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!

Homeschooling Myths: Silly Fun to Make Your Day

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


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 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!

Parts of the Mayflower & Who Am I? Game for Montessori Elementary

My 8, soon to be 9 year old (wow, does time fly) daughter absolutely loves making pin maps and pin models.  The really great thing for me is that I can make a control and she traces the control, colors it, laminates it and mounts it on foam core.  She then makes pin flags/labels for it and proudly creates what she calls–and really is–a Montessori work for her younger brother and visiting friends.

Today she used the “Parts of the Eye,” nomenclature from Montessori for Everyone to make a pin model of the parts of the Eye.  I can barely keep up with the need for foam core! But it is worth it as creating her own extensions as well as work for her brother is a huge time saver for me. I plan to purchase the Ein-O’s Eye Science Box Kit to add to her created masterpiece!

She also really loves to play the “Who Am I?” or rather, “What Part Am I?” guessing game with the nomenclature. After she studies the work for a while, she will bring me the descriptions and I will read them to her, replacing the name of the part with the word “blank.” She then guesses which part fits the definition/description.

Since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock on November 11th, this week, I made a control of the “Parts of the Mayflower,” along with a “What Part Am I?” game. She can do this game by herself, rather than with a partner as the cards in this game only contain the clue and have a separate control with the answers. She can of course still play this with a partner, taking turns reading the clue and guessing the answer.

You can download this work from Scribd.  Please note, all images and copy are property of http://www.MayflowerHistory.com, Copyright © 1994-2010. All Rights Reserved. Please be sure to retain this data on the print outs/copies of the materials when printing out this work, as per the terms of the website:)

I am working on some other “Fact Cards,” right now about those who took the voyage on the Mayflower and other Thanksgiving terminology. I hope to have those available yet this week too, but I’m still trying to figure out the best type of work for the information. Any ideas?

Parts of the Mayflower

Montessori Thanksgiving Noun Sorting Work

I’m working with Aidan on nouns and articles right now.  I’m ever so grateful for the science behind the isolation of information in the work we do!

I put this Thanksgiving noun sorting work together for next week.  Simply print, laminate and cut.  The direct aim for this lesson is to differentiate Thanksgiving nouns that are a person, place or thing.  The indirect aims are word recognition and reading.  Control of Error is included.


P.S.  Just in case you are working with them, I’ve attached a document with a page of each article as well.

Thanksgiving Know Your Nouns Person Place or Thing

Montessori Grammar Boxes Articles

Montessori Lower Elementary Cultural Research Forms

Within Montessori Lower Elementary, a primary focus is for students to develop research skills, utilizing a variety of resources.  Many classrooms utilize “Research forms,” to record their findings.  While journals could be used, the “Research forms,” serve as guides to help the child know what types of information they can gather on any given topic.  Ana was fortunate enough to be exposed to these types of forms at the Montessori school she previously attended.

I’ve spent a great deal of time searching for a resources that look similar to what I can only guess the cultural research forms might look like over at Montessori Made Manageable. I’ve seen a few, in the completed work binders my daughter brought home from the Montessori school she previously attended.  The price point for their offerings is just simply beyond our budget, at over $300 per grouping.  While the site references being a fit for homeschools, their pricing is not homeschool budget friendly, IMHO.  I have emailed them several times as well asking if they have any packages available for homeschool families and they have not responded (I have purchased other materials from them, so as a previous customer, I am disappointed that they haven’t taken the time to respond;()

I have made a few of these “Research forms,” on my own, but as with all things, it is a time consuming task and doesn’t seem like the best use of my time on most days.

A few weeks ago, I hit the jack pot.  Although not marketed as “Montessori Materials,” Westvon Publishing offers an incredible resource at an incredible value in their Unit Study Starters .pdf’s.

There are 39 different “Research,” forms which perfectly fit the need for our Montessori classroom.  These types of forms are an integral tool within the Montessori Lower Elementary scope of work.  And they fill an important need in our homeschool.

As you can see from photo on this post (property of Westvon), the forms not only include guiding questions, but also a place to draw pictures, graphs or charts–as appropriate–on each of the research forms.

And the price point at a current offering of $4.00 for the downloadable version was well within my budget.  Purchasing these was definitely money well spent!

Thank you, Westvon–or more specifically, our neighbors in Ohio, Sherri, Jessy and Maggie!

Lest I forget to mention that Sherri, Jessy & Maggie–the purveyors of Westvon–are a homeschool family.  I absolutely LOVE to purchase materials from other homeschool families.

If you give them a try, let me know what you think.  And if you know of other similar resources, please let me know!

1st Five Items You Need to Start Montessori Homeschooling at the Elementary Level

In the little over a year that I’ve been homeschooling using Montessori Methodologies, I’ve learned quite a bit.  And there are things I wish someone would have told me before I started.  One of those things was which resources are worth my time and money.  Sure, there are lots of low to no cost materials available on the web.  And I do use those.  But there are a few “staples,” I wish someone would have recommended to me when I was first starting out on this journey.

Today, someone asked me what they needed to get started teaching using Montessori Elementary in their home.  This post is my feeble attempt to answer the question.  I’ve bought many things in the last year.  Some have been great, while others, well, simply not as great.   Below are the *first *five things I would purchase if I had to start over again.

1.)  Albums.  I’ve tried many and paid for some of them.  But hands down the best I’ve found so far are these F.REE Montessori albums .  I have found it helpful to print all of the albums and do so printing four sheets to a page so as to save paper as there are MANY pages here to print out.  When I need some of the resources in different sizes, I just print them out full size or as needed.

2.)  Paper based materials. For these I highly recommend the CD collection from http://www.MontessoriforEveryone.com.  It has just about everything you could possibly need on it.  The owner is a trained AMI AMS teacher who is presently homeschooling her children.  She is continuing to add more lower elementary materials on a monthly basis or at least updating things that needed updated.  If something you bought on the CD is updated, she invites you to request the updated .pdf at no charge.  And if you buy the CD, you receive a coupon code to purchase new .pdf’s at 50% off.

3.) A Resource for the Great Lessons. I truly love Miss Barbara’s Great Lesson CD.  Like the albums listed above, I have printed these materials out as well, 4 pages per sheet and print larger pages as needed.

4.)  Printer, laminater & paper cutter. There are lots of materials on these CD’s and lots of extensions that I make myself.  Some of them simply hold up better laminated.

5.)  Hole Punch, Book Rings & those really small rubber bands. I go through a lot of these.  Once you cut things apart, you need a way to manage them.  Rubber bands are great for things that are okay to have come apart.  Controls, however, are better suited for book rings.  Let’s face it.  Montessori work has lots of little pieces and parts.  And when some of these pieces and parts become separated, it’s just easier to have–stealing from the world of web-speak– the control be static…not dynamic in the hands of little people.

With these materials on hand, you’ve made a very good start.

In an upcoming post I will talk about long term storage and presentation storage of the work as well Montessori hard good suppliers.

In the interim, happy printing, laminating and paper cutting!

Montessori Animal Kindgom Taxonomy

We’re working on Animal Kingdom Taxonomy today.  Ana and Aidan were introduced to the concept in pre-school and continue to enjoy exploring this work.

Aidan likes organizing things right now–hard to believe if you look at his work area–but taxonomy is a fit for him.  Aidan classified his own species today.

Ana is working on classifying the topic for her writing class:  a Sea Wasp.  She is very interested in language right now, specifically prefixes, suffixes and root words, so this work with its strong latin focus is right up her alley.  She is so interested in language right now, across so many areas that on Sunday when Papa was visiting we made a discovery.  She had completed some element sorting work and proclaimed that manganese is magnetic because it begins with ‘mag.’  At least she’s thinking, right?  I mean, working on making true leaps to abstraction.

Not quite correctly on this front, but the capacity is there and that in and of itself is an exciting thing.

I made this inverted triangle classification form for the kids to use with their taxonomy work until they have the taxa committed to memory.

Hope it is useful to my homeschooling friends!