Saturday, October 28, 2006

Karori Wildlife Sanctuary

Saturday. The first sunny day day in a while. While I was out cycling this morning, everyone else decided that we would go to Karori Wildlife Sanctuary today, travelling by bus and train. When I came in, I walked into a Christmas Day-like atmosphere – the kids were hyped up, excited, talking non-stop. It was hard to get them to pause long enough to take in a suggestion to pack their bags.

The holiday atmosphere prevailed while I had a shower and we all packed our bags and made lunch. Nonetheless, Tessa found several things to object to forcefully. She didn't want to take her climbing harness out of her backpack. She didn't want to put on a t-shirt under the long long-sleeved top she was wearing, in case it was hot later. She didn't want to pack a warm top in case it was cold later. (New Zealand weather is very changeable.) She didn't want a sandwich for lunch.

I guess Tessa is just desperate for more authority over her life, but boy is it tiring when she expresses that while we are getting ready for an excursion which requires certain preparation.

We got through it and were still cheerful departing. Our journey involved catching a bus, a train and another bus. At the train station, we bought 10-trip tickets for the second bus ride. Josiah asked to look after the child 10-trip. I knew Tessa would want to too so I thought about it for a moment then said that as Josiah had been in charge of paying the fares on the first bus, Tessa could have a turn this time. (They each have their own 10-trip card for the train.) Josiah proceeded to object and whine for the next five minutes, with me trying to explain my reasoning in between objections. Eventually, I asked what he would do in my place. He talked this through for another few minutes, finally deciding that he concurred with my decision.

He genuinely couldn't see the “fairness” of my choice initially. A reminder to me not to assume that our perspective is the same.

Blogging is great. At the time of the events above, all I could think was how annoying it was that Tessa was “making things difficult” and how unpleasant Josiah's whining was. Only writing about the events afterwards could I see more to it.

We had a lovely walk in Karori Sanctuary. Geoff took this photo of one of the tuatara we saw – gorgeous.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Ducklings and Tamagotchis

I thought I'd post photos of the ducklings we've been watching and feeding bread to each day. Tuesday morning our shallow creek was a raging torrent after a storm Monday night. On the reserve, I saw what I thought was the mother duck on her own. Whether it was the mother duck or some other duck, she was distressed. She flew back and forth over the creek, quacking non-stop for about 30 minutes. I felt sure the ducklings must have been lost in the storm. When the kids got up, I gently told them what I'd seen and what it might mean. Tessa kept saying, “Maybe they found somewhere to shelter. Maybe they were swept downstream and their mother will find them.” Then lo and behold in the late afternoon, the mother duck reappeared with all twelve ducklings! We went out in the wind and rain to feed them. Here they are on a sunnier day.

The Tamagotchis continue to be popular. They might be rubbish but at least they bring brother and sister together.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Montessori Freedom for 6-12-Year-Olds

Someone asked me recently if Maria Montessori intended elementary school age children to have the freedom to choose their own work that Montessori preschool children have. The answer is definitely yes! Writing about children over age six, Maria Montessori says:

“As in the first period: We seek the child's consent to receive a lesson given. The lesson is now abstract when earlier it was sensorial.” From Childhood to Adolescence.

“... the child must learn by his own individual activity, being given a mental freedom to take what he needs, and not to be questioned in his choice. Our teaching must only answer the mental needs of the child, never dictate them.” To Educate the Human Potential.

“He must have absolute freedom of choice, and then he requires nothing but repeated experiences which will become increasingly marked by interest and serious attention, during his acquisition of some desired knowledge.” To Educate the Human Potential.

The two Montessori elementary schools I've observed in allow children only limited freedom to choose their work. One required children to complete certain activities each morning before being free to choose their own work. The other school set the subjects that would be worked on each morning; the children chose an activity from the first set subject then moved on to the next.

I have heard such restrictions blamed on pressure from parents. I suspect that this is only partly true and that a significant number of Montessori teachers do not agree with Maria Montessori that children learn best when they choose their own work. Such teachers can cope with allowing preschool children freedom because society doesn't have high expectations of preschool children's learning. Once children reach age six and we expect them to be learning to read and do maths, teachers feel a need to ensure the learning happens by taking control of it.

Allowing children to choose their own work in a Montessori homeschool can be more of a challenge than in a classroom because there are more distractions at home. If you allow a homeschool child freedom to choose their own activities, they might choose to go back to bed with a book or go for a bike ride or make a snack or play with their toys or – if you have them – watch tv or play playstation.

Some Montessori homeschooling families have a room they turn into a “classroom” which they go into each day for the work session, solving the problem. Other families create a virtual classroom by designating a certain period of the day “shelf work time” when the children's choices are limited to what is available on certain shelves. Other families find that even with all the distractions of a home, allowing their children to choose their own work at all times works well.

We have never had a classroom in our home but have happily used both the other methods at different times in our journey.

There are also homeschoolers who choose just some Montessori practices and materials to use in their homeschooling.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Last Friday was one of my days off from exercise so I stayed in bed an hour reading “Marva Collins' Way” by Marva Collins and Civia Tamarkin, which I've borrowed from the library because Daisy has been mentioning Marva Collins in her blog.

Interesting methods described, but one that conflicts with Montessori is that Marva Collins lavishes praise on the children constantly. It seems to be lapped up, which is a very different response to praise from that which Maria Montessori observed in children. I wonder if it is because these children have all been put down a lot by other teachers and family that they respond positively to Marva Collins' excessive praise. I wonder if Marva would have noticed a different response in different circumstances and would have felt led to cut down her praise.

I do like Marva Collins' matter of fact way of correcting the children. Regardless of their behaviour, she keeps her voice neutral or even cheerful; she is just passing on information. “Darling, put the comb away. ... We don't comb our hair in public.” What I wonder is how she keeps her voice neutral the 25th time she passes on the information.

* * *

A family of 13 ducklings have been visiting the reserve in front of our house over the last few days. Josiah went out in the morning as usual to feed them some bread. He came thundering back into the house a few minutes later, so I knew something must have happened and wondered if he'd found one of the ducklings injured. He raced up to my bedroom and burst out, “Mum, those ducklings are really tame! They walked over my foot!”

We are rather surprised at this. The day before, our three-year-old neighbour, in an excited attempt to get the ducks to take food from his hand, chased them round and round the reserve before his cousin and I managed to dissuade him. I half expected them not to return at all.

* * *

Josiah has just started attending the club night at the local climbing wall, where he's taken part in classes for the last year. He's beside himself with happiness about joining the club training sessions. Everything done on club nights is automatically fun in Josiah's eyes, including press-ups as a form of discipline. So this morning when he was late for our work session, he insisted on doing ten press-ups plus one for each minute he was late. He and I then set to work folding polygons from squares of paper using origami. Josiah counted the imperfections in each of his finished designs, doing that number of press-ups before starting the next.

While Josiah and I did the origami, Tessa worked independently at a “daily task list” she created recently, which includes writing a diary entry, completing a fractions worksheet, practising memory verses and I can't remember what else.

Late morning, the post arrived and with it the Tamagotchi Josiah ordered recently as part of a cereal brand promotion. Tessa bought one a week or two ago so once Josiah read the huge instruction sheet, they began “communicating”. I didn't hear an intelligible word from either of them for the next hour or so.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Morning Schedule

I've begun to draft another blog entry and realised it will make a lot more sense if I explain our usual morning routine first.

We've always followed some sort of a schedule. All of us like schedules, except Geoff who likes to go off to work at a different time each day ... well that's not quite true; he goes in spurts starting early for a while then later for a while then somewhere in between.

The kids and I are constantly tweaking our schedule. Our current arrangement is that we meet at 10am to start what we call our “work session”. Before 10, I do an hour's exercise most mornings then have a shower etc., do a few household chores, then read my emails and Daisy's blog while eating breakfast (always a bowl of cornflakes and an orange though that's probably more information than you wanted). The kids get dressed, get their own breakfast and clear it away then have a wash.

10-11am I work with one child.

11am-12noon I work with the other child.

12noon-1pm We work together (except that two days a week Josiah has to leave at 12.30pm for an afternoon activity).

This has been the format of our work session for the last couple of months and we are all still enjoying it. At first, there was quite a bit of aimless lounging around by each child during the hour I worked with the other one. They didn't seem to enjoy or get satisfaction from the “lounging around” but also didn't want to take up any of my suggestions. Lately, though, they have each been engaging in independent work during that time, or reading. Tessa sometimes goes outside on her scooter for a stint.

We came up with this arrangement because interruptions were causing everybody grief. When I tried to make a presentation to one child, or one of them initiated an activity with me, the other talked constantly to us on a different subject or interrupted part way through, wanting us to do something else. Such interruptions have all but disappeared since we initiated the current schedule. I think that having chosen to allocate a time to one-on-one interaction, there is a natural respect for the other child's hour.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Global Warming

I've been meaning to start a blog for ages and this seems a momentous enough topic to begin with, though not directly related to Montessori homeschooling. I'm not sure how regular I'll be in posting – please don't waste your time checking too often to begin with! It's taken me three days to finish this post.

Sunday evening, Tessa was out at a birthday party and the rest of us went to see Al Gore's fantastic movie “The Inconvenient Truth.”

I feel challenged by it to:

  • drive the car less:

    • cycle

    • walk

    • take public transport

    • not go out (e.g. popping out at 7pm just to get a dvd)

  • use energy less:

    • use appliances less

    • use better (more energy efficient) appliances

  • buy local produce

  • buy organic produce

  • buy fresh produce rather than frozen

  • avoid animal products (because of the impact of animal farming on the environment – even much organic animal farming)

  • be more simplistic in all my purchases – everything I purchase took energy to produce so I need to consider, does the benefit outweigh the environmental cost?

A lot of this stuff we do already. We recycle. We compost. We mow the lawn with a hand mower. We hang the washing to dry on the line ... most times. We use energy efficient light bulbs. We walk and cycle and take the bus and train ... when it suits us. We only heat and light the rooms we are in. But my attitude has been that it's okay to put my convenience first a lot of the time, making journeys and purchases that harm the environment.

What I really feel in need of is contact with a community of people who are trying to make their lifestyles less harmful. Without others to support and challenge me, I know I'll slip back into convenient behaviour, hopping into the car next time I'm making dinner and find we've run out of some “essential” ingredient.

Asked as we walked out of the picture theatre if he liked the movie, Josiah replied, “Yes!” forcefully, his eyes widening with emphasis, looking down at his feet as is his wont when the thoughts coursing through his head are too absorbing to allow room for any more sensory input. During the (global warming contributing) car trip home, Josiah listened quietly as Geoff and I discussed the movie and our thoughts.

When we got home, Geoff and I sat down at the computers immediately, Geoff to verify various of Al Gore's claims, and me, wanting to know what the arguments on the other side of the global warming debate are, to Jay Wile's article:

Jay Wile believes global warming isn't happening and refers to the “eco-hysteria” of the environmentalist movement. In the article, among other claims, he states that:

  • Increased temperatures cause increased cloud cover, which cools the planet.

  • Carbon dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels, which also adds aerosols to the atmosphere. Aerosols cool the earth.

  • The amount of carbon dioxide humans emit each year is roughly 3% of the amount emitted by natural processes.

These claims might be true but I wouldn't know - Jay Wile offers no evidence to back them up. I will have to look elsewhere for an informative presentation of this side of the controversy.

Geoff and I continued talking as we surfed, and Josiah kicked a soccer ball around the room, listening and occasionally contributing his mite. At one point Geoff suggested Josiah do a project on global warming. Josiah said, “Yes! I'm going to do a project on global warming! And put it on the internet!”

Of course, my first thought was, how is this compatible with an intense dislike of writing? We shall see. Josiah does write when the desire to express himself in that way is greater than his dislike of all aspects of writing. But that isn't as often as an anxious homeschooling mother would wish.