Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What Josiah appreciates in a friend

The kids did an exercise from Wordsmith Apprentice today, writing application forms for "unusual jobs" such as "friend" or "hot air balloonist". Tessa wrote application forms for the positions of "old person" and "dog walker" and had me fill them out. Apparently I am unsuitable for either position. Josiah gave me permission to copy his application form here:

Top Quality Friend

Full name:

What do you want to be called:


Date of birth:

Max climbing grade-

  • Indoors route:

  • Outdoors-

    • Bouldering:

    • Route:

Are you a technical climber:

Is climbing your favourite sport:

Do you want a friend:

What do your friends say about you:

Tick the following that represent you

  • Kind

  • Encouraging

  • Trustworthy

  • Acceptance

Do you think global warming is bad:

Do you support Greenpeace:

Do you do stuff against global warming:

If yes name some if no why:

If you don't believe in global warming why:

What do you have to say about arthropods:

Wordsmith Apprentice then asked the kids, do you think it's good that we don't have to "apply" to be someone's friend? To which, Josiah answered a definite "Yes".

PS Josiah asks me to mention that he wrote the application form by hand, then I (Lisia) typed it up, then Josiah edited it on the computer.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What a week

Geoff's and my 15th (!!) wedding anniversary. Tessa's birthday. The kids' climbing club AGM, at which I volunteered for too many jobs ... when will I learn not to do that? Two trips into Wellington, one for the unschoolers group meeting and one to Te Papa which was where Tessa wanted to go on her birthday. Tessa's party. Geoff starts a new job on Monday. And I have a bad cold. (Josiah has the cold too: Geoff and Tessa got it first and are mostly recovered, then Josiah got it, then I did.)

You can imagine the state of the house The kids are pretty good about doing daily chores if I remind them and check up on them but when I'm too busy or feeling too unwell to do that, the chores don't get done at all, which is disappointing. I suppose they too have been busy. And unwell. But being unwell hasn't stopped their usual pursuits, except for Monday when Josiah felt ill enough to want to lie reading on the couch most of the day and agreed he shouldn't go to Boys Brigade. To my mind, if they are well enough for normal pursuits, they are well enough for chores!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Instant information

Reading aloud to the children from Kingfisher's History Encyclopedia on Tuesday, I read "The Mongols dominated Asia for 100 years during the 1200s, creating the world's largest-ever empire, ..." Josiah immediately responded, "I don't think that's true: I think the British Empire was the largest empire." I acknowledged that the book could be wrong: the size of empires is one of those things that are hard to define exactly, and I prepared to continue reading. Josiah was not satisfied and requested we find out. I agreed to help him do so, thinking we would look it up later, but Josiah insisted we find out on the spot. So I put aside the book, went over to the computer and was soon reading Wikipedia's List of largest empires. (I had thought I would have to read Wikipedia's British Empire and Mongol Empire pages, but Wikipedia seems to have everything these days.) Sure enough, Wikipedia agrees with Josiah: the British Empire was larger, though the page discusses the difficulties in measuring empires in general and the Mongol Empire in particular.

What struck me about this incident was that Josiah took for granted that we could and should immediately find an answer to his question. His is the first generation for whom instant information has been accessible during their school years. If, at Josiah's age, I had wanted to know which empire was larger, I would probably have asked my parents or other adults around if they knew. I don't think they would have known. Then I might have looked through the books and encyclopedias we had at home but I don't believe we had anything that would have answered this question. So my next step would have been to use my local library but to be honest I would only bother to do that if I was especially interested in the question.

Friday, March 07, 2008

How to Get Started Montessori Homeschooling

Nicky asked about this in a recent comment. "Where to start" is a question often asked at Playschool6 too. Here are my ideas on how to get started Montessori homeschooling ...

1. Read a brief overview of Montessori

Dr Montessori's Own Handbook by Maria Montessori is the best place to start in my opinion because it is a quick read and an excellent synopsis of Montessori. There are some lovely anecdotes from the earliest Montessori classrooms, which give a picture of Montessori in practice.

An even briefer overview of Montessori can be found on my website.

2. Read an introduction to the materials and activities

Elizabeth Hainstock's two books: Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years and Teaching Montessori in the Home: The School Years are condensed Montessori manuals. They do not include as many activities as other manuals but this means that they can quickly be read from cover to cover, giving the reader a view of the Montessori progression, which I think is valuable to get early on.

3. Support groups

Playschool6, Montessori homeschooling discussion.

Montessorimakers, discussion on making Montessori materials.

4. Observe the child and start making and collecting materials

Observe your children. What are they interested in? What absorbs them? What causes them annoyance? What activities in their daily life are they striving to master for themselves?

Start preparing materials for Montessori activities. Any Montessori activity you think your child will be attracted to. Maria Montessori stressed that although her activities are designed in logical sequences, building on each other, the best order in which to introduce them to an individual child depends on the child.

Montessorimakers is a great source of information on different ways people have made Montessori materials.

There are a number of websites offering printable Montessori materials for download.

5. Start presenting Montessori activities

If the child enjoys an activity, allow them to explore it and work with it freely; then, over a period of days and weeks, continue with the activities that follow on. If the child is frustrated, put the activity aside for a while; try something easier next time.

I have found that doing Montessori at home means the adult needs to initiate more activities than a Montessori teacher in a classroom might. In a classroom, the children get ideas for work from watching each other. At home, the adult getting an activity out and working with it attracts the children to the work and reminds them of the choices available.

6. Observe the child and the environment and remove obstacles

Anything that hinders the child ... tv; playstation; toys that are just getting in the way and not satisfying the child; clutter. There might be more specific obstacles: a bulky jacket that makes it hard for the child to make full use of their hands; the child enjoys sweeping up spills but can't open the cupboard where the brush and pan are kept.

7. More information

Check out the Manuals, Books and Links page on my website for more exhaustive Montessori manuals than Hainstock's books.

One of the books that has helped me most in my homeschooling is Maria Montessori's Discovery of the Child.

Chapter 27 of The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori is all about the teacher's role in a classroom of preschool children new to Montessori.

A note on reading Montessori manuals

Montessori manuals (often called albums) give step by step instructions for presenting activities. I often find the steps hard to follow if I just read them. I have learned to read Montessori manuals with the Nienhuis catalogue open beside me so I can see what the materials look like. If I have the materials for the activity or similar materials, I have them beside me too, so that I can follow the steps with the materials. If I don't have the materials yet, I use pencils, paper and scissors to make makeshift materials as I go along.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Freedom in education for the 10-13 age group

I have found myself facing a dilemma. Tessa has continued to be reluctant to start work some days, though once started on an activity, she is enthusiastic. Times like this, when I find myself cajoling the kids to go along with my plans, challenge my commitment to freedom in education. It's all very well for me to say Josiah and Tessa's homeschooling is self-directed and they are free to choose their own work. But when Tessa says repeatedly, "I don't feel like it now; I'll do it later," I get nervous and grumpy, worried that "we're not doing enough," and I become inflexible with both kids.

An exercise I have done once or twice in the past that I think would help now is to imagine what sort of education I would provide for Josiah and Tessa if there was no such thing as school, if there was no society norm in terms of the content and timing of education that I felt pulled to conform to, no legal requirements that I'm obliged to conform to. My answer to this question is different now than it was when Josiah and Tessa were younger. During the preschool years and the early primary school years, I think the ideal is to provide a Montessori environment at home, with the children free to choose their activities from one moment to the next, the adult working alongside, introducing new activities and re-introducing old in response to the needs and interests observed in the child.

For Josiah's and Tessa's age group, it seems to me that choosing work from moment to moment is no longer necessarily the best way. By now, a lot of the children's work is ongoing, e.g. learning a foreign language. Planning and working to a schedule have become, in my opinion, necessary elements of Josiah's and Tessa's work. I am happy for the children to direct the decision process on the content of what is studied, the methods used and the timing and format of study sessions. The problem I'm encountering is what to do when having made these decisions, the child then declines to carry them out.

I wonder what unschooling parents do if a child plans a programme of work and doesn't carry it out. I'm not talking about a child changing plans, like discovering through experience that they enjoy maths more if they do a big session once a week than if they do a little each day and changing their timetable accordingly. I mean when the child simply says, no, I don't feel like it after all.

My feeling is that my role of facilitator and helper in the kids' education includes being the stick-to-your-plans police. I am happy for plans to be renegotiated at any stage, but not on the spur of the moment in the middle of the work session.

I discussed some of this with the kids today and we have negotiated a revised schedule with a more definite finish time each day so the kids know they have some guaranteed free time after the study session. Tessa expressed concern that we hadn't included time for crafts in our plans, at which Josiah suggested that we add a time slot for "miscellaneous activity" to our weekly schedule. We have done that, and Tessa seems more cheerful about it all. I'm just hoping that Josiah's idea of a miscellaneous activity is not a game of chess with his mother Fitness in Milwaukee