Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Read All About It!

This post follows "The 'Write' Stuff". It describes beginning reading materials and their use.

Once a child is writing proficiently (usually around 4.5) he will begin to spontaneously read what he has written. At this point the child begins to work with the phonetic object box. This, as the name implies, is a box with five to seven objects in it that are spelled phonetically. The teacher writes the name of one object on a slip of paper, slowly, and the child says the sound of each letter out loud as she does so. Then he puts the sounds together and “guesses” which object was named. This repeats until all the objects are labeled. For repeat use, there is a set of papers already labeled with the names of the objects, or the teacher may continue to write.

The phonogram object box is introduced after the phonetic object box. It is almost identical, but one of the objects (the last one named) is not phonetic. Rather, it uses one phonogram such as “ch” or “oo”, and the rest of the word remains phonetic. The teacher helps the child remember phonograms by isolating them if necessary, either covering the rest of the word or using a phonogram as the beginning sound and pausing dramatically while the child determines the sound. The phonogram is treated as one letter, just as it was in the sandpaper letter work.

Puzzle words are also introduced after the phonetic object box. While similar to traditional education's “sight words”, these are not simply easy words to recognize on sight. Puzzle words are, instead, words that cannot be figured out using either phonetic sounds or phonograms. They are like a puzzle – you can't tell what the “picture” is until you put all the pieces together and see the whole thing. These words are typed or handwritten on cards and the child learns three at a time, in a three period lesson. This involves learning the word (first period), matching the spoken word to the written word (second period), and giving the spoken word in response to the written word (third period, i.e. reading).

All words in the English language can be deciphered using one of those three methods, so once the child is reasonable proficient with these activities he can begin to do work with more challenging words. The picture cards used for spoken language activities come into use again, but this time as three part cards. One part includes both an image and the written word (all lowercase, in an easy to read font like Century Gothic). Another part includes just an image, and the third includes just the word. All cards in a set are cut identically. To use these, the child lays out the control cards with space between them. He then places the matching picture card next to the control card, and turns the control cards over so they are no longer visible. He reads the words, and places them beneath the matching image. When he has completed all the sets, he turns the control cards back over to check his work. Each classroom has several three part card sets on the shelves at any given time, and even more in storage for rotation.

The three part cards branch out into “parts of...” and “kinds of...” cards, as well as developing more fully into definition booklets. For example, a “parts of the flower” set will highlight the different parts of the flower (pistil, stamen, corolla, etc) in color, while the rest of the image remains an outline. These will be three part cards, but there will also be a booklet that describes each part of the flower on a separate page. For example:
The calyx
is the green part
that holds the flower together.

This definition is repeated, split up in different ways, for the child to match the parts of the definition to each other and to the image. The booklet is for initially defining terms and to use as a control so the child can check his work.

This list is (by far) not all of the reading work in a Montessori environment, but the next post will describe spoken language activities (which really should have been the FIRST post) so that after that we can go into the parts of speech and more advanced language work.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The "Write" Stuff

Though contrary to traditional education methods, Montessori discovered that children can write before they can read. In the first classrooms, children given instruction in the sandpaper letters (2.5 - 3) spontaneously began to write around age 4, and then to read what they had written about six months later. This pattern was repeated by many children in classrooms all over the world.
This is partially because, in our classrooms, we have many activities that start a child on the path to developing proficiency with written language, well before we expect him to do so. These activities build coordination and hand strength, recognition of sounds, and give practice in how letters are formed. Practical life activities help a child practice logical sequencing, develop his pencil grip, and increase his concentration.
Spoken language activities help a child develop vocabulary and learn syntax, as well as helping to classify the world around him, and a sensorial activity called the touch boards helps him maintain finger sensitivity. This helps avoid cramps when writing with a pencil.
These activities are started immediately (practical life beginning in the toddler community and sensorial from the first day in primary), far before writing and reading.

The first activity a child does that officially leads into reading and writing is called “sound games”. This game is usually guided by an adult or older child, and several objects are gathered strategically. Each object has a different starting sound, avoiding sounds that are too similar (like b and p). Each person takes turns holding an object in their hands, and says, “I'm holding in my hand something that starts with the sound ___.” Then the other players “guess” what he is holding. When the children are good at this, they can begin to do it without picking up an item. They might say, “There's something on the tray that starts with the sound ___.” When the children become more proficient they can play this game with middle and ending sounds as well.
Sound games are appropriate for any child who is reasonably verbal, and are played in the toddler class as well as the primary. In the primary they often run parallel to the sandpaper letters.

Sandpaper letters are formed out of (gasp) sandpaper, and backed by a painted wooden rectangle (blue, pink, or green). The child can easily see the shape of each letter, and is shown how to trace it with two fingers. We don't name the letters, but rather call them by the sound they make. This reduces the number of steps a child goes through when sounding a word out later – instead of, “this is b, b says 'buh',” the child can just say “buh”. The sandpaper letters with the green backgrounds are phonograms such as “ch” or “ea”.

The movable alphabet is the first opportunity a child has to actually “write”. He knows the sounds of several letters (from his work with the sandpaper letters), and can make lists, write a sentence, or even tell a story with these easily held cursive letters. Spelling is not a priority with this material (though it is part of the curriculum later), as it is important to develop confidence with the writing process first.

The metal insets are a series of geometric shapes which are traced with colored pencils to make a design. There are several lessons which become more challenging as the student becomes more proficient with using a pencil. This material isolates the difficulty of using a pencil from the difficulty of creating words, and the two are merged after individual mastery.

A sand tray helps a child practice handwriting before using paper, so he can simply shake away mistakes. Chalkboards can also be used for this purpose, and writing on a vertical surface helps to develop shoulder strength. Strips of paper are next, and finally sheets of special lined paper (feel free to use this paper at home or give a binder-full as a gift) which often have a space for illustrations.

The next post will describe the materials used next, to help a child teach himself to read! Stay tuned... :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Snowman "Anything Kit" Tutorial

Today I'm going to share with you a tutorial for a super easy, super adorable winter craft. It makes a good project to do with children, and the insides are an activity for another time. Alternately, it could be a party favor at a winter party - and since it's not associated with any particular holiday you can use it for any group at any time. The toddler class at Dynamite is making them (with some grown-up help) at our holiday party.
Before we start, here's a little disclaimer: according to Montessori principles, art should be open-ended, or a project that the child designs independently and then fulfills. This project, while fun and awesome, doesn't really follow Montessori curriculum guidelines.

Isn't he cute? He's a snowman "anything kit". For this tutorial I made him into a play dough kit using the easiest recipe I know: salt, flour, optional kool-aid for color/scent, and water.

Ready to get started? Here's what you need:
3 identical white or clear takeout sauce containers, with lids
black acrylic paint and paint brush
tacky glue
permanent marker (orange would be nice for a nose)
black construction paper
not pictured: scissors and tape

First, you'll want to paint the lid of ONE of the sauce containers black. I snapped it onto its cup to hold it off of my work surface, and painted carefully. Acrylic paint is water cleanup ONLY while it's still wet, so if you get any on your clothes take care of it right away.
Let the lid dry while you do the other steps. Depending on your climate, it might take longer to dry, so take that into account too.

Next, you'll need to fill the other two containers with items of your choice. I did flour and salt, but you could do glue and objects, beads and string, any kind of small trinkets or even candies. Eventually we'll have another container to fill up, too, so you'll need a third, complementary item later. Mine will be blue kool-aid, because the sauce cups aren't water tight and everyone has water at home
anyway. Kool-aid is slightly harder to come by :).

Once the items are loaded in the sauce cups, put their lids on and glue them together. The two bottom pieces will be glued lid to lid, so the bottom one will be right side up and the middle one will be upside down. Then glue the top one (the one with the black lid) in place, right side up, on top. DO NOT glue the lids onto their cups unless you never want to open it. Now is a good time to remove the top lid and add the third item, because you'll be working with the black lid next.

Cut your black construction paper into a long rectangle (mine was approximately 3" x 1"). The long side will be the circumference of the circle you will make to be the tall part of the top hat. The height of the top hat will be equal to the short side. I used the inner ring of the lid as my guide, and cut the paper so it made a nice loop inside the little crevice with a small overlap. Once you have it the way you like it, tape it shut and glue it in place with the
tacky glue. If your lids have a crevice like mine did, you can glue it there and it will be nice and sturdy.

The final step is to decorate him. I just used a black sharpie (remember, I'll be doing this with 2-year olds so even that is a big mess risk), but I think he would be even cuter with real sticks hot glued to his sides and real tiny buttons, plus maybe a little striped scarf and a tiny carrot nose. If you're doing it with older children or by yourself, get creative and do them however you like!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dynamite's Toileting Policy

Our policy is to follow the Association Montessori International guidelines as closely as possible; this includes beginning or continuing toilet training in the toddler program. Being toilet-trained contributes to a child's readiness to enter the primary class, which is a major goal of the toddler program.

Children in the toddler class wear cloth training underwear, in accordance with the potty training goal. This process involves each child being guided to the restroom approximately every 30 minutes depending on individual needs, and it does not involve disposable products such as diapers or pull ups. Requests to use the toilet will not interrupt the child's work, but rather be timed so that the child is in-between activities and therefore not disturbed.
Children will be encouraged to use the toilet but have the option to decline. We will NEVER force a child to use the toilet or make him feel ashamed for soiling his clothes. We simply remove the soiled clothes in the bathroom, clean the child, and put on fresh clothes. Then we cheerfully suggest that next time, maybe he or she will “make it to the bathroom in time”, or “choose to use the toilet”. When a child soils his or her clothing, a staff member will guide the child to the restroom for cleaning while another staff member cleans any parts of the classroom that may have become soiled. The classroom areas will be sanitized using an approved disinfectant, as per the Arizona Health Department regulations. The cleaning process will always happen immediately after the child's clothing has been soiled, and no child will ever be left to sit in soiled clothing.

Many children entering the toddler program aren't fully potty trained, and many begin in our class. To accommodate this, we have child-sized toilets in the bathrooms and the supply list includes thick cloth training underwear.

To make the process as simple as possible, we recommend elastic waist pants or shorts with NO buttons or snaps. Dresses and elastic waist skirts are also good, but we request that parents avoid overalls, belts, and any article of clothing that is too stiff or tight for the child to manipulate.

Potty training successes and attempts will be recorded daily, as will instances of soiled clothing. The head teacher will communicate daily or weekly with parents, depending on the child's progress. The amount of time it takes for complete success varies from child to child, however our experience is that for most children, potty training is successful more quickly if children have consistent potty training routines everywhere.