Category Archives: homeschool

Montessori; body, mind and soul.

P1000158I sometimes think our culture hasn’t so much embraced dualism as a kind of tri-ism. While the dualists liked to separate out the things of the body from the things of the soul, leading to some heresies where a “Christian” was told he could either do as he liked with his body, or must ignore it to death. But now we have separated out body and mind and ditched the soul. Montessori is a breath of fresh air in that she sees persons as whole; body, mind and soul. One interacts with the other.

P1000129In her education the child is not reduced to some one sitting and learning aurally by hearing the teacher and visually by watching the teacher – all very passive, but participates in his own learning and discovery by doing things, touching, manipulating, tasting, smelling and trying things out. I wish I had read her books while I was still doing my MA. It would have helped me a great deal.

I did my MA dissertation on how to bring children with various severe learning difficulties (especially autism) to the Sacraments. Montessori’s philosophy was rooted in three things (as far as I can see), her work with children with learning and physical disabilities, her Catholicness and her degree in engineering. At first sight you may wonder how they connect. Well, as I see it, Montessori learned a lot from the children she worked with in the hospitals. In my experience such children have amazing compensatory coping skills so that they can get a great deal out of life.

When I worked in a children’s hospice we had, what was called a “multisensory room”. Through light, sound and texture we could arrange the room to suit the child. Sometimes it would be warm, darkish and low stimulation, and at other times the children liked the music, bubbles and coloured lights. The walls were white so that they could be anything from low to high stimulation. Many children with autism in particular need low stimulation. There’s some evidence that children with ADHD cope better with it too. Montessori didn’t have to deal with the fall out from the over bright, shouting, busy stimulation directly aimed at children that we have today, but she understood children needing to learn through the experience of their whole body.

Montessori’s degree in engineering definitely influenced her brilliant idea to introduce geometry as a sensorial activity with very young children. It was a particularly brilliant plan in light of the children who first attended the “Children’s Houses”. While Charlotte Mason had the children under her care learn about the world around them through sensorial experiences with nature, the children in Montessori’s schools were in the slums of Rome. There wasn’t a lot of nature to be had. Even so, Montessori records how they found a piece of dump-land near the flats that the children turned into a little garden. Children feel and run their fingers around the shapes and edges whether of the items in the geometric cabinet or leaves and sticks from outside. The lessons introduce the names of the shapes and the children draw them, touch them, make them fit into place and so their whole selves get to discover the shapes.

So, how does Montessori’s Catholicness fit this? In my dissertation I wrote about how a church can be a multisensory room. (Putting aside the stuff that happened in the ’70s where churches became boxes with benches in them). In a church there are stain glass windows, statues, candles, marble, stone and wood. There is the smell of old incense – and at Mass the smell and sight of new incense. All of the P1010039accoutrements of Mass or the church when empty, are one big multisensory experience that does not require the participant to grasp spoken language (although that helps) or to be able to see (that helps too) or even to truly “get it” on a theological level. While the Mass has it all there for the Phd Professor- so everything is there for the severely disabled person. The Church knows that we need to have a relationship with God that is whole. We pray with our bodies, minds and souls just as children need to learn and form their relationships body, mind and soul. Montessori got this. In a nutshell I would say that Montessori produced a method of education based on a philosophy that we all need to interact with beauty.

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Chronically ill mother’s homeschool approach.

dys mumI’ve noticed that sometimes the question of homeschooling while chronically ill is lumped in with pregnancy as if they are the same or very similar. They aren’t. Even if (like me) you have the joy of nine whole months of throwing up left right and centre with some “mummy brain” thrown in – pregnancy is different in one very vital way. No one is pregnant for years on end, and many of the more yukky sides of pregnancy are both treatable and manageable. It is also silly to try and lump pregnancy as an “illness”. It is’t, even if the culture of medical elitism tries to tell us it is.

Chronic illness can be neither treatable nor, at times, manageable – and is way more unpredictable. When you plan home ed through a pregnancy you know there’s a point in which you can pick up again. When you plan through chronic illness it’s a whole different set of challenges.

So, what are the things that you can do if the Boss has called you to homeschool and He’s called you to carry the chronic-cross too? You can tell Him what you think of His plan ūüôā – and then you have to get on with it.

First things first. You see that big pile of guilt you’ve got building up over there. Deal with it. Sort out the fake from the real. Bin the fake and get yourself to Confession for the real stuff. If you are too sick for Confession (and there’s nothing mortal lurking about) you can pray a lot. He’s merciful like that. (even when you’ve told Him how you really feel).

Once that’s done (and yes I know it keeps rebuilding, but keep kicking it down) then you can move on to priorities. Prayer first. You’ll get nothing done without help from Upstairs. He has a lot of friends and relations who can be relied on to keep praying for you too. (Where would I be without St. Bridget of Sweden?) One of the wonderful things about the saints in heaven is that they can still pray, even when you, in fog, confusion and befuddlement can’t. Also we are fortunate that God, who is all wise gets a prayer of “Dear Lord, urdle, flurble mup.”

This little conversation is a good illustration of chronics homeshooling.

An article here asks a mum considering home education when she has chronic illness to think of a few things. It essentially says, pray, have a good husband and get some good fellow home ed mums on board to help out. It’s a good plan.

Yesterday a fellow home ed family came over. I’m still pretty crashed from the mini-stroke last week (TIA) but the mum of this family is completely relaxed around me no matter how wrecked I seem. She makes no fuss and simply does her bit around me. She takes the mic and allows me the space to do stuff when I think I can give it a go. Friendships like this are rare and to be treasured (so thanks Jo!)

This is another excellent article looking at a number of seriously chronically ill mothers coping with home ed

Then you must trust. While riding the trust you can plan for what curriculum you need to buy because you aren’t well enough to make it, teach it or organise it. All I can say on this is God Bless America! The UK has a shorter history of home ed (although it’s been around over 25 years) and has almost nothing of quality home ed resources sadly, (I think the awful national curriculum bares a lot of the blame – thanks Maggie Thatcher!). So, look at the American stuff. There’s a lot out there and yes it’s expensive (compared to making your own) and yes, most of it needs shipping and therefore costs are even higher and add the recent sneaky tax on educational materials in the UK and you’ll be in debt – but God never said debt was a sin; whereas not providing the best education you can for your children can be. You do need to plan your debt so you can pay it off, but I haven’t found a way of importing stuff without needing time to pay it off. It’s still a good option done with prayer, discernment and care.

Find ways to make resources do more than one job. Find ways to make cheaper resources when you’re well enough. ¬†One of the things with most chronic illnesses and even acute ones like cancer, is there are good moments when you are more capable. Use them as best you can. I use those times to make and plan stuff that when I’m too sick I just can’t do.

But wouldn’t it be easier to sent them to school?

Not necessarily. First of all you would need to have a school that meets your children’s needs so you don’t have to undo the damage and do the home ed after school because not much ed has taken place in school. (Been there, done that; don’t fancy a repeat) Then ¬†you’d need the energy to take and collect the children every day and cope with whatever fall-out the day has in store for you. That was hard enough when I was well!

Giving your children the best education you can give them is worth a lot and not having to undo stuff from school is a blessing.

Finally, all you can do is plan, pray, trust and take it one day at a time. I know more than one chronically ill mum who home educates children with some serious educational needs such as severe autism. Let them be an inspiration- not a moment of “Yikes! Why can’t I be that good?”

Making the Montessori equipment do more than one job.

Looking at the Montessori online shops like Absorbent Minds¬†it would be far too easy to spend an absolute fortune making sure every lesson on every album ever downloaded was covered as prescribed. So here’s what I’ve been trying to do.

P1010653I have not gone back to the online shops. What I don’t see can’t tempt me. I remember that I still owe Josh money for the Montessori stuff I did buy!

I did work out over a long time what we needed for the widest possible work using the least possible equipment.

So. I have a lot of bead stuff. They are good for all the math work the three children do, including the Life of Fred books. They are also useful for geometry. ¬†Heleyna (and the others) can make triangles, and other straight sided shapes with the bead bars. ¬†She can also make angles with them. This means I don’t need the rods and have used a free download of geometric sticks for extensions from Livable Learning.

I’ve laminated a lot of the sticks and added small magnets for work on the whiteboard. If you do this a tip if not to put the magnets too close to the end

P1000170of the sticks as you need to be able to overlap the sticks for making shapes and some angles.

A lot of the “flat” Montessori¬†materials are available as downloads to be printed on card and/or laminated. The decisions I have made on this, have been with and eye to the sensorial aspects of Montessori. I have bought things that are important for how they feel as well as how they look so the children learn through their senses and learn to train their senses in things like texture and weight.

I haven’t bought a lot of sensorial materials so I want the children to use other things around the house for that. I bought a set of glue jars¬†¬†which can be used in various ways; add different beans for different weights. Add hot and cold fluid for baric touch (it’s not quite the same but it works). Different smelly things can be put in them and by ¬†filling them differently with orange lentils they make sound shakers.

We use the trays as work space. Heleyna, in particular is an “all-over-the-place” kind of person. The little rim of the tray gives a gentle boundary to her exuberant nature as she learns.

prismsThe box of prisms for the brown stair¬†can be adapted as spindles and rods for measurement of angle. We’ve also use them to make a narrow line for Heleyna to walk along to practice balance.

They are 1 cm² by 10 cm so they make great little measuring rods too. Heleyna has also used them as building extensions with the cubes and brown stair.

I’m sure I’ll have more multi uses as time goes on.

As I have the hollow cubes instead of the pink tower we can use them not only for tower and stair models and extensions but for pythagorian rules and for measurement of volume. They are also good for listening skills as the children can make the tower with the hollow side outwards and then blow into each cube listening for the faint change in tone as they blow from small to large and back again. We also use them for listening by banging them with a stick for different tones. Heleyna like to play a hide and memory game with them too. Memory games are very useful, especially for children with dyslexia.

P1000172Finally there’s a great way to save money on Montessori models by making them yourself from play-doh. We’ve been studying the earth in geography. The layers of the earth model is ¬£10 + at it’s cheapest. We made one out of play-doh.

‘Scuze my dd’s scary stare there!

There’s a lot more that can be made with play-doh; I have big plans ūüôā

Home Education: Learning independence through spontaneous activity

I am reading The Montessori Method¬†(free ebook) by Maria Montessori. ¬†At the root of her method is the idea that children will find things out for themselves and that they desire and need independence. By constantly doing things for the children the parent or teacher is undermining the child’s ability to learn those skills for himself.

She has an interesting view that those who require servants are lacking in ability. Her view that the person who needs help because he has a physical disability is no worse off than the prince who needs help dressing because of his social status.

We habitually serve children; an act of servility toward them, but it is dangerous, since it tends to suffocate their useful spontaneous activity.

She differentiates between true service of others, such has assisting them to reach the independence they need and servility which is unhelpful at best and demeaning at worst.

She decries the mother who feeds her child without ever attempting to model eating herself or to help the child learn to hold and co-ordinate the spoon. ¬†I think there’s a couple of things that cause this problem – which still very much exists today – and one is fear of mess. I have seen mother’s who can’t abide the phase where the child is trying to self feed and makes a right mess of himself and anything within a few yards radius. ¬†There’s an underlying fear of dirt, I think.

The other reason for insisting on feeding a child who wants to feed himself is that awful modern thing¬†of being afraid the child is growing up and won’t be a baby much longer. I have seen mothers who, can’t stand the idea that their youngest child is no longer a baby and they have decided (often without a reason) that there can’t be another.

Montessori bluntly calls mothers who won’t allow independence “not a good mother.”continuing

She offends the fundamental human dignity of her son, – she treats him as if her were a doll…”

Ouch!

I have to say, however strongly Montessori words this, she isn’t wrong. I worked with a class of children aged 4 to 5 and then the next year up when they were aged 5 to 6 (just before I got ill) and was amazed that most of the children couldn’t dress themselves. I don’t mean difficult buttons or laces, I mean putting on underwear and pulling on a sweatshirt. They couldn’t do it. The post-PE shambles, of trying to get 30 kids dressed, was astonishing to me.

Montessori says;

Who does not know that to teach a child to feed himself, to wash and dress himself, is a much more tedious and difficult work, calling for infinitely  greater patience than feeding washing and dressing the child oneself?

This is true. I am much more able to get the children to do things themselves when I am more with-it than when I’m so tired it just seems quicker and easier to do it myself. But it’s a bad habit to get into and one that takes a great deal away from the child.

I remember my friend telling me how she had picked up her son’s friend from school one day (they were both 10 at the time) and on the way home in the car the friend announced proudly that at school that day they had learned to cut an apple with a proper knife. Her son was unimpressed as he made lunch most days, cutting and preparing fruit, bread and whatever else was required with the right knives for the job and had been doing so for some time.

Children who are allowed to be capable are capable. But it takes time and commitment from the parents – lots of time, lots of commitment, at least to begin with. But soon enough a five or six year old can do a lot for themselves and a ten year old can do a lot more.

If you take the time and teach your children to be independent in what they do, they will more quickly learn independent thought as well, finding things out for themselves and asking questions about what they find.

Thinking Love, Little Lessons; Alfred the Great

AlfredI’ve put a new lesson pack up. It’s a 24 page pack following Alfred of Wessex by Frank Morris. I’ve added extra historical information and there’s mapwork and artwork to be done.

There’s a genogram to complete – a simple one as an introduction to this process.

I’ve added a timeline and a couple of journal pages at the back. You can click on the picture or HERE TO GO TO THE LESSON

Don’t forget to look at the other lessons including the FREE STUFF

The Alfred pack is ¬†only $2.00 so it won’t break the Home Ed budget.

Meanwhile I’ve just learned that the Govt of the Netherlands are out to trample the intrinsic human rights of families by banning home education. Governments are supposed to protect the rights of the people, not remove them.

You can sign the petition HERE and remember evil prevails when good men do nothing. Although I have to say I disagree with that little saying as doing nothing is not good.

Sign

Home education; freedom of the soul.

We know only too well the sorry spectacle of the teacher who, in the ordinary schoolroom must pour certain cut and dried facts into the heads of the scholars. In order to succeed in this barren task, she finds it necessary to discipline her pupils into immobility and to force their attention. Prizes and punishments are every ready and efficient aids to the master who must force into a given attitude of mind and body those who condemned to be his listeners.”

The Montessori Method, Dr Maria Montessori 1912

This paragraph follows an explanation of slavery. Montessori saw clearly that the school system in which a special bench that forced a child’s upright posture so they could sit all day and be talked at by a teacher, and go home saved from scoliosis, was all wrong. Of course, the doctor notices that children who are allowed to move around and find their own ways of learning are not in danger of twisted backs in the first place.

She finds the system of punishment and reward petty (red marks, detention and stickers are not designed for moral growth but merely conformity) and points out that without heroism – that is the will to do what is good because it is good – then corruption and cowardice are the results.

I think a brief look at our politicians clutching their Oxbridge degrees in one hand and what amounts to an allergy to telling the truth on the other, has to be a prime example of what Montessori warned us.

All parents have a right and duty to the education of our children, and we most definitely need to ensure they learn right from wrong. The tyranny of relativism was a mere yapping puppy in Montessori’s day. The Enlightenment had already brought some darkness in that area but it hadn’t grown to the proportions our poor children are faced with today.

Education is more than leading the child out. The child must grow and mature and as each child does this in his own way we can’t force understanding on them all at a certain age. Their age is mostly immaterial to their growth, maturity and ability to learn.

As Catholics we have a theology of the person that is deep and well considered. We know that the Sacraments give grace and so we get our children baptised but we also know that while the missing grace of Original Sin is mended by the graces that come with baptism, there is still the scar – the concupiscence – that we must all deal with. We tend to bend towards sin. But spend any length of time with children and you’ll notice that while they might need good guidance, boundaries and sensible discipline, they do have a strong sense of justice, if not mercy. Young children, particularly those under 7 or 8 – the age of reason, need close adult supervision to help form their conscience and curb tendencies to cruelty or meanness. We teach them to share, be gentle with others, and how to listen and basic safety.

Without this early formation children often lack social skills, basic kindness and even language. A classroom with at most two adults to thirty 4 year olds is not the place to do this basic learning; and that’s before you factor in the bizarre targets of the National Curriculum!

There is a cultural view that targets, exams and state provision are the be all and end all of education. I’ve even heard of parents who refuse to work with their OWN children when they can’t get the school placement they want, because they insist the state should provide.

Then there are parents who brag about how their child got A*s or whatever, in exams, but seem to have missed that their child is miserable, angry, incapable in social settings and lacking basic morals.

It’s well past time to change all this. When we consider that Montessori (and Mason) were writing over 100 years ago we look pretty dumb that we still haven’t set about changing things so that our children get a genuine education.

I was so wrapped up in the school model of education when I first began home education that when my children began to read books as Charlotte Mason would have them do, I got restless thinking that just sitting there reading wasn’t “doing” anything. How could I possibly know that my daughter was learning anything while she sat with a cup of tea in one hand and Notes From the Underground in the other?

But then I think it was C.S.Lewis who said that his best education came from being left to read the books in his uncle’s library. It took me a while to realise that when the children were “just reading” that they were learning. They expanded their reading and vocabulary. For Iona it helped her writing fluency and did more to stop her reversing letters and built up her general knowledge better than all those worksheets put together.

Home education; planning and organisation

This term I’ve set out to make sure the children have all their work planned and set out for them in two-week stints. This means they should always be fully prepped two weeks ahead so that no matter what happens they can simply get out their work and get on with it. There are some bits and pieces that don’t lend themselves completely to this – such as anything Montessori that I have to teach or some other bits that require help , but I am thinking that even then some of it should be easy enough for someone else to take over should it be necessary.

P1000095

They each have a file with a timetable, dividers by day for two weeks and all the instructions and worksheets set out for the right day.

Ronan’s file has most of the “share” worksheets for when they are working together on something.

The timetable is set out showing subject areas for each day and what they must complete each day. I don’t set down a time

P1000096

for this as it will vary depending on the length and difficulty of whatever they are doing. The only “rule” is that it must be done.

Ronan has really taken to this system and uses it well. Avila tends to forget to look at her timetable so can miss things out if I don’t remind her. But she’s getting there.

P1000097They each have a Learning Box in which workbooks, spare notes and reading books are kept. You can see that we also cram in the library books so they don’t go missing in the house vortex spaces.

Extra curricula is kept on the bookshelves in the order in which we use them (more or less) I’m not obsessional enough to have them all coded but I hope I’m obsessional enough that anyone could walk in and not get completely lost with what we are up to.

It really has saved time. Things like having the pens in their learning boxes so they aren’t constantly off looking for things is a great help and being able to just put my hand to whatever book we need straight away is much less stressful that having to hunt around for it.

Some of you might be thinking this is an awful lot of work. Well, yes and no. It’s pretty time consuming when I’m getting it all planned but as it rolls out I only need to plan one week ahead to keep two weeks ahead if you see what I mean and while that’s time consuming up front it saves a lot of time later. It’s still flexible enough I think – so far.

I’ve also decided to try and cut back the sheer volume of paper we still seem to get P1000093through. Heleyna in particular is using a whiteboard more often (the modern version of a slate or wax tablet). I am long past that awful phase of thinking that unless the children produced a mountain of worksheets that they weren’t learning.

I’ve lost the Greek pronounciation CD mind….. well, nothing’s perfect.