Wednesday 13 May 2009

To answer some questions...

I had a message yesterday with a number of questions that I thought other readers might be interested in too so I decided to answer them in a post.

I'm a huge fan of your blog because you write well and present the stories about your day with such positive energy. Yours is the first blog that made me feel that I could actually attempt a Montessori set up at home, because you rely quite a bit on home made items and take the time to explain how you assemble the work. I'm really learning a lot, thanks for sharing! 
Would you say that a background in teaching and / or a course in Montessori is essential before introducing my child to the method? 

I wouldn't say it is essential but it certainly helps. For me, doing the Montessori course really helped as before the course I didn't know much about Montessori at all, I would say the biggest help was not the actual presentation of the materials but the reasoning behind them in the first place. Things like the knobless cylinders being designed to strengthen the pinch muscles as well as the obvious learning about size. Plus the thoery side was very interesting,
this book convinced me that Montessori was the right thing for us. I am not formally trained as a teacher although when I was teaching I did a lot of training courses and seminars but I have no formal qualification as such. I think that formal teacher training (non Monetssori) maybe more of a hindrance as the Montessori set up is so very different to a traditional class. This is just my opinion but I think you should set up your home with a Montessori environment in mind rather than have just a shelf with Montessori work on it, I feel it is as much about the environment as it is the Materials.
Ebi-kun has always slept on a futon (no choice in the apartment), even though he now has a bed he sleeps on the bottom with a futon. Everything he needs is at his height, his clothes draws are all his height and picture labelled, we have little steps for the toilet and sink so he can do it all himself. In the apartment we were short on space so I had a shelf set up for his snack/dinner things, these days he can just get what he wants out the draw himself and the snack shelf became the art shelf. 
When I was first starting out with this an experienced Montessori teacher told me to have a small shelf out with just 3 toys on it, the rest of his things should be put away - I thought at the time that she was a little nuts but I did as she suggested and it was spot on. I bought a small shelf, a nice one that fit with our living room, his books went on one side of the shelf which left space for one toy and the two on the top. I would rotate the toys every day or two. This meant when he woke up he had 'new' toys, when he got a bit older he would ask for a certain toy and that was fine. We still have the shelf in the living room, now the whole shelf is full of books and half the top of the shelf has his big books - encyclopedia's etc. and then there is a space for one toy, he has a box of puzzles next to it and then he is allowed one big toy downstairs at a time - may it be Lego, train set, marble run etc. Sometimes he asks to get the Lego out with the train track or whatever - again, I am fine with that. Also downstairs, he has his own little desk and chair which is where he does his drawing, it is usually piled high with 'work' and it is hard to believe that there is a desk under there I am working on sorting that problem out! I have always left his art supplies out, he started his 'art' at about 10 months and from then I made a point that drawing was to be done at the table and on paper, this took a leap in faith (OK I wasn't that brave, I only allowed him washable crayons/markers) but we have never had a crayon on the wall incident. He always had a large supply of paper, all different types and colours. Those pieces of card that come inside T-shirts and the such are handy too. Most of his Montessori equipment is kept in the spare room, you can see the set up here although we  have a lot more stuff on the shelves now!

Also, I see you've made large purchases of materials for Ebi kun, and I'm wondering how you would have dealt with the situation if he was not interested in all the work that you had spent money on. Are there any methods you use to encourage the use of some materials beyond just the initial presentation? I would be very disappointed if I spent lots on something and my son turned out not to be interested in the work at all, even after introducing it to him several times.

It was a gamble spending so much money and the cheapest way to do it was to make a big order - Montessori equipment in Japan is stupid money! I don't have all the equipment out at once, I put out what I think he is ready for, sometimes I wait for him to ask to work with new material other times I will just do the presentation with him. I did buy all the bead material yet he has shown little interest in it, when we have worked with it, I have initiated the situation. Once he has it out he seems to enjoy it though. One method I found that helped was to move some of the equipment, I actually set it up on the bench downstairs rather than upstairs and suddenly he was interested again! Another trick is to use whatever they are interested in at the time as a 'theme' so when all he interested in was dinosaurs I adapted a lot of the activities to make them dino related. He is currently obsessed with football - it is giving me a headache :o). I have not stressed about him not being interested in something, he may not have reached that phase yet. We had a phase where the ONLY work he was interested in was on the language shelf and another where he wanted to do painting all the time - I think it was the discovery of mixing colours, I like to just go with the flow.
There have been things that I have made thinking he would love it and he really wasn't into it, I just put it in the cupboard then get it out again at a different date, more often than not he shows an interest second time round.

Do you blog about all new activities? I'm asking so as to get a gauge of how many different activities Ebi kun gets to work on. 
Most, probably 80%, sometimes I forget to take pictures or just forget to blog about it. I would say, on average, I set up 3 or 4 new activities a week, maybe not brand new, sometimes an extension of what he has already been working on. We usually do some kind of new craft/art project a week and we try to do a new snack recipe or some kind of cooking. I really am not that organised, it is very much played by ear. Some of the activities I have been inspired by something I have seen on a blog or website others I take my cue by his current interests and I find getting my manuals out every couple of weeks and flicking through helps keep the ideas fresh. Initially I printed and laminated all the cards that we used but I have given up on the laminating now, since only one child is using them and he is quite respectful of the cards there seem like little point. I do laminate cards that I anticipate will get used a lot.
I have also started to try and have a theme for the week, the China and volcano weeks went really well but two weeks ago was supposed to be Brazil week and it flopped, partly because the books I had ordered arrived late so it never really pulled together, we will try again!
Finally, what do you mean when you say you wrote Ebi kun's name phonically?
So when I wrote his name I would sound out the letter, so if his name was Fred I would write and say
F 'fuh'
r 'ruh'
e 'eh'
d 'duh'

Rather than using the letters names, does that make sense?

Also Lucy asked 
I'd love you to do a post about what ebi-kun means and some of the japanese expressions

I will warn you know that my Japanese is pretty rubbish but I should be able to manage to of the common expressions...
kawaii - the most over used word in Japan, also the first word I learnt! It means cute.
zakka - small, useful, household items - zipped pouches, teapot covers, soap dishes...get the idea?
-kun - for adults you always address them with -san as a sign of respect, -san is used for men and women and usually used with the family name so you have Suzuki-san, Kawasaki-san. For kids -chan is used, -chan can be used for girls and boys and -kun is just for boys. The first name tends to get shortened, like a nickname I suppose so Emiko would become Emi-chan and Takahiro would become Tak-kun. Ebi-kun is a shortened version of our family name.
Baa-chan - grandmother
Jii-chan - grandfather
ne? - this is tagged onto the end of a sentence to make a statement into a question such as Nice weather today, ne?
A lot of foreigners end up doing this, saying a sentence in English and tagging ne onto the end!
gaijin - foreigner, more politely is gaikokujin - direct translation is outside person.
hafu - taken from the English word half, means half Japanese and half something else. So Ebi-kun is half Japanese and half English. Some people take offence at the term but as I see it, it is an adaptation of the language, I suppose it should be hafu to hafu - half and half :o) but I am not going to be able to make the whole of Japan change their language so, I just go with it. I have met a number of hufu adults and non of them have a problem with the term.
bento - lunch box
kamoboko - fishcake, can be eaten hot or cold.
eda-mame - soya beans
onigiri - rice ball, eaten as a snack or with a bento.

Can't think of anything else, if you want me to add something, let me know!


  1. These are really helpful. I'm a first time mom and been reading your blog since last year, even before I had my child. But now that I have U-chan who's growing fast, I still can't decide what kind of education is best for her. I'm still thinking of Kindermusik or Kumon when she's a bit older but since I'm a SAHM, the idea of teaching her on my own at an early stage seems to be welcoming. But I still have to go back again to some of your blog posts and borrow your ideas. I love especially those snacks in cupcake pans, and those visual aids you made for counting and computing. Really brilliant!

  2. thank you very much for writing this post. i'm planning to homesch my daughter until she goes to primary sch and your blog is a great resource.

  3. Thanks for answering these questions. I really found the questions and answers helpful. I have my home set up according to Montessori principals for my 5 and 2 year old children. I also have purchase and made lots of materials and I know what your reader is saying about disappointment if my children don't take to some of the equipment. I have found that when my son doesn't take an interest in something that I have presented it is usually because he is not ready yet. For example, I presented the moveable alphabet 6 months ago and he was not ready. He needed more time with sandpaper letters, the sand tray for writing letters, more activities to develop his pencil grip. Just now he has taken an interest in the moveable alphabet about the same time he has become interested in writing letters and simple and nonsense words.

  4. thanks Jo for posting this! Can I ask a clarifying question... you mentioned only putting three toys out etc... but with the Montessori stuff, do you keep it out for him somewhere and then he picks what he wants to do from those shelves? I am just trying to understand what you were writing there.

    I also live in a small flat, basically 3 rooms that all connect. So, space is limited. I am trying to figure out where to put his stuff and for now, I just put out trays for him to choose... usually about 5 different activities at a time. I pick what goes on them... and he picks which ones he wants to do when.

    Any more thoughts on super small places? Thanks!!!

  5. I have added some links to the post to other posts that have pictures - easier than trying to explain! Julie - yes, his Montessori equipment is set up in another room, when we lived in the little apartment I had one shelf with his Montessori things on it. He can take the things out and work with them at anytime, sometimes all goes quiet upstairs which always makes me thing 'what is he up to now?' but often I go up and he had taken something off the shelf and is busy working away - always brings a smile to my face.
    I think having limited space is one of the most difficult hurdles for Montessori at home, I will try and do a more updated post about the set up in the house...

  6. thanks jo!
    I love the japanese ;o)
    As for not being a trained teacher, I would've had no idea, you're a natural!
    I feel very lucky to have found your blog.... ;o)

  7. See, I think that having limited space is a great asset when you are using Montessori because it forces you to really follow the child. You can't have all the sensorial items out at once, or all the math or whatever.

    Thank you for this post. It was very helpful!

  8. Great answers, thanks so much for taking the time to write the post, and in such great detail too. It certainly does clear things up for me!

  9. Fantastic post on a fantastic blog. I really enjoyed reading your answers - they are very helpful and I enjoyed my lesson in Japanese!


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