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Montessori in a Dene Kindergarten – Montessori in a Dene Grade One Classroom

Fruits of my labour, what was I thinking?

Posted by mrsmelva on 06/01/2012

After I wrote the last post, I looked at it again and began to wonder about the title, which I had written when I started the post in November. It really didn’t seem to relate to the content of the post. Then I remembered. I was referring to the way the students conducted themselves, managed their behaviour and were very responsible with all of the materials and tools throughout the project. All but one of the students had been in my kindergarten class the year before. In kindergarten I had tried to implement Montessori philosophy and principles as much as possible. I think that this really contributed to the way the students worked throughout the unit. I saw a lot of collaboration and sharing of ideas, sharing of materials and great care taken throughout the unit. Students helped each other, worked independently and in small, self-selected, flexible groups. moved around the classroom with care, returned unused materials so that others could use them, cleaned up spills and messes, and learned a lot about the objects and materials they were using. The neat thing was that, although I was very interested in teaching this unit, when the other grade one teachers were a bit reluctant, and we had very little to go on, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, I followed the child (the key to Montessori education) when a student asked if they could make snowmen like this one:

This is the snowman that inspired the main work for the science unit Objects and Materials. Interestingly, none of the children's finished products looked like this, but they were inspired, learned a lot and were very proud of their creations.

I definitely reaped the fruits of my labour with the students the year before, developing independent learning skills, strong relationships and building a classroom atmosphere of trust and responsibility. An open ended project like this with so many opportunities for messy accidents was actually fun to teach and relatively easy to do since the foundation had already been built.


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Fruits of my Labour

Posted by mrsmelva on 02/01/2012

I have been so busy trying to wrap my head around the new grade 1 curricula and the chopped up scheduling that accompanies it that although I think about posting here, most nights I collapse in the recliner with the t.v. remote in my hand. On weekends I am busy at school trying to make sense of it all, keep my head above water and my students meaningfully engaged. In science we have a new unit to teach entitled using objects and materials. Because it is a new unit, we have an empty resource tub. None of the other grade one teachers wanted to tackle it so I volunteered.The unit is called Using Objects and Materials and is very open ended. I have a decorative snowman that lights up that was given to me by a friend last year. It was sitting on a shelf (not on display, just sitting waiting to be properly positioned) when a student asked if they could make a snowman like that. She got my wheels turning and a project was born.

I gave each child a balloon and we stretched them and then blew them up. These balloons had been in storage for a while, so some of them tore before filling with air. Eventually everyone blew up his/her balloon and most managed to tie the knots themselves, and I helped a few with tying. After tying the balloons the students stapled a strip of cardstock to make a ring to stand the balloons on and then began to cover them with yarn dipped in glue. On our first try we diluted the glue with water, but it didn’t work so I added straight glue after school without disturbing the students’ work, and told them about it the next day. After that we used straight glue.

blowing the balloon was successful, now the tricky tying bit

The students worked very carefully and with great concentration. Surprisingly, there really wasn’t much mess. They selected and cut their own yarn, and poured their first lot of glue. While they worked I came by and refilled the glue as needed in order to allow them to work without having to get up.

first yarn on the balloon

The balloons drying the first day, with the dluted glue all dripped onto the trays, just after I added the straight glue to reinforce them so that the afternoon's work wouldn't be wasted

When I discovered that the diluted glue was not holding, I considered just leaving the mess until the next day for the students to discover and discuss the problem, but since we had spent an entire afternoon on the project and would not have much time the next day due to an assembly, I decided to add the straight glue, but to explain what I had done to the children. I also considered the fact that they would be covering a second balloon when making this decision.On the first day, I assisted the students with making the stands and operating the stapler. For the second day, I basically just set out the stuff and let them go to it! They did me proud.

concentration required to hold the rolled cardstock and operate the stapler

success - ready for the yarn and glue

choosing and cutting yarn

The second day was interesting because the students were so independent and we had a few who were starting at the beginning because they had missed the first day. The others were quick to explain to them what to do.

The students noticed that their hands got a lot stickier using the undiluted glue.

A creative solution to the sticky hands problem; get the principal to do your work for you!

After both balloon sections were dried we popped and removed the balloons and took the hardened yarn balls off the cardboard stands. We discussed how to put the two balls together and decided on hot glue. The tutor assisted the children with using the hot glue gun.

cutting glue hardened yarn is quite a challenge for small hands

careful concentration is required when using a hot glue gun

We kept a bowl of cold water next to the glue gun in case of accidents. Yes, there were a few, but not many and not serious. Having the cold water handy helped prevent injury. When it was time to decorate the snowmen, I put out a wide selection of objects and materials, staplers, tape, white glue, hot glue gun and glue sticks. The students were free to choose decoration materials and to experiement with the best ways to attach the materials. For decoration  put out yarn, a variety of fabrics, sequins and spangles, googly eyes, coloured paper, craft foam, pipe cleaners, pom poms, buttons and small pieces of wood. The children had great ideas and willingly shared their ideas and sticking techniques with each other.

work in progress, the shiny fabric was very popular, despite being tricky to cut

despite the fact that his snowman collapsed a bit, this student got very involved in decorating and was proud of his accomplishment

glue stick, tape and white glue wouldn't hold, now it's time for the glue gun

collaborative cutting

will it stick?

one of the finished snowmen

We put battery operated tea lights in the snowmen and used them to decorate the tables for our Christmas dinner. Unfortunately I didn’t get any useable pictures of them on the tables. Each one was unique and the students learned a lot while doing the project. For assessment I used my observations while they worked, a video tape interview with each child and a simple written test. For one part of the test they had to choose and glue on items to match vocabulary words from the unit, and I provided items that could fit more than one category. They did very well on that part of the test although a few were confused between soft and shiny, when I talked to them about their answers. If they were not clearly correct I asked them about their choices to try and understand what they were thinking. The project took a long time, but it was very worthwhile. The students learned a lot, and handled themselves, the materials and the tools very well.

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New Year, Back to Blogging

Posted by mrsmelva on 02/01/2012

I have neglected this blog for a long time for a variety of reasons. This year I am teaching a k-1 split class. I enjoyed my year of grade one, but I am a kindergarten teacher at heart. When I began unpacking some of the kindergarten items I had packed away, a great sense of peace came over me. I started to write a post in November, but did not finish it. It was about a science project I did last year with my grade ones. I have updated it today and will post it as the start of my return to blogging regularly, hopefully at least once a week. Some posts will be from this year’s activities and some from last year’s.

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Preparing to Emerge

Posted by mrsmelva on 24/08/2010

As I was working in my classroom yesterday I decided to go to the bookroom to sign out some literacy center works. There are some works there that I was using at the end of the year with my kindergarten students that they can continue with as they start the new school year. When I got there, the literacy-numeracy catalyst teacher was very busy, creating huge piles of materials for each teacher. As a kindergarten teacher I did get some materials in this manner but I was somewhat overwhelmed by the amount on my pile for grade 1. Each time I took a load to the classroom, more materials were on the pile when I went back. Yikes, it really felt as if there was such an emphasis on the stuff that there was no room for the teacher! And where was I going to put it all?? I found shelves for the teacher resources and a tentative spot for the student readers – but not sure about that one. During my lunch break I read part of one of the teacher guides and decided that it wasn’t all bad – after all if I look at that sentence about so much stuff there’s no room for the teacher in a way that’s the Montessori philosophy, the prepared environment does the teaching, the teacher observes and prepares the environment (oversimplified, I know, but a nutshell summary). My challenge will be to work with this very traditional material and utilize it for the students’ learning in the best manner possible – not impossible, but not easy.

I was busy trying to sort through these resources and other stuff like that, so it doesn’t look like I did much at all. I did work on my two hallway bulletin boards. Last week my son helped me with one, we layered the paper for the entire year on the board and then I posted my list of students’ names. I will put a border on it before the students arrive, but other than that it will be blank, waiting for their work.

The layers are navy, purple, red, purple, and pink. These will carry me throughout the seasons of the year. Borders will be added and changed to suit the themes and work displayed. Student names are simply and clearly listed on the white paper.

For the other board, I wanted light blue for sky and the light blue paper had not arrived so I left it. When I went shopping on the weekend I purchased some light blue fabric for sky, some striped green for grass, and some light brown plaid for autumn grass. I already have white quilt batting for snow. This board will be a generic outdoor scene waiting for the students’ work. I put the student list on this board as well. The lists (which I blurred for privacy) are simply typed in a child friendly font, clear and easy to read for the first day when there will be many students and parents looking for the correct classrooms.

The blue sky actually covers the entire board, which then allowed me to simply cut the green and brown freehand without worrying about whether it would fit with the sky. The green is finely striped, I forgot to take a closeup of the green.

closeup of the brown plaid, I cut it and the green together so that they match. For winter I will layer the white quilt batting on top. In spring I will remove it and the brown to expose the green.

View of the board with the list of student names and waiting for borders.

Today I need to get focused and finish the set up of the room, and put away the things that I won’t be using right away. Kids will be there soon, to breathe life into the set up. I am preparing to emerge from my chrysalis as a Montessori based, child centered grade one teacher, but I think it will take a long time and a lot of pumping to prepare my wings for flight.

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Shopping Therapy = Feeling Optimistic

Posted by mrsmelva on 01/08/2010

Yesterday, while reading discussions on one of my Yahoo! groups (Discipline Without Stress, based on the work of Marvin Marshall)I found the story of Pete the Cat, about a cat who loves his nice white shoes, but when he steps in different coloured things, dirtying his shoes, he maintains a positive attitude and sings about loving his shoes of all colours. I then went to Amazon and ordered the book for my classroom, along with Montessori, the Science Beyond the Genius, and The Shack for my own learning and enjoyment. I woke up this morning feeling much more positive about the upcoming school year and got busy on my computer cleaning out a couple of overloaded file folders and making name tags for my students’ desks, supply tubs, coat hooks etc. I searched for some cute clip art to put on the name tags but suddenly thought, hmmn, some of these kids are eight already and might find cute pictures babyish, but some are still five and would like cute pictures; meeting the needs of all my students is going to be a challenge. My mind went back to the discipline area, especially as I was thinking about a couple of the older boys who have a bit of a history, and I want to be aware of that while starting off in a very positive manner with all students. I was searching through google images and up came the Circle of Courage which I have used in the past, and studied while doing my graduate research. This was the perfect image and will tie in very nicely with my proactive discipline plans for the year. I will combine the foundational values of the Circle of Courage, which reflect the traditional Dene values of my students, with the behaviour expectation levels of Discipline Without Stress as I teach classroom procedures and expectations at the start of school and throughout the year. I am feeling much more optimistic about the grade change and I will be truly challenged to follow the child with each student since there is such a wide range of ages and abilities. The smaller class size means that I will be able to spend more time with/observing each individual child. Like Pete the Cat with his many coloured shoes, I will have to change my tune and sing “I love teaching grade one!” I must “be the change I want to see” and model this positive attitude if I am to instill it in my students so that we all have a successful and rewarding school year.

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Is summer ending already?

Posted by mrsmelva on 31/07/2010

I just returned from a short but wonderful holiday. Our housesitter’s son played with my bedroom clock while we were gone. I woke up in the dark, checked the clock and it said 1:40, so I tried to go back to sleep. I tossed and turned for a while and checked the clock again, still 1:40 – so I decided to go to the living room and try using the t.v. to put me back to sleep. When I got to the t.v. I discovered that it was actually 4:25, and still dark! Yikes that means that the days are already substantially shorter, which means that fall is coming. That also means that I need to get into gear and whip my classroom into shape. Our holiday was fantastic, it involved a manicure & pedicure with my granddaughter, and then the Calgary Stampede, Calgary Zoo, a pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne, traveling through the rockies and visits with family and friends. We had our granddaughter with us for part of the trip and one of our grandsons for the entire trip. Our son, daughter in law, her parents and grandparents and of course, their two kids (the aforementioned granddaughter and her brother) , traveled with us for part of the trip. It was wonderful. We all stayed at my parents home for a few days. I did a lot of thinking about my classroom and the upcoming school year, but also a lot of relaxing. My laundry is done and after I mop the floors in my house I will be ready to get back into the classroom groove. Waking up early but finding it dark means that my body clock and the sun are trying to tell me something.

strawberry-watermelon arrangement I made for my grandson's 4th birthday

Calgary tower from the van window while at a stoplight

playground challenge at Mt. Robson

another playground challenge

Berry picking - the best patches are up high

we were not alone

beautiful bush country

My grandson, my dad and I went berry picking one morning. We got a good portion of wild raspberries and a few black caps. My grandson really enjoyed the ride up the mountain and seeing the cattle ranging through the bush.

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Shelf and Baby Steps

Posted by mrsmelva on 09/07/2010

Yesterday I did not feel like working at school, so in the morning I stayed home and puttered with my flowers and my dogs. Finally I bit the bullet and went to school, but once there I wandered down to the library and visited my niece for over an hour. Reluctantly, I forced myself to head to the classroom and was trying to get focused when one of the janitors came in and asked if I needed help – Yes! He unscrewed the shelf in the bootroom and we moved it in behind my door and he screwed it to the wall there for safety. This is the shelf that I’ve been waiting for to put art supplies on. Now the next logical step would have been to put the art supplies on the shelf, but if you know me you will know that I do not always do things in a logical manner. Other than loosely setting a couple of things there because they were in the way, I worked on the placement of the other shelves.

"new" art supply shelf behind the door

This shelf will help to keep the art supplies organized and accessible, and it will also prevent me from piling boxes in this spot! After the shelf was placed I turned the guided reading table and positioned a shelf for some literacy activities and the snack table. The shelf for literacy activities was tricky because I have an alphabet pocket chart on the back of it. I put it near the snack table and added a desk next to the snack table (sometimes the snack table was a little small last year). The desk will be for serving fruit, and it eliminates what would have become a walkway and would have resulted in the child working with the pocket chart being interrupted or stepped on. This is the snack serving table, the students will eat at the guided reading table or at their desks, depending on whether or not the table is in use for reading/group work.

snack serving table (pink) and desk, alphabet pocket chart, guided reading table

Next I brought in some chairs and decided that I needed to get some smaller desks, the advantage of already knowing the kids is that I know that some of them are quite short. I managed to trade 4 desks for shorter ones that are all the same height, so I have one shorter row in front. I also moved all the desks forward the width of one floor tile. That frees up a little more floor space for working. It is a bit tight at the front of the room with my chart stand, but workable and that will move later in the year when they install the Smartboard.

Art center shelves, with clean trays, and desks in the background

Next I positioned the art center shelves, the one on the right backs onto the snack area desk. The students will come and get a tray and the supplies that they need and then go to their desks or an area of floor to work. The desks are in the background.

Backing onto the art shelves are these two shelves that will hold some sensorial and practical life materials.

Next I set these two shelves in place. They will hold some sensorial and practical life materials, at least at the start, and possibly some geography materials later in the year. I do know that some of my students still need work in practical life and sensorial. The top of the art and practical life shelves will give a nice display area for interesting art materials and trays of markers/pencils/crayons sorted by colour. It will be easier for the students to select and return materials when they are on top of the shelf instead of on a shelf underneath.

metal insets, on their own little shelf

This one is pretty self explanatory. I love my metal insets and this little shelf was a freebie and is just perfect for them. The pink shelf to the right will have language materials and the science area is behind them.

Peace Table

Just before leaving I set up the peace table. A student gave me the indigo rose this year, and wanted to add it to the peace vase. We didn’t have an actual peace table, just a vase with rose on a shelf, but it was effective. I have this desk for a peace table and in the storage tray I have put a selection of items students can use to help calm themselves if they need to. They may also hold the rock or shells from the little beach scene. I had three of those from my old classroom, one on each table in that room. We had packed them very carefully in bubble wrap but they got tilted so I had to use a sieve to separate the sand from the “water”.  I will give one to the kindergarten teacher, and haven’t decided what I will do with the other one yet. On that peaceful note I went home, ate supper, and cut the grass.

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Beauty All Around Me

Posted by mrsmelva on 06/07/2010

I am not in the mood to work at school today. I worked for a while yesterday, shelving some items and then taking pictures of the little items in my alphabet tubs. My plan is to make some 3 part cards to go with the tubs, and possibly some little books. The camera batteries died at gG and I didn’t have extras with me so I went home. Today I was just out of sorts and decided to stay home. I hung some solar lights on my garden fence and took a few pictures of the beauty around me.

My grandson's pumpkin plant

closeup of the pumpkin flower

grandson's yellow marigold



peppermint portulaca

begonia, grad gift from my kids

From the garden to the lake, my neighbour had just cleaned his fish catch and threw the scraps into the lake for the seagulls and pelicans. The pelicans were very busy, acting like ducks dipping their heads in the water to fetch the goodies.

pelicans acting like ducks

if you want the goodies you have to get your face wet

pelicans and seagulls "doing lunch"

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Pelicans in the Storm

Posted by mrsmelva on 04/07/2010

pelicans in the storm

We have had stormy weather most of the summer so far. Monday night was a particularly wild thundery rainstorm. These pelicans came through very quickly while the rain was coming down in sheets. The picture is dark because it was that dark from the clouds overhead. I took the picture from the kitchen window, but it was very tricky because we have expanded metal on the outside of the window and I had to aim the camera in the little spaces – it was so dark that the flash went off automatically and if the camera wasn’t positioned just right the flash reflected off the metal and spoiled the picture. After taking the picture I shut the window, the entire kitchen floor was soaked in that short time! I kept watching the pelicans as they moved down the lake, as they got a little further down a bunch more flew in from the middle of the lake and they made a huge fishing circle. A little later they broke into three smaller circles. I love watching the pelicans.I decided to post this because classroom progress has been very slow.

I have been in but have been puttering with things like washing art trays and boot shelves. Today I hooked up the computer and can’t login, but I have threaded the extension cords and made room (and plugin space) for my laptop and printer and speakers. If I can get the janitor to help me move the boot shelves tomorrow I will be a very happy woman, as one of them will go behind the classroom door for art supplies and then I can get a lot more organizing done. If not I will have to develop a plan B for organizing, I really want to get those art supplies set up. I did organize all my coloured copy paper and got most of my binders and resource books shelved but not organized. I’d like to sort them and organize them by topic but will worry about that later on. For now, getting them off the “lovely” desks is the main priority.

copy paper and binders

The boot shelf that I washed is the same as this shelf. I used to have art supplies on this one and know that they will fit nicely on its twin, and it will fit neatly behind the classroom door, partially out of site and preventing me from piling boxes there! Tray washing is quite a procedure (there are over 50 trays that have been used for art all year). First soak them, then turn them to soak the other end, then scrub them with a brush and set to dry in a staggered stack.

trays soaking

trays drying

While busy scrubbing the trays (and the shelves) I have been thinking a lot about the class and the classroom and how I would like things to happen. I can only plan some things until school actually starts and I have my timetable for the things that I can’t change (God grant me the serenity to accept that timetable) such as guided reading, gym, Dene, music, maybe math? I also need to find out what is expected for science and social studies. They are all divided up into separate units and separate subjects and I am so used to teaching things in a much more integrated manner – oh, and I almost forgot about health. Hopefully that one can be integrated. My thoughts were interrupted by a phone call from my hubby saying that he had two of our grandsons with him and they were hungry so I headed home for a weiner roast in the back yard.

hot dogs you cook yourself are delicious

hubby watching my marshmallow so it doesn't burn - perfectly golden and gooey inside

After supper I got out the sandbox and the boys did some pouring, and did some grass cutting too.


Grandma, I'll cut your grass!

Let me cut some too

While they cut I pulled a few weeds and dead heads in my flower boxes and couldn’t resist taking a picture of this petunia.


The other day I had to chase away the ravens, they were eating the petunias and trying to uproot the portulaca. When I was watering the flowers this morning there was nothing in the planters but tonight I found a piece of rib bone in one, next to the petunia the ravens had been eating – was it a peace offering? or did they just drop it there? Tomorrow I will be back at work in the classroom unless I decide to stay home and mow the parts of the lawn (most of it) that the boys missed!

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Change Continues

Posted by mrsmelva on 02/07/2010

Yesterday was Canada Day and I spent some time at the town field, watching the parade and all the kids dressed up and riding their decorated bikes, eating a barbecued burger and enjoying the music. Then I came home and after a nap, spent a long time reading blogs.  When I went to bed my head was spinning with ideas, but today the ideas are simmering down and sorting themselves out. I will go to the school for a while and work on the classroom environment, probably starting with my desk area. I am a clutterbug and hoarder, so this will be a work in progress. I will also work on some of the changes I need to make to existing materials – for example, taking pictures of  all the items in my (commercial, Lakeshore brand, bought years ago from Wintergreen) sound tubs and designing some independent work with them, likewise my colour tubs. I need to look at things that I have that are not Montessori, from a Montessori perspective, making them more inviting and accessible to the children and, most importantly, looking at control of error so that the children do not practice incorrect work. My camera will be getting a workout, and although there are fresh ink cartridges in the printer and another set in my desk, I see an ink purchase in the near future.

girls gathering for the decorated bike judging, there are always a lot of well dressed kids and well decorated bikes - very challenging for the judges

even dolls are dressed up for the occasion, and pulled behind the bikes

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