Wednesday, April 29, 2015

History Question Charts in Action

storing Montessori charts

Our history question charts are getting so much steady use that they needed a new home.  Behind the red couch wasn't cutting it anymore.  This is one of those vinyl gutter shelves you see all over Pinterest.  No tutorial needed.  Once it occurs to you to buy a vinyl gutter it's pretty self-explanatory.  Except maybe the part where it is very hard to cut vinyl gutter with a hand saw at the hardware store.  If you are lucky the hardware store guy will feel sorry for you and come help hold the gutter so it doesn't move around so much while you cut.  If you are VERY lucky he will cheerlead for you, assuring you that cutting a vinyl gutter with a handsaw is very tricky and that it is not just you.  I was very glad he said that because I was blaming my arms.  The guy at the hardware store won't offer to cut it with his power saw for you because, as it turns out, vinyl gutters splinter all over when you cut them with a power saw. T hat's what happened to mine when I got home and tried to cut them with the power saw.  I was so happy that I had thought to get out the safety goggles and leave them perched on top of my head during this experience.  If you want a tutorial, this would be my tutorial:  Remember to slide your safety goggles down over your eyes before you start cutting.  I posted the details on how I made our History Questions charts themselves here.  The only change I would make would be to mount the charts on wood instead of foam board.  I didn't realize how heavily they would be used.  I will remount mine sometime this summer if I get the energy.

I found a spot for this over the bead cabinet.  You can stuff a lot of charts in this gutter if you need to.  I have some more charts lurking about somewhere that might find their way in here.  The pretty hardware drawers to the right are housing our ETC word study kit.  To the left of the hardware drawers I nestled a couple of recipe boxes that house index cards to use on the charts.   

The recipe boxes were very girly and had pictures of roosters and wicker chairs on them so I had to give them a makeover.  The boys told me what to search for and we printed out some images to tape over the tops.  Me Too wants you all to know that his chariot image was a far superior choice to Kal-el's Roman soldiers.

Montessori history question charts

Here are the charts filled out as part of some of the boys' history work from last week.  They filled out the charts as they apply to the Mycenaeans on Crete.  Following are some more pictures so you can see the questions and answers if you wish.  As always, my pictures should enlarge if you click on them.

The boys fill these out in after listening to a portion of the The Story of the World Audiobook.  As you can see, we don't worry about filling everything in.  If a question is answered in the course of the story we answer it.  If not, we don't.  Sometimes the empty boxes spur further research.  Kal-El will occasionally get the urge to fill them all in and hit the encyclopedias.  The encyclopedias didn't have much on the Mycenaeans.  

It started out as "once in a while." Once in a while eventually became every week.  And now, every day my boys spend a period of time drawing while listening to Story of the World (SOTW).  The reason I purchased SOTW in the first place was because it has an audiobook format and Maria Montessori recommended that the children listen to their history lessons while drawing.  I didn't want to be tied to reading aloud.  I already do a lot of that.  

Many people miss what Maria Montessori has to say about teaching history because  in The Advanced Montessori Method her writings on teaching history are split among the sections on teaching reading, a section on teaching history, and the section on drawing.  The link will take you the full text. If you use the search function to search the document for the word "history" you will find the sections you need. If you are at all familiar with the Jim Trelease book 
and/or The Well-Trained Mind  you will not be very surprised by what she has to say.

What surprised me about SOTW was how well it works with the history question charts.  The stories that are told answer most of these questions as if they were written to do so.  What also snuck up on me was how much the history question charts mimic what we do with Writing with Ease.  Therefore, it has occurred to me that the work with the history question charts are a major part of how we teach writing in the Montessori environment.

In this photo the cards cover up the questions.

In case you are confused, you can buy Writing with Ease as either a book or as a series of workbooks.  Everything that is in the workbooks is already in the book.  There are two differences.  The book has  several chapters prior to the actual daily work that are akin to the "theory" pages in a good Montessori album.  The workbook has all of the copywork prepared on handwriting paper and the book does not.  If you are using a specific style of handwriting paper in your homeschool, you won't use those pages anyway and may be happiest with just the book.  

I think that most parents, whether they homeschool or not, do not have a good handle on what individual skills are that form the web that is "writing" nor the normal developmental stages for each of those skills.  The theory pages should almost be required reading for any parent or teacher.  I highly recommend that everyone check it out from the library and read those chapters.

Here I have moved the cards off of the questions so you can see.

If you read those "theory" chapters you will quickly understand why several successful learning philosophies such as Montessori, Classical, and Charlotte Mason and likely others have certain key elements in common such as copywork, dictation, and narration.  You will also understand how your expectations of how the child will complete these things at different levels.  

How we fill in answers on the index varies.  Being able to listen to a reading and answer questions afterward is a skill.  Being able to answer in a complete sentence is a higher level of that skill.  Being able to write down the answer that you thought of is an even higher level.  In Writing with Ease the writing process is broken into different elements.  The child spends some time copying sentences that someone else wrote.  They spend some time listening to literature and answering questions about it and the answers on not written down.  Some times the child answers a question and the adult records their answer for them.  The different activities have different purposes.

Every child will be different, but in our homeschool having the boys write down all the answers every time would be highly unsuccessful.  History has replaced science as Kal-El's favorite subject.  He is obsessed.  However, the first day he and Me Too took turns recording the answers for the history questions charts after listening to SOTW Kal-El said, "Well, that really ruins history." That was funny because we have been answering questions after we listen from the very beginning.  The only thing that was different that time was that the kids wrote down their answers.   I have no interest in dampening his interest in any subject.  So, we will continue to work on writing separately until he is comfortable enough with it that it no longer "ruins" anything.   In the meantime, we listen, I ask the questions, they answer the questions, I record the answers.  Every once in a while, as we did last week, I have them write down the answers in order to take the temperature of how things are going.  It made what normally takes five minutes take thirty and the boys were not thrilled.

It is likely obvious to anyone who reads this blog regularly that I have added some "curriculum" to our Montessori experience over the years.  I always do this carefully and for a specific reason.  I thought I would wrap up today with some more concise information on the resources I mentioned today.  A lot of the posts I have sitting in draft have to do with this "additions" and perhaps it would be helpful for some of you to know what I've added, why, if I plan to continue, and if it is "necessary."

What:  The Story of the World
Why I added it:  I read in The Advanced Montessori Method  that the child should be listening to a specific type of history resource.  The SOTW fit this description.
Will I continue:  Yes.  Not only is it part of the method, but it is bringing in the history question charts and is becoming an important part of teaching writing in our environment.  Also, the resource book that I purchased to go with it has long lists of fiction and non-fiction books to go along with every topic.  I check out every single one from the library and the boys are reading 15-20 history books a week as a result.
Is it necessary:  SOME kind of history resource is necessary.  In my opinion, it might as well be this one.

What:  Writing with Ease
Why I added it:  narration, copywork, dictation, and high quality literature are supposed to be part of Montessori education and I couldn't seem to make it happen organically in our homeschool.  The resource provided a way for me to make it happen.
Will I continue:  Yes, for now.  Every week we read excerpts from great literature and I have approved of every selection so far.  It has served as our personal "Reading Rainbow" because the boys want to hear the rest of every book.  I will be tempted to keep using it for that reason alone.  But, also,  Kal-El doesn't mind writing in conjunction with literature but seems to mind it elsewhere.  This is a safe way to keep him working on it.
Is it necessary:  No.  The "writing curriculum" is organically hidden all throughout the Montessori method.  If your child is journaling, making booklets, if you are having them narrate their reading throughout the week, if you are practicing dictation, if they are reading quality literature you have it covered.  I notice that because these things don't have "materials" that you can buy and their own presentation pages that they are precisely the type of thing that can easily fall by the wayside.  I think it everyone should know the theory from the first chapters of the book.  If you can apply the WWE steps to the history question charts you will be far along your way.  However, be honest with yourself and assess whether you are really doing these things.  If your not, WWE might help you.  I notice that as I get more experienced I need these extras less and less and am more inclined to stick with the elements already in the method.


  1. Thank you! I would really like to see more of how you have incorporated curriculum. This is exactly what I needed to see to look forward for next year. So great!

  2. I am so glad you are enjoying SOTW and writing with ease. I just happened upon them earlier this week and am excited to get started. This is our first year homeschooling montessori elementary (my kids went to a primary montessori school). I often feel lost and am amazed at how much you do!

  3. I seriously considered SOTW, then had an opportunity to pick up Mystery of History for dirt cheap.... I think Legoboy would love the audiobook style!

    I also want to sincerely thank you for pointing out the integration across subjects (that is cosmic education!) - and how some things that don't "have materials" tend to fall through the cracks. Maybe more people will believe me now ;)

    Awesome everything else in the post (as always ;) ).

  4. I'll be interested to watch and see if you continue to lean classical as you complete the elementary years and less specific Montessori albums/materials are available. I mean she covered a basic philosophy for erdkinder, but not a lot more than that. Most of what is out there are interpretations of interpretations. We are finishing E2 (mostly finished really) and I am finding Classical approaches to be the best fits for Aidan as he transitions.

    1. Heidi, I thought we once we hit 12 they were done? I was planning on setting up a farm in the backyard and calling it a day? LOL.

      One thing I know I will likely do is get the NAMTA Montessori for the Adolescent for Math that Jessica recommended:

      And get the boy a job.

      Where's a crystal ball when you need one...

    2. Hahahahahahahahahaha!!! That is SO *my* plan!!! ;)

      In all honesty, I figure by the time my son has gone through all of the elementary experiences, used the work plan/journal, followed his own pursuits through to some really neat projects, etc. he has an idea of where he is heading and can take a GREAT deal of the lead in planning out his own education ---- he will know to respect local educational requirements (my requirements), looking to what the local schools cover, etc. He already does a lot of that on his own and we just have a family expectation to be always learning, exploring and enjoying life, and using time wisely. I'm confident enough anyway to say that whatever this child needs, we will pursue; if I had other children we would follow their paths too. I have to wonder if there even SHOULD be a plan for middle/high school - a few key experiences yet (entrepenuership, hospitality, farming - the erdkinder outline) but mostly still following the child's needs and interests, with increased responsibility to look to the future and plan for it. ? :)