Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Home Again. Holiday Break is Over.....

Well, at least for me.  My children still have the rest of the week, but I have to get some prep work done.  I am in the middle of making a hundreds board for my son out of some wood I have and tiles from Plaster of Paris and my mind is flowing with ideas of other projects.  You see, most of our family lives pretty far away so they ship presents to us.  Add to that we did all our shopping online this year as well and you have many empty boxes to contend with.  Most people would see this as unwanted trash and throw it out with the wrapping paper.  Not me!  I see possibility, strong backing for boards (I normally use folders when not using wood).   A lot of Montessori users think it has to be wood to meet the beautiful and in a class room setting, the wood is essential for the multiple users.  However, in our home, we can use less sturdy supplies and paper can be just as beautiful as wood as many scrap-book and card makers know.

The kids, however, will be spending the next week exploring the new presents they got from Santa and family.  My daughter has been crafting, learning to play her new guitar, and learning about the human anatomy via Eduscience's Human Torso Learning Game. My son is exploring the world of engineering through his new train table and World map puzzle by Geopuzzle. This is my favorite way for them to learn. Play time is learning time and I can just sit back and watch their little minds grow answering questions and helping when asked. The best part is that the items mentioned were not just sneaked in, but items my children saw and asked for in their letters to Santa.  They received fantasy play items also, but so far these are the favorites.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Every Child Deserves Beautiful Learning Tools~ Maria Montessori

I love this quote and I love the idea of my children having all the beautiful Montessori supplies that a school house would have.  Let's face it, I just do not have the budget for that!  I do get some for them as presents at this time of year, but the other day J saw me watching a presentation on the hundred board.  He knows how to count, but has some issues transitioning between the tens and I thought that  a hundred board activity would help.  "I want that!" he exclaimed as he watched the video and has requested several times a day to see the video again. While he watched the video for the hundredth time, I set forth making a hundred board set for him. If he liked the video that much, he must actually want one. I already had the Plaster of Paris, paint, and a spare board, so why not try to make my own.  The tiles are not perfect, even though I tried my best to get 1" by 1" squares ( not having the best mold, but wanting to do it by Christmas), the board is not framed or as precise as it could be either.  My son got to help in the smoothing of the tiles after I cut them from the larger mold and as we worked on it he was so excited.  My heart melted as he danced around and then he said. . .

"I am the luckiest boy in the world!" 

Our Hundred Board
It was at this simple statement that I realized that beautiful to the child is not always as harsh a judgment as beautiful to the adult.  My four year old thinks his board is just as beautiful as the one he saw on the computer.  He doesn't care that   the tiles are not perfect squares.  He doesn't mind not having a frame around it (though I do plan to rectify this for practical application purposes).  What he does know is that this board was made just for him, by me and that he got to help.  That he was worth my effort and time.

As I look around at other things I have made for my children but wish were better, I realize my children still love to use them. They know I have taken the time (and often not small amounts of time) to make them to be as nice as I could with what I had at hand.  Or, even better,  they have helped in making them.  When this is the case the item is even better because they are in their eyes fully their own.  In reflection, I think this follows the Montessori principles as much, if not more, than buying them.  We are working together using our hands to create the tool for the educational success.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Importance of Instant Rewards for Young Children

This week we have learned a couple very valuable lesson: 
  • The Importance of Instant Gratification
  • The Importance of Teaching Time Management

Our daughter has recently been having a hard time focusing.  She will do her work but normally rather slowly and often allowing herself to be distracted by everything else in the room.  Comments like "I am hungry." or "I am thirsty."  and even the ever popular "I have to go to the bathroom." were coming much to frequently.  Since we use the Montessori method mostly, she is use to a freedom of choice and self-directed education.  I did not want to change this, but wanted to help her stay focused.  I had been using the encouragement of as soon as you are done with all your work you can go play.  Alas at 9, this is too far away to be much encouragement.  We (my husband and I) decided we needed to come up with something that could be done as she completed each subject.  "What?" was the question.

  Then I remembered the stickers of my youth.  How happy I was to get them on my paper!  For those of you not familiar with the Montessori Method, this is not easily translated as most of the work is more tactile than sit and do this paper.  Not to mention we do not have a grading scale, she does the work, if it is right she is congratulated, if not we explain again and she tries again until she can do it.   So how with this non-traditional approach could I uses this reward and what did I want it to reward?  I wanted her not so much to be rewarded  for knowing the answers, but reaching the goal of focusing.  This meant setting time limits for the first time in her education.  Not something encouraged or used in the Montessori Method, but my child needed to learn time management and that is one of the joys of homeschooling.  We are not stuck with one method. 

Then it struck me.  She could have a work reward chart, much like her chore chart.  When she worked well she would get a sticker on her chart and if she didn't she wouldn't.   I resolved to set time estimates of what would be reasonable lengths for her to take on each subject activity as she did them and set a timer.  If she finished within the allotted time, she got the sticker, if not she would not.  She would not be made to end the activity at the allotted time, just not rewarded.  After all the point of this was not to make her feel like a failure for not being fast enough, but to reward her for reaching a goal of focus, which we have been working on. Now to present the idea to her.  Would it work?

Much to my surprise she was very excited about this idea and even added her ideas to it. We now have a ranking system.  She gets a gold star if she finishes her work before the timer and well (we do not encourage sloppy work for the sake of time), Silver if she is almost finished(with in a couple minutes of the set time), and bronze if she does not finish in time but worked diligently throughout the time allotted.  

I was also reminded of the simplicity and understanding of children. We did not have the stickers this week as I had only came up with the idea on Wendsday morning, but this did not stop her from wanting to start it that day.  "Mommy we can just draw the stars" was her excited comment.  So that is what we did.  My 4 year old liked the idea so much he wanted his own chart as well!