What I Learned From My Montessori School Experience

All the posts I have done in my Montessori Experience series have been leading up to this one -

What I Learned From My Montessori Experience


THE CLASSROOM



The classroom must, MUST meet my needs. A great piece of advice that the primary teacher gave me was this: "Do what works for YOU - not necessarily what works in the classroom here." As profoundly simple as that sounds, it's so easy to compare your own personal surroundings to those that you have seen, both in a classroom and in other homeschool rooms! This is also possibly the worst mistake you can make. You see - what works for a mother of 2 children, ages 3 and 5, isn't going to work for a mother of 5 or 6 children, especially those who span all grade levels! While it may be possible for that mother of 2 young children to fill her shelves with every practical life and sensory work possible, that's impossible for a mother who must share her shelves with all grades. While some have entire rooms dedicated to their school space, some have a shelf in the dining room or living room, and that's it. You have to work with what you have, not worry about what you don't have. If that means leaving off pinterest until you have found a way to make your space work with what you are happy with, then do it! Don't get bogged down by the things you don't have. I was able to use this personally, because I had to learn that if I focus too much on any one area, I will not be able to fulfill the needs of my others. I learned that it doesn't take every work possible to make sure your children have what they need, and no more or less room is going to cause normalization in your child - it's NOT something you do - it's something that happens! Use space wisely, cut corners if necessary. Although every material and presentation surely has it's place, you may have to observe your children and find out what they enjoy doing or what helps them understand the most, and use it. Sometimes you may have to stretch the imagination, and use other non-authentic ways/materials to concretely teach the lesson. What works is what is important - not what you don't have!


THE STUDENTS



Ahh..... this one is easy. I have five of the cutest little students you will ever lay eyes on - and that is a completely bias opinion, thank you very much! In my little group, I have the semi-normalized, the MOSTLY normalized, and the not-at-all normalized! I will be honest here and say that this is the part I struggle with the most - not my  own children, but not comparing them to what I think they should be, or what they aren't. I am not proud to say that often, I expect more than I should and find myself having to slow down and take things as they come. I explained in my post, The Romance Of Montessori, that I expected this drastic change to take place just because I changed the way I taught school at home. What I didn't take in to account is that they are starting at the same level as a primary 3 year old, sort of. Not necessarily in what they know, but in how they adjust to the method. Which is fine - for the younger two. But the older three - especially the older two - were used to something very different. We had a very much teacher-led school routine up until last year. I didn't know any different, and neither did they. Don't get me wrong - I ENJOY teaching them and being right there with them as they learn. This would be just fine if I only had one or two. However, I don't - I have five. Five very different children, at five different levels. I needed them to be able to work through some things on their own, especially the older ones, so that I could take the extra time needed for the younger ones.

Where I found my problem was keeping that all going on at the same time. One statement, more than any other, reassured me this in itself was not just due to me not having any formal Montessori training, or even having had gone through a course. When I told the L.E. teacher that one of my focuses for my last trip was to see how she was able to keep everyone busy, she said (with a smile) "That's the hard part!" With that, I learned that I wasn't the only one who had to work hard to make sure they all stayed busy.

When I watched the other children, both in Primary and L.E., I realized that the 'newbies' were very much like my Bug - especially the Primary newbies - she needs a lot of direction right now and she figures out how to find her own work and complete it without needing me right there with her. She is still very dependent on me to direct her, and the Primary teacher said she has some like that and just has to encourage them until they figure it out. I learned that it's normal - it's not just a problem that I have. I know that may seem like something easy to figure out to someone else, but it was a real concern for me.

When I talked with the U.E. teacher, and looked at the environment they have in their classroom, I realized it was set up to be very conducive to personal research, and following a child's interest in whatever they may want to learn about on any given day. I saw the decline in concrete materials as the abstract learning has started to develop in L.E. . I saw how she was able to still teach them what they needed to know in the core areas, but through projects, book reports, etc.,  give them room to learn about something they found exciting. I learned how that could work first hand when Little Mama became deeply interested in all things Native American - she read about them, wrote about them, made miniature homes, buildings, people out of paper that showed what she knew. She immersed herself in it, and through that learned more than I do about early Native Americans, their needs, how they met them, and early American History as seen through their eyes and stories. Which led to even more interest in early American History itself. All this done by her - I had no part in it, other than allowing access through the library, and opportunity by providing little things she needed as she came up with her own ideas of how to use her knowledge.

I saw the boy in L.E. who had made it through 3 years of Primary and was probably in his second year of L.E., and yet that tended to be a little more loud and not so graceful through the classroom. I saw the problem that could create, and yet how the teacher observed from afar but as long as the child was completing his work, and not keeping others from working, she left him to work. Maybe he wasn't the quietest in the room, and maybe normalization didn't set with him the way it did with others, but he got his work done. He was able to help the first year students with things they didn't know or when they needed something. He was able to complete a work cycle and concentrate in the middle of it. I learned that normalization may not look exactly the same in every child - I firmly believe the personality of the child is bound to play a big part in how they interact and move about the classroom. This helps me to realize that I need to take my children's personalities into account before deciding if they are 'getting it' or not.

I could go on and on in this category, but I'll spare you every little detail - although, if you have any questions about a particular concern of yours - feel free to ask! If I can't answer, I know how to get a hold of someone who can!

Last, but once again - not at all least -

THE TEACHER


I learned to observe - and observe - and observe. I learned that I should try with every fiber of my being to be patient, patient, patient! I learned to keep a close eye, but sometimes purpose to do so from afar. Think past what I see first (the talking between each other, the completion of a work in totally the opposite way from what it was intended) and see what my children might be doing. I learned to allow for as much opportunity to create their own assignments as possible. 
Little Mama is a writing/drawing addict! She still 'practices her cursive' - which doesn't need to be practiced anymore - by writing stories or short essays about different aspects of the Native American culture. When she does word studies about antonyms, homonyms, etc. she writes a story using the words she is working on, then illustrates it with a picture. This was all her own idea, and she loves it! 
Bug recently 'created her own work' with beads and pipe cleaners, and she was so happy with herself. I still enjoy being right in there in the lesson with the kids, talking with them and watching them learn. I am always working on improving what I am doing or what I have available, but I have also learned to try and not overwhelm myself, because then nothing gets finished. I will admit, I didn't learn all of that through just my visits to the Montessori school - my lessons on being a good teacher to my children have come from the teachers at the school AND the other amazing homeschool mamas!

Some of my favorite homeschool blogs, although definitely not conclusive, are:

Living Montessori Now
What Did We Do All Day
Discovery Moments
The Kavanaugh Report

These I keep up with very regularly, although there are more that I try to check now and then! If I tried to keep up with all the great blogs I've read, I would be sitting way too long at a computer! I would strongly suggest you find your favorites, ones that not only give good ideas, but encourage you to be a better homeschool mama, and don't overwhelm yourself with every great idea out there. There are many of them, but one person can only keep up with so much. Find what your children like, and what works for them, and don't try to keep up with everyone out there - you won't be able to, it won't happen, and you and your children will suffer for it!

There is so much to be learned, and I have seen over the years that each year there is slight changes according to what your child needs, and that is for Montessori and non-Montessori families. Always determine to improve and make that your prayer - it is mine - and you will not go wrong. I will end with a quote from the U.E. teacher, something she said to me the first time I ever went to tour the Montessori school - "The fact that you are HERE (at the school) is proof that you care and that you are doing a good job." The fact that you, as mothers, are trying to do better all the time - that's what is needed for a great homeschool!!!

Keep on. mothers. keep on!

*To find all the articles in this series, check out these links below*

My Experience in the Montessori Primary Classroom

My Experience in the Lower Elementary Classroom

My Experience in the Montessori Upper Elementary Classroom
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