This book will be released in 2020. Below are a few excerpts from one year of our 15-year experience (1986-2001), of day-by-day, year-by-year, learning how to create an authentic Montessori education at home, through elementary, middle, and high school.
THIRD GRADE – Introduction
The First Test
Many of Michael’s friends attended public school and he often heard them worrying about an upcoming test, something outside of his educational experience until, in a class on music theory at the Saturday Music Academy, he was given a test. That evening as we were at dinner he said:
I don’t see what the big deal is about tests. My friends who go to school are always worrying about them. The music test today was no problem. If I didn’t know the answer to a question I just looked at the test of the person sitting next to me.
We had to laugh and were able to explain the concept of “cheating.” Michael was used to working with, not competing against, others to solve problems. This was his first experience being asked to give information completely on his own, where his answers would be marked right or wrong by someone else, and then he would maybe be given a grade compared to the grades earned by the other students in the class.
We explained that a test could be seen as a way to find out if a teacher was successfully imparting knowledge, and to assess the progress of a student and then give direction where he should focus his energy and time in order to improve. We explained the traditional testing situation in a positive way, but it gave us a lot to think about.
The Traditional Curriculum
This led to a question of what he was studying compared to what his friends in public school were studying. I told him about my experience as a teacher in a Montessori 6-12 class. When I was teaching in California I researched the required mastery for each year from kindergarten through sixth grade. I reduced the list for each year to the minimum of one single page per grade and had the pages available at all times for the students to refer to as they made their individual weekly work plan. Just as Michael was doing, the students practiced many different schedules of how to meet these basic requirements (average two hours a week I estimated) so they would have a lot of time to follow their curiosity, just as Michael was doing.
We found the information for basic requirements for grades k-6 in California at the university. This information is easily found on the Internet today. But actually we didn’t pay much attention to these requirements because Michael was thriving and happy with the way we were homeschooling and he was learning all the time not just during what would have been “school” hours. As Ted Dintersmith, PhD, says in his book What School Could Be (Princeton University Press, 2018):
Bulk tests don’t lend themselves to higher-order competencies like creativity, communication, critical analysis, collaboration, leadership, tenacity, and entrepreneurship. Across America our kids study what’s easy to test, not what’s important to learn. It’s easy to test factual content and low-level procedures, so that defines the curriculum.
We were learning that if we fed Michael’s curiosity and respected his choices he enjoyed the practical work, the social interactions, the academic work, and the physical and music skills he was working on, and we believed that he had a good chance of getting good at, remembering, and being able to make use of, what he was learning. And most importantly, he would be a happy person and a contributing member of the family and his various other social groups.
THIRD GRADE – The Earth
We continued the physics experiments on color, sound, weight, water, heat, and so on, which are found in the book The Red Corolla, Montessori Cosmic Education even though they are intended for the primary class. At that age they were just sensorial experiences but doing them now opens the door to bring up very interesting conversations such as the attraction of the moon on the earth to cause the differences in high and low tides. And concerning sound, why when we walk on the beach, the waves can or cannot be heard depending on where we are standing on the mounds of sand? This is an experience that makes the traveling of sound waves through the air very obvious. Why does the heavy fog bank sit far away on the horizon until the land heats up a few miles from the coast and then come rushing in? What makes the colors of the sunset even more vibrant after the sunsets than before?
These were not textbook lessons but real life examples. Beginning to learn to surf, and timing visits to the beach to the tides in order to observe sea creatures in the tide pools necessitated paying attention to the physics of the coast.
THIRD GRADE – Plants and Animals
Because we had moved closer to the village of Trinidad it was easy to go the University Marine Laboratory that is located here. There is a picture exhibit of the time when this was a whaling town and exhibit tanks full of the kinds of sea life that exist off of this coast in the Pacific Ocean, including at times a giant Pacific octopus that was fascinating to watch whenever it came out of hiding. In the back of the building there was a tide pool touch tank where we always took visitors. Many times there were groups of children from schools who had come to see the touch tank so Michael and I gave lessons on how to pick up the creatures and very carefully and slowly return them to the tank. This experience created more interest in animals and expanded his collection of pictures to classify into his animal classification book to include invertebrates.
THIRD GRADE – People
Rome: Exploring a culture as a family can be done anywhere especially in the United States, which is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world. But one of the best things about our homeschooling schedule was that sometimes we could travel with no need to think about missing school because schooling was going on all the time, seven days a week, wherever we found ourselves.
I had completed the first year of the Montessori 0-3 course in Denver and had observation assignments to complete before the final summer. Dr. Silvana Montanaro, the co-trainer with Judi Orion of the course, was our hostess in Rome where I was to observe babies in the hospital where Dr. Montanaro worked, and with luck to see the delivery of a baby whose parents had been trained in the birth-preparation relaxation technique we studied and practiced during the Montessori course.
We continually referred to the civilization charts as we questioned her about how Romans meet their needs of food, shelter, transportation, and clothing, and the mental and spiritual elements of life.
We were staying not far away in a tiny room in a convent with three tiny beds so close together that we had to climb into them from the ends, and a shower so small that if anyone dropped the soap they had to get out of the shower in order to be able to bend over to pick it up. Breakfast was coffee, hot milk for Michael, and bread and butter and we went to the outside market for fruit and cheese and more bread freshly baked for lunch.
Michael had brought his violin and there was a piano so he was invited to play for the children who attended the preschool at the convent. He really enjoyed the fact that when he played music by the composers in the Suzuki repertoire, all of whom are European, the children knew the melodies and hummed along with big smiles on their faces.
Silvana became so involved with our culture research that she took us to her favorite churches in Rome, explained what else we should see and how to get to these places by bus, and invited us for pizza with another Montessorian Gianna Gobbi. One day she drove us to Ostia Antica, an archaeological site near the port of Rome and loved explaining to Michael the details of life at that time, from how food was prepared to how the toilets worked.
Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi had years earlier created a program for teaching religion to children in the Montessori way, with sensorial materials for the youngest, timelines and other materials for the older children. This program, called The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, is now taught all over the world and I have seen beautiful catechesis environments for children of all ages in the United States, Colombia and Ecuador.
Silvana met weekly with adolescents to discuss Catholicism at their stage of life and she took us with her during our visit. Since Michael was already so interested in the Bible the timing was perfect and the teacher loved talking to him. She gave him an elementary class project; looking at the picture in a book for guidance, he placed labels on a printed map of the parts of the city of Jerusalem, and then was instructed to copy the labels to create his own map. When the teacher asked Sofia what to do because the labels were all in Italian Sofia said, “He can write them in Italian.” This was a precious keepsake of our trip.
When we returned home after this trip Michael read his first non-fiction historical novel, reading every day until he finished this book over 450 pages in length! I, Claudius, written by Robert Graves, is in the form of an autobiography of the Roman Emperor Claudius and is a great introduction to Roman history.
THIRD GRADE – Language
Literature – Family Readings
Here is a list of some favorite books Michael recorded in his journal this year: The Mahabharata (comics from India), Sherlock Holmes Case Book, Beowulf and The Legend of Odysseus (Children’s versions), Dances with Wolves, The Picture Bible, Story of the Theatre, The Sailor Who Captured the Sea, Tales of Long Ago, One Day in Ancient Rome, The Story of Numbers, Lafcadio (Shel Silverstein), The Brothers Lionheart, The Llama and the Great Flood, This is Paris, Wild Places, all Tintin Books (we discussed the prejudices and stereotypes that are often found in Tintin books when they came up), Ladybird abridged classics from England: The Tale of Two Cities, The Tinderbox, Tom Sawyer, and The Christmas Carol
Report Writing and Grammar
All through Michael’s years of homeschooling we looked for inspiring figures in all areas throughout history to serve as models of being good and helpful people. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr, and others. To remember these figures sometimes Michael wrote about them.
In the picture above you can see that he used selections from his readings to explore grammatically, in this case adding the parts of speech symbols to God’s words to Abraham from the Bible. During this year Michael became very interested in the picture Bible his grandmother had given him and carried it around with many post-its sticking out of the pages marking things he wanted to discuss. He sometimes compared it to what he was reading in the Mahabharata comics and learning in evolution studies. These were very interesting conversations that encouraged more research.
The noun study reflected what he was interested in, for example above the characters in the Indian epic the Mahabharata, the parts of a flower bulb, and positive, comparative, and superlative versions of adjectives, These were words that he might use in his own writing.
We did not require writing but suggested things to write about. Above is a picture he drew of Robin Hood and made a list of the weapons used by the characters in the Robin Hood book. He wrote in a journal when we went places, had company, or sometimes just a daily journal for a few days.
The Montessori way of helping a child develop a way to write so that he can be proud of his work is to prepare the hand for writing, give age-appropriate and enjoyable ways to practice writing beautifully, but not to require writing until the child is ready and it is his idea.
Picture – print to cursive
The picture above shows a writing example of one of our grandchildren who was visiting us. She was, at that time, in the same writing stage as Michael now. She asked me for some text in print that she could try to turn into cursive. I gave her several and was delighted to see that her choice was about the Tibetan figure the Medicine Buddha.
THIRD GRADE – Math and Geometry
Math of Other Cultures
Many of the cultures Michael became interested in had different ways of expressing, and different names, for numbers. Inspired by our trip to the Yucatan peninsula and exposure to the Mayan civilization of Mexico, one of the entries in his journal recorded the Spanish words for the numbers from one to ten, and the way these numbers were represented by the ancient Mayans.
When we unpacked boxes from my teaching years we found a set of geometry booklets that I made during my 6-12 training and the following teaching years. Michael decided he wanted to learn all of them and to help with the learning he began with the first books, drawing the illustrations and labels in his math journal
THIRD GRADE – Record Keeping – Time Management
Suzuki music practice required a daily music schedule check-off list and for other areas of homeschooling we discussed different ways for Michael to learn to meet responsibilities and plan his time. Jim and I had different systems of keeping track of our own work so Michael decided to try the commercially available weekly list above.
He picked one of two main works for each day and made a little circle after each to fill in when it was completed. Sometimes it was just reading in a book (botany on Thursday); sometimes he did more and added circles (math connected with out store); and sometimes he crossed out the assignment and replaced it with what he actually did (Friday history, crossed out “dinosaur book” and added “Rome”).
This is very much like what a Montessori teacher’s records look like for an individual child in a primary class, lessons suggested to be offered, and then a record of the work that was actually chosen by the child and completed.
The Homeschooling Teacher I was the main guide or teacher during these years which worked because I had taken AMI teacher training courses for 0-3, 3-6, and 6-12 and had taught for many years.
Even though this is not to be thought of as an instruction manual for Montessori homeschooling I hope the book will be valuable for parents and teachers to understand the value of a unique educational path rather than thinking that all children should be educated exactly the same way (in both traditional and Montessori schools). The value of “following the child.”
Also I hope it will help growing children and young adults feel that their own choices, their own individuality, can be respected. I believe that unique and creative educational paths such as this one will help solve the problems of the future.
OTHER BOOKS of value to families and schools during this Covid-19 pandemic:
The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three and Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Ages 3-12+ were written during our Montessori homeschooling years. But any of my books hopefully share some of the amazing wisdom of Dr. Maria Montessori that has spread all over the world for more then 100 years.
To see my books: CLICK: BOOKS
The creation, and following years, of the Michael Olaf Montessori Company correlated with what we were learning about education and sharing with others.
To see the Michael Olaf store: CLICK: MICHAEL OLAF
Now I will get back to writing the homeschooling book. I hope you enjoy what has been shared so far.