Category Archives: Activity

Color Study

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Color seems to be one of those concepts that you naturally find yourself introducing to your child. You ask, “What color is this?” and answer for them. Or you use the color to describe an object, “Do you see that red car”. It’s such a natural process and we have been doing it with Cam for ages now.

However, recently Cam has begun labeling colors on her own. She’s gotten to the point where she is quite fascinated with color and she appears to have a pretty solid understanding of ROY G BIV, accurately naming colors when asked and independently. To indulge her interest I set up a rainbow area in the classroom.

As you can see from the gallery below there are quite a few activities including: a peg board, nesting boxes, a few sets of paint chips to flip through, a set of stacking rings, a basket objects and mice of various colors, a basket of bean bags and of course several color themed books. So far she’s played with most of the items and read through the books, with the exception of the stacking rings which may just be a bit young for her at this point.

Encouraging Independence: Snack Table

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Snack Table

As a compromise with the Montessori weaning table, I did create a small area next to our kitchen, pantry and dinning table that gives Cam a small table for snacks. I like the idea that Cam can determine when she needs a little snack or drink during the day without being overly reliant on me to get it for her.

The “table” is actually a breakfast-in-bed tray with a blanket folded underneath to act as a floor cushion. She keeps her water bottle or cup here and there is frequently a bowl with a snack on it. Because it is portable I have also started pulling it out into the middle of the floor while I cook dinner. I place some crayons or a toy on it to keep her entertained and it keeps her close enough to me that she doesn’t become clingy.

Environment

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For the next few weeks I am going to focus on the emphasis and the importance of the environment in a child’s education. Since environment encompasses many rooms, spaces, and ideas I decided to make this a series that includes both a look at the philosophy behind several of those areas, as well as sharing how I have set up our own home. Fostering Cam’s independence was a very important consideration when designing her environment, but it wasn’t the only facet so I am also going to run a few blog posts on Thursdays this month that will focus on how I have set up the environment in our home to specifically give her independence.

Thoughtful space planning was one of the principles of both the Montessori and Reggio-Emilia approaches that I was especially drawn to because I believe an environment (for anyone, not just children) can foster independence and confidence. When I was in college I became very interested in cultural use of space and I carried this interest over into graduate school when I began writing my thesis on space use in libraries. Everything from placement of entrances to the type and placement of furniture give subtle cues to how people should interact with and in a space. So when I began reading about the scrutiny and thought given to both Montessori and Reggio environments I was inspired.

In a Montessori classroom or home there is reference to the “prepared environment”. In a Reggio-Emilia classroom or home the environment is simply called the “third teacher”. While these two ideas are not identical, they share a fundamental idea: that the environment plays an important role in helping the child develop. Respect for the child also underpins these principles because you focus on creating an environment that is intended for the child, not the adult; an environment that tells the child you believe they are deserving of space that doesn’t force them to fit in with your life, but a space where they are capable of tending to their own needs, both intellectual and physical. Both require close observation by the teacher to determine the optimal set up.

Montessori: Prepared Environment

For a great article detailing the six principles of the prepared environment, see here. They are: freedom, structure and order, beauty, nature and reality, social environment, and intellectual environment. Montessori classrooms and homes encourage the child to be independent. They are also very orderly and follow a particular sequence of setting materials out. Furniture is child-sized so as not to intimidate children and allow them to safely interact with and use the tables, chairs, etc. Careful thought is given to the placement of activities and furniture.

Reggio-Emilia: Third Teacher

“Given this belief in the active exploration of young children, the space must encourage investigation and be open to change to respond to the demands of active learners.”

-Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the Classroom

Whereas most Montessori classrooms look very similar (low shelves, same materials), Reggio takes a slightly different approach. Classrooms should reflect the interests of the children, so the placement of materials, furniture, and equipment, even the variety of these things, is directed by the child(ren) using the space. So a classroom may look very different from year to year or from home to home. The Reggio environment is also influenced by their principle of provocation. Teachers are encouraged to place materials and equipment in ways that make the child think and draw them in to explore. Because there is no set curriculum, the space is very flexible and varied.

Ultimately, I think it’s fine to mix these two strategies or approaches because the foundation of respect, observation, independence, and learning is the same. Those principles are what are important when designing an environment that will allow your child to flourish.

Application: Hundred Languages

So, when I first began looking at Montessori, homeschooling, and everything else I really wanted to put out activities/toys for Cam to engage with. There was a lot of trial and error (more error than not) and some searching around for a good philosophical fit for guiding the creation of those activities and choosing the toys, but I think we’ve finally hit our stride. I mixed my two favorite philosophies and have both Montessori-inspired activities and Reggio Emilia-inspired materials out.

photo 2-1Our table is set against the wall with two sets of shelves on either side. I chose these shelves to contain the Reggio inspired art materials: markers, pens, pencils, paper, foam sheets, stickers, chalk, toilet paper tubes, etc. This is part of the Hundred Languages, in that children can use (amongst other things) art and art materials to express what they are learning. Cam has free access to the materials and knows (mostly) how to use them and does. She’s learning how to hold a pencil/marker and control her strokes, so she spends a fair amount of time with the pencils/markers out making lines and squiggles.

photo 1I also have out some open ended materials, that in theory target Montessori skills (pincer grasp, fine motor, visual discrimination), but because of their open-endedness feel more Reggio to me. She’s free to learn skills with them that are not necessarily what I would have chosen to target. So there is a bin of doodads that Cam LOVES to put into bottles and boxes and people’s cupped hands. We have some nuts and bolts that she can put together, loop over each other, and put into bottles. There is a basket of marbles that she likes to transfer to the floor and other baskets. She also likes to put them in a bottle and shake them around.

While we also have Montessori materials, I love the open endedness of these baskets and Cam seems really drawn to them. She is free to carry them around the house or the room. Sometimes I catch her sticking them in her shirt and shorts pockets. She also plays with them in the intended way, by threading the nuts, bolts, and doodads together. And I don’t need to spend time teaching her a proper way to work with the materials.

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.

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.

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

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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.

Resources Series: Classroom Materials and Presentation

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There are a lot of resources out there for classroom materials, many of them can be found on blogs or on Pinterest. Here are a few I have looked at.

Classroom Materials

Montessori for Everyone has lots of printable materials. They do cost though. For a link to their free printables see below.

I came across a woman who does videos on eHow that show how to present various lessons. I’m not sure I need to be shown how to tell my daughter what a cylinder is, but I can see these becoming very helpful when presenting unfamiliar activities (pink tower, for example).

Montessori Outlet makes beautiful Montessori furniture and lesson supplies. I was really put off by how expensive some (most) of the Montessori equipment can be. Montessori Outlet is actually a reasonably priced company. It isn’t cheap and it doesn’t have loads of stuff, but it isn’t the sky high prices I have seen in other places. I intend to invest in some of the more difficult to make items like knobbed cylinders.

Updated 12/4/2012: There is a great suite of apps for the iPad, if you are inclined to use technology. It’s pretty ubiquitous at our house, so I like the idea of working it into our curriculum. There are four different apps, each of which costs about $4, that focus on geography, math, letters, and spelling. You can see the Montessorium website here to read more. Thanks to my friend’s husband for alerting me to this. And possibly my own husband, but I’m not sure. Sometimes my mommy-brain gets the best of me.

Updated 4/29/2013: I have found several more websites that sell a variety of Montessori and Montessori-style materials. I have even ordered from Kid Advance. Not only was shipping very speedy, the products are beautiful and were extremely reasonably priced.

Kid Advance

Adena Montessori

Grandpa’s Montessori

A+ Montessori

Resources Series: Scope and Sequence

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I should say that when I think scope and sequence I think of a list of skills or pieces of knowledge that are written out in the chronological order they need to be learned in. Each skill is then broken down into a list of either smaller skills and tasks that need to be completed to gain mastery of the larger skill. In other words, a scope and sequence is a little more dynamic than a checklist. I have yet to really find one I am satisfied with, although David Gettman’s book Basic Montessori gets close as does the one available through The Helpful Garden. That isn’t to say they aren’t out there. I just have yet to find one. Although my hope is really to use these to create my own.

Scope and Sequence

The Helpful Garden has a very good scope and sequence. I personally would like to combine it with more information though.

Montessori for Everyone sells comprehensive lists that are checklists grouped by area of study. They cover skills and activities for a set age group. It isn’t exactly a scope and sequence since it isn’t more detailed about the skills, but all in all it’s extremely helpful and does the trick. They do cost and a couple seem a bit pricey for what they are, but not unreasonable.

Maitri Learning offers some free sequence and order lists for practical life, sensorial, math and language arts for the 3-6 set. They are very nice.

Montessori Teachers Collective also has an album of activities and the categories they fall under. They call them teacher’s albums and they are, but I am using the beginning list, or table of contents, more as a scope and sequence. I didn’t find them to be the most complete teacher’s album out there so I hadn’t intended to use them as such. They also have a scope and sequence and I thought the two together were much more helpful than when apart.

Update 11/2/2014: I found a site this morning that has a scope and sequence of sorts, although it isn’t complete by any means. The real strength of it lies in that it shows a picture of the activity with brief, simple instructions on how to DIY it (or just buy it, if that’s easier). Check out Montessori Homeschool (MontHome).

Update 2/1/2015: Montessori Compass offers a scope and sequence that is even linked up with Common Core Standards. It’s a paid service and is really designed for the classroom teacher, but it looks pretty comprehensive and useful.