Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ways to Encourage Turn Taking: The Share Stone & Talking Stick

In a group setting, or at home with more than one child, taking turns is the work of the young child. Over the years I have found that using turn taking tools helps take the emphasis off what they are NOT doing and puts it back on the listening. In the same way the sound of a rainstick turning, is an easier way to bring the children together when it is "Circle Time" rather than either personally going around to each child and quietly asking them to clean up their work and join you at Circle or making a group announcement (i.e Yelling so everyone can hear you!) would be. The Rainstick sounds and the children know they need to put away their work and join everyone at Circle. Works like a charm! Turn Taking Tools are just that, tools that help you (the teacher) have to do less managing and instruction and let the listening and turn taking develop naturally with a little help from these simple natural objects: stones, shells, sticks etc.
Turn Taking Tools:

My favorite: The Share Stone
The Share Stone can be a stone or shell, any natural object that fits comfortably in one hand.
The Share Stone is introduced during the first week of school . The teacher explains that the person holding the Share Stone can speak and share their thoughts, opinion etc. while the other people get to be the audience and listen to the speaker. (You see it is all in the presentation...being the 'Audience' is just as important, if not more important, than being the speaker). Okay, so the teacher explains and then you all practice, just like anything else, practice and practice and practice. Expect that not all the children will understand right away and that is okay. Remember for some of these children, this may be their first time in a group setting and taking turns and waiting are new concepts for them.
Ways to practice: Being with questions that have one word answers, for example: "What is Your Favorite Animal?" Pass the stone giving each child a chance to answer...dog, lizard, wolf...the possibilities are endless! Each child has a chance to say their animal or 'pass'.

Other questions to get the ball rolling:
"Which do you like better?" questions... apples or oranges? Summer or Winter? Reading books or drawing? drinking juice or milk?
You don't want to ask questions that could alienate children like "Do you know how to ride a bike?" because the child who doesn't isn't going to want to answer obviously.
As the year progresses choose more thoughtful questions that require longer answers such as:
"When it's your turn, please share with the group about something you do very well." Be sure to give an example so they get the idea. I love to make collages and my students know this so I might start the sharing circle and say, "I am proud of the way I have learned how to cut with scissors, so I can make collages."

Even in June, I begin a sharing circle by explaining the way the Share Stone works aloud, "This is our Sharing Stone, when you are the person holding it you are the speaker and when you are not holding it you are the audience" I use the same language every time and by March (some times earlier) the children say the words (in bold) while I simply pause while they tell me how our Share Stone works. Sometimes I will spice it up by asking someone to raise their hand if they know what the word 'Audience' means. Anyway....the Share Stone is Circle Time Savior. I would be lost without it as a teacher and highly recommend using one.

The Talking Stick:
The Talking Stick is used mostly during a time of conflict resolution between two people. I introduce this valuable tool at the beginning of the school year also but this is easier to introduce after the children have already learned about the Sharing Stone . This is a thick stick about 6 inches long decorated with brightly colored yarn and beads (and feathers if you like!) The way it is used is "The person holding the talking stick gets to talk while the other person gets to listen, then you switch." (simple, clear directions) the stick is passed between the two people many times with the teacher as the mediator (until they get the hang of it, usually by January). The Talking Stick lives in the PEACE corner and is optional, not everyone working a problem out needs/wants to use it.

I hope these ideas help you.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Festivals of Light

"This Little Light of Mine, I'm Gonna Let it Shine!"

(my favorite song to sing with young children this time of year)

Every Montessori School is different, of course, and if you are home-schooling using the Montessori Method, how seasonal/religious celebrations are introduced will vary from home to home. Over the years I have found that when trying to avoid talking about the topic of Christmas (just one example) the more it turned up in the classroom. When everywhere you and your children go, there are lights and decorations screaming about the holidays, it can be difficult to keep the topic at bay. In the classroom although the decorations are not there, the children are and so is their excitement about the holiday their families celebrate.

Your school may have a policy in place when discussing holidays with children, always check with your director before introducing new non-Montessori materials.

That said, what I have to share here is one way of talking with your class about some of the many Festivals of Light that take place this time of year. Respectfulness is KEY when
presenting this material
. Be careful with the words you choose and how you handle the materials. Refrain from saying “all” and “every” because as we know, not
all and everyone belonging to a faith or belief always feel the same way about everything.

Young children are concrete learners. These materials can be introduced slowly beginning when the children return from Thanksgiving break. Which one you start with is up to you. Familiarize yourself with the materials and holidays BEFORE presenting as there are sure to be many questions. *Before sharing any of these materials a note home to parents is essential your head of school will most likely write this.

Also: Refrain from sharing your personal beliefs with the children, I know this may be difficult for some of you and I empathize because I write this warning based on personal experience. I once shared my personal belief and seasonal celebration traditions with the class at circle and the result was one little girl refusing to attend her family’s church because she wanted to join me at mine…needless to say, her parents were not happy with me. It’s easier to refrain entirely than share a little bit of something that means so much to you. If you want to share of yourself, remember to present your personal beliefs with the same respectfulness and word use you do the others.

The goal of this lesson is not to share about one celebration being better than another, but rather the commonalities the many celebrations share. (Related POST Cosmic Education)

Asking the children’s families to contribute is a nice way to continue with the sharing about our differences and similarities through-out the classroom community.

Honoring the Festivals of LIGHT

Lesson Plan

(Based on the Godly Play by Jerome Berryman & a Spirit Play presentation by Nina Pinfold adapted by MM for use in the Montessori Classroom/home)


Different symbols used by various world religions (with candles):

Menorah, advent wreath, Kwanzaa kinara, winter solstice candle/Yule log, a box of birthday candles

Candle snuffer



“This is the season of many festivals of light. Each festival has its own special symbol of Light.”

Point to each of the different candle holders displayed on rug

“The candles come in all shapes, sizes, and colors……some of them are used for counting:

Like the candles on a birthday cake…one candle represents each year of life.”

(Begin with the Festival of Light that happens first on the calendar, marking the classroom calendar with candle symbol for each Festival ex: draw a menorah for the first day of Hanukah, a Kinara for the first day of Kwanzaa, you get the idea)

Hanukah: show menorah and Shamash:

Count aloud as you place the 8 candles in the menorah (children will most likely count with you)

Other symbols: oil, star of David, dreydel

“To remember the 8 days that the oil lamp burned when the Jewish people reclaimed their temple from the Syrians. some Jewish families light the candles of the menorah, using a special candle called a Shamash.”

Christmas: show Advent Wreath with four candles

Other symbols: Christmas tree/Santa Clause/ the nativity

“To remember the 4 weeks of waiting and preparing for the birth of baby Jesus, some Christian people light the candles of the Advent Wreath.”


“Other candles are used for celebrating:”

Kwanzaa: Show Kinara and candles (using slow movements place each candle at this time you could explain the meaning of each the colors: the seven candles called mishumaa saba the 3 candles on the left are red (representing the struggle), the three candles on the rights are green (representing the future), the candle in the middle is black (representing the people)

Other symbols:1.) woven place mat called a mkeka (mm-KEH-kah) 2.) a large cup called a Kikombe cha umoja (kee-KOH-beh chah-oo-MOH-jah) 3.) fruits and vegetables called mazao (mah-ZAH-oh) 4.) ears of corn called muhindi (moo-HIN-dee) 5.) candleholder that holds 7 candles called a Kinara 6.) the seven candles (see above) 7.) gifts called zawadi.

“ In honor of their values and customs, some African American families celebrate Kwanzaa by lighting the 7 candles of the Kinara.”

Winter Solstice: A time when the night is the longest/day is shortest (light a simple candle or a yule log could be used also)

Other symbols: sun/earth / ever green tree

“Solstice is celebration of the longest night of the year—from this day on out the days will get progressively longer. Some of the people who celebrate Solstice honor the earth and believe Mother Earth will give birth to new life in the spring.”

After each the introduction:

Light the candles of the Festival of Light you are showing that particular day and admire.

Let’s enjoy the light together.”

Sit peacefully and enjoy the light together in silence for a moment.

Next: Slowly lower the candle snuffer over your light, holding it over the wick a moment and then slowly raising it. Watch the smoke curl up into the air and fade into the whole room. (this step could be done by a child also)

Name the Festival of Light you have just shared about then place the objects in the basket from which they came, put away on shelf, roll up rug. Explain that this material is available to the children to explore, but that matches will not be provided (a good time to review fire safety rules) and encourage the children to use their imaginations to light the candle flames.


Additional materials needed:

Tray with sand

Box with small white candles (2 dozen)


[More seasonal celebration materials]

After each the introduction of the Festival of Light(s):

Bring the box of candles and the sand tray to circle and place on the rug.

Pass the box of candles around circle so that each child has a candle of their own to hold.

Light one of the small candles from the flame of the symbol you are sharing about and place the lit candle in the sand tray.

(optional: Sing: This Little Light of Mine)

Each of YOU has a light…”

Call up one of the children (they bring their candle). [*Note: this child could be the leader of the day (if you do that at your school), or just a child you know needs some extra attention today…if possible you could do this part of the lesson with a small group allowing time to light EVERY child’s candle and place in the sand tray. I do not recommend doing this with a group larger than 5, the waiting can make for restless children and wiggly bodies around lit candles is not safe.]

Light the child’s candle from the celebration candle(s) and place it in the sand tray.

“Look how the light is growing. It all came from the Light here.”

Pause to admire

“I’m going to change the light so that it is not just in one place anymore. It can be in many places all at once. Watch.”

Slowly lower the candle snuffer over your light, holding it over the wick a moment and then slowly raising it. Watch the smoke curl up into the air and fade into the whole room.

“Now I will change each of your lights so that can be in more than one place.”

Go around the circle and change the light of each child. When all the lights are changed, end with the Festival of Light.

Name the Festival of Light you have just shared about then place the objects in the basket from which they came, put away on shelf, roll up rug. Explain that this material is available to the children to explore, but that matches will not be provided (a good time to review fire safety rules) and encourage the children to use their imaginations to light the candle flames. Collect the candles as a way to excuse the children.

There is a wonderful book called:Christmas Around the World by Mary Lankford

That gives a simple but through overview of many different word traditions and is a fun way to share with children about children all over the globe. A friend of mine used this book by bringing the globe to circle and asking a child to pick a continent (by spinning the globe and touching with their finger) then she opens the book to a page about a country on the continent chosen and shares how children living there celebrate.

Other Books I recommend using:

Kids Around the World Celebrate by Jones

Children Just Like Me Celebrations by Kindersley

Celebrate Christmas Around the World by Beth Stevens

Questions to close presentation with:

I wonder where the light goes when it changes?

I wonder how many candles we could light from this one light?

MM Notes:
This can easily be changed from a holiday theme lesson to an on-going cultural study in the geography area of your classroom. I've seen classrooms that have shelves dedicated to the seven continents and the many countries of our world. Perhaps you could introduce these types of materials with a focus on celebrations to develop over time. What a rich class you would have! Most of all enjoy yourself and the children. Ask questions and look up the answers together. It's a big place this planet of ours with many different people, languages, types of homes, foods to eat and celebrations! Explore and Enjoy.

~~MM original

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Thanksgiving Poem by my 9 year old son

(Photo from when he was a Pixie in a play last year)

Family is the best thing that I have ever had.
They make me really happy when
I am very sad.
Sometimes I wish I never had one
but that's a complete lie!
Because they usually help me
when I start to cry.
There are many other things that I can not say,
But my family is special in every single way!
He read this aloud before Thanksgiving dinner.
God, I love this kid.
I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I did. Well, aside from my baby with the double ear infections who is addicted to Barney and his Mama (that's me) and not wanting to be put down for the past two entire days, everyone else sneezing and coughing with head-colds (resulting in line 4 of my middle son's poem here), and yet another trip home to visit MY family canceled; the food was good, and playing board games was fun, even though I lost at Scrabble to my 15 year old's odd word choices (Has anyone ever heard of a 'holk') ? Okay, it was family..there are many other things that I cannot say, but my family IS special in every single way!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stone Soup's ON

Today in Montessori classrooms all over New England children are making Stone Soup.
Last week when I visited the Montessori preschool (where I taught once upon a time), I saw a familiar poster hanging on the wall. Created by the children, it was large picture of a big pot filled with yummy items the children planned to bring to school on Stone Soup Day. At the top of the picture some of the children had traced their hands to show (similar to the illustrations by Susan Gaber) hands dropping the items into the pot.
And honestly, my waves of melancholy over not being their teacher any more, were washed away by the beauty of their collaborative art. I love this time of year! When the classroom community really starts to gel and the children work together on their first big community project. The look on the face of the child who discovers the stone in their bowl of soup is priceless! This morning I imagine children setting the table for the feast and the smell of the yummy veggie soup is bubbling through-out the busy classroom. Teachers are watching the clock and keeping track of which child has yet to add their contribution, and if everyone has had a chance to stir the pot, and is every one's place mat on the newly set table? Bellies are rumbling and excitement is building.

Before they eat, the children will sing a special blessing song: Oh the Earth's Been Good to Me, and the Stone Soup will taste delicious because together they made it; it will be the best soup they ever eaten. (Someone usually says this at least once, every year).

So there you go, another addition to my What I'm Thankful For This Year List: Stone Soup!
Here is a recipe for you and your children to use to make your own pot of Stone Soup. It can be found at the back of the book we most enjoy using at Stone Soup retold by Heather Forest and illustrated by Susan Gaber.
You will need:
  • one large stockpot
  • a group of friends
  • one stone the size of an egg
  • two quarts of water
  • one quart of tomato juice
  • several carrots
  • an onion
  • a couple of potatoes
  • a couple of stalks of celery
  • a cup of peas
  • a cup of corn kernels
  • a tomato
  • a bunch of green beans
  • small pieces of broccoli
  • a quarter-cup of uncooked pasta
  • a tablespoon of salt
  • a quarter-teaspoon of pepper
  • a loaf of yummy bread
  • and last but certainly not least the Magic ingredient: "Sharing"
Set a time and place were friends can cook together (this could be your home, a church, community center, go ahead start a tradition! Rent a hall even) Invitations could read:
"Bring What you've Got, Put it in the Pot, We're Making Stone Soup!"
Each friend brings something to contribute to the soup and every person (young and old) helps with the washing, cutting, slicing, pouring and stirring! Obviously wash your stone thoroughly before adding it to your soup water. This recipe makes 10-12 adult sized servings.
Here's the important part: While the soup is cooking, sing songs and tell stories.
Enjoy one another, be thankful for everyone and everything you share together. It's a nice grace to go around the table and ask each person to share something they are thankful for or to say something they enjoy sharing with others, (limit your guests to one word or the soup might get cold).

Captain Distructo!

Faster than my nine year old on a sugar rush, cuter than TWO baby lambs, it's a small secret agent with plans to disorganize tidy homes every where!
So what if he's only two feet tall and has limited language skills. This little guy can disassemble an entire tidy house in about two minutes flat! Everything I DO, he UN-does. It's amazing. His inner sense of order is total chaos apparently.
Do any of you have this person living at your house? Have you ever noticed how when you fold the laundry there is someone lurking near by to un-fold the laundry? Or how about the book shelf? Once they are all ON the shelf, someone (let's call him Captain D for short) is waiting to take all the books OFF the shelf? This is my morning, I tidy up and Captain D makes messes. It's symbiotic actually. I think I'll re-read my earlier posts...Everything in it's place...Montessori at Home....

I feel better now.
Okay, a tidy house can wait. Hugs are in order. Some trucks and farm animal play. Coloring with chubby crayons. Snack and a walk outside.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hidden Treasure

Sensorial Activity for three year olds+

Materials needed:
dish washing basin
sand (can be purchased at garden store/hardware/on-line)
a few special items (such as fake gold coins, seashells, small wooden animals)
a sifter (a small strainer works great)
a bowl to collect the found items

Fill the basin 1/2 way full with play sand (the thin soft sand intended for children's use)
hide special treasure items in sand
provide children with a sifter and a list of the items they are searching for. It works best if the list is visual with photos or drawings of the items they are trying to find buried in the sand.
This activity can be done without the sifter or with beans rather than sand which is easier to clean up, depending on the age of the child and how much you anticipate the sand being spilled; the items 'lost' can be changed to reflect the seasons i.e: acorns in fall, craft snowflakes or large buttons in winter, marbles could even be used if you are certain there is no chance the children will mouth the objects.
Most of all: Have fun!
~~MM Original

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What I'm thankful for...

Honestly, to write down everything and everyone I am thankful for would take more space than I have here. So, here is my personal short list followed by a list of ways you and your children can show YOUR thankfulness this year.

What I'm Thankful for this year....
small hands to hold
a new friend
heart shaped stones found when you least expect to
the telephone (Thank you Mr. Bell)
Cornerspring Children's House
my wedding ring
hot chocolate
polar fleece
my library card
readers everywhere!
Some ideas for you and your children
to do together this Thanksgiving season:

Place Cards
Using card stock create one of a kind place cards for your holiday table. On the underside of each card ask your children to help you create a list of three things they love about the particular guest; during the meal invite the guests to turn the cards over and read aloud the kind words.
While cleaning for expected house guests, gather up some items you are no longer using and with your children donate them to your local Goodwill.
Visit a Hospital:
The hospital can be a very lonely place for patients, especially during the holidays. Spend some of your time this holiday season with those who aren't able to be at home. You might visit the children's hospital and hand out stuffed animals or treats to children who need the extra cheer. Ask your kids to pick out a gift they think a kid like them would love.
Send a Care Package:
A holiday care package can be a great pick-me-up for soldiers who are far from home during the holidays. Gather up everyday necessities like soap,toothbrushes, and travel-sized toiletries. Don't forget to include some goodies to keep their bellies full, like cookies, Rice Krispie Treats, canned foods, and gum. Games, like small sudoku or crossword puzzle books, will help them stay busy during their free time.
Create a "We Are Thankful For"..poster:
Talk with your child about the things you're both thankful for. Some ideas could include: food, a home, friends, family, teachers or caregivers and school, your neighbors, your faith community, pets, favorite stuffed animals or toys, books and movies, etc. Be sure to include things that your child may not know you are thankful for, such as your education or your health. You can either write these ideas down or just talk about them. Next look through the magazines and cut out pictures of some of the things you're thankful for. You can also draw or write down your thoughts. At the top of the poster board write in colorful letters, "We Are Thankful For..." and explain to your child that you're going to fill in the mural with your ideas. Arrange the pictures on the poster board and glue them on. Add drawings and words where needed. Decorate your poster board with glitter, fabric, sparkles, etc. Then, hang it up for your friends and family to see!
Volunteer At the Animal Shelter:
It's important to keep family and friends in mind during the holidays, but don't forget the animals! Hundreds of homeless animals need your time, love, and hugs. Take your son or daughter to an animal shelter to volunteer for a day, or sign up to volunteer once a week to spread the love throughout the year.
Invite Someone New to Join You!:
The holidays are a time for giving and togetherness. If you know someone who will be alone for the holidays, make them feel loved by inviting them to your family's holiday dinner this year. The more, the merrier!
I'm sure that together you and your children will come up with other ways to make contributions to your community. Enjoy one another and be thankful.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Making Bird Feed

Materials needed:
  • basket of dried bread
  • small wooden hammer(play dough hammers work great)
  • plastic bag (sandwich size or recycle an old bread bag)
  • bowl
  • carpet square (to muffle hammering sound)
  • tray/or table top surface
The child takes a piece of dried bread and places it in the bag.
He/she hammers the bread into fine crumbs, then pours the crumbs into the bowl.
He/she continues this process until the bowl is filled with bread crumbs.
He/she then carries the bowl over to the bird feeder and empties it.
He/she returns the bowl to the tray, then sits back and watches the birds eat the feed.

  • to feed the birds
  • gross motor skill development
  • to feel helpful and good about providing food for animals
  • frustration release
The photo is of an egg carton bird feeder my middle son and I made this weekend. He has yet to make the bird feed mentioned here, I'll let you know how it goes. I like the idea of him making something with his own hands. It feels so good to create. ENJOY! The bird feed idea is from a book called: The Outdoor Classroom by Mary Boden, I highly recommend this book!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

My Hero, Fred Rogers

When reading Mr. Rogers today I stumbled upon this when I really needed it.
"As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression."

Clean-up Magic

Parents often say to their child's Montessori teacher, "At school my child is involved in caring for his classroom but at home I can't get him to help out. How can I encourage my child to clean up at home?" I have a two part answer for those of you wondering this. 1.) School is not home. (Please read my earlier post Montessori At Home) And 2.) It's natural for children to feel overwhelmed when they are asked to 'clean up'. Sometimes a job can feel more manageable when it is broken down into steps, smaller specific tasks. Here are my suggestions.
Ask your child to help you come up with a list of things that need to be done to make the room clean. Here are some (bed room) clean up ideas:
  • Return books to shelf
  • Put dirty laundry in hamper
  • Return blocks to block bin
  • Smooth comforter on bed
  • Arrange stuffed animals
You get the idea. Write or draw (with your child's help) each job on a separate index card. As if you were doing a magic trick, hold the job cards face down fanned out like a deck of cards. You might even make a drum roll sound and ask your child to pick one card. Read the task aloud. For ex: "Return books to shelf." Watch as your child will make the books "disappear" from the floor! When each task is done, ask your child to pick a new card. Pick a card for yourself, too. Your children may worry that you will expect them to do all the work of cleaning up. If you work with your child, doing one chore while your child does another, the time will go faster and you have an opportunity to have fun with cleaning up. Enjoy your time together and have fun! Presto, clean-up Magic!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"Be Gentle, Be Safe, Be Kind"

It is said, "Understanding the Ground Rules will set the child free". Montessori teachers say this to illustrate Dr. Montessori's philosophy; often Montessori education is criticized for allowing the child 'too much' freedom. This seemingly contrary statement explains that it is the rules that set the child free, and this is true. It is the confident grasp of 'what is expected here' or the classroom ground rules, that frees the child to independently explore, attempt challenging tasks without fearing failure, and it enables them to relax and enjoy the learning they are experiencing.
Structure equals security:
When you confidently know how you will clean up a spill or where you will put away something after you are done using it, you will direct your efforts and effectively utilize the materials provided for you. The Montessori classroom environment is prepared to nurture the growth of the individual child's self-discipline, by providing him/her with the opportunity to pursue areas of special interest to him/her, make choices and solve problems.
I believe that at home, we as parents can also prepare our environment to support their growth and exploration. By setting clear safety limits and general home 'rules' or guidelines (which ever word you are more comfortable using), you provide your children with everything they need to be successful, healthy and happy.
In my home (and in my classroom) we have three rules: "Be Gentle, Be Safe, Be Kind". One of my wonderful teachers MissE from Northeast Montessori Institute, shared these with me. She uses them in her classroom and her examples of how to use them made us all giggle one afternoon during a long weekend training (thank you MissE).
Almost everything you can think of, can fall under these 3 rules.
For example: Your child is standing on the cat's tail. Is this safe? Is this gentle? Is this kind? If the answer is "No" to any of these questions, it is our job as parents to point this out to our children and help them to move on to something that is safe, gentle and kind.
I'm using a very obvious example but really it's a helpful way for me not to go crazy trying to keep three children healthy and happy. My older children now ask each other and sometimes silently ask themselves, "Is this gentle, safe, kind?". It helps to remind them of what is acceptable behavior for the space they are in. At home those 3 rules cover just about everything, at their schools they learn the ground rules that are in place for that environment. I pray they are similar and hope that if they are not, that possibly our home rules will come into play for my sons when tough choices present themselves.
Remember the 3 rules apply to anyone who enters your home, that includes you and your partner too. These rules are not for children only. Hold your self to the same expectations you hold your children, it's respectful and in showing them respect they will in turn respect you.
As for the photo with this post: My little guy is just learning our 3 ground rules, and bath toys float after all! Gotta love toddlers!

Where in the World?


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