Thursday, May 6, 2010

Montessori Summer School at Home

A few days ago I was lying in bed, stressing out about how I'm ever going to manage homeschooling.  It's still quite a few years off and I'm doing all I can to prepare, but I still sometimes get overwhelmed with the whole idea. 

The thing that I was mulling over this time was how I'm going to manage the transition from school to home learning.  Sam is going to be in Montessori for at least three years, and I'm considering keeping her there for first and second grade, too.  Especially if she stays in school through second grade, I worry about that transition.  Knowing what I know about her personality, I don't think she will simply accept the idea of school at home, especially with mom as the teacher.  I started thinking about ways that I could ease that transition.

And suddenly it hit me - I can homeschool her each summer!  I don't know why this didn't occur to me before, but it really addresses four issues: it will help get Sam used to school at home, it will give me practice at this teaching thing without much pressure, it will keep the continuity of her education going year-round, and it will fill up some of that scary empty space during the summer that I've been dreading.  (I plan to homeschool year-round, too.)

So for the past week or so I've been planning.  I'm going to stick with the Montessori method and materials for the most part because it is what both Sam and I know and because, obviously, I think it is the best kind of pre-school education.  Along with advice from a few friends, I'm working almost exclusively from Elizabeth Hainstock's Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-school Years.  I also plan to use some activities from June R. Oberlander's Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready.  (Both are indispensible books for educational activities from 0-5 years old.)   Please don't hesitate to give me any suggestions or pointers in the comments, if you have experience.

I'm going to try a two hour work cycle, three days a week to start, but we'll back off of that if it is too much in the beginning.  If it goes well, we might increase the amount of school, but this is supposed to be fun and low-pressure.  However, school time is going to be clearly defined; we will start right after breakfast, we will be dressed, and we will have a dedicated school area in the house.  I have plans for a special (kid-sized) table and chairs, a few bookshelves for the materials which will be closed off during the rest of the day, and a rug for working on the floor.  We'll start with circle time (15 minutes?), which I hope will put us both in the right mind-set.  Some activities I'm considering for circle time are:

  • Reading (will try non-fiction, descriptive library books instead of her usual fiction)

  • The silence game

  • Days of the week (memorization through song or rhyme)

  • Months of the year (memorization through song or rhyme)

  • Counting (memorization)

  • Other, new songs

  • Walking the line

  • Walking with a bell without ringing it (one of my most distinct memories from my own Montessori education)

Then we'll spend the balance of the time on independent work.  When Sam doesn't need me, I plan to read a book on the sofa nearby and watch her out of the corner of my eye.  Here is the menu of activities that I've come up with so far, with links to descriptions of the work in many cases.  (The page numbers are all from Hainstock, except for SAS which refers to the Oberlander book - they are descriptions of how to demonstrate the task to the child.)

  • Cutting paper along a line (pre-prepared paper with various types of lines)

  • The hole punch row (SAS, pg 192)

  • Polishing pennies with lemon juice.  Include squeezing the lemons into the water. (Come up with my own demonstration by practicing myself first)

  • Phonetic object box

  • Pouring (pg 24, and try it with a funnel into a slim vase)

  • Scooping (Need to find or come up with a specific process)

  • Gluing (Need to find or come up with a process)

  • Washing doll clothes (Need to find or come up with a process)

  • Washing baby doll (Need to find or come up with a process)

  • Largest to smallest 

  • Dressing frames (pg 23)

  • Metal insets (pg 64)

  • Washing dishes (use her tea set, pg 30)

  • Sweeping the floor (try the basement or living room, pg 34)

  • Bead stringing (use set she already has, pg 39)

  • Using a dropper (pg 41)

  • Puzzles (do it once myself then allow her to do it herself)

  • Instead of the Pink Tower, use stacking cups (pg 49)

  • Sandpaper letters (pg 70 and 74 when more advanced)

  • Number rods (pg 80)

  • Home made spindle box  (AFTER number rods, pg 81)

We may not need all of these, or we may need a lot more for the summer, but this is what I'll start with.  Most of these activities are things that I know she is already doing in school, but which will probably still challenge and interest her.

I'm not much of a make-it-yourself kind of person, so I had to buy some of the materials.  I bought the metal insets, the sandpaper letters, a puzzle, and the dressing frames.  Everything else uses materials that I already have or can be fashioned from other, common household objects.  (I'll make my own spindle box and spindles from an egg carton and marbles or pasta or something, but that's about the extent of my craftiness.) 

In doing this research, I came across this lovely video that explains the idea behind the "practical life" exercises in a Montessori school.  (Oh my god, what a beautiful environment in this school!)  It also includes a detailed demonstration of the bow tying dressing board, which I think shows how Montessori is fundamentally different from so many other pre-schools.  From what I gather, many pre-schools teach practical skills.  But in Montessori, each skill is isolated and then placed into a specific order, each movement is precise, time is allowed for as much practice as the child needs, and, of course, the child can work independently after a few demonstrations.  Montessori is not all about "freedom" and self-expression.  I believe the Montessori Method does foster independence and creative thinking, but only by means of teaching a child how to master himself and his environment.  And there are specific, objective ways to accomplish this.


  1. Hi Amy! We're slowly finishing up our homeschool school year here. (If they finish a particular subject's material, they don't have to start the new material til August). I like to start in Aug w/new material 'cause then I feel like we're ahead and I can ease back into everything slower without feeling behind - it's a silly psychological game, but it makes it less stressful for us.

    Some thoughts - M went to regular Kindergarten. She REALLY missed her friends... but that was part of the reason we went to homeschooling her - she was a social butterfly who NEVER finished an assignment, because she was too interested in what everyone else was doing. And she wasn't learning anything because she was so distracted. But my point is that you may want to have plans in place to address this issue when you take Sam out of school - playdates with her old schoolmates through the summer and into the first homeschooling year, and/or some regular classes where she is in a group and you aren't the teacher (the local kids' science museum, local park system, local school system continuing ed program, etc). We would drive each other nuts if we didn't do that.

    L never went to regular school, but she says she hates homeschool about twice as much as she says she loves it, mostly because she would just rather watch Scooby Doo at that moment, or because she hates being told what to do. She is so completely opposite M, it has been challenging to teach them simultaneously, and my expectations of L are often based on M's previous performance, likes/dislikes, etc. I have to constantly remind myself that L is L, and I need to let her be L. And with both, I have to let go of expectations of them that are based on my own experiences, performances, likes/dislikes, etc. The hardest thing has been to give up activities that I would have loved at their age, that they...just...don't. And to include activities that I would have hated, that they actually LIKE.

    Here's an idea for an activity to do with Sam that came to mind when I read your list... let her pick 5-10 small items and arrange them on a tray. Have her cover them with a sheet, then show them to you for a short time (you can use this to teach her to count to ten seconds) while you look at the items. Then she covers them, and you have to tell her what the items were, as many as you can remember. If she wants to play, too, you can reverse the parts, or she may want to see how many items she can add before you forget one (testing mommy is fun!). The idea is not to let it get competitive between people, but to exceed your personal best number. Another variation is Sam sets up the tray, you look then close your eyes, she moves one object, you open your eyes and tell her which object she moved. Or she can switch two objects, or whatever. There are a bunch of variations. Anyway, enjoy it!


  2. Will you really not let her work with her school materials if she is really interested in them outside of school time?

  3. What a great list. I love the reference you linked to on-line. It seems thorough. I hope it works out well for you guys! I just got my materials today. The sandpaper letters wouldn't do for a school, but it will do for us in a year or two. And there are items on your list I want to incorporate when my time comes.

  4. Kim - I was glad to find that I had Hainstock's book already. I had forgotten all about it. Thanks for all of your advice!

  5. Kelly, no, but we could extend school time if Sam wants to. But I need to be keeping an eye on her so that she is working with the materials properly, not just flinging them around. With her regular toys, she can play with them any way she wants (as long as she's not hurting someone or damaging something!) but the whole point of Montessori is that materials are used in a specific way for a specific purpose. That is the kind of order/structure that I think a lot of Montessori fans don't really understand. So much is said about the "freedom" in a Montessori school, but really, it's quite rigid in its own way. I do think that the difference between an early Montessori education and unschooling captures quite well the differences between our (yours and mine) parenting styles, so I'm not surprised at the surprised tone of your question. :) But no, if she wants to use the materials, she'll have to convince me to re-open school, and even that will have to happen in an orderly way - not just any time she asks.

    When we do full time homeschooling, I intend to have structured days. Not rigid structure, but definitely not a free-flowing day. She'll certainly have a lot more flexibility than she would in a regular school. This summer school is intended to help with that later, too. (Since right now, at home, we have very little structure.)

  6. Amy - here's a good web site I found for printed Montessori materials for download. I am using the "beginning consonants" with Karina, and we are tracing the letters in cornmeal (waiting to receive the sandpaper letters I ordered.)

  7. [...] Mossoff presents Montessori Summer School at Home posted at The Little Things, saying, “My 3-year-old daughter is enrolled in Montessori, and [...]

  8. [...] be starting our summer school as soon as we return from vacation, so I’ll be writing about that quite a bit, hopefully.  I [...]

  9. [...] I had intended to start out in a formal, Montessori way: a dedicated time for school, starting with circle time; a separate space for the Montessori materials, away from toys and other distractions; and me 100% prepared to give proper demonstrations for everything. [...]