I tend to be wordy. I also tend to lose interest quickly. (Explains so much why I have such trouble homeschooling sometimes.) So I must have started 5-10 posts on various questions people ask me, or questions they post online in FB groups, but I never finish. Because as a reader, I like to skim and think, “What’s the point of your post again? Just get to the point!”
But I have so much to say! So today, I’m going to try a Q&A format instead! Hopefully I can keep the answers short.
Q: What does your homeschool classroom look like?
Our homeschool has gone from the lovely pic I have online at my FB Page to this after downsizing to a 1000ft apartment last year. I only just unpacked and reorganized 80% last week. You can click on the pics for a close up.
For reference, here is the school room tour from 2015-2016.
So 6-8 shelves condensed to 2 shelves, plus 3 Chinese bookshelves upstairs in the kids bedroom, and 2 teacher shelves full of
crap stuff I’m still sorting.
My biggest take away after 2 years of our lovely classroom is that the kids don’t use it and there is no need when you homeschool 2 kids and don’t prep. I was modeling the classroom after a real Montessori classroom, but our homeschooling is not run the same way so the shelves weren’t getting used in the same way.
I learned from visiting Babel School‘s classroom that you don’t need all that. You just need the stuff you’re teaching right now and then rotate as needed. The rest of our classroom are packed in 20 Costco bins in storage.
I can go on and on about why our original homeschool classroom didn’t work out for us and why it may work out now. But if you want the one line summary, it’s that I only half ass Montessori homeschool. But that’s another post.
Anyhoo, here are the contents of the 2 shelves.
- Practical Life – Knitting, iron for pearler beads, random stuff
- Practical Life – Rainbow loom supplies, pearler beads. Shelf #2 gets used daily because they’re really into rainbow loom.
- Science – Montessori R&D Zoology nomenclature cards, Botany puzzle, and other stuff. We’re not using this shelf yet.
- English – Readers from Primary Phonics and Fun Phonics (free), sigh word cards, grammar symbols. We are using shelf often.
- Geography － Waseca biomes stuff that we’re not using but I have no room to store
- Others – Unsorted Montessori maps and random books I need to re-organize
So as you can see, we’re really only using Practical Life and English on this shelf.
- Old zhuyin cabinets and other stuff I need to sort
- Supplies – papers and other stuff I need to sort
- Geography – more Waseca biomes stuff we’re not using
- Math – Geometry sticks, blue constructive triangles, geometric shapes for tessellation, Volumes box. We use the geometry sticks once in awhile.
- Math – fraction metal insets. We’re using this often.
- Math – Division beads that we may be using soon
- Math – Multiplication and decimals. Checkerboard beads, decanomial beads, Speed! card game, decimal board and cubes, algebraic peg board beads. We pull out these as needed.
- Math – Math label cabinet we don’t use, metal insets we don’t use
So we mostly use the math shelves here. I actually also have a geometric cabinet I’ve repurposed to house the equivalent metal insets from Ifit. That gets used once in awhile. As you may notice, I love the Montessori math materials the best and we always somehow use them.
The longer I homeschool, the more I see that I don’t need the whole Montessori classroom. Homeschooling offers a lot of options and I don’t have to be married to the Montessori set up as long as I understand the general philosophy of following the child and how to meet their learning needs at every stage of development. So many other people have great curriculum ideas I can borrow.
Q: Do you have some ideas for Montessori at home?
If I had one piece advice, it is to know who you are and how you work. Like I said, I really half-ass Montessori at home because I’m horrible at details and prep. Most Montessorians are very type-A, big on details, and organized. I lack the organization.
So if you want to go all out, you can check out What Did We Do All Day for elementary homeschooling. For preschool, you can find all these links on her website. The Internet is also full of preschool Montessori inspired activities. The question is, how does one turn it into Chinese Montessori? That’ll be next post.
But just remember, Montessori preschool activities is not really about the material or learning academically, it’s about cultivation of concentration. So there are many many different ways to get there, as I’ve learned from my fellow homeschooling mommy friends.
If you want to do half-ass like me…….check out my future curriculum post? (So many posts I’m promising!) I talk about all the Montessori resources I use to help me plan, combined with more traditional worksheets to save me the prep work.
Q: How Long is Your Work Cycle?
I’ve always tried to stick with a 3 hour work cycle. This year it’s 8:30-11:30. Prior years it was 9am-12pm (which never quite worked for us when I’d let the kids wake up at 8:30am.) It was very hard the first 3 years with the lack of prepping and a very young child working along side an older child. Here are a few things that I wish I’d known.
- Habit, habit, habit. I needed to have a very consistent daily routine. Namely, get up at the same time always, get dressed, breakfast, chores, school. This kind of goes against my idea of sleeping till you naturally wake up. But with strong routines set, the children are more independent and eased into the work period better.
- Set up individual work that can be finished in 15-20 minutes. In the beginning I let the kids work as long as they want on a subject. Follow child’s interest and all that good stuff. But this did not jive with my goal of covering many subjects. It also did not help them as they did not repeat the subject often enough to retain information. It doesn’t mean I force them to only work that long, more like I needed to create work that is about that length (1 problem instead of 3 for example).
- Set aside 3 consecutive days of morning work. Don’t schedule anything during that time. This was very hard to do the first year when your daily life schedule is suddenly open. You can go grocery shopping during weekday morning! You can go out for a little snack when the kids are whiny. There are last minute playdates to be had! But after 3 years I learned from another homeschooling mom that I have to be protective of my 3 hour work periods as well as my tendency to get overwhelmed after 2 days of outside activities a week. I’ve learned to say no to morning playdate invitations.
Q: I Don’t have enough materials to keep my kids occupied for 3 hours!
That’s understandable because you homeschool. In school, the children are inspired to work on something another child is working on. In preschool, they spend time just chatting with friends, which in my training was allowed because socialization is part of a child’s developmental needs. Though there was also the thought that if the work was interesting enough and the school was set up well enough, you would have kids really concentrating on work.
At home, there’s just you and the kid. So just remember that the goal of Montessori preschool is about cultivation of order, concentration, coordination, and independence. It’s not about the specific work. So if you want to half-ass it a little bit, you can do a lot of practical life and art, both of which really promote concentration and coordination. Then change the expectation a bit that maybe you will just get 1-3 “work units” done a day; one language, one math, and one practical life.
I’m probably not the best person to be giving advice since I utterly failed in this department. I just didn’t have the patience to organize and prep days and days and then having the child done with some work in 5 minutes, never to pick it up again.
Q: How do I balance Montessori with other types of curriculums like AAR and AAS
I think, for most teachers, whether traditional or Montessori, you don’t really just follow a curriculum verbatim. You adjust it, you bring in extensions, you make it work for your children. So the minute you decide not to follow AAR or AAS verbatim, you’re not as structured. They’re like recipes that you can tweak, which is much easier than coming up with your own recipe.
The way you convert things to Montessori is to add in independence, error checking, chunking, and open ended work. Chunking means to cut up worksheet problems into little sheets of paper so that it leads to more open ended work. That’s my interpretation anyway. So really, anything can be converted into Montessori style materials. The question is do you have time.
So what do I mean? Let me give some examples.
Take spelling. Spelling vocabulary lists can be printed on half sheets measuring 4.25×11 (chunking). They can be tagged with numbers or levels so children know to just take the next sheet (independence) when they’re ready. If there are spelling tests, the answers are on these sheets for the kids to check themselves (error checking & independence). You could also have kids put in words they encounter during the week that they don’t know how to spell into a box and pick a few out to study that week (open ended).
For math, math problems can be printed on equation slips (chunking). They can also be tagged and leveled in the drawers (Check out What Did We Do All Day) for independence. The children are encouraged to create their own equations by rolling dice (open ended work). Answers are printed and stored in cabinets for kids to error check independently.
Q: Seriously, how do you balance. I don’t want to modify the material.
I just use the Montessori materials as my concrete material when my kids have trouble with the structured curriculum. So supplement language and math with Montessori moveable alphabet and all the Montessori math materials. The basic idea is that concrete materials up to at least third grade really helps children learn.
To me, the Montessori part is the philosophy of how you interact with the child, not the material. In preschool, it’s following their interest, giving them freedom of choice, providing activities that promote concentration. In elementary, it’s giving them choice within a framework and invoking their interest in the subjects.
Not that I do any of this well. I’m constantly trying to find that balance between what I need, my habits from own own schooling, what I want, and what I’m actually able to accomplish (not much). One thing I’ve learned is to cut myself some slack and work on one area at a time.
Q: What does your daily schedule look like.
Ahhh, I forgot to post our daily schedule this year. You can check out my A Day in the Life of a Bilingual Homeschooler post. Right now, we have
- 7:00am wake up
- 7:30am breakfast
- 8:00am chores
- 8:30am school for Thumper
- 9:00am school starts for Astroboy
- Snacks happen when they get hungry or I suggest it after they’ve done a big piece of work and I can feel they need a break
- 11:30pm lunch time
Mondays we have violin. Tuesdays and Wednesdays we put in another hour or 1.5 hours of work if no playdates are scheduled. Thursdays are co-op from 10:30-12pm but we’re basically out of the house from 9:30-3pm. Friday this semester had been outdoor nature class all day for 2 months, then hiking, fieldtrips, or playdate or sewing class, whatever strikes our fancy. Saturday and Sunday I ask the children to do the minimum on their 2017-2018 work plan, which is usually English for Astroboy and Writing with Ease for Thumper.
This is the only way we can cover enough of our plan for the year. I realized this year I really cannot just school the kids 3 hours a day 3 days a week only.
Wow, do I sound like precise and on-time parent. Actually we don’t really follow this every day. We wake up between 7-7:30, depending on how bad I feel about waking the kids up on time. Thumper has lately been just getting herself to school by 8:30am. I had to give Astroboy a 30 min limit for each stage of morning routine or else he can take 3 hours to do get ready for school.
Q: What does your library collection look like?
This is what my library looked like a year ago after I came back from Taiwan with 6 more boxes of books. It looks a bit different now. I probably have an equivalent 4 Ikea Billy bookshelves worth of Chinese books. But a lot of it is not in this photo. I’m storing some in a friend’s house because I simply cannot fit all the books in my little apartment.
Right now, the Chinese library is essentially divided into 3 section. The left bookshelf is all Astroboy’s books, including some English picture books. The middle section is all non-fiction. I finally have a big enough non-fiction section for homeschooling. The right section is all of Thumper‘s books. As Astroboy moves into bridging books, I move the books from Thumper’s shelf to his so that I can make room for her books that I’m storing at a friend’s out since she’s not at that level. For the books he’s outgrown, I’m lending them to my sister as well as storing in a friend’s house.
All the 巧虎 magazines, Chinese newspapers and other magazines are stored on top of their dresser and all of my Chinese textbooks and other resources are hidden away. I simply do not have enough room.
Wow, this post was wordy as usual.
I’ve been feeling fairly stressed lately looking at beautiful Internet posts of doing Chinese or Montessori at home. It’s stressful because I know if I want to do it I need to add to my ever growing list of to-do’s. It’s also stressful because it makes me question, have I done enough, should I do this it this way? Maybe I need to add this to my curriculum.
But after the freak out, I calm down and think a bit. Yes, sometimes I wish I could do what other parents are doing. Yet, time and time again when I think about what is important to me, and consider what my personality is capable of doing, I realize I always go back to my original idea and intent before I read all these other posts. This is especially true on the Chinese front.
The longer I homeschool, the more I feel that I’m doing half-assing Montessori and half-assing the Chinese. I’ve come to realize I need to work within the limitations of my personality. I would not have foreseen this is what my classroom would end up looking like 4 years ago. I think that was what was keeping me from featuring my current homeschool classroom. But now I’ve come to accept who I am and don’t view it as a failure on my part. That is something I hope to really help the kids see in their years of homeschooling, learning about their own strengths, their weaknesses, their learning style, and their personality.