Tag Archives: Montessori

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.

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 🙂

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…”


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.

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.

Montessori and the fairy tales controversy.

maria_montessoriWhen I first starting looking into the Montessori method for my youngest it was because she had such a strong kinesthetic approach to how she learns and I knew Montessori was very hands on, and manipulative based.

I am not a purist. I am not going to follow Dr. Montessori wherever she leads any more than I’d follow Charlotte Mason wherever she went. One of the major reasons to home educate is that we can adjust methods and approaches to suit how our children learn. Any approach that isn’t flexible isn’t useful in children’s learning. In fact one of the major issues I have with the National Curriculum is it’s shallow-narrow approach.

church_odyssey_cover_200_266 violetI haven’t read everything Dr. Maria Montessori wrote. I’ve read The Absorbent Mind and some other bits. In what I have read she doesn’t tackle the issue of fairy stories – at least not that I remember. However I’ve come across a few online debates based on the premise that Montessori did not think children should be exposed to fairy tales, at least not until they were around age 6 when their reasoning skills developed. It has been extrapolated that Montessori thought children under the age of reason couldn’t differentiate between reality and fantasy. It’s certainly true that before reason they are more questions about what is real and what isn’t – at least that’s been my experience with both children I’ve worked with and my own children. So, while children under the age of reason may not know which is which, I do think they know there is a difference.

I can’t comment on whether Montessori was right or wrong on this because I’ve never seen a reference to which book or article is being discussed. There is merely the assertion that this is what she taught. Hopefully I will come across her own words on this in time. Some have said she noted the younger children simply weren’t interested in fairy stories and would drift away to do something else. This has been my experience too with the “original” versions. Now that the children are older (Heleyna will be 6 in April and the other two are 8 and 10) they like to sit together and listen to a story, though Heleyna still wonders off in the middle of one sometimes.

If Montessori was saying that the original fairy stories such as those we find in Andrew Lang’s series are not suitable for children under the age of 6 because they may confuse them about the difference between “real” and “imaginary” and in some way stunt their own imagination, I would say; maybe.  But I have found that children will ask questions on this if they are confused.

It is certainly true that the original fairy stories can be heavy going and perhaps really young children would not be able to benefit much from them, but as with all thing home ed, I think it’s up to the parent to know their own child and be able to choose storytelling that suits. One of the joys of the original stories told as they were meant to be told is that they have a depth that makes them appeal to a large age range. There’s something for everyone in them. It has been said that Montessori, much like Charlotte Mason recognised the value of a well told story for vocabulary enhancement.

On the other hand I have a real bugbare with the appalling disneyfication of perfectly good stories so that they are dumbed down beyond redemption. If we respect our children we will not be feeding them a badly written sugar-fest of meaninglessness.  The fairy tales and myths are part of the structures of culture and children do love them.

I can’t help wondering if the reason we have so much dumbed down material aimed at children is to do with the structure of schools. If you have a class of thirty 4 year olds there’s a kind of mono-culture where a big in depth myth seems to have nothing to say. But families are mixed ages and needs so the meat and two veg approach to storytelling is a way of speaking to everyone, even the grown ups.

We are made for stories. Storytelling has been a vital part of human cohesion since Adam and Eve left the Garden. Even Scripture uses story and even mythological language to teach us God’s Truth.

Stories are a way of holding families together. In Africa they still have the traditional family story and news sharing time in families. Immaculee Illibegiza speaks of it in her moving books Led by Faith and Left to Tell as she survived the Rwandan massacres. I can’t remember the proper name for these gatherings but I think this family sharing of story is important to self identity.

So the bottom line for me is this. I don’t know where dr. Montessori said “no fairy tales” and I am not convinced she ever did. I know Charlotte Mason was very keen for strong, “no twaddle” literature being offered to children and it’s something I concur with.

My children do get fairy stories – and I do try and avoid the dumbed down versions, though there are some good quality edited versions we have used.

I think there’s more to be said on this especially on a child’s development of imagination through reality and the difference between a well grounded story and an illusion. I might come back to this one.

Montessori geometry; angles.

I’m working through Cultivating Dharma’s geometry album with Heleyna. I haven’t used THESE freebies yet.

I am using the construction triangles and rods as well as one or two other bits from JMJ Publishing.

We started with the triangles some time ago and Heleyna can now name the three basic types of triangle; equilateral, isosceles and scalene with acute, obtuse and right angles.

Using the construction triangles from JMJ she has made various shapes.

P1010625Then I introduced her to the Montessori protractor.  It has little pegs all around the face of a full 360º protractor complete with fractions.

We started with a bent straw (not from the album) to make a right, acute and obtuse angle on the protractor face. Repeated this with acute being smaller than a right and obtuse being bigger.

We made more angles and triangles with rubber bands.

Then I introduced the insets for the protractor. For the first lesson she simpleP1020050 measured their angle on the protractor and then drew around them in her Geometry notebook.

As the insets are easy to use Heleyna can get on with measuring and drawing around them herself, with me simply there to add a bit of help if she asks.

The next lesson we used the paper rods to make triangles in her book and then to label the parts of an angle; vertex, side and amplitude.

We used the paper rods to make different angles.

imagesI read her the story of Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland. This comes with a paper protractor. It’s a good, simple way of getting the facts across. We have a few Sir Cumference books now and I will probably buy more as we go along.

Having got the hang of measuring angles we started to use add angles. Heleyna would choose a piece for the Montessori protractor. A 90º or less piece. She would measure it and then draw round it and write the angle inside the shape. Then she would measure another shape (and acute piece). She would place that next to the first drawing and draw round it writing the angle inside.

P1020052Putting both pieces on the protractor she measures the new angle. We check it by adding the two angles together.

These lessons are done over  a few weeks and we repeat them through.

I think the tactile nature of the Montessori resources is a great help, and I can see how children aged 5 to 6 (Heleyna is 5) can get to grips with fairly complicated ideas if they can actually make it themselves.

Kids grow up too fast and adults are too childish.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of spam sandwich we are making of our culture. On the one hand so many people say “Oh they grow up too fast these days,” while on the other side we are told that childhood – basically gross immaturity – is lasting well into what should be adulthood. So which is it? Or is it some kind of paradoxical cognitive cultural dissonance?

While industry bosses are insisting on immigration to fill their work vacancies saying the home grown young adults are incapable of working hard, there are those who look with horror at the idea of children learning domestic duties and taking on any responsibility.

Dr Ray Guarendi has commented on this a few times. He, quite rightly, points out that historically there were never “tweens” or “teens”. There were children and then there were adults and adulthood began around age 12 when the boys went out to work and the girls learned to budget and work the home industries. In wealthier families where inheritance protection was important the young adults could be married by the time they were 13. (In the film Master and Commander a boy apparently in his early teens who had already lost his arm in battle was put in charge as an officer).

My beloved St. Bridget of Sweden was married around the age of 13 or 14 to Ulf who was 18. It is also recorded that Prince Llewellyn the Great of Wales won his first victory leading and army to battle when he was 14.

While in normal life most people didn’t marry or lead armies until they were in their early twenties, they still worked alongside their parents and other family members and were quite capable of doing so.

One of the massive advantages of home education is that children grow up learning to take part in the family organically. They take part in the housework with everyone chipping in together. They help with the shopping and learn to budget and how to shop sensibly from being around the normal life of the family. They learn to plan meals, to cook properly and to take care of themselves and each other.

20090327050123_762Dr. Montessori put practical life skills into her curriculum. She designed objects that were child sized so that children could learn right from the beginning how to dress themselves and  take care of their personal hygiene. Now, at home we don’t need the dressing frames as the children learn to dress themselves in the everyday business of getting dressed. They had a step stool for the sink rather than a sink at their height but they learn to wash and clean their teeth just as well with a step as a low sink.

The older children learn the importance of service in love when they help younger siblings and other younger children with activities.

Montessori designed her curriculum for mixed age classes to encourage this care for one another. In just about every home education/homeschool group I have ever seen or heard of there is a great mix of ages. The older children learn to share and be patient with younger ones and the younger ones find role models and support in the older ones – while mums and dads and even the occasional grandma who are home edding can support one another.

In the home children soon learn to prepare food. They learn pouring, cutting, measuring as they go along.  I have bought the Montessori pouring jugs because the design is very good and they pour accurately and easily.

Ronan is using the big kitchen knife now. He started with a small sharp knife and has graduated to my 6″ kitchen knife. He is just beginning to learn the rocking motion for quick accurate chopping.

Ronan is nearly 10 and he often gets lunch together for himself and his younger sisters. If he decides to cook something, he is quite capable of doing so well and safely.

My older children that I home educated can both cook very well and without problems for large numbers. My daughter did most of the cooking for the Church’s Christmas party last year, so she was preparing food for nearly 50 people.

My oldest is still struggling with the cooking side of things. But he didn’t get the time to learn at home. He was in school all day and had hours of home work most nights. This eats into family time and actively prevents children and young adults learning life and practical skills. It also, it seems to me, eats into the importance of reading time. Schooled children do not have time to read – which seems to me to be a damaging problem.

Sending adults out into the world with no life skills is not good. The reason so many get into debt, can’t eat properly and can’t get a job done properly, particularly in the service industries is they’ve never had to before. So many complain that their children either can’t get work or can’t keep it when they have it. My son Alex has been working in the service industry since he was 16. He has many a tale to tell about employees (who don’t last long) who don’t know how to sweep a floor or add up well enough to give change to customers.

Trying to convince our children and adults, in the face of the massive evidence, that they don’t need to think of doing anything as menial as sweeping a floor or washing cups, is failing them. Even those who are academically inclined must find some way of funding themselves and if they can’t  turn up to work on time or work hard then what kind of academic work will they be suitable for?

To Math U See or not to Math U See… and my mathphobia (cue scary music)

We’ve been using the Math U See curriculum for some time now. Even in the beginning I thought it was a bit pricey but as it comes with DVD instruction I was pretty taken with it. The curriculum is very thorough, It layers the skills carefully and logically so the skill base is built up. I do like that about it.

The children are doing well with it, on the whole. The one downside, it seems to me, is the amount of memory stuff which doesn’t work well with any of my lot. But the skip counting songs and adding in some Montessori math method seems to help with that.

Ronan and Avila are both on Gamma and sharing the workbook, using a notepad for the work. I think they will both do ok with this although I know Ronan finds it a right slog. But he loves Life of Fred so he isn’t completely put off maths. I really don’t want him to be put off the way I was. He’s struggling quite a bit. Do I take him off MUS and leave Avila on it while it works for her…or just get him past the bumps in the road?

I am wondering if I need to get a grip of my own mathphobia and use the Khan Academy videos and perhaps leave MUS for a while. Ronan wants to learn more geometry. Heleyna’s curriculum is much richer in this area than his and Avila’s has been. Heleyna’s curriculum is for ages 6 to 9 so although Ronan will be 10 soon he would get a lot out of it. I might just cut back on MUS and get both him and Avila doing more geometry with Heleyna.P1010624

Heleyna is just over half way through Primer which she is doing alongside the Montessori math album and geometry.

I already have Delta set aside for them, so we’re set up for the time being. But I was shocked at the price hike to £18 for the student book and £29+ for the teacher set. That’s nearly £50 plus P&P of over £11. It’s cheaper for me to buy the Latin set (workbook DVD and answerbook with flashcards) from America!

So. I think I will not be buying Alpha for Heleyna. We will stick with the Montessori maths, which she is doing very well with. I will slow down the MUS gamma work and add in geometry so that MUS Delta starts a little later.  We’ll keep using Life of Fred and possibly consider an ebook from The Critical Thinking Company.

I am hoping not to need to buy much curriculum over the next few months or more. If I can make what we have work even as Ronan enters Grade 5 I’ll be well pleased.

Of course I had to admit to my abiding shame when Ronan brought me a question from Life of Fred Jelly Beans, that I just couldn’t help him with, I had to ask Iona to help him. And no;  brain fog or crash time wasn’t my excuse. I just couldn’t do it! He’s 9!! Ouch!

Of course, I could comfort myself with what an excellent model of home education we are as a family as the older sibling comes to the rescue…but really…it’s embarressing!

Then, just as I declare I will not be buying any more curriculum, the good Dr. Schimdt produces an Intermediate set of books! Get thee behind me Fred!

Montessori: the cusp from Absorbent mind to Spontaneous Activity

I think Montessori’s view that a child from the age of 3 to 6 had what she called an absorbent mind is well known. She is probably most famous for her book The Absorbent Mind, which is a collection of lectures on young children’s education given in India. She and her son Mario fled there to escape the unwelcome gaze of Mussolini’s new found National Socialistic tendencies.

The next stage she speaks of is what she call spontaneous activity. As a child attains the age of reason (around 6 to 7) they are beginning to want to make more of their own discoveries. The child will explore, experiment and want to make it themselves.

Now, I have three children I am still home educating. They are aged 9 (10 in Feb) very nearly 8 (Dec birthday) and 5 and a half.

The original idea of going down the Montessori route was/is because Heleyna the youngest is such a kinesthetic learner.  But as we’ve started using the materials all three children have shown an interest.

I think I need to do some of the 3 to 6 album work with Heleyna as a leg up for the next stage. Looking at the albums I think the standard for the 3 to 6 age group is quite high. I don’t know why, but I had always thought Montessori lessons were “easier” somehow. Well, I’m learning!! My brain hurts!

I think I’ll start with a great lesson and work from there. The God Who Has No Hands, because it’s lovely.

I’ve been doing some of the Geometry Album work with her already and Avila has joined in with bits of it. I think Montessori’s strong leaning to children learning geometry is a lovely reminder that her first degree was in engineering. She was a brilliant woman.

Montessori was an excellent observer. She saw how the children in her Casa Bambini’s developed and she marked sensitive periods. Growth in language abilities accumulate over the years from birth to 6 and develop differently after that. A sensitive period for the understanding of numbers between ages of 4 to 5 and a half. I think I’ve seen that with Heleyna who has taken off in her understanding of how numbers work and basic math facts.

SENSORY aspects: Montessori understood that we are sensory creatures. We receive information about the world around us from all our senses, not just by reading about it or looking at it.

Modern “educational stuff” tends to be highly visually stimulating.  Parents with children on the autistic spectrum will often complain about it. Many adults find the high colour, loud noise and constant shifting of picture in visual resources pretty horrible too.

Montessori resources tend to be low-colour Even the pink tower is available in a natural wood finish (the one I have) so that children  are not subjected to a barrage of over-stimulation. Learning is a gentle progressive process; something else that overlaps with Charlotte Mason.

BOOKS; where does literature and books fit into a Montessori education? I have seen some criticism of Montessori, some saying Charlotte Mason herself criticised it, over the place of books. From what I can see, books, good literature, that is, does have a strong place in Montessori education. But even if, for some reason, they didn’t, we would still have them very much as part of our family education here.

Right now I am sorting through albums and books, so we’ll see how it goes.


Home Education: Quo vadis mater?

I don’t know exactly, is the answer to that question. Where am I going with this?

I started home educating about 8 to 9 years ago and did so because I was cornered. My son’s education was failing him so spectacularly, I had to do something. Feeling that I would never be able to get to grips with home education I read everything I could lay my hands on. I fell in love the work of Charlotte Mason and her gentle art of education with it’s Classical foundation that didn’t destroy a child’s natural love of learning, but on the contrary, cared for it so that it flourished. I also loved her love of books and insistence on good literature and no twaddle.

I heard about Dr, Maria Montessori along the way, but didn’t read much about her.  Now, as I read her work I think there’s more than just a physical likeness between the Northern English school teacher and the Italian doctor. (And you must admit, they do look alike).  They both base their educational philosophy on the solid rock of the child as a person, made in the image and likeness of God with inherent dignity and deserving of deep respect. They are both very Christ centred in their philosophy, which gives the firm foundation to the method. Neither women saw the child as a blank slate for the teacher to write on, nor a machine to be programmed; they understood the child’s personhood and soul.

I began to see that my youngest needed a more hands on, manipulatives approach to education. She learned best when she could touch it, move it around and build it herself. Book learning was proving very limited for her. She wasn’t interested in paper work and I was worried she was actually being put off learning by the method I was expecting her to use.

If she could touch it, smell it, rattle it and run after it, she was happy to learn about it. She has a rather chaotic, leapy-abouty approach to life, which can be a bit wearing at times.

So I began to look at the Montessori method and read her books, and get to grips with her philosophy.

I bought the first set of Montessori materials and found that all three of the younger children took to them immediately. I also began making some of the things Montessori recommends. Using large wooden trays to contain the work has calmed Heleyna down a little in her work. We’re working on this to try and increase her concentration span.

The change over however, feels very rocky for me. I was set up with the CM approach and fed in a classical and workbook side of things without making too many waves, but the Montessori Method is very different and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at times.

Yes, the approach works very well with my children, but the equipment is very expensive. A lot of Montessori homeschoolers make their own equipment out of wood, clay or by getting hold of wholesale supplies of beads.  But the fact is, this would take up a lot of time and energy that I don’t have.

In reading of the Casa Bambini’s what I find is children who are enabled to independent learning from quite an early age. They explore, self correct and learn using the carefully chosen and designed resources Montessori provided.  As I get sicker, this looks like the perfect solution, at least I hope so. If I can get the children to a point of using the equipment and books themselves, self motivated learners and discoverers, it will matter much less how ill I get. Most importantly I want them to know how to learn and how to discern truth.  I want them to understand that seeking truth is the most important role of education.

I am hoping I have bought all we will need for Montessori lessons, and the rest will be makable or do-withoutable.

Seeking Montessori Albums and Great Lessons.

Having read some background into Dr. Montessori’s Method I have started using some of these sites for albums and great lessons.

Good overview list of Montessori Albums free and to buy.

Karen Tyler’s albums get good reviews. Unfortunately I need the Great Lessons and albums aimed at the next level 6 to 9 and 9 to 12.

I do like Moteaco for albums and great lessons.

Cultivating Dharma is great for albums (free ones) and if you check out the site there’s other freebies and good links to help greenhorn Montessori mums like me 🙂

The Great Lessons overview here lead to a link to Miss Barbara’s Great Lesson pages.

There’s a beautiful Great Lesson here, told originally by Mario Montessori, Dr Montessori’s son. It’s called God Who Has No Hands and I love it.

Montessori Materials

Livable Learning has some great free prinables and if you become a member -$50 for a lifetimes access- there’s even more stuff. I haven’t signed up as yet, but I would consider it for her material as they are very good.

I have bought the stuff I have bought from Absorbent Minds in the UK. I haven’t found anywhere cheaper than this Beware of the postage costs and the VAT, but even with these added AM is generally cheaper than elsewhere.

You will have to decide what you can afford to buy and what you can afford to make or substitute.  I am learning that I should try not to substitute too differently as Dr Montessori worked long and hard to make her design choices.  They were not just random as they are designed for all the senses of the child to be used.

I think I am about ready to roll properly now. My ambition is to have the children become independent learners as soon as possible. If I follow the method Dr. Montessori laid out, then theoretically this should happen and the children will have the ability to make their own discoveries and the self-discipline to work together learn, no matter what I’m capable of.

Montessori moment: perfect teachers and dunce children.

The teacher who poses as perfect and does not recognise that she makes errors, is not a good teacher.”

absorbent Mind

Dr Montessori’s deep respect for the personhood of the child is expressed in her insistence that insulting and humiliating children who have made mistakes in their work, in no way helped them to correct those errors. “Experience and exercise alone correct errors..” she says.

In her method the child is allowed to see and adjust their work to correct for errors themselves.  I think, from watching my children over the last few weeks (and remember that’s all the time we’ve been attempting this method) they seem able to better see mistakes far better when they are working with items in space, than when it is just on paper.

Montessori teachers (and parents) need to have good self awareness but also need to be rooted firmly in reality, accepting that we all make mistakes. If the teacher’s role and position is somehow based on the idea that s/he can’t get it wrong, that’s a very wobbly position to be in. In may explain why some glaring errors in homework my older children came home with were not allowed to be corrected.

Part of a child’s maturing relationship with his parents, it seems to me, is the recognition that the grown ups don’t know everything and can get it wrong. Perhaps this process is easier for parents and children as we live together, so even if a parent did want to pretend to some kind of universal infallibility, it wouldn’t hold up for long under the all seeing eye of children!

Montessori goes on to show that children need to be able to see error and to find their way to correcting them. This not only grounds them in reality, but begins to build the tools they need for mathematics and scientific principles.

How far from freedom! If I do not have the ability of controlling my error, I have to go to someone else who may know no better than I.”

Perhaps it is this vital flaw in modern education that has caused so many scientists to publish papers that not only do not control for error, but in which the scientist insists there are no errors – even when they are glaringly obvious. This self assurance and “high self esteem” does not lead to better understanding, but merely to bigger egos.

In order to see errors and correct them there needs to be a guide of “control” that the child can use to see what they are doing. With the control the child is free to work out what they need to do.

There’s something very neat about the Montessori philosophy: simple and kind.

Montessori free resources, lessons, cards, books and more.

As I embark on the great Montessori Experiment with my all too willing children I have searched for the information I need. A friend has already assured me that mixing a Montessori approach with a Charlotte Mason one works well. The more I read of Maria Montessori, the more I see how she and Charlotte Mason were on the same page. It’s a shame they never met, as I am sure they would have understood one another even with the language barrier. The very foundation of both their philosophies was the child as person.

Getting Started with Montessori – links of interest and usefulness

Cultivating Dharma – the most amazing array of free lessons and resources you can imagine. Thank God for people willing to do this sort of work and provide it for those of us embarking on the steep learning curve of a new approach to our children’s education.

Free Montessori Resources – a site that does what it says. There’s a lot here too. I haven’t explored it all yet.

Moteacho offers a range of albums that cover ages from 3 to 9 – just right for me. I love the story work offered from Dr. Montessori’s son Mario; God who has no hands.

The Great Lessons from Barabra Dubinsky look like quite a find too.

Now for your kindle or other reader: Beginning with books by Dr. Maria Montessori herself: NB: free books from Internet Archive are not often formatted and therefore you’ll get more weird and wonderful typos. Some books are better than others.

Dr. Montessori’s own handbook

Spontaneous Activity in Education

The Advanced Montessori Method

The Absorbent Mind

The Montessori Elementary Material

The Erdkinder and Functions of the University

Peace and Education

Books by other authors about Montessori and her methods.

A Montessori Mother (1913). The account of an American mother who went to Rome and met Dr Montessori and visited the Casa Bambini.

Montessori Children.

The Montessori System examined

A Guide to the Montessori Method.

Got a bit of money left over after buying the equipment? Or perhaps the overdraft isn’t close enough to the wire?

Montessori on a Shoestring offers good ideas for home made resources for younger children.

I would love to get Montessori; the Science Behind the Genius at some point.

This book Montessori Learning in the 21st Century is one I’d like to borrow and read, should our library ever have such books.

My free Montessori resources curtesy of Kalei at That ResourceSite.

While I’m here, I would like to draw your attention to the eStore at That ResourceSite where the DVD set is now for sale. I know that both Kalei and her husband has put a huge amount of work and dedication into this package. It’s well worth you having a look at it.

my little freebies;

Montessori pink, blue and green boxes and train template

Montessori grammar shapes

Math rods (red and blue) 1oo square, inch squares and tower templates. These are a good stop-gap while you’re saving up for the real deal. I am not that convinced they are good enough a full time replacements – but you can give them a go.

100s Board

The Sun, it’s parts, state and gases involved

Random freebies:

Science Jim videos

Study Jams

Not a bad little collection I’m sure there’ll be more.

Home Education; Montessori pink tower exercises (with the natural tower).

I bought the natural tower rather than the pink tower. Heleyna is 5 and so she already has the skills in building from largest to smallest in the tower and we have used other objects in her early years so that she can differentiate between heavy and light, big and small and so on.

She did build the tower first and used the correct words such as “biggest” and “smallest” and “cube”.  She then spent some time with the two 1 cm² cubes. She has already done some measuring in 2 dimensions so understands length and breadth. With the cubes I am starting to teach her the third dimension (and I suppose I will do some work on the 4th dimension with Ronan and Avila).

After she had built the tower upright, she set about making the “houses” as we called them from smallest to largest with the cubes lying along the floor. There are two ways for her to build this. First of all she built it with each cube centred and then rebuilt it with one straight edge and the front “stepped” inwards. Using the 1 cm² cube she measured the gap seeing that each cube was 1 cm wider than the next.

The Helpful Garden has free downloads including some cut’n’paste pink tower sheets.

Here are some great photo’s of pink tower and brown stair extension exercises. I don’t have a brown stair at this point.

There are patterns that can be tried out too. Language words are “biggest” and “smallest” and beginning ordinal numbers “first”, “second” etc.

Mixing sizes and angles for different patterns work well. There are places around the net with ideas for different patterns. Heleyna built the tower with the blocks set to a corner so there was a 1cm rim around two sides of each block that the 1 cm block can step down.

Heleyna was particularly pleased with her spiral shape.

The next exercise was to have Heleyna build the blocks into patterns from the pink-square patterns I had made.

This was much harder to do. It involves visual spacial as well as hand eye coordination. She did pretty well.

Avila came to join us after she had finished some of her work and she had a go with the blocks too. I have to admit it would not have occurred to me to offer the exercises to Avila as I assumed she would not be interested – but she did some of them just for fun.

Some of you may remember that Avila struggled to learn to read. She showed a lot of dyslexic tendencies; letter reversals, using any letter in a word to work it out, reading from the wrong direction, not seeing word patterns and so on. There was a lot for her to overcome. She is now a fluent reader and her writing rarely shows letter reversals. In maths however she still reads numbers in a higgley way and reverses order and shape of her numbers.

With the cubes she found copying the patters from the pink square sheets very difficult to do. She did self correct, as Dr. Montessori would like, but she needed feedback on whether her correction was correct – which it often wasn’t. I can’t help wondering if this is a dyslexic thing. Visual perception problems in dyslexia is still hotly contended. As with many areas of interest the research is patchy and sometimes not very well done. But that’s immaterial to Avila. I think I will encourage her to use the cubes and do the extension exercises once I have a brown stair.

Free Montessori printables from around the net


Montessori For Everyone

Montessori Materials Items in purple are free. Items in blue are for sale.

Montessori Printshop has a page of freebies

lesson ideas at Montessori Album

The Helpful Garden

An American mother visits Maria Montessori

In 1913 an American mother published her experiences after visiting Italy and the little school that was established and run by Dr. Maria Montessori. I am only part way through the book A Montessori Mother but it’s proving an interesting read.

One of the first things that strikes me about what Mrs Canfield writes is her clear contrast between what she has seen in American schools and what happens in Dr. Montessori’s Casa Bambini place. Compulsory education had only been in operation in the USA and UK since around 1870 with some adjustments up to the beginning of the 20th century, but it is clear there were some serious problems with it’s approach from the beginning.

There were great and successful educational ideas already from Montessori, Charlotte Mason and others, and yet Dewey and his mates somehow got all the power. Gatto’s theory that this was a system to produce minimally educated factory workers, not genuinely educated adults looks more and more likely to be true.

Maria Montessori opened her schools in the slums of Rome.  The children learn to be independent, helpful and self possessed from an early age. This is the kind of education that would lift them from life in the slums.

I was told how an appeal to open a Montessori nursery in an area of Birmingham known for being not much different from the old slums was turned down on the grounds it wouldn’t be suitable for “those kinds of children.”

I am particularly taken by the role of the adults in the classroom.  They are not “teaching” the children. They are on hand to assist when needed but they don’t force anything. The children work for as long as they like on an activity. I noticed that while Mrs Canfield is there, she doesn’t mention any bells to stop learning and go and play. The door is open to the garden or outside play area, and the children can come and go safely.

I would love to know what Miss Mason would have thought. She must have known about the Montessori approach. There are many similarities especially in the way children are treated with such deep respect, recognised as persons with inherent dignity.

Even in books written as long ago as this we see the first concerns that children are not being given an education according to their needs. The industrialist view of schools was to churn out basically skilled factory workers. Reformers and realists like Mason in England and Montessori in Rome were roundly ignored and we are now faced with children-are-commodities.

I recommend the book. The kindle edition is pretty low on typo’s and it’s free.

Three quick thoughts about Montessori based education.

As I am planning a Montessori approach with Heleyna I have been doing a bit of reading and watching some Youtube videos to see how it works (and how it compares to the Charlotte Mason Method) Looking at how Montessori classrooms work two things strike me as interesting.

First of all, the classroom is fairly quiet. The children have plenty of room to move around and not all of them are sat at a table. Many of the children are sitting or lying on the floor with a mat rolled out on which they are working. We do some of that already here. So there’s not such much of a shift in gear for that. I want to get a couple of plain rugs that can be rolled out as a work space.

The other thing I learned was that in the classroom activities are stored in an order of left to right. Then when a tray activity is laid out, it too is put out left to right. The teacher said that this begins to give a logical order for the child to learn from and helps them when they come to learn to read and write that we do that from left to right.

Now, Avila has some dyslexic tendencies. One of these is that books, cards and just about anything else she does she does right to left. This makes a lot of things back to front. She also had a tendency to write like that, although not so much these days. However her letter and number reversals continue.  Her biggest bug-bear is in maths that goes from right to left in sums and left to right in reading the numbers.

I had already decided to invest in some number placement blocks and number cards for her and now I am more decided in this.

The final thought was I learned that Maria Montessori insisted that the children should have a beautiful environment to work in. She believed that beauty helped stimulate a child’s love of learning and his natural motivation to learn. The materials they use and the order of the room is therefore important.  She undountedly learned this working with the children of the slum areas of Rome.

I’ll have to think about how that will translate in our learning environment here.

Home Education; you live and learn.

My youngest, She Who Talks Mightily is 5 years old. It’s amazing to me to think that if she had gone to school she would already be near the end of her Reception year and heading for year 1.

Almost as soon as she started learning I noticed she did best with tactile objects and that she tends to think in pictures. This is shown through her many drawings which are pretty good, and tell lots of interesting and, odd stories.

I did buy a couple of Montessori things back then and I have used them, sort of. But the whole business of getting them out, making the lessons and organising a hands on activity instead of having her so the the same stuff her older siblings did, just went out of the window. It was so much easier to have her do the same as they did, because it’s what I’m used to. I was already having to shift gears in approach thanks to my health problems so I let Heleyna’s learning needs slide a bit.

The fact is, Heleyna has her own way of learning and she needs a more Montessori type approach. Making her do things the way the others did things is frustrating both of us. It just isn’t working.

I should have done what I planned to do in the beginning. So now we are starting again and I will be investing in more Montessori stuff as soon as I can budget for it.

Thankfully being home educated means Heleyna can have an education that best suits the way she learns – as soon as her mother gets her act together – and that adapting to her needs will not impinge on the learning needs of the others.

Quote from Maria Montessori

I have been dipping into The Montessori Method by Dr Maria Montessori and I found this quote:

The principle of slavery still pervades pedagogy, and therefore the same principle invades the school. I need only give one proof – the stationary desks and chairs. Here we have, for example, a striking evidence of the errors of the early materialistic scientific pedagogy, which, with mistaken zeal and energy, carried the barren stones of science to the rebuilding of the crumbling walls of the school.”

This is not, obviously, an attack on science in it’s proper form, but on materialistic scientism that reduces a child to some sort of machine and denies him his personhood, which is his by nature and therefore by right.

This denial of the personhood of the child is what Charlotte Mason worked against in her phiosophy. The wisdom of Mason and Montessori have been ignored and the cogs in the machine type pedagogy remains.  Throwing more money at a broken system built of the sand of denying the nature of the person will not mend anything.