Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Combining the Dwyer approach with Jolly Phonics

I always meant to use the Dwyer approach to reading and writing with Finley. The Muriel Dwyer approach, as opposed to the traditional Montessori way (edit: it seems that AMI have always used what I call the Dwyer approach, and that the Pink-Blue-Green series approach is actually a modified version), emphasises the importance of phonemic awareness before the child is introduced to the symbols (letters). There are no language boxes of increasing difficulty for the child to work on as the child learns to blend sounds by reading the words they have composed using moveable letters. To know more about the Dwyer approach, read A Path for the Exploration of any Language leading to Reading and Writing. The booklet is very detailed and comprehensive.

25 months old

I wrote a bit about the sound games to play with your child to build their phonemic awareness. As a reminder, phonemic awareness is the ability of the child to segment words into their component sounds. For example, to be able to hear the sounds "c", "a" and "t" in the word cat (not the letter names but their sounds). In the Pink-Blue-Green series approach, the child progresses very gradually as they are first introduced to 3 letter words, then blends (st, bl, pr...), then digraphs (sh, ch, oi...). In the Dwyer approach, we want the child to become skilled at hearing sounds in ANY word so that when they start composing their own words and start reading them, they are not limited by exposure to certain words only and can fully express themselves. You build this strong foundation through sound games and ear training.
I have been doing plenty of sound games with Finn since he was 2 years old. I can clearly see the results in that he can tell me the beginning sound of any word. He is becoming more consistently able to hear and say the last sound in words as well.
The Dwyer approach insists on introducing the child to the symbols only after they have a strong phonemic awareness so that they can start composing words right away. By strong phonemic awareness is meant to be able to decompose any word into its sounds, not just the beginning and end sounds, but also all the middle ones for multisyllabic words. So, for the world "music", the child must be able to hear the sounds "m", "you", "z", "i" and "c". Dwyer emphasises the importance to withhold the letters from the child until they are ready to use them.
4 months old
I always had my doubt as to whether it was actually feasible for us not to introduce letters to Finn so soon as we live in an environment rich in writing and he was bound to become curious. Which he did. When he was 2, he found a Jolly Phonics book stashed under our bed for future use, and insisted that I read it to him. Jolly Phonics is a reading scheme that is mostly in line with the Montessori approach as it uses phonics. However, it teaches reading before writing, as opposed to Montessori who emphasises the importance of writing first. So we have been reading Jolly Stories for the last 8 months almost every day and it has been Finn's favourite book for many months. Each short story introduces one letter sound and Finn learnt all of the sounds in two weeks (talk about sensitive periods!). So that was it for withholding symbols!
Since he was loving Jolly Phonics and its characters, we thought he would love the games CD. We got it for him and I didn't fully realise how much it would clash with the Dwyer approach. The games are good; some of them reinforce phonemic awareness and others blending sounds. Finn dislikes the "hearing sounds" games but likes the blending ones. I wouldn't say he loves them, but he is motivated by the short animation at the end of each game to finish them.

Last week, Finn very suddenly started to read words in books without any prompting. Three letter words. I can honestly say I wasn't expecting that to happen just yet! Of course, this is great, but where do we go from here with our Dwyer stuff? Finn clearly is in a sensitive period for language and has a strong, unconscious desire to learn to read. By observing him, I have noticed that he is working on blends (yes, by himself). I overheard him say to himself: "st, st, strawberries. Strawberries begins with st". I can hardly believe he couldn't talk six months ago!
12 months old
We will continue with Dwyer (almost) as if nothing happened as his phonemic awareness of all sounds in words is not up to scratch yet. As for supporting his reading, I will use some of the Montessori word and picture matching games from the PBG scheme, as well as "planting" words around the house for him to decipher. I feel that now is the perfect time to label some objects in our house, such as "cup", "nut", "hat"... and play some games such as CVC action words (the child reads a piece of paper with a 3 letter verb written on and must act it, such as "hop", "sit", "run"... ).

It's likely that our sound games contributed to Finn being able to read so early (he is 2 and 8 months) and of course Jolly Phonics has made it all very appealing to him. So can Dwyer and Jolly Phonics work together? I believe so. Add a magic ingredient called the sensitive period for language, and there you go.

12 months old

Who else has experience with Jolly Phonics and/or the Dwyer scheme among the readers of this blog? If you do, then please leave a comment! And if you don't, then leave a comment anyway as I love reading them!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

10 ways to explore geometric solids

I had been debating whether to buy a set of Montessori geometric solids for our home, and it's one purchase I don't regret! There are so many ways to use them at different developmental levels. At 2 and a half, Finn explores them sensorially, through games, and absorbs so much about them: their geometric properties, their relationship to one another, their names, the way objects around us are derived from these basic solid shapes... and so much more I'm sure I can't even imagine. 
Here is a list of 10 geometric solids games and activities for toddlers and preschoolers.
1. Matching the solids to picture cards (downloadable here)  

2. Feeling the solids stereognostically with a mystery bag. Put two very different solids (say the cube and sphere) in the bag for a young toddler and show them the picture of one of them to find by touch only. Remember to say its name as young children absorb everything!

3. Free exploration using a mirror. Be sure to have a look at this post by Merci Montessori (in French).

4. Geometric solids and flour. An unusual combination, but a winner at our house! I wrote about it here.

5. Dusting/wiping the solids with a damp cloth - a great sensorial way to explore the solids.

6. Sorting household items into their matching solid shape. Finn had the cylinder, sphere and cube, plus a selection of items from around the house to match those solids. Choose some objects of varying sizes and textures.

 7. Making marks in playdough. I was thinking faces, he was thinking vertices!

 8. Sorting pointy/round solids. An engaging, hands-on way to introduce simple concepts. Finn had to think hard to sort the cylinder.
9. Learning the names of the geometric solids. Give the child plenty of opportunities to hear the names and resist the temptation to test them! Think of it as a gift of knowledge to your child.
10.  Sorting picture cards of everyday objects into the correct solid shape. You can download the cards here .
Can you add to this list? What are your favourite activities to do with the geometric solids?
Remember to pin this post if you found it helpful!


Saturday, 6 September 2014

Choosing home education

We have made the choice to educate Finley at home as opposed to sending him to school. As home education is still an uncommon choice, friends and relatives may ask: "what's wrong with school?"
This post is an attempt to try and answer this question.
We are very fortunate in the UK to have a choice to educate our children in the school system or "otherwise". And this is a real bonus when state schools are known to fail at educating children every year.
I think state school's failure comes from the misbelief that children do not want to learn. In fact, this is so engrained in our society that we expect children not to be interested in learning from the start. We sit them in rows and force feed them information we think they need. We give out stickers and praise them for every little achievement. Unknowingly, and despite the best intentions, we take away their love of learning.
To us, it is obvious that children do want to learn and have many varied interests. In the last months, Finn has been interested in musical instruments, dinosaurs, trains, bones, rockets, letters, and he is not stopping. He seems to want to learn about everything! We want to nurture and support his enthusiasm so that it stays with him all his life.
In school, children follow a curriculum. How can children enjoy learning if they do not have a say in what, when and how they learn? Schools have stolen the child's freedom to make any decisions about their learning. Naturally, children lose their natural love of learning when they are so completely out of control.
We all know that testing is detrimental to children's learning, and yet we still do it. We test, we grade, we compare. We put children in ability groups so that they end up believing that their value as a person is dictated by what group they are in. I am sure you can imagine what that does to a child's self-esteem.
Is it surprising that we want something better for our child? Ideally, Finley would go to a Montessori school where he would be respected as an individual and direct his own learning in a multi-age classroom. Unfortunately, these schools are too expensive for us.
We have chosen to educate Finn at home using a relaxed version of the Montessori method, which seems like a good fit for us already. As he grows, Finn will be able to decide whether he wants to go to school and we will support him whatever he chooses. For now, his education will consist of lots of outdoor activities, visits to museums, hands-on learning, building his independence and self-esteem, playdates with old and new friends, learning to build, garden, cook, fix things, realising his own projects,  discovering the arts, learning to love our world.
We want him to be eager to get up in the morning because life is beautiful, exciting and full of things waiting to be discovered. He doesn't have to be shut away in a classroom learning facts and figures he will soon forget; he can take part in life from the get go.
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