With winter come viruses. We have had the inevitable succession of runny noses, coughs and rashes that accompany big groups of small children. We've been spending some extra time at home when we're snotty to keep the bugs to ourselves. It's starting to feel like we're home more often than not!
When we're at home we miss the company of our friends. We miss the change of scenery too. We can start to feel frustrated with each other and cooped up at home. Visiting the chooks is a fun change in our routine that gets us out of the house.
The boys don't get to visit the chickens very often because we usually don't have time. They love to explore this different area and come up with new games to play. Fox loves to open and close the gate for the chickens over and over again. He checks for eggs and scoops pellets into the feeder. When he runs out of inspiration he copies his big brother.
Bear looks for the sneaky pets that are always hiding close by. He imagines race tracks or train tracks to drive along. He flaps his shadow wings and picks oranges to bring home for a picnic.
I'm incredibly thankful that despite these viruses the boys have stayed generally well. They get tired and need extra reassurance (and regular neurofen). I know other families suffer much more over winter from these same bugs.
God just revealed something about himself to me. I'd love to share it
I found a great book for Bear. He loves trains. He is hungry to learn about them.
I trawled the internet to find the best train book for him right now.
Something with the right level of content,
Something that had beautiful illustrations.
Something in a format that he could read over and over again without wearing it out.
I found it!
I paid for it.
I waited for it.
It finally arrived.
I gave it to Bear.
It was the BEST thing I could find for him.
Jesus says "Even you men know how to give good things to your children. How much more will your father in Heaven give good things to you!!"
I give good things to my children. But God is so much better than I am! He knows me so much better than I know Bear. He loves me so much more than I love Bear. Now that I am a parent and I know how BIG knowing, loving and giving can be - these words are so much more powerful
As I feel big, wise, adult and capable God shows me that I am a toddler before Him - my heavenly father. He is so much bigger, wiser and more capable than I am.
What a comfort it is to know he is able to swoop me up and hold me in his arms.
Another favourite family job in winter is collecting fire wood.
We set out with our wheel barrows all rugged up for the cold. We head off across the paddocks and into the bush.
The boys and I forage and explore while Dad chops wood with the axe. There are all sorts of things to find and marvel at...
... sneaky mushrooms...
... delicate lichen.
Then we return victorious from our adventure with a wheelbarrow full of spoils!
I'm really excited about introducing sandpaper letters to Bear! They are such a classic and beautiful Montessori material. I bought these sandpaper letters a long time ago and have been waiting patiently for the right time to introduce them to Bear.
I started by learning about the sandpaper letters myself. I have found lots of helpful information from Montessori Read and Write, montessoriworld.org and montessoriforeveryone.com. Despite reading and reading and reading I feel like I have only scratched the surface of what there is to know. I still feel quite unprepared to teach this boy!
However I am prepared to keep learning along the way!!
Next I choose a time and place to present the sandpaper letters to Bear. This area is usually where Fox's toys are kept. When Fox goes down for a sleep after lunch I pack a few things away to make space. Bear stays up with me for another hour or so before he has a nap too. We get this hour long window on the 4 days when I'm not at work. I've been getting out the sandpaper letters 1 or 2 days per week in this time.
This has become a special time for me and Bear. It is far enough away from Fox that we can chat without waking him. Bear gets to enjoy some exclusive attention which is lovely for both of us. It is not a perfect time for Montessori because he is usually tired from a busy morning and sometimes he is just not interested. Sometimes I'm just not interested either. But sometimes it works and it's perfect.
The space has become special too. It is transformed into a Bear's very own Montessori preschool. Bear doesn't use this space much at other times during the day so getting out these special materials makes it just for him and gives the materials a very special quality. He is free in this space to choose what he does. I don't put any pressure on him to sit with me if that's not what he's ready for.
The actual lesson has been the hardest part - for me because it requires knowing how to present it and for Bear because he has to submit to being taught. Montessori materials are not allowed to be used unless the child has received a lesson. The materials are to be used in a specific way. The teacher needs to show the child how.
Bear has submitted to lessons (much to my surprise, relief, gratitude, and pride!). He has submitted because these materials are so special. Because this time is for the two of us to spend together. Because he is so interested in sounds and letters right at the moment. Because he can't help but touch them!
Once he has submitted to a lesson he is free to use them as much or as little as he likes.
I have lured Bear to have a lesson by choosing 3 letters, sitting at his table with them and tracing them myself with great interest. He has come to investigate straight away each time.
The 3 letters are contrasting in shape and sound. I have selected from the sounds he can say (m, n, h, ng, w, d, y, b, a, e, i, o, u) or the sound he is working on. I will include phonograms too but they are yet to arrive in the mail.
While Bear watches I trace the letter as it is written saying the phonetic sound 'buh this is buh'. Once he has watched he is invited to have a turn 'Would you like to trace buh.' Then move on to the 2nd and 3rd letters. Once he has traced each of them we move on to the 2nd period 'can you show me buh?' and the 3rd period which one is this. We don't often reach the 3rd period.
The next time we play it is with 3 new letters regardless of Bear's progress with the 3 introduced last time. The ones he hasn't mastered will come back out again soon enough.
At the beginning Bear snatched the letters from me. I explained that they are not for snatching they are for tracing and had to pack them away (much to his fury). Once that lesson was learned he would insist on tracing them upside down. I explained that they are not to go upside down they are to go the right way up and had to pack them away again (more fury). Since accepting that there are rules to this game he has chosen to play over and over again.
Once Bear has had a lesson with a sound it can go on the shelf for him to choose freely. At the moment they are only displayed when Fox is asleep. Some fit on this book shelf. Others go in the beautiful wooden storage boxes that they came in on the shelf. Bear loves to sort through them one by one and make a big pile of them. He loves to point out their different features - this one has a tail, this one is the cross where Jesus died, this one is an aeroplane, this one is mmm for mcdonalds.
He has been quick to pick up their sounds but is still very clumsy tracing them. But there's no hurry - he has 3 years to explore these materials.
Winter is beautiful in Dubbo. The days are sunny and mild. The nights are cold and frosty. It rains often and the garden grows. It's such a pleasure to be outside working and there is plenty to do.
One of our big winter jobs is pruning. It's easy and relaxing and there's plenty to share with an eager little worker.
Bear has his own tiny secateurs. They are real and sharp and prune beautifully. They are marketed to adults with small hands. I found them in a regular hardware shop.
They are small enough for him to use comfortably with one hand and with lots of practice he is now strong and coordinated enough to use adults sized secateurs. (Which is helpful when his little ones are accidentally misplaced!).
Allowing Bear to prune with real secateurs at 3 years old does make me nervous. He could cut himself badly. For that reason we prune side by side so I can correct him when necessary and reinforce that this work and not play.
For Bear to be able to work he needs tools that won't frustrate him. He knows that they are tools and not toys and treats them with care. Pruning is one of my favourite jobs because Bear seems to love it as much as I do.
One aspect of Bear's speech homework is sssound ssstimulation. Which involves sssubtly sssurrounding him with a sssertain sssound. It's quite fun!
I was given a little book of games, nursery rhymes and book lists for each of the sounds we want to target for Bear. They're a starting point but we're really only limited by our own creativity. We can play whatever games we like!
We choose a new sound each fortnight with the speech pathologist. Our first sound is 'sss'!
We play with trains:
signal, sign, stop, diesel, steam, piston, smoke, ambulance, siren, race car, bus, crossing, fast, whistle, street, city
We play Simon Says:
stand, sit, sleep, sing, stamp, salute, sigh, kiss, dress, saw, snuggle, splash, stumble, sneeze, smile, sweep
stir, sift, pass, slice, spoon, sauce, sink, stove, glass, soup, salt, salad, cereal, sandwich, spread, snack, lettuce, sip, spaghetti, scoop, cinnamon, sprinkles, hundreds and thousands, sausages, spatula, pasta
silently, whispering, sleeping, snore, soundly, surprise, softly, stumble, stepping, scare, startle
We play outside:
sand, sandpit, seesaw, slippery-dip, slide, sun, spade, snail, straw, secateurs, seed, sprout, scoop, spider, insect, fast, race, grass, swing and sing...
See saw Marjorie Daw
The insy winsy spider
... and we sing some more...
Sing a song of sixpence,
We work on speech on the days when I'm at home with the boys, which is 4 days per week. I try to pick 2 or 3 times during the day to focus on the sound. It has to be natural and spontaneous then it can be fun. For example if Bear chooses to sit and play with trains I join him and use as many sss words as I can naturally fit into our play. Giving the sss a little extra emphasis. I don't encourage Bear to copy or say the words himself. If he chooses to that's great!! Otherwise if Bear says a word incorrectly I repeat the word back to him in a sentence as part of conversation without directly correcting him (recasting).
We might only play like this for a few minutes at a time or longer if he's happy. We move on when one of us gets bored of the game or interested in something else. The rest of the day we speak normally.
Within this context of strong focus on sounds I have started to introduce sandpaper letters - starting with 's'. But I'll share more about that next time :)
My big brother Bear can water the strawberries.
He gets a watering can from the shelf.
He fills it with water at the tap.
He caries it carefully with two hands...
... to water the strawberries.
I'm going to have a go Mum - there's a watering can for me!
I can do it too!
I recently posted about Bear's newly recognised speech issues.
I've been thinking and researching a lot about how to progress from here.
As always time is precious and my ambitions tend to make me feel overwhelmed, frustrated and guilty. So I have started by thinking carefully through my goals.
I want Bear to know that he has valuable ideas that are worth expressing
I want to help him to communicate clearly to others
To teach Bear to say all the normal speech sounds
Tempting but not essential Goal:
Teaching bear to read and write following Montessori methods
This is what I've come up with:
1. Identify his strengths and weaknesses
- Bear can say these sounds: m, n, h, ng, w, d, y, b, a, e, i, o, u
- his language and vocabulary are good for his age
- he is patient with me when he is trying to communicate
- he is quick to learn new concepts and skills
- he is independent and tries to correct himself
- Bear can't say these sounds: p, t, g, k, f, l, sh, ch, s, z, j, r, v, th
- he refuses to undertake a challenge if he thinks he will fail
- he hates to be told what to do or how to do things
2. Proceed with modified Montessori games and activities
The sound games using sounds Bear can say (listed above)
Bear was struggling to play the sound game because there were so many sounds he wasn't recognising. It was too hard for him so he wasn't engaging with it. There are lots of sounds he does say and when I play using those sounds he succeeds much more often and engages much more successfully.
It takes a lot more careful planning to find objects that start with his sounds! I'm having to stretch my brain and hunt around the house for things like 'y' - 'ute', 'I' - 'Izzy', 'n' - 'knife', 'e' - 'aeroplane' or 'u' - 'undies'. It's so much more time consuming than taking a tray of something off the shelf and just getting starting.
I think it is worth the effort to keep playing. My hope is that by increasing his awareness of the sounds in words he will be better equipped to correct his own speech.
I bought the sandpaper letters a long time ago and I have been waiting patiently for Bear to succeed with the sound games before starting with them. It feels like that day might never come! So I am not going to wait until Bear has mastered the sound game. I am going to start gradually introducing sandpaper letters with sounds he knows or is working on. It makes a lot of sense to use the visual and motor aspect of the sandpaper letters to reinforce the sounds we are trying to call his attention to.
There are a lot of other less direct Montessori activities and material that sit in the domain of "language". There is also the sensorial materials which build a robust foundation for these complex skills. I am gradually trying to make these available for Bear as well. I'll post about them as I get to them because I think they are fascinating and lots of fun.
3. Work with the speech pathologist to increase his sounds
We're seeing the speech pathologist fortnightly for half-an-hour and working on homework between visits.
My important homework is to talk and listen to Bear and "recast" words that he says incorrectly. Recasting simply means using the incorrect word in conversation back to Bear as much as possible. For example:
Bear: Look at that big 'ain
Me: Wow that is a big train. It's a huge train. It's like your toy train at home.
We also practice saying a set list of words a set number of times a day. We play games with it - collecting buttons for each word, or looking at funny pictures of the words, a puzzle piece for a word... There is no right or wrong. I'm not supposed to correct him. The objective is exposure and practise. I can see the benefit of that regular time already. He is listening carefully and trying sounds out in ways he hasn't before.
I always have an alarm ringing in the back of my head saying: "don't make it tedious!", "keep it fun!", "watch him carefully!". I feel so nervous about pushing him too hard. I know if I push him too hard he'll flatly refuse to play at all!!
He is definitely in the sensitive period for language because he is participating so willingly. I am quite used to receiving a firm "NO!" from him - but thankfully that hasn't yet. He is actually asking me to play these games with him.
When I posted here I was feeling quite defeated. Quite overwhelmed. I was wondering if this Montessori stuff was really able to work with siblings. Did these peaceful children's communities really exist?! (I have still never seen one in real life). It didn't seem to be working for my children. I was full of doubt.
My faith has been restored. Now I believe that children can peacefully coexist in a shared space. The change has been dramatic! Since I got the environment right I haven't even needed the baby gate to separate them.
What were the key changes?
- A seperate shelf for each child
Having the shelves separate is more for my sake than for theirs. It helps me to notice what I am choosing for each child. It helps me to remember that they need/enjoy different things. It helps me to make sure I am putting out enough for each of them. It also helps them know where to look for something that will be fun to play with.
- A seperate area for each child to play
A comfortable and attractive area next to their shelf makes it easy for them to choose a toy and settle to play with it. Having enough space helps them stay out of each others way so they don't disturb each other accidentally.
- Thoughtfully chosen materials for each child
Bear and Fox are at different developmental stages. They have different temperaments and interests. They have different skills. I try to give them several choices and pay attention to the things that they choose to spend time with. This helps to select which materials to pack away for a while and which to leave out.
I have found that they don't actually need to be physically separated from each other to concentrate on work if they are really interested in it.
The boys have lots of things to concentrate on. Most of the time they are too busy and too focused to bother one another.
I have been particularly impressed how often they choose to play side-by-side. Even little Fox will choose a toy off his shelf and carefully carry it over to sit next to Bear. They actually do like each other and can enjoy each other's company. They just need an environment that helps them do it.
We hit a snag in Bear's reading/writing progress - a speech disorder.
I haven't blogged for a while because I completely lost confidence. Nothing seemed to be working out. We weren't making progress. I didn't understand what the problem was. Was it the method? Was it my application? A piece of the puzzle was missing...
The first clue:
We started playing the Montessori sound game a while ago. It seemed to be going well on level 1 - Bear was participating happily and seemed interested.
I would say "I'm holding something that starts with 'p'"
He would say "'ig".
"I'm holding something that starts with 'd'"
"something that starts with 'h'"
"something that starts with 'c'"
"something that starts with 't'"
We weren't able to move on to level 2. He wasn't saying the first sound of words. He didnt seem to realise the sound should be there.
So I abandoned the sound games all together. I thought that maybe it was too early for him. Or maybe I wasn't doing it the right way.
The second clue:
Bear has a little friend who has spoken perfectly from 18 months old. Her mum recently said to me: "Vicky P was doing the funniest thing... She's been speaking in this strange way and I couldn't figure why... Then I heard Bear and I realised she's been imitating him!!"
Hmmm... Is he speaking in such a strange way that she would think to copy him? He does speak in a funny way...
The third clue:
I was sitting at the table with the boys eating afternoon tea. Bear had brought a book to the table as he often does. He said to me conversationally:
"av ite on oe ee an ee"
To which I responded "pardon Bear?"
"av ite on oe ee an ee" He patiently replied.
"Sorry can you please say that again?"
"av ite on oe ee an ee."
"Sorry Bear. Again?"
"Av ITE on oe ee an EE"
"I'm sorry Bear. I'm trying to understand you. Can you please say it again?"
Frustration building "Av ITE ON oe ee an EE!"
Me: A look of apology and helplessness.
Bear: "Av ITE ON oe ee an EE!"
Me: A shrug
Bear: Pointing to the ceiling and almost bursting with frustration "Av ITE ON oe ee an EE!!"
Me: Finally understanding - "OOoohhh!!! Sorry Bear - 'Have the light on so we can see'!! I'll turn the light on for you right away!!"
This scenario was happening more and more as his vocabulary was expanding and his sentences were getting longer. I was struggling to understand him. He was struggling to be understood.
I arranged a speech assessment with a private speech pathologist and yes - he has errors that aren't developmentally normal. A second assessment with community health yielded the same result.
Bear hasn't realised that some sounds exist. He can hear them and understand them but he hasn't realised he can make them. He needs to make them to be understood. There are lots of sounds he is missing!
My judgement was right about the Montessori sound game. Bear isn't ready for Level 1 yet. He needs some extra preparation. He needs more help to become aware of the sounds he's neglecting.
I have a lot of work to do to help him.
We have a lot of appointments to attend.
We have a lot of songs to sing and lots of games to play!
I'm excited and relieved to be back on track. We know what the problem is and what we need to do about it. We have been given some beautiful homework that looks like so much fun. I can't wait to get started.
My name is Vicky I am wife to Ranger and mum to two boys - Bear (2) and Fox (8 months). Somehow I stumbled across Montessori and now my goal is to raise and educate my children with a Montessori philosophy in country NSW Australia.