Back to the Three Hour Work Period

Now that school has started for our friends in public school, it is time for us to head back into the classroom officially as well.  Well, after Thumper takes that one last week long vacation with Grandma and I get a little break.

Not my cat

We adopted two kittens a few weeks ago.  One of them, Shadow, likes to chase his tail.  He ends up running in circles.  Quite funny to watch.  I’m reminded of this when I think of our schedule last year.  I started with a 3 hour work period that eventually deteriorated into……a mess.  I was chasing a normalized child but the harder I chased the more the kids didn’t seem to want to settle down to work.  We ended up doing lots of 1.5 hour work periods interspersed with outings and chores.

What I really needed was to stop running and take stock.  And finally a few weeks break in the summer allowed me to do that.   Montessori philosophy is pretty adamant about not interfering with a concentrated child and letting them guide their own learning.  Freedom of choice within limits kind of thing.  But, as I learned last year reading a famous Montessorian talking about his first year in teaching, you are allowed to do whatever you need to do to get them there.

All this to say, we’re going back to the 3-hour work period this year and I’m making a few changes. What I realized I needed to do was to enact a stricter schedule so that the children are used to the whole routine and my expectations within those routines.  Then I can let loose a bit because I don’t need to be constantly chasing them down to remind them what to do.

1. Work period is now 9am-12pm.

Last year one of our problems was that school started at 10am.  Since I wake up early, by 11:30 I’m famished.  I could not last till 1:00pm.  Eating lunch at 1pm also had its own problems because we had to leave at 3:30 for swimming.  Factor in my desire for chores and gardening and exercise for Astroboy. The result is feeling we didn’t have enough time.  One conflict I had was loathing to hurry up the children when they eat.  I wanted them to enjoy their meals, not treat it just as food to wolf down.  But, that means meals are always 2 hour affairs.  I realized that if I really want to fit everything I want in, I have to limit.

As a result of this new work period schedule, it means we now have 1 hour to get ready for school instead of the usually 2-2.5.

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Science Curriculum: Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding


Someone once told me that the Montessori Science curriculum is the foundation for elementary.  As in, children learn all the other subjects off of science.  It basically covers from the Big Bang all the way to all things human.  It’s a vast curriculum.  One where you are not expected to cover everything in the albums by 6th grade.

I have 2 albums for science: geography and biology.  Biology covers zoology (animals) and botany (plants).  Geography in a way covers everything else: astronomy, geology, physical geography, chemistry, water, wind, economics, etc.  You are essentially studying the earth and all the fields related to it. One thing they keep telling us during training is: Don’t follow the album sequence in presentation.  However, even many schools do this.  They may decide to do the section on Wind, Water, or human anatomy in upper elementary, and biology in lower elementary.

Especially with homeschooling, I see the varied interests and various questions the children ask and it seems obvious to follow their interests.  However with such a vast curriculum it is hard to know where to start.  I was really to happy to come across the recommendation of a series of books from What Did We Do All Day.  The books are called Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding.  For his K-2 book, he divided scientific knowledge into 4 sections, Nature of Matter (chemistry and the like), Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth Science.  What I like about the book are:

  • It follows my Montessori curriculum.  I have only looked closely at the beginning presentations and it’s basically the same order as what we present in the primary albums.  And the contents are mostly the same as well.
  • But it is WAY more in depth.  The author lists recommended books, how many minutes it takes to present, a guide on how to teach science, follow up activities, etc.
  • In a way, Physical Science is modern science so was not included in our training.  So it’s not in our album.
  • The BEST part is the 2 page chart on the sequence of presentation.  He tells you exactly the prerequisites for each presentations, and sometimes those presentations require other presentations from other sections. 

Scope and Sequence!

Last year, Thumper watched a lot of Magic Schoolbus on Netflix and started sprouting scientific facts.  And for awhile I was very confused and wondered, “Why can’t we just watch a lot of TV to learn science?”  I had to have a talk with my fellow homeschooling friend to understand it’s important for the child to also experience science.  I also realized the other important thing is to see how everything is connected.  Biology is connected to chemistry is connected to earth science, etc.  They’re not specific unit subjects to study.  Scientific knowledge, really all knowledge, is not about memorizing little facts but seeing the connections between facts.  And the Montessori curriculum provides a framework through its Great Lessons in tying these things together.   Similarly I feel like this author understands this by that 2 page chart on presentation sequence.  He’s showing me what I need to know in one subject in order to learn about another subject.  Best of all, he’s helping me make sense of my albums.  It’s my one frustration, that there’s no scope and sequence in my album.

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Introduction to Energy

Age: 5 and almost 8

Presentation: Introduction to Energy

We had our first ‘co-op’ teaching session yesterday with another family who is also homeschooling in Chinese.  It was super fantastic.  The best thing was that I didn’t have to plan it!

Okay, I sort of kid.  What we’re doing is following the Building Foundation for Scientific Understanding book.  It’s a curriculum that very much mirrors the Montsesori curriculum (at least in the beginning sections I’ve seen) but has this super cool chart that tells you exactly the order of your presentation.  I use it in conjunction with my album.  

Our co-op is still in the midst of being organized.  But I’m hoping we can swap so that one person teaches science and the other math or history.  We can get together for the lessons and then do a bunch of followup activities at home.  Since my friend is not necessarily doing Montessori, but is open to her child being taught in that way, this gives us the flexibility to follow up however we like.


Our lesson was Introduction to Energy it’s a requirement for the lesson on “Plants vs. Animals”, which is what I actually wanted to teach the kids.  There are more than 4 types of energy but to make it simple, we only introduced heat energy, light energy, electrical energy, and movement energy.  I think energy is defined here as what gives something the power to move or change state?  I don’t even remember because I wasn’t the one teaching.

The Montessori albums I have have no sections on Physical Energy.  But my Montessori homeschooling friend lent me a book titled “Nurturing the Young Scientist: Experiences in Physics for Children“.  It has a section on introducing energy.  Looking through the activities, we decided that introducing electrical energy looked the most fun for a group setting.

We also consulted the BFSU book for what the intent of the lesson is.  I made up a deck of bilingual sorting cards and gave it to my friend.

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Classroom Management…or Home Management

So I was dragged into an Internet spat today.  The poster posts her education advices online; you know, recommended books, parenting philosophy, etc.  There are lots of these bloggers online and the advice is most often very useful.  But some people’s come off as a bit smug.

I only mention this because I have no less than four drafts that I’ve been sitting on the last year about positive discipline.  Because I keep thinking, I’m learning just as much as the next person, what do I know?  What works to me doesn’t work for the next person.  I still yell at my kids when I get mad and give them long talks that are going in one ear and out the other.  And then there’s the fear that the writing will come off preachy as well.  (On a side note, it fascinates and confound me how people get a certain tone across in writing.  I don’t know how and if you can teach a child how to write that way.  That’s why I really like good writers like Mandarin Mama, where the posts are useful and clear, and yet often self-deprecating and friendly.)

Anyways, the spat has spurred me on to finish my post.  Because you know, I can’t sound as bad as some people even if I’m not as good as some writers right?

Rather than going on and on about philosophy and how ultimately it’s about being mindful of your behavior I will list some of the things I’ve picked up from observing teachers through my Observation class and my Positive Discipline class.  I’d read all the books and had made changes but I could never quite deal with some situations despite my best efforts.  And I really disliked those Positive Discipline books, they felt so short on concrete examples and long on why we want to be nice to our children.  I needed a script, specific things to say, dag nabbit!   Observing teachers, I have to say, was the next to final step in helping me in this aspect.

I have found these techniques to be really helpful in the home environment as well.  Some of it were tricks I’d never read about in books.  Seeing it in action was often a lightbulb moment for me.

1.  Being consistent.  I know I know.  Everyone says this.  You know how when it’s the end of the playdate and you tell your child “5 more minutes!” and then that 5 minutes turn into 15 minutes because you really really want to talk to your mommy friends.  Or your kid’s whining and it’s getting on your nerves so you speak in your low threatening voice, “If you don’t stop whining, we’re going to go home right now!” but then you really have to finish grocery shopping so you run around with a whiny and now crying-loudly-to-seemingly-spite-you kid.  Or, for me, telling the kids that, if they want to talk to me while I’m talking, they need to put their hands on my shoulder; but then I would interrupt what I’m saying and turn to talk to them, or let them interrupt me sometimes and then get mad at them at other times…..

I learned from my high school teacher friend, who visited me this summer, that being consistent is really the number 1 rule.  She had infinite patience and took her time.  By the end of her one week visit, my kids were putting their hands on her shoulder when they wanted to talk to her, and they would actually wait there for 5 minutes while she finished her conversation with me.  She let them wait rather than interrupt what she was saying before addressing them.  She gently reminded them what the rule was when they forgot.  The kids behaved as I see kids behave in a Montessori classroom!  That was a revelation to me: that it can be done in the house.

If she asked Thumper to go do something, she was not above waiting and repeating her request until it was done, always a very even but “I will keep requesting until you honor the rule” tone.  For example, once after dinner, Thumper started talking to her instead of putting her dishes away.  After I reminded Thumper, she continued to try to talk to my friend.  My friend said,

“Thumper, what did Mama say?”
“Put the dishes away.  But wait, I have a question for you….blahblahblah.”
“What did Mama say?”
Thumper continues talking.
“The dishes please.”  And then she refused to talk to Thumper and just waited until it was done.

For me, the trick was understanding that I need to stop whatever else I have going on and tend to this rule that I want them to follow, NO EXCEPTIONS.

I’m not at the super consistent level yet, but I’m definitely working towards it.  I have noticed things are much better when I remember to be consistent and then they fall apart when I don’t.

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Skip skip skip ….counting!

Horray for having a curriculum!  Sunday night I looked on my presentation calendar and realized I was supposed to present skip counting on Monday.  I hurriedly looked at the ideas from What Did We Do All Day and made my own set.  She also has a second post on a game you can play.  I didn’t even bother doing a bunch of research.  We ended up with about 9 ideas from her website.  I got both kids to work on them yesterday.

What’s Skip counting?

Skip counting is a state standard for Kindergarten (or it was last year).  It is the precursor to learning multiplication and comes after your child has mastered counting.  In Montessori, you show the kids how to count these short and long bead chains.  The short bead chains are squares of a number, (so for 9, you would be able to count to 81) and the long bead chain are cubes of a number.  But you don’t show the kids how to skip!  They’re supposed to arrive there on their own after getting tired of counting one by one.  Makes sense from a development point of view.  It is how you know that they’re ready to move on from counting.  Of course in practice I don’t know if it’s really true.

I want to emphasize this because if you teach the trick to skip too early, you could end up with a child who knows how to skip count but not know how to count well.  Knowing how to count is important because it helps the child know the relationship between two numbers.  It’s the foundation for all math.

I had one epiphany yesterday watching the kids skip count.  There are two aspects to multiplication.  One is learning your multiples, and the other is knowing the result when two numbers are multiplied together.  To me, they’re related but different.  So for example, the What Did We Do All Day activities are asking the kids to recite their multiples, for example, 3, 6, 9, 12, etc.  But that doesn’t tell me off the top of my head that 12 is 3×4.  What it tells me is that 12 is a multiple of 3.  Useful when you have to learn Common Multiples.

On the other side is learning your multiplications table.  This is what you need when you are doing equations like (1234 x 4321=?)  Multiplications table is pure boring memorization.  I don’t know of any activities, short of singing, that will make it more fun.  Whereas learning multiples there are a variety of activities that I see online.

Where the Kids Were

Last year Thumper got to memorizing 6 and then got stuck, could not remember multiples of 6,7,8,9.  I was going to “force” her to continue.  Hey, I remember standing next to my mom memorizing them when I was 7, she can do it too!  But thankfully I read Life of Fred math.  It basically split up what you would normally think of as a complete concept to learn, like learning to add up to 20 all at once, or learning multiplication table up to 9 all at once.  Rather, kids have difficulty the bigger the number so they could do well with the beginning numbers (addition up to 10, multiplication up to 5) and then need to wait a year for the rest. So I let it go.  This year Thumper is more willing to learn the rest of that multiplication table.

As for Astroboy, he knows his numbers up to 1000 for sure, 10000 sometimes, so we’d been working on counting the bead chains.  But I needed more variations.  I think the fact that Astroboy is now also adding small numbers together is another good indication that he is ready to figure out the next number in the sequence without counting.

What We Did

I looked through all of the link’s activities and printed them out.  I ended up with the following work:

  • 選一個數字。 可以丟骰子選。
  1. 數長的跟短的珠串
  2. 在一百板上每數到這個數字,用筆塗顏色,念它的乘法表出來。
  3. 把數字寫下來在空的一百板上,每遇到他的倍數,用新的一行。
  4. 在珠串復習紙上寫數字。
  5. 玩迷宮遊戲。
  6. 看電視,唱九九乘法表歌。
  7. Astroboy: 寫 數字在空的一百板上。
  8. 描寫數字。
  9. Thumper:把20個數字寫在筆記本。

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English Phonics: Primary Phonics

I’m procrastinating by writing posts instead of planning.  I started the year with a big bang as usual and petered out after about a week.  sigh

That said, I’m still planning away, just with many low days and some high days.

One of my goals for this year is to teach Thumper how to read in English.  Last year, I only had energy for her to review her short vowel sounds and work on some sight words.  It wasn’t planned, but it worked out perfectly because she can now read in Chinese.

The series we’re using to learn to read is Primary Phonics.  You can get it at Rainbow Resource for much cheaper than Amazon.  For me, this set is perfect for Thumper, who already knew all of her alphabet sounds and had practiced reading at school, but now needs more practice.  I feel like already knowing all the sounds first, and learning to read words first, makes it easier to the children.  I remember Thumper getting very frustrated with the BOB books for that reason, just too many things going on.

There are 6 sets, 10 books each.  We’ve been doing 2-3 books a day when we remember, for the last 2-3 weeks, and have progressed from set 2 to set 3.  The first set was all on short vowel sounds.  The second set long vowels and magic E (made, cake, etc), and the third set is on blends, first two vowels, then two consonants together.

I’m loving the set so far.  I tried to be cheap by printing out a free phonics set online.  But it only had 18 little booklets and by the 7th and 8th book, I knew it was just progressing way too fast.  Thumper had a lot of trouble sounding out words and reading smoothly.  So I bit the bullet and ordered sets 3 and 4 from Rainbow Resource.  So far so good.  The books are written so there’s repetition of words and focus on specific sounds for each book.  We go through the list of focus words on the inner flap before we read, and I let her read a few pages so ensure she gets it and then just go away and listen with half a year.  The other day we went biking and she read a whole phrase on the bike map, which let met know that she’s really learned those vowel blends finally.

You can buy workbooks and comprehension books along that match each set.  I like the workbooks because Thumper likes to go through and color the pictures and do the exercises for fun.  It’s also an easy way to turn in to our charter school when it’s time to collect samples.  I’m not sure if comprehension is necessary.  I read this book once wrote by a veteran homeschooling mom, who basically said that when you learn to read it’s about sounding out the words, not necessarily about comprehension, because the children are spending all their efforts on learning to read already, why are we asking them to also think about what they’re reading at the same time?  You can do comprehension with other non-learning to read activities.  That logic makes sense to me.

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State of Our Chinese Before 2015-2016 School Year

When I pulled Thumper and Astroboy out of school 1.75 years ago, Thumper was speaking more English during school to her friends, knew about 250-300 Sagebook Characters, could be read to in the Reading 123 Series from 小天下, but some books were slightly over her comprehension level sometimes.  Astroboy was starting to speak English more, couldn’t read or write, and was fairly bilingual in that he couldn’t speak either language well.

Fast forward almost 2 years later, with 3 months in Taiwan and 1 year homeschooling.  The state of our Chinese now is….

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