Posts tagged Science
21 Montessori Water Activities For Your Practical Life Shelf

Let's get some Montessori water activities on your practical life shelf! Don't have space for a shelf? Don't worry! Just keep some of these object handy for when kids seem ready for a bit of water play.

1. Pour water from two tiny pitchers back and forth. Any glass or ceramic creamer-style will work for the Pre-K crowd, but for toddlers, tiny metal creamer pitchers are best.

2. Spoon water with a ladle from a big bowl to another big bowl.

3. Spoon little floating objects (corks?) from one bowl into another bowl.

4. Spoon little sinking toys (marbles?) from one bowl into another bowl.

5. Try tongs instead of spoons for #'s 3 and 4!

6. Use a baster to transfer water from one bowl to another.

7. Use a funnel to fill small vases with water from a pitcher. Then dumping the water back into the pitcher. This is is preparatory work for the flower arranging work.

9. Squeeze a sponge from one bowl to the other to transfer the water.

10. Gather small objects from around the house (that won't be hurt by water). Find out which ones float and which ones sink.

11. Experiment with color mixing. Three small glasses of colored water (red, yellow, blue food coloring) and several small empty bowls. Use an eye dropper or a pipette to make different colors in the bowls.

12. Whisk one drop of dishwashing liquid in a big bowl of water.

13. Try an eggbeater in #12 instead of a whisk!

14. Try grating some bar soap into #12 instead of using dishwashing liquid. (Supervise this one closely.)

Keep a towel and a nice, sturdy tray handy to catch any spills.

15. Fill two bowls with water, one hot and one cold. Add one piece of ice into each. Which melts faster?

16. Use a medicine syringe to transfer tiny amounts of water from one glass to another.

17. An outside game: Fill a giant plastic pitcher or watering can. Pour the water into a large bucket. Haul the bucket to a kiddie swimming pool and fill it up. Then play!

18. Have a tea party with real tea (rooibos or berry tea are caffeine-free options.) 

19.  Scrub a section of the kitchen floor with a small bowl of soapy water and a sponge cut in half.

20. Put a water-safe baby doll into a large bowl or tub. Add a small pitcher of water, one pump of liquid soap, and a small washcloth.

21. Mustard/ketchup bottle squeezing. Fill an old squeeze bottle with water and squeeze directly into a bowl.

You Can Make a Nearly Perfect Learning Tool For Pennies

Playdough is great. It feels so good to kids because it stretches and strengthens their wrists, their hands, their fingers. But you know what's better? Real dough.

First of all, dough is delightfully smellable. And, boy, does it smell wonderful, like something you would like to taste. So you do. Yummy! It's fresh and edible. The texture is dry and soft to the fingers and delightfully slimy to the mouth. It is infinitely moldable. When baked, the properties change dramatically, and the child uses all of his or her senses in observing this transformation.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition...

It's not just about playing with the dough, either. The making is just as important...and fun! One of the keys to Montessori philosophy is understanding the child's need for repetition.

Repetition is satisfying. It allows the child to hone the skills learned in the very first lesson with the work. Montessori believed that children have an inner guide that propels them toward repeating the actions that will lead to new developmental capabilities.

The Perfect Dough

This is partly why cooking, which naturally invites repetition, is excellent for kids. And simple yeasted dough is the perfect project.

Making the Dough

4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 tsp yeast

1/4 cup olive oil

1 3/4 cups water

Mix the flour, salt and yeast together. Add the oil and water. Knead (by hand or in a mixer with a dough hook) until you have that perfect, classic, springy bread dough texture. In general, if you can pinch the dough between your fingers and it stays in that shape (like playdough), you've got it.

    Baking and storing

    You can eat the dough unbaked (many kids love to), or you can bake it into loaves, fun shapes or a pizza. Plop the dough lump onto a well floured cutting board and cut into shapes. Bake at 350 degrees or until it's crispy to your liking. 

    If you want to store the dough for later, cut it into fourths. Pat each with a little olive oil on your fingers then stick them into plastic baggies. Store them in a fridge. They will last a few days.

    Make It a Habit

    If you want kids to get comfortable working with dough - rolling, kneading, and using cookie cutters to make fun shapes - you can't put a lump of dough in front of the kiddos and expect magic. You have to model it yourself many times.

    And remember, acting is essential to good, enticing teachings. Snicker mischievously when you roll out some snakes and make the first letter of your kids' names. Take a bite out of the pizza with gusto, and even if you think the kids' Frankenpizza monster is disgusting, keep a smile on your face and spit it into the trash when they aren't looking. 

    If you act like dough is fun, your kids will think it is!

    The Garden in a Jar: A Science Lesson

    The entire natural world contains an enchantment that cannot be replicated in any storybook. There is no greater example of this than watching a new life burst out into the world from something as simple as a seed.

    Observing the mysterious power contained within seeds is not the work of gardeners alone. It can be witnessed easily and simply in your own kitchen.


    What You Need

    • A wide mouth mason jar

    • A sprouting screen to fit in the lid of the jar (a pair of pantyhose and a rubber band will do)

    • A few seeds (any kind will do)

    The Lesson

    1. Tell A story about the seeds

    Hold one of the beans or seeds hidden in the palm of your hand and tell a little story of the seed. Say:

    "I have something very special to show you. The thing I have in my hand right now is alive!"

    Open your palm slowly and dramatically. Allow the child to observe the seed for a moment or two and then continue. Say:

    "This is a seed. It contains new life inside that can nourish us by giving us fresh oxygen to breathe and food to eat. But right now this very minute, the seed is sleeping.

    When a seed sleeps, we say it is dormant. If we want it to grow, we will need to wake it up.

    Would you like to wake it up so that it can nourish us?" 

    If the child is engaged in the story, allow some wait time for answering questions and discussing. If the child is not engaged, simply resume with your task as though you are engaged yourself.

    "I would like to wake this seed up! It will need to rest in water overnight. First, I need a jar..." 

    2. Soak the seeds

    Place a small handful of seeds in the jar.

    • If your seeds are tiny, like alfalfa or broccoli, a teaspoon or two is all you need.
    • If your seeds are larger, like mung beans, try a couple tablespoonfuls.
    • If your seeds are rather large, like garbanzo beans, a 1/4 to 1/2 half a cup may be more appropriate.

    Don't worry about being exact. Just put some seeds in the jar and fill the jar with water. Make sure that you really fill up the jar with water (filtered is best). It may even make sense to do this part in a bowl rather than in the jar. Your seeds will soak up a lot of water... maybe even more than you think.

    Place the screened lid on the jar.

    3. Rinse the Water

    The next morning, pour out the water and pour in fresh water - straight through the screen lid - rinsing your seeds. They have awoken and are now ready to sprout.

    After the seeds are rinsed, pour all of the water out through the screen and leave the jar sideways or tilted downwards so that any remaining water will drain out and not continue to soak the seeds.

    Continue rinsing and draining twice a day over the next several days, and you should see your sprouts growing.

    4. Enjoy !

    The sprouts are healthy, and if you've rinsed them daily and checked for mold, the risk for bacteria infection is fairly low. Nothing left out on the kitchen counter overnight is completely without risk, so do your research and settle on what you feel comfortable with.

    Mung bean sprouts are crunchy and delicious fresh out of the jar. Garbanzo beans can be boiled and made into a delicious hummus or soup. However, the decision to eat what you grow on your kitchen counter is completely up to you.

    I can tell you that the children will be just as thrilled to explore the sprouts with their fingers or to plant them into some dirt to continue growing if you choose not to eat them. If you do eat them, many children will be thrilled to try them. Growing your own food is a very powerful experience!

    Sprouts in a Jar! Every child needs one of these in the kitchen.
    Thrift Store Shopping List for Your Montessori Home

    Thrift stores are a Montessori parent's best friend.  If you're just getting started making your home a Montessori-inspired environment, do consider a trip to the thrift store.  At almost any thrift store, you'll find a ton of stuff to make Montessori works with.  

    So you're set to go to the thrift store but a little unsure of what it is exactly you're looking for? No problem.  Here's a top ten list of my favorite things to look for at thrift stores when I go Montessori hunting.

    1. Large trays

    Look for thick, sturdy ones in solid colors.  Check to see how it feels when you pick it up.  Both trays with tall and short sides are nice.  A tray with taller sides (like the large red one in the photo) will be perfect for a scrubbing work where water may be spilled, a sand tray, or painting.

    2. Small trays

    Look for solid colors and a smooth surface.  These will get a lot of use a lot of use in the practical life area.  For example, a small tray could be just right for holding a sponge in a tiny bowl and a drying cloth.

    3. Sorting trays

    Any tray with different compartments will work for sorting colors, shapes, textures, etc.  Look for ice cube trays and serving platters.

    4.  Pitchers

    An assortment of pitchers is nice.  Look for a pitcher that fits a child's hand.  Large plastic water pitchers can be fun for large pouring (think baby/toddler age for dumping and filling) while the small ceramic pitchers are really appealing to the 2 1/2 + age group.  Glass ones break easily, and you are going for variety, so get several.

    5. Baskets

    Oh, how I do love baskets!  A pretty basket can make any work (even legos) classy.  Look for baskets with handles on the sides or a very short handle on the top.  Many times I've made the mistake of buying beautiful baskets that don't fit on my shelves because of the handle.  However, if you see a basket that you love with a tall handle, go ahead and get it - you can snip off the handle with a wire cutter later.

    6. Bowls

    Any size, any shape or material.  I would go for smaller than a cereal bowl, as this size is particularly useful for transferring works.

    7. Jars/Bud Vases

    Any kind of jar or little vase.  The jars will be useful for all kinds of little works and experiments, and the bud vases are for flower arranging.

    8. Utensils/Tools

    Hmmm...what I'm talking about in this department are tiny forks, scoops, interesting spoons, olive pitters, whisks, egg beaters, egg slicers, tiny spreading knives, and TONGS.  That sort of thing.

    9. Kid Dishes: Cereal Bowl Size, Salad Plate Size, and Drinking Glasses  

    Montessori classrooms have a tradition of using glass tableware for kids.  This is because eating off of them is just nicer.  And by teaching children proper care, they will learn to be careful with them.  I do not recommend breakable dishware for the 2 & 1/2 and under age group unless under the child is under supervision. Make sure you are always watching, because there will likely be broken dishes here and there while your child learns. What you are looking for is a glass dish that feels fairly thick, so if it does fall on the floor, it at least stands a chance. Just plan on having a whisk broom and vacuum handy, and don't sweat the small stuff.

    10. Coin Purses and Pretty Bags

    Not only are these fun to open and close, they make cute alternatives for baskets!

    Happy Montessori Shopping!

    Anatomy of an Anatomy Lesson

    If you don't have a miniature human skeleton in your house, stop what you're doing right now and get one. I can't tell you what a difference it makes having an actual skeleton as opposed to simply looking at a picture. get the skeleton, and now what?

    You might want to start by singing "Dem Bones," the well-known spiritual song. Here's a cheesy, though more educational, variation I love:

    Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

    Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

    Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

    These are the bones in your body.

    Phalanges connected to your metacarpals.

    Metacarpals connected to your carpals.

    Carpals connected to your radius.

    These are the bones in your body...

    What next? Bone games. Kids find them hilarious. In Simon Says fashion, say "Put your phalanges on your clavicle! Put your phalanges on your patellas!" And before you know it -- BOOM -- your kid has all the bone names completely memorized with hardly any effort.

    To my surprise, just having the skeleton on our dining room table was inspiring. When I passed by, I found my son involved in drawing the skeleton in detail by hand.

    I quickly typed up the names of the bones, and he glued them onto the correct places. I think today we may try our hand at taking some easel paper and drawing around my son's body, then drawing the bones inside.

    Aubrey HargisMusic, Science
    You're Doing it Wrong: the Apple Slicer
    Apple Slicing for Practical Life - The one weird trick that will save your apple slicing work (if you were doing it wrong!)

    Do you have an apple slicer? Me, too! I use it all the time, and I always loved letting kids in the classroom help me prepare apple snacks this way. It takes quite a bit of effort for a small child, and I would put my hands on the sides first with theirs on top and then tell them to push.

    We made a coordinated effort together to slice that apple, and I always enjoyed the look of delight when the eight pieces of apple fell into a beautifully equal blossom of apple to share.

    One day when teaching toddlers, I ventured into my friend's classroom next door. One child was doing the apple slicing work, complete with a tray, the apple slicer, and two bowls. In one bowl were horizontal slices of apple.

    The other bowl was being filled with little pieces of apple after the child had used the slicer. When the teacher walked by I whispered, "Slicing the apple first before they use the slicer - that is genius! I've always given them the whole apple and it's too hard for them to do independently." She looked at me like I was from another planet.

    "Um, you know it's the apple slicing work," she said with a smirk, "you just weren't doing it right."


    Great idea for a picnic with kids - wrap an apple, a butter knife, a cutting board, and an apple slicer in a small tablecloth, and have your child prepare the picnic snack!

    And she was totally right. Give it a try, and you'll agree!

    How Little Wormies Reminded Me to Let the Child Lead the Learning

    The muggy summer left us crisp mornings and pleasant dappled afternoons. The leaves are gently filling our yard, and I am inspired to do apple-fall-pumpkin-Halloween art with tempera, watercolors, glue, scissors, felt and a myriad of collected nature items!

    The children are not. What are they doing? "Looking for wormies."

    Sometimes I forget that their natural discoveries are the curriculum at this age. 

    The day begins. Everyone is breakfasted and well tickled, and the back door opens. Little mostly naked bodies fly out there before I can catch them. One by one I drag them in, pop on clothes appropriate for the weather, and they're off making a big mess in their sandbox and digging in the dirt nearby.

    The World's Greatest Science Kit

    Their natural exploration is remarkably similar to the FOSS kit (a common school hands-on science curriculum) on worms that I used when teaching Kindergarten. In the kit, the children are all distributed a worm during science time. Observations are written. Parts are identified. Experiments performed over several days, possibly a couple of weeks. The homeschooling difference is that the worm study was their complete choice and design. A study starts whenever inspiration hits and ends whenever interest dies.

    There are darker lessons to be learned that would not be taught in a controlled classroom environment. Worms can drown in too much water. If left on concrete, they become a stiff, distorted piece of gray elastic.

    Nature's Truth

    The moment when my son sought approval with the words, "Mommy? I did an experiment. I broke the worm into two pieces. They will grow back and the worm will still live. Right? That's right, isn't it, Mommy?" Goodness, how to answer? With both compassion and information is the Montessori way, and yet it is hard to look in my son's dark brown eyes full of hope and tell him that he probably killed it, at the very least caused it pain.

    It's just an earthworm - no great loss for the world, but a great loss in his heart. Life's greatest lessons are always learned through experience. 

    A Beginner's Research Project

    When we walked into the rainforest exhibit building at our local zoo, we were hit by a wave of warm, moist air. A soft fluttering of leaves drew our eyes up into the foliage, and a small, black monkey scampered into view. We stood still and watched that monkey for a very long time as it hopped from branch to branch, and when we came home, the impact of the experience was evident in the children's playful behavior. The oooh-ooohs and aaah-aaahs rang through the house.

    What's a grown-up to do? Join them, of course! When the children have an experience that really impacts them, use it as the teachable moment. Here are a few tips to guide this process.

    1. Choose a time when the children are relatively calm and ready to learn. A great way to get kids to calm down is to rev them up first! Trust me on this. A good romp gets the blood going and brain cells firing.

    One monkey song I adore (who doesn't?) is Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed. It's even better if you are actually jumping on a bed, but even if you aren't, I recommend that you join in with them and act the part of the doctor, examining their heads and shaking your finger gently at them. Another funny monkey song I love is Aba Daba Honeymoon, an oldie but goodie written 1914 and famously recorded by Debbie Reynolds in 1950. We usually use rhythm sticks to tap the beat, and during the musical interludes, we twirl and jump.

    2. Model brainstorming out loud. When the kids seem exhausted from the jumping, hold up a picture of a monkey and comment to yourself out loud something like this: "This is a monkey. I like monkeys! This one has a loooooong tail. I wish I had a long tail like that! I bet it would be fun. Hey, I wonder why monkeys have tails...."

    3. Write your ideas down. If your child has the patience to brainstorm a million ideas about monkeys with you while you write them down, enjoy this learning time together. If your child is not the patient sort and is ready to move on, just scribble this this one idea down on a scrap of paper or on a dry erase board.

    4. Research to find the answers. Use whatever resources are available to you. The next time you are at a public library, check out a few nonfiction monkey books to read at home. Look for nature-oriented monkey clips on YouTube. Type your questions into Google. Check out the Enchanted Learning Monkey webpage for inspiration and child-friendly information. Don't worry if your children are not coming up with their own questions and answers about monkeys. Remember that you are modeling this mode of learning, and it will pay off big time. Your children will surprise you someday with their own entire research project.

    5. Make a hands-on impression. Choose a hands-on activity to go with your research study. If you are learning about monkeys, you might be interested in this crayon-rubbing activity. It would work for any jungle-related theme.

    Here's an example of an activity I created using some basic leafy and viney designs cut out of a cereal box.

    We placed the cardboard designs on a tray and put a white piece of paper on top. Rub, rub, rub in various colors. Ta-da! Jungle! We added our monkeys into the trees. My youngest did the rubbing himself and asked me to draw the monkey. (No problem, babe, I'm modeling this, too.) My oldest finished his jungle monkey and then used the cardboard piece that looks like a palm tree to create a beach scene on his next piece of paper. That kind of spontaneous creativity is the kind of thing I love, and it only happens if you model the process on a regular basis.

    The Crow and the Pitcher: Science + Literature Lesson

    “Growth comes from activity, not from intellectual understanding.” - Maria Montessori

    When you enter a Montessori classroom, you will likely first notice how pretty the shelves are with the "works" displayed in simple trays or baskets. If you stay and watch, you will notice that many of these activities are remarkably high level.

    You think to yourself, "These preschoolers are doing algebra? You've got to be kidding me!" Yup, Montessori was reaching high. But when you take a look at what the kids are doing and how it is presented, you realize that they are not writing equations and discussing the hows and whys or the applications.

    "The Child Will Absorb What He Needs to Know"

    The theory behind Montessori's method is that the child will absorb what he needs to know at the right developmental time by using his own hands. And yes, Montessori felt that very small children were capable of learning/absorbing much more than traditional educators were giving them credit for. It's a wonderful material, but you don't have to purchase a trinomial cube in order to expose your child to the mystifying complexity of math and science. Everyday experiments will work.

    Enter The Crow and the Pitcher. This science experiment plus literature activity has always been one of my favorites to do in the classroom, and chances are you already have what you need for it hanging around your house, but you don't need to begin with an explanation of water displacement. Simply showing, doing, and having fun with it is enough at this age. Like my kids, yours will probably want to do it over and over. 

    Teaching Tip: Do this experiment yourself first if possible - how high you want to fill the vase is largely dependent on the size and shape of your vase and your stones.


    The Plot

    An Aesop's Fable...

    A CROW, perishing with thirst, saw a pitcher, and, hoping to find water, flew to it with great delight. When he reached it, he discovered to his grief that it contained so little water that he could not possibly get at it. He tried everything he could think of to reach the water, but all his efforts were in vain. At last he collected as many stones as he could carry and dropped them one by one with his beak into the pitcher, until he brought the water within his reach, and thus saved his life.

    Moral: Necessity is the mother of invention. 

    The Materials

    • small necked jar or vase (mine is from maple syrup)
    • stones (glass is pretty, but pea gravel will work just as well)
    • sponge & drying cloth (cleanup)
    • pitcher and funnel (optional)
    • tray (preferably with high sides)

    The Protagonist

    When I introduce this story, I usually begin by making a bird with my fingers. The children are drawn in. I don't speak. I make bird-like movements. I fly my fingers around and peck at things. I may or may not caw. 

    When I have totally 100% got their undivided attention, I begin the story in a calm, quiet voice. As the crow flies, so do my fingers. When the crow is thirsty and cannot reach the water, he hangs his head.

    He perks up with an idea! He hops over to the pile of stones and picks one up in his pincer grip. He carefully deposits the stone in the water. At this point, the children take over spontaneously and my acting part is over. I recede quietly into the background.

    The Big Finish

    When the water reaches the top, the children are always surprised. Their crows happily slurp up the water, and they keep dropping more stones in, and the water keeps spilling out. See why you need the sponge and drying cloth on hand? And the tray with tall sides? They will likely want to do it again and again. When they do, you have the pitcher and funnel on hand so they can do it themselves.

    Organizing Winter Wear: How-To Video

    The change of seasons brings lot of extra garb into the hallways!  Kids seem to have a natural affinity for all the puffy and fluffy accessories for keeping them warm.  At the same time, getting out the door and keeping track of all the stuff can feel like a hassle.  

    In this video, we'll take a look at some Montessori-inspired tips and tricks to help your kids get out the door independently and successfully.