Monday, August 27, 2012

Panicking: Our Curriculum this Year

I have been writing the post about our curriculum this year in my head for weeks and was fairly confident about the upcoming year.  I thought that today's post would be an easy matter of typing up a list of the few things we are doing in addition to the traditional Montessori approach and a list of our primary in-house resources for the boys own research.  Then, I started getting all the materials ready.  Then, the panic set in.  I don't know if I can do this!

I talked to my husband, who suggested that it isn't too late to send them to the elementary school down the road.  But, he was missing the point.  I'm not panicking about homeschooling the boys, I'm panicking about homeschooling them using the Montessori cosmic curriculum.  Today it feels like I have to have picked the most difficult way possible to do this from the perspective of the homeschooling parent.  There are easier ways to do this.  I'm not usually concerned with the easy way, but rather the best way.  That said, I'm not sure I want to sign up for the "hardest way."

Just in case you are not familiar, Montessori elementary does not have separate subjects (math, biology, science, etc.,).  Montessori uses its Five Great Lessons as an introduction to all topics, providing a "Big Picture" to demonstrate how the the sciences, art, history, language, geography are interrelated.   You can read more about cosmic education at the AMI website.

Even math and language fall under the umbrella of the great story of life.  Every day I tell the story and the story should get the children excited about something.  That "something" is what the child will learn about that day.  Now, the elementary child does usually have some kind of work plan that they participate in creating.  But, as Jessica points in the Keys of the Universe History album, "The environment will be much more dynamic if every day starts with a story; keep telling the stories, keep the children's interests and give them a reason to want to write, to read, to learn their math facts" (3).

As I'm trying to prepare our materials so that when I begin to tell the story we can pursue the elements that are exciting for Kal-El it is feeling very impractical.  I'm sure what I'm experiencing is the some of the same that a brand new elementary classroom will experience.  An already existing classroom that has taken dozens of children through 3-6 years of cosmic education will have accumulated all of the materials and will have given every presentation.  So, when they present one of the great lessons to a child, even though they may have no idea what the child will want to pursue afterward, they can feel pretty confident that they'll know what to do and have some basic things available to get them started.  I, on the other hand, feel pretty uncomfortable.

I feel very comfortable with the math and language albums.  These are, perhaps not coincidentally, the  albums I have spent the longest amount of time with.  But, part of what makes me more comfortable is that I know that most Montessori students seem to do a language and math work daily as part of their work plan.  However, this is not universally agreed upon and planning to do that makes me feel like I'm cheating.

Jessica phrases it well when she describes the place of math and language in elementary Montessori as follows:

The success of the adult determines how well the environment as a whole is truly Montessori.  The adult must keep the dramatic elements going in work and in telling the stories.  If we focus on human beings in this way -- through stories -- language and math will fall into their proper places.  Language of words and of numbers are simply and wonderfully achievements of human beings -- so they fall into the Story.  They are also tools in which we need to develop skills; they are necessary tools for exploring cosmic education, but they are not the two most important subject areas of the integrated curriculum.  Separating those subjects out and forcing them on the children, rather than approaching them through interests and as tools, is a developmental hindrance to the children. (3)  

As for the other "subjects", not only do I feel like I'm going to be caught unprepared every day, but some of the things that make the method so natural for the child are intimidating ME.  For example, instead teaching handwriting, spelling, narration, and copywork separately these are all integrated into the child's own chosen work.  If they are interested in volcanos they might summarize some things they learned about them in their notebook (narration), copy something from a resource (copywork), all while I pay close enough attention to keep their handwriting moving in the right direction and use that work to spot misspellings so I can create interest-driven spelling lists.  That all sounds a lot more delightful and less painful for the child than a spelling workbook, narration/copywork book, and handwriting workbook.  However, for ME it sounds like a lot of things to miss while I'm scrambling just to keep up with continually being surprised by which presentations I'll be giving.

Speaking of little things that may get lost, I just read a tip that reminded me that late in the mathematics album it mentions that you should follow up EVERY math lessons in the elementary album with a word problem.  There are a LOT of little things like that.  How many important details am I missing across how many subjects?  This is less of a problem when one plans to teach a certain segment of knowledge in a linear fashion.  What seems to be scaring me is having to have three years of topics ready, perfectly, from the first day.

I understand why I am probably feeling this way.  When I look at the albums I am looking at 3 or 6 years (Depending on your point of view.  The children hear the same Great Lessons every year for the full six years of elementary.  What changes is what is chosen for follow-up and the depth of that follow-up.) worth of material at once.  Not everything I see will be done this year.  I have been snuggled up with the primary albums for four years at this point and am very comfortable with them.  I forget how it felt to suddenly have the 12 primary albums at first.  I don't remember feeling as overwhelmed as I do about elementary today.   During primary, I had the Gettman periods to show me how the albums intersect and give me an idea of what activities are taking place concurrently.  That doesn't really work for elementary.

So, I don't know.  I feel like I'm having to prepare six years to do one year.  And I feel like I'm going to lose track of a lot of important things along the way.  I am beginning to think that it is this daunting process of getting started that steers so many away from Montessori at home after primary.  I already planned to incorporate the Story of the World recordings.  Tonight, I feel like my life would just be so much easier if I just added the great lessons to that and purchased something like R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey to fill in the rest.  Kal-El LOVES science and wants to do something with it EVERY DAY.  It would be so much easier to not have to reinvent the wheel each day.   To know what lessons are coming up and plan ahead.  I'm afraid that he won't do as much as he wants to because I'm constantly putting him off because I'm not ready.

This post is not going down in history as my most well-written, logical post ever.  To do this topic justice for many of you there probably needs to be a whole post about what cosmic education is and another on elementary classroom management.  But, not only do I not have those posts in me today but it cannot be summed up succinctly and would be better read from original sources.

Is Montessori really the hardest way?  Probably not.  I'm being melodramatic.  Plus, while Montessori could arguably require the most preparation on my part it probably involves the least amount of "boredom" for my kids as well as the least amount arguing, coercion, or battle of wills between me and my children.  In the end, that, not the preparation, might be what defines the hardest way to homeschool.


  1. Argh. Just wrote a long comment and then got an error when I tried to post it. Too long to re-post but just wanted to say thanks for your honest reflections. They are definitely being read and appreciated by those of us starting out on our homeschool journey!

  2. There is absolutely no way to replicate a Montessori elementary (or even the primary!) classroom in a homeschool environment, so right off the bat, you are not following "true Montessori". I don't mean that to be snarky...I mean it like "you've already done this much to adapt it for your needs, so keep adapting!" It's not all or nothing--you can combine things to be easier on you (homeschooling parents don't have to be martyrs!) AND meet the child's needs. Once my middle child moved into kindergarten work, strict montessori didn't quite meet her needs, so we started combining it with other hands on activities. I put them in workboxes and she does them in the order she wants. Everything is very hands-on. We added in some science, All About Reading (she wasn't getting the Montessori reading curriculum because of her aspergers and needed more), art, and science. It works really well. Within those lessons, I will pull out some Montessori work that goes along with it (like I have the moveable alphabet reinforcing some of the All About Reading concepts).

    So, my point is, pick and choose. That's the benefit of homeschooling--there is no one right way to do it. Homeschooling can be very overwhelming trying to meet a high standard of "I will make all my own work, and only do it this specific way." Take what you need from Montessori, and add it to things you need from other resources... YOUR TIME is a very valuable consideration--if you're burnt out trying to give him a full Montessori education by yourself, you'll end up wanting to quit and then he won't get any Montessori at all...

    Barefoot in Suburbia

  3. OMG! I am SO happy to read your post because I am in the EXACT same boat. I have been second guessing my choice for the last 2 weeks, and I am not sure I have it all ready to go to tackle this very hard way either.

    I don't know if it is the hardest road, but it is sure intimidating to me right now.
    I look forward to see what way you will be heading.

  4. Ohhh...that God it is not just me!!!! I am feeling like I am fly by the seat of my pants, and while I adore the method all that it does, I think that I am going to have to adapt it to fit us! It is a huge plan the elementary program. It is cosmic! But what I keep trying to come back to is that there is 6 years and that we are still following the child. Not every kids is going to love each part of the Great lessons, so we dont need to have them all ready. My hope is to make sure that I am hitting all the math and language (I am required by state regardless of the other stuff) and allow Bunny's interest to guild the other stuff. If it takes me some time to get it together for her, then she is going to have to wait or help me figure it out. I plan to be a part of her learning, not just as a teacher, but also as a "student". Since the elementary kids are not expected to do it all on their own in the classroom, them neither will I expect it of Bunny. We can work together! I'm not sure how it will work out. I know that it will be patched together and missing bits here and there, but so long as we are meeting the standards of the state, the rest is gravy. In my albums, Elizabeth suggests making sure that you have the state requirements listed in kid understandable language up to third grade. This way you and the child work together to make sure that all of it gets covered by third grade. Then the rest of the stuff they want to learn it easier since you know that what they have to know, they are learning and the burden to make everything happen within the great lessons is something the child is aware of as well. When I went to observe at the Elementary Montessori classroom here, each child had a work plan that they had to do each day and alot of it was follow up lessons or math and language for the day.Once that was done, they followed up on whatever else they wanted to do. I liked that the teacher and the child sat down each morning to discuss this plan so it wasnt set in stone. I think we will do something like this here too. I dont know. Sorry about the rambling comment. I am still working this all out in my head too! Best of luck and be sure to share it when you get it all worked out! :)

  5. I am so impressed and proud of you for working so hard on the elementary lessons. I feel that even though it is daunting and stressful, in the end, you will never regret all the efforts you made to follow your convictions. Besides, what you can't fit in this year, you can next year, right? And if some things don't work out, then you can adapt just like you did for primary.

  6. Your kids always seem very engaged and interested in their work. They are going to learn (a lot) even if you don't have everything in perfect order. Do your best, and don't stress :)

  7. Continue to give it your best shot!! You can do it! The best words of encouragement I can give you is Follow the child! When your children are ready for all those things that you want to prepare they will let you know, or they will intuitively prepare the materials themselves. Don't be a slave to the albums, or the materials:) You are the best teacher your kids will ever have, in a "true montessori" setting or home school.

    Thank you for sharing.
    P.S It is the beginning of a school year all homeschooling mothers feel this way no matter what method of learning they are using:)

  8. Thanks for such an honest post. I have no piece of advice for you as we are not at the elementary stage yet and I'm purposely delaying introducing the Great Lessons till next year (D will turn 6 in Dec) so I can see how you and a few other who are starting elementary this year do with this style of learning. You've received some awesome advice here regarding adapting and following the child. Also all the Montessori Education they've received during the primary years should help steer them towards the right direction in elementary. As a mom and teacher, it is overwhelming in making sure that you cover all the bases, but even in school (Montessori included) there could always be gaps that can be addressed and will be as your children grow. Knowing you (in the blogging world, of course!) and how prepared you are I am sure you will do great and your kids will thrive!

  9. I agree with Allison; there is no way to replicate a Montessori elementary classroom at home. This being said I do not think that we should. Don't get me wrong; I love Montessori method and I think it should be used in every school but I also do not think that it is the best method for every child or every setting. I can see children getting exited in a classroom after Great Story were told. Working in groups or alone and the teacher who has all the materials that are needed can just sit back and observe. How do you want to do it at home. We started school 2 weeks ago and we are still on the first Great Lesson. My son did not get exited at all about anything what happened in the story lol. He has speech, visual-spatial and other problems that I have to address as well. Sometimes he would like to do something but I do not have the material for it, when I buy it he is not interested anymore ;). There is no way I just could sit back and observe and let him do because he would not do it and his younger brother is not much help in this setting lol. Well I am not even sure that Montessori school would work for my son the way he is, so I will just do my best and hope for best for him. From what I read in your blog, your children do amazing and they will keep on doing it in the future as well.

  10. I felt exactly this way. Overwhelmed by Elementary Elementary. I could already tell from primary that it was going to be a lot of work on my part for something DD did for one time. We love R.E.A.L Science Odyssey and STOtW. We love All About Spelling. Bear finds her own ways to make her school work her own. She begs for more STOtW readings and so we read more. She has some choice in what she does for school, but not as much as before, but she's involved in the process still. I couldn't take the burn out. I agree that Montessori is amazing, but we can't do it all. Give yourself permission to let go of whatever bits of Montessori you may need to. Giving myself permission to leave the traditional Montessori materials behind was the hardest part. Now that we have moved forward on the path that works best for us, it is liberating. You just have to find the balance that works for you and your family:)

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  12. When I read your post, I see so much of myself. It's the perfectionism. I do admire how you work so hard to meet such high standards. My perfectionism is crippling so I run the other way. One thing I got out of Montessori is following the child. I try to remember that. Some days I have elaborate plans in my head but on most days, simply answering questions (so many!) while driving from one place to another seems to suffice. We try to follow up with research when we don't know the answers but even then, it's hard to do all of them. I try to keep things in perspective. Our daughter is learning things I've never learned at her age AND she's loving it. That's much more than I can say for most children. I figure if she continues to ask good questions, remain curious about the world, and learn at her own pace, I'm happy. I have purchased an on-line Montessori training program but it's all too overwhelming. I'm happy that we get the essence of Montessori's philosophy more than doing everything just so. I've also learned that our daughter is not the type to pull out work from shelves nor does she like to do anything more than once. Continuing to make Montessori materials would have driven me crazy considering how little they were being used. Now, if we had multiple children and they all used them, that would be a different story! Wish you a wonderful year ahead. I'm sure you'll find your groove.

  13. I understand your feelings comlpletely. When you sat down with all those albums all those months ago, you were not under the same pressure. Now you are about to do it for real. I can only say that you must try not to look at the whole mountain that is Montessori Cosmic Education in one go. You have 6 years, and although you will not always predict what your children will engage with each and every day, you will have a bunch of materials to start with. If you try to have all possibilities covered on day one, you will not be in a fit state to be the teacher or mummy you want to be. That has to be the priority I think - to maintain the right atmosphere in the home/school - and that includes how stressed you feel. You will have other days, other chances to cover the material. If you get asked about something that you have not yet prepared, welcome it with a "Let's see, how can we find out about that?" Make a little plan together, and maybe get something prepared to address the area of interest. You may even want to have fun making a material together. Kid make is kid learned in my book. Following the child should be fun for both of you, impressionistic at first, with the emphasis on the thought process of the child, on how they can discover more themselves. You already have enough of what you actually NEED to be able to do this, although it may not seem that way when you look at the huge pile of what you COULD have to cover absolutely everything. Plus (and here I have to confess self-interest) I love your blog and I do not want to you burn out! Channelling my best wishes for starting back
    Amanda H

  14. You will make it! You will always feel more or less out of control. It is OK.

    Thoughts from the trenches:
    A piece of the story each week. Aim for that. Six years is a long time and you will have a second go through the topics as well.

    You won't want to keep the story moving forward when he is engaged. Lateral information may even hinder his own discovery. (That is one of the things I have to watch out for in myself - am I needing to show how "smart" I am or what I think is vitally interesting?)

    "You remember the other day when we talked about ..."

  15. I am afraid that teachers in schools feel like this too!

    As I am learning each year, I have found some things that might be of help to you.

    Have a look at the NAMC site. They have a post about three ways to present the cultural materials over the 3 years of lower elementary. It is acceptable to decide on which topics you are going to present over the course of a 6-8 week block. It does partly depend upon you the teacher. This is because you are part of the prepared environment. If you are trying to teach in a way that is intimidating to you then you will be a weak link in the environment.

    My advice would be to choose what you want to present this half term and next. Look, there is no point in presenting botany over the winter. Part of the magic of Montessori is that it is not book learning but real learning. Some of it has to be seasonal, so factor that in.

    Also, because you don't have second and third years needing you to present later works to them, you can move along when your son's interest is sated. He will come back when he is older.

    The way I teach is this - I have a 3 hour work cycle in the morning and 2 1/2 in the afternoon. In the morning the only presentations given are in maths and literacy (language). The children might be working on cultural work but they don't get presentations. In addition, Monday and Wednesday are literacy and Tuesday and Thursday, maths. In the afternoons there is a focus on science presentations on Monday, geography/history in the form of a topic (a continent usually) on a Wednesday. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons they have PE, French and free time to study what they are interested in. I often give presentations then too. Fridays are off-curricula days and we go out, or stay in but do something interesting for two weeks a month and have music and drama/nutrition and cooking/art mornings on the alternate weeks.

    The afternoon topics are set in advance and allow me to prepare for the half term in some detail. The children still get to make their own choices but are guided. As I get more experienced I become less controlling but it has not been negative up till now and I know that plenty of Montessori schools are a lot more prescriptive than I am.

    There is no right way to do it.

    I hope this helps!

  16. You have received a lot of excellent input already - and I LOVE Amanda H.'s response!

    Yep - the primary albums are definitely more comfortable to begin with ;) They are so much smaller, fewer in number, and you don't feel the "pressure" of educating preschoolers. And the album pages are shorter ;)

    In elementary, the pressure is on as far as educating to certain standards; it is hard to let go of that! I know! ;)

    My saving grace was focusing on what is likely this MONTH; then breaking that down into weekly segments and working through that work plan. This was for the more education-required topics (mathematics in particular). Having the plan helped free me up to just focus on the exploration and learning.

    You will find your stride :) And you will find that the albums provide the framework so that you'll know when additional resources (like an extra science resource for a very science-y child - like mine!) are called for. If the albums become a hindrance; step away and just explore the subject matter WITH your boys. That is why you homeschool, right? ;)

    Just from a Keys of the Universe owner perspective: there is a post on the discussion board about adapting the scope and sequences so you are just looking at what is MOST likely to happen just THIS year (I have just copied into another thread so that others can also find it more easily). It makes the list a lot shorter, a lot more focused, and will allow you to be adaptable if your son does decide to fly through a particular area and you need to prepare just a few things within a few days.