Thursday, February 22, 2007

The first week

I'm pleased with how things are going so far. On the downside, not having been well prepared before the start of term I am constantly on the back foot – often preparing activities in the evening which I want to show the kids the next day. It would be great to get ahead. I think in a week or two I will have got through the backlog of tasks that I put off while my mother-in-law was sick (like finishing my last two assignments for Book 2 of the Aperfield Montessori Course and assisting Geoff with work on the climbing club website that Geoff and I offered to do ages ago) and I will have more time.

On the positive side, the kids are enthusiastic in their work, glad to be moving into new topic areas in several subjects. Both children have initiated projects for the science fair. Tessa has decided to raise lettuce seeds in different soil types to discover which is best. Josiah is going to make a weta hotel and observe the numbers and kinds of weta that use it.

Maths with Josiah has been interesting this week. Yesterday, I began to present the Geometric Decanomial. (This is an activity involving arranging squares and rectangles of grid paper into the decanomial formation. Each square or rectangle has a number written on it corresponding to the product it represents, e.g. a two by three rectangle represents the problem 2 x 3 and has “6” written on it.) Josiah very quickly got bored and declined to proceed but suggested a variation on the activity: for me to draw the decanomial formation onto one large sheet of grid paper and for him to write the products into the squares and rectangles.

Today I dutifully drew up the decanomial as Josiah suggested. He wrote in the products in the top row and the left hand column, i.e. the one times table. That was boring so he lost interest and said that was enough for today. I teased him jokingly that he'd be able to tell his friends that for maths today he did the one times table. (He liked the joke.) I suggested he fill in the squares on the diagonal. He complained that that was easy too but began writing the products in. I moved on to something with Tessa, beginning to doubt the value of the activity for Josiah.

After writing in the products of the squares, Josiah came over and handed me a piece of paper with “4096” written on it, saying, “This is 64 squared. [He'd used a calculator to get that.] Let's have a race to work out 65 squared.” Giving me the piece of paper, he added, “You can use this.” We had our race and afterwards Josiah showed me how he had reached his answer by adding 64 + 65 + 4096. He took me over to the decanomial and showed me how he had noticed that each square was larger than the previous square by the length of the larger square plus the length of the previous square.

Basically in his own words he was pointing out that (x + 1)2 = x2 + x + (x + 1). We discussed it a bit, superimposing, in our imaginations, one square on the next square and looking at the column and row remaining uncovered. We did that with a few squares then left it, me feeling a lot more satisfied of the worth of the activity! Isn't Montessori great :)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Things to do

I wrote this on Friday but didn't get round to posting it. I have done most of the things on the list now...

A list of the things I need to do to be ready to start "school" on Monday:

  1. Look over the recommended supplementary reading lists in Well-Trained Mind for history, language and science. I might photocopy these lists and keep them permanently in our library bag.
  2. Make a set of cards for the kids to look over when they aren't sure what to do with their independent work hour. These cards will just be a reminder of options - each will have a single phrase on it, e.g. "maths practice".
  3. Put together an ancient history time line ready for the kids to enter significant dates.
  4. Language is the subject I'm least prepared for. I need to read ahead in the Montessori albums. I suspect that the grammar work to come will assume a mastery of the parts of speech which Josiah and Tessa don't yet have. The grammar boxes, which I spent hours making, were never popular with either of them (I think I missed the boat, making the boxes after interest had passed). I'm thinking I could easily make some puzzles using the cards I made for the grammar boxes.

I'm reasonably ready for tomorrow :) Tessa is in a state of pleased anticipation :) Josiah has got behind with his climbing diary and now has three entries to complete. He'll be determined to get those done before Tuesday so that the backlog can't get any bigger (we'll probably climb again on Tuesday). This unfortunately means he will not be an enthusiastic participant in any other activities until the climbing diary is done. I'll talk to him about the diary first thing - see how he wants to do it and work around that.


I haven't posted a photo for a while so thought I would show you this pic of Geoff at the top of a climb he did yesterday at the Baring Head Rock Hop.

That's Josiah at the bottom of the rock complaining to me about my ban on high climbs like this one. I told Josiah Geoff wouldn't have been allowed to climb up there either if his mother was present to see it. Josiah suggested I go away and then his mother wouldn't be present and he could do this easy climb.

I won that argument but Josiah and all of us had lots of great climbs. The Rock Hop is a bouldering competition; that means all the problems are (supposedly) safe to do without ropes. Even being a few metres up made me very tense: I much preferred the traverses.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Shedules and routines for the year ahead

Josiah and Tessa are keen to carry on with the routine we followed at the end of last year:

10am - 11am: I work with one child; the other works independently.
11am - 12 noon: I work with the other child; the first works independently.
12 noon - 1pm: We all work together.

Work happens naturally outside those hours too.

I'm thinking I might make a set of cards for the kids to turn to for ideas during their independent work hours. The cards would say: maths practice, writing practice, typing practice, revision of foreign language vocab (if we do a foreign language), puzzles.

Tessa has made herself a schedule showing which subject she will work at each hour. She's made schedules in the past which have been abandoned after a week because they were crammed with unrealistic expectations of how much she could get done in a day. This time, I built the framework for a timetable, with the days of the week across the top and times down the side, then instead of just leaving Tessa to fill it out, I gave her slips of paper, each with a subject idea written on it, and asked her to choose one slip of paper for each time slot. I think the result will be manageable and Tessa loves it.

At the end of last year, it seemed to me that Josiah had reached a new stage with his work - that he would like to plan ahead rather than just choose activities as he goes along, so as to make progress towards his long term goals. I brought this up with him a few days ago but what I'd expected would be an exciting discussion of the possibilities this year holds for him turned tense. Josiah didn't like the sound of some of my ideas; it all seemed too much to him. It quickly became apparent that a schedule was a bad idea but Josiah thought a task list might be helpful. To take the pressure off, I refrained from making suggestions about what to put on the task list ... with the result that writing is not on it (except for keeping his climbing diary up to date)! Oh well, I will sneak some writing into our group sessions. I wonder what Maria Montessori would do in this situation. Any thoughts anyone?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My plan for the year

The school year starts tomorrow. Have been doing lots of thinking about how we will do things this year but with our recent bereavement having drained our energy and taken up most of our time over the last few weeks, I am not ready to start tomorrow. Will continue having slow, quiet days of recovery, till next week I guess. The weather has been great so we have enjoyed swimming at the beach or river many afternoons.

I have been reading The Well-Trained Mind and, being a persuadable sort of person, am now a classical education convert. I think classical education could be merged easily with Montessori since classical education is mostly about what is taught (and when) whereas Montessori is about how it is taught. (That's not quite true since the materials in a Montessori environment should be chosen in response to the child but I think with a few adjustments the materials for a classical education would appeal to my children.)

Here are my thoughts about what we might use this year:


Montessori maths sequence.


Montessori geometry sequence and origami maths.


Montessori language sequence plus writing practice.


Last year, I formed the intention of starting this year by inviting both children to do a project for the local homeschool science fair. Josiah enjoyed his science fair project last year though it turned out to be a lot more work than anticipated and took over other school work for a while. Maybe I'll wait a few weeks till we're settled into a routine before bringing up the science fair. ... Later: Hmm maybe it would be best to do any science fair project now so as not to interrupt our science work later on. Also, I haven't yet purchased the science books and materials I want to work with this year.


Last year, we began working through DK's The Way Science Works. We still have lots to do there but the book is mostly physics, whereas Josiah's current interest is chemistry. I think I will set The Way Science Works aside to come back to later. For chemistry The Well-Trained Mind recommends the Smithsonian Chemistry Set MicroChem XM 5000 which does look good. I'm looking for somewhere that sells it in NZ; I found one US website that would post it to me for US$200 lol. The manual that comes with the set is available online along with a contents list, so I could gather the materials myself and follow the manual. Or I could buy a different set.


Although we haven't entirely finished Kingfisher's Science Around Us, I think it's time to move on to something fresh. Tessa's science interest is nature, which fits well with what The Well-Trained Mind recommends for her age: Reader's Digest's How Nature Works: One Hundred Ways Parents and Kids Can Share the Secrets of Nature. I'm trying to get hold of a copy second hand, otherwise will buy it new.

History / People Studies

Not sure whether to get Story of the World vol I or Kingfisher's History Encyclopaedia, both recommended in The Well-Trained Mind. I've reserved the Kingfisher encyclopaedia at the library and will decide once I see it.

For further exploration, I'll use our local library and the primary source lists and other book lists in The Well-Trained Mind. There's currently an exhibition on ancient Egypt at a local museum; Tessa is very keen to see it.

Art, Craft, Music and Photography

Tessa is enrolled to take beginner guitar lessons.

I have purchased Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes. Will start with that when it arrives.

Critical Thinking and Logic

The Well-Trained Mind recommends introducing children to this subject in the middle years. I think Josiah and Tessa would enjoy it. My local library and the National Library don't have any of the books recommended in The Well-Trained Mind but lots of others on this topic. Will have a look at what's in my local library before purchasing anything.

Am wondering about spending time on this subject for half the year then switching to Latin – I think the kids would be daunted by two new subjects at once. There was a teach-yourself-Latin workbook I noted at last year's homeschool fair, which I thought I would enjoy and hopefully Tessa and Josiah will too.

German / Spanish

Tessa and Josiah say they do not want to do a foreign language this year :( I think they are daunted by the hard work. Looking at the draft schedule we've planned together, I think there is time for at least one session a week but I'll wait for an opportune moment to suggest it again.


Plenty of this happens by itself: climbing, cycling, walking, swimming, yoga, and muscle-strengthening workouts.

* * *

Will write soon about how I plan to use these resources – our schedule etc.