Sunday, August 22, 2010

Play and Work in our Montessori Homeschool

Ian is a challenge in homeschooling: he hardly engages with an "work" activity. However, it gets easier whever the activity has a "play" component.

In this respect, NAMC blog  posted an interesting article about "Play and Work in Montessori Education". Here is an extract:

Maria Montessori recognized that imagination or play was not the same as work, but she also appreciated that learning is most effective when play and work are united in a single activity ... Although we tend to think of work and play as in opposition to one another, they are most effective when they are brought together. Therein lies the genius of the Montessori materials. Form boards, for example, bring together both play and work. The child must mentally transform the form board, and the pieces to be placed within it, into a problem to be solved, the play component. Positioning the pieces into their proper places is the adaptation to reality, the work component. By bringing together learning tasks which unite work and play Montessori was able to mobilize the child’s personal motivation for the purpose of social learning. As Montessori’s curriculum materials make clear, a less misleading aphorism might be, “Play is the motivation for the child’s work.”
Last week I noticed Ian was very motivated peeling and sticking band-aids (let's say, the work component) of the "Toy Story" movie figures (let's say, the play component). He had fun and, at the same time, he improved his fine motor skills and space awarness as he was not arranging them mindlessly. I think the key is to determine if he is really engaged in a "purposeful activity" and I think he was.

I've been  reluctant to mix play with work because I was confused about fantasy vs. Montessori, but after I saw how much Ian enjoyed that band-aid activity, I was thinking about that and asked Karen Tyler, about her take on it. She explained it to me:

During the time that Maria Montessori lived and in the country where she lived, fantasy consisted of fairy tales and the purpose for telling your children Fairy Tales was to scare them.....and they were scarey! Just think about Hansel and Gretel being put into an oven by a witch for trespassing and you get the picture. Well, we don't live during the time that Maria did...we live in 2010. We live in a place and at a time when cartoons and fantasy are all over the place and children are exposed to them from birth.....there are many wonderful fantasy figures and even the ones that aren't can be used to teach a lesson ... Real life includes being able to think original thoughts and in order to develop this skill a child needs to daydream and have exposure to good fantasy.
On the other hand, Colleen  at Sunrise Learning Lab gave me some great advice concerning Ian's fantasy interests, in order to:

... do things like have him work on topics that are related to his imaginary play, such as real space info if he likes Buzz Lightyear, or real information on cowboys and horses if he is a fan of Woody.
I think I must wait for Ian to get a bit older to introduce themes like that, but that is the direction I want to take in the future. For now, here is what I am doing : I am finding out what Ian absolutely LOVES, following my child and using his interests to create works. At this moment, he is drawn to the fantasy figures from books and movies then, this week I included objects related with the movies "Nemo", "Cars", "Toy Story" and "Thomas the Tank Engine" to create activities and, Ian could not resist them! I think Ian knows what is real and what isn't, that the characters are pretend and he is just having fun with them.

Before presenting the activities Ian did this week, I want to confess something: my camara broke in the middle of the week and at first I felt depressed. I've been taking photos to Ian since he was born, but since I started blogging, photographing him has become such a "must" to illustrate my posts. Ian seems to be used to it and I thought I was not disturbing him while he was working; but, just now since I don't have a camera I've noticed he enjoys it more when I observe and support him. I have had time to observe him and  it really makes a great difference. This week I gave Ian complete freedom to decide when and what work to do and we both enjoyed it. Great sign! Great lesson!

Having said that, let's check out what Ian did at homeschool this week.

Practical Life

Slotted spoon. As using a sifter was difficult for Ian, I got him to attempt using a slotted spoon to separate flat marbles from a bowl filled with rice and then transfer them to another bowl. I put the flat marbles on the top of the rice to ease Ian's work. It took some time for Ian to catch the right motion and finally he learnt to spoon superficially the rice because if he spooned too much rice, the spoon became heavy and more difficult to shake. I liked how he understood the purpose of the activity. He was very observant to be sure that no rice grains fell into the bowl with the flat marbles or on the tray. When that occurred he grasped the grains and put back into the rice bowl.

Usando una espumadera para separar canicas
planas y arroz

Cutting and sticking paper with adhesive tape. Lately he's been focused on cutting the tape from the dispenser by himself. We have tape strips stuck everywhere in our house. I printed and cut diverse figures of animals to teach Ian how to stick paper using the tape, but he did not get the idea of where to place the tape to adhere the figure to the paper and lost interest quickly. This week I printed and cut figures from the  "Toy Story" movie and I got him so focused that he did cut the tape from the dispenser and placed the tape through the figures ... well, he placed too many strips but it was good practice. Look how proud he was admiring his work. Now we have the figures stuck on the wall :-)

Cortando cinta scotch del porta cinta y pegando figuritas

Spooning. Spooning was never a task that Ian enjoyed. To give him spooning practice at mealtime I put the food in bowls and provided him with different kinds of spoons to let him serve it on his plate. Honestly, I thought that after that practice, he would not need to do spooning activities. In order to prove it, I set up the first spooning activity, it is from bowl to bowl, but again he was not interested. So, I changed one bowl for a ice-cube tray and got Ian's attention. I could see the broader purpose of the activity (as all the Montessori activities). It is not just to get the ability to transfer objects with a spoon, but to develop eye hand coordination, concentration and order. I could see that Ian's gotten better at this but needs more work. Well, although it is not a favorite activity he does it once a day. He is learning not to use his non-dominant hand to make the task easier. At first he did not care about where and how many marbles he put on the tray; now he is very attentive looking for one empty space (he does not do it sequentially yet) and when one marble falls into a filled space he spoons it and moves to an empty one.

Usando una cuchara para transferir canicas planas
a una cubetera de hielo, una por una


Sorting erasers. Sorting is another activity Ian hardly has interest in. I've been looking for real-life objects that could be attractive for Ian and finally I found erasers with figures from the movie "Cars" (that Ian's never seen). I bought four sets of four figures and set up a tray with four dot stickers to guide Ian where to place each group. He got the idea very quickly and completed the full cycle of the activity (he rarely reverses the process) and starts over and over again. As part of the activity, he must also pile the eraser of each group and he was very careful to get them perfectly aligned.

Clasificando y apilando borradores con figuritas de
la pelicula "Cars"

Size discrimination. We have the Pink Tower, but Ian does not work very often with it. So, I am trying convensional methods to help Ian develop his visual discrimination of size, through the manipulation of pairs of objects with different sizes. As he is still enjoying the magnet tray I set up for him two weeks ago, I just placed the objects in the tray for Ian to gather them with the magnet and match it with the corresponding picture. At first, he paired the objects without considering the size of the picture, but now he seems more attentive to do this.

Atrayendo objetos con un iman, discriminando forma
y tamaño para emparejarlos con su correspondiente

Texture balloons.  I saw this idea in Chasing Cheerios and waited for Ian to get interest in sensorial activities to put them out. I filled four balloons with different substances (chickpeas, lentils, flaxseeds and flour) and let Ian squeeze them to stimulate his tactile awareness of diverse grades of grain. Later, I will put out another set of balloons (filled with the same substances) for Ian to find the matching pairs.

Explorando granularidad a travez del tacto con globos
rellenos con garbanzos, lentejas, linaza y harina

Matching picture-objects. I found a set of 12 plastic tropical reef fish and I knew Ian would love them, especially because they include a clownfish (like "Nemo"). The fish came in a plastic box with 12 compartments, perfect for exercises of transferring objects one at a time and one-to-one correspondence. I thought that Ian would examine the details of each fish, so I printed images of them (scanning the fish was easier than getting pictures off the Internet) and put them in the compartments. I thought that 12 fish might be too much for Ian, but he definitely has periods where he is attentive to "small details" and he enjoys checking each detail of the fish and looking for its place.

Emparejando peces tropicales con su imagen


One-to-one correspondence. I stuck a long strip of tape on the floor, wrote numbers 1-to-10 and got Ian to park each of his trains sequentially in each numbered spot.

Correspondencia uno-a-uno: estacionando cada uno
de sus trencitos en un estacionamiento (numerado)


Emotions.  I want Ian to learn how to identify and communicate his emotions and our first approach was know the different ways he can feel. He likes the book  The Way I Feel, the emotions presented in words and pictures include: silly, scared, disappointed, happy, sad, angry, thankful, frustrated, shy, bored, excited, jealous, and proud.  He is not very interested in the text so much, but in the pictures and names of the feelings and especially in making faces to represent each of them.

Representando y nombrando distintos sentimientos
 ilustrados en el libro The Way I Feel

I am sharing this post on One Hook Wonder where you can see other toddlers learning according to the Montessori Method.


  1. Bravo! What a wonderful week Ian had. Looks like loads of fun while learning.

  2. Great activities!! Ian looks very focus in his activities.

  3. Sandy, antes que nada quiero agradecerte por tomarte la molestia de poner el comentario en español después de las fotos, sobre todo porque esta máquina se vuelve muy torpe con el traductor. Muchas Gracias.
    Te digo que tu blog me encanta, me das muchas ideas, estas últimas actividades me han gustado mucho. Increíble todo lo que les ponemos a hacer!!!
    La cubetera de hielos me ha resultado realmente muy útil, ahí mi peque ordena y clasifica, una de las actividades que le encanta es con nueces, ayer le dimos un giro y las acomodó con pinzas pequeñas y de plástico, de las que se usan para pan. Añadiré tu actividad a las que ya hace.
    Un gusto leerte
    Saludos a Ian que siempre luce muy guapo en las fotos

  4. I am so glad that I discovered your blog! You have got some amazing activities, and it sounds like your son Ian is a LOT like my son! My son is similarly obsessed with Cars and Toy Story. I've also had trouble getting mine to sit still for any "work" activities, focusing more on the "play". YOur activities look perfect for this!

  5. Hola Sandy! Sí nosotras vivimos en México y por lo que voy investigando sí hay algunas familias que hacen homeschooling aquí, de hecho formo parte de un grupo llamado Homeschooling México, es un foro donde encuentras un montón de padres que te auxilian y comparten su experiencia, en realidad son muy afectuosos y solidarios, también hacen excursiones en muchos estados, tal vez te interesa unirte, sólo da click en la barra lateral derecha en los sitios que leo en "homeschooling México" o al final de la página, debajo de los videos, a un lado de los seguidores está la insignia de HM también puedes dar click ahí y puedes unirte, seguro lo encuentras interesante. Yo vivo en la ciudad, dónde vives tú??
    Sobre la receta de la masa es plastilina casera con harina y sal, la receta la puedes encontrar en la etiqueta de plastilina o en el archivo de blog en junio. Sino me dices y te la enlazo. Con el royal o bicarbonato se infla un poco y los cuadros ya no lo parecen tanto pero sigue siendo muy interesante, ellos se acuerdan de que era un cuadrado. Un gusto saber de ti...

  6. What a great post! I just love reading your blog because it always gives me so many ideas for Pita Pocket. ;) Thanks for linking up to Montessori Monday!

  7. err...make that Toddler Tuesday!!



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