Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Hello lovelies!
Yes, I am here. Thanks for the kind notes & thoughts I've been receiving recently. It's nice 2 feel missed :)

Things just spun in some interesting tangents recently & have distracted me completely from my regular blogging life. It's been nice actually but I do miss my blog & I miss u guys & everything that's happening out there!

I'm sure I'll be back soon. Till then I shall leave u with this photo taken on the afternoon of Hug's 6th birthday (hoorah!). I'm not sure how many people outside of Australia heard about the red dust storm that hit but it was pretty bizarre! That is the sun - not the moon.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Textual Paradigm & Other Ways of Knowing

Just before we went away I read a post on the Montessori_Online yahoo group that really interested me. It was written by Jinan, in India, and was full of insightful, interesting & challenging ideas. What was particularly interesting to me was the concept of "textualised" v. "non-textualised" individuals or communities. The illiterate (& - my presumtion - pre-reading children) could be considered non-textualised; people for whom text has no impact on their consciousness (sorry, if I'm doing a poor job of explaining it!). I guess it grabbed my interest because I had been thinking about Hug & his purposeful *commitment* to not-reading (which I touched on in an earlier post) & my commitment to embracing that. Follow the child.

That post was followed by another great one, this time written by Sharon Caldwell. Sharon is editor of Montessori Leadership and www.montessori.org as well as the Montessori Foundation & IMC Representative for Africa. She writes with a beautifully personal & honest grace as well as a deep understanding of Montessori philosophy & practice. I asked Sharon for permission to publish a copy of her post, because I thought it may be thought-provoking to readers of this blog, as it was for me, which she generously granted:

Hi Everyone

I'd like to give some context to what Jinan is writing here. In December 2004 I had the honour of travelling with Jinan to a small village in rural Orissa - the trip for me was like taking a trip in a time machine because as we left the city on a dirt road, so the trappings of "civilization" disappeared to be replaced by something that probably existed 100 years ago. The village we visited has been supported for centuries by the most amazing traditional brasswork - when you get out of the car you hear a rhythmic beating of the hammers in the small workshops where the craftsmen work sitting on the floor. There was one man who was working in fine gold, but mostly the work was brass. Now, traditionally, children would work and play

alongside the adults, slowly learning the skills necessary to do this work. Now these children go to school to learn reading and math and other subjects regarded as important in a school-based society. None of them are learning this skill that has sustained the village for, probably, centuries. Not only is a unique aspect of culture disappearing, but the village is being primed for poverty. There is no real employment for literate people here - the skills needed to thrive are those involving making these beautiful artifacts, and growing food. People who are "educated" don't want to do those things - they want to go to the cities to find work - and largely end up unemployed, living in slums, women in prostitution and so on. A small

percentage may go on to higher education and find employment. But everyone swallows the idea that literacy and schooling is a panacea. We see the same thing in South Africa. Yes, literacy is a useful skill - but it is not the only useful skill - it has subjugated all other skills. Let us remember that it was not illiterate people who established concentration camps and gulags. We need to seriously start examining the idea of "other ways of knowing" and respecting those and recognising that just as a functioning body needs organs that are specialized for certain tasks so a functioning society needs different systems, with different organis within thoses systems, and within the organs very specialized and focused individuals ... I mean cells. [ At the risk of taking this metaphor a bit too far - in the body some cells are able to change to take over other jobs to repair damaged organs - but when cells get confused and begin to behave in ways they are not designed to behave in - we get tumours. - maybe that happens with people in society too?]

I recently read some interesting research regarding the aboriginal tribes in Australia - how their language does not have words that translate directly as "in front" and "behind" and so on, but always related to north, south etc. But they don't have compasses or any other instruments! How do children learn this - certainly not thorugh detailed lessons on where the sun is in the sky at any time of day, or treatises on the constellations. It is a way of knowing which the analytical textual mind just cannot access. If we continue to insist that everyone learn the same things in the same way,

these abilities will become extinct (as they almost are) just as surely as we have eradicated species from the globe.

Are these "other ways of knowing" somehow akin to the mulltiple intelligences identified by Howard Gardner? Maybe - and maybe there are a lot more than we know. Certainly it is clear that some of the intelligences flourish in the absence of others - we can't have them all at the same time!

Dr. Montessori's work is base on the idea that children acquire culture from their environment - in other words our "way of knowing" is influenced by early experiences - so for me the interesting question is the extent to which the predisposition of the brain is genetically set (and how quickly does this happen) to acquire certain ways of knowing more easily than others. There is research that shows that oriental children process number in a different area of the brain to western children, and this may have something to do with the way language is symbolized in the different cultures. If that is the case, then it is not a huge leap to propose that symbolized language is affecting our brains in other ways too -possibly even highjacking areas that would otherwise be allocated to say, feeling empathy? I know this is speculation but the plasticity of the brain is based on specialisation - the brain prunes neural connections to specialise on those skills that are favoured in whatever circumstances the human being finds himself. I'm rambling so I'll get on to my last point -

How much do we (society as a whole) really need to cling to this dependence on text - reading and writing - and develop it to the detriment of all else. We have software that recognises text - pretty soon we won't be typing in a forum like this, but merely talking into the computer which can store the sound file for others to listen to (oops - we can do that already... just, well me, I prefer text ....) - soon we will be able to click on the sound file and get the voice/sound file for it - probably with a translation into many languages. Technology renders all these things possible - but the aesthetic sense of the brass-beaters, the sense of place and connection to the Earth of the Australian tribes (the this is where I am *meant* to be rather than the geographical location that a GPS can give), the sense of awe and reverance that results from gazing at the night sky, or the mixture of primal fear and wonder when you are deep down in a cave watching the drip drip that forms magestic columns, or the sense of love when you look into a babies eyes, or true heroism that happens on a daily basis when people make small and large sacrifices simply because they care for one another - those are human things - that can't be replaced by text or technology. Surely that is what we should be focusing on when we work with children.

Oh yes, I think Dr. Montessori said that too.

Sharon Caldwell (sharoncaldwell@montessori.org)

You can watch a video, entitled Children Being In The World by Jinan, on youtube. It's only about 7 minutes long & I think fellow-Montessorians & Rainbow Mama's will dig it. Watch to the end past the credits for the dancing bubba :)

Happy Birthday Madam Montessori!

Well, I'm a day late - but I'm still celebrating!! Happy birthday MM :)

We're home :)

We're home! Had a wonderful week away! A bit of a roadtrip & a visit with old friends. A winter heatwave. T only working half-days. Swimming... And a whole lot of *blurk* from Lovely who came down with a mystery virus - but even he enjoyed the week away which is saying a lot ;)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quiet Playtime

We have a tradition of "quiet playtime" in our house. It's after the boys have had dinner & their baths & got dressed, teeth & toilet done... all ready for books before bed. As long as there is time (I started it as an bit of an incentive to get all of their bedtime jobs done in a timely fashion without too many fusses) they can choose a quiet activity. Last night it was finger knitting. These photo's are super grainy but I thought it was really sweet. Hug loves to finger knit & in these photos he's trying to teach Lovely, his willing student :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Locks & Keys

Having made the screwdriver board activity I decided to get off my butt & put together the lock & key activity I've had sitting around my cupboard for months!

There are 3 different locks with 3 different keys (in the glass jar so they don't get lost) & the ring (a bracelet) is for the locks to be locked onto. I realised after I took this photo - actually Lovely pointed it out to me this morning - that this photo isn't the right presentation; the locks should start on the ring & then the challenge is to get them all off, line each lock up with it's key, & then put all of the locks back on the ring before it's returned to the shelf.

The keys are quite small so Lovely has been getting a little frustrated with trying to turn them but I think it will be alright once he gets used to them. If you are going to make this activity then I recommend getting largish locks (if the truth be known I just got the least expensive ones & that's why mine are small).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Screwdriver activity

When the electrician came around this week (tradesmen are like rock stars in our house!) & Lovely wanted to use a screwdriver to be like his new idol (he also changed into boardshorts because I think we got a surf-y electrician ;) I was inspired to create my version of these screwdriver activity boards at Montessori Services.

Saw up a piece of wood.

Add some screws...

And get going!

Holidays :)

We are off for a little holiday! I have a few posts scheduled & will be back in a week :) Happy days!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Continents Box: ANTARCTICA

Lovely chose the Antarctica continent box off the shelf today, discovered the penguins, & ran off to put them in the bath toys basket where they used to live! Hmmmm, still in the sensitive period for order I see. I asked him to (read: insisted ;) that he bring them back because they live in the Antarctica box now. He was dubious.

Then I showed him our map in the reading corner & pointed out that something is missing - Antarctica! We've had "issues" with this map before! And then I got the globe out & showed him where it really is. Now, if only I would make that continents globe I'm planning...

So, as you can see - I don't have a lot in this box, but I do have a cool set of penguin cards that I got from Jo's blog A Bit of This and A Bit of That & a set of penguins that I think I got from The Sunrise Learning Lab :) Lovely & I matched the penguins to the cards which is easier said that done!

What is in your Antarctica box if you have one or, if you don't, what would you put in one?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Continent Box: ASIA

The contents of our Asia Continent Box, a work in progress...

Middle Eastern Nesting Dolls. I think these are wonderful. One of my close friends was living in Dubai for a few years & brought this as a gift for my boys. Unfortunately we lost the tiniest doll - a camel! - the day we got it. I'm sure it's under a floorboard somewhere...

The Vietnamese flag, courtesy of my mama.

Assorted money, mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia.

A coin from the United Arab Emirates (am I the only one who feels weird thinking of the Middle East as part of Asia?)

Brass statues from Thailand.

The incense cones I bought recently. They smelt really toxic (!) when I burnt one so we'll just look at them now I think.

I Ching coins.

A goddess postcard, chopsticks & the tie from the traditional white outfit many boys wear in the MIddle East (I need to ask my friend what it's called because I can't remember) - we have the full outfit in the costumes area.

I also have a great set of cards of children from Asia that C from Sunrise Learning Lab very kindly sent me a year (or more!) ago and probably lots of other bits and pieces that I should gather.

BTW, there is a *back to school* giveaway at Sunrise Early Learning. Go enter!

Rainbow Porridge

Hug had rainbows in his porridge at breakfast yesterday morning!

Lovely was the first to notice - they were reflecting off a vase of flowers in the middle of the table which was being lit up by the rising sun shining into the kitchen kind of like my tea rainbows.

The boys thought that was pretty cool :)


I'm linking to another Mama-Om post ... because I couldn't have said it better myself: Begin with Silence.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Red Rods & my new approach...

Part of my desire to loosen up our home Montessori was that I had been starting to feel like all of the (Montessori) learning & reading & thinking & making that I have been doing this year was kind of going to waste a little bit.

Because Lovely doesn't see anyone else using the Montessori materials he isn't too inclined to use them (often choosing hammering & other non-typical Montessori activities) & because our Montessori materials are kept in a closed cupboard (we typically start our workcycle by listening the a chime & then L can open the cupboard doors) & because I have tried to be quite particular about the use of the materials & because (I swear there won't be any more 'and because-s' in this sentence! ;) there hasn't been any specific time for Hug to work with us... a lot of our beautiful things have been pretty lonely.

Take the Red Rods that I made for example. Lovely worked really well with them when I first presented them but has *never* chosen to use them again! Hug saw them on the shelf (I've actually taken over the bottom shelves of a bookcase too - so some materials are visible now) & mentioned that he'd "done them" at his previous pre-school & showed no further interest. I had tried to inspire him by talking about the maze but he said he'd "done" that too.

But this morning... in my new spirit of relaxing the barriers & times & approach with Montessori, when we had done all of our morning tasks & we still had some time before Hug was being collected for school, I just quietly went & got out 2 floor mats & started to take the Red Rods off the shelf. Well, that certainly grabbed their attention! They *instantly* rushed over & began negotiating who could pick up the next rod. I took a moment to show Hug how I expected them to be held (one hand over each end) but that was my only instruction & I let them take over, showing them what I wanted to make - a shining sun! - with the smallest (natural) tower cube in the centre. I had had the idea in mind for a few days & in all honesty I would have been rather happy to make it all by myself but I was *thrilled* that the boys wanted to be involved!

After we had celebrated over the creation of our shining sun Lovely said that we must make the maze so I asked them to put the rods back on the shelf before we made something new. When they asked why I explained that it would help them to make the maze but I knew that it also reinforced the need to return work to the shelf when we have finished using it. Having returned all of the rods back to the shelf in order they proceeded to make the maze with only a little starting guidance and were thrilled with their results. We each took turns walking it while the rest of us watched on.

Next, I asked Hug to help me place the rods randomly on the rugs & asked whether they could build the maze when the rods were like this. They said no at first but after a little discussion decided that they could :)

During the construction of the second maze there were a few disagreements about who could place which rod (that metre long baby sure is popular around here it appears! ;) & when Lovely started trying to grab a rod off Hug I gently removed him to sit with me outside & left Hug to his own devises. He called out that he had finished the maze & then that he was going to do it again & then - when I realised what the time was & came in to ask him to come & put his shoes on for school - he said he had to just do one more thing!

I took this photo & then went back outside to wait for our friends (we car pool the school run :) who promptly arrived. Giving him an extra moment I took his bag out for him & he came out a few moments later. I quietly smiled when I came back inside after he had gone & observed that the rods were all placed neatly back on the shelf :)

So, maybe the experiment is working...

Loosening up...

For the past little while I've pondering the idea of 'loosing up' the structure of our Montessori workcycle time. It does work quite well for Lovely & I (aside from a few issues which I'll list below) but it wasn't working out great for Hug.

In regards to Lovely, we have 2 mornings a week that are dedicated Montessori mornings. Hug is home on Mondays & I hadn't found a good rhythm for "working" with both of them so we generally have an outing or meet with friends for our crafty homeschooling day & then Lovely has 2 days at "school" & then there are only 2 days left. Having said that one of those mornings is when the Farmers Market is on (so many wonderful Practical Life lessons to be had there!) & I really want to commit to getting there *every* week. Ideally I would love to have 3 Montessori mornings a week & I seriously considered keeping him at home (his "school" is a Waldorf family day care) for the rest of this year but he was soooo excited when school came back after the holidays that I knew it wasn't the right decision, regardless of how much I might have liked the idea.

The other thing that I find tricky (in regard to working with Lovely) is that being just me & him - I am definitely "too involved" in the activities he chooses. I know that he could be quite an independent Montessori student were he in a Montessori classroom but when it's just 1 child & his mama it's hard to get the balance right;) Often, when I attempt to "blend into the background" (read or write some notes in a chair close by) he takes that as a cue that I'm not interested in the workcycle any longer & he loses his commitment to it too. I think it's understandable because in a classroom situation he would have the example of all of the other children working independently which he doesn't have here so I often find myself more involved than I'd like to be.

In regards to Hug, as many readers may have noticed I have spent the past year embracing the "Follow the Child" mantra despite the fact that I felt that it was leading us away from my Montessori ideals. I have worked hard to not put any pressure on Hug to do "work", although I will often ask him if he'd like me to show him something. Usually the answer has been no & I've respected that although I know that there are many Montessori-style activities that he probably would enjoy.

This week on Monday morning when we usually meet with friends for our 'Homeschool day' we all felt like actually staying at home & I said that we would try something new - that I would leave the Montessori cupboard open all day so that they could choose to work from it if they liked - or not. Hug actually asked me why he hadn't been doing any "preschool work" (as we call it - in reference to Hug's old Montessori preschool & so as to not confuse the children & their Waldorf teachers - my Montessori plans are rather private in that regard) in a long time & I answered with honesty that I didn't think that he had wanted to.

Well, he really surprised me! He immediately got out the Geometric Solids (I made them *!!* but I still haven't got around to posting about them) & did some wonderful work with them for quite a long time. Later, he got out a pack of wipeable addition cards that I keep on his shelf & proceeded to do more than a dozen of them! Pretty amazing for someone who hasn't done any structured Maths 'work' for months. He didn't want to listen to my suggestion to use the glass counter beads in conjunction with the cards (my nod to Montessori manipulatives) but did ask me to get out the other packs of cards (there are subtraction, division & multiplication cards in this set) for next time. Wow. He also spent time juggling lemons (that explains that first photo then!), talking to our neighbor about getting a solar hot water system & looked at an interactive science book.

Interestingly it was Lovely who had trouble settling into this workcycle... he didn't like my focus being split - if I wouldn't sit with him / join in with his activity then he wasn't interested! Again, I think it was completely understandable because he just isn't used to it. After a few half-hearted attempts he wandered off started playing elsewhere. Actually, he went & made us all a snack (Butter and Vegemite corn-thins - yum! - which was self-motivated PL :) & later we baked cookies together to share with friends in the park in the afternoon so he did end up having a productive day too.

Anyway, this has become far more long-winded that I had imagined! But it's just the first jumbled thoughts of my emerging plan to open up our Montessori learning into a way that will sit with our family in a more organic way.

Just this morning I read a wonderful post from the new blog (Hi C!) Sunrise Learning Lab about her littlest son who got up at 4.30 in the morning so that he could do the Montessori work his big brother was planning on doing first up! The commitment! I love it :). Her boys choose work in the evening to put out on the table to start first thing in the morning - often eating their breakfast at the same time. Wow. Now, eating & using the Motessori materials at the same time goes against my instincts in theory but I *love* how Montessori is merging in with their lives. School-time is life-time. And that is very cool.

How do you / would you like to / might you suggest / could you imagine - relaxing Montessori to fit in with life at home while still staying true to the underlying principles? I'd love to hear your thought...

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