Category Archives: Education

Learning by Rote

There has been lots of talk in the news at the moment about primary curriculum changes, two mentioned recently include children as young as five should recite poetry and children also will be expected to know their 12 times table by the age of nine in order to “restore rigour”.

According to WikipediaBy definition, rote learning eschews comprehension, so by itself it is an ineffective tool in mastering any complex subject at an advanced level.

Also according to Wikipedia: [Rigourous instruction] is instruction that requires students to construct meaning for themselves, [..] and apply what they learn in more than one context and to unpredictable situations.

Hmmm…

I’ve nothing against memorisation, but I think it needs to be done when the interest is there. It can be easier if you have number bonds and times tables in your head to call on when required but not knowing them or being unable to memorise them by a particular age has no bearing on future success. If a child has an innate need to memorise because of their interest, it will happen a lot more easily than being forced.

I also disagree with targets by a certain age, because all children are different. Average doesn’t mean that everyone should be at that point. Average means that half of children will be below that level and half will be above so by definition any targets based on averages will classify half of children as failures when they’re not… I know I’m simplifying the reality of levels and targets but I don’t believe they add anything to education so will complain about them at will!

On reciting poetry, I know I’m not from a ‘deprived’ area but most children I know could recite poetry before they could speak! Humming the rhythm of nursery rhymes, then picking up some of the words, then learning them all… My three year old can certainly ‘recite’ several poems: Twinkle Twinkle; Horsey Horsey; The Grand Old Duke of York… But only because she’s interested and has chosen to do so. Children being told to learn a specific poem that they don’t want to learn will only cause friction and tension and turn a child away from the love of learning that they’re born with.

Memorisation happens through use and re-use, through interest being grasped and held, through various methods depending on each child. The child who knows their times tables by age seven is no more advanced than the one who takes until age twelve, or the one who never memorises but has a grasp on the concepts so can quickly calculate when they need to…

Dear Government, please leave teachers to teach; parents to parent (and teach); children to learn (and teach each other!) Those who need help will ask if they’ve not been scared off by targets and labels of failure.

Please share your thoughts, I love to discuss and learn ideas that I’d not considered – because my love of learning is still alive despite my school years 😉

Number Bonds to 10

It’s been six months since my High Frequency Words post, and I had planned to do more printables but that just hasn’t happened. MG has got through many more key words without the printables, but I do plan to update the word lists for download at some point…

I spent a little time going through various PDF files I’ve either purchased or found free online from various places and I couldn’t find what I wanted to give MG a hands-on method for learning number bonds, so I’ve made a printable to share.

This printable includes tiles to make half of the number bonds to 10 so you can either print two copies, or swap the numbers round to show that, for example, 9 + 1 is the same as 1 + 9.

xxxxxx

The files come in three colour schemes: to match the colours of Cuisenaire Rods; to match the colours of Montessori Bead Materials; and plain for practice without colour-coding. I don’t think number bonds are particularly Montessori, but I’m following what’s used in school as that’s the education route that we’ve currently chosen for our daughters. Some people combine approaches, so the download might be useful.

I’ve chosen to give MG Cuisenaire Rods for number bond learning initially, therefore this is the colour scheme I’ve printed out.

I’ve changed the green in the Cuisenaire file since printing the set in the picture because I didn’t think the original green was light enough.

There are several stages to be taken to cover number bonds, but I can miss many of them because of what MG has learnt in school. For our home use with these unfamiliar materials I wanted to cover two things first:
1. Experimenting with the different ways any two rods exactly match the length of one orange rod
2. Matching the number tiles to the relevant rods

MG can already read up to two-digit numbers and knows the plus and equals operator symbols. Since making these, MG hasn’t shown an interest so I haven’t tested them but instead of keeping this post in draft for any more weeks, I’ll update on how we used them in a later post – or please let me know if they’re useful in the comments!

Other Worlds at The Story Museum

The Story Museum centre opens in Oxford in 2014 but before then they’ve starting putting on events in the building. Other Worlds is open for the whole of May and is a series of art installations in rooms in what was the post office and telephone exchange. It is somewhere that needs at least a couple of hours of exploring, which I certainly didn’t get with a 3 and 5 year old but here are the highlights of our little exploration.

We visited on Sunday 13th May in the morning because I knew Korky Paul would be there for a workshop. He will also be there Sat 19th May in the afternoon and Sun 20th May in the morning (check with The Story Museum for times).

Firstly, all the staff were absolutely wonderful. They greeted everyone enthusiastically, spent time chatting with the children and were completely approachable to talk to. They made the whole visit a delight (even with slightly clingy small children!) MG spent most of the time saying “can we go now?” until we left when she said “when are we going back?” Typical five year old?! DG explored, she likes exploring. We missed out at least half of the exhibits.

MG’s favourite was the Word Storm. We didn’t go in properly and read the walls but the room with its thunder and lightning was intriguing enough and the peephole in the wall to look through was great for the children.

The second favourite was A Crafty Fag, although I have no idea what was going on because I didn’t get to look for more than five seconds! But the girls climbed the ladder and looked through a periscope to see a video which seemed very curious. I think the ladder was of more interest to my children though!

Both of these were on the first floor, we didn’t go in any rooms on the ground floor but the main entrance had audio and paintings so you walk straight in to the experience. The portaloos (very important when you have small children, we had several visits!) were behind some bean poles with tags that looked interesting and I loved the notice in the courtyard about smoking!

The second floor housed Korky Paul’s PlessieOsaurus and the workshop, where the children were free to draw and paint an underwater scene on the walls and floor with Korky drawing outlines of Plessie and fish for everyone (not just the children) to colour plus giving impromptu advice on how to draw fish, how to make the paint more watery to look underwater etc. He spent the entire time engaging with the children and if I wasn’t totally shy I would have said hello as it was a very informal and intimate workshop. I think there were about 20-30 people there so it wasn’t overcrowded. There was a bit of drama when the Plessie fell over when the staff tried to move it to make space but no one (including Plessie) was hurt.

DG, being DG, happily painted the walls, looking for me when she wanted to change colours and when she wanted to stop. MG, being MG, clung to me at all times and didn’t do any drawing at all (which is a shame, because it is her favourite occupation usually). So MG and I kept out of the way and looked at the other exhibits in the huge room that we were in while DG happily painted, looking out for me on the odd occasion (I kept an eye on her at all times, in case she got stressed.)

There were tables with books spread around (which of course I couldn’t resist) and posters, postcards etc to support the museum. I bought a small handful 😉 It was a lovely trip and although the girls had their ‘bored’ moments while we were there, we did stay for about an hour and a half and they said they really enjoyed it afterwards and wanted to go again.

This review is a tiny taster of what Other Worlds has to offer, it really deserves a longer visit. Other Worlds is open until 27 May on Thursdays to Sundays (see website for details) and costs £3 per person, children under 2 are free.

Owls

I love birds of prey. There is just something about the power and beauty that they possess. The look of intelligence in their bright eyes, their lethal claws and beak. We’re very fortunate in where we live that there are three or four red kites nesting somewhere in the near vicinity and you usually see at least one of them every day. I often stop and just stare at the sky, watching them circling above. If I’m very lucky, they’ll be as low as roof height. Once I was just 100m away when one swooped for some road kill (annoyingly I was searching for my camera at the time and only saw it out of the corner of my eye!)

When we got married, almost seven years ago, we chose a country house hotel for the reception which we fell in love with for so many reasons (it really is a perfect place to get married) but an added bonus was that they also had falcons and we got to have a falconry display – far better than a disco in my opinion 😆

Last weekend there was a local craft fair, and just outside the entrance was an Owl Rescue stand where you could hold an owl. The ones we held were Sonny the barn owl and Jack the eagle owl (the links are to photos I found online from the sanctuary they were from). Sonny was incredibly tame, he used to have an elderly owner who sadly died and he was used to company and watching TV! He loved being stroked and he was the owl they always used with children.

DG with Sonny

MG with Sonny

MG was feeling nervous that day, but did try to hold Sonny. I’d seen the owls two days before with DG while MG was at school so although DG didn’t want to hold an owl the first day, this time she knew what to expect and was delighted with Sonny. The people who ran the sanctuary were fantastic with the children and the children were fantastic with the owls. A lovely experience, and one I hope we get to repeat.

Me with Jack. Prior to this DG had been on my shoulders running sticky fingers through my hair!

Making Hats at Pitt-Rivers Museum

During the Easter school break, I took MG and DG to Oxford Natural History and Pitt-Rivers museums, something I don’t do nearly as often as I should considering how easy they are to get to. This turned out to be a fairly short trip in terms of looking at anything in the museums, because we found the craft area and the girls spent most of their time there making Wellington Soldier hats, or Pirate hats as DG has it – Arrr, mateys!

I shall write about how awesome both the Natural History and Pitt-Rivers museums are in another post at some point, but in summary they are wonderful with supportive staff, lots of interesting things to see and regular family-friendly events. As MG and DG get older, we’ll go to more events as they’re still quite young.

These Wellington Soldier hats are so simple to make and look great.

Materials:

  • 2 pieces of black A3 card
  • one long strip of card (any colour, about 5cm wide)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • lots of bits and pieces for sticking

Firstly, you need to cut the shape in the picture above from the two pieces of A3 card. It takes up most of the card length but a little less than the height. There were templates provided at Pitt Rivers for the children to draw round and cut. (I tried to create the template on my computer but I have zero artistic talent so failed miserably!)

Once the two sides of the hat have been cut, they need to be decorated however you wish. There were lots of beautiful parent-designs on the day, but I like to let my girls do their own crafts so they may not have perfect hats, but they’re theirs 🙂

Once each of the two hat pieces have been decorated (one side only), put them together with the decorated sides outwards and staple the top edges together. Take the long strip of card and measure the child’s head, stapling a circle that fits the child together, then staple the circle card into the bottom opening of the hat.

Such a simple and effective craft, MG and DG thoroughly enjoyed it. Huge thanks to Pitt-Rivers’ for an idea for an easy craft we can modify and do again and again!

Little Pirate Wellington Soldier (who didn’t want her picture taken!)

I’m linking this up to A Mummy’s View’s #ArtAttackTuesday.

High Frequency Words Learning Game

To commemorate over 1000 tweets and 250 followers on Twitter (wow!) I wanted to give something away. A physical something was never going to be an option, so I am sharing something I made for Mighty Girl’s “homework”.

Fortunately her school is not pushy with homework in Foundation Stage, and I’ve certainly not made her do anything but she has been getting small lists of ‘key words’ to learn by sight and sometimes she wants to move onto the next set of words so we work on them at home. She loves letter sounds and writing (see First Words) and I’d collected some Montessori materials from when I was planning to home ed so I combined the two to make a game to help cement the words in her head.

We have the small moveable alphabet, Sassoon font in red with blue vowels from Absorbent Minds Montessori and the key words from school were printed in Sassoon font too (it’s a good font for distinguishing b from d etc and easy to read). However, I expect that a wooden moveable alphabet isn’t something that most people own so I’ve modified the files slightly to include a printable moveable alphabet for the matching game. The size of the moveable alphabet and large word cards are to match the wooden small moveable alphabet (it’s not 100% accurate but very close.)

There are four files you can choose to download:
moveablealphabet.pdf – paper version of the moveable alphabet with red consonants and blue vowels. Usually there are 5 of each consonent and 10 of each vowel printed for a “complete” alphabet, to get this print the file 5 times (I’ve included y in red and blue as it can be both).
HFwords1.pdf – the first 22 high frequency “key words” that eldest has brought home from school to learn so far in large red and blue letters (can be flash cards, matching with moveable alphabet).
HFwords1wde.pdf – as above file, but the words are spaced out so that the paper moveable alphabet can be placed on top of the cards more easily.
HFwords1sml.pdf – the same 22 words in smaller black Sassoon font for more traditional “flash cards”, matching with the large word cards etc.

For durability, print onto card and laminate (and definitely don’t let your two year old drip water all over unlaminated paper copies :lol:) There are all sorts of games that can be played, the most obvious of which is probably matching the individual letters with the words. I usually set out three to five words and the exact letters needed for those words (to give “control of error” – there should be no letters left over when all are matched). MG knows almost all letter names and sounds so tries to read phonically for words she doesn’t know and can say the letter sounds as she matches.

The game MG made up that she likes to play is to have either the pile of small cards or big cards and give the other pile to whoever she’s playing with. We mix the cards up and see if we match. I add in questions like “What does yours say? What does mine say?” for words she knows or “You’ve got x and I’ve got y” if she’s not sure. If the “learning” bit is annoying her I stop it of course, it’s supposed to be fun! Seeing the words regularly, matching up different size word cards, creating words with the moveable alphabet and talking about the words (then recognising them in books when I’m reading to her) is cementing the words in her mind and she is happily memorising these words at her own pace.

For an idea of the Montessori method of introducing language, see Montessori Print Shop‘s Language Overview. MPS also offer lots of printables to support using the moveable alphabet, and their moveable alphabet file includes lesson plans, lower and upper case letters in three colour schemes and images of phonetic words to sound out. This file is also included in the MPS Montessori at Home materials bundle for an even more bargainous price, very useful if you want to follow some Montessori principles at home and get the Montessori At Home! book (which is fantastic!) No, I’m not on commission, I just like these 🙂

Montessori Monday

First Words

Mighty Girl (4yrs 9months) is definitely in a sensitive period for reading and writing. She is loving the phonics work at school and outside school is attempting to decode words wherever she sees them – menus, street names, books… She loves to play pretend cafe and takes food orders and writes them down – I’ve been trying to think of food that can be written phonically like “bun” but she tries everything. It is an exciting and interesting process to observe so I’m saving some of her early writing here for posterity, so she can look back at it later (and Destructo Girl’s when she gets to that sensitive period).

Cafe orders LHS: sausage and jacket potato; RHS: bun and ice cream

Apple; Teapot

Mummy (when she runs out of space, she writes the letters at the start or above); come to my [party]; from

Ice cream

Thank-you has been copied from a thank-you note, hence the different shaped letters to her usual style. “TK” was her first attempt, then she asked for something to copy from.

This was written entirely independently when at the craft station at school 🙂

Work and School

I took voluntary redundancy at the end of May this year and here I am, less than 4 months later, back at the same organisation… It’s only for 8 days spread over 4 weeks and I did the first day today. In some ways, it was as if I never left. In other ways, everything is completely different. After one day I have a killer headache and although I do enjoy the work and am appreciating the change in routine from being a stay-at-home-mum, I don’t think I want to return to the ‘workforce’ just yet. I do realise I am fortunate to have the choice.

Mighty Girl started school last Wednesday, so has done nine school days now. Walking to school she says she doesn’t want to go and school is boring… When I collect her she says she’s loved the day and she wants to go back tomorrow! So far (early days I know) I am very happy with her school experience. I am not parenting my girls as well as I’d like to and having the break from each other is good for both myself and MG at present. I do miss her though.

On Tuesday it was Roald Dahl Day and everyone at MG’s school had to dress as a character from a Roald Dahl book. Erk, my first creative challenge. Fortunately I found an easy-looking idea for The Enormous Crocodile and we made her snappy croc arms together the night before.

Today was MG’s first day with before-school and after-school with her old nursery because I was at work. I left before drop-off time but Daddy said she was quite shy as no one else had arrived yet (I thought she’d be in the Casa before and after school but she was upstairs in the after-school area) but she was with people she knew and when we picked her up she was running and playing happily in the garden with her friends.

Destructo Girl has been sad that her big sister has been going to school so I sold nursery to her telling her she was going to school. She had three one hour settling in sessions as it had been three months since they were last there (MG had one one hour settling session) and generally screamed at being left but was okay during the session if a bit unsure. However, her first full day she completely loved. Daddy said there were screams at dropping off but the IC (infant community) staff said it was as if she never left – she knew where to choose materials and put them back and she joined in with everything. She was also playing happily in the garden when we collected them and chattered away happily about her day at school, singing songs. It’s made me realise that I’m not really doing enough with her. She loves singing and joining in the actions and she had that at nursery but I don’t do it at home. I must do a ‘circle time’ with her. She’s always been the one to get on with things happily while MG took all the attention but now she has one to one time with me I really should use it better. One of the things I really want to do is start some Montessori ‘tot school’ work at home, I should start with this Montessori Minute post from 1+1+1=1. Or this post on setting up a Montessori toddler environment from Living Montessori Now.

In four weeks I shall be back to being a stay-at-home mum again, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about that. I’m hoping this brief return to work will remind me why I left in the first place. And maybe the structure of a work day will influence a structure into all our days and a little less chaos 😆

Montessori Online Resources

Some time ago, I started to create a mini blog / site with a variety of Montessori links and info. But my bookmarks kept growing and growing and I had no time to organise them. Other sites have already done the same (and better) so I shall link to them instead 😆

About Montessori from Montessori Print Shop. Plus lots more information under the different menu headings. “Montessori Theory” is a great place to get an understanding for Montessori philosopny and “Montessori Lessons” for an idea of scope and sequence.

Free Montessori Materials
Free Montessori Materials Online – from Living Montessori Now (including free 3-6 Geography Album from A Montessori Marketplace)
The Little List – directory of free printables, DIY materials, curriculum (albums and scope and sequence) etc

Montessori Blogs
What Did We Do All Day? – extensive, updated Montessori Blog list (and DIY materials links)
Montessori Print Shop Favourite Blogs – a very good place to start!
50 must-read Montessori Blogs (some now obsolete)

Free Albums
There’s a few more albums not on the links above that I had collected:
Meg McElwee’s 3-6 Albums (Passwords:- Practical Life and Theory: pl101; Sensorial: sens789; Language: lang456; Mathematics: math123) If this shouldn’t be posted, let me know and I’ll delete but I got it from a public place originally…
Wikisori Albums
Mid America Montessori Teacher Training 6-9 Albums
Cultivating Dharma 6-9 Albums
Great Lessons 3-part cards (sorry, I can’t remember who created these)
Free Printables
Montessori for Learning
Montessori Print Shop
Montessori Materials
Montessori for Everyone
All these Yahoo! groups have a large number of free resources in their files sections:
Montessori Materials Makers
Montessori by Hand
Playschool 6

Maria Montessori’s Writing
Full Books Online
The Montessori Method (Celebration of Women Writers)
Dr Montessori’s Own Handbook (Project Gutenberg)
Spontaneous Activity in Education (Project Gutenburg)
Chapters Online
The Absorbent Mind (Moteaco)
Basic Ideas of Montessori’s Educational Theory (Moteaco)
The Child in the Family (Moteaco)
From Childhood to Adolescence (Moteaco)
The Discovery of the Child (Moteaco)
Education for a New World (Moteaco)
The Formation of Man (Moteaco)
What You Should Know About Your Child (Moteaco)
To Educate the Human Potential (Moteaco)
Lectures Online
The California Lectures of Maria Montessori, 1915 (Moteaco)
How It All Happened (1942) (Moteaco)

Other Useful Links
Virtual Montessori – online versions of several Montessori materials (e.g. 100 board, small bead frames, pythagoras board, synonyms)
Montessori Bells – online version of the bells
Edupic – royalty-free pictures that could be used for making 3-part cards, all sorts of subjects

On Schooling

It is difficult to be unbiased. I was good at exams, so school wasn’t a problem for me, and I was lucky I was never bullied considering my personality but looking back I can’t see what I really learned from the schooling I was forced through. I knew most things from primary school from having older siblings – I have memories of lessons where I’d be whispering answers into a friend’s ear (I never spoke at primary school) because I knew it. At secondary school I was good at what I liked and rubbish at what I didn’t like because I didn’t work hard, I wasn’t interested. I was good at swotting up for exams and passing things. I have done loads of complex subjects at degree level at both bricks and mortar university and Open University and I can’t remember any of it – looking back at old work is like reading something in an ancient lost language. So, in retrospect, schooling was fairly pointless and irrelevant to my life. Anything I have been interested in I’ve read up on, “played” with and learnt because I wanted to. I needn’t have ever finished my degree with OU other than feeling I needed to prove I am degree educated, as I got through my working life from what I knew and not from what I learnt once and forgot.

So yes, I am biased. In retrospect, and only after reading several books that got me to re-examine my education experience. My views on schooling are coloured by the writings of John Holt; John Taylor Gatto; Maria Montessori (although I need to read her actual works rather than interpretations of it); books on Home Ed; my local Home Ed community; TED talks from Sugata Mitra, Gever Tulley and others; I’m starting to read Alfie Kohn, Margaret Donaldson, Ivan Illich; blogs of Montessori home educators (mostly US); blogs from UK home edders; Home Ed and Montessori mail groups… I read to my interest, and my interest is away from the mass schooling system.

So, I do feel, given my feelings on schooling and my realisation that actually I didn’t get much out of it either that I should choose an alternative for my girls, that I should give them different opportunities to become the best adults they can be. Everyone is different, and I don’t believe that people who send their children to school are wrong or not giving their children a good education or are not engaged parents who have thought through the options and are giving their children the best education. But for me, I just have this niggling feeling that school isn’t the right place.

But MG talks about school all the time, she’s so excited about going, she wants to be at school. She definitely doesn’t get that from me! So, if I “follow the child” which is my ultimate aim (I’m not there yet, I try…) then school it is, because that’s her choice. And I remind myself that I am an engaged parent, I am an interested parent, I will have more time with her when she’s at school and I’m not working than I did with three days a week at nursery, all year round. Not to mention how lucky we are to live where we live, with the primary school that we have… So I shall just have my doubts and niggles, which I have to keep quiet around MG and DG, and just be the best parent I can be.