Updated learning space

I’ve spent some time this week decluttering and reorganising our little home-ed area in the front room.

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This used to be a boring corkboard with a wooden frame. I’ve never really liked it but rather than throwing it out I decided to have a go at upcyling it with some hessian. Much better!

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I got rid of a lot of our art and craft stuff because it simply wasn’t being used. The bottom shelf is now home to books and workbooks for subjects other than maths and English. The magazine file contains posters and free resource packs from various organisations that we have collected over the years.

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This shelf unit holds all our maths manipulatives, books and games. On the top we’ve made a little nature table area and will use the wooden dish to display our finds.

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Our light panel loose parts were previously jumbled together in one big box, so I’ve sorted them into smaller containers to make them more accessible. We use them for English and maths as well as for play. The bottom two shelves of this shelf unit are for our English resources.

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I stayed away from reward systems for a long time but Aaron seems to respond well to them. We’ve been using these mini jars for a few months to collect glass nuggets, which are awarded for completing work and for good behaviour. They can be exchanged for a treat when the jar is full.

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At some point in the next few days I’ll be posting about our plan for the autumn term.

Curriculum and resources 2014/15

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I can’t believe it’s November already, this post has been in my drafts folder since August! I always enjoy reading about what resources other home educators are using, so I thought I would share some of our curriculum for this year.

Bible

We begin our morning by reading a lesson from Leading Little Ones to God. Each lesson includes a Bible story, questions to talk about, memory verse, suggested Bible reading, hymn and prayer. We are also using the free character lessons from Kids of Integrity.

Handwriting

We are still working through Scholastic Literacy Skills: Handwriting Reception-Year 2.  Tabitha loves writing her name and other words, so my focus for her will be learning the correct letter formations, whilst Aaron is showing an interest in joined up writing and needs to focus on neatness. Other handwriting resources include sandpaper letters, wipe-clean workbooks, pegboards and tablet apps.

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Reading

Aaron reads aloud to me either from Biff, Chip and Kipper books or from his Minecraft handbooks. He also uses an app to practise high frequency words. Tabitha knows most of her letter names and sounds, as I discovered a while ago at a visit to the optician. She is also starting to decode some CVC words, so we are using the level one Biff, Chip and Kipper books and Montessori pink series materials alongside other resources. I may resubscribe to Reading Eggs at some point, although I wish they did monthly subscriptions as the children tend to lose interest after a while.

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Maths

As usual, a lot of our maths learning is what I like to call “conversational maths”. We discuss mathematical concepts and problems as we come across them in everyday, real life situations. We also use the materials from our maths shelves for various activities, challenges and games. Aaron uses Komodo on the computer or tablet to practise mental arithmetic. Tabitha hasn’t done much formal maths yet but has a good grasp of numbers, so I have introduced some of the Montessori maths activities to her. She also enjoys doing maths workbooks. We will continue using Miquon Math with our Cuisenaire rods, although we haven’t done any for a while as our printer is playing up and I can’t print out the lab sheets. Aaron has lost interest in the orange book lab sheets, so I have decided to leave it and skip straight onto the red book which will hopefully be more challenging for him.

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Science

Until now, we haven’t done much formal science. Plenty of time outside in nature and lots of inquisitive questions have allowed us to cover the basics informally. However, last week I decided to try out AIG’s God’s Design for Science curriculum, starting with The World of Plants, The World of Animals and The Human Body. We will be able to combine many of the lessons with nature study and additional hands-on activities.

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Other subjects

Colin usually has Fridays off, so we do a four day week and keep Fridays and Saturdays free for days out. Bible, handwriting, reading, maths and science doesn’t take much more than an hour or so each day, as many of our activities are only 5-10 minutes long. That leaves the rest of the day free for play, outings or other subjects such as art, music, French, geography and history. I have no formal plan for other subjects and we tend to cover them in blocks depending on what else is going on. For example, at the moment we are learning about Paris because my parents are on holiday there and the First World War because Remembrance Day is coming up.

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A budget alternative to Montessori bead material

One of the features that often draws people to Montessori is the way she used concrete materials to help young children understand complicated abstract mathematical concepts. The bead material is an essential part of this, but it can be very confusing if you are not familiar with it. In this post I am going to give a brief overview of the Montessori bead material and also discuss a cheaper alternative that can be used for many but not all of the same lessons. I hope it will be useful for anyone considering using Montessori maths materials.

The golden bead material comes in single unit beads, ten bars, hundred squares and thousand cubes. These are used for decimal quantity, formation of numbers, changing, addition, multiplication, subtraction and division (this site is a good place to read about the five groups of exercises).

Golden Beads

Wooden base ten sets like this are available for about a third of the price of the equivalent golden bead material and can be used in exactly the same way. We bought our set from Tower High Learning because it contained ten hundred squares and ten ten-bars, whereas other sets I have seen only contain nine of each. It also came with one hundred unit cubes rather than just ten.

Base Ten

Coloured bead bars consists of bars of 1-10 beads with each number represented by a different colour. These are used with ten-bars to teach teen and tens quantity and multiplication tables.

Coloured Bead Bars

Cuisenaire Rods are the perfect size to be used with a base ten set instead of coloured bead bars. Obviously the colours are different to the traditional Montessori colours, but this would only be a problem if a child was going to be using both. Cuisenaire no longer seem to sell the wooden ones on their website, but they are available via Learning Resources.

Cuisenaire Rods

The ten different bead bars also come in short chains and squares (which represent the number squared) and long chains and cubes (which represent the number cubed). These are used for linear counting and skip counting.

Bead Material

There isn’t really an easy alternative to the bead chains, squares and cubes. There are enough bars in the base ten set to lay out a short bead “chain” for 10, although they wouldn’t actually be linked together. The Cuisenaire starter set contains enough pieces for short and long chains for 2 and 3 and a short chain for 4, but not enough for the other numbers. However, it would be fairly easy to make homemade number lines for skip counting and the squares and cubes seem to be used less than the other bead material anyway.

A set of golden beads for decimal work and a set of several bead stairs will cost about £100. The equivalent in a base ten set and a set of Cuisenaire rods will cost about £40. Neither of these options contain enough components to do every variation of every lesson and game (for example, in both cases you are limited by having only one thousand cube), but they do cover most of the maths bead activities. To put it into context, purchasing the complete bead material would cost over £1000, which is obviously well out of the budget of most home educators!

The advantage of buying proper Montessori bead material is that you can add to it gradually over time and it will all be compatible. There isn’t really any way to reduce the limitations of the base ten and Cuisenaire rods alternative, other than doubling up on sets, in which case I would probably opt for the bead material anyway. However, the obvious advantage is that they are much cheaper and I personally think that they are an excellent alternative for anyone wanting to use Montessori’s brilliant concrete methods for understanding maths concepts without buying lots of expensive equipment.