Sunday, October 4, 2015

Then and Now

Nathan as a preschooler
Nathan at Graduation
I've been pondering time this weekend. I had some time on Friday night (it was rainy and cold and I was happy to be stuck in the house). I took out my old song notebook and sat down on the piano bench with my guitar.

Just the act of taking out my notebook (from 1988), my guitar (built in 1963 and purchased by us in 1995ish) and sitting at my piano (built 1950s or 60s, bought by my parents in 1978) is a study in time.

What really got me thinking was looking through my notebook. In there are songs I had written, was trying to write or had been written by other artists of the 1980's and 1990's. It was clear from my lyrics (cringe) that I was longing to find a soulmate; someone to spend my life with. It was also pretty clear that I didn't think I was soulmate material. 

I paged through the book and played through songs I haven't thought about for a long time. The songs that I remember best speak of a longing for family, for children. All the things I've had for more than 20 years now.

I'm getting to the point of looking back instead of looking forward.

Today I went to see my parents. It is my mom's 76th birthday. My dad is 79. We talked about our children (my brothers and I are their children and my children and nieces and nephews are their grandchildren - obviously). My mom said, "People don't think they need children when they're young. When you really need them is when you are old."

Nolan as a preschooler
Nolan as a Senior
Singing all those old songs and thinking about all those longings I had for a partner and then all the conversations Mike and I had (once I had him as a partner) about our future and our family made me somewhat nostalgic. We are past all of that. Our children are young men embarking on their own futures. 

It made me wonder about my now. Is my now the future I had envisioned? Of course we can never envision exactly how life will turn out. There are always bumps (or mountains) in our paths that make us steer in directions we could never envision.

But all in all, I'm happy with the choices we've made. We don't have a large house, a large income, new cars or fancy furniture. What we do have is well adjusted children (young men, really), careers we adore and a place to live that we love.

If I was still writing songs (which I am not), I do wonder what I would write about.
Mike and I when we were first dating
Mike and I a few years ago at his sister's wedding
I still have ambitions and dreams. I am still working to fulfill them. I remember my friend, my priest, Fr. Leo telling me a long time ago, "There is a time in life for everything." How true that is. 

I find myself in a time of life of change again. But now I know that change is slow. I enjoy each day in a way I didn't when I was young. I enjoy each moment with my boys. These moments don't come around in the same way they did when they were children. But they still come. My aim is to make sure I embrace them all.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Montessori Bootcamp Review

My classroom set up for the beginning of the school year.
Hello everyone! Many of you may have already started school and many are looking forward to starting in a week or so. I can't wait to get back into the swing of things. We had our meet the teacher/camp carnival evening last week and it really made me realize how much I miss my students. This is the first year one of my own children will NOT be returning to school. My eldest graduated in June and has secured a full time job. It is wonderful to see what an amazing young man he has become but also strange to be the mother of an adult. My youngest son returns to his last year of high school. He will be attending a culinary program full time for his senior year. In many ways I think this kind of program is similar to what he might have gotten in a Montessori high school. 

I haven't been on the blog for a while but wanted to give a little review of the 21 Day Classroom Setup Bootcamp in which I participated for three weeks this summer. You can find my other blog posts about this 'camp' here, here and here. The bootcamp was created by Seemi Abdullah from Trillium Montessori. Seemi is a great Montessori resource and a wonderful person. I was able to meet her at the American Montessori Society conference in Philadelphia this year.

So what did I think about the bootcamp? Wow. I'm not sure how to keep all of my thoughts to one blog post but I will try. The bootcamp encompassed so many aspects of classroom setup it's hard to relay. I have to admit I did not participate everyday nor with all of the assignments. I have a feeling it was that way for most of the participants. I think what I'll report on were the items I found most helpful.

First, I did appreciate the organizational component of the course. Sometimes there are things we know are important but aren't as fun as material making or setting up shelves and we relegate them to the end of our list when they need to be at the beginning. Things like the teacher and assistant manual, parent relations plan and record keeping. It was good to get some organization in those areas and clean off my shelf full of papers at the same time!

The thing I found most helpful was shelf mapping and the floor plan. My co-teacher and I spent a huge amount of time working out the floor plan of the classroom last summer. I took over from another teacher in the middle of the previous year and was not happy with the floor plan (just personal opinion, nothing against the previous teacher). After living with it for a year we remained happy with the setup. Of course, it isn't perfect but it is as perfect as can be with the shelves and tables we have.

Learning how to shelf map was definitely the most rewarding learning I've done in a LONG time. I wrote a blog post about it so I won't go into detail but I thought I'd post some before and after photos to show how I've changed things to make them more in line with the progression of materials and developmental needs of the child. I'm showing only two areas of the classroom: Practical Life and Language. These were the two areas that I changed the most and with which I was most unhappy in years past.

Practical Life art and sewing before the shelf map.
Practical Life art shelf after the shelf map
In the two photos above you can see how I changed the art shelf. Excuse the fact that the materials are incomplete. I won't have markers, crayons, pencils, etc. until the first week of school. One big change I made in practical life was to add more sewing to my shelves. I also combined my wet and dry fine motor shelf. I have found that there is much less misuse of the sewing materials than the fine motor materials in general and the children love the work and gain so much more concentration from it than most other practical life works. I don't know if this is because of some fault of mine with the pouring, scooping and tonging works (not giving proper lessons, etc.) but I'm giving this new set up a try this year and will reflect on it after we've been using it. The top shelf of art now includes plants and animals to care for.
fine and gross motor wet works before mapping

care of environment shelf (sewing sequence and wet works) after mapping
Above you can see how I changed things. By mapping the shelves, I was able to see that I should have things combined more by area (care of environment, art, fine motor, etc.) than I did in the past. I bought the book Sewing in the Montessori Classroom by Aimee Fagen and am using her sequence this year on our shelf. I highly recommend this resource. The sewing sequence for the beginning of the year is on the top two shelves and the care of environment wet works (table scrubbing, shell washing, plant care and glasses polishing) are on the bottom shelf.
fine motor shelf before mapping

fine motor shelf after mapping
Above is my fine motor shelf before and after. I now have things arranged in this way:
  • top shelf - whole hand
  • second shelf - three finger
  • third shelf - wrist, arm
This arrangement will really help me as I am changing out the shelves each month. I now know exactly what should be where!

sound cabinet before
sound cabinet after
language shelf before
oral language and writing shelf after
advanced language shelf after
The above photos show my language shelves before and after. I had always felt I did not have enough oral language materials and this arrangement has really made me think we are better prepared for the upcoming year. I have a number of students with language delay or disorder as well as some who could use additional conversational skills and I think this new arrangement will really help us to provide more practice.  Instead of adding to this VERY LONG post, I am going to add my shelf maps for download so you can see just how I have things set up now. Click to view: Language, Math, Sensorial.
Storage before bootcamp
storage after bootcamp
close up of storage
Finally, one of the easiest but one of the most dramatic (visually anyway) changes you can see above. I use clear plastic containers for storage. You can see just how messy they looked before Seemi suggested putting craft paper on the sides of the containers. I also took down the extra materials that were in the classroom before I took over. I went through everything and decided that I could combine the materials that belonged to the school into one box instead of the large plastic tubs. I also combined my musical instruments and stored a few other things in other areas of the classroom. What a difference!

So, all in all, I have to say I am so glad that I participated in this bootcamp. It was well worth every penny and I would highly recommend it to both new and experienced teachers. Seemi allows us to continue to have access to all the videos and downloads so that if there were parts of the bootcamp I didn't have time or energy to complete, I can go back and work on them at another time. 

Now I really can't wait for the school year to start!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Montessori Bootcamp Day 3: Shelf Mapping

I absolutely was not going to blog today. In fact, I was fairly certain I wasn't going to work on my day three bootcamp today, either. I spent most of my day working with my younger son on scraping, sanding and priming our shutters. It is not a fun job but it was nice to spend the day with my 17 year old. We talked about his thoughts about the future. He's spending his senior year at a full day Culinary program and hopes to work in (or own) a restaurant some day.

Our assignment for today was to create shelf maps for the main areas of our classroom (Practical Life, Sensorial, Math and Language). To summarize, we were to take our Montessori albums and organize the topics into grids and then take those grids and figure out how each material should fit on the shelf.

For instance, in Math I tend to break things down into 1-10, 11-20, decimal system, operations and other (fractions, money, measurement, etc.). So in a classroom you may decide to have one shelf with works that teach 1-10, one shelf for 11-20, one for the decimal system, etc. Of course, we are not all lucky enough to have shelves perfectly matched to our materials break down and often have to modify. 

Thus, the shelf map. 

To be honest, for the most part I don't have too much trouble deciding how to arrange my shelves and how to order them. However, I have struggled with the arrangement of my Practical Life materials and so I thought I'd use today's assignment to work on that one area of the classroom since I was going to rearrange it before school starts anyway.

I did not have my Practical Life album at home and so I went to Montessori Research and Development and looked at the table of contents for their album. Frankly, I think I like how it is ordered better than my own.

Here's my sunroom workstation
Seemi recommended we outline using a table method (which ends up looking like a shelf cabinet!). I had a hard time using that method and went back to my old favorite: the list.

The above photo shows my list. I broke down the areas as they were presented in the table of contents. For those of you not familiar with Practical Life in Montessori, this is not an all inclusive list. These are the materials that would be put on the shelf. There are lots of other Practical Life lessons that we practice like grace and courtesy, how to carry a tray, how to roll a rug, etc. So this list just includes things that I will be creating for the shelf throughout the year. 

  • control of movement
    • whole hand
    • 3 finger
    • wrist
    • arm movement
  • care of environment
    • plant care
    • washing
    • polishing
    • dusting and sweeping
  • care of self
    • hand washing
    • dressing frames 
  • food preparation
    • snack
    • table setting
  • sewing
  • art

Above you can see my "final" map. Each rectangle represents a shelf cabinet or area. Here they are in list format:

  • Easel
  • sculpting table (play doh)
  • art shelf (with plants on top)
  • control of movement shelf
  • sewing and care of environment shelf
  • hand washing
  • dish washing
  • care of environment hanging - dusting, dust pan, broom
  • care of environment shelf 2 - spill tray, crumbers, floor cloths, window washing
  • food prep (I forgot to add it on the map, oops!)
I'm quite happy with the change. This will also really help when I'm changing out the classroom once per month.

Finally, a word about why I really wanted to change this area of the classroom. The exercises of Practical Life are to assist the child in four ways: order, concentration, coordination and independence. 

The Practical Life area of the classroom is a vital gateway to all the other areas of the classroom. Without concentration and coordination it is difficult for children to go on to the more advanced math and language activities like addition and handwriting. 

I have found that often Practical Life exercises are not used properly in the classroom. Some children hide away in this area when they are really ready for more advanced work. There are times when the materials are used in fantasy play in such a way that the materials have lost their original purpose. In other words, they are not assisting the children to integrate order or to help them concentrate. The children are not acting in a normalized way in this area of the classroom.

I believe one of the reasons is that I had not had Practical Life set up in such a way as to best serve the children. With my new map in hand, I am hoping to see some changes this coming school year.

I wonder if I have time to tackle my Language shelves now?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Montessori Bootcamp Day 2 when I almost fell down the rabbit hole.

Today's assignment in the 21 Day Montessori Classroom Setup Bootcamp was to create an Assistant Manual. I have a tremendous co-teacher (the term we use in my school) and so she doesn't necessarily need this kind of manual. Of course I would be fooling myself to think that I will never have anyone else working with me! So I took on the challenge to create the manual.

But first, I almost fell down the Montessori rabbit hole.

In our email about today's adventure, Seemi pointed us in the direction of a few Montessori blogs and websites that had information about assistants. I've scoured the web for years looking for materials and information about Montessori and thought I knew pretty much most of them.

Not so.

When I clicked on the link for Beautiful Sun Montessori I had to take a deep breath. She has tons of FREE materials. Yup. Tons. Yup. Free. Of course I immediately began reading through her blog and planning on which materials I NEEDED to make for my classroom and how I just wanted to keep reading.

Then I gave myself a little kick.

I reminded myself that I was doing this little bootcamp for just this very give myself a little structure, especially when working on the parts of the classroom I find less interesting (making assistant binders, for example). So I took another deep breath, reminded myself that I had full days to work on each area of the classroom within the bootcamp and that I could use those days to make materials. 

Today was to complete the assistant manual and finish up yesterday's teacher binder.

Yesterday I showed you my classroom and the areas I use to store my office type supplies. I referred to the fact that I also use my sewing room at home to make materials and to stay organized. After I narrowly escaped the rabbit hole, I took a look around my sewing room and realized I needed to do some organizing of my Montessori shelf. I had been just throwing papers on it for a while. I took a trip to Walmart and purchased my yearly planner, classroom calendar and a few other things (including more card stock for that rabbit hole project). I got all my binders and papers out so I could begin organizing. You can see what resulted in the photo above. 

It has been a really hot and humid day today. We do not have air conditioning in our house so after I got my papers organized and finished up my teacher binder, I printed out the necessary papers that I wanted to check out and took everything for my assistant binder to our cooler sunroom. I spent quite a while down there this afternoon working on the assistant binder. I see you can also follow my eating for the day in these photos!

Above, is the final photo. My binders are quite plain because I tend to reuse things I already have. The blue is for my co-teacher and the white is mine. I tweaked things a little from the way Seemi has the bootcamp organized but I'm sure everyone has it that way. The biggest changes are with the teacher binder. I added a tab for assistant training and put some of the training papers and a few articles there for my future reference. I also added a tab for behavioral observations. I want a place to write in specific observations and instances of behavior that we are following in certain children so that when I am talking with parents I have very specific information to follow up my concerns.

In the assistant manual I also wrote up our snack preparation procedure on its own sheet because I find that most adults give way too much help to the children who are preparing snack. 

All in all it has been a hot and sweaty day but I am feeling very good about all that I accomplished. Thanks for being a great commander, Seemi!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Montessori Bootcamp: Teacher Workstation

Happy Monday, everyone. I have to admit that sometimes over the summer I forget which day of the week it is. But, Monday it is and today I woke up feeling some excitement. Why, you ask? 

Last week I was invited to participate in a Montessori Classroom Set Up Boot Camp by Seemi from Trillium Montessori. Seemi is a wonderful presence on the web for the Montessori community. She runs a school in North Carolina and has some amazing materials, many of which she gives away for free. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Seemi at this year's American Montessori Conference in Philadelphia. It is always a joy to meet people you know from the web in person.

Anyway, last week I used the money I made from my Montessori Visual Schedules to sign up for Seemi's boot camp. She was offering it at a steep discount and I thought I would use it to get myself really prepared for the upcoming school year. 

So this morning I woke up with excitement because today I received my first email with my homework! Today's lesson was to set up the Teacher Workstation. I have to admit that this one was pretty easy for me as I cleaned and organized my classroom at the end of last year. It has still been interesting to see what Seemi deems necessary and how I will tweak it myself.

I have to admit that I split my work station between my sewing room at home and my classroom at school. I don't have photos of my home environment but took some when I went to school today to clear out the weeds from our classroom garden. 

Obviously I won't recreate everything Seemi told us in her email (you have to sign up for yourself for that!), but I'll give you a synopsis. First she mentioned all the office supplies you need for the year. Things like a three hole punch and different kinds of glue and brass brads and a first aid kit, etc. She also talked about different ways to store the items. 

The above photo shows my classroom storage cabinets. You can see that I keep clear bins on the top of the cabinets. These include one bin for trays, one bin for baskets and five bins for Practical Life. I break up the P.L. bins into autumn (Sept. Oct. Nov.), December/January, February/March, April/May. There are two bins of items that belong to the school. I don't get into these much as I have so much of my own items! I also keep my musical instruments and the botany cabinet up on top when it is not in use. 

The cabinet doors are organized from left to right as art, science/geography (2 doors), language, practical life and sensorial, math, and office type supplies. We also have a teacher closet at our school in which I always purge a few things and from which I take a few things each year.

The children each have a hook and spot under the cabinets for their tote bags, coats, shoes and slippers. It is quite full when school is in session! To the right of the cabinets is my 'teacher shelf.'

 Here's a close up of the shelf. It does not look like this during the school year. I do my best to keep this shelf looking tidy but I have to admit it gets messy very quickly. Right now I have some items I bought at a garage sale and also some spanish language and sewing materials stored on the shelf. These will be stored in the cabinet when school is in session.  

During school, I like to keep my lesson plans on the top shelf along with any notes that are pertinent for the current week (i.e.: children going home early or with someone new, etc.). The second shelf includes the sand tray (I don't keep it on the shelf anymore but get it out when using it for lessons) and on the paper trays I keep our purple folders (we send info. home once a week in the folders to each child), paper for map making (we pin punch our maps) and folders that include consumables that are currently on the shelf, field trip folder, folders with paperwork for my readers and anything else that is used often.

The fourth shelf holds large and small clip boards for the children and the lowest shelf holds my albums. I'm tweaking the use of the rest of the shelving space this year. I want to give my assistant teacher a shelf. She is in charge of the children at lunch and often wants to have books and music stored somewhere. I do usually keep library books that I plan to read and also materials for group lessons somewhere on the shelf. 

Like I said, it gets cluttered quickly!

Finally, here is the inside of my first cabinet. It looks very messy but is actually organized. I keep most office supplies here. Because we are a larger school, we have a small room for school office supplies and larger equipment (photo copier, large stapler, 3 hole punch, book binder, etc.). We also have a very large paper cutter and loads of paper in their own room as well as an art closet. So I do my best not to keep too much in my room that I can get elsewhere. Of course, as I'm the last room in the school I get my exercise going to the front of the school for everything!

At home I have a laminator, three hole punch, paper cutter and large table for material making. I don't make too much at school as there is really not much space (or time!). I use Microsoft Publisher to make most of my card materials. I hope to make a few more before the summer is out!

There was a lot more to Day One of the  boot camp including making binders for record keeping etc. but I'm not going to get into that here. I did bring home my record keeping binder from school. I have a three page record that I keep on every child over the three years that they are with me as well as all of their parent conference papers. For the children that have therapists, I keep a separate folder for those notes and file them in the child's personal file each year.

Tomorrow's lesson is on the assistant handbook. I have a WONDERFUL assistant but I am looking forward to seeing how I can put together a better handbook. I hope to blog about this experience but know that it won't happen every day as I'll be too busy doing all the homework!!!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Las Frutas Freebie

Hola! I'm excited to bring you the next set of my Spanish language cards for the Montessori classroom or homeschool. This one is actually a two for one deal.

I completed a set of cards pertaining to fruit. For this work I purchased some fake fruit at our local Dollar Store. They did not have a banana so I had to go to Michael's for that one. Of course you can always use real fruit if you are working at home with your child. It's a little harder to use real fruit for a work that is going on the shelf in my classroom. We will use our new vocabulary during snack and lunch, however!

 I used a large and small basket to set up this work which will look lovely on the shelf once I get it to school in the autumn. As with most cards you can also use this as a card matching or three part card work by printing the cards twice.

I've included two sentence cards with this work. There is a card that asks, "What are you eating?" and an answer card that states, "I am eating.." with room for the object or photo.

In this way you can take turns asking each other about the food and practicing vocabulary at the same time. Of course I can see two students having a ball with this work! The download has a full page of instructions, too.

I have some great ideas for some more phrase and sentence work so keep visiting throughout the summer. I have also put a page tab at the top of the blog so that it is easy to see what Montessori Materials are available.

Oh, yeah....I guess you want the link to the download. Here it is:

Monday, July 6, 2015

Visual Schedule Cards for the Montessori Classroom

It's hot and humid here in PA! We've had quite a bit of temperate weather this summer and I was getting quite used to it. It's back to normal summer weather today. I hope you are all enjoying your summer, no matter where your place in the world.

I wanted to share what I've been working on. I posted about visual schedules a few weeks ago and how they can be used in the classroom. There's a free sample in that post so if you haven't already seen it, head on over!

That free download has just a few choices from each area of the classroom. I wanted to make a more complete set of cards for myself to be prepared when I have those kiddos with learning differences who need this kind of assistance. 

If you are interested in the full set, please go to my etsy shop! I have tried to price the cards very reasonably while still making a little money after the seller fees. 

Today I thought I'd share how I'm storing my cards.

I took one of my son's old binders, laminated some file folders and got out the sticky velcro!

I laminated one folder for each area of the classroom, punched three holes down the left side of the folder and added sticky velcro to the inside and front cover of the folder. Not every folder needed velcro on the front.

You can fit thirty cards on the inside of each folder. Be sure you stay far enough away from the holes so you can still put the folder in a binder easily. 

You can see I didn't use too much velcro. I attached the velcro to the back of the photo and then attached the whole thing to the folder to make sure I had enough room to fit the photos.

I was able to store my first/then cards in the back of the binder and the student work folder in the font. So everything is nice and compact....a necessity in most classrooms.

I hope you will find these little cards useful. One of my customers mentioned that she plans on putting some cards in a basket for those children who don't need a schedule but are having trouble finding something to do. They can pick out a card and get to work! I thought that was a great idea.

Here's the link to my etsy shop: simplysewn. There is also a link on the sidebar of the blog. 

Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful rest of your day!
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