Friday, November 28, 2008

Food Preparation

It is an empowering experience to prepare and eat your own food. Food preparation activities incorporate life skills and self care, strengthen ability to follow multi-step directions, develop fine motor skills, social skills, and good manners. Always make sure children wash hands thouroughly before beginning to work.

Peanut Cracking Work. A yummy snack while practicing the fine motor skill of twisting a nut cracker. Shells are stored in small bowl and emptied into the compost at the end of the activity.

Orange Juice Squeezing Work. Requires fine and large motor skills as well as the coordinated movement of pressing and twisting. Container of freshly squeezed juice is poured into a glass in our snack area for drinking, skins are composted, and tools are washed by the child and set up for the next person when finished.

Banana Slicing Work. The child peels and slices the banana into small disks. Toothpicks are then inserted into each slice for serving to friends. Child carries the prepared slices around the classroom and politely offers and serves the snack to friends hors d'ouerves style. "Would you like a banana?"

Toast and Butter Work. Child toasts bread in a toaster, removes hot bread with plastic tongs, butters the slice on a snack plate, cleans work area for the next child, and sits down to eat toast.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Breathing Room

We started Namaste Montessori School in our home in 2004 and in the summer of 2007 moved the school out of our home into our new space. The building we purchased and renovated was basically a pole barn (metal walls and ceilings, poured concrete floors, etc) that had been used for commercial and manufacturing purposes. I'll weave the story of our school's journey into this blog as I continue to post and label it under classroom design.

Our students helped to design our new classroom space and were involved in many of the decisions we made including color, floor coverings, and playground design. One of the top items on their classroom wish list was a "Breathing Room". This is a quiet place in the classroom where one person may go to find a little space, meditate, and reflect. Some Montessori classrooms call this area a peace corner.

Our Breathing Room is actually a simple loft framed from 2x4s and plywood. The top and sides of the loft are four feet by eight feet. The railing is made from left over spindles from one of my Dad's construction jobs. We have doors and a dry erase board on the shorter end of the structure. We use the underneath part of the loft as a closet space for storing our rest mats, blankets, and sheets.

The top of the loft is carpeted. I painted the side of the loft with a mural. For those of you that love math, the mural proportions are based on the golden rectangle and the leaves represent the occurrence of the Fibonacci sequence in nature.

I believe lofts in classrooms provide children an opportunity to view the classroom from a different perspective. Although the loft area is still quite open and visable from all areas of the classroom the height creates a different experience of space and a sense of separation from the main classroom. Located in the corner, the walls and low ceiling create a sense of calmness and security. The textured red wall, green carpet, and yellow ceiling/walls create feeling of comforting earthy warmth in the space.

In the loft area we have activities that encourage reflection. On one low table we have a pile of stones (found outside on our grounds) and a set of laughing Buddhas (purchased at a Chinese import/dollar store). Children may build and arrange these items carefully exploring balance, beauty, and nature.On the wall we have a finger labyrinth designed by some of the children.

TIP: We made this labyrinth from a simple pine table top purchased at a home improvement store. After sketching the design we used a router to carve out the path. Next we finishing the project with some leftover paint and mounted it to the wall.

We also have a zen painting board. This is a board of coated rice paper mounted on black mat board. When children brush water over the paper a deep black stroke appears. The water slowly evaporates, and the stroke diappears.
In the area we also have a small bowl with two crystals on satin ribbon. Children may hold the crystals to remind them to bring love and balance into thier bodies.
Next to the crystals we have a framed print of our weekly affirmation. This week's affirmation is gratitude and we practive by saying "I bring gratitude into my heart". Our affirmations are based on a wonderful program called Angel Bear Yoga. I'll post more on this later but I also have a link on the side bar (Of Interest/Favorite Books) if you want to explore further.

Continents Globe

In the geography area of our classroom we have a map of the continents of the world, six individual continent maps, and a map of the United States.

TIP: To make an affordable Globe of the Continents purchase an out of date globe at a thrift store ( I picked mine up for a dollar) and paint over the exisiting maps. I choose to paint our globe with a high quality oil based artist paint for color and durability, but you could use whatever paints you have on hand. If you use a water based acrylic I recommend applying a clear polyurethene finish coat for durability. Remeber to make sure the colors you choose to paint your globe match the colors on your continent map.

A Land and Water Globe (sandpaper globe) can be made in a similar way. First paint the oceans blue and the continents brown. Let paint dry thouroughly. Next apply glue to the brown continent areas and dust areas with brown sand (sand will only stick where you have applied glue so make sure you apply thouroughly). Let dry and top coat with a clear polyurethene for durability.

We are currently studying the continent of North America. Some of our older children (4 and 5 year olds) decided to make thier own map of North America. Using materials we already had available in our environment they created this beautiful and dimensional map. They used clay to build the mountain ranges, sandpaper for the deserts, cotton balls for the artic region, hay for the grassland, rolled tissue paper for the temperate forests, and celephane for the oceans. They finished by adding labels and animals.

Here is a simple science sorting activity for children to explore the concepts of living and non-living.
Here is a science and geography activity where children can classify animals by the primary environment where they exist-air, land, or water. One jelly jar contains soil for land, one contains blue colored water, and the last is empty containing only air. We have had some interesting conversations about animals that may live in two of the environments such a a frog that can live in the water and on land. I always let the child choose the classification for animals that can be placed in more than one category.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cutting, Collage, and Craft

Many practical life and art activities share the same skills. The art shelves in our classroom are near the practical life area.

We have an art supply shelf that is always stocked with basic supplies including: crayons, markers, colored pencils, scissors, stapler, scotch tape, masking tape, twine, a selection of hole punches, hand and electric pencil sharpeners, glue, a selection of stencils, paper (colored, white, and recycled), cardboard, envelopes and rulers. We also have a painting easel, playdough, and watercolor paints available. All of these materials are available for open ended creative use.
Cutting Activity:
This is a simple activity to introduce the skill of using scissors and practice cutting on a line. After children cut the strip of paper on the lines the scraps are placed in the small bucket. When the activity is finished the scraps can be used for collage work or composted.
Collage Activity:
This activity uses the dried corn from a practical life tweezing activity to make collage art.
Potpourri Sachet Activity:
Dried flowers, seed pods, and grasses collected on our nature walks are scented with a few drops of essential oil then wrapped in toile and secured with a pipe cleaner.

Stringing and Sewing Work

Stringing large wooden beads and practicing sewing cards are wonderful ways to prepare for more advanced sewing activities.

Necklace Making:

This is just a simple braclet or necklace making work using hemp cord and pony beads from a craft store.

Puppet Making:

This puppet sewing activity includes two pieces of felt puppet shapes with holes punched evenly around the edge, a pre-threaded darning needle with yarn, and eyes & scraps of fabric to be glued on for adornement. We have a supply box on the shelf where the activity is kept so that after a child completes the activity they can restock the tray with supplies for the next person.

This button sewing activity is a little more challenging than the puppet making because there are no pre-punched holes and an embroidery hoop is introduced as a tool. A box with supplies is kept next to the activity for restocking the supplies.

Liquid Transfer Activities

A simple one to one pouring activity. A small sponge is placed in each tray to clean up any drips or spills.
One to one transfer is made more challenging with the use of a baster for transfer.

Opaque containers with tops.

Here the containers are of very different sizes and a funnel makes pouring a little more challenging.

When introducing this type of work always start with clear containers, colored water, and one to one transfer and progress to more challenging opaque containers, clear water, and one to many containers.

TIP: Coloring water with food coloring emphasizes he level of water in each container. Colored water spills are also easier to spot on the table or floor for clean up.

Dry Transfer Activities

Here are some dry transfer activites we currently have out on our shelves. We rotate these activities quite frequently changing shapes and sizes of containers and tools.
Opaque containers are typically more challenging than clear containers.
One to one transfer is easier than transfering from one container to two or more containers.

TIP: Yard sales and thrift stores are wonderful places to find unique, affordable containers.

A Series of Tonging and Tweezing Work

Tonging and tweezing transfer activities help to stregthen the fine motor muscles in the hand and the "pincher" grasp a child needs in order to hold a pencil properly for handwriting.

This tweezing activity also allows children to sort beads by color and shape. The six compartment ceramic tray is just a tea light candle holder from the dollar store.

In this activity children can use "practice chopsticks" to sort colored pasta into bowls.

This activity uses small scissor tweezers to pull corn kernals from a dried cob of corn. We then grind the kernals for corn meal or use whole kernals for collage work in the art area.

TIP: I always ask my friends to think of our classroom when they clean out thier kitchen drawers. Many people have utensils and containers they rarely use but are ideal for making work in the classroom.

Sensory Table

We currently have our sensory table filled with brown rice, sea shells, and a collection of containers for scooping & pouring.
TIP: An affordable way to make a sensory table at home is too purchase a utility bin from a home improvement store. They are almost exactly the same size as the sensory table bins you can find from a school supply catalog but are a fraction of the price. The bins are typically found in the tile and/or cement supply areas for mixing concrete. You can place it directly on the floor or raise it up off the ground with a frame made from PVC piping.

Silver Polishing

Polishing a silver teapot. A multi-step activity where a child uses a Q-tip and polish (a paste of baking soda and water) to clean a small area of a tarnished teapot. After rubbing the tarnish off the pot with the paste, the child then rubs the area with a soft towel until polished. Dirty tools are discarded into a small bowl on the left side of the tray. These steps can be completed many times in sequence as the child works on all areas of the teapot. When finished with this work the child discards waste into the compost bin and restocks the supplies to ready the work for the next child.

This is a wonderful activity to develop fine motor skills in the hand and to practice following multi step directions.

A Sequence of Practical Life Work Focusing on Twisting

Using a Screwdriver Work
(we actually have three different boards, with different size bolts and drivers) Matching Nuts and Bolts Work

Matching Nuts and Bolts Work