Thursday, February 27, 2014

Geography and Zoology Come Together

Most of our homeschool curriculum is our own. We follow the Montessori method as closely as we can at home for all of the major subjects. We add a little bit of Waldorf for Art and Nature study, we supplement with some fun things like Life of Fred and Brain Quest workbooks. I have always thought the idea of Homeschool Co-ops was great but they use their specific curriculum which I have never found to be Montessori. We have, however, been lucky enough to find a Homeschool group that is not a co-op. We do not do classes together but we do have clubs and park play days where we can get together and enjoy time together with others who homeschool. One of our favorite clubs in our group is Geography Club. Each month during the school year we choose one country to study. Each child (sometimes children in the same family work together) chooses a particular subject relating to the country we are studying. We study however we choose and present in any manner we like. The children do charts, drawings, powerpoint slideshows, dances, photos, or bring in items from that country. Its always a fun afternoon when we get together and the children present what they have learned. It is a great way for them to get excited about what they have learned because they can share it with the other children. They also get experience with public speaking which is always helpful. In addition to the presentations, we each bring in a dish we have made that is traditionally eaten in the country we are studying. We all get a yummy lunch and the children get to try foods from around the world. I can not say enough good things about this club, if you have a group of homeschool children, consider starting your own Geography Club.

February's country was New Zealand. T decided to focus on the volcanos of New Zealand. When we looked at the map at the beginning of the month we noticed that New Zealand is in the Ring of Fire, which is the part of the world where the most volcanoes exist. Since we studies volcanos extensively at the beginning of the year with the First Great Lesson, he found this interesting. He used his Montessori world puzzle map to make this chart to show that New Zealand is part of the Ring of Fire and explained what that means during his oral presentation.

On the back of his chart he made a larger scale map of New Zealand, using the Montessori Australia puzzle map and indicated where each volcano is located in red ink.

For our traditional food we chose a dessert recipe called Hokey Pokey. It is made of corn syrup, sugar and baking soda.

First you combine the corn syrup and sugar and let it melt together. Then you boil it for 3 minutes.

Then you add the baking soda which creates a reaction. Bubbles form and the mixture turns a nice yellow color.

When you pour the mixture out onto a dish it hardens with the bubbles inside, creating a honeycomb effect. It was quite sweet and yummy.

We had a great time studying New Zealand and its many volcanos. This week we took a trip to our local museum to view their newest exhibit which is all about Whales! We found several references to New Zealand in our studies of whales at the museum. It is always fun when there is a correlation between subjects and the student notices all on his own.

This map shows how whales often beach themselves on the shores of New Zealand. The shores are unique in this area because they drop very quickly into very deep water. Whales will swim close to the shore because they do not realize that the water will become shallow so quickly. It also causes tidal waves to be very strong so that if a whale is swimming in that deep water which is close to the shore and a tidal wave hits him, he will be pushed rapidly into the shallow water and the wave will go down quickly leaving the whale beached.

There was also an area that talked about the Maori people who are indigenous to New Zealand, and showed several examples of things that were made from the teeth and bones of whales.

The museum was hosting a Homeschool Day which included several hands on activities about whales. Here the children were learning about blubber and how it helps protect whales from the icy oceans.

Both of the children were quite fond of the blubber model. It was not actual blubber but a model that looked and felt like it.

Then they put on a glove made of neoprene to see how it protected their hand from the ice water. In the past we have done another experiment where we put a layer of shortening between two plastic bags which works similarly.

They learned about baleen by using toothbrushes to get dirt out of water as opposed to using teeth (clips).

Then they folded origami whales and colored them. T is very interested in origami (we recently read Sudoku and the thousand paper cranes) so he had fun with this. B was more interested in peeling the paper off of the crayons than coloring.

T added some wiggly eyes to his whale, cute right?

They got to touch a whale rib bone

And a whale vertebra

We really enjoyed the whale exhibit. They had so many specimens that it was amazing.

This Sperm whale was HUGE!

We enjoyed comparing skulls of several different whales.

The kids got to crawl through a life size model of a Blue Whale heart.

Whale vertebra and rib bone

Baleen (the hairlike material that is in the whale's mouth, it is used to collect small sea life for food)

We also found out a very cool fact that I hadn't known before. Whales started out as land animals and evolved into sea animals. Once I thought about it for a few minutes it made total sense. If you have gone through the Great Lesson #2, The Coming of Life, you would know the pattern of life started in the sea and then came onto land. A whale is a Mammal so the ancestry of the whale started in the sea initially, then came onto land as the mammals appeared, then later went back to the sea.
This timeline chart was especially helpful (click them to make them bigger):

I am sure by now, if you have been reading my blog for any amount of time, that you know we are museum junkies. We just love going to the museum and its even better when their special exhibits correlate with some of the work we have been doing recently. Nothing brings it all together like real specimens and hands on activities.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tot School: Toilet Learning

No updates from us last week because we were on Winter Break. I have been actually sticking with a calendar that is close to our local public school's calendar this year. T has a lot of friends who go to public school and many of the special camps here occur during public school breaks. He often wants to take advantage of these same days off as his friends so we decided to just stick to the same basic schedule. We have an advantage however, the public schools have been having lots of snow days here this winter and we have not so we got a little of a longer break this time than they did.

I decided that we would take advantage of this break to accomplish a couple of things. The main focus of this week would be toilet learning for B. The way we do toilet learning in our home, we need some uninterrupted time to practice and not leave the house much. With a child who has an older sibling it can be difficult to have uninterrupted time and when that older child is homeschooled, it can be nearly impossible. So, our solution was that T would attend what we like to call Grandparent Camp! My in-laws are wonderful people and they are always asking us to let them keep T for extended periods of time. He goes to stay at their house for a week at a time a few times a year while he is on breaks from school. He enjoys the special time with his grandparents and they love having him there. B is not at an age where we feel comfortable with this yet but she will get her turn in a couple of years. I am not sure of everything they are doing together (they live about 2hrs away) but I do know that they went to see the Lego Movie on Friday and he really enjoyed it.

Moving on to the main focus of this post, Toilet Learning. Now, you may be wondering what the difference is between Toilet Learning and Potty Training. There isn't really a difference except for your mindset. Are you training the child to use the toilet, or are they learning to use it? Often times parents dread potty training because it is a time when they must stop their hectic lives and focus on trying to get their very young child to stop using diapers and start using the toilet. When you focus on the child learning a new skill, and really put that focus on this time as the accomplishment of the child to gain control of his or her own bodily functions it often changes how you do things.

I would like to share how WE do toilet learning in our home. I am not saying this will work for every child or every family but this works for us.

Start Young-
I believe in starting toilet training before the age of two. Many parents think this is too young but in my experience there is a golden window for learning before the age of two. Most children between the age of 18months and 2.5 years are very interested in becoming independent. They are also often eager to please their parents with their new skills. Two year olds are often in the stage of becoming independent by being defiant. They prefer to do the opposite of what they think you want them to do. Of course this is not every child, but it is more common in two year olds than in one and a half year olds. Some people wait until three, at this time many child are so used to sitting in their own dirty diapers that they don't really even mind it anymore. The instinct to be clean that a child is born with, often disappears if they are left in diapers for too many years. T toilet learned at 20 months of age and B is learning at 25 months of age. We actually tried this once before with B but she had an accident during the same week and broke her leg, the cast and everything made it too difficult so we postponed it for a while.

Cloth Diapers-
Cloth diapers from birth tend to make toilet learning easier. The child always has a slight feeling of wetness when wearing a cloth diaper so they tend to want to get out of them more quickly. Disposable diapers pull the wetness away from the skin losing that feeling of wetness that allows the child to notice if they have a wet diaper. Using cloth diapers really helped T with toilet learning, he picked it up very quickly. B had some skin issues with our cloth diapers, she actually had to switch to disposables for a while recently and it has made things more difficult. She would often say that she was dry when her diaper was quite wet because she just couldn't tell.

Stay Home-
When we toilet train we stay home as much as possible for an entire week. We focus on just toilet learning for that entire week. The child stays in a room without carpet and with a potty chair for all of his/her waking hours. We keep only a couple of toys and books in the room with us and try to make them related to using the toilet. We talk about keeping pants dry and using the potty when needed.

Underpants are required-
I know many people who try the bare bottom method of training where they let the child run around with no diaper/undies at all. This is an ok method but I also hear many issues when underpants are introduced. Its like the child needs to be retaught because they don't understand that they must pull their underpants down before sitting to use the toilet. We go straight to underpants and the child learns to pull them down and back up when finished. We start with padded training like Gerber brand or Hanna Andersson training pants. They are 100% cotton but have several layers in the crotch area to help hold in liquids. They are not waterproof and they will leak quickly but it helps a little to not have a flood every time the child pees. We only use the padded training pants for the first few days and then straight to regular underpants.

Rewards not punishment-
Young children do not soil their pants on purpose so punishment is not recommended. It is ok to let the child know that you are not happy about them soiling their pants but in a gentle way. We focus on if the pants are wet or dry, not that the child has soiled himself or herself. Rather than saying "you peed in your pants, shame on you", I would say "Oh no, your pants are wet! I don't like wet pants. Where should we go when we need to pee?" The child would then say "potty" and I would say "yes, we pee in the potty not our pants. Let's go to the potty and get dry pants". We do what are called "Pants checks" where I will periodically ask the child to check her pants to see if they are dry. If she has dry pants at that time she is rewarded with a small treat (we do a single jelly bean or M&M). If the pants are wet, the child must go to the potty and change her pants (with little help and only if needed).

We use repetition to learn most easily. During the week of toilet learning, I give lots of drinks so that there are many opportunities to practice using the potty. Each time the child needs to use the potty a lesson is learned. Either they make it to the potty and they are proud of themselves and they learn that they can do it. Or they have an accident and they then practice going to the potty, pulling their pants down, sitting down, putting new pants on and pulling them up. It reenforces where they should go and what they should do each time they need to use the potty.

Don't Expect too much-
These are very young children, don't expect perfection. I consider a child toilet trained when they can go a full day without an accident. Yes there will be accidents after the child has been trained but it should not be frequent. In the first months after we make the move out of diapers I will be sure to remind her to try to use the toilet every hour. We will be sure to use the toilet before we leave the house and often if we are away from home. If the child is distracted for any reason, like at the park, playing with friends, has a new toy, be sure to remind often because distraction will make it hard to remember to go to the toilet. Many times children will try to hold it because they are busy and then have an accident. I also keep a change of clothing in my car for at least the first 6 months after switching out of diapers, just in case.

I love this part! Its so wonderful to see that little face light up every time they make it to the potty in time. Praise is probably the most important part of learning anything new for a child. We try to keep a Montessori approach to praise so as not to take away from the child's accomplishment. Sometimes people praise by saying "Im so proud of you" but that puts the focus on YOU not the child. I try to say "you must be so proud of yourself", or just "Yeah!", or sometimes "You Did It!" I want my child to know that she did it all by herself, I am happy for her. Yes, I am happy for me too because I don't have to clean dirty diapers anymore, but that is not something I need to mention to her.

Some of my favorite toilet learning products. (I am not affiliated with any of these companies, I just like their products.)

My Favorite toilet training book is Toilet training in less than a day by Nathan Azrin. This book is old and has some language you might not hear these days. There is a section on special needs children in which they do not use current politically correct words. It is not offensive but its a bit out of date in that regard. I think the content is wonderful and it feels very Montessori to me.

Baby Bjorn potty chairs, seats and stools.
I especially recommend these if you have a little boy. The shape of the seat is very helpful to prevent overspray. I love the molded pieces that don't let urine get trapped in the cracks. We use the regular size potty chair for our main training chair because you can take the smaller bucket out and dump it. If you use the book above it has the child dump their own pot into the regular toilet when they are finished. We love the seats that go on the regular toilet and the stools as well. We are using them all again from 6 years ago. They come in lots of colors (we have green)

Years ago, Baby Bjorn had a one piece mini potty chair. I loved it for using in the car. I like having a small potty in the car in case we are somewhere we can't get to a toilet because young children have trouble "holding it". They changed their mini chair to a two piece that I don't like as much. We found this one that is similar to that old style at Ikea for $5. And they also have a big one that is similar to the one above for $10. (yep, they come in green too LOL)

Gerber and Hanna Andersson cotton training pants. Hanna Andersson has Organic cotton training pants that are wonderful but they are quite expensive. I thought about buying them but we use them for such a short time that I decided to stick with Gerber. I bought Hanna Andersson regular underpants though, she'll wear them longer. The Gerber training pants are not organic but they are basically the same thing. Watch out....they have a new style that is not 100% cotton but has some polyester in it. Make sure you check the package if you want only cotton. They even come in size 18months which is great when you are working with a child under 2.

Flushable wipes are awesome! Sometimes little ones have trouble determining how much paper to use, its nice to have wipes that come out one at a time. They also work nicely for transitioning from soft wipes to dry scratchy toilet paper.  I really haven't noticed that much of a difference in brands. We usually use Kandoo from pampers but the buggies brand and the store brands work nicely too. The only issue I have found is that the brands come in different sizes, kandoo(pampers) is made to fit a square dispenser, buggies is rectangular. If you are going to use store brand, check the shape before you buy a dispenser.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


WARNING: This post includes photos of actual human remains. They are all wrapped in mummy dressings. Please be aware of this before scrolling down. Visit my new Great Lesson Resource Page for info.

We are working our way through some follow up work from the Communications in Signs Great Lesson. This lesson talks about ancient civilizations and how written language has evolved over time. Immediately after I gave this Great Lesson, T jumped right in to our hieroglyphs books. He has always been very interested in mummies. We have several books on the subject and he really is fascinated by them.

Yesterday, we took a little trip to a nearby college museum. T was very excited that there were actual mummies not just reproductions. They also had a large amount of art work from several ancient civilizations including, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Asian, African and American. Many of these pieces of art and cultural artifacts included ancient writings.

We found several examples of Cuneiform writing. 

Pottery, jewelry and weapons. Many included writings.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs

A closeup of a replica of the Rosetta Stone, which includes Greek, Egyptian and Hieroglyphs

On the left are canopic jars which are used to hold the organs from mummified bodies. On Right, mummies of a kitten, falcon, dog and baby alligator.

The beautiful room of mummies!

After we thoroughly viewed the Egyptian room, we moved on to the Roman and Greek area. There were some examples of early Greek and Roman writings on pieces of art and pottery. There were many statues but I did not get any photos as I was trying to keep B (2yrs) from climbing on them.

This is a Roman urn that was used to hold ashes of the dead. It had beautiful Roman writing on it.

A Roman sarcophagus

I found these stamps from early Costa Rica very interesting. The kids weren't as impressed. 

More follow up work this morning at home.

We pulled out our mini King Tut sarcophagus and mummy. This is super heavy resin that is painted. I purchased it from a local thrift store last year. You may have seen it in the background of some of our pictures in the past, it normally sits on top of our map puzzle stand.

T spent much of the afternoon pouring over our books on mummies and Ancient Egypt. 

We pulled out this cool book on Mayan hieroglyphs too. Not only does it have a ton of info on the Mayan culture but it also has this wonderful set of raised hieroglyphs that can be used for rubbings. T thought these were even better than the Egyptian stencils I shared the other day.

Lots of study on other ancient cultures as well, including Roman, Greek, Mesopotamian, and Babylonian.  We did a quick lesson with a BC/AD timeline as well.

And some fun reading of The Magic Treehouse book #3: Mummies in the Morning. (looks like they changed the cover for this book)

I have added a new Montessori Great Lessons Resource Page to my blog. Please visit to see some of my favorite books and websites without digging through my blog posts. Or if you want to look back at our previous work, click on the Cosmic Education label on the right.