Monday, March 30, 2009

Montessori Monday

I made quite a few changes in the school room this morning while the boys were eating breakfast.  I am still experimenting with how often I make changes to the materials.  I had decided in my head that I really would like to make one small change each day instead of five all on one day.  Unfortunately, I never seem to stick to that and I just get in a mood every couple of weeks and make a lot of changes at once.  I've had the opportunity to see both approaches in action by now and am not convinced it makes much of a difference in the long run.  

When I change one thing at a time it seems like the one thing I changed is used a lot that day almost to the exclusion of other things.  When I change something again the next day they focus mainly on that work.  The good news is they have really long periods of concentration with that particular work.  I don't like that they seem to expect something new all the time after a while and ignore other works they really like just because they are not "new" that day (even if they were "new" yesterday).

I expected that changing several things at once would cause a flurry of "trying things" for just a minute without concentrating and changing activities every couple of minutes.  However, that just doesn't seem to be the case with the boys right now.  They seem to work with one new thing at a time and have a nice, solid work cycle before moving on to something new.  Neither of them even tried all of the new things today.  When introduce several new things at once there is usually increased interest in school that week (if that's even possible, they really like having school room time) and they settle in and master things over the course of several weeks.  For now, I'll keep doing it this way and when their personalities change, change.

Oddly, the first change Kal-El noticed was the most subtle that I made.  I added a couple of new bugs to his bug/insect collection.  Last time I posted about these I wasn't sure if they were from Target or the dollar store.  It's official, they are from the dollar store.  Which bugs are in which package are totally random, but I found a couple packets loaded with bugs we didn't have.  I put the extras in my stash of stuff for future phonics swaps.  We now have a lightening bug, a dragonfly, and a few other creepy crawlies.  We had a three-period lesson on the nomenclature and then we played our "their was an old Mommy who swallowed a millipede" game.

The next change he noticed was also very subtle.  I changed the plastic animal beads in the sorting tray out for plastic transportation beads.  He said "Heeeey.....these are different.  Are you teasing me?"  Me Too muscled him out on these right away, but Kal-El got back to them later.  Me Too identified all of the objects for me (train or "choo choo", airplane, boat, and car) and then instantly created his own activity by taking them in and out of the glass vases that go with the flower arranging work. (In this picture he's shouting out "airplane.")

When Kal-El returned to this work he sorted them by color, and then I demonstrated how to sort them by type of vehicle.  As usual he said I "did it wrong," but he seemed more comfortable with the idea than he had with the animals.  

I love pictures like that one where I can see both boys working at once.  His sorting work was followed by a relaxing session of just hanging out on his rug, sorting by vehicle type (somehow this bothers him less off the tray), and creating various types of "traffic accidents" with the vehicles.  There are a lot of things that can joyfully go wrong when you combine trains, planes, automobiles, and boats.

Did you see the new shelves lurking in the background in that picture?  If so, that's about the same time in the lesson that Kal-El noticed them.  He noticed a new bug in his bug bowl before he noticed two whole new shelves with red rods on them practically as big as he is.  Men.

First, I showed him how to carry the rods.  It is best if the child carries the rod with two hands, one hand on each end, so they really feel the differences in length among the rods.  Kal-El can do this with all except the longest rod.  He tried and tried but his arms just aren't long enough.

He put them on the mat in random order like I asked.  I demonstrated how to line them up from longest to shortest and then put them back on the mat randomly.  As predicted by teachers  more experienced than me, he might have to do the brown stair first.  There was a lot he needs to be able to do in this activity.  Most of the rods are so big that it is hard to compare them when they are loose on the mat.  When you start to lay them next to each other their relative lengths are deceiving if he forgets to line up the ends.  Once he realizes they are in the wrong order it is harder to make room for the correction because of how big they are.  Today we concentrated on being able to line the ends up properly and then making observations.  He did this work several times and can line up the ends independently.  

Before he put the work away he completed again with me asking him questions such as "now which one is the longest?" while he worked and we eventually got them in the right order.  I'll see how things go tomorrow before I decide whether I should put them away for a while and bring out the brown stair instead.

I find it hilarious and very typical of Kal-El that the red rods instantly reminded him of the long beams he always sees hanging from every crane in all of his construction trucks books.  From the first moment he picked one up he made his "crane noise" the whole time he was moving it.  Every time he places it one on the rug or moves one on the rug he stands up and lifts it from the middle and makes that noise.  He says he's the crane, his arms the tow chain, and the rod is his beam.

While Kal-El was working on the red rods Me Too worked with his nesting boxes, the zipper on a "dress me" doll I put out for him this morning, the old lady who swallowed the fly, and another new activity involving pom poms that he didn't need my assistance on.

The first thing Me Too noticed in the room was that there was a fourth cylinder block out today.  He loves cylinder blocks.  Block four was significantly more challenging for him than the previous three.  Here he is dramatically removing the cylinders from the block.

Cylinder block four is different because all of the cylinders have the same diameter, they only vary in height.  Me Too had no problem determining whether he had the cylinder in the right hole.  The issue that made this block possibly too hard for him at this time is that he lets go of the knob before he knows whether or not it fits.  This is not a big deal if you put a tall one in a short hole.  However, when he puts a short one in a tall hole his fingers (and mine) are too chubby to get it out.  No problem...Me Too figured out right away that he could just turn the block upside down to get that cylinder out...that, and every other cylinder he already had in there.  It was basically a pattern of "put three in place, drop a short one in a tall hole, turn it over, start over" until I had mercy and said "don't let go" when I knew it was about to happen.  He thought that was really funny and giggled a lot during this work.

After working with the red rods Kal-El realized there was water in his pouring pitchers today and worked with that for quite a while.

Me Too tried using tongs with his hammering balls (not successfully).

I changed the butterfly with suction cups for a dinosaur with suction cups.  Kal-El recognized this dinosaur as a herbivore ("friendly" dinosaur) and has requested that I replace it with a carnivore ("grouchy" dinosaur) for tomorrow.  If anyone knows where I can get a Tyrannosaurus Rex with suction cups on it, let me know.

Both boys enjoyed working with the geometric cabinet.  Kal-El did the rectangle drawer and Me Too worked with the presentation tray.  Can any experienced teacher answer this question for me:  can first year primary students really get those drawers back in by themselves?

You might have seen behind Me Too that I moved the pink tower to a lower spot, but no one chose to work with it today.  Kal-El did inquire to be allowed to have the little box I put it on. 

I exchanged those spiky rubber balls for some pom poms to encourage Me Too to try using the tongs.  He did the activity with his fingers today and Kal-El worked with the tongs.

I exchanged the letters r, a, m, and f in our phonics sorting basket today for the letters b, j, and t (because they are some of Kal-El's favorite letters, not part of any system).  I put them out on a mat and started working with them myself to try to spark some interest when the Kal-El started to get squirrelly.  It worked on and he was doing a great job, but then Me Too wanted to do it too and he just can't.  I thought he might be okay observing and handing Kal-El the cards but he started stepping on things and bending the cards.  Then this happened...

...and we knew we were done with school for the day.


  1. I really enjoy your blog! You have some great insights, and really detailed observations of your boys. We have had the same experience with cylinder block 4, until someone dropped a cylinder, the knob came off, and I have yet to fix it. The drawers in our geometric cabinet are also impossible...I just ask that they bring it over next to the cabinet, I get it started, and then they push it in all the way.

    I think in our school that many changes make the kids the happiest. They never use all the changed works on the first day, but it makes everyone much more pleasant and they seem to be more productive. One thing changed...and everyone fights over using it.

  2. Thank you Hannah for the nice comment and for the feedback regarding your experiences. THAT is one of the main reasons I chose to blog, so thank you!

  3. You made me smile with pride, D can definitely get the drawers back in the geometry and botany cabinets at 2 1/2 yrs. For some reason the puzzles are a little more difficult, but, he usually does those too. I say smile because his coordination has little to do with me...he practices a lot.