Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Our Montessori Home Preschool

Before circumstances forced me to move out of state last month, I ran a small Montessori-inspired preschool in my home, Montessori Minds. It isn't easy starting a preschool and being the sole owner, advertiser, environment, handbook and contract creator, researcher, bookkeeper, teacher, shopper, janitor etc, but it was my dream long ago to have my own school, and even though I only ran the school for six months, it was worth it! I loved what I did, the children truly enjoyed coming to school, and parents (who soon became my closest friends in the area), were thrilled. I miss it and the children (some shown here with permission) terribly, but seeing that the first post on our Montessori home over year ago is still so popular, I am happy to show and perhaps inspire my readers with this environment as well.

I regret the quality of the photos. I was only able to utilize my phone during this time.

These were our Montessori and Montessori-inspired work shelves. From left to right: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics and Literacy. Work rugs were in a bin on the left and a work table to the right. I handmade the number wall cards with cardstock. I purposely made the odd and even numbers different colors and graduated the shades.
It amazed me how quickly the children often remembered to work on a rug and return materials to the shelf, and were truly delighted in remembering to do so. This photo was from just the first couple weeks when they were getting the hang of it after several demonstrations (the room configuration was different here as well). Kids love when everything has it's place. Great confidence builder!

Left to Right: Tomas the cat (beloved class pet!), Building/block area with lots of room to build and carefully selected materials (think Wedgits, Twig blocks, unit blocks), Music Center, Games and Puzzles shelves. There were boards the children could lay on the carpet to make building easier and less frustrating.

Montessori-inspired works, activities and toys that children lacked an interest with were rotated out frequently and replaced with other items. Shopping daycare closing sales and consignment stores allowed me to keep a large closet full of wooden, quality items cheaply!

Another view of our music, games and puzzles area as well as our Calendar (wipe off version), Weather Center (cards and board free here from Montessori Print Shop), and chalkboard. Not pictured was a large corkboard with clothespins glued to it for children to display their artwork. Inside the closet they kept their coats, shoes, and each had a large, labeled drawer at their level where they could easily access their own clothes, bedding etc.

This room (traditionally the dining room) was for (from left to right) our Art Center, Writing and Pretend Play. Our cultural box from Japan sat on the bottom of the art shelves and a world and USA map hung from the walls along with laminated photos of people from all over the world (created easily in this post). The table was used for free art, offered art and science projects, as well as snack and pretend play.

Lots of space to spread out and explore our Japan Box.

This was our reading area, with plenty of books with on array of topics and favorite authors, including easy readers, seasonal books and library books that covered each child's current interests.

They loved sitting in the cozy chair solo or together, reading to each other or each engrossed in their own book. A child-sized rocker was available, but who can resist an overstuffed chair? I certainly can't!

Sidenote: I loved that the entire school was visible to me from anywhere I was, including when in the kitchen. This was a townhome that really worked out for the purpose of a small school! In case you're curious, we used on of the bedrooms (upstairs) as a media room with the television, couch etc. Utilizing your living room as a play space may work if you feel you need space and are willing to be a bit non-traditional.

Our outdoor area was just as important as indoors. We utilized a sandbox, water table, trikes and bikes, slide, balls of all sorts, ball hockey equipment, bowling, baseball, monster stompers, golf etc and as you can see, we did messy play like shaving cream and painting (with feet) outdoors in the summer!

My crew often went on bike rides or walks around the neighborhood and into the woods to explore, discovering all sorts of bugs and claw marks from bears on the trees. We were playing out back one day when we heard construction vehicles and went on a walk to investigate (shown above). We were often finding different kinds of workers around the neighborhood to excitedly observe. There are plenty of learning experiences that you can't simulate in a classroom or even with books!

We often brought our work table outdoors for snack during our summer session. Nothing like relaxing with the sound of birds and scampering of squirrels in the fresh air while you enjoy a healthy nibble!

We also utilized a large field with a hill nearby where the children simply ran, raced each other, played games like duck-duck-goose, and they were exceptionally good at finding caterpillars, as shown here.They were a sweet group who truly loved creatures big and small.

Until perhaps another day and place in my life, goodbye Montessori Minds. It's an absolute thrill to do what you love!

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Road to Literacy: Part Two. We Have a Reader!

Well, it's been a while huh?! I'm shocked to see that I have well over 200,000 hits and am still getting over 5,000 people on my blog on a monthly basis despite not having a new posts in so very long. Thank you! Welcome to everyone who's joined me on our Montessori-inspired adventures!

Life has changed and changed again in some major ways, one way being that I chose to become a single mother in August and we've now lived in three different states in nine months. I'm pretty sure that after what I've been through and continue to struggle with, I can handle most anything! I unfortunately had close my Montessori-inspired Preschool a few weeks ago due to moving, but a positive is that I have access to a computer so I hope to be able to catch-up on Blogger. Blogging was a very fufilling and positive part of my life and I hope to get back to that on a regular basis!

So, with that out of the way, on to the last many months of literacy work! I can't exactly say that I've done a huge amount of work with Ty due to life circustances and focusing a bit more on the children in my former preschool rather than developing tons of new lessons for him, but regardless, he began reading before his third birthday and is now quite an impressive reader! I won't likely recall everything we did, but here are the main activities. Please excuse the large photos and a bit of a chaotic layout. I'm not used to the new Blogger yet and the laptop I'm using isn't allowing me to do everything I'm accustomed to.

Disclamer: Reading at age three is not typical or a milestone for this age. Maria Montessori believed that each child was born with their own timetable and their own interests and following that lead, rather than pushing a child into learning, is the best way to allow a child to feel joy and success in learning...for a lifetime. I believe it as well!

If you missed the Part One On The Road To Reading: Eight Months of Montessori Literacy Work, be sure to check that out for pre-reading and writing activities. It's my most popular post with 43,415 hits to date. I'm so happy that parents and educators are finding the information helpful!

I have to say that Ty's road into sounding out words (not just reading words he knew by sight) happened quite randonly one spring morning when I had a gut feeling and decided to write some rhyming words on his chalkboard. I demonstrated how to sound out the word "fat" (as he's known his letter sounds for a long time), then asked him to sound out mat...and he did...and he continued on with the rest of the list by himself! I wrote another word family, "fun/sun/run" and repeated the process. He struggled a bit more but was fascinated with the concept of sounding out words. I knew then that I needed to start the next steps towards reading!

Everyday Phonological Awarness

To continue with Ty's phonetic awarness, we naturally played some word games in our everday life and play. With me being such a kid at heart myself, our home has always been a bit of a silly one. Incorporating goofy rhymes all over the place was natural:

"Okay, I'm going to go get into the shower, flower, power, hour, cower!"

"What is that over there? Is that the cat bat who sat on a flat hat?!?"

Either that or I would mess-up reading a book or singing a song, using a rhyme in place of the real word.

"Twinkle, twinkle little car, how I wonder what you tar"

"How much is that froggie in the window? The one with the waggely snail..."

I did this stuff half because it made Ty break out into the best case of the giggles every single time, and then secondly because it helped him discriminate sounds. He also loved correcting me. Before long, he was doing it himself with real and nonsense words, sounding like a Dr. Suess book (we love those)!

Another word play game I liked to use with him was a guessing game with beginning, middle and ending sounds. After playing a couple times and giving the answers so he was familair with how to play, it became a bit of a regular game. For example:

[Making our daily smoothies, something he's very familair with] "I'm thinking of something that we need that ends with the /t/ sound..." [yogurt]

"It's raining outside, I think we're going to need something that sounds like /oo/ in the middle" [boots]

"I hear something in the tree that starts with the /s/ sound. Do you know what it is?" [squirrel]


This brilliant idea was floating around on Pinterest (wish I knew who started it) back in the spring and I jumped on it! The above imagine isn't my own as I apparently didn't photograph Ty with this activity, but it is exactly the same. You simply use Easter eggs, choose several words that rhyme, tape or write them on with permanent marker, and by twisting the egg, your beginning reader can read the words from that word family. Fun! Ty also enjoyed breaking the eggs apart (not part of the activity) and putting them back together was good motor practice!

Another activity I created was matching words to their objects. I used all CVC (consonant/vowel/consonant) words with traditional sounds. This is a pretty standard work in the Montessori community.

Tyler is still a math-driven child, so matching numbers to their words was really fun for him. He also quite enjoyed trying to teach our cat Tomas his numbers! Sometimes he was a patient pupil, but most times not, much to Ty's frustration.

The Nomenclature Cards I made him when he was a young toddler came in very handy as we were working on reading. I was able to cut the words from the bottom of one set and have him match the word to the picture card. Another Montessori standard.

Once Tyler started showing that he could read or sound out many words, I started writing a sentence on his chalkboard every night before bed for him to discover in the moring. He beamed with pride everytime he was able to breeze through and read an entire sentence!

The photo above and to the left is of a phonics game I picked-up at a consignment store (where I buy many of our toys/games) called "Fall into Phonics". One side of the board is used to build simple words and descriminate if they're real words or not, while the other side (and another set of dice) work with blends in the same fashion.

To the right is Tyler sorting air, land and water animal cards. I have to say that sorting is much easier when the child can read the labels. I no longer have to read them or include a photo next to the words, allowing him more independence.

The Learning Journey Match It! Rhyme
Rhyme It! Puzzle matching game. Thirty rhymes are included with this set, though I ususally only put about six to eight different pairs out at once. These are great for beginning readers as well as pre-readers; several of the children in my home preschool were successful with these puzzles thanks to the photos! Highly reccomended.

Melissa & Doug See & Spell
Another product we liked was Melissa and Doug See and Spell. I first used the CVC boards, then as his reading advanced went up to the four letter words. I only provided the letters needed (and the exact quantity) to make this activity a bit more Montessori.

What was wonderful about removing the many extra letters from the See and Spell was that Ty was able to use the others (kept in a seperate wooden box) to create words much like letters in the Montessori Moveable Alphabet, which is used to help children "write" before they're able to form letters well. He enjoyed creating his own words much more than using the word boards!

A very recent purchase (Chirstmas present) has been Magnetic Poetry First Words. He can read every one of these and delights in me making him sentences for him to read (the longer and weirder the better). He often creates his own silly sentences but doesn't think very hard about real sentence structure yet. Even though they're magnetic, he likes to just use these on the rug as well.


I can't say that we've stuck to one series or type of books for Tyler to practice reading on his own. He tends to read whatever he feels like to himself, choosing from our large library, sounding out words and asking on occasion if he struggles. Most of his reading is to himself, though I love when he reads aloud (and thinks I can't hear him). It's absolute music to my ears and I'm shocked at what he can read in brand new books! If I ask him to read to me he sometimes refuses. He's still one who isn't always likely to "perform" on cue and can be shy with what he knows (unless it's math!). Reading to me often has to be his idea as he truly just enjoys just snuggling in my lap and being read to! I greatly enjoy that too!

When choosing beginning reader books from the library, I often just go by his interests, that being either math concepts or animals he adores. This was the first book he ever read by himself in September, just having turned three and having never heard it before. He couldn't get enough after that first time, reading it over and over for days with a huge smile on his face. For fun, there's a video posted below of his second time reading it. It amazes me to look back just a few months ago and realize how much his fluency has changed!

Before this, by late spring or early summer, Ty could read months and days of the week in random places. He quickly picked up on abbreviations for these as well without me teaching him. I place some of this on the fact that we continued to write in his journal every night. Watching me write also seemed to awaken something in his mind and he would sometimes watch me quite carefully as I said and wrote each word. He now enjoys going back to his old journals and reading through them (how he deciphers my terrible handwriting is a mystery) or asks me to read specific, favorite days. If you missed our post on journaling, calendars and time concepts last year, you can find it here.

It's amazing to see how much of the world is open and available to the child once they begin. Here, while making Christmas cookies, Tyler reads a line or two from the cookbook, telling me our next step.

We just moved, but through the spring, summer and fall were were within walking distance to our local library! Utilizing the library was absolutely instrumental for finding easy readers and books that drew Tyler due to their subjects, be it math, Winnie the Pooh, dogs, llamas, octupus or Curious George. Finding books that interest the child helps really develop a love for reading! I always happily lugged back an at least 30lb sack of books from each trip. The library has been a special place for us to visit since he was a baby; it's truly one of our favorite places to be no matter where we live!

Audiobooks became a huge favorite with Tyler last April and his hunger for them has only intensified. We've been lucky to always have libraries with large collections for us to borrow from. He made the 12 hr move to our new home a couple weeks ago without a whine or complaint thanks to plenty of books to listen to!

Just around the corner from us our town also started a free library last fall. It was simply a case where you could take or donate a book and anyone could take what they needed and return it when they were finished. I found this an absolutely beautiful idea and we used this community resource frequently.

Ty has picked-up on many of the rules for reading and blends on his own. For a while he wanted me to trace my finger under words as I read and studied them carefully. He also follows along with this audio books. These two things seemed to have helped him figture some things out on his own. I did teach him many rules and oddities (silent e and h, soft c and g, oo, ee, ou, etc) as we came across them after he really started learning to read and sound out words to lessen the confusion a bit. I've had it quite easy as once I tell him something it's typically in his brain for good. While I studied-up on traditional Montessori methods, there are no lessons to develop or repeat for many of these things. I feel a bit jipped in a way as I felt ready to teach, yet relieved as well and just keep plugging on towards the next thing!


We haven't practiced this skill much due to Tyler's lack of interest most times, but here are some exmaples of his work. I believe his perfectionism gets in the way of writing many times unless he suddenly feels confident and writes randomly. If he can't write a letter perfectly the first time it often sends him into a meltdown. We're working on the concept of having to practice some things rather than getting everything "right" the first time. It's a bit of a tricky road for us at times. For beginning writing exercises, be sure to check out Part One.

Writing in Montessori really goes hand-in-hand with reading. A couple mornings after sounding out the above words, Tyler came downstairs in the morning and wrote this, telling me this was the word "fat". Indeed. He isn't one to sit down and practice writing at all, other than numbers, so whenever he randomly writes words it shocks me as I didn't even know he could write some of the letters he makes!

His name. He really struggles with the "r" so he rarely wants to write this. If he can't be perfect he doesn't want to even try sometimes so of course I don't push it. He has no need to practice this at age three unless he wishes to!

He is a cute woodland creature lover and during my preschool one day after finding a picture of a deer on an old caendar with one of his friends, decided to write "deer". He did ask me how this one was spelled first.

Visiting a play room after Open Gymnastics, Ty discovered these magnetic letters and decided to spell-out kuhlanu (pronounced koo-tha-noo, which is more of what he was going for in his spelling), the Zulu word for the number five (he's decided to learn how to count to ten in several different languages recently). I go back and forth on puchasing a full Montessori Moveable alphabet for him or not, even though he can write if he wishes to, becauses moments like this are stunning, and he was so very proud of himself!

I hope that his post has been helpful in some way to you. Because I wasn't doing many formal lessons with Ty, we've skipped many traditional literacy activities (though we may go back to be sure he has it all down). You may want to check out the Montessori Primary Guide for more work in this area.

Be on the lookout for more catching-up posts on our preschool environment, play room in our new home, a huge math post, and miscelaneous Montessori-inspired activities, coming soon!