I can now say that I am officially a homeschooler! Well, sort of. Sam will still go to Montessori preschool, but we got started with “summer school at home” this week and we’re having a blast!
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.
I didn’t have time to do any work on this project at OCON as I had intended. We got home and I was totally swamped but I knew that if I didn’t get started right away, the whole summer might pass us by. I wanted to jump right in, but I only had a few things set up, and some were only half-ready, and I didn’t know the proper way to do anything much at all. I guess “prepared environment” really means a lot of prep work, huh?
I did have a few things ready, so I decided to just allow Sam to work on them during the normal course of the day. This destroys any ambition of having her concentrate for long periods of time or being totally free to choose any work that she is interested in. I’d like to move towards that goal, but for now, at least she spends some time doing structured activities independently.
Here is what our little homeschool looks like:
I don’t have enough open shelving, so the drawers have to suffice. Some of them contain Montessori work and some contain other toys. Not ideal. The colored bins on the right hold regular toys and you can see a doll-house on the floor right next to the table.
I had to put the metal insets in a different room because they took up so much space:
We have two mostly unused bedrooms in this house, either of which could serve as a dedicated school room and solve these problems, but they are being used for storage now, so it would be an enormous effort to clean them out. Also, they are not on the main level of the house where my computer is, and where the kitchen is. I have a feeling that Sam would not take well to working in an isolated room like that, and I would have nothing to do. I do plan to use one of those bedrooms for homeschooling when it’s a full-time thing, at which time I’ll move my office into the same room.
For our work, we started with polishing pennies, the metal insets, and cutting along a line. For the pennies, I set up all the needed items on a tray:
I demonstrated how to place one penny on a napkin (which she has to get from her kitchen cabinet), to take a Q-Tip, dip it in the lemon juice and roll it on the side of the glass to avoid drips, and to rub the penny. We had a few shiny, clean pennies, so I showed her what the penny should look like. When she is satisfied (and I leave this up to her), she puts the shiny pennies in the other cup. (For all of you die-hards out there, yes I do put the dirty pennies on the left and the clean ones on the right – always left-to-right! This was how the tray looked after she finished.) As soon as I can remember to buy actual lemons at the store, we’ll add squeezing the lemons as part of the process. For now, I refill the little cup with bottled lemon juice every night.
I set up the metal insets for her and reviewed for myself how they are to be used. So I’m prepared to demonstrate, but she hasn’t used them yet. As part of the set-up, I had to cut a lot of paper into squares the same size as the metal insets, and I ended up with a lot of small pieces of paper. I decided to use it for “cutting along the line.” This is exactly what it sounds like: the child uses scissors to cut along a line drawn on paper. I created a series of paper with lines and Sam spent about an hour working on this on Friday, so I suspect I’m going to have to make a new set of paper with lines every night for a while. Here is a video of what I made for this exercise:
After I took the video I decided to eliminate the papers with more than one line. I didn’t do that in the first go-around and now I’m thinking it was a bad idea. Another part of this exercise that Sammy really likes is that when she cuts the squiggles, she ends up with two pieces of paper that look a bit like jigsaw puzzle pieces. She enjoys putting them back together again. The paper and a pair of scissors are on a tray just like the one for the pennies, and she can bring it to her table to work on any time she chooses.
I also tried to teach her how to use a hole-punch to make rows of holes, but she didn’t have the hand strength to use it. I have another, similar exercise dealing with rows that I’ll set up this week, though. I’m really glad that I wrote up my earlier blog post detailing all of the activities I wanted to do – I’ve been referring to it often.
So far, this is going really well! It’s low-pressure and we both are having fun. If it continues to work well, I might not ever make it more formal. Thank god she has her real Montessori school nine months out of the year. I think it would be really, really hard, if not impossible (without other children) to create the same kind of environment at home. But I must say, this is an auspicious beginning for both of us!