Thursday, September 22, 2016

The concept of Zero

There are still a few children who cannot get the concept of number zero (concept of nothingness). I was wondering what I could do to help them when my friend who owns another Montessori preschool in the locality told me to try the Memory Game. She gave me the main lines of the game and I looked it up in my Montessori book. I thought it would be a great way to get the children to understand what zero represented.
So I prepared eleven small fabric envelopes and placed one of the numbers 0-10 (each number is written on a 2.5” by 2.5” laminated card. I placed these envelopes in a lovely box or basket. The idea is to ask several (no more than eleven) children to come to the rug and make a circle. If six children are in a circle for example, I would remove five of the envelopes from the basket but make sure that the envelope with the zero is included.

On the day of the presentation, I had 15 in our classroom. So I decided to create 2 groups of 7-8 children and we would play the Memory game with one group first and then with the other. Each group was formed with children of different aptitudes and developmental group, ranging from 3.5 years old to 4.8 years old. I called 6 children to come with me and sit on our rung in the circle time area. First, we went over the numbers 0-10 and I reminded them that 0 means “there is nothing”. Next, I handed an envelope to each child. I asked them to take the card out of the envelope and to carefully look at their number but not to show it to the other children. Then I instructed them to put their number back in its envelope and leave it at their spot in the circle. I explained to them that I would like them to go around the classroom and gather a number of items equal to the number in their envelope. They could choose whatever items they wanted. I instructed the children that if they had number 0, they were to go into the environment and act like they were looking around for a specific material that they wanted a quantity of. Ryan child got number 2 and went to get two flowers from a vase.  Nessa got number 10 and brought me back 10 unit beads. Tori got number 0. She was very clever and followed my instructions very carefully, cupping her hands and closing them as if she was holding something. The other children were too busy to realise she hadn’t picked anything.

Then the children came back to the mat, sat down and waited for everybody to come back. I instructed them to take turn. The first child laid his objects in front of him and counted them aloud. He then had to remove the number card from the envelope, showed it to everyone and the children could see if the number matched with the number of objects on the mat. Dara had number 6 and only had 5 marbles on the mat. She then had to run back to the
environment to get an extra one. There was a great buzz throughout the activity and the children were so eager to find out what each other had brought and if they got it right. They were so excited. Again, reinforcing where things are in the environment, the children were asked to return all of their items to the correct places on the shelves before playing again. The children begged me to do the game again. So we played it about 5 times.

After snack time, I swapped groups and played with the other group. It went very well but I got a different reaction with the child that picked number 0. Jessica (who was the youngest in this group, being just 3.5 years old) got number 0 and told me straight away that she didn’t like it. She first threw the number down, crossed her arms and declared that she wanted to pick another number. I told her that there were none left. I asked her if she knew what “zero” meant. She started to cry and said that she couldn’t get anything with that number (proof that she had actually grasped the concept of “zero”). She suddenly got up and went to the language corner and came back with a handful of crayons. I remained stoic and let her get on with it. When it was her turn, she showed her crayons to everybody and counted 7 of them. Then, she had to reveal her number 0 on her card and the other children started laughing and shouted in chore:  "Zero is nothing. You shouldn’t have got any crayons. You lose!”. Jessica was not pleased at all and crossed her arms again and started sulking. I explained that there was no loser and no winner in this activity. The children asked if they could play again. Jessica decided she wouldn’t and got up. I removed an envelope for the rest of the activity.

Positive points:

·         This provides them with a rare opportunity to touch materials that they have wanted lessons on but maybe aren't ready for.

·         Too, if a child repeatedly picks the same materials that they haven't had a lesson on for this game, it reveals the child's interest in that work.

·         This is also an excellent game to help the children become more familiar where materials are kept and to actively look at the shelves in all areas of the classroom

·         Children corrected one another during the activity and work as a control of error. They work as a team.

This activity was  meaningful  in several ways and played a very important role in the Prepared Environment because:

·         It incorporated new knowledge with old knowledge: we used the children’s knowledge of the geometric solids to help them see connections across the world outside.

·         It reinforced the sense of order children gain from their Prepared environment : they were asked to gather items, they found what they wanted exactly where they were supposed to be and they knew where to put them back. Everything has a place in the classroom.
It made meaning clear through the use of materials: they reinforced their knowledge of geometrical meanings in the presence of the real objects, enabling them to describe objects precisely.

As a teacher, it was very important for me to provide an appropriately structured environment in which children were free to make their own decisions and discoveries and only intervene when children’s behaviour was not constructive. Montessori was clear that any disruptive or socially unacceptable behaviour should always be checked, but she recommended doing so by redirection rather than punishment, such as giving the disruptive child something else to do. I believe I was successfully in doing so. First, I let the children choose what type of items they wanted to bring back, making the exercise exciting and the learning their own. I also didn’t fuel Jessica’s frustration by demanding her to follow the rules. I let her go and pick up the crayons and let her realize on her own that rules have to be followed during a game. The children reinstated the balance and order by correcting her. I also associated movement to learning: the activity I prepared gave the children the opportunity to move around, do a practical activity to learn about an abstract concept.

I am thinking I will put out a variation of this activity on the math shelves for the entire year, changing out the materials seasonally. Variations throughout the year could include counting pumpkins or leaves in the fall, white pom-pom "snowballs" in winter, heart-shaped beads in February, etc. I believe children learn best when there is diversity and this is why I will vary the memory game a bit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing (Zimbabwe Proverb)

It was a very rainy day today. Horrible day really. And as we couldn't go out, we played music and danced in the classroom.

The bee dance

I asked the children to follow the rhythm: they had to pretend to be little bees. When the music was fast, they had to dance fast ; when the music slowed down, they had to slow down too. They LOVED it!! They had so much fun, it was amazing. 

Musical statues

We also played musical statues and I chose tunes which went very quiet and suddenly very loud: Flight of the Bumble Bee by Rimsky Karakov, In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg  or The Return of the Animals by Danny Kosarin. The children had to concentrate a lot. At the beginning, they thought I had paused the music and froze, when the music had only really got quiet. It took them a while to get it right and adjust their movements to it but this was part of the fun! How wonderful it is that with very little effort, a teacher can bring such happiness to children each day just by providing the opportunity to do a little something with music. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Adapting our classroom to the needs of the children

I have just realised I haven't posted any pictures of our classroom for quite some time now. And things always change in the classroom. I can't push the walls but I surely can adapt the layout to the needs of the children year after year.
This September,  I am opening my doors to  a larger number of 2.5 to 3.5 year-old preschoolers. They will form our "caterpillar" group. The "veterans" (over 3 and a half year old and going to primary school next September 2017) will be called the "butterfly" group.  I wanted to strike the right balance between the 2 groups and accommodate each of their needs, keeping in line with the Montessori method of education and the Reggio Emilia approach. 

Here is what our classroom looks like today: 

And here are the details:

1) our mathematics shelving unit:

2) our writing shelf:

3) our Sensorial area situated right in the centre of the room creating a nice partition with the rest of the classroom:

4) our Nature/Science table and shelves:

5) our Practical Life Exercise shelving unit where I have introduced more activities using wood or tree cuts to increase the learning experiences of the children and appeal to their senses:

threading exercise

Using nuts on bolts

6) our Home corner:

7) our Reading corner/Library:

8) As shown in the picture above, I have created a little area for our circle time and group meeting right behind the sensorial shelf and right beside the reading/library corner. Children bring their chair and place them in a circle around that area.

the back of the sensorial shelf marking the circle time area

9) our Small World corner is situated on the other side of the reading corner. I am using a round table so the children can access every part of the Farm with ease. The theme here will change during the year. We have a farm at the moment but it could be a zoo in a few weeks or a dinosaur world or a construction site etc.. Variety is the key!

10) our Construction area is now right beside the Small World table and I used the storage shelf as a partition: 

Some of you will notice that I am using the Montessori Brown Stair in this area. The brown stairs are supposed to be used as part of the Montessori sensorial equipment. While working with the Brown Stair and grading the prisms from thicker/bigger to thinner/smaller, the children learn to discriminate dimensions visually. And the same goes with the Montessori Pink Tower. But I think that the exercises with the Brown Stair and the Pink Tower can be quite limited and (let's face it in 2016) "boring", if I was to leave them  only in the sensorial area. However, once you use them in your construction area, the learning possibilities are limitless and the child becomes his/her own teacher as he/she estimates, guesses, predicts and anticipates where to place each prisms or cubes to create something that comes directly from their imagination, with the help of other materials. The child is still grading but is also creating. As you can see, I am trying to use as many loose parts, open-ended and natural materials as possible to develop the children's imagination. These materials will change throughout the year in order to extend the children's explorations and their thinking. And look, it works! Look at what this two and a half year old little girl decided to create on her own accord!! It followed its own logic, her own logic. She was explaining (with her still limited vocabulary) that she likes big sticks and small sticks.. and then small stones but not big stones.. And it went on and on. I was amazed!! 

So, this is it. I forgot to take a picture of our painting/craft area, situated by the entrance door, right opposite the 2 main tables you see on the very first picture I posted. Yet, you got a nice little tour of our classroom this year. 

What do you think. Any comment? 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Creating Naturalistic play spaces: ADDING FUN FEATURES TO YOUR GARDEN

Creating a natural playscape for a childcare setting can be quite an investment. As tempted as we may be by all the ideas swarming Pinterest, the reality is that many of us cannot afford such fantastic features or don't have the time nor the skills to design them. That's why I've started writing about easy, simple and cost-effective ways to implement outdoor play ideas using mainly natural materials or recycled materials.

Welcome to Part 2 of our new series "Creating Naturalistic play areas": Adding fun features to your play area.

Friday, May 27, 2016


I am sharing with you today an unusual tutorial video for all of you wishing to redesign your classrom according to the principles of the Reggio Emilia approach. It's straight forward and it gives you lots of examples. 

Click on the link below or watch the video directly from this blog.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reggio Emilia and Playful Maths ideas - Part 1

Those for have been following on this blog will know that I love creating or thinking of new activities using open-ended materials such as pebbles, shells, sticks, buttons etc... following the ideas of the Reggio Emilia approach.

This year, I added two activities on our shelves.

Associate Numerals to Quantity

The first one is an activity helping children to associate numerals to quantities. The manipulatives are very appealing to the children.

A new title to our blog: The Guilletots Playful Learning

So, I have been thinking.... And thinking...

Those of you who read this blog regularly will remember when in 2013, I found myself wishing for more room to manoeuvre within the Montessori curriculum, wishing for more flexibility .... Wishing for more freedom!!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Creating naturalistic play areas - Part 1: ADDING SAND AND GRAVEL

Creating a natural playscape for a childcare setting can be quite an investment. As tempted as we may be by all the ideas swarming Pinterest, the reality is that many of us cannot afford such fantastic features or don't have the time nor the skills to design them. That's why I've started writing about easy, simple and cost-effective ways to implement outdoor play ideas using mainly natural materials or recycled materials.

Welcome to Part 1 of our new series "Creating Naturalistic play areas": Adding sand and gravel.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Teaching kids to use scissors

Teaching children how to use scissors.Hmmm...  This can be quite tricky at times. So my assistant got an idea and drew these little faces on the children 's thumbnails  and told them that the little faces needed to be looking at them all the time while cutting. If the children use the scissors incorrectly, their thumbs usually twist under their palms and away from their body. By keeping that little face drawn on their thumbnail in sight, they automatically use the right position for cutting with scissors .