Monday, July 31, 2006

My Montessori Journey

How did I get to this point of having a blog and trying so hard to homeschool Montessori style?

I first learned about Montessori almost 5 years ago. I was looking after a kindergarten girl and it was supposed to be a sort of homeschooling type situation. This girl was very active and only wanted to play, play, play. The only thing I 'knew' about Montessori was from signs on daycares that said the Montessori was "learning through play." I checked out some books from the library--David Gettman's Basic Montessori and Elizabeth Hainstock's Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years. I discovered Montessori wasn't at all what I thought it was.

The simple learning activities described in Hainstock's book made me want to know more. Gettman was beyond me at that point because of my ignorance of Montessori. (I later ended up returning to Gettman and borrowing the book so much from the library I bought myself a copy.) I then read The Montessori Method and was hooked.

What Maria Montessori discovered and her whole approach are just so sensible. It excited me that this woman believed so much in children and respected them so much and also believed that adults have to try to step out of the way most of the time. Her approach to education is not to force feed like the standard model we have available--it's all about the individual child's personal needs. The adult's role is to observe and to get to know that child as well as the child knows himself, and then some. To help when help is needed, but only as much as is needed. To inspire by 'planting seeds of interests' but to never force a certain thing to be learned at a certain time.

Montessori reminds me a lot of unschooling in that there is so much focus on the child and the child's freedom to work on what he wants to work on. Where the major difference is, is that Montessori believes in planting seeds (essentially, presenting some sort of curriculum, even if the child isn't going to stick to it) and also in steering the children towards work, work that forms the basis of the child's future self as an adult. And of course, in a classroom, there are a ton of materials available for the children to work with, but this is because the focus is on providing the children with an environment in which they can work fairly independently, but with work that they are actually attracted to, not stuff they 'have to' do.

Too many distractions and I've lost my train of thought! This is just a brief look at why I love Montessori!

Friday, July 28, 2006


Dd did group violin lessons this past school year and just never really took to it. She enjoyed it and did well, but was never terribly interested in practising more than she needed to to be able to play the songs given to her and never just experimented making music with it.

I hear her in the background now playing "O Canada" by ear on the piano. Near the end of her violin lessons, she was practising most of her music on the piano during the week instead of on the violin, all by ear.

I believe she picked the wrong instrument to study last year...

Montessori from the Start

I've got "Montessori from the Start" out from the library at the moment. I had taken it out some time ago and written down some notes to prepare things for when my niece, whom I look after, would be around 18 months old and older. Well, she's starting back on Monday and is about 18 months and I can't find my notes!

A word of warning to any potential parents with babies who are trying to follow Montessori and read this book: there are some things in it that many Montessori parents I know outright reject. I can't remember them at the moment but it is with some trepidation that I re-read parts of this book because there are some things in it that I find do not at all fit in with the Montessori model of respecting the child's 'natural laws' of development.

Anyhow, I'm going to have to speed through the sections in this book that I will be able to use in the near future since my niece will be back with me in 3 days!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

When you need a camera... never have one!

We went to the park this afternoon for a bit of outdoor time and there were two jackrabbits hanging around. I managed to sit down in one place and stay there for quite a while, with one getting within 10 ft of me. Then one got scared off and ran onto the path of a little woodsy area and I went to have a look and he was sitting there, beautifully tall, greenery all around him, but him in the middle of this path worn away by human feet. It was bordering on majestic. I'm not sure I've ever so badly wanted a camera before and not had one with me!

The kids were very interested in these two who were hanging around. It made me think of how kids, all of us, really, love so much seeing real things. Learning about a jackrabbit in a book or seeing a video about it is not nearly as interesting or exciting as seeing the real thing.

Of course, now the Montessorian in me wonders how I might be able to link this to some learning activity...


What does Sonlight Curriculum have to do with Montessori homeschooling? Well, it can have quite a lot to do with it, actually.

Sonlight encourages a literature-based program. So does Montessori, in addition to the use of specific materials. Going through Sonlight's catalogue made me realize just how much I was not taking advantage of the literature around us as part of the children's education.

I found a Magic School Bus book in French at the library a week or so ago and decided this week that as part of our science work, I would read it to the kids. It's MBS In Orbit (not sure if that's the English title or not). We started it the other day and finished it today. It was a little bit like giving a mini-lesson on astronomy. We then pulled out a French Usborne book I had on space and were able to flip through it, looking at connections with the MBS book. The kids loved it. (Incidentally, both MBS and Usborne books are highly used in Sonlight, but uninfluenced by Sonlight, I had already bought the Usborne book sometime ago and we regularly take out MBS books.)

I wish I had had some sort of hands-on follow-up activity for them. Perhaps I could quickly get a collage set on the solar system together for ds or maybe some planet cards or something for dd. Although, he was particularly interested in the birth of a star, so perhaps something with that? I don't know. I'll have to think quick so it can be ready for them for tomorrow.

In any case, I highly recommend the Sonlight catalogue and may be buying a bunch of books from them, particularly books that are hard to find elsewhere (they've got some good things in there!) The Core Curriculae they have truly aren't suitable for someone really wanting to follow Montessori, but the literature selections they have likely can't be beat elsewhere.

Hump Day

It's Wednesday today, "Hump Day". But with summer days blending into each other, it's hard to tell one day from the next.

I didn't do ANY of the reading and sound work I had wanted to do yesterday. No, that's not true, I did start reading a book to the kids, finished the first chapter, then discovered it was due that day. Oh well. The kids spent a lot of time drawing yesterday, which I'm certainly not going to interrupt for reading or sounds. And despite the heat, which actually wasn't too bad yesterday, they managed to go out and jump on the trampoline.

So, today, will I get to the reading and the sound work? Hopefully. I have to go to an appointment soon and can do some stuff with them when I get back. Unless they're busy with productive stuff, which I refuse to interrupt unless necessary.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

School Year Planning

Inspired by another blog, I decided I would work out a bit my plans for the coming year:

15yo (grade 10)

ELA 10:
  • school textbook (for short story, poetry, essay, etc. required reading and required responses),
  • one novel study (to be determined--at the moment both Animal Farm and Something Wicked This Way Comes look good, but I want to check out Random Passage as it seems to be historical fiction set in Newfoundland, one of the 15yo's favourite places, plus it ties in with her required Canadian history studies this year),
  • one play (to be determined)
  • feature film (to be determined)
  • Sequential Spelling
  • maybe some us of the highest levels of spelling words in Writing Road to Reading
  • haven't decided about grammar yet
  • may use my mother's old Latin and Greek Roots book (that's not the title, but something like that) and have also been toying with the idea of Joy of Vocabulary too
  • general reading/literature: whatever she wants; I'd like to encourage her to read The Chrysalids; I'm also hoping to read to the kids Who Has Seen the Wind

Pure Math 10:

  • use of school textbook (either MathPower or Addison Wesley)
  • additional work on weak areas (fractions, math facts)

Science 10:

  • school textbook for Science 10
  • topic titles sound confusing: Energy and matter in chemical change (essentially, chemistry); energy flow in technological systems (physics?); cycling of matter in living systems (biology?); energy flow in global systems (environment?)

Social Studies 10:

  • school textbook and hopefully some related historical fiction or some biographies or journals to make things a little more interesting
  • topics: Challenges for Canada (includes a bit of history and lots of government study) and Citizenship in Canada (politics and legal matters, essentially)
  • I'm adding in Canadian geography


  • personalized program to help her work towards grade 10 level of French Immersion outcomes; if she can make it to around the grade 8 level in her reading and writing, I'll be very pleased as she's got fear blocking her from believing she can read and write in French at a high level; her grammar is very good already and she's just about at grade level in terms of grammar coverage
  • there will be phonics/spelling work (modelled after Writing Road to Reading), plus a weekly reading assignment, a weekly writing assignment, and probably 2 or 3 days of grammar work a week
  • once a week, time set aside for watching something in French or listening to something in French, in addition to my reading aloud in French each day

Other than that, she hasn't totally decided on options and will pick some in September.

12yo--grade 7


  • Literacy Power E
  • Writing Road to Reading
  • haven't figured out for sure about reading books for him; probably various Usborne and Eyewitness books from the library, some simple biographies (on Edison would be a great choice--science-oriented PLUS a homechooler!), and among various ideas, the most likely candidates for fiction: Encyclopedia Brown, The Whipping Boy, The Littles, Frindle
  • I'm going to have him do written narrations (CM-style) for his writing for... hm... maybe until Christmas; it'll be one of those things where I'll have to see how things go; I should maybe still have one day a week or something where it's complete free writing so he doesn't get too used to having specific topics all the time
  • will see what's available from our school board, too


  • specialized program to cover topics from grades 4-7 FSL, specifically getting him reading and writing; nothing too difficult as it is FSL, not French Immersion


  • MathPower, supplemented with ActiMath7, JUMP Math fraction workbook (in the publications section), extra work spent on mastering math facts and personalized worksheets as necessary


  • quick overview of provincial topics (going more in-depth where interests lie): Interactions and ecosystems; Plants for food and fibre; Heat and temperature; Structures and forces; Planet Earth
  • possible TOPS units
  • other science experiments, topics of interest

Social Studies

  • Canadian history from beginning (before Confederation) to the present
  • Canadian geography (provinces, capitals, major cities, major lakes, rivers, bays, etc.)


  • I may have him follow our school board's resources; have to check them out, first

almost 9yo dd and almost 6yo ds

I'm following mainly the Montessori approach and sequences for LA and math, with LA modified for French. Dd will also work on German using our province's curriculum for grades 1-2 German Language Arts.


  • mixed with the 12yo's where possible (for example, Planet Earth)
  • specific topics for ds: seasons, needs of plants and animals, senses
  • specific topics for dd: waste and our world, wheels and levers, plant growth and changes

Social Studies

  • Canada: history, geography, Prime Ministers, etc.
  • world geography (continents, oceans, North America)

Everything else is more or less child-directed!

Whew! That was long and took a long time to finish.

New School Year About to Begin

Although our school year doesn't officially begin until Sept., I'm kind of starting early. Yet I feel nervous at the prospect of doing so.

I will have my niece (18months) and nephew (6yo) with me during the weekdays for the month of August. My nephew was with my long-term in the past and on occasional days off from school. I don't want things to be the complete free-play they were before, but I'm nervous about if I'll be able to change things.

What makes me nervous? That I could be doing something wrong. Too much perfectionism in me. I also wonder if I'll be able to entice them into some fun learning activities.

As I write that, I think--but Maria Montessori said they were free to do what they liked as long as it was right. There's no harm, really, in them playing all day long. If I can come up with a lot of different things for them to do and invite them to them, things should be just fine.

But what should the different activities be? That's another thing that gets the nerves. Let me come up with some ideas:

  • 100 chain (both boys have loved the chain in the past)
  • science activities--but what specifically???; magnetism is always good and I have a bunch of different magnets and activities we could do for that; I have various science experiment books and although it's a shame the experiments are not better organized according to domain, they would still make good activities; and even though my nephew will be off to school in Sept., I could still do some sort of planter box gardening or similar with them.
  • repotting the plant and cleaning its leaves
  • baking/cooking (I even have a kids' cookbook that has very easy recipes)
  • Great Lessons, particularly the first one with the various experiments
  • read stories to them
  • play I Spy
  • go for walks with the dog
  • go for walks in the ravine and collect leaves, then sort and learn the names of the types of leaves
  • what should I make available for my niece?

They are scheduled to start next Monday, which doesn't leave me a lot of time to decide what to do. I have some notes somewhere on good activities for 18mo's; I'll have to see if I can locate them.

I essentially want to get our general school routine in place in August. I will have the 10 for either the last week of August or the last two weeks in August and I want things made fairly routine by that point so that when she comes into the mix, she, too, can just hop right in, learn while having fun, maybe pick some things she'd really like to work on before heading off to school.

I should perhaps think a little more about the routine I want in place and maybe even post something. An idea:

  • Arrival: put away shoes, coats, bags; pull out niece's toys
  • Story time: read a story to them and discuss
  • Activity: ideally, I will already have an activity of some sort ready on the kitchen table. I'm thinking, too, I should make my school shelves really prepared for the boys so that, after we're done the activity, I can invite them to see if there's something else they would like to do. That means that the 100 chain should be out and I should also check to see if my 1000 chain is done as it would certainly be exciting for them to one day see that on the shelves!
  • Depending on how long that lasts, perhaps snack and outdoor time at this point. Go for a walk, head for the ravine, go on some sort of nature scavenger hunt, etc.
  • Try to have another activity at this point? Especially if only one activity was done before the little break.
  • Before lunch clean-up; prayer; lunch; after-lunch clean-up. Perhaps another story time at this point?

Well, some thoughts to get me started!

Attacks on Homeschooling

While this blog is supposed to be focused on Montessori homeschooling specifically, I've decided to incorporate just a little on homeschooling in general.

There is an article currently on the CBC site about homeschooling called Minding Your Own. It's a very simple article, not meant to go too in-depth, but some of the naysaying comments really irked me. It's just so typical of people who know little about homeschooling who come up with some sort of reasoning to say something against it.

What I really don't get is today's focus on socialization. Actually, as I write that, I do get it. Why? Because it's almost too obvious that most kids will have better academics at home in a tutorial situation. There has to be something to criticize homeschooling about, mustn't there? And so people come up with really questionable ideas like a child won't handle other teachers and the structure later on if he's homeschooled, or the parents have neuroses. (Yes, one of the people in the feedback section actually said that!!!) We, as a society, have been brainwashed to believe that everything must be given in childhood the same way it will be later on. Except for when you are working and enter real life, because of course, except for teachers, nobody's job functions on bells ringing every 40-90 minutes to change what work you are doing. It's a wonder people don't start encouraging school to begin at birth, where the babies can go off and follow a schedule with bells!

I don't know why these idiotic comments have gotten me so. I thought I had gone past that, and just saw that people just don't know what they're talking about and that's that. I think it was how far some of them went in their attempts to cut down homeschooling. I'm used to the whole "how will you teach them things they don't know" and the socialization issue, but pulling in far-fetched reasons as they did... Just irks me. I wish these kinds of things could be conversations instead of comments simply left on a website. It would then be potentially possible to have these people see the silliness of their comments. Although not necessarily--some people will dig in their heels regardless of how idiotic a belief may be.