Posts in Education
This Is the Way We Wash a Wall: the montessori way!

An hand-crank eggbeater utensil, a bowl, and a drop of concentrated soap is an activity any toddler or preschooler will enjoy….and after the fun inside the bowl, why not have a cleaning frenzy?

Children love to clean, and when they get into it, sometimes they can't quite stop.

Let’s give them a huge canvas to explore possibilities.

All you need is a bowl of soapy water, a sponge, and a drying cloth.

I recommend very little actual water. You can always add more later. The sponge should be child sized. That means if you have a toddler, you may want to cut a regular sponge in thirds and give your child a third.

If your child is older, half a sponge may be quite appropriate. This way little hands can feel secure with the right sized tool. I also recommend that if you have more than one child, you give each child his own sponge and bowl so he can go where he likes to clean in his own space.

It is helpful if you give some boundaries. If you want your child to focus on a small section of wall that is especially dirty, you may consider putting some masking tape around the area that you want cleaned and asking the child to stay within the square.

I also recommend giving a lesson on how to wash the wall first.

The Lesson

  1. Carefully gather your supplies and put them right in front of the wall to wash. If in the classroom, this would include putting on an apron (children, too).

  2. Silently inspect the wall and use your fingers to point to dirty spots. You may even wrinkle your nose a little and say matter of factly, "This wall is dirty." 

  3. In exaggerated fashion, dip the sponge and squeeze out the water. Drip, drip, drip. Again. Dip. Squeeze. Drip, drip, drip. Say, "Now, I am ready to wash the wall." 

  4. Scrub. Smile and nod in satisfaction. Put the sponge back down. Use your drying cloth to dry the area.

  5. Say, "Now this part of the wall is clean. It's your turn."

Montessori Water Play PIN1

Ready. Set. Scrub!

Well, after this long lesson, the children are probably dying to jump in there, so go for it! Sing songs about washing like "This is the way we wash the walls" to the tune of "Here we go round the Mulberry Bush." 

Make a big soapy mess and then use your whole body to dry the soapy area. You can see in the pictures how my kids were loving this and dancing around. If you're dancing and having fun, they will, too.

Bonus: Your house gets cleaner, not messier! ;)

Print This Free Montessori Lesson

Download the printable version of this lesson and add it to your homeschooling binder or share with a friend.

Here’s what it looks like, except unfortunately, I will be unable to email you the soap & sponge! I know you’re disappointed, but at least you can get the lesson, right?

washing wall lesson photo.jpg

Download your free printable lesson.

  1. Download the lesson. You’ll get the lesson, plus gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home.

  2. Print and add this lesson to your binder, share it with a friend, or use it with your Montessori homeschooling planner.

  3. Try this activity with your child! It’s a winner!

    Your Child Can LOVE Learning to Write…Just Start With Sand!

    Soft to the fingertips, not many can resist the temptation of playing with a pile of sand. Whether on the beach, in a box, or on a tray, sand provides an unforgettable tactile experience for all ages.

    This Montessori sand tray letter-writing activity is best for children older than age three. It comes after your child has been introduced to a few tactile, or sandpaper, letters, although the delight of drawing freeform in and generally playing with sand can be introduced in toddlerhood.

    What You Need

    • A medium-sized tray (the size of a piece of printer paper works well)

    • A good handful or two of sand or salt - enough to thoroughly coat the bottom of the tray

    What You’ll Do

    1. Immediately after reviewing the tactile or sandpaper letter you have already introduced, tell your child that you have prepared a special activity for the two of you.

    2. Sit in front of  the tray of sand and say, “This is sand.” Then, set clear expectations for use by telling your child, “The sand stays in the tray. It is not for the table or for the floor. It stays in the tray.”

    3. Now draw your child’s attention to your hands by rubbing them together and then extending only your index finger.

    4. Silently and slowly draw the letter in the sand as your child watches. Say the sound (not the name) of the letter.

    5. After a few seconds of gazing at the letter, shake the tray gently back and forth with both hands to smooth the sand.

    6. Say, “Now it’s your turn to draw the ______ [sound of the letter, such as /b/].

    girl writing in sand.jpg

    Tips for Success

    Make sure that your child can be trusted not to eat the sand and always provide adequate supervision. If you’re using salt, please note that ingesting too much salt can be toxic to children.

    Try This, Too

    Encourage your child to write in the sand at the beach or in her sandbox. You can also write letters, or even her own name for her to “read”. For another variation on this activity, try a dollop of shaving cream on a table.

    What Your Child is Learning

    When your child is learning how to write, her fingertips softly pressing and sliding into a tray of sand will bolster her muscle memory of letter formation. This activity also provides a pleasant sensory experience and aids fine motor skill development.

    Love Learning To Write Pin 1

    Print this free Montessori lesson

    Download the printable version of this lesson and add it to your homeschooling binder or share with a friend.

    sand tray printable photo.jpg

    Download your free printable lesson.

    1. Download the lesson. You’ll get the lesson, plus gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home.

    2. Print and add this lesson to your binder, share it with a friend, or use it with your Montessori homeschooling planner.

    3. Try this activity with your child! It’s a winner!

      A Planet Without Schools

      Somewhere out there in the universe, I imagine there is a wonderful world where children don't go to school at all. They are not removed from the rest of society to be measured by the strengths and weaknesses of their age level peers. They are not force-fed facts. They are not tested on skills and judged on their abilities. In fact, no standards at all exist for knowledge acquisition.There are no lessons, no progress reports, and absolutely no teachers telling the children what to do. 

      Does this sound a little bit like "unschooling" to you, my dear Montessori friends? Bear with me.

      Somehow on this planet, the children learn everything they need to know to thrive in their world's delicate ecosystem and to become fully functional, sophisticated adults with a purpose for and enjoyment of their work. Burdened only by their innate thirst for knowledge, without universities or workshops or required professional development courses or pay raises, they continue seeking new experiences that expand their minds and hearts. They die of old age, knowing that they led full and happy lives. 

      It sounds like a dream, but when a child is born, this is his world. Do we take the newborn babe and thrust lessons in speech and crawling at him? This would be considered ridiculous, of course, because we assume that he is just a little nothing of a baby, ineducable at this point because he doesn't even talk! We wait until he looks more like a small adult than a baby before becoming his "teacher", and then we get a little nervous. What if we aren't instructing well enough or often enough and the child falls behind his peers? And what if it's our fault for not being on top of our game?

      We must take a look at what is accomplished in the first three years of life without us intervening at all. It is pretty incredible when you think about it. A newborn babe's body transforms miraculously from one that fits perfectly curled up inside a womb to a body that can walk and run alongside his parents and nourish himself when he feels hungry. Cries turn into babble and into words and sentences that can even navigate basic adult dialogue in his native tongue. If the child can learn so much on his own in the first three years, why can't he do it just exactly in this very same way for the rest of his life?

      If we could let go of our preconceived notions about what children must know by what age and resist comparing them to each other...

      If we could embrace every child and find the potential that exists...

      If we could recognize that the child has far greater skills for learning than we do for teaching...

      If we could stop talking about it and start watching instead...

      If we could just get out of their way and trust them...

       You don't have to visit another planet. The natural instinct for learning self-sufficiency and life-long joy is already right here on Earth. The child has the power to teach himself! We just have to take a deep breath and allow it to unfold.

      But don't take it from me...

      "Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, where study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants - doing nothing but live and walk about - came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning; would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning."

      - Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

      Can YOU imagine....jpg
      Ten Homeschooling Tips: #2 - Adopt a Theory of Education

      Most homeschoolers begin their journey looking for a curriculum to follow, but even more important than what to teach your child is how to teach your child. Children are naturally curious creatures. If given a rich environment and a lot of freedom and time to ask questions, explore, manipulate, and engage, learning will happen, no doubt! We run into resistance when we insist that children learn certain skills at certain time periods without considering whether our children are even interested at that given point of time.

      Consider Montessori

      A Montessori-inspired home education can give you insight into what children are generally interested in and ready to explore at certain ages as well as a set of teaching techniques that have been proven through modern research to be effective at engaging young learners.

      Rather than a list of key concepts for each year of a child’s life, in Montessori, we develop curriculum and techniques according to a several year age span (exa: ages 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-18) because multi-age groupings allow for different rates of development and allow the children more flexibiity with varying interests.

      A Natural Fit for Homeschoolers

      • Children lead the learning process.

      • Teachers are guides/facilitators/mentors.
      • Lessons are sequential and naturally appealing to children.

      • Curriculum allows for flexibility for special needs or gifted children.

      • Philosophy fosters independence and a joy for learning.

      • Emphasis is placed on nurturing the “whole child”.

      • Hands-on materials can be effectively DIYed.

      • No expensive supplies are necessary for at-home implementation.

      The Scoop

      Avoid teacher albums and certification programs unless you are looking to teach in a classroom. Teacher education programs are designed for the needs of classroom teachers managing large groups of children, not homeschoolers. Adhering to lengthy, prescriptively written lessons from the albums that teachers upload (and often sell) online can lead you further from the philosophy in a home setting.

      Fortunately, there are many online resources for parents looking to use the Montessori Method in their homes! Follow  blogs written by homeschoolers for homeschoolers, join online forums, check out photos from Montessori-inspired Instagrammers, read a book of Dr. Montessori’s, and consider taking an online class created specifically for the needs of homeschooling parents.

      Child of the Redwoods is now offering an online class for parents who are considering homeschooling Preschool / Kindergarten with a Montessori mindset. Click here to learn more about Homeschool of the Redwoods for ages 3-6.

      Don’t Limit Yourself

      There are many wonderful methods for homeschooling, and since you are designing your very own school for your child, there’s no one to say that you can’t combine elements of various progressive methods that respect the interests of the child. You might incorporate the freedom of Unschooling, the emphasis of great works of literature from Charlotte Mason, the democratic discussions of Dewey, the artistic elements of Waldorf, and the three period lessons from Montessori! Puzzle together something wonderful that works for you and your family, and you can’t go wrong.

      Read more tips about homeschooling here

      I've Got 5 Minutes. Explain Montessori to Me.

      As Montessori teachers and parents...

      1. We follow the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952). She was a medical doctor, a teacher, a philosopher, and an anthropologist. Her progressive view of children was way beyond her time, and her writing is still very relevant today. Interested in reading some of her work yourself? You should! Try The Secret of Childhood for starters. Read more about her life and take the Montessori challenge for fun.

      2. We understand that children of different ages have different needs and abilities. We study child development theory (for example, sensitive periods) and make sure that our classrooms and homes have developmentally appropriate activities and expectations. When something new is discovered about the growing brain, we are taking notes, ready to back it up with our educational practice. (More often than not, the research simply confirms the Montessori method!)

      3. We observe our children. The child has so much to teach us about learning. By watching closely, we can modify our lessons and materials to best suit the child's interests and growth. We try to anticipate what the child will need next and make sure that this experience is available for when the child is ready to explore the subject or skill. We call this "following the child".

      4. We believe that the environment itself is the best teacher, and we prepare it like a mama bird would craft a proper nest for her babies. Rather than dictating what a child should learn and when, we design the classroom or home to fit the needs of the child, rich experiences balanced by beauty and order. This takes a great amount of effort, but we are rewarded when a child enters and is inspired to learn. In a typical Montessori classroom, you would see objects in baskets, trays, or boxes arranged on a shelf attractively. Each work contains a purposeful work that is designed to teach a specific concept. (Pssst: We don't randomly select concepts to teach, remember? We base them on our observations of the child.)

      5. We model grace and courtesy (good manners), treating our children as we wish ourselves to be treated. We use calm voices when teaching and speak with respect in regard to the children's feelings. We carry ourselves with poise and handle objects with care. We believe that the children are acutely observing us even when we aren't aware of it, and they will mimic our behaviors and attitudes. We know that humans aren't perfect, but we really try to bring out the best in ourselves.

      6. We recognize that children are unique individuals who are not likely to master the exact same concepts or have the same interests at the same time. We celebrate this uniqueness and allow each child to develop at his or her pace. We believe that learning is a natural process that develops spontaneously. When we place our trust in the child, we are often surprised at the immense amount of learning that takes place through the child's interaction with his or her world.

      7. We do not use rewards and punishments to force children to comply with rules or to combat ill behavior. We believe that each child is on the way to developing self discipline and that the rewards should be intrinsic (within oneself) rather than externally imposed. When a child misbehaves, we first examine the reasons why the child is exhibiting those behaviors (hungry? tired? overstimulated? testing boundaries?) and then we contemplate whether a change in the prepared environment would help or if we need to teach certain problem-solving skills to prevent another occurrence. Never do we use shame or humiliation. We try to help the child understand appropriate behavior in a social context in a gentle, firm manner.

      8. We believe that children learn best when they are free to move their bodies throughout the day. Children have physical rights. They should not be constrained to desks. They should be allowed to move around in their environment, visit the bathroom as often as they like, and work in a variety of sitting or standing positions. We want to teach our children to respect their bodies and control their movements, and by allowing this freedom, we feel that this helps the growing brain learn more effectively. We encourage this independence, but also teach respect for others. No one's freedom should infringe upon another's right to concentrate.

      9. We believe that the materials a child works with (one could just as easily call them "toys") should be carefully chosen to support the current developmental stage. With few exceptions, natural materials are preferred, and the works themselves should be arranged attractively on the shelf. Concrete experiences are always offered first and abstract thinking presented later, when the child has a firm grasp on the concept. Maria Montessori herself developed and sanctioned specific materials for learning that are considered classic and essential to a Montessori classroom.  You might want to take a look at the pink tower, the moveable alphabet, or the golden beads. Oh, and yes, we call it work and not play. Really it's just semantics, so don't let it bother you.

      10. To Montessori teachers, presenting a lesson to a child is an art form. For example, for the 3-6 age child, we captivate the child's attention by talking very little during the lesson and instead making our movements slow and deliberate. This allows the child to focus on our actions and remember the little details that may be forgotten if we were speaking at the same time. One of the classic Montessori lesson techniques you might want to investigate is called The Three Period Lesson.

      11. We believe that education can change the world for the better. We are advocates for peace. The children themselves represent a "bright, new hope for mankind". We feel that the work we do as educators, guiding children toward self reliance and compassion, is incredibly important in the grand scheme of future life on Earth. How our children are treated as babies is going to impact our entire civilization when they are all grown up and making decisions that affect others. We are humbled by the great possibilities that exist within the tiniest of humans, and we respect their inner wisdom.

      Still confused? It's okay. Montessori philosophy is as vast and deep as the ocean. Start by going to the beach. Feel the wind on your cheeks and listen to the waves crash. It's okay that you don't get it all at once. Then pick something to study. Starfish. Dolphins. Jellyfish. It doesn't matter what you begin with because the animals inside the ocean are interdependent. As you do your research, you will begin to understand the power of the entire system.

      Welcome to Montessori!

      Good Teaching Is Student Centered. Stop Depicting It Otherwise.

      The first Tuesday of May is National Teacher Day, a factoid once known mostly by pedants and calendar completist, but thanks to Google's doodle celebrating the day of appreciation, the word may be getting out. 

      Too bad they botched it.

      Google Doodles have a long history of controversy, which says something about the company's brand and influence. The company has long insisted that the doodles are apolitical -- meant for fun and a way for staffers to express their passions. This may be true but being featured as a doodle is no small thing.

      Literally. According to internet live stats, Google processes about 40,000 searches a second, or about 3.5 billion searches a day.

      Even if you discount the people who won't see a particular doodle (Google varies them by nation), the number of impressions (or times Google shows it to a person) is huge.

      An "A" in Good Intentions

      So many, many people will see the doodle, and isn't that a good thing? Aren't teachers worthy of praise? Besides, how controversial could a teacher appreciation doodle really be?

      Google Doodle for Teacher Appreciation Day (May 9, 2017)

      Google Doodle for Teacher Appreciation Day (May 9, 2017)

      Because this is the Internet, I'm not ready to discount the likelihood that someone, somewhere will find a way to make it controversial, but the doodle itself isn't particularly inviting of controversy; we're not talking Pepsi-level tone deafness.

      Rather, it is skillfully designed if not somewhat banal and obvious. And therein lies the rub.

      Google needs to create an image that catches the user's eye while conveying the idea pictorially. This means it has to be simple to understand. Enter the visual shorthand.

      To wit, the doodle features six figures in front of a screen that flips through representations of various math and science subjects. The largest figure is the teacher. We know this because... well... it's teaching. Or at least teaching in the way we generally think about teaching.

      Notice that it's much larger than the other figures (teachers work with children!); it has a book and glasses (teachers are academics!). And, most importantly, it has a pointer and half open mouth (teachers love pontificating on important things.)

      Break the Stereotype

      Aubrey and David Discuss the Whys and Hows of Student Centered Learning

      None of these things are necessarily slams, but they SHOULD NOT BE shorthand for "teacher," especially the pontificator in chief. That they are says much about our profession and how people think of it... the sage on the stage, the professor spouting knowledge like a font.

      It is exactly the kind of thing Maria Montessori warned against when she talked about treating children as though they were empty vessels to be filled. That was nearly a century ago. The image - and practice - persists.

      Owning Our Narrative

      Ultimately, this isn't Google's fault. They wanted to celebrate educators. Rather, the fault is ours as educators. We own it.

      But always it is done collaboratively, with the emphasis on the learner’s journey, not the teacher’s knowledge

      We have to flip the narrative so that when people think of teaching, they imagine a place dominated by students. The teacher guides, watches, helps, supports. But he does not only or always teach. 

      Sometimes, the students teach; sometimes, the teacher learns. But always it is done collaboratively, with the emphasis on the learner's journey, not the teacher's knowledge.

      This is the image we want to come to mind when people think of teaching. Teachable moments come in many forms. Google is creating one. Let's take the lesson to heart.

      10 Homeschooling Tips: #1 - Follow Your Child

      This is a part of a series on how to make homeschooling work. Click here to read more from the series.

      It might sounds obvious, but it’s important to stress that homeschooling DOES NOT work like traditional schooling. It’s not because (or only because) you’re teaching at home or teaching your own children. It’s because traditional school is structured, in no small part, to support LOTS of kids at varying degrees of skill and readiness at the same time.

      Managing a classroom of very different young learners and trying to get them all to a common goal is not for the faint of heart. It’s why teachers think so much about classroom management. Keeping order is essential. The best teachers know how to keep discipline through engaging learning.

      A Partnership Like No Other

      Nonetheless, what they’re trying to do with twenty-three 3rd graders is not the same as what you’re trying to do with just the one. If you model your homeschool experience after what the phenomenal 3rd grade teacher down the street does, you’ll flop. Your lessons will go on too long or not long enough. The child won’t be ready and will revolt. In a traditional classroom, you have strategies to handle these - remediation activities to fill gaps, extension activities to fill time.

      But here’s the good news: You can’t be a teacher, but you shouldn’t be try to be one, either.

      Instead, you must be the child’s partner. It can’t be said enough. Get the teacher thing out of your head. Yes, you should be actively engaged in pulling together resources. Yes, you should be seeking learning opportunities. Yes, you are ultimately responsible for your child's education. However, you don't have to (and should not) do these things in a vacuum.

      Do them with your child. Look for resources together. Make a list of ideas of things you might want to do, craft, or learn about together. Give your child some empowering language about the learning process. 

      Many classroom teachers would envy your ability to follow the child and provide the instruction he or she needs at the moment he or she is ready (professional educators call it differentiated instruction).

      Find the Balance

      Following the child doesn't mean letting go of all rules and standards (though there are some educational philosophies that go to that level). Rather, it means identifying the learning outcomes that are meaningful and developmentally appropriate and inviting the child into the process as a full partners.

      And when it gets hard and your child is pushing back, keep this in your back pocket:

      "I know that you don't want to do this, but the truth is that sometimes things that are hard just take a lot of practice before they become fun, and when you've learned how to do this, it's going to be amazing. I remember when I was learning how to do this, and this is how I learned. How can we help you learn it? What would work best for you?"

      Let's Nurture Children's Intrinsic Joy of Work

      You don’t have to look very hard to see just how deeply society links work and self-worth. Our fables teach children that work means life - the industrious ant survives the winter while the lazy grasshopper starves. We extol the virtues of labor in idioms like "an honest day's work" and sayings like "haste makes waste.” We equate hard word with spiritual worth in proverbs (literally in Proverbs) like “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”

      There’s a good reason we have these expression and stories; the community’s survival relies on people doing their jobs. It's why we've designed so many extrinsic motivators for work - from salaries and promotions to gold stars and letter grades. We want tangible proof that our work has value to society.

      But beyond the fear of societal ruin, a job well done (another great idiom) just feels good. It is intrinsically motivating. And when the social benefit and the inner joy find balance - magic! Your body and mind feel good, born from the inner satisfaction of personal success and the quantifiable contribution to something greater.

      The Daily Grind

      But if work is so satisfying, why are an ever increasing number of Americans unhappy at work? For one, the nature of work has changed dramatically in recent decades, growing increasingly abstract. Consider - In 1860, over half of the American labor force was in agriculture. Now it’s less than 2 percent. 1860 may seem far off, but when talking about social change, it’s like an atomic blast - fast, hot, and destructive.

      If you want to put it in the context of one person’s lifetime, in the early 1970s 1 in 4 Americans worked in manufacturing. Today, it’s less than 1 in 10. That’s fewer than work in healthcare, retail, or business. All told, over 80 percent of Americans work in the service industry, largely making intangible things that contribute to a bigger, slightly less intangible thing.

      And as work becomes more and more intangible, the assigned extrinsic value becomes more and more important. I can’t point to the miles of rail I helped lay, but I can point to the money in my bank account or the size of my car.

      Old Challenges Made New

      To be clear, the paycheck is not a new idea; the concept of wages likely goes back to the Neolithic Period. Likewise, this isn’t a romanticized notion of a past where everyone owned the fruits of their labors. Historically, few people truly owned their work, just as few owned their land. Wealth inequity is as old as wealth accumulation.

      But we underestimate the radicalness of social change at our own peril. Ultimately, it’s a matter of tempo. What is the tempo at which our biology can change versus to the tempo of change around us? When they sync, you have a music. When they don't, you have disharmony.

      The measure of a Person 

      The coupling of one person’s labor to a machine few understand and fewer control makes our tangible contributions to society so abstract as be practically invisible. Or, to paraphrase Eliot, we measure out our lives with coffee spoons.

      Over the years, as abstraction has invaded our lives, we’ve come up with lots of ways to give it intrinsic definition. We talk about “climbing a career ladder” or “building a future.” No surprise that these idioms give the abstract (career, the future) physical properties (climbing, building).

      And it all works fairly well. It’s not perfect. There are many workers struggling with the shift from more tangible industrial work to the service industry. But when you look at how many Americans have access to clean water, reliable food stocks, health care, education, and other living standard indices, society as a whole is in a better spot than it was in 1860. Plus, abstract work can be very fulfilling. The service industry creates many social goods.

      But there is danger in the system’s complexity. What any one person does at work is a very small cog in the insanely complicated machine of modern capital and finance. And like all complicated machines, when something goes wrong, it's a huge task to figure out what broke, why it broke, and how to fix it (see also, subprime mortgage crisis).

      And for more and more people, the machine is feeling broken, our faith in it misplaced or abused.

      Finding Frederick

      So what to do? To start, we must acknowledge - as a society - that meaningful work isn't always (or only) quantifiable on a spreadsheet. I'm reminded of Leo Lionni’s wonderful children's book Frederick about a mouse (the titular Frederick) who prepares for winter by collecting memories of the summer.

      His peers (who are all collecting food) mock him for laziness until the dead of winter comes and the others find that Frederick's memories (expressed through art) have immeasurable value - helping keep the group warm through the very long, cold winter.

      Perhaps more than ever, as the old tangible forms of work disappear, we need to weave this lesson into our social contract. We must build a society that values its Fredericks, and we must start by updating our attitudes about education.

      Training children for jobs is practically a guiding tenet to schooling, but it must end. As Maria Montessori warned in The Absorbent Mind:

      “The child is not an inert being who owes everything he can do to us, as if he were an empty vessel that we have to fill. No, it is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child who once he was.”

      In other words, respectful education prepares children for life. It doesn't train children for job success; it nurtures their creative and intellectual powers, divorcing them from any external mark, and doing so keeps alive their intrinsic love of work.

      A chance to get it right

      If it's any comfort, these are not new problems. Lionni published Frederick in 1967; Montessori The Absorbent Mind in 1949. Eliot’s “Prufrock” goes all the way back to 1915.

      But all the more reason that we must engage. This problem isn't going away on its own. Industrialization, automation, modern finance -- their effects aren't ending. But as parents and educators, we can play a critical role in helping society redefine its attitudes about work.

      In fact, it could be our generation's truest, most authentic and important work.

      Considering Homeschooling? Here’s How to Make It Work

      Curious about homeschooling? You’re not alone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 3.5% of school-aged children (and growing) are homeschooled. For context, the number of homeschooled kids in 1999 was about 850,000. Today, it’s over 1.7 million.

      There is no one reason why people choose to homeschool. Likewise, while there are definite clusters in the data -- most homeschoolers are white, have three or more children, and are two parent homes where only one partner works -- there is also surprising diversity.

      For example, parents’ educational level isn’t a differentiator; homeschoolers are evenly split amongst parents with some college, bachelor's degrees, and graduate degrees. The same kind of split holds for income levels and grade ranges.

      "A Trial By Fire"

      Whatever draws a person to homeschooling, one thing cuts across -- it can feel like a trial by fire. Even those trained in education and aligned with a homeschool-friendly philosophy can face times when they’re not exactly sure what to do. In fact, sometimes that educational training can work against the homeschooling parent.

      As a classroom teacher, you learn how to manage a classroom full of similarly aged children. You try to find a happy medium between what works for all kids in the class and what each unique child needs. You try to design experiences that balance academic rigor and classroom control; your peers and supervisors tend to evaluate your quality against this balance. And you get to learn from your mistakes. You practice and repeat your lessons each year and get better along the way.

      Homeschooling breaks everyone one of the rules. You may have children at wildly different development stages, not even bounded by age. Classroom control is not a thing. And there is no learning from repetition. No one has ever homeschooled Your Child at This Particular Age before. Ever. Including you.

      The Grand Adventure

      This doesn’t mean homeschooling is impossible, but it does require a commitment to experimentation. With every new stage of development your children pass through, you are learning anew, growing with them, changing your technique, curriculum, and relationship. You are on a grand adventure with your children, and although you will gain confidence, your approach will be uniquely catered to your child and your family.

      If you want homeschooling to work, you have to be ready to experiment, fail, and experiment again. You must commit to education being an inseparable component of your relationship with your child. School is not a place; it is a journey. It doesn’t begin when your child reaches "school age." It starts at conception.

      In other words, you've been building this education thing from the ground up all along.

      Top Ten tips

      So how do you make it work? Good curriculum and a solid understanding of education are critical, but every child-parent dynamic is unique. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring these ten tips for homeschooling success:

      1. Follow your child.

      2. Adopt a theory of education.

      3. Be a mentor, not a "teacher.”

      4. Study child development and psychology.

      5. Use local learning resources.

      6. Prepare a supportive home learning environment.

      7. Join a homeschooling community.

      8. Stay up-to-date on educational research and trends.  

      9. Contemplate your daily rhythm.

      10. Nurture yourself.

      Considering homeschooling? Follow CDIR on social media or subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you get each update.

      Singing Together Is More Important Than You Think

      Ever meet someone who claims they can’t sing? Maybe you even greet that person when you look in the mirror. Well, science has a message for you -- you’re almost certainly wrong.

      Researchers estimate that only about 2 percent of humans lack the ability to detect differences between musical notes. Plus, music is found in all human societies and dates back ages (we’ve found 40,000 year old flutes).

      In short - while the other 98% of us may not have a secret Diana Ross buried inside, we’re almost certain to have the ability to sing.

      Circle Time is Good Medicine

      Singing makes us feel feel good (promoting the release of oxytocin and endorphin) and is a critical tool for social bonding. In fact, singing may have evolved specifically for that purpose.

      In other words, sharing music make society work better. The only reasonable conclusion is that daily circle time singing also makes our classroom communities work better.

      And if all that’s not enough to convince you to sing with children, music is great for building up the brain. Researchers have positively linked college students’ access to music programs with their likelihood of graduation and shown that, for younger kids, intensive exposure to music at an early age improves cognitive outcomes.

      Teaching Cumulative Songs

      Because singing is basically as human as human can be, you don’t need a degree in musicology to make or enjoy it. However, a bit of knowledge about how music works might boost your confidence and get your creative juices flowing. You might even know more than you realize!

      Case in point - if you’ve ever sung “Old MacDonald” or “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” you’ve sung a cumulative song. “Cumulative song” is a fancy way to describe a song where each verse builds on the last (i.e., the lyrics accumulate) in a repeating pattern.

      Here's an example using the cumulative classic “The Green Grass Grew All Around”:

      The Benefits to the Child

      Cumulative songs are fun and beneficial. Because the singers must remember an ever growing list of items (e.g., birds, bugs, eyelashes), cumulative songs have a game-like quality good for sharpening memory.

      Additionally, because they have simple, repeated structures, they’re easier to teach and learn, making them great for social bonding events.

      Their predictability also make them great for improvisation. For example, try leading children in a version of the “The Green Grass” where you get absurdly tiny (e.g., a germ, an atom, an electron).

      So get out there and sing with your kids. You may not be pitch perfect, and that’s perfectly okay! 

      Ready to try it yourself? Check out our guide and printable for “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.”

      9 Never Fail Name Games and Songs for Circle Time

      As a Kindergarten teacher, I spent years collecting songs and name games that were winners for breaking the ice in a new class during circle time at the beginning of the year. I kept a large stack of index cards of my favorite songs and added to the box as I learned new songs from other teachers.

      I now am the proud owner of an index box ridiculously full of hundreds of songs appropriate for the 18mo-6yo crowd. Because music is meant to be shared, I pulled together some of my favorite chants and songs. Who knows...maybe you'll learn a new one to add to your own collection!

      1. Hicklety Picklety Bumblebee

      For this name game, sit cross-legged on the floor and pat your knees while you chant in a regular, somewhat emphatic voice . It's not an easy one for little ones, so it will be mostly the adult chanting. You want their attention to draw toward you as you get softer so that by the time you are mouthing the name silently, the children are totally focused on your mouth and you have their full attention.

      Hicklety picklety bumblebee

      Who can say their name for me?

      Allison! (loudly)

      Allison. (whispered)

      All-i-son. (mouthed without vocalizing)

      2. Johnny Whoops

      This is a name game that starts with your index finger pointing to each finger in succession. Start by pointing at the pinky and when you get to the index finger, "whoops" toward your thumb, say the name on the thumb, then whoops backwards again toward your pinky. The sillier and more drawn out your "whoooooooops" the more laughter and excitement you'll generate. This is a real crowd pleaser. Every child loves to hear his/her own name whoopsing back and forth.

      Johnny Johnny Johnny Johnny

      Whoops! Johnny

      Whoops! Johnny

      Johnny Johnny Johnny!


      3. Jack in the Box

      name games and songs for circle time pinnable

      For this name game, the child sits on the floor all curled up hiding his head (the yoga "child's pose").  When you shout, "Yes, he will!" the child pops up...just like a jack in the box, arms up overhead as if to say, "Ta-da!"

      Christopher in the box, sits soooooo still.

      Will he come out?

      Yes he WILL!

      4. Willoughby Wallaby Woo

      First listen to and learn the tune to Willoughby Wallaby Woo by Raffi. Then just sing this short verse below, substituting in the child's name. If you have an elephant puppet or little stuffed elephant to literally "walk" over and "sit" on the child, all the more giggle-inducing!

      Willoughby wallaby woo

      An elephant sat on YOU (point finger toward child whose name will be used)

      Willoughby Wallaby Wistopher

      An elephant sat on Christopher!

      5. Pig On Her Head

      First listen to and learn the song Pig On Her Head by Laurie Berkner. Fill a bag with small toy animals. Let the child reach in and take one out of the mystery bag and place the animal on his head. Switch the song up by choosing another animal out of the bag or by placing it on another body part. This is a delightfully goofy song.

      George has a sheep on his neck,

      George has a sheep on his neck,

      George has a sheep on his neck,

      And he'll keep it there all day!

      6. Who Is Missing?

      Lay out a blanket or very large scarf on the floor. Ask the child to curl up (child's pose) on the floor, and make a dramatic point of draping the blanket carefully on top.  It then becomes a game of peek-a-boo. It's so foolishly simple, but always a winner! I never had a child who didn't want to take a turn hiding after this game was played a few times and everyone was comfortable. Sometimes you  have to speak quickly because the child won't want to wait for the dramatic pause and will swoosh the blanket off him/herself very quickly. That's just part of the fun.

      Hmmm....someone is missing! Who is it? Who's missing? It's...(pull off blanket in a big swooosh).....Kaitlyn!"

      7. Yoo Hoo! 

      I learned this one back in my college music education class and I have no idea who wrote or published it, so feel free to link up the tune if you find it. Until then, make up your own little tune to sing to the words. This time the child hides behind something in the room (a desk? the couch?). You begin by singing and "hunting" with your eyes.

      Somebody's hiding inside the closet.

      I wonder who it could be... Yoo hoo... You hoo...(child sings back from the hiding place)

      I wonder who it could be. ....It's Evan!

      8. Clapping Names

      So simple but also fun! Just go around the circle clapping each child's name with each syllable.

      Let's clap Harriet.  Harr-i-et!

      Now let's clap Kathy. Ka-thy!

      9. Who Do We Appreciate? 

      Be forewarned. This is not a quiet chant. It's a rile-em-up and make them feel like a million bucks chant. For this one, you're going to put on your very best cheerleader voice and grin, clap your hands and at the end wiggle your fingers up in the air like you've won the game!

      2-4-6-8 Who do we appreciate?

      Zachary! Zachary! Yaaaaaaayyyyy Zachary!


      The Continent Song

      One of my favorite things about teaching the 3 - 6 age group using Montessori philosophy is the heavy focus on cultural studies, including geography.

      We want children to understand not only that they live on a planet called Earth but also that humans are just one piece of a complex web of life.

      Teaching them the names of the continents will open up their eyes to the entire world they live in. The new awareness will lead to questions about different climates, landforms, animals, and cultures.

      Click HERE to watch The Continent Song video on YouTube, or you can just watch below.

      Share your love for our planet Earth daily and act very interested in inspecting your map; your child will catch Continent Fever before you know it.


      The Garlic Peeling Work: A Lesson in Mindset

      If you ever find yourself wanting to practice patience, I suggest no greater classroom than a house with a toddler. 

      Case in point. One morning, as I sleepily stirred oatmeal on the stove, I glanced over to the fridge just in time to see the door fly open and my youngest son jump out clutching a bulb of garlic. I hear him "oooooh" and giggle mischievously to himself.

      He brings the garlic over to his child-sized kitchen table, sits down, and begins to peel the cloves.

      I think to myself, "Garlic?  Yuck. That's going to make a mess."

      I close my eyes and imagine myself wrestling the garlic bulb from his baby fingers and then enduring the tantrum that will likely ensue.

      Not worth it, I think.  I'll clean up the mess later.

      So I just turn around and pour my coffee. The smell of garlic starts to mix with the smell of coffee. Gross.

      The Work Finds the Child

      The melange of oatmeal, coffee, garlic combine with frustration and helplessness. Then I turn around and see that the concentration on his face. With extreme care and focus, he's getting those papery garlic peels off with his itty bitty fingernails.

      At this point, some part of my brain recognizes that this is his work. It is taking focused effort, and I see that he is using the pincer grip, developing his fine motor skills.

      In fact, Montessori believed that this kind of fine motor skill practice was essential in preparation for writing.

      The Garlic Peeling Work

      In Montessori classrooms, you will see many different ways teachers inspire their youngest learners to strengthen their fingers.

      I have never heard of the "garlic peeling work", but that's probably because it is very smelly and the entire classroom would end up smelling like my kitchen.

      The child is very aware of the strong smell, too, and he loves it.  He rubs his nose all over the garlic.  He tastes it.  He sucks on his fingers.

      He is very intense and not aware of me at all. He gets two cloves of garlic totally peeled, stands up, and rummages around in the kitchen drawer. He emerges with the cherry pitter and says, "This?"  

      It dawns on me that he is looking for the garlic press.  I retrieve it from the drawer and exchange it for the cherry pitter.  "Yes, this!" he exclaims.

      He returns to his table and proceeds to press the garlic cloves one at a time, squeezing as hard as he can.  I wordlessly set a bowl down on his table, and he carefully places the garlic cloves into the bowl, throws the garlic press into the sink, and races upstairs because he hears his brother.

      Recreating the Lesson

      The house is reeking of garlic, and I sip my coffee thinking... the garlic peeling work.  What a great Montessori idea. Except for the smelliness.

      I think about how I would set it up in my classroom.

      A tray, preferably easily washable.

      Two little bowls on it. 

      On the left, a bowl just big enough to hold the garlic bulb. On the right, another bowl for the peeled cloves.  

      Maybe a red tray with little white bowls.

      A garlic press between them.  

      The teacher would model cradling the garlic bulb, probing it with her fingers and sniffing it. She would pick at the garlic and act surprised when she revealed the clove inside. She would demonstrate how to peel the garlic, press the garlic, and perhaps quietly suggest that the peeled, pressed cloves will be stored and used for cooking later that day.

      She would show the child how to put the garlic skins in the classroom compost bin and make sure the tray is all clean and ready for the next person before returning to the shelf.  She would finish the lesson by washing her hands and drying them.

      This is how I see "doing Montessori" as a teacher.   

      Preparing the Environment

      Do you know that in general, Montessori teachers spend hours thinking a simple work through like this - every single work in the classroom! The perfect sized tray is selected and the perfect bowls are chosen...the bowls that are the most functional and aesthetically appealing.

      The teacher practices both the activity and the lesson several times to make sure no steps are left out. The work on the tray is set out from left to right, to mimic the way a person reads and writes. This is the teacher preparing the environment for the children.

      Montessori is A State of Mind

      When I talk to parents how to "do Montessori" at home, they are often amazed. In their minds, they're imaging the famously beautiful, prepared Montessori classrooms. This is not what they would see if they walk into my perpetually messy home. 

      What they would see, though, is respect for the child's choice - a cornerstone of Montessori. Example:

      • In the classroom, the child chooses the garlic pressing work off of a clean, inviting shelf, takes it to his table, and performs the work with concentration.
      • At home, the child sneaks into the fridge, selects the garlic to work with, takes it to his table, explores it, retrieves the press from its home in the kitchen, and feels purposeful about it.

      Different but no. In both, the adult is driven by a respect for the child's choice and his work. She honors this moment. She allow it. She recognizes that it is the child's real work and that is what makes you "doing Montessori" in your home, not because you have set up some pretty shelves with works on trays.

      How do you see yourself  "doing Montessori"?  I bet it's more often than you realize!

      Do Children Work or Play?

      Never has a term so confused a traditional teacher or a parent just learning about Montessori. The common phrase "choose your work" used in the Montessori classroom has caused a massive myth surrounding the playful nature of the classroom.

      Some seem to think that all Montessori children do is wander around choosing not to learn anything  (because what else would children choose?). Others seem certain that the Montessori classroom is an academic factory, pushing three year olds to learn skills with a disdain for any kind of playful spirit.

      Do children "work"...or "play" in Montessori?

      Work is to Play is to Learn

      Current educational theory holds that children learn through play, a common phrase that by semantics alone seems to put it at odds with Montessori philosophy.

      Clearly, the answer to this confusion lies in Maria Montessori's own words. We cannot help but notice that despite vastly different cultures and lifestyles, Nature's children all grow in their own ways, in their own time. .

      Montessori loved the word she used to describe the learning process - work. She believed that the word "work" correctly conveyed the amount of effort the children put into expanding their minds and strengthening their bodies and nourishing their spirits. The word "play" by comparison seemed dismissive of this greatness. She writes:

      "It is certain that the child's attitude towards work represents a vital instinct; for without work his personality cannot organise itself and deviates from the normal lines of its construction. Man builds himself through working. Nothing can take the place of work, neither physical well-being nor affection, and, on the other hand, deviations cannot be corrected by either punishment or example."

      With these words, the word "work" takes on a new meaning. The child is in a state of becoming. The adult that will emerge is a mystery, but we know that it will take a lot of energy to get there. We acknowledge this great effort on the part of the child.

      Change and Consistency

      Things may have changed in the past one hundred years, but not this. We may choose to call it work, or we may choose to call it play. Maria makes no distinction between the two. We have respect for the child's nature, and that is all.

      The child’s instinct confirms the fact that work is an inherent tendency in human nature; it is the characteristic instinct of the human race.
      — Maria Montessori
      How to Give a Fabulous Lesson Like a Montessori Teacher

      Before giving a work to a child aged 2 to 6, a Montessori teacher almost always gives a “lesson” to demonstrate the activity while the child watches. Montessori believed strongly in the importance of good modeling, writing:

      “The lessons, then, are individual, and brevity must be one of their chief characteristics. Dante gives excellent advice to teachers when he says, ‘Let thy words be counted.’ The more carefully we cut away useless words, the more perfect will become the lesson.” (from The Montessori Method)

      Five Rules of the Road

      1. Remember to sit side by side next to the child rather than across the table. This allows the child to see the work from your point of view. We often recommend that you sit on the child's left side if the child is right-handed.

      2. Let your fingers do most of the talking. By speaking very quietly and only when necessary, you will be directing your child’s attention to your hands and how they are interacting with the materials.

      3. Model activities from left to right. This is intentional. It prepares a child for reading and writing, which is also oriented from left to right.

      4. Exaggerate your movements especially regarding care of the materials. If you want your child to care for the work and not be careless, make sure that you also model this. Hug the materials if you like as you get them out. They are special.

      5. Note that formal lessons are not always necessary. Use your own instincts for when to cut a lesson short or allow a child to work even without a lesson at all. If the child is engaged, draw it out a bit. If you are quickly losing interest, encourage the child to take a turn. Toddlers especially often cannot sit through long formal lessons. For a toddler, the modeling should be very brief.

      Keep Attention on the Child

      Maria cautions us to do our best to remove our own egos and personalities from the lesson. When the focus remains on engaging the child in the material, the formal lesson will be most effective. However, as an experienced teacher, I can tell you that it is also important to establish a very real, physical human connection with the child...otherwise, a robot might as well be giving the lessons!

      Children who receive more eye contact and verbalization from their parents develop better interpersonal skills and have higher vocabularies.

      For example, current research tells us that lower student-teacher ratios are all around better for children in the classroom because there is more adult-child personal interaction and attention.

      We also know that children who receive more eye contact and verbalization from their parents develop better interpersonal skills and have higher vocabularies.

      You might note that a typical Montessori classroom has a fairly high student-teacher ratio, and this is because we are not providing a teacher-directed environment but a child-led environment.

      The Child Leads

      In an authentic Montessori classroom, you would see a lot of student-to-student interaction. We believe that even more important than the proper lesson is the role that the children play in their interactions with each other as role models who learn from each other. The way the entire classroom functions is dependent upon these human connections.

      As with anything, it's a balance. Don't let these lesson-giving "rules" deter you from having a deep conversation with your child about the work, and keep your formal lessons strictly to a minimum when working directly with concrete materials to teach a very specific skill.

      Lessons like a Montessori Teacher.png