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First Words, Letters and Numbers

Little Tiger Kids

Little Tiger Press has started a new imprint this month, Little Tiger Kids. These are a series of colourful, sturdy board books with pictures of real things, big flaps, things to trace. All of which appeal to babies and toddlers. We’ve been lucky enough to be sent three to test drive. All three instantly appealed to MG and DG with the bright colours and flaps and they’ve been having fun with them. I’m going to review from a grown up educational viewpoint but in terms of child-appeal, these are winners.

first100wordsMy First Book of Words: 100 First Words (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)
There are similar books to this already available and to be fair Priddy Books have probably got the corner on this market but it would be an oversight for Little Tiger Press to have left out a book of this type in their new range, and it makes a nice addition. What Little Tiger Press have got (but I’ve not seen) is a lift-the-flap version of the 100 first words which should prove to be extremely popular. Based on the flaps in the Numbers book that we have seen, these are likely to be extremely robust and great for fine motor skills. Using real pictures is important for very young children who are learning to organise and categorise the world. Cartoon word books are lovely but a child’s absorbent mind also needs reinforcement of the real world.

My First Touch and Trace: First ABC (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)My First Touch and Trace: First ABC (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)
This is a book with enormous child appeal. The format is perfect. Each single page focusses on one letter. The top half of the page has the letter in upper and lower case, the upper case letter is cut out for tracing. The bottom half of the page has a picture starting with that letter and is also a giant flap with another picture for the letter underneath. Each page has bright, clear colours; uncluttered, real photographs; an easy-to-read-and-write font and start and end points for how to draw the letters. It is almost perfect and the only alphabet book you need to start a child’s journey to letter recognition and learning to read. Almost. It is let down by a lack of phonetic awareness. On chatting with other interested parties (parents and educators) on Twitter about the subject of phonetic ABC books, it was pointed out that many books are printed for a worldwide market where phonetics may not be the prescribed teaching method. In the UK (well, in England at least), every child who goes to a state-run school will be taught to read using synthetic phonics.

Phonics has its detractors but as an initial method in getting children to learn to decode quickly, it is excellent. Maria Montessori used phonetics in her methods for teaching children to read. Montessori also used sandpaper letters to get the children used to the shape of letters when they still hadn’t got the fine motor skills for writing, which this book also emulates in its touchable letter tracing. It’s only the upper case letters which are traceable, which is a pity given that we use lower case letters far more frequently in reality but it’s a good start. I also like how the start and end points for letter tracing are highlighted with red and green dots in this book.

I would still recommend this as possibly the best first ABC book I’ve seen. It ‘fails’ as an introduction to the phonetic alphabet in seven of the fifty-two words it includes. These are: ice-cream, ivy, owl, shoes, unicorn, xylophone and x-ray. Admittedly ‘x’ is impossible to do phonetically if you’re only chosing initial letters as there are no words that start with the /ks/ sound. I’m also not keen on ‘jelly beans’ as it’s two words! If you’re fussy on phonics like me, why not stick photos of igloo, insect, octopus, sock, fox and box in the book! I’ve searched but umbrella does seem to be the only object starting with the short-u sound. Up and Under are probably the best options, but hard to illustrate. In summary, this is an excellent alphabet book which is exactly what it sets out to be.

My First Touch and Trace: First ABC (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)

My First Lift and Learn: First Numbers (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)My First Lift and Learn: First Numbers (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)
Another appealing book for children, this comes with a ‘handle’ so it can be easily carried around. I really can’t stress enough how sturdy these books are. They are made from quality strong board, have pages that feel like they wipe clean easily (we haven’t needed to test this) with big, robust flaps. In first numbers, each page shows a picture of an object or objects (one cake, two kittens, three butterflies etc); the flap can then be opened to reveal simplified pictures of the outside of the flap – for example the outside picture may have things that overlap or are slightly different e.g. different kittens, but the inside picture will have the number of things clearly shown separately and be the same in one or two colours only – plus the number with start and end dots, and tracing guide. Another wonderful ‘first’ book.

All three books have enormous child appeal and would be excellent to share starting with babies who will be attracted to the bright, simple and familiar images; onto toddlers who will love the interactivity and ownership they can take for the books; onto pre-schoolers who can take pride in recognising numbers and letters… The Little Tiger Kids range are priced between £5.99 and £8.99 which is excellent value for money, especially the First ABC book above which is only £5.99. More in the series are being released in May. These include jigsaws, tabs and touchy-feely books. If these were around when my girls were younger we would have bought lots of them!

Disclaimer: We were sent a copies of My First Book of Words: 100 First Words; My First Touch and Trace: First ABC; and My First Lift and Learn: First Numbers by Little Tiger Press for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Teaching Rainbows

It was Takeover Day on Friday, a day when children are encouraged to join in decision making and responsibilities. MG’s school offered the opportunity for every child in years 1 to 6 to ‘apply’ for a school job. These included headteacher, secretary, class teacher, kitchen assistant, pre-school supervisor and maintenance. MG loves playing school with her little sister so her first choice was teacher, she chose to teach her own class (year 1 and 2 mixed).

After chatting together, taking MG’s ideas and interests and trying to simplify them to fit in a 25 minute teaching slot, she chose teaching about rainbows as it was a mix of art and also a bit sciencey which are her favourite things. I suggested showing how to make a rainbow out of three colours because it really needed to be simple – we left out lots of things like using prisms to split white light and talking about primary colours of paint and light! I wrote something for MG to read and made the templates for making the rainbow. Paint wasn’t an option giving the time constraints but cutting and sticking coloured cellophane was probably a lot more fun anyhow!

As MG was at school and is tired after, I did the preparation but it was all based on her ideas. Okay, I maybe took over a little… But she felt that it was hers, she gave the lesson and she input into everything so she was happy. Phew! I made up 30 packs which had a cutting template, sticking template, coloured cellophane (approx 16x24cm pieces) and a paper plate.

The paper plate was for making freestyle rainbows or patterns with the left over cellophane after making the rainbow from the template. I’m not a school teacher so I overestimated the time. For one or two children, this could be done in 25 minutes but in a big class with people not listening etc, even with doing it in pairs they didn’t all finish. I also underestimated the cellophane. It looked like plenty but 5-7 year olds make more mistakes and want more cellophane (so working in pairs was good for that too!)

I didn’t have time to shop online for cellophane, and traipsed round Oxford before eventually managing to get some in the art shop I should have gone to in the first place! But I could only get one roll of each colour, each of which was approx 500mm x 2.5m so 24x16cm (approx) was the only way I could get 30 pieces from the roll. It really did look as if it should be plenty big enough! I would therefore suggest, if doing this for a class of 30, to get two rolls of at least the red cellophane (assuming rolls the same size) and cut bigger pieces. For smaller groups, perhaps individual A4 sheets of coloured cellophane or acetate. I did look at tissue paper, but it wasn’t transparent enough. Also, the red we got was too deep so the orange and purple didn’t look as nice as they might have!

In case MG got too shy when she was faced with her entire class, I wrote teaching notes of the order she was to go through her sheets. I wrote a bit of blurb for her to read as background to the activity, and I created the cutting and sticking templates. As we’re using three colours, you need to cut each one to cover three lines of the rainbow so the cutting template isn’t as simple as six arches. And because it worked so well, you can download these three files for your own use 🙂

Rainbow Lesson – Teacher Notes

Rainbow Lesson – Templates

Rainbow Lesson – About Rainbows

The picture above shows MG’s teaching pack! I laminated everything mainly because I could, but also to separate it as being MG’s. I laminated the cellophane template pieces into three sheets so that MG could easily hold and show the three colours and put them together to show the rainbow. We had colour paddles so I put them in too in case she wanted to show the colour mixes with them.

At the end of the day, when I picked her up from school, MG was buzzing with excitement from the whole day. She’d given her lesson (a little shy at first but her teacher stood with her to start with) and the children really enjoyed it, as did she! I am utterly proud of her achievement. Okay, and a teeny bit proud of me for creating the templates and managing to get the blurb pitched at the right reading level for MG!

I’m linking this up with Montessori Monday because I think it would work well as a hands-on unit lesson. It can be simplified for very young children, there’s opportunities for hands on experimentation with colour mixing, and it can be a springboard to further study. Enjoy, and please visit Living Montessori Now for tons of brilliant Montessori inspired ideas.

Montessori Monday from Living Montessori Now

Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting

This is not a review of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting by Noël Janis-Norton because I haven’t read the book yet! However Mostly Books held an evening with Noël speaking which was very interesting and I will ramble about that and throw in a picture book recommendation.

Noël is a powerful, effective and interesting speaker. Based on last night’s hour in her company I can see why she has such a good reputation. She was especially good at getting parents to think about specific examples of their troubles, and most people found that very hard – “Oh, then she gets sarcastic”; “In what way sarcastic?”; “She says she won’t eat her dinner.”; “That’s not sarcasm.” Noël also silenced two middle-aged women chatting as if they were schoolchildren, asking them to listen to her instead of moaning about their children. I enjoyed listening to her very much.

One of the main reasons I wanted to go to this event was to take Mr Chaos. Mr Chaos learns more effectively from listening to a subject than reading and I wanted him to see what kind of parenting I’d like to be able to do so we can support each other more effectively. The three main principles that Noël talked about, on top of answering specific queries from the attendees, are covered in the paragraphs below. This was a short event, not a training course, so she didn’t cover all her methods but it was a great introduction.

“Commit to never doing anything for your children that you know they can do themselves.”

It is common sense, but it’s also exceedingly hard. Noël covered the example of getting everyone out to school and letting the children dress themselves – something that is one of my biggest stressors! How can we manage this? Start 20 minutes earlier. I tried this morning and ended up with MG stomping and tantruming all over the house, pretending she couldn’t dress herself and screaming for attention.

“Note that it is called Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting. Not Calm, Easy, Happy Parenting. There’s no such thing, it’s all in the ‘er'” I should probably read a section of the book before trying to apply it though!

Letting children do things by themselves empowers them and gives them self-confidence and autonomy. Always doing things for them may make them feel that you don’t trust them to do anything or that you should do everything for them. “Teach me to do it myself” is also a central tenet in Montessori philosophy and “Never help a child unless they ask for help” is something that has been told to us since MG started at Montessori nursery at 5 months old and yet I still don’t seem to manage, stressing over timetables to get places and the mess when they do do things themselves!

Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson (another book I own but haven’t read) is written by a Montessorian and is based on the philosophy of Alfred Adler, who also influenced Noël. I think it may be interesting to read Positive Discipline and Calmer, Happier, Easier Parenting together.

Descriptive praise is a concept that comes across in many of the books I have(n’t) read. Again, it is used in Montessori classrooms and is discussed in How to Talk so Your Kids will Listen by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and in Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. It’s probably covered in Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, but I haven’t finished that yet either…

The idea of descriptive praise is to stop saying things like “well done, fantastic, amazing, good girl, clever boy!” and to instead describe what you’re seeing: “You got dressed in time this morning”; “You put your cereal bowl in the sink”; “You didn’t bite your sister”. Okay, I’m not so sure on my last example but Noël did say to praise what is good and what is not bad, to look for the positive in all situations.

The third main concept Noël covered was “think-throughs” to prepare for success. At a neutral time, have a short conversation with your child in which you ask questions to get them to think about how they should behave in a particular situation. The idea being that each time you discuss this (and let the child do the speaking), an image of themselves doing the correct thing forms in their mind. Repeated “think-throughs” reinforce the mental image which then reinforces the actual action. Talking about the positives and imagining future successes encourages children to be that success. On the flip-side of this, if you constantly tell a child that they’re messy, lazy, nasty, etc then they will become this horrible person that they are told that they are.

Which leads nicely to Edwardo, The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World by John Burningham.

Edwardo is an ordinary boy. Sometimes he does naughty things. But every time he does something naughty, an adult tells him he is always naughty so he continues to get worse. Until, one day, he is given a positive comment…

I think this picture book perfectly encapsulates the effect of negative and positive words from adults on children. If a child is constantly told they are horrible, then they will live up to that expectation. This book should be in all primary schools to help children understand the power of words and to engage them in discussions of how we can make other people feel by the things that we say. Parents can learn a lot from its message too.

I will be reading Calmer, Happier, Easier Parenting because flicking through it looks like a nicely laid out book with sensible and useful ideas to put into actual actions without seeming daunting despite the 400+ pages. It’s aimed for 3-13 year olds but the ideas can be applied to teens, although there will be a teen-centred book out in the future. Huge thanks to Mostly Books for arranging an enjoyable, useful and motivating event.

And finally, another comment from Noël in answer to the question on what to do in dangerous situations: “You just act. If it’s danger, you don’t want to stop and think what parenting strategy you should be using.”

Making Paint

Both MG and DG love painting. I’m not a huge fan of clearing up the mess, and it’s never really possible for them to fully clean the mess on their own, especially as it usually descends into an emergency bath moment…

Today while MG was at school I realised that I had a perfect activity for DG (now 2 years 7 months). I’d been letting the readymix paint get used up in order to replace the bottles with mixed powder paint that I’d bought “to save money” and we now had 5 empty bottles to fill. This is an excellent activity, and if properly planned (which of course I didn’t!) covers spooning, measuring, counting, pouring, funnelling, shaking – lots of motor skills for small children plus maths and science activities for older children. In Chez Chaos, what you usually end up with is mess!

In theory the process involves:

  • Unscrewing lid of powder paint jar (depending on age of child – I did this with DG because of the mess aspect)
  • Spooning powder into measuring cup (pouring from the powder jar was far too messy)
  • Pouring powder from measuring cup into funnel
  • Shaking or stirring to get powder from funnel into paint bottle
  • Counting number of measuring cups of powder required (our instructions said 2 parts powder to 1 part water but 3 parts powder to 1 part water made a better thickness for our use – with older children experimenting with consistancies would be great fun)
  • Measuring water and pouring into funnel
  • Screwing top onto paint bottle and shaking to mix the paint
  • Admire your work 🙂

Did I mention the mess? Whilst I was taking a picture of DG spooning, she accidentally knocked the bottle and funnel over (we should have got the powder in the bottle before measuring the next cupful) and the powder went everywhere…

An emergency bath was in order, but DG loves baths so was quite happy with that.

I’m linking this up with Montessori Monday – Yes, it’s Thursday but we’re chaotic 😆
Montessori Monday

Here Come the Girls

High Frequency Words Learning Game

To commemorate over 1000 tweets and 250 followers on Twitter (wow!) I wanted to give something away. A physical something was never going to be an option, so I am sharing something I made for Mighty Girl’s “homework”.

Fortunately her school is not pushy with homework in Foundation Stage, and I’ve certainly not made her do anything but she has been getting small lists of ‘key words’ to learn by sight and sometimes she wants to move onto the next set of words so we work on them at home. She loves letter sounds and writing (see First Words) and I’d collected some Montessori materials from when I was planning to home ed so I combined the two to make a game to help cement the words in her head.

We have the small moveable alphabet, Sassoon font in red with blue vowels from Absorbent Minds Montessori and the key words from school were printed in Sassoon font too (it’s a good font for distinguishing b from d etc and easy to read). However, I expect that a wooden moveable alphabet isn’t something that most people own so I’ve modified the files slightly to include a printable moveable alphabet for the matching game. The size of the moveable alphabet and large word cards are to match the wooden small moveable alphabet (it’s not 100% accurate but very close.)

There are four files you can choose to download:
moveablealphabet.pdf – paper version of the moveable alphabet with red consonants and blue vowels. Usually there are 5 of each consonent and 10 of each vowel printed for a “complete” alphabet, to get this print the file 5 times (I’ve included y in red and blue as it can be both).
HFwords1.pdf – the first 22 high frequency “key words” that eldest has brought home from school to learn so far in large red and blue letters (can be flash cards, matching with moveable alphabet).
HFwords1wde.pdf – as above file, but the words are spaced out so that the paper moveable alphabet can be placed on top of the cards more easily.
HFwords1sml.pdf – the same 22 words in smaller black Sassoon font for more traditional “flash cards”, matching with the large word cards etc.

For durability, print onto card and laminate (and definitely don’t let your two year old drip water all over unlaminated paper copies :lol:) There are all sorts of games that can be played, the most obvious of which is probably matching the individual letters with the words. I usually set out three to five words and the exact letters needed for those words (to give “control of error” – there should be no letters left over when all are matched). MG knows almost all letter names and sounds so tries to read phonically for words she doesn’t know and can say the letter sounds as she matches.

The game MG made up that she likes to play is to have either the pile of small cards or big cards and give the other pile to whoever she’s playing with. We mix the cards up and see if we match. I add in questions like “What does yours say? What does mine say?” for words she knows or “You’ve got x and I’ve got y” if she’s not sure. If the “learning” bit is annoying her I stop it of course, it’s supposed to be fun! Seeing the words regularly, matching up different size word cards, creating words with the moveable alphabet and talking about the words (then recognising them in books when I’m reading to her) is cementing the words in her mind and she is happily memorising these words at her own pace.

For an idea of the Montessori method of introducing language, see Montessori Print Shop‘s Language Overview. MPS also offer lots of printables to support using the moveable alphabet, and their moveable alphabet file includes lesson plans, lower and upper case letters in three colour schemes and images of phonetic words to sound out. This file is also included in the MPS Montessori at Home materials bundle for an even more bargainous price, very useful if you want to follow some Montessori principles at home and get the Montessori At Home! book (which is fantastic!) No, I’m not on commission, I just like these 🙂

Montessori Monday

Montessori Online Resources

Some time ago, I started to create a mini blog / site with a variety of Montessori links and info. But my bookmarks kept growing and growing and I had no time to organise them. Other sites have already done the same (and better) so I shall link to them instead 😆

About Montessori from Montessori Print Shop. Plus lots more information under the different menu headings. “Montessori Theory” is a great place to get an understanding for Montessori philosopny and “Montessori Lessons” for an idea of scope and sequence.

Free Montessori Materials
Free Montessori Materials Online – from Living Montessori Now (including free 3-6 Geography Album from A Montessori Marketplace)
The Little List – directory of free printables, DIY materials, curriculum (albums and scope and sequence) etc

Montessori Blogs
What Did We Do All Day? – extensive, updated Montessori Blog list (and DIY materials links)
Montessori Print Shop Favourite Blogs – a very good place to start!
50 must-read Montessori Blogs (some now obsolete)

Free Albums
There’s a few more albums not on the links above that I had collected:
Meg McElwee’s 3-6 Albums (Passwords:- Practical Life and Theory: pl101; Sensorial: sens789; Language: lang456; Mathematics: math123) If this shouldn’t be posted, let me know and I’ll delete but I got it from a public place originally…
Wikisori Albums
Mid America Montessori Teacher Training 6-9 Albums
Cultivating Dharma 6-9 Albums
Great Lessons 3-part cards (sorry, I can’t remember who created these)
Free Printables
Montessori for Learning
Montessori Print Shop
Montessori Materials
Montessori for Everyone
All these Yahoo! groups have a large number of free resources in their files sections:
Montessori Materials Makers
Montessori by Hand
Playschool 6

Maria Montessori’s Writing
Full Books Online
The Montessori Method (Celebration of Women Writers)
Dr Montessori’s Own Handbook (Project Gutenberg)
Spontaneous Activity in Education (Project Gutenburg)
Chapters Online
The Absorbent Mind (Moteaco)
Basic Ideas of Montessori’s Educational Theory (Moteaco)
The Child in the Family (Moteaco)
From Childhood to Adolescence (Moteaco)
The Discovery of the Child (Moteaco)
Education for a New World (Moteaco)
The Formation of Man (Moteaco)
What You Should Know About Your Child (Moteaco)
To Educate the Human Potential (Moteaco)
Lectures Online
The California Lectures of Maria Montessori, 1915 (Moteaco)
How It All Happened (1942) (Moteaco)

Other Useful Links
Virtual Montessori – online versions of several Montessori materials (e.g. 100 board, small bead frames, pythagoras board, synonyms)
Montessori Bells – online version of the bells
Edupic – royalty-free pictures that could be used for making 3-part cards, all sorts of subjects