My Top Kindergarten Homeschool Curriculum

Now of course I haven’t tried all the curriculum out there but these are the ones that have had great reviews and I too am enjoying using.

Handwriting Without Tears

Handwriting Without Tears Kindergarten Kit (with  Standard Letter Cards)  -

Pumpkin 1 really needs help with her handwriting.  We started with cursive and she knows her cursive lowercase letters to read but not to write and she wants to write in print so I’m going with that.  The HWT program works very well with montessori other than being print and starting with capitals but those are easier for a child to form.  Also it doesn’t mean you can’t be teaching them lowercase letters for your moveable alphbet and sandpaper letters.  The HWT program at first can be purely a fine motor exercise.

RightStart Math

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This program is great and really helps a child to visualize numbers.  I really like the use of the abacus.  We combine it with Montessori Math as there’s nothing like the golden beads and stamp game.  They’re just amazing.  But I think the ability to visual the abacus in the mind makes a huge difference in doing sums in the head.  I also plan to introduce the Japanese abacus when Pumpkin 1 is 6.

Building the Foundations of Scientific Understanding

This book is excellent and fits in perfectly with Montessori.  It’s very hands on and lists a number of books for kids on each topic.  It helps build a great foundation of understanding the world around us.  It covers several grades.  Many of the books recommend in it are from the series “Let’s Read and Find Out” which are wonderful books I keep adding to our small collection of them as we learn a new topic.

The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading

I’ve found this to be an excellent reference to all the letter combinations and phonograms a child needs to learn.  It also gives examples of words for each combination and sentences and paragraphs to read.  I use it more as a reference than an actual curriculum.

Explode the Code

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Pumpkin 1 for some reason doesn’t like using the moveable alphabet but likes workbooks.  I was finding she just wasn’t getting enough practise with new word combinations or sounding out.  When she reads she prefers to memorize words rather than sound them out.  These workbooks get her doing more phonetic reading Though they seem to repeat the same type of activity over and over with just new sounds.  We started with book 1 just for review and filling in any gaps.  She likes to colour the pictures after she’s done her work in the book for the day.

Keys of the World

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These are excellent Montessori Albums for a very reasonable price.  I couldn’t get by without them.  The theory album is a must read.  If you’re planning to homeschool in the Montessori method I highly recommend these.

 

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How Waldorf is Changing My Montessori Approach

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I love the Montessori approach.  I love how it’s child’s led, how it’s engaging and hands on and promotes independence and focus.  I love how a child actually learns, not memorizes facts.  I discovered Montessori around the time my daughter turned 2.  I went all out – materials, books, shelves, more materials, printing, laminating, more materials.  My daughter is a fast and engaged learner and she was picking up things fast, so I introduced more.  Then I got pregnant and in pregnancy I suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, basically very very very severe morning sickness where you puke until your body aches, you slowly starve and can’t stand for long from dehydration.  Needless to say, we didn’t do any homeschooling.  We sadly lost the baby and when I got back to doing Montessori activities, my daughter had forgotten a lot in those few months.

Because I love learning I started reading more about the Waldorf approach.  It has a lot of the same observations about how children learn and develop but the Waldorf approach encourages imaginative play, sheltering the child and delaying formal education.  How can one mesh the two?

When I realized my daughter had forgotten many of the things we had done it made me think that perhaps she wasn’t ready.  She wasn’t really learning, just imitating.  It wasn’t making the right connections in her brain because she was too young and I was pushing too early.  I was misreading signs of readiness.  For instance, wanting to know the names of all the letters didn’t mean she was ready to learn to read, it meant she was trying to increase her vocabulary.  Counting doesn’t mean she’s ready for the bead materials yet, she needs to explore what counting means and how to use it still.  Too often I’ve seen others, like me, excited about Montessori and pushing their toddler to do materials that are really for a 3 or 4 year old and I’ve come to believe that not only is it not beneficial, it can be detrimental.  It can discourage them from being interested in the material when they’re truly at the sensitive period for it or it can cause them to make incorrect connections in the brain that are really hard to fix.

So what am I doing differently?  I’m holding back.  I still have materials out but I don’t force her to choose one.  If she’d rather run around and play with the other daycare kids, I’m happy with that.  She’s using her imagination, she’s learning to get along with others and develop social skills which are so so important in life.  She’s only 3 and she’ll only have this innocent time of freedom for such a short period.  I’d rather wait a little longer before introducing a material, actually follow the recommended age instead of thinking “oh she could do that” and be more sure that she’s mastered the other activities first before introducing something new.  I’d rather read stories and cuddle and go for walks than tell her “it’s school time you have to pick something off the shelves”.  I’m trying to have more of a rhythm to the day and incorporate more songs, poems and traditions.  I’m also planing on how I can change the room to encourage more imaginative play.  I was going to start RightStart math with her but now I’m going to wait until she’s at least 4.  She won’t learn better by starting young, she’ll learn better by starting when she’d truly ready.  I’m also purging our toys so we don’t have so much stuff and that the toys we do have are natural, open ended toys.

Homeschooling is a journey, an exciting, stressful, fun, frustrating journey and it’ll probably be always changing and evolving.  I wonder where we’ll be next year.

Teaching children to read and write – The Sound Game

When you decide to start homeschooling, if you’re starting with no outside schooling at all, this is the main challenge and probably the most intimidating; teaching your child to read and write.  We know they have to learn their letters, we know they have to learn to sound them out, we know they have to learn to write their letters.  But how does one put it all together?  How to you make a child learn and comprehend and develop a love for reading?  In traditional schooling one teaches a child to sing A,B,C,D….and the names of the letters.  Then they teach them the sounds of the letters and how to write them and read them.  Montessori approaches things different.  How I am teaching Pumpkin 1 is according to a little booklet with a long name put out by NAMATA written by Muriel Dwyer called, “A Path for the Exploration of Any Language Leading to Writing and Reading; As part of the Total Montessori Approach to the Development of Language”.  (see link to purchase, the booklet is inexpensive but shipping is rather steep)

The first step is to help develop the vocabulary of the child through interactions, stories, songs and poems.  Use lots of language with the child, their little minds at a young age absorb language and no word is too difficult for them to learn.  It’s amazing how many new words a child picks up a day.  Reading and singing to a child should not be neglected and should be a part of every day.

When a child is 2 to 2 1/2 one can begin the Sound Game or I Spy Game.  The purpose of this game is to help a child understand that words are made up of sounds and to attune the child’s ear to hear all the different sound that make up a word.  You start off very simple by holding an object and saying, “I spy/I am holding something that starts with ‘buh’.  What is it?”  And the child responds with, “A ball” or “A bear” or whatever it is that you are holding.  Play this game several times a day as the child is interested.  It may take some time before the child catches on so don’t hurry this stage or move on before the child is ready.  Gradually you can make it more difficult.  You can have two objects for the child to choose from, moving up to three and on until the child can identify the object anywhere in the room.   Then you can move on to asking the child what the object starts with.  It took Pumpkin 1 a while to catch on.  Everything started with “buh” to her and I worried that she would never get it.  But then, suddenly, last week, she got it.  And she started asking what everything started with.  It’s so exciting when this happens and you can see their little minds working with this discovery.

The next stage of the game is to identify the sound at the end of words and then you move on to the sounds in the middle of words, starting off with words with 3 sounds, such as “hat” and gradually getting more difficult.  The final stage is to see how many words the child can think of that begin with or contain a sound.  Don’t worry about how “c” and “k” make the same sound or that “ch” is two letters.  This is only about sounds, the focus is on the exploration of the spoken word.  Dwyer stresses the importance of playing this game without any reference to symbols or letters, at all.  She says in italics, “Please, please do not attempt to introduce the letters to the children at this stage.”  and in all caps “DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO INTRODUCE THE LETTERS AT THIS STAGE” and again “IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT THE WHOLE ‘THE SOUND GAME’ IS EXPERIENCED WITHOUT REFERENCE TO ANY SYMBOLS, WHETHER THE SANDPAPER LETTERS, THE MOVABLE ALPHABET OR TO READING, AS THE AIM OF THIS GAME IS, AS STATED BEFORE, TO MAKE THE CHILDREN AWARE OF THE SOUNDS THEY USE IN SPEECH”.

Now, I must admit, I started off wrong.  I was introducing letters.  The fact is, it’s really hard not to because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do.  There is a lot of pressure to have your child “know their alphabet”.  Little Johnny’s mom will say, “oh Johnny can recognize all his letters, can Suzy?” or someone will point to a letter and ask your child, “what letter is this?” and you feel like you’re failing because Suzy doesn’t know her letters yet.  But if you’re following Montessori you’re teaching a different way and when the time comes, Suzy will fly through learning her letters, picking up two or three letters at a time and, if you’ve thoroughly done the Sound Game, should know all the letters in 2 to 3 weeks.  Then Suzy will quickly move to writing with the moveable alphabet because she already knows all the sounds the letters make.  So I’ve gone back, removed any letters and am focusing on just sounds with Pumpkin 1.  I’m taking to heart Dwyer’s words, “Do not rush this work for it is the foundation for all that will follow and must be thoroughly covered.”  It’s not about having your child learn things at a young age, or ahead of others, it’s about building a solid foundation so that your child understands and comprehends and builds connection with what comes next.

There are more sounds in English than just 26 letters of the alphabet.  Here are the  key sounds and symbols.

a as in am

b as in tub

c as in tic

d as in lid

e as in egg

f as in if

g as in mug

h as in hut

i as in if

j as in jam

k as in ink

l as in full

m as in am

n as in in

o as in on

p as in up

r as in run

s as in toss

t as in mat

u as in up

v as in move

w as in win

y as in yet

z as in quiz

qu as in quilt

ai as in aim

ee as in see

ie as in pie

oa as in oat

oo as in book

ue as in blue

ou as in out

oy as in toy

er as in her

ar as in car

or as in or

th as in moth

sh as in push

ch as in much

au as in Paul

The Sound Game is so easy to play, you don’t need anything special, though some people like to collect small objects for each sound to use as they create interest in the child.  However, I find this game is played at the strangest times, like when Pumpkin 1 is sitting on the toilet, or when I’m making dinner.  Sometimes we play it while waiting in the car or going for a walk.  That’s what makes it great, you can play it anywhere at any time and it doesn’t cost you anything

Once the child has master at least 2/3 of the sound game, then the sandpaper letters are introduced, followed by the moveable alphabet so that the child can express herself freely and then by the child discovering that she can read.  If a child fails to progress or is not interested in writing or reading, it is often because the proper foundation was not laid with the Sound Game.

What makes Montessori materials so special?

I purchased The Keys of the World Montessori albums to help me better understand and implement the Montessori method with my children.  They’re wonderful albums and I’m learning so much.  I’d just like to share with you a quote from the Theory Album

The most distinct difference between Montessori and other methods is in the nature of the materials: Montessori materials are not didactic (teaching tools), but self-teaching tools.  These materials are not for the teacher to teach, but for the children to discover and learn on his own.  The children teach themselves – these materials are developmental materials.

This is really the key of Montessori – the child guides their own learning.  It’s also the hardest part; to step back and allow the child to do and learn without interfering.  It’s even more difficult in a home setting.

If you’re interesting in The Keys of the World albums you can purchase them here.

Reading, Reading, Reading

So, Pumpkin 1 is 2 and half now and I’ve been feeling that I need to get more serious about homeschooling for the fall.  Therefore I’ve been reading and reading.  There is still so much about Montessori I don’t know, especially when it comes to the pedagogy.  I’ve ordered these two books to better understand the theory behind Montessori.

The Absorbent Mind

Secret of Childhood

 

I’ve also decided that I needed a curriculum.  Something to be a guide on what materials to present when, how to present them, extensions for them and the progression between them.  I looked at several different Montessori curriculum.  One was NAMC.  It also offers an online training course and is accepted by most Montessori schools.  However, the materials alone are way out of my price range.  Next I looked at KHT.  It’s a year long course and many people have given it good reviews.  However, at this point in my life, I just don’t have the time to do a course.  I’d hate to start and have to drop out.  It is something I’m considering down the road.  However, KHT is very affordable.  The third option I looked at was Keys of the World (their page is currently under construction).  It was the most affordable.  Also Keys is AMI which is the traditional Montessori (as opposed to AMS which has been adapted to modern times).  I decided to go with Keys and downloaded the Curriculum from here.  I printed two books of the curriculum off but as my printer was acting up (when printing front to back, it just takes one skipped page to throw everything off) and I needed to get it bound at Staples anyway, I had the rest printed off there and everything spiral bound.  Printing is 10 cents per page and binding was about $5 per book (with a plastic cover and back).  So it’d cost around $60 to print and bind everything there.  Probably the same as printing it off at home when you consider ink and paper.

So now I’m reading through the theory book of Keys of the World and it’s fascinating.  The more I read the more I agree with Montessori and find it makes sense.  I wish I had done Montessori from the start with Pumpkin 1 and 2.  I think understanding Montessori theory is important in implementing it.  Without the understanding you risk missing sensitive periods, the importance of self discovery, of choice, repetition, of each material, of not rushing children and it’s so easy to make small mistakes that actually make a big difference.  So it’s lots and lots of reading ahead of me.  I’m holding back on doing Montessori materials as much until I understand the theory better and get a plan in order for the fall.  I’m so glad I’ve discovered the Montessori Method.  I think it is the Key of the World.  

Land, Air and Water

We’ve been doing a unit on Land, Air and Water.  I incorporated many different materials and the kids loved it.

I showed them the Sandpaper globe and talked about how the earth is made up of land and water.  Children love feeling the roughness of the Sandpaper globe.  Then I got a few Land form trays out and filled them with coloured water.  We talked about land versus water and traced the shoreline with our fingers.  Then the kids played with some small boats and cars.

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I downloaded these Land, Air, Water sorting cards from Montessori Print Shop.  In a group we’d sort them under the headings.  The 2 year olds had a little trouble with things that go on the land.  The 3 year olds had no problem at all.

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And you can’t leave out the sensory play.  I purchased something I’ve had my eye on for a long long time – Kinetic Sand.  This stuff is awesome.  You can see a video of it here.  I put in some cars and trees and animals.

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Another day we played with water and ocean animals and vehicles that go in the water.  One child was playing in the water up to her arm pits lol.

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This can later be incorporated into learning about land forms or about how plants grow.

What Materials Should I Get for my Preschooler?

This is the difficult question for all parents starting out in Montessori.  There are so many materials and they can be quite expensive.  Do I need them all?  Can I substitute something else?  What can I make myself?  Why do I need that material?  It can be so hard to decide.  First off I recommend reading David Gettman’s “Basic Montessori”.  When you have an understanding of what the purpose of each material is, you’ll be better able to decide what you need now and what can wait and what you can skip.

There are lots of DIY ideas online for Montessori materials.  For me, however, I just don’t have the time to make things.  I don’t have time to go shopping to find the materials to make them, and then I don’t have time to put them together, and maybe it’s just because I’m in Canada, but often it costs the same, if not more, to make it myself.  And then what usually happens is I’m not happy with the result and I wind up purchasing what I tried to make and I’m out the money I spent trying to do it myself.  So I tend to purchase.  If you have the time and skill to make things yourself, go ahead, just don’t under-estimate the amount of time it’ll take and the expense.

So, what should you buy for your little preschooler?  Well here’s Pumpkins and Me’s must have Montessori list: (Links to my favourite Canadian site to purchase from IFIT in the headings)

Knobbed Cylinder Blocks: If you have a 2-3 year old, these are a big hit.  Heck, even I love doing them.  They not only stimulate spacial recognition, the knobs help children learn proper pencil grip.  I don’t recommend the Mini Cylinder blocks because they’re too easy. Your child will figure them out quickly.  If you can’t afford the whole set, Montessori Outlet sells them individually.  Blocks 1 & 3 change by height and width, blocks 2 & 4 change by just one aspect, either height or width.  Blocks 2 & 4 are more challenging than 1 & 3.  If you can, especially if you have a little one, get the whole set.

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Pink Tower:  This is another must have in my book.  Now you might be wondering why you can’t just use plastic nesting and stacking blocks or the like.  With the Pink Tower a child can feel the difference in weight between the blocks.  Also they’re all one colour so there is nothing to distract from the sensory learning experience of size.  Also the sensory materials tend to be in groups of 10 to start awareness of number grouping.

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Knobless Cylinders There are so many things that can be done with the Knobless Cylinders.  Each box contains 10 cylinders of varying heights and widths.  They can be combined into so many patterns and there are many extensions that can be printed off to use with them.  However they aren’t introduced until Period 5 in Gettman, but I use them with my 2 year old, they’re a little advanced for her but a 3 year old would have no problem with them.

Geometric Solids:  These are a wonderful sensory experience for children.  My 2 year old likes to match them with the bases.  She’s learned the names of most of them already too.  There are other sets out there that are cheaper.  Here’s some from Scholar’s Choice.  However, like the Pink Tower, I think it’s best if they’re all one colour.  Also, keep in mind that the Nomenclature cards usually depict the blue Montessori shapes.

Geometric Cabinet: This is an expensive purchase but I feel it’s an important one.  You could try making your own out of foam board but I think it’d be a tricky task.  This material has so many uses.  A puzzle, learning shapes, the knobs are good preparation for pencil holding and as the child learns to trace around the shapes and the frames with their finger they’re preparing for tracing the metal insets.  Also, if you can’t afford the metal insets, you can have your child trace the insets in the Geometric Cabinet if you’re ok with them getting marked up a bit.  The Geometric Demonstration Tray is sold separately, so you might want to get it as well, though it isn’t really necessary.  For $5 you might want to consider getting the Control Chart as some of those names of triangles are tricky.

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Binomial Cube: This isn’t something that you can easily make yourself and you’re not really going to find anywhere else.  It’s important for developing the child’s visual perception of three dimensional patterns.

Red Rods: These wouldn’t be too hard to make yourself.  I was going to get my husband to make them but I was sent them by mistake and decided to pay to keep them.  They are quite big but I think that makes the sensory experience that much more interesting.  I was tempted to purchase just the Number Rods but the lines would distract from the sense of length.  Numbers aren’t introduced until Period 3 in Gettman so I’d recommend getting the Red Rods.  There is also small Number Rods available, so you could save money by getting them instead of the large ones.  If you’re lacking in space I’d recommend getting the Rod Stand as well.

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Sandpaper Numbers: These aren’t introduced until Period 4 in Gettman so they’re something you can wait on.  They wouldn’t be too difficult to make yourself.  I don’t recommend the Sandpaper materials from Montessori Outlet.  They put some type of glue on the wood and cover it with coarse sand.  It’s sheds like crazy, making a mess, and feels terrible, it’s just too coarse.  The sandpaper materials for IFIT and Affordable Montessori are much nicer.

Sandpaper Letters: These are an important material for learning.  Combining touch with learning cements it in the brain.  You want to teach the lower case letters first so don’t purchase the Upper Case letters until later.  Also, you’ll need to decide if you want to teach cursive or print.  Cursive is usually taught in traditional Montessori but nowadays many schools and parents teach print.  I have heard it’s a read chore to make these yourself but you could try.  Affordable Montessori has a mini set in print of both lower and upper case.  Here’s a different option from IFIT that has number and letters but it looks like they are groved into wood rather than sandpaper letters, but they would serve the same purpose.  There is also a set on Amazon.ca

Sandpaper & Colour Globes:  These is also difficult to make yourself, but there are several DIY tutorials on the net.  This is introduced in Period 1 in Gettman.  The one on IFIT is said to be not good quality.  I have the Sandpaper globe from Affordable Montessori and it looks very similar and the quality seems fine to me.  The children really like to feel the globe.  In Montessori the continents each have a colour that is used on the puzzles and the globe so that is why you might want to consider having the Montessori globe rather than a regular one.  If money is tight, just get the Sandpaper Globe.

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Moveable Alphabet:  This isn’t introduced until Period 4, after the I Spy game and the Sandpaper letters are completed.  Why the Moveable alphabet rather than just magnetic letters?  Because the Movable Alphabet comes with multiples of each letter so the child can write words.  Writing comes before reading in Montessori.  Also there is the option of cursive letters.  This is something that you can wait to get.  Montessori Outlet offers the letters separate from the box so you can save money, but I recommend getting a box as it allows you to store the letters sorted so your child isn’t frustrated trying to find the letter he wants.  However, you might be able to find other storage options.  I haven’t reached this stage yet but I think you’d only need the lower case.  By the time your child is using upper case they will most likely be writing on their own.  Another option is to print out multiples of each letter and laminate them or purchase this.

What about all the other materials?

Brown Stair:  This is expensive and not necessary, though there are a lot of extensions you can do combining the Brown Stair and Pink Tower.  If you can afford it, it’s nice to have.  If you can’t, then you’ll be fine without it.

Spindle Box: This is one thing I made my own version of.  Read about it here.  There are also lots of other DIY ideas on line.  Another option that I actually like better and is great for younger ones is this from Scholar’s Choice.

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Colour Boxes: There are tons of colour activities you can do with objects around the house or make from paint chips that this is defiantly one area you can skip purchasing.  If you did want to purchase, IFIT has a Box 4 that can be used for grading shades and matching colours.

Metal Insets: Definitely not necessary but they’re really nice.  You could instead have your child trace the shapes in the Geometric Cabinet or get some stencils to trace.  If you can afford it, I’d get them.  Montessori Outlet sells them without the stands so you can get them for a little less.

Touch Tablets, Thermic Tablets, Baric Tablets, Sound boxes:  First off, my feeling is that these are great in a classroom, but not necessary at home.  There are so many daily experiences you can give your child without these.  Feeling ice cubes, feeling how heavy things are, talking about soft, smooth, rough toys, different sounds, etc… Also it’s not too hard to make your own touch Tablets and Sound boxes.

Bells: Music as been shown to expand brain development.  If you can have your child be part of music classes that’d be great.  My daughter is going to start piano lessons around 4 or 5.  Montessori bells are really expensive but I’m planning to do what the mother at What Did We Do All Day blog did.  I purchased my bells from Scholar’s Choice.  If you can’t afford it, do make sure music is a part of your day.

Dressing Frames:  I have these but I don’t find them practical because the way you do up snaps and buttons and zippers on a frame is different than when you do it on yourself.  If you know someone who can sew, these are a much better option.  Or just teach them with their clothes.

Construtive Triangles: The blue ones are not too expensive if you want to purchase them.  My plan is to make them out of foam.

Mystery Bag:  At $12 it’s quite affordable, but at the same time you could make your own with objects around the house.

Map Puzzles: These are quite large.  You can easily make a world map out of felt.  Here’s an awesome one I’d love to make if I had the time from Imagine Our Life.  The advantage to the wood puzzle is that the child can trace the pieces to make their own maps.  If you can afford it, get the World Puzzle.

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Zoology and Botany Puzzles: These are quite affordable, so if you’re looking for some more complicated puzzles for your child, you might want to get a few.  Otherwise they’re used for teaching parts of the animal and plants in Period 3.  I think a child can learn just as well with Nomenclature cards and growing beans in a glass jar.

Botany Cabinet:  Not necessary.  You could easily use cards to teach classification by leaf and have a child trace the geometric cabinet frames with a cuticle stick.

Land and Water Form Trays and Sandpaper Cards:  The trays can be made with Plasticine in plastic trays.  If you can afford it and want something more lasting then I’d purchase them.  The kids really love them.  The sandpaper cards are easy to make yourself.

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Trays, Jugs, and Practical Skills:  These are best bought at places like the Dollar Store, Target or even at Thrift Stores.

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Philosophy Part 2

Chapter 2 The Impact of Movement on Learning and Cognition (summary from Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Lillard)

One of the greatest mistakes of our day is to think of movement by itself, as something apart from the higher functions…Mental development must be connected with movement and be dependent on it.  It is vital that educational theory and practice should become informed by this idea  – Maria Montessori

Movement and learning are perpetually entwined in Montessori education.  In traditional schooling, bodily movement is limited and consists largely of reading and writing numbers and letters that abstractly represent the concepts being learned.  This lack of movement fits the model of the child being a vessel, to take in new information and commit it to memory.  Montessori saw the stationary child as problematic, because she believed that movement and thought are closely tied.  Movement is therefore integral to the educational program she developed.  Recent psychological research and theorizing support Dr. Montessori`s idea.

Movement is deeply implicated in Montessori education.  For instance, in learning to write, a child starts with manipulating knobbed cylinders, then traces shapes with his fingers, moving on to trace leaf shapes with a wooden stick.  He traces sandpaper letters, feeling the shapes of the letters themselves, he then learns to use the metal insets and trace them with a pencil and arranges wooden alphabet letters.  “In order to develop his mind a child must have objects in his environment which he can hear and see.  Since he must develop himself through his movements, through the work of his hands, he has need of objects with which he can work that provide motivation for his activity“ Maria Montessori

There is abundant research showing that movement and cognition are closely intertwined (many of these studies are discussed in the book).  People represent spaces and objects more accurately, make judgements faster and more accurately, remember information better, and show superior social cognition when their movements are aligned with what they are thinking about or learning.

A little bit of Philosophy

I`ve been reading a great book.  Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard.  I`m going to do a series of posts on the chapters of this book as I finish them.

Chapter 1: An Answer to the Crisis in Education.

In this chapter she discusses the two fundamental cornerstone of American schooling today which were placed at the turn of the 20th century.  The school as a factory and the child as a blank slate.  Today we know that these ideas are incorrect but they continue to have a profound impact on how we run schools.  Due to this flawed foundation, traditinal schools have not fared well.  The solutions Americans have devised to fix the problems in our schools repeatedly fail because they do not change these fundamental models.  The educational system should instead draw on scientific study of how children learn.  Early in the 20th century, Dr. Maria Montessori envisioned a radically different approach to education, grounded in close and insightful observations of children.  Modern research suggests that the Montessori system is much more suited to how children learn and develop.

Motessori, who held a degree in both engineering and medicine, was interested in helping mentally retarded children.  She was given a group of children to work with and she developed her Sensorial Materials.  The world marveled when a number of these children passed state educational exams designed for normal children.  However, Dr Montessori marveled at the fact that normal children were not doing better on such tests, given their obvious advantages.  This led her to turn her attention to studying how normal children develop in order to discover how humans could reach their potential more fully than they did in traditional schools. Montessori was given the charge of 50-60 children aged 3-6, a room and a teacher and she set about to begin her experiment.  By testing new approaches and materials and noting children`s reactions, over the next 50 years she developed a radically different system of education.  She left a legacy of a broad, field-tested curriculum covering all the major subject areas for children ages 3-12.  This system was developed by trial and error over her lifetime, with children from all around the world.

A Portrait of a Montessori Classroom

A Montessori classroom is usually a large, open space with low shelves and child sized furniture.  The classroom is arranged into areas with materials for working on a particular subject area.  The classroom is kept neat and orderly, with every material having it`s place on a shelf.  Respect for the needs of others is highly valued.  Children are free to work  where ever they choose, at a table, on a mat, in groups or alone.  Lessons are usually given to individual children as they are ready for them.  The materials are designed to attract the children`s interest and has a primary purpose and often a secondary.  Children must use the materials correctly in order to learn the lesson it is designed to impart therefore children are expect to use the material how they were shown to.  There are no tests, the teachers observe the children at work and repeat lessons if a child is not using a material correctly.  New lessons are given when a child appears to have mastered a material and is ready for the next material in the sequence.

Eight Principles of Montessori Education

1) Movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning.

2) Learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives.

3) People learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.

4) Tying extrinsic rewards to an activity negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn.

5) Collaborative arrangements can be very conducive to learning.

6) Learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts.

7) Particular forms of adult interaction are associated with more optimal child outcomes.

8) Order in the environment is beneficial to children.

Geometric Cabinet

We received some new Montessori materials for our “classroom”.  One was the Geometric Cabinet.  This consists of 35 geometric insets and frames: 6 circles, 6 rectangles, 7 triangles, 6 regular polygons, 4 curvilinear figures, 6 quadrilaterals and 1 blank.  Pumpkin 1 enjoys working with it.  Right now it’s like doing a puzzle.  She’s also learning the names of different shapes.  In fact I learned something new.  I found out that an Oval is actually an egg shape (larger at one end) and what we call an Oval is really an Ellipse!  Also a diamond shape is actually called a Rombus.  So much for mommy to learn.

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As Pumpkin 1 gains fine motor skills she can begin to trace the shapes with her fingers in preparation to eventually use the metal insets which help her learn to draw the lines and curves found in letters.  In Montessori each material builds on the previous one and is preparation for the next.  They are not random toys but specially designed materials to teach and stimulate learning.  They work in a cohesive manner to connect together skills and ideas.

If you’re thinking of purchasing some Montessori materials here are some great online stores in Canada:

http://www.montessoriequipment.ca/default.asp – Affordable pricing, free shipping on orders over $300, great quality.

http://ca.montessorioutlet.com/cgi-bin/category/0 – Lowest prices, quality is good except the sandpaper materials and boxes are sold separately, no free shipping.

http://www.affordmontessori.com/index.asp – Affordable pricing, great quality, free shipping on orders over $300, great customer service.

Of the 3 I like Montessori Equipment the best.