Christmas Guest Posts

I don’t normally guest post, it is a once or twice a year thing for me.  It just so happens that 2 of the times I said yes this year are both articles that are up right now on 2 of my favorite sites! 

The first post I wrote was for the What’s in the Bible Blog, and is about homeschooling during the holiday seasonIMG_7710


Jenae from I Can Teach My Child invited me to guest post for her series on Favorite Family Traditions.  You can see my post about our tradition of giving here!

Montessori Minute ~ What is Montessori?

What is Montessori, Really?

Parents regularly ask me what Montessori is. My stock answer includes a mini-bio of Maria Montessori and information about the benefits of a Montessori Prepared Environment for young children. That is perhaps not a complete answer.

Maria Montessori‟s observations led her to view children as self-guided, internally directed beings who largely teach themselves. She could have closed up shop at that point and moved on to observe something else. Thankfully she didn’t; and now we have Montessori schools all over the world. Her Prepared Environment and the beautiful Montessori materials are creative, brilliant approaches to helping life. We associate Montessori with Pink Towers, Spindle Boxes, Sandpaper Sounds, Practical Life activities, math beads, low shelves, child size furniture, and all the rest. But is that all of what Montessori is?

Follow the Child is the Montessori mantra. Through her spontaneously expressed interests and explorations, she will show us what she needs. Give him an environment rich in interesting things to do that bring the world within reach and he will respond. You don’t plan a young child’s development; you just help it along. This happens in Montessori schools, and as we see on Mom Blogs, in many homes every day. Parents are doing activities just like those in Montessori schools, right at home. This is wonderful, but is that where Montessori begins and ends?

Montessori’s first school opened in the slums of Rome before 1910. Those children did not have the advantages of many children today. imageWe hop in the car or on a plane and go to the mountains, beach, lake, meadow, mall, art exhibit, street fair, toy store, superstore, different city, Disneyland, historical site, children’s museum, etc. Young children learn swimming, gymnastics, and soccer. Our kids are surrounded by internet-connected devices. A year of Sesame Street gives a child all kinds of learning experiences. Many homes with young children look like toy stores. Homes and day care centers have educational toys and activities. Preschools are everywhere. A large percentage of children attend kindergarten. Things have changed. Montessori started it all, and I believe she would be thrilled with how our awareness of the importance of young children has evolved.

More parents today have an understanding that children learn quite a lot in the years before school. Helping kids count, pointing out colors and words, and playing educational games are common now. Let’s say a parent never creates or buys a Montessori material. If that parent involves their child in everyday life around the home, encourages their child to learn basic life skills and be independent, provides a variety of experiences the child enjoys and looks forward to, takes their child to the playground, provides a variety of interesting toys, watches educational TV shows, and reads with their child regularly, is that parent doing Montessori? If a parent is active in helping their child learn but never sets up a low shelf or creates a self-contained activity, is that parent still doing Montessori? That parent is helping life. That means helping in any way that benefits a child and that the child gets into.

Montessori was not big on pretend play or books with talking animals. What if your child loves pretend and dramatic play; and dearly loves her Talking Elmo or doll or book with talking deer and magical creatures? Many of us grew up on this stuff and turned out ok. The Lion King and Finding Nemo don’t seem to have caused abnormalities in children. Follow the child, wherever that leads. Many educators state that computers and TV are not appropriate for young children. Don‟t tell that to the kids! Information exchange is evolving; and kids are into keeping up. Keep a balance and control content, but follow the child.

Not everything can be presented to a child on a tray or a shelf. We don’t know what experiences children will find fascinating until we show them things and take them places. The Prepared Environment now includes the whole world!

If Maria Montessori were alive, what would her Prepared Environment look like now? Would it have evolved to include more experiences and other approaches to child development? I think so.

It seems to me that it is we adults who categorize, join groups, start training programs, and defend our territory. Children are smarter than that! While we debate the merits of our favorite approach, children are busy absorbing what they need from all of it. I wish we could get some of them into Congress!

I think the reason the different approaches to early childhood education work and make us believe in them so strongly is because of the absorbent minds and willing attitudes of the children using them.

Following Montessori’s approach means following the child and helping life. This can be done in many ways using many approaches. If I were starting a preschool or day care center today I think it would be a lot of fun to offer the children everything, all the approaches, all together. Let the children choose what they want to do. My guess is you would see the kids find their own intelligent balance and do everything when the time was right for them. Follow the child.

Give a child a stick and she will create a learning activity, a dramatic play sequence, an art project, and a cherished object. Give him the rich environment of a Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio, or traditional preschool and he will make each one look like the best thing since sliced bread. It’s not just the program – it’s the children. They adapt to all of them and make them look brilliant! As Montessori observed, children will teach us if we just observe and listen.

A Montessori Prepared Environment and Montessori materials have unique benefits for children. Children can follow their own paths using the same space and equipment; and learn social skills in a natural way. Their development as individuals is encouraged, not molded to fit adult designed, one-size-fit-all lesson plans. Montessori activities help children experience the thrill of succeeding through their own motivations. Isolating activities and skills helps children develop concentration. The entire setup shows respect for the child. The Prepared Environment truly is a “help to life”, as Montessori intended, whether it is in a school or at home.

Maria Montessori showed us that children are internally guided and directed. She gave us a beautiful way to help and encourage their natural development. If you follow her prime directive – Follow the Child – you find that many other experiences and approaches to early childhood education also support and encourage a child’s development. I recommend using it all and putting as much as you can within your child’s reach. Expose your child to the world in many ways and encourage her to become independent.

Help life. Follow the child.

John Bowman is the author of  Help Your Preschooler Build a Better Brain.

© 2011 John Bowman

My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1!

Did you miss earlier Montessori Minute Posts?

Montessori Minute ~ The Three Part Lesson

The Three Part Lesson ~ A Montessori teaching tool you can use at home

We teach our children so many names for things! Colors, shapes, numbers, letters, names of plants and animals – the list seems endless when you think about it. Dr. Maria Montessori thought about it around 1900, and came up with a neat way to help young children learn the name of anything. She called it the Three Part Lesson. This technique is used in Montessori schools around the world. You can use it at home, too.

We have short term and long term memory. When a child hears a new term, it goes into short term memory. Young children have “absorbent minds”. They often remember words after hearing them only once!  Short term memory is fickle, though, and words can be forgotten. Children often need a little help getting words to move from short term to long term memory. That‟s where the Three Part Lesson shines.

The steps of a Three Part Lesson are Identification, Recognition, and Recall. In the Identification step we show the child three objects – one at a time – and tell the child each object’s name. Then we set the objects in front of the child and do the Recognition step where, you guessed it, we ask the child to point out (recognize) each object when we say its name. We have the child practice naming the objects this way a number of times. Finally, we ask the child to tell us (recall) the name of each object one at a time. That is a Three Part Lesson.

Here is an example. We will teach a child the Primary Colors: red, yellow, and blue:


In the Identification step, show your child just the yellow color. Your child looks at it and says, “Yellow”. You repeat this with the red, then blue colors, each by itself.

In the Recognition step, set out all three colors. Ask your child to point them out when you say their names. Have your child close his eyes while you move the colors around. Ask him to point each one out again. Repeat this 3-5 times, moving the colors to new positions each time.

Finally, in the Recall step, set each color in front of your child one at a time again and ask him to name them. By the way, the color cards shown are sample paint cards from a hardware store.

BIG TIP: More time spent in step two, Recognition, helps young children the most.

All those different layouts and practice in step two are when the information moves from your child‟s short term to long term memory! Play different games. Put the objects on a table across the room and ask your child to go get them. Always be sure to switch roles and have your child ask you to point out the colors. Lay out the objects a number of different ways.

Here is another example of a three Part Lesson, this time to teach amounts 1, 2 & 3:


Now you’re getting the hang of it. To increase your confidence, it helps to practice doing a Three Part Lesson before you do one with your child. Soon it will be second nature.

Here is another example, this time teaching the phonetic sounds of m, a, & t:


Those neat letters are Montessori Sandpaper Letters. We will talk more about them in a future post on learning to read. When your child uses the sandpaper letters and numbers, she traces, looks at, and says the letter sound or number name all at the same time. This creates tactile, visual, and auditory impressions simultaneously. That really helps get information into long term memory.


Montessori Sandpaper Letters & Numerals from Kid Advance Montessori. Use lower case, block letters. These are fantastic tools for the first step in the Reading Sequence – Phonics. The numerals teach your child the written symbols 0-10. Both materials prepare your child for writing.

Okay, bring on the questions!

How old should my child be before I do Three Part Lessons?

By about 4 years old most kids will participate in a Three Part Lesson. Your child’s interest and enthusiasm for any material or activity should always be your guide. Montessori is all about trusting and following the natural inner guide that is leading your child’s development along. If you ask your child if she wants to learn the names of some colors and she agrees, go for it. If not, don‟t push it – find something she is interested in.

What if my child does not remember the names?

Very common, no worries. If you get to step three and your child cannot remember the names, your child is either not ready for the activity, not interested on that particular day, or you didn’t spend enough time in step two. I’ll leave it to you to decide which. If your child is not ready or interested, remember that nothing is ever gained by pressuring a young child to learn. You have to follow their lead and enthusiasm. “Go with the flow”.

If you get to step three and your child cannot remember the names stay positive, praise your child for what she has done right, and start over in step one. More time in step two will help get the information into your child’s long term memory.

If your child does not remember the names days later, another three step lesson or two will get the job done. The important thing is to:

Be patient, be positive, and encourage your child’s efforts.

Why use three objects, wouldn’t using more be faster?

More than three objects tends to be cumbersome and a bit confusing for a young child, although sometimes it can work with four or even five objects. One or two objects isn’t quite enough. It’s like Goldilocks & the Three Bears – three seems just about right most of the time.

Should we review names we have learned in past lessons?

Absolutely.  Before you do the next lesson to learn more colors, amounts, letters, etc., always get out the ones you did before and see if your child still remembers them. This gives you a constant check on how your child is progressing and insures you don’t move ahead before your child has really mastered what came earlier.

With practice, your child will soon learn how the Three Part Lesson works and get comfortable with it. So will you! You will find it a very helpful tool for teaching your child the name of anything.

My child is too hyper to sit through an entire Three Part Lesson. What to do?

The first goal of Montessori activities is to find materials that attract your child’s interest so that he focuses his attention on them. Concentration and focusing attention are skills a child learns like any other skill. Once a child begins to spend time concentrating his attention on materials he is really interested in, he will calm down enough to start learning through Three Part Lessons. He will also become more able to learn advanced skills like math and reading. Children who learn to concentrate usually become calmer and more satisfied with life in general. Maria Montessori called this ‘Normalization’.

So, keep trying materials and activities until your child latches onto one & go from there!

John Bowman is the author of  Help Your Preschooler Build a Better Brain.
© 2011 John Bowman

My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1!

Did you miss earlier Montessori Minute Posts?

Montessori Minute ~ Where Do I Start?

imageWelcome back to Montessori Minute! These posts are written to support and encourage parents who are doing (or want to do) early learning activities at home in a Montessori way.

One question I get from parents quite often is:

“I see so many activities on the blogs,

where do I start with MY child?”

Fantastic question! It goes to the heart of Montessori, and early learning in general. There is a lot to learn, and the variety of activities can be totally confusing for parents. This post will give you some ideas to help you simplify, organize, and get started!

To keep this post a reasonable length, I’m going to assume you are familiar with Maria Montessori and the basics of doing Montessori activities. Read the Montessori Minute post: Understanding Maria Montessori. There are many good resources, including:

As you surf and read, keep these Montessori basics with special relevance to the home environment in mind:

    • Independent activity & repetition
    • Attractive, interesting, self-contained activities using three dimensional objects, displayed on low shelves
    • Following the child’s lead
    • Organization, respect for the materials, cleaning up

Ok, you’ve got your bearings and are ready to take that first step. I recommend that you:

Start with a Practical Life or Sensory activity

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Practical Life and Sensory activities are the foundation of Montessori for 2-6 year olds. These activities are the reason children in Montessori schools have an easy time learning math and reading! Among a whole host of benefits, these activities:

    • Open millions of brain nerve pathways and build strong brain architecture
    • Give children a series of successes that build a confident self-image
    • Help children learn to focus their concentration
    • Support and encourage a young child’s strong drive toward independence
    • Sharpen a child’s sensory acuity and discrimination
    • Develop visual, muscle (motor), and abstract thinking skills
    • Help children become life participants instead of spectators

Here are some good resources on these two types of Montessori activities:

Practical Life

Age-based suggestions for first Practical Life activities:

2-3 Years

image image image

Left: Pouring beans with plain cups. Middle: Sponging water. Right: The Rice Tub. Measuring spoons, cups, etc., in a plastic tub with rice for free exploration.

3-4 Years

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Left: cutting a banana with a plastic knife. Middle: Nuts & Bolts. Right: Tongs and plastic golf balls transfer using a plastic egg carton.

4-5 Years

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Left: Button sewing. Middle: Transferring pomp poms with tweezers. Right: Shoe tying.

Sensorial Activities

Age-based suggestions for first Sensory Activities:

2-3 Years

IMG_7243 image image

Left: A sensory bin. Middle: the Pink Tower ready to build. Right: The Mystery Bag with a few very different shaped common objects.

3-4 Years

image image image

Left: Montessori Binomial Cube. Middle: Matching Color Cards. Right: Pasta Sorting.

4-5 Years

image image image

Left: Montessori Trinomial Cube. Middle: Color Mixing. Right: Montessori Blue Constructive Triangles.


    • Pick an activity. Try an Everyday Life or Sensory activity.
    • Decide on a place where the activity will be displayed. It may be a set of low shelves set up in your child’s room; or space you create on other open, low shelves your child can easily reach. If you don’t have a space, start anyway!
    • Follow the activity directions. Involve your child in gathering materials and putting the activity together in its own nice container or on a nice tray. If you go shopping, take your child. If possible make a label, for example: Julie’s Nuts & Bolts, and tape it to the container.
    • Start the Activity Cycle by having your child lay out a table mat or floor rug to make a work space; and carry the activity to it.
    • Demonstrate the activity slowly for your child.
    • Let your child work with the activity as long as he likes. Assist as needed, but as little as possible.
    • When your child is done, make sure she puts everything back into the container and puts on the lid, if it has one.
    • Your child carries the material to the shelf you have chosen. Let your child help decide where to put it and then set it there. Say, “This is where we will keep this activity.”
    • Have your child put the rug or mat away where you two have chosen to store these items.
    • Follow these steps with each new activity. You will build up a selection of learning materials, customized to your child’s current skill levels and interests, each with its own place on the shelf. Your child will know where each one goes and how the process of using the activities works.

Soon you will have a home Montessori school.

People will be asking you how you did it!

As you continue doing activities, these simple guidelines can help:



imageThe beauty of Montessori is that it follows the child. Trust the Inner Teacher inside your child and keep trying activities. Involve your child in looking for new ones on blogs and in books. Don’t expect a big success every day, things don’t go perfectly in Montessori schools either – have fun!

Kitchens rock for doing Montessori!

Still think Montessori has to be complicated? Watch this video of a child helping his Mom boil potatoes. This may look like a simple Practical Life activity to pass the time. Not from the child’s perspective! This child is getting experiences with muscle skill practice, textures, water splashing, light refraction, sequencing, groups of objects changing in number, cooking, and look at his concentration and repetition! He is also having wonderful interactions with his Mom. Children get so much from this kind of activity, and it doesn’t require anything more than your involvement, time, and love!

John Bowman is the author of  Help Your Preschooler Build a Better Brain.
© 2011 John Bowman

My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1!

Did you miss earlier Montessori Minute Posts?

Montessori Minute ~ Sensory Activities

Montessori Sensory Activities at Home


Maria Montessori developed the Sensorial Materials to help 2-6 year old children educate and refine their senses to recognize similarities and differences, and make decisions based on sensory characteristics. She based her materials on objects used at that time in research on human perception. The Sensorial materials include the Cylinder Blocks, Pink Tower, Red Rods, Broad Stair, Geometric Solids, Color Boxes, Smell and Sound cylinders, Baric Tablets, Constructive Triangle Boxes, Fabric Box, Thermal Cylinders, and others found in virtually all Montessori preschools.

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Your 2-6 year old child’s brain is where the action is! Early childhood is all about opening new brain nerve pathways and developing the best possible brain architecture. Your child’s senses send electrical impulses racing to his brain, where they open nerve pathways and are interpreted as sensations of touch, smell, sight, taste, and sound. When a young child uses Montessori and other sensory activities, she experiences the relative sensory characteristics of objects. She focuses her attention and makes comparisons and decisions based on sensory information. These purposeful mental activities develop the efficient, powerful brain architecture your child will use the rest of her life. They are why children in Montessori preschools learn to read, write, use mathematics, and develop critical thinking skills at young ages in a very natural, unforced way. These skills are the byproducts of strong brain development and learning to focus attention. For young children, it’s all about the brain.

Starting your home Sensory activities is easy – turn a plastic storage box into a Sensory Bin. These are versatile and allow free exploration.

Fall Sensory Bin IMG_9244 IMG_3297

A nice first bin can hold a couple of inches of multicolored rice and various spoons, cups, jars with lids, and a funnel. Other items like beans, cotton balls, paper from the shredder, foam pom poms and shapes, plastic Easter eggs, squeezable rubber objects, plastic animals, loose jingle bells, marbles, and perhaps some fragrant orange peels, lemon rinds, or even spices, can be added as desired. Use fine sand one time, un-popped popcorn the next, and marbles another time. Provide wooden, ceramic, and sturdy glass containers that create interesting sounds as materials are poured in and out. Hide interesting objects in the pile and let your child find them. Make picture cards of these objects for your child to match her discoveries to.

Sensory Bins can be filled with objects related to a theme, like a walk in the woods in the fall (river rocks, pine cones, meadow grass, a jar of river water, Thanksgiving (gourds, split peas, leaves turning color), Christmas, or a trip to the beach. Another time, clear out a bin and put in blobs of shaving cream. Add different food coloring to each blob and let your child mix them up.

Sensory Books are another easy home activity. Gather various objects from around the house or from a walk in the park: aluminum foil, a cotton ball, a small rock, string, a walnut, tree bark, grass, leaves, a flower, smooth fabric – objects with distinctive textures. Make a book by folding and stapling sheets of construction paper. Let your child glue the objects onto the pages. In lower case block letters, write the name of each object below it, along with a word or two describing how the object feels. This is a good time to help your child in the gradual transition to abstract thought by including photos from the internet of hard, soft, long, short, large, small, and other objects. Display these proudly and read them often with your child. With practice, he can start to read his sensory books!

Montessori Sensory activities are easy to create at home!

First, buy a blindfold or make one by taping over the eye holes of a costume mask. A handkerchief tiedaround the head works, too. Have your child wear it when comparing objects by senses other than sight. This helps your child focus on his other senses. Make sure you also try it!

Sample paint color cards from the hardware store can be used to teach color names and match colors. Get the best examples you can of the Primary Colors – red, yellow, & blue; and the Secondary Colors orange, green, purple (violet), and also brown, gray, pink, black, and white. Your child can match these up and learn the names of the colors using a Three Step Lesson. Watch for a detailed post for directions on this coming soon!


Sample cards with various shades of a single color make a great color grading material to organize colors from darkest to lightest. First ask, “Can you find the darkest color?” and have your child set it to the left. Now ask, “Can you find the darkest one of those that are left over here?” and repeat, setting the next one to the right of the first. Repeat until your child has made a line going left to right (sets up a visual pattern for reading) and darkest to lightest.


Small plastic food containers made up in matching pairs containing materials like salt, unpopped popcorn, beans, rice, paper clips, coffee, etc. make a great sound matching material.


The blindfold helps your child focus in on the sounds when your child shakes each container next to her ear to find the ones that match – “Do they sound the same, or different?” use materials that sound very different at first so your child has early success with the material. This always increases interest and motivation – young children love to succeed at things! Let your child listen as you hand him sound containers and he gradually matches them up.

If your child is just a bit young for this and cannot recognize the sound similarities and differences, focus instead on filling the containers 1/3 full and putting the lids on tight. Encourage and praise your child when she does well at this. In the near future she will be ready to match the sounds and will have a positive feeling about this material.

Various spices in small open cups are used for smell matching, again wearing the blindfold. Good spices for this include ground cinnamon, minced garlic, cumin seed, ground thyme,vanilla bean, & Mrs. Dash.


Just pour a bit of each spice into a clear cup and have you child put on the blindfold. Let him smell a spice, then a second spice, and tell you if they are the same or different. If he says “Different”, and there are two cups there when he lifts the blindfold, he was right! If he says “The Same” and there is only one cup, that means he smelled the same spice twice and is correct again. Now you put on the blindfold.

Different numbers of coins placed in your child’s outstretched hands can be felt to determine if they are the same or different in weight “Which hand is heavier now?” Counting the coins to compare introduces math. All kinds of fabrics can be cut into pairs of 5-6” squares and used – again with a blindfold – for matching by feel.


Pour different temperatures of lukewarm to pretty hot water into small glass cups, add a couple you have cooled in the frig for different lengths of time beforehand, and let your child put them in a line from warmest to coolest going left to right (again encouraging a visual pattern for reading), wearing the blindfold, to exercise your child’s thermal (temperature) sense. Place a thermometer in each and write down their temperatures. Unsweetened chocolate, salt, sugar, and a lemon can be used to help your child distinguish the four basic tastes.


Of course, you have a whole world of music and art experiences you can introduce to your child; and a kitchen chock full of wonderful tastes and smells! Use all kinds of new language during these activities – smallest, largest, color names, louder, softer, sweet, sour, salty, longest, shortest, etc. – to create new language experiences. You can do fabulous Montessori sensory activities right at home and have a lot of fun – try wearing the blindfold yourself and let your child hand you the objects!

Once your child has developed a proper writing grasp,

imagetracing objects is an excellent sensory activity that also prepares a child for writing. Arts & crafts stores have many wooden shapes in addition to the traditional circles, rectangles, and triangles. You can also use bottle lids, shallow boxes, cookie cutters, all kinds of objects. Print out basic geometric shapes onto card stock and cut them out for your child to trace.

Like all Montessori materials, involve your child in obtaining the materials and making them, then place each in its own attractive bowl, basket, box, or bag, and give each one a special, consistent place on low shelves in your child’s room. This encourages independent use of the materials. You can add a Montessori Pink Tower, Red Rods (or make your own from straws or wooden doweling), Cylinder Blocks #1 & 3, a Mystery Bag Set, Constructive Triangles, and the Binomial and Trinomial Cubes to your home preschool for about $175 over a 1-2 year period. When your child is finished with these, they are a quick sell on Ebay, recovering probably half your investment.


Photos from Montessori Outlet at


Display your Montessori and other home early learning materials in consistent spots on low shelves in your child’s room or the room you homeschool in. Leave a little space between each for dramatic effect. Keep them clean, organized, and ready for use. Switch materials out as your child’s interests and needs change.

Photo Credit: Chasing Cheerios

The Montessori Sensory activities, together with the Everyday Life (also called Independence or Practical Life) activities, set the stage for everything that follows. 2-4 year old children who use these activities have a much easier time learning to read and master math and science. They also develop a positive self-image as confident, competent people.

A word of advice: a computer, other internet device, or the TV should not beyour child’s primary sensory stimulators. Computers and TV provide valuable visual and auditory experiences; but they are not a substitute for active, movement based, hands on, varied sensorial experience. Computers should be introduced early to children because they are an integral part of their lives now; but children need hands on experience with all their senses, movement, and a variety of interpersonal relationships to fully develop. In your child’s early years, try not to let the computer take center stage, but instead be a great tool to reinforce and expand on your young child’s real life activities.Montessori Minute

John Bowman is the author of Help Your Preschooler Build a Better Brain

My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1!