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Cursive vs. Print

A friend asked me a question today that I have been asked many times: why does Montessori teach cursive first rather than print?

First, I’ll acknowledge that some Montessori schools do teach print first.  But every Montessori school I’ve been in that is faithful to Dr. Montessori’s research results starts by teaching cursive.

Second, let me state that I honestly don’t think it’s that big of a deal either way.  There are pros and cons to both, and children will learn how to write one way or another, sooner or later.  For me, I decided to go along with the Montessori theory that it’s better to teach cursive first.

There are several reasons behind that theory:

Natural writing motions.  Have you ever noticed that when young children are first learning to write, they’ll fill whole lines with one long, squiggly text?   I know I have pages of my own “writings” like that from my childhood, and Drama Queen is at that point right now.  Dr. Montessori noticed that as well.  Cursive writing is much more like the “writing” a child naturally does, as opposed to short, choppy lines and circles.

d, b, p.  Those three letters can be so confusing to young children.  As they’re learning about the world, they learn that an object is an object no matter which way you turn it.  A book is a book, a doll is a doll, a sock is a sock, a car is a car, a rectangle is a rectangle, even if it’s upside down.  Then along come these little letters.  Suddenly Mommy, Daddy, and Teacher are very adamant that this little shape is NOT the same when you turn it around!  What?!  Some cursive letters are similar to each other, of course, but cursive does alleviate some of the reversal confusion.  Overall, cursive letters are easier than print letters to differentiate from one another.

One continuous movement.  The shape of the letter allows the hand to just make one continuous movement, left to right.  The child doesn’t need to pick up her pen, with few exceptions (dotting the “i” and crossing the “t”).

Beauty.  Cursive writing has a beauty to it that is appealing to children.

Consistency.  All letters begin on the base line and move up, toward the right.

Difficulty.  Okay, this one may sound strange:  cursive letters are more complicated to learn than print.  So why start with it??   At five and six years old, the child is in a perfect culmination of three Sensitive Periods:  SP for Small Detail, SP for Refinement of Movement, and SP for Language.  This unique combination of spontaneous interest is the ideal time for the child to learn to write in cursive.  During this period, the child is eager to learn to write, and is able to naturally learn cursive writing.  Around third grade, when cursive is typically taught in traditional schools, the child is past that sensitive period and the task is more difficult.  So it’s wise to take advantage of this easier learning period to teach the writing style that could be more difficult.

Transition.  Once children have learned cursive, it is very easy for them to learn print.  The reverse is more difficult.  Also, a child who writes in cursive can also read print, but a child who only learned print cannot read cursive.

When it was time for me to first start working on Sandpaper Letters with Drama Queen, it was easy to make the decision to start with cursive; I had been convinced of the benefits in my Montessori course.  However, I was still curious to see how it would all work out.  I quickly began observing something another friend who begins with cursive had experienced: while Drama Queen was learning cursive letters in our lessons, she began writing capital print letters on her own.  I never spent a minute teaching her print letters, but it wasn’t long before she was fully writing in capital print letters.  I wondered if I was wasting my time with cursive since she never did that on her own, but I stuck with it.  It was just this past summer that she started writing her name in cursive rather than print.  When she is writing a note to someone, she usually asks me to write it on a piece of paper, then she copies it on her card.  Always before, she wanted me to write it “the way I write,” as she said it.  A few months ago, she switched to wanting me to write in cursive for her to copy.  All of a sudden it seems like, everything she writes is in cursive.  She absolutely loves any cursive handwriting assignments I give her, and even asks for more.  If it was up to her, she’d spend all our school time doing handwriting work.  There were a few times recently where before our official “school time” started, she was already in the room, hard at work on some writing.

IMG_5158                  IMG_5159

copywork                                            phonogram word list (She was copying from a list of print

words.  Also she got distracted and left off the “t” in “feat”!)

IMG_5163                                     IMG_5165

In her continent book, she chose to write in cursive.   Thanksgiving card (how do I turn this around??)

For us, I feel like following the cursive first philosophy has paid off.  Drama Queen is developing beautiful cursive handwriting, out of her own internal drive.  Plus, she easily learned print without any direct instruction, so at 5 years old, she can write and read in both.

Mr. BANG has learned all of his cursive Sandpaper Letters and recognizes all print letters as well.  Again, I haven’t intentionally taught him print – he’s just picked up on it.  Next week I’ll let him start his handwriting lessons, which will be cursive.  At this point, he hasn’t tried writing any letters of either form.

Which path have you taken?  What has been your experience either with cursive first or with print first?

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Montessori For Everyone has a good post on this topic, including a great series of comments giving perspectives and rationales for both sides of the cursive vs. print “debate.”

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Update:  I’m reorganizing my teacher cabinet and just ran across an article I printed last year but apparently never read.  It’s fascinating!  It’s written by a Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrician and explains the importance of waiting until both the left and right sides of the brain are formed before teaching children to read and write.  Also, she weighs in on this cursive vs. print topic from a scientific perspective.  Her comments are really interesting:

It makes more sense first to teach children to write the small letters of the alphabet in cursive before teaching them to print these lower case letters. When doing form drawings or writing in cursive, the right and left hemispheres are both active and working together. Printing of the lower case letters is a more abstract and advanced developmental task that requires the left hemisphere, which often isn’t developed enough for this task until seven to nine years of age. Girls may be ready to do this task by age six while boys often can’t do this task until after nine years of age.

She touches on handwriting again in her conclusion:

First grade is the time to introduce form drawing, learn the capital letters (as pictures that children can draw), and practice cursive writing. As the majority of children in the classroom strengthen their proprioceptive skills and integrate their right and left hemispheres (as evidenced by their ability to stand on one foot with their eyes closed, remember the shapes that are drawn on their backs, jump rope forward and backwards by themselves, and easily perform the cross lateral skip), then children can be more formally taught to read, and to learn how to print the lower case letters.

I definitely encourage you to take a few minutes to read the article, it’s very thought-provoking.  It definitely backs up Charlotte Mason’s philosophy that very young children need to be outside playing, not spending time in academics.

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Washing a Table, 3YO style

Have you ever noticed that young children absolutely love imitating what they see “their” adults do?  That is the reason that toy companies make, and parents purchase, so many toy versions of household items:  toy vacuums, toy food to cut and prepare, toy tea sets, etc.  Many adults don’t take time to think about it, but children frequently prefer doing the REAL task rather than just pretending.  My children regularly ask to handwash dishes.  I leave out materials for washing windows and for dusting, which are regularly in use.  They seem to feel honored when I let them put dishes in the dishwasher, or empty the dishwasher.  And it’s not just my kids – young children love doing the things they see their parents doing.  I’m sure most of you who are parents have some similar experiences with your children.  (To be clear, this only applies to young children.  Once they’re over it, they’re over it!  Take advantage while they’re young!)

That’s why I gave Mr. BANG (who only has 9 days left of being a two-year-old) a lesson on how to wash a table.  It’s a great lesson because it allows him to be a productive member of the family, as he wants to be, it increases his attention to detail, and it also helps him develop the discipline of carrying out the full cycle of an extended activity.

This is an “official” Montessori lesson, geared toward ages 3-4.5, and I presented it as I learned in my Montessori training.  I initially went through the whole lesson myself, while he sat in a chair next to me, studying the whole process.  (In typical Montessori fashion, pretty much all lessons are presented – with few or no words – first, then the child gets a turn.  My children are now used to that and have developed the self-control to sit and watch.)

Before the “official” Montessori presentation began, I had Ethan clean the crumbs, including cereal pieces, off the table with the crumb brush.  Then the presentation began with carrying the materials from the shelf over to the floor by the table.  There are a lot of materials for this work, so I demonstrated making three trips to carry it all.  I spread out the towel, then set each item on it in a particular order, naming each item as I did so.

I went through the whole presentation except the very last step – putting the materials back on the shelf.  Therefore, Mr. BANG started at the point of setting out the materials on the towel.  I will pick up from here sharing his experience.  As this is a long, complicated work, I did stay with him and give him verbal reminders along the way.

Mr. BANG put on his apron (with some motherly assistance) and moved the chairs away from the table.  I was pleased to see that he did it the way I taught him instead of just dragging them along!

He took the pitcher to the sink to fill it 3/4 full with water.  He did well getting the pitcher up the little steps to the sink and filling it up (he even copied my little finger gestures about where to fill it to), but needed some help getting down with the pitcher.  I had expected that, and was happy to assist.

Back at the table, he poured most of the water into the bin, leaving a little for the clean-up part at the end of the process.

He dipped the sponge into the water, squeezed the water out with both hands, gave it a gentle shake, and started wiping the table to get it wet.  I had demonstrated wiping with an up and down motion, from left to right, but he just moved the sponge haphazardly.  He did re-wet the sponge as needed.

He returned the sponge to its dish and picked up the scrub brush and soap.  He dipped both into the water, then rubbed the soap against the brush.  He dipped the soap into the water again, gave a gentle shake, then returned it to its dish.  I had demonstrated scrubbing using large circular motions on most of the table, alternating with smaller, gentler circles along the edge.  He imitated that fairly well.

   

After covering the table with bubbles, he rinsed the scrub brush thoroughly, gave it a little shake, and returned it to the towel.  He picked up the sponge, wet it, and started wiping off the soap from the table.  Again, I had demonstrated the left to right, top to bottom motion, but he just wiped wherever.  I did have to remind him frequently to rinse the soap off his sponge.

When all the bubbles were gone and he had rinsed the sponge and returned it to its dish, he picked up the drying cloth.  He wiped it around the table fairly well and got a significant portion of the table dry.  All that was left were some wet streaks – no standing water.  Anything left was dry in less than a minute.

Now, the table was remarkably clean, and it was time for the clean-up.  He had done what he considered the interesting part and casually let me know he was done.  I smiled and reminded him that he needed to clean it up and get it ready for next time.  He immediately reengaged without any complaining.

He poured the soapy water from the bin into the bucket.  It was pretty heavy, so I did step in and help with that.  He then poured the remaining water from the pitcher into the basin and cleaned out any remaining soap.  He poured that water into the bucket as well.

The next step was to dry each item with the cloth.  He started with the basin, then did the sponge dish, scrub brush (the handle part), soap dish (he poured the water into the bucket first), and the outside of the pitcher.

I helped him carry the bucket into the bathroom to pour out the water.  I had shown him how to pour it into the toilet, but he wanted to pour it into the sink, so I helped him with that.

    

He dried the bucket inside and out.  When all drying was done, he took the cloth, now wet, to our towel basket in the laundry room.  He got a new dry cloth from the shelf and placed it, along with the other small materials, into the basin.

He gathered up all the materials as they had been (he desperately wanted to fold the towel by himself, but I promised to give him a folding lesson soon and had him help me match up corners this time).  He then made his three trips and got all the materials back on the shelf, ready for the next time.

His final step was to put the chairs back in place.

That night during dinner, he excitedly told The Brain all the steps he had gone through, with the words just pouring out of his mouth.  He never actually told Daddy that he had cleaned the table, just listed all the steps!  As he spoke, his face was filled with pride at the big task he had accomplished.

Montessori is someone’s name? Part II

On Wednesday, we got to the point in Maria Montessori’s life where she had a very successful experience bringing many mentally handicapped children up to the academic standards of normal children.  That experience sparked a desire within her to work with normal children in similar ways, assuming she could also increase their learning.  It was seven years before she had that opportunity, however.

She decided she needed further education herself, so while a lecturer at the University, she also became a student in philosophy and psychology.  She studied the works of Seguin and Itard more in depth, to the point of actually writing out the entirety of their books by hand.  “I chose to do this by hand,” she commented, ” in order that I might have time to weigh the sense of each word and read in truth the spirit of the authors.”

Her continued work as a lecturer and physician included performing a special study of the nervous diseases of children (publishing her work in technical journals).  She also occupied the Chair of Hygiene at the Magistero Femminile in Rome, one of the two women’s colleges in Italy at the time.  In addition, she was made a Professor at the University of Rome, and served as the Chair of Anthropology.  She released her first major publication, Pedagogical Anthropology.

One attendee of her lectures stated, “In that opening lecture she spoke, not so much about anthropology, as about schools – what the function of a school should be.  She emphasized two main points:  first, that it is the duty of the teacher to help rather than to judge; and second, that true mental work does not exhaust, but rather gives nourishment, food for the spirit.”

You would think all that would keep Maria going non-stop, but in those years, she also practiced in the clinics and hospitals around Rome and even had her own private practice.  (Apparently, she had compassion on many of the people she treated through her private practice and frequently did not charge.)

Okay, so those last few paragraphs were rather resume-ish, but now we’re to the point where Maria started having amazing results working with normal children. Within two years, she went from just being known in her inner circle to being a world-wide name, with visits by kings and queens, professional educators, and people of all types and degrees, to see these amazing children for themselves.

There was a slum in Rome called San Lorenzo.  During a building boom, a number of large buildings had been built, and then abandoned.  A discovery was made that a thousand people, of the poorest class in the city, had set up “house” in the buildings.  “Here flourished unchecked all the evils of subletting, overcrowding, promiscuous immortality, and other crimes.”*  A building society stepped forward and built new flats for the families, jobs were found for the parents, and older children (ages 6 and up) went off to school.  This left a hoard of young children alone in the flats during the day.  As you could imagine, they created chaos, playing all over the place, defacing walls and staircases, and damaging various parts of the flats.  The authorities decided that it would make more sense financially to put them in one room and hire someone to watch them than to keep repainting and repairing the flats.

Here’s where Maria comes in.  One of the people in charge of this situation was convinced that Maria Montessori was the perfect fit for the job.  When presented with the offer, she jumped at the chance “for she saw in it the fulfillment of a long-cherished hope – the opportunity to work with normal children.”  She now had the responsibility of 60 children, ages 3-6.

Strangely, her budget was limited to things that would normally be office equipment.  Therefore instead of the normal desks you would find in any school of the time, she had little child-sized tables and chairs made.  My understanding is that this was the first time furniture was made specifically to fit children.  She also had precise scientific materials, similar to those used with the mentally handicapped children, made.  She commented that these, too, “had nothing about them which should be considered as school equipment.”

After Maria gave the inaugural address at the official opening ceremony she remarked, “I had a strange feeling which made me announce emphatically that here was the opening of an undertaking of which the whole world would someday speak.”

Well, she was right.  “In the whole history of education, from the time of Plato to the present day, there is no episode more remarkable than the series of happenings which came tumbling into being, one after the other, in the next six months…Montessori discovered that children possess different and higher qualities than those we usually attribute to them.”

I will list those here, but since this post is a biography of Maria, not an explanation of her method of education, I will not take up the space to describe them.**

  • amazing mental concentration
  • love of repetition
  • love for order
  • freedom of choice
  • they preferred work to play
  • no need for rewards and punishment (I still don’t get how she managed that one!)
  • lovers of silence
  • the children refuse sweets
  • a sense of personal dignity
  • the “explosion” into writing
  • the discovery of reading
  • spontaneous self-discipline
  • cosmic discipline

In a period of a few months, the children had transformed from out of control, destructive children to self-controlled children who eagerly engaged themselves in learning.  Maria continuously made new materials and new methods based on what she was learning from the children’s unexpected reactions.

An important thing to note here is that Maria was still busy with many other responsibilities during this time.  Therefore she had assistants who worked with the children on a regular basis.  Maria came and went, but spent as much time as possible in the school, and received regular and detailed feedback from the assistants.  At times, she literally did not believe what an assistant was telling her.  “It took time for me to convince myself that all this was not an illusion.  After each new experience proving such a truth I said to myself, ‘I won”t believe yet; I’ll believe in it next time.’  Thus for a long time I remained incredulous, and at the same time deeply stirred and trepident.”

It wasn’t long before a second “Children’s House” was built in another tenement building.  Then the visitors started coming, wanting to see these astonishing children for themselves and walking away in awe.  Queen Margherita of Savoy said, “I prophesy that a new philosophy of life will arise from what we are learning from these little children.”

One Englishman who was in Rome to visit his estates there decided to go visit the school. Instead of continuing on to Australia as planned, he went back home to England to found the Montessori Society in England and set up, in his own house, the first Montessori class in that country.

Two sisters who were teachers in Australia went so far as to sell their house and furniture to earn enough money to travel to Rome for the chance to study Maria’s school.

The government of New South Wales informed Maria that they had transformed all their kindergartens into Montessori classes.

Tolstoy’s daughter was also one of the pilgrims to visit the school.

As word spread, more visitors came and more of these new schools were started around the world.  Every one produced the same results in the children.

Maria herself was now traveling even more, giving lectures and teaching six-month teacher training courses all over the world.  (I was pleased to discover that the training course I attended was arranged just like the ones she did, only longer.)  What was really neat about all her speaking engagements was that no two were ever the same.  She was continuously learning more and therefore changing what she was presenting.  Many of her students attended multiple training courses so they could continue learning as she did.

Maria came to America for the first time in 1914, and was greeted quite enthusiastically.  Thomas Edison, who greatly admired her work, invited her to stay with his family in their home.  Alexander Graham Bell formed the American Montessori Society and served as its first president.  The U.S. President’s daughter, Miss Margaret Wilson, was the honorary secretary of AMS.  At the San Francisco World Exhibition, Maria set up a Children’s House with glass walls, surrounded by hundreds of chairs.  People crowded around to watch the children inside at work.  (I totally picture an ant farm that you place in your house.)  Of the two gold awards presented at the Exhibition, Maria’s “new children” took both.

One thing I never realized before is that Maria, a Roman Catholic, actually focused on teaching religion at various points in her life.  She wrote several religious books for young children.  Just before her death in 1952, a Catholic Montessori Guild was formed in England for the purpose on continuing this aspect of her work.  The day before she passed away, she wrote a message to be read at the inaugural meeting of the Guild.

Throughout the rest of her life, Maria continued researching, writing (only 30% of her writings have been published), lecturing, training new teachers, and, of course, spending time with children.  At 81 years old, she died suddenly in Holland, which had become her headquarters.

An appropriate end to a two-day post about her life is a quote from her concluding address at the Ninth International Montessori Congress, the last before her death.

Your action, ladies and gentlemen, in giving me this honour, has brought to my mind a very simple and homely simile.  Have you noticed what happens when you try to point out something to your dog?  He does not look in the direction you are pointing, but at your outstretched hand and finger.  I cannot help thinking that you are acting in a somewhat similar way in paying so much attention to me.  I am pointing – as I have never ceased to point for the past forty years – to someone outside myself, and you are saying in effect, “What a handsome finger she has!  And what a beautiful ring she is wearing!”  The highest honour and the deepest gratitude you can pay me is to turn your attention from me in the direction in which I am pointing – to The Child.

*I got pretty much all of this information from the book Maria Montessori:  Her Life and Work by E.M. Standing.  Unless otherwise noted, quotes are from that book.

**Full descriptions and illustrative stories of these are on pages 40-52 of the book named above.

Side Note:  E.M. Standing was a personal friend of Maria’s for decades.  Maria read through the book as Standing was writing it, so she could approve, review, and endorse it along the way.  She had agreed to write the introduction, but died before that could happen.

There’s a series of really neat photos of Maria, students at the original Children’s House in San Lorenzo, and Montessori students from around the world.  The first in the San Lorenzo row shows the children outside, surrounded by visitors there to watch them!  Awkward!

Montessori is someone’s name? Part I

Just now, I started writing a post explaining the whole Practical Life thing within Montessori.  A few paragraphs in, I realized that most of what I wrote wouldn’t mean much of anything to those unfamiliar with the basics of the Montessori philosophy.  I was starting to describe Practical Life in terms of the Sensitive Periods, Human Tendencies, and the Absorbent Mind, and thought, “Hmmm…most people aren’t going to have a clue what I actually mean by those things.”

So, allow me to take one giant leap back.  Mother may I?

Before I even explain basic Montessori philosophy, how about I start with letting you know who this Montessori person is.  Yes, Montessori is the name of a person.  Dr. Maria Montessori.  (That’s pronounced mawn-teh-SOR-ee, not monastery, btw.  You wouldn’t believe how many people…)

I’d say the three-word summary of her biography would be:  She was amazing!!  I just read her actual biography this week for the first time.  I had read (and even written) summaries, but those leave out all the great details and stories.  I was completely enraptured reading the full thing!  So, let’s see if I can summarize her 81 years of life, AND include a sprinkling of really interesting stuff.

Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in Ancona, Italy – the year in which Italy first became a united nation, in fact.  She was an only child, the daughter of a distinguished military man named Alessandro, and “a lady of singular piety and charm” named Renilde.*  Even as a young girl, Maria (I’m going to go “non-professional” and use her first name.  It just sounds nicer and less formal!) had a compassionate, caring heart.  She spent time everyday knitting for the poor.  She befriended a hunchback girl in the neighborhood and would take her out for walks.  One time when her parents were arguing, she pulled a chair between them, stood on the chair and joined their hands together as tightly as she could.  She was a peacemaker from the beginning.  (Later in life, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.)

She went to the typical school of her day as a young child, and doesn’t seem to have been very concerned with getting the best grades or meeting high achievements.  When a classmate was crying due to being held back a year, Maria consoled her by saying, “One room seems to me just as good as another!”

When Maria was twelve, her family moved to Rome for the purpose of providing a better education for her.  Around this time, she started having strong ideas about what she wanted to learn and what she wanted to do with her life.  At fourteen, she developed a passion for mathematics, which remained with her throughout her life.  Her parents strongly encouraged her to prepare for being a teacher, practically the only career available to women at the time, but she had no desire to pursue such a career.  She decided instead to be an engineer, which was unthought of for women.  Since it was a male-dominated field, she had to attend a technical school for boys.  She then was drawn to biology, and finally settled on medicine.

I love this line in the book*:  “All the Italian Mrs. Grundys raised their hands in pious horror.”  Maria ignored them and, against her father’s wishes, persistently pursued enrollment in the University and eventually became the first woman medical student in Italy.  She faced a lot of challenges there because of her gender.  Her male classmates gave her a very hard time, and since it was not considered proper for a female to dissect dead bodies in the presence of men, she had to spend many evenings alone, after dark, with the corpses.

She was finally nearly pushed over the edge and left the dissecting room one evening, ready to choose a different career.  However, encountering a beggar woman on the her way home, and observing the woman’s serene child, focused on playing with bits of colored paper,  she got her determination back.  She turned around and returned to the dissection room.

After graduation, it was tradition that each person deliver a public lecture to the faculty.  People arrived in a forceful spirit of criticism against this female graduate.  However, “her treatment of her theme was so brilliant, her delivery so faultless, her personality so fascinating, that all opposition was swept away and she received a great ovation.”  Her father had accidentally ended up at the lecture, not knowing that it was even happening, and found himself surrounded by eager congratulations for having such a daughter.  His daughter was now the first woman in Italy to earn the degree of Doctor of Medicine.  During that same year, she began to successfully champion the cause of working women and attack the exploitation of child labor.

(One piece of information that is frequently glossed over within the Montessori world is that Maria gave birth to a son during this time.  I’ve read that the boy was the result of a secret relationship with another student, and they promised each other to never reveal the relationship or the identity of the boy’s father.  I’m also confused as to his early childhood.  My understanding is that he did NOT live with his mom, which seems completely counter to her focus on proper childhood development within her career.  They were apparently very close later in life, however, and he shared her passion for educating children in this revolutionary way.  He filled many of her roles after her death.)

In her new role as assistant doctor at the Psychiatric Clinic in the University of Rome, part of her duty was to visit the insane asylums in order to select suitable subjects for the clinic.  She found herself drawn to the children in an asylum.  Observing them, she realized that due to the lack of any toys or any objects available for them to hold in their hands, they were meeting that need by handling crumbs on the floor after meals.  “There existed for these poor creatures, she realized, one path and one only towards intelligence, and that was through their hands.”  As she spent more time with them, always studying and observing, “it became increasingly apparent to her that mental deficiency was a pedagogical problem rather than a medical one.”

Maria began studying the works of Jean Itard, a French doctor who focused on deaf mutes, and Edouard Seguin, a French doctor who focused on mentally handicapped children.  After giving a series of lectures on the topic of mentally handicapped children being entitled to the benefits of education, a new school was started specifically for those children.  As director of the school, Maria spent two years spending all day with the children, then analyzing, reflecting, and making materials late into the night.  Under her skillful direction, a number of these children “learned to read and write so well that they were able to present themselves with success at a public examination taken together with normal children.”

Maria, however, wasn’t satisfied.  She reflected, “Whilst everyone else was admiring my [mentally handicapped children], I was searching for the reasons which could keep back the healthy and happy children of the ordinary schools on so low a plane that could be equaled in tests of intelligence by my unfortunate pupils… I became convinced that similar methods applied to normal children would develop and set free their personality in a marvelous and surprising way.”

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Come back on Friday and I’ll tell you about the opportunity she had to test out those convictions, what she did in the 7 years prior to that, and how that led to the Montessori schools that are so popular today.

*I got pretty much all of this information from the book Maria Montessori:  Her Life and Work by E.M. Standing.  Unless otherwise noted, quotes are from that book.

Sequence Cards

One lesson in the Montessori two-year-old manual that I own is to make sequencing cards for the young child to put in order.  It suggests taking photos of the child throughout the day:  arriving at class, hanging up coat, choosing a work…”  Then you would glue those onto colored paper, laminate them, and make them available to the child.  (Each child would have his/her own set.)

I decided to go the easier route:  the internet.  I lazily googled “sequence cards preschool” and found a long list of sequence cards that I could just print off.  Some of them were great and seemed very useful for our family, others either weren’t well-made or were based on books we don’t have.

These are the sites I used:

I started out with a very simple one for Mr. BANG and a more challenging one for Drama Queen.  I put each in a basket on a shelf.


Drama Queen’s lesson was with a set I had found based on The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  (You would think I’m doing a unit study on that book!)

I had her bring the basket to the rug, and also got the book from our book basket.  First, we talked about each picture, one at a time.  After we talked about each one, we placed it along the right edge of the rug.

Next, we began reading the book together and I told her we would be putting the cards together in the order they appear in the book.  So as we read, she would pick up a card and place it in a horizontal line across the middle of the rug.  Sometimes I would prompt her to get the appropriate card, and sometimes she would just get it while I was still reading that page.

When we finished, I let her know that next time she works with it, she can choose to do it with or without the book.

Mr. BANG’s first sequencing lesson only consisted of three cards.  The cards told a story about a daddy tucking his son into bed at night, something with which he has personal experience.  The original version consisted of four cards, but I left out “They tell each other about their day.”  We do that during dinner in our family, so that could be confusing to Mr. BANG.

Other than the book part, we did the lesson the same way as with Drama Queen’s lesson.  I had him set out a rug and bring the basket to it.  We talked through each picture as we set them to the right.

Then I asked, “Which of those happened first?” “Which one happened next?”  “What was the last thing that happened?”  With each question, he put the appropriate picture across the middle of the rug.

I have a few more of these waiting to be prepared to take a turn on the shelf.  There were some outline-only ones that I let Drama Queen color and laminate.

(I later found a different Little Miss Muffet one that I like better, but I’ll stick with these because Drama Queen proudly did them herself.)

My plan is to rotate the sequence cards probably every week or so – always having two options on the shelf.

DIY Montessori: Geometric Cabinet

The Geometric Cabinet is a Sensorial material used with a long series of lessons that last throughout most of the Primary years (ages 3-6) in a Montessori classroom.  The cabinet contains 6 drawers, each containing 4-6 cut-out wooden shapes with knobs on top.  (I’ve posted photos of each drawer in a later post.)

  • Drawer 1:  6 circles, varying in diameter from 10 cm to 5 cm
  • Drawer 2:  6 rectangles, varying in size from 10×10 cm to 10×5 cm
  • Drawer 3:  6 different types of triangles
  • Drawer 4:  6 different regular polygons (pentagon to decagon)
  • Drawer 5:  4 curvilinear figures (oval, ellipse, curvilinear, triangle, quatrefoil)
  • Drawer 6:  4 rectilinear figures (rhombus, parallelogram, right trapezoid, and isosceles trapezoid)

The series of lessons starts with getting familiar with the 2D shapes by tracing them and finding the matching frame, then learning the names of the shapes, then matching the shapes with cards placed at a distance – first with a filled-in version of the shapes, then a thick outline, and finally a thin outline.

The purpose of the work is to develop visual and muscular discrimination of two-dimensional shapes, as well as visual training and preparation for learning geometrical figures.  Indirectly, the tracing of the figures also prepares the child’s hand for writing.

Unfortunately, the Geometry Cabinet is also on the extreme side of expensive:  $506.10 from Nienhuis, $118.95 from the much more reasonably priced Montessori Outlet.  Yes, you get a beautiful cabinet that all six trays fit in for that price, and over three years it may be worth it to spend $120.  But whether it’s worth the price or not doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t fit in my budget.  So…homemade it is.

I did buy the demonstration tray, so I now use that as the one tray for all the drawers.  The drawers themselves are just where the figures and frames are kept when not in use.  I’m actually way behind on this series of lessons, because for a long time I thought I was just going to skip it based on the cost.  Therefore, I don’t have everything made and set out at this point, but I do have my plan.

With a regular Geometric Cabinet, children choose which tray they want to work with, slide it out of the cabinet, and take it to their rug to work.  My system is that the empty tray will sit on top of the shelf, with the drawers nearby.  Drama Queen or Mr. BANG will choose which drawer s/he wants to work with, open that drawer, and simply fit those pieces onto the tray.

To actually make the figures, I use foam sheets.  Many of the shapes are the same ones (and same size) as the metal insets (which I purchased), so those were easy to simply trace and cut out.  For the others, I just do the best I can.

The “official” colors of the Geometric Cabinet are yellow and blue, but I just go with what colors of foam I have enough of!  For drawers 5 and 6 (the first drawers you introduce), I made white frames and blue figures.  That used up all my white, though, so I’ll likely be using different colors for other drawers.  That’s not perfect, because some of the lessons involve using multiple drawers at once, and having different colors would take a lot of the challenge out of that.  So I guess I’ll either buy more foam or just allow the different colors.  (Pardon me as I refine my plan as I type!)

I bought some wooden “doll heads” at a craft store, which work well for the knobs on top of the figures.

As for the cards, I purchased the ones for the introductory tray when I bought the tray.  I plan to purchase the others from Montessori Print Shop for a mere $3.79.  If you haven’t discovered MPS yet, go take a few minutes and browse around there – it’s amazing!  They have TONS of fabulous materials that you simply print at home! (I print on cardstock, then laminate them.)  It’s definitely one of my favorite Montessori websites.

What about you?  Have you made a DIY Geometric Cabinet a different way?  I would love to see it – especially if you have a better idea for the cabinet itself.  Hmmm…as I’m typing this, I’m thinking a puzzle shelf might make a good shelf…  Has anyone tried that?

New stuff!

I always feel like it’s Christmas when I get a new delivery of items for our homeschool preschool.  Most recently, I placed an order from Montessori Services.  I would so love to order just about every item in their catalog, but alas, that is not possible.  These are the items I did let myself purchase this time.

Obviously, in front are two brooms, both child-sized.  Young children love feeling helpful and doing the things they see Mom and Dad do – including sweeping.  Giving them real tools, sized to fit their own bodies, is so important in helping them actually carry out the tasks they desire to do.  I will give my children a lesson on using the angle broom for sweeping inside, and using the push broom to sweep the porch, sidewalk, and garage outside.

Along the back are four trays.  I have several trays already, but keep needing ones of the smaller size (which I bought three of this time), and needed an extra large one that will fit a full sheet of construction paper.

On the dark green tray is a glass pitcher with a lid.  Drama Queen has been pouring her own drinks for a long time, and now Mr. BANG is doing the same.  However, the little pitchers we’ve been using don’t hold enough for both children to get refills – they’ve each had their own little pitcher cluttering up the table.  I’m excited about having this new pitcher that is still small enough that both children can pour from it, but it will hold enough water or milk for both of them.  This could also be great to keep on a low shelf in the frig for children to be able to pour drinks for themselves throughout the day.

On the pink tray is a set of tongs (or do you just call it “a tong”?) for transferring work.  I will place two bowls on a tray with small items in one of the bowls.  (That could be pom-pom balls, candy corn, popcorn kernels, etc.)  Then the child will use the tongs to transfer the items from one bowl to the other.  You would think this would be monotonous work, but it actually is very enjoyable to young children.  To them, the process is what is stimulating, not reaching some final product, so this is a very engaging activity for young children.

The purple tray contains two different crumb brushes for cleaning up a table.  The metal/wooden set is the only of these new materials I’ve put into use so far.  (I’ve had them less than 24 hours – give me time!  😉 )  I’ve been wanting it since Drama Queen was around 2, and am so happy to finally have it!  The purpose is to help the children develop the independence and responsibility of cleaning their area of the table after eating.  It’s like a teeny-tiny dust pan and broom, but it’s made specifically for table crumbs.  One of my favorite features is that the brush has a little magnet on the back, so it stays attached to the metal tray!

When Mr. BANG cleaned up after breakfast yesterday, he brushed the crumbs into the tray.

Next, he carried the tray over to the trash can.

Then he used the brush to slide the crumbs into the trash can.

Drama Queen eagerly went through the process as well.

The other brush is plastic with a brush on the bottom, similar to a sweeper that you would use to clean carpet.  It is best for tablecloths or cloth placemats.  I actually don’t have any experience with this one.  It was a spur-of-the-moment purchase because it came in a set with the metal/wood one.  (You don’t have to buy them as a set.)

The rest of the materials I received the other day are for a table washing activity.  We have done some table washing before, but never the full Montessori lesson with all the steps.  Part of my problem before is that I didn’t have quite the right materials; I used materials that I had around the house, and they were too heavy.  Now that we have appropriately sized and lightweight materials, I think Mr. BANG especially is at the point where he would really enjoy the concentration and movement it will take to carry out the full process.

* Drama Queen got to use the new pitcher tonight and it worked great!