Monday, May 30, 2011

Grace & Courtesy - Table Manners

For those unfamiliar with the term "Grace and Courtesy" as it pertains to Montessori, in short, it simply means is teaching a child manners - the social graces and common courtesies that one should have when they interact with others.

Over the past couple of months I've been teaching James about table manners - a very important and very necessary skill set that everyone should learn. Unfortunately, I feel like I am in the minority when it comes to placing value on this form of etiquette. I don't mean to sound uppity - I just think being able to sit across the table from someone and enjoy a nice meal without seeing them pick their teeth or hog the food, is a good thing and something few people (young and old!) seem to know how to do.

That said, I'm making a point to teach James how to conduct himself properly during a meal. I've been staging lessons during our daily snack time and it's really benefited him. James has always had pretty good table manners (he doesn't run around at the restaurant, he knows not to put his feet on the table, etc.), but it's those little refinements that he's come a long way with.

~pouring water for a friend~

During our lessons we always invite some "friends" (stuffed animals) to join us to provide more opportunity for practicing grace and courtesy. :)

Here's a list of the things (in very random order) that we've focused on:
:: Washing our hands before eating.
:: Pulling out a chair for someone/pushing in our own chairs when we've finished our meal.
:: How to deal with coughing, burping, sniffles (or any other bodily noises). :)
:: Saying please and thank you.
:: Excusing ourselves when we need to leave the table or after the aforementioned noises.
:: Chewing with our mouth closed.
:: Not speaking while there's food in our mouth.
:: Not speaking to someone else when there's food in their mouth. (I explained that it's rude to ask someone a question when they've just taken a bite of food as it makes the person feel as though they need to rush through their bite, which isn't comfortable).
:: Sitting up straight and still while eating.
:: Facing forward and eating over our plate.
:: Using a napkin and other utensils properly. (My ex-stepmother thought straws were not only for drinking out of, but also for cleaning her teeth!)
:: Not making rude remarks about the food and instead offering compliments to the chef. :) (I love this one since I'm the primary chef in the house!)
:: Not hoarding food or taking the last food item unless you're really hungry in which case you make sure no one else wants whatever it is.
:: Proper topics of conversation and those that are off limits (i.e. subjects involving poop/blood/other gross things).
:: Keeping elbows (and other body parts) off the table.
:: Clearing your dishes/helping to clear the table when the meal is finished.
:: Not playing with our food/avoiding a deliberate mess.
:: Serving/offering food to others before ourselves.
:: Not taking food off of another person's plate.
:: Eating slowly/not stuffing our mouth full of food.
:: Waiting until everyone is served before eating. (So few people do this - such a pet peeve of mine!) and waiting until everyone is finished before leaving the table.
:: Offering thanks and appreciation to the host, specifically complimenting one particular dish.
:: Not reaching over someone's plate and instead asking for something to be passed.
:: Saying grace before the meal starts (this is, of course, dependent on each family's beliefs).

Yes, I know, this is quite a long list. But it's really just basic stuff and much of it is just a matter of doing it once or twice before it becomes second nature. Also, I'm sure there are many more "rules" that could be added to this list - this is all just off the top of my head. Feel free to add others in the comment section, if you'd like.

Learning and mastering table manners is definitely going to be a work in progress for a long time. James is only 4 and so the whole sitting still at the table idea seems to be physically impossible right now lol! We're just introducing things early on so he'll have these manners down pat by the time he's a teen. :)

Lastly, with regard to the actual table setting, we've already focused on the basics here, but someday I will explain to James a more detailed table setting and what all those extra spoons and forks are for!

~Thank you for your comments!~

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mini Unit - Robots

Once our little baby girl arrives in August, and until we are able to find our new rhythm as a family of 4, I've decided I'll be taking a break not just from blogging, but also from our usual way of schooling. So, I'm planning ahead and putting together some mini-units that will allow us to keep educating James, but with a bit more of an "on the go" style. We won't need to be in the classroom to do these and they are very self-directed (meaning James won't need much guidance), but should he need help they are also very user-friendly (meaning daddy doesn't need special training in order to explain anything). :)

~an overview~

Yes, you do see some of paper here. :) I've mentioned before that I've never been one for worksheets mostly because James is a very tactile learner and thrives with a more hands on approach. But, since I won't be creating my usual plethora of trays each month, I'm giving in and hoping he'll find the worksheets entertaining. In addition to the worksheets, and because I just can't help but indulge my Montessori side, I created some "interactive" activities for each of the main subjects.

Here's a closer look at what's in this unit:

Worksheets (Languauge/Math/Art). Most of these came from Homeschool Creations' robot preschool pack. So cute and there's such a variety of sheets to choose from. I printed out only those that involved tracing (we're focusing on handwriting right now), and fractions. I also found some color pages and a connect-the-dots sheet online.

Robot Playdough & Sensory Tub (Sensorial/Practical Life/Math/Language). These are scaled down versions of both. I won't necessarily create a sensory tub and some playdough for each of our mini-units, but I already had these on hand from earlier this month.

Nuts & Bolts (Practical Life). Cheap and simple, these have long been a favorite in our classroom. Excellent fine motor activity.

Graphing (Math). Another printable from Homeschool Creation's robot pack.

Cards & Counters (Math). These cards (as well as the next three activities) are things I made myself using a clip art design pack from here. The counters are just translucent pony beads.

Skip Counting Cards (Math).

Memory Game (Language/Sensorial). You can find a link to download these here on my printables page.

Cutting Practice (Practical Life/Art). You can find a link to download these here on my printables page.

Books (Language/Science). Robot & The Bluebird by David Lucas, and Robot a DK Eyewitness Book (love DK books).

Squishy robots - just for fun! :)

Again, all of this is meant to replace our usual full-blown themes and 20+ trays each month. I suspect James will work with each unit for only a short time as he tends to move through things quickly. I'll be sharing other mini-units as I create them over the summer. I must add that this whole thing was incredibly easy to pull together and took very little time (in comparison to my usual monthly process, that is!).

~Click the button below to view more of our mini units.~

~Thank you for your comments!~

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gender Chart

I created this "gender chart" (for lack of a better name) for James so he could learn the proper pronouns and titles associated with males and females. He sometimes confuses he/she, her/him, his/hers, etc. Since he's able to read just about anything now and since he's such a visual kind of learner, I thought this would be a fun chart for him to learn from. I know more could be added to this list, but I just chose basic pronouns and titles - ones he uses in day to day conversation.Click here to download a copy of your own. I should note the images are from Google Images and they aren't of the best quality. As always, my printables are for your personal use only. Please do not sell or offer them in a giveaway - thanks!

~Thank you for your comments!~

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Practical Life - Carrot Peeling

This was one of James' favorite activities this month and he ate many carrots as a result. :)

I'm sorry I don't have any "action shots" of James during this process, but since he was working with cutting tools I needed to have both eyes on him. Anyway, to do this table work, James unrolled the green mat (held closed with a napkin ring) and arranged the materials on top of it. Next he brought the carrots to the kitchen where he rinsed and dried them off. Returning to the classroom, he carefully used the orange handled peeler (I found this locally) to remove the outer skin of the carrot. This proved to be a bit tricky because it was hard for him to get a good grip on the carrot. However, after a short time, the carrot was peeled and he placed it on little cutting board where he used the maroon handled cutter to chop off the ends. The peels were placed into the brown paper bag and the little towel was used to clean up any juices.

As I mentioned, James really enjoyed doing this and I actually ended up running out of carrots at one point (even though we had purchased a bag of 12 from a local farmer).

Food preparation activities are always a hit in our classroom - James loves pretty much anything that has to do with food :) and I enjoy them because they're about as practical life as you can get! Also, I love the idea of teaching my son how to cook... he's going to make some girl very happy later in life! :D

Here are a few more food preparation activities we've done in the past:

Our Snack Set Up
Table Setting, Buttering Bread, & Apple Slicing
Egg Peeling & Slicing
Cracking a Coconut (page down)
Making Meatballs
Homemade Butter
Squeezing Oranges/Frozen Orange Cups
Watermelon Balling
Cherry Pitting

Links: Info Montessori has this very detailed step by step post on how to prepare an apple. Montessori Services has tons of child size food preparation materials and kits - this is where I purchased several of the items shown in the first photo.

~Thank you for your comments!~

Friday, May 20, 2011

Yarn Along - Baby Knit

I just finished my first "serious" knitting project and I am super excited about it...

It's a wee little kimono for my sweet baby girl, who's due in August. I made this so it'll (hopefully) fit her in the fall/early winter.
This sweater was easier to knit than I thought it would be, but it did require me to learn no less than 8 new techniques. Before I started this project I said to myself, if I can make this - and if it actually looks like a sweater - than I can knit just about anything!

~the inside tie~

It's by no means perfect and I still need to block it, but I'm pretty proud of it. I think I may be able to call myself "advanced beginner" now! I owe a HUGE thank you to my knitting hero's online videos. With her help, I may just be able to tackle this project in the near future.

Oh and I nearly forgot! I'm linking this post up with Ginny's Yarn Along where knitters and bookworms alike come together to share their current projects and reads. I re-read You Are Your Child's First Teacher once again and loved it even more the second time around.

~Thank you for your comments!~

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Robot Playdough

We have family visiting right now so I'm a bit late in sharing this with you, but better late than never, right? :)

James and I had a blast creating little robots with a variety of odds and ends like old Christmas tree bulbs, beads, pipe cleaners, and paperclips.

I really wanted the playdough to be silver, but I couldn't find that shade of food coloring, so instead I created this kind of steel blue color (by mixing black and navy together) and added some silver glitter to it.

Click here to see my playdough recipe and notes, as well as links to our other playdough themes.

~Thank you for your comments!~

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Socializing" Our Homeschooled Child

One question I get asked quite often is how we address the social aspect of homeschooling James and whether or not we're worried about it. My response is a bit lengthy, but I hope you'll bear with me as this is a subject I want to pay due respect to.

~Aquarium class field trip~

Now, depending on who's asking (or more accurately HOW they're asking) the topic of "socializing" James can be a bit touchy with me. For the sake of keeping things positive and because I will not get into a debate with anyone re this post, I'll avoid discussing the aspects of these questions which make me defensive. What I will say is that I think it's an inaccurate stereotype to assume that homeschooled children are "unsocialized". (I mean, seriously, in today's world, it seems nearly impossible to be anti-social.) I'll also side-step my thoughts on how some children are too "socialized" and not in a good way (think Facebook, texting, etc.).

~Learning about fish and boating from Uncle Peter~

With regard to the latter, I'd like to point out instead how mass communication has opened the doors to something positive for our children. Take blogs, for example: because so many of us are sharing our thoughts and ideas about teaching our children, more and more people are banding together to create mini teaching communities such as homeschool co-ops and educational playgroups. More and more families are opting to homeschool. Educational venues (such as museums) are aware of this and, in turn, there are many more of activities and opportunities being made available to children of all ages. Unless you flat out chose not to engage in these groups and events a homeschooling parent is hard pressed to avoid "socializing" their child.

Ok. That's my very scaled down spiel on "socialization". Now to answer your questions as it pertains to James.

~Arts & crafts day~

When my husband and I first discussed homeschooling our children indefinitely, we certainly took a hard look at the social aspect of school. We recalled and shared stories of our own social experiences throughout school and realized they did little to benefit us. For me, I was VERY preoccupied with socializing, particularly in my high school years, to the point my education and self-image suffered. I also recalled students in my school that were very smart, but because of that they were bullied, ostracized and criticized by our peers. Thankfully, some of them were able to ignore the cruel teasing, but I saw others fake stupidity just to be accepted into that society. For my husband, going to school outside of the home didn't help him overcome his shyness - rather the opposite.

~A field trip to the petting zoo~

Then we found out that even on this tiny island there are plenty of interactive activities available for families and children of all ages. There are camps, festivals, classes, family nights, etc. There's even a homeschooling group here that hosts all sorts of events year round! We quickly realized James (and his sibling(s)) would be in no danger of being "unsocialized".

~Good Friday kite festival~

I must point out that I am not one of those parents that runs around attending and enrolling my child in every little thing *just* for the sake of social interaction. I believe there is such a thing as over stimulating a person. There needs to be time to just be with yourself. Also, while James is inherently shy and prefers smaller groups, he is not this way because we are homeschooling him. It's just who he is and we're totally fine with that. I was the same way when I was his age and, even though I still consider myself shy, I can speak with anyone (and 'regular' school had nothing to do with that change, btw).

~A group visit to the fire station~

All that said, however, depending on the week/month/season, our schedule can be a bit busy at times. Once a week James attends an art class, a music class and a gymnastics class (all are "drop off' classes where he attends them without a parent). He also has tennis lessons with a large group of children once a week. I also host a weekly playgroup for our Meet-A-Mum-Association where caregivers and children gather for a couple hours of play. In that same week we might get together with a friend and go on a "field trip" to the aquarium or some other fun locale. Once a month James attends 2 more drop off classes one at the local aquarium/zoo and the other at the National Gallery where he truly learns about art and sketches to his heart's content. In that same month we'll hit the grocery store, a birthday party, a seasonal event, the library, restaurants, and wherever else day to day life and errands takes us. ALL of them real life social situations where James interacts with whomever is there - not just people in his age group. I think this is of great importance if by referring to "socialization" we mean we are teaching our children how to interact in a society. It's for that reason we do not speak for James - for example, when we go to a restaurant, HE orders his meal and drink, HE says please and thank you to the wait person. He's learning what it means to be an individual in our world.

~Paint your own pottery with friends~

I mentioned Bermuda has a homeschooling group (made up of about 200 families). We've only just joined it (James had to be 4 years old before we were 'allowed' to join) and so far I'm really impressed with all they have going on. Throughout the year and often on a recurring basis there are language groups, sports clubs, family fun days, tours, etc. Over the winter one family held an "Astronomy Class" at their home where families gathered together for a fun and educational evening of star gazing. I've heard some homeschooling groups in the States are even more amazing and host clubs, dances (like Prom), and graduation ceremonies. We look forward to joining one of those communities when our time in Bermuda is over.

~James doing the long jump on Sports Day~

We recently attended the homeschooling Sports Day whereby all the families gathered together to watch our children compete in fun races and games. Every child got a ribbon, no matter what place they got. I was so proud of my shy little guy who participated in every event for his age and racked up 4 ribbons!

~Chilling with a good friend~

So there you go. I hope this post answers your questions. And I hope those persons who read this blog and do not homeschool know that I am in no way shape or form attacking them or ridiculing their way of 'socializing' their child. To each their own, I say. We're all doing our best and what we think is right for our child(ren).

~Thank you for your comments!~

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Grammar Farm

One of my favorite learning tools that's commonly found in a Montessori classroom is the Grammar Farm. In short, it's a farm setting (complete with a barn and farm themed figurines) and its purpose is to introduce the parts of speech to children in a fun, interactive way. You can read more about Grammar Farms here.

Over the past year and half, I have been creating a Grammar Farm of our own. Because I love farms, and because I love natural toys, and because I wanted this set to be something my children could pass along to their own children, I invested a bit of money into this little farm. I purchased our wooden animals from here and here, and the barn was purchased second-hand, but you can find it here. I made the cards myself ages ago and they are color coded (In Montessori, the parts of speech are color-coded.)

This is James' first introduction to the Grammar Farm, and as such we're focusing on just nouns at the moment. Very soon we'll move to articles, adjectives, and verbs. Next, we'll create sentences by lining up the cards (like this) and finally I'll introduce these grammar symbols to accompany not just this farm, but other language activities as well.

I really enjoyed putting together our own farm, but you can purchase Grammar Farms online - here are a few links I found:
:: A very basic set, which you can add to.
:: Complete sets here and here that appear to have everything you'd need (minus the grammar cards).
:: Don't forget thrift shops - Montessori Tidbits found a fantastic set at the Goodwill!
:: For the grammar cards, you can make your own or you can purchase them from my favorite store for Montessori printables, Montessori Print Shop.

Here's a link on how to make your own farm (to keep it thrifty, you could use these animals) and here's a link on how to present the Grammar Farm to a child.

Lastly, (if you're not all linked-out by now!) be sure to check out these posts:
:: The Work Plan made her Grammar Farm work for toddlers!
:: For another DIY farm, check out A Bit of This and A Bit of That.

~Thank you for your comments!~

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Robot Sensory Tub

I am really excited about this tub because it's been in the back of my mind for many months and it has finally come to fruition. The putting together of this tub was a family affair - James, my husband, and my niece all gave their input and here's what we came up with...

It is, admittedly, very cluttered with junk (literally) which isn't my usual preference for sensory tubs, but my husband convinced me that that's what robots are made of - lots of junk. :)

Here's what's inside:
:: Translucent blue beads
:: Letter beads
:: Silver pipe cleaners (great for lacing the beads)
:: An old remote control (with the batteries removed!!!)
:: Magnets
:: Bottle caps (from a scrapbooking store)
:: Sparkly poms
:: Sequins mix
:: Toy gears and wheels
:: Google eyes
:: Various bits of computer hardware (e.g. switches, dials, discs, fuses, etc. My husband is a computer geek so we actually had all of this on hand!)
:: Plastic tree lights (from Christmas, with the wires cut off)
:: Wing-nuts, screw plates, springs, and a mini screwdriver
:: Corrugated cardboard
:: Carabiner clip
:: Big flat marbles
:: Buttons (I chose ones that didn't have the usual holes in the front so they'd look like a button you'd push.)
:: A metal scoop

Phew! See - lots of junk. And actually, there's a lot that we thought of that didn't make it into this tub (tin foil, an aluminum pie tin, salt shaker, mini whisk, legos, etc.). Despite all the stuff inside of it, I'm happy to report this tub didn't cost a single dime to make! We had everything on hand, including the blue beads which we used in our Independence Day tub last July.

James couldn't wait to get his mitts on everything and even my husband gave it two thumbs up, saying: "Now this is a boy's tub!!". :)

Click here to see our robot playdough!

Click the button below to see a full list of my sensory tubs or click here to view my slideshow on the Counting Coconuts Facebook page.

~Thank you for your comments!~

Saturday, May 7, 2011

May PDFs

Here are the PDFs for some of the things on our shelves this month - just click on the links to download:

:: Farm Poem
:: Farm Songs
:: Adult/Child Farm Animals Nomenclature Cards

As always, my printables are for your personal use only - please do not sell or offer them in giveaways. Thank you!

~Thank you for your comments!~

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On Our Shelves - May

Last year, in April and May, we focused on a rainbow theme, which I think is perfect for spring. But, this year I decided to do a unit on farms. I'm excited about it because I've always had a soft spot in my heart for farms/farming, despite the fact that I grew up in the city. When I was young, I used to pretend I lived on a farm and I make my poor cat play the role of a variety of animals. :) Something about all those lovely stinky animals and living a sustainable life has always appealed to me. My husband grew up on a farm and I know that fact was one of many reasons why I fell in love with him. But I digress... :)

Here's what's on our shelves. You'll notice there are not as many activities as usual. Now that the weather is nicer, we're spending more time out of doors and so our school week has been reduced to 3 mornings per week.

Practical Life
Pouring Milk. Oops, I see I forgot to photograph the sponge that accompanies this work (for spills). And that isn't really milk in those cute little milk bottles, it's just water and white paint. :) This work is great not just for concentration and a steady hand, but also for learning about the concepts of more/less, half/full/empty.

Tweezing Apples. The fun thing about this activity is that the apples (found at Michael's craft store) make a nice "tinking" sound when the enter the glass jar. The fact that the opening of the jar is a bit small means James needs to be more careful when transferring. After a successful round of tweezing, we played a game where we stood above the jar, aimed the apples over the opening, and tried to drop them directly into the jar. Not as easy as it sounds!

Measuring Scratch Feed. I suppose this doubles as a math activity, too! This is the same scratch feed I used in this month's sensory tub.

We also plan on making butter again and visiting one of the local farms.

Still on our shelves: Flower Arranging.


Playdough - I'll be sharing about that later this month as it'll follow a different theme.

Still on our shelves: Knobbed and Knobless Cylinders, The Pink Tower, Butterfly Matching.

Spelling. This is a good example of how you can mix and match toys/office supplies to create a learning activity. The magnetic animal pieces are from an old puzzle, and the dry-erase board was something I found at Office Max a couple of years ago.

Worksheets. These are a variety of sheets (from abcteach and KidsSoup) dealing with tracing, word matching, and handwriting. I have mixed feelings when it comes to worksheets. On the one hand I know they're not very Montessori, and I have to admit I do prefer more tactile ways of learning, but on the other hand I cannot deny that worksheets are very useful, too. I'm starting to incorporate them more into our learning because my husband is always eager to see what James has learned in school.

Old MacDonald Storyboard. This felt set and the board both come from the lovely shop, Storytelling Fun.

Magnetic Storybook.

Books. A reader recently asked me about our book collection and whether I buy all of our books. The answer is yes I do and I almost always purchase them second hand. Our local library has a limited selection and only allows us to borrow 3 books at a time (I hear you can borrow as many as 50 at a time in the States! That blows my mind!). Some of the books, like the Farmer Grover book seen above, are my own from when I was a child.

Poetry Basket. Click here to download the poem. To see/read more about our poetry baskets, click here.

Farm Activity Book. This is a "green" (i.e. recycled) book full of stickers, worksheets, and activities. We do one or two sheets a day.

Still on our shelves: Green Sandpaper Phonograms

Feed the Chickens. This game comes from PreKinders. We used corn kernels as the counters.

Roll A Farm. I found this cute game in this fantastic download - be sure to check it out, it's full of really cute farm printables.

Worksheets. A variety of sheets focusing on skip counting, quantity matching, and dot to dot. Again, all are from either abcteach or KidSoup.

Telling Time. I purchased this clock at our local teacher's supply store. I made the number cards myself.

Still on our shelves: Sandpaper Numerals, Ladybug Math, and Seed Graphing (a favorite!)

Science & Culture
Parts of a Horse. These are from Montessori Print Shop.

Matching Adult & Baby Animals. Click here to download these cards.

South America Continent Bag. This particular portion of our bag focuses on just the animals of South America.

Where Does It Come From? Another great printable from Montessori Print Shop. We had this on our shelves last month and James really enjoyed it. For this month, I only included the sets that related to farm animals.

Still on our shelves: Continent Globe & Puzzle.

Art & Music
Composer of the Month: Chopin. A reader recently asked what exactly we do with our COM. Right now I'm keeping it really simple - I download that composer's music onto my iPod and we listen to those songs during our schooltime for the entire month. I also print out a photo of the composer. At some point we'll likely spend more time learning about the composer and the style of music, but for now it's just not something James is interested in.

Circle Time Songs. Each month I search the internet for fun and simple songs for us to sing during our circle times. Click here to download our songs.

Tractor Painting. Just like it sounds. Toss some paint on a big sheet of paper and drive a tractor through it. Good fun! I love experimenting with different painting tools.

Scissor Practice. I made these strips a bit wider than I usually do so James will have to use two or three cuts in order to sever the paper.

Still on our shelves: Flower Rubbing.

That's all for now. I have a few more activities which I'll post about separately throughout the month.

Happy May!

~Thank you for your comments!~


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