Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Week 1 Part 1 October 13, 2014

Wow, week 1 in October...better late than never.

Finally, I feel part of the classroom is finished, and ready to be occupied and used. Not everything is in place for sure, which makes me feel very itchy to say the least. But I took a deep breath and gave in to the kids begging to start "school." It is about time! My last school post was in March! 

So here is a bit about how we started again...
D started right off with the practical life trays, spooning and pouring. I presented these lessons to him last year which is why they probably seemed most familiar with him. (The trays are from Montessori Services as is the spoon, and the melamine bowls are from a yard sale. In the photo above he is spooning Korean wild rice. In the photo below, he is pouring Korean black beans, and I think that these are candle votives from the dollar store, though I don't exactly remember.)

Here he is seated at his new table. This table is from Community Playthings and it sits 16" high. His chair is also from Community Playthings. These are toddler chairs with an 8" seat. D is a month or so shy of 3 1/2 years old. BUT, he is really, really short. At his 3-year-old check-up he ranked in the 9th percentile for height. I measured him in our 6" "first-chair" before purchasing this set and he was just barely too tall for that seat. This 8" seat actually gives him some room to grow since his feet do not lay flat on the floor. (The heels rise up a bit.) You'll see that the elementary table is elsewhere in the room, but he hasn't tried to use it so far since I suspect this seat is more comfortable for him. The shelves you see behind the table are for practical life activities. They access from each side and are 27" (or 28" I can't remember now) tall.
The floors are DONE!! They look and feel nice, but I felt silly covering them up with rectangles of carpet that very closely resembled the 1200 ft^3 of carpet we just ripped out. These carpet slices are very plushy and are very light colored. We'll see how well they resist dirt.
I made the bell table (where S is kneeling here)19" high so that Mr. Short could reach everything. At this point it works in the space. But when we add the tone bars I'll have to reconfigure something. 

T spent the entire first day on political flags. I asked him to help me "code" the flag poles so that we/I could tell which continent they were from. I have the flag sets from Alison's Montessori for Europe, Asia and Africa and the Americas are coming in the mail. I plan to rotate out flags from each continent on a regular basis, keeping the American and South Korean flag out front and center all the time. 

To start I decided to display some European and Asian flags I know T knows already, and some of the flags of countries from the Middle East and Western Africa that have been in the news lately. My picks are kind of random, but T said he'd like to help pick out which flags we put out next time.

Here T is using our new flag book (published in 2013 so we'll see about its accuracy and how well it matches what Alison's Montessori gave us) to research what flag represents what country. And then he coded it with a Montessori continent color sticker. 

He also decided to use the pin map flags to figure out which flags belonged in which continent.
T found a lot of information at the beginning of the flag book about the shapes of flags, the history of flags, and that some countries have changed their flag over the years. Here he is drawing in his "working notebook" a rendition of the old Chinese flag and the old German flag. 
I've changed our notebook and record keeping format this year. In an effort to simplify things and save space, I've designated a "working notebook" and a "work journal" for T and for S. My goals are to streamline our paper, encourage handwriting, note taking, and tracking. For reference, T is 8 years old and a second year lower el student (2nd grade public school) and S is 6 1/2 years old and a first year lower el student (1st grade public school). (And no, one in the family went to RISDI, these were from a conference my husband helped organize.)
The "working notebook" is for note taking, saving interesting facts, drawings and illustrations of important observations, and any paper work they may be doing. On the wall there is an organizer with blue banded paper, graph paper, squared paper, Long Bead Frame paper, and other papers that they can "tape/tack" into their notebook if they use that type of paper. We date each page and make a written note about the subject matter for reference, but after that, the space in their "working notebook" is open ended for any written work. This notebook is for their best work, not drafts, not doodles, and not artwork. 
Their work journal is a separate spiral bound hard covered journal with lined pages--which they ignore mostly. This book is also for neat, best work. T and S date the top of the page and then write a sentence description (or phrase description) of the work they just completed. S at this point is also drawing an illustration of the work, which might be helpful since she is still in the inventive spelling mode. My requirement for her is that she write her descriptive phrase first and then render her illustration. 

At this point I am not requiring T or S to note start or stop times in their work journals. For now the work journal is a simple a record of work completed. In the work journal I am trying to encourage neatness, penmanship, creative writing, good spelling, and reflection. Later on I plan to introduce start and stop times and goal planning.

Since we are on the subject of notebooks, I also gave T and S each another small notebook for single words. We will write down words that are interesting, novel, hard to spell, cool, or otherwise noteworthy that we come across in our reading, recitation, lessons, or elsewhere. My aim is to help each child highlight new or difficult vocabulary they would like to commit to memory.

So to sum up, we use three main notebook sources. One for journaling completed work, one for documenting written work, and another for noting interesting vocabulary. I guess we'll see how this system works for us.
Oh, S!!! The bad habits we've slipped into over the summer!! Her paper isn't slanted, her back is hunched, her pencil hold--don't get me started...things to work on...
Jigsaw puzzles are still D's favorite. Here D is doing a Melissa and Doug 24 piece puzzle.
 Sorting Sound Folders made S do this. Who knew that "ai" and "oa" could be so hilarious.
The lesson comes from the Murial Dwyer language sequence. S is a beginning reader and is still learning all the phonograms. Here she took our our sound folders for the long a sound which we code with the key spelling "ai" and the long o sound which we code with the key spelling "oa." She decided to read some of the little booklets in the folder which have words with each of these sounds spelled the different ways you can spell "ai" and "oa." Then we took out these spelling cards, which are in the folder too and mixed them up. She was able to sort each spelling and put it with the right key sound folder. The ultimate goal is to be able to do this sort with all 14 phonogram folders. 
And what would our classroom be without a little "hamming it up?" These are Melissa and Doug stringing beads.
The second day of school I presented the first Great Lesson, God with No Hands. The kids heard that I had a volcano "surprise" and they got right to eating breakfast....VERY SAFELY...because safety is important when you are eating toast.

From left to right, that is ice, paraffin wax, and steel bolts in small cups I cut from aluminum muffin tins. (A note on the paraffin vs ice melting presentation. Only a single large chunk of the paraffin will melt more slowly than the ice cube. If you use small fragments of paraffin, it is likely the wax will melt before the ice, which I guess is still okay. I was substituting the wax here for the metal solder intermediate that I can never get to melt. Bees wax pellets melt more slowly than paraffin and can be also used an intermediate melting point.

The Great Lesson presentation felt a lot easier this year than last year. We did all the demonstrations in the kitchen. I used our middle burner with the griddle to turn our solids into liquids. And this year I got real shot for the liquid demonstration when the particles are supposed to flow over each other. Ammo in Texas is way cheaper than it is in Virginia.

This is my husband sneaking a picture of me lighting our volcano. I used the same homemeade clay and tin can volcano I used last year to light the ammonium dichromate and sulfur mixture purchased from Home Science Tools. (Get two of the 30g ammonium dichromate bottles if you want to have a larger volcano and be able to repeat the demonstration.)
When ignited, this chemical mixture shoots sparks and gives off a ton of gasses and smoke. Do this only in a VERY well ventilated area. Like outside.
This is what the kiddos thought of the gases. (The sulfur smells.) (It is warm in Texas in October, but not as warm as T makes it out to be in this picture. It was like 63 degrees or so when we did this at 8 in the morning.)

D and I started on the "I Spy" game, or the Sound Game, today. At first he didn't understand what to do, but after the first round he had a good time telling me what "I spied with my little eye." We started with the sound "b." We are following the Dwyer method. (You can purchase this pamphlet from NAMTA in their print publications section and it is called A Path for the Exploration of Any Language Leading to Writing and Reading.)
I am frustrated that these small objects are just randomly collected by most Montessori classrooms. I wish, wish, wish, that there was a single outfit that just sold a large variety set at a reasonable price. I purchased the set that Montessori Services offers but to have a large variety of objects I still needed to look elsewhere. My kids loved these small objects so just a few for each sound was definitely not enough.
S started the Teens Beads lessons. I had a hard time gauging where, she is in this lesson sequence. These lessons help the child understand the quantities [11, 12, 13,..., 17, 18, 19] in both physical and written form. (I purchased this set of teen beads and 100 chain mat from IFIT. They are okay quality overall. I purchased another set of beads instead of borrowing from another material because I have many student levels and I don't want things to get mixed up or go missing. Also, these beads don't match the other beads I have from the Montessori Outlet. I hope that no one really cares, though I suspect D will probably notice when he gets to this point.)

S can recite each name, "eleven, twelve, thirteen....nineteen" in order and match them with the number bead combinations which are also in order. She doesn't seem to know that a white bead bar is 7 by sight and looks at the bead cabinet for a reference. She can tell me the names of a few of the bead bar combinations out of order. And then she can't form with beads any of the quantities that I name at random. I plan to repeat this lesson from the beginning and then move forward slowly to make sure that her gaps are addressed. Any other advice about where to start out here? I feel like her knowledge in this area is like Swiss cheese.

And T picked out math word problems. I purchased the Zaccaro set from Hickory Grove Press (and I purchased the Upper El book from Amazon.) A little later I'll blog about why I chose this set and how I organized the material for T.

T likes it when I am sitting there right next to him as he is doing his work. I don't feel the need to be next to him all the time and in fact, I have other things I need to be doing besides just sitting there. But when I am not right next to him, he daydreams, stalls, and is generally unproductive. When I am seated next to him, even with no interference, he works just fine. Advice anyone?

So that wraps up the first bit of our week. I am presently suffering from a cold so I think the update for the rest of the week will be rather light, but I am excited to be back at it, blogging again, and using all my spare time making Montessori materials. Fun fun!


  1. Wow! Welcome back! What a lot of great work. I was wondering when you introduced the bells to D and what he's doing with them? I've been hesitating to present bells to DJ who is just turning 3, but he's making up little songs so I'm thinking it's a good time?

    1. I haven't formally introduced the bells to little D. I did make this bell "table/cabinet" his height...19" tall and it is still a tiny bit tall. He is really, really short for a 3 1/2 yr old. You can read in this post, http://www.montessorischoolathome.blogspot.com/2014/10/week-2-part-1-october-20-2014.html, about why after the first lesson, I am deciding to wait a little bit longer to proceed with the bells. I guess when you have a REALLY expensive material, it makes you look a little more are readiness, both in terms of cognitive skill and motor skill. :)

  2. Great start! You school room is lovely. So good to hear about your school days again. :)

  3. Yay! I knew I could get a glimpse on here soon! It looks SO GOOD! Everyone looks like they are having a good time. T sounds just like M, constantly daydreaming. Takes him 45 minutes to do something that should take 15 if I'm not right there with him!

    1. Maybe when they get together in the classroom, it will be only 25 minutes for the both of them to get back to their work from the day-dreaming state. Or, it could be a multiplication situation where it takes them both and hour and a half to come back to productive reality!

  4. You have had an amazing jump back in to school! I hope your cold doesn't last long - everyone around here has them, too, and it's no fun :( Great work! ;) I really, really love your new school space!

  5. Love the volcano! So happy your husband picked up the camera and caught you in action.

    Will have to print out that picture of D in his goggles eating toast and put it up in our house somewhere.

    The classroom looks SO GOOD. I showed the pix to my husband and he was astonished. He said, "WOW! That totally looks like an expensive Montessori school. How did she do that? OURS looks like a living room with stuff in it." That is EXACTLY what I said by the way! Told you!

    The picture of the three of them holding their noses with their goggles on should TOTALLY be the cover of the Montessori R&D geography album..

    How's the flag book working out? Do we need that one too?

    1. You like that volcano? It certainly works with the flying sparks and ash. I filled the center container mostly with sand so that the chemical sits higher in the mouth of the volcano and you can see the sparks flying out. I hate pictures of me.

      D and goggles. I just giggle when I think about it. I am enjoying the small chubby cheeks still. This morning he looked like he got in a fight with the jam monster.

      Thanks to you and your husband for your classroom compliments. It was quite the mental exercise putting everything together again that is for sure. But...I think my favorite parts of the classroom are the neutral colors, the very low shelving -- which brings the eye down, and kind of makes me feel like a giant, and the tiny kid tables. The shelving wasn't too hard to do, and you are handy with power tools...you'd be able to make shelving too. I'd say all of the lumber cost near $800 (maybe expensive for some, but not compared buying shelving. We brought all the lumber from VA and added only a piece or two when I figured out I needed more shelves. Just tell your husband to build similar shelving. :)

      T really likes that flag book. I think for a reader, or someone who is really really interested, there is a lot of really good information in the front of the book. And, the way the book is divided up, it displays all the flags in a certain part of a continent together. So if you were trying to figure out what flag you had, and you knew which continent it belonged to, or even if you didn't, it would be relatively easy to find. I like it as a flag index. I have this unknown, now I need to look it up and find it's name. Got the book from Amazon.