Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Not such a good work session today. I woke up tired. Daylight Saving ended just over a week ago and most mornings since then, I've woken refreshed before my alarm has gone off. Oh well, even if that effect only lasts a week, it's nice while it does.

Josiah wanted to do geometry today so I gave him a presentation on inscribed and circumscribed figures. As we finished, Josiah started drawing a lattice of equilateral triangles using a stencil. Once he had half a page full, he challenged Tessa and me to find all the possible hexagons on the page. (We both missed one; Josiah had to show it to us.)

It just so happened that the next presentation in the geometry manual was about making shapes with different numbers of equilateral triangles and comparing their surface areas. So I told Josiah off for giving me the presentation when I'd been planning to give it to him next week ;) and suggested that I show him the rest of the presentation. He was keen so we went ahead and compared the surface areas of a rhombus (two equilateral triangles), a trapezium (three equilateral triangles), a larger equilateral triangle (four equilateral triangles) and a hexagon (six equilateral triangles). Josiah enjoyed the work but it took a while.

I probably should have taken a break at that point but I was conscious that Tessa had been left to her own devices for a significant period and it seemed important to get her working as soon as possible. Maybe yesterday's high productivity had got me overly focused on getting things done. After I finished the geometry with Josiah, my thoughts were about what Tessa and I “needed to get done”.

Tessa requested a language presentation. Over recent weeks, Tessa has revised all the parts of speech; for today I had prepared the first presentation on sentence analysis (verb, subject, direct object). The work is not challenging so there was always the risk that Tessa would be bored but the novelty added some excitement. Unfortunately I was focused on just getting it done and was also hungry and kind of distracted after the long geometry session with Josiah. Tessa was unfocused which got me annoyed. Somehow we got through the work with Tessa still smiling at the end but I could have done better.

I'm not sure what to do when Tessa is unfocused like that. She requested a language presentation but then didn't give it her attention. Frustrating. I don't know what the best response is.

Anyway, after that I realised my mistake in carrying on when I needed a break and we all stopped for a snack.

Tessa had also requested a drawing presentation so later she and I did that. She's really enjoying the drawing activities but is discouraged by how much better my work is than hers. I remind her that I've had 35 years to develop my hand control and hers is improving all the time – to try not to compare her work to mine. She seems to accept that. The activities are designed to be demonstrated by an adult so I can't see any other way around this problem for now. True to his intentions, Josiah did not take part in the drawing lesson but lay on the couch reading Arthur and the Invisibles while we drew.

Tonight I'm determined to be in bed at a reasonable hour. And for tomorrow I'm determined to observe the children and respond to them rather than focusing on what I think we should achieve. This is supposed to be fun!

Monday, March 26, 2007

A good day

A productive day today after a social weekend catching up with family and friends. Both kids are invalids at the moment. Tessa hurt her back trying to lift Josiah yesterday. She is recovering fast. Josiah has a tiny cut on his foot which seems to be infected and is hurting him so much that he limps everywhere. We've tried putting various things on the cut (plus had a swim in the sea yesterday) and will keep an eye on it.

Tessa and I did some geometry this morning, then Josiah chose to do science. The science fair projects are still on hold until we purchase materials (must do that soon!). Last week, Josiah and I found the last of the definitions Josiah wanted to know in his study of taxonomy of insects. He is ready for a change. While Tessa was at gymnastics last week, he and I went for a walk and discussed the options. He's decided to look at physics for a while, starting with astronomy. I got How the Universe Works (a Readers Digest / DK book recommended in The Well-Trained Mind) out of the library and we read the introductory pages today. It looks good to me ... too soon to say if Josiah will get hooked on it.

Josiah is decidedly not hooked on the drawing lessons I've been giving from Mona Brookes' book Drawing with Children. A couple of minutes into a lesson last week, he refused point blank to take part any longer. He says he doesn't like realistic drawing, only abstract drawing. The point that most of the techniques in the lessons could be applied to abstract drawing did not find favour. He asked not to have any more drawing lessons and for me to please get some clay sometime for him to work with. I guess I survived to the age of 35 without any drawing skills; I won't push it on Josiah but will carry on with Tessa who is enjoying the work.

Back to today ... a neighbour, “B.”, came over mid-morning to play for a while. He came over a lot last week too. I think he is about three, maybe four (when I asked him how old he is, he said “Six,” which he most definitely is not – maybe he doesn't know). At the end of last week, I hunted out of the ceiling some of our old preschool materials to offer him. So today, after he'd spent time playing with duplo, I showed him spooning marbles from one bowl to another. He seemed to like it. He kept pausing to say, “My turn!” patting his chest, in a pleased way. (In my presentation, I had used the standard Montessori phrase: “I'll have a turn first, then you can have a turn.”) He was so cute carrying the tray carefully just as I'd shown him and putting the material away on the shelf. Because of lack of space and lack of trays, the activities are not on individual trays – instead there are a few trays stored near the shelf, behind an arm chair. After B. put the bowls back on the shelf, I thought he might just leave the tray on the floor, but he remembered where it went and appeared to achieve just as much satisfaction from putting everything away tidily as he had from doing the activity.

Tessa and I hunted out some of our old story books and I read a couple to B. and Tessa. Then I sent B. home so we could do some more work without interruption. History was next for us. After initial enthusiasm, both children have been a little bored with history the last couple of weeks so I've been moving through the material rapidly. They are excited that today we reached the founding of Rome and the beginning of Classical Greece. These are civilisations that Josiah in particular wants to know more about, especially how they fitted together – what were the interactions between the two civilisations and did they have some part in each other's demise? I don't know much about it myself so we'll be off to the library this week.

In the afternoon, Tessa played with B. again. She was mothering him a lot – I heard her say “No, B.” from time to time in an I'm-being-so-patient-and-mature voice. B. seemed to be having fun and I had other things to do so I didn't interfere.

Meanwhile, I had a look through the library catalogue for books on Ancient Greece and Rome, then mowed the lawn, cleaned all the windows outside and some inside, and cooked soup and bread for dinner! A lot of afternoons disappear without me achieving anything and I'm so pooped at the end of them that cooking dinner seems an insurmountable task, therefore it was great to get so much done. I don't know when the windows were last cleaned ... a long time ago.

(By the way, when I say I "cooked" bread, I mean I spent ten minutes dumping ingredients in the breadmaker :) )

When I came in from mowing the lawn and cleaning the outside of the windows, I had a glass of juice. Tessa asked if she could have one too (the juice is bought for making smoothies; to drink it on its own is a treat). I said the juice was for people who'd been exercising and needed the sugar – she could have some if she went for a run round the block. So she did! She didn't change out of her brand new best outfit – a pink skirt and white shirt given to her at the weekend by her grandparents - but did put sneakers on. Next I saw Tessa, she had a very pink face and glass of juice in her hand.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Getting children to tidy up after themselves vs not interrupting their concentration

Two aspects of Montessori philosophy that I like are encouraging children to take responsibility for themselves (e.g. to clean up when they make a mess) and not interrupting children's concentration. However, I've found that in practice these two principles sometimes clash. I would notice that one of the kids had had a snack and left their plate on the table but when I went to ask them to put it away, I would find them absorbed in an activity – I didn't want to interrupt their concentration. The result was that I did more cleaning up after my children that seemed right and I interrupted their concentration more than seemed good.

With a purchase a while back, we received a promotional mini-whiteboard with pen attached to stick on the fridge and it occurred to me that when I noticed tasks the children had left undone, I could jot them on the whiteboard rather than interrupt the child immediately. This has been working wonderfully for us. We agreed that checking the whiteboard would be added to the children's morning routine and that they would check it at other transitional times – like when they are getting ready to go out somewhere. I love that it's cut down on my nagging of the children to tidy up after themselves.

This morning there are three entries on the whiteboard: Tessa is asked to remove her hairbrush from the bathroom basin where she left it; Josiah and Tessa are asked to put away some papers they took off the noticeboard and left on the coffee table; Tessa is asked to sponge up the chocolate that ended up on the back seat of the car when she ate a chocolate bar there.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Age of empires

I finished making a timeline of empires. It was a worthwhile task – we've all spent time looking over it. I think it will be a useful resource to refer to in our history work for some time to come. One interesting fact stands out on it: if there was an “age of empires” it was from about 1000-2000AD. That period is thick with empires. The Age of Empires game is set in a period comparatively free of empires.

Tessa bounced a ball on the timeline only a day after I made it, causing a small tear in one side :( So I got it laminated.


Lots of people visited this blog last week; thanks for taking the time to have a look :) Please feel welcome to say hello and leave a comment any time.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cell phone farce

Josiah hurt his finger on the way to climbing class last week. He and Tessa had taken the bus there. They take their scooters with them to shorten the time it takes to get from the bus stop to the climbing wall, and Josiah had jammed his finger in his scooter when he opened it up, similar to shutting your finger in a door. After a couple of minutes the kids decided to phone and tell me. It turned out that Josiah's phone wasn't working (the battery cover had come loose but he didn't notice that till later) and Tessa had somehow managed to turn down the volume on hers so that they could hardly hear me.

The first phone call I got from Tessa's cell phone, the kids didn't say anything to me – I could hear them talking to each other but couldn't work out what they were saying. I said “Hello” a few times, getting louder and louder each time, then they hung up. I wondered why they had phoned or if they had even meant to and tried not to worry. I wasn't left in suspense for long. The next time they called I could hear them but all they said was, “What? I can't hear you.” I couldn't help laughing: didn't they remember that it was they who had called me?

I shouted into the phone, “What did you want to say?”

“Yes. I can hear you,” shouted Josiah. We got no further than that. He passed the phone on to Tessa.

“What did you want to say?” I shouted again.

“Yes,” Tessa shouted.

I was beginning to wonder if we would ever get anywhere but after a few more exchanges, Tessa got back on track and told me that Josiah had hurt his finger. She wasn't sure what to do next and I heard her ask Josiah, “What do you want her to do?”

More muffled conversation between the kids. “I'll call you back,” said Tessa and they hung up again.

A couple of minutes passed before they called again and asked me to come and collect them.

“Where are you?” I shouted. (Geoff tells me that shouting into a phone is pointless – they are designed to neutralise shouting somehow.)

Tessa must have got used to the low volume as we managed a somewhat disjointed conversation to establish where they were. I would have liked to ask for details about the injury but could see it would be stressful for them to continue on the phone so I trusted that if it was serious they wouldn't be phoning me - Josiah would be upset enough to attract the attention of passers by.

Sure enough, though the finger was too bruised to allow climbing that day, it was perfectly fine within three or four days. Even Josiah laughed when I told him my side of the phone conversations.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A working week

We've had quite an academic week now I look back on it. For history, I read aloud a few pages from Kingfisher's History Encyclopedia. Josiah and I are fascinated. Tessa is a little bored because she knows a lot of it already from her own reading and previous work we've done. Nonetheless she wants to “start at the beginning” of human history this year rather than skip forward to a period she's unfamiliar with. I think as a compromise, I will not suggest any follow up / extension work until we get onto material new to Tessa: each session we just read a few pages, discuss as we like, and enter one event each onto our timeline. It's nice that so far both children have known, before I even ask, what they'd like to enter on the timeline, and that what stands out from the reading is always different for each of us. Josiah was interested in the first cities and Tessa was struck by the thought of New Stone Age avenues of standing stones in France.

Josiah wants to know which empires overlap and what order they came in. There's a long list of empires at Wikipedia. I've bought a couple of large (A2) sheets of graph paper. If I tape two together, I think I could quickly make a timeline of empires. Or maybe I should try to fit that information on our main timelines.

Both kids used the cuisenaire rods for maths. Tessa created times table problems then laid the appropriate rods end on end in a long line (e.g. for 6x7 she laid out six seven-rods in a line) then underneath laid out ten-rods and if necessary one other rod to “read” the answer from. So in the example I mentioned, four ten-rods and one two-rod fitted underneath the “problem” so Tessa could see the answer is 42. A variation on the Snake Game.

Josiah and I built the decanomial with the cuisenaire rods so that Josiah could transform it to the tower of cubes of each number. He loved it. Next week we will be looking at the algebraic decanomial. He's continuing to take time now and then to study the graph paper decanomial he filled in last week, looking for patterns.

For language the last few weeks, I've been going over each of the parts of speech in turn and giving the kids sheets of sentences with missing words. Where words are missing, the kids either write a word, in the appropriate Montessori parts-of-speech colour, or choose a word from a bunch of Montessori-coloured words I've written on stickers for the purpose. Now that we've gone over most of the parts of speech (just conjunctions and interjections to go) I've re-introduced the grammar boxes. The kids are both enthusiastic about all this work which contrasts greatly with their attitude to similar work in the past. I don't know what is different for them but I'm not complaining!

The science fair projects are halted because we need to purchase materials. Josiah and I are reading about the taxonomy of insects at Wikipedia. We are taking lots of notes because of all the new words we are learning (heterotroph, eukaryote, ventral, dorsal). Josiah dictates and I write.

The books I got from our library on critical thinking are not suitable to work through with the children (though ideal for me to learn from). So the kids are just having fun with books of logic puzzles and other puzzles for now.

We still haven't started the activities in Mona Brookes drawing book but I am finally ready – will start next week.

I am reading Holes by Louis Sachar aloud to the children. We are loving it; the kids beg me to keep reading. We will probably finish it tonight; I can't wait to find out what happens. A warning: there is some violence and suffering described in the book - I would recommend this book for age nine or ten and up, not for younger children.

Making geometry materials

I spent part of last Saturday making the “Metal” Squares out of foam. I'm quite pleased with the result but disheartened by the fact that they took a few hours to make and the children's work with the Squares is likely to total only the same. I can't think of an easier way to make materials like these. I printed out the outlines Suzanne has kindly made available on her website, and glued those outlines to foam using a glue stick. Then I used my paper cutter to cut along the lines. Being all straight lines, it was easy. The glued on paper peeled off cleanly afterwards.

Tessa was excited to have new materials to work with; both children seemed to mildly enjoy the first activity with the Squares – an introduction to congruence. I think the children will find the coming presentations on similarity, and equivalent surface areas interesting.