Monday, October 29, 2012

Elementary Albums: Magellan Montessori

Have you seen Magellan Montessori's Homeschooling Early Elementary(Ages 6-9 years)?  This is a really interesting option for homeschooling families during the elementary years.  All of the other options start with albums designed for traditional Montessori classrooms and adapt them to the home environment.  This resource starts with the home environment and applies Montessori theory and philosophy to the home, adding in the Montessori lessons and materials in a practical way.  This resource is perfect for the family who is homeschooling during the elementary years and wants to do so in a Montessori-inspired way without feeling pressured to replicate a Montessori elementary classroom as closely as possible.

The guidebook states:

Our guidebook, Magellan Montessori's Homeschooling Early Elementary(Ages 6-9 years) , is designed for parents that wish to offer their children a worldly, holistic and individualized Montessori experience at home...This curriculum does not profess or claim to be pure Montessori (as it does not require the full spectrum of didactic material, a classroom of mixed-age children, and a trained directress) but it does fully intend to honor and maintain the spirit, intent, and pedagogical philosophy of the method. Respectful of the method, it is designed for families that choose, for whatever reasons, to adopt the method for home use.  This text is geared not as traditional 'manual' (as would be taught in certification programs) but rather a parental based guide for those with a genuine interest in Montessori education who want to start applying the pedagogy now, at home, without formal directress training.  This curriculum follows the Montessori Cosmic approach to integrated subjects and is sensitive to the challenges of obtaining full spectrum materials in a home environment   In this regard, the materials that would likely be found in a traditional classroom are listed, as are more affordable approximations suggested that are suitable for home usage."

This book is a very modern elementary answer to David Gettman's Basic Montessori: Learning Activities For Under-Fives.  If you are looking for a single-volume guide to Montessori elementary this is it.  It is written for today's technology.  Magellan Montessori has jumped into a world in which parents are homeschooling with a tablet in their hand instead of purchasing or printing a dozen albums to drag around the house with them.  Appropriately, this resource is only available as a digital book.  Instead of 10-12 300 page binders you have one slick 300 digital book on your tablet or e-reader. Keeping the text to a manageable size means that every image and presentation isn't visible immediately when you look at the page.  Rather, when a material is mentioned you will find a hotlink that will take you to images and descriptions from Nienhuis.  Presentations are hotlinked to Moteaco.  Any materials that are mentioned, whether it be something like geometric solids or something like three-part cards, are hotlinked to someplace you can purchase them (such as Alison's or Montessori Print Shop).  Some people will love this streamlining, some won't.  I personally love it because I don't need all of the pictures and presentation details unless I am giving, or preparing for, a presentation.  The streamlining makes the book much easier to navigate than a typical album all the rest of the time when you are reading and skimming to try to get the "big picture" and plan.

One paragraph in this book says much the same thing as I did in my first post about Elementary albums.  There are a lot of different ways to "do Montessori" at home.  One of the keys to knowing which set of albums is right for you is knowing which "way" you want to do it.  Or, as this resource says:

Families that intend to home school using the Montessori method have two options: to attempt to replicate a classroom at home, buy and make Montessori materials, follow a daily schedule with a parent or other adult gaining training to serve as a directress; or, to try to replicate the aims, curricula, theory, pedagogy, and general practice of the Montessori method at home, using minimal materials and readily available resources.  This curriculum is designed for families that choose the latter.  The traditional Montessori materials will be referenced so that families can see them, and in cases where there is no reasonable substitute sourcing options will be provided.  This curriculum will outline the Great Lessons of Montessori elementary and will provide lesson plans that are designed for use at home by parents that are supportive and eager to offer their child Montessori, but are not formally trained.  It is designed to make the best use of available materials and resources available within one's community.

Coates acknowledges the financial and space commitments of acquiring all of the Montessori math and grammar materials in a homeschool environment and expects that you will make or buy a much smaller number of materials and use the well-known "Key to"...workbook programs instead.  These workbooks are available for fractions, decimals, percents, measurement, metric measurement, algebra, and geometry.

The book assumes that you are going to prioritize Montessori theory/philosophy and the great lessons, but would like flexibility for most topics while still knowing what the typical experiences of a Montessori elementary child would be.  With this in mind, the book starts with full chapters on theory/philosophy followed by full presentations for the Great Lessons.  Just like any Montessori school, this resource is organized with the expectation that the Great Lessons will inspire work in many different areas.  The rest of the book is organized by topic.  The idea seems to be that you would jump to whatever topic necessary in order to follow the child.

This is how the book describes the organization of the topics:

This curriculum is designed to be self-paced with open choices for material and activities.  It is advised that the entire guide be read in its entirety before starting work with your child.  Reading ahead will allow you time to contemplate the theory while setting up and preparing the environment.  The Great Lessons are to be presented first, outlining the curriculum and illustrating the Cosmic web.  Once these lessons are presented, you and your child are free to move throughout the curriculum in any order (allowing that skill pre-requisities are met).  In accordance with the Cosmic approach, subject are comprised of multi-disciplinary components that integrate curriculum areas.  Within the three-year span, children will revisit topics several times, expanding and extending into classification, comparison, and experimentation, and expression.   The curriculum is a guide, not a road map;  the sequence and order is merely suggestion laid out in a manner that is designed for families new to homeschooling and/or Montessori education.

This is very much in line with what I've been talking about in recent months.  To keep things sane at our house, I've mentally organized the scope and sequence into "strands" that have a "beginning" and an "end" but are only traveled according to my children's interest.  Magellan Montessori has done everything they can to help you keep all of these ball in the air so that you can follow your child without falling in a pit.  For each topic they give you the objective and then list any pre-requisites so you know if you need to pick up any other presentations before you continue.  Next they tell you what the traditional Montessori materials are for that topic followed immediately by a section detailing alternatives to traditional materials.  This resource provides suggestions for specific books to use to stock your homeschool library in order to be prepared in these subject areas.  After detailing any materials, the next section for each topic, always titled "presentations", does NOT give you scripted presentations like you may have come to expect in a traditional Montessori album.  Rather, it talks in paragraph form about the types of presentations you should give and provides a list of appropriate activities and materials.  In some instances, if they feel there may be a specifically Montessori presentation you want to give, they provide a hot link to the presentation on Moteaco  (and possibly, Wikisori...I couldn't find an example when I needed to today).   There is another section that lists all the nomenclature you will want to cover.  Another section talks about control of error to help you keep your presentations as child-led as possible.  Frankly, if you have executed the primary Montessori at home you might not need your presentations scripted anymore.  Having them written out in the albums can tie you to reading from the album or make you feel pressured to use "their words" to keep things as "authentic" as possible.  Most who have seriously studied the theory and philosophy and gone through numerous "official" presentations instinctively know how to guide in a Montessori way at this point.  This book gives you just what you need:  what to teach, what materials to use, and the control of error.  My favorite section is that at the end of each topic, a paragraph on extensions and tie-ins to the great lessons.

Will I be using this book?  Probably not as my first "go to" source.  I think my Montessori-personality leans too strongly toward coming as close to a traditional Montessori environment as possible.  I want to use all of the materials, the impressionistic charts, and give all of the key presentations.  We have already made the financial and space commitments necessary to have those materials.  This book does not give all of the information I need in order to use them.  I am trying to avoid workbooks for as long as possible, so I would rather use the traditional Montessori sequence rather than the "keys of" books for math, grammar, and geometry.  However, I hear from a LOT of readers who are struggling to implement elementary Montessori without the materials or the space or the budget.  This resource would be an excellent way to do so without seeing "what you aren't using" shoved in your face every day.  This book is taking to heart the idea that it is the theory and philosophy that make an environment Montessori, not the materials.  I will be using this book a lot to stock my bookshelves and find suggested DIY options for materials.  And, if down the road I change my mind and want to loosen up a bit this book will be my first stop.

Also, this book is just a refreshing good read.  Some of my other albums have been altered, to varying degrees, to the homeschool environment.  It is like a fresh drink of water to read something written entirely with me in mind for a change.  The tone is lovely!  I highlighted several of my favorite spots as I read.  For example:  " is important to let go of wondering if every choice you make is 'right' by some external, objective standard.  The questions instead should be rephrased to ask 'is this right for me, my child, and our family?' If you can honestly answer yes, that is all you need to know."

I have mentioned in the past that albums are often not enough.  What a self-training Montessori homeschooling parent needs sometimes is just HELP...a place to ask questions.  So what if you need help?  Magellan Montessori has thought of that.  They state, "Interactive, our online community forum lets you share your experiences, ask questions, and engage with other home schooling Montessori families...Questions specific to the Montessori method are reviewed by a certified Montessori directress."

I know there are a lot of homeschooling families out there who love Montessori but aren't necessarily up for owning every material or going the route of traditional albums.  It is lovely that there is now a serious resource out there for those families!

Edited to Add:  This book is intended to replace the purchase of a complete album set (the purchase of a few specific albums is recommended in the book) and the price at $124.99 certainly reflects that.

*  Disclaimer:  I was given a free copy in order to write my own honest opinion of this book.  As always, the opinions given are my own!


  1. This is so exciting! I need to peruse it some more and we probably won't need it until next year, but it would be great to have something that was written for families. Quite frankly, I hate reading the manuals where it takes until step #7 just to get the materials out. My eyes end up glazing over and I miss the important stuff.

  2. I would love to get my hands on this, but our budget is tight now and this book is a lot of money!

  3. MBT -

    What a great review! I had seen this, but not had a chance to really get into it to find out the nitty-gritty details (and how it compares to what I have been trying to put together for several years - when I finally just said, "Bah! Offer the albums themselves!").

    You have hit on my one of my two main reasons for not yet putting together just such a guide: how to "do" Montessori with fewer materials, without resorting to some form of workbooks. Now, I will very likely utilize some of those very "Key to" books with my own son (he loves workbooks, much as he loves candy - so in small quantities for key concepts - great!) but I would not want it to be our main focus at all. Interestingly enough, there is a local Montessori school that uses these books in their upper elementary as a portion of their math program; but the math/science teacher feels that her training did not provide enough math for her to give to the children and I wonder how much she *trusts the depth of the materials provided to her - especially when other teachers and parents can't figure out how to get *through all the math!) :)

    My second reason (and I would love to hear how this guide compares - if all is well with it, I won't do my own guide and just point people to Magellan if that is what the need) - is my concern that anything that doesn't include all the key lessons will be one person's interpretation about what is important (adding items, removing items), rather than what Montessori observed and discovered to be important. It says for 6-9 and AMS, which makes a comparison trickier. Otherwise, how do you think this guide compares "scope and sequence" wise in that regard? Is it comprehensive enough without adding too many extras?


  4. I did a review of this book too. Like you I thought if offered lots of good advise and the overveiws on stuff was great! I loved that it offered the alternatives to some of the works, the book lists were invaluable, and the great lesson ties ins were great! However, like you think will not be my go to book. I need more guildance then a few paragraphs to teach. I feel like I need the most information so I do it right the first time. Like you, I tend to be more of a purist so that makes this harder to use for me. I am glad it wasnt just me that got to read it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

  5. Thank you for the review!

    We are currently working on our Second Edition and are taking into consideration all of the relevant feedback we have received from readers like you!

    We'll announce on our website the date we expect the Second Edition to be available.

    Best regards,
    Suzanne Rouaix
    Magellan Montessori LLC