Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the Shelves: September

The classroom is ready for the arrival of little hands and I'm so excited!  Here are just some of the lessons currently on the Practical Life shelves.   If  you are new to my blog or a parent of one of my students, please be sure to read more about the importance of the following types of lessons in my post, The Significance of Practical Life.

Spooning Apples:  These apples are from the floral section of the craft store.  I think they must be used for vase fillers...  You can see here how perfect they are for spooning - and they fit perfectly in my Russian spoon!

Spooning Pom-poms:  These are oh, so tiny and cute and I love the small, wooden buckets - looks just like bushels of apples!  This lesson is a bit more difficult than the previous spooning activity because it takes greater concentration from the child to balance one lightweight pom-pom on the small spoon.

Tonging:  These "apples" are actually pencil-top erasers - I just like the way they look in the bowl!  ;-)

Tweezing:  These beads came from a plastic jewelry making kit.  I like the little "stem" on each bead - they are perfect for using the tweezers to grasp which creates a natural point of interest for the child.  The youngest members of the class have the option to use just their fingers to transfer the beads as use of the tweezers is actually quite difficult.  Either way, this activity not only develops the child's pincer grasp (necessary for writing), but it also enhances their concentration and coordination.

Bead and straw pieces for beading onto pipe cleaner bracelets.  The small, decorative apples are from a teacher's supply store and I simply hole-punched each one.  I rotate the contents of this activity each month - sometimes we use pipe cleaners to make bracelets and other times we use various strings for necklaces.  Such a simple lacing activity is perfect for building many skills such as concentration, independence, coordination, order, and others necessary for further learning.

Apple tracing activity:  This activity is laminated for repeated use.  Once a child is finished tracing the lines, they leave the material ready for the next person by erasing the lines with the towel.  I like this as an alternative to paper (worksheets)!
 We also have several apple-related Math activities out on the shelves which you can read more about here.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Laundry Days Ahead...

If one is not familiar with a Primary Montessori classroom, what might not be realized is the amount of laundry produced during a typical work session!  The biggest "laundry producers" are the Practical Life activities.  These include many Care of Environment exercises such as washing tables,chairs, windows, or the easel.  Also, each of the polishing lessons require the use of polish cloths which necessitate a wash through the laundry.  (You can read more about the purpose and rationale of these types of lessons here). Additionally, in an attempt to be more "green," in the classroom, I abandoned paper towels a few years ago in favor of (cloth) hand towels.  This means that each time a child washes their hands, they use a fresh hand towel to dry off their hands.  These towels, along with others from the Practical Life activities, are collected in a designated basket...and guess who takes it home to wash at the end of the day?  Yes, yours truly...!

Needless to say, trips to the store for laundry detergent were getting tiresome and I began to wonder about how much money I actually spent on it! Would you believe that while browsing Pinterest, I came across a recipe for homemade laundry detergent?  To make a long story short, my newest endeavor should last me all year for under $20!  Here is what I did:

One 4lb. box of Super Washing Soda; One box of Borax laundry booster; One 4 lb. box of Baking Soda;  Three bars of Fels-Naptha soap (sorry, the photo shows only one bar of soap).
First, I grated the soap and then simply mixed all the ingredients in large bucket...done!  I have read that you can also add OxyClean and essential oils to the mix. Apparently, just one tablespoon is needed per load - there is no denying, this should last me very long time!

Who knew I would be this happy to do our classroom laundry?  And did I mention how lovely and fresh it smells? ;-)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Apple Math

Our classroom will be filled with apples when school begins!  I plan to have this theme incorporated into all areas of the room including Math.  Here are some apple-related activities which will be available for the children:

Apple, apple in the tree, you look so good to eat to me!

Apple Tree Math
Sidenote:  I am particularly attached to the following lesson and activity because they are part of the first materials I ever made...  still in use after all these years... ;-)

On the tray:  napkin holder with felt apple trees on laminated paper with numbers 0-9;  bowl filled with 45 tiny red pom-poms.
The child brings the tray to a mat and places the trees onto the mat while identifying the number.  They can either go in order or not, depending on the child.  Now, the child is ready to place the corresponding number of "apples" on the trees.

Lesson completed.

Apple Sticker Math

This is a lesson I quickly put together when I discovered these adorable apple stickers in one of my storage bins.  I like how the lesson not only enhances concepts of quantity, but also fine motor development through the use of the stickers.

Apple sticker math completed.

I have the lesson set up on a shelf with enough materials for two children to complete at the same time, if desired.  They would each take a basket, place required items inside, and sit down at a table to complete the lesson:

Basket ready for lesson.
  These two lessons will be housed on a shelf dedicated specifically to seasonal math activities/variations:
Seasonal Math Shelf:  top - Apple Tree Math;  middle - tray containing math graph (1-5), jar with sticker sheets (15 apple stickers each), jar with two pencils;  bottom - two white baskets for sticker work.
 "Apple Picking" Game

I enjoy having games out in the classroom because they naturally allow children additional opportunities to cultivate their intrapersonal communication skills.  The beginning of the year is also an ideal time to incorporate more games as the children are not only getting to know one another, but also building their comfort level in a new environment.  The following "Apple Picking" game is from KidsSoup, a fun resource for preschool and Kindergarten teachers.

The game set up at a table for two.  The jar holds 32 apple erasers as game pieces. 

This brass apple holds the game die (and is ideal for our Practical Life metal polishing!).

The apple erasers are so perfect!
 By now, my readers must be on an apple overload!  I will share additional apple-themed activities in the classroom at another time...  ;-)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Playdough Presentation

I feel it is important to have a medium such as playdough available for the children my classroom.  Not only does it provide a natural means of artistic expression, but it is also ideal for sensory/tactile development.  Playdough can also play a critical role in emotional expression in the classroom as a child may work through various feelings while using it.  There have been many times when I have said, "You may pound on this playdough, but not on our shelves (or books, or whatever the case may have been...)."

Throughout the years, I have experimented with different ways of presenting the materials for playdough.  Previously, a large quantity was placed in an air-tight container alongside additional playdough utensils.  While this method worked fine, I did find that having such a large amount available could be overwhelming for some children.  During last school year, I experimented with separating the playdough into individual portions which was met with much enthusiasm from the children.  Consequently, while setting up the classroom for this coming school year, I have decided to present the playdough in a similar manner.  The following photo shows our playdough materials set up on one of the shelves dedicated to art activities:

Individual containers of playdough labeled with the child's name;  tray with rolling pin and apple cookie-cutter in a small basket.  The space on the shelf is defined by the decorative apple mat which is in keeping with our 'apple' theme.
Once the child identifies their container, they place it onto the tray, in the space next to the basket.  I particularly like how this setup enables the child yet another opportunity for name recognition in the classroom!  Now they are ready to bring the tray to their chosen workspace and retrieve a playdough workmat:

Playdough workspace.
I realize that playdough is an ideal catalyst for social interaction as well.  For this reason, if more that one child wishes to use playdough at one time, I will have additional workmats available for their use.  I feel this is especially important during the initial weeks of school as the children are getting to know one another and I will be busy in other areas of the room giving new lessons!

The amount of thought and attention to detail represented in the prepared environment continually amazes me...  All of this time and effort into the presentation of playdough - I must be in the right field because it brings me much happiness! ;-)

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Remembering the Metal Insets

The Metal Insets are a series of shapes and frames designed to directly prepare the child's hand for writing.  I very much enjoy this activity in the classroom and appreciate the writing skills it helps develop specifically lightness of touch and keeping the pencil within limits.  As with other Montessori materials, a sequential order of further lessons are introduced to the child as each presentation is mastered.  This is where the little booklet I recently made comes in handy because I always forget the order!  The booklet, which displays the order of lessons for the Metal Insets, will be housed in a special location in the classroom. 

Here are the first four pages prior to assembling them together (apologies for the odd lighting...):
1.  Initial presentation;  2. Two Figures, Two Colors;  3.  Three Figures, three colors;  4.  One figure, two colors

The next four pages:
5. One shape, three positions;  6. Introduction of pastel (colored) paper;  7. Design;  8. Shading 

Here are the pages assembled with a binder ring...

...and here it is in its new home in our classroom.
Now, I have a handy reminder of the order of presentations while the children have an interesting booklet to leaf through!

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Normalization: Part Two - Role of the Teacher

The first part of my Normalization post can be read here.  This post continues the topic as it pertains specifically to the role of the teacher.

“Montessori teachers are not servants of the child…to wash, dress and feed him – they know that he must do these things for himself in developing independence.  We must help the child act for himself, will for himself, think for himself” (Education for a New World, 13, pg. 69).  A teacher in the Montessori classroom setting plays a remarkable role.  It is one which functions as a ‘dynamic link’ between herself, the children and the environment. Not only does the teacher remain a vital element between the children and herself, but she also holds a deep understanding of the specially prepared environment.  “Once the environment exists the directress will become the link between it and the children…This requires a great variety of qualities – knowledge, patience, observation, discrimination, tact, sympathy – and above all, charity” (Standing, 18, pg. 305).  Of paramount importance in her role as a ‘dynamic link,’ is the teacher’s own spiritual preparation.  The teacher comes to the classroom filled not with pride or anger, but rather with a sense of humility in the presence of such dignified beings.  All of these aspects work together in the role of the Montessori teacher and culminates in achieving the ultimate goal of which Montessori herself describes as “the revelation.”  Here, one will see, “an entirely new child whose astonishing characteristics can eventually contribute to the betterment of the world.”  
One of the first duties the teacher has in her role as the ‘dynamic link’ is to meticulously prepare the environment.  For example, all materials and apparatus should be in pristine condition, complete, and in their proper places.  The Montessori teacher constantly assures that all items in the classroom are ready for use.  Montessori elaborates, “It is one of the main duties of the directress to maintain order in the environment; and be ever on the watch lest it be impaired in the smallest degree…everything must be always and absolutely in its right place” (Standing, 16, pg. 271).  Likewise, the teacher herself should appear neat and orderly, for her presence in the environment impacts the core of the classroom.  She must study her own actions and movement in order that a sense of calm and peace may permeate throughout the environment. 
The teacher in the Montessori Early Childhood classroom entices the children to activities and lessons and awakens the child’s interests.  She remains enthusiastic about the subjects introduced while always maintaining the art of observation.  Observation of the child is a critical element in the role of a teacher in the Montessori setting. “The way in which we observe a child is extremely important.  It is not sufficient to have a merely theoretical knowledge of the education.” (Standing, 22. pg. 149).  Furthermore, the teacher must rid herself of any predisposed judgment of any child.  The Montessori teacher who is gifted in the science of observation will undoubtedly be able to effectively guide the child as he progresses in the prepared environment throughout all areas of the classroom. 
Another key element in the role of teacher in the classroom is her ability to “teach teaching, not correcting.”  The teacher must be very careful in the way she corrects mistakes. One of the attributes of the Montessori environment is that the autodidactic materials uphold this maxim.  If a child makes a mistake, he will soon discover it on his own through continued use of the materials.  Therefore, the need for adult intervention is minimized, and consequently it paves the child’s way to a joy of self-discovery. “The whole art of being a Montessori directress…lies in knowing when to intervene and when not to.  The general rule is that the teacher should not intervene when she finds the child engaged in some spontaneous activity which is orderly and creative” (Standing, 18, pg. 297).  Montessori further proposes that as soon as a child has found work and shows deep concentration, the teacher, at this point, should refrain from any type of interruption.  A simple, “Good job!” or “Nice work!” might suddenly disturb the working child and break his profound concentration.  “A guiding principle which brings success…is this:  as soon as concentration has begun, act as if the child does not exist” (The Absorbent Mind, 27, pg.255).  Naturally, Montessori also notes a teacher should respond to a child who enthusiastically shows her work, being careful not to praise in such way which would promote the teacher’s will.  The child should be encouraged through the teacher’s interest in her work, rather than seeking the teacher’s merit or approval.
The Montessori teacher’s work in preparing the classroom coupled with her interactions among the children, enables her to provide the children the most positive means by which they can absorb the environment.  The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to exclaim, “The children are now working as if I do not exist” (The Absorbent Mind, 27, pg. 259).  Montessori uses the term ‘normalization’ to describe this unique process a child experiences in the classroom.
Montessori described the Normalized Child is “one who has overcome himself and lives in peace and harmony with the environment preferring disciplined tasks to futile idleness.”  She believed that children are born with innate capacities for self-governance which should develop freely.  She also suggested that the greatest obstacles to development of these natural instincts in children are adults.  Therefore, the Montessori teacher must ensure that the classroom provides activities and motives for Normalization to occur.  This is due to the fact that Normalization emerges as a result of deep concentration.  While a Montessori teacher spends a great deal of time on the preparation of the classroom, materials and lessons, the focus of the teacher’s duty is the normalization of each student.  The materials chosen by the children will engage them and lead them to self-discovery and awareness.  Montessori’s definition of Normalization demonstrates the profound scope of our responsibilities as Montessori teachers.

Ultimately, it is the teacher’s role as the ‘dynamic link’ which allows the process of Normalization to occur.  One must not forget, however, that it cannot occur immediately.  The teacher must also prepare herself for a period of practice which may take many years.  The ‘Spiritually Prepared’ teacher will recognize this critical factor, and through her practice as an observer of children, can further observe the spiritual growth within herself.
The role of the teacher is therefore, “to watch with humble reverence, day by day, the spontaneous unfolding of the children’s lives; seeking always to remove obstacles, both internal and external from their path, whilst she guides with science and sympathy the irrepressible energies of life” (Standing, 18, pg. 318).  The ‘spiritually prepared’ teacher will do so with a joyous heart.  Only then can the most important factor in her role can be established, that is, to see the child for who he really is. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Normalization: Part One - Discipline

Recently, Montessori Print Shop Blog wrote about normalization in the Montessori classroom.  I feel it is a critical topic to discuss for two main reasons.  First, understanding what 'normalization' means not only aids a Montessori teacher's understanding of her role within the classroom, but it is also important to share insight into the term to educate parents and those wanting to learn more about Montessori philosophy.  Honestly, I usually do not use the term 'normalization' in casual conversation among the parents of my students- if one is unfamiliar with the term in a Montessori context, it has tendencies to promote concern rather than comfort.  For this reason, I wanted to take the opportunity to provide details of this defining aspect of a Montessori education.

During my training, one assignment was to write a paper entitled, "Discipline."  Without a doubt, this topic has direct correlations to the attainment of normalization in the classroom.  Likewise, the idea of normalization parallels any discussion of "Role of the Teacher" - another title of a paper we were assigned during training.  This first post discusses in detail the different levels of discipline which lead to normalization while the second post will describe what a teacher does to facilitate it.  What better time to reflect on the subject as we approach the beginning of the school year?


“Let us remember that inner discipline is something to come, and not something already present.  Our task is to show the way to discipline” (The Absorbent Mind, 26, pg. 240).  Discipline in the Montessori setting should be regarded as a point of arrival for the child.  Rather than equating discipline to the breaking of the will, our goal is to assist in the development and strengthening of the child’s will and sense of self.  A Montessori classroom offers numerous opportunities for the child to develop his will, and therefore, facilitate the emergence of discipline.  A key component to this concept is the role of the teacher.  Through careful observation, she is able to determine which lessons to present to each child.  Once the child has been presented lessons, he will then be able to make choices within the classroom.  These choices in turn, ultimately lead the child to self-discipline and the development of the will.
Montessori indicated that there are three distinct Stages of Discipline, or Levels of Obedience referring to them as The Call, Apparent Order, and Discipline.  Behaviors of disorder manifest themselves in the children during the stage of The Call.  Montessori also described this first level of obedience as having impulsive traits.  That is, the child is able to obey only because his desires match the adult’s direction. Of paramount importance during this phase is the teacher’s duty to present herself in a more traditional manner.  She therefore, becomes the center of the classroom and not only must care for the total environment but also intervene to prevent disorder.   Likewise, this is a time for the teacher’s ‘call’ to the materials.  She must present as many lessons as possible in order to assist the children in their choices.    Eventually, this will lead to the second stage of discipline.
The Second level of Obedience is also known as a stage of discipline called Apparent Order.  The level of discipline attained at this phase is characterized by the child’s requirement of needing the presence of an adult in order to maintain discipline.  The child is capable of doing all that is asked of him, however, his follow through is not intrinsic.  “The appearance of discipline which may be obtained is actually very fragile, and the teacher, who is constantly warding off a disorder which she feels to be ‘in the air,’ is kept in a state of tension” (The Absorbent Mind, 26, pg. 246).  A deeper undercurrent of discipline can be attained with the teacher’s response of presenting more lessons during the Second Level of Obedience.  Furthermore, she must act at a “gatekeeper” and entice the children to the materials so that the child’s inner needs will be nourished.  The teacher’s skills of intervention of disturbing activities must also remain in the forefront as children progress through this stage of discipline. This will eventually lead the way to the emergence of the final phase of discipline.
Montessori’s observations and recordings gave evidence to the fact that discipline is achieved when the child was intellectually nourished.  The normal state of childhood is therefore the third stage of discipline, when Montessori coined the term, ‘Normalized Child.”  Montessori referred to this term to describe the characteristics of the third level of obedience, that is, the true nature of childhood.  She maintained that children whose needs are met and are able to develop freely, will not exhibit typical patterns of childhood behavior including tantrums, crying, or possessiveness.  Rather, the normalized child will show a love of work and order, a love of silence and working alone.  He will also show tendencies to work well in a group with a sense of community and be able to show profound concentration, independence, and obedience.  Furthermore, a child who shows the true nature of childhood is rooted with an attachment to reality.  Likewise, he submits to the possessive will because he now knows about the world around him.  Most importantly, if the “child’s true personality is allowed to construct itself normally,” we find he is filled with a sense of joy, and only then, will we see the child for who he truly is.
 Throughout all levels of discipline, the teacher must also keep to the principle of freedom within limits.  The children are free to choose the materials with which they want to work for as long as they wish, as long as they have had a lesson.  The children must also respect the work of others and cannot disrupt others in deep concentration.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to assure that this idea manifests itself in the classroom.  Likewise, the teacher should be versed in the art of knowing when to intervene and when not to intervene.  If a child is concentrating on a task and is not bothering others or not using the materials inappropriately, the teacher should not intervene.  If, however, the teacher observes incidents which are dangerous, destructive, or disrespectful, she must intervene at once.  Once the teacher identifies the level of obedience within her children, she will then be able to respond in the appropriate manner.  Undoubtedly, this will facilitate our single, most important task as Montessori educators – the emergence of the Normalized Child. 


Coming up next:  Normalization - Part Two:  Role of the Teacher

Friday, August 12, 2011

Threading a Needle

I have a soft spot for Montessori's integration of sewing in the classroom and have always appreciated this Practical Life activity.  The sewing sequence lessons are extremely helpful in promoting the direct and indirect aims of any and all Montessori lessons:  Concentration, coordination, independence, and order (CCIO). In my classroom, however, I've encountered some obstacles while trying to introduce basic sewing lessons - either the child needs too much assistance and becomes disinterested, or more obviously, has difficulty with the initial step of simply threading the needle.  To address this problem, I did what any Montessori teacher would do - I created a new lesson:  Threading a Needle.

To begin the lesson:  The child takes this tiny basket  with a mat to a workspace at a table.  In our classroom, we use placemat sized "table-top mats."  The contents of the basket include: three lengths of yarn in red, yellow, and green; and three children's sewing needles also in red, yellow, and green.  (They are under the yarn in this photo and hard to see).
The mat is unrolled and the basket is placed at the top in the center.  During the initial presentation, the teacher takes out one piece of yarn and shows each end of the string. 

I have placed a small piece of masking tape on the threading end...

...and made a knot on the other end.
 As each end is shown, the yarn is placed horizontally on the mat with the taped end on the left.  Then, the yarn is straightened by following it with the fingers of dominant hand moving from left to right.  This is repeated with each of the yarn lengths, thus helping to train the eye in left to right movement in preparation for reading and writing.

The three pieces of yarn laid out on the mat. 
 Next, the needles are shown.  As each needle is taken out of the basket, the teacher shows the eye and the points to both ends of the needle.  Then, it is placed above the matching yarn on the threading side with the eye on the left:

Placement of needles on the mat.
 Now, the child is shown how to actually thread the needle beginning from the top piece of yarn.  For me, it is most natural to grasp the needle with the right hand and the yarn with the left, threading it through the eye with the left fingers. 

Threading the needle.
Once the needle is successfully threaded, the child is shown where to stop pulling, creating the "tail."  The threaded needle is placed back on the mat, this time with the needle on right of the mat.

The first of three threaded needles on the top...

...and all three threaded needles.
To clean up, the child removes the thread from each needle, beginning from the top, and returns the needles to the basket.  The yarn is then wound lightly around the fingers and placed into the basket on top of the needles.

Lesson completed.
I decided to use the three coordinating colors not just for added interest (the colors match our upcoming 'Apples' theme), but mainly to allow the child opportunities for repetition.  I am excited about this lesson because it will provide my students the chance to practice an important skill which ultimately builds success in future activities while simultaneously enhancing CCIO. 

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

One Lovely Blog Award

I am so touched that my blog has been granted an award!  Thank you so much to Eva at Early Education with Antek and Cuba [trans.] who so graciously passed this along to me:

First, the recipient must thank the one who passed the award and link back to their blog.

Now, the recipient must share seven things about I go:

1.  I love anything with chocolate and love to eat cake!
2.  Indoor plants make me happy.
3.  I like to be in my Pj's at 6pm!
4.  I studied ballet at a pre-professional level for many, many years and used to teach ballet to children and adults.
5.  Russian is my second language.
6.  I enjoy watching interior design shows after the kids have gone bed (and indulge in #1 on this list).
7.  There is no denying it - I am an introvert by nature and am a self-proclaimed, "homebody."

There, seven things about myself (boy, is it difficult to write about oneself...) and now, I must pass the award to 16 others - each blog on the following list can surely be awarded the "One Lovely Blog Award," as they are are continuous sources of great ideas and inspiration:

1.  The Wonder Years
2.  My Montessori Preschool
3.  Montessori Print Shop Blog
4.  Living Montessori Now
5.  Leptir
6.  Olives and Pickles
7.  About A Girl
8.  The Moveable Alphabet
9.  Montessori Tidbits
10.  Playful Learning Blog
11.  Inspired Montessori
12.  Montessori Candy
13.  Beautiful Sun Montessori
14.  Kathy's Montessori Life
15.  The Magic Onions
16.  This Education of Ours

There you have it, a list of lovely blogs (in no particular order) that have been instrumental in the sharing of all things Montessori.  They are truly worth visiting... and don't forget to visit Eva's blog too!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Name Recognition in our Classroom

It is such a joy to prepare materials for our classroom and recently, I have been doing exactly that!  In fact, I just returned from a morning at school preparing for our Open House and first day of school.  While I had all three of my kids with me and it became a little hectic, I was nevertheless able put some annual aspects of the environment together.  When I've made and assembled all the class lists, cubby labels, snack tags, and name tags, I know that the beginning of school is just around the corner (and it makes me smile!).

One of the first concepts a child encounters at school is name recognition.  At my school, this is encouraged and incorporated in many areas of the classroom.  As simple as it may sound however, I put a lot of thought into how this will be presented.  The main reason I have to put extra thought into this concept is because I teach cursive writing in my classroom.  Therefore, I need be sure that enough opportunities are available for the child to see their name not only in print, but also in writing (cursive). I follow a simple self-imposed rule in my classroom:  Anything I write with my own hand is in cursive and everything else is in print.

Upon entering school, a child is greeted with their name on their cubby:

Children's cubbies:  Names in print, made on Word....

Next, they see their names as they hang up their backpacks, and snow pants (later in the year), on their individual hook:

Individual hook labels made using Montessori-friendly Clip Art with names written by me - in cursive.
  Now, the child enters the classroom and 'checks-in' by sliding their name over to the right, under the tag reading, "Hello!, Check-in."  When they leave, the slide their name back over to the left under the tag which reads, "Good-bye!  Check-out."  The photo shows these tags with handwritten letters which I wrote.  Periodically, I flip these cards over where the same words have been produced in print on the computer.  The children always look to see which side it is on and love when I change it up a bit....

Check-in/Check-out Board:  Name tags created by computer (and printed on watercolor paper which I painted myself...I just couldn't find what I wanted in the stores....)
Within our Montessori work time, the children have additional opportunities for name recognition, reading, and writing.

Snack tags:  The children each have a tag to set up with their snack.  Again, the images are from Clip Art with the names written by me, so they are cursive.  The images are of typical foods we enjoy for snack, but they are also intended to stimulate conversation!  Moreover, these tags are a helpful management tool - we can tell who has had a snack or not by  placement of the tags.  Those who have finished snack place their tag in a nearby basket while those who have not remain on the shelf, as in the photo.
   Whenever a child wishes to write his name or the names of classmates, we use our basket of name tags:

Name tags for writing:  This is a material specific to writing, therefore the tags are written in cursive.  This basket is kept in a special spot in our Language area near other writing materials.
Another opportunity for name recognition includes the use of our 'place-holders'.  These tags are used throughout the mornings if someone has to leave their work for various reasons - bathroom, break, end of the morning etc. These are helpful because oftentimes, a child will be in the midst of a large activity at the end of the day and the tags provide great way to give the child an option to finish when they return to school - it also helps me remember who had the work out! ;-)  The child retrieves the tag from the basket and places it on the work space. Doing so indicates to others that he is still working on this particular lesson and will get back to it soon.

'Place-holders.'  This year we are using American flags.  Last year, we used star shapes.  I try using an eye-catching shape for these tags because they can easily be seen on a mat or table where someone is working. 
Additionally, when school begins in September, I will take a photo of each child, print their name (on computer) and birthday, and mount on cards to make a birthday graph.  This will give the children another chance to see their names in print as well as make associations with the pictures of classmates.

By allowing children these varied opportunities throughout the environment for name recognition and practice, I feel they will experience a well-balanced approach to the concept.  I would be most interested in hearing what others do in their classrooms and welcome any thoughts and ideas you may have!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

100th Post!

It hardly seems possible that this post marks the 100th entry on my little blog!  To celebrate this somewhat momentous event, guess what I did?  I joined Facebook!  Let it be known, however, that I am feeling a bit clueless as to what Facebook is all about.  In fact, I set up the account under my name when I really wanted it to be for my blog.  I am not even sure I set it up correctly!  You can check out my page by clicking below.  Once there, you can see a group entry entitled 'To the Lesson' where I attempted to create a page.  Maybe you will 'like' it...

In any case, thank you so much for reading my blog and sharing information!  I so appreciate your ideas, input, and comments and look forward to more! 

Friday, August 5, 2011

General Record Keeping

Some of you may be interested in knowing how I keep general records of lessons and observations in my classroom.  As we know, keeping notes and information regarding children's activities is paramount not only to the success of a Montessori educator, but also to the child's overall experience in the prepared environment.  As mentioned in this post about record keeping specific to Sandpaper Letters, I have experimented various methods of general record keeping as well.  Last year, I changed my system to a table format (made using Word) and is easily accessed on my clipboard (which is pretty much with me at all times during our work periods).

A blank table:  Each page is divided into the five major curriculum areas with enough space for six students.  The names are written in the far left column.  The small space above the names is where I write the month - I usually start a new table every month or so...

As you can see, it gets a lot of use!  Please excuse the lovely red art - compliments of my Little Miss, who evidently enjoys taking notes too! ; )  You will notice the pen and red pencil on the far left under the clip - they are always there to eliminate me having to search for them.  The red pencil is used to make red dots next to a newly introduced lesson (it's a little hard to see it in the photo...)
 I find this method is beneficial for several reasons.  First, I can easily record lessons as the are given and mark (with a red dot) new lessons a child receives.  The table is also where I record activities during general observations giving me insight into a particular child's proclivities in the classroom.  For example, I will notice which works to which a student has repeatedly returned.  Also, after a period of a week or so, various trends of the classroom will reveal themselves on the table - I can immediately see which parts of the classroom have been busy with activity because my notes will fill in under that particular heading, i.e. Sensorial.  Likewise, it becomes evident which areas of the classroom might not be as active because there will be fewer notes under that section in the table.  This information is critical to me as it allows me to zero in on any individual child's activities and lessons while still showing me the "big picture," of the classroom.  With this data then, I can determine if changes need to be made either individually or as a class.

Other reasons why I enjoy this method of record keeping include ongoing opportunities for me to model writing!  The kids love to see me writing - especially something about them!  Oftentimes, they want to see for themselves which lessons they have completed, allowing the chance for them to scan the table for their names and read the lessons.  Also, I use these notes when redirecting children, if needed.  For example, if a child needs guidance choosing an activity, we will look at the table together and see what that child has already completed.  From there, he can choose what he would like to do next.  This is particularly helpful because the child is still able to make his own choices,  a key component in the Montessori setting!

The notes gathered through this table are also used to transfer  information to my students' records at M.O.R.E. Montessori.  This is an excellent, free, web-based Montessori record keeping program.  I will say, however, that it takes some time getting used to its formatting - I recommend checking it out if you are interested.  It is a resourceful tool in creating school forms, keeping documents, and overall curriculum data for each child.  I have found the ability to create individual newsletters highlighting a student's Montessori lessons especially helpful in sharing information with parents. 

I would love to make my simple table available for you to download, but I do not know how to do that!  If anyone would be so kind as to explain to me how to provide downloads, I would be very grateful.  In the meantime, I can always send an attachment if you email me directly...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Simple Sound Lesson

The idea for this lesson came to me one day after realizing that my students could benefit from more practice fine tuning their listening skills.  Initially, the thought occurred to me to simply introduce the Sound Boxes to more children or play the Silence Game more often with the entire class.  Given that the school year begins in September with many new members of the class however, I thought it would be the ideal time to put together a very simple sound activity.  Not only does this lesson promote auditory awareness, but also prepares the child for future work with the Sensorial and Science materials.

Inside a wooden caddy:  rolled piece of black felt held together with a napkin ring; Sound/No Sound labels; six small boxes - three are empty and three are filled with beads.

A closer look at the labels.  I made them in Word using clip-art and simply used a red marker for the 'X' - critical for the success of pre-readers using the material.
To do the work, the child unrolls the felt and places the labels at the top.  Then, one by one, he picks up a box, shakes it, and listens for any sound, and places the box under the corresponding label.

Lesson completed.
I feel this lesson emphasizes an important skill needed before working with Sound Boxes or attempting the Silence Game.  Additionally, it prepares my students with the organization and use of materials specifically in our Science area - subsequent work with Living/Non-Living; Magnetic/Non-Magnetic, etc. are presented and utilized in the same manner.  Following Montessori's idea of isolation of concept, identical boxes were used for those making sound and those that did not.  In this manner, the child uses only his hearing in determining sound (rather than by sight if the boxes were marked).  Furthermore, the boxes that make sound are identical in their sound, enhancing the isolated concept of determining sound or not.  Sound matching and grading will follow later with the Sound Boxes... For control of error, I placed colored dots on the bottoms of the boxes. 

Such a simple lesson, yet provides so much for the youngest, newest members of the class!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Phonogram Booklets

These summer days afford me more opportunities for one of my favorite pastimes as a Montessori teacher - making materials!  Recently, I made small booklets for keeping record of Sandpaper Letter lessons.  Now, I've made two sets of Phonogram Booklets to enhance our Language area in the classroom.  It is exciting to share with you these charming booklets as I believe they add much meaning to the learning of phonograms.

I purchased Phonogram Booklet Sets 1 and 2 from Montessori Print Shop and readily got to work printing, cutting, and laminating.  It was critical to me that the booklets remain visually appealing while imbuing a sense of importance for the child.  For this reason, I decided to have the booklets bound with special wire rather than simply stapling them together.  To me, this somehow may indicate to the child that this booklet, while small in size, is nevertheless an important tool for learning. 

Although it should not matter if the sets get mixed up, some children may want to keep track of the booklets they have read and used.  Consequently, I placed purple sticker dots with the numbers 1-12 on the backs of first set and green sticker dots with numbers on the second set (each set includes 12 booklets).  Also, it allows an easy
way for me to keep record of which booklets the child has been introduced to.

I plan to introduce these booklets after the child has made phonograms with the Small Moveable Alphabet.  First, the child will read the booklet of a known phonogram.  Next, they can make the words with the Small Moveable Alphabet by reading the word in the booklet, turning it over, then making the word (with the moveable alphabet).  Lastly, they may check their work by comparing their word with the booklet.  The child can also read the booklets to me or to each other. 

The Montessori dreamer in me is envisioning a classroom full of children reading these booklets to each other....!