Saturday, August 30, 2014

Work Journals and Planning


Like most teachers, I spent a little time this summer filling out my lesson plan books.  However, if you look carefully at the photo above you might notice that my lesson plan book is a little more BLANK than a traditional teacher's book.  

Because Montessori students choose their own work every day I will fill in the squares until after my boys have done their work rather than before.  It is a "work journal" not a "lesson plan book."  In a traditional Montessori elementary environment.the work journal is one of three essential tools that balance the freedom of cosmic education with responsibility.


Confession:  At the time of this posting I keep the work journal, not the boys.  In a traditional Montessori elementary environment the CHILD fills in the work journal, not the guide. Yeah.  I know.  I'm not utilizing one of the three ESSENTIAL tools.  Once again I am grateful that there is no such thing as the "Montessori Police."  

So why don't my boys journal?  My main concern is that we spend far fewer hours in our "formal" Montessori environment than a Montessori student at a traditional Montessori elementary school.  A traditional student would be at school all day five days each week.  We are typically in our "school room" four days a week from 9 to noon.  When Kal-El is accomplishing careful and thoughtful work similar to what is expected in a work journal it takes A LOT of time.  We wouldn't be able to get enough work done with the Montessori materials if Kal-El spent half of his time journaling what he did.  

Another concern is that the boys step into the school room on their own frequently outside of "school hours" and both are reluctant writers.  I don't want them to  think that "if they do work" they "have to write it down" and stop doing extra work to avoid journaling.  

Another big concern is that we spend a lot of time learning outside the school room.  In my mind we homeschool all day, every day.  I haven't figured out how that translates to a child's work journal.  The guidelines of "what to journal" in the Montessori Guide article linked above is very clear that the child journals everything:  their work, their "down time," when they leave the classroom for appointments, etc.,  Can you imagine doing that every day, all day, at home rather than just at school during school hours? Obviously one wouldn't.  That opens a new can of worms:  what to journal and what not to journal.  I'm not comfortable defining our activities as "journal-worthy" or not "journal-worthy."  If we spend an hour baking a pie and don't put it in our journal does it become a less-valuable learning experience than working on division with the racks and tubes?  Of course not.  But if you train your child to record one or not the other might they start applying such value-judgments themselves?

Anyway, enough about why the wrong person is keeping the journal.  Let's just look at the journal, shall we?


I very specifically like these lesson plan books from Carson Dellosa called "The Green Plan Book". 
I like it because it is in landscape format, very few lesson plan books are.  Lesson plan books in portrait orientation don't have enough columns for the amount of "threads" we have in Montessori. This landscape book has 18 "subject" columns. 

As always, my photos will enlarge if you click on them.

I also like the blankness of this book.  Some other books have a lot of things, like subject headers or dates,  "helpfully" filled in.  This book also is one of very few that has dashed rather than solid lines separating the columns.  This is handy for Montessori.  The number of threads you are working in and the amount of work you are doing for particular threads will change from month to month.  It's nice to merge two columns into one when you are working with fewer threads and doing a lot of work in a particular thread.  We always seem to need all of the columns all the time lately. However, the dotted lines is very spillover-friendly when I have a lot to write in a particular column.

Me Too and Kal-El each have their own book.  The list of threads at the top changes throughout the year and is often different for each child.  To give you an idea of what my work journal looks like at the end of the week, I randomly chose a week in Kal-El's book from last year. 

His threads at that time were as follows:

  • Math:  numeration, multiplication, division, fractions, squaring and cubing, word problems
  • Geometry
  • History
  • Language:  reading, writing, grammar, spelling, Spanish
  • Geography:  maps, Earth, BFSU 
  • Biology: Botany, Zoology
Below are pictures of each page for that week (left and right) so you can see how I fill it out.  




Our work plans keep the boys moving along pretty consistently across most of the threads.  However, because they choose their own work not every thread is touched every week.  In the week above it looks like we didn't manage to do anything out of the history album or the zoology portion of the biology album.  Blank columns like that help me guide because they tell me that those threads need a little kindling in the form of a presentation the following week.  Columns that filling in well are either humming along nicely on their own or I've been consistently giving presentations.  I usually am ready to give the next presentation in any thread because I keep track of them on a chart.

 The companion to the work journal for me as the guide is my planning clipboard.  



My clipboard holds four sheets of paper on which I have printed these charts.  Basically I needed three-column charts with about five rows per page.  This gave me enough room to write.  Each row is for a different "thread" in our cosmic curriculum.  The first column is for the thread name.  I happened to pre-print my thread names, but one could just leave that column blank and write them in because they do change from time to time.  The second column is a list of the next THREE presentations following our current place in the album/thread.  When I record things in this column I make sure I understand the procedure for giving that presentation.  The third column is where I record any materials I need to fetch from the basement or make.  You can see that there are check marks on the right-hand side from when I checked off that the materials were prepared.  A wavy line is sometimes used to divide a row in half when the boys are in different places along that thread.



In this way, I make sure I am prepared for the next three presentations for each child in each thread.  It's like an "assignment notebook" for me as the guide.  I make sure I am physically and mentally ready to move forward along any thread my children choose or that I choose for them.  If you give an interested child a presentation and watch that flame ignite there is nothing worse as a Montessori Mom than to have them ask "what's next" only to realize you can't show them because you haven't prepared the material or don't remember how to use it.  Yuck.

I use each chart for several weeks at a time.  When I give a presentation I just cross it off and add a new one to the list if there is room.  When I run out of room I print a new chart and keep going.

The work journal and planning clipboards (maintained by me) work in tandem with the work plans that the boys use to keep us moving forward in all areas in our homeschool.  I plan to post about the boys' work plans very soon.  You will see that they double as a VERY simple work journal as well, albeit an impermanent one.  Perhaps I will find a way to reconcile the concept of a child-kept work journal with our homeschool sometime in the future.  If I do, I will blog about it.  I encourage you to read "The Three Essential Tools" at Montessori Guide.  It is a great post.  Read it and decide for yourself how the three essential tools will look in your homeschool.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Toy Library: Four Years Later


Four years ago I posted about the "toy library" we were using in our home and the toy rotation system I use with toddlers.  When recently reading Aubrey's blog, Montessori Mischief,  I was reminded that an update on the toy library was long overdue.  Like Aubrey, I believe my kids shouldn't have too many toys but seem to repeatedly acquire more than intended.  Like Aubrey we do regular purges but Aubrey does a much better job purging than I do.  I deal with that by amending my statement "I believe the kids shouldn't have many toys" to "I believe the kids shouldn't have too many toys at once." 


I am frequently asked if we still use a toy library.  We sure do!  Above is what our toy library looks like today.  It is a picture of the hallway at the top of the stairs on the second floor of our house.  The toy library is the door in the middle.  Me Too's room is the door on the left and Kal-El's is the room on the right.  MOST of our toys are in this closet.  We don't store toys in the boys' rooms, although they each have their personal stuffed animals and some special items in their rooms.  I think Me Too has some Bakugon stashed in his room.  Kal-El has his special "spy gear."  They each still have some favorite "dress up" items in their closets (here is my post on our dress-up collection at its zenith).  They still aren't too old to put on a fireman's jacket or a knight's armour.  

If your kids are still toddlers or preschoolers you'll probably want your toy library or rotation system to be close to the main living areas of your home.  The last time I wrote about this the kids were not only four years younger, but we lived in a different home. It was a single-story home that didn't have adequate closet space outside of bedrooms.  I prefer to keep most toys out of the bedrooms, but in that home we assigned some closet space in the boys' rooms for their toy libraries.  The first year we lived in our current house the boys were still so little (three and four) that I kept the toy library on the first floor in what is now the "art closet."  When the kids are toddlers and preschoolers they tend to want to play as near you as physically possible.  As they get older they become more independent and want more privacy.  At some point the boys kept saying "I want to play with this in my room."  (They were still young enough at that time that I didn't want them climbing the stairs while holding a bin of toys so they had to ask for help.)  That was my cue to move the toy library upstairs.  

You can read more of my thoughts on toys and the effects of our toy library on the boys attention spans and school time in the FAQ section of this blog, particularly in questions 8-10.  You can find the FAQ section through the link or at anytime through the tabs at the top of the blog just under the header.  I can't emphasize enough that limiting toys and rotating toys has a positive effect on your child's attention span and the quality of their play. I am always asked if I get "tired of helping kids trade toys."  What people don't realize is that kids play with toys a lot longer when there aren't 30 other toys lying around to distract them.  So, I was never trading toys every ten minutes. Also, the couple of times a day I would trade a toy was a lot less tiring than picking up every toy they own every night before bed.  I also want to emphasize that if you homeschool it is much easier to keep the school room "fascinating" and "the place to be" if there isn't an in-house toy store somewhere else in the house to wander off to.  


All the nitty-gritty details about how the system works are in my original post on the subject.  We still run the system in the same way.  The only thing that has changed is that the closet is no longer locked.  When we moved three years ago I installed a "storage-room" locking doorknob on this closet (This is not the one I bought but the website explains the anatomy of the knob well. Mine was only $10-$20 at the hardware store.).  When it was locked, the boys had to ask me to unlock the door to make trades.  After many years of toy library experience they were ready for more responsibility and I started leaving the key in the lock about a year ago.  It is handy to have because every once in a while the boys let things get a little out of control and need a reminder of proper procedure. All I have to do is remove the key. 

As you can see, I use more text labels than I did when the boys were babies but we still have some picture labels in the mix.




This picture provides a view of the larger variety of bins and labels we have.  Most of their toys fall into one of three categories:  building things, battling one another, or action figures.  As you can see in the picture above, we literally have a bin labeled "battle" full of things that are handy in a battle. Yup, we're that family.  Try not to judge us too harshly and in return we'll try not to raise an eyebrow at your bin labeled "rainbows and fluffy bunnies."  Nerf, Lego, Hot Wheels and Star Wars figures are the heavily used toys here.  However, you'll also find cool flashlights, magic tricks, grabber/reachers and a big collection of ninjas.

This is still A LOT of toys.  Probably too many.  This closet is pretty big.  You can step into it and, as you may be able to see on the right-hand side of the picture, the shelves are L-shaped which means we have a few more bins yet not pictured. However, some of the bins (particularly on the top shelf) in this closet are actually completely empty or nearly empty (probably the home of future toys though).  Also, I took this picture following a routine straightening in preparation of a big culling of the toys. We haven't done it yet, but I think we might be able to let go of 1/4-1/3 of what is in this closet when we go through it.  The boys were camping when I cleaned it and I didn't want to donate things when they weren't home to participate. The boys actually seem to enjoy going through the closet with me and getting rid of things.  I think it might have something to do with the timing.  I choose to purge the toys in December (right before Kal-El's birthday and Christmas) and again in June (right before Me Too's birthday, although we are late this year).  I think this has caused the boys to associate purging the closet with "growing up" and the anticipation of making room for new things.

In the interest of keeping things in perspective, please note that we do have a small cabinet in our family room where the board games and puzzles are kept. There are also a couple of large items that won't fit in the toy closet.  Full disclosure, those are:


  • Lengths of Hot Wheels track.  They are in an under-bed bin in the guest room and not much good without the actual Hot Wheels that ARE in the toy library.
  • A large bin of duplo Legos.  They boys use these 80% of the time when they are playing.  They prefer them to the normal "small" Legos immensely.  This seems to be because the bricks are more basic, so many small Lego are particular to "sets", and also because they can make the same things they can with the small Lego but BIGGER.  They like everything to be BIG.
  • Large wooden blocks from Community Playthings.  Best purchase ever.  I actually just got up just now and took picture of what Kal-El built this morning so you could see.  These are used almost every day and usually in combination with another toy, in this case, military vehicles.





Sunday, August 10, 2014

Waseca "The North America Biome Curriculum"

I have been working on getting our learning space ready for fall.  Yesterday I was working with some newer Waseca materials and realized I had some random "user tips" that I should pass on to everyone. Sometimes even with the detailed pictures and free downloads available on the Waseca site I find it difficult to interpret how the different materials intersect or overlap.  Hopefully what I write here will clear things up for others who might likewise be in the dark.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that every year I add one or two Waseca products to our environment.  We started with the Introduction to Biomes curriculum and then added the complete set of continent stencils.

picture of first day of school last year!

Last year I purchased the North American Biome cards with the intention of spreading out the cost of a complete set of cards for every continent by purchasing a continent each year.  However, I realized halfway through the year that we would likely get more out of them if I had the album that goes with. So instead of ordering another set of biome cards this year, I purchased the album in the spring.  

The reason I didn't get the album, The North America Biome Curriculum, in the first place was because there wasn't an album offered for any of the other continents.  In my mind that equaled "superfluous" (My mind might be a little fuzzy at times. I blame the children.).  Also, I didn't know what was in there.  There are several pictures but no table of contents on the website.   I have taken photographs of the table of contents pages and you can view them through this link.  As it turns out, the North America Biome Curriculum has all the lesson plans/ presentations for the biome mats, biome puzzles, biome readers, biome stencils, as well as the card sets.  And, it is the "album" for all of the continent biome cards, not just North America.  Because each biome is represented on the continent of North America, the same lessons would be used for all of the other continent sets.  Waseca states:

This curriculum, "The North America Biome Curriculum", intends to build on that foundation ["The World According to Biomes"] by exploring our home continent by biomes.  (If you live on another continent, you need to replace the references to materials for North America with those of your own continent. (NABC 1)

So, I am excited that this album will apply to all of the other continent sets that I might purchase.  When I ordered I had wondered if Waseca was creating a curriculum for each continent set and that North America was just the first to be rolled out.  Upon reading the album introduction I can see that this is not the case, this is all I need.  

Speaking of "all I need", If you look at the "North America" products on the Waseca page you'll see that there are just a few things I didn't get.  I did not buy the biome puzzle maps or the readers because I felt those were more appropriate for primary.  The Waseca curriculums are available at both a primary and elementary level. I have ordered the "elementary" level each time and I think the albums are the same but the type of three-part cards differ (as they appropriately should).  The Waseca albums I have give both primary and elementary activities.  

Here is another tip:  If you have more time than money you can make your own Waseca biome readers.  They are available on the product page for each set of readers.  Just click on the spot that says Biome Reader Masters.

Edited to Add:  While I'm on the topic of having more time than money I should mention that "The World According to Biomes" or the "Introduction to the Biomes" curriculum and the masters for making the cards that go with are available for free on the Waseca site.  Both the elementary and primary versions are available.

Another item I didn't get was the biome mat.


That is because I already own the stencil cabinet and the control for the stencil cabinet looks like this:


You might notice a similarity.  The size is different.  The mat is 27"x24" and the stencil control is 11"x17".  The reason the mat is so much larger is that the child labels it with arrows like such:


This method is fine for primary child that you don't want to let loose with pins, but a little more clumsy for a pin-proficient elementary child.  Since I already had elaborate plans to make pin maps (check them out!) I felt that this material would be really a duplicate.


However, I didn't read the fine print or click through all the picture choices and therefore didn't realize until I started reading the album that the biome mat comes with COMMAND CARDS.  I have big plans to contact Waseca because I would love to get my hands on the command cards for each continent without having to buy the big biome mat ($$$).  Now that I know they exist it bugs me to not have them  (#consumerism at its worst).  It's like that episode of Friends when Rachel hides the fact that she's been buying all of her "flea market" furniture at Pottery Barn.  Phoebe finds out when she sees that they own every piece of furniture in the Pottery Barn display window except one.  Rachel wants to know if Phoebe is mad and and Phoebe says, "No no no, but I am mad! I am mad!  Because this stuff is everything that is wrong with the world and all I can think about is how I don't have that lamp!"  I like to think I don't have an addiction to Montessori materials.  I like to think it I feel this way because command cards are useful.  Here is a picture of the elusive (and useful) command cards:


Don't they look useful?  If you want more information on the readers and the biome mats, go visit my friend Heidi at Work and Play, Day By Day.  She owns those materials.  Just put "Waseca" into the search box in the right-hand sidebar of her blog.  Maybe she'll blog about those command cards, taunting me from afar.

Another insight about the North America Curriculum:  Although it was plainly mentioned on the website, I was surprised when I opened the box and saw just how many cards came with the album.  It came with twenty-eight sets of three-part cards.  That's a lot of cards.  When you receive a Waseca product not only is the product beautiful but the packaging is beautiful.  My only complaint is that the cards come shuffled.  Not just shuffled but professionally shuffled, probably by former Montessori students that had shuffling works trays on their shelves when they were three, so that all the cards are as far from organized as mathematically possible.  I sorted the cards into sets last night and it took two hours just to sort them (While listening to TV.  And snacking.  And I took a short phone call. Still, two hours.  I can't tell you what I was watching for fear you will judge me.  It was definitely in the reality genre.).  

Another thing that a lot of people may not realize is that if you have the World of Biomes curriculum and the North America Biome curriculum you will have all of typical sets of three-part cards that you would normally make or buy for the traditional Montessori elementary botany, zoology, and geography albums.  These are cards like all of your "parts of" cards and "layers of" cards.  It also covers a lot of the adaptation work and fundamental needs work.  If you think you are going to add Waseca to your homeschool, do it before you buy or make those cards and you will save yourself some time and money. 

I wasn't sure how helpful the album was going to be sight unseen.  I mainly needed suggestions for an organized progression through the biome cards.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the presentations for the other materials.  I was even more pleasantly surprised to read all the different suggestions of ways to use the cards.  If your kids have been doing Montessori activities as long as mine have, they don't always jump up and down with glee when they see three-part cards.  However this album has oodles of variations on how to use the cards.  Several individual and cooperative games are suggested at three different age levels.  The section on Animals of a Biome Cards suggests 12 different ways to sort the cards.  I think in that section alone I picked up 20 different ways to make three-part cards fresh for my boys.

I also appreciate the field trip suggestions for each biome.  In addition to real living biomes existing in our state, we have a local horticultural conservatory where we can visit living examples of different biomes that do not exist naturally in our state.  I've considered going and going often, but wasn't quite sure how to get the most out of our visits.  In the section on the temperate forest, there are two pages of single-spaced suggestions of things to do when you visit.  I am too lazy to count them all, but I'm guessing sixty?  This is followed by many hands-on activities and experiments such as "testing wood for hardness" and "making a Berlese funnel".  You will also run into many of the traditional Montessori botany, zoology, and geography presentations.  Often I bounce back over to my traditional albums when this happens.  No matter which presentation I wind up using, its' always fun to read several versions of the same presentation before giving it.

Just a note, my comments on Waseca products today and to date are unsolicited.  I am not being compensated in any way by Waseca.  I am just sharing my experiences.  If Waseca wishes to compensate me in some way in the future I am TOTALLY OPEN to that.  Waseca, feel free to e-mail me.  There are several products I have my eye on.  There are links to my disclosure policy and other legal tidbits at the bottom of the blog.

Montessori Monday

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cultivating Dharma Albums Available Again!

The Cultivating Dharma albums are available for download once again!  I don't know how long they've been back, but happened to check today and was happy to see that Jonathan reposted them.  He also added his history album to the roster!  Yea!

You can find the albums on Jonathan's blog, Cultivating Dharma, on this page:

Cultivating Dharma Elementary Montessori Albums

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Venn Diagram


This presentation is so NOT pin-worthy.  Bad photo, sloppy execution.  Just plug "Venn Diagram" into Pinterest and you'll get a slew of great ideas for if you are not doing this on the fly like I was.  We are still here, still spending time in the school room as the dust flies around us.  Kal-El has been really enjoying word problems lately and has been burning through the cards in his Word Problem basket.  One of the purposes of the store-bought story problems is that concepts crop up that either aren't in the album or that I've neglected to get to.  We find that this particularly applies to graphing.  Kal-El bumped into a Venn Diagram and didn't know how to read it (Although he laughed after my presentation and after going back to the story problem that the story problem had directions that explained how it worked if he had bothered to read them.  He never reads directions.  He's at that age where he has to learn to read direction and do careful work.  It's a frustrating phase.)

I quickly hacked a piece of printer paper into a circle with some scissors and gave him that circle and one rectangular piece of paper.  I also grabbed a bunch of buttons from our manipulatives drawers.  I didn't explain how the diagram worked and I did not overlap the shapes.  I just asked Kal-El to put the yellow buttons on the rectangle and the circles on the circle.  It wasn't long before he asked, "Wait, what do I do if it is yellow AND a circle."  I asked him to find a way to put the button on both.  He overlapped them himself and was on his merry way.  

This is not particularly impressive, but so often we make Montessori at home into such a BIG DEAL making materials and I wanted to show that it can sometimes be quite simple.

Once Kal-El has a little more practice I can feed his Star Wars obsession with this excellent Venn diagram:




We are making progress in the kitchen.  On Friday two young men came over and installed most of our cabinets.  They are coming back tonight to finish up.  The countertops will be templated on Thursday.  Then we wait.  The wait for countertops is the only "dead time" in our whole remodel.  It will drive me nuts.  I'm very "progress-focused."



Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

School Days: Flat Bead Frame, Checkerboard, Dot Game, and More

We have been very busy with kitchen planning.  All of the details are in place.  All of the sub-contractors are lined up.  The cabinets are ordered (hardest part so far) It FEELS like the hardest part is over.  I'm sure I'll be surprised, but I am hoping for smooth sailing.  I have been too busy to blog but not too busy to show the boys new Montessori work.


Kal-El is working on exercise 4B for the distributive law of multiplication.


He can't decide which he loves more, the flat bead frame....


...or the checkerboard.


In the meantime he is still making plans to move to Alaska where he will live off the grid while making a two-stage-to-orbit space plane that he will launch from Kodiak island so that he can live in space. He really likes the Solar Walk app on our iPad.  You can read a good review here. In the photo above he was reenacting the lunar eclipse that he and I got up in the middle of the night to watch earlier this week.  



Me Too has become our resident "lines" expert.  He chooses one of the "study of lines" works nearly everyday.  The booklet...


...Primary-style three-part cards (we have elementary-style cards with definitions also)...


...command cards (Albanesi).


Now that he has been introduced ALL parts of speech he has enjoyed pulling out the grammar farm and building some really big sentences.


"Uh-oh! The pig runs outside the barn really fast."

He is working on the stamp game and small bead frame in parallel right now.  He has worked through ALL of our equation drawers for addition, subtraction and multiplication with the stamp game.  He doesn't want to do the division equations until he has memorized his division facts.  So, while we are waiting for him to wrap up his memorization boards I introduced him to the dot game.


One thing I've never liked about this work is that the boxes for the carrying are near the bottom.  I always have wondered why they don't put the boxes at the top so that the kids notate the carrying the same way they will when they do the work purely on paper.  Things that make you go, "hmmm."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

School Days: Geography



I already knew that Me Too was enjoying a geography explosion.  It became super obvious when I started putting together a "school days" post and saw how many pictures I had of him working with various maps.  He seemed to be holding back from the pin maps for the past two months.  However, when he was ready he was really ready and has explored them more than even Kal-El has. Kal-El has been avoiding the new "Oceania" and "Caribbean" maps but Me Too jumped in with gusto.



Me Too wanted to demonstrate the sturdiness of our pins in the foamboard.




Me Too mastered the South America puzzle map and then tested his own knowledge with the pin map.  That is what got his feet wet and once he was in the water he didn't want to stop.  He moved right on to the flags.






He continued on right through the capitals.



After years of relative indifference, Me Too is finally interested in the Antarctica continent box.



Me Too hasn't been doing all of this geography alone.  Dueling pin maps are now a frequent sight.


Kal-El likes to practice the larger maps that he never really "mastered" 100%.  He has spent a lot of time with the Asia and Europe maps lately.  


I finished organizing my husband's coin collection so that it could be used in the continent boxes.  Thanks to his parents extensive travels he had an impressive collection.  Above Kal-El is admiring the coins in the Asia continent box.

The boys have been doing a lot of new work, particularly in math.  I'll try to get the other subjects up in a "school days" post soon.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

First Piano Lesson


Me Too's first "real" piano lesson with Mommy.  I was going to wait until September (start of first grade like his brother) but he insisted that "today was the day!"  I was just eyeballing that Bjorn stool thinking, "Do we still need this around the house?"  I'm glad I figured out that we do before it went to the thrift shop.