Thursday, May 25, 2006

So far, sort of so good

Our first school day this week was Tuesday. I kept the 3 middle kids on the 'schedule' and the 9yo commented that she liked having it all set up that way. (Maybe her mom having to send her to school next year might not work out too horribly after all?) The oldest had other plans, which was fine by me--my goal in having the schedule was to provide structure so that they would work. If she's setting up her own work, I'm not going to have her do something different.

Yesterday, though, we didn't follow the schedule. The two oldest were tired, I was tired, it was gloomy and rainy and Wednesday--for some reason, Wednesdays are our hump days this year. The previous two years it was always Fridays that were much more relaxed. Anyhow, after silent reading time, I read to them a little, then the three middle ones did some math, then I read to them again while they played Lego.

Today is wet and gloomy again, but I'm going to implement the schedule. Start off with Writers' Workshop, then math, then more individually-focused work (some will have reading to work on, others cursive, etc.) I'm not totally comfortable with this set up, because I really do like things to be more "Montessori", but with our year-end review coming up next week and some testing the week after that, I just feel the pressure of getting certain things done. After that, things can be more Montessori-style.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Weather and Montessori homeschooling

Well, it's hit again this year--the nice weather, which means the kids have no desire to work whatsoever as their seasonal internal clocks have gone into summer mode. It's been REALLY nice weather and it's hit earlier--but we still have 6 weeks of school left. Our Montessori homeschooling may be done for the year, but their schooling is not. Horrible, aren't I?

I remember well the past two years--everything kind of fell apart and the things that were really important to get done the last month were very hard to get done. Part of it is that our routine is thrown off with school meetings, field trips, wanting to make the best of nice weather, etc. My instinct and experience tell me that I need to rein them all in or I'm going to lose them completely. So, I'm implementing a schedule.


I haven't figured out quite yet what I'll do. While I might usually work with them to determine things, when they get to the stage they are at, they don't want to think about things like that anymore. I think each child will have a different schedule: the oldest has math, writing and French to focus on, her brother has writing, reading and math to focus on (in order of importance), the almost 10yog really needs to work on spelling/writing and reading and dd, well, I think I'll sit down with her this weekend without so many distractions and we can talk about what sort of things would be good things for her to work on during our work period. My main idea is this:

We already have silent reading from 8 to about 8:20-8:30. From 8:30-9:30, that will be their 'must work on this' time. At 9:30, a quick break/snack, then I will lead them in activities that I need to figure out. :D Things like:
  • SOTW (I recently had the idea to actually the kids make the people we have been learning about and perhaps some scenery stuff to act things out),
  • science experiments/activities/read-alouds,
  • learn the provinces and capitals of Canada,
  • literature read-aloud (we've been working on the Shadow Children series),
  • French read-aloud,
  • Spalding work
  • educational games (auditory work, math facts, spelling, etc.)--hey, I should have THEM come up with some games!
  • Shakespeare (we usually do this in June when they're in summer mode, but as I said above, they've hit summer mode early),
  • figure out some sort of projects to do outside in the yard,
  • work on ICPS, Moral Intelligence, other things like that,
  • have class meetings,
  • do cleaning, baking,
  • art, crafts...
  • I'll invite them to come up with other ideas for the following week's schedule

Lots of ideas, but I have to plan them out or, as experience has dictated, it will be chaos. This is actually energizing me! Perhaps I have needed more structure than I realized. :D

Monday, May 15, 2006

A new week

I have a strange week ahead of me: two of the six kids will be gone for sure on Friday, possibly three of them, with one or two gone on Thursday. If the three are gone on Friday, that will leave me with just my two kids and my niece. Add to that beautiful weather this week and it could prove to be very interesting!

As I head into this week, I am struggling with the idea of freedom but requirements. While I know it's not ideal Montessori to have work requirements, the fact of the matter is that the gr. 9 girl has to do certain work, as does her brother, and the gr. 4 girl is likely going into school next year and does need to work on certain things. My two kids I'm not terribly worried about as their registration, age and upcoming needs don't really dictate anything specific.

Since the kids are winding down, it's getting harder and harder to work with them in planning their work. The gr. 4 girl even asked me to simply list the work she has to do and she'll pick the order and do it. That's my plan for the week for her and the other two oldest. There are certain limits, but they can choose when and if they want to go further.

I best get to my planning, then!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Spalding Method

The more and more I go through the recent edition of the Spalding book, the more wonderful I think it will be for the older kids in particular. A lot of it could easily be adapted to the Montessori method, but I'm going to be requiring it as remedial work for at least two of the kids. I'm also going to try to adapt it to a French sequence as I think the systematic approach with lots of review is just with the 15yo needs to gain some confidence.

I would never consider using it as it for a younger child (that is, as long as I'm following Montessori), but for the older child who needs some extra help, it's very, very good.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The year is winding down

It's hard to keep the kids in work mode. I have to make sure I stand firm, though, even if it is a matter of them changing the style of their work. I'd love to have us go outside and work, but the days that aren't cloudy and rainy tend to be quite windy. It doesn't work very well. It would be nice if we had a sort of gazebo or something. Maybe I should see if there's some public place nearby that would fit the bill.

The 11yo has really given up on almost all initiative, but then he has days where he sits down with his work and just goes to town. It's good to see him sort of on the upswing. I've been trying to work more on descriptive praise with him, as well as nipping in the bud other things, and it seems to be helping too.


I've made a decision. He is dependent on me for his learning as long as he can't read and write as well as he ought to. He and I will need to sit down and talk about the things he can do in reading, writing and math and the kinds of things he needs to work on. I'm then going to do part of The Writing Road to Reading with him, and probably the 9yo, for the rest of the year. My focus will be on the phonics aspects, plus the composition ideas they have. I think it will work well. We have our year-end review in a few weeks and I would like to have him show progress in his writing. I also need to bring in some tactile work, though, and perhaps have him work again with Phonics Pathways as he's not reading through words. I think his auditory processing skills may have gone down a bit, so that's another thing to work on.

I have been HUGELY neglecting cultural subjects. I think I need to set up a science week--either start the day off with a science topic/experiment or do something just before lunch. Something to bring some life back to our schooling. I had considered waiting until after the year-end review was done as they will pretty much have all required work done by then, but I think it would be better to start something now.

So many decisions to make!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


The 9yo (almost 10) has been difficult lately. It's actually a pattern that has been going on for a while--a persistent lack of effort. I've realized through reading books on emotional intelligence that this is where some of the issues are. I had thought that it was just a personality thing (desire for control, mainly, but also a lack of paying attention to details) or perhaps some sort of learning problem, but now realize that she just wants to avoid any sort of frustration. She doesn't see it as being an acceptable part of living, much less learning. She is, I'm seeing more and more, quite capable, but doesn't want to push herself at all. She says she hates reading--it's because there are frustrational issues there (she loves listening to me read, so it's not content the problem.)

I've tried to direct her more effectively for a while. I tried in the past creating a planning chart where she can plan out her day/week in terms of subject areas. What this led to was her doing a minute of everything each day and declaring she was done her work. We discussed more about the importance of effort and time spent working on things, but she can be so oppositional that it didn't get far. I know I've tried other things, but can't remember what.

This week, I've set out the list of minimum work requirements (including minimum time to spend on certain subjects) and she's supposed to add on to it to fill up our morning work period. Yesterday, she worked (mostly with little effort) until about 9:20, then declared she didn't know what else to do. I told her to check her list. She said she'd done everything on it.

"You wrote for 30 minutes?"

"I did cursive and wrote a poem." I have a look. It's her rendering of "Roses are Red", but with problematic areas with the cursive and it wasn't a creative rendering; it seemed that she simply forgot the words and decided to have one line of the poem out of order.

"You have not written a story, your own poem, a letter, done a research project or anything like that for a few weeks now. You need to get into spending time each day writing."

"I did!"

And so on and so forth with that topic. I pushed it aside, simply leaving it at she needed to actually compose something original and looked at the next thing: math.

"I did math."

"What did you do for math?"

"I did questions on the calculator and figured them out before I pressed =." She shows me her journal. It claims she worked on math from 8am-9am. Since we had our silent reading time from 8-8:25, that, of course, is impossible. I bring that up and she tries to argue with me about it, that she did indeed spend that much time doing math. She gets a defeated look (combined with a look of trying to figure out some other way to be right) when I tell her that she was sitting on the couch with a book from 8 until my niece arrived, but she doesn't press it further

"You are supposed to be working on division. Did you do division?"

"Yes. And other stuff. I spent a long time on it!" (Defensiveness constantly.)

I looked at the calculator, which, unbeknownst to her, saves what has been punched in. She'd done about 15-20 questions. Half of the questions were simple, grade 2-level questions, like 23+49 and 85-28, or totally basic multiplication facts. The other half were things she could in no way figure out as she hasn't done the necessary work for it, like 67859*7586 and 167-989.

This led to further arguments (why do I allow myself to argue with a child?) and I changed her work plan for the rest of the week to specifically say division or her math workbook (this is a workbook she asked to have.) In the afternoon, other problems with behaviour and her flying off the handle. I eventually told her to write to me about it if she wanted me to respond further. I think that will be my new catch phrase when problems arise like that--write to me about it. It saves everyone from hearing arguing and whining.

Part of her seems to just want to go into play mode and figures that she can just goof off if she's done, in her own mind, enough work. But, as Paula Polk Lillard wrote, "work is not an option." I know I have to get to the root of this, but it seems like such a long-standing problem. She had, at one point, put a lot of time into writing stories, but did not want to put the effort into making a nice finished product. She doesn't want to take the time to check to see that her paper is lined up properly, or that she's writing against the margin, or to have spelling checked or anything like that.

But maybe it's not about not wanting to put effort; maybe it's a form of perfectionism. She is absolutely convinced she's right most of the time. She will get angry with calculators because 'they're wrong' or this Math Wrap thing we have because 'it's wrong' and a multitude of other examples I could provide from a daily basis where she's absolutely certain that she's right and everybody else is wrong. She can't seem to face problems and errors, so she avoids looking at them or comes up with excuses. In a school setting, I'm absolutely convinced that a teacher would have her diagnosed as having a learning disability, but it's not that at all because she is capable. I guess if it's really a matter of emotional intelligence, then it would be a sort of emotional 'disability'. I had not really seen that until now.

Taking that and thinking about what's going on in her life to affect her emotions, I can see how logical it is that her behaviour is as it is right now. I'm going to have to spend more time commenting on the positive in her work and on identifying her feelings instead of letting myself slip into arguments which go nowhere. I'll also have to figure out how to have her make decision about the work period, but actually WORK during that time and not do a certain amount of work and declare herself done. Montessori is certainly a lot of experimentation!

Writing this out has helped me see better that I need to change my direction. Not only directing her but just in relating to her.

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day

I was thinking today of the various meanings for 'may day'. Sometimes I feel like I need to say, "mayday, mayday" while working with the kids.

Today was okay, to a certain extent, but the 11yo was a bundle of goofiness that was bothering others. I finally had to insist that he isolate himself because he was disregarding everybody's feelings and requests for him to stop. While his thinking didn't last long, I did use phrasology I learned from a book I read and said to him, "I have to wonder why you would choose to have everybody angry at you." "I didn't choose that." "Well, you chose to behave in a way that is making everyone around you angry." He had no choice but to think a bit. I think it likely there's some underlying stuff going on that he was trying to avoid (unconsciously, perhaps) and it was being played out in annoying behaviour. What better way to avoid one's own feelings by creating feelings in other people to focus on?

I still have to get him working more. I'm so inconsistent, I feel at times I'm his biggest problem. I've been reading about contracts in various places, some Montessori and some not. I'm thinking this may be the way to go. We work out a learning contract, sign it, perhaps even everybody getting a copy to help us keep on top of it and even posting it. Okay, that's maybe overkill to do all that--at least have it as the first thing in his binder or something he uses daily and perhaps sending copies to his parents. Actually, that could work quite well. If he could just get into a work habit and stop with all the procrastinating/avoiding behaviours, he will do fine. But I've got to do what I can to help him get that work habit going. He's not getting any younger.

The 9yo was quite spry today, despite it being Monday. She got to work almost as soon as she got here and was quite self-directed. I was impressed. I should make a point of saying something to her tomorrow.

The 15yo spent her work period, and then some, on her Jack the Ripper project. She was quite engrossed and got quite a bit done. While she's 'behind' in the math the school board expects her to get done this year, the Montessorian in me could not interrupt the work she was doing to have her do math. Of course, I can only let that go so long because she can't risk getting too far behind.

(Can you believe how much I've posted in the last while? :) )