Thursday, September 24, 2015

introducing the alphabet, Montessori-style

The ability to isolate a beginning sound of a word is the point of readiness for learning the alphabet letter sounds.
- Randall Klein, Montessori teacher and early reading specialist

For the past several months, 
I have been gradually introducing Elise 
to the letters of the alphabet.

Before that, we played LOTS of language games
- and still do! -
like "I spy," the blending game, and matching.

How did I know Elise was ready to make the leap to letters?

First, I noticed that her phonemic awareness was growing,
and that she was able to identify the beginning sounds of most words.

Second, I couldn't deny her curiosity about letters any longer!
I had already casually told her the sounds of a few letters,
and she soaked them up like a sponge.

I really wanted her to learn the letter sounds,
and I realized that if I didn't act quickly,
the rest of the world was going to teach her the names first!

Once I decided to go for it,
the first thing I did was make an Alphabet Story for us to point and sing to
that corresponded with Randall Klein's Stand Up Alphabet Cards.

(sing the letter sounds to the tune of "Up on a House Top")

a-a-apple, b-b-bird. c-c-cat, d-d-duck,
e-e-elephant, f-f-fish, g-g-goat, h-h-house,
i-i-igloo, j-j-jet. k-k-kite, lll-lion,
m-m-moon, n-n-nest, o-o-octopus, p-p-pear,
q-q-queen, rrr-rooster, s-s-sun, t-t-turtle,
u-u-umbrella, v-violin, w-w-whale, x-as in x-ray,
y-y-yarn so much fun, z-z-zebra really can run, 
we just sang our alphabet song, and everybody sang along!

Here's a close-up of our pointer, if you're curious.  ;)
It's a big hit!
We use it for our calendar, too.

Teach the alphabetic principle before you teach the alphabet.
- Randall Klein

When I present a new letter to Elise,
I put together a little tray like the one pictured above.
First, we look at the Alphabet Object, and talk about its beginning sound.
A queen!  What sound does queen start with?  
Yes!  /q/queen - queen starts with /q/.

Then, I'll associate the sound with the Sandpaper Letter.
This letter makes the sound /q/, just like /q/queen.
Elise and I take a few turns tracing the Sandpaper Letter with our finger 
and making the letter's sound.  

 (Sandpaper Letters from Pollywog Learning Products on Esty.)

Next, we'll "read" the new Stand Up Alphabet Card together.

This is what the materials look like on Elise's language shelf.
- New Letter Tray, Sandpaper Letters and Alphabet Objects, and Stand Up Alphabet Cards -

If you're wondering, I have been introducing the letters in no particular order
other than what Elise is interested in 
and what Alphabet Objects I've been able to make or scrounge up!

Randall Klein recommends the following clusters:

a g h m s, 
c d l o t,
f i p r u, 
e j k n w, 
b v y z q x.

Sometimes we set up several Stand-Up Alphabet Cards on a rug,
and I'll challenge Elise to find certain letters for me.
Can you please bring me /a/apple?
If she brings back a different card than the one I've asked for,
I simply say, Let's see what you brought.  You found /b/bird!

Once I know that Elise knows a letter,
I usually ask for it just by sound.
Can you find /e/?

Sometimes Elise and I will switch roles,
and she'll ask ME to bring HER letters.
This is a really great way to discover what she knows!

OK, now for those sandpaper letters and objects...

We play a lot of simple matching games with these materials.
We also take turns flipping the letters over and knocking to see "who's there."

When it comes to these kinds of games,
repetition is key,
and it has to be quick and fun!

Our all-time favorite thing to do with the Alphabet Objects?
Put them on the Alphabet Quilt!
My awesome mom made Elise this quilt just for this very purpose,
and it is so much fun!

We set it up right underneath the Alphabet Story on the wall,
so Elise can check her work and sing.

/e/elephant is always a favorite!  :)

As you've probably noticed, for continuity in the beginning,
we've been associating the same objects/pictures with the same letters.
- For example, /a/ is always an apple. -

As Elise becomes familiar with a letter,
she easily associates it with other things that begin with the same sound.
More on that later, though!  

You can visit Randall Klein at Early Reading Mastery and The Age of Montessori.
I refer to this handout he shares on his Early Reading Mastery site all the time:

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Montessori flower arranging: flower study part 4

Check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 of our Montessori-inspired flower study!

We are frugal flower pickers around here, so when I introduced this flower arranging lesson to Elise, I kind of expected her to go wild with the scissors in the garden.  Instead, she sniped just a few of her favorite herbs - parsley and mint - for an edible bouquet.  When I suggested she pick one of the "showier" flowers, she halfheartedly agreed, insisting that we leave the rest for the bees!

If you feel like the bees in your garden are adequately supplied with nectar and pollen, and you have a flower or two to spare, try this flower arranging lesson!  You'll build control and coordination of movement, as-well-as decision making skills.  Plus, nothing brings the beauty of nature indoors like a bouquet of cheerful, fresh flowers!

You'll need:
  • a basket for gathering flowers
  • scissors
  • a selection of small vases
  • a pitcher with water
  • a funnel
  • newspaper or other scrap paper for collecting leaf and stem trimmings
  • a drying cloth
  • coasters or doilies to place under the finished bouquets

First, bring your basket and scissors to the garden and select a variety of blooms (or herbs!) to pick.

Elise filled her basket with oregano and chive blossoms, parsley, echinacea, and gaillardia.  

Once you're back inside with the flowers, choose a vase to fill with fresh water.  If the vase has a narrow opening, use the funnel.

Spilled some water?  No big deal!  Use your drying cloth to wipe it up!

Select a bloom or two to arrange in the vase.  Trim the stems, and remove any leaves that are in the water.  These can go in the compost or trash at the end of the lesson.

Keep in mind the aesthetics of the bouquet, and don't overcrowd your vase with too many flowers!  Set the finished bouquets in a safe spot while you clean up your supplies.

Finally, place the bouquets on coasters or doilies around the house.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 4, 2015

favorite flower reads: flower study part 3 mother's garden is very nice, but if I had a garden there would be no weeds, and the flowers would keep blooming and blooming and never die.  

- Kevin Henkes (from My Garden)

As fall nears, our flowers are slowly fading, but Elise and I have enjoyed observing the next phase of the plant life cycle - seeds!  Here are a few books that have inspired out flower study these past few weeks:

  • Flowers by Rene Mettler
  • Alison's Zinnia by Anita Lobel
  • A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston
  • Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
  • My Garden by Kevin Henkes
  • The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller
Check out part 1 of our flower study here and part 2 here.  

Happy weekend, friends!!!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

sunflowers: flower study part 2

Elise and I have spent the past few weeks doing a "flower study."  Read part 1 here!

I've decided to try dedicating a little space in our classroom
each month to a special song or poem.
(Yes!  Elise has her own classroom now - I'll share more soon!)
From the classroom window, we are able to see dozens of sunflowers
and watch goldfinches and chickadees feasting on their seeds.
A sunflower song seemed like the perfect first choice...

Sunflower by Sanford Jones
Sunflower, sunflower yellow and round.
You are the prettiest flower I've found.
Tall, straight, full of grace...
I love the light in your bright yellow face!

This song can also be played on the Montessori bells.  

We are using this homemade sunflower puzzle
to learn the names of the parts of the sunflower plant:
roots, stem, leaves, and flower.
(An older child may enjoy labeling the parts or matching 3 part cards like these.)

The puzzle pieces all button together,
which is great because Elise is in a sensitive period for buttoning!

One morning, after buttoning the petals to the seed part of the flower,
we decided to go investigate some real sunflower seeds...

See?  We've even got sunflowers growing out of the sidewalk!

We watched bees drinking nectar and gathering pollen...

And observed that some of the flowers were missing seeds
- could it be the goldfinches?!

We chose a few flowers that were done blooming to cut and bring inside.

We spent the afternoon pretending to be birds,
using tweezers to pull out seeds!

This was always a popular lesson in my classroom 
and it has been so much fun sharing it with Elise,
who eats all the seeds on the spot, of course! 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

flower walk: a flower study intro

One of my favorite things about summer is the all the flowers.  I often find myself completely lost in thought over a sunflower - seriously, Hubs thinks I'm crazy!  It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how long or cold the winter, those plants wait patiently to burst into bloom for a month or two of summer - just the blink of an eye, you know?

Elise seems equally intrigued, so I decided to engage her in a little deeper exploration of our colorful environment. We kicked off our flower study with a simple, sensory experience - a flower walk around the neighborhood.  After filling a bag with snacks and supplies, we hit the sidewalk!

flower walk supplies:
  • field guides
  • notepad
  • magnifying glass
  • string for measuring plants and scissors for cutting the string
  • an assortment of markers, pens, and pencils

Of course, we ended up using our senses the most!  We smelled, touched (gently!), and delighted in all the different colors and shapes we observed.  Bees buzzed around us, and we pondered the orange powder coating their legs. Could it be the same stuff sprinkled on the inside of those blossoms? 

As we neared home, we stopped to suck the nectar out of few climbing honeysuckle blooms.  While we would never pick flowers from someone else's yard - gasp! - these are growing on a power line in an alley.  Totally okay, right? Anyway, we'd done this once before, but this time we were shocked to find that the flowers were empty!!!  Not even a tiny drop of nectar to be had!  We pulled out the Rocky Mountain Gardener's Guide and began to read about climbing honeysuckle.  Just as we got to the part about hummingbirds drinking the nectar, we heard a buzzing sound, and there was a hummingbird sipping from a flower right above our heads!  Oh, I so love moments like this!

Stay tuned for more flower adventures...
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