Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Bells

Nienhuis Montessori Bells
There is a special place in my heart for the Montessori Bells. Perhaps the Slavic side of me is naturally drawn to the melodious tones of bells as they have always been a part of my Russian heritage. Such prominence in Russian literature and culture have inevitably left an impression on me. Anytime I hear bells, I'm immediately drawn back to many childhood memories including a semester in St. Petersburg, walking down Nevsky Prospect with church bells ringing every step of the way... In any case, I've always held such high regard for this treasured Montessori material.

For those of you new to Montessori or who might not know much about the Bells, they are a unique piece of material which "provide a sensorial means for children to increase the acuity of their auditory perceptions," as described by Jean K. Miller in her handbook, Montessori Music. The materials also consists of two 'keyboards,' a pair of black and white boards with green at the top of each. The keyboard allows for distinct placement of the bells which gives a visual impression of the major scale. This in turn, enables a child to naturally absorb the spacing of the bells as a pattern which coordinates with the scale. Further work with additional materials provide experiences in musical notation and for the child to read and write music.

Unfortunately, this Montessori apparatus is typically missing from Primary Classrooms. While I have no doubt that most Montessori teachers value the Bells and would welcome the chance to utilize them in their classrooms, the cost of a full set including the specialized stand is usually prohibitive. Such is the case for me!  Inspiration abound, however, when I read THIS POST about DIY Montessori Bells. The author of the post is a trained musician, so I completely trust what she has to say not only about the materials and how to go about making them, but also the theory behind the lessons using the DIY Bells set.

Thanks to a thoughtful donation of two sets of Schylling Musical Hand Bells from my mother (Thanks, Mom!), and a heaping dose of inspiration from the above mentioned post, I got to work making my own Montessori Bells set.  I will let it be known here, that spray paint and I are not quite ready to be friends! Somehow, I always end up with more on my hands and surrounding items than what I'm actually trying to spray... ;) In any case, I remain amazed at what a little cardboard, masking tape, and acrylic paint (which is what I used to paint the keyboards) can accomplish!

Two sets of matching bells on my homemade keyboard.
Once all my bells were painted and the keyboard finished, I had to think a lot about the placement of this material in my classroom. To give a clear picture, let's just say I was running out of 'real estate' in the classroom to house this set. I also wanted to be sure that the location in the classroom was in keeping with both the sensorial aspect of the material as well as the natural musical element. Really, there was only one space where this could work and it was at the front of the circle time rug, next to our calender and under the morning message. This location is ideal not only because it is now part of the Sensorial shelves of the classroom, but also it lends itself easily to group movement and music activities at circle time.

A view from above.  For those familiar with the Bells, you will notice I have not included the black bells.  Depending on interest and progress with this material in my classroom, I may add them later.
Now, for the actual shelving... This was a little bit of a challenge because as mentioned earlier, there is a shortage of space. Also, as it relates to the placement in the classroom, I didn't want heavy looking, furniture-type shelving because I was afraid it would create an imbalance in the classroom. The height of the unit was also important to me in choosing the shelving because I want the children to be able to stand comfortably at the bells. In the end, I chose a couple of wire, three-tiered storage units of which I used only the bottom halves. A strategically placed piece of sturdy cardboard extended the middle to give a few extra inches in length. Lastly, to cover the wires and cardboard and to give a more finished look, I covered the top with a decorative table runner. My homemade keyboards and bells were then placed on top, creating a suitable space for the children to use the bells.

The Bells on their new "stand."  I placed our Melody Harp and CD player underneath as those items were in this area prior to the Bells.  The small basket to the right of the CD player holds a set of headphones which the children use to listen to music. 
During this entire process, I have thought a lot about these bells and how I will present them in my classroom. I'll be honest and say that the Montessori purist in me is struggling a little bit! That is simply because I strive to provide my students the most authentic Montessori experience and I fully understand that the Bells, the way Montessori intended them, have direct aims in not only music, but in movement as well. This version of the Bells might not necessarily adhere to every aspect the way Montessori intended, but I do think it allows a meaningful way for children to develop their auditory senses and explore music. In an attempt to remain true to the lessons with the Bells, I plan to provide a mallet and damper to use in the presentations (which you can see in the picture above at far right, next to the Bells). Certain modifications will obviously need to be made, but I plan to present lessons in handling and striking the bells - just as if a 'real set' of Montessori Bells were in use. In the end, I decided not to deny my students opportunities to work with an interesting set of materials simply because it's, "not the real thing." I keep telling myself that perhaps one day I'll be fortunate enough to purchase a "real" set, and for now, this will do just fine!
A felt-lined tray at the far right of the Bells holds a mallet (this one is temporary, until a soft mallet on order arrives...) and a damper.  I made this 'damper' by simply sticking a furniture slider at the top of a large Popsicle stick.
Wish me luck in this latest endeavor in the classroom - I sincerely hope my efforts in making this material will be worthwhile....  (That's the Montessori purist talking...!)  :)

Montessori Monday Link-Up

Montessori Monday

Saturday, February 18, 2012

And now, a vacation!

Oh, what an eventful week!  In between bouts of illness and various appointments, we had fun putting the finishing touches on our Valentine mementos, enjoyed celebrating our friendships during our Valentine's Day party, and continued to progress with our Montessori lessons and activities.  Needless to say, we are all ready for our February vacation and a little break! 

Exploration with the Constructive Triangles, Box C.

Land, Air, and Water:  Sorting pictures.

Tracing numbers - We have so many kids who love tracing numbers!

Balancing marbles on golf tees.
On Tuesday, we had a very special celebration for Valentine's Day.  The children were thrilled beyond measure to enter our classroom and see this:

Valentine Balloons!
And after a meaningful exchange of Valentines, we enjoyed a most delicious snack together:

One of our Valentine's Day tables.
Coloring a Valentine-themed mandala.
Working with the turtle puzzle
Geometric Demonstration Tray - sensorial exploration of shapes while preparing the hand for writing.

Reading and matching the Days of the Week.
(Click on caption to learn more about this lesson.)
Dynamic Addition with Golden Beads:  3,466 + 3,557 = 7,023.  I also had a couple of Dynamic Subtraction lessons, and our first Multiplication lesson, but didn't have the chance to take pictures of them...
Extension work with the Teen Beads and Boards.  This photo shows a student making the numbers 11-19 with the beads and board.  Next, she completed a paper where the beads were colored according the number and then the number was written. 

Extension work with the above mentioned Days of the Week lesson.  I especially appreciate the care and attention this student gave to decorating the edges of the work and filling it in with a pattern, clearly demonstrating the child's pride in his own work.
Exciting exploration with the Superimposed Geometric Figures. 
(Click on caption to read more about this material.)

On Friday, when the weather kept us indoors, I placed a basket of yarn with some sewing supplies on a table.  The kids assembled themselves and created an impromptu sewing extravaganza! 
 I'll be taking a small break from posting about our classroom during this much needed week long vacation.  Be on the lookout, however, for some March-inspired fun upon our return!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shape Mosiac

I try to vary art experiences in the classroom so that the children have opportunities for learning and practicing different skills.  I also feel that each child's creation should be just as unique and different as the children are from each other and try to stay away from "cookie-cutter" crafts.  To that end, one of the lessons I've presented is the following Shape Mosaic.

First, I demonstrated how a straight line is formed and pointed out the beginning of the line and the end of the line.  I drew a few more so the children could identify and name the beginning and end of each line I drew.  Then, as dramatically as I could, I showed how a line can be connected at the beginning and the end to create a shape.  This step was repeated several times as the children watched intently.  Next, I presented the materials for the lesson:

Three jars each with six inch strips of varying shades of a color (I used purple, but any color would be great...);  six inch squares of oak tag; small tray with one jar for black marker and pencil and another jar with scissors and glue (the larger space is where the child places their papers to carry everything to a workspace). 
To complete the activity, the child chooses a few strips of each color, one square paper, and brings everything to a table.  Just as in the lesson about connecting the ends of lines, I showed the children how to make three shapes with the black marker on the oak tag.  Next, each strip of colored paper was cut into small mosaic pieces and collected in the tray.  Lastly, each shape was filled in with one color from the mosaic pieces with the glue stick.

Here, the child has set up his space, drawn the three shapes with marker, and is gluing some small mosaic pieces which he has cut and collected on the tray.
The lesson requires much concentration and attention to detail.  I've been enjoying watching the children working at their individual paces as they meticulously create their Shape Mosaic.  And as always, each one is quite unique:

Some finished Shape Mosaics in our hallway.

Montessori Monday Link-Up

Montessori Monday

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine Keepsake

The kids have been intrigued  and excited by the following little project I put together for Valentine's Day - simply because they got to put their hand in wet paint!  The children have been waiting with eager anticipation to present their Valentine poem as a gift to their families on Valentine's Day.

Let me hold your heart in my hand,
This is where your heart needs to be!
My love for you will always be true,
Your heart will be safe here with me!

Valentine keepsakes.
In all honesty, we didn't have a lot of time to put these together.  So to speed up the process, I assembled the papers ahead of time and printed the poem on some clear, standard mailing labels.  Once the child's hand print was dry, they chose a heart sticker to place in the center and Voila! A Valentine keepsake for families to keep forever!  Enjoy! :)


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Staying on the Path

Sometimes in the classroom, I like to remind myself to simply stick to the classics and remain on a straight path.  "Just keep to the order of the lessons and don't change anything..."  I find myself thinking.  Over the years, I have found when I do this, the kids not only progress seamlessly from one lesson to the next within one area of the classroom, but also across all curriculum areas.  The following pictures from our week illustrate how the children work best when allowed to move forward at their own pace in their own time.   Meanwhile, my personal mantra is "Just stay on the path...!"

I introduced the First Box of Constructive Triangles to another child this week.  It is always a pleasure to watch the children's amazement when they realize that new shapes are formed when two triangles are placed together.
Using the printed labels to make a parade of animals around The Farm.  Later, this child symbolized the labels with the Grammar symbols.
Writing practice with theSandpaper Numbers.

Hearts and Flowers math - The child in this picture set up the hearts with numbers all in order beginning with the number one.  Then, to place the flowers, he wanted to "start backwards with number nine."  (I didn't have enough flowers to include the number ten...)
Matching number symbol to quantity.

Introduction of the Tens Board.

Working with the Large Hexagonal Box of the Constructive Triangles.

More number writing practice with the Sandpaper Numbers.  Here, an older child is tracing each number and passing it on to a younger students - a perfect illustration of how the older students teach the younger ones! :)

Static Subtraction with the Golden Beads.

Words with 'th' using the Small Moveable Alphabets.

Initial introduction of the Stamp Game...

...followed by Static Addition.  I wish you could see the face of this student during this work- pure delight! :)

Valentine preparations - decorating our Valentine bags.

Matching and naming colors (while strengthening pincer grasp!) with the Second Color Tablet Box.

 Math work with the Cards and Counters.

Exploring dimension with the Knobless Cylinders.

Weaving with Valentine colors.

Working with the Trinomial Cube:  "Look, I made the top!"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Passage of Time

Ok, so the title sounds a bit dramatic...but I recently completed making some new materials having to do with the calendar and the passage of time.  These activities, along with our "Calendar" during circle time, are vital to the child's understanding of history and their place in the world.  Specifically, the students will learn and identify the names of the days of the week and months of the year.  Additionally, they will learn the order of the names and abbreviations.

This set of materials was included in my Geography and Social Studies Albums from my Montessori training program.  The first set consists of a labeled chart with the days of the week in the first column followed by two columns with blank spaces.

Days of the Week chart.  Corresponding labels are in the small container on the left.

First, the child matches the labels to the chart.

Then, the abbreviations are introduced.  These can be presented at the same time, or at a different sitting, depending on the child.
The material for the Months of the Year also consists of a chart, only with the names of the months printed in the first column.  
Months of the Year chart.

Months labels are matched to the column...

...and abbreviations, too.
This set of materials will undoubtedly complement circle time daily calendar lessons. Also, I plan to provide additional paper copies of the charts so that children may write the names and abbreviations if they would like.  We have many students who love to record their work through writing, so I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of this!