Thursday, May 12, 2016

Classification of Nouns: Additional Symbols

Kal-El has started work on the ETC 9-12 grammar cards.  He started with a review of common, concrete, abstract, spiritual, proper and collective nouns.  As a point of interest for this work we introduced the "advanced" grammar symbols.  "Advanced" is a word that is often used for these because many people introduce them to the child in upper elementary.  However, there is nothing "advanced" about the symbols themselves.  The child learns these concepts in year one and you could certainly show the child the symbols at that time if the child were interested.  For that reason the KotU terminology of "additional" symbols is perhaps better.  However, I have to say that the new symbols served as a nice, sparkly, new point of interest at this stage for a topic that needed review but is being revisited for the fourth time.  All of these symbols can also be made with the stencil, so having practiced them I will likely leave it up to the child to decide how specific he wants to be as he marks the parts of speech in his sentences in the future.

I anticipate getting some questions about the small gold triangle we used for the proper nouns.  KotU, Grandma's Grammar, ETC, and MRD all show the small gold triangle for the proper noun.  However, oddly, no one sells it anymore.  I couldn't even find it through Nienhuis.  When there is no small gold triangle it is recommend to use the small gold circle instead.  However, our materials were already using that for spiritual nouns (a category of abstract nouns).  I made my own.  I cut them out of thin balsa from the craft store with a ruler and a utility knife.  Then, I spray-painted them gold.  It took me all of five minutes.  It helps that I'm the kind of person who has balsa and gold spray paint around the house.  Even though the suppliers don't actually sell the small gold triangle, the box the sell does have one extra compartment as if they intend for it to be there.  This is because the basic grammar symbol sets (both solid and flat) have two sizes of light blue triangles in addition to the larger dark blue, the black and purple.  I have no idea why.  My set didn't have that.  I would think it would have something to do with numerical adjectives but is the article color and the adjective size.  Numerical adjectives are, I thought, the adjective color but the article size.  Nienhuis does the same thing.  I guess I'm out of date and at this point don't care to figure out what happened.  I imagine it has something to do with arguing that a numerical adjective functions much like an article.  Anyway, this also explains the empty spot in my grammar solids tray that has bothered me for years.

Here are some notes on shopping for grammar symbols.  When the boys were in primary I bought a set of basic grammar symbols in a box (10 compartment).  Then, when we reached this point I had to buy a new box that would hold the "basic" and "additional" symbols.  It would have been cheaper in the long run to make (or buy, but making would be better) the 15 compartment box, a set of "basic" wood symbols, and a set of "basic additional" wood symbols.  I would put the basic set in the box for primary leaving compartments empty and add the "additional" as appropriate.  Montessori Outlet seems to be the only discount place that has the needed options for upper-elementary.  Now, there are also paper sets (also at Montessori Outlet).  This is like the paper movable alphabet meant for writing sentences.  If you are labeling multiple sentences at a time you won't have enough wooden symbols in the box.  However, we haven't needed to do that and the 10 symbols that come in each set has been plenty to label up to two sentences at a time.  We'll see what happens as our sentences get longer.  Now, the 15 compartment box that they sell is not deep enough to fit all ten of the larger symbols (noun, verb, verbals).  It will only stack them 6-8 deep depending on thickness (my basic symbols are thicker than my additional symbols).  So, for that reason I recommend making your own box so that they actually all fit.

The work pictured above was in response to a card that asked Kal-El to write three nouns to fit each of the categories.  I erased one from his proper nouns for the sake of privacy.  And, yes, it irks me that he didn't bother to capitalize one of his proper nouns.  Sigh.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Review: Little Hands on Rhythm

I have always felt there was a gap in the Montessori sequence when it comes to teaching rhythm.  My boys worked through an entire Montessori music album (I have three) and I noticed that they had excellent pitch experiences but that the rhythm experiences were "ho hum."  Mainly the Montessori rhythm experience is to work through several sets of cards of increasing difficulty that allow the child to clap and count the rhythms on the cards.  I added a point of interest by collecting some rhythm instruments they could perform the rhythms on instead.  However, I noticed that in other places in the Montessori sequence that involve expression there are materials that allow the child to build it themselves such as the movable alphabet or the pitch notation materials.  As Montessorians have learned from observing the child, anything they create themselves (such as a math equation) is likely to be bigger, more complex, and more compelling than anything pre-provided on a card.

But, how do we do this with rhythm?  I stumbled across the solution on accident when my son started building rhythms he knew out of our Christmas ornaments:

The traditional Montessori materials certainly hint at these capabilities.  However, the Nienhuis notation set is oddly inconsistent regarding what rhythm materials it includes.  I had to DIY some wooden symbols to match:  

I was, apparently, not the only one who noticed this gap.  Laurie Oakley from Teaching Aids for Music noticed the same thing.  Laurie is a 25-year music teacher and her resume includes teaching music as a specialist at a Montessori school.  She developed a product for her studio teaching and her Montessori students that allows them to easily build and practice their own rhythms.  It is called Little Hands on Rhythm.  Laurie sent a set to our family, free of charge, for my children to use and for me to review.  As always, my opinions here are my own and unfiltered.

The set is a lot like a movable alphabet box, except for building rhythms rather than words or sentences.  It contains separate compartments, each containing many copies of an element one would use to build a rhythm.  The set we received included everything one would need to teach and build rhythms in 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 time.  For most people this is exactly what you would need and want.  If your child is a Suzuki child or already has several years experience your child may find, as mine did, that he didn't have quite all the elements he needed to build the rhythms he wanted (such as sixteenth note rhythms).  However, we also received an expansion kit with single eighth notes (flagged) and dotted quarters.  An expansion kit for 6/8 is nearly available and Laurie already has samples of sixteenth-note rhythms that will soon go into production.  

Each of the pieces in the box are magnetic.  They stick to this well-made, 36" board that folds and fits inside the box for easy storage.  The boys could fit four measures in 4/4 time on the board very nicely.  If you are a Montessori teacher or music teacher, one nice thing about it being magnetic instead of the loose wooden pieces used with the Nienhuis package is that you can hold or prop the rhythm up vertically to show a class without your work crashing to the floor.

Above is one of the rhythms that Kal-El built on the board.  It is fun to put pieces on the board so it really encouraged him to put the counting below which is something that he might be tempted to skip otherwise.  He likes to put the time signature next to the orange rectangle for it rather than on top of it so that he can see the definition given for each part of the signature.  There is room to do it either way.  You can use or not use the basic beat strips provided as you wish.  We prefer not use them most of the time, perhaps because the boys are advanced enough to no longer need them.  However, they did an excellent job of teaching the boys to space their rhythms appropriately rather than bunch them together.  This was something they needed to work on so I was pleased.  

Of course, us being us, it wasn't long before we were using the board in ways it wasn't intended.  Above you can see some of the pieces from the dotted-quarter/single-eight expansion package in use.  We replaced the basic beat with a very-useful eighth-note subdivision and built rhythms using dotted-quarters.  I would love to be able to do this with sixteenth-notes someday.  However, this is not exactly how this set was built to be used.  Regardless, I wanted to show that you can make it work and with the sixteenth note rhythms soon to be available might be a useful extension for a lot of people.  

I know a lot of my online Montessori friends LOVE LOVE LOVE having videos of presentations.  Laurie has already provided those, and there is a growing collection on her website here:  Tutorial Videos for Rhythm Notation. 

Thank you to Laurie for letting us try this product!  If you are interested in a set for your home or classroom, they are available at Teaching Aids for Music (

Monday, April 25, 2016

School Days

Today's post is an unusual "School Days" post.  Rather than just show you glimpses of certain works I made a point to photograph each thing on their work plans at least once over the course of a couple weeks (I spread it out so my photographing isn't intrusive). So, in this post you get a rare look at what a whole week can look like.  There are many things they do every day and I certainly didn't photograph every work they did for a week.  You'll see each category on their work plans once.  I last wrote about their work plans in detail in January.  I change things on the work plan frequently.

Where possible, I've linked to books or materials that we are using for your convenience.  So, this post does contain affiliate links, thank you for supporting our homeschool.

The boys have been working with decimals just about daily.  My greater-than/less-than alligators made a reappearance.  This work wasn't in the albums, but seemed like a good idea. I wanted them to practice comparing numbers with decimals carefully making sure that they understand which that on this side of the decimal point tenths are bigger than millionths.  It is a good idea to do this comparing numbers with only a few places to the right of the decimal with those with lots of places to the right of the decimal.  For example:

5.8 > 5.1279989  

I think I mentioned our addition work with the decimal board in a previous post.  The boys thought the board was very silly to use for such easy work and used it for just a few equations before moving on to just paper.  If it made the process that clear from the very beginning I guess it was worth the time spent.  

They have been working through the Nienhuis activity set for decimal fractions.  I think they both finished all of the addition cards this week and will practice with the subtraction cards next week.  

Another work they have been doing daily is the ETC Montessori 6-9 measurement task cards.  They will go through this relatively quickly, I think, and then we'll do the 9-12 task cards.  There is a lot of variety of work in this set.  Some works are two-part cards as above, some are story problems, and some are experiments.  

They have been in the section on time measurement and have each done an experiment every day for the past two weeks.  They have had a blast timing themselves running laps up and down the driveway with stop watches, counting how many times they can dribble a ball standing versus walking for one minute, etc.,  One of Kal-El's experiments this week involved bean seeds in the light versus the dark (integrated with the Montessori biology works as you can see).  The experiment called for seeds in wet paper towels.  However, Kal-El's public school friends took him to their classroom window one day when they were at the playground at the school to show them how they were sprouting bean seeds taped to the window in plastic bags and water.  He wanted to do his the same way they did.  He also reports that his friends are also working on decimals.  He thought this was all pretty exciting.  

Every day we either listen to The Story of the World on audiobook, do the recommended map work, read the recommended fiction and non-fiction for each topic, or do one of the interesting activities suggested in the activity book.  This week we learned the Gupta dynasty and the Ajanta Caves.  We learned about Diwali and the Rangoli that many make for the entrances of their homes.  We watched some YouTube videos of monks making mandala so that they could appreciate how it is done.  We wanted our art to be more permanent so we did ours with white glue on paper.  In the picture above the boys were sketching their designs on paper first.

We also work in Writing with Ease  every day.  I have said several times in the past that this is like Reading Rainbow for us, but I was completely wrong.  I just watched an episode of Reading Rainbow and that is NOT the show I was thinking it was this whole time. I was thinking of the nice guy who illustrates stories as an excerpt is being read and then leaves off at a cliffhanger and tells you to read the book.   I was thinking of Cover to Cover with John Robbins.  We used to get to watch that once a week at the parochial school I attended for middle school.  I LOVED it.  

So, Writing with Ease is like Cover to Cover for us.  The boys want to read every book excerpted.  Recently we've read:

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Pippi Longstocking (all three books)

Of course, if a book has a sequel the boys want to read those too.  We do most of these as read-alouds, but sequels are usually read individually.  Right now Me Too is reading The Mouse and the Motorcycle individually and Kal-El is reading a sequel to the Rats of NIMH.  This is in addition to the piles of library books we bring home each week and in addition to the SOTW individual reading and read-alouds that we do.  

Me Too is currently enjoying the Vet Volunteers series and Kal-El is currently reading The 39 Clues series.  We get most of our weekly reading and SOTW books from the library.  It helps when your library is part of a network of libraries for SOTW. Our library often doesn't have the book but one of the other libraries in network almost always does.  

I think it is also important to have good books on hand in the house.  This is extra important if you have a super speedy reader in the house like Kal-El or myself.  We need great books to reread lying around for when we run out between library trips.  My husband calls them my "emergency books."  I buy most of the WWE books because we just love them all.  Bauer really curated a nice collection of literature to use in those books.  I also think it makes a big difference to get a good edition with beautiful illustrations.  Whether I buy or borrow the book, I like to check the blog Read Aloud Dad for recommendations on which edition to choose. 

When we need further ideas for additional reading we use The Read-Aloud Handbook and Read for the Heart: Whole Books for WholeHearted Families.  The boys also often choose to read the books excerpted in Vocabu-Lit: Building Vocabulary Through Literature.  However, compared to the other three resources, the literature chosen just isn't as good.  The books tend to be award-winning but a lot more modern and I guess our tastes just run to the older books.

They have been working on their Spanish nearly daily.  Above is one of the activities we did this week.  I gave each child a laminated picture of their head with some poster putty on the back.  I also set out a toy bus, airplane, train, and car.  Some of our recent vocabulary cards are on the table.  The boys took turns sticking their head to one of the vehicles and driving it onto one of the vocabulary cards.  I would ask, "A dónde vas tú" and they would then say something like "Voy a la playa en autobús" or "Voy al parque en avión."  It was a little silly sometimes. 

Kal-El is still working on memorizing the capitals of Europe.  Me Too is still working on the capitals of Africa. They mostly do this with our Pin It! Maps.  Me Too was really struggling with this particular group of capitals because he had no idea how to pronounce words like Ouagadougou, Nouakchott, N'Djamena, or Mbabane.  We have already often used the map games at Sheppard Software, but their older website used to be so hard to navigate we thought that they didn't have games for Africa.  It turns out they do and the game levels through this link have been very helpful.  Level one lets you click on a country to hear it's capital pronounced.  Level two has you matching the capital to the country but they pronounce the capital name each time which has been helpful reinforcement.  We also have Montessori apps on our iPad that do this type of thing but they don't have them for Africa yet. 

We are taking a short break from our simple machines work to go back and continue the work we've been doing this year on electricity.  I am so impressed with the Snap Circuits SC-300  kit that Santa Clause brought the boys for Christmas.  I expected that they would be able to make a variety of circuits, but there are 305 progressive projects in the accompanying booklet.  The boys  made more than twenty of them last week and things are lighting up, music is playing, sirens are blaring, propellers are flying into the air...  They love it.  

I set a goal for the boys to each finish one entire All About Spelling  and one Vocabu-Lit book this year.  In Me Too's case he alternated each one daily.  Kal-El chose to do his entire Vocabu-Lit book and then start the spelling.  If you add the number of lessons in the two books together, there are more lessons than there are weeks in our school year.  So now, the race is on to try to finish what is left before summer.  I have no problem carrying this into the summer, but the boys have chosen to double up each day to finish on time.

Kal-El's favorite part of his AAS book is the "Word Analysis" work at the beginning of each chapter.  The book is scripted for the parent.  Above is one of the words we analyzed this week and below is the accompanying script from the book.

The boys are practicing either long-multiplication or long-division daily.  They both can do these abstractly with any size multiplier/multiplicand/divisor/dividend.  Right now they are inventing an equation or two to complete each day.  Sometimes they choose a page out of Basic Math Skills, Grade 3 or 4 instead.   However, even though the Evan-Moor is more rigorous than common core, the size of the equations is still significantly smaller than what they are used to doing with the Montessori materials.  We keep the Evan-Moor around for occasional use to get them used to the formats they would see on a traditional test.

We recently spent about two weeks doing one multiplication equation a day on graph paper.  This is the lesson in the albums called "geometric multiplication."  

Grammar is another thing the boys do daily. We are following a Frankenstein-esque sequence all our own (which I wrote about here).  I want to get into verb tenses but the materials and albums we are using want to take us through some advanced work on types of nouns first.  We are generally following the sequence from MRD (Kal-El is in their Language Arts, Volume 5), using ETC materials (mostly), and Keys of the Universe and Not Your Grandma's Grammar for presentations.  

At any rate, above Kal-El reviewed the difference between concrete and abstract nouns and learned the advanced grammar symbol for abstract nouns.  We used the presentation from NYGG and cards I made from MRD.

Me Too is mostly working on adverbial extensions with the analysis materials, but is also reviewing direct and indirect objects because he seems to have trouble with those.

Word study is also on their daily work plan.  

Having completed the traditional presentations for word study in our KotU albums long ago, we are currently working on what's referred to as "further exploration."  We use ETC materials for this and like them a lot.  Me Too is currently working on reviewing antonyms.  Kal-El is learning the Latin definitions for certain prefixes and exploring their effect on the definition of words.

The rest of our work is done on a weekly basis.  

These are some of our Child-sized Masterpieces folders.  These are Step 5 folders.  This is beyond matching and pairing or grouping.  In this step they are learning about the painting and the artist and memorizing the names of both. 

Once a week the boys do a full weeks worth of Daily Word Problems.  Me Too still has a set that I cut and laminated.  Kal-El just prefers to do his straight out of the book. 

Kal-El writes fluently in cursive rather than print by choice.  He still needs practice making connections sometimes.  Me Too is still learning some of the letters.  We use New American Cursive.  Above is some of Kal-El's work in, I think, book two. 

In addition to all of their spontaneous art and art that crops up connected to our SOTW work, we do a lesson from I Can Do All Things at least once a week.  Today we were practicing drawing circles properly (lightly circling 4-5 times rather than looping around once darkly and connecting the ends).  The lesson went on to have us draw several things that started with a circle.

The boys are in a holding pattern on fractions right now because we are working on decimal fractions.  They keep them fresh by doing a few cards from our Nienhuis fractions activity sets once a week.  Above is a picture of a page from Me Too's notebook.  He is practicing adding mixed numbers with unlike denominators.

The boys play the violin seriously.  They have lessons with a violin teacher once a week and practice with me every day.  They play piano less seriously.  They have a lesson with me once a week and practice most days on their own.  Kal-El also plays the cornet even less seriously and plays sometimes, on his own.  He does play well enough to rehearse two or three times with his Dad's sixth grade band and play in their December concert.  We finished the Montessori music albums long ago.  I haven't been doing anything fancy with their music theory since that time.  I teach the appropriate music theory as it comes up in their violin music.  Also, once a week, they have to do a couple of pages of the music theory book that is a part of their piano series (we use Alfred's).  When we run out of pages in those, they do pages out of the Schaum Note Spellers Books. 

We always have some fun command cards floating around the classroom that encourage us to get our hands into the geometry materials.  The boys usually pick some of these about once a week. This year they keep choosing the Cube Up! cards again and again.  They are almost through all of these which will force them to move on to something else.

The boys have been very eager to bake.  This is almost like a "going out" in that I help them, but they do all of the planning.  They like to dig through my Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook to pick out projects.  We usually wind up making something that looks like the picture in the Martha book using recipe's from my The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Martha's recipes always seem to involve 32 steps and call for 9 sticks of butter to make the same cake as in the Test Kitchen book, but the test kitchen cakes always taste better.   For the cake above, Kal-El also decided to look up cake decorating videos on YouTube and found a tutorial.  He watched it and taught himself how to do some piping on his cake.  

This weekend Me Too make a three-layer devil's food cake (ATK) with chocolate ganache two ways (MS, whipped cold for the inside, poured warm for the outside).  Above he is learning how to trace and cut his parchment paper.

Here he is pouring and spreading the ganache.  We have a lot left over but discovered we can chill it, scoop it, and roll it in stuff (cocoa powder, coconut, chopped nuts) to make truffles.  

That is what a week looks like in our homeschool.  Just take the daily works and multiply by four.  Don't forget that Friday is our "going out" day.  We only do work IN the school room on Friday's if we have weeklies to mop up.  We had coop twice this month.  On other Fridays we went to a play and had youth symphony auditions.  Next month we are going to the symphony and to the ballet.