Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Blue skies ahead, yes I'm on my way"!

Today was our last day at preschool. It was a bit emotinal at time as we said good bye to someof the children. Some of them I will see on a regular basis as they are attending the same primary school as my son. This was also my son's last day at his preschool. Oh boy was it hard for me!!! And this song kept playing on our CD in the car.. So appropriate.

Tell everybody im on my way
new friends and new places to see
with blue skies ahead yes im on my way
and theres no where else that I'd rather be

Tell everybody I'm on my way
and I'm loving every step that I take
with the sun beating down yes I'm on my way
and I cant keep this smile off my face
cause theres nothing like seeing each other again
no matter what the distance between
and the stories that we tell will make you smile
oh it really lifts my heart

So tell them all that I'm on my way
new friends and new places to see
and to sleep under the stars who could ask for more
with the moon keeping watch over me
not the snow not the rain can change my mind
the sun will come out wait and see
and the feeling of the wind in your face can change your heart
no theres no where I would rather be...
(Brother Bear- Walt Disney- Phil Collins)

Anyway, moving on...This summer, we have decided to stay at home. This will be the first time in 12 years. Kids have grown up, they have their friends around and a few activities they want to do. We may be dash to the west for a few days to escape summer routine. Anyhow, this is going to give me the chance to do something I have been wanting to do for a while now: a review of each area in my classroom: as I have started my new course, I want to make sure each one of them is an exact reflection of the Montessori theory and serves its purpose truthfully. And just in case it is useful to anyone, I will keep posting pictures of my work progress. Be patient with me; it is going to be a very long process. I will start with the practical life exercises area, then the sensorial area, etc…

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sport Day

Sport Day today!! As part of our graduation party. The children stayed over after the morning session, had lunch together and got themselves all wound up for the races!!! They couldn't wait to get out there and have fun. And we did it very .... professionally. Whistle? Check. Racing lanes? Check. Sport gear? Check.... Ready, steady... GO!!

Girl power!!

Boys rule!

We ran and hopped.

We also did a wheel barrow race (with great difficulty but giggling all the same!!!).

I have to admit: it was the best fun I have had in a while!!! The children were so eager to race. Nobody was really putting any pass on who won.. It was all for the love of the game. We also had obstacle races. They ADORE these types of games and I will definitely introduce them in our physical curriculum next year. What a great way to help them develop their gross motor skills and improve their hand eye coordination too. Fantastic!

Afterwards, we had "chichis" (some typical French sweet treats made out of waffle batter and served in a cone with sugar or chocolate). Yummy, yummy:

And parents tasted some delicious savoury wraps made out of buckwheat served with French sausages (typical food from Brittany in France where I come from):

Then the children were given a medal for their performance during our races, along with a photograph of the children in their graduation gowns and their portfolios. Each child climbed onto a low table to receive their gifts and parents turned into real paparazzi!!!! And then it was time to go home... and on leaving the party, some children glanced back quickly as they stepped on towards a new part of their life (well technically, they still have another 3 days before finishing at preschool!!)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Colouring flowers and assessing.....(???)

I was working today!! Yes, you heard me well.. On Saturday. And probably tomorrow too!  June can actually be actually quite a cumbersome month. for teachers. I still have about 10 portfolios to finish and it is taking me ages. But I know that the end result is worth it.
What is giving me extra work as well is the backlog of reports due for the end of the year. As you probably know, observations and assessment are critical components of the teaching process. It is not uncommon to observe a Montessori classroom and see the teacher sitting quietly in a corner with her notebook or clipboard taking notes.  Such observation is critical to the success of the Montessori program. Thanks to them, we can see which lessons need to be introduced next, which ones need to be repeated, who has mastered a skill and who hasn't quite grasp a concept yet.  I use several proven techniques when observing children. Depending on the reason why a child is observed, I would choose the method which relays information more clearly than others. 

I have to admit that the checklists are probably the technique I use the most.  If you check the pre-k pages, you will be able to  purchase an 18 page packet of assessment tools which will save you lots of time and help you organize your assessments so you can fill out your "end-of-the-year" reports  quickly. I found this packet very practical, but I have adapted it to fit our classroom's curricular requirements. So, here I am now, looking back on the progress of each of my students. I didn't want to overwhelm parents with too much information and I don't want to make my report too rigid either. Yet, I want to provide everybody with an accurate summary of what their child has learnt and achieved this year. Parents need to be aware of the tools their children have been given as they enter primary school. So I came up with the following:

Each petal describes an exercise that the child is able to perform: "uses scissors correctly", "holds pencil correctly", "good pencil control", "takes turn and shares", "good concentration and focus", "answers and asks simple questions" etc... I colour each part of the petal if the child in question has mastered the skill. I really like the presentation. It is simple, very practical, concise and  extremely easy to read.. And it is cute looking too!!! I have made it easy for download right here. I hope it helps.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

End of the year keepsakes

As the end of the year approachs faster and faster, I am working even harder to get my little packages ready for all the children leaving for primary school... One of the first thing I got done about 2 weeks ago, was the children's graduation pictures. I LOVE them. And I know that parents will cherish them for a long time. 

And Rachel and I have made sure that their work copies were up to date. This is something the children are extremely proud of. For me, it is a way to show parents what the children are now able to achieve. As I mentioned in a previous post, I do not like working with worksheets. However, I have to admit that worksheets help to target the exact skill or concept being taught and provide the practice students needed to master the concept in question. I use them only to finalise the learning process. Above all (and this is the main advantage I can think about), worksheets provide tangible record of what has been learnt. And I like parents to see concretely and on paper what the Montessori method has taught their children and how it has developed their mathematical awareness as well as their pre-reading writing skills.

(sorry, it is upside down!!)

And then of course, we need to talk about the yearly portfolios.  Each child has a folder for work samples and administrative documents. I save children's work about once a week (or so). Samples of work include a self-portraits, drawing, stencil art, samples of their writing, paintings etc.. I also take pictures of the children as they work and play. At the moment, I am using all these samples to turn them into keepsakes for parents to cherish.These are wonderful memories to have. This year, it is taking me quite a while to finish them as I am glueing each piece of work on black paper before laminating them. But the result is quite effective. See for yourself:

IToday I sent one of these portfolios home. I have to say that the hard work was worth it when I saw how happy the mother was. She was very tearful and couldn't stop thanking me. I know myself how emotional I am when when I look back on what my eldest daughter did in preschool (she is now 12). These portfolios immortalise a part of our children's childhood and freezes their innocence in time.
What do you think? How do you make yours?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Practical Life Album - Montessori course

I have started my own Montessori course last week. It is an in depth course. Much more detailed than the one I did in the past. I am studying by distance and have a workshop/seminar once a month. Last Saturday was my first one... I wished the day wouldn't end. SO much information, so interesting. I am SOOOO green. I have about 15 assessments to get on with before the end of Septemeber. One of them (the biggest one) is to make a Practical Life Exercises Album. I am so excited about it.The project must include visual evidence of course, as well as an effective description of each exercises.
We have been given guidelines of course but I checked a few blogs/websites to get a better idea of what is expected of me:  My Montessori Journey explains how important these albums are to a true good Montessori directress, Montessori World with excellent detailed presentations, Montessori Primary Guide with very detailed examples (but no photo).

(Photo borrowed from My Montessori Journey)

I can't wait to get going. When you are passionate about something, it is not work but more like a hobby you can't get away from. I won't say it consumes you because this would be a bit too much (let's not be obsessed here). Learning, creating and achieving provide satisfaction, contentment, happiness. Definitely.Each Montessori album are very personal. They must be exact in their contents and very precise. But the presentation, the amount of photos etc... is up to each directress. And this is something that you will keep for ever. Like a second Bible (nearly!).

So, if you have any advice, please I am all ears!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Continent swap: items about Europe

A few months ago, I mentioned to you about a continent swap I was doing with  About a Girl (see the post here). This was a very "unformal" type of swap as we both agreed to take our time. She chose to send me items from over there mainly and I would send her items from Europe (especially Ireland and France). But we also decided that we would swap anything else we could find, either by post or by email. This system suited our busy lives perfectly, without putting any pressure on us. It has been (and still is) a very nice experience and it is such a nice opportunity to make new friends. About a Girl posted her package before me (she was definitely more organised!!!) but mine finally left about 10 days ago (or so...)

Here is what I gathered for my friend across the ocean.

                          1-  Let's start with Ireland:

  • Postcards from Ireland
  • A mini wooden  hurl (from Wexford, the county we live in). Hurling is an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic origin and is played with sticks called hurls and a ball called a sliotar. Hurling is the national sport of Ireland. The object of the game is for players to use a wooden stick called a hurl to hit a small ball called a sliotar between the opponents' goalposts either over the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar into a net guarded by a goalkeeper for one goal, which is equivalent to three points. The sliotar can be caught in the hand and carried for not more than four steps, struck in the air, or struck on the ground with the hurley. It can be kicked or slapped with an open hand (the hand pass) for short-range passing. A player who wants to carry the ball for more than three steps has to bounce or balance the sliotar on the end of the stick and the ball can only be handled twice while in his possession.

·         An Irish souvenir spoon with the Celtic cross and the shamrock (Irish emblem) on it.
·         An Irish thimble with the Claddagh ring symbol on it. The traditional Claddagh ring was given as a token of love or worn as a wedding ring. The design and customs associated with it originated in the Irish fishing village of Claddagh, located just outside the city of Galway. The Claddagh's distinctive design features two hands clasping a heart, and usually surmounted by a crown. The elements of this symbol are often said to correspond to the qualities of love (the heart), friendship (the hands), and loyalty (the crown).
·         A magnet : our famous Irish Guinness (a popular Irish dry stout that originated in the brewery of Arthur Guinness (1725–1803) at St. James's Gate, Dublin. Guinness is directly descended from the porter style that originated in London in the early 18th century and is one of the most successful beer brands worldwide.) Studies claim that Guinness can be beneficial to the heart. Researchers found that "'antioxidant compounds' in the Guinness, similar to those found in certain fruits and vegetables, are responsible for health benefits because they slow down the deposit of harmful cholesterol on the artery walls (a great excuse for many!!!!!!) Guinness still accounts for more than a quarter of all beer sold in Ireland (what a national treasure!!). You can actually visit the brewery in Dublin. I may try to find some leaflets for you.

  • ·        A book “Everything Irish” which will tell you about leprechauns, St patrick, St Brigid etc.. with lots of fun crafts to do.

·         Traditional Irish dancing shoes
·         A little Irish dancer/puppet in traditional costume.

2-  And now for the rest of Europe, here is what I put together:

·         Laminated cards about the great Spanish conquistadors (I got it from a blog but I cannot remember which one. I think it might be Montessori Tidbits).

  • Greek stamps

·          A magnet in the shape of Brittany (where I come from), one of the many French regions as well as magnet of the map of France with the Eiffel Tour in the middle and the flag.
·         A traditional hat worn in Brittany in the past (check the old lady riding the bike on the magnet!). It is called a bigouden
·         The flag of Brittany
·         A book mark about Le Mont Saint Michel ( a landmark in Normandy – another regioStamps

·         Little plastic bottles representing our French wines.

·         An empty bottle of camembert (very popular cheese in france. We love our cheese)
·         French coins (before the Euro!) and English coins too.

Believe it or not, I still have to finish my own Europe continent box. And the rest of them too. I haven't done much with them though I had promised myself to have most of them completed by June! Shame. I am really hopin to catch up during the summer break. If any of you is interested in a continent swap with me, please leave me a comment! Keep in touch.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sea shells all around

Last Monday evening, we went for a walk with the kids and ended up at the Forlorn Point, picking up shells and rocks I needed for my Father's Day project.

Here are some of the rocks we picked upon the borrow too.

Back in the classroom. The children spread some glue with a brush onto a rock and carefully chose a selection of shells to glue them on:

These paper weight are so easy to make and so effective. It took about 2 days to dry fully but it was worth it. I loved seeing the kids' faces when they brought them home. So proud, so excited!!

And of course, we used the opportunity to learn a bit more about our sea shore (our current theme). I introduced the kids to the word "shellfish" as I showed them what mussels, clams, cockles and scallops looked like. (Thank god for our new fish tank ).They all knew about fish and seaweeds but this term was new to most of them. The idea of having  creatures living inside shells they can  find on the beach was blowing their lttle minds away. "But how do they eat? How do they move? What do they eat?" etc.. The list of questions was endless.. And to know that you can eat them too... Waaaa .

I didnt take a picture of the limpets ... Ah, the limpets.... Kids love hearing facts about animals but finding out that limpets clean rocks (or fish tank walls) by sucking and licking them, that was AWESOME!!! Boys especially enjoy these kind of "juicy" details!

Thank you so much Karen!

Today, I received a wonderful package from Karen (from Little Acorns). Karen is curently visiting Ireland and she brought the package with her the whole from the USA and posted here. I am so touched by so much generosity.

Here is what she sent me:  a pop-up book America the Beautiful (with all the fantastic landmarks from the USA), an American flag and Bandana (+stickers), a North America toob, coins and notes, a CD with music Karen plays in her classroom, a rubber duck for practical life exercises... Here is the photo Karen posted on her blog (I "borrowed" it!). Here is her post if you want to have a look too.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's in the tank?

Yesterday evening, my husband and I went for a walk down the beach with the kids... Little did I know we would end up with a new aquarium in the classroom filled with anemones, shrimps, crabs, sea snails and limpets from the local shore. My husband also gathered some seaweeds, rocks and sand to fill the tank. The result is amazing and today, all my little ones at preschool were glued to the glass. especially when one little hungry crab was feeding on a dead limpet!!

An anenome

A shrimp

I know you can't really see very well, but here is one of our crabs.

The tank fits in so nicely with our last theme of the year: the seashore. And I was delighted to be able to point at each little creature we have met during our reading of  Sharing a shell by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks. In the book, the tiny hermit crab has found a new shell. At first, he doesn't really want to share it -- not with a blobby purple anenome and a tickly bristleworm. But he soon finds out that  life in the rock pool can be tough. Soon he finds himself having quite a lot of fun with his new housemates in this rollicking story of sea, shells and friendship. This is a lovely book for children to learn about animals living in the rock pools of our local shores. This is also a fantastic story about sharing with friends and how to say sorry.

And a quick update on our tadpoles: we have a baby frog!!!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The importance of the Prepared Environment in the Practical Life Area

I was looking at my shelf of Pratical life exercises and was planning today what different activities I should introduce next September. Kids need variety and diversity. I always rotate the exercises throughout the year according to our learning theme or the season. A lot of thoughts and preparation goes into the Practical Life area,and yet this isn't an area which is much talked about in theory. Well, at least not as much as the language or maths area.  Each PL exercise has a direct and indirect aim. The main objectives are to develop the children's fine motor skills and  increase their self esteem. This is why I thought about writing this post on the importance of the Prepared  Environment in the Practical Life Area. OK, OK. Sounds ominous and maybe boring. But any of you who LOVE the Montessori method of teaching will definitely know what I am on about. So here it goes.
The exercises in Practical Life are the very heart of Montessori education as they represent real life activities with real apparatus. They are a bridge between the home and the school environment. Practical Life Exercises can be categorized into four different groups: preliminary movements (learning to walk on a line, to line up, to close and open door etc..), care of the person (wash one’s hand, fasten up one’s jacket etc..), social skills (grace and courtesy), and care of the environment (using a dustpan and brush, watering the plants, looking after the pets, cleaning up a table etc..). While appearing quite simple and repetitive, Practical Life activities are highly purposeful.  A child engaged in such activities must demonstrate concentration, sense of order, respect, and refinement of fine motor skills. Because the child also learns to care for himself (buttoning his own coat, washing hands, etc..) and for his environment (feeding the pets, sweeping the floor, cleaning spillings etc..), he develops a strong sense of independence at the same time.

Montessori classroom across the world are all similar and based on the theory that the prepared environment should be  simple, beautiful and ordered. Materials should be set out on low shelves, open and available to each child.Tables and chair are child-sized, promoting the children's indepedence and self esteem as well as freedom of movement. What else do you see in a Montessori classroom? Attractive, colorful and natural materials, calling to the child  “Come and use me!”. One of the child's first and fundamental tasks when entering a Montessori prepared environment is to adapt and orient himself to his immediate environment and the exercises of Practical Life are one of the best ways to do so.
Airy room, child-sized tables & chairs

So how relevant is the Prepared Environment to the Practical Exercises? Well, first of all,  I guess I could keep things in large toy chests or boxes on the shelves. It would probably make my life easier and this is what most of us do in our own home (if we don't follow the Montessori principles at home). Instead,  in our Montessori prepared environment, we use trays, prepared and sorted on uncluttered shelves for ease of access . Every  practical life exercise has its place.  This makes finding and putting materials away easier and enjoyable.   Each tray contains everything required for any given activity so the child does not need to seek the guide in order to start or finish a lesson.  The entire environment is created in such a way to help the child to fulfill his natural tendency towards independence. Again, I could be very lenient or flexible and let the child put the trays wherever as long as it was on the Practical Life shelving units. However, in a Montessori well prepared environment, each piece of material remains in the same designated space.  This allows the child to orient himself and gives him a sense of security as well as making him more confident and comfortable in the environment.  Because these activities are so easily accessed and so ordered, the child tends to repeat each exercise again and again.

 So, you have guessed, order is essential in the Montessori environment, "external order of the classroom leads to internal order and orderly thoughts of the child thus allowing the child to develop a logical mind". For example, the preliminary exercises (rolling a mat, carrying a chair) assist in creating order and routine in the classroom. But they are themselves facilitated by the way they are presented to the child and by how reachable they are on the child-sized shelves. Fundamental Skills such as pouring, spooning, or tonging  also follow a sequential order .  In a prepared environment, the activity are presented  on a tray presenting all the materials required to perform the activity. The child learns with the guidance of the directress how to use them in sequence and how to complete the work cycle.

Some of you may argue that the children will achieve the same in a playschool home corner, when they pretend to be mammies and daddies, preparing dinner or looking after the dolls. I am not denying the fact. However, the advantage of performing these activites in a prepared environment add another dimension: discipline. Pretend play can often lead to chaos: kitchen utensils are droped everywhere even in the doll's bath, the plastic food is placed into the doctor's bag, and nothing is put back into place, because the children (in my own exerience) end up being frustrated with the game. However, in the prepared environment of a Montessori classroom, with the opening & closing of assorted bottle for instance, a child can create an activity with a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are limits and boundaries, set up/imposed by the prepared environment. The child then becomes independent within the boundaries and limits of the activity. He is free to choose the activity, to repeat the activity, as long as he does it within the boundaries and limits of the activity. Opening and closing bottles is an activity with boundary (the tray itsel); it had limits (we only screw and unscrew back and forth). It had a beginning: the child gets out the work and places the bottles on the mat; a middle: the child opens and closes as many times as he wishes; and an end: the child puts the bottles back in the box and the box with the mat back on the shelf. Order and routine facilitated by the prepared environment under the guidance of the directress.

Have you also noticed another essential characteristic of the Prepared Environment in the Practical Life Area? All materials are real, attractive and natural. Children love imitating adults and learn from it. But do you think they would be attracted by a "pretend" plastic jug or a "fake" knife? Why sweep if you are given a “toy” brush? The Prepared environment must provide children with attractive real-sized materials.   Montessori believed that the child must be offered what is pleasing to the eye. This is why all materials presented on the Practical Life shelves always capture the interest of the child: sweeping brushes are colourful and decorated, jugs are made of real glass or porcelain with designs on them, napkins to be folded are made of colourful cotton or linen etc… No plastic. Just the real thing!!

In a nutshell, the children hugely benefit from exercises of Practical Life that are part of a prepared environment. First of all, these activities (which are usually the first ones introduced to a child entering a Montessori classroom) tend to normalise a child in a total new environment, because they are activities they have see done in their own homes. They also help a child to grow in intelligence, develop his self-esteem and his independence and make him valued and useful.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Welcome to the blogosphere!

When I decided to create my blog a few months, I didn't realise what I was starting.  Little did I know I was embarking on a great new "adventure", an amazing experience, full of surprises. The community of bloggers is something that first "shocked" me as a newcomer – I wasn’t prepared for the comments, the advice, the encouragements, the friendships. I love connecting with kindred spirits all over the world from my own living room. Don't get me wrong. I have many  very good friends here in Ireland. Women I can count on and who cna count on me too. BFF (as my girls would say). The ones I trust and love dearly. The ones I go out with, chat and laugh with every day. Still,  social media has redefined the essence of friendship for me. There is different types of friendship out there. Friendship which can be nurtured in a different way. Technology has given me and many other women a new tool to meet these new friends from around the world, people who share the same passion (chidren, family and education), the same hobbies (arts & crafts, literature, writing), the same way of thinking (Montessori and Waldorf). And this is not just a surrealist type of friendship. It is a long distance type of friendship, OK, but nurtured in a real life on a daily basis. 
One lovely lady I have recently met throughout the blogosphere is Karen from Little Acorns (who is actually flying tomorrow from America to Ireland!!!). We have been exchanging several comments on each other's blogs. We connected. And then, she offered  - out of the kindness of her heart - to post items for my continent boxes. I never asked. She doesn't want anything in return. She simply offered. Now, what does it say to you? To me, it means I have found a new friend. She also wrote a lovely post about blogging and about meeting me (click here to read the post - Little Acorns). So to you Karen, a big thank you! I hope you have a wonderful time here in Ireland. And to the rest of you, my blogger friends, thank you too for your comments and all the teaching I get by reading your blogs and exchanging ideas.

Hungry little caterpillars

This is what we did today as part of our study on bugs. This is art & craft. The chidren couldn't wait to try. This is based on the caterpillar playdough activity I described yesterday. I used the same principle to make the caterpillar head and its body. Because our Hungry Caterpillar in the story LOVED his food, we made his body out of cereal (Cherios) and pasta. And because this is a craft activity, we added some colourful wooden beads just for the fun!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mini beasts in our garden

As it is summer (though it feels more like winter right now!), we  have been talking about what types of bugs/mini beasts we can find in our garden. The children are very interested in all these creeping crawling little things and love learning about them.

We have been studying bees and worked on their coloring skills at the same time:

Eric Carle's The very Hungry Caterpillar is a brilliant way to introduce the butterfly's life cycle.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar [Board Book]

This is a great book to use during Spring/early Summer. I think it is very popular among the children because of the combination of wonderful illustrations, an entertaining story, and a unique book design. In fact, the pages of the book vary in size, which is part of the fun. Every page has a hole in it where the caterpillar eats through the food. The pages for the first five days are different sizes, corresponding with the number of pieces of food the caterpillar eats. It is really good. The whole story is full of learning opportunities from remembering the days of the week, to counting.

To make it even more interesting, I am using flash cards which help the children retell the story themselves (once we have read it to them several times beforehand of course). This is a brilliant activity for sequencing as they have to remember which food comes next and how many.

To push the learning experience further, I organised a practical/sensorial activity using play dough. The children first made lots of little balls of different colours (great exercise to develop their fine motor skills).

I glued 2 white plastic bottle tops together with super glue. One of the tops had been perforated before hand allowing me to slide a plastic straw  through. The bottle tops are meant to be the caterpillar head while the straw represents its body. Once the child has finished making his play dough balls, he needs to push them through the straw.

And voila.... a hungry caterpillar

We have also been talking about ladybirds (probably one of the children's favourite garden bugs!). They knew our little friends hibernate during winter. We also went through their life cycle and we made these cute little masks last week for role play:

I hope I haven't forgotten anything. The study is not finished yet, so keep in touch to see what else we have been up to.