Friday, December 31, 2010

A Belated Christmas Wish and a Happy New Year

On behalf of all of the teachers and families who have contributed to this website we wish you a restful and loving holiday season.

M. and his Christmas tree.

G.'s gingerbread house.

C. & M. doing a Christmas dance with their grandparents.

Happy New Year!!!!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Post to Fill the Time

It has been a while since I've received any photos from our families so I thought, while we wait, I would post about a few things that take place in the classroom that also happen at home.  This post is going to be devoted to hanging up a coat.

In an earlier post, I showed pictures of homes with low hooks on the wall to help a child be independent in putting away their outside wear.  It has come to my attention that some parents have gone a bit farther than hooks and have placed a dowel in  the hall closet at child height.  This means that coats can be hung on hangers.  Since this is how the children put their coats away in our classroom, I thought I'd take some pictures to show how the children actually do this.  My thanks go to K. who allowed me to photograph her going through the  steps required to hang up a coat.

Our cubbies (the top part) and lockers (the bottom part) were custom built to accomodate the children.  Each one is shared by two children and each child has two hangers.  (There are more available if needed but space is limited.)

The children begin by putting the coat on a table top or on the floor and spreading it out. In this picture, K. put her coat on the floor because the tables nearby were already being used.  Sometimes, the sleeves have to be pulled right-side-out and, depending on the development of the child, may be a place where an adult needs to help.

Once the coat is spread out, the child places a hanger on the label with the two ends aiming into the sleeves and the hook poking just above the collar.

The child then closes the coat - first one side, then the other.  I usually demonstrate this with one hand at the top of the zipper/buttons and the other at the bottom.  If a child just closes both sides at the same time, the sides either overlap or don't meet in the centre. This can make it more difficult to do up. 

 Once the coat is closed, the coat needs to be zipped or buttoned up.  Obviously, zippers need to start at the bottom but buttons may be started at either end.  Many children realize, after a few months, that if their coat has buttons, they only have to do up the top button. : )

Once the coat is done up, the child takes hold of the hanger's hook and lifts up the jacket.

The coat is now ready to be hung in the locker.

A few notes: 
-  Many zippers are extremely difficult for a child to get started. (I wrote about that in this post.)  Allow a child to try but be ready to step in with an offer of help if the child begins to get frustrated.  If your offer is accepted, only do up the zipper a little way so that they can finish the job themselves.
-  Be aware of a child's sense of order.  I once had a child get absolutely frantic when I showed him how to put his coat on the floor.  It became clear VERY quickly that in his house, coats did not belong on the floor - EVER.  I guided him to a table and we began again.
-  There will be times at home when a child says "You do it."  When my boys were little and this demand showed up, I would give the appearance of helping while really doing very little.  "Sure.  I'll hold the hanger while you get your coat ready."  or  "I'll start the zipper for you when the hanger is in the coat." 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lunch boxes and containers

     Helping our children to be as independent as possible is the goal of all Montessori parents and teachers.  So it was with some surprise that I realized, while talking about "child & earth friendly" food containers at orientation last month, that I'd never stopped to look at this issue from a parent's perspective.

      I decided to take a closer look at the choices parents have in the way of boxes and containers and came to this conclusion.  There are many food containers that  a 5 year old can handle but there are very few that are easy for a 3 year old. 

     The child in the picture below, is 5 and he is taking the lid off a kind of plastic container that can be found in most department stores.  As you can see, he turns the box sideways to get a better grip on the box.  Most children do this and, if they aren't holding the box over the table, end up with their food on the floor. 

    Here, a girl is opening a larger, glass container.  She is also tilting the box to get a better grip.  This is fine as long as the food inside is not something with a sauce or liquid. 

The next picture is of a lunch box that was purchased in Hong Kong and reminds me of a Bento Box.

It has separate compartments which hold several different sizes of containers.

The lid snaps onto the rim of the box.  I have found that this kind of lid is the easiest for the young children to undo and close as long as the rim is one continuous lip.... 

instead of a prong lock as in the next picture.  These are just too difficult for most 3 & 4 year olds to line up and snap closed.

There are some mass produced boxes on the market now with built in compartments to separate foods.  Watching the children opening these, I concluded that they are not any easier than their glass counterparts.

The very best solution I've seen for helping a child with lunchtime independence is in  this next picture - each item had been carefully folded in wax paper.  The folding was such that it did not come apart in the boy's lunch box yet it was easy for him to get apart.  In our neck of the woods, wax paper can be thrown into the city compost so this is also a very 'green' solution and much better than plastic sandwich bags.

     While discussing this topic with another teacher at our school, she pointed out that when a child does need help with a container, we help that child in the form of a presentation.  In other words, we hold the container in front of the child, making sure that our hands and arms aren't blocking his view, and open the container very slowly.  Presented this way, the child can see what is involved in opening the container and, after a few more tries, may be able to open it himself.  At home, a parent can do the same thing with their child.  This gives the child an opportunity to open the container for the first time at home, rather than at school.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hanging around

C.'s Mom sent these pictures to me a few weeks ago.  C's Dad has been working on a home gym in their basement.  He is taking special care to ensure that the gym is a place where the whole family can be together.

C's Mom writes "I thought I'd send a few pics your way of our gym in the basement. Still not finished, but the girls are enjoying it just the same. "

"Once again, really economical. We bought the rings, ladder, and attachments at IKEA, and they're great for indoor play.

M. can't reach the rings on her own yet, but is happy to hang there for quite some time if she's lifted up."

"We intend to add climbing rings to the wall with some rock climbing holds as they learn more climbing skills. "

I've shared this on the blog because home gym's are not something I have ever considered through the "Montessori" lens.  (My experience with gym's is lots of sweaty adults working out on strange looking contraptions.  The only place for children was in the "playroom" - usually a big room full of toys and a caregiver. ) However, C's parents have shown me that with some careful thought and consideration for the developmental needs of their children, a home gym can be a place for the entire family.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Homemade popsicles...or anything else.

As adults, we all know the feeling of accomplishment that comes from seeing a task through from beginning to end.  The same is true for our children - especially when it comes to food.  How empowered a young child must feel when the home environment has been so carefully prepared that she can make something to eat all by herself.

K's Mom just sent these pictures of K. making popsicles.

K. is 4 but because her home environment has been set up to aid her independence, she can make these treats whenever she likes (as long as the ingredients are on hand).

K.'s Mom wrote "Simple recipe, just yogurt and fruit juice. Add the two, stir together, pour, freeze and enjoy. And I don't mind if they have three in a day."

Just like in the classroom, cleaning up is part of the work cycle and part of preparing the environment.  Classrooms usually have a supply shelf set up so that the children can easily find the tools they need to restock an activity or clean up when there is a spill.


The girl in the next picture had just finished rinsing out her pants (paint spill)  and put them on the drying rack.  She then noticed that water had dripped on the floor so she went and got the bucket used to clean up spills.  The bucket is equipped with a sponge and a dry cloth.  She got up most of the water with the sponge and then used the cloth to dry the rest.  After that, she put the cloth on the drying rack and got another dry one for the bucket from the supply shelf.

Many homes don't have the space to accomodate a shelf and a drying rack and wouldn't need nearly as many cloths.  A low drawer or cupboard can be used to house the cloths and the small bucket.  The clean up tools should be child-sized and easily accessible so that clean-up does not become a major chore or battle of wills.  Cleaning up should flow easily with maybe just a comment from a parent like "Let's clean up.  I'll help."

I hope K. saved one of those popsicles for me.  : )

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Art at home

Art is powerful but above all it is personal. Whether it celebrates our cultural background, religious beliefs, or our own creative talents, the art we choose to decorate our homes should be accessible to our children. Art belongs to the whole family.

(This amazing picture was drawn/painted by my mom-in-law, Marilyn Dyer-Seidl.  It is her interpretation of a dream that my older son had when he was very young.)

     Dr. Montessori understood that beauty encourages a positive and spontaneous response to life. Since we hang pictures at eye level to beautify our homes, there should be some hung at the level of our children's eyes as well. Laminated art cards work very well for this.

     When my boys were younger, I would put several art cards of a particular artist on the kitchen wall right beside the telephone/computer desk. Other than change the cards every few months that's all I did – there was no lesson attached. Over time, the boys would ask me about a particular artist and I would answer their questions. Sometimes one of them would not like the display and would ask for it to be changed. Other times, I'd find one of their young friends looking at the wall in deep concentration.
(This is a mock-up.  The actual cards I used were much larger but I hope this illustrates what I'm trying to describe.)

     In addition, children should be able to touch and feel art. Teaching/modeling respectful examining of sculpture is no different than the respect we teach our children to show when handling musical instruments and books.

     Depending on the age of your child, books can be another wonderful introduction to art. Books left on the living room coffee table for casual browsing or books read at bedtime can include those having to do with great works of art. Some of my favourites are:
Children in Art by Janice Anderson

This book has lots of great big pictures of children throughout the ages. It has frequently found a place on our coffee table over the last 15 years or so.

Van Gogh's World of Colour concept by Julie Aigner-Clark

An excellent concept book for the youngest children.

Visiting The Art Museum by Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown

A great book for the elementary children because of its comic book-like style.

     And last, one of my personal favourites because I spent many hours sitting with my children finding the fraudulent works of art –

Art Fraud Detective by Anna Nilsen.

 This book was given to my younger son in 2004 when he was 9. When I went to find it for this picture, I found it beside his reading chair. He still finds it interesting at age 16.

     Have you got a favourite art book you'd like to share or an activity you use to introduce great works of art to your children? Please leave a comment if you do.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Music at home.

     My father was a musician. Although he decided he couldn't make enough money as a professional trumpet player to raise a family, he never stopped playing and listening to music. Needless to say, our house was filled with music. 

 (That's Dad in the middle holding the trumpet.)


Although Dad's primary instrument was a trumpet, he also arranged music for bands and orchestras.  That meant that we alway had a piano in the house.  We were allowed (actually, expected) to explore the instrument as long as we were respectful.  

(Yes, that's me at age 6 plunking around on our first piano.  I never took piano lessons because I chose violin but I still love picking out tunes if there is a keyboard around. Nice hat, eh?)

     Later, when I had my own children, we bought a second-hand, electric piano and my Dad built a stand for it at child height.  They both loved to explore and pick out tunes.  When we went over to "Grandma and Papa's" the boys were allowed the same musical privileges that I'd been given.

(My younger son, Lachlan,  - at age 4 - playing on Papa's piano.)

     The point I'm trying to make with this walk down memory lane is that music and rhythm are fundamentally important to the development of young children.  Children should have access to rhythm and musical instruments from the very beginning of their lives.

Here, S. bangs on a tambourine.  What a lovely sound!  Later, Mom can play music on the stereo, take up her own tambourine, and they can keep time to the music together.

Pianos are large and expensive so it isn't always feasible for a family to have one available to children.  As far as I'm concerned, any instrument will do as long as the child is taught how to handle it with respect.  Here is a picture of E. exploring a violin.

Experimenting with different kinds of instruments adds to a child's development and love of all things musical.  Scouring thrift stores or swapping/joining with another family are great ways to give your child different musical experiences.  In the next two pictures, C. is having a wonderful time playing a steel drum with some family friends.

When my boys were small and money was even more scarce than it is today, I would cover the coffee table with a blanket and put out all the lids from my pots and pans on top of the blanket.  Then, armed with wooden spoons, the boys and I would bash in time to whatever music they wanted to hear. At other times, we would make our own instruments.

(That is my older son, Calum - I think he is about 5 here -  with his own guitar.)

In the classroom, the bells are always available for those children who have been shown how to handle them.  Since I grew up hearing someone plunking around on the piano, I love the sound of the bells being played in the classroom.  Most of the time they are played according to how they were presented but every now and then a child will just explore. This is one of my favourite sounds in our classroom.

Music and rhythm are wonderful ways to bond with children.  Just look at this photo of M. and her Grandpa making beautiful music together!

If you play an instrument, let your children hear you play - often.  If you don't play an instrument, have one around to explore with.  Role modelling is just as important with music as it is in everything else. 

Please give your child real instruments.  Toys do not give a child the same experience that a real instrument will.  Toy instruments do not feel or sound the same as real ones nor do they get the same kind of respectful handling that real instruments are given.  (Think of tidying up.  Would a toy violin be returned to a stand in the music corner  or would it get put on a shelf with the other toys - toys give children different experiences and messages.)

Sing all the time.  Even if you don't think you have a good singing voice, sing anyway - your child will love it. 

Read lots of nursery rhymes to your children.  Let them hear the rhythm in the words.

Here are some links to articles about children and music if anyone is interested in reading more about it. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

M. helps prepare dinner

M.'s mother just sent us a video of M. helping to prepare dinner by washing the salad greens.  Take a look here .

Merci, V.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sharing a small space

This week's post comes from E. & K.'s mother.  Both girls attend our school - E. is in Level 1 and K. is in my Primary classroom.  Their mother teaches in the other Primary classroom and their father (a carpenter) spends many hours building things for the school.  I think you'll agree that these parents have found some very innovative ways to help their children with more independence at home.

"E. cleaning with her own spray bottle. What a proud day that was, when they got their own spray bottles (filled with vinegar water). When the feeling strikes, like tonight, she'll ask to clean the bathroom, and especially loves to scrub the toilet! Go figure! "

"The next picture is E's books, light and cd player (Peace and Quiet, Mr. Bach comes to visit, Peter and the Wolf, Dance on a Moonbeam are some favorites) to help facilitate bedtime independence. She will often read for an hour, then turn off the light when she's ready. K. has a similar set up - she chooses her music, and can look at books in bed if she wants."

"The vanity in their part of the bathroom was installed lower, so K. (4 1/2) can reach the tap without a stepstool."

"The final pictures shows how a small space can be divided to provide privacy for two children who share one room. We have a curtain set up so that during the day it is open while at night it is closed to provide a sense of separateness."

Thanks, girls!