Saturday, October 30, 2010

Montessori Conference Handouts -- Brain Research and the Enriched Environment

Someone shared this link to some handouts from a Montessori conference (American Montessori Society).  I have really enjoyed the one related to brain development.  I *really* enjoyed the book Magic Trees of the Mind, which talks about the development of the brain and how various connections (dendrites) are formed and then "pruned" as a child ages.  The handouts I was reading reinforced some of the things I had learned in that book.

In particular, it talked about the environment.  It was saying that our eyes process 36 thousand visual images per hour and that our eyes are constantly scanning the environment for the novel item in a familiar environment. For that reason, it is important to rotate materials and to use spaces to add beauty and novelty to the environment. Anyway, I found this good food for thought.

I was having a hard time this past week because I was super busy and by Thursday our homeschool room became really messy (just lots of projects/puzzles/thing strewn everywhere).  Once I had a chance to clean up, change our bulletin boards (we have two) to put up the kids' latest art work and projects... *I* felt better and LD said "Wow! Thanks for making it look so nice."  So, I'll continue to strive to keep things organized, rotated and fresh.  Good to know that the research backs my gut feelings, right?!

Here are the particular articles I was reading if you're interested:
1) Connecting Brain Research with Montessori Principles
2) Enriched Environments

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Snippets of our Week (for our 5-yr-old)

I've been meaning to put up a post about what we generally work on from day to day. But, with blogger not working for a while, I have a plethora of photos to share. So, here's a glimpse of what DD (just turned 5) has been working on these past couple of weeks.  Her "basics" include math, reading, handwriting, music/glockenspiel, arts&crafts and another unit-study (a lapbook in this case, but we usually have some sort of science/history/child-led unit occurring. Usually this is something we're working on together as a family.)

I called this pumkin bingo.  I made a die with 3-digit numbers on them.  Each pumpkin has one of those numbers.  We take turns rolling the die and covering our pumpkin if it has the corresponding number. To go along with that we've been building those 3 digit numbers using Montessori type number cards that we have from our Right Start Math curriculum (pictured below).

DD has been moving along quickly with her writing. I decided to purchase this writing, penmanship book from currclick called I Like Animals.  It is a bit pricey (I bought a bundle, which lowered the price a bit), but I have to say that DD LOVES this.  Yes, LOVES it!  She is zooming through it and works hard to get to the mazes.  So in that regard I can highly recommend it.  I printed it out on both sides of the paper and bound it together to look like a proper book.
DD practices the glockenspiel every day and now know about four pieces.  She won't allow Mom to help at all! In this photo she is playing Hot Cross Buns.
DD wanted to do a lapbook and chose to learn about butterflies and insects.  We took that opportunity to go through our classification cards.  We started with the living and non-living sort with free Montessori cards I downloaded from here.

Another day we used those same Montessori cards to sort the "living" cards into the five kingdoms. ( Sorry about the blurry photo.

We still enjoy lots of time in the woods!
Anyway, continuing on with our animal classification review... a few days later we pulled out the vertebrate and invertebrate cards (which again were free.  Thank you homemade Montessori!)  This was really useful because DD's lapbook delved into the differences among the various invertebrate groups and had some good mini-books that complemented these sorting activities.  I'll put up a separate post about her butterfly/insect lapbook.

DD has been learning to recognize the written numbers, so this activity from filefolder fun has been just great!

This is an activity I got from Montessori Print Shop at some point.  I think it might have been one of their free downloads. It has a close up picture of certain items and then a view of the object from farther away.  It was just a quick 5 minute activity, but it intrigued ED who also gave it a go. (You can see her pink foot in the picture... she's often trying to interfere when she feels left out. My main recourse at the moment, is to have her workboxes filled with activities I can pull out for her at a moments' notice such as a puzzle, sorting, a new coloring sheet or things like that. Now that I write that, it occurs to me that I should pull out some activity bags for her once again.)

DD reads through two or three readers each day (for a total of about 15 minutes of reading or so).

DD has been very, very proud of her lapbook.  Here she's showing off her latest additions to Dad.  I'll write a separate post about her lapbook soon.
We continue to have music class with some friends each week.  DD's music class is focusing on world music.  This week we learned a bit about about the music of Bali in Indonesia. We watched a short video of a shadow puppet show on YouTube. Then each child used actual shadow puppets that Grams passed on to us to act out their own short skit.
We had the gamelan music from someone's trip to Bali on in the background as each person got a chance to put on a performance with the shadow puppets.

In the beginning of our music class, we always sing a few songs together. The kids have loved the crazy motion song "My Aunt Came Back" Each week we identify where Japan, Algeria, Mali (Timbuktu), Holland and Niagra Falls are located on the world map.  The kids always laugh as each verse adds a new motion (a hand fan, sheers, wooden shoe, chewing gum, a ping pong ball, rocking chair etc.)
Here we are all playing "Go to the Dump."  We take turns turning over two cards. The object is to find two cards that equal 10 (10 and 0, 9 and 1, 8 and 2 etc.)
This ladybird math activity goes along perfectly with Go To The Dump.  It's from Early Learning HQ.
So that's it for DD at the moment. I'm planning to do a similar post for LD (age 7) and ED (age 2 1/2) in the next day or so. Oh yes, and also will share DD's lapbook. She's very proud of it!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Yay! Hooray for the Montessori Printshop

I had some wonderful news from The Montessori Printshop over the weekend. I won a $30 voucher for their products. I've been scouring their website trying to narrow down the selection since they have so many beautiful 3-part cards.  Thank you Montessori Printshop!

I'm having trouble with blogger ever since they did their "updates" on their image loader. Anyone else having those issues or figured out how to resolve it? So, I've had several posts mostly ready to post except for the pictures!  Oh well.  I should really be cleaning up the house or hanging pictures or folding laundry (and on and on) anyway!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Giveaway at the Montessori Printshop

The Montessori Printshop has an amazing giveaway going on between Oct. 15th and 22nd... worth over $500!  Be sure to go check out the details here.  They offer a wide variety of printable cards on everything from geography, culture, science, art, to math, language and more.  Their photos are vivid and appealing.

While you're there, visit their free downloads page to see what they have on offer.  I especially like the artist cards on Picasso and O'Keefe and think the photos they used on their free Australia/Oceania cards are just beautiful.  Check out the photo of Uluru (Ayers Rock) -- that's fairly close (by central Australian standards!) to where we used to live.

Creative Play

 The kids usually get up in the morning, eat breakfast and then play for a while (at least an hour if not more) on their own before we delve into any school-type activities.  This is often some of the most creative play of the day -- and I was particularly impressed by LD's idea today.  He took this little jack-o-lantern and some yarn and said he wanted to be able to send secret messages.  So here's what he devised:

1) the yarn extends from inside one room to the inside of the other room
2) a piece of string is attached to one side of the pumpkin and wraps around a door knob so it can be pulled into his room
3) another piece of string is attached to the other side of the pumpkin handle and is wrapped around a knob so that DD can pull it into her room

They spent well over an hour ringing a bell to let the other person know that a secret message was ready to be retrieved!

So much of what I share are the more school-related activities and crafts, but those are just brief snapshots.  To be honest, the kids spend much more of their day at play.
Although I'm like every else and stress that I'm not doing enough in this or that subject, I recognize and value the importance of play (and try to take comfort in that when the pace of our day isn't what I would like it to be.)  I've read a couple of good articles about how important play is for children to process and learn from the world around them (sorry, I don't have any good links to share).  And, I take comfort in the Steiner School philosophy of gentle, natural play during the early years (okay, so LD loves to build Lego ships whose main job is to blow up other things, but you know what I mean!) 
LD's Lego Submarine Creation (about 9 or 10 inches across)

There's nothing that noteworthy about this picture except that it's typical of their play--using a smattering of all kinds of things to create their stories and games.
And yesterday, I just loved hearing their shrill screams of joy as they tried to catch leaves as they fell off the trees! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fall Craft Slideshow

Someone on one of my yahoo groups shared this link to Valerie's Slideshow of Fall Crafts. There are lots of colorful fall and Thanksgiving related craft ideas. I was impressed!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Homemade Nutrigrain Bars

My family declared this recipe to be a real winner!

Since moving back to the US, I've been very concerned about the fact that most everything has high fructose corn syrup.  In fact, I did a lot of reading earlier this summer and even wrote a post about what I had learned but never put it up on the blog.  Here's a bit of what I wrote (back then):

I learned in my readings that HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is made by a chemical and enzyme processes that makes a concentrated fructose which the body doesn't recognize.  And unlike the fructose in fruit and such (called levulose) the naturally occurring enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, fruit pectin etc. has been stripped away in HFCS. The video I watched last night (actually several months ago now but you can see it here. It is well worth the time!)  explains how fructose is digested in your liver and is converted into fat rather than being converted to blood glucose.  The presenter likened drinking a can of coke to drinking a can of beer (the way your body has to process it). Scary!

Anyway, back to the homemade nutrigrain bars.  Sometimes I need to grab a quick snack to have on hand when I take the kids to their activities.  I wrap these (or put them in small containers) to grab on the go in place of the more expense store bought bars:

1 cup butter (or margagine) softened (30 secs in microwave worked well for me)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup whole wheat (wholemeal flour)  flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup almond meal (or just 1 full cup all purpose flour... almond meal is a bit expensive and I found it in the baking/organic area of a store called Wegmans, but not at our close-by grocery store)
1 1/2 cups oats
1 teaspoon almond extract (I made it once with almond extract, once with vanilla extract--they make very different flavored bars)

press 1/2 the mixture into a 9X13 greased baking pan
spread a whole lot of jam (such as strawberry or raspberry preserves) on the top (the recipe calls for 16oz but I only used about 8 or 10 oz -- perhaps a bit over a 1/2 cup?)
crumble the rest of the mixture on top of the jam layer

Bake at 350 (170C) for 20-25 minutes.
Cool and cut into bars
Apparently they freeze well, but mine disappear too quickly so I can't attest to that!

Here is a recipe for Raisin Bars which are similar, but which my kids like even more than these Nutrigrain Bars!!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Books I'd Recommend for the Study of Jamestown Colony

**FREE COLONY RELATED CARDS: I just noticed at that their current free product is on the American colonies.  There are lots of picture cards related to colonial life -- pictures such as chamber pot, cotton, embroidery, flax, hearth, hornbook, indigo, tallow,  and more that would be great discussion points for the elementary crowd. One set of pages has a detailed description of the word, another group of pages includes Montessori-style three part cards. If for some reason you miss the free download it is normally 50cents (US).

Here are some of the books we read this week. They really helped bring the rich history of Jamestown settlement alive for the kids.

Molly Bannaky by Alice McGill -- This book was BEAUTIFUL! The illustrations were gorgeous and the story was compelling. This is the story of Molly Bannaky, who was brought to the New World as an indentured servant. She wound up buying a slave, falling in love with and marrying him. Her grandson, Benjamin Banneker became a well known scientist.

Sam Collier and the Founding of Jamestown
by Candice Ransom -- This story told about the founding of Jamestown from the perspective of one of the boys who came to Jamestown.

The True Story of Pocahontas by Lucille Recht Penner -- This added some rich detail about Pocahontas since the other books only briefly mentioned her role in protecting John Smith when he was captured by her father, the Chief of the Powhatan Indians.

Historic Communities: Colonial Life by Bobbie Kalman -- includes actual photographs which help bring the era to life.

A Children's Color Book of Jamestown in Virginia by Priscilla Hunt -- This book was 46 pages with a paragraph on one page and a drawing to color on the adjoining page.  The history was really rich in detail and I would HIGHLY recommend this for anyone wanting to learn about the history of Jamestown settlement (for early elementary ages).

I would highly recommend any and all of these books!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Jamestown Settlement -- What We Learned This Week

We have learned a lot about the history of Jamestown settlement this week:
Three hundred years ago,the English wanted to create a settlement in the Americas.  They knew about all the gold and silver that the Spanish had been bringing back from the New World and were determined to gather some of these riches themselves. They financed a trip with three ships to sail to the New World, to Virginia.

More than 100 men and boys crossed the Atlantic Ocean.  Many of these men were quite wealthy and hoped to amass a great fortune in gold.
The settlers had to bring all of their supplies -- everything they would need to survive in the 'untamed wilderness' called Virginia.  These supplies were brought over in the hold of the three small ships.
Their journey took about five months.

At first the settlers slept on the ships or in tents.  Soon they set about building homes to live in, a church, armory and other structures. But the building process was slow as the wealthy men did not help as much as they should have. 
One day, a band of painted Indian warriors attacked the colonists with bows and arrows.  One boy was killed and several men were wounded.  The colonists then started building a palisade, a very tall fence, to protect them if another attack occurred.

We got to see the inside of many of the buildings including the church, the armory, the warehouse, blacksmith's shop and more.
The colonists faced a lot of hardship. They faced starvation and illness. Many colonists died.  John Smith faced his own trials as he was captured by the Powhatan Indians(but was saved by the Indian chief's daughter, Pocahontas).  Upon his release, relationships with the Indians improved and the Indians even brought food in the winter that saved the starving colonists.
The kids saw how hard everyone had to work. In the end, Jamestown became prosperous not from gold (they didn't find any), but from growing tobacco.
The kids tried on the armor, which was very, very heavy!

If you are looking for a good book about the history of Jamestown settlement, I found this book just fabulous for LD (and for the early elementary grades).  It is full of rich history details (for example, when John Smith became President at Jamestown, he made the colonists work hard.  If a colonist cursed, he had cold water poured down his sleeve!)
This is a coloring book, though we're not using it in that way. It provided rich pictures for LD to look at as I read the history of Jamestown. It is called A Children's Color Book of Jamestown in Virginia by Priscilla Hunt.
I'll share a few other children's books in another post that have really made our studies of Jamestown come alive for the kids.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Field Trip -- Learning about the Powhatan Indians

We've had Grams and Gramps visiting us for the past several weeks.  Last weekend Grandma and Grandpa also came out to visit us to celebrate DD's 5th birthday.  Happy Birthday DD!

Then we headed off for a four day holiday.  What is AMAZING to hubby and me is the fact that we can drive a few hours and be someplace completely new! When we lived in central Australia it took us 14-16 hours to drive to the nearest city! We loved the area we lived in with its red rocks and amazing Outback scenery (you can see some of my old pics in the "Where We Live" link in the sidebar to the right), but now America feels beautiful and exotic to us!!

The kids know little about American history (yet) but had a good introduction with a visit to historic Jamestown settlement. Here are a few pictures of the Powhatan Indian village recreation. It was very hands-on which certainly appealed to the kids!

Powhattan Reed Dwelling

Our guide for the day, an old family friend, gave us a detailed and wonderful descriptions of the various tool, hides, herbs and so forth.

The kids were able to work on this deer hide, trying to remove some of the hair with clam shells.  Our guide/family friend told us that the deer hide would have been cured with mashed up deer brains and water.  The brain, she told us, was just large enough to soften the entire deer hide.

Indian tools made from animal bones.

Grinding corn to make corn flour.
This is a Indian dugout canoe made from one tree trunk.  Below the kids saw how the tree trunk was slowly burned and cleaned out layer by layer.  DD was completely covered in soot by the end of this display. Luckily ED wasn't interested because of the smoke!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fall Theme Activities (Leaf Science Experiment)

 We collected leaves in the woods to do a science experiment from on why leaves change colors.  This was such a great activity because we went over the types of leaves (let's find a maple leaf, oak leaf, etc.)

Then we chopped up the leaves, put them in glass cups, added rubbing alcohol and hot water.  Then after a half-hour we put in coffee filters to see what other colors are present in a leaf.

What huge sycamore leaves!!
I explained to the kids that chloropylls (the green colors) hide the other pigments that are present in the leaf.  In the fall, leaves stop producing chlorophyll and it's easier to see the other substances that are present such as cartenoids.  I asked LD what "cartenoids" sounds like (he said "carrots") and I asked him what colors it might produce... orange and yellow.  That was our simple explanation for why leaves change colors. Other pigments include xanthophylls (yellow) and anthocyanins (red).

We chopped up our leaves and added them to these glass cups. I added the rubbing alcohol and the kids took turns adding hot watter.

The colors were not as bright and colorful as LD was expecting, but you could definitely see the orange, yellow and red colors.
For more details about this experiment go to

You might be interested in these other posts (over at our new location,