Monday, March 31, 2008

A Very Busy Monday

It was a very busy day at school today. The children were all occupied with a variety of materials. Some were finishing work that had taken several days to complete. Others were repeating those very familiar to them such as the now famous confectionery sugar work. And while the photos below may show much work being done, there was so much more actually completed. There were pickles and crackers consumed. Maps were constructed. Number scrolls grew longer. Colored tablets were matched. Dressing frames were zipped, button and snapped (to name only a few) Startling the children, two small dishes broke in the Practical Life area. A lesson on the rectangle was given as a "doorway" to discovery. Mobiles were assembled and show-n-tell was held in the morning. The day flew by.

Take a look:

Minutes after he arrived, this student was busy table washing.

My oldest student decided to meticulously copy an entire book.


Another older student selected to copy the names of the States as she assembled the map.


This student is painting the hemispheres on which he will glue his punched out continents.

He placed the continents on the guide to confirm eventual placement onto his painted hemispheres. Tomorrow he will glue them over the blue painted spheres.

Busy botanists.


After weeks of students using much of the sensorial materials for exploration, I gave a group lesson on a single rectangle taken from the geometry cabinet. During the lesson, I asked the children to see the rectangle as a door; a door to their imagination, to the universe, as a doorway to discovery via one single piece of a larger material. After the presentation, I told them that I knew what I was thinking in regards to all that I had proposed, but that perhaps they needed help envisioning what I was suggesting - so I handed out sheets that had four rectangular doors illustrated on them. Two of the doors were patterned after household doors and the other two where left blank. I invited my students to design their own doorways with these.

They drew flower doors, heart doors, puppy doors, patterned and spotted doors. Next, I had them cut them out and collectively we assembled them into pipe cleaner mobiles. The children really enjoyed this work and so did my assistant Cristina, whose own mobile was quite lovely.

Flower Power : A Stem of Lilies Yields A Crop of Botanical Studies

In the post just before this one, I wrote of a child gifting the classroom with a stem of lilies. This single stem with three blossoms inspired a few of my students to commit their morning to botanical studies. One illustrated a booklet which identified and labeled each part of the flower. Another student harvested pollen and dissected the anthers of the lily. Using a mortar and pistil to grind down several anthers in a small amount of lemon juice, he created a colorful liquid that he did in fact paint with. Still another student lifted her already pressed flowers and pasted them to a hand made card.

The student illustrated only the red identified part of the flower on each page.

The complete booklet bears on the cover the student's completed illustration of the entire flower.


The materials to study the flower are placed on the table.

The student uses a q-tip to harvest pollen.

Using tweezers, the student removes a few of the anthers.

The removed anthers are placed in a mortar along with some lemon juice. He uses the pistil to ground down the anthers and pollen.

The student paints with the pollen colored liquid.


A student opened and removed flower petals which had been in the press for several weeks.

She carefully glued the petals to a card she later illustrated. At dismissal, she gifted her mother with her carefully crafted card.

I am bringing fresh flowers for flower arranging to school tomorrow. I can't wait to see how the children will use each of the stemmed flowers. Yes, it is Spring!

Classroom Snapshots

Here are just a few highlights from the week. I am thinking of making this an ongoing item - weekly photos of the classroom and the children (although faceless for their privacy). The four snapshots from last week follow:

A child has pinned the Play-doh Prep badge/pin I made designating her
as the maker of the clay for the day.

One of the parents from another classroom does repairs for the school. When my two chowkis needed fixing he took them and returned with these. Everyone was impressed by his creative solution to my worn out table tops - large cutting boards which he attached the original legs to.

A child brought in his plain birthday cupcakes to celebrate his fourth birthday with his classmates/friends. He spent a good part of the morning dusting them with confectionery sugar. He skillfully placed a variety of patterns over his chocolate treats. Several children observing his work spontaneously clapped when he finished. It was a delightful moment.

My oldest student brought in the vase of lilies which currently decorates the peace table. His reason for bringing in the flowers was twofold: 1. A lovely gift to the classroom. 2. He wants to know what the large, brown tube-like parts of the flower near its center are named: the anther. Today, he will dissect one of the flowers and match the classification cards with the parts of the flower.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

And then they drew...The Leap to Abstraction Continued

A while ago, I wrote a post about the children in my classroom exploring with the sensorial materials. I found their work provocative, imaginative, innovative and intelligent. They were not messy but organized and would often converse with a working partner about achieving balance, creating land forms, waterways and structural support for taller components of their architecture, which was what they created or perhaps urban landscaping. At times, they included gates, fire houses and prisons explaining the need for a defense system - remember these children live in a time when city/national security is denoted in colors orange and red. They are very aware that cities are vulnerable.

I also compared the exploration a child was making using the sensorial materials with the work of another child who was using the planets as a means of imagining our solar system. Their work was never intruded upon by other children who simply wanted to camp out and join the "play." The children made it very clear that they were not playing and often stated that they did not want observers. Also, they needed space. Another child would occupy space on a rug where they would want to expand their assemblage of materials.

Sounds somewhat like colonialism - occupied territory - something which I have at times envisioned when I see the positioning of rugs on the larger landscape of the carpeted floor. Each rug denoting occupied space and the walking around it extending this denoting of occupied space; the frame, outline, border, circumference of each rug not to be crossed or entered by the others. Oooops - that has been in mind a long time and I have sketched my ideas about it - my thoughts on the children exploring has often had this effect on me - my own mind opens up to abstract thoughts and reactions to their work. I never impose my own dialog on them - yes, that is what having a blog/diary is for.

"Floor mats mark the private work space" Michael Olaf catalogue
(the above rug looks so flag-like)

Returning to the children exploring with materials: On Thursday, after our Spring celebration which included decorating hard boiled eggs, two girls took out several of the sensorial materials. They laid the work out so that spatially it reminded one of the positioning of chess pieces. Only a few towers were built (this has been a recent phenomenon of this work - once everything came off the shelves - now there is a somewhat minimalist approach to the building of structures). After a few minutes of admiring their work, one of the girls asked the other, "Now what do you want to do?" The other child instantly answered, "Let's get paper and sketch our work." I remained quiet and just observed them. Both girls took a piece of easel paper and placed them on the floor in front of their work. Next they themselves laid down on the floor and using a tray of colored pencils began silently sketching their work. I snapped a photo and let them be.

Tonight, as I sit writing this, I am left wondering about the evolution of work, the creation of extensions, the process of work that is freely chosen and the leap to a higher plane of mental exploration/activity. I will not allow myself to hinder their work by setting guidelines, by corralling their efforts into a group presentation as if all children think the same. This is the aftermath of the method - the adult is no longer presenting lessons but instead left to digest the lessons that the children write/ act out/present. Food for thought...but the answers are always in the theory of the method - read everything that you can get your hands on so that you leave your hands off the children's work.

I went through one of my files and found a small pink pamplet printed by AMI titled:

An Unfolding - The Child From 3-6
by Margaret E. Stephenson

Here are a few paragraphs to consider:

The tendency for exploration is present throughout the stages of development from birth to maturity, but takes different directions. At this second stage of the absorbent mind, the child between three and six years of age has need of sensorial exploration of the world in order that his intellect may function. Again, therefore, the task of the adult is to make available those aids to development which allow the child to proceed from the chaos of impressions taken in during the first years of life to an ordered, classified, organized body of knowledge, which will form the basis for intellectual expansion. The sensorial material which forms part of the prepared environment for the child from three to six years of age, is not there to give the child impressions but to aid him in classifying those already absorbed. The mid of man works by organizing. The sensorial material of the first Montessori class affords the child from three to six "keys to the universe." With the knowledge of blue acquired from his work with matching and grading tablets of color, he can distinguish blue in all its infinite variety in the world of nature and art. The leaf form in that is hastate pertains to many species and from his work with forms of leaves, the child can move to an exploration within the field of botany of how many plants produce hastate leaves and in what area of the world they grow. The sensorial material to be used by the child between the ages three and six acts by isolating a quality, allowing the child to relate his recognition of that quality to any object whatsoever in the world. The tendency for exploration is thus made use of to further the development of the intellect based on sensorial experience. (pg 10)

And so the years from three to six are years of discovery, of construction. The tendencies of man lead the child to search and exploration. Where he will be able to search, what he will be able to explore, depends of the environment prepared by the adult. This is the measure, then, of our responsibility to the child. What the environment does not contain, is not accessible to the tendencies of man. On us lies the blame for any defrauding of the child of his creative possibilities.
Each child faces us as a unique creation. His potential is an unknown factor. We can stultify that potential, we can help it to the realization of its fullest extent. We can attempt to understand or not the creative possibilities of the tendencies of man. If we understand their power for creation, why are we not making use of them? Is it this basic non-realization of the power inherent in man, the power that is the birthright of each individual child, that causes still at this point in time, at this stage in history of man's life on earth, the problems of the educational establishment? (pg 11)

Celebrating Spring in the Classroom

Egg dying work on the shelf.
I put out two sets of the work as the need for thirty children
to decorate eggs required the duplicate set.

Egg work set up on a designated table and maintained by my assistants Jill and Cristina as we have two children with egg allergies.

First, the children used crayons to draw on their eggs.

Then they dipped them in the provided colors -
Oh, how they smiled while doing the dipping.

The results were wonderful.


I arranged earlier in the week for one of my afternoon parents to visit our classroom and present her husband's Greek tradition of egg "smashing!"

She generously baked the bread, called tsoureki, with the traditional red eggs. The eggs, she told the class, represented wealth, fertility of the coming summer, abundance and joy. The red dye was traditionally made with beet juice. Beets are the first spring vegetable to be harvested. She said that the eggs were customarily dyed on the Thursday before Easter, which was also the day that she visited our class with her fresh baked bread and colored eggs. She explained that leftover bread dough was shaped into small dolls or animals and baked for use as toys by the village children.

She told the class that her husband would have dinner at his Grandmother's house every Easter. His Grandmother would cook lamb and make red eggs only, as this is the Greek tradition. Once everyone was seated and the plates of food were passed around, the challenge would go out: "Who wants to crack eggs with me?" The two contestants, both relatives, would then carefully select an egg each, and crack them together. One would crack, and the other would remain intact. The loser would have to eat his or her cracked egg, while the winner would look for another challenger. Everyone had their own technique for how to hold the egg and how to hit the other egg. Her husband told her that he would always try to choose the darkest colored egg that he could find, hoping that that meant that the egg had been boiled for longer and would therefore be tougher to crack. Also, she reminded the class, eggs are not perfect ovals - one end is a little pointer than the other end. She continued stating that her husband would always hit with the sharp end and would hold the egg as close to the end as possible using all five fingers. He believed this technique gave more support to the eggshell. Did any of this make a difference?

After her explanation the children took their try. One child cracked the eggs of five opponents before his did. Here are two photos highlighting the positioning of the egg just before they hit:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

And Then The Volcano Erupted And There Was Lava and Laughter.

A Volcanic Conclusion
to the School Week

It was a great conclusion to the week. Also, and this is so important, the single presentation of creating a volcano brought together at least a half a dozen other materials/work on the shelves. My assistant, Cristina, sat with me for a moment after the children were dismissed and together we named the works that prepared the children for making a volcano and to have it erupt:

1. Practical Life: using a pitcher, using a sponge, pouring work, estimating how much liquid to put in a container via flower arranging, the making of and usage of play-doh and, after doing the clay work required to make a volcano, hand washing.

2. Science : Color mixing, "Dancing Raisins" (which required all but one ingredient used in the volcano work).

3. Geography : Several materials, including those related to the solar system, attributed to the umbrella title - Land Forms, and the land and water globe.

4. Math : Estimation, measuring liquid and powdered quantities - including the new measurement presented with the volcano work - a "pinch."

Let's not forget - cycle of activity, control of movement, ability to commit to purposeful work, attention to detail, effort to perfect work, increased periods of concentration, understanding the difference between work and play, and - last but not least - trust of the adults presenting. Oh, and so many more...

First, I put on my apron and got out the appropriate place mats for science work. Then, using the clay materials and one of the containers used in making land forms, I began molding and shaping a volcano while the children watched. I emphasized that the bottom must be cup-like so that the ingredients did not seep out. After spending several minutes shaping the volcano, I took a second tray from the shelf which I had prepared early in the day.

On this tray were the following items:

Canister of baking soda
A small white spoon / spoon rest
Small pitcher
A container with a sealed lid for baking yeast.

Most of the materials were colored coded blue. The white spoon matched the substance it was to be used for - baking soda.

After removing the items from the second tray. I used the single pitcher for both the water and the vinegar (which is added last). First I poured the water into the top of the volcano and made an exaggerated gesture looking for water seepage - there was none. Next, I put one heaping spoonful of baking soda into the volcano and three pinches of yeast. I took a deep breath, made eye contact with the children, who were absolutely silent, and poured the pitcher of vinegar into the opening. The "lava" bubbled and brewed and then "erupted" overflowing down the sides of the volcano. The children burst into laughter. The yeast made the lava appear more solid. It was a visual spectacle.

Next, I asked what the color of lava was. The children answered: red, yellow, orange. My assistant Cristina brought the color mixing tray to the table. She continued the lesson so I could photograph the work. First she mixed red and yellow together to make orange and then she poured the colored water into the volcano ( I had already washed out the earlier ingredients without causing damage to the clay structure). She continued with the remaining ingredients. When the "lava" flowed it was almost pink and at the base of the volcano orange. The children again burst into laughter, a testimony to the utter delight on their faces as they watched the presentation.

Materials placed on mat.

1. Colored water poured into small pitcher

2. Pitcher of water poured into volcano

3. Baking soda was added and then 3 pinches of baking yeast.

4. A pitcher of vinegar added.

5. Colored lava flow.

Then came the chorus: "Can I do that work?" "I want to do it first." I explained to them that it was recess time and that we would be dismissing from the playground. "You may each have a chance to do the work next week," I explained as I began to cleaning up. This is something that I often do - present science materials at the end of the day. I present language, math, sensorial and practical life during the beginning and middle of the day. Presentations that I know are going to be very popular, I give at the end of the day which allows the "hot" new item a cooling off period. It works in my room. I will have my camera ready Monday morning!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Land forms + Mars + Meteorites + Impacts = Impression in a Landscape and in a Child's Mind

Mar's Olympus Mons - Largest know volcano in the Solar System.
Image courtesy: Volcanic Places on Mars

Land forms on Mars, courtesy National Geographic Magazine

Yesterday, I gave a lesson on land forms found on Mars. Yes, indeed, I did and it went over wonderfully. I had noticed an article in a later edition of National Geographic about land forms on this planet and thought it would be a great way of extending the children's awareness of familiar work - the land forms on the shelves - to encompass the landscape of other planets - in this case Mars.

I had my afternoon assistant Cristina laminate the cut out images while I placed a variety of materials on the main lesson rug. I put out the lake and water globe, two land forms, some of the land form work and placed the recently laminated images next to them. On top of several place mats, I positioned a large rectangular platter which I then covered with a few large sheets of brown paper (brown cloth would have worked better but this was fine). Also, I placed a bag of white flour, a container of cocoa powder, a measuring cup and a small bowl of large, dried fava beans on top of the mats.

I covered the bottom of the serving dish with the white flour:

Then I covered the white flour with a thin layer of cocoa powder:

With the children assembled, I discussed the land forms they were familiar with and then showed them the images of the Mars landscape. I asked them how these impact areas - craters and such - had been created. Meteorites and weather were their answers. I told them that we were going to use the fava beans as meteorites whirling through outer space and then impacting the landscape I had created as a model of our planet and others.

As I lifted the bean up into the air, their eyes followed my hand. I threw the first bean and then a second. The impact was so amazing. First a crater and then the white flour splashed across the brown cocoa powder duplicating some of the images taken from National Geographic.

Images of the initial impact of the "meteorites."

We talked about the dust that rose up from the surface at the moment of impact; the suffocating dust and how it caused the animals and plants to die. We talked about a thick dust cloud blocking out the sun and not letting enough light get through to the planets surface and about the ice that spread across the landscape as it froze. It was an amazing discussion with passionate contributors.

Here are two more photographs of the presentation:

I also noted how the same sized objects impacted the landscape differently: some left deep craters while others made surface indentations only. The suggested causes were speed and angle of impact.

FYI: An ingredient substitution - instead of using cocoa powder, which was a little pricey, you could use a box of chocolate cake mix or light brownie mix.