Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rock Names

I have to giggle at the title of this post - yes, my charges are little rock stars for sure...!  It looks as if I am in the midst of a rock fetish - the last time I wrote about rocks was when I was inspired to integrate them into Language and Geography lessons as seen in the post HERE.  This time, the idea came to me to use smaller ones as place holders in the classroom.  Oftentimes, the children enjoy "holding their place" with a name tag if they must step away from their work at any given point in the morning.  Last year, we used laminated American flags for this purpose which you can see in THIS POST.  While preparing classroom materials for this coming school year, I wanted to think of a way make a placeholder without having to laminate anything.  While I have nothing against laminated name tags (in fact, I LOVE laminating things in general!) I just wanted something a little more soothing to the eye - after all, these will be in use everyday and sometimes that shiny glare can get tiresome...  Again, rocks to the rescue:

Our Rock Names  to be used as placeholders in the classroom.  
I decided to place them in the tray so that each name can easily be seen.  Also, later in the year, I plan to add the children's last names on the on the other side of each stone.  Can you just see the little hands reaching for their names?  :)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Color Matching and Sorting

As part of my efforts in providing varied options for the pre-readers and writers in my classroom, I've been making lots of materials as seen HERE and HERE.  Recently, during one of my many internet searches, I came across an amazing (and inspiring) resource - The Helpful Garden graciously shares beautiful classroom materials which would enhance any Montessori learning environment.  I urge you to check it out - you will not be disappointed!

Thanks to The Helpful Garden, I have made a new set of materials for Color Matching and Sorting.  This set includes color mats with matching pictures for eleven colors (each color has one mat with nine pictures and nine separate cards for matching/sorting).  I especially admire the photo-quality of the pictures and think this aspect of the materials will be a major point of interest for the children.

Color Matching cards and mat.
I plan to have a few different colors out at a time allowing for students to choose between matching the cards to the mat with one color or being able to sort and match between more colors.  I look forward to the conversations which will inevitably transpire with use of this material!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More Reflections - The Farm (and a little bonus)

I continue to reflect on my classroom and evaluate how certain lessons and materials have maintained interest and whether or not they have been used in ways which are meant for optimum learning.  Some of my thoughts about the Language area are revealed in the post HERE about Sandpaper Letters and writing and in THIS POST about the Sand Tray.

Another area of the Language curriculum I have recently evaluated are the grammar lessons with Montessori Farm materials.  As much as I appreciate and admire the genius behind the lessons, I must admit that its use in my classroom is minimal, at best.  This is partly because the Language lessons with the farm materials are intended for children who are able to read and adhere to the given lessons using the corresponding boxes of labels and symbols.  These lessons introduce the child to Parts of Speech and the power of words.  This is typical work for the young five year old.  Herein lies the problem - the farm, the animals, the set-up, etc. all appeal to the young threes and fours!  Surely they cannot be expected to use the material with its intended purpose of introduction to Parts of Speech and grammar symbols. As a result, I've let the children proceed with using this material for exploration - sorting animals, playing Sound Games, integrating other Language materials with the farm.  Sometimes, I sensed that this became the "easy work" when a someone needed a break from other lessons (which is not inherently a "problem" as I recognize and consider the natural cycle of children's work habits....)  Nevertheless, I feel that the Farm material for the young threes and fours in my classroom is in need of an option to make it a more self-directed activity.

As a result, I've rearranged the Farm materials and added a few points of interest.  This materials used to be set up on two shelves in the Language area of the classroom - this was fine until I also realized that two shelves is a lot of space for something which is not utilized all that often.  I've also always wanted the Farm to be set up at its own table rather than on the floor during lessons and on the shelves when not in use, so I thought of a way to solve these two problems at once:

Our new Farm Table (lined with stiffened felt) and a separate shelf underneath for the corresponding labels intended for grammar lessons.  The basket on the very bottom holds the animals for setting up on the table.
As far as making the Farm more self-directed for the youngest members of the class, I made a new set of Initial Farm Labels which the kids can match to the objects in the Farm.  I've included a picture of the object so that pre-readers can still complete the activity while beginning readers and readers can identify the word:
Initial Farm Labels  in use on the Farm Table...

...they are small so as not to take too much space in the set up.

I even made a little pond for the duck and goose!
Hopefully, with these changes and additions, the Montessori Farm materials can be explored with more self-direction by the youngest members of the class, yet remain true to the intended purpose the way Montessori designed the lessons.

The Farm Table in relation to the rest of the Language Area.
I've made the set of Initial Farm Labels available for my readers as a little thank you for your interest in keeping up with my blog!  You can find them on Scribd HERE.  This is the first time I've attempted to share documents, so please let me know if it works! ;)

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Reflections - The Sand Tray

Number writing practice with the Sand Tray.
As part of analyzing aspects of my classroom's Language area and writing in general, another lesson which I wanted to enhance is the Sand Tray activity.  The Sand Tray provides students opportunities for sensorially practicing writing skills.  The material consists of a shallow tray filled with sand (or cornmeal, etc.) in which the child practices tracing letters, numbers, and words.  In my classroom this is typically introduced to students who are learning to write with the Sandpaper Letters and Numbers.  I've always wanted, however, to add a pre-writing element to the lesson for children who are interested in the material but not yet using the Sandpaper Letters or Numbers.

To address this area, I've made a simple set of pre-writing cards to go with the Sand Tray.  It is by no means a novel idea, but I wanted to share it here on my blog in order for the parents of my students to see what I'm talking about!

Pre-writing Sand Tray Cards (fronts).
The backs of the same cards.
A card and Sand Tray in use.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Letter Writing Practice

These summer days have afforded me the opportunity to reflect on years past in my Montessori classroom.  Lately, I have been analyzing trends in the the progression of Language lessons as they pertain to individual students as well as the class as a whole.  For example, my students typically LOVE working with the Sandpaper Letters, but sometimes begin to loose interest beyond the Moveable Alphabet.  On one hand, this makes it challenging to identify when to present writing practice on the chalkboard and other subsequent lessons.  On the other hand, the children are excited to begin writing practice on chalkboards, but I feel that they need more opportunities for practice before moving to writing on paper.  Usually, their interest wanes with the chalkboards before they are ready for paper.  As a result, the paper for writing practice loses its intended purpose as it becomes "doodle paper."  Let it be known that I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with doodling - in fact is a necessary pre-writing skill.  In the context of the progression of writing lessons with the Montessori materials, however, I believe the writing paper should be reserved for writing - the child who is doodling can be guided to an art activity or other lessons which foster that intuitive movement.  In the classroom, I have found that writing practice can easily fall to the wayside.

As a response to these observed trends, I decided to make a few materials to "fill in the gaps."  One of the first materials I've made to allow more opportunities for self-directed letter writing practice are these letter strips:
In the making (again, at my dining room table!):  Letter writing practice strips before lamination.  
These will be introduced to a student who has already practiced writing on the chalkboards and some  paper work.  I simply feel this type of activity provides a meaningful point of interest (it's something different and new), while allowing more independent practice for forming letters.

Along the same lines, another place where I see a need for more practice is the transition from writing letters to writing words and connecting letters.  The following set of strips allows the student to practice writing words. 
A small selection of three letter phonetic word writing strips, one for each vowel, to begin practicing writing words and connecting letters.
This set of strips will be introduced a child who has not only worked with the Moveable Alphabet, but also has had plenty of writing practice on the chalkboards, papers, and the letters strips (above).  This idea came to me as I was making the letter strips, so I am approaching this aspect of writing practice as somewhat of an experiment and will assess the impact on learning once I'm able to make observations of the materials in use.

And while I was at it, I went ahead and made some strips for name writing and number writing practice, too!
Strips for name writing practice.  These are longer than the letter strips to accommodate longer names and repetition next to the names.

 Number writing strips.
The number writing strips will be for the student who has been introduced to the Sandpaper Numbers and has had practice writing numbers on the chalkboards and paper.  

Hopefully, these materials will allow ample opportunities for independent writing practice while maintaining interest.  I also have plans for some additional writing activities which I'll be sharing in the future.

Now, I need to go stock up on laminating sheets - I think I'll be needing quite a few...! ;)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Moving Forward

I've been accepted to St. Catherine University's AM2 (Acknowledging Montessori for a Master's) Program!  I fly to St. Paul, Minnesota in early August  for several days to begin coursework with subsequent studies completed through distance learning.  This has been one of my long-term goals, so I'm ultra excited to begin this journey.  The timing is right, I'm on a roll, there's no stopping now...!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Assistant's Album

I have finally put together an album for each of my assistants in the classroom!  It has only taken me six years to figure out that the best place to assemble my thoughts and wishes for how I want my classroom to run is in a separate album for my assistants... (We are always learning, right?! ) ;-)

This Fall, I will have two Assistants working with me - one who has been with me for several years and another who will be new to my staff.  In contemplating ways to effectively share information and ideas, I thought this would be the perfect time to compile what I want my Assistants to know in their own albums.

The following is a list of material in each album.  I have no doubt that additional items will be added throughout the school year, but here is a start:
  • Montessori Quote: "Montessori teachers are not servants of the child's body, to wash, dress and feed him--they know that he needs to do these things for himself in developing independence.  We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit."
  • A brief History of Montessori Education from the AMS website.
  • Important Montessori Terminology, also from the AMS website.
  • "The Role of the Teacher in the Early Childhood Montessori Class" written by me.
  • "The Sensitive Periods" written by me.
  • Another paper I wrote, "The Planes of Development."
  • An article entitled, "Teach Peace to Have Peace" by Maren Stark Schmidt.
  • Polli Soholt's, "Montessorians and Assistants:  A Partnership in the Prepared Environment."
  • I also created a document outlining specific information as it pertains to my classroom and school called, "Assistant Teacher Duties."  Here, I have written exactly which lessons the Assistant may present (which can be added to or changed as needed), among other pertinent information.
  • General schedule of the day.  
  • School information including student names and ages, important dates, etc.
It is my hope that by creating this album, my Assistants and I will have a springboard for clear, consistent communication.  One of my (many) goals is to establish a clear understanding of roles in the classroom and I do not ever want any of my Assistants to feel as if they don't know what to do or where to be.  I think this album is a step in the right direction! :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Unexpected Gift

Speaking to my husband at the breakfast table over coffee: "Hmm, I really need to start collecting souvenirs and items from different countries.  I'm planning to do more cultural studies for next school year and want to highlight different countries of the world.  Do you think you could ask some of your colleagues if they might be willing to donate some items?"

My husband:  "Sure, I know many people who travel often.  I'll ask around."

No less than half an hour later, a message appeared in my inbox from a local school principal who happens have an extensive Montessori background :  Dear Sasha,  I'm cleaning out my garage and have      
about 15 Montessori Unit Boxes ranging in themes from Africa to Insects.  I'd love to give them to you if you are interested...

I was on the phone immediately - two van loads and an hour later, I was the new owner of years worth of a priceless bounty of materials, including one-of-a-kind collections from countries around the world!  Fifteen was hugely underestimated - it was more like 38!

Here they are, all lined up in my driveway before placing them in my storage area - years worth of Montessori Unit Study boxes, ready to be explored!
Can you even imagine the timing of the conversation with my husband the message I received about the materials?  I remain shocked and speechless at the enormity and significance of this most unexpected gift.  I have been given such a treasure and am so grateful!

Inspecting the contents of each box is going to be better than Christmas! ;)  Here is a glimpse of just a couple:
 Practical Life "goodies."  

Just the top of a 'North America' box...
I have a feeling I'll be having loads of fun sorting through all of these boxes and can hardly wait to begin planning new lessons and activities with my newly acquired inventory!  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Booklets and More Booklets...

Summer vacation.  Time to relax, rest, rejuvenate...  Well, perhaps in a perfect world that would be the case!  Between getting the floors refinished in the classroom, familiarizing myself with a new computer, and keeping up with three kids at home, however, I can't say we've been relaxing around here... ;)  Nevertheless, one of my favorite things to do (and believe it or not, it is relaxing for me) is to make materials for my classroom.

Can you guess what is happening here at my dining room table at home?
One of the items on my to-do list is to make new record keeping booklets for Sandpaper Letters.  Please read more about them in THIS POST if you are interested in understanding more about how these are utilized.  I know this little project is something that has to be done at some point before school starts, so I went ahead and finished it - one less thing to do in those busy days right before school  begins...

While making a new set for this Fall's students, I thought about how successful these record keeping booklets had been last year.  They not only helped me in keeping track of each child's progress, but also became a meaningful source of motivation for my students and me.  An exclamation could always be heard when a new letter was placed in a booklet - "Oh yay!  I got a letter in my booklet!" or "I have so many letters in my booklet - I only have two more left to do!  Let's do more Sandpaper Letters!"  One can imagine the motivation these exclamations from my students provided me.  As a result of the success with the Sandpaper Letter booklets, I have decided to make a set dedicated to math lessons with the Number Rods and Sandpaper Numbers.

Math Booklet for tracking lessons with Number Rods and Sandpaper Numbers .
Here, I will use the same principle as with the letter booklets - the first line of a triangle around a number will indicate introduction of a Number Rod for a particular number, the second line of the triangle will indicate that the child is working on the Number Rod,  while the third line of the triangle will indicate mastery of the Number Rod.  One aspect which slightly differs with the math booklets is that the record keeping is for  tracking two different  materials - the Number Rods and Sandpaper Numbers.  Therefore, once a child has a full triangle around a number, I will know they are ready for a corresponding Sandpaper Number introduction.  The introduction of the Sandpaper Number will be marked with a small dot inside the triangle.  When a child has mastered the Sandpaper Number, the triangle in their booklet will be lightly shaded and the number recorded in their booklet.  Also, if the child chooses, enough space can remain on each page to draw pictures which correspond with the number, i.e. eight stars to go with the number eight.

This shows that the child has mastered the Number Rod (triangle around the number),   has been introduced to the Sandpaper Number (dot inside the triangle), and mastered the Sandpaper Number (shaded triangle).
While it might seem a bit complicated, it works for me in the midst of lessons.  I can easily see which numbers have been introduced, and which one the child is working on or mastered.  Also, these booklets are a quick reference while inputting information in student Montessori Compass reports.

I have a feeling these math booklets might generate just as much motivation for lessons with the Number Rods and Sandpaper Numbers as the letter booklets made for language Sound Games and Sandpaper Letters!

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Clean Sweep

Ready for the floors to be refinished.
Well, this is certainly something which doesn't happen often.  I must admit, seeing my classroom in this state and knowing the entire inventory of the school is out of place, is giving me a sense of uneasiness!  It is summer vacation, however, and this means routine maintenance for any classroom.  This year, I need to get the floors refinished and now is the time to accomplish the task.  Hopefully, all will go according to plan and everything will be back in place later this week.  The thought of beautiful "new" floors is exciting to me as I plan for next school year!  Wish me luck getting everything back in its place...