Take a close look at what the two Casa East children above are writing with their Story Alphabets, pretty darn adorable!
Before explaining the material and activity, Elizabeth wanted to say a few words this week about the recent Parent Education Night:
“I just wanted to start by saying, it was so nice for us as passionate teachers to spend an evening with families who really wanted to come in and see the connection between the classroom and the child. It comes to life when you come to those evenings. So much of what we do, as one parent said, ‘It blows my mind!'”
“Here,” said Elizabeth of the writing work being done above, “this is called the Small Story Alphabet, and the purpose of the material is that the child has reached the point where they are reading phonetically, they have been writing lots of words with the Moveable Alphabet, and now they’re starting to put a thought together, a complete thought, into a sentence; we call it a story — it might only be one or two sentences, but the purpose of it also is, once they’ve finished their story, they can also see that an illustration can help tell the story. I’m asking them for their illustration to reflect the words in the story, and what lovely words. They were so sweet working together.”
Above you can see the ongoing progress of a little girl who started out the year unwilling to get her hands on any materials, choosing instead to stick by Elizabeth’s side and observe. She has since started to engage with many materials.
“For the younger children here, we have the Metal Insets with both first-year students working side-by-side,” said Elizabeth. “This is newer work for both of them, and you can see how she has progressed from standing beside me and not putting her hand on a material to gradually taking a material, and now she’s found that social contact and comfort, and she’s happy to be working alongside a friend now and enjoying that moment together. The Metal Insets are the final indirect preparation for writing.
“We mentioned in a previous update that Stef had introduced little books that they have that keep their Sandpaper Letter record. For each child now, they love to go and get their little book — you can see it in the picture below sitting on top of the Sandpaper Letter — and beside each sound that they have mastered there is a little picture that Stef drew, so that independently, when they look through their book, say for the sound /w/, it’s a windmill or a walnut, they’re really adorable and the children love them. Sandpaper Letters have really come to life.”
The little girl above is extending her Sandpaper Letters work.
“She is sorting objects [in the box she is opening] that have each of these sounds in them and she’ll find something, say a kite, and put it with the /k/, and we’ve got a little vase and a violin that she can match to the sound /v/.”
“This was maybe my most favourite moment of the year,” said Elizabeth of the picture above. “The little girl at one point was one that seemed to be quite invisible in the classroom. She would be busy with her own things and really did not require or need much from Stef or myself, and she has gradually just come to life and is so present, and here she said, ‘I’m going to show him the Coloured Bead Stair.’ I said ‘That would be lovely.’
“I watched from a distance and it was like watching myself give that lesson. She did it so beautifully; she had such minimal language and he was so thrilled to be working alongside her, and when he sort of paused and hesitated, feeling ‘I don’t know if I can finish this,’ she took over and finished it with him, went and found his name and wrote his name on his work. It really was a beautiful moment of leadership for her and so much confidence in a skill she has mastered so beautifully and is now presenting.”
“This was lovely too,” said Elizabeth. “It was a new lesson with the Small and Large Hexagonal Boxes of Constructive Triangles, and in preparation for the Parent Education Night we were talking about congruent and with this I wasn’t even giving him that concept but he had made the large hexagon with the big equilateral triangle and then all of these obtuse angled isosceles triangles, and then, with this work, the purpose of it is to see how many trapeziums fit in a hexagon, or how many rhombi fit in a hexagon, and then that the parallelogram doesn’t fit inside the hexagon at all. So, once we had done that and he asked ‘Can I explore?’ I said ‘Absolutely.’ A few moments later he looked up and said, ‘Elizabeth, look at my really big parallelogram.’ I have never seen anyone do that. It was beautiful.”
Be sure to take a look at this week’s Casa North update as well for another example of some old tools being used for Montessori Practical Life activities. Elizabeth discussed the work being done above with us:
“This was fairly new work for her,” she said. “It brings all of Practical Life together. There’s a much greater sequence of movement, your concentration needs to be complete in order to work with a task for quite a prolonged period of time — it takes some time to fill the basin, to work through the process of scrubbing and cleaning your cloths, wringing them out, hanging them to dry, and then the whole process of cleaning up. You have to be engaged for some time. She was over there as if nothing else was happening in the classroom; she was completely engaged and oblivious to everything around her. The comfort of the Montessori materials. They’re beautiful for the development of the movement of the hand, the gross motor movement, the fine motor movement, and it just brings scrubbing a cloth to life; it’s joyful, a really nice tactile experience.”
Elizabeth and the little girl who was extending her Sandpaper Letters work above also worked with some cloth in another context this week.
“Sensorial has really been a big part of our last few weeks, lots of exploration,” said Elizabeth. “This is the first time we are working with the fabrics,” she said of the scene above. “This is the first part of the lesson. What we are doing is just matching. There are two pieces of identical fabric and once all those pieces are matched and placed on the mat I showed her how you can feel a fabric in your hand with your thumb and forefinger and rub that texture of the fabric. The game is, she holds both her hands out towards me, and she can choose to wear a blindfold, which she did, and I place one fabric in her left hand and she feels it, and then I place another fabric in her right hand and she tells me if those two fabrics feel the same. Several times, of course, I make sure they are not the same, and then finally I give her the piece that will match and she has that realization that ‘Yes! They do feel the same.’ It’s a stereognostic type of activity because you are using a sense, not just your tactile because you’ve had the visual perception of those fabrics, so you’re putting that together; in your mind you can picture the fabric, but now you are just using your sense of touch to actually make a match.”
“This was a new presentation for the boy in the blue sweater,” Elizabeth explained. “He’s now working with simple addition facts. The boy beside him had been shown this work slightly ahead of him and so he was actually giving the other boy a little bit of instruction and taking on a little bit of a leadership role, which was lovely for him. They would compare their answers and you could see the joy of them working together — ‘What did you have?’; ‘5+7’; ‘I had 7+5’; ‘Oh, it’s the same answer!’ You could see some little discovery happening.
“On the opposite side of the table, this came from Pat’s classroom [Casa South]. There had been some talking at recess and one boy came in and said ‘[name withheld] has a book that he gets to just write numbers in and he just uses his head and I want to use just my head.’ Then, of course, this other little boy wanted to do it too. They had to carry numbers over and do mental math.”
“She could sew the buttons on my shirts any day,” Elizabeth said of the young girl above. “She does it so beautifully and with such complete concentration where, again, anything could happen around her and she would be completely unaware because she was totally focused on threading her needle and sewing. It’s a Practical Life activity. Some of what’s preceded this is Threading, and we have a sewing activity just with geometric shapes where they learn the purpose of going up and down and the movement that’s required, and then we start getting into the finer activities. We use real needles; we use sharp scissors. We have everything real and breakable and fragile, and painful — you prick your finger with a needle and it’s painful, so guess what, you need to have developed the respect for the material and the concentration to have success.”
“The two birthday children!” Elizabeth exclaimed upon seeing this picture we captured of two of Casa East’s youngest children, who both had birthdays recently, working together. “The little boy is one day older than the little girl,” she explained. “They love each other. They can hate working together and they can love working together. Here they are in a lovely moment. He is working with the Nuts and Bolts, again, the preparation of the hand, fine motor movement, and the understanding that when you take a nut off, you unscrew it, when you put it back on your hand has to work in the opposite direction, that’s challenging. We look at these tasks as being so simple, but for a little one, oh my gosh, the challenges they have and the focus and the concentration…
“For the little girl, she has now mastered that you have to put that key into the lock a certain way, or it won’t fit. She has been frustrated with them before and will not let me help her, and now has figured out ‘Oh, I have to turn the key around and now it slips in so easily.’ We have a set of three keys — a big, a medium, and a small — and the keys match specific locks. When we give these lessons there’s no language. The child watches the movements of our hands. You hope that visually they have looked. There might be some moments where they don’t have success. In Montessori, we don’t want a lesson to be simple; we want a lesson to have enough of a challenge that it gives the child the opportunity to work through something and build on their abilities. We also don’t want them to be become so frustrated they fling it across the room and never want to touch it again. For us, it’s our opportunity to observe these moments and say ‘Yes, these children are set free with this activity.’ They have done that themselves.”
In addition to our note in the recent “Events and Information” newsletter, Casa staff have asked that children refrain from bringing any type of Valentine’s Day card or treats to school. Doing so causes a significant disruption to the Montessori work cycle. Thank you for understanding.