Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Our Shelves - February

Like most, our theme for February is Valentine's Day. You can click here to see posts of all the fun things we did last year (when James was 2 & 3/4 years old).

Practical Life
Tweezing Roses. This idea comes from My Montessori Journey. I made these out of felt - click here to see my tutorial.

Weaving Ribbons.

Pouring Confetti Hearts.

Lacing Beads. James really likes this work and it's one we've done a few different times - I just adjust the colors to match our theme.

Open & Close Basket. Always a favorite in our home. There are little heart shaped erasers inside each container.

Buttoning Hearts. This is the same one I made last February. As you can see, it's very similar to our button snake.

Polishing Wood. I'll write more about this soon.


Still on our shelves: Baric Tablets, the Pink Tower, Geometric Solids, Knobbed & Knobless Cylinders.

Moveable Alphabet. I think this is my favorite of all Montessori materials. James loves spelling out words.
I've added some of the objects from our alphabet box to make it even more fun.

Tracing. I found these great printables from Confessions of a Homeschooler. Be sure to check out the link - she has loads of Valentine's Day printables.

Sequencing Hearts. I cut these hearts out of foam paper. I'll create a pattern for James and he'll finish it.

Fine Motor w/ Beads. I really didn't know where to categorize this work, but I thought since it focuses on the pincer grasp (the same used in writing) I'd put it under Language. Anyway, this is actually a connect four type of game (I found at our local fair trade store) and if James is interested I'll teach him how to play it.

Blue Series Work. I have to admit, I haven't been focusing on this as much as I originally thought I would. Not sure why. So, we're still working our way through it all.

Dot Stamping the Letter V. Printable from here.

Valentine Poetry Basket. I'll write more about this later in the week.

Mouse's First Valentine, by Lauren Thompson
Little Mouse's Big Valentine, by Thacher Hurd
Valentine Mice!, by Bethany Roberts
Arthur's Valentine, by Marc Brown
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
I purchased all of these at our local second hand store. With the exception of The Snowy Day, which I love, I have to say, none of these books are all that great and I think a couple of them may even be out of print. I also thought it was funny that three of the books focus on mice... I had no idea mice were so connected with Valentine's Day! :)

Cards & Counters. Heart shaped cards and 55 pink buttons as counters.

Addition Heart Game. To play this game James will roll the die and then put the correct number of white hearts into the muffin tin (one for each cup), then he'll roll the die again and put the correct number of red hearts into the tin. He'll then add up all the hearts to find the sum.

Matching Heart Cards. We had this on our shelves last year, too. This year I plan to point out to James that the number of hearts on the card matches the numeral shown.

Graphing Hearts. I found this graph/idea on Kidssoup. I've filled the little heart shaped box with small conversation candy hearts and once James places them on the grid he'll be able to count them and see which colors have more/less.

Still on our shelves: Sandpaper Numerals, Red & Blue Rods, and The Hundreds Board.

Science & Culture
Outer Space. You have no idea what a huge hit our space unit was with James! He loved it all and so I've decided to extend our study of outer space for the month of February.

Still on our shelves: North America Continent Bag.

Art & Music

Composer of the Month: Johann Strauss.

Stamping Hearts. James is crazy about stamps and in this case instead of a self-inking stamper, he'll need to use a little ink pad.

Scissor Practice. To make these I simply put heart stickers on white strips of paper. James will use the heart stickers as guide and cut in between them. The bowl is for the cut bits.

Painting Watercolor Hearts.

Art Basket.

Still on our shelves: Instrument Nomenclature Cards.

I'm linking this post up to The Preschool Corner.

~Thank you for your comments!~

Friday, January 28, 2011

February Sensory Tub & Playdough - Valentines Day

Like last February's tub, I created this one with Valentine's Day in mind, except this time around I went with all red.

What's inside: I won't detail everything that's in the tub since, as you can see, there's quite a lot. I pretty much tossed in any red thing I could find!
:: LOTS of pony beads (these were the same I used for our 4th of July tub)
:: Pom-poms
:: Popsicle sticks
:: Fruit erasers
:: Various beads
:: Felted balls
:: Water filled stars (these are reusable ice cubes)
:: Buttons
:: Feathers
:: Silk flowers
:: Knitted apples

I made some I Spy cards to go along with it. We did this same thing in August with our yellow sensory tub and it was a huge success.

Chocoloate Playdough
With some real cocoa added to it, this playdough smells nearly good enough to eat! I made chocolate playdough last year, too, but this year I've added an empty chocolate box for James to make pretend chocolates. I have to confess, my friends, a great sacrifice went into doing this.... I had to eat all of the real chocolates in order to provide this fun extension for my son. Sigh... the things we do for our children. ;)

~Thank you for your comments!~

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reusable Snack Bags

In my effort to try and reduce the amount of plastic we use in our home, I made these reusable snack bags. You can find a tutorial for how to make them here, at the Angry Chicken. They are SO easy to make and you'll find the tutorial is very simple (and funny!).

I used only what scraps I had on hand (you've probably noticed many of my handmade items look alike!) and only washable cotton. They are not lined. I made a variety of sizes, but the larger bags are surprisingly roomy - I was able to fit quite a lot into the orange bag, which is the size suggested in the tutorial.

Since I do not have a sewing machine, I had nothing like a serger to stop the fabric from fraying. And since I'm not a fan of the smelly Fray-Check stuff, after some trial and error, I found my best solution was to use pinking shears along the sides (and bottom when needed) and to create a folded hem along the tops. I think each bag took me about half an hour to do by hand. I suspect a sewing machine would cut that time in half... sigh, if only Santa had brought me a sewing machine. :)

~Thank you for your comments!~

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Felt Solar System

I made these after my sweet friend, Ann, sent this link to me. She thought my space loving boy would love a set and she was right!

These were quick and easy to stitch up and were done all by hand (I point that out so that those of you without a sewing machine know you can do it, too!). I also needle-felted some of the details.

James and I had fun designing these together. I pulled out all my felt and scraps and we selected which colors would best represent each planet, using our flashcards as a guide. We talked about why certain planets appear to have spots, strips, and rings.

James really enjoyed playing with these and is especially fond of the sun. He tells anyone with ears that the sun is "4.7 biiiiiillllion years old!"

~Thank you for your comments!~

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Our Snack Break - Food & Set-up

Several of you have asked me about the snacks James eats during our daily snack breaks (we have one at 10am and one at 3pm), so I thought I'd write up a post about it. I hope you find it helpful!

First, let me show you a picture of our snack set up:
This is just a drawer in the kitchen next to the pantry. We call it "James' drawer" and this is where we store his dry snacks, bowls, glasses and utensils.

These are drawers inside of the door of the refrigerator. There's always two beverage choices - a jug half full of water (for easy pouring) and usually a can of V8. I don't purchase juice boxes (I find them wasteful and costly). Of course James is welcome to any other beverage in the fridge, but these are the only ones that are at his level. I rotate the other contents somewhat often.

Now, when it comes time for a snack, I tell James he may choose a beverage and ONE of anything in either his refrigerator drawer OR in his pantry drawer. This helps to eliminate the grazing-at-the-buffet effect that's catapulting so many of our children (and us adults!) into obesity. It also provides James with an opportunity to have control over this aspect of his life and for him to know that I trust and respect his choice. All very important things.

We practice Montessori not just in our classroom, but throughout our home. My husband and I are BIG believers in cultivating independence within our children. With regard to food, James is very accustomed to making his own snacks. And I must add here that James prefers to make his own snacks - if ever I attempt to do it for him he'll say, "Mama, I can do it!".

The following is a list of things James can and does prepare on his own. In the past I've shown him how to do these things and I'm always present when he uses any kitchen tools.
::Peel and slice a banana
::Peel and slice a carrot
::Peel an orange
::Peel a hard boiled egg
::Core an apple
::Spread cream cheese or peanut butter onto bread or crackers
::Pour liquid from a pitcher to a glass

When it comes to preparing these foods, I put together any materials he'll need and he takes it from there. Some day we'll get to the point where he'll go around the kitchen to collect whatever he needs (e.g. the corer, peeler or blunt knife) himself, but I'm not comfortable with that just now.

The following is a list of some of our favorite snack items:
::Goldfish, graham, and other kinds of crackers
::Dried fruit/raisins
::Granola bars
::Nuts (we have no allergies)
::Cheese (sliced or string)
::Pretzel sticks
::Mini muffins (or whatever we've baked that Monday)
::Vegetables - James loves raw vegetables: broccoli spears, carrots, celery sticks, spinach leaves, avocado, pea pods etc.
::Fruits: strawberries, grapes, apples, oranges, slices of mango, pineapple or melons, berries
::Pirouette sticks
::Canned fruits

I should note that not all of these food items are available all the time. Depending on where we're at with our groceries, I typically only have about 1/3 of these options available. I do, however, rotate which things I buy to keep his choices interesting.

I should also note that I've prepared some of these items so that they are portion controlled. For example, if James wants to have some Goldfish crackers he will need to use his measuring cup to scoop just ONE scoop out of the container and into his bowl. But, since ONE is not enough of all food items I've also created a little cheat sheet for him to indicate how much of a certain item he's allowed to have.

So there you go - I know to some of you this probably sounds "strict" or whatever, but believe me, it is really just a casual thing since we're all so used to it. And it's not as though we're counting out every single Goldfish cracker - it's really just about giving James some control and parameters to work within. Anyway, I hoped it answered your questions. If you have any other snack time ideas or if you've arranged a food space for your children, please let me know in the comments!

And be sure to take a look at these lovely blog posts at About A Girl and at Sew Liberated to see the self-sufficient food environment they've created for their children. Both were an inspiration to me when I created this space for James.

~Thank you for your comments!~

Monday, January 17, 2011

DIY Activity Board

My sweet husband made this fun activity board for James...

This is something anyone can make! Keep in mind we are not carpenters, we have very limited access to wood and no fancy tools. Nope, just the bare basics were used to create this - a piece of scrap wood, a hand saw, some sandpaper, and a drill. Oh and a variety of hardware (i.e. nails, screws, etc.).

James loves this board and using the real tools to work the screws and nails. Of course we watch him while he plays with this and he wears protective eye wear the entire time.

~Thank you for your comments!~

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Space Materials Giveaway Winner

Wow! I was just so totally blown away by your interest in my little giveaway! Thank you all so much for entering and for your wonderful comments - I enjoyed reading each and every one. As always, I *wish* I could give something away to everyone. As it was, I had such a hard time picking a winner that I left it to my sweet husband, who randomly chose...

~Taylor of Irby Road~

Congratulations, Taylor, you'll be receiving a package of space goodies in the mail! Please contact me with your shipping address.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Instrument Basket

This is just a small and simple addition to our classroom, but one that has really livened up an already lively circle time!

We sing a lot of songs during our circle times and it occurred to me it'd be fun to have a basket of instruments for us to use as musical accompaniment. We have quite a few instruments, thanks to our years in Kindermusik, but I'll only put four or so in the basket at a time and then rotate them out every month.

James gets so excited when it comes time to chose his instrument and he takes the selection process quite seriously! :) He loves having the choice instead of being told "this is what instrument you're using today" (as is the case in Kindermusik).

~Thank you for your comments!~

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

DIY Smelling Bottles

Smelling bottles are a standard material in the Sensorial area of a Montessori classroom. The purpose is for the child to develop their sense of smell. The process is simple - the child sniffs their way through the bottles trying to match two identical scents.

This is one of those materials I couldn't see purchasing because they seemed easy enough to make. And they were! These have been a work in progress for a looong time. I use McCormick spices when I cook and even though I cook a lot it still took me nearly a year to save up enough bottles for this project!

Here's how I made them:
::I selected 8 identical glass bottles, each with a flip top. The top doesn't matter so much, I just thought they were fun! :)
::I cleaned the bottles thoroughly to remove any leftover scents from the spices.
::I filled each bottle with a handful of cotton balls, which mask the the appearance of the scents and make the activity more challenging.
::I sparingly poured in one extract per bottle. I used four different kinds of extracts in total - vanilla, peppermint, orange, and coconut. I chose extracts because my bottles are clear, but if you use plastic or wood bottles you can get away with using herbs, spices and other food items as your scents.

::I labeled one half of the bottles with a blue star and the other half with a red star.

::I created a control of error by subtly marking the bottoms of the bottles with dots (using a permanent marker). So, for example, the two peppermint scented bottles will have one dot, the two vanilla scented bottles will have two dots, and so on.

The hardest part was finding a good box for these. There are actually supposed to be 12 bottles in total, 2 sets of 6 scents - I'll add to this collection over time as there are several more extracts available.

To learn how to present smelling bottles, click here.

~Thank you for your comments!~

Monday, January 10, 2011

Space Materials Giveaway

~This giveaway is now closed~

In honor of our theme this month, I put together a little space package to give away to one of you lovely people.

It's nothing extravagant; just a few things to add to your classroom when you do a space unit. I found I had some extras in my collection after planning our shelves this month and I thought why not share the love?

Here's what's in the package:

:: A sheet of planet stickers. There are two of each sticker which I used to create a matching game.

:: A set of constellation cards. These can be used as another matching game. Here's a thrifty story/tip for you: these cards were once a part of a long banner - the kind that decorate the perimeter of a bulletin board. I purchased a pack of 12 banners for super cheap at our local teacher's supply store then I simply cut up two of the banners to make a set - easy peasy!

:: Life Cycle of a Star set - printed in color and laminated. I created this myself and have also made it available to you here as a PDF.

:: A star-shaped cookie cutter to go along with your starry night playdough! (playdough not included)

:: A laminated copy of my space poem.

:: A jumbo pin and sheet of foam paper for a pin pushing activity. You can print out constellation cards from here.

:: An Earth lacing card with string.

:: Number cards (0-10) and a little handmade envelope to keep them in. You'll need to find 55 of something to use as the counters. I used stone pebbles (aka moon rocks), which I have TONS of and would like to have given some away, but they would undoubtedly add to the weight (and shipping cost) of the package!

:: A small baggie of plastic crystals (aka stars). These are much lighter to ship :) and you can use them in a sifting activity, include them in a sensory tub, or any number of other things. In my opinion, they are a bit too tiny to use as counters.

:: A little handmade drawstring pouch to hold your constellation cards.

So that's it. Just a humble offering, but one I hope someone will find useful! If you'd like to enter to win all you have to do is:

1. Leave me a comment in this post.

For extra entries:
2. Like Counting Coconuts on Facebook and leave me a comment letting me know you have/already are.
3. Become a follower of Counting Coconuts and leave a comment letting me know you have/already are.
4. After today come back and leave me one comment per day until the end of the giveaway.

That's a total of 7 changes to win! The giveaway will end on Friday, January 14 at 9pm Atlantic Time. Any comments left after that time will not be counted. Please be sure to leave an email address or enable it in your profile so I can contact you if you win. I will ship anywhere in the world.
Good luck, Everyone!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Life Cycle of a Star PDF

Thanks again for your comments and emails asking for a PDF version of my Life Cycle of a Star lesson. Please use these links...

Click here for the control sheet and here for the cards.

As always, my ideas, printables, and tutorials are for your personal use only. Please do not sell or offer them in a giveaway. If you'd like to share them please link back to my blog. Thank you and enjoy!

~Thank you for your comments!~

Friday, January 7, 2011

Your Frequently Asked Questions & My Answers

I get asked a lot of questions on a daily basis, and oftentimes the questions are the same. As a result, I find myself repeating the same explanations. The truth is, while I do my very best to answer each question I receive, it does take time away from my family for me to do it. I'm more than happy to help - that's why I continue to share my ideas on this blog - but I am just one person. I am NOT a website with a staff! :) Well meaning friends have suggested I just ignore all the questions, but honestly I'd feel really rude not answering you. So, I thought I'd create this Q&A post where I can answer your questions "out loud" once and for all and hopefully reduce the amount of precious time you spend emailing me and vice versa. I'd also like to suggest you take advantage of the search widget I've installed on the left sidebar of my blog - you may find many of your questions have already been answered. :)

I'll keep this post on my sidebar and I'll add to it as I get asked questions. In the end it'll be one BIG post (you know how wordy I can get), but hopefully it'll be considered helpful. Please feel free to ask further questions in the comment section of this post and, when I have a "free" moment, I'll do my best to answer them in the main post.

Lastly, a few disclaimers: In no way shape or form do I consider myself an expert in any subject in life. Truthfully, I'm often shocked that some of you reach out to me for advice and I'm flattered you value my opinion! Please know, though, that these are just my opinions and how I do things with my family and that I do not speak on behalf of anyone else. And please keep in mind this is not a forum for debate. :)

These are the most commonly asked questions I've received since starting this blog:

Q 1: Where do you find the time to do all of this?
A 1: Wherever I can. Like all of you, I have a very busy life full of demands and obligations. Finding time to do what I need/want to do is not easy, but it's not impossible either. It's all about prioritizing, time management and organization, three things that I enjoy doing.

~wise words! the above is available for print here~

Q 2: Can you teach me to be more organized?

A 2: I know there are people out there who make a profession out of teaching others to be organized, but I am not one of them. For some reason, time management and organization just come sort of natural to me - I can't imagine not being this way. That said, outside of a few basics, I wouldn't have the first idea of how to teach someone else to be. Sorry!

Q 3: How often do you change out the activities on your shelves?
A 3: It's taken me a bit to find a routine that works for me, so it's possible you'll see conflicting answers elsewhere on my blog, but as of right now I change out the activities on our shelves monthly and weekly. I create all of my new trays once a month, but I rotate them in a little at a time over the course of that month. I do NOT put all of our trays out all at once for two reasons: I simply do not have the space for it and also I feel it would be far too overwhelming for James. So, I prepare the trays, set some out for each area, and then store the other prepared trays in my closet. Before the beginning of the next school week I pull some work off the shelves (assuming they've been worked with) and replace it with something new. Yes, I do know and I do believe that repetition is important and so I often will return an "old" tray to our shelves later in the rotation. I am careful to make just enough trays that each activity gets a good amount of time on our shelves.

Q 4:Where do you get your ideas?
A 4: Mostly I get my ideas from all of you! There's such a wealth of information out here in the blogworld and it's so easy to become inspired! As I wrote here, I always make a point of linking back to where I find my ideas and, whenever possible, I do my best to put my own twist on the idea. Other ideas come straight out of my head, which is odd to me since I'm definitely not the most creative person in the world!

Q 5: How do you stay so organized?
A 5: One word: lists. I looooove lists. My best friend of 18 years knows my mania and, bless her heart, actually gave me a book of lists once as a gift. I have TONS of lists regarding any number of things and they really help me to keep my thoughts and ideas in order. Only a few of my lists are floating around on paper (groceries, and immediate "to do" lists), but I prefer to keep the rest stored in Excel spreadsheets, clearly labeled and easy to find. Heaven help me if my computer files were ever lost! I'm also fairly neat, and that helps with keeping things organized. I'm a big proponent of the phrase, "A place for everything and everything in its place".

Q 6: When do you find time to clean your house or does someone do it for you?
A 6: Surprisingly, I get asked this question a lot. Not sure why. But, yes, I do clean my own house. I do not have the luxury of having a housekeeper. Although my floors and windows could be cleaned more often, I'm sorry to irritate anyone when I say my house is not a mess. I have no secret "messy pictures" I'm withholding. :) I tidy my house each morning before school and in that way it never gets unmanageable. "Major" cleaning happens on Saturdays, but even then the tasks are split up (e.g., bathrooms one week, floors the next). Sadly, laundry is an ongoing evil, so that fun event takes place on Sundays. I must point out that my husband absolutely and totally does half of the work. I cannot do it all and I wouldn't want to try! More than that, my hubs is so not one of those guys who thinks I should. We've always had very much a 50/50 partnership on everything.

Q 7: Do you have a set time each week that you spend planning and preparing for the next week?
A 7: Making one of my beloved lists, I plan my themes out -in some general form- months in advance. About a week before it's time to work with that theme I use a very basic planning sheet I created to determine what exactly will go on my shelves - I usually spend a few hours one evening during that week to do this. As for actually preparing the shelves, yes, I do have a set time in which I do this and that is the weekend leading up to the new month. All told it take me about 8 hours (4 on Sat., 4 on Sun.) to take down the old work, put it all away and, with my completed planning sheet in hand, I create new the new work, photograph it (for you!) and put some of it on the shelves. Yes, 8 hours sounds like a lot of time to some, but the way I look at it is a) this is for the ENTIRE month and b) I have a job - I'm a teacher- and I have to spend time working, just like anyone else. In my case, I LOVE my job and "working" is actually a lot of fun for me. I love nothing more than spending time in our classroom!

Q 8: Are your evenings completely filled up with making crafts, reading other people's blogs for ideas, etc.? If so, when do you ever get any "down time"?
A 8: It's all about balance. No, my evenings are not completely filled with those things. James goes to bed fairly early (about 7pm) and after that is MY time. :) I spend lots of time cuddling with my hubs while we watch our favorite shows (he got the entire LOST series for Christmas and so we've been happily preoccupied with watching that in the evenings!). And, because I enjoy blogging, I do spend one or two nights a week (approx. 2 hours each) writing posts. I also love crafting, so when the mood strikes me, I'll take out my knitting needles or I'll sew a bit. I'm an avid reader, too, and I rarely go to bed without reading for at least one hour. I go to bed at about 10:30/11pm. I despise coffee, but my morning vice is my computer. I wake early and for 30 minutes each morning - and I DO time myself - I read my emails and a few new posts in my Reader. I don't read as many blogs as I'd like to, but that's how it goes. Just not enough time for everything and that's one thing I'm fine with letting go of. I also have another round of computer time during James' daily "quiet time", which lasts for one hour. I make a point of not blogging while James is awake, but the situation is a bit different on the weekends when/if James is playing elsewhere with daddy. My hubs is amazing about making sure I have "me time" on the weekends. It's during those times that I'll do a bit more blogging and reading.

Q 9: How to you incorporate all the hours of preparation that go into raising a child and homeschooling?
A 9: Again, it's about balance. James gets a lot of fun 1 on 1 time with me, with his father and with both of us together. As I mentioned above, my hubs and I take equal shares in the work of raising a child, so unless he's out of town (or ill, as was the case when he broke his arm in the fall), I never feel over-burdened by the weight of demands. When we made the decision to homeschool, my husband understood that this meant I'd need plenty of uninterrupted time to plan and prepare for our schooltime. He's been excellent about giving me that time and so I've found it surprisingly easy to factor those hours into my schedule.

Q 10: Does James ever watch TV?
A 10: Ha! Yes, James watches TV. I know many people think TV and kids should not mix, but I'm not of that opinion. I absolutely think what they watch and how much they watch should be strictly evaluated and so I am very cautious about both of those things. James' favorite shows are Sid the Science Kid and Super Why (both are educational) and he watches them once a day, usually in the late afternoon while I'm preparing dinner (we DVR the programs so he can watch them later). On occasion he'll watch a movie but in that case we all watch it together along with some popcorn. :)

Q 11: I'm new to homeschooling and Montessori, where do I start?
A 11: I can't speak a whole lot on homeschooling since I'm very much a newbie myself, but with regard to Montessori I'd suggest you start with reading a few Montessori books (see my sidebar for recommendations). I know it all seems very overwhelming at first. And with Montessori there is a lot to take in and it seems there's a very strict order to follow. The truth is, though, while there is a general order to things in a Montessori curriculum, the only thing to really follow is the child. Begin by putting out some activities you think your child would enjoy, while keeping in mind certain skill sets, and then simply watch them. Observe how they work with the material and go from there.

Q 12: What materials should I put out and focus on first?
A 12: I addressed a similar question in this note on my Counting Coconuts Facebook page.

Q 13: I have a small space, how can I make homeschooling work?
A 13: The previous link may assist in answering this question, but I'll also add that you need not an entire room to devote to your schooltime in order for homeschooling to work. True, having a large space is nice, but a corner of a room with a table and some chairs and floor space for a mat is all you really need. A short bookcase or a side table can be used to display a few trays. Alternatively, you could purchase 2-3 stackable bins and use them not just for material storage, but when you're ready for schooltime you could lay them out one next to the other and use them as a low shelf. I know of a lot of homeschoolers whose kitchens or dining rooms double as schoolrooms. The materials are in sight, stored in bins alongside the other furniture and that works perfectly fine! It's not where you teach that matters, it's what your children get out of it all.

Q 14: What was your experience with NAMC and would you recommend their courses?
A 14: As I mentioned here, I most definitely enjoyed my experience with NAMC and I would absolutely recommend their 3-6 course. It took me 6 months to complete the course, I didn't find it to be arduous or a conflict with my day to day life schedule (note: I only had one child at the time and I did my coursework in the evenings when my son was asleep).

Q 15: Do you let your son have free reign in the classroom?
A 15: For the most part, yes, James does have free reign in the classroom. That's typical of Montessori. It's very interesting to me to see what James chooses to work with and which things he works with more than once or twice. Sometimes, though, he seems "lost" and just wanders around the classroom. From what I've read, this is very common. Others would probably have another solution, but what works for us is for me to gently suggest a tray. A little nudge is all it takes and James is happily occupied.

Q 16: What do you do if you see an activity hasn't been worked with? Do you make your son work on it before you move on to a new theme?

A 16: I prefer to avoid interfering, but there are occasionally some works that do not get touched and in other cases there are skill sets I need to make sure James understands, whether or not he opts to do them on his own. In those cases, as I mentioned above, I gently suggest he do this or that work. I do my best to make the trays look inviting and interesting and so, in truth, it's a rarity that James doesn't chose to work with everything at least once.

Q 17: How do you color your rice and pasta? Does the color stain your son's hands?
A 17: I use food coloring, either the basic McCormick kind or the gel kind - I find the latter the most colorful. You can find the gels at a chef shop or baking store. I simply put how ever much rice or pasta I need into a Ziploc baggie, add a few drops of food coloring, and then gently shake the bag to mix it all together. Once mixed I lay it all out in a thin layer on paper towels. I allow it to dry overnight. I've heard of some people baking it, though I've not tried it myself. The trouble with colored food stuff is that is does temporarily stain the hands. On a tip, I've tried adding rubbing alcohol in the mix, but it didn't alter anything for me. Someone suggested rinsing it all to drain the color, but I would not recommend this as it would change the consistency of the rice/pasta, making it sticky and quick to decay. I simply deal with the colored hands and don't worry about it. In the case of our December sensory tub, I would ask James to wash his hands after playing with it. The coloring washes right off of hands and clothing.

Q 18: What did you think of the Your Baby Can Read program?
A 18: I didn't like it. Long before I discovered Montessori, I saw an infomercial on TV about this program and I thought it sounded interesting. Soon after seeing the ad, coincidentally, someone was selling the complete program here via our local classifieds for very, very cheap. I bought it and thought we'd just try it out. I think the books that come with it are okay and can be useful, but I can't say the same for the DVDs. I think my biggest problem with the program is just how much time is spent putting your child in front of the TV. I'm recalling just from memory here, but I think the program suggests you play the DVDs as many as a few times a day. It made me uncomfortable to see James "zoning out" in front of the TV, and moreover, he got very little out of it. He was able to read a few of the words purely based off of memorization and so no real reading skills were learned. And, as soon as we stopped watching the DVDs, he forgot all the words.

Q 19: How do you store your items?
A 19: With regard to the sensory bin items, I address that question here. As for everything else, I keep everything organized in drawers and bins with like items kept together (e.g. alphabet things go in one bin, crayons go in one drawer, bowls and containers go in another bin). I'm sorry, but I will not be posting any photos of this. One thing I started doing a few months ago that has been extremely helpful to me is to organize my seasonal/monthly items into four bins, one for each of the seasons. So December, January and February items all go together in the winter bin. Anything at all pertaining to the holidays within those months all stay together.

Q 20: What activities do you recommend for (fill in the blank) age?
A 20: Although my husband and I had been teaching James various things (like ABC's/123's, colors, shapes, etc.) from the time he was about 1 year old, I didn't start doing organized activities, like Tot School, until James was about 2 1/2 years old (30 months). I didn't find out about Montessori until a few months after that. I share with all of you any ideas and activities we do, so if you're looking for something that's age appropriate for your child, please just look to my old posts and find ones that matches up with your child's age. Most of the Tot School posts indicate James' age in them, but you'll have to do the math for other posts. :) James was born in April 2007.

Q 21: Does James get to use the classroom any time he likes?
A 21: No, James is not allowed in the classroom outside of schooltime. I want the classroom to be a place that's special and something he anticipates going into. This simple "rule" has made such a difference in the quality of our schooltime. Previously, our old classroom was also James' playroom and it didn't have a door so it was open and available at all times. I noticed James became complacent with the activities since he saw them and could use them whenever he wished. Now he's so eager for our school day to start that he'll dance in front of the classroom door while he waits!

Q 22: What do you do while James is doing the activities?
A 22: I'm always in the classroom with him, but what I'm doing in the classroom depends on the activity James is working with. If it's one that's new to him or that he needs assistance with, I sit (quietly) nearby to help. If it's one that he's really comfortable with (like the open and close basket), I'll sit at the small table and do some record keeping (i.e. making notes on his progress in school). If it's one that's interactive (like a game or art project), then we'll work together.

Q 23: How do you decide which concepts to introduce? Do you follow a set curriculum or have you developed your own?
A 23: I would say our curriculum is mixed. I definitely follow the Montessori method, but I tend to alter and add things as I think they may suit us. Certain things we do (e.g. worksheets, sensory tubs) are not Montessori, but they work for us so I'm more than willing to shift away from Montessori in those instances. David Gettman's book, Basic Montessori, is a great tool for determining which concepts to introduce in which order and at which age. Mostly though, I look to my training manuals and my son for that guidance. The checklists/manuals can really only give you a general idea of order but it's really the child one needs to look to. Montessori is all about "following the child" and I have found that to be the most useful piece of advice I've used while teaching my son. I take his cues to see not only what interests, but where he is at academically. It's with those observations that I can determine what to put on our shelves.

Q 24: Which Montessori materials do you recommend buying?
A 24: Visit this post to see my answers.

Q 25: I'm new to homeschooling and wonder about the laws - can you help?
A 25: I'm afraid I know very little about homeschooling laws outside of Bermuda. I recommend doing a search online for "homeschooling laws". I know in the US they vary by state.

Q 26: Do make money with your blog?
A 26: No. While I have nothing against anyone who does use their blog for profit, I personally do not feel right about doing that and I do not like how ads look on blogs. I have turned down many sponsers and offers for money (in exchange for reviews/advertising). I do, however, partake in reviews and giveaways whereby I am given a product to review (for free) and one to offer to you, my readers. I do this because I believe in spreading the word about the many wonderful learning products and resources out there and because I love giving gifts.

Q 27: Would you consider being a guest writer on my blog or join my online group?
A 27: I am always very, very flattered (and shocked and amazed!) when I receive a request to guest post or join a group. Unfortunately, I am unable to devote time to these kinds of opportunities. The truth is, I need to draw the line somewhere with regard to the time I spend blogging/social networking. My family is the most important thing to me and it's a sad truth that any time I spend blogging takes me away from them. While I enjoy blogging, interacting with all of you, and sharing my passion for education, my blog is just that - a blog. It's not my livelihood, it's not my life.

Q 28: Are there toys in your classroom?
A 28: No, our classroom is just for school. James' toys are kept in his room or in various baskets around the house.

Q 29: How do you deal with the social aspect of James' education?
A 29: Please see this post for my thoughts on "socializing".

Q 30: How old is James?
A 30: James was born on April 11, 2007.

Q 31: What made you decide to homeschool?
A 31: It's funny, at least once a month you'll hear me say aloud, "Why we're homeschooling, reason 1,001...." - I keep running across reasons why our decision to homeschool is just SO right for us. It wasn't always our plan to homeschool, however. In fact, the idea never occurred to us until we were confronted with a few issues. One was that the private schools here on the island cost nearly $20,000 per year, per student. Way too much $ for us. The public schools are free, but the quality of education and the social environment within these schools is not something we approved of. Another reason was that we soon realized James really enjoyed learning and caught on to things quickly - we feared he'd be bored in a typical school and not challenged enough. Since then, as I mentioned above, we've come across so, so many reasons why we should homeschool our children indefinitely. Even when we move back to the US, we have no plans to ever send them to school.

For questions about our calendar and circle time please see this post.

For questions regarding sensory tubs (and how I store those items) please read this post.

You can read a bit more about our daily rhythm here, but I should note it has changed a bit now that we have school each morning.

For questions about my homemade playdough, please read this post.

You can read more about our school routine here.

~Thank you for your comments!~


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