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Tag Archives: Montessori

Rigidity, Flexibility, and The Hundred Languages

Pedagogy BannerOne aspect of the Montessori Method that I am not overly fond of is its rigidity. If you are a purist, there are very specific activities and materials that are to be used in a very specific way, in a very specific sequence. If a child does not use the materials in the exact way demonstrated the teacher is to bring the activity to a close and shift to something else.

There are several reasons for this approach. Firstly, sensitive periods in brain development need to be fully taken advantage of and the materials are designed specifically with the needs and desires of these periods in mind. Secondly, children need and crave order. By insisting on the correct way to use materials or complete an activity and by imposing a cycle of setting the space, doing the activity, and cleaning up, you are satiating that desire and teaching order. Finally, specific skills need to be isolated and practiced, a requirement that was also taken into consideration when developing the materials and activities. By deviating from intended uses and proscribed sequences of activities a child’s full development and potential will be hindered. While I understand the reasoning, I don’t think it fits or sits well with my own educational philosophy for very young children.

Reggio-Emilia, on the other hand, has the Hundred Langauges of Children. This is a guiding principle based on the idea that children have many ways (a figurative one hundred) of exploring their environment and expressing what they have learned. This allows the Reggio-Emilia method to be very flexible in its application and use of activities and materials. It is up to the adult to provide the child with open-ended materials and activities and observe how the child uses these to express what they are interested in learning and how best to go about addressing their educational needs. Unfortunately, this is a bit too flexible for me.

Personally, I think there has to be a middle ground between these applications. I think it’s okay to have some activities that have a set outcome, product, or purpose. A puzzle for example encourages a number of skills and higher order thinking in a very particular way. But I also think it’s a good thing to have open ended activities, like pretend play, or to see where a child goes with an activity that they are not using “correctly”. Sometimes being flexible allows the student to express and learn things that the adult may not have seen or intended but are no less valuable and important. And I think both the Reggio-Emilia approach and the Montessori method would agree that allowing the child some intellectual wiggle room is a good thing.

A Little Weekend Listening

Weekend Reading.jpgThis week it’s a little weekend listening! Our public radio station has a local interest show called Insight. I don’t normally listen to it largely because it falls near nap time and right smack in the middle of our morning routine. But I made a point of listening this week because they had a segment on Montessori education. The host interviewed a local private Montessori school director and a chair of AMI. It was a very interesting and informative segment. It’s just over ten minutes long and I highly recommend it. Click the link below, it will begin playing immediately so adjust your sound before you click!

Insight’s Montessori Segment

Discovering Reggio Emilia: The Meta

Reggio Emilia.jpgDespite how much I love the idea of the Reggio Emilia approach and how inspiring I find it, there are a couple quirks. The thing is, it’s called the “Reggio Emilia approach” for a reason. Everything I have found about Reggio, so far, is very big picture and theoretical; an exercise in thinking. It’s so meta, as the hipsters would say. There is very little nitty-gritty, this-is-how-you-apply-the-ideas kind of talk. There are no practical applications to curriculum or activities. Usually the explanation is that what the program will look like depends on the students and teachers and families.

On the one hand that really frees your thinking of what teaching and learning can be and truly allows you to follow your child’s interests. But on the other hand, when it’s 3:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday and you just need an activity, it’s just kind of frustrating. Skipping out on offering practical application, especially in education, just feels like a cop out to me. It makes it seem kind of half baked. Like they got too caught up in thinking about THE BIG PICTURE to bother coming up with some practical application ideas and places to start. And in some ways I see the Montessori Method as the practical application of the Reggio Emilia approach. I understand that isn’t exactly how it all fits together, but it certainly makes sense to me.

Another irritant for me is that Reggio experts claim that classrooms here in the U.S. (or anywhere other than Reggio Emilia) can only be “inspired” by the approach. Only schools in Reggio Emilia share the same culture (and presumably similar geographical coordinates) as the founders of the approach; only those schools are truly Reggio Emilia schools. This just doesn’t ring true for me. Since there is no actual curriculum, only BIG IDEAS, it’s all an approach to education, so of course it looks different in a different place. The thing is, it looks different in different schools even in Reggio Emilia, so why aren’t they “inspired” by the approach too? In the end that’s just an argument in semantics and has little bearing on any meaningful discussion of using the Reggio Emilia approach, but it just sounds so elitist to me.

Those two quirks aside, I think the underlying principles of the approach really tie in well with what I want for Cam in her education and the goals I laid out in my “manifesto”. And maybe in some ways I prefer not having a set of activities to cross off in the way the Montessori Method does, because I’m not convinced it’s how everyone would learn or teach.

A New Bed

If you have read my About Me page you will know that what sold us on the Montessori Method was the idea of the floor bed. When Cam was 4 months old she began having issues with acid reflux that led to a lot of crying at night. Once we got her back to sleep the only way to keep her asleep was to lie next to her. This was difficult with a crib (obviously) and our bed is not big enough for three of us. Not to mention she is a noisy sleeper and my husband is a light sleeper- a terrible combination. So in an act of desperation and inspired by Montessori, we drove out to IKEA and bought a twin mattress. We have not looked back. Best. Decision. Ever.

Co-sleeping on a floor bed, which admittedly sounded really weird to me at first and certainly it isn’t for everyone, really revolutionized how I looked at parenting. The good night’s sleep we all got that night didn’t hurt either. I suddenly looked at Cam and realized that she was a person with her own preferences. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t know that or think that before per se, but it became a very explicit thought in my mind. I didn’t like sleeping alone, especially when I didn’t feel well, so why would she? Plus she was so small and new, why was I relegating her to a big cold room (besides the fact that she is quite a restless sleeper)? Co-sleeping worked for us. I could start the night out in my own bed and when she needed me, I could move into hers. I began to reassess how I looked at every aspect of parenting and began to find my own way.

Unfortunately we just discovered a downside to the quickly assembled floor bed: mildew. Since it is winter we have been running a humidifier in Cam’s room every night. The mattress was up against the outside wall and our house is on a raised foundation. Lots of moisture in warm air + cold air underneath and around + a mattress = mildew on the carpet and underside of the mattress. Whoops. I discovered it the other day and cleaned it up. Mildew isn’t a great substance to be exposed to, but it is by no means dangerous. But we did need to figure out a way to get some air circulating under the bed.

Another trip out to IKEA yielded a mattress foundation on short legs and Cam’s new bed was born. She is thrilled. The first night I was worried about her rolling out of the bed until I read about the proprioceptive sense. This is, in essence, the sense that tells you where your body is in space and allows you to assess the dimensions of your environment. (See here for an excellent description.) This is why adults do not (usually) roll out of their beds. While the sense is still developing in children it is possible that they will roll out of bed, but this is yet another reason the floor bed works so well. Cam has been sleeping on this mattress for over a year now. She is very aware of the size of it and the shape of it. I put down a few pillows just in case, but there really wasn’t a reason to worry. We all slept very well that night.


Traditions: Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar 2012.jpg

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

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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. 


Resources Series: Teacher’s Manuals

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Here is Part One of the Resources Series. Hopefully you find something you need. I would also like to encourage you to post your favorite source for teacher’s manuals if you do not see it on the list.

Updated 2/1/2015: I recently read a really great blog post from a Montessori teacher on her blog Montessori 101 where she discusses what teacher albums are supposed to be and why we probably shouldn’t buy them. I agree with her mostly, although as a someone who wants some idea of what I’m doing the idea of the albums is appealing. I’ve said it before, but I have yet to find a Montessori book that breaks down the activities, their sequence, what they are, and what they are teaching. There are tons of blogs out there that have “Montessori” activities, but most of them are themed variations of the same four or five “Montessori” activities, like three-part cards and counters with cards. This is why the teacher’s manuals are so appealing to me, in theory, they should help you grasp the method as a whole and give you a sense of the entire curriculum. However, Aubrey makes some excellent points. I suggest reading her post and her subsequent posts about making your own that I will link to here and using that in your decision about whether or not to purchase one.  Make Your Own Albums 1

Teacher’s Manuals

Montessori Primary Guide is a free online resource that walks you through various aspects of the Montessori curriculum. It gives you foundational knowledge for each area (practical life, math, etc.) and then gives you activities with detailed instructions on how to do them in each section. They also have videos.

Shu Chen Jenny Yen’s Online Montessori Guides is similar to the Montessori Primary Guide. She has pedagogy and activities. These are really nice and are free!

Montessori Print Shop has teachers manual’s for practical lifesensoriallanguage arts, and math. You can buy them separately or as a bundle. The manuals are based on AMI principles and concepts. One nice thing about these is that they are essentially eBook versions. Instant Montessori gratification. 🙂 They are not free, but the cost seems reasonable. These are only for primary ages (2.5-6).

Montessori Research and Development also publishes teacher’s manuals. There are some sample pages available for viewing before buying. Again, they aren’t free, but the price seems reasonable. For me, the most important thing here is that there is a manual for the 0-2.5 set. While I feel ill prepared to follow the Montessori Method in the primary years I feel even less confident that I am “doing it right” currently. These manuals were developed and written by several certified Montessori teachers and child development experts, another plus in my book.

Montessori at Home! is an awesome eBook with the Montessori Method adapted to the home environment. It’s easy to follow and there are lots of activities. Plus it has some pedagogy and history. It’s not free, but again it isn’t unreasonably priced. And if you buy it through Montessori Print Shop you have the option of purchasing it bundled with the printable materials you will need for the activities.