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December | 2012 | Atomic Bee Ranch

Monthly Archives: December 2012

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For Your Bookshelf: Natural History

For Your Bookshelf Banner

On a recent trip to Costco I came across the book pictured below, which I had seen in the library before. It is absolutely beautiful and features thousands of photographs of every type of living thing. Except, oddly enough, for whales and dolphins which are lovely drawings. Go figure.

Natural History

Cam is in love with this book. She flips through it despite its enormous size. She is particluarly fond of the owl pages (big surprise there), the colorful birds, the penguins (another shocker) and some of the small brown furry mammals. In my best attempt at following her interests, we bought her a smaller sized book (also published by DK) that is essentially an abbreviated version of this one. It is more portable and I think she’ll have a much easier time flipping through it. Plus if the pages get torn or worn or rumpled I don’t really care.

I know the book is pricey, although I found it for $20 less than its cover price at Costco and I imagine it will eventually pop up on sale tables, I think it’s worth the investment if your child is interested. I can also see it really tying in well with the Montessori Great Lessons as well as a science curriculum and an introduction to the diversity of life on Earth.

Music Appreciation

Music BasketI recently came across this post about integrating music into your day. I just thought I would chime in on music. Our house is normally full of music. I am no singer, but I do enjoy listening to most types of music. My favorites are world and classical, but we also do electronica, pop, jazz, and a lot more.

One thing I remember about growing up was how full of music my life was. My dad is a luthier (violin maker) and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we had music in the house. Many of my early memories are of listening and dancing to a variety of music. Now that I have my own daughter, I want that experience for her. I want her to love music and find a connection to it.

To that end, I have a basket of musical instruments for her to play with and I make a point to have music on at all times. Most of the time it is our local classical station (thank you Capital Public Radio!). Other times I turn up an old favorite (or new favorite) and let Cam dance around while shaking an egg shaker. She thoroughly enjoys this time and I am trying to be good about working it into our everyday routine.


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This past week I finished reading a book about the Waldorf method and surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, I noticed a lot of connections between it and the Montessori Method. I knew very little about the Waldorf method except that the only Waldorf kids I knew growing up were a bit odd. However, in hindsight, that was probably more a function of the kids and their families than the educational method they were exposed to, so I picked up a copy of Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out.

Understanding WaldorfWaldorf schools teach based around a three dimensional philosophy: head, heart, hands. The child is guided to develop their thinking (head), their emotional engagement (heart), and ability to act with purpose (hands). So far so good. While my point in researching these other methods is not to find the superiority of the Montessori Method or to convince myself that I should use another method, it is hard not to see how many of these “alternative” educational methods tie into one another. It seems they all share some of the most positive ideals that I find lacking in many of our current school environments.

A Waldorf preschool, like a Montessori preschool, focuses on work and play as work. Children are actively engaged in physical activities that range from imaginative play with blocks or tree stumps to cleaning and making snacks. Like a Reggio Emilia classroom, Waldorf classrooms have a food prep area where children are taught about nutrition and how to make their own food.

This is actually something I am adamant about including in Cam’s education. I love to cook (and occasionally bake) and to garden. I believe that connecting children to the kitchen and the garden fosters positive food relationships and also helps them better understand nutrition. I don’t want to grow all our own food, but I think a year round garden that provides some of our ingredients is a fantastic way to show Cam all about the process of farm to fork.

Waldorf schools also do some interesting things with the set up of their school day. I will say, they are much more traditional in their approach to teaching, but I think if you are really tied to a hands-off-teacher approach you could still easily adapt the ideas. They begin the day with a large block of time spent on their current topic of study while the afternoon is spent on less academically taxing subjects like outdoor play, handicrafts, etc.. I see the Reggio Emilia approach here in their themes, although I know very little about that still. I also see child development theory here. (Most) Children are freshest early in the morning and are most easily able to focus on a main lesson at the start of the day. Later in the day they lag and have less focus. By placing your main lesson in the morning you can ensure their best work and minimize frustration and fatigue on their part. And by placing more kinesthetic and active activities in the afternoon you can ensure you get their best at that time of day as well.

Another aspect of Waldorf I was really impressed with was how they tend to integrate their subjects. Art into math into reading into everything. Math into reading into art, etc. One thing I find particularly distasteful about the current educational system is how disjointed the subjects are/can be. You close up your math book to move onto reading and the two don’t overlap. But we all know that isn’t true. I think the Reggio Emilia method also integrates subjects better, mostly through art, but I’ll get back to you on that.

Finally, the Waldorf method has its students create what they call text books, but what I would call documentation of their learning. As the children progress through their topics they write and draw responses and record their lessons. They do this in notebooks that, by the end of the unit or year, show the progression of their learning. Documentation is never a bad thing, but it’s even better when it is created by the child and for the child.

I am aware that the Waldorf method can involve some less mainstream ideas, especially in regards to spirituality. This book really didn’t touch on that much except to highlight how emotional engagement supports being connected to others and to the world. I think it would be possible to like the method and even use it when teaching your children without getting into the less conventional aspects.

The book, in all, was quite informative and I certainly would like to know a bit more. I think it would be easy to adopt aspects of the philosophy into what I am doing with Cam. But, I wish the book had more of a history of the method, a historical context, and more of the actual philosophy created by Rudolf Steiner. Understanding Waldorf was perfect for what I needed now, an excellent, readable introduction to the method. I suppose like all good books, it raised more questions for me than gave answers.

A Little Weekend Reading: Child Development Reading List

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To continue my thoughts on researching the Montessori Method and other child rearing/educating techniques, I asked a friend of mine, who is not only a new mom, but also a doctoral candidate in a child development program, her opinion on a variety of things. She very graciously helped me realize that a child’s brain is complex and it is unlikely that there will be a complete understanding of how it develops. The important thing in selecting methodologies, pedagogies, curriculums, and activities is to assess how it is working for your child. It doesn’t really matter if the developmental theory behind something is 100% accurate or current. Only the fact that your child is engaged and learning matters. I guess I knew this deep down, but I’m glad to have articulated it.

I still plan on reading up on brain development and various methods, but I feel less like I have to “pick” one and more like I can blend them to my heart’s content.

Sarah put together a list of books she recommends that talk about child development and are based in research, but are not overly academic.

Drawing and Scribbling

I have been trying for months now to interest Cam in putting marks on a page. I have given her blank paper in a variety of colors and lots of marker, crayon, and colored pencil options. She put down a few half-hearted lines and squiggles and a dot or two, but she just wasn’t into it. Until just last week. I’m not sure how she got ahold of it, but Cam found one of my ball point pens and has begun to scribble like mad.

Shortly thereafter, she located a No. 2 pencil and has colored on our kitchen tile. Whoops! I don’t know why all of a sudden she is so interested in and intent on “coloring”. Maybe it was just a developmental leap. Maybe it was that the pen and pencil were thin enough for her to grip easily. It certainly isn’t because they are colorful (although, maybe she takes after her father whose favorite color is gray).

It doesn’t really matter, though. She is into it, so I am following her lead. To encourage her I have gotten out blank sketch pads, various stacks of paper, and even note cards. She is particularly taken with scribbling over words and even some pictures. I find it very odd, but she loves it. I also rolled out some art paper on the floor of our kitchen to give her a giant space to color on.

For those of you wondering, ball point ink is very easy to remove. Simply place a rag under the stain and then blot with a cotton ball or Q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol. The rag underneath is there to absorb the alcohol and the ink as they come through. You may need to move the rag around to find a spot that is not soaked or covered in ink. Blot until the stain is mostly gone, then soak in an enzyme detergent before washing normally. I suggest checking the spot (or spots!) prior to placing the item in the dryer as the dry heat of the dryer will set the stain if it is not completely removed.

Busy Board

Cam is really into keys, locks, latches, lids, boxes, buttons and the like. Anything she can flip, switch, push, and spin she wants to play with. Sometimes this is a problem, like when she keeps opening and closing the wine fridge. It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t letting all the cold air out and causing it to switch on more frequently. It does make a very satisfying thud when it closes, though, so I understand.

She is also fond of taking people’s keys from them when they come in the door. You see, she’s figured out that they are usually carrying them or just getting ready to put them away as we answer the door. Guests think it’s very cute, until she gleefully presses the panic button, chortles to herself, and fusses when they are taken away.

So we finally decided to channel this interest into a busy board. This is, essentially, a board with a variety of doodads to fiddle and fidget with. You can certainly buy them- Etsy has them as does Amazon- but Tom is handy so I asked him to make one. He’s been planning it out in his head for awhile now, but we finally made it over to the hardware store to collect pieces.

And boy did we collect pieces! This was not an especially cheap project, although the boards available for purchase are also expensive and I am sure there are ways to cut down on the cost of a homemade one, but it is totally awesome. The board is also intended to grow with her for several years, as some of the “activities” are more difficult and require either more or better hand strength and coordination.


Front of Busy BoardThe board has (refer to picture for a visual):

  • an outlet with two plugs for her to put in
  • a switch next to the outlet that lights up four reflectors next to it
  • a cabinet or cam lock
  • a mirror
  • a wheel
  • a chain lock
  • a loop to hang a padlock on
  • a latch to close or lock shut with the padlock
  • a hook to hang the key ring with the padlock keys
  • a bar with metal rings
  • her name spelled with Scrabble tiles and backed with Velcro
  • a door bell (that also lights up when the light switch is turned on), when pushed it lights a reflector below it
  • a faucet

Back of Busy BoardThe boards that the things are mounted on are chalkboard material so she (or we) can draw on it. And the back has a toggle switch that turns on a circle of lights set up like a clock. When she is older we can use this to write in the numbers on the clock and practice telling time.

Cam is thrilled with the board and spends a lot of time playing with it. It’s been interesting to see which items she takes an interest in. At first she was fascinated with spinning the wheel, but she has moved on to the letters and the door bell. A great big thanks to my husband for such an awesome toy. It was a lot of work. Not unreasonable, but a lot of work nonetheless. But Cam appreciates it.


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If any one has read my FAQs page or deduced this from my blog posts, you will know that I am not totally tied to the idea of the Montessori Method. I think educational philosophies and methods are a lot like parenting methods, there is no one silver bullet. You can, and should, cherry pick from them to find the right balance of lessons, activities, methods, etc. that works for you and your child.

I think, based on my classroom and educational experience, that there is a lot of value in the Montessori Method and its approach, but I also have some hesitations when it comes to implementing it in its entirety. I like that there is a focus on using and developing all the senses. I like that it’s directed by the child. I like that it has a practical aspect that fosters independence in the child. However, I wondered how current some of the brain development ideas were in it, so I asked a good friend of mine who happens to be studying early childhood development. I don’t want to be basing Cam’s education on debunked or out-dated developmental theory.

One educational theory I have been hearing a bit about and was brought up by this friend was the Reggio-Emilia Approach. It’s a newer approach to education developed in the Reggio region of Italy. (Italy seems to have cornered the market on early childhood education.) I haven’t done too much research yet, but it seems to incorporate a lot of sensorial learning with art as well as extensive, creative documentation of student work. It also uses a child-driven selection of study. I am curious to see if Montessori and Reggio can be integrated because I especially like the idea of the atelier that it uses. Based on my, thus far, extremely limited knowledge of the Reggio-Emilia Approach I think there is some overlap, as well as some new ideas to look into.

If you are interested here are some resources I am looking at as a jumping off point:

There is this general bibliography of Reggio Emilia books.

In all honesty, the Wikipedia article gave me a good, quick overview of the philosophy and its history. I wouldn’t rely solely on this article, but it’s a good place to start.

You can also check out my Reggio Emilia Pinterest board. I have my booklist on there plus ideas for classrooms inspired by the approach. You can also click over to blogs and blog posts that focus on Reggio Emilia from the pins.

Sadly my local library system only has one book on Reggio Emilia, but Amazon came to my rescue and I found a couple books that I added to my wishlist. I think this is the direction my research is headed in next in my eternal quest to cobble together a curriculum and educational philosophy for teaching my daughter.


Traditions: Advent Calendar

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Last year I was reading through my Martha Stewart magazine and came across a little article about Advent calendars. I was familiar with the little picture calendars and chocolate Advent calendars, but this article was talking about calendars that didn’t look like those at all. Each day had a box or envelope that contained a tiny “gift” for each day instead of a chocolate or picture. The article was not only a how-to, but was also a fond remembrance of the author’s mother who carefully crafted these Advent calendars for years.

So when I decided to use the holidays to create some meaningful family traditions for Cam, I decided I would like to create her a homemade Advent calendar each year. I didn’t begin the tradition last year, mostly because I was still overwhelmed with a three month old baby, but also because she was a little small to understand the tradition.

Over Thanksgiving my grandmother got Cam a nice wooden bird house that came with three stuffed birds. She thought, based on the picture in the catalog, that the birds would fit into the hole in the bird house, but they turned out to be much too large. Cam still liked to put things into the bird house, though, and that gave me the idea for her Advent calendar. I made up a little pattern, based on a felt bird I had seen on Etsy, and stitched up 24 little felt birds (with the help of my mom since I started the project last week!). They aren’t as lovely as the one on Etsy, but they didn’t turn out too badly.

I placed each bird in a little muslin bag and placed all the bags in a basket. Instead of numbering each bag, a concept I didn’t think would make a lot of sense to Cam yet, I just put them all in the basket. Each day she can reach in and take one out. And so far, she has absolutely loved the little birds. After kissing them, she immediately begins putting them into the bird house. Excellent fine motor practice and fun for Cam! Traditions Banner

Sensory Walk

Last week we got a lot of rain, so I came up with a couple of activities to do inside to combat the cabin fever. One of these activities was sensory walk, which sounds a lot fancier than it really was. I collected up several different textures and laid them out on the floor. Then I had Cam walk across them and feel them with her toes.

It wasn’t anything complicated and it only lasted about 15 minutes, but Cam really enjoyed it. After walking over each texture she sat down and began feeling them with her hands.

Textures I Used:

  • package of sponges from the dollar store
  • rag towel
  • velvet gift bag
  • waffle weave blanket
  • Duplo base board

Resources Series: Free Printables and Downloads

Resource Series Banner

There are a lot of free Montessori materials out there and really this is just an extension of the previous post in the series. However, many of the links below are to sites that sell materials but also have a freebie page. I was just trying to collect the links in one place with other free resources.

Free Printables/Downloads

The Helpful Garden is amazing. The author of this blog is a Montessori teacher and she puts together free printable nomenclature cards, activities, etc. They are all very beautifully done, an issue I have with some of the other printables out there. There are a lot available and she is even beginning to use D’Nealian script on some of them.

Montessori for Everyone offers some free downloads in various areas of study.

Maitri Learning also has some free materials which include some audio files that are lectures on the theory behind portions of the Montessori Method.

Montessori Print Shop has a monthly free printable. I like the majority of their products and I’ve just gone through and downloaded them all (the free ones, not the ones that cost).

3 Dinosaurs offers a lot of free printables. She has even grouped them into themed packs which I find helpful.