Friday, July 29, 2011

Red Raspberries

 This week, the raspberries were ripe for picking in our yard:

Here's what we made with some whipping cream and ginger snap cookies:

And the layered effect:

So simple for the kids to make (and delicious for eating as well!).  While we were making them, I realized how easy this would be to set up in the classroom for a tasty Practical Life exercise.  I think I'll have to try something similar when school begins...perhaps the blueberries will hold up for us come September!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blogosphere Generosity

If you have not already done so, please, please, please check out the latest giveaway at Montessori Print Shop - I'm still swooning over the chance to win this one!  Simply leave a comment for a chance to win a most generous offering of nomenclature materials.  You have until August 1  at 12 noon to enter for a chance to win.  Without a doubt, these materials would complement any learning environment!

Also, I wanted to take this opportunity and thank Deb at Living Montessori Now and Susana of Montessori Candy for recently featuring me on their blogs.  These ladies offer a wealth of meaningful information and I am touched that they felt my blog input is worthy enough to share! 

The generosity of this blog world is remarkable - thank you once again and happy blogging!  Good luck with the giveaway too!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Record Keeping for Sandpaper Letters

This Fall will mark the beginning of my sixth year in the classroom - where has the time gone?!  While I have learned much over the years, I have yet to find an ideal method of keeping records specific to Sandpaper Letters.  Last year, I kept a separate notebook for keeping record of introduction of sounds and Sandpaper Letters.  At first, this was ideal in the sense that I could easily find each child's record and see which sounds and (later) letters had been introduced.  After a while, however, it felt as if I was loosing track as to which letters the child had already mastered and which ones still needed practice.  For this reason, I wanted to find a solution and better way to keep record within the records!

Thankfully, during the Language Oral Exam at the beginning of this summer, one of our instructors shared with us an interesting method of record keeping for Sandpaper Letters.  First, each child has their own booklet with the entire alphabet on the inside cover while the remaining pages are blank.  There are enough pages for one letter per page.
I've made one booklet for each child - they are delightfully small, only about 2x3 inches.
  Here is a closer look at the alphabet on the inside cover:

Handwritten in cursive.
 Once a child is introduced a letter, a mark is made like this (on the letter on the inside cover...):

As the child works to master the letter, a second mark is made:

When the child masters the letter, a final mark is made, completing a triangle around the letter:

As each letter is mastered (not necessarily in order), the teacher (or child) writes the letter on a page in the booklet.  The booklet stays at school until all letters are complete.  Eventually, the entire booklet has one letter on each page which the child can use to review.

I plan to keep them in the classroom using this adorable basket on a shelf...Seriously,  how much fun will this be to carry to each lesson?!
 I appreciate how this method not only helps the teacher keep track of progression within the lessons of the Sandpaper Letters, but also the child has a beautiful booklet to take home and share with family.  I know that the children in my class LOVE to take home booklets that are part of lessons we've had together!  Additionally, I feel this method gives the child more opportunities to see the written symbols (inside cover) as we work through the letters.  Likewise, my assistant can easily surmise by looking at through the booklet which letters the child has worked on and which ones still need a lesson.

It will be exciting to implement this new method of record keeping for Sandpaper Letters in the classroom this Fall. In case you are wondering, yes, we use cursive for teaching writing in my class...  you can read more about it in this post.  Also, I'd be most interested in hearing how others record lessons for Sandpaper Letters in your classrooms!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Planes of Development

Recently, I received a request to share my 'Montessori Journey' via Montessori Candy which reminded me of a paper I wrote during training last summer .  While the subject matter describes Montessori's concepts of the Planes of Development, I also included a section at the end about my personal experiences.  Hopefully, by sharing the following ideas of progression, others will not only come to better understand the Planes of Development, but also a bit about my own 'Montessori Journey'.

Careful study and observation led Maria Montessori to identify the Planes of Development which encompass four distinct periods.  This is depicted in her work titled, “The Constructive Rhythm of Life,” and further supported in her later theory, “The Bulb.”  Montessori’s ideas propose that human beings progress through a series of planes, each exhibiting a particular pattern of growth. Within each stage, the child develops through a series of progressions followed by a series of regressions.  Each stage is also marked by a pinnacle, indicating the period of time when characteristics of each period are clearly exhibited by the child.  Montessori likened the progression through the stages to a “series of rebirths (Absorbent Mind 3, pg.17).” Illustrating this concept is a line of four triangles each symbolizing the specific ages of the phase.   Moreover, the triangles are represented as a movement towards the finality of life. 
Montessori elaborates in The Absorbent Mind (3, pg.17), “These phases are quite distinct from one another, and it is interesting to find that they correspond with the phases of physical growth.”  Montessori referred to her approach to education as an ‘aid to life.’ Consequently, at the center is always the development of the human personality rather than the acquisition of information.  The Montessori method is therefore an educational system steeped with roots in theory and philosophy rather than direct pedagogy.
The first plane of development is from birth to six years old.  It is further divided into two sub planes from birth to three, the unconscious absorbent mind, and three to six years of age, the conscious absorbent mind. This phase is characterized by rapid physical and mental growth.  E.M. Standing notes in Maria Montessori Her Life and Work (6, pg.108), “There are [in this phase] definite changes forming subdivisions; but the whole period is characterized by the same type of mind.  It is a mind which is quite different from that of the adult, which Montessori portrays as ‘The Absorbent Mind.’”  Montessori’s use of this term reflects the special way in which children learn.  The word ‘absorbent’ describes the unconscious and effortless nature of children’s acquisition of knowledge.  She believed that children acquire knowledge differently than adults and therefore require a specially prepared environment that correlates directly to their needs.  While adults learn by filling their brains with knowledge, children naturally absorb information from their environment.  Therefore, it is necessary for the child’s learning experiences to be filled with enjoyable, positive associations. 
In order to understand the concept and importance of the absorbent mind in totality, one has to look more closely at its origins.  Montessori believed that an infant is born with an essential drive forward that urges him to act upon his natural desire to live.  She refers to the term, horme, a life force energy which acts as an impulse initiating essential urges that propel human development.  The word origin stems from the Greek spirit personifying energetic activity and setting oneself in forward motion.  Extended from horme are the nebulae.   These energies are the potentialities, including language, movement, and other sensitivities, which require essential stimulation from the environment.  Due to the child’s absorbent mind, he takes into him everything that surrounds him, thus becoming ‘incarnate.’ 
To place these developmental forces into context, Montessori invokes the concept of ‘Mneme’ which is an unconscious formation of brain structure based on experiences.  These occur during the stage of the unconscious absorbent mind and therefore cannot be remembered.  It is a particular type of memory which is incarnated and taken in by the child through his environment.  Consequently, the child is transformed through the effortless absorption of, “what the eyes have seen and the ears have heard,” and the formation of personality has begun.
Furthermore, these recordings made by the mind are stored in the brain via engrams.  They are the building blocks of knowledge and are able to be remembered. They are the conscious impressions on the mind.   Engrams can be classified as mental images which are complete recordings of every detail and perception of a moment captured by the unconscious absorbent mind.
Montessori expounds in the Education for New World (3, pg.14) that the absorbent mind is "…a mental chemistry that takes place in the child, producing a chemical transformation. These impressions not only penetrate the mind of the child, they form it; they become incarnated, for the child makes his own 'mental flesh' in using the things that are in his environment. We have called this type of mind the 'absorbent mind' and it is difficult for us to conceive the magnitude of its powers."  Therefore, Montessori believed the first plane of development was the most important, for it is during this stage that children form the foundation on which their lifetime of education will stand.  During the First Plane of Development, a child has a unique, natural ability to learn unconsciously.  The natural motivation to learn creates a certain enthusiasm within the child that if promoted, will remain a part of the individual throughout life. 

The Second Plane of Development, Childhood, between the ages of six and twelve, is marked by a period of relative calm and peace within the child.  While the first stage of development is marked by the child moving from unconsciousness to consciousness with the input of his surrounding environment, the Second Plane of Development is characterized by the child’s yearning for an acquisition of knowledge about the universe. He has within him an insatiable desire to know which works in tandem with his steady physical growth.  It is a period of “great strength and robustness of body and mind; a fact indicated by a distinct falling off in the incidence of sickness and mortality.  It is a period of comparative calmness and serenity.  During these years children are capable of accomplishing a great deal of mental work.  It is their ‘years of plenty’; and if given the right opportunity and right means, they will lay up a great store of cultural information” (Standing, 6, pg.113). 
The Third Plane of Development is Adolescence, from twelve to eighteen years of age.  “The first period of adolescence (12-15years) resembles the first epoch [of infancy] 0-3years, in that it is one of great transformation, both physical and mental.  The advent of puberty marks the end of childhood, nature itself making it evident that a new stage of development has begun by the profound physical changes which take place (Standing, 6, pg. 116).   It is a difficult time due to the rapid physical changes the individual experiences. Montessori also found that this tumultuous period is characterized by “doubts, hesitations, violent emotions, discouragement, and an unexpected decrease in intellectually capacity” (Standing, 6, pg. 116).  Furthermore, this is a time when the adolescent transforms into a ‘socially conscious individual and when “there should develop the most noble characteristics that would prepare a man to be social, that is to say, a sense of justice and a sense of person dignity” (Grazzini article, pg. 218).  For these reasons, Montessori was a proponent of the Erdkinder method of education for secondary schooling.  Erdkinder refers to a concept of “Land Children,” whereby the child is given opportunities to develop his societal consciousness.  Rather than focusing on the retention of facts and information, the child learns to work for the good of a collective whole.
The Fourth Plane of Development is the plane of maturity from eighteen to twenty-four years of age.  This is the period of life when the individual is spiritually strong and independent and is able to develop a personal mission in life (Grazzini, pg. 119).  During this phase, the series of re-births with progression through the Planes of Development has completed and the adult is ready to begin the rhythm of this development with children of his own.
Montessori stressed the idea of the human being as a unity and the progression from one Plane of Development to the next as a ‘series of rebirths.’  Grazzini’s article explains (pg. 219), “the planes of development are…interdependent, for the human being is always a unity.  An earlier plane always prepares for the one that follows, forms its basis, nurtures the energies which urge the individual towards the succeeding period of life”.   If the child is allowed to unfold according to his natural development and is provided with the right environment,  he can reveal to us his many gifts to humanity.  As Early Childhood Montessori educators, we must adhere to the guiding principle that Maria Montessori formulated in the Planes of Development, “The most important period of life is…the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.  For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed” (The Absorbent Mind, 3, pg.21).
If one reflects on the nature of the Planes of Development specifically to the development of the human, we cannot dismiss the fact that in any path one chooses in life, one must progress through similar patterns, even in adulthood.  Ten years ago marked the beginning of my ‘Montessori journey’ through the same patterns of development.  I hardly realized the impact of my introduction to the Montessori philosophy.  The plane of infancy within the journey had begun and I slowly came from an unconscious realization to consciousness when it became evident that the Montessori way had become ‘incarnate', and spoke to the core of my being.  Following this realization, I searched for answers to my questions in a quest for knowledge – it was the Second Plane of Development within my own path.  As I have answered these questions and my knowledge has grown, it is now that I wish to become a part of the greater Montessori movement.  That is, I wish to become a part of the collective Montessori whole, thus exhibiting the Third Plane of Development in my personal path.  While I do not know what lies ahead in the final plane, I am confident that knowledge of the Planes of Development will strengthen not only the experiences working with the children in my classroom, but also on the path of the journey within myself.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

We're "Jammin'!"

Last year, the children received a most generous gift from their grandparents - two apple tree saplings and two blackcurrant plants.  This year, we have reaped the rewards of tending to the newest additions of the landscape and have made our own blackcurrant jam!

Ripe blackcurrants in our front yard begging to be picked...

The most time consuming part was removing the blossom end from each blackcurrant.  We ended up with 2 1/2 C. of currants which we boiled with about 1 C. of water. Next, we added 1 C. of sugar and roughly 1 1/2 T. of lemon juice and boiled for ten minutes.

Look at the exquisite color!
After the mixture boiled , I conducted the "plate test."  Before we started boiling the water, I placed a small plate in the freezer so that by the time it was needed, it was already chilled.  After the mixture boiled for ten minutes, I put a small amount on the plate and put it back in the freezer.  If the jam gels after one minute in the freezer, the jam is done - ours was ready!

 Homemade blackcurrant jam.
It looked so savory that I could not resist making some fresh bread - fresh from the bread machine, that is...


...and some for the neighbors too!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Sibling Art

I have a plan  for our dining room at home and one element is a wall featuring art by the children.  Given that we are fortunate to have my college-bound step son with us for the summer, I decided to put together this art activity in which all four kids could participate.  Hopefully, their collective art will grace a prominent wall in our dining room once I have it all re-organized and re-decorated (that part might take a while though...)  In the meantime, here is what the kids completed one summer afternoon:

First, each child used masking tape to section off an 18x24 canvas into as many pieces/shapes as they wished.

Here are the boys using masking tape (hard to see it...) to make linear shapes on their canvases. 

Now, they begin painting inside the shapes which the tape created.

Little Miss joined in when she woke up from her nap.

All four kids enjoying the moment!

We waited for the paint to dry and then...

...everyone pulled off the tape from their canvas which revealed...
...four unique pieces of art, each representative of a moment in time!
Without a doubt, these will bring much life into the dining room where I plan to showcase them - more on that later...  This project could easily be done on a smaller scale using either smaller canvases or fewer children.  It could also be easily adapted to the classroom setting.  Most meaningful for our family, however, was this project's ability to include the full range of ages of our children and so beautifully represented them both individually and  as siblings. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Who Needs a Slip-n-Slide....

when the kids can make this?

Home-made water slide!
Look what happens when kids come up with their own ways of having fun using things from around the house! 

And for a variation on a theme, who needs a trampoline when they can make this?



...FLIP!  (He lands on his back, not his head!)
I appreciate the thought and creativity that went into these endeavors.  In fact, it reminds me why I refuse to give into the typical gadgetry which seem to be so popular among children these days.  And surprisingly, we have yet to experience a trip to the ER....  Nevertheless,I would much rather have my children build and experiment though activities such as these than have them "exercising their thumbs" with video games...  I'm "old-school," and proud of it - and my kids are not missing out on anything!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Art Caddy

At long last, we finally have an ideal solution for the children's art supplies at home.  It seemed as if we could never find what we needed or the items would be scattered in different locations throughout the house - not helpful in the midst of creative endeavors....!  When I re-organzied the pantry, additional space was made across from the open shelves which made the perfect spot for art supplies, papers, etc.  The best part about our new art caddy is that the two-tiered server and glass jars are dollar store finds - thrifty solutions are the best! 
Art caddy for basic supplies.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Montessori Madness

Thank you so much to This Education of Ours  and Montessori Print Shop for sharing this powerful video about Montessori education by the author of Montessori Madness, Trevor Eissler.  People often ask me, "How is it knowing that your students will be attending a traditional school after their Montessori experience?"  My reply is one of understanding - financial circumstances usually dictatate schooling options.   But underneath it all, there is a sense of loss and I am saddended - this video demonstrates why:

You can find out more about Montessori Madness and its author, Montessori parent and advocate, Trevor Eissler here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Toddler Games

In all my "craftiness" during the summer months, I couldn't help but make some fun toddler activities.  An impromptu jaunt to the craft store proved to be all the inspiration that was needed...  It served as a reminder about the endless possibilities which can come from simple wood pieces and some paint!  Here is what I made for Little Miss:

Disclaimer:  I am not really a crafter - I just like to make things.  I do not consider myself in any way shape or form a professional crafter.  I know there are many crafters who do this type of thing for a living and have gorgeous goods (think: Etsy...) I am not one of those talented people! ;-)

A simple shape matching exercise using wooden discs and shapes:

And her new favorite - A color matching game with "little friends."  Originally, I was just going to paint the pegs all one color, but I found it irresistible to paint tiny faces... They are not perfect by any means, but this activity has certainly generated many moments of pure joy!  The following video shows her playing with this new game.  She astounded me with her focus and concentration while discovering new ways to use them...  While I'm not a trained Infant/Toddler teacher, from a Montessori observational standpoint, this video is quite revealing:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Finger Knitting

Our recent finger-knitted creations.
  The availability of handiwork in a child's environment is not only a fun way to introduce artistic endeavors, but it also promotes the tenets of Montessori Practical Life exercises: Concentration, Coordination, Independence, and Order (CCIO).  Personally, I love cross-stitching and would sit for hours at a time (yes, before children!) enjoying the quietness of such a hobby.  What a thrill is was to work on something for so long and end up with a beautiful creation to enjoy for years to come!  Knitting is something I've always been interested in yet somehow never had the chance to learn.  These handiworks, however, have a special place in a Montessori setting, and  for years I have wanted to incorporate more of them in my classroom.  These summer days seem to inspire me to be more "crafty" and my handiwork interest is piqued.  For these reasons, I have uncovered the world of finger knitting with my boys over the past few days.  We have had so much fun and I can hardly wait to do this in the classroom next school year!  Here is Mr. Man demonstrating the first version of finger knitting we learned (he was very eager to share this video!).

We have big plans to make a collaborative project:  Throughout the coming weeks, we will each (Mr. Man, Big Stuff, and me) finger knit a super long chord.  Then, we'll braid them together to make one thick chord.  If all goes accordingly, then we'll roll it up (flat), stitching it together as the circle gets larger.  Hopefully, the result will be a one-of-a-kind rug! 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rhubarb Anyone?

Last week, Mr. Man returned from an outdoor "expedition" in the backyard proudly displaying the "giant leaf" he had found.  What he did not realize however, was that he had discovered a delicacy of summertime - fresh rhubarb! 
A treasured find:  Fresh rhubarb!
 Each year around this time, we see it growing everywhere which serves as a perfect opportunity to make everything rhubarb.  Lucky for my dear husband, who celebrates his birthday in early July, he usually is presented with some sort of rhubarb dessert on this occasion.  This year, we celebrated with 'Rhubarb Torte' whose recipe is a family favorite!

4 C Chopped rhubarb
1 C Sugar
3 T Cornstarch
1/2 C Water
(few drops of red coloring)
Cook until thickened.
Place in Graham Cracker pie crust and cool. 
Mix 1 C Whipped Cream with 1 1/2 C tiny marshmallows.

Prepare a package of vanilla pudding...

...and layer on top of the rhubarb in the graham cracker crust.  Sprinkle top with crushed graham crackers.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys!

We have a saying in our home that "Summer vacation doesn't start until 'Faabi' (a beloved nickname) arrives!"  This is my dear step-son whom the boys (and Little Miss) simply adore.  Here are the boys on the Fourth of July with their sparklers displaying their brotherly-love!

Hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July!
Happy Summer!

Pantry Project

I finally got around to organizing my pantry in way that brings me a sense of peace each time I see it!  This vision has been brewing in my mind for quite some time and consequently, I have been collecting glass jars for a while.  Then just the other day, while browsing one of may favorite surplus and salvage stores, I came across the most perfect baskets.  They were large enough to hold various items yet still fit the relatively short depth of my pantry shelves. 

I cringe to share this before photo of the pantry and, just to let you know, waves of panic would creep over me each time I went in:

Yikes - not the best representation of organizational skill...
 Afterwards, however, I find myself walking over just see how pretty the pasta looks in their new jars!

Oh, the loveliness of it all...!

We've been saving our applesauce jars!  I love the way these staples look in glass...

The pasta, rice, etc. look more appealing...

Even the crackers look beautiful!
It only took eight and half years of living in this home (and three kids later) to finally get it the way I like it!  I think the Montessori in me is rejoicing in the chance to showcase itself at home - especially since we have been out of school for a couple of weeks now...  My step-son summed everything up when he declared, "Wow, it's been 'Montessorified'! I can see everything now!" 

Mission accomplished.