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Developing Letter-Sound Knowledge: Montessori Sandpaper Letters

Learning the visual appearance of each letter in English and the sounds that each letter makes is an essential beginning step towards literacy. In the Montessori approach, we do a huge array of spoken language activities with the children to prepare them for writing and reading (see our many other blog posts on spoken language for more information). But we have one primary tool for teaching children the shapes of each letter and their individual sounds: the sandpaper letters.

Note: If you don’t own a set of sandpaper letters, you can make them yourself using our downloadable template.

The Presentation

As shown in the video, the general approach to the sandpaper letters is to choose 3 or 4 letters (depending on the interests and abilities of the child), show them how to trace a letter, say its sound, and then say a few words that feature that sound.

April 09, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Why are we staying home? A free e-book for children

ma stay at home book

Montessori teacher Angela Ma (Follow the Child Montessori, Raleigh, NC) has written a lovely picture book for you to share with your children. Ms. Ma offers a simple yet elegant explanation (with gorgeous illustrations) of why so many of us are home-bound during this pandemic. She has made it available free for anyone to download.

Here's what Ms. Ma has to say about her motivation for writing this story:

"I wrote this social story, complete with a drawing of my own adorable family, to offer a simple explanation for the reason we're all staying-at-home. Presenting a perspective of helpfulness and community empowers our young children to feel a sense of agency and connection. When we enter back into the community on the other side of this global experience, the opportunity to focus on social solidarity may likely have a more positive and protective impact on our children’s sense of security and well-being. I hope it is helpful to families who are looking for ways to support their children through this experience."

Print it out, bind it with ribbon, and read often! Then, inspire your children to make their own books about things that are important to them. Win-win!

March 30, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Language Activities for the Unexpected Homeschooler

If you are looking for ways to help guide your child in the Montessori method from home, here are some quick and simple activities you can try. These should be of interest to children from around ages 3 to 6 years. Adapt your pace to match your tongue twisterschild’s interest and abilities. Keep in mind that we always want the child to think that they are too smart for the work, not that the work is too hard for them. When they witness themselves succeeding, their self-confidence will grow.

Spoken Language Activities

Recite poems together, rhyming or otherwise. Start with shorter ones and encourage memorization (try to memorize them yourself before asking your child to). Sing songs together. Recite tongue twisters and try to say them fast!

March 26, 2020 by Julia Volkman

The Perfect Apron

Perfect Montessori Apron

matching placemats for montessori apronsWhen I visit classrooms, one of the common challenges the adult's face is finding or making the perfect apron. We want our aprons to be color-coded to match each of our ever-changing practical life activities. We want them to fit all of the children in our environment, from the petite 2.5 year-old to the towering 6 year-old, from the little heads to the rather large heads and/or hair styles. We want them to be washable and water-resistant. And we want them to have matching table/floor mats so that it is clear which items belong with which activity. In short, we want perfection!

But what about independence? Should the aprons be able to be used independently by everyone in the room or should they offer opportunities to practice different fastening techniques and/or solicit assistance from other children? What is the right level of fastener challenge? In short, how do we create an apron that is attractive, effective, a mode of activity (purposeful work in and of itself), and that the children can put-on properly (no arm elastics scrunched up on the shoulders or straps hanging off the sides)?

February 23, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Action Research in Your Classroom

research chartThe recent bloom of published research from Montessori environments has been inspiring. Following the groundbreaking work of Angeline Lillard, we have the launch of the Journal of Montessori Research. On top of this, there are a growing number of graduate students undertaking Montessori-related research projects for their theses and dissertations. This is all most excellent news for the Montessori movement!

If you’d like to take a peek at what is already out there, go to scholar.google.org and search for Montessori. If you exclude patents and citations, you’ll get over 150,000 results! If you further refine your search to just what’s published in the past 4 years, you’ll still get nearly 17,000 results! Get a nice cup of tea and browse through the titles you see to get a sense of what is happening. Click through and read some abstracts. Then, start to think about what you might study in your own environment.

Here are the big picture steps involved in conducting your own action research:

  1. Identify your focus/interest
  2. “Muck about” to see what’s already known
  3. Define your research question
  4. Get Approval/Support
  5. Design your study/data collection/assessment tools
  6. Conduct the study/collect data
  7. Organize your results
  8. Analyze your findings
  9. Adjust and start again or share/repeat

Read on for details!

January 13, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Books we love

My dear friend Susan Banon* went through great pains to put together a list of books that she could recommend for families (in English and French). She collaborated with me and other Anglophones/Francophones and together we all came up with the results listed below. Of course, there are so many more books that we could recommend; it would be impossible to give you a finite list. Instead, we just wanted to wet your whistle and get you started.

Read on for the full list!

January 06, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Guiding Wild Preschoolers

Preschooler dissatisfactionSometimes the children in our classrooms seem about as far away from our vision of the Montessori “normalized” child as they can get! Don’t worry. The potential to concentrate and manifest peace is actually there within every child (and adult). Here are a few quick points to help you remain calm and be helpful if you find yourself with a room full of firecrackers.

Key points to remember

First, in the preschool years executive functions (like inhibitory control, or inhibiting unskillful actions) are just developing. Children don’t arrive at school with their self-regulation all in place. A large part of our work in the preschool years is to help children develop the capacity to regulate their own behavior. We do this by teaching them how to follow a logical sequence, respond to natural consequences (e.g., spilling water and cleaning it up), be kind with others, etc. So, if you are seeing lots of challenging behavior, it could just be normal development. They may need more time immersed in an environment of Freedom with Limits and opportunities to concentrate.

November 08, 2019 by Julia Volkman

Handwriting in the Montessori Early Childhood Classroom

In Dr. Montessori’s writings, she speaks of an “explosion” into writing. The children spontaneously discovered that they knew how to write and started writing every word, everywhere. But, she insists that she never taught them how to write, she just prepared them to write, indirectly.

But in many Montessori classrooms, you'll find all kinds of handwriting worksheets and programs that have nothing to do with Dr. Montessori's successful indirect plan. Let me give you a brief overview of this indirect preparation and also a specific description of how we introduce the recording process. May it encourage you to clear off the clutter on your shelves and return to the basics of what Dr. Montessori gave us.

PS: Thank you to Jenay Boggs for the lovely chalkboard photos!

June 10, 2019 by Julia Volkman

Black Outline Masters

People are asking all the time to get copies of the black & white outline masters for our "Parts of" cards. But, the problem is you won't find them in our products anymore. Why not?
March 27, 2019 by Julia Volkman

Tips for the Start of School

The start of school is upon us. We’re either already with our class full of glorious little souls or we’re just about to meet them. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind during these critical first few weeks of school.

First, if the children haven’t started yet, do your best to get every child in for a visit before the first day (see our Preschool Orientation blog post for details). If you can’t get them in, give their families a call to touch base and introduce yourself.

August 07, 2018 by Julia Volkman