Posts tagged Homeschooling
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/].


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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.

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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!


    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?"

    Five Tips for the Montessori Beginner

    So you want to do Montessori in the home but aren't sure where to start. Maybe you follow those Instagram feeds filled with achingly beautiful photos of some fantastical Montessori home and think "if only I knew the secret, my house, too, could look like that." Perhaps you've toured a Montessori classroom, beautifully prepared with neat shelves of learning materials and thought, "if they can do it with 17 kids, certainly I can do it with just one!"

    Well, I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is you can't replicate the Photoshopped fantasy nor the carefully managed classroom. The good news is you aren't supposed to. Montessori is much more a philosophy of child development than a set of things to do. Plus, you're doing it in your home -- under real world conditions. Expect the mess. 

    So where does that leave the aspiring Montessorian?

    Mastering the philosophy can be a life's pursuit, but there are a few tips you can incorporate right away to help you along the way. You might now 

    #1. Follow your child 

    This is number one for a reason. Learning new skills will not occur without your child's interest. Following your child means seriously observing your child's stage of development.

    What toys does your child keep coming back to over and over? What is he/she trying to do? Learning to crawl? Pouring and spilling water everywhere? Spending hours turning the pages of a book? Going to the potty to (ahem) play in it? Catching bugs constantly? Picking out a shirt to wear, discarding it, only to put on another shirt?

    I can't tell you what activities to focus on in your Montessori home because that's your child's job. Many classroom teachers will tell you that they can't truly design the shelves without meeting the children and observing them. This is even more important for you, Montessori parent, because unlike a classroom filled with child centered, ready made curricula, you are incorporating your child into a family-centric environment.

    You most likely have limited resources and space, so focus on your child's interests. You can (and will!) change the environment as your child grows older and has different needs. Write down a list of your child's current obsessions, whether it be banging pots, throwing blocks, or matching colors, and ask yourself, "What is he/she trying to learn from this behavior?"

    #2. Invest in shelves and baskets

    While you're not likely to achieve immaculate, you do want to make your Montessori environment as organized and peaceful as reasonable. It also keeps your house from becoming too cluttered with random kid stuff because you can't stuff everything on a few shelves like you can in, say, a toy chest or some bins.

    Unlike toy chests, shelves naturally encourage you to limit quantity.

    Shelves are cheaply found at stores like IKEA and Target plus garage sales and thrift stores. You can find excellent baskets at Goodwill for less than a dollar. If you can afford it, invest in several shelves and LOTS of baskets and trays. Check out our Montessori shopping list to get a better idea of what to look for at a thrift store.

    Remember, you don't have to get everything at once. Start with baskets and shelves. You won't be disappointed.

    #3. Choose some of your child's nicest toys 

    Toys are fine when the quality and quantity is appropriate. If adding toys, pick ones your child loves; that inspire and nurture; and (if at all possible) are beautiful and made of natural materials. Likewise, steer clear of flashy, noisy, battery-operated toys as much as possible and focus on toys that spark your child's imagination.

    And the toys that you aren't choosing to put on your beautiful shelves? You don't have to throw the rest away, but do keep them away from your child's shelves, hidden wherever you have available. A closet? The basement? The laundry room? Giant plastic storage tubs are great for this, as are heavy-duty black garbage bags, as long as you have them labeled "not trash"!

    And if you find yourself acquiring a massive amount of toys, it's a great idea to donate them in batches regularly.

    #4. Limit quantity

    If you have a toddler, you probably won't be needing all 286 blocks that came with the set. You might need about 20. Just enough to stack into towers and topple down. Put those in a basket and store the rest. You also don't want to crowd your shelves. Space the baskets on the shelves so that it is obvious where the work should be returned.

    Space the baskets on the shelves so that it is obvious where the work should be returned.

    Are you wondering how many toys to put out at a time? I can't tell you that, but your child will. If you have a toddler who is into "dumping" making a big awful mess for you to clean up every time, or if you have a four year old who is having a hard time putting things away, you probably have too many toys.

    You also might want to select one type of toy and rotate within the category. For example, if you have a lot of puzzles or different sets of building blocks, consider displaying one or two and put the rest away for now.

    #5. Get Support

    You can't make this journey alone. You need help! Start with spouses, partners, or others who are actively participating in raising your child, such as grandparents. The goal is to have a shared vision for what Montessori in your home looks like. This may require you to have some hard, deep conversations -- especially if your partner isn't totally onboard -- but it's critical.

    Go further, though, and reach out to friends and other parents. Talk to them about what you're doing, even if you aren't completely confident in it. In fact, talking about it will help you better understand your own perspective and dissolve the feeling of isolation so common in parenting. 

    Lastly, look for mentors in other places. The Internet is filled with wonderful resources for parents at any stage of their Montessori journey, including our own Montessori 101 Facebook group. Join the conversation! 

    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.

    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!

    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.

     
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