Montessori Minute ~ Bare Essentials

{disclosure: this post contains affiliate links}Montessori Minute Bare Essentials

This is a guest post written by John Bowman, author of Montessori at Home!

 

Montessori Bare EssentialsIf you have a Bachelor’s degree, a year off, and $ to spare, you can take a Montessori teacher training course and learn everything you want to about Montessori. The sheer quantity of books, papers, and other work Montessori created during a lifetime dedicated to children is incredible. It takes awhile to wade through, much less grasp thoroughly.

Photo: Toddler Approved!

There is a ‘secret’ about Montessori, though, that programs charging big bucks to train teachers don’t talk about much. Since I’m a huge advocate for parents, however, I’m happy to tell you:

Doing Montessori with preschoolers is simple

Montessori did all the heavy lifting of creating a completely new way of looking at young children that changed everything all over the world. Then, she created the first Prepared Environment. Like many jewel-like things of beauty, this practical application of her work is wonderfully simple. Don’t think so? Let me explain every Montessori preschool in 9 sentences:

A clean, bright, attractive area is furnished with sets of low shelves and child sized tables and chairs. There are flowers and works of art, and everything is aesthetically pleasing and organized. On the shelves are a huge variety of interesting, self-contained materials for the children to use. They move freely, making their own choices about what they want to work with and whether to work alone or with other children. The children set out rugs and mats to create work areas, and then bring materials to their work areas to use. When finished, they put the material back in the same spot on the shelf where they found it. The children follow a few simple rules that encourage them to respect each other and share the space and materials constructively. A teacher wanders among them, demonstrating materials, guiding children as needed, and working with children individually or in small groups. The atmosphere is busy, rich in opportunities for all kinds of fun work, and the children largely manage themselves.

It’s like free play on steroids. Free play in traditional preschools, like many things we do with preschoolers (except digital learning), had its origins in the Montessori Prepared environment. The big ‘secret’ about Montessori is that her work fills volumes, but the practical application of all her work – the Prepared Environment – is easy to understand. All those materials on the shelves are easy to understand as well. They are for preschoolers, after all!  There are a lot of them in all the different areas because Montessori followed a simple rule:

The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”

She summed up her approach this way:

“An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adds to the child’s energies and mental capacities, and leads him to mastery.”

Montessori Bare Essentials 2Rather than have adults decide what the children should do every day (lesson plans), Montessori put out it all out there at once in the form of self-contained materials the children could choose from and use on their own whenever they liked, following a few simple rules that taught them to exercise their freedom with responsibility to others.

Photo: Flower arranging at Discovery Moments

Montessori trusted life to unfold in an intelligent, optimal way if given the chance. She followed children as they grew according to nature, rather than trying to control the process as most forms of education do. Montessori let children follow their universal inner passions to absorb, learn, grow, and know. The result? Children who by the age of six read and do math at what public school calls a second to fourth grade level, without pressure or stress, in an environment filled with joy and discovery. These children also develop excellent brain architecture, a positive and confident self-image, and a true love of learning. Not bad! Parents can do many of the same activities found in Montessori schools right at home. You can make most of your materials yourself and buy others. Here are a few core points to remember to help guide your home Montessori adventures:

Encouraging spontaneous concentration and focused attention is the heart of Montessori. The materials are vehicles for this. Concentration creates self-disciplined children who are calmer, happier, and more satisfied with life; and who can learn anything more easily.

Start with Practical Life and Sensorial materials. Work in Science, Math and Reading as your child shows interest.

Try a wide variety of materials. Observe to see what materials your child spontaneously focuses her attention and concentration on, and wants to repeat over a period of time.

Keep these materials out on low shelves for your child to use when he likes. When a material no longer attracts his interest, take a picture of it and put those in a little box on the shelf. Switch the material out for one he is into concentrating on now. The pictures help your child remember each activity in case she wants to repeat them.

Not so complicated. It really is quite fun when you get into it. Parents are very capable of creating excellent Montessori style experiences at home. Montessori just makes sense. Montessori materials free the adult from having to be the center of attention and the source of all knowledge. Children ‘auto-educate’ with Montessori materials simply by using them.

 

Montessori bare Essentials 3Like a Montessori teacher, your job becomes helping maintain your child’s materials in a nice condition, suggesting and making new materials, and demonstrating or working with your child as needed. Your child’s work will increasingly be independent. You can focus more on reading together, playing outside, doing art projects, and just having fun. Photo: Touch Basket, Montessori At Home!

Montessori bare Essentials 4Start small, with one or two materials a week. The Quick Start Guide in Montessori At Home! shows you how to get started the same day you download the eBook. As you and your child become comfortable, add more materials that your child shows interest in. Let him look through the eBook with you to find them, and help shop for supplies to put materials together.

Photo: Color sorting at Family Go Simple

With a small investment of about half what you would otherwise spend on disposable plastic toys over 2-3 years, your time, and your love, your child can have many of the same benefits of a Montessori school.

© 2013 John Bowman

The new Third Edition of Montessori At Home! was released in March 2013. It has 512 pages of guidance, how-to information, descriptions of over 300 early learning materials and activities, recommendations for over 225 digital tablet apps for preschoolers, 76 pages of free printables, and a copy of the eBook, Mom Bloggers Talk Montessori. $10.95 at Montessori At Home!,


My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1! I invite you to ask him any questions you may have in the comments below and he can hopefully answer them for you. If you have an article you hope he will write for us in the future, please let us know in the comments also! Be sure to let him know if this article was helpful-we all love encouragement, right?

Did you miss earlier Montessori Minute Posts?

10 Tips for Studying Nature with Tots & Preschoolers

The following is a guest post from my friend Maureen {Spell Outloud} she has a natural gift for bringing nature into the lives of her young children, I pray her words bless and inspire you!


Do you love the idea of doing nature study with your toddler and preschoolers but aren’t sure where to start? Or do you think the idea is admirable but totally impractical to implement with your toddlers and preschoolers? I understand. As a mom of 7 children ages 14 down to infant, I know that it can be overwhelming to go on excursions with toddlers and preschoolers. Here are some of my tips (in no particular order) for getting out and observing nature with young children:

backyardanimals

1. Go with an interest. My 14 year old was recently studying about birds in her biology class. She downloaded several bird apps and bird books which made my younger children curious. They asked if they could study birds too. I took my toddlers and preschoolers to the store to pick out birdseed and a bird feeder. We hung it up so we could view the birds from the comfort of our own home. They loved having some ownership in our nature topic. I would find them sitting at the window watching the birds and naming them correctly!

2. Be aware of every-day situations that could be turned into science or nature experiences. Many of our science and nature activities weren’t planned at all. I would be going through my day as usual and something would either cause my child to ask a question, or I would find something to show my child. That spider I just trapped in a cup? A science discussion. That dead plant I forgot to water? Science discussion. That moldy food I pulled out of the fridge. Science discussion. That baby robin hopping on the ground? Science discussion.

3. Go on local nature walks.

Fall-Neighborhood-Walk2

My favorite place to observe nature is our own back yard. I’m in a neighborhood in a suburban area, yet there are so many things to find! Many times I will go look out in the backyard for something to point out to my kids. For instance, I found some shelf fungi growing on our garden box. I brought the kids over to see it. We looked at the colors and I asked them if they thought it was a plant or an animal. This led to a discussion about mushrooms and how some mushrooms found in the wild can be dangerous but the ones at the store are fine. In addition to our own backyard, our city has several parks that are perfect places for young children to learn about nature. Many times we’ll go on a short nature walk and then head on over to the playground.

4. Train kids to observe things around them.

Nature Study with preschoolers Observation is an important skill to teach young children. Just like you wouldn’t expect a young child to ride a bike without learning to balance first, you should not expect your child to be observant without teaching them observation skills. In order to help develop this skill, I created a series of printable I Spy cards for us to take along on our nature walks. These cards help the kids look for something specific and give us a goal to reach on our walks.

5. Have helpful science tools on-hand. I like to keep a pair of binoculars, several magnifying glasses, large plastic tongs, and large eye droppers on hand. That way when an opportunity for observation arises, you know right where to find the right tools for the job. We also have a high-quality microscope that is fun to use periodically.

6. Keep it short and simple. When first starting, make the nature walks/nature observation times short. Many of our walks are less than 10 minutes. Mix in ways for the kids to be moving, exploring, digging, or collecting in order to help keep them on task. Often I’ll tell my kids, "Run to the tree with the rough bark," or "Find 3 different sizes of pinecones."

7. If you can’t get out, bring nature in.

Observing Ants

Every spring we bring various insects and animals in for closer observation. It is the perfect time to watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly, see a tadpole change into a frog, observe ants, start a worm farm, and observe ladybugs! Don’t limit yourself to animals-you can also bring in rocks, sticks, leaves, flowers, and dirt. Kids love to be able to see things up-close and use their senses for observation.

8. Read quality literature that teaches science in the context of the story. By pairing hands-on activities and observations along with great literature and songs, young children learn and can retain much of what was taught. There are so many great literature options that this would be a whole separate blog post.

9. Set up observation centers that can be used independently.

bird science basket from Spell Outloud Give your child the opportunity to learn on their own. Periodically I set up nature themed baskets for my toddler and preschooler. It usually contains books on the topic, pictures, objects, tools such as binoculars or magnifying glasses, stickers, magazines, games, stuffed animals, or any other item that goes along with the topic. We are not "teaching science" but rather letting young children explore and observe nature and science principles in action. Now is the time for the young child to learn by playing, observing and using their senses. Make a basket that allows them to do just that.

10. What nature study tips do you have?


Maureen Spell is a former elementary school teacher who now has a classroom of 7 at home. She blogs at Spell Outloud, a blog that has nothing to do with spelling and everything to do with learning. With kids ranging from toddler to teen, she highlights many homeschool activities, toddler and preschool crafts, and free printables. Stop by her blog for more preschool science activities.


This post is #5 in my series, “Homeschooling Tots & Preschoolers,” for the iHomeschool Network Spring 2013 Hopscotch. Visit other bloggers participating here!

Hopscotch-With-iHN-Spring423

 

Homeschooling-Tots-and-Preschoolers_[1]Day 1 ~ Where to Begin with Tot School eBook

Day 2 ~ You Don’t Have to Do it All!

Day 3 ~ Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Day 4 ~ Time Invested in Tot Schooling

Day 5 ~ 10 Tips for Studying Nature with Tots

Day 6 ~ Exposure vs. Mastery

Day 7 ~ Why Themes?

Day 8 ~ Teaching Tots in a Large Family

Day 9 ~ Our Favorite Learning Tools for Tots

Day 10 ~ Early Childhood Theme Printables A-E

Developmentally Appropriate Practice & Homeschooling

About a year ago I wrote a post entitled, “Following the Lead of the Child” and put a request out for other early childhood educators to help me with a post on Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Homeschool. I am excited to share a guest post with you today from Becky {This Reading Mama}. I asked Becky to collaborate with me for this post and am grateful to have another voice here on my blog sharing wisdom about this topic, I hope you find it helpful!Developmentally Appropriate Practice and Homeschoolers


When working with young children, the term "developmentally appropriate" comes to mind quite a bit. The National Association for the Education of Young Children {NAEYC} is the driving force behind the terminology and research. Anyone trained in early childhood education or working in the early childhood field certainly knows this term and is familiar with the NAEYC.

But what about homeschoolers? What about moms who are not trained and have never worked in this environment, but are now teaching their own young children at home? Well, this post is for YOU! I was introduced to the developmental approach while teaching at a Christian preschool. The new director at the time submerged me in all things Montessori. I devoured books, articles, videos, and toured Montessori schools with her. I was amazed at the things I saw and learned. The few years spent getting my M.Ed. in Elementary Reading further fueled my passion towards teaching with a developmental approach. Currently, I’m a homeschooling mom of four, and although no longer in the preschool or elementary classroom, teaching in a developmentally appropriate way drives my instruction at home.


What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?

"As NAEYC defines it, developmentally appropriate practice (DAP} is a framework of principles and guidelines for best practice in the care and education of young children, birth through age 8. It is grounded both in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about education effectiveness. The principles and guidelines outline practice that promotes young children’s optimal learning and development."

Broken down further, here’s an excerpt from the Key Messages of the DAP Position Statement:

  • Developmentally appropriate practice requires both meeting children where they are–which means that teachers must get to know them well–and enabling them to reach goals that are both challenging and achievable.
  • All teaching practices should be appropriate to children’s age and developmental status, attuned to them as unique individuals, and responsive to the social and cultural contexts in which they live.
  • Developmentally appropriate practice does now mean making things easier for children. Rather, it means ensuring that goals and experiences are suited to their learning and development and challenging enough to promote their progress and interest.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children holds the copyright for the quoted material above. 


Developmentally Appropriate Practice at Home

The NAEYC focuses on teaching children in a group setting, but how does this look at home? How do you know that you are teaching your young child{ren} in developmentally appropriate ways?

Here are a few of my thoughts about DAP in the home:

1. Follow the bent and interests of your child. Does your child crave structure and predictability? Does your child prefer using his own creativity as a springboard for learning? Maybe he wants to play all day long, but don’t miss the fact that play is rich with learning. What kinds of books or toys does he naturally gravitate towards? What kinds of questions does he ask you? These will show you what he is interested in learning. Research shows that if a subject is of high interest, the child will be naturally motivated to learn and accept challenges, with your support.

iPadmathgame

Recently, NJoy {4.5 years old} asked to play a math addition game on our iPad. At first I dismissed the thought, thinking that this game would be too hard for him. But he was extremely persistent, asking me to help him solve these problems {high interest}. I gave him some of our Learning Resources family counters, provided a make-shift addition "mat", and modeled it a couple of times. The look on his face was priceless as he got one after another correct. Any mom with multiple children knows that they are all very different creatures. What works like a charm for one child may be totally rejected by another. The ability to adapt for each child is key! In other words, one size does not fit all.

2. Your child can change from month to month and year to year. What was meaningful and worked one day may not the next. Again, flexibility is important. My daughter {currently 34 months} can be wishy-washy from one moment to the next! Some days, she wants nothing to do with the activities I have planned. But if I become her student in those moments, I am amazed at the things I learn from her. Most days, she wants to do everything her older brothers do; including worksheets or pocket chart games.

3. Your child shows you he is developmentally ready when he uses it, but confuses it. When a child uses a certain concept, but not in the conventional way, it’s HUGE clue that he’s ready to learn about it with your support. Not too long ago, I noticed my daughter was ready to begin learning letter sounds. How? "Mommy, cat starts with M. See mommy? /m/ /m/ cat. See it starts with M. Just like my name." She did this on several occasions with different letters.

LetterM

So I began working on some letter M activities, emphasizing the letter sound {I’m sure the marshmallows helped: /m/-/m/ marshmallows!}. My son showed me he was ready to do some rhyming activities when he announced in the van one day, "Mommy! Sun rhymes with run and snake." Use, but confuse.

4. Your child displays boredom or frustration. If you’ve stepped out of the "zone" of developmentally appropriate, your young child will let you know! If he seems bored with the activity, it may be because it’s too easy for him. If she is frustrated and gives up, chances are you’re asking her to do something too hard for her. Children operating in their "zone" {also known as their instructional level or ZPD} are typically engaged and active participants in their own learning. Teaching in the "zone" means 1- the child has a basic understanding and interest in the activity and 2-it is just enough of a challenge for the child that he cannot do it by himself, but can do it with your help.

For example, my son knew all his letter sounds by 42 months. He asked to do schoolwork, like his big brother. So I developed a PreK reading curriculum for him called Reading the Alphabet that we’re working through this school year.

InitialSoundGame ColorbySightword

Anything on a Kindergarten level would have been too fast-paced and frustrating, but reviewing letters and their sounds for another year would have been dry and dull {for him and for me}. I created something to take him a step deeper, into his "zone".

5. The age {or grade level} of your child is not the only predictor of what is developmentally appropriate for him. While the age of your child can help you make general predictions about what he should learn, his own development has to be taken into consideration. It reminds me of a 3rd grader I knew confused her b’s and d’s when she wrote. The mom had been told by a well-meaning friend that her daughter should not be doing this anymore because, after all, she was in the 3rd grade. When I asked the mom a few questions, I discovered her daughter was reading and writing at a 1st grade level. Letter reversals are still very common in the 1st grade; so developmentally speaking, the child was doing exactly what writers do in that stage. Was it still an area of concern? Of course! But acknowledging the child’s developmental stage in regards to literacy was vital because it revealed more about her than age or grade level alone.

6. Developmentally Appropriate Practice goes well beyond academics. Anything {brushing teeth, riding a bike, getting dressed, etc.}, if taught outside of your child’s developmental zone, can be a source of frustration for you and your child. One of the practices I learned from developmental teaching is gradually releasing responsibility to the child. This means modeling and teaching in the zone {see #4} with lots of support; then gradually "releasing" the child to do it independently, with less support as she goes.  


What are Some Next Steps Moms Can Take?

  • Pray. Ask God to help you see your child as He does. God knows your child better than you. Ask him for wisdom in teaching this gift He has given you.
  • Humble yourself. Sometimes, it’s easy to get wrapped up in pride {ask me how I know}. When that lovely printable I’ve created is rejected by my son or daughter, it stings. When Suzy’s daughter is younger than mine, yet can already read; I begin to compare myself as a mother. Don’t go there.
  • Play. Take time to simply be your child’s mom instead of "teacher". Enjoy spending time with your child without a pre-planned agenda. You’ll be surprised at the things your child will teach you! Some of my favorite teaching ideas have come from playing with my children.

Developmentally appropriate practice is attainable for homeschooling moms of young children, even without formal training and experience. Many times, it’s as simple as becoming students of our children to see the whole picture. Instead of asking them to get into our neat, little prepackaged "box" of teaching, we need to unwrap their "box" to find the true treasures…their interests, their bent, and their zone. It’s what developmentally appropriate practice is all about.


Headshot-150Becky Spence is a homeschooling mama to four little blessings. She is passionate about teaching, specifically literacy. She is the author of This Reading Mama, where she shares reading and writing activities as well as free literacy curricula and printables. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google +.

This post is #3 in my series, “Homeschooling Tots & Preschoolers,” for the iHomeschool Network Spring 2013 Hopscotch.  Visit other bloggers participating here!

Hopscotch-With-iHN-Spring

 

Homeschooling-Tots-and-Preschoolers_Day 1 ~ Where to Begin with Tot School eBook

Day 2 ~ You Don’t Have to Do it All!

Day 3 ~ Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Day 4 ~ Time Invested in Tot Schooling

Day 5 ~ 10 Tips for Studying Nature with Tots

Day 6 ~ Exposure vs. Mastery

Day 7 ~ Why Themes?

Day 8 ~ Teaching Tots in a Large Family

Day 9 ~ Our Favorite Learning Tools for Tots

Day 10 ~ Early Childhood Theme Printables A-E

Montessori Minute ~ Great Questions

Montessori Minute Great Questions
This is a guest post written by John Bowman, author of Montessori at Home!

I received some great questions from an enthusiastic parent, and since they are questions many parents have, it seemed like a good time for a post. Dee writes:

Hello John, Thank you for your eBook. I am enjoying reading it and getting set up to do Montessori at home with my toddler and 4 year old! I had a few questions I hope you could answer…

How many materials to set out and how rapidly to introduce? I know you suggest preparing a few materials and introducing them to get started, but I am wondering how quickly to do this (eg. 1 new presentation a day?) and how much material to set out in a small home?

I know in a Montessori school almost all the materials would be out, but in a home, that sounds like it might be chaos. I can see from some of the blogs that people have a variety of set ups from 1 to 3+ bookshelves. Is there a rule of thumb for how many materials?

How long to leave a material out and remove it if it’s not touched? How do you decide if your child has “finished” with a material?

What do you do when a child wants to mix up materials from more than one activity? Or just play with the materials in a way that is not part of the demonstration (eg. my daughter wanted to “cook” with the beans from the pouring tray).

Thanks so much. I am looking forward to adopting more Montessori but want to do it in the best way possible! Look forward to your advice.

Thanks for the great questions and your sincere interest in doing the best for your kids, Dee, let’s get right into it.

Many parents write about what to do with a toddler and an older child in the house. It’s a challenge, patience is key. The older child needs a place to display his materials where the toddler can’t reach them. A separate space, like separate rooms if possible, really helps so he can concentrate on what he’s doing. Toddler nap time is always an opportunity! Getting the toddler occupied is important, because otherwise he will dive right into what’s going on. Group projects, like cooking, where both children can have their own contributions to make, can help the kids learn to cooperate. If you are blessed, you will have a few precious moments occasionally when you and the toddler can be busy while your 4 year old works on an activity independently! Things probably won’t be ideal until the toddler is at least 2 1/2 or so and can have similar activities, so you do the best you can.

It is better at home to start slow and find materials your kids are really interested in, rather than put a lot of things out at once. This is how I started with new Montessori preschools, also. Look for activities that attract and hold their interest and attention. Leave these out on the shelves. Add new materials slowly. 1-2 new items every week or so seems about right. Follow your child’s interests. If your child is working with what he has, great. If he is looking for something to do, put something from the book together. Start with Practical Life and Sensorial activities, these have a universal appeal to young children. Introduce new materials at a pace that works for your child.

There are no firm rules about how many materials to have out. Make the best use of your space and do your own thing. Focus on materials that truly help your child focus attention. Try to keep your shelves from becoming cluttered, jam-packed storage areas. Displaying materials with a little space between them adds to their aura as special items. Follow your children’s interests – that is the key to Montessori. You will see when a material has outlived its time of interest.

As long as your kids don’t abuse the materials (involving them in making them really helps here), and as long as they put them back together properly and back on the shelf when they are done, I believe in letting them do their own thing with them. Children need a mix of skills-based, pretend / imaginative, and creative play. It’s all important to their development. To truly follow the child – the Montessori prime directive – we need to make room for all of it and go with the flow. If your child shows more interest in cooking, for example, as your child did when doing an activity, switch to a cooking activity. If she wants to pretend play, let her. If he would rather do some art, let him. Go with the flow, and use the book to support your child’s interests.

Your home will never be a Montessori school, that’s not what you’re aiming for. If you do activities regularly – usually imperfectly – things will click often enough for your kids to get major benefits from them. Montessori materials are largely designed to auto-educate, meaning a child can use them independently. It takes awhile to get things started, but keep at it and you will see your kids respond and get the hang of it. It will always be a little messy, and that’s fine.

Montessori schools take awhile to get running well with a new group of kids each year, so don’t ever feel bad if things don’t go as planned or your kids don’t respond as you thought they would. Keep at it, be consistent, and have fun.

Hope those ideas help. If any readers have ideas to add, please share, thanks!

John Bowman’s eBook, Montessori At Home!, a big eBook showing parents how to do Montessori early learning activities at home.

© 2013 John Bowman


My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1! I invite you to ask him any questions you may have in the comments below and he can hopefully answer them for you. If you have an article you hope he will write for us in the future, please let us know in the comments also! Be sure to let him know if this article was helpful-we all love encouragement, right?


Did you miss earlier Montessori Minute Posts?

Christmas Guest Posts

I don’t normally guest post, it is a once or twice a year thing for me.  It just so happens that 2 of the times I said yes this year are both articles that are up right now on 2 of my favorite sites! 

The first post I wrote was for the What’s in the Bible Blog, and is about homeschooling during the holiday seasonIMG_7710

 

Jenae from I Can Teach My Child invited me to guest post for her series on Favorite Family Traditions.  You can see my post about our tradition of giving here!