Friday, June 22, 2012 0 comments

This is a short video from an end of the year program at Waseca.  The elementary class wrote their own skit and called it "Energy from the Sun".  They rehearsed the primary classes to chime in with the chorus, "the sun!",  at the end of some very long sentences.
Thursday, March 22, 2012 0 comments

San Francisco AMS Conference

We are just back and recovering from the big AMS conference last weekend.  It was wonderful to see so many Waseca Aficianados there and to hear how the biomes are going in your classrooms.  Thank you so much for the fantastic reception and all of your enthusiasm!!  This is just the fuel we need to come back and create more.
I gave a new workshop on integrating Montessori Curriculum with the Biome Study.  You can find it on at this link:
A few slides into the presentation, you will see a integrated curriculum map that weaves different subject matter through the biomes.  It has been in my head like that for years and it was good to put it down and share.
The two most popular items at the conference were the new stencil maps and the new biome readers for energy, soil air & water, plant life and animal life.  Alli (Montessori kid through middle school) designed the set of stencils to help children make their own biome maps.  First, they trace an outline of the continent.  Then, they use two other stencils to trace the mountain ranges and rivers.  The biome mat for that continent can help them to identify and name those geographical features.  A control helps them to color in the biomes.

Saturday, January 28, 2012 1 comments

Some New Ideas for Land and Water Forms

This summer at our annual biome camp for elementary students, I had a chance to get back into the classroom for a couple of weeks.  I chose to focus on what happens when land and water meet.  Our studies culminated with the island in a kiddie pool above. But first...

I wanted each child to experience subtracting the piece of clay from the middle of the land and placing it on a blank dish to make their own lake and island when they added the water.

Potter's clay was inexpensive and easy to manipulate.  However, the clay dried and shrunk on the paper plates we put it on.  I am sure that even the most nostalgic parent tossed the product that came home.  Next time, I will use ceramic plates and let the children wash them as part of the process.  It is all about the experience not the product.
Then, we took it to a more abstract representation by drawing our land and waterforms on watercolor paper and painting the water with blue watercolor.  The land was made by painting with watered down glue and sprinkling sand on it.  The result was lovely and worthy of a frame.

We repeated the two steps with the gulf/peninsula, cape/bay, and isthum/strait.  As a final event, we created the island above.  I did it with a small group of seven students.  It would be difficult with a larger group unless you had a bigger pool and more clay.  The first task was to flatten the big block of clay I put in the center.  As I turned around looking for the right tool for the job, the children solved our problem with their feet.  It was quite effective.

Then, we molded it and created the land and water forms we had learned about.  I love it when the nomenclature is used in context of a project.  "I'll make a peninsula over here."  They wanted a volcano since we had read about how volcanoes can create islands in the ocean.  

We sprinkled sand on the beach and brought in moss for the vegetation.  The final step was to add blue food coloring to the water and stand back to admire it!
We followed up the lessons with the Landform Mat and The Imaginary Island Puzzle from Mandala.  We also collaborated to make a big island with brown paper on a large blue sheet of paper.  It became 3D with paper boats, bridges and docks.  


New Map Legend Stamp

 Why not have a stamp so that the children add a map legend to their traced maps?  Just add the color-coding in a blank square that corresponds to the icon of that biome.

Alli, who is a vital part of our organization at Waseca, came up with this one.  (She has a rich history of tracing puzzle maps as she grew up in a Montessori classroom.)
To introduce the idea of a biome, I ask the children at the circle if they would like to go visit the biome.  I build a bit of eager anticipation and, then, we go outside beyond the playground.  Animals and evidence of animals as well as plants may be the initial focus.  Guide their observation skills to noticing the air.  Is it moving? What is the temperature?  Dig down into the soil and notice how moist it is.  Find a source of water or go out in the morning to capture some dew.  Notice the warmth of the sun on your skin.  Go in the shade and note the difference in temperature.  We bring containers to collect parts of the biome to bring back into the classroom.      Up until recently, I didn't have a way to collect the energy from the sun.  But here it is!!  You can buy it from this site: or search on amazon.  You can make it yourself using directions from this site:
Similar jars can be used to trap some air inside, sprinkle some dew off a leaf in another, dig up some soil and organic matter, gather plant material and have an insect "visit" for a while. Now you have found all of the parts of a biome!
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 1 comments

In the woods at the Waseca School

Last year at Waseca, we began taking our elementary (6-9) class out in the woods with our Coyote mentor, Evan McGown who co-authored “Coyote Guide to Connecting to Nature”.  I shared that experience with Evan and the class during our weekly “wild Wednesdays” and learned so much by watching him take the children to their edge of comfort and make them forget about their fears with games and questions that peaked their curiosity about the natural world.   I watched them grow as an interdependent community as they learned to cooperate with one another.  I saw children who were challenged with social and sensory integration issues indoors find their way in the larger space and shine.   Our shared experiences bonded us in a way that I have never witnessed before in 28 years in the classroom.
The method, so beautifully explained in “Coyote Guide”, involves certain core routines that make up the structure of the program.  The emphasis is on the child's experience through interacting with the environment.   This approach will surely sound familiar and comfortable to Montessorians.  Some of the core routines involve beginning and closing every day in the woods with a gratitude and sharing circle, finding and naming landmarks, working on internal mapping and survival skills, storytelling and practicing moving like animals.  Questions are more important than answers.  We want to stimulate curiosity rather than get across any specific information.  Naming something for the children can stop the process of inquiry.  Instead, we take note of characteristics and look it up in the field guides later.
As the elementary class embarks on their second year of “wild Wednesdays”,  I am satisfying my curiosity about how to take this amazing approach to the primary class.  I realized that a different plane of development would require some modifications.  Many of the games the elementary children play involve directions that would baffle younger ones.  I get to be a pioneer in this venture by observing and meeting their needs while stretching their comfort level and sparking their natural curiosity as well as stretching their senses.  I am excited to share this journey with you in coming installments with memories and updates about the elementary class as well.
Three and four year olds are drawn to sensorial experiences. They were quick to participate in getting camouflaged by covering one another in pine straw. This happened spontaneously the week after the coyote guide covered herself in pine straw.  First, they observed and, then, they remembered and imitated.
While part of the elementary experience is to wander through the woods to discover new places and come upon familiar ones, I chose to create a special path for the primary classes.  I cleared any briars but left fallen logs and other obstacles to navigate.  I tied white string around saplings at intervals to mark the path.  We walk this path and are reassured by its familiarity.  The children enjoy being able to predict what is coming up next.  They come to the place where we always tell a story and their recognition prompts them to ask for a story.  Places are connected to routine events.  Later, we can change and remark on how we are doing it differently.  For now, it speaks to their needs.
We devised a new game to address some challenges we were having and, at the same time, meet the needs they were expressing.  The children had difficulty outside of the classroom raising their hands and waiting to be called upon and wanted to speak all at once.  They wanted to run ahead on the path instead of waiting for the guide to lead.  They had a hard time with the concept of hiding and would stand in plain view when asked to hide.  (This probably has something to do with their egocentric perspective and inability to imagine someone else's view of them.)  Hiding in the woods is an excellent way to have the children experience being quiet and still in the woods.  After lots of experience, they will one day be able to sit quietly and wait for wildlife to appear.  When we play "rabbits and foxes", you have to put up bunny ears and be silent to be chosen as a rabbit. Now, we use this as a sign to be quiet and listen.
Silence instead of "I want a turn!"

  The rabbits run off with a guide while
the foxes close their eyes.

The rabbits hide with the guide in excited
anticipation as they wait
for the foxes. A biit of adrenaline accentuates the experience.

The guide makes a crow call when the rabbits
are hidden
and the foxes take off after them!

Caught by a fox!

Part of being a coyote guide is to play the trickster, observing the children and challenging them in new ways.  In the beginning, we hid just off the trail, making it easy for the foxes to spot us.  After several weeks, we hid deeper in the woods and they ran right by!  After the foxes ran out of sight, I made the crow call again.  This time, they had to look more closely and the rabbits had to be very still and quiet.  Hopefully, they will learn to slow down and pay attention as they come after us.  We practiced what that would look like, turning our heads from side to side, listening and watching for small movements.

Monday, December 5, 2011 0 comments

Shadow Puppets

We are currently working on our annual shadow puppet for the Waseca School holiday festival and basing the story on this gorgeous book.

"Over the snow, the world is hushed and white. But under the snow exists a secret kingdom of squirrels and snow hares, bears and bullfrogs, and many other animals that live through the winter safe and warm, awake and busy, under the snow."