For a simple project that is interesting for all ages I highly recommend the butterfly kit from Insect Lore. We ordered our caterpillars last month and saw all five of them go through their mysterious metamorphosis. We released the Painted Lady butterflies last week because we wanted them to experience the great outdoors before their relatively short lifespan of 4 weeks was over. Here are the chrysalises when they were first put in the butterfly house:
There are times when I wish I lived in the distant past when life must have been simpler. Before cars, before television, before computers! The wish is fleeting however because I know that simpler times were also harder in many ways. Lately I am very happy to be in the year 2007. I am so fortunate to have a digital camera (broken now, which is a whole 'nother story) to instantly record all of the "works" we are studying in my Montessori training. Just one decade ago I would have had to get all of those rolls of film developed every other week! And while it is sad that people are less connected to their neighbors in so many ways we have the ability to connect with people from a wide variety of backgrounds all over the world. I have found so much inspiration from the e-mail groups I am a member of and the websites and blogs I visit.
One in particular is the blog Montessori By Hand by Meg McElwee. Meg is a Montessori teacher temporarily living and teaching in Creel, Mexico. She is personally and professionally amazing. On the one hand I am absolutely envious of her creativity, especially her ability to knit and sew. I have no capacity for anything involving needle and thread. On the other hand I feel so blessed to be able to learn from someone living 1,833 miles away (yes, I googled the distance). She is the most dedicated Montessori teacher you will ever "meet."
Because of the times we live in it is possible for a Montessori teacher living in Mexico to share her albums with someone living in Michigan. And that is exactly what she has done! Purely out of a passion for Montessori education and a concern for children everywhere she has offered her practical life, sensorial, mathematics and language albums in PDF format to homeschoolers. All you have to do is e-mail her, introduce yourself and let her know you are interested! She is offering them free of charge but I was so overwhelmed by her generosity I sent a donation to her paypal account. The albums are gorgeous and thorough and you will love them. Thank God for technology!
You can e-mail Meg and request her albums at email@example.com
I don't care for fiction much. My husband reads the latest bestseller while I am content to get cozy with a book on educational philosophy. I have just finished Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius for the second time. And I didn't read it in bed every night for its soporific qualities either. I devoured it like it was the juiciest of novels because, for me, reading study after study in the field of cognitive psychology that support Dr. Montessori's findings a century ago was so thrilling it gave me goosebumps!
The author, Angeline Stoll Lillard, is a cognitive psychologist and daughter of respected Montessorian Paula Polk Lillard whose books are required reading for my Montessori teacher training. The Science Behind the Genius is an in depth but highly readable account of how the latest research in the field of cognitive psychology continues to bear out the work of Dr. Maria Montessori. Dr. Lillard takes eight principles of Montessori education (there are more) and examines them under the lens of 21st century science.
Briefly, these principles are:
As I read each chapter, it struck me how much of what Dr. Lillard writes naturally applies to home education or could easily be applied to home education with a little effort. For my readers who care about this sort of thing I will look at each of these principles and offer my own take on how to apply them in the home. Come to think of it, this information is not just for homeschoolers per se but any parent who would like to enhance their child's education at home.
So there you have it. Believe it or not, this lengthy post is a very brief treatment of my subject. It merely skims the surface. If it has whetted your appetite for more you have to read Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius for yourself. It is an expensive book but I checked it out through inter-library loan - both times : ) If my comments seem slapdash please refer to Dr. Lillard's amazing book. She quotes study after study that support Dr. Montessori's century-ago findings and some of the experiments are themselves really fascinating if you enjoy reading that kind of thing as I do.
how hard it was to learn something that is second nature to us now, like the concept of alphabetical order, for instance.
Just look at that concentration face! His assignment was to put words in alphabetical order using an alphabet strip for reference. It took a while, but he did it. It was a lesson in patience for Mom who used to work in a library and whose nature it is to alphabetize or otherwise order everything.
With our eldest child, preschool at home was largely experimental. I would adopt a curriculum at the advice of a sage homeschooling mom or gushing online article only to drop it several weeks later because it wasn't living up to its promise. I was afraid to adapt a curriculum because I was inexperienced and afraid I would somehow "mess up." Several years and several hundred dollars later I am much more confident. It is clear now that the first child has mastered the fundamentals in spite of my "mistakes." So now that I have a flourishing first grader I am comfortable recommending some of the things we are doing with the now four year old:
Pattern blocks are so much fun! They can be used to teach the names of colors and shapes for very young children and older children can put them together to make pictures of varying complexity. There are many products out there but we use Mighty Mind. While I am not convinced of the claim that it "makes kids smarter" they definitely do encourage problem solving and concentration.
Cuisenaire rods are an ingenious math product. Invented 75 years ago by a Belgian teacher, Georges Cuisenaire, to help students grasp abstract math concepts they are widely used among homeschoolers. I have seen them used in a Montessori lower elementary classroom as a supplement to the math curriculum. We have begun with the Cuisenaire Rod Alphabet Book and in the future we may use Miquon math materials, a Cuisenaire rod based math program for grades 1-3.
As with the Montessori method, we begin writing before reading. Handwriting Without Tears is a very nice multi-sensory handwriting program. At the preschool level it begins with wood pieces that are used to form letters on a mat. The three and four year old are both capable of this.
The proper placement of the wood pieces is followed by printing the letter with chalk on a personal size slate. This has a number of benefits besides the fact that it doesn't generate any paper waste. If necessary, I can lightly print the letter first in order for it to be traced. The action of using a tiny wet sponge to again trace and thereby erase the letter gives additional practice and fine tuning of motor skills. And the young ones find all of this to be great fun.
For a struggling student, Handwriting Without Tears offers many other manipulatives to aid the process of learning to write such as a Stamp and See Screen and Roll-a-Dough Letters. So far, we haven't seemed to need the extra practice. Whenever possible we try to keep it simple!
To lay the foundation for reading I teach the phonograms outlined in Reading Reflex while we work on our printing.
These are the things we do for seatwork almost every day. It can take as little as 30 minutes and I always stop my preschooler before he has lost interest. Attempting to teach an unwilling child is a worthless procedure. Check back to see what other sorts of things we do throughout the day that incorporate learning. I'd like to leave the reader with some final thoughts lest they have the impression that our focus for our young ones is purely academic. Alicia Bayer has a lovely article, What should a 4 year old know? I read it every now and then if I am feeling the slightest bit anxious about the progress my preschooler is making.
Decluttering is giving me an opportunity to meditate on Charlotte Mason's ideas about early education and habit-building. Regarding infant habits she quotes the poet Robert Burns,
If there's a hole in a' your coats,
I pray ye, tent it;
A chiel's amang ye takin' notes,
And, faith, he'll prent it.
I hate the thought of my young children "imprinting" the clutter in our home as a type for their future habits. Miss Mason believes that the child "not only sees and knows everything, but will keep for all his life, the mark of all he sees." OK, now I am motivated.
FlyLady, mentioned in an earlier post, talks about Hot Spots--places where clutter accumulates and, if not regularly attacked, will take over an entire room. The far end of my kitchen counter is one such Hot Spot. It is right by the side door (the one we always use) so it is a dumping ground for hats and mittens, incoming and outgoing mail, the diaper bag, a present for my niece, a bag of stuffed animals to be donated. Because of its location it is never used for food prep so the stuff just keeps piling up. Sadly, because of its location, it is also the first thing friends and family see when they enter our home.
I attacked this hot spot this afternoon using the decluttering guidelines mentioned in my "Beautiful and Useful" post. After putting everything away in its proper place and srubbing the countertop this was the result:
My kitchen counter can breathe again! When my husband walked in the door from work he asked if he was in the right house. I fully realize that doing this project was easy but keeping it this way will be hard. I have a confession to make and that is that clutter does not bother me although I do enjoy the beautiful results of a good decluttering. I was brought up in an immaculately clean home so I am not quite sure why piles of clutter don't offend my senses the way they probably should. I refer to it benignly as my "mad professor syndrome." A cluttered desk is a sign of genius, right?
But Miss Mason's writings have really hit home. Here we are, home-educating, supposedly trying to give our children the best life possible. What do clean counter-tops have to do with home education? Everything, according to CM. She goes so far as to say that "education IS an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." With this in mind, I will look critically at other areas of my home this month.
Not long ago I knew everything my kids were reading...because I was reading it to them. In September, my oldest began learning to read. First it was Bob Books, then it was Step into Reading, now it is just about anything. He recently discovered all of his dad's old Hardy Boys books. It takes him only few days to finish one and then he grabs another. For some reason, I never got into The Hardy Boys or The Nancy Drew series. It is strange to have a pretty much one-sided conversation about a book with him, to hear him excitedly telling us about what's happening in the world of Frank and Joe Hardy. He reads the books constantly. And I can't complain because he has kept up with his assigned reading. See the book on the arm of the chair? He was supposed to read a chapter a day for the next two weeks for American History. He read the whole thing this morning and then moved on to the good stuff.
These are hard times for homeschooling. The cold, dreary days drag on and on. The "same old" school books are met with a sigh when we pull them out. And mom can't find reprieve in a bit of chocolate because it's Lent. When my friend Janet showed me a curriculum back in January based on Charlotte Mason's principles of living books, narration and notebooking PLUS hands-on crafts and activities I knew I had to give it a try. We patiently waited for our tax refund and then ordered American Story 1 and 2nd. Grade Language Arts from WinterPromise Publishing.
We will begin on Monday morning and I can hardly wait. The books pictured above are not even all of the resources that came with the two programs! There are two fat program guides that include detailed 36-week schedules, teaching helps, activity planning charts and more. I know my visual learner will love the video and website suggestions that are sprinkled throughout the weekly schedules. My younger learners won't be left out as I am sure they will enjoy listening to the great read-alouds and participating in the games and crafts.
And, almost as important as the curriculum content for me as the homeschool purchasing agent : ), WinterPromise Publishing is pleasant to deal with. They offer a payment plan for those who need it and curriculum phone support in addition to an online forum for users of their programs. When I received my shipment there was a small mistake and they called me to let me know they were aware of the error. It was corrected within a few days and they generously gave me a small gift certificate for the inconvenience caused by their mistake. So, I am really pleased with this company's service, the program guide is organized the way it should be for busy moms, and the books invite family members of all ages to thumb through them*. All in all, a promising addition to our homeschooling!
*This preliminary review does not represent an endorsement of all of the titles pictured above. I have not had a chance to read all of the books so I cannot yet give them my personal recommendation.