Saturday, January 30, 2010

Practical Life run-through

I just finished laying out and checking all of the Practical Life activities that I want to have out on Tuesday. I wanted to make sure that I had all of the materials and that I had appropriate bowls, spoons, etc.

Everything looks good; I think I just need one more tray. I've been getting unfinished wood trays at Michaels -- they seem to be a good size, have nice handles, and are decently priced.

My line-up is: spooning pink rice, tong transfer of plastic porcupine balls, Valentine's stamps, pouring heart-shaped beads, opening and closing various small containers, and buttoning felt squares.

Remainder of the Montessori Outlet order

This is the box for the movable alphabet....

and here's the box, filled with the Movable Alphabet. The box is a nice, solid wood, and the letters are thin, painted wood. Some of them were stuck together (like they'd been piled up while the paint was still tacky), but they came apart relatively easily and I don't see any damage to the finish.

Sandpaper letters in their box. Some of the letters are oriented horizontally, some vertically. This means that when they're right-side up, the box looks pretty messy. But... *shrug*.

Metal Inserts. How much of a dork am I that the "metal" part of Metal Inserts never really registered, and I was surprised to find that they were, in fact, metal? *lol*

Large number cards.

Spindle box. The spindles fit 3-across in each bin, so it's easy to glance and verify that the number in each is correct.

Sandpaper numerals in box.

Introduction to Decimal Tray. I love this. A single bead, a 10 bar, a 100 square, and a 1000 cube. I love staring at the 1000 cube. One of the circles on the end of a bar in the 1000 cube had fallen off, but it doesn't seem to affect the integrity of the cube or individual beads. I just stuck it back in -- if it keeps falling out, I'll put in a dab of glue.

The rest of the bead material. I got the extra units, 10 bars, and the wooden squares and cubes (there are more of the cubes, I just left them in the box). I think this combination will take us pretty far.

Colored bead stair.

USA map and...

control chart for USA map. I realize now that I forgot to photograph the continents puzzle and control! Anyway, these are huge. And very precisely cut. The pieces are relatively thin wood, but they feel solid enough. And the cuts are just so tight and neat... it's just very cool.

Botany puzzles with cabinet and....

animal puzzles with cabinet. Same as the map puzzles, very precisely cut.

And, finally... my homeschooling closet!

I took the idea from another blogger to leave everything in its boxes, but label all sides. I still haven't admitted to myself that all of this is mine, so I've stuck with labeling painters tape and putting that on all sides.

I've dedicated a shelf to each area. The top is culture and science, then math, language, sensorial, and practical life on the bottom shelf. At the very bottom I'm keeping my albums and books that Nugget hasn't grown into yet.

Oh, a note for unpacking. Each white box from Montessori Outlet contains one item and a small slip of paper with a manufacturing lot. If there's a problem with the quality, they want you to call them with that number. When you're in the excitement of unpacking, those tiny slips fly everywhere before you even realize what they are. Once I caught on, I started taping them to the label of each box. But I've got a couple that fell out early on that I can't match back to the material. So, learn from my mistake -- catch those slips!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Digging into Practical Life

I completely forgot that I have pics of the rest of my materials to put up! I'll get them up another day, really!

I'm finding my evenings (and random free time) being taken up by trying to get everything ready for this first week. I'm still finishing up the sandpaper globe, rough and smooth boards, and color shade matching. And, of course, tons of Practical Life.

I'm aiming to have two new Sensorial activities out the first day (probably the Pink Tower and Cylinder Block #1) and fill up the rest of the shelves with Practical Life -- most of which she'll be familiar with. My current planned line-up is dry pouring, spoon transfer, tong transfer (hopefully with a sorting element as well), stamping in a defined area, simple dressing (either a zipper or snap dressing frame or a buttoning snake), and one more thing.

I'm trying to walk a fine line between having new and interesting activities and having things that she is familiar enough with to dig into without a lot of hand-holding on my part. I'm also trying to throw in a bit of a Valentine's theme with some of the materials (red trays and bowls, pink rice to pour, etc). So there's a lot to make all come together at once, and nothing is totally done.

I finally got some artwork on the walls, though. My husband and I have been looking for a cheap coffee-table book filled with various artists' work that we could cut up and frame. We haven't had any luck! So I finally found a book of photographs of baby animals for just a couple bucks. It's a little cutsey for traditional Montessori, but it's real-life and Nugget ADORES them. We have a curious-looking giraffe, a brown bear, a porcupine, a duck, and a wolf.

Okay, so I owe this blog pictures of the rest of the Montessori Outlet order, pictures and descriptions of the projects I've been working on, and photos of our school area once it's set up. Soon!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My background

I finished unpacking the rest of the materials tonight, but I haven't pulled the pictures off my camera. Hopefully I'll have them up tomorrow night.

A few people have asked what my background in Montessori is. I'm self-taught and focused on Montessori in the home, not the classroom. When Nugget started to approach preschool age, I started paying attention to the different options that are available (play-based, Montessori, Waldorf, etc). I was initially drawn to Montessori and Waldorf, but found that my geeky and scientific nature really didn't mesh well with the fairies and gnomes and delayed academics of Waldorf. Montessori, however, sounded better and better to me.

So I started reading books about Montessori and my husband and I began to talk about Montessori preschool versus keeping Nugget home. Even though an open house at a local Montessori school sorely tempted me, we just can't swing the tuition for one child, let alone two. Plus, the further I dove into the homeschooling community and culture, the more sense it made to me. So we decided to commit to keeping Nugget home for the foreseeable future.

To that end, I took the NAMC training course for 3-6. I feel that the best thing to come out of the course is the manuals -- they're well-organized and complete. I don't love the Language Arts one, though, because it focuses heavily on the Insta-Learn Language Board, which seems gimmicky to me.

The course and certification didn't feel worth the extra $1000 (you can buy the manuals separately for $1000) -- the "course" consisted of pages of short-answer questions that simply verified that you'd read the material. There was really no analysis or deeper thought required. If you're a self-motivated person and are sure you won't have need of a certification down the line, I'd go with just the manuals.

Since the certification course, I've continued to read -- both books and blogs. There's a ton of information out there, and I've found that the toughest job is finding a way to put all of it to good use!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Supplies arrive; pics of Sensorial

Our Montessori supplies arrived a day early!

I've gotten everything out of its shipping boxes and done a basic verification that the shipping list is correct and everything is in one piece. There were 3 things backordered -- small number rods, color tablets #3, and the stand for the red rods.

After the big unpacking, I started going through everything individually. I decided to start with the Sensorial materials, first labeling the box on all four sides with the name of the material (the provided labels are quite small) and then carefully examining each material and running through an exercise.

The pink tower. I was impressed with this material -- it's very solid and pretty heavy. It feels very substantial.

The brown stair was also very substantial. I love the look of the natural finish; I'm really glad I put the extra few dollars into that option.

The red rods don't feel quite as heavy as the pink tower or brown stair, but still feel solid.

The knobbed cylinders are fabulous. They're beautiful! A few cylinders fit a bit more loosely than the others, but not so much that anyone else will notice. :)

The smelling bottles are plastic bottles with a perforated top and lid.

The sound cylinders are pre-loaded with material. The far ends are easy to tell apart, but the middle ones are tricky! I think I'm going to have my husband try them with me and make sure we agree on the pairings. The cylinders don't come with a control of error, so we'll have to pair them and then mark the bottoms so that Nugget can check her own work.

The knobless cylinders are perfect. And so inviting! I wanted to sit down and arrange them all right away.

This is the mystery bag with geometric shapes. I didn't really expect it to include two bags, but there you go.

I realize now that I didn't photograph the baric tablets. Now those are tricky! I might actually have to resort to a very sensitive scale to mark them for control of error.

After going through all of the Sensorial material, it was too late in the evening to dig into the rest of the shipment. So I packed everything into our newly-dedicated homeschooling closet, and I'll start going through everything else tomorrow night!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Countdown to the first day

The first of 4 boxes is due tomorrow morning. It's just a small one -- 8 pounds, while the rest of the shipment weighs over 100 pounds! The remainder are due on Thursday, so that'll be the big day.

We've decided to aim for next Tuesday as our first day of "school". Taking into account my husband's work/sleep schedule, we'll plan to set aside some time for school in the mornings on Tuesday through Friday (although probably not every day, because we usually do an all-day trip once during the week).

Between now and Tuesday, I have a lot of stuff left to do:

1. Finish sandpaper globe. I'm currently applying the sand, so it's getting close! Hopefully I'll have a post with pictures on how I did it soon.

2. Complete the list of Montessori activities. I started out with a list that I found online (I can't dig up the link right now), and I've been adding in some of the extensions that I want to make sure to hit and removing things that I've chosen not to buy the materials for.

3. Set up initial practical life activities.

4. Environment -- rugs, decide on buying a small table, locate and frame artwork, purchase standing lamp.

One of the big questions I've been pondering is how to introduce the new activities. I don't want to bring Nugget into a room filled with new materials -- I feel that she'd be overwhelmed and wouldn't be able to concentrate on each presentation. But she is aware of the various Montessori activities (by looking at a catalog and by attending an open house at a local Montessori school) and is really, really excited to get started, so I think one a day is too slow.

What I think I'll do is set the room up with a number of practical life activities initially. She's had exposure to most of them -- tonging, spooning, pouring -- so she won't need presentations. I can bring in one or two new activities a day, but still have a number of materials for her to work with the rest of the time. As more and more sensorial and language and math activities come out, I'll pull the practical life. I picture having just one rotating practical life activity once all is said and done.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Initial Montessori order

The Montessori materials are scheduled to arrive on Thursday! It took nearly 2 weeks for them to ship from Montessori Outlet, but it's given me time to work on the environment and a few materials that I didn't order.

You might be curious as to what we're getting. I started with the Special Offer package #1, but made a number of changes. Some changes were influenced by what I thought Nugget would like, and some were areas I thought were lacking in the package. Keep in mind that although I'm open to creating my own materials, I'm 30 weeks pregnant. I don't have a lot of energy to put into creating the materials right now, and I won't have a lot of free time for it once Sprout arrives.

Here's my reasoning:

Practical Life:
- Nothing. Yup, nothing. The package included some basic dressing frames, but I feel like this is an area we can work on in day-to-day life because we're homeschooling. If I do think Nugget or Sprout could benefit from dressing practice, I think I lean toward sewing some dressing vests. For me, there's a big gulf between being able to do buttons or bows on something facing me versus an item of clothing that I'm wearing.

- All the basics: Cylinder Blocks, Knobless Cylinders, Pink Tower, Brown Stair, Red Rods
- Color Tablets #3. The package included just Color Tablet #1, but Nugget is so far beyond red/yellow/blue. She can also identify all the colors in Color Tablet #2. She's probably not quite ready for Color Tablet #3, but it's something to grow into.
- Baric Tablets, Sound Boxes, Smelling Bottles, Mystery Bag with Geometric Shapes
- I did NOT purchase any of the Touch Boards or Touch Tablets. I've already made the Touch Tablets from sandpaper -- it took me just a few dollars and a few minutes. I think I'd still like to make a Touch Board or two, but I can just use the leftover sandpaper.

- I upgraded from a small Moveable Alphabet to a medium one. Nugget's already anxious to work on this, and I didn't want her fumbling with the tiny letters.
- Lowercase Sandpaper Letters, box for them.
- Metal Insets and Stand. I did NOT get the tray -- my understanding is that there's some disagreement about whether that nullifies part of the exercise (holding the inset steady while tracing).

Science and Culture:
- Botany Puzzle Cabinet and Leaf, Tree, Flower puzzles
- Animal Puzzle Cabinet and Horse, Frog, Fish, Turtle, Bird puzzles
- World and USA Puzzle Maps

Mathematics (here is where I made the most changes -- I feel the package was lacking a lot in this area, especially the bead material):
- Sandpaper Numerals and box
- Spindle Box with 45 Spindles
- Small Numerical Rods
- Large Wooden Number Cards with box
- Introduction to Decimal Quantity with Trays
- Colored Bead Stair
- 100 Golden Bead Units with box
- 45 Golden Bead Bars of 10 with box
- 10 Wooden Squares of 100
- 10 Wooden Cubes of 1000

I struggled over this list a lot. I was trying to hit as close to $1000 as possible, while getting the basics for early Montessori and anything I thought could grow with Nugget, even if we decided not to stick with Montessori after the first year or two.

The bead material was probably where I put most of my effort. The package included NO bead material in it. I understand they were probably trying to keep the cost down, but I feel the bead material is one place that the Montessori method shines. Plus, it's very flexible even when working in a non-Montessori fashion. Having those quantities to manipulate is very appealing to me.

So I did a lot of calculating to try to select bead material that would go as far as possible for the least cost. The more complex bead chains are far enough down the line for us that I can decide later if they're worth the investment of money (to buy) or time (to create).

A big area that I'm skipping is the Geometric Cabinet. To me, the cost seems so out of line with the benefit. If I start to feel like I'm really missing it, I think I'd rather put some time into creating something similar versus absorbing the cost.

One area I'm definitely going to put some time into is Geography. Montessori Outlet doesn't offer any globes, and I've always loved the Sandpaper Globe and the Continents Globe. Luckily, Target is currently selling small globes in their dollar section! I've been spending my evenings painting the first one -- blue oceans, brown land -- and am now experimenting with how best to adhere sand to the landforms. Once that's done, I'll move on to the Continents Globe. I'd really like to introduce those before I move to the Puzzle Maps, so they're first on my list.

Hopefully, I'll have boxes of fun Montessori material to photograph and share with you later this week!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A little break

Things are going to change a bit around here. Thanks to an amazingly generous gift, we're going to be getting a number of basic Montessori materials in the next few weeks!!!

I spent days figuring out exactly what I wanted to order. Then we spent days deciding on where to put the new classroom and what shelving to use. And now I'm working on various small, crafty projects to fill in the gaps in my order.

In progress now:
- Gluing sandpaper to circular cut-outs to make touch tablets.
- Turning small globes from the Target dollar section into sandpaper and continent globes.

I'm totally re-invigorated about doing Montessori with Nugget, and I've been neck-deep in books and blogs. Hopefully I'll have a photo tour for you once our items start to arrive!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Life interjects

We've let "doing school" fall by the wayside the last few days. Things are crazy with family visiting for my husbands races (half and full marathons), and then Nugget went and came down with another nasty cold. One of the days she requested some worksheets ("a lot of worksheets!"), so I brought out some of the fun ones -- hidden pictures, tracing. The hidden pictures are definitely her favorite.

I'm letting things slide right now, but I'm pondering what my next steps will be. I want to draw a map of the house, as she asked. And I think we'll do some animal tracks, since she really enjoys looking at the ones cast in concrete at the library garden. I'm thinking of printing/drawing the tracks for a number of animals and laying them out in different directions around the house. At the end of each would be a stuffed friend of that animal. For instance, she has tons of bears, a moose, a duck, a dog... she'd find each of them at the end of the appropriate track. I think she'd get a kick out of that. That can then turn into a matching game for her to do on later days.

I'm still having a hard time keeping the practical life activities fresh. I'm not sure why. Part of it may be that I don't know what to do next. I can fix that by sitting down one evening to make a list from my Montessori albums and some online. Part of it is that I'm short on supplies. I can fix that by making a shopping list and taking a me-afternoon to do some thrift store/dollar store shopping.

That's a plan. While Nugget is sick, I'll work on the next mapping and tracking activities, as well as make my lists for practical life. When she's feeling better, we'll be in a good place to pick up and keep moving.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A breakthrough

We haven't done any school today (visitors and a trip out with her Dad have taken up the day), but we did do some yesterday.

Nugget used the practical life activities a few times -- not nearly as much as the first day they were out, but enough that I'll keep them out for a few more days. I did swap out the nearly untouched pasta stringing with puzzle-like sequence cards. The pumpkin life cycle and fruit matching got another spin, as well.

She showed a lot of interest in doing worksheets, but got more reluctant when we sat down. I offered to stop and do something else, but she wanted to continue -- she just wanted me to do them. I did a bit, then used some mom tricks to get her back into them (counting the flower vases with four flowers is no fun, but giving smilie faces to the vases with four flowers is a blast!). She flat-out turned down the begins-with worksheets, which I can't blame her for -- she already knows beginning sounds. The newly-introduced dot-to-dot have been a hit, though.

I did a lot of thinking the night before about how to approach geography/culture with her. There's so many neat things to learn about other places and other kids, but she doesn't really have the experience to grasp that there are other locations, far away. After pondering, I realized that the first skill she needed was understanding maps. So after the worksheets, we worked together to draw a map of her school nook. She definitely came to understand the concept as we were working on it, and was pointing out the correct locations for the furniture by the end. Next week, we'll draw a map of the house, then of the neighborhood, and then work up to looking at maps of further locations.

Nugget had a neat breakthrough later that day. The day before, she'd been struggling with rhymes. The concept just wasn't clicking. And even when we did our worksheets in the morning, she didn't seem to understand. But when we were at lunch, she volunteered a rhyme. And when I posed other words, she was able to find rhymes for them! She pulled an interesting one -- I asked for a rhyme for "mud", and she suggested "sud". I said that yes, it did rhyme, and she asked what a sud was. :) I posited that it was a single bubble when you were getting cleaned up. I find it really interesting that she was able to make rhymes even with nonsense words.

I love knowing that she's growing and changing right in front of my eyes!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Day 3, more interest

I spent a long time last night digging up new practical life activities to put out. I came up with 3 new/modified activities.

1. Pouring -- I changed from two pitchers to a pitcher and small cup. This seemed to catch her attention, and she did a lot more pouring today.

2. Tongs -- A favorite, apparently! Tongs, pompoms, and a mini-muffin tin.

3. Stringing colored pasta onto pipe cleaners. She's seen this before, and only did it once before putting it away.

We also did a new set of worksheets (math, language arts, fine motor, hidden pictures, and connect the dots) and a few "games". From Montessori for Everyone's free section, I downloaded the pumpkin lifecycle cards that we put in order and the whole fruit/half fruit matching. Nugget and my husband also did another game from the GAMES workbook, where she had to match ants with letters to the picnic food that begins with that letter.

She spent a lot more time working in her homeschool area than I intended. We worked together for maybe 20 minutes -- demonstrating the new activities, worksheets, and the games. Then I started cleaning the kitchen and she stayed behind, working on pouring and tonging and generally revisiting her favorites. She kept working for another 30 minutes or so; so after that, plus the time she worked with my husband, means she "did school" for about an hour today! My aim is 10-15 minutes, so this kind of blows that out of the water. I think it's kind of like the toddler diet -- some days eating constantly, some days getting by on a single fry. I expect this day to balance out some days where she doesn't want to do anything.

Off to put out new worksheets for tomorrow! Tomorrow is also library storytime, and my "schedule" had put geography/culture on Mondays. I wonder what I can pull together for that....

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Day 2, still moving

We continued more of the same today. Nugget didn't go to any of her materials that I have set out, but she was interested in doing the new worksheets. I also had another "game" -- matching bones with words like inside, between, on, etc to the appropriate pictures of dogs. She got a kick out of giving the bones to the dogs, and did that game twice (once with me, once with my husband). She also did the shape game again with him.

I really need to get some new hands-on materials out. I also need tougher worksheets.

We've got the small order of Montessori materials on the way -- moveable alphabet, smelling bottles, number rods. Nugget is asking for the pink tower, brown stair, and red rods. But it's a lot of money for those. I know they're the basis of the sensorial materials, but I just can't convince myself that they'd be used THAT much. My husband and I have been looking into ways to make our own, but no one who's done that seems very happy with how it turns out. I'm so torn.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Back from hiatus

Well, that was a longer break than I anticipated. Life got in the way -- Nugget moved into a more gross motor phase and just didn't have the motivation to sit down to activities, and I became pregnant with our second child and got quite sick.

But we're starting a new year, I'm in my third trimester and feeling much better, and Nugget is back to her more mental self. So my husband and I decided that if we're going to get a routine of homeschooling going, we should do it before #2 (Sprout) comes along.

During my hiatus, I've done a lot of reading and thinking about how we want to homeschool Nugget. A few days ago, my husband and I sat down so that we could get on the same page and figure out our next steps. We can't afford to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on materials that will only be used once or twice per child -- even if that is cheaper than a Montessori school. So we're planning on investing in a few choice materials, and trying to find ways to make others and incorporate the rest into everyday life. We're also going to stray a bit more into traditional schooling methods, because Nugget really seems to like worksheets. And Waldorf.... although I'm going to pick and choose some activities from some inspiring blogs, I don't think Waldorf as an educational methodology really fits us.

So our next step was to set up a space for school materials. After vacillating between the playroom and dining room, we settled on the unused breakfast nook. It's not the coziest space, but we got a colorful rug and I'll put up some sheer curtains to soften things a bit. We moved Nugget's easel in, as well as a temporary shelf (it's not big enough to hold two trays side-by-side) and temporary table (this one is too tall for her to use comfortably).

As soon as we'd moved some furniture in, Nugget plopped in the middle of the rug and started asking for Montessori activities. Hee. I'd tucked everything away months ago, but I was able to pull out a few old hits for her to get started with.

- Flower arranging. This is probably her favorite, although it usually degenerates into sharing the flowers with various people and stuffed friends. Carebears apparently particularly like flowers. I got the vases from a former Montessori teacher and the flowers at Ikea.

- Clothespins. Nugget removes the lid of the box and places clothespins around the edges. She didn't choose to do this activity.

- Beads. Simply stack beads on the dowel. I'd intended for her to replicate patterns, but she isn't quite there yet. Right now, it's just fun to stack randomly.

That evening, I went through my homeschooling materials to set up a few more activities.

- Puzzle. Nugget has done the summer and fall versions, but this winter one was new to her. Over the summer, puzzles were her favorite thing and she'd blow through them. Now, though, she has little interest and they take her a lot longer. The novelty of this one got her to do it once (with a lot of help), but she hasn't picked it up again.

- Pouring. So traditionally Montessori! The pitchers and small stones are also from the former teacher. Nugget has gone back to this a few times, pouring back and forth a time or two and then returning it.

- Shape game. I bought a few books that are filled with math and language arts games, because Nugget LOVES the idea of playing games together (although she's not at the point where she can follow directions for board games). In this game, I gave her the pictures one at a time to sort onto their correct sheet. I was quite surprised -- the last time we'd done shapes, she hadn't comprehended the square/rectangle difference. This time she had no problems at all. After one round of her sorting shapes, I had her run the game while I sorted. I might have made a few... mistakes, which she got a kick out of pointing out to me.

- Worksheets. Nugget does love her worksheets. Since she has little interest in drawing, her skills in pencil/crayon control are pretty poor. So the worksheets are a good way to get her to practice. We did some where she had to draw lines between matching items (for fine motor control -- I know she can match), as well as some math (identifying "1", both as a value and as a number) and some language arts (beginning sounds). She blew through all of them with no problems at all.

The onus is now on me to keep up the motivation to put out new activities each evening. Nugget is quite interested in "doing school", but I've had a hard time pushing myself to do something about it. Hopefully I can turn this into a habit before life -- in the form of Sprout's arrival -- gets in the way again.

How about some concrete goals?

- Continue along general Montessori path for language arts and math daily
- New or altered practical life activity as interest wanes; at least every few days
- New worksheets whenever previous have been completed; at least one fine motor, one math, one language arts
- Craft project twice a week (Wed/Fri?)
- Science twice a week (Tue/Thu?)
- Geography/culture once a week (Mon?)

That seems doable. Spreading it out means I won't feel as lost each evening trying to come up with something new. And it leaves us a lot of time/flexibility for following her interests and lead. At this age, I don't want our day to be focused around school, but rather focus school around her interests.

I'll try to update here regularly, to keep myself accountable for how it's going and note how we've had to alter the plan to fit reality.
Site Meter