Monday, May 28, 2012

International Cultural Exchange - part 3

Our international exchange is very slow at taking shape. Response is very slow .... Is there nobody interested in adding to their cultural boxes? This is such a simple and fun way to learn about the rest of the world! If you are interested in joining the exchange, please email me at

Have a look at the details in this post right here.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

International Cultural Exchange ... Part 2

I have had a few people interested in this exchange.. but not enough yet to make it work.. So please, if you are interested, please leave me a message on This is a lot of fun and doesn't need to be costy at all! Things you will find around your house will be sufficient to make your package interested to any kid! Check out the post on the exchange right here!!!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Promoting outdoor play

Here is an article published in April this year which I thought I would share with you:

A new National Trust report has found that evidence of a long-term and dramatic decline in children's relationship with the outdoors is 'overwhelming' and urgent action is needed to bridge this growing gap before it's too late.

In his Natural Childhood report* naturalist, author and TV producer Stephen Moss charts years of academic research and a steady stream of surveys on the subject, highlighting how a generation of children is finally losing touch with the natural world.

The report outlines a clear need to tackle the rise of 'Nature Deficit Disorder', a term coined by the US based writer Richard Louv, to describe a growing dislocation between children and nature.

Report author Stephen Moss, said: "We all know the benefits being outdoors can bring, and as parents we want our children to spend more time outdoors than they do.

"But despite this overwhelming evidence and the different initiatives and schemes run by organisations across the UK, our kids are spending less and less time in the outdoors.

"The time to act is now, whilst we still have a generation of parents and grandparents who grew up outdoors and can pass on their experience and whilst there remains a determination to do something positive in this area."

A two-month inquiry, facilitated by the National Trust, will take evidence from leading experts and the public to look at how we can reconnect this and future generations of children with the natural world.

The National Trust is working alongside Arla, the NHS Sustainable Development Unit and film-makers Green Lions, to organise a summit this summer to bring together a range of experts to develop a roadmap for reconnecting children and nature.

Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust, said: "Getting outdoors and closer to nature has all sorts of benefits for our children. It keeps them fit, they can learn about the world around them and, most of all, it's fun.

"That's why it's so worrying that so many children today don't have the opportunity to experience the outdoors and nature. Building a den, picking flowers, climbing trees - the outdoors is a treasure trove, rich in imagination. It brings huge benefits that we believe every child should have the opportunity to experience and there are huge costs when they don't."

During the last decade conservation groups, academics, social and health professionals and the media have charted the rise of so-called 'cotton-wool kids' and countless examples of what is going wrong.

Authority figures and layers of bureaucracy have combined in a climate of 'don't do that' to create an environment where fewer children play in the outdoors. This has led to a situation where kids having fun in the outdoors are painted as showing signs of anti-social behaviour.

The research shows that capturing children before they enter the teenage years is crucial with the research clearly showing if kids get hooked before they reach twelve years old, they will develop a lifelong passion for the environment and outdoors activities.

I would like to refer you here to 2 of the wonderful posts written by Karen on her blog Little Acorns. She shows us how she and the children she teaches are reconnecting with nature on a daily basis and how she is able to incorporate Nature in her Early childhood program. Her work is fantastic. Check her posts here and here.

To your dustpans and brushes!!

“She [Dr. Montessori] described this environment as a nourishing place for the child.  It is designed to meet his needs for self-construction and to reveal his personality and growth pattern to us…Not only must it contain what the child needs in a positive sense, but all obstacles to his growth must be removed from it as well.” ( Lillard, Montessori  A  Modern approach, Chap 3, The Montessori Method, page 50)

Why am I quoting Montessori here? Because I want to introduce our new Practical Life activity to you all: using a brush and dustpan. Many of you who have a Montessori preschool or are following the Montessorian guidelines would probably have this type of activity on your shelf. Yet, I can see a few eyebrows frowning among my preschool parents. Don’t worry, I am not actually teaching your kids to clean the classroom…. though that could be an idea!!! Mind you, they have been polishing my silver for the past 6 months, so why not?

Joke aside, the activity I just mentioned is actually quite important and representative of what the Practical Life exercises are all about (or many of them anyway!). Dr. Montessori once referred to a child on a beach with a shovel in hand. Suddenly, the child starts digging without being asked.  The child makes mistakes as he uses the shovel but keeps trying as he digs into the sand again and again and again. By constant repetition of the motions, the child strengthens his muscles, perfects his coordination, and gains confidence in a particular skill. No one had told the child that he had to shovel sand; it was instinctive, natural. Dr. Montessori used this natural inclination of the child to structure several classroom exercises (Practical Life) to help the child satisfy the need for meaningful activity.

So you may think that learning how to use a brush and dustpan is meaningless. Wrong! These types of simple exercises, performed by all adults on a daily basis, are at the basis of the practical life curriculum. The adults’ purpose for doing those daily tasks is purely conservative and utilitarian. But a child is attracted to them because they are constructive and help to his development. Since birth, the child has been observing his man-made environment and as he/she grows up, he/she offers to help. Why? Because these tasks promote order, independence and offer freedom (freedom to work as long as he/she wants to, freedom to do it on his own, freedom to repeat the exercise whenever he/she wants to).

So here is what I did. Using coloured electrical tape, I taped a square at the bottom of a plastic tray.

I placed coffee beans in a pot and added a dustpan and brush to the tray. I showed the children how to spill the beans on the tray,

then  gather them inside the square with the brush and use the dustpan to put them back into the pot.

Simple but very effective. They are queuing for this new activity now and it is a pleasure to see them practice their skills in courtesy too!!

International Cultural Exchange on our blog!

I have thought long and hard about organising a cultural exchange. I did one before and it has been so much fun. A lot of work but fun! So today, I am sending a meassage to all of my readers. If you are interested, please send me a message on with your name, your address and if you are homeschooling or if you are working in a preschool setting. Could you also please put your country in the subject line of the email?

PLEASE do not sign up if you do not intend to send any packages!!!! This wouldn't not be fair on those who did spend time gathering their items and paying the postage! To make things even clearer, I think we should have a date set up by which all packages would have to be sent. We will decide on this at a later stage, once I have organised all the groups and sent everybody with their details. I will answer each email to confirm your place in the exchange. Be assured that your personal details will not be shared on this blog and confidentiality is of utmost importance. Your details will only be shared with the people allocated to your group. In the meantime, keep checking this blog for new updates.

I was planning on creating groups of 6 people. Each group will basically send 5 packages and receive 5 from around the world. I will try to make each group as diversified as possible.

Here are some ideas of what could be included in a package (but please, do not feel restricted by the list!):

-Pictures of your school, your house, your church etc...
- Items depicting the national/regional sport
- Sample of food typical to your region
- any items representing your area (cooking utensils, key holders, badges, pins, hats, decorative objects etc..)
- Postcards, stamps, coins,
-Craft representing your country or continent.

- Worksheets or coloring sheets about your country/continent or books on cd (we received several of these and LOVE them).
- Recipes, pics of food specific to your region

- Stories about your country
- Items of clothing that can be found only in your area

.. basically anything you think could be of interest to a child in another country, and anything else that you think would be fun for a child to receive. As long as it is related to your country or your region! So what do you think? Are you in?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How are you today?

Did you know that a child's ability to identify and manage his/her feeling/emotions effectively boosts his/her self-esteem and confidence and it has been proven to also help him/her achieve higher academic levels.  So discussing feelings in a preschool classroom is very important. I wanted to find a way to discuss feelings with the children and to introduce them to new words in order to equip them to communicate and deal with their emotions. I wanted them to become aware of what happens is someone feels happy or sad or isolated. What are the signs?What makes us sad or hapy? etc...
Of course, a good place to start is in books because they are an engaging way to introduce new concepts. Everytime we read a new story, we make sure to discuss the various characters and how they felt or responded to their emotions. Here are  a few of the books I like to use too to introduce vocabulary:

Feelings (Reading Rainbow Book)

My Many Colored Days

Playing games is also another great way to learn about feelings. I encourage you to visit the resources on Feeleez .They will explain you much better than me why it is important to teach children about feelings. They show many games that can be played to encourage parents and children explore emotions together. This is how I got the idea to create my own emotion cards for our classroom: it appears that associating feelings with corresponding facial expressions helps children to learn about themselves, to learn empathy and to understand what other children feel.  

SO this week, we have been using our emotion cards for the first time and this has been so much fun. I have been blown away with the children's statements and understanding of what an emotion is. I basically how them a card and ask them to describe what they see. If the card depicts a child happy, I ask them what makes them happy: playing with my friend, watching tv, reading a book, getting new colouring pens, playing hide and seek etc... A child explains that sometimes when she laughs too much, she cries but she made sure to explain that this was not becaus she was sad. She simply said "sometimes when you laugh too much, you cry but you cry because you are having fun!!"... The list of comments is endless and really, I should write them down as the children speak. The discussions are so vivid, so exciting, so enriching! I have been blown away. Children have so much to share and they DO love talking about what they feel, and why they feel this way!!!

Today, I actually asked them to describe their mood. I had glued magnets behind my cards so that I could use them on our magnetic board at circle time. They all agreed that they were "happy, playful". Then someone added that they felt loved because their mam gave them a big hug before they left them at preschool. So I used our card titled "loved/loving". And when I tought we were finished, a little girl put her hand up and simply said: " today, I am also excited". I asked: "what are you excited about honey?" and she smiled back at me and said: "I was excited because I was coming to preschool to play!!".... SO SO SO sweet!!!

First steps towards reading....

Some of the children have reached another level i the classroom and are now able to use our Moveable Alphabet to sound out words..

What is a Moveable Alphabet (MA)? It is a large wooden box divided into compartments containing the lower case letters of the alphabet cut out in plastic. The vowels are blue and the consonants are pink or red.

I pick a picture card and place it on the top left hand side of the lid of the MA box. I ask the child to identify the picture and the first sound of the word. I then ask him to find the letter coresponding to the sound. We move on to the 2nd sound and to the 3rd sound (we only use 3 letter words). I then read each sound slowly and then a bit faster to teach the child how to sound the word. "Today, you have sounded the word CAT! This is how you write CAT".. You should see the pride in their eyes!!! This is now one of the most popular activities for 3 or 4 of my little angels!! So I actualy have quite a lot of work in front of me this week end , as we are running out of picture cards corresponding to the letters we have learnt together so far!!!!   Check our other posts on our work in literacy and sounding words  here  and  here.

Challenging our children's Mathematical Minds

Montessori did not present math as a terrible or boring lesson, but use the concrete materials and let children have their own step to build their knowledge. Montessori specially designed her apparatus for teaching mathematical concepts so that the gap from concrete to abstract is made smaller. For example, the Number Rods are not as abstract as a spoken or written number. And yet, they are not as real as an everyday item, for example buttons, pencils. Therefore, when the child uses the Number Rod, he is, in fact, moving towards the abstract – the Number Rods represent an abstract idea of number.
This is why I love the Montessori method so much! And I wish it was used to teach maths in primary schools too.. Anyhow, I thought I would share with you so of the exercises the children were working on today in the classroom to illustrate my point.

The purpose of the following exercise is to teach the child to count from 11-99 and to recognise numbers too. The child doing the exercise was already able to recognise 10, 20, 30 to 90. She got the jist of the exercise very quickly and really enjoyed it. I simply inserted a wooden number card on top of a decimal number: for instance, pointing at 60, I asked her what number it would make if I placed 3 over the zero. She gave me the correct answer and I asked her to make up the number using our bead materials. This is what we call the golden ten bead bars (10 beads on  bar) and 9 golden bead units (called short bead stairs). The short bead stairs  is built in a triangle and provide the child with the correct number of beads in the right order from 1-9 so that the quantities can be built without error.

1 ten bead bar

As the little girl I was working with was quite at ease with bigger number, she understood very quickly that to make 20 for instance, she needed 2 ten bead bars etc.. I placed the wooden number cards randomly in the slots of the board as seen below, making up number such as 63, 77, 86 etc.. I asked her to figure out the number and to use the golden bead materials to represent the number. For instance,  for 63, she would need 6 ten bead bars and the pink bead bar from the short bead stairs (representing 3). This was a walk in the park for this little lady!!! But she enjyed this new activity so much!

This second exercise reinforce the child's knowledge of numbers from 0-10. This is similar to Montessori' spinde box. I ask the child to choose a wooden bar randomly and read the number written on it. If the child struggles with the number, I ask him/her to count the slots on the bar. Then the child must retrieve the corresponding number of wooden counters from the container. The counters are placed at first under the wooden bar. I then ask the child to place the counters into the slots. If the child has made a mistake in counting the counters, he/she will be left with empty slots on the bar or left with too many counters! Brilliant game!

Some children go faster at maths than others. And it is very important to be aware of the child’s natural inclinations toward mathematics. No need to push too har, no need to hold back! The Montessori materials enhance  children’s natural need for exploration and development within the mathematical mind. During the sensitive period for numbers, the specialized didactic materials created by Montessori or based on the Montessori method of education allow the children to form concrete impressions of the world of mathematics.  This in turn, allows them to experience mathematics with positive associations while constructing self-knowledge in the subject matter.  The learning, therefore, is truly the child’s own and cultivates the spirit of a life-long love of learning.... (what a conclusion!!!!!!!)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

On our Practical Life shelves this spring

I thought I would share with you a few neew Practical Activities we are doing in our classroom. Nothing you haven't seen already but the children took to them very quickly and they have become some of the most popular exercices on our Practical Life shelves. These types of activities are brilliant to develop and enhance fine motor skills (pincer grasp) and hand-eye coordination as well as patience!

The following is NOT a new activity but I have changed the bolts and nuts and the children are once again being challenged.

Our new activity: grating soap! I got a mini grater in a hardware shop and voila! They like the smell of the soap so this is also a sensorial activity as they love talking about the smell and feel of the soap. They also described what they feel when they run their little fingers along the grooves of the grater!

The following is a DIY exercise I ut together quickly. I pierced the plastic lid of a container for the children to be able to fit black pie clearners into. Once the children have completed this part of the exercise, they must use the bits of drinking straw I gathered in a small basket. They need to slide them down along the pipe cleaners. I never expected the children to love this activity so much, but they do!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wild beasts in our garden.....

Nature is at our doorstep. Though I do not have the facilities to bring the children on a nature walk, we are still able to observe nature and its wonders. Last week, we discovered this baby trush fell off the tree and of course, we had to try to rescue it. We placed it in a box and the chick drank from our eye dropper. The kids went looking for worms and screamed out of delight when it finally swallowed a whole wiggly worm!!! This was a great lesson on how to look after animals, what they need and where they get their food.

Unfortunately, our little bird didn't survive! Some of the children were a bit upset and asked quite a lot of questions such as "why didn't its mam come to help it? Where is it now? Why did it die because we gave it food?". I tried to answer all their questions as clearly as possible. When explaining to them what happened, I used the words "death," "dead," "dying" instead of euphanisms. These are all concrete words that children can wrap their brains around. Being clear is important I think because children's minds may extrapolate harmful connotations from sugar-coated explanations! I remember when myparent stold me years ago that my dog had to be put to sleep. When we got a new dog, I wouldn't let it go asleep at first because it was now my understanding that if I put him "to sleep", I wouldn't see it again!. This little chick in our garden was one of my teachable moment! Experiencing death and talking about it empower children to handle grief in the future. It also gives them a glimpse at a full life cycle.

On a more positive note, we now have 11 rabbits in our hutch and run!! A little bit overcrowded. The chidren have been witnessing the babies' growth and believe me, they are growing quick!! We are currently trying to find a home for every single one of them! They are soooo cute!!!

And of course, I have used this opportunity to present the children with another little exercise in our classroom: classifying animals. Pets or Wild animals? This turned out to be quite a popular activity. The chidren love looking at the photos and share their knowledge and preferences with their peers as they study each picture. This is great for their social and language skills!!!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Continents and Oceans Maps

As part of our study on geography and the world around us, I have been teaching the names of th oceans to the children in our classroom. It is quite interesting to see how eager they are to learn more and more and to understand what goes on around them.

I made a Continents and Oceans map, using white A4 sheets and laminating pouches. I traced the map of the world on both sheets, coloured the continents according to the Montessori coloured globe and the oceans in blue.

One map has the names of the continents and oceans written on the map (Indian Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and Arctic Ocean). The second map is blank and comes with name slips. This is a matching exercise as the children cannot read yet of course, but this really helps them recognising letters in sequence. This is a teacher guided exercise too which means that I read each word on the name slips for them before they try to match them.

This is a simple exercise that really forces the child to concentrate. It reinforces his knowledge of the continent too and gives them a great sense of achievement once they have completed the whole exercise. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Life Cycles

Following on my last post on Montessori Cosmic Education, I want to show you one of our exercises in botany and zoology: the life cycles friezes. I find them SO easy to use and they are really popular among the young ones. I didn't say they were easy to make though!! I use  pictures mounted on white card and taped them together using that type of sticky back plastic book film to make a frieze.. Believe me, it is sticky!! Anyway, the idea behind that type of material is To understand that it shows clearly that life goes in cycles (as you unfold the frieze) and that things change all the time. It also reinforces the child's knowledge and understanding of living and non-living things in nature.

This is quite an easy exercise. I show the child one of the frieze she/he has chosen and discuss each picture with him/her, introducing new words and expanding his/her vocabulary. Once we have done that, I introduce the child to the 2 part cards I made to accompany the frieze. First, I show the child how to match the cards  to the pictures on the frieze. If the child is confident enough, I let him/her use the name slips and match them to the words on the frieze too. It doesn't matter if the child can read or not. If he doesn't read, he simply matches the words together. SO this is a double exercise: zoology (life cycle), literacy (words recognition/letters recognition) and maths (matching skills)!!!

The frog lyfe cycle

An apple life cycle

There are other ways of presenting life cycles to children. Simply use pictures or drawings on white laminated cards and ask the child to put them in sequence:

Here another way to do it: 2 A4 laminated cards. The child reproduces the first cards using pictures and name slips (sorry about the pictures being all sideways. It won't come right for me!!):

Montessori Cosmic Education

All over the blogosphere, on homeschool teaching blogs and early childhood education blogs, we talk about maths, literacy, physical education, but we don't give enough credit to the importance of cultura subjects in our currciculum: science, botany, zoology, history, geography, art and music...
Culture was not part of the Montessori curriculum. However, Montessori realised the importance and necessity of such a curriculum if she wanted her education to complete its cycle and be fully holistic and cosmic. Cosmic education is founded on the belief on integration and interconnection. Cosmic education opens up the child's mind and lets him discover that everything in the universe is interrelated and interdependent. Everything has a part to play to maintain harmony. When the child has understood how connected things in the universe are, he then realises that he or she also is a part of the whole, and has a part to play. Montessori spent so mch time observing children. She realised that young children interact with the natural world everywhere they go: smeling flowers, picking up leaves and feeling them, watching ants at work etc.. This is how they learn and understand how things work. Montessori believed it is important to provide the child with hands on experiences with real things before teaching them the specific names of these "things". When a child discovers something new, he is inquisitive and asks questions such as : “What is this? What is it called? How does it feel/smell/taste/sound?”. As you can see, the child try to understand using his senses.  In this sensitive period, children should be encouraged to explore their environment with their senses. Awake their senses and then move on to more abstract concepts such as the parts of the tree, the life cycle of a frog etc.. Montessori realized that young children in the period of the absorbent mind have a real need to learn the proper names for things. This is why she created the Montessori nomenclature materials (3-part cards, charts, and booklets along with their controls of error) to help children develop their vocabulary and increase their understanding of the world around them. Once the child has learnt to use his senses as a steping stone to understand the world around him, he will then start grasping more abstract concepts. For example, a child learns about shapes with the Montessori geometric cabinet or the geometric solids. This will later help him discover that his environment is made up of circles, squares and triangles. in the classroom, outside, at home etc..

Maria Montessori believed that introducing cultural subjects to young children had many benefits to the children: they capture their imagination, force them to ask questions, stimulate their needs to learn, make them more aware of the natural world, inspire them and instil in students reverence and gratitude for the people and accomplishments of the past.

So following the Cosmic plan, the idea is to go from big to small, from general to specific. First, you  give the child an all-encompassing sense of the universe with its billions of galaxies. Then it focuses, on our Galaxy, the Milky Way, our solar system, planet Earth and its geological history, the first specimens of life, all species of plants and animals and finally human beings. What is inherent in this curriculum is that everything is interconnected.  For example, at some stage the child learns about life cycles. He learns how the common fly reproduces and this way, the child also finds out that  fly lays its eggs on dead creatures, its offspring devouring the tissues to feed  thus ridding the environment of dead matter, that would otherwise pile up and pollute the earth: the cosmic task of the fly.!!!!
All this theory piece to introduce you all to some of our cultural exercises. Keep in touch.... If you wish to learn more about Montessori Cosmic Education, check up the book below. (The autors have done quite a good job at explainign the rationalefor Cosmic Education)