Saturday, 25 October 2014

List of montessori materials

Honestly, I was a bit surprised there wasn't a comprehensive list of montessori materials yet! There are a lot of materials, introduced at different ages and in specific order. I found it quite overwhelming. I needed a list so I knew what to make next, in order of when I'd need it. There isn't much point in hurrying with making the beads when it's not actually used until they are 4!

So, painstaking research, but here's the list! I've put them into the 5 categories of practical life, sensorial, math, language and other. Other being geography, biology, etc. This happens to be the order in which most materials start! The first 3 years is really practical life only and some sensory. When plane 1 starts (age 3-6), you start with sensory. Math and non oral language doesn't really start until they are 4!

I've made the list based mostly on info montessori, plus looking at what's for sale in the official montessori shops.

This list is for home schoolers,  starting at age 3. I've linked to diy posts, hoping to make them all over time. I've marked the ones I would recommend buying with a *, except for the practical life things which mostly need to be bought unless you're super clever with loads of time on you're hands (or you have a grand dad). I've also ticked off the things I've got. 

Practical life
I didn't get much especially for this, most things are in our house. I've just adapted what iI got and made it accessible for my child.
✔Variety of bowls, pitchers and cups
✔Variety of cuttlery and cooking equipment
✔Variety of cleaning materials child sized
✔Block with screws, screw driver
✔Living plants
✔Ellipse on floor
✔Lace cards
✔Flowers for flower arranging
Weather station

✔Knobbed cylinders, 4 blocks *
✔Pink tower *
✔Brown stairs *
✔Red rods 1 2
✔Knobless cylinders,  4 boxes *
Constructive triangles 1 2 3
Geometrical figures
Geometric cabinet 1
✔Binomial cube *
✔Trinomial cube *
Touch boards 1
Touch tablets
Fabric boxes
Baric tablets
Thermic bottles
Thermic tablets
Sound boxes 1
Bells * 1 (this blog explains how to make cheap bells great)
✔Smelling jars
Tasting jars
Geometric solids *
✔Mystery bag
Colour box

Number rods 1 2
✔Sandpaper numbersr
Spindle box 1 2 3 4
Beads sets 1 2
Stamp game6
Fraction circles

Books *
Sandpaper letters
Movable alphabet 1 2 3
Metal insets 1 2
Geometrical cabinet 1 2
Sand tray
Chalk boards

Land/water models 1 2
✔Sandpaper globe
Continent globe
Political globe *
✔Natural globe *
Puzzle maps (continents and one for each continent)
✔Variety of model animals and plants
Animal puzzles *
✔Musical instruments

Edited to add: having shown this post on Facebook, the person who writes carrots are orange told me she did similar thing! And added ages. And I'm not going to reinvent the wheel, so here you go!

Practical life and sequence
math cycle and sequence
language cycle and sequence

Friday, 24 October 2014

DIY sandpaper letters

There are plenty of blogs that tell you how to make these. I don't want to rewrite them. I just want to add some tips and ideas. 

1. Don't rub your eyes when cutting sand paper! Guess how I find out. 
2. Make sure that if you're copying onto the back of sandpaper, that the letters are upside down. I learned this when I did the numbers. 
3. Most blogs tell you to print letters, cut them out, trace them onto sand paper. This is silly. You can easily use some carbon paper to copy them! It's much easier. Or, if you're too lazy to find the carbon paper, you can print the letters, turn it over and use the ink! This means you need to trace twice as the ink isn't very clear. Guess how I found out! Ha ha. 
Bonus point of you can print straight into the sandpaper. Can't see why not, really. Especially if you got a printer where you feed on one side and collect on the other. 

Letters copied into the back of white sandpaper. It's a good practise in mindfulness and concentration! 

You can use any type of letter, but the main question is print or cursive. After reading a topic on the Facebook group montessori 101, this decision was easy. Print is dead easy, kids pick it up whether you like it or not! And I know Seb can already recognise letters, I think his child care teaches him (don't ask). Cursive is a bit harder. If you teach print first, then you'll need to teach cursive again later. But if you teach cursive first, you'll never need to teach print as the kids teach themselves. Even Maria Montessori noticed this, so was said on Facebook. 
Thus, for me, cursive letters it is! 

If I had to do this again, I'd print the letters all jumbled up as frugally as possible on a sheet the same size as the sand paper sheets. I'd organise some proper carbon paper and go from there. Much easier to puzzle on the computer.

My letters aren't finished yet, but I was keen to post anyway. I just got to glue them on some wood, which I have. I think usually it's thick cardboard , which I don't have. So wood it is. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

DIY balance equipment

We went to the museum and Seb just had to climb into every single thing!

Children love climbing onto stuff. Anything! Couches, tables, mum, trees. With complete disregard of safety, they practise their gross motor skills. It's great to watch them have such fun, or to be part of it!

I made a few things for Seb, to encourage his play, while keeping him from using less ideal objects. That said, nothing replaces me. He climbs on me, uses my legs as a slide, flips over bent knees like a somersault. He loves me lifting him over my head and slide down my back. There are many games that you can do to practise your biceps and other muscles! Just take care you don't lift abruptly by the hands or feet as you can dislocate little joints. I hold seb by the armpits and lift firmly and gently, taking great care and precision in my actions. 

Same day, same museum! Lucky they have more appropriate materials like this snake. You can use anything. In dance class we use big river stones, foam bricks, ropes etc. 

Balance beam
I was a bit lucky that when I pulled my bed apart, I was left with a 2m bit of wood, about 8cm square. Voila, balance beam! That's all you need, nothing more. It's not completely stable, which  is great as it makes balancing just hard enough. 
Alternatives are plenty and children seem to find balance beams anywhere! You don't even need something raised, a line on the ground works well too. 

Balancing on the board before I painted it. He loves it and it comes out regularly. 

Balance board.
This is a small bit of wood, I think is 5 ply, about 1.5 cm thick and about 25 by 35 cm square.  I screwed a bit of wood in the middle of it, to create a see saw and covered that with fabric. I painted two feet on the top, where you'd stand. It's great fun to stand on it and wiggle! The fabric underneath is optional, I did it because we have a wooden floor and it would minimise damage.
I screwed the beam onto the boards from underneath. Take care the screws can't go all the way through! It's not quite center, uhm, by design. I promise! Nah, I tried hard but once it was done realised my brilliance! It's different to balance on and requires greater precision. 

I think montessori schools have a round one, which moves any which way. This would give far greater diversity in movement.  I could have screwed a small square to the bottom and that would have done the same. 

Walk the circle.
Most, if not all, montessori schools will have an ellipse stuck on the ground. The kids can walk around, carefully following the line.  While I haven't seen this written anywhere, I imagine an ellipse is used because the angle of the line changes constantly, fine tuning your balance. I can't imagine Maria Montessori doing something without clear multipurpose.
I've got wooden floors and used making tape to create the circle. It's not as nice as I'd like it to be. But it does stick well, unlike the coloured tape I've used in the past to make shapes.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Book review: Maria Montessori own handbook

Published first in 1914, by Maria Montessori.

I think the aim of this book was to help the large number of people interested in her method, to understand what it is all about. There is a bit of theory, but mostly the book focusses on the materials and how they work and how they relate to each other.

The materials are incredably intricate for their simplicity. The sensory materials are in decimals, 1 to 10 cm. They teach so much, it's hard to describe. Sensory wise they teach volume and order, both are important pre-math skills. But they also teach precision and concentration. Counting and numbers.  The knobbed cylinders teach pencil grip. The rest teach gross (moving the large cubes) and fine (moving the 1cm3 cube) motor skills. It teaches how to carry things and be careful and respectful with materials. It teaches work ethic. 
The materials come in order: knobbed cylinders, pink tower, brown stairs, red rods, red and blue rods and finally the knobless cylinders. 

She also discusses other materials for training the senses, such as baric tablets, sandpaper tablets, sound cylinders, bells, metal insets, beads, colour tablets and much more. But also practical life skills, and the necessary materials for them. She explains their purpose and what the children are learning from them. 

It's a great little book. Easy to read and very practical. It goes through most materials, explaining why, how and which way. It's all very precise. Not all materials are mentioned and I wouldn't be surprised if some got developped after this book was written.
There are many books aimed at parents, that probably use easier language and clearer instructions. This book is perhaps better for when you already got a bit of an idea and want to get into the material a bit deeper

Monday, 13 October 2014

Montessori at not quite three

Today the knobbed cylinders arrived! Together with an apple corer and shapes mystery bag. I felt so excited. Another big step on our journey. This time I was determined to do it even better. I was only going to introduce one block and do a proper lesson. 

I did. I sat down and invited seb over, sort of. I started pulling the cylinders out and he came over. He put them back in and walked off. I didn't say a word, just letting him experience the material. 

I pulled the cylinders out again and he came over and put them back. Score!
But that was it. He had no interest.

I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed.  At the same time, I know he's too young for lessons. He's not yet 3. 2.5 months to go. When reading the theory it's clear I shouldn't expect him to be ready. I know we need to first focus on practical life and routine. I'm fine with that, but it's hard to be patient. I really want him to learn those things I'm excited about and I'm excited mostly about the sensory lessons. I love these cylinder puzzles. I got to remind myself this is not about me. Teaching seb is not about relieving my own boredom. It's not about my learning and not about my teaching. It's about creating the environment and then doing nothing but watch (and crochet a darn big blanket while watching).
Yet I'm filled with self doubt. Am I doing it wrong? Too much or not enough? Is he behind, should I worry about his ability? Deep breath. Patience is hard! 

So what did he do today?
Cut up an apple with the corer. He also got out a plate and banana and cut it up himself. I didn't realise until he was done and I served dinner. Then he made orange juice and drank it, followed by practising pouring, followed by an exercise in drying the floor. 

When he found the cars outside had gotten rained on, he dried them. I easily could have let him dry my car too. 

He helped me mash beans. And watched me cook. 

He undressed himself countless of times. We got him dressed a few times too.
We picked up a parcel from the post office and did some socialising with friends. He told some people about all this!

This is practical life. This is real life. This is what he needs to be doing and this is what I need to be facilitating. Lessons can wait until he starts to consciously absorb. Maria Montessori said you can't teach them until they turn 3 and who am I to argue with her! 

Friday, 10 October 2014

Book review: how to raise an amazing child

I need to preface this by saying I had just read "the absorbent mind". Going from a heavy theory book to a practical book was a bit of a shock and, for the purpose of review, probably not the best idea. However, my head was full with theory and I couldn't fit in more.

The other thing I need to say up front, as it strongly influences my opinion, is that I'm quite a hippy. I go quite far into science based attachment parenting. There is a chapter on discipline in this book and I disagree on every single point made. This, however, says more about me, than about the book and I'll try and keep to the middle without judging. I still can't imagine anyone advocating to leave a crying child alone, leaving the room, but this book does just that. 

I think this book is written for parents without an education background or montessori background.  It's a great first book!  It aims to show you a way to implement Montessori theory at home, without buying all the things! You don't need all the things. The home provides so much already! I'm planning to homeschool, hence I'm making or buying materials, but you really don't need to if you're doing school. 

The first chapter explains a bit about the theory. It's very clear and gives some great ideas that you can easily implement. 
The second chapter is more practical and comes with ideas on how to help your child develop their senses. I love these ideas! It's also a good idea to search for sensory boxes on the Internet. There is so much available.

Sensory bottles I made from stuff I mostly had at home already

The third chapter talks about how you can let go of control and involve your child in your home. Help me do it myself. The only thing I wanted to add to this chapter, is that you can start toilet training from birth (it's called Elimination communication if you want to find out more on this) and 50% of children in the world are fully toilet trained by age one. Nappies are a western invention and delayed toilet training is an invention of the nappy industry. There is no scientific research into this topic, all research is done by the companies! Of course, if you're into normal toilet training, go for it, it's not like you're harming your child (this is not sarcasm, but true!).
Once you start involving your child in everything and letting him do things for himself, letting him struggle until he asks for help, rather than intervening before he gets a chance to really try, life changes. And suddenly you find your child unloading the dishwasher and getting angry with you because it was clearly his turn to do chore xyz.

Then we get to chapter 4. Lets open a can of worms. The first part is called "creating a loving environment". The second part encourages you to make sure your tantrumming toddler is safe and then leave the room for her to calm herself down. This is insane. I'm sorry, but how does this teach empathy? How is this loving? The child needs you, whether you say no or not, a hug or a cuddle will make it easier to deal with your no. Calling a tantrum irrational is downright rude and disrespectful. I mean, we all get upset over things  that other people might find stupid and irrational. But when you're upset it's real for you! And you want a hug or a nice word. Imagine your partner walking out of the room every time you're upset! You'd kick him or her out in no time. 
When a child throws a tantrum, it's important to stay connected. To help your child through it and to help your child regulate his emotions. Regulating emotions is something that needs to be taught! You may find this hard (I do), you may find it hard to control your emotions all the time (I do). My thoughts are that we never were taught, because our mothers probably walked out of the room, or worst, smacked us, for showing a normal range of emotions. 
The other thing I want to add is that, of course, children are human. They can be grumpy and they can wake up on the wrong side of the bed. So can you. Suck it up. Don't punish your child for something you can't do as an adult. 
phew, couldn't help myself there! The rest of this chapter is awesome. The idea of the peace table is awesome. 
I skipped the bit about television. I don't have one (I'm a hippy, told you so). That's the easiest way to ban television tantrums, for sure! 
We planted potatoes on a local organic farm. The sights, smells, textures, tastes all provide great stimulation! We go here every month and talk about what we see and do. I let him as free ad is possible on a farm. 

Chapter 5 talks about exploring the world. yeah, loved this chapter! Be careful when taking bugs home, they are living animals who can feel pain. I don't know, maybe it's because I'm a biologist, but I never collect things from nature and don't encourage my child to do so. We observe nature where we find it. I do have a small collection of shells and some stones. I got a few branches (fire wood, really) that I'll make building blocks out of. I'm keen to buy some river rocks and some bricks. These can be used out doors to build and move and whatever kids do with bricks and sticks.
Exploring the world is calming. Is great to do when you feel like tearing down the walls. It's mindful. Even walking quietly in the rain is calming. You can just wear a raincoat. 
The book then goes on to suggest some games you can do with young children. I nearly fell off my chair, I played these games with my year 8 children!! They are about 13 years old. It is so awesome to include these things so early in life. Same goes for culture. 

The last chapter is about whether or not to choose a montessori school.  It raises some interesting points worth considering.

In conclusion: great book with some great ideas, but really quite wrong in their discipline advise, so if you can skip that bit, it's worth reading. That said, so much of this stuff is easily found on line! 

This week's montessori journey

I've been keen to post this week, but life got the better off me. That is, life was good and I didn't want to waste it! Actually, I'm finding it hard to balance writing with parenting and I found myself increasingly disconnected from my child while trying to connect with the wider world. I've got 5 posts ready to go, just waiting final touches and photos. You'll have to practise patience.

Seb is now in bed after a long day in the museum and I can't sleep being too excited about my new sour dough starter and the delicious pancakes it makes. And the need to finish a bottle of wine (second hardest part of solo parenting is to finish a bottle on your own without getting drunk). And, uhm, cause I need some child free time.

Seb and I go to bed together. I usually hate the nights, they are lonely. And I'm usually too sleepy to do anything after having spends half an hour in bed.  We bed share. Cause we do, no need to get philosophical about it (tbh, I'm scared of the dark and refuse to get out of bed at night so this was my only option.  Don't tell anyone). We also wake up together. Well, I wake up and find a mouth on my nipple and I can't get up. I love it this way, actually, but once a week I need to fight tiredness and stay up late.

Observing dinosaur fossils

I've been busy reading books and blogs and actually just thinking about it. I've come to realise that there really is no point in starting lessons yet. Seb's not ready.  I try. He had fun and then goes back to being a toddler.  That's a good thing! I've really notice what Maria Montessori said about the difference between conscious and unconscious absorbing. It changes when they turn 3. I can slowly see this change, especially when observing slightly older children. Seb just absorbs. Flutters from one activity to the other, concentrates, but mostly just experiences. He's busy learning about nature, he loves animals, especially birds. He's busy learning spacial awareness, using his cars as a tool. He observes and observes and observes. Everything. It's like an addiction, so strong!

Too fast to photograph. He stood still long enough for me to take a step back. 

My job is to let him, to give him that freedom, to follow him, often literally (especially in the museum, far out, put your runners on! ) it takes great patience and I'm learning to observe myself. I'm a biologist, so already taught in observing nature, but this is much much deeper.

As for seb, my main job is to create the environment and to butt out. Keep out of his way, don't interrupt. That's all.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Montessori my kitchen

I don't have a typical kitchen. My kitchen is the smallest room in the house (toilet is in the bathroom, laundry is only slightly bigger). I do have a rather big diningroom. This post is about both as to me, they are the same room.

Seb is doing the dishes for me! 

So the kitchen itself, is really what I think used to be a walk in store room. It's a step lower than the rest of the house. It's pretty simple, but perfect. Oven, dishwasher and lots of cupboards. The bench is quite deep on the stove side, which is great for cutting up things. On the other side, it's quite narrow, which is great, because that's where the dishes pile up. The less space, the less dishes you can pile!
See, it's tiny! Only a little chair for my little man as nothing else fits

Because I was nervous about Seb hurting himself on the oven, or being in the way while cutting, he was never permitted in the kitchen. I used to feel very proud when he'd tell his friends "out of the kitchen!". Having the step there made it easy. When I was cooking, he'd sit there and I'd sing and dance and chat for him. The step itself was enough barrier.

Of course, Montessori changed all this! Very reluctantly I let him into my child free haven and let him help with the dishes. First he stood on a normal chair, later he got his own little seat, which is easy for him to move to where he needs it to be. The room would never fit one of those awesome kitchen chairs you see on other blogs!

Once I got used to him helping with the dishes, which he absolutely loved, there was no use stopping him. He loved watching me prepare food and cook. I relented, but after an accident where I tried to turn on the gas, but it didn't work well and made a big flame, I keep him at the other end of the bench while I'm cooking. He's also not allowed in the kitchen when I'm putting things into a hot oven, or taking things out. I'm quite fortunate that he's a tea drinker (I drink mostly herbal in case you wonder). So he's very familiar with hot and that he's not to touch hot cause it hurts. He's quite good in cooperating with me.

Slowly, over the past few months, I'm letting him help more and more. He's already used to knifes, so when there is something easy to cut up, I let him do it. banana, avocado, those things he can do easily now. I'm still nervous about the rest. I realise this is more my problem, than his capability, though! He's a careful and gentle kid who understands danger better than anyone. He's the one who tells me to be careful at every opportunity he gets and he's always right!

The only issue we sometimes have in the kitchen is the bit where he gets into food. He has access to all the food I'm happy for him to eat, but every so often he gets out dry lasagna sheets and wants to eat them too. It won't hurt him, but it annoys me. something else I need to get over.

Dining room

Dining area,  with access to craft supplies. He now paints every morning! 

The dining room was a bigger project. It was fully child proofed. everything was out of his reach! So I spend a day or two moving things around. Now he can reach all the plates, cups, cuttlery, bowls, and whatever you may need on the table. Initially Ihad also put the breakfast tray within his reach, thinking he could set the table. Of course, he discovered that when I'm not looking he can go in and eat the hagelslag (dutch chocolate sprinkles) and margarine. Those two are well out of his reach. I wouldn't mind if he gets stuck into the peanut butter or appelstroop (Apple syrup, which is really more like molasses with a bit of apple in it). Both are healthy.

I'm a bit disappointed that he can't get into the fridge. It's one of those that is hard to open at the best of times and seals vaccuum when you least want it. Usually when I'm angry and impatient! I think it would be great if he could have his tray of fruit and other frigdy foods in there. It would save a lot of spoiled food! But I'm not buying another fridge, so this is how it is. He'll need help opening it until he's 10 or so. well, I doubt the fridge would last another 7 years, but, you know, it's a stupid thing.

All our plates, cups, bowls and cutlery are here. It's great that he has access. He can clean up and set the table.  Sure, he's broken stuff, but I do that too every so often. He's very careful. 

Another cupboard in this room houses the cleaning materials and craft stuff. Paint, pencils and paper. I prefer him to do these crafts on the dining table. It's been quite liberating having given him access to paint. He never really painted. Again, I was all nervous about it! But now I've got 5 jars of paint and one of water, on a tray, he's really good and enjoys it. He probably paints once a day! He's very careful and I have no idea why I was nervous. Just because other people's kids are messy, doesn't mean mine is. Don't feel bad if yours is messy, mine is not within the normal range. This is the child who, from the moment he could walk, would carry mess to the bin and insist I open it for him. Who'd put mess in the other bins without me realising. Who, once he could talk, would say mess and bin as one of the first 10 words. Not normal indeed! Not that I'm complaining, of course!

Lastly, we have his play kitchen, which houses trays for pouring and spooning stuff. I change it around, sometimes it's lentils and buttons, other times it's beads and rice.
oh, and of course, we got his own serving table. We never did the weaning table. He had a high chair, but from 12 months insisted he'd sit in the fake tripp trapp without straps. ah well, you do what they want. A few months ago he decided that chair is for babies and he sits on a normal adult chair. half sits, half stands. I decided it's not my problem whether he's comfortable or not, I'm not going to fight him. He's got good manners, and that's what counts. It's rather nice not to have to bother with a special chair! anyway, his little table houses a drink cup and jug of water, some fruit and at the moment a basket with flowers so he can do flower arranging. This is also where he does his pouring and stuff.

I think that's it. in summary, the main changes I made were:
- granting access to the kitchen
- putting everything within his reach, except for the chocolate
- getting over my own irrational fears and anxiety about I'm not even sure what.