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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Jane Nelsen on Family Meetings

Family meetings are an innovative way to gather purposefully to problem solve. Jane Nelsen, author of positive discipline gives parents support for establishing a family meeting routine! In my home we use family meetings. In my classroom we use them also. Meetings with groups of children can help establish boundaries and eliminate problem behaviors without punishment. Here is Dr. Nelson's agenda for the first meeting:
"Week One: The Agenda
Introduce the five components of family meetings. Let your family know you will be spending as many weeks as it takes to learn each component.
  1. The Agenda
  2. Compliments
  3. Brainstorming for Solutions
  4. A family fun activity such as a game, cooking, or popcorn and a movie.
  5. Calendar for family fun event
The first week you can spend more time on the Agenda. Let your kids know this is where they can write problems. (Younger children can ask parents to write on the agenda for them.) Ask if anyone can think of any problems they would like help with. If they can't think of anything you could say, "What about ____________ (whatever problem you have noticed during the day between or with the kids). You could then say, "I would like to add burping." Let them know that the agenda will be put on the fridge and anyone can add anything they want during the week. You won't try to solve any of the problems until after the kids learn about brainstorming. Let your kids know that next week, they'll learn about compliments so they might want to be thinking of what they appreciate about everyone in the family so they'll be ready.
Then put the agenda on the fridge and end the meeting.
During the week, when you notice the kids having a problem you might say, "That sounds like a good one to add to the agenda." Don't insist. Just notice if they do or not. If you see kids fighting you might say, "Would one of you like to put this on the agenda?" They may or they may not. You are just making a suggestion that increases awareness of the agenda. When you have a problem, such as kids not picking up their toys, you could say, "This is a problem. Would you like to put it on the agenda, or should I?" If they don't, you can."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Continent Boxes 101

Continent boxes are a Montessori must-have, yet they can be expensive and time consuming to build. When I first began teaching, I raided my parents’ curio cabinet and ‘borrowed’ souvenirs from their travels around the world.  This worked great initially, but I found myself in a bind as things broke or as pieces of items became worn through handling. I decided to reassess the continent boxes and rebuild them with everyday items that children could handle and explore without the worry of breaking something sentimental. After many years of a new collection process, I am pleased and proud of the boxes and the items I have available to my students.  At this point, I seem to have enough items to have continent boxes for home and school! Recently I’ve had several inquiries about the contents, cost and variety in the boxes. I compiled a simple list of “Do’s” for building continent boxes.  Here is how I built mine!


1.     DO start by purchasing 7 plastic shoe boxes, and one display tray or basket.
I bought my original Boxes at Wal-Mart and they are still intact 15 years later! I designated each box to hold its contents by tracing the shape of a continent on the lid. I also made labels for the side of each box.
Next I placed 6 (Antarctica excluded and used later on) of the 7 boxes on my Geography shelf empty, yes empty. When children initially went over and asked about the empty boxes, I explained that I was going to be filling each box with Items from the different continents. Process over product- voila!
On the top of the Geography shelf, I placed a collection tray.  Then, in typical Montessori fashion, I began with the children.  I encouraged them to collect sticks and leaves outside on the playground.  We brought them inside and tied the sticks in bundles with ribbon and laminated leaf samples. The sticks and leaves sat for a while in the collection tray (I added a magnifying glass for interest) but then one day, I placed them in the North America box. This tray still holds sticks and other items collected from nature!
2.     DO add pictures
Next, I snapped a few pictures of the trees that gave us the sticks and leaves. I matted them on construction paper (orange of course for North America) and placed those in the North America box.
And then the questions began. What can we put in the South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica boxes? What kinds of trees grow there?
After skimming many reference books, consulting families who had ties outside the United States, and then heading to the internet, we identified at least two types of trees commonly found on each of the other continents. I printed, matted, and laminated pictures and we added them in! Now each box (except Antarctica) had a photo album to discover!
3.     DO add household items
Adding household items was an easy task. My kitchen alone was a goldmine for household items. A few tablespoons of coffee beans in a jar went into the South American box.  Cinnamon (Sri Lanka) went into the Asia box, couscous went into the Africa box, and Irish steel-cut oats landed in the Europe box.
**On a side note, each of these store nicely in recycled baby food jars with lids.
 Next I looked in my wallet. A few American coins made a nice addition to the North America box.
 My vanity also contained a few add-INS. It held several gift soaps from France and I had a few empty perfume bottles too…Into Europe they went!
4.     DO put everyone on notice
At this point, I had many items in each box with the exception of Australia and Antarctica.  So I put everyone on notice. I casually mentioned “hey I’m looking for things made in Australia, so before you throw anything away, can you double check and if it has anything to do with Australia- throw it my way?” It was long shot but I ended up with a kangaroo ornament, a souvenir boomerang and a small stuffed kiwi beanie baby. I also went and grabbed an Outback Restaurant carry-out menu and snapped a few pictures of the restaurant d├ęcor (matted and added to the box).
5.     DO ask for a keepsake
As teachers, we are likely left behind while others getaway for business or pleasure. I made it a common practice to ask children and adults to bring something back. Items I asked for depended on the destination.
Cities: Postcards, menus, shot glasses, magnets, hotel soaps and photographs
Beaches: a jar of sand, seashells, coral, driftwood
International: hand-crafts such as bracelets, key chains, weavings, beadwork,     and pottery.
    6.     DO shop yard sales, thrift stores, and closeouts
Finally I often shopped, and still shop, for musical instruments, artwork, dishes, and wooden crafts at yard sales, second hand stores and closeout sales.  When I tell the seller I’m a teacher and would like certain items for my classroom, they typically give the item to me for free or for a very nominal price.

7.     DO make the Antarctica box a sensorial experience.
I generally do not place the Antarctica box on the shelf, because once a year, I fill it with water and freeze it during the continent study. For the little ones, I add in some fish and marine life. This is a dramatic lesson and includes discussing the process of melting polar ice caps, and the scientist that study there.
Hope this helps you fill those boxes. Before you know it, you will have enough to display items in your home and rotate on a monthly basis. Happy collecting!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Time-In **before** Timeout

In her book Honoring The Light Of The Child, Sonnie McFarland gives educators 22 lesson plans and the tools needed create time and space for "time-in" experiences. Time-in is the concept of daily work that supports civility, peacefulness, self control, and positive self affirmation. In my classroom, the peace area is dedicated to Time-in.

The Peace Area
The peace area should be a place where children and adults have access to a variety of materials that invoke problem solving, self affirmation, and reflection. It is not used to separate or isolate children from one another during times of conflict, but it is regarded as a sanctuary. Children who are craving limits and boundaries can practice and learn proper conflict resolution and self calming activities in a classroom peace area.

The peace area should include a comfortable place to sit such as a large bean bag chair. Don't forget to provide a mirror for literal reflection (which seems to be calming) and include a natural wooden instrument such as a rain stick or mini drum to inspire creativity and rhythm.

A simple puzzle can challenge an idle mind, a few heart shaped stones and several seasonal items connect children to natural wonders, and several additional materials lend choice to those who cannot find purpose.

 Here are a few of the latest activities on my peace table, the perfect place for time-in!

Lunch notes can be preserved in a small peace journal and read over and over.

I feel, I do, I learn. We all have the power to choose, regardless of how we feel.

Positive Affirmations

Job Basket

The Peaceful Person (love light shining)

Fruits of the Spirit Positive Behaviors


Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Path to Normalization: How I Normalize my Montessori Classroom

What is Normalization?

There are many personality types of course. However, when children enter the process of
normalization the same characteristics appear.

There are four characteristics that are a signal that the process of normalization is happening:

(1) Love of work

(2) Concentration

(3) Self-discipline

(4) Sociability

Normalization is NOT...

(1) Lessons and Presentations

(2) Quiet work time

(3) Imposed consequences (time outs, earned rewards) 

(4) Everyone Getting along

Generally I begin thinking about normalization as soon as I get my roster. After noting the ages and potential skill level of each child, I appeal to the parents for information.  This usually comes in the form of a conversation or welcome email. In the email, I ask for each child's favorite color, toy, story, and animal. This gives me clues as to what I should include in the peace area, at the nature table, during my circle time, or in my "bag of tricks".

The first month is dedicated to group bonding, routines, limits and freedoms.

There are many ways to bond with children, and help bring the group together.  Group art projects, scavenger hunts, movement songs, fingerplays, felt board stories and picnic lunches are a great way to bond.
Making a class photo album, easy coooking projects and group art projects are also a great way to pass time and help new class members to feel welcome.

Routines are challenging beacuse they take the longest to teach. I typically teach 2 routines at a time within the routine of the day.
I find that most children learn the daily routine within a few weeks and other routines within a month, but this can vary depending on emotional development and daily attendance. Part-time students (including half day and partial week) may require longer adjustment period because they have less time to absorb the routine or they may have breaks in between days of attendance.

My Daily Schedule in the beginning is different from the Schedule AFTER children are normalized.

Here is a sample of my daily schedule for the first day of school:
9:00arrival on the playground
9:45enter the classroom, sit on the big gathering rug. Children change into slippers, wash hands and sit for a large group snack (prepared by my assistant).
10:00 gather on the large rug for a felt board story
10:10 returning students work in sensorial, new students tour the bathroom, use the bathroom and have a lesson in handwashing
10:30 New students have lessons in practical life, returning students have a refresher lesson in the bathroom (flushing hand washing), followed by a group art lesson (given by the assistant) to assess gluing and cutting skills
11:00 everyone looks at books on the rug, assistant sets up lunch
11:15 music and movement
11:30 lunch
12:15 lunch cleanup begins. Children follow 4 steps. I allow ample time for this and even give this as a seperate lesson. Returning students can model this or help as needed. My assistant usually waits on the big rug with books, a floor puzzle or a few items on rugs (sorting trays, a continent box etc).
                                 1. Pack your lunchbox
                                 2. Throw trash away
                                 3. Crumb your table
                                 4. Sweep the floor
12:45 Children who nap use the bathroom and go into the naproom (this is an entire process also!)
1:00 I trace each child on a large sheet of paper and allow them to color themselves. During this activity I can assess fine motor control, gross motor control, spatial awareness, and logic or reasoning process. I also measure and note each child's height. Coversation is a part of this process also. After this activity, work is open for free choice for returning students. New students have lessons in sensorial.
2:00 Clay table (as described in The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori)
2:30 Transition into afternoon (carpool, outside etc)                                                             

I typically continue this schedule (with different 1:00 activities) for the first 2 weeks of school, focusing first on the morning preparations (slippers handwashing) followed by a focus on the lunch cleanup routine. Once these two areas are learned, I change the structure and the Daily routine looks like this:

Here is a sample of my daily schedule for weeks 3-6
9:00 arrival on the playground
9:30 enter in, morning preparations, Circle-time routine.
9:45 group snack
10:00 Returning students work supervised by my assistant, new students have lessons in practical life and sensorial
 11:00everyone looks at books on the rug, assistant sets up lunch
11:15 music and movement
11:30 lunch
12:15 Lunch cleanup
12:45 Transition to nap, non nappers look at books on the big rug
1:00 Group lesson in science. I use Ingrid Sherwood's ABC shoebox science lessons.
2:00 Clay table (as described in The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori)
2:30 Transition into afternoon (carpool, outside etc)

Monday, February 18, 2013

30 Aprons Tutorial

I'm sure you have heard of "No Bake Cookies"

This is the seamstress' version called "No-Sew Aprons"
They are easy enough for kids to make and can be made from recycled materials!

Begin by cutting 30 apron patterns from a queen-sized bed sheet. I used an apron I had on hand and simply traced 30 of them using chalk onto an old bed sheet (washed and iron with HEAVY starch)

 Sew-tape or glue edges to avoid frays.

Fold the apron in half vertically.

Snip slits for apron strings.

Cut apron strings from scrap material. (I had sheet left over and used it for the strings.)

Insert a strip of fabric thhrough the slit and tie a basic knot.

Do this on both sides

Fold the top of the apron and make two additional slits- one at each corner.

Use scrap fabric to make the neck loop ( I used shoelaces)

Why 30 Aprons? Use them in your classroom, for a chef-themed birthday party, sell at church craft fairs, or donate them to a children's art program!