Monday, February 25, 2013

Montessori Watercolor Art- Zoology- Arthropoda

 I think most homeschoolers experience sluggish Mondays. That's putting it nicely. We certainly have, which is why I decided to ease into our week by doing something artistic Monday mornings. This week's watercolor session was inspired by our current study of Animal Kingdom Phylum, Arthropoda and by this blog post at Deep Space Sparkle. I think this project is great for kids who are reluctant to draw as having some instruction gives them confidence.
 Using this book, the children chose the subject they wanted to paint. I made them photocopies. They first drew with a pencil.
 Next they trace the pencil lines with a sharpie.
Then they chose their colors and added watercolor paint. I did encourage them to paint every part of the paper, leaving no white areas.
The final paintings turned out really nice I think. They both felt really good about it. The scorpion was done by my six year old and the butterfly done by my four year old. 

We have been studying zoology for weeks now so we have learned already about metamorphosis. We used these nomenclature cards from Montessori For Everyone to learn about the parts of an arthropod. T will tell you that a scorpion is an arthropod like insects though it is NOT an insect, it is an arachnid- 8 legs. Happy Monday!

Linking up with Living Montessori Now's Montessori Monday: Living Montessori Now 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Montessori Homeschooling: Multiple Children of Various Ages

Overhearing my six year old son being a great big brother to his little sisters is one of my favorite things to hear as a mom, and it's even better as a homeschooling mom if he is teaching them something. I was listening in the other day as he was “Giving a camera lessson” to his four year old sister. This is the beauty of the Montessori method, that children are taught in mixed age groups. The younger children watch and learn from the older children and the older children gain confidence and cement their skills while teaching the younger children. This becomes second nature to the Montessori child and is part of what Dr. Montessori described as “The joy of learning.”
Learning how to prune a plant just above the nodes.

Home schoolers use many different ways to teach their children of varying ages but teaching them together is not only easier than teaching each child separately, it is also a lot of fun. Raising tadpoles and illustrating life cycle journals is surely more fun than sitting apart doing workbooks. This practice can seem daunting though, especially when teaching young children. It can seem like a lot of work, mamas, a whole lot of work. It's the reason, actually, that most people think that they could never home school their children! "How does that even work??" they wonder. With Montessori education being so hands on, how can children of different ages and just one teacher between them work? The key to being successful at home schooling your different aged children in the Montessori way is the same secret Montessori teachers use in their classrooms: classroom culture. Even if you are teaching just two children, establishing a classroom culture is not only necessary, it is vitally important to making your job easier. Yes, easier!
So let's talk about 9 ways to establish classroom culture:

1. Introduce the classroom at the beginning of the school year with Grace and Courtesy Lessons and modeling. Don't assume that the children will know that they are not to walk on each others work rugs. Don't assume anything. Take some time and decide what kind of behaviors are important to your smoothly running classroom. Present lessons to everyone. Be patient, review lessons as needed and give it time. And most of all- be the role model and be aware of your words. Model enthusiasm and it will spread. You may count on the older children to model the kind of behavior you want the younger children to follow but don't point it out by saying, "see how HE is walking? That is how you should walk." Instead, say to the walking child, "You are walking so quietly." The others will hear it and take note.

2. Have a daily circle time. We love Circle Time. Start with a good morning song that incorporates the name of each child and be sure to touch and make eye contact with the child whose name is being sung. Here is an example. The aim here is to start circle time with each child feeling welcomed and loved, gain a feeling of connection with each other and with you, and finish with determination and readiness to exert herself. Sing songs to learn things, like your address, the months of the year and days of the week, the alphabet song for the toddler. We sing fun songs like Skinnamarinky Dinky Dink. We follow silliness with a loving/kindness exercise: May I be healthy, may I be safe, may I be happy, may I live in peace. Finally to set the mood for learning we stack our hands in huddle fashion and chant: I like hard work! It may be brainwashing but we aren't above brainwashing and research now shows the importance of valuing effort. If they say it enough times they will believe it and this also makes my job easier. Muahahahahaha.

Circle Time

3. Put routines into your homeschooling day.  I won't harp on this point because as mothers we are pretty much the masters of routines, right? But be stringent about your classroom routines. For us, we take a few minutes to water plants and feed or observe classroom critters, have our circle time, then get to work. Before we leave the classroom, we clean up and make sure everything is in order. It's not complicated, but it is consistent. Routines give children an idea of what is expected of them without fighting while giving them the feeling that what they do is very important. I have actually heard my child say, "The nice thing about our classroom is that we put everything away when we are done with it." He likes it, there is no fight. Boy I wish he could follow this routine in his bedroom!
Keeping routines keeps chaos in check.

4. Try to give equal time and attention to each child. Older children often get most of our attention because we are most anxious about keeping them at or above grade level, right? Successive children benefit from our confidence but also suffer when we don't value their milestones. Every child at every age has important work to do. Present all activities with as much attention and focus and excitement as you give the older child. Sit next to her, speak in a peaceful relaxed tone and make eye contact. Smile. Channel your first grade teacher. You remember her, don't you? Feeling your love and attention will help your children to feel and act peaceful and they will be more willing to allow you to work with their siblings when you need to. “You are doing great work. I need to help your brother and I will be back to check in on you.”
Toddlers will learn that they too have work they need to do.

5. Make sure that each child has new, engaging work regularly and keep several of these activities available to each child. Children love new activities. (This will make your job easier! Bored children are trouble makers) This of course is going to require most of your time and effort, constantly observing and putting together new activities, but this is where you shine, mamas! Set aside some time each week to review what lessons have been introduced, which they are independently working on and what needs to be presented next for each child. Having a plan and being organized will help in those moments when a bored child starts acting up. If you have a new lesson, a warm smile and a few minutes of attention to give her, she will be right back on track. Presenting just the right activity at the right time and then seeing your child engage with it for 30 minutes every day is gratifying. Following a curriculum like NAMC or New Child Montessori  will help give you an idea of what activities should be presented when.

Sorting for a toddler.

6. Keep activities clean and simple. I love all the themed, Montessori-inspired sensorial and practical life activities all over the Internet, but the reality is that all activities should be as clear and non-distracting as possible. Never doubt that learning in itself is fun, it does not need to be wild or themed. Before putting together an activity consider the objective. Children don't appreciate busy work. Check some reputable Montessori material retailers to get ideas, like Montessori Services. Lots of activities can still be made, but well designed, simple activities will get more use, last longer and...... be easier for you.
The materials themselves draw the attention of the child.

7. If really little ones are part of the picture, let them participate. Set up a visual mat for baby with mobiles and a mirror and carefully selected toys. Babies have work to do too. Sing appealing songs for them at circle time, sing their full names to them, sing clapping rhythm songs, and have fun with them. Mary Had a Little Lamb, I'm a Little Teapot, Old MacDonald are all toddler favorites. The older children will love this and it helps them to bond with their younger sibling. When nap time approaches, encourage the older children to choose work you know will keep them busy for awhile, long enough for you to put baby down then rejoin them. Nap routines change sometimes of course, so 'Follow the Child'. If you can sneak away to get baby down though, getting some time in the classroom with baby then without baby while she sleeps can work out really well.

A mirror, a mobile and some carefully selected toys.

8. Teach them together. Of course math and language activities will have to be designed specifically for each child, but history and science activities should be presented to everyone. Group work is one thing that can be lacking in a home school classroom, but if the children each pitch in and do what they are capable of, learning together as a team is valuable. Younger children will admire the abilities of the older ones and the older ones will feel a real sense of accomplishment for how much he has learned since he was his sister's age. Extensions of the activities can be assigned individually at each child's level. For example- while using the notorious nomenclature cards, have the younger one match the pictures and the older child match the labels. Give the three period lesson to both children, being mindful of their abilities, then assign extensions. Children also enjoy being read to, so make a daily routine of reading to everyone, read something on the subject everyone is studying at the moment. Sure some things might not be fully understood by everyone, but hearing big words in context is great for language development, so just have them listen. Having the older child read a simple book to the younger children is wonderful too.
One child uses just the name to find the triangle, the other may use the pictures.

9. Lastly, more routine! Have a set time to home school, set time for wake up, set bedtime, mealtimes and outside playtimes. Keeping a regimented day in general is really good for kids and for you. It helps you get the most accomplished, and it is easier to get children to comply when they know what to expect. I know you've heard this like 1,000 times, but it really makes things easier (which of course will leave you more time for fun practical life activities, gardening or playing music)
Homeschooling in the way of Montessori can be made easy if the classroom culture is one that has the tone of being engaging, welcoming, interesting and fun. Enjoy it and your joy will spread to the whole class. So what do you think? Sounds easy enough, right? Pile up the good stuff and Let It Rot, your classroom will grow and take on a life of its own.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Montessori Zoology 3-6 and 6-9 Part 1

There is really nothing I like teaching more than science, and specifically zoology. Little people and big people alike are fascinated by the interesting lives of other creatures. We are drawn to their likenesses to us and their unique differences from us and each other. We are fascinated by the bold and bizarre. The angler fish is a fan favorite in our house, it has been for years. And wolverine is just too fun to say repeatedly and with rounded 'r's like 'wolveween wolveween wolveween'. Zoology is fun.

Using the NAMC Zoology book as a starting point I've put together a well rounded curriculum guide to zoology that is accessible and valuable for both the 3-6 age group and the 6-9 age group (heck I think even the two year old in our classroom gets something out of it). This guide can be used as a thorough study used for up to eight weeks in the classroom allowing the child to choose his work each day. Why not just use the NAMC guide as is you say? Because zoology is too much fun to stop there and your children will take to it like little sponges. There are literally zillions of creative, fun activities you can do at home with your kids that are not fun to do in classrooms with 20 kids, see? So here's the first installment of how we are currently studying zoology. These classroom critters take awhile to metamorphose and so do the zoology studies. From distinguishing plants from animals through basic classification and modifications, this intro and use of classroom pets keeps the little cuties interest and motivation high. Oh, and it's loads of fun. Did I say that already?

OK, so... we always want to start a unit of study by piquing the interest of our children with some story telling that gives enough information to fill their little eyes with wonder and their little heads with questions. No good at story telling you say? Poppycock! You have a chance everyday to practice your story telling skills- bedtime. No bedtime routine is complete without a made up story so get to practicing! 

These unit stories can be inspired by Jennifer Morgan's three book series, found here. I highly, highly, highly recommend you go buy these books like now. Right now. I think they really embody the cosmic spirit of the Montessori philosophy and that's surely the reason you are homeschooling or sending your child to a Montessori school, right? Yep, that's what I thought. If you aren't sure what the heck I am talking about then you should also read Michael Duffy's Children of the Universe. First. And actually if you have not read Duffy's life changing book you should do that anyways so just go! Go do that!

OK, so, we're good?

Now back to zoology. We've told the story of animals- how exactly they came to live on planet Earth. We've told how they have adapted over millions of years to be perfectly fit for their own unique habitats (okay, okay, I'll post about how to do that next- let's get to ordering these critters because that takes time mamas. Plan for it) and now our children are on fire to learn. First the very basics need to be covered and NAMC does a really nice job presenting the basics- pages 11-20 in the NAMC Zoology manual.

If this is the first time you are teaching this, even if you know your child already knows the differences between plants and animals, etc., you should still teach this section. It can be done in one or two presentations and I promise your child will enjoy this and get something out of it. And heck, here are your vocab words, MRS FERG. If you don't know what MRS FERG is you might learn something as well! If this is not your first time teaching this to your child then move ahead- maybe do a quick review but if your child is under six then teach it again. Ok? Moving on.

Here is where zoology gets really really fun: classroom specimen! Just as Dr. Montessori herself urged educators to use live animals where possible, NAMC recommends using live animals. In a classroom with 20 or so six year olds and an already overwhelmed teacher this is going to be very hard. Lucky for your kids though, you have an empty aquarium laying around or perhaps your neighbor or craigslist does. Add a cheap mesh lid and you have endless learning opportunities. So bring on the insects, the lizards, turtles, the caterpillars, tadpoles, whatever! This is where you shine as a teacher in the Montessori sense, the directress. Make an entire center for these critters. Putting together an irresistible area dedicated to this unit of study is really going to make your job easy and fun.

Here is a great option for ladybugs. We have personally used this with great success. Watching the larvae hang and metamorphose right before our eyes was really cool. Be sure to get the matching life cycle models too. We used this tadpole kit but trust me and use your extra aquarium for these critters, they need space. Here's a really cool praying mantis kit. We were lucky enough to catch the entire hatching process. Waiting four weeks to hatch was well worth it. Very, very cool. With a little research you can find larval butterfly plants and eggs or caterpillars in your own yard or in a neighbor's yard. Milkweed usually has eggs on it, get out in the yard and watch the butterflies, sometimes you'll notice that they are actually laying eggs on your plants! Bring them inside to watch the entire process. We initially bought the Insectlore kit and have used the mesh enclosure countless times to watch captured caterpillars do their thing again and again. This really never gets old. Really never.

Be creative with this. Any kind of live specimen can be a really rich learning experience if done right. Find out what your children are most interested in. Do they love butterflies? Do you already have a pet guinea pig? Whatever critters you decide to study just make sure you prepare yourself really well. Teach yourself all about them- a quick google search should be sufficient but make sure you know about the creature's natural habitat and life cycle. Also important is how the animal is connected to man. People in certain parts of the world eat guinea pigs!! Your children will want to know where and why and this is all good for them to know. Teach them! It will give them a better world view. (Yes, we can and will cross zoology and cultural geography if we can!)

Set aside a small area in your classroom or home for this unit of study. This area should be prepared with a small tray with nomenclature cards. Montessori Printshop and Montessori For Everyone are two of my favorite sources for nomenclature cards. In the rare case you cannot find what you are looking for there you can and should make your own. Make sure you learn how to present nomenclature cards and to conduct a three period lesson- NAMC has the full instructions included at the begining of every manual. That three period lesson should always be on your brain! Life cycle nomenclature cards or models should also be available for study. Pair the models with labels and tah-dah! you've got another matching exercise for the shelf. These models are also great for when the children would really like to handle their classroom pets but cannot, as in the case of tadpoles.

A few carefully chosen books should also be put in this area. The Montessori teacher should be very picky about he books she provides. At least one book should be very simple. So simple that the beginning reader can read it himself and the photographs so beautiful and clear that the children not yet reading will be drawn to picking it up just to look at the photos.
This book found on Amazon for example. A favorite of my two and four year olds and my six year old can read it himself. This Pebble Plus series is a winner. I often remember a series and search by that instead of by topic or title. I'll post more on selecting books soon.
This book from the World of Wonder series is also amazing. This book is for children who are asking questions. The photos from the simpler text book have interested them but they want to know more. This book fits the bill. After reading this one to my six year old he can read it himself. This book is great for selecting vocab words and for referencing spelling while illustrating diagrams, etc.
This series is also great but is no substitute for simple photographs. These books are really fun though and give the kids the perspective of the critter.

Another work to place on the shelves are journals. Language and art activities can be tied into this without your highly motivated kiddos even knowing. I love Barebooks for this. Get the blank cover ones because they really fit in better with the Montessori philosophy. We aren't trying to dazzle and distract, the details in the curriculum are enough to hold their attention. Always trust that! The children will love writing and drawing in these books documenting what they are seeing in their own way. They will love the memento this becomes, they can share it with visitors, showing them how amazing it was to watch tadpoles turn into frogs! or praying mantises dangle out of their egg sack. Yes, really. I promise.

For my reluctant-to-draw because he's a 'perfectionist not sure of his drawing abilities' kid I used this book: Art Smart. Maybe there are others in the series. I haven't looked yet. 

BUT....The last but most important part of studying zoology for the 6-9 age group is the cosmic aspect where we learn how this creature came to be what it is today and where it entered our universe's history. Your children are searching to answer the question of who they are and why they are here. The only way to help them answer that question for themselves is to tell them the stories of as many things within our reaches as we can. We can study the body of the ladybug, it's diet and habits and our children will be interested and busy. But they will forget- just as you and I have forgotten (and that is exactly why we delight in relearning these things many years later). But if we can answer these two questions: who is the ladybug?- how did it become what it is today? What helped share it into that? and why is it here?- what role does it fill?-  on a much deeper level we are giving this young mind one more piece to his own puzzle- the one that will ultimately tell him who he is and why he is here in the universe with this ladybug. And ultimately, ultimately, I hope this will bring our children real satisfaction and real love in their lives.
My son, six years old asked in sheer wonder, "So you mean that when we look at the stars we are really looking back at ourselves?" After hearing Jennifer Morgan's The Big Bang. Can't wait to hear what he thinks of it next time I read it.

My daughter (four years old) said thoughtfully after hearing Jennifer Morgan's third book in the Universe Tells our Evolution Story series:
"The Universe is in us and we are in the Universe..... so we love the Universe like we love ourselves."

Deep, right? Awesomeness. The reason I home school.

I'll explore this idea and how to teach it in further depth soon. But for now roll that around and see what you come up with, read the books to your kids and see what comes out of their little mouths. Be creative with this adventure and have fun!!