Monday, February 16, 2009

Insects and other alternatives to Classified Pictures

Another new work was such a HUGE hit, it has been removed from the school room and played with nearly non-stop for the last several days.  I have a bag of rubber insects (I think from Target's spring toy collection, Backyard Creatures?  Although they could be from the dollar store).  This is a great bag of insects.  Each insect is a perfect size and feels good in the hand.  There was also a great variety in the package: scorpion, ant, bee, fly, grasshopper, praying mantis, cockroach, and millipede.  I am really happy that all of these start with a different letter of the alphabet because these are eventually destined for our phonics objects collection.  

Me Too loves these and learned to say "millipede" on the first try, but prefers to call them all a "butt."  (bug)  Why that child can say millipede properly but not bugs I'll never understand...  If you are wondering what the difference is between a bug and an insect, you can read about it here.  Basically all bugs are insects, but all insects are not bugs.  In the background of this video you can hear Kal-El complaining about his felt snakes being "too hard" for him.  Sigh.

There was no point in adding them to the collection yet because Kal-El didn't know what they were called and he would just say they start with "buh"  for bug.  My first step then, is to use the objects one of our "versions" of classified pictures.  Classified pictures are supposed to be  a picture of a "scene" (such as a birthday party, or a kitchen) accompanied by a group of other pictures that belong to that "scene" (such as measuring spoons, a blender, a refrigerator or a birthday cake, a present, and balloons).  The idea is then that the child will use two or more sets at a time and sort the "object" cards into piles beneath their corresponding "scene" cards.  

My understanding is that the purposes of this activity include vocabulary building, learning to categorize, and learning to give names to categories.  

According to the Gettman book, classified pictures are the first work that the child should be doing in the language arena (although that is not the case of every album).  And because in Montessori everything the child does is in preparation for something they will do later, skipping around is not usually a good idea. 

However, Kal-El will not do classified pictures work.  The first time I put out a set and did a presentation, he looked through the pictures once, named them all, and refused to touch them ever again.  I keep varying the sets, and he won't even look at them.  Absolutely NO interest. Someone suggested maybe he just wasn't ready for them yet and needed to go further down the path in some of the other subject areas first, but that just doesn't feel accurate.  He is very interested in language activities, and letters, and the sounds that make up words.  It didn't feel right to ignore the rest of the continuum of activities just because he won't do the first thing on the list.  After I thought about it a while, I realized we were already doing this work in many other ways that seem to fit Kal-El's interests and personality better.

I thought I'd share my thoughts on this in case anyone else was having a similar experience.  I am not criticizing the use of classified pictures.    

One way we replace this activity is that we read books voraciously.  Many early books we had already read a hundred times, such as Beep, Vroom, Zoom!, or any of Byron Barton's books (TrainsPlanesBoats etc.,), or Baby Einstein: Rain-forest Discoveries are essentially a set of classified objects and a lot more compelling for my son.   We have a huge book collection for the kids which is a good start.  I like the website Joan Carris Books for suggestions of titles I may not have heard of that might be good at different ages.  I am an active library user, so I'm trying to stay motivated and keep bringing things home for the boys to augment our collection as well so that their vocabulary continues to grow.  It's easy to slack off.

I think that the sorting activities that are commonly considered part of the practical life arena teach the idea (simply) of sorting things into categories.  For example, the animal sort the boys did in my last post.  They are generally not very complex categories, but I hope it's laying the same groundwork.  I tried to make it more complex by setting it up to address the idea that objects can fit into different types of categories (animal versus color).

Just like real objects in the environment are used as vocabulary builders we do some real-life tasks that are classification exercises.  Instead of "scene pictures" of a kitchen and bathroom and groups of pictures of objects that belong in those scenes that Kal-El sorts...we do the same task and learn to classify when we clean up the house and we talk about where things go.  We probably could fill a whole laundry basket twice a day by picking things up off the floor of the family room that don't belong there...if we bothered to do it. When we do, it's Kal-El's job is to return the objects to the right "scene."  He takes actual objects that belong in the kitchen and returns them to the actual kitchen, actual objects that belong in the bathroom and returns them to the actual bathroom.  Another example of classified pictures in disguise is how he has learned what kind of groceries go in the refrigerator, or the pantry, or the cabinets.  

Now, with the bag of insects, we are learning the name of the category insects and vocabulary building by learning the names of these different types of insects. I'll be able to expand this later by teaching a set of objects that belong in a different category, then mixing them up and having him sort them into the correct category.  

I only wish I had known all this before I printed out every set classified pictures provided here, cut them out, drew symbols on the back for self-correction, laminated them, cut them out again, and rounded all the corners.


  1. Hmm. In my training, your definition of classification cards was not included, though I have seen it in other Montessori classrooms. I have something similar on my shelf that I actually use as a science extension, rather than language. These might be more appealing.

    Animal Coverings:
    I have a 3 squares covered, one covered in feathers, one in "fur", on in "scales". (I admit that I inherited these, so I don't know where they came from, but could be made with a little effort). Place each of the squares at a top of the rug. Ask the child to sort the cards (of animals with either fur, feathers or scales) by the squares.

    Land, Air, Water
    I have 3 "Montessori Boxes" (Those plastic ones used for keeping long-chain tickets), one filled with blue-colored water, one with "air" and one with dirt. Again, the child is asked to sort the cards (of land, air, water -- air is usually things IN the air) by land, air, water.

    This is usually good for an older 3 year old, younger 4. It's usually enticing for all ages, though! Hope it helps!

  2. I didn't cover classified pictures as part of my language file - they were part of the cultural section. I would concentrate on the songs, games, rhymes and general around the house stuff you are doing. Some children are just not attracted by the pictorial nature of classified cards. I find them pretty boring! Most children enjoy 3D objects much more. Try the magnetic/non-magnetic, sinking and floating, alive/ not alive type of activities. Maybe Me-too will like the cards later on!

    If you are desparate to use them after all that hard work then play a different game with them. Ask him to put them into the right room, or find the object around the house and label things with them. That leads ito labelling at a later age!