Mineral Research with a Visiting Friend

We were fortunate enough to have a friend who attends a local Montessori school full-time visit our classroom on a day she had off school a few weeks ago.  Bear chose to share our Mineral Research work with her.

I created a new Rockhound Mineral Research “findings,” form for the two of them to use together.

In honor of being the featured site for the Homeschool Bloggers Haven Yahoo group, I’ve posted the form here.  I hope it is helpful to you!

Fail-Safe Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe & Weight vs. Volume Measuring

If my household was going to survive this change to a gluten-free lifestyle, I needed to have one fail-safe, completely junk-food chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Since my husband is still a gluten-eater, I needed one that would please his palate and replace my old, wheat-filled recipe.  Thanks to my perennial favorite, Alton Brown, I had a good place to start with his Gluten-Free Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. This one really does fit the bill–filled with not-so-good-for-you brown rice flour, this cookie completely replaces our need to run to Cookie Cottage for a gluten-filled fix.

It also can be made in advance, shaped into balls, frozen overnight on sheet pans and tossed into storage containers and put back into the freezer for hot cookies with only the time it takes for them to thaw a bit on the counter and bake in the oven.  But please don’t try to make them smaller than Alton’s recipe indicates–they will not turn out.

The cookies also kept well after baking.  I discovered one hidden under the parchment paper in the storage container 10 days after I baked them (not sure how my husband or the kids missed it) and while not hot-out-of-the-oven fresh, it was still delightful to eat.

I also strongly encourage you to use the weight rather than the volume measures included in the recipe.  If you haven’t done this before, it will become essential in your gluten-free baking efforts. Since each ingredient–including flour–in a recipe has a different weight, knowing the weight of a flour will allow you to make substitutions if you would like to use a more “healthful,” flour than say, the brown rice flour used in this recipe.  I use the King Arthur weight chart, find the flour I want to substitute as well as the flour that I prefer to use and substitute by weight accordingly.

Besides, just think of all those measuring cups you won’t need to wash if you measure by weight instead of by volume by using a kitchen scale (I use this model–in red for a little kitchen flare).

But remember, substituting one flour for another will give you a different type of cookie.  My success was with following this recipe to the letter.  When I experiment with the recipe, which I do plan to do, I’ll be sure to share the results.

Have you played around with this recipe or have a great fail-safe, gluten-free recipe?  I would love to hear about it, so please leave me a comment about it below!

Homeschooling Myths: Silly Fun to Make Your Day

Love the sparks vest. Littered with Sparks badges.  Enjoy!


My Life as a Tag Cloud

If you’ve visited before, you may have noticed that I recently re-built this blog.  I’m relatively happy with the progress so far, but it is still a work in progress.  I haven’t been happy with the size of the tag cloud in the sidebar among other things. And I’ve been considering what other functionality I want to add to the site, whether I want to do any affiliate marketing or dabble at writing an e-book.  All things I’ve done for others, but really haven’t used this site for to date.

What I’ve realized is that this particular blog has become a repository of my many different lives. I try to live just one life.  I really do.  One life: Christ Centered.

Every way that I describe myself seems to describe many different facets of this one life that I am trying to lead.  My life has its own “Tag Cloud.”

My page rank is determined not by Google, but rather by my Creator.

So when my Creator looks at my tag cloud, which “key words” will be the largest?

Which keywords are the largest in the tag cloud that is your life?  What are you doing to make the most important “key words,” be a reflection of the way you live your life?  Thoughts for me that I will need to continue to ponder every second of every day.  I would love to hear how you keep Christ as the largest keyword in the tag cloud that is your life.

Our New Gluten-Free Lifestyle

We took a break from blogging over the summer, fall and part of winter as we began a new adventure in gluten-free living.  I’m a foody from way back, so learning how to recreate my favorite recipes as either gluten free or grain free has taken up quite a bit of our time.  It has been worth the effort, to say the least, as we are all feeling much better and living more productive lives.  Going gluten-free has been a true blessing.

Watch for more blog posts and recipes, ups and downs as we feel our way through this newest adventure!

Montessori Homeschool Laminator

A friend just asked me for an opinion on a laminator.

This is the laminator I bought for $150 in February of 2010. I thoroughly abuse this machine and it is now available on Amazon for $59 plus $11 shipping.

One of the great features of this machine is that it does not require the use of a “carrier sheet/pouch,” so there are fewer jams.  As a matter of fact, it has never really jammed up on us yet.

I use these laminating pouches with it, also available on Amazon.

Based on the number of pouches I’ve purchased, I’ve laminated over 3500 sheets of mostly 110lb cardstock.

I guess my husband is justified when he says that he has to be careful as he lives in fear of me laminating him!

I’ve never tried any other machine, but what I have seems to work well and the price is currently VERY good.

And in the interest of full disclosure, if you happen to purchase any of these products by using the hyperlinks you find on this page, we will earn a few pennies for our homeschool as we are part of the Amazon Associate program.

But this an honest product review and we did and do purchase all of these materials at full price from Amazon, each time we use them.

Happy laminating!

Teach Me to Do It Myself, Part Two: Creativity in a Montessori Environment

Smurfett recently posted a comment on my last blog post entitled, Montessori Child: Teach Me to Do It Myself. Below is her comment and question:

Perhaps you can help me w/ this concept. My friend is opposed to Montessori because she doesn’t like an adult telling the child how to use a tool. Her child is a toddler. So for example, when her child plays with a puzzle, she doesn’t want an adult showing this child how to solve a puzzle. Or when a child works with a tool, she doesn’t see why we need to show the child how to use the tool instead of just letting them “discover” it themselves. She wants the child to enjoy the process of discovery. When she puts it this way, I have a hard time refuting it even though I’m not comfortable with her logic.

This question deserves a dedicated blog post.  So here it is.

I’ve seen many discussions on the topic of the lack of creativity because of the guided environment presented in a Montessori classroom.  Much of the “guiding,” and teaching on the “proper,” use of materials, happens out of absolute necessity.  Some of the guiding happens due to the direct and indirect learning aims of the work itself.

Here are some examples.

Smurfette references a tool.  To your friend–tongue and cheek of course–I would ask this:  is a Sharpie marker a tool?  I recently had to teach my 9 and 7 year olds how to use one properly.  It was an honest mistake on both of our parts.  They had permission to use that specific tool.  But I never demonstrated how a Sharpie pen or marker could bleed through paper, right on to the dining room table.  I did make a mental note for next time I think I’m sharing a benign tool.

One thing I feel compelled to mention and highlight is how badly  my children felt about the permanent design they left on the table.  If I had given a quick three-period lesson on the best way to use a sharpie marker, their feelings would have been spared—along with the dining room table!   And I could have set my children up to succeed using the tool, rather than fail.  My son still hesitates to use Sharpie markers.  Thankfully, there are tools he can use in their place.  But my real concern is that he lost a little bit of trust in himself; he doesn’t “feel safe,” using them.

A child’s security and sense of independence in their work environment is a cornerstone of Montessori’s teachings.

In her question, Smurfette also mentioned what could be a very simple activity:  A puzzle.  For the purpose of this part of my reply and the general concept of creativity, I’ll focus on that type of an activity.

Here is one of the first questions that a Montessori teacher would ask when presenting any work or activity.

“What is the *purpose* or direct aims of the work and are there any indirect aims?”

In other words, what are ALL of the possible things a child could learn when working with the material.  And as a Montessori teacher, there is a second question that needs to be asked, depending on the needs of the specific child.  Montessori’s research teaches us to analyze if there is a particular part of the work that requires what Montessori defined as “Isolation of Difficulty,” (this site has a nice list of Montessori terminology and definitions).  At the toddler level, the concept of isolation of difficulty takes into consideration care of materials in general and in the environment (think Sharpie marker).  And specific to puzzles, lost and damaged puzzle pieces are a real heart breaker.  Furthermore, if difficulty is not isolated (meaning work is presented in the simplest steps possible), Montessori observed that children become frustrated and walk away from the work

Here’s a specific puzzle example very near and dear to my heart.

My niece came for a visit about a year and a half ago and found the puzzle map of Asia out on the floor in the corner of a room designated for “Work in Progress, Yet Not Quite Completed,” in our home.  Next to it were several pieces of colored construction paper punched out very carefully and thoughtfully into the the shapes of some of the countries, yet all of the pieces of the puzzle were intact in the puzzle frame.

She immediately picked up the map and turned it over, dumping all of the pieces out onto the floor.

That is the way you complete or work a puzzle, right?

Most Montessori teachers would agree–perhaps because we are the ones then tasked with putting that puzzle back together–that there are other, more directed ways to use Montessori puzzle maps.  Especially that particular puzzle map, which I gradually put back together over the course of the weekend (these are not easy maps to solve in a traditional puzzle sense, note that there are NOT guides of any type under each piece of the puzzle–the Asia map puzzle is pictured in this post).

That leads us back to question #1 and question #2 above.  The direct aim for the work that my then 5 year old son was completing was not completed by using the puzzle map the way we might put together a 1000 piece Ravensburger puzzle on a rainy Saturday.

But my niece didn’t know that.  Nor was she able to put the puzzle back together.  Furthermore, her attempts at trying to put the puzzle back together left her frustrated (this speaks to isolation of difficulty) and walking away after about one and a half minutes.  On her subsequent visits, she’s never asked about that puzzle map again.  She does, however, ask about other materials that she knows how to use because she has the confidence necessary to use the material successfully.

As for creativity while using a Montessori puzzle, that’s where I think it gets interesting.

Montessori’s research teaches us about 4 planes of development.  Simply stated, there are specific and unique psychological characteristics that can be observed within each of these 4 planes of development.

It has been my experience (albeit limited), that during each of the 4 planes of development, children exercise creativity in different ways.

For my then 5 year old son, within his specific plane of development, he chose to label the name of the continent using his “signature,” “animal lettering,” utilizing animals that are found on the continent of Asia.   The key was for me to direct him to meet the aims of the work, but not squash his creativity.

Two years later, I still think his animal letters are pretty creative.  But he still can’t put that puzzle together in one sitting if we were to dump it all out.  Neither can I:)  But when asked, he can recognize quite a few of the countries in Asia and even name a few of the capitals and recognize a few of the flags as well as a provide information about the many people and cultures found on the continent of Asia.   This is due to his creative use of the materials and his general thirst for knowledge.

My 9 year old is still using the puzzle maps as well, working with me to come up with creative ideas to utilize them as a tool for her more advanced studies.  Yesterday she pulled out the South America map and proclaimed that she wanted to study Chile.  She also wants to use some old crayons creatively but hasn’t been able to come up with a way to do this.  The answer for next week is a chilean rainstick, painted with melted crayons.  This activity is just something I’ll provide to get her moving in a forward direction next week.  From there, her own creativity will kick in as she researches the history of the Chilean Rainstick and other interesting facts about Chile.  And I’ll follow my child, wherever she leads me, guiding her along to facts and information pertinent to her interests and learning needs.

Interested in learning more about the direct and indirect aims of Montessori Puzzle maps?  You can receive a link to a free Montessori Geography Album by signing up for the mailing list on Living Montessori Now.

The album, written by Karen Tyler at Worldwide Montessori Online, will tell you about direct and indirect aims for using the puzzle maps along with other geography activities for 3-9 year olds.  In my opinion, many of the activities are creative all on their own.  But feel free to add your own creativity too, just like my son and daughter did and continue to do with our Montessori Asia Puzzle Map.

Montessori Child: Teach Me to Do It Myself

In the many publications and message boards I subscribe to related to a Montessori education, the topic of freedom within the classroom is very often discussed and debated.

The concept of freedom in terms of education is relatively easy to accept for a preschool student.  The concept, however is much more difficult to envision for an elementary aged child.  And in actuality, I’ve even seen the application of the concept debated within “Montessori Circles.”

Last fall we opened our Montessori Whole-Home School Classroom to a group of our home educating friends for a couple of visits on the Montessori Great Lessons.  That experience helped remind me of exactly why most of our materials are didactic and contain a control of error. But it also reminded me that I need to guide my children but also give them the independence that they need to make mistakes.

The Montessori materials that we use are only truly didactic when there is a set of rules relative to behavior that must be followed when working with the materials. There is a level of accountability.   And, the materials aren’t intended to be used with a parent, teacher or other adult ‘hovering,’ over the shoulders of the children doing the work or correcting the work for the child.

No detail of work within a Montessori classroom is unintentional.  From rolling a rug that was used for a work, to completing a work in a certain order, each activity is designed to help a student become an independent learner. An independent and accountable learner.

The same thing can happen at home, whether with chores or the use of items some may consider to be for adult or older child use only, such as stand mixer, food processor, stove, washing machine, iron or vacuum cleaner.  Clear, step by step directions and accountability for a job well done allow for success for the child who is mature enough and desires the responsibility and independence.

From a very young age, a child’s first communications involved this common request: “Let me do it.”

Children strongly desire independence.

How do you foster independence in your home? And more importantly, what standards do you set for accountability? Do you hover or are you able to demonstrate the proper use of materials, a work or chores and then walk away so that you may observe?

Montessori Elementary Leaf Study

Found this document on Scribd tonight. Very thorough study of Leaves for the Montessori Elementary classroom. Covers leaf shape, leaf margin and leaf venation and includes wall chart & booklets. Make two copies of the booklets and you can use one copy for three-part cards.

Thank you to Kelli Dantin for this work!


Montessori Work Give-away Featuring Vincent van Gogh

This is a picture of the give-away on the Little Acorn's Blog--and there is our Home State of Indiana!--Enter before November 20th!

Karen from Little Acorns blog is holding a give-away for a Montessori inspired work using the weather & Vincent van Gogh as a Meteorologist!  I’m excited about this give-away and have already started thinking about the extensions I could make for my Lower Elementary Montessori children, across the classroom.  As with all thing Montessori, there is some overlap in my functional areas and you could use these extensions in any area you see fit.

1.  Geography

What is Vince Van Gogh’s native country and what are the weather patterns found there.  Compare and contrast the weather pattens in Van Gogh’s native country to those local to where you live or another location on the globe.

From which biome does Vincent hail?  What is the weather like in the type of biome in which Vincent was born?

2. Astronomy

Make your own constellations out of the stars in Starry Night.  Give the constellation proper Graeco-Roman name.

3.  Physical Science

Develop a study on global weather patterns with Vincent the Meteorlogist leading the way.

Landscape at Auvers in the Rain — Van Gogh the Meterologist explains the Water Cycle.  Why does it rain?

4.  Creative Writing

Using the Poetry resources already on our shelves, choose a format for a poem and write a poem about the weather in White House at Night.

5.  Botany

What type of weather conditions are favorable for growing wheat and in what biomes can it be grown?  Look at Van Gogh’s work, Wheat Field with Cypresses, for inspiration.

Because of weather patterns, what time of year can you plant Irisis at different places in the United States? When can you divide them?

Two Peasant Women Digging in Field with Snow–What could these peasants digging for in the snow?

6.  Art History

Where was Van Gogh when he painted the works, The Red Vineyard and The Olive Trees.  What type of weather and climate is required to grow grapes & olives?

“Weather,” we win or not, we’ll be featuring Van Gogh on our Art Shelves for December!  I’ll continue to work on my extensions and post the actual work on scribd with a link here on our blog as they become available in the coming weeks!

But be sure to enter Karen’s contest for a chance to win her creation!