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

Monday, November 18, 2013

My Experience At A Montessori School - Upper Elementary

Last, but not least, is the Upper Elementary Classroom. The Upper Elementary class usually goes from ages 9-12, 4th grade - 6th grade. 


THE UPPER ELEMENTARY CLASSROOM

photo credit - White Rock Montessori

My first look at the U.E. class was interesting - a couch. There was a couch in the classroom. Not something that is shocking to a Montessori teacher, maybe, or a homeschooler in general, but very different from the average public school.  The comfort level was apparent, and very homey.  There were some similarities to a public school classroom, though -  a few full size school desks and tables in the classroom, surrounded by the materials needed for U.E. and LOTS of books! There is only one U.E. teacher in the school here, but the class size is small - probably only around 15 students, give or take a couple.  I got my first look at the decimal board and decimal checkerboard here, as well as the advanced fraction materials.  I also had the curriculum explained to me a bit, in how they go just a little deeper and deeper each year into the lessons that are given each year. 



THE UPPER ELEMENTARY CHILD

photo credit - White Rock Montessori

There is not really a grouping of normalization vs. not normalization needed in this classroom. The children by this age have been through so many years of knowing how to act in the classroom, and now is the time for them to learn independence at a higher level. I will say that they are still just children, albeit older children than the other two classes - I am sure everyone has an 'off' day' now and then!  At this point, although there are new lessons to be learned and group lessons/game times to work on and practice things, there is a push towards more responsible independent work. The children are taught how to make note of what is needed to be done (in a personal planner), and complete it in the time allotted. For example (and this could definitely vary from class to class and home to home) - the teacher told me that the children do one book report a month. They have a theme, and have a month to do it. The first month, especially with the new students, can sometimes end in a child not having their work complete when it's supposed to be, because they were not reminded over and over to do it.  So they end up spending free time on it, to finish.  The next month, after hearing the book theme, etc., for the monthly book report, many get started much earlier to make sure they aren't caught by surprise.  This type of slow adjustment in to expectations can (and will) help the upper elementary child tremendously! The drive to follow their interests was very evident in the classroom itself (hence the books everywhere, enabling research on a topic to be easier). All the teaching they got in research in the lower elementary classroom comes in to play in the U.E. class.



THE UPPER ELEMENTARY TEACHER

photo credit - Litchfield Montessori

It was my pleasure to meet the U.E. teacher and get a chance to talk to her. The first trip I made, I just briefly took a walk through her room, but didn't spend much time there. The second trip I made, I talked with her quite a bit. She was able to give some great advice on things to really stress at the L.E. level, things that will be very important as they get to U.E. (for all the mamas out there working on fractions - be sure to stress the equivalence! It will make a big deal when they get to Algebra!). She personally gave me the first presentation on decimals, so that I could give it to my kiddos  when they are ready, and showed me how to use the decimal board and how they handle that in their classroom. She also walked me through their material and how it circulates deeper and deeper through the three years the children are in the class. She explained some of their projects that they do (this is where I learned how they do book reports, among other things). I also got the chance to talk to her about how they handle the great lessons. Honestly, I am not a fan of the original great lessons. My Boys Teacher has a great post on how to modify the Great Lessons to teach them from a biblical view point. I explained my hesitation and my thoughts on taking a different approach and the U.E. teacher talked about some ways they could be adapted to fit how I wanted to teach them. I really enjoyed spending time with her, getting a good look on how I can implement Montessori learning methods as the kids get to where the materials are fewer, but the learning style is still very much a part of their school!


It was very refreshing to see how the method moves through the ages and grades, from 3 to 12 years of age! The concrete becomes the abstract, the fully guided becomes the encouraged, then the ability to release the child whenever possible to learn about what they are interested in, while still getting the basic foundations built for higher education. The principal and teachers said that the children who move on from the Montessori school almost always adjust very well to the change to a more traditional setting, although I am sure that if it was me -I would miss the environment! 

My Upper Elementary Child - Little Mama


I hope these 'peeks in to the classroom' have helped someone, and in the next couple of days I am going to write the last post in this series, explaining some pointed things I saw that showed me what I needed to see in my own little class of five at home!




Monday, November 11, 2013

A New Place To Find Me :)

I wanted to announce real quick that there is a new place to find me! :) Although my homeschool blog may be a little bit more active from time to time, depending on what's going on that week, you can now also find me blogging here : A Higher Calling. Occasionally, my brain hashes out different things I think about as a mother and wife - both deep and sometimes, just something so light and fun as maybe a new recipe or craft, or just something the kids or my husband I did that was enjoying and helped us as a family! Although homeschooling has so many facets, I didn't want to blow up this blog too much, so I thought I would just have two!

I would love to have you find me over there from time to time, seeing what may be going on in our life outside of homeschooling! 




My Veteran Through The Years

I just have to take the time to pay a special tribute to my favorite veteran - my husband - through the years :)

Graduation from Basic Training
(I was in my senior year of high school!)



Tech School
(I was at home base, preparing for our wedding!)


The day of our wedding 
(11 years ago this December 14th)


TDY trip
(usually these were two week trips where he had to go work at another base in the US, while I stayed home :(   )


Graduation from Airman Leadership School
(after weeks and weeks of looooong hours of study, in which I had to help him learn about aircraft that I had NO clue the first thing about!)


F-15 flight
(an incentive offered to everyone when the schedule alloted for it)


The day he pinned on SSgt stripes
(staff sergeant - I just had to take a picture!)



Hoss' first haircut
(shows that some days, the uniform just stays on - it's a part of him!)


A great Daddy who has children that LOVE him!
(Throwback - this is when Little Mama was 2, and Hoss was around 15-18 months)


Afghanistan Deployment
(skip ahead several years, this is when he was gone for 7 1/2 months - we kept our Flat Daddy on hand! If you are a military family, or know one, this is a must have for deployments! He stayed in plain sight, sometimes one or the other of the kids slept with him - he even 'went with us' to Chick-Fil-A once!)






To all military - Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard - every active duty family, National Guard, and Reserve - I hope you have a wonderful Veterans Day! If you know someone that is a veteran - take a minute and tell them today how much you appreciate and love them! When you see that old, wrinkled face underneath the black veteran's hat - it's okay to stop and say 'Thank You' - you will most likely make their day!

Happy Veterans Day!!!!




Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Experience At A Montessori School - Lower Elementary

My time spent in the Lower Elementary classroom has been extremely necessary this year.

I have visited the school three times, and each time, I spent time in the lower elementary. During my first two visits, I was in all three classrooms and the time in L.E. was spent checking out the shelves, seeing the placement choices of where materials were and how the organization was. I also tried my best to see what, if anything, I didn't know about yet - much more the first time than the second, and trying to watch the children when possible. I will say, though, the children at this age were not my main focus for the first two trips. If you have read my post on The Romance of Montessori, you will know that my third trip was ALL about the lower elementary classroom and observing the children in the environment.

*Interesting information for you to think about - on one of my visits, the U.E. (upper elementary) teacher just happened to be in the L.E. class for a moment. She was able to talk a little bit with me, and I asked her what she thought would be the most flexible material to buy, and what I should 'definitely' make sure I have. In her opinion, the stamp game was absolutely on the top of the list! She said that with it, you can do all four operations, and that it was definitely worth the money spent on it. I have not purchased the stamp game, however, because you can get it for FREE at Montessori Print Shop in the free downloads! :)

Now on to what I observed:


THE LOWER ELEMENTARY CLASSROOM


photo credit - amherst bulletin news

The lower elementary classroom is very easily just a step up from the primary. Where you might see one or two small tables in the primary work area (outside of where they eat, of course), there were several small tables and child sized desks/tables for each class in l.e. (there were two classes side-by-side in one large room - which means at any one time, there are three-four teachers and about 40 children approximately!). Where the primary class has things very clearly divided in to the sensorial/language/mathematics/practical life categories, it gets a little bit intertwined in the lower elementary. Practical life as a 'work' becomes practical life as a team effort. The different cleaning tasks involved in the school day were, in this school any way, divided out among students and I imagine it's on a rotation schedule of some kind. I tried to take notes the second time I was there on the specific placement of where they put materials. I am sure that your decisions of where to place your materials are very much controlled by the space you have. There's not a great deal else to say about the environment itself - by this age, the children are used to a prepared environment and how to handle themselves.


THE LOWER ELEMENTARY CHILD


photo credit - dcsmontessori.org


I will try not to overwhelm you in this one - My post  - The Romance of Montessori - was written after my last visit to the l.e. class. The first thing you can expect of the lower elementary child is that they know how to choose the materials they need off the shelf, complete their work cycle, and put everything away. I am going to group these in to three groups again:

(1) The Normalized Child
(2) The Semi-Normalized Child
(3) The Newbie


(1) The Normalized Child

These children were on task. They weren't loud, although they did talk to each other in passing. These children were able to follow their lesson plans for the day, moving around to get what was needed without interrupting others as they worked. They were everywhere :) I enjoyed watching them as they were able to walk about the room without interrupting, give their full attention to the teacher as she gave individual/group lessons, and they looked as if they were right at home. At this point, the children have a work plan. They decide the Friday before what they will do the next week, and when. This way, they know what they must do, and still have the option of when they want to do it. This does not limit them, I don't believe, only ensures that they do accomplish what needs to be done in a weeks' time to make sure they are moving along. I asked the head teacher for this class what a workload each day looks like for them. She told me what they do, although I don't know if this is handled the same way across the board with a l.e. class. I guess it could just depend on the school. She said that a 1st year l.e. student is usually required to complete 5 works in a day. A second year would have about a 7-work requirement, while a 3rd year has a 9-work/day requirement. She also said they are able to watch, and if they notice that someone is doing a work that takes considerably longer than the average 15 minutes to work on, they can account for that. She said they do 2-3 Math works in a day, 2-3 language, and intersperse Science, Culture, Geography, Geometry etc. in between. And, of course, there individual presentations and group lessons.

(2) The Semi-Normalized Child

These children were the ones who most likely fell in to the same category in primary. They know how to do their work completely, yet aren't always as graceful about it. Sometimes they need more prompting than others, and tend to be louder and a bit disruptive at times, and may hinder the other children sometimes from being able to fully concentrate. Now please - PLEASE - don't think I am saying this in a critical, criticizing way. The truth is, my older two would probably fall in to this category most of the time. They aren't always loud, but do tend to interrupt (even if it is good intentioned) and distract others by talking to them or calling them away from their work.

(3) The Newbie

In this class, I think of the newbie as the first grader that has just moved up from the primary class. I imagine by the end of the year, this would  be a moot category, for it takes time to adjust to a new classroom, I'm sure.  From what I observed by a few children that I recalled being in the primary class last year, these students at the beginning of the year may tend to walk around a bit more, observe a bit more (sound a little like a first year primary???) and take a little longer to get their work completed. They probably depend a lot on the older students to help them find what they need or answer questions about things that they don't know yet. They may even need a bit of prompting on what they can move on to do, as far as choosing a work.


THE LOWER ELEMENTARY TEACHER


photo credit - mdtl.org


Once again, this is the busiest person (or persons) in the room. The head teacher, especially, because she/he is responsible for giving new presentations, checking work that can't be checked by the assistant teacher (the classrooms I visited had one head teacher and one assistant). My last trip, I mentioned to one of the two head teachers that I wanted to really be able to watch the interaction in the classroom and see how she was able to keep all the kids busy and working. Her answer - "That's the hard part." That one little comment she made was so liberating! I realized that it wasn't just me that found that was one of the hardest things. From where I sat, I was able to view both of the lower elementary classrooms, and both teachers and their assistants.   Here is where I may sound brutally honest - one teacher was overwhelmingly patient with her students, and the other seemed to not be quite as much. Now that I have said that, it seemed like one class was running a little smoother that day than the other, which may explain it. I watched the more patient of the two teachers the most, just from the angle I was sitting at, and she did have to give warnings, and she did have to dismiss a young child from a group presentation in Geometry. I loved that she didn't make a big deal out of it, just told him he was excused because he didn't need to interrupt the lesson, and moved right on to finish teaching. And, kept one eye moving around the classroom at the same time.

My Lower Elementary Child - Hoss :)


I have learned several things about my own children through these visits, and I think I will save that for the last in this series!

You can go here to see my first post in this series, all about the Primary Class.

The next in this series will be my observations in the Upper Elementary Class.

As always, I hope this is a blessing and help to someone else, but if not - it still helps me! The thought of helping someone else is wonderful, but putting my own thoughts down is also a great help to me!

Monday, November 4, 2013

School day outtakes

I thought I'd share a few quick pictures taken here and there over the last couple of weeks.


Bug decided it would be a lot of fun to bring all three knobless cylinder blocks from the shelves to her mat and mix them all up. She repeated this several times before putting the work away, which was delightful to me. If you read my post on my observances in a Montessori Primary classroom, my Bug qualifies as 'a newbie'. She has not yet reached normalization, so her concentration and independence levels are very low. She either, (1) wants to work *thisclose* to me, and have me work with her always, or she drifts away and does something totally NOT school related - like playing chase with Buddy Boy. Any focused work is a good sign on her part!



 I'm fixing to shock some of you. Little Mama is 9, and therefore falls in to the Upper Elementary year 1 - but she's doing multiplication with the multiplication board (a lower elementary work). The method used in the curriculum we have used so far teaches mainly memorization of facts. There's a place for that - but that comes after the understanding of how you come to the solution itself. Little Mama knows most of the facts off the top of her head, especially 1-5 times tables, but after that the memorization is even a little sketchy. Which causes a big problem in division once the dividends/divisors get larger, and we can't progress. So both Little Mama and Hoss are working through the multiplication board and finally have a good grasp of why they come to the answer they get when multiplying. After that, I expect they will move well through the memorization sequences. I will also be bringing in division this week with Little Mama, to remind her of what she already knows, make sure she understands how she comes to the correct conclusion, and show her (again) the relationship between division and multiplication. This is about where we were leaving off last year at the time that we began to slow down and back pedal to make Math more enjoyable. It may seem like we are going too slow, but I know that we are right in line with where they are, which is perfect!


This is a printable slip-n-speller that I printed off sometime early in the school year last year, I think, colored, and laminated. I have 6 or 7 of them, one for each short vowel sound with c-v-c words, one with c-v-c-c or c-c-v-c words, and another with four consonants and one short vowel. I wasn't sure when I would use it, but this year it has come in handy so far. Miss Priss is enjoying her new found reading talent, and she loves to take these out, slip in the correct letter slides, and read away.These are really easy for her now, but it's giving her good practice on blending faster, and in her mind instead of always out loud.


She has also taken to using them for writing practice, and really enjoys finding how many words are 'really' words, and making her page as full as she can get it.



The day I took these pictures, she had out the short 'o' fox that you saw pictured above. She had mentally sounded out the word 'hog' and asked if it was going to be there, so when she found it, she wrote it, and then went a step further. :) It's football season - can you tell which team is her Daddy's favorite?



Fall has also arrived, which brought a great day of raking leaves and playing in them one afternoon! Nothing like crunchy leaves underfoot. Okay - so I don't like it, but the girl on the other end of these feet did!





Buddy Boy has not only mastered the brown tower, but he has pulled out the extensions that I made for it and does surprisingly well with them! This one that he is using is the most difficult of the brown tower extensions, and he was able to self correct until he got each piece correct, and then repeated it a few times before putting it away.



This last one is of Miss Priss, plugging away at her addition memorization charts. She is working right now on the first presentation of the blank chart. Up until now, she has sped right through the first presentation of each chart very quickly, often finishing in one to two days. This one has her slowing down, however. We have the free printable addition charts from here at jmjpublishing/Hope4Me printables. Because I chose to print and laminate them as-is, to save space, the tiles get a little slippery. She and I together worked out a good way for her to be able to first find the correct sum tile(s), then place them in the correct place on the board. If she tries to do one at a time, many times other tiles would slip around and get her so distracted she couldn't even manage to remember what equation she was working on, much less the answer to it.



Anyway, that's just a few pictures taken when I had a minute and remembered to snap them!





My Experience At A Montessori School - Primary

I'm going to do a small series on my experiences at the local Montessori school in my city. If you live anywhere close by a Montessori school, and you are homeschooling with the Montessori method, my best suggestion to you would be to try your best to have a tour of the school, and inquire as to whether you would be allowed to observe the classroom(s) at all. I can honestly say that being able to talk 1-1 with the teachers and observe in these classrooms has been some of the most important learning experiences for ME as I began my Montessori teaching journey.


The first time I went to visit, my main focus was on watching the primary class. At the time, I didn't think I would be completely changing the way I taught - I just wanted to find something for my little ones to do while the older child were doing their school work. I'm going to share a little about the environment, the children, and the teacher.

THE MONTESSORI  PRIMARY CLASSROOM

montessori preschool and kindergarten classroom yorkville IL
photo creditPeaceful Pathways Montessori

I walked in and it didn't take long to see how the room was set up, and that it was the way it was for a purpose. I want to say that there was a small kitchenette area at the far end of the classroom, off to the left, so naturally there were several small tables to the right of it, and the shelves surrounding and in the midst of it were full of practical life/fine motor skills works. As you moved away from that area, there was a large rug, but the shelves on either side of it began the sensory materials. Even farther still were the math works, then language close to where I was, and behind me, at the opposite end of the classroom from the PL were the grammar and writing shelves. At first, I liked the organizational way it was set up, but after thinking  more about it, I realized there was a two-fold purpose. Practical Life is one of the first steps in the primary age.
Deb at Living Montessori Now has a wonderful post all about practical life and the role in the classroom - you can find it here. She also has posts on recommended practical life materials, and one on where you can find Montessori practical life videos. A three year old coming in to the Montessori classroom is going to spend a great deal of time working with these materials, as well as the sensorial - all on one side of the room. As you move, you progress in to the Math, Grammar, Reading, Writing - things that are for students with more experience in the classroom. It is very well set up, as I'm sure all primary classrooms are, and I recommend that if you have multiple ages in your homeschool, especially if you have a wide range, you do the same. There is no stopping the curiosity when it comes to a young child trying to see what everyone else is doing - I can't ever make that promise. BUT - if they know where 'their' shelves are, and of course - can easily get them - it will make it easier to have a productive time with them.


THE PRIMARY CHILD

photo creditMontessori south riding

I'm going to break this up into three sub-catergories:

(1) The normalized  child

(2) The semi-normalized child

(3) The newbie :)

(1) - The normalized child - they were everywhere! When I first stepped in, the principal quietly explained that they use the phrase "Please Be Excused", and simply said that if any of the children try to come up and have conversation with me, to say the same. She said most would understand and know to walk away. The normalized children were the ones who NEVER came to try and talk. That doesn't make them unsocial - there was a good deal of talking amongst themselves, as they worked and moved around the class. They just knew that I wasn't a part of the classroom, and they had a mission in mind that didn't include me. I was, of course, shocked to see what could be done so easily by a young mind when given the concrete materials to understand it with, and enjoyed watching 4 and 5 year- old children building numbers in to the thousands, and counting money. I did notice that my presence, however quiet and still I was in my little chair (yes - a perk of being in primary - I got the *ahem* blessing of sitting in a tiny chair - one I haven't fit in to since I was below double digits in age!).caused many to take their work somewhat farther away than they might have under normal circumstances. One thing that I did notice, and I remembered much later, is that the teacher still had to remind them to not sit and chat, and sometimes encourage two that were 'working together' and doing more talking than working, to find separate things to do. A Montessori environment will not take the CHILD out of your child. It's important to stress that - it makes them no less apt to want to talk, and enjoy the company of others. What it does do, is take that drive to socialize and use it to encourage younger ones to learn from older ones. They will not ignore their surroundings completely, although while in the middle of working on something, a normalized child will - for the most part - concentrate wholly on what they are doing and be able to work in spite of the other 15 children around them working on other things. The depth of that concentration may depend on how 'in to' their work they are - if they have a strong desire, they may  be able to tune more out than normal. For the 'normalized' child to be interested in what is going on around them and take their eyes off their work to see what someone else is doing, or to want to observe another person working, does not make them unable to do their own work. Although you may not see as much observing in an older primary child, it is okay to see some - especially if they are watching someone even older than themselves. They are learning.

(2) The semi-normalized child - I'd like to say that, in my opinion, and from what I've seen, this is the child who has the ability to concentrate and complete a work cycle. They can choose something, and know what to do to go from start to finish successfully. They CAN work independently, and don't have to be given repeated presentations over and over, because they weren't listening the first time. However, there were these 'semi' normalized children in the classroom - some in their last year of primary, in fact. What factors go in to causing this is debatable. It could be that they started later than 3 yrs of age. It could be their extreme personality - the dramatic talker who is a MAJOR social butterfly and thrives off of company. It could be outside influences that keep them from settling down and focusing on their work - too much screen time, whether it be TV or video games - maybe something in their diet that has an adverse reaction on their behavior (Hoss can't eat red dye without getting a little - okay - a LOT - wired most of the time). I noticed, however, that these students - and there was honestly only one or two - had to be redirected often to go back to work, or to stop talking and interrupting others, or, in the case of one little girl, pulled to the teacher to sit right beside her. In fact, the teacher told me a few weeks later she had one young child (possibly the same one) that she had to have sit right behind her, back to back, and she worked, so that she could teach the others and at the same time, know that this child was still busy and not getting away from what she was supposed to be doing. None of this is done cruelly, or out of punishment, mind you - just simply that these children are not completely *there* and need a little more assistance.


photo credit Montessori south riding



(3) The Newbie - You could definitely tell where the three year old's were in the classroom. Not because they were loud - in fact, most of them were the least apt to socialize and talk to other students. There were maybe three or four that I :think: I picked out of the crowd. They were most often found observing, with their work sitting in front of them, untouched. They were found more often on the practical life side of the room, which was farthest from where I sat, so I didn't actually watch them as much. One little girl, however, was working on a simple work of matching bead bars to number cards beside me,so out of the corner of my eye I watched her - watching as she watched the older children build numbers in the thousands with the large number cards. I will venture to say she did this for a solid 10 minutes atleast - never moving, never speaking, just watching. It didn't take me long to know what she was doing - she was learning. Learning FROM THEM, although not being anywhere near ready to use that particular material. Learning how to work together, where to go for certain materials they needed for the bank game, seeing the two boys use them correctly, and watching as they meticulously put all their things back on the shelf and rolled their mats, only to go on their way. She did complete her work cycle, but not until she was finished learning from them. Both the semi-normalized children and the newbies were more likely to stop, look at me, get close and then walk away, or several times, ask what my name was or if I would  help them with something. 

Last, but certainly not least:

THE PRIMARY TEACHER

Montessori Classroom
photo credit Montessori glen-ed

There were actually two classrooms of primary students, but I was blessed to be able to be in one where the teacher had been working with young children for many, many years, and had been teaching primary Montessori for 14-15 years. The ever present "eye in the sky", she was, able to move her eyes quickly around the room and know in a glance what each child was doing. As was the case with the young newbie I told you about, she knew the little girl was sitting with her work. I'm sure she caught on to the fact that she was not completing it, but she had the great sense to not call out from even 5 or 6 feet away to tell her to finish. She let her quietly observe, and when she saw that her attention was no longer on the two boys, she came over and encouraged her to finish up, walking her through completely her tray. Whether on purpose or just happen-stance, she also brought two or three others to the rug right in front of me to work through a sound basket, although she cleverly made sure she was facing me, and their backs were to me, so they would work and not look at the stranger in classroom. I saw as she patiently encouraged one little guy to focus on his work while he was highly distracted, and gently but firmly remind two little girls that the work they chose really didn't need two people doing it. She kept up with everyone, taking every chance she could to record what was going on with each one and keep her records. I did find out later that even she, who has been doing this for so long, tends to break out in a cold sweat when she has four or five around her trying to get her attention, as she works to make sure she is keeping up with them all. So very down to earth, she is :) I was so excited to get a chance to come talk 1-1 with her a few weeks later - that was the only classroom in which there was absolutely no interaction between me and the teacher, and for obvious reasons.

I said I was going to try to keep this short, and I have failed. If you made it this far and have read the entire post - Congratulations! If you noticed words in bold print in the section where I spoke of the children, there was a purpose. These are things that I have had to re-hash in my mind more than once, and things that I needed to remember, because I was guilty of taking the opposite thought path on them! Through primary, I have learned that it's okay to let them observe. It's okay if the younger ones don't complete a work cycle quickly - it's even okay if some can't make it through! Just encourage them to do what they can. I learned from this particular teacher that, as in the case of my 4 year old, there are some that take longer to be independent workers, and you just have to encourage them to 'be able to do _____, so they can move on to _______' - you fill in the blanks with whatever may apply. I learned that you do have to establish boundaries with these young ones, but also give them room to work and learn at their pace. I have also learned that the hardest part is staying one step ahead of them - I still have yet to master this, but I guarantee you - by the time they all graduate high school, I think I will have it figured out :)

She and I still are just an email away from each other, and she has made it very clear that I can always ask any question that I may have, which is a big blessing to me!

I look forward to sharing next time on my time in the lower elementary classrooms, and hope to not bore you completely!

My primary students - Bug and Buddy Boy :)


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