Thursday, August 29, 2013

Square of Pythagoras

Today we pulled out one of our "new to us" Montessori materials. The Square of Pythagoras (also called the Decinomial square) is both a sensorial and mathematics material. My son is in lower elementary and this was our first time using it at home so it was purely sensorial today. T (7) was quick to inform me that he had used this material before at his primary Montessori school so he already knew how to use it. I simply showed him how to place the first couple of rows down so he remembered the order and he did the rest himself.

The Square of Pythagoras can be made of many materials. It can be wood, foam, plastic, paper, felt, just about anything that can me cut into squares and rectangles in the appropriate colors. I was planning to make this material out of felt before I got this set in a lot of used materials. This particular set is from Nienhuis Montessori and is thin plastic and stored in a wooden divided box. The colors of each row will coordinate with the colors of the bead cabinet. It consists of 10 squares ranging from 1cm to 10cm and the coordinating rectangles to make the square in the correct pattern.

You start by placing the small red square in the top left corner of your workspace. Then you place the green square at the lower right corner of the red square. The green rectangles are then placed on either side of the green square. The next row is pink, start with the pink square at the lower right corner of the green square. Then choose the larger two pink rectangles and place one on each side of the pink square. Then place the smaller pink rectangles, one on each side of those you just placed. Continue in this manner with all of the remaining squares and rectangles.

The square is fairly large and I wasnt sure it would fit on one of our rugs so we put two together. It would have fit on one, but it would have been a close fit. I think the table top might be better as my son kept moving the rugs each time he wiggled around, as 7yr old boys tend to do. Also, I think the plastic pieces are prone to shifting as you place pieces next to them. I think something thicker like wood would keep them from overlapping. Something like felt would probably stay in place more as well. Im not going to make it because we already have it, but I would choose felt if I were to make this material.

We decided to do a little extension work by pulling out the pink tower and laying it out on top of each square in the Square of Pythagoras.

He then lined up the pink tower with the squares on top

The squares superimposed

And with the bead squares on top

Monday, August 26, 2013

What's an Owl Pellet? Field Trip

Last week we went on a fun field trip. Our local nature center has a lovely monthly homeschool class that we enjoyed several times last school year. Today was the first of the new year. My son was super excited because it was all about Birds of Prey and they had planned an owl pellet dissection.

The nature center has a large room where the main class is done. There are plenty of live animals for the children to observe as well as preserved specimen. All of the animals there are local animals that have been rescued and many were once injured and can not be returned to the wild.

We started the class with a powerpoint presentation talking about different birds of prey in our area. We learned about their sharp beaks which point downward, their strong talons with sharp claws and their excellent vision. Then they split the class and half of us went to dissect owl pellets and the other half went to see the live birds outside. We started with the owl pellets.

T (7) was most excited about the owl pellet dissection. He is a huge fan of science and right now any sort of dissection is exciting to him. He actually dissected an owl pellet last year from a kit we bought but it was just as fun to do it again. Our kit from last year was the Young Scientist's Club Set #10. I highly recommend this particular kit because you get a real owl pellet (not the synthetic kind with plastic bones like some kits have) and you also get some other experiments all for the same price as a synthetic owl pellet at some places.

The nature center's owl pellets were even more cool because they actually collected them from their resident owls' cages.

What is an owl pellet??
Im guessing some of you are wondering what Im talking about. When the owl eats an animal it often eats it whole or almost whole. The bones and hair are not digested, they are collected in a small pocket in the back of the throat called a crop. When that area is full, the owl will cough up this small ball of bone and hair which sort of resembles a cat hairball. YUCK! These are dry from sitting in a freezer.

The children each got one pellet and picked it apart with toothpicks. When we did ours at home we also used a tweezers which helped get all the hair out of bone crevices.

As they found bones they compared them to the provided chart to determine which type of bone it was. Then they put it on the chart to build the skeleton. Not all bones were there but most were.

The children were tasked at determining which type of animal the owl ate by looking at their skeleton. T's was a rodent, most likely a mouse.

After we were done dissecting the owl pellet we switched with the other group and went outside for the live bird part of class. We visited with the vultures, owls, hawk, and kite. We learned about each and listened to some of their calls.

At the very end the teacher brought out the Mississippi Kite for the children to see up close.

Great field trip! I can't wait to see what they have in store for us next month.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pictures from Our First Week

Iris seed pod dissection

Flower dissection/labelling

Shell picture frame made from a kit. He thought the shell in front was too "special" to glue to the frame

Lego Contraptions set. Wind up race car

Knobbed cylinders exploration B (1.5yrs)

Paracord bracelet T(7yrs). For a great tutorial check out this page (they also sell the materials but we got ours from hobby lobby)

T made this monster for his sister with the pearler beads (from IKEA) but we havent unpacked the iron from our move yet so we didnt get to save it.

New Materials

Right now we are swimming in new materials. Technically they are used materials but they are new to us. I have been lucky enough to find some great deals lately that I would like the share.

I encourage any homeschoolers to check out craigslist and thrift stores in their area for used materials. Montessori materials are quite difficult to come by but if you keep and eye out and search online often you might just find some great deals.

Our first great find was from craigslist with a Montessori school that had closed and was selling off everything. This school was a primary school so they had very little of the elementary materials. They did have some important items we need though and since we dont have everything for primary, I got some things that my daughter will need in a couple of years.

The bead cabinet! Our new pride and joy! I think every Montessori admirer knows about the bead cabinet or at least has seen one. Chains of colored beads in square chains, cube chains, squares and cubes for number 1-10. The one I got is in like new condition and from Bruins Montessori. It takes up a lot of room in the classroom but its worth it.

We also got several work rugs which we really needed. I had found a couple of striped ones at IKEA that we tried but we found any pattern to be too distracting. Finding the right size an solid light color was difficult. I was thrilled to find these and they were cheap too. We also got a Trinominal cube and a set of knobbed cylinders.

Our second great deal was a Learning Tower for my daughter. This is like a step stool but with a "cage" around the top to keep the child from falling. I wanted one of these for my son years ago but they were too expensive and I gave up hunting for one used. I think they were pretty new back then. Now they are much easier to find used, yet still fairly expensive. I found one for sale and when I arranged to pick it up, I found that it was being sold by a Montessori school. While I was there I asked if they had any Montessori materials for sale and they said they might but since it was summer they had to wait for teachers to return before selling anything. We love the learning tower! My daughter can reach the counters in our kitchen easily now for helping with cooking/baking. My son actually uses it sometimes as well when he needs to cut on the counter it helps to be a little taller. He can easily adjust the height of the stool himself.

This is a stock photo of the learning tower.

Last week we stopped in a local thrift store because it was near my son's karate school and we were early. We spent most of our time looking through the children's books (my son looked at the toys too). We found some nice Magic Treehouse books and a Pretzel book (we love dachshunds!) and were about to leave when I spotted a plastic box with a piece of tape that read "Science Kit". Of course, I grabbed it and started going through it to see what was inside. There was so much, I couldnt believe it all fit in that box. It was also on sale, I ended up paying about $11 for all of this:

The last of our big deals was yesterday when I went back to the Montessori school that sold me the Learning Tower for the materials they were selling. They were so kind, I feel so lucky. They gave me a list of what they had and I told them I was interested in about half of it depending on the price. A little while later they sent me an email back saying I could have EVERYTHING for $100. There were a few things we didnt need but I took it all and brought it home to go through it. Some items were damaged or missing pieces but just about everything on my list is complete and useable. I spent hours last night going through boxes and checking to make sure things were complete. I'm not sure why Im so excited but I love that several items are Neinhuis, which is THE company for Montessori materials in actual schools. Its extremely expensive in most cases so I never thought we would have any but now we do.
The pile I brought to the classroom. There are some items still in the blue bin. Also several items that we already had that I didnt bring into the classroom.

And our metal insets now have stands. I didnt think we needed them when I bought the insets, then I wished I had. The insets might be going into storage soon to make room for fraction circles though and the stands will work for those also.

I still have to go through more bins but I am most excited about the cursive sandpaper letters/blends, cursive moveable alphabet (not in the picture), number tile boxes for the math charts, Pythagoras square, hundred board, grammar materials, small square root board, number sets and fraction cutouts.

I will also be placing an order soon for more materials. We still have several elementary materials that need to be purchased but its nice to have several items checked off my list.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Our Curriculum 2013-2014

Looking at the name of this blog you probably guessed that our main curriculum is Montessori. Well if you know much about Montessori, you also know that there is no curriculum for Montessori. Montessori is a method of learning developed by Maria Montessori. The method of teaching has been passed down to new generations by means of teacher training. Each teacher (also called guides) will write their own manuals during their training and these manuals describe the materials and how to use them, along with the order they should be used. Because each trainee writes their own manuals, they will all be slightly different. There are also different styles of Montessori training, which impacts the manuals as well. AMI is Association Montessori Internationale and is a more traditional Montessori approach. This group focuses on the traditional materials, style of teaching and order of lessons. There is also AMS, American Montessori Society, which provides more of a modern Montessori approach. AMS manuals are often more helpful in terms of making your own materials and adjusting your lessons to a homeschool environment. The AMI manuals will assume you have a full inventory of Montessori materials on hand but you will get a more authentic Montessori experience when using these manuals.

I have struggled with a decision on what manuals to choose. The reason I chose the ones I did was actually because I was able to find a large amount of them used from a local Montessori Homeschool teacher who's children were done with them. I was able to get them for a fraction of the original price and since I wasnt sure which to choose this seemed like a great deal to me.

Our manuals are from Montessori Research and Development. I have both Early Childhood and Elementary manuals but not the full set of either. I have most of the lower elementary manuals and we are trying to work through them. I have mixed feelings about them. Id like to share the pros and cons that I have found with these manuals.

Pros: They seem to be very thorough and clear. They provide the needed materials first and then describe the reason for the lesson and the approximate age. The instructions are easy to follow. You dont have to buy all of the manuals at once. The price is better than a lot of other manuals and they are much easier to find used (i believe this is because many others are downloads which Im guessing makes it so you cant sell them when you are done).

Cons: pictures or drawings would be nice. Im not sure if other manuals have this or not but there are almost none in these. There are some diagrams and some small charts but no pictures of the materials. There are a lot of manuals to purchase and organize. Many other manuals don't break down their manuals as much. There are 5 elementary language arts manuals that you must purchase separately. Also its hard to know if they overlap. For example, the Ele LA manual 1 and 2 overlap, you start manual 2 before you finish manual 1, but you dont know this unless you have the manuals and can read through them. They provide the table of contents for each online but this doesnt give you the scope and sequence. It is difficult to organize lessons from so many different manuals that are all used at the same time.

I have to say that I am struggling with planning and knowing when to introduce new lessons. I think if we had started in Primary (early childhood 3-6yr) and then transitioned to elementary (6-12yr) material it would have been easier but we jumped right in at elementary when my son was 6. We didnt use the manuals much at all last year because I couldnt figure out how to use them. I have been reading through them all summer and trying to make a plan but Im still struggling.

Beyond Montessori R&D manuals and Montessori materials, we are using a few other learning resources. My son loves Life of Fred books. He enjoys having me read the story to him and then answering the questions at the end. We have only done the first book Apples, so that is the only one I can review. I found it to be fairly simple for first grade.

For handwriting we have been using Draw Write Now and Handwriting without Tears 2nd grade. I like both programs and I feel like they both helped immensely last year. His handwriting was very difficult to read last year and it took him so long to write that it made it hard to do lessons that included writing. He hated writing because of this. After working with these two programs, he is more confident, writes more clearly and more quickly. He still has much work to do in terms of writing on the lines, sizing, spacing and case.

I want to start working on cursive this year because I feel like he might have an easier time with it. We are getting the sandpaper letters in cursive first and then Im not sure what program we will use. I have looked at the HWOT 3 grade that starts cursive and I am not impressed. I dont like the modified cursive, I would prefer classic cursive (like the sandpaper letters). I havent found what they do in Montessori for cursive besides the sandpaper letters and moveable alphabet. Id love some ideas if anyone has any.
I also have some games that we use in our school room for supplementing. I will describe them in upcoming posts when we use them.

The preceding list was for my 7 year old son who is doing 2nd grade. My other child is a 1.5yr old girl, she will be doing Tot School. Basically Tot School is everyday living with the Montessori method inspiring it. There are some Montessori materials that she can use but in a sensory capacity. She is in the stage of the absorbent mind, she explores and learns without actually being taught. She does puzzles, knobbed cylinders, and part of the pink tower. We try to keep our house as "Montessori" as possible, which means we try to make everything accessible to the children so they can do things for themselves.

There you have it, our curriculum plans for the 2013-2014 school year.

Not Back to School Blog Hop

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Our School Room

I would like to introduce you to our school room. We started our homeschool journey in a different home but recently moved. In our old home we used our dining room as our school room. When we decided to move we were able to search for a home that would better fit our family's needs. In our home there are four people who are almost always here. My husband works from home and has an office which is located in our finished basement. We considered putting the classroom in our basement instead but there were factors that made it less than ideal. We have cats that reside in our basement and I have a mild allergy to them. When I am in the basement my eyes get very itchy and i sneeze a lot. I really didnt realize how much of an allergy I had to the cats until we moved them into the basement and I wasnt constantly around cat fur/dander. There is really no way that I would want to spend most of the day down there. So my husband, who has no cat allergy, has his office in the basement and he is happy to spread out and take up all that lovely space. We have two floors to our actual house (not including the basement) and our second floor has the bedrooms. We chose a bedroom as our school room because it is out of the way of household traffic. I did not like having our school room in our dining room at our old house because we would always be disturbed when my husband would come down to the kitchen for a snack or drink. With our new school room we can close the door when we need quiet. Also I can close the door when we are not in the classroom so that the toddler doesn't wander in and either destroy the materials or injure herself.

Without further ado, here is our school room:

This is the view of our room from the doorway. The table and chairs are from IKEA (just about all the furniture is actually). The table folds on both sides, in this picture it is about half of its total size. On the table you will see our iPod nano in an iHome speakers. These were both things we already had. The iPod I used quite a bit before I got an iPhone and then it sat there. I decided to put it in the classroom for music. The iHome speakers were my husband's but he rarely used them. I love that it also has a digital clock with the date on it. 

Our beautiful bead cabinet. I was VERY lucky to get this cabinet for the price I did. I scour craigslist for Montessori materials at least a couple of times a week. I happened upon a listing for a Montessori school that was closing and sent an email immediately. This is a gorgeous set of complete bead materials and a lovely cabinet from Bruins Montessori. I got it for less than I would have paid for the discount montessori website materials. I have some beads from a couple of those discount websites and they are no where near the quality and beauty of these beads. 
The white doors are a closet which I store my teacher materials, unused material, etc that the children wouldnt have access too. At the moment our IKEA easel is also in here but Im not sure it will stay there.

Language and Geography shelves. There are more unused shelves on here than it appears. All of this was from last year and needs to be updated. I have several things that do not belong for my seven year old. 
Grammar solids, grammar cutouts, moveable alphabet, metal insets, tray and paper with colored pencils. Clear clock with gears that we made last year. Fractions wrapup game. Landmarks lesson, chimalong metalaphone, small chalkboard, drum, rhythm sticks, snap circuts, lego contraptions, kapla blocks, some cooperative games,tanagrams, puzzle maps, hug-a-planet globe pillow, magazines, calming jar, some international coins and other items, Egyptian sarcophagus, pink tower, brown stairs and knobbed cylinders got cut out of this pic (you can see them a little in the nature table pic)

Math shelf. Again has things that dont really belong in this area. I need to organize better.
crayons, colored pencils, reading folders, geometric cabinet, geometric solids, money, binomial cube, trinomial cube, algebraic binomial cube, subtraction snake game, stamp game, math mat, golden bead material, multiplication and division bead boards, painting board, clock, wooden golden bead thousand cubes, knobless cylinders. 

Our Science Lab which is a connected bathroom. This particular bathroom is only a sink and counter. You have to go through another door to get to the toilet (which is attached in the same way to my son's room). I love having access to water and a counter to work on messy things with no carpet underneath. This way to dont have to run down to the kitchen when we want to work on science. We also do some semi-messy art projects in here. I moved our bookshelf in this room when we got our bead cabinet this summer, im not sure if it will stay here or not.

Science material shelf. Lots of fun things here. Our rugs in the corner are in a cardboard box, they wont stay like this but we just got them and I havent found a proper basket to hold them yet.

Some closeups of what is on our shelves. Lots of rocks/minerals, field guides, brain model, brain puzzle, pocket microscope.

More rocks, magnets, bones from a owl pellet he dissected, bucket with a meteor crater lesson, box of wild life treasury cards, microscope, model tooth he made, envelopes with 3 part cards for the puzzles.

Botany, animal and insect puzzles, Botany cabinet, star chart, science kits that my son loves to do. These are Young Scientist's Club kits. I personally find them to be very simple and Im not thrilled with the quality of the items included but my son just loves them.

Our workspace. The cute little tabletop sweeper is from Target dollar spot. We have a green version for our dining room table for my son to sweep crumbs.

Sink with some extra science storage underneath. The glasses and hanger are from IKEA. We use the hanger for hanging paintings to dry.

Science Lab metal sign. I found this at a science surplus store and I had to have it!

Our nature table. It is a little small but in our classroom we only have two windows and they are both in that one corner. The table fits nicely under the window sills and the plants get some sun. We have cactus, a terrarium, bamboo, a root viewer and other random pieces of nature he finds and brings in. Right now there is a strip of birch bark, a dry piece of bamboo and a bug box that has a magnifying glass on it.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of our school room. We are learning as we go along and I know I have quite a bit of organizing to do still. We havent ordered our materials for this year yet so I'll be posting more when I do and pictures when they arrive.

Friday, August 16, 2013


Hello and Welcome to Expedition Montessori!

I would like to introduce myself and my family. My name is Erin and I am a Montessori Homeschooling mom of two. I have a seven year old son T, and a 19 month old daughter B. My son attended a local Montessori school for two years when he was 4 and 5. The school was having some administration issues in that second year and we decided not to send him back. We did his first year of elementary at home last year when he was 6. I had some basic knowledge of Montessori but it was a parent's view not a teacher's view. I didnt know exactly what each material taught or when they were taught. It was pretty rough on us on our first year homeschooling. My son was eager to learn but I was not at all prepared for teaching him. I did not plan to homeschool and Montessori is a difficult route when you are jumping in at elementary. There are plenty of resources for preschool/primary Montessori out there on the internet but not all that many for elementary. We pushed through the year and Ive been learning along with him. I hope to share our struggles and our triumphs with you as we continue on our journey of discovery with Montessori homeschooling.