Author Archives: ArtisanEducator

A boy and his cat (and some other animals too)

If you asked me if my eldest son was intrigued by animals, I would have to say, no. He runs through zoos, racing to each animal after another, as if merely ticking them off on his imaginary list. He does not care to read about their eating habits, habitats, etc. He prefers mechanical things (trucks and bridges and fighter planes).

But, this cat of ours has worked her way into his heart. China was the first pet my hubby and I had on our own. Our first baby, so to speak. She is roughly 13-years-old and is as feisty as she was as a kitten. And, since being kicked outside due to hubby’s allergies, she has been missing all of the human interaction. And, so, she has adopted Ronan.


When he is outside, she comes running…to be petted and appreciated. And, I think that he feels the same way. He puffs up with pride and declares her, “his cat.” And, I think his love for her has opened up his appreciation for other animals as well.


This is a giraffe from Giraffe Ranch, a semi-local place that works to keep endangered species and interesting animals alive to breed. We consider this a homeschool field trip. On this particular trip you get a ride in a windowless school bus where you stop next to the giraffes and feed them a proper snack (sticks with leaves and cabbage was on the menu for that day).




In addition to the more exotic animals, the owners of this ranch also raise their own pasture-raised beef and eggs (chicken too). So, you get a nice heaping discussion on the merits of respecting your climate and utilizing your natural resources as effciently as possible.


And, naturally, these guinea pigs caught his attention. And, he has been begging for a hamster ever since. But, that was not the only “field trip” we went on this past month. We had a chance to visit The Butterfly Farm (which was much closer to us geographically).

This farm is a certified organic butterfly farm and the people who work there were wonderful about sharing their knowledge and expertise. And, for those in north Florida, I would highly recommend it as showcasing a wonderful attentiveness to the excitement and attention of the children. The owner and his “troupe” of characters presented an hour long presentation on the different aspects of butterflies (did you know they taste with their feet?). This was presented in such a way that not a single child was bored or was distracted and disruptive. The credit goes to the owner and I was very impressed with his ability to teach the kids (and adults) about butterflies in such an engaging way.



The paint sticks were dipped in sugar water to feed the butterflies.


A fabulous experience…bringing us that much closer to nature and hopefully, an appreciation and desire to conserve as much of it as possible.

Learning the Seven Continents

These maps were on my wish list for a few years now, but space, time and money never made them a reality in my home until recently. And, quite frankly, the timing is perfect. Both of my boys can use this map and they both very much enjoy this aspect of Montessori education. In the past few weeks, my hesitant reader has been reading continent names, directions, and studying flags (on his own accord).


Since he is an elementary student, he has picked this up rather fast, and so we do little activities to reinforce the words and map placement. I had him trace each continent in his notebook and write the name (two at a sitting). He also has practiced writing the direction words. Finally, I had him use the flag maps to ensure that he was reading the words and knew where each continent belonged.


For the younger set, my three-year-old likes to work with the puzzle and matches the colors on the flags to the pin map. (He insisted on working with the pin map…in that way only a three-year-old can do, so we compromised).

But, he also enjoys matching the continent three-part-cards.


He still needs help getting this started, but he typically finishes this work. And, he feels important since he is doing the “same” work as his older brother. Some homeschool concessions, indeed.

In the next month, I will introduce the five oceans and their names (including labels) and possibly discuss the hemispheres. I am not too familiar with that lesson, but it seems an appropriate time to introduce such a concept.

I find these maps to be well worth their money and household space. If anything, it helps my children to understand that they are a small piece of something much, much larger. And, if it inspires my reluctant reader to find out more…I am thrilled.

(The book of North American animals…a new addition to the North America geography folder).

First Grade…and lots of shelf work

Although we are technically a year-round kind of homeschool family, we did take a bit of a break in July and early August for vacation and some Montessori-material making. But, we’re back at it this week – officially!


We’re working on spelling – and revisiting the “wh” set of letters. My first grader is also ready to learn to “write correctly” as he says. He was never really interested, so I didn’t push much, but he wants to do it the “right” way, so I’m here to help. 🙂

(an archepalego – pronounciation here)

I finally got around to introducing landforms this year. Brown modeling clay and a small pitcher of water is bliss for this kinesthetic learner. Plus, he’s reading the small book I made about them. (Sneaky mama – with the reading).

And, this year, Calum joins us with shelf work. Lots of sorting and pouring.





Easter Celebrations

This was the first year that Calum really got into the Easter holiday. (And, by holiday, I mean that he enjoyed hunting for eggs. Though, the boys were very subdued and well-behaved at church).

Since he was competing against a five-year-old, a six-year-old and a seven-year-old, he had a little help from his dad (and his mom and his aunt).


In addition to some of those traditional Easter things, this year we wanted to give a little something, instead of just giving something up for Lent. I thought a scrap quilt might be something that Ronan could work on and something that might actually get finished (though, I was hoping for completion by Easter. Oh well).

We opened up the project to some of our homeschool friends and everyone wanted to participate. I read the story of The Quiltmaker's Gift – one of my favorite, though lengthy, stories. Many of the older kids (5 and up), sewed the blocks together themselves into a simple nine-patch square. Ronan preferred using the sewing machine and he was fun to watch as he settled into the seat in front of the sewing machine. He took his job seriously, enjoyed it and was relatively straight with his seams (as long as he took his time). Six is a very helpful age.


Don't you model everything in your socks too?

Simple Subtraction

As I've come to realize that parenting is a very grey area, I've also come to appreciate this about homeschooling. Specifically, what is it that I am really concerned about Ronan's homeschooling…at least at this moment. (Because, oh yes, it changes often).

Do I want to follow the Montessori guidelines? Do I want to be sure he can reassimilate into a traditional school setting, if need be?

I've already veered from Montessori on the teaching of language. Well, with the American Montessori Association's interpretation of Dr. Montessori's work anyway. (As I understand it, Italian is a mostly phonetic language, so the American-version has required a number of tweaks).

I finally decided to show him simple subtraction rather than simple multiplication after he mastered simple addition. (According to my AMS-training, you show the child simple multiplication since it is essentially adding multiple times). But, all of the worksheets for kindergarten and first grade have subtraction problems. (And, yes, we occasionally do worksheets. It's good practice and he likes it).  So, I relented a bit.


I don't think I needed to worry since I realized he was already subtracting things in our everyday life. I used the words "take away" so that he would remember how to find the answer and after that it was only a matter of familiarizing himself with the subtraction symbol.


I love the way Dr. Montessori devised her math materials – simple, yet brilliant.

Drawing Inspiration

When Ronan was first born, I had hoped that he would like to draw. Because I like to draw. I had assumed that since I liked it, then my kid would too, right?

And, so I was wrong. He never liked crayons or scribbling or coloring or anything with paper and a writing instrument. But, blocks and duplos and screws and other mechanical-like gadgets – these were made for him and would occupy him for hours. Hours.

So, I accepted the fact that my oldest son got the engineer-genes from his granddads (yes, both of them) and I dove into duplos and wood blocks and legos. (I love legos!) Which means that I generally avoided all mention of drawing classes. But, then I started to think that I was typecasting him…just because it is not his strength or first love, doesn't mean he shouldn't give it a chance…if he wants.

And, he did.


A few weeks ago, a drawing class came our way. His first inclination was no. But, then he heard that the topic was underwater creatures (a fish, a shrimp) and he decided to give it a chance. And, he really likes it. We've all been drawing a little more at home lately.




Christmas Crafting

Since I have a squirmy two-year-old in my lap and his favorite words right now happen to be, "No, I do it," this crafty wrap-up will be short and sweet.

The Christmas Eve pajama pants. Handmade by me and fabric picked out by Calum. (Ronan played socer twice this past year…I think it rubbed off on Calum).

The best present ever from my hubby: a completely suprise "elf" hat – to be worn in subsequent Christmases while working on the presents I make. Showcased by my brother-in-law, Kenny. (No, that's not his real name).


A barn to accompany all of the horse and tractor related things that my kids got this Christmas. Made by Joey (based vaguely on this tutorial).


And, finally, the big time-consuming project: quilts for both boys. I made one for Ronan and my sister made one for Calum. The boys share a room and so these quilts are similiar, but different. The pattern was "the end of the day" from More Quilts The Quiltmaker's Gift pattern book.

This is the second quilt I have made with this pattern, though the first for our family.  I absolutely love it. It uses triangles on a roll and makes a beautiful finish. We both had them professionally quilted – that skill is not yet in my abilities and I knew I would need to wash them often.



Ronan knew I was working on something special for him and Calum. He knew I was using my sewing machine and he was irritated that I wouldn't tell him what it was. I prepped him before he opened it and let him know that this is what I was working on. I was thrilled that he was so excited to see that it was a quilt.

But, the best part of all? A sleepy Ronan waking me up at 2:30 in the morning on December 28, just to tell me how grateful he was that I made him such a warm quilt. He gave me a hug and pattered away, returning to his cozy gift.

Composition of Numbers

As promised in a previous post, (and a bit of surprise to my scatterbrained self), Ronan is indeed composing numbers up to the thousands place. We start "composing" the numbers last week after a few months of practice with the small card layout and "golden beads."

Beforehand, he was just keeping the units, tens, hundreds, and thousands in proper place order. Then, I added the quantities (one bead set of ten for 10, etc.). After a few months of playing the "bank game," he was ready for making the numbers and moving to the abstract (written) concept.


Add a too-small train conductor outfit with some complex math concepts and voila! Success! (On this particular problem, he was creating numbers himself – then he would read the numbers off to me). With a little help from Calum, of course.


Doesn't this look like the ideal homeschool work environment? As if this wasn't just minutes before Calum decided not to share these layout cards with Ronan, or the fact that Ronan decided he would just take them by force, which then resulted in a crying Calum (removed from the room by me) and an unhappy Ronan (because he was lectured again, about how important it is to use a nice, asking voice when trying to get things back from his brother). But, it all works out in the end…some days just work better than others.


Math and pre-reading

We're combining tens and units (and in another few weeks, hundreds and thousands), both in written form and in bead form. The teens stil give him trouble, but that's normal for most kids. (Those pesky teen numbers which say their unit's number first – fourteen).




The pictures were all taken by Ronan – he was quite proud of his work. These beads are from Montessori Outlet. I like them for math and geography materials, but would not recommend them for language stuff (it's too small and not quite helpful for small hands).

And, since Calum has started to calm down a bit more (and we're doing our lessons pretty consistently in the morning), he wants to do some "work" too.


He matched half of the letters before he got bored and started goofing around. A pretty impressive feat for a barely two-and-a-half year-old. No, he cannot recognize any one letter by sound or by name (though, Ronan and I have started teaching him "m"). This is a homemade alphabet roll. I traced the letters on muslin and painted them with fabric paint. Then, once dried, I sewed double-fold bias tape to the edges which connected the two pieces of muslin (one that was painted and another for the back). I used this in my classroom and it was a requirement for my Montessori certificate.

Learning on the road

In addition to working with the movable alphabet and those blends (we're up to -ill, -ing, -ack), we were fortunate enough to take a trip to Pennsylvania to see some extended family. Some of our pre-trip planning included some writing (less we forget how-to on a week and half-long trip).


But, really, the whole trip was one big homeschooling adventure. We saw the leaves change (a little), we visited two cousins' working dairy farms, the Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC and Mount Vernon. And, they watched a little bit of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood when the driving got too rough for the little one.

We got to go apple picking at a local orchard. We also learned that we would like to visit PA a few weeks later next time since the only apples available were red and golden delicious. Although, I must admit that they were much better right off the tree than trucked 1,000 miles to Florida.


We also visited the cows. Sweet creatures…and LOTS of calves. (The farm is a few hours west of the apple orchard). Adorable calves, really. And, no, they don't feed them by baby bottle…this was only for our benefit. They were hardy little creatures and the boys (and I) really have a whole new perspective on a dairy farm. The calves were super sweet and enjoyed being petted and liked to gnaw on your hand.


But, of course, for my tractor-loving boys…this was the best part of these two farms. Tractor rides! Seriously, Joe's relatives were so generous with their limited time and were so very wonderful with my kids. We also got a nice visit in with Great-Grandma — and we all enjoyed that.



As if that wasn't full of learning – we headed down to Washington, DC with many grand plans (a number of museums, ride around the city). As this was at the tail end of our trip, we realized that, after wrangling a 2-year-old around the Air and Space Museum for 3 hours, perhaps, we might cut out some of those proposed museums. And, so we did. Ronan was most excited about the Air and Space Museum because of his keen interest in all things space-related. We saw the recreation of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's walk on the moon, the Spirit of St. Louis (Lindbergh's plane) and we saw the original 1903 Wright Flyer. The Wright Brothers are quite popular with my eldest son at the moment. We have been reading and re-reading the book, First to Fly, a pretty complicated book for an almost-six-year-old. But, he loves it. And, probably understands it better than I do.


We made that our only museum destination and got a much-needed rest that evening. Visiting with all of those relatives can really take it out of you. We finished up our journey with a visit to Mount Vernon. This year, Ronan had been very interested in George Washington and so we had read some books on him and they mentioned Mount Vernon. (His favorite was A Picture Book of George Washington). We also have the book, George Washington's Cows, which takes place there. He was very excited about seeing the house because he had read so much about it. We enjoyed seeing it through his eyes. And, it took us a bit by surprise, but we found that we got a lot out of our visit as well. Gardens. I'm not quite sure if the garden looked this way during his tenure (the location was the same), but as suburban gardeners, we were impressed with the integration of fruit trees, veggie beds and herbs in such a small space.




We did little "formal" schooling, but we did look for letters and recognizable words while driving. However, I think the personal lessons on George Washington, the Wright brothers and a working dairy farm were far more valuable to my young kindergartner. I know I learned a lot.