Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Deep Cleaning.

Aside from the many renovation type works going on in our school this summer, I'm doing a deep cleaning of the environment. There are some magical tips out there that I found extremely useful in the process. Old timey cleaning tips are priceless!

CRAYON ON WALLS: Damp rag dipped in baking soda. It is really miraculous. :)

SILVERWARE: Immerse the silverware in water with 2 tablets of Alka Selzer. Let it sit there for a couple of minutes.

PEACE FLOWER (fake flower): put it in a bag with salt and shake it. The salt will absorb the dirt (really.)

WAX IN CANDLE HOLDERS: Freeze the candle holder. The wax will shrink and then you can tip it out.

NEW MATERIALS: To remove a label, decal, or price tag, cover with a cloth soaked in white distilled vinegar. Leave the cloth on overnight and the label should slide off.

SPONGES AND RAGS: Renew sponges and dishrags by placing them in just enough water to cover them. Then add 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar. Let them soak overnight.

TILES: Mix up an inexpensive tile cleaner by adding 1/2 cup baking soda, 1 cup white distilled vinegar, and 1 cup ammonia to a gallon of warm water.

TOILETS: Deodorize the toilet bowl by allowing 3 cups white distilled vinegar to sit in it for about a half hour before flushing. To make the toilet bowl sparkle, pour in a cup or more of diluted white distilled vinegar and let it sit several hours or overnight. Scrub well with the toilet brush and flush.

FLOORS: For an economical and environmentally friendly floor cleaner, mix a solution of 3 drops dish washing liquid to 1/3 part white distilled vinegar, 1/3 part alcohol, and 1/3 part water. Spray sparingly and mop for a fast clean-up.

SCISSORS: Clean scissors that have become sticky (after cutting tape, for instance) with a cloth dipped in undiluted white distilled vinegar.

SINKS: To shine chrome sink fixtures that have a lime buildup, use a paste made of 2 tablespoons salt and 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar.

KITCHEN COUNTERS: Clean counter tops and make them smell sweet again with a cloth soaked in undiluted white distilled vinegar.

DRAINS: Clean and deodorize a drain by pouring in 1 cup baking soda, then one cup hot white distilled vinegar. Let this sit for 5 minutes or so, then run hot water down the drain.

SHELVES: Clean the shelves and walls of the refrigerator with a half-and-half solution of water and white distilled vinegar.

WINDOWS: To clean a grease splattered oven door window, saturate it with full-strength white distilled vinegar. Keep the door open for 10 to 15 minutes before wiping with a sponge.

BRASS OBJECTS: To clean tarnished brass, copper, and pewter, use a paste with equal amounts of white distilled vinegar and table salt.

BELLS: Make a metal cleanser by adding enough white distilled vinegar to 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar to make a paste. Rub it on and let it dry on the surface. Wash it off and dry with a soft cloth.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Montessori Madness"- a book for parents and teachers

A while ago, Trevor Eissler sent me a copy of his book "Montessori Madness". The cover states that it is a "Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education", and as a teacher, I found it to be an exciting review of Montessori theory, and a journey into Montessori education as seen through the eyes of a parent.

The book is very well researched fits in perfectly with the theory that's been handed to me in my AMI training. I read it in it's entirety during a recent flight home, and was jumping out of my seat with the excitement the book evoked when bringing up some of my favorite concepts like the importance of community in Montessori education, learning through making mistakes, the role of the adult, and why punishments and rewards are futile. It was so satisfying to hear a parent's version of these so well understood.

During parent conferences at school, as well as during parent evenings, it is important for me to share Montessori theory and to help parents understand the general ideas behind what we are doing at school. I think it can help parents frame their child's experience in a more satisfying way. It was difficult during my first years of teaching not to launch directly into an extensive lecture about the "absorbent mind" when talking to new parents of 3 year olds. The theory is so exciting! I got many glazed looks of course. And through the years I've learned how to better phrase what I'm trying to say so that it maintains relevance to the parents, and makes sense in the context of their own child. This book presents the information regarding the Absorbent Mind, Sensitive Periods, and other keystone Montessori concepts in a very parent friendly way. It will be helpful for me to go back to it to remind myself which are the main aspects parent's are really concerned about.

It is important to me, as a teacher and administrator, to recognize the journey parents go through when they decide to put their children in a Montessori school. This book is a great tool for further confirming to parents that in doing so they've made the right choice. The author describes the mental shift that he and his wife had go through once they'd decided to try Montessori for their children. It is difficult for a parent to forgo the security of graded report cards, the nostalgia of a familiar setting and method used, the common use of external reinforcement of discipline, rewards and punishments, and adult to tell them how their child ranks and compares to others. However, soon enough they realize what they have gained instead: respect for the child's individuality, the power to learn through and trust their observations, the excitement of discovery along with their child, independence, and self motivation. Getting to recognize these gains is what keeps Montessori parents excited about their child's learning process in Montessori.

Here is the book's website:

A few excerpts from the book:

About forgoing grades:

"I think you, the parent, should be discriminating and judgmental, in the best sense of both words, when it comes to choosing a school, as well as evaluating your child's progress. By allowing someone else to grade your child- on peripheral subjects- you are handing over one of your highest responsibilities to strangers. You should be evaluating your child, asking relevant questions, just as you evaluate the person you chose to marry, the person you choose to employ, or the person you choose to let in your house.

In Montessori schools, the child is treated as a whole person, meaning the questions asked are very similar to questions one might ask of a respected adult. We evaluate a person by taking stock of his or her life situation, such as the person's social interactions, career, or family life. "Is she happy?" "Is she learning?""Is he independent?""Is he sociable?" "Is he able to concentrate?""Is his curiosity nurtured?" These questions can be answered, not by a computer graded answer sheet, but by yourself. A teacher, whose job and training is to observe your child throughout the day, not just lecture and grade tests, can be of great assistance."

On responsibility:

"Responsibility requires good judgment. Conversely, good judgment requires responsibility. We can't just hope to make children responsible by simply telling them what the outcome of a decision will be; they have to go through the process of choosing a decision, making that decision, and then learning from it."

On friendliness with error/ control of error:

"The contrast between Montessori schools and traditional schools in treatment of error is jaw-dropping. Maria Montessori attempted "to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose, which it truly has." Her method brings error into the light of day, removes any stigma towards it, and develops a child's sense of ownership of it. She argues, "... what matters is not so much correction in itself as that each individual should become aware of his own errors. Each should have a means of checking, so that he can tell if he is right or not." She contrasts her "control of error" method with the methods of traditional schools, in which children "often have no idea that they are making mistakes. They make them unconsciously and with complete indifference, because it is not their business to correct them but the teacher's!""

I am reminded of the hundreds of times I waited in suspense, wondering how I did on a test. How sad that I didn't know, or couldn't judge for myself, or didn't have a method of working through my results and figuring out how I did, without relying on someone else to tell me. If error is our own inseparable companion, I should know better than anyone else how I did on a test. If I don't, I should be in an environment which allows me to practice and train myself to develop that self-awareness. But even as a college student, I was still handing in tests to a teacher to be graded. "

"A fear of error also becomes a fear of curiosity for many children. Curiosity is the eagerness to intentionally put onself in a position where one doesn't know the correct answer."

On the role of the teacher:

"Doctors can't heal a patient, only patients can heal themselves. Doctors, to put it crudely, can only cut off diseased parts; attach one part of the body to another with rope (sutures); or send various chemicals or hormones or antibiotics into the body in the hope that more of the bad stuff will be killed than the good stuff. Doctors can only attempt to provide favorable conditions under which healing can occur. They provide the environment which allows the body the opportunity and the time to heal itself. The doctor's role is not to heal the patient directly.

It is interesting to compare this doctor's view of his own role in healing, with Montessori's view of a teacher's role in education:

"Education is not something which the teacher does, but... a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words but in vitue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange..."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review of Montessori Materials from Montessori Outlet- Read this if you're starting up a classroom!

My school is a year old now and during this vacation it is the perfect time to review some of the decisions I made back then when I was younger and less experienced. :)

When thinking of a materials company to purchase our Montessori materials for our primary classroom from, I looked for online reviews of people starting their own classrooms and what they chose. There were very few! Almost none. So I've decided to post my decision making process concerning materials for a new school here.

Since my school is private, and the start up funds were coming out of my own limited pocket I was not in the situation of big established Montessori schools that order EVERYTHING from Nienhuis. I had had the experience of working in a classroom before that had materials from Bruins, Montessori N'Such, and Nienhuis so I had a base to compare whatever I would get to.

I tried to find used materials for sale, hopefully a whole classroom set of materials with furniture and everything and through Craigslist, the "Materials for Sale" section in the NAMTA website, and random searches I found several of these options. Most of them were from schools in the US and Canada. I looked for the materials in May which is a good time to look for classrooms that are closing down. The reason why in the end I didn't choose to purchase any of these was because I felt I needed to see the materials I was going to buy and living so far away made it too tricky. I still feel that this is an excellent option for people starting up classrooms or home schools.

Because I live in Aruba and shipping costs would play a big role in the final estimate of cost, I decided it would be best to get as many materials as possible from one company and hopefully establish a relationship with them for the future.

I reviewed prices from Montessori Outlet, Kaybee Montessori, Montessori N'Such, Gonzagarredi, Bruins, Nienhuis, and Montessori Concepts. After looking over range of materials, prices, and reading the few reviews I found on quality of materials I chose Montessori Outlet.

What attracted me the most to Montessori Outlet was a statement in their webiste that says that their Corporate Advisor is Bert Nienhuis. Thinking that they had supervision from someone associated to Nienhuis was reassuring. (Nienhuis makes exceptional quality materials. Not for the weak at wallet.)

Knowing that I was not going to purchase the very Best Quality materials available, I made a personal vow to militaristically enforce grace and courtesy on handling materials in the classroom to make up for the lack of materials sturdiness.

MO (Montessori Outlet) has special packages for people starting up classrooms. I purchased Package 3 which comes with a vast range of all the basic materials needed to start a complete Montessori classroom. There were some key materials missing, but in general this package has most of the things needed for a classroom. Mainly lacking are almost all of language material (which I made myself anyway), The bead cabinet, Bells, Globes, and Multiplication Bead Box, Division with Racks and Tubes, and other math materials.

At MO they didn't have a problem with exchanging some of the unnecessary items that were included in the package (such as pink tower stand, etc.- complete list below) for the complete bead cabinet (sans the cabinet itself) and the labels for the complete bead cabinet. This was unexpected and really nice.

Customer service was excellent until all of my boxes were shipped to the wrong address (to the billing address instead of the shipping address). Since the materials were signed for at this location (by the building's security guard, I don't live there) MO did not want to correct the mistake. This was the biggest of the problems I encountered with MO.

Water under the bridge...

Considering the cost of the large amount of materials that comes in Package 3, the cost of fixing the mistake still kept MO at an advantage from other materials companies.

In general I am very satisfied with the materials, considering the price I got them for.

I got the globes from Montessori Concepts ($30 per globe), they are what you pay for. They've cracked twice. If I was doing it again, I would consider getting regular globes and trying to do refashion them into Continents Globe and Sandpaper Globe.

The Bells I purchased recently from Kaybee- we'll see.

Here is a review the MO materials themselves:

Special Option #3: Total cost: $2804

Sensorial Materials

S-001.1 Cylinder Block (Part 1)   S-001.2 Cylinder Block (Part 2)   S-001.3 Cylinder Block (Part 3)   S-001.4 Cylinder Block (Part 4)   - These are all excellent, strong and sturdy, correspond with each other. They have fallen many times and only one of the cylinder tops has come loose.

S-002.0 Knobless Cylinders (Set of 4)  - When I got these from the company, the green box was missing a cylinder and had 2 replacements for the thinnest block.

S-003.1 Pink Tower   - Scuffs easily. Came with 3 replacements for pink tower small cube, and one replacement for brown stair thinnest rod.

S-004.1 Brown Stair (Brown Lacquer)   - I got the lacquered one but really wish I had gotten the natural finish.

S-005.1 Long Red Rods   Like with the pink tower and brown stair, slight rough useage or dropping of the pieces causes the paint to chip easily.

S-006.1 Color Tablets(1st Box)   S-006.2 Color Tablets (2nd Box)   S-006.3 Color Tablets (3rd Box)  - These are excellent. Sturdy, bright, nice boxes.

S-007.1 Rough and Smooth Boards   - These are good.

S-008.1 Rough Gradation Tablets   - The middle tablets are too much alike, I can't tell them apart so I had to remove a pair from my box. The roughest are seriously rough.

S-009.1 Baric Tablets With Box   - I don't know if there was a mistake when they shipped these to me, I got 3 small boxes with 6 tablets each and they all weigh almost the same and they are the same color. If I got the right tablets, there is no control of error. I can't do this exercise. I had to have my husband make a heavy set.

S-011.1 Geometric Cabinet   - Awesome price. The drawers are made of wood and particle board and they don't slide easily into the cabinet. It takes a lot of jiggling, or an extremely precise angle. The insets fit a little too snuggly into the appertures which makes the frames sometimes come out with the inset. The knobs fall off easily (which I've experienced also with Bruins and Nienhuis materials) which means you have to reinforce ALL the knobs with glue at the beginning of the year. The insets and frames feel thinner than other ones I've used. Some of the insets have saw burns on the sides.

S-011.2 Geometric Form Cards   S-011.3 Geometric Form Cards Cabinet   - The cards are thinner than Nienhuis cards, but by laminating them or using them very carefully they can last.

S-012.1 Sound Boxes   - Some of the cylinder's sounds don't match exactly. It seems like some of the materials inside a few of them got stuck inside and so they don't rattle the way they're supposed to.

S-013.1 Constructive Triangles In Five Boxes   - These are great. The only thing different from other ones I've used is that they don't have the colorful dots behind the shapes to tell you into which box they belong, so when a child uses mixed boxes they have to remember where all the triangles belong.

S-015.1 Fabric Box   - I decided to make my own in the end and not use this one. It's too large to fit on a table. The cloth swatches don't fit lined up on my tables nor on the rugs. The box is pretty wide too.

S-017.1 Mystery Bag (Geometric Shapes)   - These are really great.

S-019.1 Blindfold with Velcro Fasteners   - The blindfolds are small for the children with larger heads. It won't fit an adult unless they have a thin head. :)

S-020.0 Geometric Solids With Stands   I got the solids with the basket and the bases and they're wonderful. They are mat finish, not glossy.

S-021.1 Binomial Cube  S-021.2 Trinomial Cube   - The proportions are right but the paint scuffs very easily. It also comes off on the sides of the box so the boxes get a little stained.

S-023.1 Tasting Exercises   - There are 8 glass vials and a space for the spoons (I think the space is for the spoons.) I had it set up on a table because I don't have replacement vials.

S-024.1 Pressure Cylinders  - I've never had pressure cylinders before and they are totally worth it. This is a great set.

Mathmatics Items

M-001.1 Numerical Rods  - Same as with the red rods. Paint scuffs easily.

M-002.1 Sandpaper Numerals (USA Print)  - Great.

M-003.1 Spindle Box With 45 Spindles (USA Print)   -Great.

M-007.1 Stamp Game   - Great.

M-008.1 Large Wooden Number Cards w/ Box (1-9000)  - Great.

M-010.1 Teen Boards (USA Print)  - The ledges for the cards to rest in came off on the top and bottom of the boards. They need to be secured with glue.

M-010.4 Ten Boards (USA Print)   -Same as with teen boards.

M-011.1 Hundred Board   - I really like this presentation of it. The sixes and nines are different enough also that it is easier to know when the tiles are upright or not.

M-013.1 Addition Strip Board   - Great.

M-014.1 Subtraction Strip Board  - Great.

M-015.1 Multiplication Bead Board   M-016.1 Division Bead Board   M-017.2 Large Bead Frame  - Haven't used them yet.

M-022.1 10 Wooden Squares of 100  - These are nice and sturdy, seem to be made from solid wood.

M-023.1 10 Wooden Cubes of 1000  - Super flimsly. One of them fell one time and cracked all over. They are made out of particle board. I will have to get extra ones.

M-026.1 Addition Snake Game  - Really nice beads.

M-027.1 Subtraction Snake Game   - Great.

M-028.1 100 Golden Bead Units  - I love these beads. Although they are yellow instead of golden, and every time I say “the golden beads” I feel slightly foolish at calling them something they are not (I call them “the decimal system beads” now) the quality is really good. They are perfectly round, they have a little heft, they are almost unbreakable, they are very shiny and attractive. All the bead material from this company is really great.

M-028.2 45 Golden Bead Bars of 10   -With a little pressure they bend.

M-028.3 Golden Bead Hundred Squares  - Sturdy and great.

M-028.4 Golden Bead Thousand Cube  - Super hefty and wonderful

M-031.1 Teen Bead Box   M-031.2 Ten Bead Box  - Great beads.

M-032.1 Introduction to Decimal Quantity w/ Trays  - Nice presentation.

M-033.1 Introduction to Decimal Symbols w/ Trays  - These are wooden and very nice.

M-041.1 Teen Bead Hanger   - I live by the sea and the hooks are already rusted.

Geography Items

G-002.1 Puzzle Map of World Parts   - G-002.1A Circle for Tracing Hemispheres   G-002.1L World Control Map - Labeled G-002.2 Puzzle Map of Europe   G-002.2L Europe Control Map - Labeled    G-002.3 Puzzle Map of North America   G-002.3L North America Control Map - Labeled   G-002.4 Puzzle Map of South America   G-002.4L South America Control Map - Labeled   G-002.5 Puzzle Map of Africa   G-002.5L Africa Control Map - Labeled     G-002.6 Puzzle Map of Asia   G-002.6L Asia Control Map - Labeled   G-002.7 Puzzle Map of Australia   G-002.7L Australia Control Map - Labeled  

The bases of the maps are made out of wood and particle board (I think), and the pieces are all particle board. If a piece breaks (Chile broke from misuse) it is pretty impossible to fix. The knobs need to be pre-glued. The edges of the pieces sometimes have saw burns.

Language Items

L-001.1 Lower Case Sandpaper Letters - Print   L-001.2 Lower Case Sandpaper Letters - Cursive   L-001.4 Capital Case Sandpaper Letters - Print   L-001.5 Capital Case Sandpaper Letters - Cursive L-001.6 Box for the Sandpaper Letters (4 sets)   L-002.1 Lower Case Double Sandpaper Letters - Print   L-002.3 Box for the Lower Case Double Sandpaper Letters  - The sandpaper letters are really excellent. There are 4 sizes in the lowercase sets, the tall letters, the long letter (like m), and the small letters, and the vowels have their own size. They are sturdy and just the right amount of grit on the sandpaper.

L-003.2 Medium Movable Alphabet (Print, Red)   L-003.3 Medium Movable Alphabet (Print, Blue)   L-004.1 Medium Movable Alphabet Box (2 Sets)  - I really like the design of the boxes (nested) which makes them less inconvenient to store in the shelves. The letters are sturdy and well made.

L-005.1 Metal Insets  - These are made of metal and are not bendable. The knobs however, of two of the insets have fallen off. Gluing them is a problem, I think they have to be soldered back on.

L-005.1B Metal Insets Stand L-006.1 Metal Insets Tracing Tray  - These are good.

L-008.1 Set of 11 Colored Pencil Holders  - The holders are nice. DO NOT GET THE PENCILS! THEY ARE THE WORST COLOR PENCILS I HAVE EVER USED! These pencils were a cause of frustration throughout the year. They are terrible.

L-017.2 Additional Basic Wooden Grammar Symbols   L-019.2 Grammar Symbol Box (15 Compartments)   - Nice quality. I like the box and the symbols are really sturdy.

Botany Item # Description

B-001.1 Botany Cabinet  - Same problems as the geometry cabinet.

B-002.1 Leaf Puzzle   B-002.2 Tree Puzzle   B-002.3 Flower Puzzle   B-003.0 Animal Puzzle Cabinet (No Insets Included)   B-003.1 Horse Puzzle   B-003.2 Frog Puzzle   B-003.3 Fish Puzzle   B-003.4 Turtle Puzzle   B-003.5 Bird Puzzle   B-004.1 Botany Puzzle Activity Set   B-005.1 Animal Puzzle- The puzzles are great. I think they are made of wood, they seem sturdier than the puzzle maps. We used them a lot and they withstood the use (and abuse) well.

Practical Items

P-001.1 Dressing Frames Stand For 12   P-002.1 Buttoning Frame With Small Buttons   P-002.2 Buttoning Frame With Large Buttons   P-002.3 Bow Tying Frame   P-002.4 Lacing Frame   P-002.5 Hook and Eye Frame   P-002.6 Safety Pin Frame   P-002.7 Snapping Frame   P-002.8 Zipping Frame   P-002.9 Buckling Frame   P-002.10 Shoe Buttoning Frame   P-002.11 Shoe Lacing Frame   P-002.12 Velcro Frame  

The frames are a tad thin. The fabric (vinyl, I think) of the Buckles Frame is TERRIBLE. The buckles stretch and rip eventually. The metal eyelets of the shoe lacing frame also come out of the TERRIBLE vinyl. The cloth ones are good.

Activity Furniture Item # Description

F-M12.1 Metal Inset Stand   F-M13.1 Map Cabinet – The furniture is excellent. Easy to set up, sturdy, very attractive from all angles.

I exchanged all of these items that I felt were unnecessary in my basic classroom:

Pink Tower Stand
Box with cubes for Pink Tower
Box with Prisms for Brown Stairs (Natural Finish)
Colot Tablets (4th Box)
Paper for Metal Insets
Box for Paper
Solid Grammer Symbols
Noun & Verb Introduction Solids with Tray
Additional Basic Wooden Grammer Symbols
Small Numerical Rods
100 and 1000 Chain Frame
Golden Bead Chains of 100
Golden Bead Chains of 1000
Bank Game
Hanger for Colored Bead Stairs
Puzzle Map of USA
USA Control Map - Labeled
USA Control Map - Unlabeled
Circle for Tracing Hemispheres

(That together sum up to a Total of: $262.00 )

And got these two things instead:

Complete Bead Materials; Cubes, Squares, and Chains (Cabinet not Included) – Excellent beads. I had the cabinet made by my husband. The ONLY problem is that the cube chains hang slightly strangely. The metal circles that hold the pieces together don't seem to be wide enough to accommodate for a gentler hang, so the beads are kind of bunched up at the tops.

Arrows for Complete Bead Materials – As good as Nienhuis and Bruins.