Friday, May 31, 2013

Montessori Elementary Homeschooling for Summer and Fall!

Me Too planting a tomato in our square foot garden bed

I see a lot of homeschooling blogs are winding down for the year or shutting down for the summer.  It doesn't feel like that at all here!  We are in a great groove and I don't want to stop.  However, while we continue steaming full ahead this is also a big planning period for me in getting ready for summer and next fall.

Next fall we will officially be a fully ELEMENTARY Montessori-inspired homeschooling family!  This year we've definitely had one foot in primary and the other foot in elementary and I think the vibe of the blog has reflected that.  One thing I learned last year is that I have to have the *core* of our work fully in place before "school" starts.  So, I am taking some time RIGHT NOW to plan the important pieces, order materials, and decide what (if anything) we need to change.

On the whole, this type of homeschooling has worked REALLY WELL for us.  There are no battles...just lots of fun and learning.  That doesn't mean that there is no room for improvement.  Two things specifically come to mind, both are relatively minor but one FEELS major.

The first thing I'd like to do in the fall is reign in the couple of "threads" that keep slipping out of the fabric of our day.  Grammar, Geometry, and know I'm talking about you!  I think the solution is for me to "schedule" presentations a little more diligently and change the work plan requirements so that they don't keep slipping off.  Otherwise the boys have been doing deep work in every other area very nicely.

Kal-El planting a tomato in our square foot garden

The second thing feels major but is really rather minor.  Everyone thinks that it's the first Great Lesson where Christian homeschoolers are going to run into conflict, but we sailed through that with flying colors.  It was the second and third lesson that just didn't work with our beliefs. This led to a big flop. I presented the second great lessons with great dissatisfaction, was even more dissatisfied with the follow-up which led to not presenting the third great lesson at all.  I did present the fourth and fifth lesson, but I used the Cultivating Dharma versions that have images right on the iPad like reading a book and when the boys didn't choose any follow up work I didn't suggest any.  It's funny, I used to worry that without 30 other children doing inspiring work that the Great Lessons would not be enough to inspire ongoing work in a homeschool setting.  However, the first Great Lesson alone kept the boys going for the entire academic year!

The good news is, I have a great plan for amending the second and third Great Lessons to match what the boys are learning in Sunday school.  I will be using completely different timelines and different stories and different follow-ups.  I also look forward to using the traditional Montessori timelines and stories in upper-elementary when we are ready to introduce other creation stories.  I will be posting all about this of course, but right now I am in the middle of receiving materials and writing!  So, all that work makes this feel like a big change.  But, in reality we will still be using five Great Lessons as the heart of our "curriculum" and I will write lessons that stay true to the underlying purposes of each lesson.  The only things that will change will be the text of the story and the images on the timelines.  Wish me luck!

What about summer?  You may have noticed, we have a VERY relaxed schedule during the school year here at What DID We Do All Day?.  Part of what makes this work well is that we don't stop for summer, we just get more relaxed.  I have been busy prepping the entire elementary Botany album for a full on attack this summer.  I've been busy at night cutting and laminating all of the nomenclature materials.

Montessori Elementary Botany Nomenclature Materials

Above you can see the fruits of my labor.  You are looking at something like 31 charts, 30 definitions booklets, and 30 envelopes of three-part cards (picture, label, definition).  I already got all of the impressionistic charts for botany put together back in October.  As you can see from the pictures throughout today's post, we've put in a good-sized vegetable garden.  The boys have been helping me garden for a few years and they help with some perennial flower gardens as well.  This means we have plenty of live specimens and real work to do!

Both boys planting pole bean seeds

I want to get through most of the album this summer.  There is a lot of information in there.  Getting as much of it as possible under our belts now gives us five or six more years of elementary ahead of us in which to make observations through all the seasons and review what we've learned. Another reason summer is a great time to do botany is that we are eating so many more fruits and vegetable because they are in season.  This is a wonderful opportunity to put all of those nomenclature materials to work as we learn about the types of fruits for example and can classify what we are eating.  Speaking of eating, the boys did all the work putting together this great planter, filling it with dirt, and planting 20 bare-root, day-neutral strawberry plants.

The boys are great little gardeners. They've helped with every step since they were quite young.  We gardened in pots before we moved to our current home in the fall of 2010.  In the spring of 2011 the boys built our first raised gardens with their own two hands.  In the spring of 2012 they helped me double its size.  This year we worked together to build hoop frames and trellises.
Almost all of the botany presentations can take place outdoors  and we don't schedule any time in the school room (that doesn't mean they don't wander in there).  The boys still have to practice their violin everyday.  We've set up our summer schedule so that violin practice takes  place right after breakfast otherwise the day gets too fun too fast and it doesn't happen.  While I work with one boy the other boy works on math in the school room, then they switch. Also, any time there is rainy weather or it's just TOO HOT to go outdoors we pop in the school room and do some other work with the Montessori materials.  I'd LIKE to pick up the most basic grammar presentations for the parts of speech we didn't get to this year so we are ready to dive into grammar boxes in the fall.  I'm not making any promises when it comes to grammar.


  1. I am very excited to see where you take the great lessons! I have to admit, after reading the first parts of them, I thought to myself "NO WAY!" Then I talked to another Montessori teacher who teaches upper elementary at a local school that advised me to do exactly what you are doing (and what she would do, were she able to teach it how SHE wanted instead of how she needed/had to), which is to tweak it to match the beliefs we are already teaching our children! :) Which leads me to want to look into the Great Lessons again and try to maybe be able to begin with those next 'year' - although we don't truly stop, either! I am very interested to see what changes you make to the timelines. As for gardening - great job! However, I have the farthest thing from a green thumb, so I am having to really work to motivate myself just to get my children to be able to experience the joy of watching your own plants/flowers grow. :)

    1. Amy,

      It is surprising to me how many people don't know they can change those stories! My training and my albums have "notes" on each story emphasizing what to keep, the style of story that works best, and what is ok to change (we received a LOT of recommendations in training). So I am just continuously so surprised about that not being general knowledge. Hm. I'm going to post a Montessori Nugget about it ;)

    2. Thanks Amy, I'll keep you posted!

  2. What a great plan! We cycle through the biology album about every year to year and a half - and hit different levels and interests every time. We tend to focus on seeds in the winter as we get ready to grow seedlings; everything else is just perfect for the growing seasons :)

    A thought on those subjects you're not so sure about including despite best intentions? Those might be rainy-day/too-hot-day presentations - you see that you'll be inside most of the day, those are the presentations you pull out. We have rainy day activities like that at our house and it works great for us anyway ;)

    1. Thanks Jessica, your rainy day plan is exactly what I hope to do. Still, no promises :)

  3. What a refreshing post to read! Those Great Lessons are something special! For the same reason you mentioned we kinda had to set them aside for a bit. Love those charts you made. I feel the same about Math how you feel about Grammar so I am going to be focusing on many math presentations this summer, especially with Ken. Thank you for sharing, and I love those pics!

  4. I love your nomenclature materials! Did you make up the content of the materials or get them somewhere? I'm wanting to start a unit on plants too and was just wondering where I can get some materials like the nomenclature materials you have done.

    1. Neds,

      I was going to talk more about the nomenclature materials once we were using them, but there's no reason to leave you hanging. I bought ours from ETC Montessori: I cut and laminated on my own though. It took me about TEN hours. ETC will do it for you for $90. If you want to make them completely on your own you get most of the images for free here:

      The definitions are not provided, you have to type those in yourself. I decided that by the time I did all that and went through 120 pages of colored ink on my printer I might as well just buy them. ETC had the lowest price.

  5. I can't wait to read what you do! I have to agree, that my favorite part of Montessori homeschooling is the (overall) absence of fighting about school. Love your garden, too!! We (well MUSTANG) has one, but with all the rain this year it is very muddy and a bit overgrown, so not photograph worthy :). BUT, still growing us lots of stuff.

    1. Yuck. It is super wet around here too. I was super happy that we have raised beds. The best corner of our yard for a garden also adjoins the best corner in all the neighbors yards as well so there are a couple of gardens right near our. Everyone else's gardens are under water. The yard around our garden is underwater but the garden itself is perfect. We are first planting because we still had frost last week.

  6. Summer is a great time for learning for much to do outside. Looks like your guys are enjoying gardening.

    You mentioned wanting to do more with spelling. Vocabulary Spelling City is a really fun site, and free to use. They also have some fun games and printables for the summer when it's too hot to go outside.

    Hope all goes smoothly this summer.


    1. Thanks for the tip Jackie! We already own All About Spelling and really like it. We just never seem to do it...always something else we'd rather do.

  7. thank you for your post with the link for the plants materials. We will be using this in the near future I think.
    I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your blog. My boy is the same age as Me Too, and I have a little girl who is three and getting right into the swing of it all. I feel like we are STILL trying to find our feet with Montessori and I find your blog wonderful. thanks