Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Montessori Insets

Today the children got a sudden interest in the Montessori insets. For those of you who dont know what they are, they are a set of 10 geometric shapes in metal, each coming with a frame.
The children start by choosing a frame of a curved figure, take a sheet of paper and crayons. Placing the inset on top of the sheet, the children then use a marker to slowly trace around the inside of the frame in an anti-clockwise direction. The the children fill the inside of the figure with straight lines close together, from left to right, top to bottom. Some of them asked me if they could add a few stickers for effect and I let their creative side take over!

There are several other exercises following this one, once they have mastered this exercise. I will make sure to write about these exercises in the future.


The importance of the sun

Today, as a follow up on our current study on our solar system, I explained a bit more why the sun was so important to us. I used a set that I created myself: a big picture of the sun, pictures of plants and animals (herbivores and carnivores) and pictures of humans. This exercise is recommended to be done on a floor mat or on the notice board. I decided to use our rectangle table today as my back was killing me today and I couldn't contemplate kneeling down at all!! 
I invited the children to the exercise and started by placing the large picture of the sun at the top of the floor mat. I explained the children that the sun  is a very big hot star far away. We discussed what it is like when the sun is up (breakfast time, bright, warmer, etc..) and what it is like when it is down (night time, colder, dark…) or when it is not shining (cold, dull, grey…). I went on to explains that the world needs the sun to make flowers and plants grow because plants make their food from the sun’s rays. I picked the pictures of the plants and placed them under the picture of the sun at the top of the table. I told the children that many living creatures need the plants to live. They eat them. The term of “herbivores” was introduced and I pointed at pictures of herbivores that feed on plants. I explained that if there was no herbivore, the planet would be covered up by plants. There would be too many plants. Then,I introduced the children to the pictures of “carnivores” and explained to them that carnivores eat other animals as well as herbivores to survive. I then placesd the pictures under the pictures of the herbivores.It is important to have carnivore: if there wasn’t any, there would be too many herbivores and we would be invaded by them. Finally, I mentioned human beings. Some of us eat meat and some don’t : we are vegetarian or carnivore. And I placed the pictures of human being under the carnivores.
Such a lesson can be heavy to assimilate but repetition is the keyword. This type os exercise  illustrates the cosmic plan: how one thing affects another, how everything in the world is connected. It also teaches about the functions of things in nature, as well as developing the child's vocabulary and knowledge.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Our solar system

One of Montessori main principles is Cosmic education. It  is founded on the belief of integration and interconnection. I know, it sounds complex, but it is not at all!  Cosmic education is a way to show the student how everything in the universe is interrelated and interdependent. Everything has a part to play to the maintenance of harmony in the whole. In understanding this network of relationships, the child finds that he or she also is a part of the whole, and has a part to play. So here we were yesterday and today, giving the children in our classroom their first sense of he universe: our solar system and the planets. The children love this topic. I use a song to help the remember the sequence of the planets (from the closest to the sun). I made a frieze with details of each planet on the back. I then showed the children how to use our 3 part-cards.
The children unfold the frieze. They hen have to match the corresponding cards under each pictures. Then they use the name cards and math the name of the planets to the frieze. Even tough the children cannot read, this is a very good reading exercise as this helps them recognise symbols and understands that there is a meaning behind them. I have placed coloured stickers behind the pictures to be used as control of error. This means that, once the child has completed the exercise, he/she can check if he/she did it right by checking the stickers on the back. Sorry, but I forgot to take a picture of it (but you get the idea!).

This is a great game as it capture the children’s imagination and inititate the children's exploration of important questions. I have been so pleased with their interest and once again, their desire to discover and learn has amazed me. This type of exercise also help to promote concentration and self-discipline.



Monday, September 24, 2012

New rules in the classroom

This year, I realised after these first 3 weeks that tidying up is not one top priority for my preschoolers and as we have so many boys in our group, they usually like to gather all together on the main mat, tipping boxes together and  "messing" together. I can't call it "playing", "learning" or "working" as there is absolutely no constructive activity... Rachel and I have had to restructure their little group constantly and redirecting their work/play. They were not able to choose exercises on their own. So this week end, I thought long and hard about what I could do to change this and help them focus a bit more.
Choosing an activity on their own and tidying up carefully is very important as it helps preschoolers to develop their sense of responsibility. How a child learns to clean up now sets the stage for how they will complete the exercise later. When a child chooses his/her games/activity, this also shows that they have reached a certain level of maturity and that they are quite self-assertive and confident. What could I do?
I want the children to learn that some materials can only be played with on a mat or at the table, that some activities are for 2 children at a time only, that others require more concentration and can only can be played by one person. I also want them to realise that we are a "use the mat" environement and that everybody need their own working space. From now on, I only authorise 2 players on the big mat in our book corner. No more big boisterous groups of boys playing war and shooting on the mat!!!

So I tried to turn all these rules into a game and created labels/cards with the pictures of a type of materials/activity. Below each picture of the activity, I added a mat or a table to indicate where this should be played with. I laminated the cards, punched 2 holes and laced a string through to make a necklace. I explained the children that from now on, if the necklaces corresponding to the activity were all taken/used, this meant that they had to go and find something else to do until it was their turn. I remined them all of where the materials went and where the floor and table mats were stored. The kids loved the idea and really took to the "game". It worked wonders today. We got a lot more done today and it was so much more peaceful and organised!!! I hope this system will keep working. I will let you know.


We are now using these little necklaces for the dinos, the animals, the brown stairs, the Pink Tower, any of our constructin materials and for Play dough. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Separation Anxiety.. What to do?

Leaving Mammy can be hard!! Especially if you spend all your time with mammy and suddenly, you ar ebeing asked to stay in a new environmnt with complete strangers and so many little faces !! So managing separatin anxiety can be tough for some kids and for some parents too!! Parents often drop off their little one at preschool with a pit in their stomach, knowing what's coming next:  a fit, kicking, screaming and crying, not wanting  to be left behind. Parents know this won't go on forever, but it sure feels like it lasts a lifetime.
So what do we do? I always tell parents that the simplest of the steps is to say good bye, which is also the hardest to do. Parents should give their child a hug and a kiss, tell her/him they'll be back soon and then walk out the door. There should be no delay, no more "one more minute," no lingering, hoping that she/he 'll miraculously start smiling and laughing, happy to go and play with her/his preschool chums. But I understand that this can be way TOO hard for some parents to do. So sometimes, we have to employ different strategies. Parents are always welcome to stay with their little ones at the beginning, for an hour, or even a full session if necessary. This helps the child to get used to his/her new environment and get to know his/her teachers. After a while, I usually suggest that it is time to be firmer and to stay for only a few minutes. Parents must explain the child  that they are now leaving but will be back very soon. There will be tears. Children can be stubborned and think that if crying worked in the past, it will work again. At that stage, it is important to stick to your guns.(Easier said than done, I know.... but I have been there myself and believe me, I know what I am talking about).
Some parents prefer to sneak out when the child is engrossed in an activity. It is really up to every individual. The reality is, that within minutes of their parents' exit, most kids happily settle down and forget what all the fuss was about. And within days (sometimes weeks), the tearful goodbyes end. The key to success is PATIENCE... This might take weeks but the child will eventually accept the new routine. We currently have a mam who has to stay with her little one during the whole session in the morning. Progress is slow as the child refuses to do anything if her mam is not right beside her. She keeps a VERY close eye on her mother and at the moment, sneaking out is not an option. But with a bit  more time, the child will settle down. Mam might have to eventually be a bit tougher and just leave (kids are so clever and know that tears DO break mammies' hearts!!). But I have no doubt that she will settle down... It is harder for some and all we can give them is lots of love, attention and patience.
However, last year I bought a book called The kissing hand by Audrey Penn. It is a very cute story about a Racoon who doesn't want to leave his mam to go to school. This year, I read the book again and created a new activity which I thought could help separation anxiety: the children made a key ring carrying 2 of their hand prints: one handprint made out of paint and one cut out of patterned paper. I laminated both, cut them out, punched a hole in them and tied them together to a key ring. I told the children that they could get their mams to kiss the handprints before coming to preschool. This way, they carry their mammies' love with them wherever they go. They can put the key ring on their belt or on their school bag. I also wrote the story on a Word document and distributed it to parents. This way, they can share the story with their kids and help them settle down. Parents seem to respond very well to the idea of the Kissing Hand and the children love telling us how many kisses their mam or dad gave them to bring to school.

Settling down into a routine

The first few weeks in September are always a time to settle down and get used to the new rules and the new environment. This is also a time during which children get used to one another and get to know one another. So we are taking it easy and the children are discovering or re-discovering new games or materials.
I had this simple game last year in our classroom. I cut an opening in the plastic lid and children loved sliding round tokens made out of cardboard. I decided to print the children's faces and laminate them all. I then cut them in a circle. The children are now using these instead of the old cardboard tokens. This is very popular as they love looking at their own pictures and really enjoy recognising their friends on the tokens. This is a nice way for them to learn each other's names too. And this help the children to eercise their fine motor skills in preparation for writing. They have been shown how to grasp the laminted tokens between their thumb, middle finger and the index.
Here is another activity on our Practical life shelf that is quite popular among the boys. I bought several new locks and voila.. Great practice for these little fingers! 

More activities on our Practical Life shelf: hammering

At the moment, our jigsaws in our science corner are very popular. The children sit together spontaneously by group of 3 or 4 and pick /exchange these jigsaws and comment a lot on what they see. Brilliant exchange of knowledge!!

And of course, what would we be without our play dough!!! This is such a fun activity !

Monday, September 10, 2012

A new year has started... Welcome back!

Here we are. We have finally started!! Another year of fun learning together!! I spent quite a good bit of time rethinking the lay out of my classroom during my holidays ; so I guess my first step will be to show what our classroom looks like this year.. Here is what I came up with.

Starting with a general view as you come in the classroom..

On the right hand side as you come in, you  will see straight away a table against the radiator. As we have more boys than girls this year, I knew that I had to divide our contruction area into 2 different places. If not, boys will all gather on the floor and DISASTER would strike!! So I thought about it and realised that some of the construction work can actually be table top activities. I have therefore placed the potatoe head basket, the small lego  basket and other bits like these on a table where I can supervise the activity going on. And of course, beside this construction table, we have our geogrpahy corner with jigsaw, pictures, books, continent boxes etc..

Beside this, we have the Practical Life exercises corner...

Passing the PL area, we are now entering the reading corner/circle time area.. I haven't changed much in here as it worked very well last year. On the right hand side of the picture, you can see our jigsaw shelving unit. The jigsaws face the PL area but I forgot to take a photo.

Right beside the reading area, we have a few wooden boxes nailed to the wall, dedicated to Science and Nature. The materials in this area change quite a lot as I follow the seasons and the interest of the children.

Facing the science corner is the construction / play role area: we have little cars, plastic animals and dinos, natural wooden pieces used with the wooden blocks for  building castles, the brown stairs (which is technically a sensorial montessori material) etc... The top of the shelf will be used as our Nature display/table. Not much to display at the moment but October will be different!!

 Beside the science boxes, we have the Maths area.

Let's continue our visit and on the left hand side of the math area, we have the sensorial area. This is quite a  busy corner and as you can see, there is a lot to do!!

Passing the sensorial area, moving back towards the entrance door, we have the language shelf and then the writing table. On the language shelf, top shelf, we have our sandpaper letters and our phonic booklets. This will become a bit more interesting as we learn more and more sounds: boxes with items representing the phonic sounds will be added and I might be struggling to find enough space. I'll cross that bridge when I am there. Below the sandpaper letters are games aiming at developing the children's oral and aural skills: bingo games, pairing games, matching games etc.... The writing table is set right beside the Montessori metal insets. I have also included the stencils, plain white paper, coloured paper, crayons and pencils. Below the insets you will find a tray with scissors for cutting exercises and another tray for punching activities. Soon, as the children learn how to write with the salt box, I will also place there the chalk boards for further practice.

This following corner is an alcove on the right hand side of the entrance door as you come in. I used to have a rectangular table there, used for painting and for art. Children ended up messing up a lot at this table and this is why I have decided that only one child would paint at a time, limiting the mess (hopefully). This has open  up the area and this is now much more acessible without danger of getting dabbed by a paint brush covered in paint or glue! I have added another shelf there too for my own use. I now have  easy access to my Montessori albums at all time and can store my laminating pouches, my worksheets, my curriculum programs, the children's copy books, their observations booklets etc.. Perfect!! 


And here is our outside garden. I got new fence put in and this give quite a nice finishing touch to the place. It is neat and very safe. No way children can escape!!! We also have a new cool shed for the tractors, bikes and cars... so if it's been raining the day before, we no longer have any wet car to dry up in the morning!!! And no more bird poo to clean in the spring time! Yippeeee!

So that's it... What do you think??