Monday, August 22, 2011

Montessori Monday: Washing Clothes & Walking the Line

Yesterday we took Froggy Boots to one of the parks near our house.  When I was a kid I had my own names for the different parks we went to.  I think when she gets older she will probably call this park Sandbox Park because there is a gigantic sandbox there.

Last time we went to Sandbox Park I came up with the idea to use Froggy Boots' little garden rake to make a "road" around the sandbox for her to walk on -- similar to the Montessori version, "walking the line."  Although she did walk on the "road" once, she wasn't to interested in it at that point.

However, when we returned to Sandbox Park yesterday, she asked me to make a "road" for her.  So, I did!  She walked on the "road" a couple times and then pushed her dump truck on it a few times.  She put quite a bit of effort into staying on the "road."  And, if she moved off of it, she quickly got herself back on track -- or, I guess, on "road."

Oh, and I'll add that when I told Froggy Boots that we were going to the park, she immediately went and put on her pumpkin hat and a necklace out of her play jewelry box and said, "I'm ready!  Let's Go!"  She also picked up her new purse to take with her.

Here are some pictures:

Walking the "road"
Walking the "road" with her truck.

Walking the "road" with her truck.
Yesterday I also made a trip to our local Value World thrift store.  While I was there I picked up a few preemie sized baby clothes for Froggy Boots to use with her baby dolls.  She has been very interested in taking clothes off and on her baby dolls recently.  But, all she had to choose from were some old doll clothes that were mine when I was little.  I thought some used baby clothes would be a cheap solution to this issue.

As an extension I planned a baby clothes washing practical life activity for today.  I'm glad I did!  It was perfect timing.  One of my friends from church happened to deliver her second baby today.  I met her and her husband at the hospital and picked up their little boy to come play at our house for the day until his grandparents arrived to stay with him.

This afternoon after nap and snack time, Froggy Boots, Little K and I headed outside to wash, rinse, and hang baby clothes (and a few dish towels thrown in there as well).  Froggy Boots ended up not being to interested in this activity at first -- she doesn't like bubbles (in water) and there were lots of bubbles in the washing tub.  But, after she watched Little K for a while, she joined in!

Little K really got into this activity!  After I showed him each step, he started right in!  He washed, squeezed and twisted the clothes, rinsed, squeezed and twisted the clothes again, and then hung the clothes on the clothesline with clothes pins like a real expert!

Here are some pictures (I've left Little K's face out of the pictures for privacy):

washing and rinsing tubs

Little K washing doll clothes.

Little K squeezing and twisting.

Little K rinsing doll clothes.

Little K hanging doll clothes on the line with clothespins.
Later, after watching Little K for a while, Foggy Boots joined in the activity.  She picked a baby hat and slowly started dipping it into the rinsing water tub.  She was still not interested in touching the bubbles in the washing tub.  After a while she was putting her hands right into the rinsing tub with the hat.  And, eventually she worked her way up to the washing tub -- bubbles and all!  I was so happy that she decided to give the bubbles a try!

Froggy Boots continued washing and rinsing the same baby hat for the entire time!  And then, when she was done, I helped her to hang the hat on the clothes line with a clothespin.

Froggy Boots gently dipping the hat into the rinse tub.

Froggy Boots dipping the hat into the bubbles!

Froggy Boots once she has become more comfortable with the activity.

The clothes line filled with baby clothes and dish towels!

I was so glad I planned this activity for today!  Little K really enjoyed it!  And, if he had not been here to do the activity with us, Froggy Boots might not have joined in.  Once she saw that Little K was washing the baby clothes in the bubbles, she probably realized that bubbles might not be as scary as she had previously thought.

Montessori Monday

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Montessori Makeover: My Classroom (part 2)

After spending about two mornings a week in my classroom over the last few weeks, I finally completed the classroom portion of my Montessori Makeover!  There are still a couple "piles" of stuff that need to either be donated or put away.  But, for the most part, the classroom is ready to go.

As you will notice in the photographs, there are some aspects of the classroom that do not conform to the traditional Montessori classroom:

*  Many of the shelving units are still painted a bright green color.  This may be something I will change in the future.  But, for now, for the sake of time and money, they will stay green.  Plus, I like the color!

*  There is a brightly colored circle time rug rather than the traditional circle or elliptical shaped "line" on the floor.  Again, this is something that may change in the future.  But, for now, will stay.

*  Most of my supply storage is in the classroom.  That's just the way it is.  This is not something that I can change.

*  There is a block area, pretend play area, and a gross motor area in the classroom.  These are things that were already there and the children enjoy.  So, they will stay as well.

Here are the photographs:

Block Area -- this used to be the Circle Time area

Practical Life -- the small rectangular table to the right of the picture towards the back is for food preparation.  This used to be the table that I kept all the painting supplies on.  The table was originally meant as a work bench for using tools, so the top was in poor condition.  I covered it with blue vinyl like most of the other tables in the classroom.  The small round table is for eating snack and the large rectangular table is for practical life work.  The small wood shelf is for snack set-up items like plates, napkins, cups, and pitchers.

This is a different view of the practical life area as well as the art and sensorial areas.  To the right of the picture, towards the front is the practical life work shelf.  There is a small independent work table past that and then the art shelf.  The round table to the back, middle of the picture is the art work table.  To the left are two easels for painting work and a sensory table.  The long shelf towards the back is for sensorial work.  I am planning to get a large, solid colored area rug for the floor in front of the sensorial shelf.

Another view of the practical life, art, and sensorial areas.  To the left, front of the picture there is another small independent work table.

Gross Motor Area

Pretend Play Area

Circle Time, Math, Culture, Science Areas, and a partial view of the Language area.  The shelf to the left is for math work.  The shelf in front of the window is for science work.  The green shelf to the front, right of the picture (you can only see the corner of it) is for culture work  The vertical book shelf is for, well, books of course.

This is the Language area and the science work shelf.  The tall green shelf to the left is for language work.  The short green shelf to the right is either going to be for more language work or maybe more culture work.  I'm not sure yet.  The rectangular table is for small group lessons.  Towards the very back of the room, you can see the children's cubbies -- and some other stuff that is waiting to leave the classroom.
Well, there you have it!  I am really happy with the results of this makeover.  The next step is to put work out on the shelves to start the year.  Of course, since this is the beginning of a new school year and the beginning of the Montessori curriculum, we will begin the year with work that the children have probably already been exposed to.  Things like Mr. Potato Head, peg boards, bead lacing, etc.  The Montessori materials will be added as lessons are given on each material.

I also have some more materials to purchase for the classroom.  I plan to purchase work rugs from Ikea.  These seem to be the most reasonably priced rugs I have found at this point.  I also need to purchase small table work mats.  I will probably see what Ikea has in this area as well.  I am always open to suggestions, so please feel free to let me know if you have any ideas for classroom work rugs.

As I complete the set-up of each individual area, I will post updates to my blog.  And, as I go through the year I will be sharing some of my own ideas for Montessori-style works as well as updates on how the year is going.  Please "stay tuned" for further "Montessori Makeover" updates! 

I am also very happy to announce that I will be taking Karen Tyler's online Montessori teacher training through World Wide Montessori Online!  Since I neither have the time or the money to complete traditional Montessori training, this was a wonderful option for me.  I have heard so many great things about Karen Tyler's program and her resources for Montessori educators through yahoo groups, blogs, etc., that I have no doubt I will benefit greatly from her program!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mathai Gardens, Filling the Bird Feeder, and Incorporating a Prepared Environment

This morning we went to the University of Michigan's Mathai Botanical Gardens!  The really great thing about this trip was that it was free!  Other than, of course, the small amount of gas we used to get there -- we live only a short distance from the gardens.

After walking through the main garden area, we came to the Gaffield Children's Garden.  Wow!  I was not expecting the children's garden to be so amazing!  There are plants galore, including a vegetable garden area where you are free to taste test the veggies, a "troll and fairy knoll" where you can use objects found in nature to build fairy houses, streams, ponds, bridges, animal statues, a log cabin, trails to walk on, tunnels made of grape and pumpkin vines, and much more!

Here are some pictures of our trip:

Froggy Boots using a leaf stamp made out of a potato cut by a cookie cutter.

Froggy Boots loves to smell flowers!  Here she found a very pretty flower buried under some other plants.  She climbed up on the rock wall to get a closer "smell."

Froggy Boots playing bells.

Froggy Boots sitting on top of one of the several stone statues -- a turtle!

This was a face made of stone, what appeared to be glass balls for eyes, and a mouth made out of rocks.

Froggy Boots walking out of the pumpkin vine tunnel.  This was by far her favorite part of the whole trip!

Froggy Boots walking out of the grape vine tunnel.  Again, this topped the list along with the pumpkin vine tunnel!

We got home from our trip just in time for lunch, a little bit of play, and nap time.  After nap time and snack, we headed to the backyard to water the plants and fill the bird feeder.  The poor birds had been without bird seed for a couple days...

Froggy Boots always helps me water the plants and has also shown a lot of interest in the bird feeder.  Since she had been practicing her scooping and pouring skills with beans inside, I decided to give her an opportunity to fill the bird feeder for me.  I set up a tray with a bowl of bird seed, a measuring cup for scooping, and the bird feeder.  She filled the whole bird feeder all by herself!  I was totally amazed!

Froggy Boots working on filling the bird feeder!

I didn't have to help her at all!
After Froggy Boots filled the bird feeder, she wanted to keep scooping and pouring bird seed.  So, I ran inside, grabbed several different sized bowls, came back out, and put them on her tray.  She immediately began scooping the bird seed and filling the bowls!  Later, I also went in and got her a spoon to use for scooping as well.  I was blown away by how long she worked on this!

Froggy Boots using the measuring cup to scoop from the large bowl to the smaller bowls.

Froggy Boots using the spoon to scoop from the large bowl to the smaller bowls.

Froggy Boots also practiced emptying the smaller bowls into the larger bowls.  She moved carefully and slowly while doing this.  She is very interested in "being careful" these days!

I learned a lesson of my own today about breaking a child's concentration.  Maria Montessori was very correct when she said that you should try to avoid breaking a child's concentration when she is working.  When it was time for me to go in and make dinner, I asked Froggy Boots if she would like to move the scooping inside and use her beans instead, she said "yes."  But, after I got the activity set back up for her, she used it for about a minute and then was no longer interested.  Her concentration had been broken... oh well, sometimes you can't avoid these situations!

Along with the "Montessori Makeover" I have been working on in my preschool classroom, I have also been trying to bring the Montessori prepared environment into my home for Froggy Boots.  So far I have only done a few things.  The major one was to switch Froggy Boots from sippy cups to child-sized drinking glasses.  This was a fairly seamless transition.

Next on my list is to re-do her closet so that she is able to choose her own clothes and get them out of her closet by herself.  I was inspired to do this when I red a blog called The New Mommy Files.  I am planning to use the same method she has by installing a tension mounted shower curtain rod.  This way I can move it up as she grows.

I am also planning to install hand towel hooks at Froggy Boots level in both of our bathrooms and a bath towel hook in the upstairs bathroom so that she can take down and hang up her own bath towel.  At this point I am planning to use those removable sticky-back hooks for this project.  That way there is no hole drilling necessary and they can be easily removed when Froggy Boots no longer needs them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Car Wash: Montessori Style

So, this past week we went to "Sights and Sounds on Thursday Nights" in Chelsea, Michigan where my parents live.  We have gone to this event on a few other occasions over the Summer -- Froggy Boots enjoys dancing to the music of the street performers (especially rock and roll or country music).

On this occasion, however, there was also a Boy Scout yard sale going on at the old train depot!  Well, I couldn't exactly pass that up, now could I?  So, after we ate dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, we headed over to the yard sale.  Along the way we passed a few of the street performers.  But, for whatever reason, Froggy Boots didn't seem as interested in them.

At the yard sale we found a few treasures for Froggy Boots.  The two most important were one of those red and yellow Little Tikes cars and a Thomas t-shirt.  She was thrilled with both!  In fact, she insisted on wearing the Thomas t-shirt right away and began removing her shirt right there in the parking lot!  Thankfully, I am not scared of a little dirt and germs, so the fact that the t-shirt had obviously been in storage in someones' garage didn't bother me.

I took a couple pictures of Froggy Boots in her new Thomas t-shirt.  But, unfortunately, when I went in to upgrade to a new phone this weekend, the pictures on my old phone magically disappeared after they transferred my contacts from the old phone to the new phone.

The Little Tikes car was also a little (or a lot) on the dirty side.  But, I saw that as a great opportunity to have some fun with a practical life activity -- a car wash!  The next morning, that was our project, washing Froggy  Boots new car.

Here are some pictures:

Froggy Boots chose to use the scrub brush most of the time instead of the wash cloths.

Getting some more water and bubbles on the sponge.  She wasn't to sure about the bubbles at first -- she is quite afraid of bubbles for some reason -- but, this was a great opportunity to see that bubbles are fun!

Later, after the car was pretty close to clean, Froggy Boots decided that the "wormies" (millipedes) on the sidewalk needed a bath as well.  Needless to say, they did get clean, but I'm not sure whether they appreciated the bath or not.

Just after we finished the car wash, Grandma Shelley stopped by for a visit.  She happened to be in Ann Arbor that day and so decided to stop by and see us!  She got to see Froggy Boots try out her new, clean car for the first time since we brought it home.

Froggy Boots kept trying to steer the car with the steering wheel.  But, as those of you who have owned the little tikes car know, the steering wheel does not actually control the wheels.  So, she kept going off the sidewalk into the grass.  She'll get the hang of it eventually!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reclaiming REAL Play: Toys

So, I read an article on my FB home page from the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood that really got me worked up about the toy industry these days.  And, by the way, it doesn't take much to get me worked up about the subject of toys.  It's like we're going from bad to worse in the blink of an eye!

When I first started noticing a major shift in the kinds of toys that are being marketed to children these days I was at Target doing some shopping.  Although this was before the days of Froggy Boots, I was still strolling down the toys isles.  And, what was I looking for, you may ask?  Well, I was looking for some basic wooden blocks as a gift for someone -- I don't remember who.  I thought they would be easy to find.  I mean, every kid owns a set of wooden blocks, right?

As I walked up and down the isles over and over again, I was thinking, "you've got to be kidding me, right!?"  There was not one set of wooden blocks anywhere on the toy isle shelves!  I kept thinking I must have missed them somewhere.  But, to my dismay, every time I walked up and down the isles, no wooden blocks appeared!

Since that day several years ago Target has begun to carry a small selection of wooden blocks and toys as well as some of the old classic toys that I grew up with.  However, these types of toys are the minority.  Most of the toys you will find at Target make obnoxious noises, flash bright lights,  talk, walk, or dance on their own, and even poop and pee on their own.  I know, I know, those same pooping and peeing dolls existed when I was growing up to -- and I even had one!  But, that's not the point.

The point is that these types of toys that do everything FOR the child are now the majority instead of the minority.  Anything (well, almost anything) in moderation can be OK.  But, anything in excess can eventually become a major problem.  Take drinking alcohol, for example.  In moderation, it's OK.  But, in excess, it can cause all kinds of major problems for the consumer as well as those around him.

Toys are no different.  An excess of toys that do things FOR the child can really stifle creativity.  Let's take the example of baby dolls.  If a baby doll talks by itself, saying certain pre-programed phrases or sentences, then the child is limited by what the doll is programed to say.  You may argue that the child may still pretend the doll is saying other things, but I just don't think that happens as easily when the doll is already spurting out its own programmed phrases.

Now, let's say that the child who owns the talking doll also owns a play kitchen that makes sizzling sounds and lights up when you place a pot on the stove,  makes beeping sounds when pressing the buttons on the microwave, and even has an attached telephone that talks to the child when she picks it up.  This same child also has toy animals that make animal sounds when you press a button and a remote control car that makes engine noises, honks and talks.

Where is the imagination in any of these toys?  There isn't.  What was once a toy designed to encourage imagination and creativity is now stifling the very thing it was originally designed to do by taking the imagination away from the child and placing it in the hands of the toy itself.

In my many years of being a preschool teacher I have even noticed a difference in the kids I teach that seems to be directly related to the types of toys they are playing with.  I now have kids that, no matter what I am showing them, ask me, "What does it do?"  My response is always the same, "It doesn't DO anything." and then I show the child what he/she can do WITH the toy.  **I do not have any electronic toys in my classroom and probably never will.**

This is a somewhat new phenomenon for me.  Several years ago, I don't remember kids asking me questions like that.  I remember questions like, "What do you do WITH it?" not, "What does it DO?"

So, you might be asking what was the article that got you so worked up about toys?  Here's the link:

The Real Trouble With Breastmilk Baby

And please do not think that I have anything against breastfeeding!  I am a 100% supporter of breastfeeding.  I breastfed Froggy Boots until she weaned herself at 11 months.  And, I always promote breastfeeding to any mom-to-be.  I would love nothing more than to see a child pretending to breastfeed a baby doll -- as long as the doll does not make sucking noises while sucking on a pretend nipple attached to something that looks like a bra.

If you read the last paragraph and don't know what I am talking about, then you need to click on the link above and read the article.

So, let's encourage toy manufacturers to bring back REAL toys -- toys that encourage open-ended, creative, or educational play without all the "bells and whistles," so to speak -- by purchasing these types of toys for our kids instead of the ones that stifle their creativity.  Let's bring back the REAL play of childhood for our kids!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Montessori Makeover: My Classroom (part 1)

I've been spending about one morning a week for the past month at my preschool preparing for the new Montessori-based curriculum this fall.  This means rearranging the furniture and a LOT of just putting stuff away in closets, cupboards, etc.  It's really difficult to find places to go with so much stuff that has been out on the shelves for the past 6 years.  But, I'm really trying to embrace the clutter-free, less-is-more Montessori philosophy. 

I got a lot done this morning in the classroom!  My storage closet, which is in another room of the church where my preschool is located, is completely full -- only leaving room to walk in and out.  Although, I must say, even though it is full, it is neat and organized!  All of my cupboards in the classroom are full -- including the cupboard I've designated for Montessori material storage.

Here's a picture of my Montessori materials storage cupboard.  My phone camera lens must need to be cleaned, because all of the pictures I took with it today are kind of foggy looking.

Here is a list of the Montessori materials I have so far:

* lots of baskets in many shapes and sizes
* lots of trays: glass, plastic, wicker and even some really neat seasonally shaped small glass trays (leaves, apples)
* practical life items: creamers, bowls, spoons, tongs, 2 tea sets, small items to transfer, sort, etc., hand-made dressing frames
* set of cylinder blocks
* land/water globe
*land/water map
* sand paper lower case letters
* sand paper double letters
* sand paper numbers
* red rods
* number rods with numbers
* geometric cabinet and display tray
* hand made sand paper touch tablets
* pink tower
* brown stair
* insets for design
* geometric solids with bases
* land and water form trays
* various other items that I have made myself

I still need to purchase quite a few more Montessori materials for my classroom.  But, I have what I need to get the year started. 

Like I said, a lot of what I have been doing is putting stuff away.  My initial goal is for all of my shelving units to be empty and then I will work on putting out the children's work for the beginning of the year.  In accordance with Maria Montessori, I will begin the year with mostly items that would be considered toys, and then add the Montessori materials to the shelves as I give lessons on their proper use.

I did take a few pictures of the part of my classroom that I have managed to de-clutter the most.  There is still some stuff laying around, but it is considerably better than when I left last week.

Circle Time and shelves for math materials
Circle Time, shelves for science materials, book shelf, and language materials shelf
Geography & Culture materials shelf and 2 tables for independent work
Language materials area with table for lesson presentation and work
It's difficult to tell without being in the classroom, but I moved a lot of furniture around!  Circle Time, the math shelves, the science shelves, and the geography shelves are all located where the block area used to be.  The language shelves, book shelf ,and table are now where the library used to be.  And, although not included in traditional Montessori classrooms, the block area and pretend play area have been moved to where Circle Time used to be.  I have chosen to keep these areas because I feel that dramatic play and blocks can provide children with lots of learning opportunities. 

The remainder of the room is taken up by areas for practical life, art, and sensorial work.  I will post pictures of these areas as they become more de-cluttered.  Oh, and of course, I still have the gross motor area with the slide and monkey bars located in the back of the classroom.  Since we do not have an outdoor playground, this area gets a lot of use by the children!

As you may have figured out from previous posts, I frequent thrift stores on a regular basis looking for materials I can use in my classroom.  One of the neatest finds I have had recently is a brand new, in the box, beautiful porcelain tea set!  I can't wait to put this out in the practical life area for the children to use! 

Here is a picture: