Wednesday, March 11, 2015

my attempt at a "montessori inspired" shelf

The other day, I wrote about how mind-blowing a toddler's mind is to me. How much she soaks in, and how I've wanted to have more opportunities for her to learn at home.

Let me preface this by saying: we have not done ANYTHING even remotely formal for our children in their learning thus far. nothing. I haven't done holiday crafts or letters of the week or infant sensory bins. none of it. zip. zilch. nada.

I really hesitated about posting this because when I read this type of stuff and my first was an infant, it seemed overwhelming. The last thing I want to do is cause a mom to think, Oh my, I'm behind. I need to have a montessori shelf. My kid is never going to read. we need a letter of the week. 

No, you don't. It's okay.
In fact, if you send your child off to pre-school or kindergarten without ever having done an alphabet worksheet... THEY WILL BE FINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[that may sound like overkill, but there is SO much pressure on moms and that is not what this is intended to be.]

All that being said, this is the place where I share glimpses of our life, where I share my thoughts, successes and failures. So I wanted to share this. TBD whether it falls in the success or failure shelf.

You might already know - my background is in teaching. I love teaching. And I love watching kids who love learning. And one of my primary goals as a parent is for my kids to love learning.

I browsed the world wide web a little bit in light of the desire to maybe try some more learning-ish things at home and decided to set up a "montessori-inspired" shelf. I won't go into all the details about montessori in this post, mostly because I don't know all the details about montessori. But I do want to point out, I used the term montessori inspired because it's different from pure montessori which has very specific guidelines about what 'counts' and what doesn't count. Let's just say, I'm pro-montessori, and I agree with most of the montessori philosophies on education that I've read, but my shelf in the living room doesn't count as real. I'm okay with that. So I'm using the term "montessori-inspired."

Anyway, here's our shelf. I set it up during a nap last week.

 Emma was still sleeping when Addie woke, so she had fun exploring all the activities - some we'd done before, and some were new! 

And here's what's there... 

Picture above the shelf: H - our "letter of the week." She already knows a lot of the letters and seems to have A through G down the best... (without any formal activities. Just coloring pages, puzzles, books and talking about letters really. We identify as many letters w/ people as often as possible... M for mommy, A for Addie and Al, L for Lanie, etc... I'll talk more about letters another day) 

So, I thought it'd be fun to do a letter of the "week." Guessing we'll not quite get a new one every week, we'll see. (This blog has GREAT ideas & resources for a pre-k letter of the week curriculum.) Plus our library program for toddlers has something every day at 10:30 and they do a letter of the week. We just go once a week, but they're on H and I figured we might as well go along with theirs since we're there most weeks anyway. So, she did that H with dot paints at the library. She got bored with putting the dots in the circles within about point-six seconds. So, she used a little creative license. I'll let it slide, since she's, um, 2. 

ANYWAY - I taped that up with some washi tape that I got at walmart that doesn't stick. It's scotch brand but it stinks! I need want to find some better tape. Some of the activities are H-specific and some aren't.

I did not buy anything to put this shelf together. Except the dot activity (see below) and I didn't even buy that for this shelf - that was for our 8 hour car ride. And as it turns out, it's available for free. Whoops. This was all stuff we had around that I put together in ways that made more sense for more learning and more order. Order and independence are two big things in Montessori that I buy into and that I see my toddler crave. We'll see how it evolves over time (it's very possible the H activities stay up for 6 weeks and next september we get to letter I.) 

Top shelf
* Zipper pouch with the H puzzle from this puzzle set - a new one we love! 
* Ice cube tray with 1 banana gram tile in each slot, there are 3 H's. we call this game "find the H." 
* Teal tray has a letter dot activity in it. (Pics later in the post.) 

Upper Middle Shelf:
*Small green plastic bowl has our old shower curtain rings that are similar to binder rings - they open and close. Our set was missing a few so I got new ones and saved these. She tried opening them right away. First she opened them all and then I showed her how to link two together. She liked that. She got through 3 or 4 and then wanted to try something else.

*Small wooden tray (dollar section at target) has a dollar store parmesean cheese shaker + a small bowl filled with cut up pieces of pipe cleaner. She likes sticking them in until every hole is filled. At first she got bored after 5 pipe cleaner pieces. But I sat with her and encouraged her to fill them all. She wanted to save it and show dad when he got home. :)

*Small basket I had lying around with some of these tinkertoy-ish building toys.

Lower Middle Shelf:
*Tray with empty cups and a small pitcher for pouring. She LOVES playing with water.
*Mr. Potato Head. I rotate our toys out and this one has been away for a while. H is for Head so I figured it was a good time to bust him out again. Everything old is new again - the first thing she went for was Mr. Potato Head and it was probably a 10-15 minute activity. If you've been around a 2 year old, you know that's a long time.

Bottom shelf
*Some memory matching type cards with H words.
*Our hammer and peg toy. She's liked this since she was 1 and has played with it a ton of different ways! Somehow we've only lost 1 peg.
*Lacing beads. She can't quite get them yet. We work together sometimes and we use them as blocks. She's getting close. I think I'll keep an eye out for lacing cards and start with those for more lacing practice. (I hear they occasionally make it into the dollar spot at target - bam!) Or a smaller bead that still has a big hole. These are GREAT but you have to stick the lace through pretty far to see it come out the other end, and she doesn't get it yet :)

Emma likes lacing beads too.

Here is that dot letter activity from the teal tray on the top shelf. 

I actually paid $5 and bought it from here. It's the whole alphabet + numbers + counting and some other random pages. Dots are a good size for stickers (which we used in the car), mancala stones, push pins,  dot paints, whatever. You just get a file to download so you can print as many times as you want. Easy & fun! The blog I linked to earlier has similar sheets for free... which I found out AFTER I purchased them. Otherwise I would have done the free ones :)   

Here she is with the same sheets in a binder in the car (gotta love our many 8 hour drives) and a $1 pack of 400 dot stickers from walmart. 
It's pretty serious work.

You might think the water pouring idea is crazy. It is a little bit. But it's not grape juice. There's always towels. The girl loves to pour water, so what the heck! She'll only get better with practice, right? Ha! I taught her this process she's allowed to do by herself. It's not fool proof, and there's usually a spill. I'm sure in a 'pure montessori environment' there is a slightly better setup for water pouring, but here this is the best we've got. Plus, she gets good practice cleaning the spills!

Move the tray (all container empty) to her little kitchen table.
Fill the pitcher at the fridge.

Carefully carry it to the tray and pour into a cup.

Refill and repeat.

I wish you could see her face. She takes it very seriously.

I ran downstairs for 1 minute to change the laundry, leaving Emma and Addie in the kitchen... forgot about the tray full of cups full of water at baby height. Emma made a bee-line for the tray and I heard crash - "uh oh."

Addie wanted to keep working when Emma was awake so we set this up. Pretty high tech. She seemed to like the boundary even better. Kids crave boundaries. More on that another time though.

SO, phew. That was long. If you're still reading, you deserve an award.
But that's our little first-time, montessori-inspired, learning shelf.
I call it her "work." That's a montessori thing and I kinda like it. After a couple days she started saying, "I do some work now, mama."
HA! so cute.

It feels like a big responsibility to have a little mind here at home.
And it is.
But montessori shelves are not the only way to teach those little minds. So, mommas if you have littles at home, did I mention, I really hope this doesn't put pressure on you any way.  ;)
This is more an adventure to see what sticks and what doesn't & what works for us.
Something to experiment with some added routine to learning at home since we consider home school an option in the future.
Something to challenge her to try to new things.
Something to provide activities to hold her attention for longer than 2 minutes.
And, new area for me to venture into as a teacher... I love teaching, so this is fun for me, and a challenge for me. Plus, I need a system if something to stick. I am not a see-a-cool-idea-and-just-make-it-happen person. I have to have a system in place to stick with something. Enter: letter of the week + shelf.

And in 3 weeks, I may decide it's not the right time and we ditch the shelf. Or ditch the montessori idea.

It's all part of a journey.
Any ideas or tips or fun things you do at home to learn with your kids?