Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Meet Jennifer of Montessori Print Shop!

Today we get the pleasure of getting to know Jennifer, the sweet and savvy owner of Montessori Print Shop. Not only does she carry amazing and affordable products, but Montessori Print Shop has quickly become what I consider a "must see" Montessori blog. Check out a recent post on the topic of Montessori at Home and you'll see what I mean. For now, read through the interview and find out how to get a coupon code for 10% off your next purchase at Montessori Print Shop!

How did you first become familiar with Montessori?
I was first introduced to Montessori in high school. It was a brief introduction through a guidance counselor who was helping the students to make some career choices. I didn’t choose the path of teaching though; instead I studied business in College and then proceeded to University to major in Fine Arts and minor in Psychology.

Near the end of my 4 year degree I was still in search of a career that I felt was waiting for me. Only problem is, I didn’t know what it was! I spent several weeks wandering through the stacks in the university library hoping that something would catch my eye and inspire me. Finally, one day I was wandering through a section on early childhood education. The titles of the books suddenly popped out at me - Montessori! I grabbed several books, settled in a quiet corner for hours, and soaked up everything I was reading.

After some searching I found the Foundation for Montessori Education (a teacher training center) in the city of Toronto where I was living at the time. I called and had a very long and in depth conversation about Montessori, the training course, teaching options, etc. At the end of the conversation I knew that not only had I found what I was looking for, but I knew exactly where I wanted to take my training. I thanked the person on the other end of the phone for their time and for sharing all the wonderful information with me. I asked for her name so that I could address my application directly to her. She responded; I am Renilde Montessori, the granddaughter of Maria Montessori.
The following September I began my AMI Primary Montessori Teacher Training at the Foundation for Montessori Education. The head trainer was Renilde Montessori. I heard many personal stories from Renilde that year that have inspired me in my teaching, my family life, homeschooling, consulting, being a school administrator, and through the journey of building Montessori Print Shop.

What led you to start Montessori Print Shop?
In January 1999 I took an extended leave from teaching Montessori to start a family. Within 3 ½ years my husband and I were blessed with 3 children. We wanted to raise them with the Montessori philosophy and so we followed our 3 children, learning from them what they needed to further create themselves. The toddler years were full of real practical life activities that didn’t require many special materials. We simply made sure we had size appropriate furniture and real-life items for our children to use and learn from.

As our oldest child began showing signs of readiness for the Moveable Alphabet I started my search for Montessori Language materials. During my years of teaching I had made many language materials by hand for my classroom, but since I had taken my leave half-way through the school year, I had left everything behind for my students. When I thought of purchasing them for my own children I was awestruck at the hefty prices the suppliers were charging! I decided to begin creating my own language materials for my children to use at home.

By 2004 I had created enough Montessori materials to open a store on eBay. I was hoping a few sales a month would help offset the cost of some wooden math and Sensorial materials I wanted to purchase. I was completely overwhelmed by the response of my eBay customers. My sales took off and I was requiring help from my husband and mother (and anyone else who would offer) to print, package, and ship the orders.

By 2008 my time was spread very thin as I had 3 children, a large volume of orders, an eBay store, a website, and the desire to keep designing materials. It was then that I decided to stop printing and shipping orders, and go completely digital. Offering Montessori materials in digital file format allowed me more time to design materials and spend less time printing/packaging and delivering orders to the post office. For my customers it meant greater accessibility, a huge drop in the prices, no shipping charges, and instant delivery regardless of their location.

What are some of your favorite materials and why?
I absolutely love the geography materials. They are definitely my favorite visual material. I have not done a lot of traveling and the geography materials have helped me to get a sense of how people in other countries live. As the geography materials have been created my list of future travel plans has grown!

I love the language materials for a completely different reason than the geography materials. The language materials don’t have the same visual impact; however I’m thrilled with the ease with which children have learned to read by using them. It’s a clear 3 stage/step process that prepares and guides the child towards reading. There are no great tricks to be taught, just the simple process of decoding words. We’ve made it simple by breaking down each stage/step into smaller digestible lessons. This allows the child to absorb each concept, put it to use in the lesson, be successful and gain confidence. Top it all off with the grammar lessons
and the children are well on their way to becoming total fluent readers.

What are some of the things you have coming up for Montessori Print Shop?
We are constantly working on new materials for each area. Sometimes our ideas come from our children, from customers making requests, or we simply feel inspired to create something that has interested us. Our new releases for the upcoming month will be focused on math extension lessons. Our longer term goal is to create short readers to compliment our Pink, Blue, and Green Language Series. 

Readers leaving a comment at the Montessori Print Shop blog will be emailed a code for 10% off their next purchase! Coupons are valid through November 30th 2010.  

Jennifer is the owner of and the author of the Montessori Print Shop blog. Check out the shop to see the products mentioned in the interview and more!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Montessori No, No: When Helping Hurts

"The teacher's skill in not interfering comes with practice, like everything else, but it never comes easily. It means rising to spiritual heights. True spirituality realizes that even to help can be a source of pride."
- The Absorbent Mind, Dell Publishing, 1984, p. 274

As a Montessori teacher/parent, what advice can you give regarding
"not interfering" with the learning process?

If you are new to Montessori or even if it has been part of your family's life, think about the quote above and let me know what you think. Does it, or has it had relevance in your homeschooling endeavors?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Starting a Montessori Co-op!

To continue the posts on my Montessori Journey, I'd like to share what I learned while hosting a Montessori Co-op in my home. If you have ever considered hosting one or being part of one my experience may be of some help!

Last year, 3 family's joined my family in the home 4 days a week for a Montessori Co-op. They were all interested in Montessori education, and after hosting a Montessori informational night led by my teacher friend, some of us decided to start meeting about how we could possibly start a school. Long story short, we had the immediate need of educating our children so we formed a co-op in the meantime. We had five children ages 3-5 in the primary classroom, two children in the lower elementary classroom, and finally three nursing babies and two toddlers in my living room! It was an amazing year and the children learned so much, however we could not continue because there was not going to be enough room in the primary classroom for the new toddlers that would be joining the other children. I'll cover some of the things I learned along the way that may hopefully help you along your own Montessori home school journey, especially if you are considering getting together with another family or two.

First, find out what your local laws say about having a co-op. There may be certain restrictions, and if you are doing preschool age co-op, you may fall under the category of being a home day care by law. In order to not be considered a day care by law and to make things legally simpler, the families all agreed to have a parent from each family always present. You may want to find out what works best for you. At times this could be difficult for the families because mom had to be out of the home 4 days a week for 1/2 a day, while lugging around kids, diaper bags, snacks, and baby toys to and from co-op. My friends came to my house, which was about a 20 minute drive each way.

Once were sure of all the details regarding where we were going to meet, how much materials would cost, etc. We all signed a handbook/agreement. This is a very important step in making sure that you and your friends are all on the same page. You would be surprised to find out that one person could describe something as being red, while another describes it as being maroon. The details are crucial, so make sure that you share the same vision, goals, and are in agreement on what to do in "what if" situations. Examples of "What if" situations would be, "What if the children are sick?, or "What if a family decides to quit the co-op?". There are a lot of considerations and questions that need to be asked before starting so that there are no hard feelings later on and that the children get the best out of the co-op.

As far as purchasing materials, we divided the cost between the four families equally. You could do this, or you could even buy all the materials yourself and charge the other families for using them. Do whatever works best for your group. Option two could help avoid any possible conflicts regarding who gets to keep what, etc., but it would of course also be a higher up front cost for you.

After we had signed our agreements, we went ahead and did a MASSIVE de-cluttering of our garage. This is where the primary class was going to be held. Luckily for us, the unfinished 1 car garage, had some built in storage so that we could store the Montessori materials next in sequence. There was a lot of painting and cleaning to be done, as well as making it seem welcoming to the children. The addition of a few plants and flowers, table lamps, and a pet fish did wonders for the place.

Along the way, we figured out that we had to make some changes here and there. Below are some of the things we had to re-think:

-At first, the families were eating lunch at my house after school was over when the weather was nice. When the weather got cooler, they would go home to eat lunch. That could be a little stressful for them, but my house was too small to house everyone comfortably inside during lunch time. The children would have snack during school hours as part of their Montessori practical life, and so that they wouldn't be too hungry when they finally got home to eat lunch.

-Originally the co-op was being held 5 days a week and in addition were having a weekly "teachers" planning meeting. We soon found out that having co-op 5 days a week and the planning meeting was straining on the families. The solution was that co-op would be shortened to 4 days a week and eventually planning meetings were only held every two weeks.

-One of the brilliant mothers had the great idea of creating some templates in Google documents for us to share the responsibilities for the planning meetings. This was meant to shave off a few hours when meeting in person. The way it worked was that each of us was assigned a section of the classroom like Practical Life, Math, Culture, etc. and we would fill in our part of the template as well as contributing to field trip ideas, etc. Since the document was online, we could each do our part when we had the time. We would write in what should be kept, what should be removed, and what should be introduced into each subject area based on the main teachers observations.

-There were a lot of things that had to be done to set the classroom up each week and to also close up at the end of the school day. We decided to rotate classroom set up and clean up weekly amongst each other so the burden wouldn't fall on just one person. We also decided that the mom's would take turns watching the kids of the person who's week it was to clean up. This way I wouldn't end up having to do it all the time by default just because it was my home.

Overall, hosting the co-op in my home could be stressful at times, but both my husband and I were willing to make the sacrifices necessary. We didn't charge rent for hosting the co-op in our home, but each family did contribute monthly to help pay for the utilities. I couldn't just leave the laundry on the sofa if I was too tired or busy to put it away because I always had the families coming over. On the other hand, because the families were coming over 4 days a week, it forced me to keep things more tidy and orderly. There were lot's of little pros and con's, but in the end it was so worth it for us and we are grateful to the families who helped make the whole experience possible!

If you are interested in taking a peek at what we were up to with the co-op, you can pop on over to St. Francis of Assisi Montessori Academy and take a look!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quickie Advice: Montessori Home Schooling

A few weeks ago I received an email from a reader asking me for a few pointers on where to start with Montessori home schooling. She also happens to have 6 children like me! Time can be pretty scarce around here with the new baby and homeschooling, but I was able to write back with a quick email that I am sharing with you below. It is not extensive, but will give you some practical advice in a minute or two if you are new to this. Take a look:

"As far as just starting out, everyone's situation is different and will affect the extent of Montessori education they can provide for their children at home. There is such a thing as providing a Montessori education using all of the materials, and on the other hand simply implementing a Montessori mentality in day to day home life. If you are interested in homeschooling using the Montessori method, I would suggest to plan on starting next school year. This will give you time to read up on Montessori and buy albums that will give you the lessons you will need to teach. During this time you can also start making room for a Montessori classroom area in your home and also room to store the materials you will be rotating.

Summary so far:
Wait to start for one year.
Create 2 spaces in your home: One for learning in with shelves and tables, the other for storing materials that will be rotated throughout the school year.

Spend your free time (with six kids I know it is hard!), studying Montessori and implementing Montessori ideas in your home. Things we did as far as implementing ideas were letting the children do certain things for themselves, hesitating to interrupt the learning process when they are working at something, giving them more opportunities to help the family around the home, realizing that each child is an individual.

If by about March or April you are still interested in doing Montessori in the home, then I would suggest you could start ordering the materials you will need.

You could even decide that you don't want to go all the way Montessori with all the subjects, not because you don't like Montessori, but because it takes a lot of time to study them as the teacher, etc. and realistically as a mother of 6 it may be a challenge to accomplish! You could just decide now or in a few months to just implement Montessori math next school year. Then you could spend your time studying up on that and saving money."

I hope to add more to this soon. For now, I'm off to serve lunch!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Montessorium iPad/iPhone apps Review

Picture Copyright and Property of Montessorium

Well, we've had the Montessorium iPad apps a few days now. The kids have really enjoyed working with them. Here is a breakdown of what I think:
  • If you get these apps, definitely introduce the activity to your child first. Demonstrate, keeping your words at a minimum as you would while using tangible Montessori materials. My husband was very excited about the apps so he had the kids try them out right away. If you would like to use these as a Montessori inspired educational tool, then make sure you show them what needs to be done first.
  • If I had to pick just one app of the two, I would pick the Intro to Math app. However, at only $4.99 per app, it won't break the bank if you purchase both and they'll probably be put to good use. If you spend a lot of time in the car, this would be great for your children to work with while on the road. Again, make sure you've presented the lessons first and that they are familiar with them. You want this learning tool to be effective. Even though many things seem simple to us adults, Montessori would have you break things down step by step as if you were a child needing explanation for the first time. Don't take it for granted!
  • The Intro to Math app has several works including, sorting red rods, counters and numbers, "sandpaper" numbers, and blue and red rods. The only thing I think could have been better was less sound or no sound when sorting the red rods, but you could always turn the volume down if you observe that it is distracting to your child.
  • Don't be mistaken though! These apps are really esthetically pleasing without all the frills and thrills that so many children's electronic "teaching tools" seem to have. I'm so glad that they kept it simple and as true to Montessori as they could. I also believe that Montessorium has set the standard of how "electronic Montessori" should actually look and perform. I think they've done Maria proud!
  • The Intro to Language app has traceable "sandpaper" letters, and a function where the child can record themselves saying the sound of the letter. I'll be honest, I don't quite yet "get" the child recording themselves saying the letter sound. By this I mean that so far I haven't found it as useful, but maybe others out there have. I may still have to try this out a little further with the children. The "sandpaper" letters were great though, and I think the children can benefit from them. I can totally see myself using this to practice letter recognition and sounds while waiting to be seen by the Doctor, in the car, or at the library.
  • My 2 1/2 year old needed more direction than my 4 and 5 year old's did, but I don't think it was necessarily made for a 2 1/2 year old. My 7 and 8 year olds enjoyed the apps too, but since they were already familiar with the concepts, they would like to see some elementary apps added in the future.
Overall, I have to say that I am very pleased with our purchase of the Montessorium apps and would likely purchase more. I could see them creating apps for the hanging bead stair, teen and tens boards, fraction circles, multiplication board and more! Meanwhile it does like they will be coming out with a movable alphabet app soon. As cute as it looks I would have preferred that they use real pictures instead of illustrations, but as long as they keep it simple I think it will be just as good as their other apps.
Looking for a Catholic Montessori Album? Look no further!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Montessorium iPad apps!

Picture Copyright and Property of Montessorium

My husband just downloaded the Montessorium iPad apps so we can try them out with our 2-5 year olds. As I write this, he and my 4 year old are working with the Math app. I'll post a review after we've had a chance to try both the language and math out.

Do you have the Montessorium apps? Let me know what you think!