Monday, November 28, 2011

Montessori-at-Home Realities: Answers to a Reader's Questions

Don't Let This Photo Fool You
The other day, a fellow Montessori-inspired reader sent me a personal email with some comments and questions.  I thought I would answer it here in case anyone has similar things on their minds:

“I envy you when I see photos of your kids working in the school room.  Do you have another space for their toys?  Do you keep them in their bedrooms?”

Oh dear!  Don’t let select photos fool you.  The toys may not be in the pictures, but they are there.  Truly, traditional toys constantly creep into our learning room.  Likewise, learning materials get carried to other rooms, sometimes one purpose – such as when we plan to work at the kitchen tables – and sometimes just because I am not paying attention when one of the children has an impulse to use “Montessori materials” as toys.  It’s not how I planned it and it isn’t ideal, but it is real life and the way our days flow…

 As far as where we keep “regular” toys:  We rotate them from our basement storage area to our living room.  From there, they often end up all throughout the house.

 Also, please be aware that my children do not just work in our classroom.  In fact, they often play and create there.  Sometimes this is purposeful and okay by me.  At other times, they Our Work Room Agreement, which we drew up and signed on the first day of school this year, end up making extraordinary messes.  These, of course, don’t end up on the blog because I am often too exasperated or too busy helping to clean them to photograph and upload them.  So, as is the case with most blogs, what you see on this one is but a small portion of what happens on a daily basis.
“I don't have space for individual rooms for each child, so since they sleep together.  They are a bit cramped in one room and I choose to only put books for them help them settle easy to bed.”

I do similarly.
 All three of my children sleep in one literal bed-room.  It is not yet decorated the way I envision it, but it sticks pretty closely to Montessori principles.  Besides their mattresses, which are on platforms or not, depending on their age, to allow for them to get in and out of bed on their own, there is: 

  • one small bureau that houses their jammies, socks and tees in a way each of them can access them, and which is topped with a CD player, bedtime CD’s and light
  • a closet with clothes on rods at child-height and extra linens stored at Mama-height
  • a hanging shelf with some framed prayers and our paper-paged bedtime chapter books (out of the baby’s hand-and-mouth reach)
  •  a bucket of stuffed toys for quiet play
    Oh, those stuffed toys and how they like to be let loose multiple times a day!  I really need to simplify the selection.

    “Legos , Duplos , puzzles, doll house , games, cars, playdough…cannot they all be in the school area on separate shelves?  Would this create distraction?”
    I had our learning shelves set up in our living room before, and I often had “toys” and “work” side-by-side in separate cubbies.  My thought was that so long as all the toys were developmentally-appropriate ones, why not have them out there?  (I am not a Montessori purist.)  Now, I simply choose to keep mostly learning materials on the shelves in a room where the door can be closed because it not only helps my older children differentiate between which things can be used in personally creative ways and which may have guidelines, but it also allows me to keep my youngest away from materials he is not ready for when need be.
    “Yesterday I visited a small private preschool with my three years old , I observed him moving around from digging dinosaur in the sand, to play on the mat with cars to play kitchen , to making puzzle, to ten minutes playdough play, to reading corner nicely and on his own.  How can this be accomplished when you are homeschooling an older sibling when she is needing one-on-one ...Where will your tiny tot be when you are working with your boys one-on-one?”
    Well, every time I think I have this quandary figured out, my children go and change things up on me.  Different things work on different days and, on some days, nothing works at all.
    My nearly 18-month-old does not move from one activity to another happily and independently for long periods of time, but he does sometimes.  At other times, I ask my preschooler or kindergartner to play with him while I work with a sibling, but I don’t force them to do so.  Thus, I find I sometimes have to just “give up” one-on-one time until the little one is napping or thoroughly immersed in something.  At such times, I remind myself that in a traditional Montessori school, the infants and toddlers are in one room and the 3-6’s in another.  I do not have this luxury, and, thus, manage as I can.
    More and more, I see that Montessori-inspired homeschooling can look a lot like traditional Montessori learning.  However, it can also look very different as the realities home weave together with Montessori-essence.

    “I cannot believe a tot can go through her workbox or shelf on her own moving from one activity to the other.  Mine will do the transfer once or twice than he needs something else and all this is more fun and nice when played with mama… we can be done with our trays in half an hour, then what?”

    My youngest does not really have shelves and workboxes that he uses exclusively nor independently for long spurts of time.  Rather, he has several items on shelves that he explores as he wishes and, when his big siblings and I need some time without his little hands and curious mind about, we relegate him to the hallway with a few toys and, often, one of us to accompany him.

    My preschooler moves through her shelves and boxes when we have learning room time okay, as does my kindergartener, but both seek my attention often just like their little brother does.  Every day is a new day and the “normalization” one would see in a traditional Montessori school, as well as the picture-perfect ideal we often imagine unfolding in one another’s homes as we browse blogs, is not a reality here.  What is there is the reality that life, learning and love are happening and that is enough for me!

    “You don't want your tot to wonder on his own…so…we…just follow him and play with him and use his naps and time when his dad is around to do school with his five years old sister… not much can be achieved then because she wants to play with papa, too, and, after playing with little bro all morning, I am finding she needs a nap, too.”

    I don’t mind when my little one wanders about by himself for a bit in the house, so long as I know he is safe.  Frankly I think it is good for his sense of independence.  However, we, too, often play with him (and each other!) instead of concentrating on learning.  Then, we use his naptime for some learning or cleaning.  When Daddy is home, we rarely “school” because all the kids want to play with Daddy or we are attending to home, outside activities or regular daily routines, such as bedtime.
    I am okay with all this because: 

    • my children are still young and I do not believe a pre-k or kindergarten program needs to be that rigorous.
    • do my best to follow my children’s interests and needs.
    • I am confident that in a loving home with thoughtful parents, learning happens regardless of the amount of time spent on formal lessons.
    Again, I am not a Montessori-purist, but a Mama who  is drawn to Maria’s philosophy’s in combination with some others, as well as a huge dose of what my heart and head tell me and the Spirit inspires me to pursue.
    “Mama is exhausted too and her break used to be when kiddos are napping.  Now, no rest for mama.”
    Oh, I feel for this one!  My eldest gave up naps at 18 months, so I have rarely had time for rest/nap myself.  Instituting a quiet time has been an ongoing struggle for years here.  Sometimes we manage.  Other times, I just pray for grace and enough energy to make it until my kids finally crash at night.
    When I am frustrated, tired or feeling defeated, I try to remind myself that this is a stage in our lives and will pass.  I also try to think about what I want to remember and what I want my children to remember when we look back at this stage:  JOY.
    I am the first to admit that joy is not something I share enough of with my children as I try to figure out how to balance home, work, homeschooling and life.  Like many moms, I get frustrated, tired, hyperfocused…  A host of less-important human mom-stuff sometimes seems to take precedence over the responsibility and gift of training my children up.  Moreover, I recognize that being a teacher or guide at a school comes with an entirely different set of parameters than being a mom at home who also takes on the role as teacher/guide.  Discovering how best to fulfill my roles and to do it with grace and joy is something I am working on.  I pray the Spirit will illuminate the way.

    Messes Are Part of Learning
    I pray, as well, that through being honest about all this here I offer the reader who took the time to email some perspective, solidarity and a few helpful ideas.  I also hope that I might encourage others that have heard similar calls similar to mine and that if what I have written here sparks a thought from a Montessori parent who is more experienced or balanced than I am that person would be willing to share in a comment.

    Guiding our children in our own homes is a rewarding experience.  It can also feel solitary and wearisome at times.  Through the blogging community, perhaps we can inspire a sense of harmony and togetherness.  I hope so at least.

    This post is being shared at Montessori Monday hosted by One Hook Wonder and Living Montessori Now, where you'll find both practical ideas and perspective on bringing Montessori-inspired learning to children.

    Sunday, November 27, 2011

    Planning a Simple, Yet Complete Advent 2011: An Alphabet of Plans for a Literature-Based Family Advent Rich in Sensory Input and Special Activities

    UPDATE:  You can find an Alphabet of Advent printable updated with even more ideas and books for 2012 here.
    Last year at this time I fantasized that by this time this year I would be sitting in a decluttered, clean home with an organized Kindergarten homeschool program several months underway and a complete focus on sharing the Advent season with my children through learning, play and growing traditions.  Ah, it’s nice to dream, isn’t it?

    It is also good to hold onto a good dream until it becomes a reality.  So, hold on is what I continue to do, because the ideal I fantasized about last year is still far from becoming this year’s reality.

    Meanwhile, Advent is upon us and I know that dreaming is not going to help my family observe this beautiful season.  However, a little forethought and action can. So, this past week, I took my focus off many other things (including completing my BloTaAcMo goal) in order to lay out a do-able plan for creating a peaceful, faith-filled period of observance and learning for the next four weeks.
    My goal for the plan was to keep it simple, while cobbling together something that would:

    • guide all our learning activities between now and Christmas (keying in strongly to our Core Four Plus),
    • be replete with sensory activities
    • be rich in tradition
    • offer opportunities for giving and service

    and, of course, help my family to get away from the commercial, secular, me-me-me obsessions that seem to proliferate during this season, while moving toward a greater understanding of our faith history and principles

    Keeping this multi-faceted goal – especially the SIMPLE part – was not easy for me.  The more I thought and browsed, the more I found myself wanting to include in our Advent plan:  armfuls of books, oodles of crafts, dozens of songs, pages of art study, a myriad of new traditions…  You name it.  I wanted it in my plan. 

    Luckily, the kids kept interrupting my planning sessions and, thus, before I dove headlong into making our Advent plan as cluttered as, um, my basement is, I reeled myself in.  I recognized the irony that in planning a season of simplicity, I was becoming overwhelmed (and, okay, maybe a little obsessed) with ways my family might honor (overdo?) Advent.  Yes, I came square up against the fact that even as I sought to avoid being someone who encourages her family to jump full-force into the hoopla of a “too soon” Christmas, I was sliding down a slippery slope of overcomplicating our Advent. 

    Several pauses for child-management, self-reflection, and, of course, prayer, later, the layout for our Advent plan crystallized in my mind:

    Following a daily rhythm, we will include Our Core Four in the coming weeks through:

    • Reading, including up to five Read Alouds a day based on an Advent-themed letter-of-the day or a Special Observance.  We will also do spontaneous or easy-to-prepare activities that key into each child’s unique learning needs, interests and goals.  For Jack this will mean lots of repetition of the phonemes the begin each day’s key words.  For Nina this will mean activities to help her solidify naming letters and recognizing and producing the sound each makes.  For Luke, this will mean pulling out phonetic words and site words that are at his level for playing active games, creating sentences, etc.

    • Mathematics naturally tied into reading, cooking and craft with lots of counting, measuring, simple computations, comparing, etc.

    • Faith Formation – a synergy from reading, discussing our Key Words, participating in Mass, enjoying traditions, praying together and living Advent more fully than we have in the past.

    • Sensory Input Activities as life allows, related to Key Words, Letters of the Day and Readings.

    • Traditions.  Some of these may be more secular than faith-filled, as we do choose to enjoy the myth of Santa Claus with our children, layering our faith atop it. 

    Hopefully, all this will come together to make our Advent season long on faith and fun but short on stress and an overload of secular celebration.  (And, yes, I know, the sheer number of books may not seem simple, but, for our family, Read-Aloud time is a favorite several times a day, and, since many of the books will be library ones, they will not permanently add to our clutter.) 

    If you would like to adapt our plan for your own home, please feel free to do so.

    Just click on Advent 2011: An Alphabet of Plans for a Simple Literature-Based Family Advent Rich in Sensory Input and Special Activities to download a copy of my plan for your convenience.

    As you review our plan, please be aware that it was inspired by many sources, including:

    • Jennifer at Feast in Family and Feria’s Alphabet Advent and Prepare Now posts and Jen at Wildflowers and Marbles Toward Living Advent and Christmas 2011 post, which are as easy to get lost in as they are to be inspired by – and I don’t mean that one can get lost in them because the ladies who shared these posts are not wonderfully organized and superbly talented Catholic homeschooling bloggers.  Rather, I mean that he learning and traditions they share with their own families and with any who visit their blogs are so incredible, a relative newbie like me could spend hours and hours reading them.  These ladies are Catholic parenting models I aspire to emulate in many ways.

    • My friend Karen’s Advent 2011-Part 2 post at A Servant’s Memories, which proved to me that simple can equal complete.  I know Karen personally and can attest that she is a far busier woman than I am.  Reading her post and witnessing her journey in living her calling makes me realize that we don’t have to do it all, but should aspire to do what we do well. 

    I encourage you to visit some of these sites.  Be inspired by them.  See what the Spirit might be whispering for you to include in your family’s Advent this year – doing, but not beyond your time, talent or treasure.  I also would love it if you’d comment or link up with ways you observe Advent in your home.

    It is my hope that, with God’s constant grace and guidance, we may each enjoy a simple, yet complete Advent season of learning and loving our faith and one another.  The joy-filled waiting begins…

    Thank you to Heidi from Work and Play, Day by Day for linking up last week with Christ the King ideas here at our Sunday Series A Call to Faith Formation for Young Children.  We'd be delighted for you to link up below to share your ideas this week!

    PS  Oo!  I love when someone links here and their post leads me to many other wonderful ones.  That is just what happened here.  Heidi linked above and, when I read her post, I discovered Mama Erika's link-up at Raising Little Saints.  If you click over to it you'll find many wonderful links for celebrating Advent! 

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    The Camera Takes a Bath: A Lesson in Parenting

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    You should have seen the rest of them!
    With Thanksgiving but a day away, like many, I am counting many blessings.

    With the fact that I love capturing family memories through snapshots, one silly, but big-to-me thing that I am grateful for is having a camera to capture memories of some of those blessings tomorrow.  That almost was not the case.

    As I mentioned in my last Homeschool Mother's Journal post, our camera suffered a mishap in the latter part of October...

    The Kids Were a Bit Too Quiet; Mommy Got a Bit Too Loud

    Gel Paints in the Making
    Luke and Nina were another room being unusually quiet.  Silly me did not clue in to the fact something was likely amiss.  Instead, I hurriedly took advantage of their busyness in order attend some chores with just Jack underfoot.

    Not the best forethought, Mom.  A moment of seeming quiet can lead to a series of silly “disasters”.

    When Luke and Nina reappeared, they were covered – absolutely covered – in marker.  I began to react in a typical frustrated mom way.  My too-loud and uncharitable voice barked, “You know you only use markers on paper!  What have you done…”  Blah... blah… blah!  Then, I caught myself.

    A Pause for Better Parenting

    A Gel Paint Palette
    Pause.  I coached myself.  Give yourself and them some space.  “Your markers will now be gone for a week.”  I marched to the other room to confiscate any marker in sight.  As I zipped these into a plastic bag and threw them with an angry flourish into a closet where the children would not be able to reach them easily, I realized what I was doing.

    Act.  Don’t react.  I reminded myself.  I took a deep breath and walked back into the hallway to see Jack studying the canvas of his half-giggling, half-quivering, all-colored siblings.

    Reframe.  Reframe.  Follow the children.  Try to listen to what they were trying to do not what they actually did.

    I knelt to the children’s eye level.  “Luke, Nina, it seems you wanted to color on yourselves.  You know you are only supposed to use markers on paper.  If you want to color on yourselves, simply ask Mommy.  I will let you – in an appropriate way and place.”  I, then, ushered Luke and Nina into the bathroom (but not before taking a picture of their legs for posterity) and asked them to take off their marked-on clothes so they could stand in their tub where I would bring them a surprise to help them explore their creativity.

    While Luke and Nina disrobed, I brought shower gel to the kitchen, mixed it with some food coloring and put it on a plastic lid, thus creating a body finger paint palette.

    Luke and Nina welcomed the gift of these gel paints when I handed the palette over to them, and, as I expected they would do, began to paint themselves.  Win-win-win. I thought.  They get to color themselves.  The marker gets washed off them without a fight.  And, I drew back from a useless mommy explosion.

    When Will Mama Learn?

    This is the way we paint our bellies!
    Satisfied, I took photos of them painting – and, that, my friends is where I may have really gone wrong.

    You see, I did not witness Jack watching me memorialize the moment, but he sure witnessed me doing so.
    Thus, when I took advantage of what I thought was another children-are-engaged moment, things went awry.

    I wanted to get Luke and Nina’s colored on clothing into the wash to soak.  So, once Luke and Nina were fully immersed in painting themselves and Jack was busy playing with something in the living room, I told Luke and Nina  that I was just going to run downstairs to the laundry machine for a moment, to have fun painting and to call me when they were ready to wash their paints off.

    I was barely into transferring what was in the wash to the dryer in order to put their marked on outfits into the wash when I heard water from upstairs running through the pipes. 

    Ugh!  I thought.  I asked them to call me when they wanted to actually take a tub.

    Then, I heard a rising cacophony of voices, punctuated by the word “Jack” being said in various tones of amusement, correction and complaint. What are they doing?  Is Jack trying to get into the tub?  Are they putting him in the tub with them? 

    I ran back upstairs, reminding myself to try to pause and act instead of reacting.

    What I found was a sudsy-handed Jack holding my camera.

    Not good.

    Luke and Nina said that Jack had tried to take their picture and that they’d tried to take the camera away.  I asked them if the camera had been immersed in the water in the tub.  They assured me it hadn’t.  So, I expected to just wipe a few suds off the camera and move on.

    Nope.  The camera was wetter than expected.  So, I took the battery and memory card out of it and set the opened-up camera in a high place to dry out while I tried to tease out of the kids what had really happened.

    A Plausible Explanation and More Conscious Parenting

    Now, this is how to color yourself!
    It seems that while Luke decided to turn on the bathtub faucet and to have a game of splash with Nina, Jack drew a chair up to the kitchen counter, where I had placed the camera, took hold of the camera and brought it into the bathroom to try to take some photos of his siblings.  Luke and Nina knew Jack should not have the camera, so, with their own wet hands, they took it from him and set it just outside the tub (where, um, there was a big puddle).  As I bounded up the stairs, Jack picked the camera up again.  And, that my friends, is where I caught the kids, wet-handed.

    A fast-paced mishap.  A comedy of errors that resulted in one dead camera for our family.  A reminder to Mommy that taking advantage of a seemingly quiet moments to complete chores or move laundry along is not always worth it.

    Another day – or part of the day – in the life of a Mommy, who is, if nothing else, coaching herself to act, not to react.

    Yep, I am so proud of myself.  As much as I LOVE photos and take them nearly every day, I did not completely explode at the kids when the camera took its bath. 

    The power of pausing and taking perspective (people over things) squashed my (recent, awful) habit of shouting.


    Now, thanks to an old friend, we have a will-do-for-now camera replacement for me to use until a fancier one is within budget again -- one that has already been serving us perfectly well and will definitely capture moments of blessings at our family Thanksgiving tomorrow.  So, thanks, Melinda, for the camera.  Thanks kids for the opportunity to practice more peaceful, proactive parenting and thanks God for the continued joy and lessons of living my call.

    What lessons have you learned lately?  Have any mishaps turned into moments of self-improvement?  Do share!

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    A Precious Pause -- Observing My Children in a Not-So-Montessori Moment

    "See my letters and my toes," says the photographer.
    Sometimes, I berate myself for not providing a more picture-perfect Montessori-inspired homeschool for my children.  You know, an environment that is totally decluttered and beautifully prepared with thoughtfully designed works set out for the children to direct their learning through once I have presented these works to them.

    At other times, I realize that environment and materials aside, if I am observing my children and providing opportunities for them learn through following their interests, I am doing okay.  For, while our homeschool might be a far cry from those more concretely inspired by Maria Montessori, it is still one that allows my children to happily develop with an “I can” attitude.

    These following notes I tapped the other day speak to this:

    I don’t want to get up to get my camera right now, since my movement might disturb my children’s play.  Thus, I am making a mental recording of this moment of joy.

    Luke and Nina found homemade mocha-scented mud-dough in the fridge earlier when they were looking for their “special butter” for breakfast.  They wanted to play with this dough and quickly transitioned into making letters with it.  They are now rolling, cutting and shaping the homemade playdough in order to “prepare for a presentation”.  As they do so, their happy song fills the air almost as much as the mocha scent does:  “The ‘x’ says…”

    Meanwhile, Jack’s giggles on a ride-on toy as he navigates his way around Tinkertoys and blocks on the floor.  Luke and Nina take no notice of him, because they are too immersed in preparing for their presentation.

    Preparations completed, Luke “Leap” and Nina “Lily” come over to Jack “Tad”.  “Lily” proclaims, “You know all the letters, Tad,” and then “Leap” whispers in her ear to prompt further lines.  “Tad”, clueless, does not answer them.  Instead, he simply climbs up beside me on the arm of my cushy chair, digs his fingers into his mouth and bounces while gurgling with content.

    I smile at my youngest and his siblings.  Then, I look around and realize that the morning has become anything but traditional Montessori:  The floor is a mess.  The dishes are not yet done.  The laundry is piled high.  Formal lessons are waiting.  Routines have been broken – or at least paused.  But, that’s okay.  We are experiencing a blessed moment

    Relaxed play and learning unfolds before me.

    Letters and Word Whammer Moved by Luke-Photographer
    So Inspiration Could be Captured as Well

    Luke and Nina work cooperatively together dramatizing a letter factory.  Jack gets down to growl with dinosaur figurines.  Luke fetches a camera to take pictures of his playdough letters so he can remember them, because “I just don’t want to forget them.”

    Nina takes a potty break.

    Jack offers me some play food.  Then, he wanders into the kitchen, grabs a spatula and begins stirring bits of playdough in a pan and transferring it to a small plate.

    Luke puts the camera back.

    Nina sings out from the other room in choruses of, “Alleluia!  Praise the Lord!”

    I smile and enjoy the very precious present moment.  One that is so ordinary, yet so extraordinary.  The children and I are learning and on so many levels – embracing life with all our senses.

    Literacy.  Gross motor practice.  Fine motor work.  Faith.  Cooperative play.  So many target areas of early learning have been woven into the morning’s play-filled pause.  The skills the children have acquired from prior Montessori-inspired work trays and baskets, along with inspiration invoked by their imaginations (and, yes, I admit, a recent viewing of a Leapfrog video) are all working in concert.

    Life is good.   

    Not every moment and experience needs to be prepared.  Sometimes, the pauses are the most precious times of all.

    What pause have you and yours enjoyed recently?

    This post is being shared at Montessori Monday hosted by One Hook Wonder and Living Montessori Now, where you'll find more traditional ways to use Montessori in your home than I just shared about.

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    First Penance – A Call for Help for A Young, Anxious Child

    The other day, a friend of mine mentioned to me that her son will have First Penance soon and has been anxious about it to the point of actually having bad dreams. 

    This made me sad beyond measure.  Worry?  Stress?  Upset?  Fear?  Over Reconciliation?  It just doesn’t seem right to me. 

    Reconciliation should be a welcomed thing – an experience of release, grace and joy.  Where else can you simply take all the “uck” in life, hand it over and let it go, walking away blessed and made new? 

    Reconciliation is a gift to treasure – one I am praying that my friend’s son accepts with peace and, maybe even a smile, by the time it rolls around for him a couple weeks.  And, also one, which I hope that my husband and I, in concert with our local faith community, will be able to fully prepare our children for within the next couple years. 

    To this end, I ask for your help:

    • What tools have you found useful in preparing your own children for Reconciliation?
    • What child-friendly ways have you found to explain sin? 
    • Do you have traditions about how you celebrate First Penance that you might share? 
    • How about relevant stories?

    Please share whatever comes to mind so that I can pass your ideas, resources and wisdom along to my friend and her son.

    Also, please join me in a brief prayer:

    Lord, you give us a gift through Reconciliation.  Yet, as is often the case with the new and unknown, some children are anxious about their First Penance.  Please help these children to understand the beauty of Reconciliation.  Guide parents and educators to speak just the right words and to share just the right tools in order to help each individual child enter into First Penance with eager anticipation instead of apprehension.  Holy Spirit, move each of us to offer our broken selves up to be made new.

    P.S. Thanks goes out to Esther from Laugh with Us Blog for sharing her sweet, encouraging snippet The Things Kids Say last week as the first to join in our new weekly linky!

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Pajaggle: A Review of A Game of Fun and Learning for All Ages

    Recently, I was delighted to be asked by Help! S-O-S for Parents to be part of a team to review Pajaggle, a new game for ages 3 up. To access all reviews, please visit  Pajaggle: A Blogger Review.  To hear about how much our family enjoyed the game, simply read on:

    Praise for Pajaggle from a Unique Child, His Mama of Many Hats and His Specialists
    Look Who Snuck in to Play Pajaggle
    How do you know when my son with special needs likes a game?  One way is to observe him choosing it over something else he loves.  Such was the case with Pajaggle this week.

    A Story of Pajaggle Appeal

    My children love to be outdoors and active.  So, the other day, when my eldest son Luke stopped raking leaves and jumping into them with his siblings and me in order to go inside, I thought he was just taking a potty break.  After five or ten minutes when he had yet to rejoin our leaf pile fun, I got concerned and went inside to check on him.  What I found made me smile.

    My son was sitting at the table engrossed in a solo game of Pajaggle

    First Pajaggle Experience
    Pajaggle  had come into our home the day prior.  While my youngest son was napping, I introduced it to Luke and his sister, who both proclaimed it "quite a challenge" and "lots of fun".  They played the game cooperatively together for quite some time, fitting the gears of the game into the correct holes and punching them back out with the "pajiggler" stick.  

    Later the same day, while I entertained the baby, Luke eagerly introduced the game to his father, who noted Luke's concentration and enthusiasm while playing it. 

    The following morning, Luke wanted to play Pajaggle again, but I told him that since the game had many relatively small pieces, he'd have to wait to play until his baby brother was napping.  He couldn’t wait.  When Luke noted his brother occupied outside, he snuck inside play the game.  That says something:  Not much draws Luke away from time outdoors, but Pajaggle did.  It's a keeper!

    A Mama of Many Hats Tips Them to Pajaggle

    It’s pretty obvious that my son likes Pajaggle.  But how about me?

    Quite Concentrated
    I like it, too!  Even though the game has been in my house only about a week, I am already brimming with thoughts about its obvious appeal.  Here are the first ten that come to mind:
    1. As a busy homeschooling mom who sometimes needs a quiet moment, it is great to have a challenging game on hand that will engage my older children long enough for me to prep a meal, take a phone call or throw in a load of laundry.
    2. As a big believer in family time, I love that Pajaggle is a game that can be played in so many ways by everyone in our home (well, everyone except the baby), as well as with friends.  Solo, in pairs, in groups, with teams, cooperatively, competitively…  I love the game’s flexibility.
    3. As a detail-oriented person, I appreciate the finer points that went into the game's design.  For example, raised edges and textured sides of playing pieces make putting them into their sockets more intuitive and offer great tactile input.
    4. As a homemaker who is constantly picking up after my family, I appreciate that the game is designed so that the game board slides off a base that acts as a storage case for the playing pieces, timer and “pajiggler” poker, which comes with the game.  It makes tidying up easy.
    5. As a tutor who deals with children that have visual processing issues, I applaud this game’s design.  It provides a fun way to practice visual discrimination (with tactile help).  Since my son also has some visual processing issues, I am doubly glad for the game’s obvious visual input potential.
    6. As a former public school English teacher, I have known far too many children who could have used additional fine motor practice in their younger years.  This game provides plenty of pincer grasp opportunities.  It also offers many educational tie-ins as explained on the Pajaggle site itself.
    7. As the keeper of a relatively screen-free home for kids, I love that Pajaggle is what it is – a hands-on board game with nothing more electronic than the timer included with it.  Open-ended, creative play can be encouraged, as well as a variety of specific competitive and cooperative games. 
    8. As a parent frustrated by the way her son can lack follow-through and attention at times, I am so glad to see him starting and completing round after round of Pajaggle.
    9. As a witness to my son’s need to find self-soothing techniques and tools when he is angry, upset or facing sensory overload, I appreciate that Pajaggle, so far, seems to act as a calming tool.  The concentration and challenge the game requires of my son seems to be at just the right level to capture his focus and improve his demeanor.
    10. As someone who loves games myself, I find Pajaggle a clever twist inspired by one of my own childhood favorites, Perfection.  I love that I don’t have to grit my teeth and bear multiple plays of the game as I do with some of the more ubiquitous early childhood board games.  Pajaggle is truly a game that is enjoyable and challenging for adults a well as kids.
    Specialists Echo Praise

    Since Pajaggle has been in-play multiple times in our house over the past week since we received a game set for review, both my son's Behavior Monitor and his Behavior Modification Specialist have had a chance to become familiar with it. 

    Pajiggling a Piece Out
    The Behavior Monitor was immediately impressed with the game, saying that she is always looking for quality games that can help children with a variety of developmental and behavioral profiles with multiple skills

    The Behavior Modification specialist, in turn, laughed, amazed at how the game was as challenging for her as it was for my son as she played it with him – and just as fun, too

    Both specialists agreed that Pajaggle is "great", affording opportunities for problem-solving, sensory input, fine motor skills, self-soothing, etc

    Value over Cost

    So far, I have nothing but praises to sing about Pajaggle.  Well, except for one detail that is of utmost concern to parents of special needs children:  its price. 
    Teaching Daddy to Pajaggle

    While my family is lucky enough to have acquired Pajaggle at no cost in return for our honest review, other families will have to pay about $30 for it.  This price seems just steep enough that some families who are already burdened by the extra-costs involved with raising a child with special needs, might not be able to purchase a game set right away.  Budgeting may be in order.

    I do feel that budgeting for Pajaggle  is a fair thing to consider, however, if it seems like a game your child might like.  When you consider all the ways that Pajaggle can be played, the age and stage-range that it can appeal to and the fact that it includes opportunities for fun, learning and therapeutic input, the game’s “museum-price” does not outrageous.  Pajaggle is worth looking into.  

    Interested in Getting Your Own Pajaggle Set?

    You can purchase one directly through  the Pajaggle site.

    Or you can find it at Marbles: The Brain Store, a fabulous in-person or online store that I just found and am absolutely loving, where you get free Shipping with any purchase over $100 at Marbles.  Or receive an exclusive online discount by using the code: 4XHO93B2.

    Plus, of course, you can buy a vintage or new set at Amazon.

    Thank you, again, to Help! S-O-S for Parents and Pajaggle for inviting us to participate on the review team.  We loved it!

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Phoneme I Spy: Fun and Learning in the Car

    My 16-month old has not begun talking yet.  One of the activities we use to ready him to do so is to play with phonemes (or the sounds of our language.)  My four year old is still solidifying her knowledge of sounds, letters and onsets (the sounds at the beginnings of words).  My almost-six year old is learning to read.  All three are constantly developing their vocabulary.  Thus, in our car, I Spy has become a staple game for having fun together while sliding in learning.
    Now, I know this game is hardly new, but it is one that parents often forget to pull out of their bag of tricks, so I wanted to spotlight it today.  I know we'll be playing ti by request on our way to and from appointments.
    Phoneme I Spy

    • Observant players
    • Time together in the car (or anywhere, really)

    1. Have the first player look out the car window and say, “I spy with my little eye something that beings with the sound ~.”  (For example, “I spy with my little eye, something that begins with the sound mmmm.”)
    2. Have other players guess what the first player spied.  (For example, “A mouse?”)
    3. If no one can guess, have the first player give additional hints, such as where the thing is/was located, what color it is, etc. (For example, “It’s by the side of the road.  We just went past a black one.”)
    4. Once the spied object has been revealed, have another player take a turn. (For example, “Mailboxes!”)

    • Phoneme Awareness and Recognition
    • Auditory Discrimination
    • Visual Awareness
    • Descriptive Vocabulary
    • Clarity of Speech

    Quick Tips/Extensions

    • Practice past tense by allowing children to use the clue (and exaggerate the “d” sound in), “I spie~” for things that are now out of sight.
    • Practice other rimes (the vowels and letters following it that form the end of a syllable or word, such as at in cat and hat.), “I spy something that rhymes with ~.”
    • Extend vocabulary by purposely choosing words which you are not sure your children know and letting them know that the word is a challenge they may or may not know and that they should simply try to look for something that matches your description.  Then, offer both the starting phoneme and lots of clues.  Once the children give up or point out what you were thinking of, name it and have them repeat the name.  (Then,sit back and be pleasantly satisfied the next time you play and they use the word as one of their secret spied objects.  We've done this with guardrails, windmills, directional lights, etc.)
    • Practice other early learning skills and vocabulary by varying clues to such things as, “It is (size),”  It is (color),” “It is ~er than a ~,”  “It is (on/under/next to/over/etc.) the ~,” or “It is (descriptive texture word, such as smooth or bumpy).”
    • Key into other senses, such as “I hear with my little ear…” “If I were outside, I could feel with my hand/skin/feet…”
    • Extend awareness and recognition of phonemes (and just plain old silliness), by modeling other words that begin with the phoneme a child uses in his or her clue.  For example, if a child said, “I spy with my little eye something that beings with the sound ‘t’,” You might respond, “Hmmm, I don’t see any t-t-t-tigers outside.  Oh my!  Thank goodness there are no t-t-t-tarantulas in our area.  Could it be a t-t-t-teapot?  Nope.  That’s at home, not outside the car…” and so on.
    • If you have a child, like our youngest, who is not using words yet, on that child’s turn wait a few moments, listening to see if the child makes any utterance of sound.  Then, speak for the child, as in, “Oh, you spy something that starts with the sound ‘g’?  Who else sees something that starts with that sound?”  Play with the sounds!

      What quick and easy games to you enjoy playing in the car?  Do they key into learning skills or are they just for fun?  Do you play any other adaptations of “I Spy” in the car or elsewhere?
      Please share your ideas or links.

      This post is being shared at We Are THAT Family's Works for Me Wednesday because Phoneme I Spy works for helping all three of my children sharpen their skills while staying happy and engaged in the car!  It is also being shared at:

      Monday, November 14, 2011

      Crock Pot Applesauce Printable Children's Recipe Cards

      Quite a while back, I saw Cookin Cards: Individualized Cooking Recipes for Classroom Snacks in a Montessori Services catalog and wished I had a set to help guide my children's Practical Life food preparation skills.  However, at nearly $30, I just could not justify the cost-benefit ratio of the cards.  For while the cards look wonderfully designed, with both notes for educators about suggested pre-cooking activities and step-by-step drawings of how to make each recipe, they also looked like something I could almost make myself.

      "Could" and "will" are often two very different things though.  Somehow,  making cooking cards for my kids got back-burnered.

      Then, recently, I saw Heidi's awesome homemade Banana Blender Cookie cards at Work and Play.  These brought the idea of step-by-step pictorial cooking cards for the kids back to the fore of my mind.  Thus, I began creating some with a simple GFCF, sugar-free recipe that my children and I enjoy making every autumn (and sometimes at other times in the year):  

      Crock Pot Applesauce  

      I think I have turned my Publisher file for these recipe cards into a PDF correctly and uploaded it to a site for your ease of download.  So, please feel free to give it a try by clicking here.  (Off course, if it doesn't work, let me know.  I am new to this way of sharing files.)

      To use the cards with your children, simply print them, cut them and laminate them if you wish.  Then, put them in a flip photo album, on a ring or in a recipe file box, and follow the steps, one card at a time.

      I hope you and your children enjoy this simple recipe as much as we do.

      Next on my Montessori Recipe Cards printable list will be one our favorite protein-packed GFCF pancake breakfast recipes.  I aim to have it up within a couple weeks.  So, stop by to check for it, and, if you have any tips or requests for improving the format of the cards before I post the next ones, please share your thoughts in a comment.

      Happy "I Can Do It" kiddo cooking!

      I am linking this post to my BloTaAcMo initiative, as I knocked three more things off my task list in preparing this post:  figuring out how to convert a Publisher document to a PDF, opening an account for sharing files online and linking blog posts to items to share.  Hopefully, I did all this correctly....  If you've managed to publish a post that you've been meaning to for quite some time, or if you have blog tasks and tips to share this month, please feel free to link them up to the linky at my initial BloTaAcMo.

      This post is being shared at Montessori Monday hosted by One Hook Wonder and Living Montessori Now, where you'll find many wonderful ideas for exploring Montessori with your own children.  It is also being shared at:


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