Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Starting at Infancy: Helping Children be Independent

Helping your child develop physical and mental skills to become independent is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow.

Independence in the Montessori sense of the word means that your child becomes capable human being. He or she will be able to embark upon age-appropriate challenges with confidence because he or she will have the physical and mental skills to give it all a good try. This does not ensure success, but it ensures a good healthy attempt and an attitude that lets your child pick him or herself up and try again.

Montessori focuses on providing the youngest of children with child-sized equipment and furniture so that early skills, both physical and mental, can be nurtured. Infants work with small objects to develop their refined hand movements and hand-eye coordination. In each step after that, children will build upon what they have already learned to develop new skills and soak in the experiences of new challenges.

But what is your child supposed to try to experience and learn at, say, three or five or seven years of age. Let's see. For toddlers, being able to use the toilet independently is a huge accomplishment. At age five, it may be the ability to get up in the morning, select the day's outfit, come downstairs for breakfast, and then choose an activity on his or her own. By the time your child is seven, he or she should be able to schedule his or her play or study activities, look at the clock to know when it's time to put everything away and help with dinner, and then take charge of his or her own bedtime preparation so you two can have a peaceful bedtime story together.

This sort of step-by-step skill building provides children with the ability to act and conduct themselves independently. By creating this foundation of competence, your child will be ready for big steps, such as learning how to drive. He or she will already have good judgement, practical experience riding a bike alone, and other valuable assets.

So, start now. As you read through articles, let your child try the age-appropriate activities and work independently. No little corrections or constant reminders as your child works! Yes, the paint will spill, the beans for pouring exercises will drop, but you have already shown your child how to wipe up spills, so let him or her take charge of it all.

After all, when he or she gets behind the wheel of the car in 10 years, you won't be able to control the environment, so take advantage of the time you have now!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Real-Life Homeschooling" by Rhonda Barfield

Rhonda Barfield's "Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home" tells the true stories of these families, who range from conservative Christian families in the South to homeschoolers by necessity in the backwoods of Alaska.

For anyone worried about the legality of homeschooling (not much of an issue in most states anymore, thanks to the dedicated homeschoolers who came before you), this book provides general references and discusses how individual families in different areas dealt with everything from courtroom drama and meddling in-laws to social pressure and disapproval at church.

If you are wondering if homeschool is only for those folks with a religious background, this book will definitely convince you otherwise. On the other hand, if you are considering homeschooling for religious reasons, this book gives you insight into families who have succeeded with flair.

Stories of a family homeschooling their Down's Syndrome child will have you on the edge of your seat as will tales of the Alaskan family skinning a moose!

An awesome and inspiring book. Definitely a must-read for anyone considering homeschooling, but it is also a fabulous book for parents and teachers in general.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Montessori Mystery Bag: Sensorial DIY Material

The Mystery Bag is one of the most beloved items in the Montessori classroom. Fortunately, it is super easy to recreate at home with your own materials.

It is similar to the items in the bag below (see the Hainstock article), just add a blindfold so that your child can identify items by touch only and you're set to go! The main criteria in choosing these items is that they should be identifiable by touch, so take out the flashcard with label and add a movable alphabet letter cutout instead.

Create a cloth bag with a drawstring and fill it with your original items from the first exercise or add new ones such as:
  • different types of leaves
  • textured fabric strips
  • an old skeleton key
  • a small padlock
  • a small comb
  • a teaspoon
  • a tablespoon
  • a regular spoon
  • buttons
  • a rubber band
  • and any other interesting item to identify by touch!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More on Elizabeth G. Hainstock's "The Essential Montessori"

Over the past 30 or so years, Montessori schools have become increasingly more expensive and popular. Because there is no control over the name Montessori, everyone can start a school and there is really no quality control. AMS, the American Montessori Society, and AMI, Association Montessori Internationale, provide teacher training and, hence, teachers themselves can be more closely evaluated.

A result from all this is confusion as well as a lot of questions about what a Montessori education is supposed to accomplish.

This is a nice quote from "The Essential Montessori" as it addresses a key misunderstanding about Montessori:

Hainstock writes "Evidence clearly shows that the early years, from birth to six, are the most formative and are too often wasted by not realizing the child's true potential. Gradual, sequential learning at this stage can be easy, fun, and important to the developing child. As the sensitive periods show, these early years are when the child learns with the greatest ease and is most responsive to particular phases of learning. To the young child, learning is a natural function of childhood -- effortless and challenging, and more meaningful than idle play." (page 32)

Most parents notice that infants and toddlers start out preferring to handle and explore adult objects. How often do you guide your child away from digging in your purse or computer bag and re-direct him or her towards a toy? The Montessori approach would advocate creating a small bag for your child that is full of ordinary objects that he or she can hold, touch, and even bite.

Objects in the bag should be child-safe, so these recommendations should be scaled for age, but here are some suggestions for children under six:

  1. a small book
  2. a picture flashcards with name label
  3. a set of keys
  4. a padlock with a key
  5. a marble
  6. coins
  7. a feather
  8. a stone
  9. a smooth pebble
  10. a twig
  11. a simple calculator
  12. a braided length of yarn that is tied on one end, so it can be braided and unbraided

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Discount Montessori Equipment: Test for Lead!

Montessori equipment was originally produced by the Dutch company Nienhuis (indeed the company worked so closely with Maria Montessori that the founder's son blamed Dr. Montessori for sending his father to an early grave with her constant demands for exacting standards of production).

Of course, these days Nienhuis equipment is amazingly expensive, leaving most parents to look for discount equipment online. Be aware that most of the discount equipment is made in China (or in other countries with equally as spotty safety standards and oversight for production) and should be tested for lead.

Here are some things to look out for:
  1. Montessori equipment should fit together perfectly. If your equipment has edges or pieces that do not seem well-made, this is a sign the manufacturer is sub par. Lead testing kits can be purchased online and at a number of drugstores.
  2. Test each color paint on a toy or piece of equipment. Different colors and types of surfaces often come from different subcontractors. So, the shiny red surface might contain lead even when the other colors do not.
  3. Does the equipment smell odd? Toss it. Cancer causing material is used in production of things like wood surfaces with varnish and plastic surfacing for toys.
Send us a note and let us know of anything you find, so we can post it for other parents!

Finally, it's not just China. They're biggest manufacturer. And it's not just Mattel. Finally, it's not just toys. Be aware of other products, too!

This quote from the August 15, 2007, article "Mattel Recalls 19 Million Toys Sent From China," is a good one:

“If Mattel, with all of its emphasis on quality and testing, found such a widespread problem,
what do you think is happening in the rest of the toy industry, in the apparel industry and even in the low-end electronics industry?” said S. Prakash Sethi, a professor at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, who has acted as an independent monitor of working conditions in Mattel’s factories for the last 10 years. “Everyone is going to be found with lots of dirty laundry.”

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Montessori for Beginners: Where to start reading?

Whether you are interested in learning more about the Montessori Method itself or how to use it with your child, I suggest The Essential Montessori by Elizabeth G. Hainstock. She gives a great overview of Montessori and then she explains a bit about how to use it at home.

Hainstock's book also gives good quotes from Maria Montessori's own writings such as The Absorbent Mind, The Montessori Method, The Discovery of the Child, The Secret of Childhood, From Childhood to Adolescence, Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook, Spontaneous Activity in Education, and Childhood Education.

The Celebration of Women Writers project provides The Montessori Method online for no charge and here is the link:

The Montessori Method can be a bit hard to read, but we highly suggest at least skimming over it and looking for good quotes because it really does give you a flavor of the original Montessori idea.

Blackberries & Mobile Phones Turned Off

Teachers in the classroom can always tell which parents are addicted to their mobile phones and Blackberries...their children are the ones who are distracted and beg for attention noisily!

Focused time with your child will yield huge results. You can arrange a schedule where you retreat to your corner of the living room to work when your child is engaged in his or her own work, whether that be putting together a puzzle or watching educational DVDs -- we know some of these purchases were made with parental R&R in mind, that's okay;)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Found: A fabulous article on Montessori and technology!

A lot of people in the Montessori community let their fear of technology and computers prevent them from bringing the best of technology into their classrooms. There is a small core of Montessorians, however, who are dedicated to thoughtful introduction of technology and Hubbell is one of them.

The link is for her article in PDF format, so you'll need Adobe Reader to see it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Discipline and Montessori: A Tiny Step Forward

Discipline means different things to different people. Teachers and parents tend to think of discipline as the maintenance of a scream- and biting-free area that makes possible peace of mind, enjoyment of quiet, and a generally decent atmosphere for all.

Montessori looks at discipline first as an internal goal. If you can help your child to find and enjoy the pursuit of self-discipline, the outward expression of discipline, whether in the classroom, at the store, or at home, will your reward.

Start with these basic steps and see what happens:
  1. Explain rather than punish by using a concrete example of the positive (e.g. tell your child to "hold the kitten in your lap so he is comfortable," instead of saying "don't hold the kitten like that!")
  2. Teach through example by using language that you would want to hear from your child. If you say "no!" frequently, this is sure to be what you will hear back.
  3. Provide clear cut and fair rules for the house and classroom that are easy to follow.
  4. Provide a physical setting that is conducive to a tidy and ordered environment.
  5. Adhere to a schedule that provides your child with appropriate outdoor and physical activity several times a day, nutritious meals and snacks, and stimulating educational material indoors. A child who has not had a nutritious breakfast and is twitchy due to lack of exercise is set for a disaster of a day!

Infants & Montessori: Refined hand movements and brain development

Take a step away from baby videos and introduce your infant or toddler to simple hands-on projects like the Montessori Imbucare Box with the small cylinder (the one here is from Nienhuis, but you can make your own, too).

These boxes assist infants and toddlers in the development of refined hand movements as they grasp the cylinder and learn to place it into the small hole on top. The door on the side opens and the cylinder can also be shaken out of the circular opening.

Developing refined hand movements are key to related brain development!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Montessori Terms and Equipment

Montessori terms and equipment names can be daunting. A super easy thing to do is to use Google's image search function so you can see pictures of everything!

Montessori, Language, and Metal Insets

This is a standard set of Metal Insets from Nienhuis, one of the oldest (and most expensive) suppliers of Montessori equipment.

From left to right on the top: square, rectangle, trapezoid, triangle, and pentagon.

From left to right on the bottom: circle, oval, quatrefoil, ellipse, and curvilinear triangle.

Children learn to grasp the small knobs on each shape with three fingers (pointer, index, and thumb), trace the interior of the frame and around the exterior of the cutout shape.

This is preparation for writing and not an art project.

All Montessori material is supposed to fit well, feel good to the touch, be perfectly shaped, and be fairly silent. Material that does not fit this criteria should not be used.

Unless you are buying from Nienhuis and especially if you are buying Montessori materials from discounters, I suggest taking paint scrapings from the red and blue colors and testing them for lead. You can just take a bit off the back. Lead testing kits are for sale online and at a bunch of drugstores. I thought about this when I read a forum posting by a mother who was saying that some of the shapes she bought from a discounter did not fit. Badly fitting material is a sure sign that the production was cheap. Test for lead to make sure!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Zoology: Can you say Cnidaria?

Card matching exercises to teach new concepts and vocabulary are a tried and true Montessori staple.

This wonderful example of Cnidaria matching cards comes from Lori at Montessori for Everyone.

Your child will learn vocabulary such as cnidaria, basal disc, tentacles, and nematocysts!

Designed for early elementary school students, children use the master cards (the ones with pictures and words) to check their own work as they match picture-only cards with labels.

Kids adore these card exercises!