Lately I've been questioning whether or not it's worth it to post these weekly reviews, considering the fact that I often lack the time to do a careful (useful) job. But I've come to the conclusion that it is worth it -- whether anybody reads them or not -- because it's helping me keep track of the year. This summer, when I was packing up our finished school year, I missed those missing weeks from last year. This year I hoped to do better.
Another reason for keeping up with these weekly reviews... some reading I'm doing about Reggio Emilia and the emergent curriculum. The first time I encountered that term, I laughed. See? I told myself. It's not that I'm incapable of planning ahead. It's just that our curriculum is *emergent*. All joking aside, the more I read about Reggio, the more familiar it seems. Apparently I've been doing a lot of this all along -- observing and talking to the kids about their play, their reading, their interests -- in order to figure out what we should be doing at home. Reggio educators stress documentation as a means of communicating the children's work. As a home educator, I don't have an audience of parents (or an international audience of researchers) to whom I need to communicate my children's work, but it occurred to me that home learning blogs often serve a similar purpose: we use our blogs to synthesize, display, understand, and communicate our work with our children, our children's independent work, our own work, our family's work. So I think that perhaps these weekly reviews should be written into my job description. They aren't frivolous. They're about understanding and respecting what we do. (And maybe I should do a more careful job of them.)
Gareth, working on a soapstone carving kit I'd set out on the table after a discussion of statuary in ancient Greece
Week 5 saw a few changes in how we have been doing things. I'd become a little dissatisfied with the way Choice Time was going. We had a few problems. The first was that chores and dressing were taking too much time (not because there was too much to do), and/or the big kids were having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. This meant that Choice Time was getting squeezed. The second problem was that the kids expected new choices every single day, regardless of whether or not they had actually finished what they'd begun the day before. Another problem -- one which has been around since I started writing things on the whiteboard -- is that too often the kids would say to me, "There's nothing really on the board that I want to do." I would try to set things out on the shelf or the table, Montessori-style, but more often than not, it would be ignored in favor of the whiteboard. Then I would get upset or at least frustrated that all of my work was being ignored... etc., etc.
So. (Pardon me while I attempt to collect my thoughts, considering the NOISE LEVEL IN THIS HOUSE RIGHT NOW. Ahem.) I had already been
driven to the depths of despair frustrated by my complete inability to make standard Montessori work in any kind of organized fashion. (Which, if you understand Montessori, means "at all", basically.) Looking at things realistically, I'm not sure how I thought I could set up an ordered Montessori environment when 6 of the 8 people in this house could run down the list of AD(H)D symptoms, checking off the majority of them (and the ones for whom the jury is still out are not those in charge, if you know what I mean.) However, the twins were in the process of driving me so insane that when Andy came home for lunch one day, I showed him what I had been googling: the nearest Montessori (or rather, Montessori-inspired) school. This was not actually because I hoped to push them out of our way, but rather because I could not conceive of any way I could ever hope to engage their enormous supply of energy. And I felt like I was letting them down.
This was the point at which I took a deep breath, picked myself up (I feel like I have to pick myself up quite a bit), decided that I would not think about being a "failure", and went searching for some new ideas. After a long period of investigation, I had borrowed a few bits and pieces from Waldorf -- which I had begun researching because of its emphasis on art -- but as a family we're much too scientific, and the standard fairy/gnome/elf menu seems a little too scripted to me. I'd bought a few books about Reggio Emilia last year when Chipmunk was a newborn, but they had languished unfinished. Now I took them down off the shelf and finished them. (I'll put up my list of books later. This is turning out to be a really long post already!)
One of the things I find refreshing about the Reggio approach is how often the Italian educatiors say: "This is what we do, but don't copy us. If these ideas are useful, use them, but you need to make your own way in your own context."
So, for week 5, I decided to make a few changes based on my reading. First, I decided to stop writing down my ideas on the whiteboard in favor of encouraging Gareth and Katydid to choose and work on their own interests. Gareth has been doing quite a bit of reading on prehistoric mammals, and Katydid's interest in missionaries has been stewing for quite some time. I also let them know that they could work on art projects at any time. Because we had been talking about statuary in ancient Greece, I started by setting out some clay and a soapstone carving kit that had been sitting in the closet for a long time.
The clay was a huge hit. I'd had it for years. But we had done nothing with it. Inspired by all the work in clay done by children in Reggio Emilia, I set it out on the table. And I took a big step and got out the paint... which I had not been brave enough to get out for a long time.
Pip loved the paint. Katydid and Gareth both chose to paint, too. Farmerboy enjoyed mixing colors. Pop liked playdough more, but that was okay. Because a funny thing happened. When everyone was involved in the art materials, we had peace for almost an hour.
I have to tell you that this success made me feel like a big dip. I first started trying to use Montessori about three and a half years ago, and my kids have always chosen to do art. They have never freely chosen a Montessori language or math work. They have never chosen a 3-part card. In fact, when we first started, all anybody would choose was watercolor. Day after day after day. I always blamed this on a faulty environment. But I now think that I should have clued in to the positive nature of this information. Honestly? I should have just let them do art.
Week 5 was a very successful week, which gave me some good ideas on ways to proceed. I'm not ditching Montessori completely, and I am happy that Reggio's ideas of the "environment as the third teacher" and free choice fit so well with some of the Montessori ideas I also like so well: "freedom within limits" and independence.
It's probably past time to end this post, but I do hope to post more on this topic sooner rather than later. Leave me a comment if there's something you'd like me to write about!