Thursday, September 18, 2014

School Days: Week 2 Music Explosion

Week one was all about maps.  Week two saw an explosion of work with the music materials.

Both boys became very interested in reviewing the building of major scales.  They can play the violin in the keys of G, D, A, Bb, d minor, and a minor.  Me Too liked to use the resonator bells and major scale strip to build the G, D, and A scales and then play Suzuki violin songs he knows by ear.

Kal-El went a little further and built major scales starting on every pitch possible.  Whenever he built a scale he plays on violin, he brought out the letter charts we sing Suzuki songs from  and played the songs on the bells.

When he ran out of music he became super involved in writing his own music (again) and working on taking his notational skills to the next level.  He is now interested in learning about minor scales with the bells so that he can expand his repertoire.

Me Too wanted to start learning to read pitches on the staff and so started working his way through the traditional montessori bells/bars exercises.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Work Plan 2014/2015

This is what our work plans look like as Wednesday afternoon on the third week of school, September 2014.  As always, my photos enlarge if you click on them.  We used the same style of work plan all last year with great success.  The work plans change throughout the year based on the boys' individual needs.  These will certainly look a little different in a few months.  I have already made changes and reprinted these three times this year.  I have to make one small change and reprint them yet one more time.  After that, we should be good to go for some time.  

Each child's work plan is broken into two sections, daily work and "other" work.  At the start of the school year I thought the "other work" would be "weekly" work.  One week in I realized we were not close to finishing and I changed that to "every two weeks" work.  On my next printing I'm just going to label that section "cycle."  As we draw to a close this week I can see that it took my boys three weeks to get through the work.   To be clear, that is three weeks, four days of "school" each week, one 3-4 hour uninterrupted work cycle each of those days.

When we begin the work plan, all of the paper clips start out on the left.  As they do work in any category they move the paper clip over to the right-hand side.  The work plan is set up to give a framework of what I "expect" in a given period of time, but allows the boys to construct their own school day.  This work plan looks like it has a lot specified, but each area is just a "category" and there are often countless ways the boys can satisfy the category.  So, not only do they choose many of their categories each day, but they choose what type of work to do within the category.

They have even more control.  As you can see, each child has two colors of paperclips.  The black paperclips are for daily work.  The green or blue paperclips are the weekly/cyclical work.  They can change the color of the paperclips in the weekly/cyclical section if they wish.  For example, the first week of school both boys were super interested in maps so they both changed that paperclip to a black one to indicate that they wanted to do that work every day for a while.  They can change that clip back to green or blue any time they wish. The second week Kal-El was very interested in music and also changed the music paperclip to a black one.

At the end of the day, all of the black clips (and several blue) should make their way over to the right-hand side of the work plan.  The boys usually "clear" their charts at the end of the day by moving all of the black clips back to the left so it is ready for the next day.   Sometimes they run out of time and don't get to a particular "daily" work.  When that happens, I ask them not to "clear" their chart at the end of the day.  They are required to do those works first the next school day.

As the first week progressed I discovered that, unlike last year, this year the boys (particularly Me Too) really want to move a paperclip every time they do any work.  I did mention in a previous post on work journals that the boys' work plans double as a very primitive work journal. I hope you can see how I might interpret these that way.  However, not everything possible is on the work plan nor do I want them to feel like their work is limited to categories on a work plan.  So, after the first week I added "Kid's Choice" to their daily work as a category. This is by far their FAVORITE category.  They spend a lot of time outside of school planning what their "kids choice" activities could be the next day.  

Another category you might find interesting is "Mom's Surprise" in the daily category.  After I give whatever presentations I have planned for the day I tell the kids that was their "Mom's Surprise" and that they can move that paperclip.  In the past few weeks those have been presentations from the KotU geography album, the Waseca Biomes albums, and Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding.  I give many other presentations, but they tend to fall under one of the other categories and the boys prefer to move the corresponding paperclip.

Certain categories in the cyclical section of the work plan have more that one row and more than one paperclip.  This allows me to weight the cycle according to my preferences.  If I listed each category only once in the cyclical area we probably would finish the work plan in a single week.  Hmmm...I'll have to think about that.

Last year's work plans looked very similar.  The main differences were a little less daily work and most of the "other" work was only listed once or twice.  That work plan was intended to be complete in a week.  However, we almost never finished it in a week.  I noticed the same works kept "falling off" from week to week which leads to a lack of progression in that area.  That is why I decided to extend the time frame for the "other" work and treat it cyclically if necessary.

Our work plans from the 2012/2013 school year were a completely different style.  You can read about those in this post:  Work Plan 2012/2014.

Jessica is trying to compile different family's work plans over at this link:  Work Plans and Journals.

That completes the "how the work plans work" section of this post.  The boys are much more involved with their work plans this year than last and you'll see them lying around in many of their work pictures this upcoming week.  

What follows is a basic summary of the types of things they are currently doing in each category for those who are interested in that type of thing.  If not, stop reading now.

Here is a closer look at Me Too's work plan.  His daily categories are as follows:

  • multiplication
  • bead frame/ stamp game
  • reading
  • Mom's surprise
  • kid's choice

Here is a closer look at Kal-El's work plan.  His daily categories are as follows:

  • division/multiplication
  • writing
  • grammar
  • Mom's surprise
  • kid's choice

Let me give you an idea of how they fulfill those categories.

 Kal-El is currently alternating "multiplication days" and "division days."  I had these as separate line items on his original work plan for the year.  Likewise, on Me Too's work plan the bead frame and stamp game were separate line items. Here is an image of my first work plan of the new year:

However, I knew even as I was typing up those first work plans that I had way too many line items in the daily category.  Too many to leave room for choice.  I left it alone for that first week to see what happened and see what the boys' preferences and opinions were.  After the first day it was obvious that the best solution was to alternate the stamp game and bead frame work from day to day for Me Too and to alternate multiplication work and division work for Kal-El.  You can see that I started writing changes on the work plans and used them that way for a little while prior to retyping and printing.

Multiplication: Kal-El alternates between the checkerboard and flat bead frame for his multiplication work.  Soon we will add the elementary bank game to that mix.  

 Right now, however, Me Too is trying to muscle through the final exercises on the primary finger board (the blank or "bingo" chart) so he pretty much fills about two pages in his multiplication notebook each day doing that.  When he wants a break he asks to play a multiplication game, chooses some flashcards, or occasionally asks to do the chart using the iPad app instead of the actual chart.  He usually does the whole chart on the iPad each time so I don't really object.  He only does about 15 equations each day when he uses the real chart.  Soon he will have the option of the elementary "bank game," the large bead frame, or the checkerboard for that category.

Division:  Kal-El is working with the racks and tubes.  

Bead frame/stamp game:  Me Too is working on dynamic subtraction on the small bead frame and dynamic division with the stamp game.  

Reading:  (Me Too) Right now this is almost always a lesson from The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading.  If I give a presentation from the "word study" section of the albums that would fulfill this category for the day.

Grammar:  This is daily work for Kal-El right now and on the cyclical section for Me Too.  I have recently revamped our grammar area in the the classroom.  Kal-El is rotating among grammar boxes, grammar commands, and logical analysis.  Me Too will be as well, but has been doing presentations with me instead of independent work thus far.

The categories in Me Too's cyclical section of the work plan are as follows:

  • fractions
  • word problems
  • squaring/cubing
  • geometry
  • writing
  • grammar
  • spelling
  • maps
  • Spanish 
  • music
Kal-El has all of those categories with one additional category:  vocabulary.

Fractions:  Both boys are still working through the drawers in our fractions cabinet.  They also like to look at the fraction charts or play fractions games (fractions pizzas or fractions dominoes).  Kal-El is almost done with the first elementary fractions album (MRD) and will start the second (unlike denominators, etc.,).

Word Problems: Both works from their word problems baskets.  Me Too is using the "first grade" level problems and Kal-El is now using third grade level.  Me Too finds these to be a breeze.  Kal-El always gets the right answer but has trouble writing down the equation he used if it is a division equation because he sees all division equations the way they asked as multiplication in disguise.

Squaring/Cubing:  These would be presentations and work from the elementary math album as well as continued work with skip counting.

Geometry:  Both boys have avoided geometry so far.  Tomorrow that is almost all that's left on their work plan so it will come to a head.  Lessons will continue from the elementary geometry albums.

Writing:  Both boys work in either his Handwriting Without Tears workbook or from Writing with Ease.  It also includes work on the chalkboards, sand tray, and other tactile work.  Kal-El has started a cursive iPad app.  He has a few more pages in his last HWT book and will start New American Cursive any day now.

Spanish:  I work on this with both boys together  and I plan to post about it sometime in the future.

Music:  These are lessons from the Montessori albums plus whatever tickles my fancy from day to day (music being "my thing" and all).  They did a lot of music work last week that I plan to post about.

Spelling:  Both boys use All About Spelling.

Vocabulary:  Kal-El reads really well but, like any elementary aged child, doesn't know every word there is to know.  I found a literature-based program we are trying called Vocabu-Lit.  I bought book B for Me Too and Book C for Kal-El.  Me Too doesn't really have time in his busy schedule to start yet.  Kal-El is on the fence.  He likes most of the work.  Some of the work involves looking up words in the dictionary and copying the definition.  The scope of that is a bit too much for him at this stage.  The activities in book B would be perfect for him but he already knew all of the vocabulary words.  Book C has just the right amount of "new words" but the activities are geared a bit old for him.  We'll see.  

Speaking of busy schedules, I am having a VERY difficult time finding time to blog this year.  I don't intend to give up, but don't know exactly how I'm going to fit it all together.  Please bear with me!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

School Days: Week 1, Geography Explosion

Geography explosion.  All week our house looked a little bit like someone had vomited maps everywhere.  The photo above is just the school room.  The kitchen table, family room and bedrooms have taken the hit as well.

I think it started with Kal-El and the coin map of the 50 states.  He decided it would be a good idea to memorize the 50 states and that the most fun way to do this would be to complete the map every day and time himself with a stopwatch each time.  He is recording his times in his math binder.  We discovered that Idaho is missing.  Me Too patiently helped me dig through a gallon of loose change trying to find another one.  I am trying to find a good book about the state quarters so that the boys can look up the story behind the images on each coin on their own.  In the meantime, the iPad has been very busy answering questions.

Not to be left out, Me Too (aptly named) got to work on the 50 states puzzle map.  After which he reviewed the Australia, South America and North America puzzle maps.  Then he memorized five new countries on the Africa puzzle map.  Afterward, he put all the desert and mountain pins in the physical pin map of Australia.  He decided to "finish that later" and moved on to the pin maps of North America and South America and put the countries pins in.

In the meantime, Kal-El had moved on to North America pin map.  He LOVED it.

He loved it so much he decided to make his own for his room to "practice."  

He did so using our Waseca biome stencils.  He liked this idea so much that he decided to do EVERY continent and tape them together.  He was disappointed that the scale was inconsistent from continent to continent.

Kal-El also started making labels on little pieces of paper. He wants to cover his bedroom wall in cork to make his own pinmap of the world.  I offered him a corkboard that he could use with one continent at a time, but he wants the WHOLE WORLD.  Since covering a whole wall in corkboard is not an option we are discussing poster putty as an alternative.  Me Too, again, did not want to be left out so he made an Australia biome map.

Then, Me Too moved on to tracing all of the continent puzzle maps one piece at a time to recreate the map he made with his brother last year.

Kal-El worked with the Africa puzzle map a little bit which inspired him to take out the continent box.  He asked me to put the cd of African music on the stereo and the boys listened to the whole thing while decorating the school room with everything in the continent box.  Before I thought to take a picture, suddenly the cd was over and the boys had put everything away like it had never happened.

Kal-El wants to learn more about electricity.  I plan on using lessons from BFSU but haven't given the three pre-requisite lessons.  The first was on "energy."  This worked very well along with the lesson "Energy comes from the sun" in the Waseca "Introduction to Biomes" curriculum so we did that.  The Waseca lesson leads nicely back into the traditional Montessori elementary geography album into the "The Rotation of the Earth and it's consequences" section.  There are about 30 pages there that I want to cover in the next month or so.  This week we covered the presentations that go along with the chart above and the charts that follow:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

School Days, Week One: Math

This week was a lot lighter on the math that I would have wished.  However, Kal-El found some time to continue his checkerboard work.

He taught himself to do the work abstractly on paper if he is lucky enough to pull an equation with a single-digit multiplier.

I introduced him to the racks and tubes!  I will post more about it when we are a little further along.  Right now I am technically giving him the "primary" racks and tubes presentations.

Me Too started division with the stamp game.  He's excited because it was driving him nuts that he wasn't using the little skittle pieces until now.

The only thing he has hanging on from primary is a little memory work.  He has two more games to finish with the blank board for multiplication.  Afterward he needs to work on the division boards.

Both boys are a little weak in the memorization of their multiplication facts for 6's, 7's, 8's, and 9's.  I decided to pick a fact family (8's) and focus on it until they are solid.  Afterward I will move on to a different family.  

We have the Classical Conversations apps on my iPad, but the boys really don't like the singsongy skip counting songs.  Instead they prefer junk like this:

It actually worked in pretty short order.  However, the songs for the other numbers by this company are so similar I wouldn't try working on several at a time.

We have been playing Speed! with the eight's deck.  The boys have been pulling the relevant sheets out of our Skipcountapalooza.  I added some sheets to the collection such as some dot-to-dots by eights and mystery phrase papers.

That's it for math!  I'll post more about our other work this weekend.

Friday, September 5, 2014

How to make strangers think that homeschooling your kid is making the kid so weird that they can't even tell someone what grade they are in.

My Mom made the boys the cutest aprons.  They are modeled after the easy-fasten aprons that you can buy at Montessori Services.  Montessori Services does not sell their elementary aprons in vinyl and I wanted something wipeable for art and science.  Isn't the fabric amazing?  Like the aprons they are modeled after, they have an easy-fasten velcro closure in the front.  She also made them cute fabric aprons without the vinyl in a mustache print for cooking.  So cool.  I have to post photos of those soon as well.

We made it through our first week back to homeschool.  In the photos above, the boys are doing some simple color mixing using food dye and watercolors.  This was not in my plans for the week, but apparently it's not the "first day of school" unless you roll out the test tubes.  Also, apparently nothing christens an almost brand-new white kitchen like kids running loose with multiple containers of food dye.  The kitchen passed with flying colors (no pun intended), but my blood pressure may never be the same.

When I uploaded pictures today I was reminded why I need to write multiple posts during the week rather than attempt a "weekly wrap up."  I'll try to write several posts this weekend rather than cram everything together and freeze up your computer or put you into a coma.  Even posting their "first day" pictures is more complicated than it ought to be.

Just in case you are having a case of déjà vu, Me Too's first day of school photo last year also said "first day of first grade."  I feel like I've written about this before, but I can't find where.  Me Too has a mid-summer birthday. If we were sending him to public school we would have enrolled him in kindergarten last year.  If he had gone to a Montessori school outside the home I don't know if he would have been placed in primary or elementary.  After seeing how the last year played out I'm pretty certain that an experienced guide would have recommended primary.  I had a bit of an epiphany this summer when Me Too suddenly started showing sign after sign of transitioning to the second plane.  It wasn't until then that I realized how few glimmers of a "second plane" child I had seen in the past year.  Although I treated the past year like his "first elementary year", he accomplished his learning in an overwhelmingly primary way.   The good news is, in hindsight last year Me Too had a really strong, successful "fourth year" of primary.  He really wrung out every bit of those primary albums, hitting all of the works that the album says "are usually for elementary" but may be needed by "some primary children."  Now I know which kids they are talking about.  

However, Me Too was doing the same work that Kal-El remembers doing when he was in "first grade" so when Kal-El announced that Me Too was in "first grade" we didn't think it mattered. The mental influence of Montessori philosophy with multi-age groupings combined with our libertarian homeschooling nature (i.e. our own special brand of crazy) leads us to think about "what grade are we in" pretty infrequently. I may have attacked nearly every thing in our house with my label gun, but not my children. We just rolled with it.  As far as I was concerned, the kids could consider themselves in whatever grade they wished.  It occurred to us as the year progressed that physically and behaviorally Me Too was just not a first grader yet.  Then we got to know the children who would have been his classmates at the local elementary school through his cub scouts tiger den and discovered he was the youngest in his den by five months.  One of the other kids in his den turned eight this summer about two weeks after Me Too turned seven.  The trend in our area is to "redshirt" for kindergarten.  It dawned on us that this disparity would be ongoing and that we should probably have him assigned to the appropriate "grade" (at least on our DPI paperwork) just in case he ever does transition to a school outside our home.  

Me Too wrinkled his nose at the news that "if he went to school outside the house" he would be in first grade.  He's not fully on board.  He has announced that his "body is in first grade" but his "mind is in second grade."  I have explained that when people ask him "What grade are you in?" it is their way of asking "how old are you?"  (Don't get me started on the ways in which that bothers me philosophically.) We've told him that we'd like him to tell people he's in "first grade" when they ask that question.  Again, we get the nose wrinkle.  For all practical purposes I suppose I could say we are experiencing some of the generally confusion a family might experience if their child is "held back" in school.  It doesn't help that it would be silly to hold him back in cub scouts so he is still with the second graders.  He is also with the second graders in his homeschool coop at church.  Our homeschool coop has multi-age groupings as well, but we want to keep him with his current classmates:  five other little boys.  The first graders are all girls.  It's weird how things happen that way.  Regardless of the reasons, the end result is a seven year old boy who can't tell you with any sort of authority what "grade he is in."

At some point my husband and I had a sit down "meeting" about this together and decided that we needed to be more consistent when we talk about Me Too's "grade."  We also decided that since the start of fall soccer lines up so closely with the beginning of the school year and our DPI paperwork that the start of soccer would be the best time to emphasize a clean "switch" (with the above exceptions) to being a "first grader"  both as a family and as members of our community.  I was surprised when Me Too came home his first soccer practice and told me that the coach said that another boy was the "only" first grader on Me Too's combined first/second grade soccer team.  I mentioned it to my husband.  I thought  it was odd that the coach would think so because I was careful to register Me Too as a first grader.  You can imagine my dismay when my husband told me it was probably because that he had told the coach and all the parents Me Too was in second grade when they asked him at drop off.  Seriously?    I know he was at the meeting we had about this.    It was a slip of the tongue really (he's used to just rolling with it remember), but so much for our "clean break" and "reestablishing" Me Too's grade level.  To make it worse,  my father-in-law had the good fortune to witness my epic blow up about that one. That moment was probably a little surreal without the backstory, also probably with the backstory. That one's on me, but..seriously!?!?!  

As my husband aptly pointed out, we are the only ones who actually care.  I am only posting about it for two reasons. One is the déjà vu picture.  The other is as a cautionary tale.  Until our school-centric society catches up with our multi-age Montessori-homeschooling revolution, you might want to be careful about what "grade" you let your kid think he's in.  Otherwise you'll wind up with a kid like mine who freezes up like a deer in headlights in the face of the simple but loaded question, "What grade are you in?"

If anyone knows how I can dig myself out of this hole, I welcome your comments!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Work Journals and Planning

Like most teachers, I spent a little time this summer filling out my lesson plan books.  However, if you look carefully at the photo above you might notice that my lesson plan book is a little more BLANK than a traditional teacher's book.  

Because Montessori students choose their own work every day I will fill in the squares until after my boys have done their work rather than before.  It is a "work journal" not a "lesson plan book."  In a traditional Montessori elementary environment.the work journal is one of three essential tools that balance the freedom of cosmic education with responsibility.

Confession:  At the time of this posting I keep the work journal, not the boys.  In a traditional Montessori elementary environment the CHILD fills in the work journal, not the guide. Yeah.  I know.  I'm not utilizing one of the three ESSENTIAL tools.  Once again I am grateful that there is no such thing as the "Montessori Police."  

So why don't my boys journal?  My main concern is that we spend far fewer hours in our "formal" Montessori environment than a Montessori student at a traditional Montessori elementary school.  A traditional student would be at school all day five days each week.  We are typically in our "school room" four days a week from 9 to noon.  When Kal-El is accomplishing careful and thoughtful work similar to what is expected in a work journal it takes A LOT of time.  We wouldn't be able to get enough work done with the Montessori materials if Kal-El spent half of his time journaling what he did.  

Another concern is that the boys step into the school room on their own frequently outside of "school hours" and both are reluctant writers.  I don't want them to  think that "if they do work" they "have to write it down" and stop doing extra work to avoid journaling.  

Another big concern is that we spend a lot of time learning outside the school room.  In my mind we homeschool all day, every day.  I haven't figured out how that translates to a child's work journal.  The guidelines of "what to journal" in the Montessori Guide article linked above is very clear that the child journals everything:  their work, their "down time," when they leave the classroom for appointments, etc.,  Can you imagine doing that every day, all day, at home rather than just at school during school hours? Obviously one wouldn't.  That opens a new can of worms:  what to journal and what not to journal.  I'm not comfortable defining our activities as "journal-worthy" or not "journal-worthy."  If we spend an hour baking a pie and don't put it in our journal does it become a less-valuable learning experience than working on division with the racks and tubes?  Of course not.  But if you train your child to record one or not the other might they start applying such value-judgments themselves?

Anyway, enough about why the wrong person is keeping the journal.  Let's just look at the journal, shall we?

I very specifically like these lesson plan books from Carson Dellosa called "The Green Plan Book". 
I like it because it is in landscape format, very few lesson plan books are.  Lesson plan books in portrait orientation don't have enough columns for the amount of "threads" we have in Montessori. This landscape book has 18 "subject" columns. 

As always, my photos will enlarge if you click on them.

I also like the blankness of this book.  Some other books have a lot of things, like subject headers or dates,  "helpfully" filled in.  This book also is one of very few that has dashed rather than solid lines separating the columns.  This is handy for Montessori.  The number of threads you are working in and the amount of work you are doing for particular threads will change from month to month.  It's nice to merge two columns into one when you are working with fewer threads and doing a lot of work in a particular thread.  We always seem to need all of the columns all the time lately. However, the dotted lines is very spillover-friendly when I have a lot to write in a particular column.

Me Too and Kal-El each have their own book.  The list of threads at the top changes throughout the year and is often different for each child.  To give you an idea of what my work journal looks like at the end of the week, I randomly chose a week in Kal-El's book from last year. 

His threads at that time were as follows:

  • Math:  numeration, multiplication, division, fractions, squaring and cubing, word problems
  • Geometry
  • History
  • Language:  reading, writing, grammar, spelling, Spanish
  • Geography:  maps, Earth, BFSU 
  • Biology: Botany, Zoology
Below are pictures of each page for that week (left and right) so you can see how I fill it out.  

Our work plans keep the boys moving along pretty consistently across most of the threads.  However, because they choose their own work not every thread is touched every week.  In the week above it looks like we didn't manage to do anything out of the history album or the zoology portion of the biology album.  Blank columns like that help me guide because they tell me that those threads need a little kindling in the form of a presentation the following week.  Columns that filling in well are either humming along nicely on their own or I've been consistently giving presentations.  I usually am ready to give the next presentation in any thread because I keep track of them on a chart.

 The companion to the work journal for me as the guide is my planning clipboard.  

My clipboard holds four sheets of paper on which I have printed these charts.  Basically I needed three-column charts with about five rows per page.  This gave me enough room to write.  Each row is for a different "thread" in our cosmic curriculum.  The first column is for the thread name.  I happened to pre-print my thread names, but one could just leave that column blank and write them in because they do change from time to time.  The second column is a list of the next THREE presentations following our current place in the album/thread.  When I record things in this column I make sure I understand the procedure for giving that presentation.  The third column is where I record any materials I need to fetch from the basement or make.  You can see that there are check marks on the right-hand side from when I checked off that the materials were prepared.  A wavy line is sometimes used to divide a row in half when the boys are in different places along that thread.

In this way, I make sure I am prepared for the next three presentations for each child in each thread.  It's like an "assignment notebook" for me as the guide.  I make sure I am physically and mentally ready to move forward along any thread my children choose or that I choose for them.  If you give an interested child a presentation and watch that flame ignite there is nothing worse as a Montessori Mom than to have them ask "what's next" only to realize you can't show them because you haven't prepared the material or don't remember how to use it.  Yuck.

I use each chart for several weeks at a time.  When I give a presentation I just cross it off and add a new one to the list if there is room.  When I run out of room I print a new chart and keep going.

The work journal and planning clipboards (maintained by me) work in tandem with the work plans that the boys use to keep us moving forward in all areas in our homeschool.  I plan to post about the boys' work plans very soon.  You will see that they double as a VERY simple work journal as well, albeit an impermanent one.  Perhaps I will find a way to reconcile the concept of a child-kept work journal with our homeschool sometime in the future.  If I do, I will blog about it.  I encourage you to read "The Three Essential Tools" at Montessori Guide.  It is a great post.  Read it and decide for yourself how the three essential tools will look in your homeschool.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Toy Library: Four Years Later

Four years ago I posted about the "toy library" we were using in our home and the toy rotation system I use with toddlers.  When recently reading Aubrey's blog, Montessori Mischief,  I was reminded that an update on the toy library was long overdue.  Like Aubrey, I believe my kids shouldn't have too many toys but seem to repeatedly acquire more than intended.  Like Aubrey we do regular purges but Aubrey does a much better job purging than I do.  I deal with that by amending my statement "I believe the kids shouldn't have many toys" to "I believe the kids shouldn't have too many toys at once." 

I am frequently asked if we still use a toy library.  We sure do!  Above is what our toy library looks like today.  It is a picture of the hallway at the top of the stairs on the second floor of our house.  The toy library is the door in the middle.  Me Too's room is the door on the left and Kal-El's is the room on the right.  MOST of our toys are in this closet.  We don't store toys in the boys' rooms, although they each have their personal stuffed animals and some special items in their rooms.  I think Me Too has some Bakugon stashed in his room.  Kal-El has his special "spy gear."  They each still have some favorite "dress up" items in their closets (here is my post on our dress-up collection at its zenith).  They still aren't too old to put on a fireman's jacket or a knight's armour.  

If your kids are still toddlers or preschoolers you'll probably want your toy library or rotation system to be close to the main living areas of your home.  The last time I wrote about this the kids were not only four years younger, but we lived in a different home. It was a single-story home that didn't have adequate closet space outside of bedrooms.  I prefer to keep most toys out of the bedrooms, but in that home we assigned some closet space in the boys' rooms for their toy libraries.  The first year we lived in our current house the boys were still so little (three and four) that I kept the toy library on the first floor in what is now the "art closet."  When the kids are toddlers and preschoolers they tend to want to play as near you as physically possible.  As they get older they become more independent and want more privacy.  At some point the boys kept saying "I want to play with this in my room."  (They were still young enough at that time that I didn't want them climbing the stairs while holding a bin of toys so they had to ask for help.)  That was my cue to move the toy library upstairs.  

You can read more of my thoughts on toys and the effects of our toy library on the boys attention spans and school time in the FAQ section of this blog, particularly in questions 8-10.  You can find the FAQ section through the link or at anytime through the tabs at the top of the blog just under the header.  I can't emphasize enough that limiting toys and rotating toys has a positive effect on your child's attention span and the quality of their play. I am always asked if I get "tired of helping kids trade toys."  What people don't realize is that kids play with toys a lot longer when there aren't 30 other toys lying around to distract them.  So, I was never trading toys every ten minutes. Also, the couple of times a day I would trade a toy was a lot less tiring than picking up every toy they own every night before bed.  I also want to emphasize that if you homeschool it is much easier to keep the school room "fascinating" and "the place to be" if there isn't an in-house toy store somewhere else in the house to wander off to.  

All the nitty-gritty details about how the system works are in my original post on the subject.  We still run the system in the same way.  The only thing that has changed is that the closet is no longer locked.  When we moved three years ago I installed a "storage-room" locking doorknob on this closet (This is not the one I bought but the website explains the anatomy of the knob well. Mine was only $10-$20 at the hardware store.).  When it was locked, the boys had to ask me to unlock the door to make trades.  After many years of toy library experience they were ready for more responsibility and I started leaving the key in the lock about a year ago.  It is handy to have because every once in a while the boys let things get a little out of control and need a reminder of proper procedure. All I have to do is remove the key. 

As you can see, I use more text labels than I did when the boys were babies but we still have some picture labels in the mix.

This picture provides a view of the larger variety of bins and labels we have.  Most of their toys fall into one of three categories:  building things, battling one another, or action figures.  As you can see in the picture above, we literally have a bin labeled "battle" full of things that are handy in a battle. Yup, we're that family.  Try not to judge us too harshly and in return we'll try not to raise an eyebrow at your bin labeled "rainbows and fluffy bunnies."  Nerf, Lego, Hot Wheels and Star Wars figures are the heavily used toys here.  However, you'll also find cool flashlights, magic tricks, grabber/reachers and a big collection of ninjas.

This is still A LOT of toys.  Probably too many.  This closet is pretty big.  You can step into it and, as you may be able to see on the right-hand side of the picture, the shelves are L-shaped which means we have a few more bins yet not pictured. However, some of the bins (particularly on the top shelf) in this closet are actually completely empty or nearly empty (probably the home of future toys though).  Also, I took this picture following a routine straightening in preparation of a big culling of the toys. We haven't done it yet, but I think we might be able to let go of 1/4-1/3 of what is in this closet when we go through it.  The boys were camping when I cleaned it and I didn't want to donate things when they weren't home to participate. The boys actually seem to enjoy going through the closet with me and getting rid of things.  I think it might have something to do with the timing.  I choose to purge the toys in December (right before Kal-El's birthday and Christmas) and again in June (right before Me Too's birthday, although we are late this year).  I think this has caused the boys to associate purging the closet with "growing up" and the anticipation of making room for new things.

In the interest of keeping things in perspective, please note that we do have a small cabinet in our family room where the board games and puzzles are kept. There are also a couple of large items that won't fit in the toy closet.  Full disclosure, those are:

  • Lengths of Hot Wheels track.  They are in an under-bed bin in the guest room and not much good without the actual Hot Wheels that ARE in the toy library.
  • A large bin of duplo Legos.  They boys use these 80% of the time when they are playing.  They prefer them to the normal "small" Legos immensely.  This seems to be because the bricks are more basic, so many small Lego are particular to "sets", and also because they can make the same things they can with the small Lego but BIGGER.  They like everything to be BIG.
  • Large wooden blocks from Community Playthings.  Best purchase ever.  I actually just got up just now and took picture of what Kal-El built this morning so you could see.  These are used almost every day and usually in combination with another toy, in this case, military vehicles.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Waseca "The North America Biome Curriculum"

I have been working on getting our learning space ready for fall.  Yesterday I was working with some newer Waseca materials and realized I had some random "user tips" that I should pass on to everyone. Sometimes even with the detailed pictures and free downloads available on the Waseca site I find it difficult to interpret how the different materials intersect or overlap.  Hopefully what I write here will clear things up for others who might likewise be in the dark.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that every year I add one or two Waseca products to our environment.  We started with the Introduction to Biomes curriculum and then added the complete set of continent stencils.

picture of first day of school last year!

Last year I purchased the North American Biome cards with the intention of spreading out the cost of a complete set of cards for every continent by purchasing a continent each year.  However, I realized halfway through the year that we would likely get more out of them if I had the album that goes with. So instead of ordering another set of biome cards this year, I purchased the album in the spring.  

The reason I didn't get the album, The North America Biome Curriculum, in the first place was because there wasn't an album offered for any of the other continents.  In my mind that equaled "superfluous" (My mind might be a little fuzzy at times. I blame the children.).  Also, I didn't know what was in there.  There are several pictures but no table of contents on the website.   I have taken photographs of the table of contents pages and you can view them through this link.  As it turns out, the North America Biome Curriculum has all the lesson plans/ presentations for the biome mats, biome puzzles, biome readers, biome stencils, as well as the card sets.  And, it is the "album" for all of the continent biome cards, not just North America.  Because each biome is represented on the continent of North America, the same lessons would be used for all of the other continent sets.  Waseca states:

This curriculum, "The North America Biome Curriculum", intends to build on that foundation ["The World According to Biomes"] by exploring our home continent by biomes.  (If you live on another continent, you need to replace the references to materials for North America with those of your own continent. (NABC 1)

So, I am excited that this album will apply to all of the other continent sets that I might purchase.  When I ordered I had wondered if Waseca was creating a curriculum for each continent set and that North America was just the first to be rolled out.  Upon reading the album introduction I can see that this is not the case, this is all I need.  

Speaking of "all I need", If you look at the "North America" products on the Waseca page you'll see that there are just a few things I didn't get.  I did not buy the biome puzzle maps or the readers because I felt those were more appropriate for primary.  The Waseca curriculums are available at both a primary and elementary level. I have ordered the "elementary" level each time and I think the albums are the same but the type of three-part cards differ (as they appropriately should).  The Waseca albums I have give both primary and elementary activities.  

Here is another tip:  If you have more time than money you can make your own Waseca biome readers.  They are available on the product page for each set of readers.  Just click on the spot that says Biome Reader Masters.

Edited to Add:  While I'm on the topic of having more time than money I should mention that "The World According to Biomes" or the "Introduction to the Biomes" curriculum and the masters for making the cards that go with are available for free on the Waseca site.  Both the elementary and primary versions are available.

Another item I didn't get was the biome mat.

That is because I already own the stencil cabinet and the control for the stencil cabinet looks like this:

You might notice a similarity.  The size is different.  The mat is 27"x24" and the stencil control is 11"x17".  The reason the mat is so much larger is that the child labels it with arrows like such:

This method is fine for primary child that you don't want to let loose with pins, but a little more clumsy for a pin-proficient elementary child.  Since I already had elaborate plans to make pin maps (check them out!) I felt that this material would be really a duplicate.

However, I didn't read the fine print or click through all the picture choices and therefore didn't realize until I started reading the album that the biome mat comes with COMMAND CARDS.  I have big plans to contact Waseca because I would love to get my hands on the command cards for each continent without having to buy the big biome mat ($$$).  Now that I know they exist it bugs me to not have them  (#consumerism at its worst).  It's like that episode of Friends when Rachel hides the fact that she's been buying all of her "flea market" furniture at Pottery Barn.  Phoebe finds out when she sees that they own every piece of furniture in the Pottery Barn display window except one.  Rachel wants to know if Phoebe is mad and and Phoebe says, "No no no, but I am mad! I am mad!  Because this stuff is everything that is wrong with the world and all I can think about is how I don't have that lamp!"  I like to think I don't have an addiction to Montessori materials.  I like to think it I feel this way because command cards are useful.  Here is a picture of the elusive (and useful) command cards:

Don't they look useful?  If you want more information on the readers and the biome mats, go visit my friend Heidi at Work and Play, Day By Day.  She owns those materials.  Just put "Waseca" into the search box in the right-hand sidebar of her blog.  Maybe she'll blog about those command cards, taunting me from afar.

Another insight about the North America Curriculum:  Although it was plainly mentioned on the website, I was surprised when I opened the box and saw just how many cards came with the album.  It came with twenty-eight sets of three-part cards.  That's a lot of cards.  When you receive a Waseca product not only is the product beautiful but the packaging is beautiful.  My only complaint is that the cards come shuffled.  Not just shuffled but professionally shuffled, probably by former Montessori students that had shuffling works trays on their shelves when they were three, so that all the cards are as far from organized as mathematically possible.  I sorted the cards into sets last night and it took two hours just to sort them (While listening to TV.  And snacking.  And I took a short phone call. Still, two hours.  I can't tell you what I was watching for fear you will judge me.  It was definitely in the reality genre.).  

Another thing that a lot of people may not realize is that if you have the World of Biomes curriculum and the North America Biome curriculum you will have all of typical sets of three-part cards that you would normally make or buy for the traditional Montessori elementary botany, zoology, and geography albums.  These are cards like all of your "parts of" cards and "layers of" cards.  It also covers a lot of the adaptation work and fundamental needs work.  If you think you are going to add Waseca to your homeschool, do it before you buy or make those cards and you will save yourself some time and money. 

I wasn't sure how helpful the album was going to be sight unseen.  I mainly needed suggestions for an organized progression through the biome cards.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the presentations for the other materials.  I was even more pleasantly surprised to read all the different suggestions of ways to use the cards.  If your kids have been doing Montessori activities as long as mine have, they don't always jump up and down with glee when they see three-part cards.  However this album has oodles of variations on how to use the cards.  Several individual and cooperative games are suggested at three different age levels.  The section on Animals of a Biome Cards suggests 12 different ways to sort the cards.  I think in that section alone I picked up 20 different ways to make three-part cards fresh for my boys.

I also appreciate the field trip suggestions for each biome.  In addition to real living biomes existing in our state, we have a local horticultural conservatory where we can visit living examples of different biomes that do not exist naturally in our state.  I've considered going and going often, but wasn't quite sure how to get the most out of our visits.  In the section on the temperate forest, there are two pages of single-spaced suggestions of things to do when you visit.  I am too lazy to count them all, but I'm guessing sixty?  This is followed by many hands-on activities and experiments such as "testing wood for hardness" and "making a Berlese funnel".  You will also run into many of the traditional Montessori botany, zoology, and geography presentations.  Often I bounce back over to my traditional albums when this happens.  No matter which presentation I wind up using, its' always fun to read several versions of the same presentation before giving it.

Just a note, my comments on Waseca products today and to date are unsolicited.  I am not being compensated in any way by Waseca.  I am just sharing my experiences.  If Waseca wishes to compensate me in some way in the future I am TOTALLY OPEN to that.  Waseca, feel free to e-mail me.  There are several products I have my eye on.  There are links to my disclosure policy and other legal tidbits at the bottom of the blog.

Montessori Monday

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cultivating Dharma Albums Available Again!

The Cultivating Dharma albums are available for download once again!  I don't know how long they've been back, but happened to check today and was happy to see that Jonathan reposted them.  He also added his history album to the roster!  Yea!

You can find the albums on Jonathan's blog, Cultivating Dharma, on this page:

Cultivating Dharma Elementary Montessori Albums