Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Year in Review

DJ started Montessori preschool one year ago when he was 2.5 years old so he has now completed the first year of the three year sequence. Since Montessori is child-led, the first year could look very different for each child but I thought it would be fun and informative to do a recap of DJ's first year.

Practical Life
There are 45 posts over the past year that include practical life activities ranging from food preparation, cleaning, dressing himself, care of plants, self care and other activities. Although this is not the most frequently blogged about set of activities, most of our practical life learning was not "on the shelf" and did not happen during "school time". But as a category, it was definitely an overwhelmingly large part of his year.

Although I was nearly certain DJ would never learn to dress himself due to his general lack of interest in wearing clothes, he has recently mastered nearly all aspects of self-dressing except for difficult snaps and buttons. He also toilet trained in the last year, is skilled at washing his hands, brushing his teeth and other self-care tasks and can prepare many snacks for himself, like pouring his own juice, cutting his apple (with supervision), or pouring cereal & milk for breakfast.

The Sensorial activities were by far DJ's area of focus over the past twelve month. He gobbled up nearly everything I put on the shelves and chose them over and over again.

DJ started the year with an obsession with the Knobbed Cylinder Blocks and it wasn't long before he added the Knobless Cylinders as well. One of his very favorite activities is to put the various Knobless Cylinders into their corresponding blocks. He completed all of the extension activities with these including the language (tall/short, large/small, thick/thin, shallow/deep), distance matching, grading and completing 2 or 3 blocks together. He never did have the patience to complete all 4 blocks at once though.

The Pink Tower and Brown Stair were also repeated often although I did have to prompt him to select them in the beginning. But once he began using them together he really came to love them. He really enjoyed creating patterns like the one in the photo. He also completed the various activities of building each in order, identifying which cube/prism was missing when I removed one, learning the language (big/smaller/bigger/smaller and thick/thin/thicker/thinest).

Geography is considered to be "Sensorial Aspects of our World" in the albums I use and DJ has eaten up every part of this sequence from day one. We still have A LOT to do in this area but he has learned so much the past year. We started with the sandpaper globe, land & water forms and then moved onto the Continent Globe and Puzzle Maps - so far only working with the World Map, North America and the US Map. These activities are never "work" though because DJ is so intrigued by them. In addition to exploring geography with puzzle maps, we've also looked at which animals are common in each region and some of the cultural aspects of North America such as flags, popular music, food and clothing.

The Geometric Cabinet & Leaf Cabinet are Sensorial materials that many homeschoolers balk at because of the cost. While I am glad that I purchased them, they haven't been of overwhelming interest to DJ yet. However, I did blog about them 11 times in the past year, mostly with DJ matching the shapes to the corresponding 2D cards with a little bit of tracing with his finger and very little language. DJ knows some basic shapes - circle, triangle, rectangle, rhombus, polynomial, and octagon but we haven't gotten into the more detailed language like obtuse-angled scalene triangle and we haven't done any language of the botany cabinet. So these materials will be used for years to come.

The Binomial and Trinomial Cubes have been a very different experience for DJ, with the Binomial being very easy and the Trinomial being a confusing pile of pieces. DJ actually started the Binomial very early when he found it in my storage. Despite being so young, he completed it easily after only one presentation. A few months later he began to beg for the Trinomial before I thought he would be ready but I had been surprised by the Binomial so decided to give it a chance. Now months later, he still struggles with it and has to have me walk him through it slowly, giving hints and prompts.

The Geometric Solids were blogged about 7 times last year. He enjoys playing with them, knows most of the names when I say them but doesn't usually name them himself. He has also explored the various faces of the shapes, finding matches to other 3D shapes as well as matches to 2D shapes. We haven't done much of finding similar shapes in the environment though and as with the rest of the Sensorial materials, he hasn't worked with this stereognostically yet - as in identifying them solely by touch.

DJ also worked with the Red Rods about 7 times last year. At first he resisted them and struggled with putting them in order but once he was interested he flew through the Red Rods activities quickly and moved onto the math sequence before I could blink.

The rest of the Sensorial activities for the last year, including Color Boxes, Touch Tablets, Smelling Bottles, Sound Cylinders and others were blogged about only a few times each. While he enjoyed them and learned from them, they didn't have the long term appeal other activities had.

The first year of language involves a lot of stories, books, spoken language, poems and such. Most of that doesn't "blog well". But DJ adores books and begs for us to read to him often. He often likes to have a new book read to him many times in a row until he has nearly memorized the story. He has also developed a very advanced vocabulary for his age and can converse easily on a wide variety of subjects. It's very common for people to assume he is older because he is so articulate.

DJ did a lot of pre-reading activities last year including 3D/2D matching, go-together cards, opposite cards, rhyming cards, compound word cards and 3- & 4-sequence story cards. These activities did a lot to expand his vocabulary and challenge him to think of things in different ways.

Although we've done A LOT of sound games over the past year, it's only just recently that DJ has come to enjoy them. In the beginning he would actually refuse to play and insist that I stop as well. He just wasn't ready. At the same time though he was eager to learn letters which is supposed to come only after he had completed the sound games. So I decided to follow his lead and introduce sandpaper letters in January and since then he has latched onto the sound games and plays them all.the.time! He has mastered beginning and ending sounds and is able to do middle sounds and segmenting all sounds in a word if I prompt him. He is weak though with hearing middle vowel sounds, which I have read is common so I've been focusing on that lately.

Biological Classifications are also a part of the Montessori language curriculum. We started early on with Living vs Non-living, then Plant vs Animal, Vertebrate vs Invertebrate and most recently Life Cycles for plants, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and insects. The photo here is the result of our plant life cycle experiment. We put kidney, pinto and black beans in a ziplock bag with a paper towel and some water. We left it in the sun for about 10 days and observed it each day. I was really impressed with how successful this was. DJ took it as interesting but not too special. I guess he believed me when I said it would work. He has more faith than I do!

Having started the sandpaper letters in January, DJ can now recognize about 75% of them and mostly just needs to work on the long & short vowels. However, he doesn't really like to trace them and even when he does trace them, he is not able to then write the letter in the sand tray or on paper. There just seems to be a spatial disconnect there. But he is still young so I'm just waiting for that to click for him.

DJ started with some writing practice including the Sand Tray and Metal Insets. He was eager to use these materials but found them to be hard and frustrating. He's just not ready for them yet. But he knows they are there when the right time comes.

This is the category that caught me most off guard. All the guides I've read say children won't be ready for this until they are 4 years old or more. But DJ surprised me by having an early interest in numbers and is flying through the beginning lessons.

We started with the number rods and DJ gradually worked up from being able to count to 3, then to 10 but always skipping 7 and finally correctly counting to 10 consistently.

Once he showed proficiency in counting, I introduced the number symbols with Sandpaper Numbers. He loved these! Unlike the letters, he enjoys tracing the numbers and does it often, even writing many of them successfully in the sand tray.

We then combined the number cards with the Number Rods and also introduced the Spindle Box. I really expected that DJ would like the Spindle Box but he really wants nothing to do with it. I'm not really sure why and I'm not sure how much to push him to do it.

Lately we've been working on a lot of cards and counters and practicing putting the number cards in the proper sequence from a random pile.

And DJ likes to make up his own math activities too! He seems insatiable and it's not uncommon for him to rummage through my storage closet looking for something fun to do that I haven't shown him yet.

All in all I am overwhelmed with how successful DJ's first year was. I had high hopes but I also knew we were starting very early so I told myself it would just be a practice year and we'd start "real preschool" in the second year. But looking back on this post, I have to admit it doesn't get anymore real than this and I can only hope for our second year to be as good. Stay tuned for more to come!

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