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The Moveable Alphabet



The Diary of an AMI Montessori Theorist



Updated: 2018-03-08T07:06:42.347-08:00

 



New Blog About My Life In The Arctic; At the Top of the World

2016-12-10T09:43:34.662-08:00

Please come and visit me over at my new blog, My Cultural Atlas. I have been quite busy here hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle! I am having connectivity issues this morning so pictures will have to be posted later. Time to get a quick bike ride in as its only -2 this morning. See you at my new place soon!





Where Have I Been and Where Am I Going?

2016-07-28T18:03:19.273-07:00

Yes, it is me - Susan Slocum Dyer.  I am finally making a post here at my blog, The Moveable Alphabet.  I have been busy. Very busy.  I moved back to Alaska a year ago this August 1st. I accepted a position with the Annette Island School District in Metlakatla, Alaska, a Federal Reserve located on a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean.I was hired to work as a Public Montessori Pre-School/ Kindergarten teacher (my students were aged 3 to almost 7 years) in the R.J. Elementary School. The school received a large grant to bring Montessori to the district; a district which is part of the Alaska Public Schools. So, in fact, I worked and still work for the State of Alaska. Initially, I found it very challenging to weave together public testing (AIMSweb), running records, formative / performative / summative assessments for my lesson plans and Montessori methodology. Too, I had to study and sit for the PRAXIS I Reading Test, Writing Test and Math Test - separate tests based on public school content. In addition, I had to pass the PRAXIS II Content Exam - Early Elementary Education : Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. Also, I had to apply and be accepted into an MAT (Masters in Education Program) - which I did, and was accepted into the University of Alaska Southeast's program this past January, 2016.As a distance learner, I completed a full time load of preliminary courses for the Fall Semester of 2015 and the Spring Semester of 2016 (while teaching full time). I learned so much this past year and I cried much also. It was so challenging and so rewarding. My students were all Tsimshian natives. My memories from that classroom community will remain with me for the rest of my life. I still have so much to reflect upon and write about. I have several posts to add here about that experience and hope to began doing that soon.Metlakatla, Alaska Metalkatla, AK is located on a small island in the Pacific Ocean.  Above: This beach was just down from the house I rented.  Photo of me above: I often took  a float plane to get to Ketchikan to do my shopping or to get outside of Alaska via the international airport located there. Above: My good friend Jennifer, a Tsimshian native, who taught right across the hall from me. She is a Public School teacher who became a Montessori teacher - a Public Montessori teacher. We were both changing and evolving our teaching methods simultaneously. She helped me greatly and I hope I helped her. She belongs to a Tsimshian tribal dance group which performs locally and internationally. Now, I am preparing for my next position with the State of Alaska. I have been hired as a kindergarten teacher for the North Slope Borough School District in Barrow, Alaska - the top of the world. It is hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle.Barrow, Alaska Where I have been and where I am going - Above image: Barrow is located at the farthest point North and Metlakatla is pretty much the farthest point South in Alaska.  In the photo/map on the right above, Metlakatla is the small, nameless island south / below Ketchikan, which is located in Southeast Region of Alaska. Barrow is located in the Far North region.------------Above: Fred Ipalook Elementary School in Barrow, where I will work starting August 1, 2016. The above photo: This is a photo of the tribal practice of the blanket toss that continues to this day. I hope I get to experience it!I am nervous and excited. I have sent my crates of personal and teaching items earlier this week. I will be a kindergarten teacher; public, not Montessori. I may have 5 and 6 year olds in my class, but no 3 and 4 year olds. There is another Montessori teacher already there and she is going through all that I have begun. I have another year till I complete my Master's program and will sit for PRAXIS II exams when that concludes.I am a teacher, like so many of you. It is an amazing adventure. There are children all over the world hoping that one of us will arrive and be their teacher.[...]



Imagine

2016-04-04T20:19:18.747-07:00

Recently, at the Unitarian church I have started to attend, I sat in the pews and listened to a choir composed of older members sing "Imagine," John Lennon's famous song. I had not heard this song in a very long time, let alone sung live. It was an emotionally moving experience. Later that same day, I went to see Al Pacino's new movie, "Danny Collins." Fifteen minutes or so into the movie, the sound track played Lennon singing the same song. It was a beautiful coincidence. When I left the theater, I began to think about what I imagine or have imagined. My mind was quickly filled with photos I have taken and posted here. For the second time that day, I wept at the beauty of it all.This past week, I sorted through those mental images. I remembered how often I had asked myself to "imagine" the infinite possibilities the Montessori method offers people of all ages and of diverse backgrounds. It was the act of visualizing one of these, combined with formulating a lesson, identifying the materials and then inviting a child or an elderly individual to sit and work with me (or a group of one or the other), which resulted in so much good work. It was a rare moment when someone declined. Yet, the vision of possibility was not complete until they engaged in it. They transformed it from a hope to a reality. Too, what I imagined became theirs and they made it more. Once I presented the lesson and provided the materials, I became the assistant and observer. From that place, I watched with wonderment and awe. Later, in the evening hours, I wrote about it. Imagine toddlers given enough space to truly express themselves artistically. *** Imagine other toddlers sewing - alone and collaboratively.***Imagine children (3-6 year olds) asking if the leaves of a plant would collectively form an ellipsoid or an ovoid. Imagine these same children designing, constructing and racing their own catamarans.Imagine the elderly playing the Montessori bell game; quietly and carefully walking across the room and passing the bell to another.Imagine them building with blocks that remind us Montessorians of the constructive triangles.Imagine a child with high spectrum autism sewing a little, felt pouch.Imagine that same child stopping on a walk to smell and feel the plants along the way.  Four more images hover in my mind and must be shared. I watched these moments, yet they were not planned or imagined by me. They came to be because each of the individuals photographed acted independently and/or creatively within a space that provided them the opportunity to do so.A child with high spectrum autism learning to tie her shoes for the first time.An almost one hundred year old woman listening to music on her headphones and moving her hands as a conductor would.A young girl in one of my Primary classrooms pulling a chair over to the open door so as to sit and watch the rain. Then leaping up with her hand outstretched hoping to catch a drop or two.A toddler sewing with such grace and beauty as to still one's heart. "Everything you can imagine is real," Pablo Picasso.I have much more to imagine...[...]



Toddler Room - My North Star

2015-03-28T08:33:03.553-07:00



It was a very busy and at times hectic morning in my classroom today - 13 toddlers (4 of which are 2 sets of twins), a visiting/trying it out 16 month old child, her mother weeping in the corner of the room saying she was watching her daughter growing up so quickly, another parent who wanted to speak to me in the hall and so much more. What I do when I feel the room falling into a mildly chaotic state is look for that one child sitting quietly and engaged in focused work amid it all. That child becomes my North Star. I focus on their calm self and slowly feel that same centeredness quietly spread throughout the room. Soon a shift occurs and peace returns to the classroom - all of the children working or playing calmly. The power of one focused child...wondrous beauty. The child in the photo is pairing shoes via first measuring them on her hand. She was my North Star today.



***************

"The child simply takes up an attitude of profound isolation, and the result is a strong peaceful character, radiating love on all around. Arising from this attitude are self sacrifice, unremitting work, obedience, and at the same time a joy in living, like a bright spring that sprang up among surrounding rocks, and is destined to help all living creatures around it. The result of concentration is an awakened social sense, and the teacher should be prepared for what follows: to these little newborn hearts she will be a creature beloved." (Dr. Maria Montessori, 'On Discipline - Reflections and Advice', AMI Communications, 1991, 4, 22)




Toddler Room - Sewing 2

2015-03-26T17:59:41.613-07:00

I was busy helping another student sew a crooked line up a length of burlap when two other children came to me with the cardboard sewing cards I wrote about in my Sewing 1 post. As my hands were already filled, I thought that perhaps one student could hold a card while the other sewed it. I briefly put down the work I was currently engaged in assisting, reached across the table and showed the two  how to hold upright the card and, again, how to insert the lace in order to sew. I went back to helping my original student, but kept an eye on the others. I was truly amazed how quickly they were able to work as a team. They were very patient with each other. Too, they did finished the card, collaboratively. Pretty cool!Her turn:His turn: Her turn:His turn:  “The child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. He has shown us the true process of construction of the human being. We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them.... The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.” (Maria Montessori - Education and Peace)[...]



Toddler Engagement in Geography, Mapping, Habitats and The Naming of Animals - Part 2

2015-03-21T17:42:40.781-07:00

After a fleet of hooves, paws, flippers and more where stamped into salt dough, the suggestion of a landscape with mountains and valleys emerged in the work. I had started with the intention of introducing the continent Antarctica to my students, instead the focus shifted to an unnamed land that we defined by its white (ice or snow) color and the animals which inhabited it. In this way the work took on similarities of how the grammar material is presented in the Primary classrooms. We present a red circle for the verb and say that it is like the sun as it radiates energy. Words that have the red circle symbol above them in the sentence analysis work are "action" words. The word "verb" is not introduced until the children are in Elementary 1. They understand how it's used and identify words that are that, yet the child does not name/label it verb.This is how my work attempting to present the continents to the toddlers is beginning to be shaped. They know the color the continent is identified with (white), they know a specific group of animals are only used on the white landscape and they can name those animals.They have also begun to create habitats for those animals to occupy.  I had purchased some furniture from Ikea and noticed that their white packing materials would make excellent caves. This is what it was used for. They were placed on table length sheets of paper and flour was dusted over them to simulate snow. I drew blue lines and arches here and there to create a suggestion of borders and waterways.They moved around it selecting an animal or two which they then placed and positioned here and there.The children were very quiet while they worked. Nap time was just coming to an end. A student would rise from their cot, put their shoes on and then come to the table. Within seconds they were using the materials. One student slowly lowered her face into a pile of flour "snow." Yes, her face. She raised her flour covered face, smiled and for a moment I imagined an arctic fox sitting there looking at me. It was so wonderful.This work is also the first introduction to prepositions - inside, outside, above, below, etc.Then, in conjunction with this continent work, I started to pool together animals for comparative use. A pig and a warthog share the same snout. Pigs and cows both have utters. An ermine and a harbor seal have similar faces. A wolverine and a wolf, although from two distinctly different taxonomic groups, share the same-type padded paw with five toes - as my student below joyfully discovered.The children were fascinated by the details of each creature. They showed great interest when I demonstrated to them that both the cow and the warthog have split hooves.Collectively, we made so many discoveries. In the back of my mind, during all of the work, I also knew that language acquisition was one of the cornerstone elements of all the work in the toddler environment. I needed to listen to my students and to hear them vocalize words newly added to their vocabulary. I will always remember the day, only a few weeks after we had first begun this work, I heard one of my students, who was working with the salt dough, excitedly declare, "Baboon! Baboon!"Hearing that child call out, "Baboon" confirmed this was the right, age appropriate work for them and it invited me to think about what else could be added. Next, I brought in a racoon to pair with baboon so as to highlight the oo sound. We started beating out the sounds - two beats for both baboon and racoon, one for both cow and pig. This continues to evolve. ****My thoughts returned to my initial goal - to teach continent work to toddlers. My next thought was flags! I could give an introductory lesson on flag making. After the children made them, they could temporarily anchor them into a salt dough hillside or island before taking them home. It worked out so well. The children eagerly engaged this work, too.Days later one of my o[...]



The Toddler Room - Sewing 1

2015-03-26T16:50:42.120-07:00

I introduced sewing to several of my toddlers two weeks ago and it has been such a hit. Initially, it was challenging for them to use both hands - one for holding the piece of burlap and the other for holding the needle. Too, they had to turn the burlap over each time the needle was poked through and then pull it out the opposite side. Their fine motor skills and eye/hand coordination were working hard. Yet, they were dedicated to mastering the act of sewing a line or a zig zag variation of a line.Before I write anymore, let me first go back to the basics - the materials prepared for this sewing work.A small tin for housing the plastic tapestry needle and thread. Several pre-cut pieces of burlap. Using a permanent marker, dash marks were made up the length of each - a guide for the child sewing. The needle and one of the bundles of thread housed in the tin. I tied the thread to the needle. This prevented the thread from slipping out of the eye. I also made the first stitch and then knotted the end of the thread to the piece of burlap. When I gave a child their first lesson on sewing, I named the needle and its eye. I also took the bundle of thread, unwound it and then carefully guided it through the child's closed fist so they could feel it and its length. Below, you can see a child repeating this independently. As they pull the thread up through the fabric with one hand, the other holds onto to the thread and feels it pull through their hand.Too, when they pull the thread through and upwards, it is that reach of their arm - that length - that captures so much about the significance of this good work, as does that look upward.The toddlers now sew everyday. Here are just a few photos of them doing so.Here is one of the finished pieces:Last week, I introduced sewing cards. These were much more challenging. The stiff needle for poking through the holes was absent. In its place was thread or lace with a plastic tip. This was hard for the children to manage as it often fell back out of a hole they attempted to push it through. Also, the cards weren't flexible like the burlap. This lack of flexibility resulted in the children placing the cards on the table and attempting to lace or sew it. This resulted in frustration - when they poked the thread through the hole it bounced back out when it hit the table. After much effort and determination, they figured out how to use both their hands, as with the burlap and needle, and to manipulate the sewing card and the thread/lace simultaneously. An amazing feat for a toddler. After a card was sewn/laced and the child returned it to the shelf, my assistant, or I, removed it, pulled the thread/lace back out of each hole and then re-placed it back on the shelf ready for the next child to use. In a few months, perhaps they will do this themselves.Such focused work. Beautiful...all of it.  [...]



The Toddler Room - The Washing of the Animals

2015-03-21T06:45:16.572-07:00

We frequently use our classroom animals - anatomically correct figures of animals - with salt dough to make impressions and such. Often the animals are returned to their special basket with dough clinging to one side or the other of them. This hardens and is still present the next time they are used. I decided that they should all be cleaned before we closed for Spring break; that the children should give the animals a bath - a washing of the animals. I would also invite the participating children to dry the animals as their parents dry them with a towel after their baths. I had no idea if my toddler students would engage this work or not. I was going on a hunch that they might. I knew they would enjoy playing in the water, but would they be able to resist just doing that and focus on the task of cleaning the animals. What I didn't imagine was how profoundly beautiful this work would be or that I would be reminded of Robert Coles great work, "The Spiritual Life Of Children."Too, I did not prepare myself for the emotions that rose up within me as I watched my very young children devote themselves to the tender care of the animals. They engaged in empathetic actions towards each one. I do not think they believed them to be alive, yet after washing each, they named them and placed them carefully on the table. They never splashed the water or tossed the animals. These are objects that represent real creatures; living things. Unable to express their emotions with words, the toddlers expressed their attachment to these representational beings via tender actions. Too, their actions and engagement could easily be classified as play therapy.  I sat watching them work. They were working with such concentration. At times their bodies  were bent forward and their shoulders lowered. Animal in hand, they washed and patted each dry. Beautiful; so beautiful. Toddlers as St. Francis himself. y A gathering of animals, all in the care of the wonderfully young. [...]



Toddler Classroom - Introduction to Printmaking (A Soon to be Tote-Bag Project)

2015-03-15T17:04:28.559-07:00

I spied several of my children using the cap of the paint jar to make circles over the past several weeks. Some viewed this as a misuse of materials. I thought perhaps it was the absence of materials needed to serve this interest in making circles. Last week, I put out a circle cookie cutter and a matching sized dish with white paint to be used for exactly that. They loved it and repeated the work again and again.I don't suggest they make things like snowmen or such. Instead, I listen to their comments about their work."Many moons," was one of those.In this short video, you can see the child putting such great effort into this work. His friends gathered around to watch. This was the first time he used the materials. Gosh, he really enjoyed himself.The next day, I offered the same child, who was engaged in doing the circle work, three cookie cutters. These were to be used with the paint (a larger dish of paint to match the size of the cutters was also provided) so as to print those shapes onto the paper. The three offered were polar bear, fish and bird.I have observed the significance of using similar/same images or patterns in regards to language acquisition and image identification. Simultaneously, these serve as a comfort for very young children. Via the consistency of images/patterns (polar bear, etc.), the child is more likely to accept their use with different materials (i.e., clay, paint, rubber stamps) and engage new work. Initially, these same three cookie cutters were offered for use with the salt dough work.Exploring the world at large with known or familiar tools provides greater opportunities for focused work and academic/intellectual leaps.*********From clay to paint: imprinting/printmaking. ------------------------Material Note: Not having handles on the cookie cutters was the greatest challenge. It was difficult for the children to grasp them and hold onto them when they were printing an image. I am working on that. Next - using the same tools to stamp/print tote-bags and...well, that is a secret - an end of the school year surprise. I have a plan and you know what happens when I do...[...]



Toddler Engagement in Geography, Mapping, Habitats and The Naming of Animals - Part 3

2015-03-14T10:38:40.913-07:00

Although acquisition of language is a corner stone element to all the work done in the toddler environment,  I want to note various other skills the toddlers have been learning via this work.How to use a spoon to stir inside a bowl. Here they are making a batch of our salt dough. How to use a rolling pin. How to make an impression in clay.   How to roll clay into a ball.Introduction to flags and flag making.Introduction to trails or pathways.Introduction to pattern repetition and recognition.Introduction to intentional drawing vs scribbling. Note on video: Most of the other students scribbled quickly, lost interest and walked away. This student worked on his drawing for 15 minutes or more. He would stop, raise his arms, look at the work and then return to it. He was so focused on his work and absolutely quiet. When he finished, I asked him what he had drawn. He answered, "Racoons eating." He often requests to use our plastic racoon when he is working with the salt dough. He frequently does the Antarctica work, walking around the table with one animal or another in his hands, marking trails with them and moving here and there navigating the flour "snow" covered paper. Now he is making great effort to draw a landscape where racoons eat. He didn't scribble. He drew with intentionality. Here is the video:I see a map that includes bodies of water and, yes, even racoons.-----And the list continues - introduction to prepositions is obvious: above, below, over, under. I will probably sneak back now and then and add more. Yet, I am going to switch gears a bit and write about art in the toddler classroom in my next few posts. Oh, and their sewing, too. They love to sew![...]



Toddler Engagement in Geography, Mapping, Habitats and The Naming of Animals - Part 1

2015-03-14T09:37:06.666-07:00

I dreamed this dream where the continent work that I was so familiar with inside the Primary classroom was disassembled and then reassembled in such a way that very young children could roam from one continent to another with ease and agility and in so doing learn the names of a diverse population of animals and their habitats. Too, they would wander across landscapes in such a way that they would engrave upon it roads and trails which intersected with the pathways of other living beings via models of those. Yet, first, before all of that, they would identify the tracks made by an animal and  then another. Simultaneously, this would be their first notion of beginning and ending; of movement via one marking and then another. They would differentiate between a split hoof and a paw. And they would create prints of said creatures while uttering their names.This would be a reconfiguration of the narrative Where the Wild Things Are as it would replace fictional creatures with those named polar bear and  penguin; these were the first two. Later the list would grow and include harbor seal, baboon, racoon, cow, five types of bear (polar bear, brown bear, black bear, Kodiak bear and panda bear), pig, ermine, and so many more.Another layer of the above would be mural painting. Yes, toddlers painting murals. Utilizing table lengths sheets of art paper, the children would collectively paint a landscape of colors and, in a similar fashion to the Montessori saying, "Take a walk with the chalk," they would stretch across this field of paper and mark it with the paints on their brush. These markings would swirl, arch, circle back onto themselves and, now and then, ebb into a wave that one could almost hear splash against the beach of white paper. Too, jazz music would whisper to them as they marked the world with their first inscriptions. Yes, I dreamed all of this too and then gathered the materials I needed. That gathering continues, as do the dreams. I knew within my very being that as soon as the children where guided how to use these materials and given the language they needed to engage them, that I would soon be watching them act in a way that was so very natural to them that it would serve as a profound confirmation that there exits an organic connection between the very young and the natural world. I would soon see all of that and wonder to myself about so many things. I ask even now if children have their own mythos; if they have their own language. I have seen one child use a babbled language constructed of vowels and consonants that no adult could translate, yet another child sat and listened to in such a way that it spoke of comprehension. ***In the beginning, I focused on one continent - Antarctica.  I brought two animals to school as noted above: the polar bear and the penguin. The children and I sat together. I introduced each of the two animals to my students and repeated their names, bear and penguin, many times. Next, I engaged all the children in making salt dough.When the dough was made, it was broken into pieces and shared with each. This was an opportunity for the children to simply enjoy the tactical qualities of the dough. (I also dusted each piece with flour so that it wouldn't stick as much to the tablecloth and to their hands.)Rolling pins were used to flatten the surface. Those flat, orb like masses would also serve as their first introduction to the land-form: island.  The next day, I brought those first two animals to the table and taught them how to press their paws and flippers into the dough to make prints. They were amazed. There was visual evidence that an impression was made and that impression remained after the animal was moved to another area. Initial introduction to cause and effect, before and after. The[...]



The Toddler Environment. My Field Work Continues...

2015-03-14T09:48:14.623-07:00


 
It's been awhile since I have written a post, yet I am here often. Yes, I frequently return to my blog as it truly is the diary of my Montessori life. Yet, unlike my private diary where I make almost daily entries including sketches and story outlines, my blog posts are often a collection of those daily tidbits woven into a scene and/or specific lesson overview. Therefore, one post may be the result of weeks, or even months, of work.

My current classroom has changed, again. I am no longer at Toad Hill Montessori School in Madison, Wisconsin. Too, I am currently not in a primary classroom. I am now the lead teacher of the toddler classroom at Sonnet Montessori School in Prior Lake, Minnesota. I am not a trained toddler guide. Yet, I have spent much time substitute teaching in toddler environments within the Boston area. I was also fortunate to attend the 2001 Paris International Montessori Congress, which is where I heard Dr. Silvana Montanaro speak. I still recall much of her speech. It whispers in my ear now and then when I am working with my young students and guides me along this new path in my Montessori career. Too, it calls upon me to bear witness to the work being done before me. Work that a  Montessori friend recently referred to as both spiritual and majestic.

I have much to write. I will reach back now and again to the work done by my students at Toad Hill and by the elders I worked with at the Bridge in Juneau, Alaska. Many new pages with soon be added to my Montessori diary.

*A note to my long time readers. The Moveable Alphabet is now available on Kindle via Amazon.




"Nothing goes into the mind that does not first go through the hands."

2014-11-10T12:35:08.354-08:00

I was told this quote when I was taking my AMI training at the Montessori Training Center of Minnesota almost 20 years ago. I was told it was a modified version of the Aristotle quote,“There is nothing in the intellect that was not first developed in the senses." I have repeated it more times than I can count to assistants, parents, heads of schools and non-Montessorians as a means of explaining a component of the method referred to as sensorial education. Watching a child do a work with a blindfold on has always served as visual evidence of the hand-mind connection. Too, this notion of the mind gaining access to knowledge through the hand reinforced my educated belief in the value of muscular memory.I often speak of having a greater understanding of both the direct and indirect purposes of the Montessori materials via my own touching of said materials and the muscular memory that is stored within me due to that touching over a period of fifteen plus years. My cultivated hand-mind relationship has provided me the opportunity to speculate on the harmonic interplay between all of the materials in the classroom. It is those speculations which serve my own leaps towards abstraction in the form of extensions.Recently, I have been turning the phrase, "Nothing goes into the mind that does not first go through the hands," over and over again in my mind, asking myself if I truly understand what it means for something to "go through the hands." It seems a concrete, and even obvious, statement. Simply explained, the hands are the instruments of the mind. You touch something and immediately information regarding its texture, temperature, color and, possibly, weight is gathered and recorded. That is easy enough to comprehend. Yet, I have been asking myself whether or not I really get the more abstract qualities of grasping something.I have been captivated by the gesturing my older students make with their hands when they are formulating an opinion or leaping towards a greater understanding of a complex concept. It appears as if they are wrestling out an idea they have in their minds and that they are using their hands to give shape or form to that otherwise invisible and newly born notion.When I am authoring a blog post or an article and I have to describe in detail elements of lessons I have given, I hold one of my hands up in the air so as to mold it in various ways so that I may re-imagine the geometric forms my students create or the cursive letters they form. As my fingers shift and light spills through the gaps between them, my thoughts synthesize and are then manifested onto the page or screen via my hands and the tools needed, i.e., pencil, keyboard, etc.I am now recalling one of the fundamental laws in physics which states for every motion there is an equal and opposite motion. Therefore,  the statement, "Nothing goes into the mind that does not go first through the hands," should be couple with the following, "Nothing goes into the hands that does not first go through the mind." This duality may also be viewed as an infinite loop; an infinite dialog of input and output / output and input.Here, again, I pose the question, "What is implied by the statement to go through the hands?" Does form have to have a physicality to it or can it simply be the shape of an idea expressed through the hands? And once that shape is formed, is it then measured and valued by the very hands that first gave it form? The sequence would then be: mental idea, wrestling of idea into an invisible form via the hands, qualities of that form assessed by the hands and recorded in the mind, mind expresses form via hands into a physical, i.e., concrete object - an infinite looping of sequential actions.Why is this important for [...]



Building with Blocks - Activities for the Elderly

2014-10-12T19:44:40.219-07:00

Every now and then you just have to grab a bucket of blocks and go with it. Last week I did just that. An art activity led by a member of the local Alzheimer's Association had just concluded. I observed most of the seniors were still sitting at the tables where the activity was held and chatting. I had a bean bag tossing game scheduled but on my way to get the bean bags, I passed a tub of blocks that were designed to build cathedrals. I had never used blocks with a group of seniors before, but for whatever reason I knew this was the moment to grab them and go; so I did.I placed the bucket on the table and started putting handfuls of blocks in front of each of the sitting seniors. Two other seniors nearby saw what I was doing and came over to join in the fun. Soon everyone was making comments about how long it had been since they had used blocks. "I feel like a kid again," one senior commented. Another stated that she had used building blocks that had letters on them when she was a child in the 1920's and that was how she learned to spell words.After a few minutes what had initially began as just happenstance fun turned into architectural and sculptural design. Elements of spatial and sequential placement was simultaneously in play. Play became an interesting word in regards to describing the movement of their hands as they reached for one block and then another. Soon I was visualizing chess moves.  It brought back memories of my art writing years and stories of Marcel Duchamp and his chess playing as an aesthetic action. As the number of participants increased, the number of blocks available for each decreased. While another staff member worked with the seniors, I went and retrieved a set of colorful cubes that bore geometric patterns. As soon as I placed these on the table, one of the participating seniors pushed away her wooden blocks and began working with them.She turned the cubes over and over until she found the side she wanted and was building with. This selective action / decision making added an additional cognitive skill to the block "playing."After several minutes of concentrated work, she invited me to view what she had constructed. It was her design and it was art.Another senior wanted to work with the cubes and so they were dismantled and passed on. Soon the senior who had been using the cubes was experimenting with random structures.The cubes in use by the second senior were repositioned...And soon a new pattern and construction emerged. She was so pleased by her assemblage.One of the Tlingit seniors placed her two-three piece "sculptures" inches apart and the placement had such an interesting spatial quality about it that it made you think of sacred sites like Stonehenge in England.Her pieces were also dialogues on balance and relationships. Minimalist in design while weighted in associative history.And oh yes, castles where built with fortresses and motes filled with water created by torn blue construction paper.Battles were imagined and spoken of. Conquest were celebrated as blocks were moved and rearrange.A third senior asked for the cubes and he pieced together one last assemblage. It was a great activity. Blocks will be used a little more often at the Bridge. Who knows what they might build next...[...]



Poetry as an Act Within An Adult Day Center: "It's a great life if we don't weaken." - J.H.

2014-10-12T19:47:46.791-07:00

There are moments at the Bridge that hold me still and in that stillness I dwell in the sacredness of what I am bearing witness to. Poetry is alive at the Bridge. Poetry as an act; as spoken words. It is heard most clearly between one activity and another. In the small space between breaking bread and bowling, soft words are spoken and, too, eyes peer out the window panes at the world at large. Last week, one of our newest attendees, a woman in her mid-nineties, stood at one of the large windows and silently watched snow falling outside. She then asked in a quiet voice, "Does this always happen here?" Not waiting for an answer, she continued, "I have never seen anything like this before. It's wonderful." This woman, who will turn 100 in 4 years, lived almost her entire life in California. She recently relocated to Alaska to live with her daughter and her family. This winter was the first time she had experienced snow falling on an almost daily basis. It marveled her. She saw such great beauty in what so many here in Alaska think of as common. What resonated with me, while watching her, was how absolutely still she became while she viewed the snow falling. This stillness seamed together with her silent wonder was poetry.Yesterday, I was sitting with a couple of seniors after our afternoon snack. I could hear two other women, both in their late eighties, talking at the table behind me. One of them was making a statement; a wisdom statement. This woman lived a childhood absent of toys and games. Her family worked picking fruit and harvesting vegetables on farms on the East Coast. She joined them in the field when she was eight years old. Her adult life hasn't been easy either. Yet, she has a strong belief in God and helps others whenever she can.What I heard her say was this: "It's a great life if we don't weaken. You know what I mean? Do you understand? I'll say it again. It's a great life if we don't weaken. Yeah, because life is hard and you can get tired, but if you don't weaken you will see when you get older how great life really is. So, it's a great life if we don't weaken." I came home last night, sat down at my kitchen table and said it over and over again as if it was a Buddhist koan or the first line in a prayer I was learning to recite. "It's a great life if we don't weaken." Today, I invited a senior to work with the Montessori materials who hasn't before, but whom I spied peeking into a few of the small boxes that house some of those materials. First she did wood polishing. She did a wonderful job polishing the wooden cat. After she was finished wood polishing, I asked her if she wanted to see what was in one of the boxes she has been peeking into. She quickly answered yes.I brought a small box to the table and explained that it was used to identify singular and plural. I showed her how to lay out the cards and labels. I then asked her to carefully remove one item after another from the box and place each next to their matching label.She opened the box lid, looked inside and joyfully exclaimed, "Look how small these things are!" She had been upset earlier about an incident she said she couldn't help but think about. It was the suicide of a school friend decades ago. "I cried and cried at his funeral. I just couldn't stop," she told each of the staff, and myself, repeatedly. I had chosen this time to introduce her to the singular and plural language material as a means of shifting her thoughts away from those about her friend's suicide. Too, as I noted above, I had observed that she was interested in the work. She pulled one baby from the box and gleefully said, "Now this baby makes me happy! And look, there's it's twin." She pulled th[...]



"I heard the laughter. I saw the dancing." - Working with the Elderly

2014-10-09T07:44:58.108-07:00



There are days that I wish I could hold out a butterfly net and catch within it the words of wisdom and insight spoken all around me at the Bridge. Instead, I scribble their words on post-it notes and stick them in my pockets until I return to my home in the evening where I unfold them and write what I have heard here.

Today I sat with a woman who will celebrate her hundredth birthday in less than five years. She leaned towards me and said the following:

"I thought I was having problems with my hearing and that I could not hear what was being said all around me. But I could hear all the words of the songs being sung today. You see it wasn't a physical thing. I just had to work on being a better listener. When I am helpful; being a better listener, I help myself. But we don't need to punish ourselves or blame ourselves for doing the wrong thing. We are not better than others, yet we still need not judge ourselves. I am always told I talk to much and I do. So I need to help others by not talking so much and that is helpful to me. 

Being a better listener, I discovered I have not lost my music. You see its a generational thing. My music is for dancing not singing. I dance in my mind and yes, I have been dancing. I heard the laughter. I saw the dancing."






Creative Writing with Seniors

2016-04-04T20:26:17.564-07:00

This is another re-post. This one documents the creative writing workshops I lead with the elderly. I truly hope I have the opportunity to work with seniors again in the near future - Susan Y. DyerI don't knit or quilt. I write. That is what I do the most when I am not at work. I have been a member of several writing workshops over the years. The writing prompts and techniques shared in the workshops often followed me into the Primary classroom. Now, my work with seniors includes leading a creative writing group (per my asking if I could please, oh please, do so) every Monday, or so.Here is what I always remember - "I am not teaching them to write or read. These are not my students. These are seniors who have lived vast and diverse lives. They have much to share. I provide the means, they provide the story, the insight, the selection of words or sentences which they link together, with or without regard to grammar or punctuation. There are no misspelled words or literary errors. I am not correcting their work. I am assisting them, in a variety of ways, to tell what they want to tell."Here are three things I have observed in regards to the creative writing activities that I have led -1. ) The "telling" is important to those who will remember that they wrote a poem or a prose piece and those who won't.2.) I acknowledge that part of this process is edited by my own choices and that no matter how spontaneous or "not present" I try to be, my voice is woven into some of their work. The degree to which it is "woven" in varies enormously. 3.) The (my) focus is on providing each senior with the opportunity to express themselves through written language.Having stated the above, I want to quote here a few sentences from an article by Ariane Conrad that I was reading this morning in the June 2012 issue of "The Sun" magazine about the artist Ron Ortner. The following is part of a response given by Ortner to one of Conrad's questions -"...I think art is profoundly and fundamentally life affirming. To make art is to give, to pour yourself into life, so you don't die with the music still inside you."I see writing as art and it provides individuals of all ages, including the elderly, an opportunity to let the creative voice within to be released and then shared via the page.Below are some my first field notes on writing with seniors. Too, I have included many of the pieces that were written / constructed by seniors at The Bridge. Also, photos of both the pieces being composed and the pieces themselves are posted.Let me preface first that I have turned over and over again the pages of "I NEVER TOLD ANYBODY - Teaching Poetry Writing in a Nursing Home," by Kenneth Koch.  ------------------------------ I became immediately aware during my first creative writing group for seniors at The Bridge that asking the participants to physically write was not going to result in much writing. All of them could write their names and a few could write several words without pain or becoming tired. However, most had difficulties resulting from arthritis, vision issues and the ability to hold steady the writing tool. Kenneth Cole wrote in the above noted book that he and his assistants/volunteers served as scribes for the seniors that he worked with. I sometimes have one of my assistants available to work with me during the writing workshop, but I am generally on my own. This enables other staff to work one on one with seniors not participating in the writing activity or to engage those individuals who have no interests in participating. During the week between the first and the second writing group, I spent my lunches and o[...]



The Montessori Bell Game With The Elderly

2014-10-06T01:11:03.560-07:00

This is a re-post of one of my favorite experiences using Montessori materials with the elderly.Before I introduced the Montessori bell game to the elderly at The Bridge, I thought long and hard about it. I watched how each of the seniors moved from one place to another. Too, I considered the therapeutic use of it. How would a control of movement activity serve a senior population? The term "purposeful movement" returned to my thoughts over and over again. This is exactly what needs to be exercised and sustained in the elderly - control of and purposeful movement. I found a bell that I thought would be perfect for the introductory game when I was going through my Christmas ornaments. The bell was shaped like an Irish cottage with clovers painted on its sides. Beautiful, of a light weight and it had a loop of ribbon on it for holding. It was ideal!I waited till afternoon snack was over and our population was much smaller. Too, none of the seniors present used walkers.  I went and got the bell from my bag and then invited the seniors to join me for a new activity that used something old. The old was the bell. Before long everyone was seated, including my boss (the man in the plaid shirt above).  I carefully revealed the Irish cottage bell. I explained that one person would be given the bell and that they would then walk across the room and give it to someone sitting opposite of them. I also said that they were to do it without letting the bell ring. I added that if the bell rang, even if it was when they were handing it to the other person, they would have to return to their seat with the bell and try again.I was the first to go. I exaggerated my careful movements. I handed it to one of the seniors and returned to my seat. She looked at the bell with all seriousness and said, "I like this bell. I think it would look great on my Christmas tree. I think you should give it to me." She then started laughing, as did the others, and said she was just kidding, but that she did like the bell.She rose to her feet and hunched over slightly as she held the bell from its ribbon in one of her hands. She moved slowly and with purposeful movement. She took a few more steps and then reached the hand holding the bell out to the one she had chosen to pass it on to. His arm reached out from his seat and the bell was silently transferred to his hand.It was so deeply moving when their hands briefly touched and their faces lit up with the joy of giving and receiving. After each person had a turn, we continued for a second, a third and a fourth round. Here the woman in the above photos takes her second turn. She is walking towards a woman sitting a little further from her than the person she chose the first time.  Later, she took a third turn and chose someone even further away.  Her face shows her absolute concentration on the bell and moving without causing it to ring. There was something both lighthearted and deeply spiritual when one participant reached out to the other and acknowledged the gift of the bell. All participated and yes, the bell did ring a few times. These were moments of exquisite joy! Just when you thought that the bell was going to be given without ringing, it rang. And when it did, it startled everyone and all broke out laughing. The bell carrier returned to their seat and tried again a second time. One of the seniors, in a moment of absolute hilarity for all, spanked the bell after it rang and told it to behave. She did so with a generous smile. She then rose and walked the bell across the room, again, without it ringing. She returned to he[...]



The Crow and the Pebbles - An Extension Lesson for Sink and Float

2014-10-01T10:02:47.737-07:00

 The story of the crow and the pebbles is a well known Aesop's fable. A thirsty crow comes across a pitcher of water and seeks to quench his thirst. However, there is only a small amount of water in the pitcher and its opening is quite narrow. The crow examines the situation and then uses its beak to drop one stone after the other into the pitcher to raise the water level until it is accessible to him.I am very familiar with Aesop's fables and find them to have many scientific and mathematical elements to them, as well as social, political and economic ones. I had not thought of the crow and pebbles fable for years and then, a few months back, I came across an interesting article in the New York Times Science Section regarding it. You can view the video that was linked to the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/10/science/the-moral-aesop-knew-something-about-crows.html?action=click&module=Search®ion=searchResults&mabReward=csesort%3Aw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry402%23%2Fcrows&_r=0There had already been several sink and float extensions done in my classroom during the Spring months, but this narrative appealed to me and I wanted to include with it dialog about weight, volume, distribution and redistribution of mass, as well as a continuation of our on-going conversation regarding the two actions: going down and going up. Here the stones would go down and the water would go up, that is the obvious answer. However, air bubbles might be formed and those would also rise. That had happened in an earlier, outdoor sink and float work. Those bubbles were a great and satisfying surprise to all.---------- Photo below - The bubbles are difficult to see. They are rising on the right side of the rock that was used to secure a piece of tape and yarn. The tape and yarn were being used as part of an anchor for a student constructed boat that is not included in the photo. Wonderment is the only word I can use to describe the look on the students' faces when they noted the rising bubbles. "Air got trapped under the rock, Miss Susan, and we didn't even see it happen," one of my students told me. Ahhh...I love my role as a guide.-------- OK, enough digression, back to the crow and the pebble work. I also wanted to include in this work the question, "Does shape matter?" The rocks I chose for this work were pretty uniform in that they were black and somewhat flat and oval. The flexible or unstable variable was their weight, as their size varied from small to medium. I also had a box of small, smooth, colorful u-curved-shaped pieces of glass that I thought could serve to answer the question noted above, "Does shape matter?" Too, I thought they provided a little eye-candy for my students. They would therefore serve as a point of interest.Lastly, I didn't want the water to rise with the dropping of the pebbles without something else rising with it. I wanted to include a sink and float element to the lesson. I knew I had the sink variable covered with the pebbles. I wanted the objects that were used to float upward as the water level rose to be duplicate items from the introductory sink or float work that was still on the shelf. I decided on a cork and a chestnut. The student doing the work would chose one of those items and place it at the bottom of the canning jar and then add a small amount of water to the jar to initiate the floating action. So the purpose of the work was n[...]



"All I heard were the deer and the deer told me they were watching over me."

2016-11-09T17:27:28.913-08:00

--------------- If you work with elders you work with individuals who hold within themselves a historical record of the world at large. In some cases these historians are the last living witnesses to the most noteworthy events of the past one hundred years. Too, here in Alaska, native elders remember a life not often recorded in textbooks, but instead shared within their own villages or communities. This is the same for most indigenous people around the world.A volunteer from the Alzheimer's Association comes to the Bridge to lead an art activity with the seniors twice a month. The activity she prepared for today was centered around the theme of "Our Childhood Homes." After each of the participating seniors were seated, she invited them to think about their place of birth and to began sketching that place on the sheets of paper that had been handed out to them.I entered the room halfway through the activity and noticed one of the Tlingit seniors drawing a small house on her paper. Then she wrote across the paper where this and that was. It was a fascinating image that had map-like qualities. I knew from a previous drawing of her's that she was born inside a smoke house. The piece she was working on now was her "childhood home" and the place where she entered the world.  Close-up of her picture below:I sat down next to her and began asking her a few questions about her drawing. Slowly but willingly, she told me stories of thirteen families living in this small house at the same time, of fishing for salmon, of netting and drying seaweed. She also told me a story about running-away from home, from the smoke house, when she was a child. Here is all that she told me:"I am thinking of them poor days in the 1950's. We all slept inside around the bonfire in the middle of the smoke house. There were thirteen families living there together. I am proud of my family. We learned a lot from them. They told us how to can the fish. We did a lot of fishing ourselves. We pulled the fish in with nets and we cut them up.For the seaweed we had to go far out into the ocean to get it. They told us not to take any seaweed where dead people were or near where people went to the bathroom. That's why we had to go real far out into the ocean to get the seaweed. Then we dried the seaweed in the smoke house on one side and then we turned it the next day onto the other side. The next day we turned it again and then we left it there for a week until it gets real dry and then we canned it or we ate that. Person got to learn to go way out to get beyond the dead people to get the seaweed.I was away from home for a whole week when I was a kid.  I left a stick in a tree pointing to the smoke house so I would know how to get back. Someone told me how to do that. I ran away from home and I slept out in the woods. I woke up in the morning and did feel scared the first day, but then I told myself I don't need nobody, so I just kept moving. All I heard were the deer and the deer told me they were watching over me. I came back after a week. I found my stick and it showed me where to go. It's a real good past I got."Here is a final close-up of the drawing she did today:The above three paragraphs are part of this woman's autobiography, the narrative of the self. The questions stirring within me are how to assist her in adding more details, to create a timeline, to start a list of family names, on and on. She has drawn this map of a smoke house, a vegetable garden and the beach. She has noted at the bottom of the page - 13 familys home (Klawock). [...]



"All I heard were the deer and the deer told me they were watching over me."

2016-11-09T17:26:55.268-08:00

--------------- If you work with elders you work with individuals who hold within themselves a historical record of the world at large. In some cases these historians are the last living witnesses to the most noteworthy events of the past one hundred years. Too, here in Alaska, native elders remember a life not often recorded in textbooks, but instead shared within their own villages or communities. This is the same for most indigenous people around the world.A volunteer from the Alzheimer's Association comes to the Bridge to lead an art activity with the seniors twice a month. The activity she prepared for today was centered around the theme of "Our Childhood Homes." After each of the participating seniors were seated, she invited them to think about their place of birth and to began sketching that place on the sheets of paper that had been handed out to them.I entered the room halfway through the activity and noticed one of the Tlingit seniors drawing a small house on her paper. Then she wrote across the paper where this and that was. It was a fascinating image that had map-like qualities. I knew from a previous drawing of her's that she was born inside a smoke house. The piece she was working on now was her "childhood home" and the place where she entered the world.  Close-up of her picture below:I sat down next to her and began asking her a few questions about her drawing. Slowly but willingly, she told me stories of thirteen families living in this small house at the same time, of fishing for salmon, of netting and drying seaweed. She also told me a story about running-away from home, from the smoke house, when she was a child. Here is all that she told me:"I am thinking of them poor days in the 1950's. We all slept inside around the bonfire in the middle of the smoke house. There were thirteen families living there together. I am proud of my family. We learned a lot from them. They told us how to can the fish. We did a lot of fishing ourselves. We pulled the fish in with nets and we cut them up.For the seaweed we had to go far out into the ocean to get it. They told us not to take any seaweed where dead people were or near where people went to the bathroom. That's why we had to go real far out into the ocean to get the seaweed. Then we dried the seaweed in the smoke house on one side and then we turned it the next day onto the other side. The next day we turned it again and then we left it there for a week until it gets real dry and then we canned it or we ate that. Person got to learn to go way out to get beyond the dead people to get the seaweed.I was away from home for a whole week when I was a kid.  I left a stick in a tree pointing to the smoke house so I would know how to get back. Someone told me how to do that. I ran away from home and I slept out in the woods. I woke up in the morning and did feel scared the first day, but then I told myself I don't need nobody, so I just kept moving. All I heard were the deer and the deer told me they were watching over me. I came back after a week. I found my stick and it showed me where to go. It's a real good past I got."Here is a final close-up of the drawing she did today:The above three paragraphs are part of this woman's autobiography, the narrative of the self. The questions stirring within me are how to assist her in adding more details, to create a timeline, to start a list of family names, on and on. She has drawn this map of a smoke house, a vegetable garden and the beach. She has noted at the bottom of the page -[...]



April

2014-04-27T14:22:41.750-07:00

This post is simply going to be a photo collage of much of the work done in my classroom during the month of April, 2014. It is also a celebration of the amazing community here at Toad Hill Montessori School.-----Tulips with their heads bowed down in prayer.A four year old student doing flower arranging work using one of the tulips above.----- Math work is a constant in my classroom.Multiplication with the stamp game.Division with the stamp game.She is checking her Dot Game answer (the paper in front of her) by doing the same equation with the large bead frame (someone else was using the small bead frame). The student below was so excited that I gave her an addition problem that included numbers in the millions.She went to work and had the correct answer just a few minutes later. ----Introduction to addition via the cards and bead material. Sometimes, if I can find what I am looking for, I create pictorial math problems via magazine clippings. It helps me identify those children who are more/or less visual learners.  I find it interesting that those students of mine who can quickly use the small bead frame to add  something like 4,354 + 2,311 -  have to slow down to do this work as it requires that they translate the visual information into a mathematical equation. I am also presenting this work as a component to the preliminary lessons that will ultimately serve to introduce word problems to my older students. ---The Money Exchange Game----  Blindfolded workDoing the binomial cube with a blindfold on.The mystery bag with objects. The mystery bag with coins. Identifying coins while wearing a blindfold.Blindfold work with the fabrics.  ---  Shoe polishing work.Metal polishing work.Learning to use an eyedropper work.My youngest student carefully dissecting a tulip.Fetching and pairing chopsticks, which were purchased during the head of our school's recent trip to China.Such focused work with the knobless cylinders.  ------- Expression / Art / Visual LiteracyI cut out images from magazines and then simply used a small piece of each image for this project. I glued the small pieces onto large white paper. I then invited my students to pick one of those and to complete the picture. I did this work with seniors at The Bridge and had the same wonderful results. This work is about bringing work to a conclusion, completing a composition and it is an introductory to visual literacy - narrative construction via pictorial compositions.  The above picture was done by a six year old. The one below was done by a four year old.The student that completed the eagle image is a frequent user of the bird watching basket.The last example (below) of this work was done by a three year old. ----Land form work / illustrations.Introduction to the layers/ strata of the EarthExpression and response to multiple lessons on land forms and the geometric solids.  A three year old's lake / island work (below). ---- Understanding wind / breath as a force via catamaran constructions and races.----The moveable alphabet and phonetic word / sentence construction.Her first lesson with the moveable alphabet. We are replacing the print moveable alphabet with the cursive one for the next school year. Cursive sandpaper letters are already out and on the shelf next to the print ones. Both will remain until I give lessons which will reveal that each set represents the same sounds and are in fact the same letters - such[...]



Wind

2014-04-24T21:28:40.219-07:00

A few weeks after I started at Toad Hill Montessori, in late January of 2014, I began speaking with my students about wind currents. It was a notoriously cold winter with harsh winds, so it was a topic on my mind. I presented some lessons on wind as force and the use of that force to create motion, whether to propel something through the air, across a table or in a circular motion. Or perhaps, to spread watercolors across a blank white page:One day, I noted several children blowing onto one thing or another attempting to propel it or make it spin. Spin any of the insets in the geometric cabinet and you will see a circle via the optical illusion created by the spinning. It mesmerizes the children, and often, observing parents. And then there was this leap - geometric shapes were traced on paper, cut out and had a straw stuck through the center for which to balance and spin them on. They twirled and twirled them. And then, twirled them a little bit more.Yet, they wanted more than spinning. They wanted their shapes to soar, to ride a wave of air across the room. They picked up their geometric tops and started rubbing the stems of the straws between the palms of their hands - faster and faster. Next, they carefully parted their palms at exactly the right moment and, yes, the tops took flight.I didn't catch a higher shot of it, but you can see how incredibly focused she was on making it lift off from her hands, and it did.The blowing continued around the room. I got down on the floor one morning alongside one of my older students and together we blew a hexagon across it. Then one day, one of my five year old boys was watching another boy of the same age blow a paper sail for a recently constructed wooden car across the floor. I watched this boy observe the paper slide across the floor and could almost hear his mind working.I quietly approached him and asked him to share with me his ideas. He looked at me and said, "Wind doesn't move something in a straight line. It causes ripples under the thing it moves. I mean, it makes the thing go up and down a little bit like a wave, kind of, but a really small wave. It isn't smooth."I love teaching. I get to hear the unedited, newly articulated ideas of young, great minds. As soon as he shared with me this acute observation, he leaned a little closer to me and said with great clarity, "I'm hungry. Can I go have snack now?" I smiled and let him go.I went home and through many boxes to find what I needed for the next day. I had decided to harness this wind/ blowing energy by inviting my students and both of my assistants to participate in a little race. I rolled back the rug and placed dried rose petals on the floor in front of several lined up children who were now down on their bellies with their legs stretched out behind them and asked them to start blowing. They did and it was hysterical! The petals fluttered as the fluctuating current of wind - air blown out of the mouths of 4 and 5 year olds - moved the petals to the left and then the right and finally to the finish line at the other side of the wooden, classroom floor.After all of the children had a turn, I called upon my two assistants to join the fun. Down on their bellies they went and they got serious. They both blew their rose petal half way across the room with just three breaths each. Before you knew it, one of them had their petal across the finished line. It was a blast and its lesson on wind as a force remains a much t[...]



Birds - Updated

2014-04-24T21:55:22.822-07:00

 A Post About Birds-------------------My last post included photos of a rocket constructed by one of my students after careful study and frequent use of the geometric solids. Cone + Cylinder = Basic Rocket Shape.He added a parachute and referred to it's slightly inflated shape as a dome. It was an amazing, independently motivated and actualized project that illustrated his keen understanding of geometry outside the cabinet and solids.When I first viewed him working on another project, the illustration of a jet, I remember noting in my observation journal - bird beaks. I had noticed that the cone of his jet had a slightly bent tip. This immediately made me wonder how I could interest him and his fellow work mates in the variations of bird beaks and how these variations serve each, particular bird. I have asked a parent that works at the local Nature Society to assist me and she is piecing together some handouts for me.My students had already had two art projects focused on birds. One I gave and it was a simple, illustrate the cut out shape of a bird, project.The second was a project I selected due to its geometry, but it was my assistant Sarah who did all the cutting work for it and so I invited her to present it to the class (she is taking her AMI Primary training in the fall, making her the fifth assistant I have had working with me to become a Primary teacher). It was wonderfully successful.Let me note that I added one preliminary work / practice which was then done by each student just before they did this work and while they also waited their turn to do it. I was concerned that some of the children would not understand the word spiral or have muscular memory of constructing a spiral, so I asked Sarah to include this dish (photo below) I had purchased which has a raised and very tactile spiral constructed on its surface. I clarified my request by stating that I want the students to use the tips of their fingers to trace the spiral so they could understand it as a concept and a movement. I believe it truly aided in the success of the project, as each of the paper birds were constructed with circles and spirals. This dish remains on the Practical Life shelf and is often used simply by itself.  Here is one of the paper, geometry birds made by a student.  ----Returning to thoughts about bird beaks - anticipating the bird information from my parent, I put together a bird watching tray which includes binoculars, a local bird identification book and both a journal and small sheets of sketch paper. I gave a lesson on how to use the binoculars and, too, how to note or sketch what was observed with them. It remains a popular work.Early one morning, after the work had been on the shelf for several days, I caught this lovely scene.Below is a photo of a student who had just used the binoculars, had returned them to the tray and then next made a drawing of what he had seen in the bird watching journal included in the tray/basket. Below - The bird observation basket which is on the shelf alongside other work pertaining to birds.A few of the drawings made and taped into the log, and some comments noted:The below photo is of the opposite page of  the drawing above. Both were done by the same child and at the same time. The writing below reads:  "I saw a robin in a tree. It flew away too soon." Below:A robin -A blue jay -A nuthatch -Bird imagery started showing up here and there. The drawi[...]



Lake and Island and so much more. Landforms as Polygons...so much to share.

2014-04-20T16:58:23.746-07:00

Island In my classroom, children create landforms with their hands. They do not use plastic molds. This work allows them to carefully craft "land" into specific forms and to then place on these landforms various models of animals. Included in the lesson, is a reference to an earlier work in which models of animals are placed on a map. This placing is specific to the habitats of each animal. Ex. Zebras are placed in Africa. (Note - Children frequently note that they have seen zebras in zoos. I clarify for them that the zoo is not their natural habitat.)Below - A child uses careful hand movements to do the work. She continued to mold the clay after she had poured water into the basin. Her intention was to create a narrow peaked mountain. She did.Discovery An unexpected outcome of this work was the discovery of footprints left in the clay by the polar bear. They were discovered when the bear was carefully removed from the island as the child doing the work began the clean-up process. It was an exciting discovery that lead to an in-depth discussion on identifying animals via their footprints. That work, matching animals to their footprints, will arrive on a shelf this upcoming week. Sink and FloatJust before I gave the lesson on lake and island (lake not shown), I re-presented sink and float. I included this here as I will refer to this work much later in this post. (Above - she is carefully using tongs to place a sink or float object into the bowl of water she has prepared.) Okay - I need to interject here a thought, or two, that is distracting me slightly - yet, it is still on topic in regards to land forms. Here it is:When I was just now reviewing some of my many photos of the work done in my classroom over the last several months, I stopped to look at a few of the Practical Life area and work done there. I asked myself if this work is not also a preparation for identifying landforms and the vegetation that might grow there? Too, is this work (ex. care of plants) an introduction to ecology or environmentalism? Also, the use of work mats are, themselves, a reference to bounded areas. One may make a "leap to abstraction" and even view these as work islands. Yet, that is not much of a leap after all.  Let me also pose a question here regarding the the basin used to hold the water in which the stems of the flowers are cut via flower arranging work. Is that not a body of water?Of course all of what is noted in the above paragraph is not shared with the child as it is for their discovery, or not. As a Montessori theorist, these overlapping elements of the work allow me opportunities to view the entire room as a composition in which each work is independent and interrelated. I can almost hear a sound - a vibration in my mind - which gives me insight as to how to better prepare my classroom and what lessons to give next / what extensions to present that will ultimately result in the child rediscovering a material they believe they already know. Extensions - Landforms / Polygons / DomesThe geometry cabinet is used everyday in my classroom, as are the solids. We bisected three with tape to understand them as one understands the number rods. They are both one thing and more at the same time. The number rod of seven is, in itself, a representation of the number seven as a whole. It is also an introduction to multiplication - one taken seven times = 7. Although, addi[...]