Aseema Donation

It’s the end of the month and true to my word, I’ve made my first donation to Aseema!  At the end of every month, for every order in my shop, I’ll be donating $1 to Aseema.  Aseema is an NGO in India that provides Montessori based education to impoverished children and they’re working on a new school for tribal children.  Education is the key to a better life and India is close to my heart.

My shop is still small so it’s not a large donation (it’s in USD) by any means but fingers crossed it’ll be bigger next month!

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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.

At Last…Our Playroom/School Room

I finally have our playroom “almost” how I want it.  It’s not a very big room so it’s been a challenge to have everything I want organized yet there still be room to play.  This room doubles as a playroom/daycare room/school room so it’s not an ideal Montessori room.  Also with Pumpkin 2 going to be getting into everything before I know it, I’ve had to arrange things so that materials with small parts are up high.  So, with that in mind, enjoy your tour!

Lots of light from the two windows.

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Looking to the right of the room.  Against the gate is a carrom board, a game from India.  You can’t see them but beside the chair is a pail that holds two carpets for doing our work on.

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Looking to the left of the room.  Do any other mothers have the same problem of their stuff being all disorganized while the kids’ toys are all neat and tidy?

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The drawers on the right have all the craft stuff.  The containers on the top usually have pipe cleaners in them but the kids use them up fast.  The shelf has the metal insets on the top, below is the geometric cabinet and board games, below that is a basket with cards for the cabinet, emotion cards and the land form trays.  Bottom shelf has a toy laptop and the doctor’s kit, playdough and a file with different types of craft paper in it.  The shelf is a 9 cube shelf that I put together without all the dividers so that I’d have more space.

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This white shelf is an end table that I’ve made into a light table.  The world map puzzle is stored on top as there isn’t really anywhere else to put it.  Underneath are puzzles, movable alphabet and in the container is pre-reading card activities.  On the bottom are puzzles and our magna tiles (a favourite with all the kids).

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On the window ledge here you can see the small pieces from the pink tower and the knobless cylinders.  On the shelf I have the knobbed cylinders which have small pieces in them and the sand paper globe which also has the pin that is a choking hazard.  The top row is a shape sorter, our French books and Montessori puzzles.  Below that is board books, Wedgits (another favourite) and a stacking toy and puzzle.  Bottom shelf is toy trucks, object permanence box and Hape peg puzzle.

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This is our reading corner.  I need to make it a little more cozy.  And maybe a mirror on the wall.  You can also see the dressing frames leaning against the shelf.  I need to find a place for them still.

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This is our main Montessori shelf.  The drawers on the top hold the objects for the language sounds.  There is also some cards and a container of cards, some Toob figures I just got and a bingo dabber picture done by Pumpkin 1.  First row is magnetic Mighty Mind, Melissa and Doug spelling puzzle and sandpaper letters.  Next row is some fine motor activities, the knobless cylinders, and the touch boards and Thermic tablets.  Below that is my cloth spindle “box” and number peg boards, the baric tablets and weigh scale and the geometric solids.  New row is the pink tower, Melissa and Dough latch puzzle and the colour box.  The bottom has the brown stairs, screw board and our music instrument box.  To the left of the shelf is the red rods.

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This is our calendar and weather chart and the shelf has our toys in it.  Cars, Jenga blocks, Barbies, animals, connecting toys, tools, peg board, Little People, scarves, Pumpkin 2’s toys, and Duplo.

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This is our new Elves and Angels’ kitchen.  The shelf has a box of dress up clothes, play food and dishes and above that the Leaf cabinet and our music collection.  Above that is materials for Practical life activities (out of reach of Pumpkin 2) and above that is a bunch of stuff for crafts.

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So that is our playroom.  It’s been a long time in the making and will probably still go through changes.  It’s not ideal, lots of things out of reach, but I think it’s more important to be safe.  Most of the Montessori material is too advanced for Pumpkin 1 but she’ll be old enough for it before I know it.  Also I use it with my 3 year old daycare child and sometimes with my after school daycare children.  I think I’ve done a good job with the amount of space we have.  Everything is organized and not too cluttered.  The toys are mostly open ended toys or learning toys.  We have a nice area on the floor to work and a beautiful table to work at, just the right height.  The rocking chair is great for me to watch from and nurse Pumpkin 2 in.  The room is safe enough for Pumpkin 2 to roll around and pull stuff off the shelves at his height and Pumpkin 1 can reach most of the things.  The gate keeps the dogs out and the kids out when need be and keeps them in when I need them in.  The walls are simply decorated and I’m able to display the children’s art work.  I did put things above their eye level but I don’t want things ripped of the wall and the paint ruined.  So, would you like to come and learn with us?

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.

Teach Me To Do It Myself

This is kinda the catch phrase that sums up Montessori, especially for the toddler, preschool and primary years.  How often do we rush in to do something for our children rather than waiting and letting them try for themselves?  How often do we just routinely do things for them without even thinking that maybe they could do it?  How much easier is it to do something ourselves than to teach and wait for our child to do it?  It’s not easy, and even a little scary to let our children be independent, but it’s essential to their development.  I started stepping back with Pumpkin 1 out of necessity.  When Pumpkin 2 was born when she was only 18 months, I couldn’t respond to her as quickly.  I couldn’t hold her hand to help her up the stairs 50 times a day so I just had to let her do things on her own.  And I was surprised.  She was capable.  After reading more about trusting our children on Play at Home Mom blog I started to force myself to step back at the park (just a little bit back 🙂 in catching distance) and see what she could do.  She surprised me again.  She could climb, slide, crawl, all by herself.  And I saw that, in her case, she was cautious when she wasn’t sure of herself and didn’t do things if she felt she couldn’t (I know not every child is like that).  I started showing her how to climb things at the park, rather than just plopping her down at the top.

Now that I’ve started this journey into Montessori I’m looking for more ways to allow her to be independent and to teach her how to do things.  This past week I was emptying the dish washer and Pumpkin 1 wanted to help.  I thought for a minute and then put her kitchen stool over by the utensil drawer, opened it and put the dishwasher utensil tray of clean utensils down on the counter.  I showed her how to put a few in, and then went back to my work.  And she did it!  She put them all away, in the right spot, with just a couple mistakes.  My 2 year old actually helped me with housework.  Yay!  This age is a key time.  At this age helping out and cleaning is fun.  It’s more work right now to teach them, but before you know it, your child will be a help to you.  I hope that by instilling responsibility and organization in her right now, it will stay with her for life (I can hope, right?).

I am finding, the more independent she is, the less meltdowns she has.  Often a tantrum is from frustration, from not being able to control her surroundings.  I also try to not say “no” all the time.  Is it really a big deal if she wants to bring 5 stuffed animals on a walk?  Is it a big deal if she wants to wear a dress up dress to the store?  I have to stop myself, consider why I’m saying no – is it a safety issue?  a mess issue? a time issue?  Then, if I realize my motivation in saying no, I can better judge if I should let it go and let her do whatever it is, or if I can adapt it somehow so that it is less messy, or is safe.  And of course, sometimes I just have to say “no”.

What are some ways you have taught your child to be independent?

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Cursive before print?!

So the Montessori method of education teaches sounds of letters before the names, lower case before the upper case, writing before reading, and….I just learned….cursive before print!  At first I thought it was crazy.  No one uses cursive nowadays, they don’t even teach it in some schools anymore, and it’s so much more difficult.  Everything a child sees is in print, so why teach cursive first?  This is take from the following interesting article:

AMI is highly supportive of using cursive as the primary mode of writing in the Casa. Using cursive instead of ball and stick print is not an antiquated notion but a developmentally appropriate method of writing for children under the age of six. All children starting from around the age of two-and-a-half scribble using broad, loopy, continuous motions that are similar to the motions used in cursive writing. By introducing cursive instead of print, Montessori guides are matching the child’s natural movements rather than the unnatural, straight marks needed in ball and stick style writing. Unlike printing, cursive appeals to the child’s innate tendency towards perfecting his/her movement and refines fine motor skills, manual dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. In addition, cursive letters are easy for children to learn and difficult for them to reverse. Whereas the ball and stick letters “b” and “d” are easily confused and reversed, the cursive letters “b” and “d” are much clearer. Children are also better able to read cursive words because they are joined together creating a clear distinction as to where a word starts and ends. Printing does not provide this control of error. It has also been observed by multiple Montessorians that children who begin writing in cursive have little to no difficulty deciphering other forms of writing, including handwritten printing and words printed from a computer. Children who begin with printing, however, have a rough transition into cursive and do not seem to recognize it as legitimate writing. With a foundation in cursive, children in the Casa are able to adapt to any writing style with ease.

It’s actually kinda convincing.  It’s something I’m going to have to read more on.

Read the full article here http://jola-montessori.com/article/the-new-war-handwriting/

Here’s an article about the cognitive benefits of cursive writing http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/what-learning-cursive-does-your-brain

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or experiences.

Great sites for inspiration

http://theimaginationtree.com/

http://www.playathomemomllc.com/

These two sites have tons of great activities you can do with children from babies to preschool.  They’re  more in the Reggio Emilia school of thought on education but they compliment the Montessori activities.

When I decided I wanted to do Montessori with my children, I was overwhelmed.  There are so many materials (expensive ones too) and ideas that I didn’t know where to begin.  What activities do I focus on with my daughter?  What materials should I purchase?  What ones can I make?  I didn’t know where to start.  But I found this “curriculum” (if that’s the right word for it) http://www.montessoriathomebook.com/Home.html/  I ordered the e-book (at only $10)  and it’s AMAZING!  It has everything I was looking for.  The philosophy of Maria Montessori, what I should buy, what activities to do at what age, other materials that are great, books, even aps to download for children.  And tons and tons and tons of DIY activities.  There are also links to blogs and stores.  I highly recommend it for anyone who is thinking of doing Montessori at home.

This morning we played with the Magnetic Mighty Mind.  It’s great for working on shapes and matching.  I like the magnetic set because the pieces stay in place for little hands.  I gave her a cookie sheet to play on.  The set comes in a tin and you can put the cards in the lid and work on it as well.  I was surprised because last time she played with it she didn’t get the matching concept, but today she was doing it.

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