Monday, February 1, 2010

Week 1, day 1: The first day!

I made a last-minute decision to have our first day with the Montessori materials this morning. My husband had to stay at work late (he works weekend nights), so we had the house to ourself for the morning and nothing planned. I had nearly all of the materials ready, and I thought that just jumping in might keep me from another evening of over-thinking/over-planning.

Spoiler: it didn't go great. But as the day has gone on, it's become clear that Nugget is having a rough toddler day. She's been grumpy and short-tempered, and not even a surprise stop for hot chocolate improved anything -- so you know it's pretty bad. So maybe the bad first morning wasn't entirely my doing.

Here's our set-up (and my apologies for the poor pictures -- it's rainy and overcast here, and the lighting in that room isn't great on the brightest of days):

As you can see, we have mostly plastic shelves built just 2 high. This is a great height for my short kid. We have a small Ikea table and chairs. I put out a minimum of activities; I didn't want her to be too overwhelmed.

For Sensorial, I had the Pink Tower and Cylinder Block #1.

For Practical Life, I had:

a selection of small containers for her to open and close,

spooning pink rice,

using tongs on porcupine balls,

and buttoning felt squares.

While we were eating breakfast (chocolate chip muffins!) on the couch, I spoke to Nugget a bit about doing Montessori work. She's familiar with some of the materials from seeing them in catalogs and at a Montessori open house. She's done Practical Life activities before, so knows about trays and returning materials and the rug. I told her about having me show her a new activity first -- I get a turn, then she gets a turn, then she can do it any time she wants (taking turns is a newly developed skill for her, thanks to the toddler version of Candyland).

When we went into the room, she ping-ponged around a lot, as I expected. She made a half-hearted go at all of the activities, but was distracted, impatient, and rough with the materials.

Some things I need to think about:

- How useful is the rug? She's not coordinated enough to roll/unroll it herself and it takes up a lot of the floor space. I like the idea of containing the work in one area, but with just one person working there, it seems like just an extra complication.

- How complete should I be when demonstrating? Some Montessori authors emphasize that I should complete an entire work cycle with the material before allowing Nugget her turn. But the Homfray videos mention allowing the child to take over when they've grasped the purpose of the activity. When I was demonstrating spooning (Nugget's first choice of activity), I moved 2-3 spoonfuls while she stood next to me, asking for a turn. When I let her step in, she pouring the destination bowl's rice back into the source bowl, spooned 2-3 spoonfuls herself, then poured them back. Did she feel that since I only moved some of the rice, she was only to move part of it? Or was she just done with the activity?

- Where is the line between exploring a material that should be allowed, improper use that should be corrected through another presentation at another time, and improper use that needs to be stopped? For instance, she used the tongs to move the balls out of the bucket, but her fingers to move them back. I counted that as exploring that should be allowed. She didn't build the Pink Tower correctly, instead constructing the first half and then building 'ears' and a 'nose' with the smallest cubes. I counted that as something to correct with another presentation later. When she started pushing at the Pink Tower with her feet, I attempted to stop that immediately. Looking back, those seem like pretty appropriate responses. But there were other occasions that I wasn't so sure about.

- Should I really do these presentations with a minimum of words? I'm used to talking Nugget through things. She's a very verbal kid, herself. Theoretically, I understand the advantages of doing a silent presentation. But she seems to pay LESS attention when I'm silent than when I speak.

And then there's the hardest question. How do I balance being a mom (encouraging, goofy) with being a Montessori guide (stepping back, demonstrating a seriousness and respect for the materials)? I think I did it entirely wrong and ended up acting too distant and quiet and disengaged. Maybe what I need to do is just be me-as-a-mom in there for now, and slowly step back as she grows in ability and understanding of the environment and goals.

I've got two more Practical Life activities to put out for tomorrow morning. I'm debating putting out the Brown Stair -- I don't think she's ready for it (having not completed the Pink Tower yet), but it's an activity she's kind of latched onto. It might just be something fun. There's the Botany and Zoology puzzles I could put out that she's been looking forward to. And I do think I'll try to be a lot more relaxed -- a lot more "mom" than "guide". I can put all the effort in the world into trying to be an ideal Montessori guide, but if Nugget's not enjoying her time in there, it's not worth anything.


  1. Great questions! Lemme know when you find the answers! I'm loving all this honest info you're putting out there. Thanks again for letting us watch you start your homeschooling

  2. Okay, so I've been through this and have a couple of suggestions. (I'll break it up into parts because it will be long).

    You seem to be starting fully at the beginning of the 3-6 cycle with a 2.5 year-old. That doesn't mean she can't do those activities, but I don't recommend them for the first day. Me Too is doing these things at 2.5 and younger, but he has been having "school" in the Montessori room since he was 12 months old. A lot of the wrinkles were already ironed out before he got to such "advanced" work. She needs to learn about rugs, shelves, and how to complete a work cycle (challenges in themselves) before she is ALSO challenged by the work at hand (of course, if the work is TOO easy it will be hard to keep her attention, just use attractive materials). I would not have the pink tower and cylinder blocks in there yet, wait a week or two. Let her do some damage on some Melissa and Doug pre-sensorial activities until she's "trained" a little more. As for practical life, she should do some whole-hand activities in the new space before spooning and tonging. Try transfering walnuts, beans, other interesting items first. Then, in really only a week or two move on if you wish. That's part of why she started transferring back by hand, her body knows she still needs to do some of that.

    I do not show a full work cycle on simple works. However, maybe she transferred back by hand because you may have only demonstrated putting them in, not taking them out. Either way, it's really minor, don't worry about it.

    With my first child, he had been doing Montessori activities outside the school room for a long time before he went into the school room. That way all the things on the shelves where familiar and we could concentrate on rug training and shelf training. The second day there was ONE new thing out, etc.,

  3. Okay, spooning. Again, I would wait a bit. It is normal for a smart kid to start dumping it after a couple of spoonfuls. They can see that the end result is to get the rice from one bowl to the other. They just came up with a way to get it there faster. They don't see the difference between the "purpose" of the activity and the "end result" (don't we all have that problem). I solved this by demonstrating it from beginning to end (keep the amount of rice SMALL) and letting them age. My oldest STILL does spooning when its out. Now he appreciates practicing the spooning in a ritualistic way and isn't just trying to complete a transfer.

    It sounds like your instincts are fine on appropriate vs inappropriate use. If you had fuzzier examples, you would have to state them. Remember that a lot of "odd" exploring that occurs with practical life activities is the result of skipping earlier practical life activities. If they want to mess around with rice then they shouldn't be spooning yet, they should have a rice sensory tray. If they are putting walnuts in their mouth or stacking them they need a mystery basket or sensory basket first. If they are messing around with water pouring they need some more water exploring first before they are expected to pour. They will do what their body needs to do (I am not talking about blatant misbehaving).

    YES YOU MUST USE A RUG! LOL! I always thought it was wierd that the books say they should learn to roll and unroll it right away. They generally can't. I guess it should be presented right away in case they CAN, but my kids couldn't at 2.5. I just got the kids rugs out for them and helped them put them away until they could. The beautiful thing is, when they CAN, they will take over on their own initiative. Me Too is 2.7, takes his own out, unrolls it, and finishes rolling it after I've started it for him, and puts it away. If it is taking up too much space, use a smaller rug. I have two sizes. You don't need the full size until you do red rods.

    I'd be surprised if she were ready for the brown stair. But kids are always surprising me.

    Finally, I had the same questions about presentations style. Montessori's words talk about using "minimum" words and you can see examples of that type of presentation in the Tami Elliot videos. However, Homfrey who lived and worked with Montessori talks A LOT. However, her words are chosen carefully. You can be anywhere on that spectrum that you want to I think. There will be a certain "spot" that's right for your child and you have to find it through trial and error. The "minimum talking" thing is a disaster with my boys.

  4. I would love to follow your blog, as I am just getting interested in doing the same type activities with my son- I'd love to follow along with you!
    Will you add a feed burner or a way to "subscribe" via email for readers?

  5. Thanks again, MyBoysTeacher!

    Jenny, I think I've got a feedburner email subscription set up. Wanna give it a shot?

  6. Don't expect too much from her in the beginning. Let her experiment, and like My Boys Teacher said, put out some sensory bins. It will take a while for both of you to get used to things. In the meanwhile, I wouldn't try to pressure her to get things "right" or complete a work, as long as she isn't being too silly or destructive.

    I found that it was easier for my son to learn to roll smaller mats. The easiest was a bamboo placemat we have.

    I remember trying spooning in the beginning. He definitely didn't have the attention for it. He still won't complete it if I have much more than half a dozen spoonfuls in the bowl.

    I know you want to get out all of those big, beautiful materials as soon as possible, but be patient. It will be a while before you get to many of them.

    Remember, even children in a big class with experienced children as examples can take a while to "normalize."


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