Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Elementary Albums Week

Shopping for Elementary Montessori albums is tricky.  In a perfect world, one would be able to walk into a local Montessori store. Boy, could I  really used a local Montessori store this week. Kal-asked to learn the squaring and cubing chains of seven.  I trotted off to storage to retrieve them at which point I discovered that the complete bead materials I purchased THREE YEARS AGO was missing its package of seven squares.  The set has two packages of four squares instead (An easy mistake to make. It is tricky to tell the difference between the white beads and yellow beads through the foam wrapping. I check all of my orders carefully and must have thought all of the squares were there myself at the time.) .  I would have loved to be able to pop into a local store and pick up some seven squares. Sigh.

In this imaginary local Montessori store all of the album options would be on the shelf so that you could hold them in your hand and compare them to one another.  Wouldn't you just love to five different geometry albums spread out on a big table right in front of you?  (I would also like to see them on a tablet!) This is unlikely to happen as they homeschooling segment of the Montessori community is rather small as compared to the traditional Montessori community at large that creates their own albums as part of the training process.   Homeschooling parents don't have the luxury of time necessary to create albums from scratch.  Their pupils are already running around them in circles crying "Teach me! Teach me!" 

Readers send me e-mails all the time asking me what my opinions are regarding "which albums to buy."  It makes sense.  My family's Montessori journey is very public.  I have pieces of a lot of different album sets in my possession.  Also, one of the privileges of blogging is that I often get to take a peek at things I wouldn't otherwise be able to buy.  

At the same time, I find myself extremely NOT up to the task of answering those questions.  One very odd reason is that I find that I dislike albums in the beginning and grow to love them all as time marches on.  So, I try to NOT review things as soon as I get them.  I read them repeatedly, use them for a while, and try to wait until I understand them before I "review" them.  It is very VERY early in our Montessori elementary journey at this point.  Too early really.  I think my early dislike of any and all albums is due to the complexity of the beast.  One of the biggest issues with is navigation.  The feeling I get is not unlike the feeling anyone gets when they get a new computer or a new operating system.  For a long time you are just irritated because you can find anything and you can't do the things you want to do.

Another reason I find it difficult to recommend albums is that there are a lot of choices and those choices are often very different from one another in surprising ways.  Most of the time the differences don't really make one thing "better" than another.  Rather, there are pros and cons to all of it and even if I'd rather use an album set up a particular way I learn a lot from an album set up a different way.  And those are the "little differences."  

There are some "bigger" differences that are very complicated.  The albums that are right for me may not be the albums that are right for you.  Before you can easily choose an album you need to know "how you want to Montessori."  There are a lot of ways to do it right in a homeschool.  Your personality as guide will affect your feelings about albums considerably.  How much like a Montessori school do you feel the need to be?  Do you want to be as close as possible at home?  That's great!  On the plus side, Montessori schools do an AMAZING job.  Why argue with success?  On the minus side, you might feel tied down by that.  There is a lot more to learn and prepare if you are going to try do make sure your child gets every presentation at home that they would get in a Montessori school.  Maybe you have a different goal?  Perhaps you want to keep the philosophy and certain iconic presentations but would rather have the flexibility of creating your own lessons for the rest.  Can you handle the spontaneity of a traditional Montessori approach?  It is a key element of the philosophy but perhaps you need some pegs in place for your own sanity.  Remember there's a big difference between spontaneous and disorganized, but it is easy to slip from one to the other.  Do you feel comfortable collecting the types of non-fiction resources you need to support the scope and sequence or do you need someone to provide that for you?  

Another factor is how you plan on deciding "what to do next" each day, each week, each month, and each year.  This article is a good primer on some of the issues and approaches.  I seem to have settled on a solution I call "strands" and you will likely see me refer to "strands" frequently on the blog.  In my mind the 6-12 curriculum is like a web.  The child may land anywhere on that web on any given day.  However, this web is occasionally complicated by prerequisites.  I personally can't handle the chaos of a "web-like" approach because it makes me feel like the whole web has to exist from the first day.  I have modified this by pulling the scope and sequence apart into numerous "strands". This is a little bit more limited than the "web" because the strands have a beginning and a sequence.  I feel it is a little more spontaneous, however, than scheduling presentations.  Some people will schedule certain presentations, but then be "on the web" in-between.  There are many ways to do this right (In some Montessori circles people would say instead "there are many ways to do this wrong," but we're tuning them out right now.)

The good news is, one of the resources available is very likely to be a perfect fit for you.  The bad news is that you might not know "who you are" yet or you might turn out to be different than you thought you were and the albums you choose at first might not be the right fit.   

So, this week I want to talk about some of the different options out there.  I have NO plan to be "comprehensive."  There are many albums I only have a piece of and, as I said, it is very early in our journey.  However, I think it would be interesting, if not helpful, to many people if I said a little bit about what I notice about particular albums and what might make them a good fit for a particular type of Montessori homeschool.

I plan to have a specifically Elementary homemade materials collaboration up and running by the weekend.  When it is available I will be sure to announce it.

I have been having some internet connectivity issues this week.  This has put me about two days behind where I thought I would be.  If I gave you a heads-up that you would be featured, please note it will be on a different day than I planned.  Thanks!


  1. Your link takes me to North Shore Development?

  2. I feel you on the "web" thing. Right now, I dont have all the research materials for the timeline of life that I think we really need. It is hard to find a substitue for them since it is what is inspiring the work! Plus, like you, I feel like there are a million ways things can go and I am trying to figure out how to have it ready! Well I cant wait to see what you have to share! Good Luck!

  3. Anon,

    Well, I didn't do that on purpose. The link may have been hijacked as I have never seen that webpage before in my life. It is fixed now. Try this one:


  4. I really enjoyed reading this post! You have a way of being brutally honest and up front that sits well with me...I like the way you always keep it real.
    I am a trained Montessori teacher and a homeschooler - It's interesting that the thoughts you have so eloquently expressed mirrored mine when I first started teaching in an Upper Elementary classroom, whilst training at the same time (I have a hodge podge of training, both formal and informal, from just about every training organisation around that covers me for the years birth to 12). The web was overwhelming - very...but I did feel that it was the best way to follow the child. The beauty of being a teacher is that instead of 2 children, you get to hone your skills on 24 at the same time, and over a period of time. But the beauty of the homeschooling journey is that no teacher could ever know your children as well as you get to know them when you learn with them at home.
    And I think you never really stop learning, or changing, so perhaps having a collection of albums is a good thing since you can pick and choose what suits you best at that particular point in your journey.

    I too would love to see the albums in tablet form, would be much easier than having to page through albums when you have forgotten the fine points of an obscure presentation - the search function on the digital files is much more efficient than my memory of where particular information can be found.

    Can't wait for the elementary materials collaboration to start up - have some files and folders ready to add!

  5. "There are many ways to do this right (In some Montessori circles people would say instead "there are many ways to do this wrong," but we're tuning them out right now.)"

    I had to laugh at this one! I am totally with you!

    I have a blog post I am working on (all summer in fact - I just want all my thoughts to be clear) about homeschooling and Montessori - and how some of our incoming perceptions have to be changed (in a wonderful way!) to fully bring home Montessori. Those nay-sayers that we are ignoring are likely further off than anyone yet realizes they are....

  6. I{m dreaming with that store!! I will add on it a coffee shop like Borders!! so you can seat there look the albums and compare them with a coffee cup!! amazing!!

    You're sooo honest on your posts, that's why I love to read them and enjoy them! I liked the comparison to the web, you must be very careful to follow your child! Your present all our doubts here in your post, what montessori style I choose, what albums to choose, I'll make it as a Montessori school? .... I believe in my opinion, that's the beauty of homeschooling, you have guides, study and apply it according to your needs and your needs as a family with your children. Certainly there is much work to do .... but I love it! That{s why we choose homeschool? All that we see on blogs, in albums, you can study, prepare and do it our way, make it our own ....

    With regard to the material .... going to do as a collaboration?