No Curriculum Required

No Curriculum Required

Around here it is the time to look at curriculums, schools and plans for next year.  This time of year always gets me thinking.  Are we in a good spot?

Are the kids learning new information? how to learn?

Are the kids happy?

Are they engaged?

For the first time ever since I became the parent of school aged kids, I am content.  Yes, we are in a terrific spot.  We are not stuck on curriculum.  Life is learning.  When the kids are interested in something, they go with it.  They delve into the subject finding out all that they need.  They laugh daily. They argue daily.  They are learning so much more than information in books.  They are learning about being a good neighbor and citizen, nature, being a good friend, being a loving sibling, emotions, cooking, health, money, reading, math, and being a teacher.  They are engaged in life.  They plan.  They make goals.  All of the important information that they are learning comes from life.  No curriculum can teach all of this.

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“Montessori is an education for independence not just for school, but for life.” Maria Montessori

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I spent some time this week reviewing my plans for this year.  Thus far, I like where things are going.  I have noticed a change in my philosophy though.  The previous two years, we mainly followed a Waldorf type of home school curriculum.  I love the way Waldorf brings art and creativity into school work.  I believe the information taught is very appropriate for each age.  However, something didn’t feel right.  I decided to do some more research.

Latta

I found that I am still very much a Montessori-type person.  Thus, I think I need to flow with that.  During my research, I came upon a sentence that basically said- the teacher sets the minimum and the student sets the maximum on each subject.  This resonated with me, so I decided to continue my research into Montessori and this is what I found.

Choice and Deadlines: Montessori schools tend to allow choices within a set of limits (kids do not have endless choices but they do get to have a choice in their work).  Deadlines are not pushed.   I am definitely using the blocks that I had originally set up.  However, I am not forcing the materials that I purchased.  Each child knows what their block is on each month.  From there, they each have some choices in how and what is studied.  Allowing the kids to have input into the curriculum gives them ownership of it.  I also explain that I would like to complete the block in X amount of weeks but that I am not set on it.  For example, Sims decided this month that he would like to continue with business math.  Thus, he started his next book/project on starting a company.  I am finding that when I put a deadline on a work, the motivation quickly decreases.  However, when I present an activity without a deadline, I find the kids working on it outside of “school time.”

Internal versus external motivation: Montessori-schooling believes that children are not empty-vessels but actually motivated doers.  Thus, they do not need extrinsic rewards. I want my kids to be internally motivated.  I find this to be very important to me.  I do not like to set limits; although, I do.  I am finding that I do not have to set nearly as many limits anymore as the kids get older.  We do not have a policy for completing work each day.  There is no reward for completing your work, just as there really is no punishment.  For us, this works.  The kids may not love what they are doing but they do take ownership of it.  I like that they set goals for themselves.  I have goals for each of them as well, but I do not overly focus on my goals.  Typically, both sets of goals will come together in one way or another.

Get a lesson, do a lesson, give a lesson: Ok, this may be my absolute favorite part of Montessori!  I LOVE watching this in action.  Children get a lesson from the teacher or a peer (in our case from me-Mom- or a sibling or a teacher at a class).  Next, the child works on the lesson independently.  Finally, the child gives a lesson on the subject to another person to demonstrate mastery of the subject.  All three children will teach their siblings.  Sometimes, I am taught the final lesson.  Teaching gives each child a better understanding of the topic at hand.  It also gets them thinking about other ways to explain the topic if the first attempt was not understood.  The kids will also collaborate on a lesson.  Collaboration allows each child to teach a part of an activity.

Meaningful learning: Montessori doesn’t have you learn information that is not useful to you.  The lessons tie into real life.  I want the lessons I teach to have meaning to my kids.  Why is it important to learn about history? business math? myths and legends? folk tales?  We make sure that our work is relevant and meaningful.  When the work is not meaningful in their minds, the kids simply complete the work and do not embrace it.  However, when they  see and understand how it effects their lives or they see it in action, they will go over and beyond my expectation of the work.

We are beyond the primary years of Montessori.  We do not have the physical materials that a typical Montessori school has, and I do not give Montessori lessons.  We do have an organized (most of the time) house, with little distractions (the tv and the radio is off), an environment waiting to be explored, and amazing opportunities all around us.  I am beginning to feel settled again after a week of research.  I always seem to end up back in the world of Montessori.  I look forward to observing my children find their summit in each block this year.

 

Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.

“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.”

Maria Montessori

I am back from a short break of blogging.  Over the past few weeks, I looked over some of my most popular and most searched posts.  My first post on the above quote is a popular search.  However, the post I wrote with it does not go into much detail about the quote.  I thought it fitting that I would use the quote again as I wrote about some of our summer.

The past few weeks have been filled with blogs and articles about the importance of play and giving kids the opportunity to play freely in their environment.  Well, this is what we have done-not because an article or a blog or research told us to but because it is fun, and it is what we do anyway.

My husband and I set up the environments (not really, but we chose the environments we live in and play in are our choices so I will say that we set them up).  Our backyard is wooded with a sandbox, a zip line, a swing set with slings, a small play house that is now storage for the kids’ inventions, lots of woods, a mountain bike trail nearby, gardens, tools, and supplies.  Inside, the children have art supplies, legos, blankets galore, and food.  They bring their amazing imaginations into our environments and fascinating things start happening.

We schooled for the 9 months prior to our summer vacation.  Since I am their teacher, I know what was taught.  I get to watch as the lessons that we went through during the school year come together in their play.  They used their environments to develop tipis, lean-to’s, and other forms of shelter- learning what will keep out the rain and the wind and what won’t.  They developed tunnels, roads and lakes in the sandbox to allow the explorers to search out their new world.  Worlds and stories were made in the playroom with legos.  My kids do not like to make what is on the box of the legos.  They want to design their own creations.  Their worlds contains boats, fire trucks with the appropriate apparatus, bucket trucks, ticket booths, farms, marinas, police stations, junk yards, stores and more.  They make the worlds come to life.  They name their people based off of the characters in the books they have read or the myths that they have studied.

The creativity is amazing here everyday.  They cook.  They draw.  They invent.  They play in their environment utilizing every piece of it.  So what does this have to do with education?  Everything.  During their play, they are experimenting and working through the scientific method without even knowing it.  They are increasing their vocabulary by using the words that they have learned throughout the year in context of their play.  They play for hours in these environments which will help with increasing their attention span and working memory when we do go back to lessons.  Cooking (which they love, because the love to eat and with all of our crazy food choices-we have to cook everything from scratch) gets them reading, doing math, and sequencing.  (For us, it also teaches patience-why do the brownies take so long to cook?).  They observe as the bees go from flower to flower and know that that bee is essential for our garden.

People ask me if we school during the summer.  Of course, my answer is, “no.”  However, the reality is that yes. there is school going on here-just not formal schooling.  They are not listening to me give a lesson or watching a television or playing a video game.  They are manipulating and exploring their environments, inventing new gadgets for matchbox cars and legos, and educating themselves in a way that I can not.

Hiking Sticks- Montessori Lessons

We are finally getting outdoors again!  OK, so we were outdoors before this too, but now it is sunny and warm!!  The kids are busy coming up with ideas for the spring and summer (and fall).  One of their main projects of late entails making hiking sticks.

Sims took a class at Latta Plantation last spring on making hiking sticks.  Since then, he has taught Sawyer an Parks how to pick the right stick, whittle it down, sand it and add the necessary amenities.  Last week, Latta had another class on hiking sticks.  Sawyer and Sims attended the class.  They then came home and gave Parks another lesson.

When I envisioned homeschooling three years ago, I thought Sims and Sawyer would work with Parks on reading, spelling and math.  So far, that has not happened.  However, they are awesome about completing the Montessori cycle with outdoor activities.  They get a lesson.  They practice on their own, and finally, they teach someone else.  This was definitely the case with the hiking sticks.  I truly enjoyed watching the kids work together on this project.

Of course, the best part was putting the hiking sticks to use this weekend on our hike.  We headed to Elk Knob State Park in Boone.  The weather was beautiful.  However, the ground was covered in SNOW!!  Parks and I were not prepared for the snow so we relied on the hiking sticks for some added traction.

 

Weather Tree

The weather here in NC has been interesting to say the least.  It rained a lot during the spring, summer and fall.  Now, it rains on warmer days (meaning, no snow).  And the rest of the days are just plain COLD (at least for NC).  Typically, NC has pretty moderate temperatures throughout the year.  Occasionally, we will get snow that falls just long enough to play in and then it melts away.  This year, the days are sunny and COLD or rainy and cool.

We talk a lot about the weather.  The kids love watching the temperature and watching the clouds.  They also LOVE the weather bug app on my phone to see what the weather is other parts of the world.  Of course being a homeschooling mama, I got thinking about ways to monitor the weather.  Saxon math uses charts and other programs use graphs.  These didn’t seem fun so I went to pinterest and found my answer-weather trees!  They are beautiful.  The kids agreed so I went to work designing my own weather tree.  We started a couple of weeks late for January, but that is ok.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out! If you would like a copy of the weather tree that I drew, you can download it from Teachers Pay Teachers for free!

weather tree

“He who is served is limited in his independence.”Maria Montessori

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Week 1-the introduction to school-CHECK

Week 2- the first full week of school-CHECK

The week began in a different way than I had imagined-but this is how life goes; so, I went with it.  Our family went out of town for the weekend, and we were all exhausted.  So 830 rolled around and none of us were ready to begin.  Thank goodness we are at home and we made the choice to start the following day.  This lasted until about 230.  By this time, the kids were on each other’s nerves and the day was going down hill fast.  I motioned everyone to the school room and just told everyone to find some work.  THREE hours went by!  They worked and worked and worked.  I loved what they came up with.  Sims and Sawyer used the metal insets to make pictures and then they each wrote a story about their picture.  Lessons were given.  It was beautiful.  My husband came home and asked if school started and the kids answered, “no, school starts tomorrow.”  I did not have the heart to tell them that they actually were in school.

Tuesday through Friday went a little more as I planned.  We woke up and had a leisurely morning.  They boys got outside most of the mornings to play in the yard before school  School started at 830 with the calendar, a song or poem and a review of the day.  Sims and Sawyer (Fourth and second grades) each have a new and improved workplan.  Parks has 6 drawers filled with activities and the lessons I planned for him through the week.  In my mind, I thought six drawers full of activities would be plenty.  The first thing he asked for was apple cutting.  Umm……there is no apple cutting up in the school room….What about the long bead chains?…..nope.  Hmmmm…..Thoughts that had not crossed my mind.  I knew homeschooling would be a change for Parks, but I did not consider how it will also be limiting the independence and choices he had in the past.   Obviously, I do not have loads of Montessori materials or even enough to keep him busy for an entire work period; however, we are going to work on a plan.

The work period continued until 11 at which time, the crew headed outside.  Parks worked in the garden and in sandbox on his creation.  Sims and Sawyer finished up their work and did nature study.  Then at noon, we all sat and ate lunch (which they cooked) and went on with the rest of the day.  Afternoon activities will begin next week and include dance (for Sawyer), if all goes well-a co-op with Spanish, drums (for the boys) and a lot of afternoon fun.

I found it scary last week that it was already time for school to begin.  This week, I am releaved.  Our family has come back together.  The kids are getting along well and playing together every chance they get.  They have started a band (I apologize in advance to all of my neighbors as I put them in the attic to try to stifle some of the “music”).  They are planning a fairy garden and a fall vegetable garden.  They are giving input on things they want to research and getting excited about the year.  Let’s hope the excitement continues.

It seems most children have officially begum school at this point in the year.  I hope all of your little ones are having a wonderful start in their journey this year as well.  Thank you for taking a few moments from your day to read my blog.  Please, keep the questions and comments coming.  I am always looking for feedback to keep people coming back for more!  Have a beautiful week!

Montessori in the Home

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In the past few months, I have seen several forum posts wondering about Montessori homeschooling for preschool.  Well, I must admit that I did not homeschool my children for preschool.  All three of my kids went to Montessori Primary.  However, we have always and still do practice Montessori in our home. Of coures initially-I had no idea that we were a Montessori family. We just started our family this way and found that this method had a name. Also, in the summer time-I have always set up a Montessori area for the kids to do “work.”

So what makes our home Montessori?

From the time our kids were sitting, we started with very simple toys.  They had mainly (of course, they did have a few of the toys with the bells and whistles) wooden blocks, simple toys and real items such as spoons to play with.  The toys continued to be real objects and simple things.  To this day, two of my kids favorite toys are a ladder that my dad made for them (he took an extension ladder and used half of it to make the kids a 6 foot ladder that is light enough for them to move) and a bike ramp.  They also all love to play in the sand box, swing, and play anything outside.

In the kitchen….Once they could crawl, they had a drawer with their own dishes and basket with their own snacks.  They all sat at the table with us instead of in a high chair.  The kids went from a bottle to a cup.  Yep, no sippy cup.  Can you imagine?  I did purchase them but I hated all the peices that went with them and thus, they only came out every once in a while.   Now, the still have their own dishes that they can all reach.  Sims now uses the grown up dishes more and more because he can reach them.  The kids use real dishes and real glasses.  I buy Ikea dishes so they hold up well but are not too expensive when they break.  The kids still have their own snacks too.  In the fridge-you know those big drawers in the bottome?  They work great for the kids items.  I keep yogurt, chees sticks, and kid friendly snacks int there.  One of the best things we taught the kids was how to make breakfast.  Sims has been making his own breakfast since he was 2 and from then on he has also helped the others make breakfast.  All breakfast food is kid accessible.  THe waffles are in the bottom of the freezer and the toaster is in a bottom cabinet.  All of the cereal is in easy to pour tupperware.  I forget how spoiled I am that I do not have to make my kids breakfast until I hear about other people’s mornings!  I have time to enjoy the morning with my kids.  We all sit together to eat breakfast-one of our favorite times.

In the playroom…along with simple toys, the kids have a place for each toy.  If there is not a home for it then either something needs to traded out or given away.  Keeping it simple it very important.  Is this crazy hard?  Sometimes.  Luckily, our kids do not watch much TV (and most of it is on Netflix that they do watch) so they are not bombarded by commercials convincing them to buy more toys.  We have something to build with (they moved from big wooden blocks and duplo blocks to small legos and city blocks), imaginary play (a simple wooden doll house, barn with animals, and a castle-these were trades out and now they have a big kid doll house and fire department), gross motor toys (a chair that spins, a ladder to climb, and a cacoon swing-yes, all in the playroom) and some other fun itmes-kitchen items and musical instruments.  Art supplies are always available including paint, clay, playdo, colored pencils and crayons.  We avoid markers for the most part.  Crayons and colored pencils teach them about shading and different pressures.

In each child’s room….the kids went from a crib (yes, in a true Montessori hom-kids would not sleep in a crib) to sleeping on a mattress on the floor around 12-16 months old to sleeping in a regular bed.  The kids clothes were accessible to them and they have always chosen their own clothes.  Yes, I purchase the clothes but they put them together.  Sometimes they come up with some interesting combinations. 🙂

In the summer, some of their favorite works over the years have been

1. hand mixer in water and a drop of dish soap to make bubbles, 2.  pouring-anything (beans, rice, water) from one container to another, 3. stringing beads, 4. counting, 5. puzzle maps, 6.  using eye droppes to mix colored water, 7. penny polishing, 8. stacking the nesting blocks, 9. pop beads, 10. tanograms, 11. shape works. 12. measuring liquids and with a ruler, 13. sewing. 14. finger knitting and 15. gardening-we have raised beds that allow the children to work 16. the magnet board.

Of course, now we are homeschooling.  Thus, we do some Montessori works in our school room.  The main idea though is to set the environment so that the kiddos can be successful in their environment.  So far, it has worked well for our family.  In the morning, the kids wake up and get dressed, brush their teeth and make their breakfast all on their own.  Yes, we are spoiled.

Oh-I almost forgot.  As babies, my kiddos were put in a sling.  We did not use the stroller much and they did not use any equipment except for a bouncy seat.  Babies on the floor are more prone to explore and develop strong muscles (it also helps them avoid getting plagiocephaly or a flat spot on their skull).

In the pictures, you can see the bathroom set up, the ladder and spin chair, sitting at the table to eat and a few other fun Montessori things in our home over the years.