Forgive me. I haven't spent much time blogging the last little while. If you had a lens into my world you'd have found me downstairs in our learning and exploring environment. Boxes piled everywhere. I'd be sweating while I moved furniture, whispering to myself as I rotated and added new material. Our room needed a little remodel for the new year. And so all my creative energy was being poured into redesigning an environment that would be fresh and irresistible to the minds and hands of my little children. I loved every minute of it.
About halfway through this process I stumbled on a garage sale not far from here that listed Montessori supplies on its list of goods along with clothes and furniture and the like. I called on it immediately and hauled the kids over to check it out.
I found the materials from an entire Montessori school, piled high and priced at a fraction of retail. Jennifer, the dear woman selling the material, had inherited it from her mother who ran a not-for-profit Montessori school. She has since passed away.
After I peed my pants, I filled our entire van with everything I could possibly afford and then more than I could afford. Still it killed me not to buy everything. My sweet kiddos waited patiently in the heat while I weighed my options and tried to select the items that would best snag their curiosity. I can't wait to share with you all my spectacular finds.
After the sale was over I spent the weekend arranging our new things downstairs. The kids were thrilled to see beautiful duplicates of their favorite materials from their Montessori school in Samoa. And there were lots of new things.
On Monday Jennifer called and graciously offered me everything that hadn't sold ... for free. She said I'd impressed her and she could tell I would use and treasure the material. I wanted to cry.
So I drove up and filled up the van again. I had to hold myself back from hugging Jennifer. If she could only see the years I've spent making homemade knockoffs of real Montessori materials, she might have understood my delight. I spent another weekend arranging and sorting and crafting our learning rooms. By Sunday afternoon everything was in order.
This morning I let the kids loose. It was fascinating to see what they chose to explore first. They immediately went for the water and land form trays. Each took a turn pouring water into the trays and classifying what they saw.
Every child was enamored with my updated version of an old favorite Montessori-inspired activity--matching lids to bottles. I bought a huge set of vintage Avon perfume bottles of every shape and size. I keep them in a basket with the lids in a bowl next to them on their tray on the shelf. The kids match them up. I'll rotate them throughout the year, a few at a time.
The kids were also drawn to our new moveable alphabets. My six-year-old daughter worked on the print letters while my eight-year-old son worked on learning cursive. I gave them each a bag of small items that could be easily spelled phonetically. They'd pull an item out of the bag and spell it with the letters. (My son would then copy it on paper.)
Next my son pulled out our blue salt tray and practiced writing the entire cursive alphabet for the first time. He is cross-dominant and handwriting hasn't come easy to him. He's easily frustrated with mistakes. This is the perfect practice tray for him. If he messes up, he simply shakes the tray and tries again.
I've cut apart dollar-store letter writing guides and glued each letter together, so that regular print is on one side and cursive is on the other. The kids write in the salt with a simple stick.
My four-year-old son loved exploring our new geometric shapes.
We called it our first day of school. Mostly because everyone around here officially goes back to school tomorrow and the kids didn't want to feel left out. But really, the learning around here never starts or stops. There's definitely a seasonal rhythm to what we do. More exploration happens indoors when its cooler, less when it's summer and we're spending more time outdoors. But other than that we don't separate learning and life.
My oldest son taught himself how to do division (with remainders!) yesterday evening while playing with some coins. I'm not making this up. This is the same kid who taught himself to read without lessons from me of any kind. It is humbling to watch him blossom with discovery. I'm reminded that my chief responsibility in facilitating their development is to get out of their way.
I deeply believe in educational freedom. Children come wired to learn. They don't need it forced on them and charted and tracked. What they do need is a loving, safe, stimulating environment with someone in it who is in love with learning. That's where I come in. I get to create fertile soil for them to grow in. It's magic, I tell you, gathering and making beautiful material for them to explore at will. Watching them grow within this little garden I've made is the deepest bliss I've ever known.
I wish everyone could know it. That's why it's so hard when people act uncomfortable when they find out I homeschool. So many people make assumptions about our lifestyle that are so far from how things really are. I wish I could serve them even a small taste of the deep, lasting magic that is education without limits. The satisfaction that comes from being there day in and out for my children as their inner genius unfolds.
I can't share it. Because most people just don't get it.
Maria Montessori did. I hope to meet her one day. She and I would be kindred spirits. Over a hundred years ago she looked in the eyes and hearts of children and really saw them. She crafted an educational philosophy based on freedom and truth. We're not Montessori purists. But so much of what we do is Montessori inspired, based on the simple truths that Maria Montessori put into words and action.
My children are free to move about our environment, selecting material and working alone or with others at will. They may select any activity and work on it as long as they wish, so long as they're being respectful of the material and others. The materials we have are not a method in themselves. They are tools to stimulate a child into logical thought and discovery. We don't need a set daily curriculum or schedule. We schedule time, not content. We study classics, not textbooks. I seek to inspire my children, not to impose requirements on them. If you've never seen children educated in this way, you'd be amazed at the ground they cover on their own terms. Every subject is dealt with naturally over time.
If you've ever been in a Montessori classroom you know they are inherently seductive. Great care has made them this way. You are pulled in. You want to touch, to discover, to explore. You won't find a teacher at the center of things. She is quietly going from child to child, or watching from a distance, taking notes on how to edit the environment to better suit what a particular child might need.
I work hard to give my children such an environment. Our days spent here and full of peace and magic. I hope you enjoyed a little glimpse of what we do. Stay tuned. I've got lots more to share.
And if you're reading this, Jennifer, thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving our family a little Montessori miracle. Your generosity will bless us for years to come. We'll never forget it.
To wrap up our school day, my oldest said, "How about I read to you, and then you read to me."
And so I enjoyed listening to his little voice read a chapter from Matilda by Roald Dahl while I snuggled my little one to sleep. Then I got to read him the next chapter in Harry Potter. The room was full of peace and contentment.
Another school year of this heaven? Yes, please.