Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Waffling...in a Good Way

I am not good at flowing from one thing to another. I'd be the Montessori student every guide would worry about. I'd get into the project and get in deep. I'd work on the thing for days, maybe weeks, on the SAME thing. I'd search the ends of the earth for the "perfect" green. And the guide would be like, "WHAT GREEN? You are shading in the rusty hull of the Titanic." I'd say, "there IS green. Where, is that perfect green?" The guide would say, "what about green beads? What about the green division board? What about the green printed alphabet? What about the green leaf nomenclature cards?" I'd say, "I need a green pencil, a grey-green, with a tinge of yellow." And I wouldn't come up for air until after the entire project was rendered and ready to slip into my art portfolio. I am not good at flowing from one thing to another.

And what am I doing right now? I am trying to flow from one thing to another. I am trying to flow between elementary and primary; making materials, reading theory about different planes of development, and trying to not leave any one out while keeping my head on straight. I feel like I am trying to hold several greasy watermelons at once while trying to not drop anything. I also feel that God put me in this situation to shake me up a bit. It is working. I am looking at piles of card materials waiting to be sorted and laminated, sound cards that need coloring, and a catalog of stereo microscopes, one of which needs ordering. At least I am glad I can cross "boys' haircuts" off my to-do list.

This first part of our week took off a little slow. Maybe it was my momentum, or the fact that we had such a packed week last week and we were still a little mentally tired. The kids are still getting in deeper than before and I see more cheerful repeat work. So while the number of works has diminished a bit, the level of quality has held steady.
This is the last exercise in the cylinder block sequence. Here D is removing the cylinders and replacing them without the use of sight. 

D has worked with one and then many cylinder blocks simultaneously, removing the cylinders and replacing them. Then he did the distance matching where we removed all the cylinders from the block, placed the block in a remote location, marked which hole we wanted to match and then went to fetch the correct cylinder. You are supposed to perform this lesson both open-ended, when the correct cylinder is returned to the rug and closed-ended, when the correct cylinder is left in the block. D only wanted to do the close-ended version. We also did distance matching when we removed the cylinders and scattered them in the classroom environment and then played the closed-ended game, choosing cylinders of a certain size from the environment to fit in the hole we selected. Finally, we also did distance grading when we removed all the cylinders, placed the block in a remote location, returned to organize all of the cylinders in a graded fashion and then fetched the block to replace the cylinders in their holes in order. D did this last exercise with one and then more cylinder blocks simultaneously. Goodness, that was a lot of cylinder lessons. We started this sequence when he was 2 yrs and 3 mos. He is now 3yrs and about 8mos. (We also had a huge break in the middle of this sequence to move half way across the country.)
I think the biggest take away from this sequence for me, was that there are times that the child doesn't need a lot of repeat work. D basically ignored the cylinder blocks this year (since last October) and only worked with them when I was working with him. During our lessons he didn't always return with the correct sized cylinder, but he always could correct his mistake, immediately. I interpreted the fact that he could do the work during our lesson and his lack of independent follow-up work to mean that he didn't find this work enthralling any more. He could do it. He knew it. He needed a bigger challenge. 

I am always thinking that the child SHOULD be doing follow-up work for every lesson. How else is the guide going to be able to focus on someone/anything else? But I can see here, at times, the child will want to do work independently and sometimes they will not. Which means I need to keep presenting.
D doesn't always like the owl mask and prefers sometimes to just squinch his eyes closed.

Oh, the other tid-bit I am sure affects all of this, but am not sure how to deal with, is the fact that D is our only primary student. He doesn't see anyone else doing primary works near his level. S is doing some primary works but they are mostly at the other end of the spectrum. There is no other child "inspiring" his exploration. He loves working with hyung and noona, but he isn't going to be able to do their works "next." T and S enjoy working with D, but sometimes D feels the real "teacher" is only Mama and will refuse to do lessons with T and S. I know some homeschooling moms have the time to sit down and do primary works so the child can "see" what the next level is like. I haven't found the time to do this. Perhaps in a bit things will streamline and clear a bit and I will have time to do some of my own primary works. But until then I am open to other suggestions about how to encourage more independent exploration.

Here we have two piles of geometric solids. The group of solids on the left roll. The group on the right slides.
Not sure you'll find this lesson in any album, but D found this work pretty fun. We also worked on nomenclature, mostly sticking to the 2nd period. I'd ask, "can you give me the cube? Can you give me the sphere? Here, I am going to give you the square-based pyramid." D did very well with this stage.

Oh, if you are looking for a very pretty, natural material, fits-just-right, but VERY expensive way to hold your work rugs (if you have only a small number of them) use an umbrella holder. These things are super expensive. But, they are perfectly sized and they are the perfect height (we have medium and large rugs from Montessori Services) and they have a weighted bottom so the entire thing doesn't tip over every time someone short pulls a rug out of the holder. I think we got our bamboo umbrella holder from the Container Store. 
S did a little bells grading. Well actually, she did a little bit of bells matching really. Here she is mixing up the brown bells and then by listening to its tone, she was supposed to put the bells back in order from middle c to c. Instead of comparing the brown bells to the other brown bells, she compared the out-of-order brown bell with the in-order-white bell and then found the correct location for that brown bell. She said the grading work was "hard." I said good. She said she found another way to do it that was easier. Humn. How do I get around that and get her to actually grade the bells? (Note: the bells matching lesson comes right before this lesson.)
This week S worked very hard on compound words. You can read about her introductory lesson here. This lesson is from the KotU Elementary Language album. 
This is our compound word chart (also from the KotU.) She is using two printed alphabets (these huge ones from Alison's Montessori) in different colors to create the compound words she selects from the chart. The chart was located behind her. Ideally it should be across the room, but S doesn't like getting up and down so much. She is still using her short term memory to spell the words because, at least, the chart isn't in front of her work space.
Here she is, for the most part, spelling the first root word in one color and the second root word in another color. She really enjoyed this work. 

After writing the words with the printed alphabet, she will write the words using colored pencils, using a different color for each of the root words.

Before using the printed alphabet, she re-created the small object compound words we did last week.
Then she decided to draw a few of the compound words...
...and then she decided to create a few compound words of her own.

I know you aren't supposed to compare children, but I do. All the time. It is interesting to me to see how their personalities affect their development and how their development affects their personal likes and dislikes. S started talking around 13 months. By the time she was 18 months old she could say, "at halaboji house." (Halaboji is the Korean word for grandfather.) But, she couldn't walk. She didn't walk until she was 19 months old. I thought I was going to have to carry her to her college graduation. S loves words. She loves talking. She loves wordy expression. She loves changing words, making new words, and exploring double meanings. T doesn't. He walked at 11 months but he didn't really start talking until after he was 2. At 2, he only used 5 words consistently. Now he likes to talk, but creative writing, spelling, and tricky language aren't areas he really loves like S. 
What T loves is math. We just whizzed through decimal fraction addition and subtraction and dynamic subtraction and abstract addition and subtraction today. Now we go on to decimal fraction multiplication and division and converting common fractions to decimals. 

There are a number of additional lessons in this sequence so I think think that T will pause somewhere soon. The album suggests that all of the lessons in this sequence be introduced by the end of the third year and loose ends be tied up by year 5. I guess T is "whizzing along" right on target.
D likes to be T's "banker" and his doggie, Chase, likes to help out, or in this case be a complete distraction. T will put together his addends, or minuend and subtrahend number cards, and then he'll ask D for the cube quantities. D loves counting these out for hyung-a. If he perchance makes an error counting, T just helps him out. D is pretty good at counting out the cubes though and doesn't usually make mistakes. 

Since D and I haven't gotten this far in his number-sequence, I am not sure what this means for the number rods, the number cards, and the spindle work. We've started the number rod lessons, but he hasn't gotten very far. He counts each alternating color, but sometimes gets mixed up counting. He doesn't have a very good number sense yet and can't give me the 5-rod by sight. He needs to count everything. Sometimes we count up to 11. Sometimes the 7 rod is the 9 rod. This is why I hesitate to move forward, but he loves the symbols so much I am afraid that he feels the number rods are "boring." I am pretty sure he'd love the spindles at this point BUT I don't want him to miss any important sensorial number rod experiences. Any advice here? (Sorry Ammy and Gramps, I haven't posted our number rods work yet, and the number cards and spindles are the works that come after that. I am just not sure where D should be since the albums suggest he is too young to begin the number sequence.) 
So, from last week, we left off trying to figure out which quantity was bigger: 6.78935 or 6.78. We figured out that the quantities to the left are larger than the quantities to the right, like tenths are larger than hundreths. Here we can see that each quantity has 6.78 in common. The first quantity also has 0.00935 more than the other quantity, and therefore is larger.

T then started adding decimal quantities, first using two addends that didn't require any carrying and then using two or more addends that required exchanging. (Like if you end up with 11 hundreths, that would exchange out to be 1 tenth and 1 hundreth.) At first, T was confused about how to carry. He finally figured out after examining the circle fraction materials that 10/10 = 1 whole and said, "oh, when you give me ten 10ths, I give you 1 whole unit." And from there, he knew to exchange left, just like in the stamp game. He kept telling me, "this is just like the stamp game Mommy."

T also started notating horizontally today. Then I created a vertical problem which he figured out how to answer without a lesson. First he solved the problem by finding the sum on paper and then showed me how to find the sum with the cubes.
Then we moved on to subtraction which he figured out in all of 30 minutes, both on paper and with the decimal fraction board.

We created our first minuend say, 0.48774 on the board with the colored cubes. Then we took away the subtrahend, say 0.23163, in cubes. If there weren't enough in category, we'd borrow from the category to the left, exchanging say, 1 hundreth cube for 10 thousandth cubes. Then T wrote down his difference.
Tomorrow we move on to multiplication and division.
To change gears slightly, (and then I'll get back on track, I promise) we went outside Sunday to garden. We went outside Sunday because it was nice and in the 60's. The other reason we went outside was because I had my husband get some peat moss to replace some of our garden soil and I didn't want to leave it sitting in the garage next to the vermiculite. Last fall a cat decided to use my newly planted garden beds as his litter box. EWWWWW. REALLY? So, we erected this awful eye-sore of a net/cage out of PVC piping, deer netting and zip-ties and so far this has kept that darn cat out. BUT what the cat puts out isn't fertilizing. It is toxic. So, I needed to dig out the expensive gardening mix I'd put down last fall, 9 cubic feet of it, and replace it with new mix. (We mix 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost.) So, that is what the kids were helping with, WHEN, we found a dead, dried up, hornet in the netting. S was VERY excited and we ran inside to get a small plastic box and a tongs/tweezers. She picked it out of the netting with the tongs and we sealed it up in the box and brought it up to the classroom. Incidentally, the boys were completely grossed out by and scared of S's find. (THIS was when I really wanted a stereo microscope so we could just plop this thing down under the lens and look at it.)
(A side note: the small shovel is from Home Depot and the small rake is from Montessori Services. The gardening gloves, all three of them, are from Walmart I think.) S needs to be pink, fuzzy and fashionable when gardening. REALLY?
So this is what S decided to do in the classroom with her new specimen. She traced this figure using our Montessori R&D arthropod nomenclature cards (this set has since been re-designed.) She thought looking at the specimen was really fun and so was tracing the card form. But she didn't want to label its parts. T later said something like, "can I see the bee?" S replied, "its an ARTHROPOD!!"

Another thought here, I wasn't sure how to store the hornet. I feel that there is a high likelihood that the legs could fall off if it gets bounced around inside the box too much. With three children in our classroom, I guess the chances are less than in a classroom of 30. But, I hesitate to put it on a bed of cotton (partly because I don't want to touch it) and obscure one whole side view. Any other mounting ideas dear entomologist friends of mine? This guy is stiff an cannot be re-arranged.
S is reading, reading, reading. These are primary phonics storybooks from set 4? I think. S and T both had these readers in their primary classrooms at their Montessori school.
I am in deep, working on card materials for D's primary language sequence. I've been scouring the KotW message boards and My Boy's Teacher's blog for insight and advice on where to get what, how to modify what, and what I just feel I need to crazy-create myself. Somehow when I got into all this Montessori stuff, I also felt very excited about making materials. Now that I am in waist-deep I really don't feel the urge to make anything any more. I am just feeling more frustrated that the Montessori materials suppliers aren't making what is described in the albums. This makes my perfectionist personality begrudgingly feel compelled to create said materials.

Anyway, this is a "carnivore, herbivore, omnivore" card set I put together a LONG time ago. (I think it was from the Helpful Garden.) Here S is helping D figure out who eats what. In the shot above, I think S is doing some researching about what porcupines eat using the 5-types of vertebrate sorting card set. (These other cards are called the Learning Resource Classifying Cards Bundle. Now that I look at these, I don't know that I paid $30+ for this set. I think I remember thinking they were somewhat expensive, but then having these cards in hand I felt they were worth the money. This set covers oceans, deserts, tropical forests, and grasslands. There are plenty of mammals, and enough reptiles, birds, and fish. Although the set is a little lacking in the amphibian department (there are 3 cards), there is a good smattering of invertebrates. The cards all have a green border so it is easy to mix and match sets. The back of the card is color coded so it is easy to put the sets back together. There is basic info on the back side and these cards fit PERFECTLY into one of those 5x7 plastic photo boxes. There were enough cards to make a vertebrate/invertebrate sort AND a 5-classes of vertebrate sort with cards left over to swap out later.)
Okay, back to the carnivore/herbivore cards. While working with S on this lesson D kept interrupting me saying things like, "mommy, there is no cheese card. Mouses eat cheese." We discussed that this might be considered an animal product and therefore the mouse might be considered a carnivore. And darn, now I forget the other comments he made to me. Someone else ate something else and there wasn't a card for it...and I thought it was cute...I'll remember...never.
This is again, the binomial cube. At the primary level this is a sensorial material with an indirect aim to prepare the child for later algebra and cube root work. There are 8 prisms in this set which fit into box with a lid. Together, this material represents the equation (a+b)^3. The prerequisites for this work are the early sensorial works, like the pink tower, the brown stair, the knobbed cylinders, and the color tabs.

In the very first lesson we did, D deconstructed and reconstructed the cube inside the box. Now we are building the cube outside the box and splitting the layers so we can see the pattern on the box top on all sides of the cube. Next we will build one layer next to the other layer, and finally, we will build the cube in the box without the use of sight.

D likes "saying" the same phrases we used in the lesson. I say things like, "red to red" and "black to black" because like colored faces touch. Now when he puts the cube together he repeats the same phrases.
D said that the cube looked "funny" this way. The box being able to close is the control-of-error here. If the child hasn't constructed the cube correctly the box will not close and the top will not fit on. D knows this and fixed his "funny" cubes immediately.
Then he pulled out the trinomial cube and constructed this outside the box. He said to me, "this cube is like the other cube but this cube has yellow blocks mommy."
And after he got Noona to put the prisms back in the box he took a breather. (He can successfully replace the trinomial cube prisms back in the box by himself. I think he was just a bit burnt out.)
And finally, the boy who hates creative writing and is not good at giving narratives is writing a 20 page scroll that summarizes the entire Lego Movie story. (Or at least that is what I THINK he is doing.) He asks me frequently how to spell things. Sometimes I tell him the actual letters, because we haven't gone over that exception, and other times I'll just segment the sounds for him. I think he has written in cursive throughout.

A note about this work. He is VERY into this work. I feel it is a solid work because he is practicing his penmanship, spelling, and writing skills. He likes it because it is something he thought up and it has to do with Legos. The first couple of days he worked on this, he worked on it for hours. HOURS. At the exclusion of other works. I, as his guide and mother, worried, but I didn't say a whole lot about it. This week as he wrote down this work on his Work Plan, I stated that this was a good work to be doing and to also remember that there are other exciting works he may want to choose if he wants to advance to the next lesson in those areas. This week, he has chosen to work on this writing project and he ALSO has chosen other works. And he enjoys doing both. I have a very hard time trusting the child will choose what I think is worthy work. I have a hard time not judging what is a "worthy" and a "not worthy" work. Here, I am satisfied to be proven wrong and find that T is capable of moderating his work choices and enjoys choosing a good variety of work.

And that is the first part of our week. We'll check back in later in the week! Cheers.


  1. Thank you for the post. I would really like to know: How are you structuring the primary work? Are you just working through the presentations and doing a new one every day or several a week? How are you moving on from one work to another? I would be very interested to know how you plan this if that is possible please? Thank you :-)

    1. Montessori Mummy, thank you for your question! I promise to give you an answer *soon.* Right now I am busy putting together a Korean BBQ taco, food-truck inspired birthday party for my husband....so I've been looking at plastic squeeze bottles, paper food trays, foil food wrappers, wooden forks, and pickles, lately and not Montessori stuff. When I get back to all things schooling, perhaps early next week? I promise to have an answer for you. :)

  2. Great post. Love the gardening pics.

    That cylinder block sequence sure DOES take a long time. It reminded me of my feelings about the memorization sequence for math facts and inspired me to look up when Me too started that. He started the memorization sequence with the addition strip board in the fall of 2012. Memorization has been on his DAILY work plan ever since and he will finally finish the last board in the division series maybe next week. Sooo...it's February 2015 right? THAT brings me back to how I don't see how "most kids" can be finishing the primary math album during primary. It took us 2.5 school years of working steadily. In order to have finished during primary we would have had to start six months in and there is no way kids start that sequence six months into primary. Most sources I have start the official math album (other math prep is scattered throughout sensorial) at about age four following the child of course. I have been super hung up on this idea for years and I guess it is STILL bugging me. Anyway, since this is Me Too's first real year of elementary as a first grader I'm just happy that we will be wrapping this up soon.

    Maybe you should tell T to just write his Lego story on regular paper so you can save your expensive paper for S and D. It doesn't look like he needs or is using those guidelines any more. It's making me twitchy.

    Now you have me worrying about carnivorous mice.

    1. Okay, I didn't even look at his blue banded paper. I just knew that he was writing in cursive. Now that I look at it, yes, it is kind of weird cursive, (HWT did NOT help in this department) and he isn't using the blue bands. HUMN. :) I just print out my blue banded paper since we don't use a ton of it. I know it take ink, but I hadn't thought of it as really expensive paper. I think of our journal paper as expensive paper. Those are like $13 for 100 small sheets. :) I'll have to pay more attention to this.

    2. In retrospect, do you think that Me Too, or Kal-El for that matter, would have been ready to start the math sequence any earlier? It is quite long when you add in all the memorization, which I didn't with T. He ended up figuring out skip counting and moving onto more advanced concepts his first year as a lower-el. (He was older in age than a lower el, 1st yr because he repeated his 3rd yr primary and but he hadn't done much of the memorization sequence.)

    3. MBT - How many years would Kal-El and Me-Too have been in primary if they had started at their 3rd birthday? Just curious because that may give more "room" for getting things done.

      And just an observation :) In schools, the children learn a LOT from watching each other and helping each other; and they don't go through even "most" equations with a good deal of the material. Enough to get the idea, familiarity, mastery of the concept but not necessarily every single one. Then they work with every problem when doing the memorization boards.

      So those are two things that can definitely slow down homeschoolers:
      1) less learning from one another in the manner of observation and assistance (which is why I started our co-op - so my only-child son could get some of that group experience with the academic subjects.
      2) And (as a way of making up for that lack of classmates) doing more problems than an individual child would have done at school. I think that is great for mastery, just adds time to the sequence.

      Not all children in a solid AMI primary program will get to the chapter on Abstraction - or they will dabble but not fully master. Some children do.

      Now that is a SOLID program; many are not solid - and reality is when children are not starting primary until the year they turn 4 (which could be 1 month into the school year), that also removes a year of preparation which they still need --- so those children will start math later than their actual developmental age would prefer and they won't have as much time to get through all of it.

      So MOST children in MOST Montessori schools don't get to the abstraction chapter; many don't even get to the fractions which is very sad.

      But looking at those that are both solid and AMI, then we're looking at most children --- and even some children ready for elementary math (some, not a lot).

      In the end - too many components to really compare ;)

    4. This makes a LOT of sense to me because T and S started their Montessori experiences late. T started the primary sequence as a third year, after I freaked out about sending him to public school. He has a late-summer birthday and had some speech issues so we "held-him-back" to repeat "kindergarten" or "3rd year primary." His teachers were both AMS trained. I believe he went through most all the primary math materials, but really quickly because he understood the concepts well, and maybe because he was older. As far as I can tell he never got to the memorization sequence in school, and I didn't do this last year (fall 2013) as we began our homeschooling because I was using NAMC materials and these were pretty much not useful at all. From what I can remember, they started lower el with the memorization sequence, which other sources said was a primary activity. When I found KotU that November, he had already started some of the elementary math threads in these albums so we just progressed from there and didn't double back to "memorize math facts."

      S didn't start Montessori until she was 4 1/2 as a 2nd year, and only did one year of primary in school before we started homeschooling. We still need some serious review, but I think that she could do some dabbling in the primary abstraction arena before we move on. I sense that she is typically a "year" behind her number age here. She just doesn't seem ready to start elementary math yet the times we've tried a bit.

      This is why I am so interested to see how things shake out with D. He is the only one who started before age 3, but he is also the only one with a purely homeschooled experience. I don't want to start too early because we just will not "get it." But, I want him to have the opportunity to hit his sensitive periods when they come along and I wonder how these will correlate with his age. Right now he is 3yrs and about 8mos. I had done some work with him at 9 months on, but we started homeschooling when he was 2 yrs 3mos. WOW, time flies.

    5. Abbie, I went too slowly with Kal-El due to my inexperience. He definitely could have started sooner but would not have finished. With Me Too I pushed and pushed as hard as I could while still following the child. He finished the album except for memorization but only because we did an "extra" year of primary.

      Jessica, I am ignorant about how real Montessori schools work in respect to age and start dates. Kal-El has a December birthday. So he would have turned three in December of 2008. I consider this to be his third year of elementary. He turned 9 in December 2014. I have heard it both ways. I've heard that some Montessori schools would have kids like him start Primary in 2008 at 2.75 and I've heard some would make him wait until 2009. If he had started in 2008 he would have had four years of primary. That's how we did it here and didn't finish the math albums but I KNOW I went too slow.

      Me Too has a summer birthday. He was originally due July 4th but made his appearance in June. So he would have started primary in 2010. He turned six in June of 2013. As you know, we tried starting him as an "elementary" kid that year but realized pretty quickly he wasn't. I like to think that an experienced guide would have had him do another year of primary. I have *heard* that this happens. I've also heard that it doesn't. So, we did the fourth year of primary last year and finished the albums nicely including the chapter on abstraction. It felt very "right." However, we STILL didn't get that memorization done. But what you said about homeschool makes sense. In fact, I might come to peace with this issue yet!

    6. And you reminded me that some schools have to follow local regulations so CAN'T take children until they are at their 3rd birthday; then if they only start children in the fall... And the reality that children switch planes at different ages anyway. That is what I love about Montessori - following the individual child and not entirely worrying about grades.

      YES - have PEACE! You followed your children; they weren't being tortured or "hating math because mom makes us do too much". If it wasn't working, you would have changed something!

  3. Girl, I feel ya on the back and forth issue from primary to elementary. It's all in the personality, I'm sure you now that. When the Montessori making is in session, dinner and laundry are out the window. Showering and eating as well...lol. I can't stop until it's done...except baby won't let me do that anymore! God sure does change things! Anyway, it was like reading my own journal in that one paragraph! It literally gives me headaches....LITERALLY...when I have to switch gears from one set of albums to the other. I'm back on the primary road as well for now. I'm filling in the holes from what I was able to accomplish last year. I thought I did a lot but apparently I missed some stuff! Ugh! I'll be posting tomorrow! :)

    1. Oh goodness..what parallel lives we lead. :) I am exactly the same. Exactly. :) Yup, the pendulum has swung in the Primary direction and I am going a little crazy. I don't have headaches, but I do have tunnel vision! :) Coming up for air tomorrow though, to make a couple of chocolate cakes with espresso butter cream for ANOTHER birthday. You should have seen me the years that we celebrated T's half birthday 4 days before S's birthday at our old Montessori school. A planning crunch to say the least. :)

    2. Like I said on Jenn's blog once...my husband and I decided we would decide whether or not to have a third child once Me Too reached kindergarten age. One of the main reasons that tipped me finally into the "no" column is that I could bear the thought of having to dip back into those primary albums. I was over it.

    3. That would have been a good idea. But then we wouldn't have D and you wouldn't be able to appreciate all his antics on-line and not in your home. :)

    4. Ugh. I left another comment on my iPad and now it's gone. That's why I never do that. Anyway. I said something like "The world is a better place with D and Swiper in it. Because of how *I* felt about it, I can appreciate how hard it is to do what I do. But, am so glad that you all appreciate that it is worth the extra joy you will have in your lives forever with those little boys." Except I said it better.

    5. Ugh. That should have read "hard it is to do what YOU do."