Exploring Homeschooling Methods for the Early Learner | Montessori

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I have to admit, writing about the Montessori method has been quite intimidating to me. It is a very rich and scientific method that is very precise. For something to be truly Montessori, the teacher (at home or school) MUST be formally trained in the Montessori method and use specific Montessori supplies. However, in this day and age, many families are choosing to provide their homeschoolers with a Montessori inspired education.

Some are drawn to Montessori by the emphasis on independence, others on the child-directed approach to learning, and still others by the vast array of materials and resources provided for even the youngest of learners.

In this brief introduction, I will by no means do the full Montessori method justice, but my hope is that I can share some of the most desired aspects for those of you who are interested in taking some inspiration from the pen of Maria Montessori.

A Brief History of Montessori
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who did extensive work with special needs children. As she observed children and read various educational philosophies of her predecessors, Maria began to develop a very precise and scientific approach to education that revolved greatly around the “prepared environment” and the idea that children teach themselves. By understanding child development and examining the way children played with different textures, tools, and materials, Maria developed various prepared activities, from transferring beans from one bowl to another with a spoon to sorting cards of animals and plants. During her life, Maria set up many “children’s homes” (or schools) all over the world where her theories were put into practice and found to be very successful.

Why Montessori for the Early Years
As mentioned above, Montessori methodology begins at birth. This means there is something from every age group through middle school. Where most educational philosophies don’t offer many exercises or activities for the under-six crowd, Montessori is chalk full of them.

Key ideas in Montessori are independence and giving children space to grow and discover, as well as respecting each child as a person. In a Montessori homeschool, a child would have furniture and tools that are good quality, real, and all their own size. Typically there is a shelf with prepared activities that teach a child crucial skills. One activity may be a tray with a pitcher full of water and a glass for a child to practice pouring. The idea is that the child will naturally do this over and over again until she masters the skill. She is not forced to do the activities, but rather can choose what she would like to do and for how long. Then, after she has experimented with an activity, the teacher comes alongside the student, showing ways to expand upon the things she is already learning.

Some of the key elements of a Montessori style education are mixed ages in one classroom (great for homeschool), large uninterrupted blocks of time to play and explore, freedom to choose activities, a discovery model vs. direct instruction, use of very specific educational materials and tools created by Maria Montessori, and plenty of free space for a child to move.

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Family
Like with any homeschool, the schedule is going to look very different from family to family. Part of what will determine a schedule will be how strictly one adheres to Montessori methodology. However, two non-negotiable components of a Montessori education are outdoor play, and large blocks of uninterrupted play and learning time. Below is an idea of what a homeschooling day might look like. In this case our family has one girl, Isabella, four, and a baby brother, six months.

9:00 a.m. – Circle or “line” time. Isabella and her mom sing songs, read a few stories, and see what’s happening with the weather for the day. Today Isabella’s mom is adding  an activity about skeletons to their activity shelf. She talks about the x-ray cards with Isabella and shows her how she can make x-ray art by gluing cotton swabs to black paper. They also read a new poem about bones.

9:15 – Self-directed learning time. Isabella’s mom leaves her to explore all of the things on the shelf. She is there ready to help Isabella if she needs help, but tries to give her space. Isabella immediately grabs the new tray and begins working on her skeletons. She shows what she is doing to her mom. Then she cleans up, puts her tray back, and starts working on a puzzle that is on the shelf.

10:45 – Circle or “line” time. Mom reads a book to Isabella; they talk about the morning and get ready to go outside for a bit. They may go to the park, ride bikes, take a magnifying glass and explore nature, the sky is the limit.

12:00 p.m. – Lunch time. Because this is a Montessori homeschool, Isabella is encouraged to help as much as she can to prepare her lunch. She is able to cut her banana and prepare a sandwich all by herself alongside her mom. Special care is taken to practice manners and courtesy. Isabella sets the table and helps her mom wipe the table and clean up when the meal is over.

1:00 – Quiet time for Isabella to play, listen to books on tape, or just generally be calm and rest for a bit.

2:00 – The rest of the afternoon is open to play. Likely there will be another chance to go outside and play, and the activity shelf is always open.

Materials, Resources, and Curriculums for Montessori
Unlike other methods, there are some very specific materials typically used in a Montessori classroom. Much emphasis is placed on the activity trays, and those will need to be stocked. One of the best places to find Montessori style lesson plans and materials is from Michael Olaf’s website. The North American Montessori Institute has also put together a curriculum for homeschoolers. Many people, however, find they like to take some of the Montessori activities and ideas and rework them, rather than following the Montessori philosophy precisely.

I will provide links to some websites and books that can be helpful below, but a quick Pinterest search for “Montessori activities {insert age}” can be really helpful too.

Is Montessori Right for Me?
Montessori is an approach that really encompasses all of life, not just your typical academic subjects. It places emphasis on independence, courtesy, and child-led learning. How do you know if Montessori is right for you?

  • If you like the idea of watching for teachable moments and making suggestions, but letting your child take charge of his learning, Montessori might be a good fit.
  • If you don’t mind preparing activities and rotating them out, keeping an eye on how your child responds to new things, you might love the child-led nature of Montessori.
  • If you like the idea of giving young children more freedom to play and explore, both inside and outside, while providing structure and stability, you might have a good fit.
  • Montessori might be right for you if you like the idea of using a well researched and scientific method of education in the home.
  • If you have a really young child and you want to enrich her life by providing developmentally appropriate activities, Montessori would be a good place to start.

How About You?
Do you use any Montessori methods or activities in your homeschool? Are you strict, following it to a tee, or do you just like to pull in Montessori ideas from time to time? What are your questions and reactions? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschooler, kindergartner, first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More

  1. Teaching Montessori in the Home Pre-School Years by Elizabeth G. Hainstock: An introduction to the Montessori method and how to set up a Montessori program in your home.
  2. Teach Me to Do it Myself by Maja Pitamic: A whole host of Montessori activities for children ages three to six.
  3. Montessori At Home Guide by A.M. Sterling: An introduction to using the Montessori method at home with two- to six-year-olds.
  4. Montessori on a Budget is a great website filled with tons of resources and ideas. It proves that using the Montessori method doesn’t have to be expensive and provides materials to help you implement the Montessori method in your home.
  5. American Montessori Society: Visit their website to find out more about the Montessori method and its founder, Maria Montessori.

Create Your Own Unit Studies for Preschoolers

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Today I want to share with you how I create unit studies for our preschoolers. A unit study is way of teaching your children on a topic they like, covering multiple subjects. On the sdahomeschools.com website are several blogs you can read about unit studies. For example, this one and this one.

In our home we’re using the unit study approach for our preschoolers (four and two years old). Since the children are very young, there is no need to buy a curriculum. I am trying to find out what works for us on our new homeschooling journey. At the same time, we cover the basics and learn a lot, and we are having fun. I create my own unit studies, because there is hardly anything in our own language. I do translate things, but that doesn’t work all the time. Also, by planning everything myself I can adapt it to our wishes and the interests, and the needs of my four-year-old preschooler. My two-year-old tags along for part of the lessons, mostly the hands-on activities like games and songs.

Since we began earlier this year I’ve made about 10 unit studies, learning how to create them as I’m going. I change it a little every time — sometimes because of the topic we choose, sometimes because my daughter now knows her ABC’s and wants something new or doesn’t like a certain part of our lesson. I’ve now developed a strategy to get to lessons I like at the moment. This is how I do it.

Step 1: Choose a topic, based on the interest of the child. As the mother, I help pick the topic. I try to spread the topics so we cover a wide variety of subjects. To give you an idea: Our last topic was “trip around the world” (geography). Currently we’re learning about fire fighters (social studies), and our next theme is elephants (nature).

Step 2: Collect ideas to fill the lessons. Pinterest is my favorite place to find games, crafts, worksheets, and so on.

We “do school” twice a week, and we stay on one topic for a month. So, I want to collect enough to cover eight lessons and one field trip. The lessons have the following subjects:

  • Bible / character building: prayer, memory verse, Bible story, and a song or hymn in Dutch or English
  • Language arts: vocabulary, read aloud, letter recognition, making words with our magnetic letters, pre-writing skills, and a song or poem
  • Math / S.T.E.M. activities: counting and understanding of numbers; measuring and geometry; sorting, classifying, and comparing; and an experiment
  • Home economics and personal care
  • Arts and crafts
  • Games (preferably outside)
  • Nature study

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I don’t do all the items of the language and math activities in one lesson, just one or two. Sometimes we do one activity that combines for example nature and math. On the other hand, I want enough options to choose from, so I usually have a few more activities planned than we actually do. We’re quite relaxed when it comes to homeschooling; it’s okay to let things happen or to skip an activity when it doesn’t work. This week one of our games was to transfer water from one bucket to another using a sponge. Playing with water is always fun. After a while the kids started “cleaning” the windows instead of doing the planned craft. And, with help of Mom, the windows ended up a lot cleaner!

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To give you an idea of what I plan for home economics and personal care: For our “trip around the world” theme, we did a lot of cooking and trying recipes from different countries. Now we are remembering our address and phone number, we talk about fire and personal safety, and our daughter learns the final touches of getting dressed all by herself.

For the Bible lesson I just started using Kids of Integrity, choosing a character trait matching the theme. Each lesson we do a prayer, a Bible story, a memory verse, and a song. We learn at least two songs a month, one in Dutch and one in English.

Step 3: Divide the collected ideas. Plan your lessons and field trip. Print the printables and make notes for other preparation. Go to the library to get a stack of books according to the topic.

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Step 4: Have a lot of fun with the lessons!

This way of teaching has been a blessing for us so far. I hope you give unit studies a try too!

 

 

Exploring Methods for the Early Learner | Unit Studies

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Do you and your kids like hands-on projects? Do you like to lose yourself in your studies, immersing yourself and discovering the many facets of a topic? Do you like to weave together math, science, history, language arts, and more? Do you have two or more kids whom you would love to learn as much together as possible? If you answered yes to any of these questions, unit studies might be a great approach for your homeschool.

A Little Bit About Unit Studies

Unit studies are a bit different than the other methods of homeschooling I will be talking about, as they are compatible with most homeschooling theories or methods. Unit studies can be used as part of the Charlotte Mason Method, unschooling, the Moore Formula, and more. They can also be combined as a stand-alone homeschooling strategy.

Unit studies may be small, lasting only a week or two, or large, lasting for a whole quarter or even a semester. By taking a theme, let’s say the “Human Body,” and stretching it across subject areas, you have the opportunity to dive deep and create a unit of study. You may read about the human body in a book, play games about the human body, build models of the body, read books about famous doctors or people who made great discoveries in health. You may work on exercise and healthy meals, do human body science experiments, or write a fictional story about how the immune system works. You can explore vocabulary, and even use math by measuring the length your small intestine would be if you stretched it out and more.

One of the best things about unit studies is that you can include the whole family in much of the activities, slightly tweaking assignments for varying ages. It cuts back on planning and requires less time than covering different topics as separate subjects for each child.

Why Unit Studies

Young children are masters of unit studies. Have you ever watched a preschooler or early elementary child get hung up on something like firefighters? For a time, they are obsessed. They want to dress like firefighters, play with fire trucks, and be a firefighter when they grow up. Any hose-like object becomes a firehose, and no danger is too big to escape their heroism. They want to read about them, watch them, and more. This continues until they are ready to move on to the next new thing to explore — maybe horses.

By surrounding a child with opportunities to learn about something in different ways, often their curiosity is naturally piqued, and they grasp hold of the topic or theme being presented. Children love making connections.

A Day in the Life of a Unit Study Family

As with unschooling, it’s difficult to say what a day in the life of a family following a unit study plan might look like. With this type of homeschooling, the amount of structure varies, and it can be easier to see an overview of a whole unit study, rather than a particular day. For purposes of discussion, I’m packing more in this example day than would actually be feasible. These activities might all be broken up over the course of a week, but I feel it can give you a better picture of what homeschooling might look like.

The family in this example is a family of three, a four-year-old boy (Trent), six year-old girl (Trudy), and seven-year-old boy (Trevor). They are studying about pioneers and the westward expansion.

7:00 a.m. – Everyone is up, working on their chores, and helping to get breakfast rolling.

8:00 – Family worship at the breakfast table, then everyone helps to clean up and get ready for the day.

9:00 – Everyone meets at the table to start the school day with calendar time, math, and any individual lessons. Handwriting might include copying sentences about pioneers. Trevor and Trudy review some vocabulary words from the story they are reading — things like bluffs, spade, foundation, and sprain. Trent joins in mostly for calendar time, but plays with his toys while his older siblings finish up.

9:30 – Everyone gathers around to read The Little House on the Prairie. Today they are reading about building the cabin. Trent plays with his cars while he listens, Judy colors, and Trevor just sits and listens.

10:00 – It’s time to do some brainstorming and planning. Trevor and Trudy are asked to use a mind map to brainstorm how they would build their own log cabin, what materials they would use, etc. Trevor writes a paragraph and illustrates it. Trudy writes a sentence and illustrates it. Trent talks about his cabin with his mom and draws a picture.

10:30 – They all go out and measure out the size of a typical cabin built by pioneers, and do some math from the reading. For example, if Pa built the cabin three logs high all the way around, how many logs did he use in all four sides?

10:45 – The children come inside and start to build log cabins out of Lincoln Logs.

11:15 – It’s time to make lunch together. The family has been cooking recipes out of the Little House on the Prairie cookbook a couple days a week for lunch. Today they read about staples from the country store, and are working together to make hasty pudding to go with the rest of their lunch. While they cook they talk about how it would have been different to cook on the frontier vs in modern kitchens.

12:00 p.m. – Lunch

12:30 – Everyone helps clean up.

1:00 – Quiet time. Everyone picks their own books to read. Mom reads to Trent. There is a basket of books about pioneers that the kids like to pick from to look at and read during this time.

2:00 – The afternoons change. Sometimes they do art, sometimes science experiments, sometimes field trips or music lessons, etc. Today they are going to start a new project. They are going to make plans for their own prairie garden just like Ma had. They will measure and plan, and if they get everything ready on time, they will get to go to the store before supper to pick out everything they need to start their garden.

This would end the “school” day and the day would continue as normal afterward.

Materials, Resources, and Curriculums for Unit Studies

Often people who do unit studies write their own. You can also find several free unit study ideas and curriculums by searching online, and there are several boxed curriculums and resources that make it easier. Please feel free to comment below to suggest other resources and ideas.

Amanda Bennett Unit Studies – Some pre-made unit studies of all different lengths: a great and inexpensive option to dive in with unit studies based on your state requirements, your child’s interests, or any timeline you may be following.

Konos – A full unit-study based curriculum that focuses on character traits.

The Weaver Curriculum – A unit-based curriculum from Alpha Omega publishing.

Five in a Row – A literature-based unit study approach that begins with Before Five in a Row for your two- to four-year-olds, and continues with Five in a Row for children up to age eight.

Are Unit Studies Right for Me?

Unit studies can work in a lot of different situations, but just like all schooling styles, the question is, is it a fit for you and your family?

  • If you like the idea of everyone in your family learning together, unit studies are a great way to span different ages.
  • If you enjoy diving deep into a topic and exploring things beyond a textbook, unit studies provide a great opportunity.
  • If you don’t mind taking the time to do in-depth projects and field trips, you might have just found your perfect match.

How About You?

Are you thinking about unit studies, but simply aren’t sure? What are your questions? Thoughts? Reservations? Excitements? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschool, kindergarten, or first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More

  1. “What is a Unit Study?” By Amanda Bennett: http://unitstudy.com/blog/what-is-a-unit-study/
  2. One way to plan a unit study: http://unitstudy.com/blog/what-is-a-unit-study/
  3. Another way to plan a unit study: http://www.dummies.com/education/homeschooling/designing-homeschool-unit-studies/
  4. “The Ultimate List of Unit Study Resources”: http://www.sidetrackedsarah.com/2012/08/the-ultimate-list-of-unit-study-resources/
  5. Free online unit studies: http://www.freehomeschooldeals.com/category/unit-study/
  6. More free unit studies: http://eclectic-homeschool.com/free-unit-studies/
  7. Astronaut unit study I put together: https://homeschoolingatjesusfeet.wordpress.com/category/unit-studies/astronauts/
  8. Excellent planning resources and examples from a unit study family: https://www.pepperandpine.com
  9. Unit study resources recommended by SDA Homeschool Families: http://www.sdahomeschools.org/unit-study/

Choosing to Homeschool

Soon we are celebrating our daughter’s fourth birthday.

Friends, neighbours, colleagues, everyone asks about her age and school.

Four is a milestone, for in our country all kids go to school at this age. That’s the standard, although they don’t have to be in school yet. In the Netherlands children officially need to be schooled at the age of five.

After our daughter was born we started thinking about her education. Like almost all Dutchman, the only question was this: To which school are we sending her?

Then we met a kind Adventist family who told us about homeschooling. They encouraged us to homeschool our children.

We didn’t know what it meant. We didn’t know it was allowed in our country (it is under certain conditions). And, our first reaction was, “Homeschooling? Hmm…no, too extreme.” And so, we were back to the question: Which school?

It’s very important to us that our children learn the Adventist beliefs and values and, when they are older, that they choose to be in a close relationship with God. Therefore, we want our children’s education to be in line with our conviction and lifestyle. But, there are no Adventist schools close to where we live.

Our possibilities seemed so limited. We prayed over it, and God opened our eyes for THE possibility: homeschooling! The more we learn about it, the more we love it, and we know this is how we want our children to be educated.

Soon we are celebrating our daughter’s fourth birthday.

Friends, neighbours, colleagues, everyone asks about her age and school.

We’re happy to tell them, “She is almost four, and she is going to be homeschooled!”

Exploring Homeschooling Methods for the Early Learner | Unschooling

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Unschooling. There. I said it. What was the first thing that came to mind? It’s funny, because of all of the early homeschool methods I am going to be sharing with you, none seems to bring as strong a reaction as this one. Whether you are sold out for unschooling, or don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole, I encourage you to read along as you may learn a thing or two and find a thought or technique to incorporate into your own little one’s learning.

A Brief History of Unschooling
When it comes to unschooling, the name you will want to remember is John Holt. You might have heard the name before as he is also considered the father of modern homeschooling. Holt was a classroom educator who began to see that schooling was not the same as education (1). He believed that children were born to learn, and that by placing them in a classroom and telling them exactly what to learn and when, their ability to learn is impaired, not fostered. He argued that by allowing children freedom and giving them experience in real life, we would ignite a spark and true education in their minds. With the release of his first book, How Children Fail (1964), public speaking engagements, and his influence, the modern homeschool movement was born.

Why Unschooling for the Early Years
Unschooling is included in my list of options for the early years because it’s the way little kids learn naturally. They play, explore, ask questions, hypothesize, and test — with little to no direction from us. I also find that many people don’t feel comfortable with unschooling after about second or third grade due to greater pressure to stay on-track with a school system, so the early years can be a great time to incorporate unschooling concepts.

A Day in the Life of an Unschooling Family
It is very difficult to say what a day in the life of an unschooling family would be like, but I’ll give it a go. I’m creating a fictional family with a four-year-old boy (Will) and a six-year-old girl (Suzie) to paint a picture of what things could look like.

6:30 a.m. – Suzie wakes up early and comes out to the living room to play. She finds a horse drawing book her mom left on the table, knowing she likes horses, and immediately pulls out her art supplies and sets to work.

7:30 – Will wakes up and starts to help his mom make breakfast. He watches from a chair and helps mix and wash things when he can — anything in the sink with water makes him very happy.

8:30 – After breakfast, the whole family works together to do chores. Suzie has been focused on learning how to move furniture in a room before vacuuming, and Will enjoys feeding the dog. He usually makes a mess, but is getting better every time.

9:00 – The kids have time to play and explore while mom tidies around the house. Today Will helps fold the towels and rags. Both children spend a lot of time playing outside. Suzie is making a buttercup crown.

10:00 – Suzie comes to mom to get some help reading a new horse book she has started. Some of the words are too hard. She and her mom look at the book together. They decide to write down the words Suzie is struggling with and mark them with a sticky note. Suzie wants to learn the words so she can read the book all by herself. Will is building a train set and is trying to figure out how to make the track reach all the way down the hall and loop back. Suzie helps with the hardest part.

11:00 – Family reading time. Will brings a stack of books for mom to read to him. Then, they read a few chapters from a book about Seabiscuit, a famous horse. Suzie has been picking out horse books from the library.

11:45 – The kids help make their sandwiches for lunch.

12:00 noon – Lunch

12:30 p.m. – Will has a rest time while Suzie and mom work on projects that are hard to do with little brother around. Suzie loves workbooks, and is working through a math workbook with her mom. When they finish that, they start on the huge horse puzzle Suzie is trying to finish.

2:00 – Everyone goes outside to work on the garden. They pull weeds and learn how to train the plants to grow up a support.

3:00 – The kids have been reading about frogs, and are hoping to catch some. The family goes to a nearby creek. They don’t catch frogs, but they catch tons of tadpoles. They bring some tadpoles home in a glass jar and begin reading online about how to take care of them so they can watch them turn into frogs.

The day might follow with supper, more reading, family activities, etc. No two days are exactly the same, but contrary to common belief, unschooling can include a rhythm to the day, and children can be expected to learn. They are simply given freedom and the ability to follow their natural curiosities.

Materials, Resources and Curriculums for Unschooling
There is no boxed curriculum for unschooling. Materials and resources are gathered based on a child’s learning style, interests, and what’s available. The library will be a great friend. As you notice your child choosing books on a particular topic, think of other ways they might like to explore the topic. Gather activity books, look for YouTube videos, research opportunities to go on outings or field trips, and really follow their lead. Don’t be afraid to ask them what resources, materials, classes, etc., they are interested in.

Whatever resources you end up using, “strewing” is a commonly used method to get the materials to the children. You may set something up for them to find in their room, or leave a book conveniently at their favorite spot on the couch. It’s basically making a way for them to discover and expand on their curiosity. More on strewing here: http://sandradodd.com/strew/sandra.

Is Unschooling Right for Me?
Unschooling can work in a lot of different situations, but just like all schooling styles, the question is, is it a fit for you and your family?

  • If you are excited about sharing life with your little one, and find yourself resonating with some of the contributions of John Holt, unschooling might be a good fit for you.
  • If you like a bit of flexibility in your schedule and have a child who is particularly inquisitive, unschooling might help keep that spark alive.
  • If you like the idea of giving young children more freedom to play and explore, go ahead, try unschooling on for size. It just might be a great fit for you.

How About You?
Are you an unschooler of littles? Are you thinking about unschooling, but simply aren’t sure? What are your questions? Thoughts? Reservations? Excitements? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschooler, kindergartner, first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More
1. Growing Without Schooling http://www.johnholtgws.com
2. The Natural Child Project: http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/earl_stevens.html
3. I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write: http://yes-i-can-write.blogspot.com/p/new-to-this-blog-new-to-unschooling.html
4. Basic description of unschooling: http://www.homeschool.com/Approaches/unschooling.asp
5. A great video that gives examples of strewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhZSSxx-0RE