Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lesson Planning and Montessori

I have spent the last couple of weeks researching and planning lessons for the next term. In this respect, Montessori is the complete opposite of what I want. I like to make a plan and then make another plan on how to go about completing the first plan... I like to have timelines of when each part of the plan should be finished...

To help me cope with my transition to Montessori, I am making plans. Frustratingly, I can't set dates for when and how Nikki will master each lesson, and I refuse to try for fear of subconsciously rushing him to do what I think he should be doing. So, I am focusing my planning energy into writing lesson scripts and presentation orders, and researching all the subjects I want to cover and roughly when I want to do so.

I find that writing a 'lesson script' is a great way of focusing on the Montessori way of teaching. If I write out word for word what I want to say at each stage of a presentation, how I want to answer all the questions I think might happen and how I want to help Nikki with self-correction, I am much more able to keep a Montessori mindset when I am working with Nikki. I don't necessarily follow what I have written to the letter, but having thought it out so precisely makes me far less likely to turn into the nagging, correcting teacher that my own school experiences tell me is 'normal'.

Because we have little space, and Nikki seems to loose interest in the materials when he has too much choice, a part of my planning is also focusing on what materials to have out when. I plan to rotate materials and only have two or three on the shelf in each area at any time. I am trying to work out what order to present the sensorial work - all other areas have a fairly obvious progression, but all the sensorial bits we have are things he is ready to be presented. For now, I am going to try and offer similar activities in rotation (ie. pink tower or brown stair; knobbed or knobless cylinders) - at least until he is ready to do the work that combines materials. Hopefully, once term begins and we are able to keep a more steady routine, he will build his focus and interest and I won't have to keep taking the materials away when he starts pretending they are guns or telescopes or violins...

I'm also researching other topics - I want to be prepared for when I eventually introduce science, geography, art etc. to Nikki. I want to know what materials I need, what I can make and what I want to save up for. I am also really interested in giving Nikki the spiritual foundation I wish I had grown up with and when I started looking for a Montessori approach to do so, I found Godly Play. I have absolutely fallen in love with the concept and want to buy the material sets even more than I would love a full-sized Montessori classroom stocked with Nienhuis materials... well, almost!

So, this is what I have been doing instead of blogging! Plans within plans within plans - I might even follow some of them... 

Linking up to Montessori Mondays

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Nikki can now 'skate' confidently and unaided on a flat surface. It still looks a lot like walking, but his confidence has increased so much!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Summer's nearly over and Nikki has finally grown enough to enjoy the balance bike he got for Christmas...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Picking Apples

There is a page in one of Nikki's favourite Russian books which shows a man up a ladder, picking apples. We read this book every night and he has almost memorized it. Whenever he sees the man up the ladder he shouts "kak Kolya's" (he mixes his grammar a little) and points with glee to his climbing frame.

I thought that I might play on this connection to encourage him to climb the ladder - it is still very much a challenge and thus he is reluctant to try most days.

Yesterday, I placed a wooden apple at the top of the ladder and told Nikki he had to pick it, like in the story. Once he had a reason to climb, he was up that ladder in a shot (a slow and careful shot...) and 'picked' his apple with a big grin on his face.

The apple in the 'tree'

Reaching up...

Apple Picked!

Now I can encourage him to climb his ladder at least twice each day. He has become so confident in the last couple of days that he is willing to try and climb down the ladder, too! Before, he has simply let go and let me 'jump' him down.

Just a note to say that I was still holding on while taking the pic of him up the ladder! He never uses the climbing frame unsupervised!

Linking up to Montessori Mondays

An Olympic Day Out

I applied for tickets to the Olympics when they first came out, but wasn't given any. Once it was possible to actually buy any tickets, the prices had tripled and the cheapest (about £60/seat if I remember rightly) were gone in a flash. When I looked to buy for events that I would have enjoyed watching, the cheapest available tickets were £170! Not a chance!

It turns out that it was probably for the best - security checks meant you had to be there 2 hours before the time slot for your ticket. It would have been a very long and expensive day out.

We decided to go to one of the free events - the women's marathon swim in Hyde Park. For the cost of the train fare and a picnic lunch, we got to experience a little bit of the atmosphere and see GB miss out on a medal by less than a second. 

The night before, I made Nikki a new cape. The old felt one is going to be recycled, since it is really too hot and heavy to wear for the designed purpose of running around in. So, in a fit of patriotism, I made this:

Team GB Cape

What made it a peaceful and enjoyable day out for all is that Nicholas was not confined to a seat for the 2 hour race - my mum kept our spot and watched the race and we ran in the park with Uncle Harry until the swimmers were getting near, returning to watch them go past (the only bit Nikki was interested in).

Chasing Uncle Harry in Hyde Park

We went into the venue shop in the park and met one of the mascots.

 We also got to see a gold medal, as one of our rowers was doing a photo signing - unfortunately we were just behind the last people allowed to actually meet him.

Before we went home, we had to check out the gold post box in Westminster. 


Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Most of the programs Nikki watches are in Russian. He does get to choose what he wants to watch, but I try and encourage a Russian choice as it is by far his weaker language (he is consistently using 2-word phrases and occasional 3-word sentences) and I want to squeeze in as much as I can.

We watch several things, including a Russian audio version of Ni Hao Kai Lan (bonus Chinese phrases!), a lot of old Soviet cartoons and a couple of interesting educational programs. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of quality programs made for kids recently - they prefer to dub English and American programs. Most of the time, they don't bother to mute the English language track and if I struggle to follow either audio track properly, I can only imagine the confusion it would cause Nikki. 

Finally, we found a fantastic Russian-made program - Fixiki. There are short 5-minute cartoons, songs with animation and fact-clips. The main heroes are tiny 'people' who live in our houses and fix problems with technology. Each episode tells about the history of an object or how it works. They are full of interesting facts but short, simple and entertaining enough to make good toddler-viewing!

What's more, it is available free on Youtube and you can see their whole collection on their Russian site here. Below is one of Nikki's absolute favourite songs...

Friday, August 3, 2012

Learning Music, part 2

Little Musician has dramatically increased Nikki's interest in all things music. I am quietly ignoring his violin obsession (and hoping it will go away!) if for no other reason that there are no Suzuki violin teachers in my area, and lessons and instrument are not cheap. Instead, we will be focusing on general music skills and playing the keyboard/piano.

Now, I was intending to get Nikki a keyboard for his last birthday, since he was showing a lot of musical interest even then and I figured it wouldn't hurt for him to have something to play 'real' music. I was thrilled when I found a keyboard plus piano-learning software designed for kids on ebay for less than the cost of the keyboard I was looking at.

That software is called Piano Wizard. We tried it, but Nikki shows no interest in anything more than playing random keys. My ten-year-old brother enjoys it and played a couple of simple tunes with both hands in less than an hour, but it is not really toddler-friendly.

The software I have been longing for is Soft Mozart. This one is definitely todder friendly - it is designed for use from age 2! It is not cheap. I've been saving for the year subscription since last year (it will be Nikki's birthday present) but from what I have seen it will be worth it, and the subscription-fee counts as a reduction from the full price.

While we wait to get the software, I downloaded a couple of free things from their site. Nikki and I have been learning our do-re-mi's with Little Musician, so I thought he would enjoy the solfege flashcards. I also downloaded the song to go with them. 

Learning the Do-Re-Mi song

For the first couple of days, Nikki was having a bit of trouble with where to point as we were going up and down the scale (he seemed to think bashing along the edge of the table counted) so I made these felt mats to help him. The colours are the same as the ones used in Little Musician to help him make the association.

Linking up to Montessori Mondays

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Learning Music part 1

We've been doing a lot of music this week. Music has always been something I've wanted to do with Nikki, but since I haven't really learnt anything music-related since giving up the violin at age 11 (I scraped past my Grade 1 exam) I don't really have the skills to teach him  more than note-sounds on the bells or xylophone.

When I realised that Little Musician had finally been released, I was thrilled. From what I had heard from discussions during beta-testing it was just what I needed to offer Nicholas a more rounded music education.

We started on the trial Monday and I am speechless. It is so much better than I hoped. Most importantly, Nicholas loves it. He asks to watch the lesson many many times in a day. I try and keep it down to 2 or 3.

The whole lesson for each day lasts around 5 minutes and is split into many parts:

Chord Recognition - a chord is played, named and then sung in solfege. This is repeated for two chords.

Solfege - the note sounds and solfege names (do re me etc.) are taught for three different notes.

Note Sounds - a simple scale is played.

Musical Knowledge - either three instruments are introduced, including the sound and how they are played, or pictures of three composers are shown while one of their famous compositions plays.

Music Appreciation - an excerpt from a famous classical piece.

Clap-Along Rhythm Lessons - Nikki's absolute favourite. A nursery rhyme tune (so far we have seen Mary had a Little Lamb and the ABC song) is played while an animated baby claps the rhythm.

At the introduction to each section, Nikki announces 'I like... !' He happily sings the notes that are played, and enjoys listening to all the music.

I've decided its worth investing in the full version - I think Nikki would melt down if the trial ended and he couldn't have any more! I really like the program: it is fun, quick and full of information with a year's worth of lessons pre-loaded (the software and lessons are both for life).

There is a free 14-day trial available for Little Musician at the Brillkids website. If you are thinking of buying, please use my code to get a 10% discount! BKAFF49125

This post has turned out a lot longer than I anticipated, so I'll write about our other musical adventures separately...