What’s in a Pumpkin?

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Halloween is right around the corner…

If your family celebrates this holiday, your child is likely thinking about costumes and candy, while you’re probably thinking of ways to keep the evening fun without a total sugar overload.  Whether or not you participate in Halloween, pumpkins are a fun symbol this time of year.  This nostalgic squash can be found everywhere in October, and there are so many fun ways to use them with your children.  Read on for inspiration...

Visiting a Farm

If you have a local farm that grows and sells pumpkins, you are in luck!  Not only is a trip to the local pumpkin patch a traditional autumn activity, it provides kids with an opportunity to learn about the source of pumpkins.  Instead of thinking we just buy them from a store, they will have exposure to the very place that plants the seeds and grows them.  This will offer them a sense of connection and an appreciation for the people and plants involved in the process.  

Life Cycle Learning

While it may be too late to grow your own pumpkin patch, there’s still plenty of time to teach our kids about the life cycle of a pumpkin.  You could have a formal discussion about it, or just ask questions informally while you pick pumpkins, while you carve jack-o-lanterns, or during any other pumpkin activity.  Some ideas:

  • Where do pumpkins come from?

  • How do pumpkins reproduce/make more of themselves?

  • Where do the seeds come from?

  • What color are pumpkin flowers?

  • How do pumpkins grow?

  • What do they/plants need to grow?

  • How long does it take a pumpkin to grow? 

  • What happens when a pumpkin’s life cycle ends?

Check out this free pumpkin life cycle printable booklet if you’re looking for something to make together at home: https://teachingmama.org/pumpkin-life-cycle-booklet-free-printable/

Cooking Up Some Fun

Round up the kids and head to the kitchen!  Cooking with children is fun, gives them a way to contribute to the family, and teaches them valuable life skills that they will hold onto forever.  (Plus you can always sneak some math in!)  Whatever your own personal culinary skill level is, there are options for everyone.

Want to keep it simple?  Hang onto those seeds and roast them for a delicious (and super healthy) snack.  These tiny treats are full of magnesium, fiber, protein, and lots of other beneficial nutrients.  And they couldn’t be easier to make.  Try this recipe for crisp, flavorful seeds - https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/roast-pumpkin-seeds/

Are you a baker?  Skip the canned puree and try your hand at this pumpkin pie from scratch -https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nancy-fuller/from-scratch-pumpkin-pie-2251073

If your family loves cheesy pasta, this pumpkin and tortellini dish will be a hit - https://www.rd.com/food/recipes-cooking/vegetable-recipes-cheese-tortellini-with-pumpkin-ricotta/

Looking for a recipe that’s way outside the box?  Try pickled pumpkin! https://www.rd.com/food/pumpkin-pickles-recipe/

Sing a Song

“Five Little Pumpkins” is a classic song written by Raffi Cavoukian and Kenneth David Whiteley.  It’s short, sweet, and simple for little ones to memorize.  Below are the lyrics and a link to hear Raffi’s version of the song:

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate

The first one said, “Oh my, it’s getting late.”

The second one said, “There are witches in the air.”

The third one said, “But we don’t care.”

The fourth one said, “Let’s run and run and run.”

The fifth one said, “I’m ready for some fun!”

Ooooo went the wind and out went the light

And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVJFF6jfAgY

Squeeze in Some Skills

Did you know that in many Montessori classrooms it’s common to have a large stump that children are able to hammer nails into?  This is great practice for motor skills and coordination, but did you know you can put a seasonal spin on it?  Use a large pumpkin, a hammer, and either nails or golf tees to let your 3-6 year old have some fun.  The nails can be taken out and used over and over again, much to the delight of little ones.

For older children, estimation and measurement are skills that can be naturally practiced while enjoying pumpkins.  You might estimate the weight of a pumpkin or how many seeds are inside, then have fun finding out.  More measurement activities could include determining the height, width, or circumference.  Parents can develop real-life math skills by creating oral word problems on the spot.  If there are four people in your family, each person wants to carve a pumpkin, and they cost $6 each, how much will you spend?  And will your child even realize they’re doing multiplication?  Spoiler: as a Montessori child, they probably will realize it, and they will probably love the opportunity to have fun with numbers!

Hopefully we’ve given you plenty of pumpkin inspiration after reading this post!  Before we end, we’ll leave you with a joke that will make the kids chuckle…

Q-What do you call a pretty pumpkin?

A-Gourd-geous!

Montessori and Nature

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“When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.” - Maria Montessori

We all know spending time outdoors is good for our kids, but what did Maria Montessori have to say about it?  What can we do as parents to support our children’s development in the natural world, and what responsibilities do our schools have in regards to this critical work?

Traditional Methods that Fall Short

What do we think of when we imagine educating our children about nature?  Perhaps a small collection of shells on a windowsill, planting flowers in the spring, or pushing a toddler in a stroller through a park come to mind.  While all of these activities have a place and can be enriching in their own way, they fall short of giving children authentic natural experiences.  As adults, we have developed habits that keep our interactions with the natural world at a distance.  We don’t appreciate being stuck out in the rain, or even the sun for that matter.  We find ways to carefully shelter ourselves away from the elements so that we may be safe and comfortable.  We likely developed this perspective while we were still children ourselves, at the urging of adults who didn’t want us to jump in puddles or ruin our best clothes.  Might we step back and reevaluate our own relationship with the natural world?

A collection of shells is lovely, but a child will have internal context if they have actually visited the seashore and collected the shells themselves.  As adults, we love flowers, but children react more strongly to plants they can interact with: think a vegetable garden or even just a tomato plant in a pot.  Taking our children for a stroll in the park is important but let us give them a bit of freedom so they may move at their own pace and on their own feet.  Let them explore and stop to notice the things we so quickly pass by.

Have you ever had a moment - it might have been somewhere on a lake or at the ocean, in the mountains or in the middle of a desert - when an intense, almost indescribable, feeling settled over you?  You noticed that something deep within yourself felt connected to the earth and everything on it.  You probably felt alive and at peace at the same time.  Some of us are lucky enough to have had many of these moments, others, only a few times.  Children have the ability to feel this so much more than we do.  The world is still so fresh and new to them, and natural experiences can have a lasting impact.  

As Dr. Montessori so eloquently stated, “Only poets and little children can feel the fascination of a tiny rivulet of water flowing over pebbles.”  Even when we make efforts to take our children on a walk in the woods, it’s easy for us as adults to focus on the walk or the destination.  Children are fortunate in that they live in the moment.  They see a caterpillar and it calls to their desire to observe.  A small fragment of a fallen leaf is a tiny window into a world they are still discovering.  Children’s wonder and curiosity has much to teach us, if only we can remember to slow down and follow their lead.

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A Burgeoning Movement

While many people have always valued a strong connection to nature, it’s likely fair to say that most of us have experienced at least some level of disconnect.  In recent years, however, more and more people seem to be looking for ways to rebuild those connections.  We participate in community supported agriculture, hobby farms, and keep chickens in our backyards.  We vacation in national parks, participate in hiking challenges, and take up kayaking.  

We know that something is missing, and while we don’t always articulate it, we are searching for our way back to nature.  

Could it be that our children have the ability to both inspire and teach us the way?  If we let them slow down and notice the little things - the insects, the toads, the way the sunlight reflects off a shiny rock - maybe we can learn to slow down and notice them, too.  If we start by considering how we would like our children to eat as healthy as possible, maybe it might lead us to visiting farms or growing our own food (with our kids, of course!) 

Practical Ideas

Montessori suggests that it is not the act of going out into a garden that leaves an impression upon a child, but the whole approach of ‘living naturally’.  From Japanese ‘forest bathing’ to Norwegian ‘friluftsliv’, cultures around the world have known the importance of our connection to nature for centuries.  Scientists echo these ideas, reaffirming the notion that spending time outdoors and surrounded by elements of the natural world is good for us.

So what can we do to apply this knowledge?

Montessori classrooms work to apply natural living on a daily basis.  Nature is frequently brought into the classroom in the form of live plants and animals that the children help care for.  Even the materials themselves are made of natural materials; plastic is avoided whenever possible.  Ideally, a classroom has access to the outdoors so that children may come and go as the space calls to them (and as is appropriate). 

As parents, the easiest way to let our children live more natural lives is to lead by example.  We can find ways to enjoy the outdoors on a regular basis, in all seasons.  Explore the parks, trails, nature preserves, and bodies of water near your home.  It can be fun to take up new hobbies together as a family, or to find other like-minded families that you can team up with.  Whether you like adventure, taking it easy, or something in between, there are outdoor activities that will put you back in touch with the world around you.

Already love the outdoors?  Find ways to make what you love accessible to your kids.  Ready to head out for the first time (or the first time in a long time)?  Here’s one great resource to get you started: https://www.alltrails.com  

Enjoy, and let us know about your adventures!

The Keys to Handwriting Success

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This is not a news flash:
Handwriting instruction is disappearing in schools across the United States.

You’ve probably already heard this sad revelation, and while it’s certainly not true for all schools, more and more are eschewing handwriting instruction to make more time for other, standards-based skills.  The result is a generation of children who are not gaining a sense of how important it is to be able to write beautifully and they are simply not learning cursive – period.  

If this makes you cringe, here’s the good news: people are noticing and speaking up, and some schools are finding ways to fit handwriting back into the schedule.  Even better news?  Montessori schools never dropped it in the first place.  Read on to learn more about how this 100+ year-old educational approach guides children in the art of writing beautifully.

Indirect Preparation

If you walk into a Montessori toddler or primary classroom, you will see very young children working with materials that develop fine motor skills.  While fine motor proficiency can serve children in a wide variety of ways, Montessori intentionally created materials that strengthen the hand as indirect preparation for handwriting.

Each time a three-year-old lifts a knobbed cylinder they are developing proper pincer grip.  This same action is repeated in many other materials.  The child may be working to joyfully refine a sensorial skill, but at the very same time their tiny fingers are slowly working their way toward being able to hold a pencil correctly.

Many Montessori materials are designed to be used working from left to right in order to prepare the child to move in that direction while writing.  Even the materials themselves are organized in a left to right fashion on the shelves.

Manipulating a Pencil

Long before they are ready to write a story (or even a word!), Montessori children begin learning how to carefully manipulate a pencil.  The metal insets are a beautiful material that were designed specifically to prepare the hand for writing.  While the shapes in the material are reminiscent of a geometry lesson, that is not the primary intention.  What’s meant to be the focus is the teaching of a variety of handwriting skills, including pencil grip, applying appropriate pressure, moving the pencil left to right, and further strengthening the muscles of the hand to build stamina.

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Early Letter Formation

Montessori primary classrooms are equipped with a special material that helps children learn how to form letters.  The sandpaper letters are wooden tiles with letters made out of a sand-textured surface.  The children use their fingers to trace the shape of each letter, and later use the tiles as a reference while learning to write for the first time.  

Another option for children to practice letter formation is to use their finger and ‘draw’ the letters in a small tray of sand.  Both sand writing and using the sandpaper letters appeals to the sensorial nature of the primary child, making these activities fun.  

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Cursive or Print?

By the time a Montessori student is 4 or 5 years old they begin writing joyfully because they are well prepared.  Montessori schools typically focus on teaching children to write in cursive, even in the primary classroom.  We have found that there are many benefits to emphasizing this style over manuscript/print writing.

Learning to write in cursive has many advantages:

  • It’s nearly impossible to reverse letters in cursive.

  • Cursive writers can read print, but the reverse is not always true.

  • The ligatures in cursive may help early readers see groups of letters (oa, ing, th, and so on).

  • The flow of cursive words allows the writer to focus on the ideas of the writing rather than the formation of individual letters in isolation.

A Continuation

When children enter a Montessori elementary program, their teacher will emphasize the mastery of cursive writing and take the time to review any letters or skill gaps they may have.  From here on, children practice constantly.  They have notebooks they are expected to record their daily work in, and that work is expected to be written beautifully and neatly.  Not only that, but the children themselves take great pride in the beauty of their own writing.

As time goes on, students do eventually learn skills such as keyboarding.  Fortunately, they have been given a foundation that emphasizes the power of neat handwriting.  In our fast-paced, shortcut-filled world, it’s nice to think that our children will grow up to enjoy sitting down to craft a thoughtful letter, using a pen, some paper, and their own hand.

Can Montessori Boost Your Child’s Success?

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Many parents choose Montessori for their kids because they appreciate how the approach respects their children as people and as learners.  We love how the structure, materials, and lessons appeal to the developmental nature of our children.  But how does it affect kids in the long-term?  

Plenty of people are noticing the positive effects of a Montessori education and researchers are paying closer attention in recent years.  For anyone who has been involved with the philosophy for any length of time, the results are not surprising.  If you are interested in reading more about current research findings, check out this website: https://www.montessori.org/research/ .

The big question that remains is, will Montessori children grow up to become successful later in their lives?  We may want to start by examining our definition of success.  Is success the ability to score well on tests?  To be empathetic?  To be an innovator?  Regardless of how we define the word, research indicates that Montessori does seem to give kids a leg up.  

Did you know that many creative, innovative, and successful people that have and continue to shape our world attended Montessori schools?  Read on for a list of just some of those folks.

  • Julia Child - Where would Americans have found their fondness for French cooking if not for Julia Child?  Her books, television show, and the realness of her delivery made a huge impact on households across the country.  Child accredited Montessori with teaching her to love working with her hands

  • Jeff Bezos - Most of us recognize Bezos’ name as he is the founder of Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer.  

  • Prince William and Prince Harry - The sons of Prince Charles and Princess Diana both attended Montessori schools as children.

  • Prince George - Perhaps unsurprisingly, Prince George, the son of Prince William, also attended a Montessori primary school.

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez - The Nobel Laureate who wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera has said, “I do not believe there is a method better than Montessori for making children sensitive to the beauties of the world and awakening their curiosity regarding the secrets of life.

  • Anne Frank - Famous for the penning of her diaries written while she was in hiding during World War II, Frank was a Montessori student.

  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin - The co-founders of Google have been vocal advocates for Montessori.  In 2012 there was a Google doodle dedicated to Montessori.  Page has said, “I think it was part of that training of not following rules or orders, and being self motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world in and doing things a little bit differently.” 

  • Sean “Diddy” Combs - Best known as a rapper, Combs has also worked as a talent director, songwriter, record producer, actor, and entrepreneur.  He once said, “I feel like I was nurtured into wanting to be somebody special.”

  • Dakota Fanning - Fanning is an actress credited as being the youngest ever nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance in the film I Am Sam at age seven.  She has starred in many celebrated films since.  

  • Will Wright - Wright is a well-known video game designer, and creator of games such as The Sims, SimCity, and Spore.  He says that children “can become interested in pretty complex theories, like Pythagorean theory, say, by playing with blocks.  It’s all about learning on your own terms, rather than having a teacher explain stuff to you.  And when kids discover these things on their own, what they learn sticks with them so much more.”

Check out this short video of Barbara Walters interviewing Larry Page and Sergey Brin:

https://youtu.be/0C_DQxpX-Kw


Montessori Basics: Geometry from the Start

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Perhaps it happens one day when your four-year-old comes home from school one day, excited to show you their work for the day.  They proudly show you a perfectly traced pentagon with elaborate, colorful patterns inside that they have created.

Maybe it’s when your eight-year-old casually references acute-angled scalene triangles.

Regardless of when it happens, as Montessori parents, there comes a moment when we become acutely aware (pun intended) of our children’s interesting knowledge of geometry.  We may recall our own study of the subject beginning much later - likely sometime during our high school years and typically not as exciting as our own children depict!  We notice that our children seem to be really ready for the information, which can feel surprising.  Not only are they ready, but the work seems to fill them with joy and satisfaction.

What, exactly, is going on?

As with so many things, Montessori discovered that young children are fully capable, and in fact developmentally primed, to learn about subjects that have traditionally been reserved for much older children.  Geometry is a perfect example.  Read on to discover what this portion of a Montessori education can offer your child.

The Primary Years

From ages 3-6 much of children’s geometry instruction in Montessori classrooms is indirect.  That is to say that while they are practicing crucial developmental skills, they are often doing so through the lens of geometry preparation.  One obvious example, as mentioned above, is with the metal insets.  Children trace a variety of geometric figures including squares, triangles, circles, curvilinear triangles, and quatrefoils, among others.  The main objective of this work is to prepare the child’s muscles for proper pencil grasp and handwriting.  When they have mastered tracing they work to create intricate designs within the figure.  

Primary children are also given a number of simple geometry lessons that allow them to begin naming figures and exploring shapes.  Wooden geometric solids are held and named by the children (cube, sphere, square-based pyramid, etc.).  The geometry cabinet is composed of drawers of related figures; small wooden insets are organized into a polygon drawer, curvilinear figure drawer, triangle drawer, and so on.  Children also use constructive triangle boxes to manipulate triangles in order to form larger triangles and other geometric figures.  The key during these early years is to give children early exposure to geometry and allow them to use their hands to explore these concepts.

The Elementary Years

During the elementary years the Montessori geometry curriculum expands significantly.  Teachers often begin by reviewing content taught during the primary years, but 6-year-olds are ready and eager for more.  This begins with a detailed study of nomenclature.  Using a series of cards and booklets that correspond with lessons given by the teacher, children explore and create their own nomenclature sets.  Topics include basic concepts such as point, line, surface, and solid, but go on to teach more in-depth studies of lines, angles, plane figures, triangles, quadrilaterals, regular polygons, and circles.  For example, when children learn about lines they begin by differentiating between straight and curved lines, but go on to learn concepts such as rays and line segments, positions (horizontal and vertical), relational positions of lines (parallel, divergent, perpendicular, etc.)

Throughout the second plane of development (ages 6-12) the study of geometry continues to spiral and go into more and more depth.  Children as young as seven learn about types of angles and how to measure them.  Eight-year-olds explore regular and irregular polygons, as well as congruency, similarity, and equivalency.  In lower elementary children begin learning about perimeter, area, and volume.

In upper elementary, children begin to learn about the connections between the visual aspects of geometry and numerical expressions.  They apply what they’ve learned about perimeter, area, and volume to measuring real-life objects - including Montessori materials they’ve seen in their classrooms since they were three years old.  They learn about things like Fibonacci numbers and Pythagoras which appeal to their sense of number order and geometric patterns.

Now, when your child comes home with surprising knowledge about geometry content, we hope you have a better idea of where they’re coming from.  If you have any questions or would like to see this type of work in action, please give us a call.

Ten Fabulous Fall Titles

Each month we like to provide you with a timely booklist to inspire daily reading at home.  This month we focus on fun fall books.  Between falling leaves and ripening pumpkins, what’s not to love about autumn?  Visit your local library or click the book images below to find these titles that your children are sure to love.

 

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf, by Lois Ehlert

This book by Ehlert is simple but provides gorgeous illustrations and informational text for our youngest children.  Perfect for toddlers and primary students, Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf details the life of a tree.

 

The Pumpkin Book, by Gail Gibbons 

Gibbons is known for creating books that draw children in with beautiful illustrations and clear, factual information.  The pumpkin book does not disappoint!  It covers such information as types of pumpkins, the process of planting, growing, and harvesting pumpkins, the parts of a pumpkins seed, history of this amazing squash, and so much more.

 

The Reasons for Seasons, by Gail Gibbons 

Once again Gibbons delivers a perfect book for Montessori (and all) children.  She uses clear, bright diagrams and short but accurate paragraphs to explain why certain regions of the earth experience four seasons.  

 

Yellow Time, by Lauren Stringer 

“Yellow time comes before white time.  Every time.”  Stringer uses words and images alike to paint a picture of the final days of fall.  The variety of color among the leaves has gone, along with many of the animals.  The ones that are left are so busy preparing for winter that they don’t notice the beautiful yellow that remains.  That is, except for the crows.

 

Apple Cider-Making Days, by Ann Purmell, illustrated by Joanne Friar 

This wholesome tale follows two children as they pick apples to be made into cider on the family farm.  Readers learn about the process via this charming realistic fiction, and several pages of interesting cider facts follow the story.

 

Autumn is Here!, by Heidi Pross Gray

Young children will enjoy chiming in with the alternate pages of predictable text.  Between exclamations of “Autumn is here!” Gray inserts classic hallmarks of the season, such as the potential futures of acorns and the busy work of squirrels.  Her whimsical watercolor paintings that illustrate the pages are a perfect fit.

 

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn, by Kenard Pak 

In this charming book a young girls is taking a walk through her town and nearby woods on a crisp fall day.  She greets the plants and creatures she passes; they, in return, return her greeting and explain the changes they are undergoing during autumn.  

 

Autumnblings, by Douglas Florian

Florian writes poetry that is silly, surprising, and teaches us new things.  While he has books (with really cool collage and paint illustrations) on a variety of subjects, Autumnblings is all about fall.  This book would be best enjoyed by children in kindergarten and lower elementary, and covers a wide range of topics from apple picking to trick-or-treating to baseball.

 

Fall Walk, by Virginia Brimhall Snow 

This book is a unique two-in-one.  The story takes readers on a walk through the woods with a grandmother and her grandchildren.  On each page a different tree is introduced, along with a detailed picture displaying the shape of the tree’s leafs.  This compliments the Montessori botany work beautifully.

 

Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep, by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Few things delight children in quite the same way as squirrels.  They always seem to be having fun scampering around or furiously preparing for winter.  This book lets children in on all the action as it describes the many tasks of this familiar neighborhood mammal.

 

We hope you enjoy our fall book suggestions.  Let us know if you have any favorites that were not included on this list, and happy reading!