Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Unveiling A New Practical Life Exercise

It has been about two weeks since school let out for the summer and I am already thinking about new Practical Life materials for next year. My thoughts have been ignited by a recent find at a local thrift. I am so excited about putting it in the classroom and have already searched the web and found eggless recipes. I feel confident the children will mastered this new material quickly as they made their own playdoh last year. What was also great about my find was that it was in mint condition and all of the pieces were included in the slightly battered box.

I was also thinking that they could use it to make snack on occassion. Obviously, an adult would have to complete the last steps to prepare it and then the children could serve it cold with garlic and olive oil or hot with red sauce. Ooops...I think I have given too many clues. You have probably guessed my new Practical Life material. If not, let me tell you now - making pasta. I found an impressive child's pasta machine for $5.00 at the Goodwill. It is made of sturdy plastic which enables me to plop it into the dishwasher after school. I am already asking myself, "Why limit it to making spaghetti? What about ravioli?" There is a device included for making just that. They would mix together a simple filler such as ricotta cheese and herbs and fill the ravioli. What a wonderful gift to bring home for the family. (* My only hesitation is that several children go to our afterschool program and it is so hard to remember that a child has pasta in the refrig. at pick-up time.)

All and all though, I am excited. I have included a few photos and a copy of the eggless pasta recipe. Oh, I just had another idea. A wonderful way to use the carrot work and this new material would be in making homemade vegetable soup for a Friday winter snack. My mind is a rushing river of thought. I invite any additional ideas for use of this wonderful find in my classroom next year. Hmmmm...that is a long time to wait...I think I should try it out and get use to it before introducing it to the children. So, over the weekend I will make a second post regarding this material and include photographs of and commentary on the machine in action. But for now, here it is for all of you to ooh and ahh over.


Eggless Pasta


2 cups semolina flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm


In a large bowl, mix flour and salt. Add warm water and stir to make a stiff dough. Increase water if dough seems too dry. Pat the dough into a ball and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 10-15 minutes, cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Roll out dough with rolling pin or pasta machine using 1/4 at a time. Keep rest of dough covered to prevent dring out. Cut pasta into desired shapes. Cook fresh noodles in pot of boiling water for 3-5 minutes and drain.

This recipe from CDKitchen for Eggless Pasta serves 4)

***** Special note to all of my current parents - try not to tell your child about the Pasta Machine. It will be one of September's new lessons!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Spontaneous Tracing - Muscular Memory Viewed

Have you ever noticed a child sitting with a material and simply tracing its outline; her movements slow and deliberate. It is a poetic scene.


Years ago, I took a graduate course at the University of Minnesota called "Cinematic Poetry." The films were made by independent artists and scenes from each return to me on occassion. I am reminded of a particular one now. It was made by a woman filmaker whose name I have forgotten. The main character in the movie repeats a motion over and over again throughout the film. She sits in a chair with both of her empty hands raised to shoulder level - the palms facing each other. While the rest of her body remains still she slowly rocks her hands up and down; a seesaw like motion. It was later realized by myself and my fellow students that the filmmaker was having the actress mimic an action she had often seen her grandmother do when she was a child. The actress was re-enacting the movement of creating a skein from a ball of yarn.


When I see a child slowly tracing the outline of a single sandpaper number or letter of the moveable alphabet, I know that they are repeating learned behaviour via some of their earliest Montessori lessons. Yet, I also acknowledge their quiet joy in completing the act and then repeating it.


While I lived in Minnesota, I worked briefly at Lake Country Montessori School in their after school program. One day I saw a co-worker, who had attended the school for many years as a child, washing his hands. After he placed both hands under the faucet, he carefully rubbed a piece of soap between his palms. Then he placed the bar of soap on the edge of the sink and began washing his hands. The pointer finger and thumb of his left hand slowly circled each of his right hand fingers and washed them individually. I watched him like I was viewing a PBS documentary.

When it came to drying his hands with a small towel, he dried each finger in the same manner as he had washed them. This man who was in his earlier twenties completed every step of the hand washing lesson I had just learned in my evening classes at the St. Paul Montessori Training Center.

I was fortunate to learn from this experience that the lessons given in the classroom last a lifetime. Each time I see one of my photographs of a child spontaneously tracing the outline of a letter, a leaf, a shape or any number of things in the classroom or outside, I remember this young man washing his hands.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Graduation 2008 and Packing Up the Classroom

Graduation 2008: It rained all morning. The children arrived 45 minutes early and we did what we could to entertain them while they sat in their 1950's costumes. The boys had their blue jeans rolled up and their hair greased back. The girls wore sneakers and poodles skirts. Their hair was pulled back into pony tails. Then the moment came and we all went upstairs. The students seated themselves in their designated places on the stage while their teachers sat nearby. The music started and so did the singing and dancing. Suddenly, a boy raised his handed and politely said he had to use the bathroom. Quietly he left the stage with his teacher. The music teacher stopped the performance and played music until he returned. It started again exactly were it had stopped.

After several songs and dances, the diplomas were handed to each child and our head of school read a lovely poem that he had written about the 2007-2008 school year. Tears ran down cheeks. Mascara smudged. Sniffles were heard. Then everyone had cake and off they went; out into the rain and on with the rest of their lives. Many of the children had attended our school for four years (we do not have an elementary program). It's been lovely!!!
That was last Friday. On Monday my assistants and I began cleaning the room and packing materials away till September. The room was dismantled almost as fast as the vcr was on the last day of school. See below:

Above: Here I am filling the cupboards with practical life and science materials.

Me, wondering what material this pitcher went with.



I intend to continue posting all summer long as I am taking a science seminar and I have so many photos that I simply have not had time to write posts about. I am also running a summer book club with several school parents. We are reading a Montessori classic. I will post more soon and I will be sharing theirs and my insights after each meeting. So keep reading and leaving your comments. I can't began to express how much your feedback has meant to me.

Thank you!!!

The Last Day of School 2008

We had early dismissal at noon on the last day of school. Other than that it was a work day like every other day - well for the first two hours at least. The last hour was fun and more fun. That means that there were popsicles for all! And then, in a dime spin, it was over.


But before the farewells were said we did work. One of my annual end of the year rituals is to bring in old alarm clocks, telephones and vcrs (the head of our school donated this year's) and turn them over to the awaiting hands of the graduating older students. They immediately dismantle and take them apart (with a little help from me). The two older boys were stunned to find a magnet in the telephone. The girls quickly had the front of the vcr off and were taking pieces out of it left and right. They were passionate in their actions and never once lost interest in what they were doing. They only left their work when they needed more screwdrivers, or tape or whatever else that they decided they would use to reconstruct what may only be referred to as their art.

The boys were given the front piece of the vcr and soon I noted that the clear cover of a clock was taped over part of it. A telephone wire draped here and there. I warned the other adults not to ask too many questions regarding these constructions. I felt that if we asked too many questions that the students did not presently have answers for that we might risk dis-enchanting them from their own work. Ultimately, the students might have abandoned the work due to their inability to define it in adult terms. "Let the work speak for itself," the head of my school was overheard saying. Here are a few photographs:

As they began taking apart various items, they recorded their findings.


Also, the buttons were counted for various sensorial materials and a bar graph of the totals was completed:


Ohhhhh, and did I mention the poodle skirts!!! A few parents sewed the skirts below, one for each of the graduating kindergarten girls. The theme for this years recital was the 1950's. Graduation took place the day after the last day of classes. I will include a few pictures in my next post.

Bar Graph 1: Pink Tower, Red Rods and Color Box II

It was on the very last day of school that my assistant Jill counted the buttons that the children had put in the various designated boxes over the past ten days. Part of this lesson included predictability. Perhaps that is why when Jill was carefully counting and placing the buttons in vertical rows the room was energized with anticipation.

In the end the pink tower won in regards to usage by students. The color tablet box II was used fifty percent less than the pink tower. The red rods came in a close second.

For those of you who may not have noted my brief inclusion of this lesson in Photographic Album Number 7, let me go back a few steps and re-post those photographs. Knowledge of graphing is listed in the math curriculum for incoming first graders at our local public schools. Although we do not shape our curriculum to satisfy others, we do review several curriculums prepared by a number of local towns. We assess what we can include while preserving our Montessori method and material usage and what we can't.

At a recent Montessori conference, the guest speaker spoke of two teachers who wanted to find out which was the preferred material - the brown stair or the pink tower. They decided to put small boxes with slits in them for coins next to both materials. The teachers informed the students that they were to put a coin in the designated box when they used either materials. After several weeks the older students took the boxes to the rug and counted the coins in each box. They then made a bar graph illustrating the recorded number allowing the children to visually identify which of the two materials was most often choosen. I did this but I added a third material: color box II.

Note the buttons next to the circular boxes both above and below.

The only issue that came up was the putting in of buttons simply for the joy of it and not for using the materials. This was done mostly by my younger students who were delighted to push the small button through the little slit in the box. It made them giggle. At the end of the day, after the children had gone home, I removed those added counters so the totals would be correct. The children also had the opportunity to note the predictions that they had made at the beginning of the exercise and compare them with the results. Most of the children had predicted that the red rods would be the most selected material. They were suprised when it was not. I will repeat this work in the fall and throughout the year. However, I will change the materials used every month or so.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Shadow and Light - Montessori and Modern Art

We have had some very warm days of late. They were perfect to give lessons outside; especially messy ones. Over this past year, we have been studying geometry and place. We have made cubes, door mobiles and many other materials that promoted the exploration of geometry. This week, I decided to conclude our studies with a lesson on lines; lines created by shadows. I showed the class a photograph of a scultpural piece done by a contemporary artist. Next, I gave a verbal description of how we were going to make similiar objects. I also explained that we would shine a flashlight at the finished pieces to view the shadow-lines that the forms created. The results were spectacular. I really was amazed at how successful the project was.

First my assistant Cristina and I moved the children and the materials outside to a picnic table. At the table I mixed together flour, white glue, glitter and water to make a soupy mixture. Then I dipped several pre-cut strands of black yarn into the mixture and wrapped them around a small, pre-inflated balloon. As I was busy with all of this, it was impossible to photograph each step. Somehow I did not get a photo of the yarn being wrapped onto the balloon - my hands were covered in glitter-goo. So, I have included a few photos before the yarn was put onto the balloons and the balloons with the yarn on them hanging from the playground's monkey-bars. I have included some amazing shots of the pieces after they dried outside overnight. One photo captures a little bit of the shadow image. See below for all photos.

Above: The image in the lower left hand corner is of an art work done by a contemporary artist. The shadows cast are as interesting as the sculpture itself; an obvious intention.

Above: I mixed Elmer's glue, flour, glitter and water together to make a wet paste. Next, I added pre-cut sections of yarn to the mix. Each piece of yarn was pulled from the paste and carefully wrapped around a small, blown-up-by-adults balloon. The children were careful not to put too much paste on the balloons as the weight could cause the yarn to slip off. After several pieces of yarn were wrapped around each balloon, they were hung from the monkey bars to dry overnight.

A single balloon hangs from the monkey bars.

Yarn and paste covered balloons hung out to dry.

Above two photos: Close-ups of the children's work. The balloons shrunk while the paste dried so we left the balloons attached as they added color and an additional form to the objects.


We held individual pieces up and shone a flashlight on them so as to cast shadows onto a backdrop of white easel paper. The shadow images were incredible!!!

The image of the contemporary art work and the children's work.