Introducing Montessori Short Bead Stair

We have been exploring early number concepts and I have recently introduced my daughters to the Montessori short bead stair. I fell in love with Montessori a number of years ago when I went search for a hands-on approach to teaching children with special needs and we have slowly incorporated this into our home education. So I want to share with you how we introduced the Montessori Short Bead Stair for learning about early number concepts.
Before I introduced to the Montessori Short Bead Stair to my daughters they both were able to identify numbers to ten. We had worked on this by using our Sandpaper Numbers and salt trays to trace the number and write it in the salt. Miss 6 has had some trouble identifying six and nine as they look alike so she has worked at her own pace on these numbers.

First they would trace over the sandpaper number card using their index finger on their writing hand while saying the number out loud. This was followed by drawing the number in the salt while saying the number. By doing this, the learner is using their senses auditory, visual and kinesthetic to keep the learning as multisensory as possible. 

I’ve seen a few different tutorials on how to introduce the Montessori Short Bead Stair so I placed the beads and number cards on our shelf and waited for curiosity to take over for more authentic child-led learning. I introduced my daughters to the beads by discussing value, the length of the bead chain and how the different colours represented the different value.

We used our wooden number cards to order the numbers from smallest to largest before matching the beads to their corresponding number. We talked about how the longest bead bar represented the biggest or largest number making a connection between number value.
After the initial introduction, both my daughters independently worked on this activity at different times and only required minimal support. 
It’s also important to encourage the learner to randomly identify numbers rather than just ordering numbers from smallest to biggest. When identifying numbers in isolation, you are able to see if the learner is having trouble distinguishing and identifying different numbers. This was something I had overlooked when we first started exploring numbers.   

Learning about numbers with the Montessori Short Bead Stair is the foundation for learning about teen and ten numbers. As we are focusing on numbers zero to nine (sometimes we add the ten bead bar) we were able to use our Short Bead Stair to make simple addition sums. The whole process of laying the beads out and counting them individually gave my daughters a wonderful multisensory learning experience that encouraged independent learning and mastery of early maths concepts.
For those who are interested, I purchased our Short Bead Stair set, our Small Wooden Number Cards and a number of other high quality Montessori resources from I Am Montessori.

Unschooling Week In Review // March 1st-7th

A look at our week of living and learning together from March 1st to 7th 2016.

Tuesday –

Hannah and Blake sleep in their own room now. They decided to move out of our family bedroom when we moved into this house at the end of January. So far they’ve transitioned well after negotiating a few terms and conditions ;). They both wake in the morning around the same time and get up and get their own breakfast. When Daisy and I got up this morning they were already deep into a game of Memory. I bought this ‘Around the world’ memory game at Costco last year when their fascination with geography was at it’s peak. Somehow, Hannah has memorised most of the country names and it’s fun listening to them call out ‘Thailand,’ ‘Israel’ or ‘Turkey’ when they match a pair. This time they even tried to include Daisy and patiently explained the rules of the game, but she only stayed involved for 5 minutes before pottering away to do something else.

The rest of today was spent doing washing and shopping as Brian heads back on shift tomorrow, so the kids just played inside and out. Imaginative role-play games like ‘shops’ and ‘cooking’ are what they’re mostly interested in right now. Karate is part of our weekly routine now and both Hannah and Blake are enjoying it. Blake is one of the youngest in the class but after only 4 sessions he is definitely getting the hang of the moves. He has even learned to count to 5 in Japanese by remembering and practicing what the sensei says in class.

We have a collection of different chapter books on our shelf and a few weeks ago Hannah asked me if we could start reading ‘Matilda’. I suggested we read a chapter a night and she agreed. For a long time she was very adverse to reading books like this, as she maintained that they didn’t have pictures and weren’t very interesting. They watched the movie Matilda several times about a year ago and they both really loved it. I wondered if that would lead to reading the book as we’ve had it on the shelf for a long time, but as I said, she only picked it up a few weeks ago. However, she is definitely ready for it now. She’s very much concentrating on the varied adjectives Dahl uses and comprehending the story at a deeper level. This is why we choose unschooling – instead of doing unit studies or a similar form of homeschooling – because in this way I know my child/ren is 100% ready for what they’ve chosen to do simply because they’re the ones who have chosen to do it. Reading Matilda has become a nice little addition to our nights.

Wednesday –

Today I had planned to go out do some gardening but it was very rainy and overcast and I always feel so unmotivated in this sort of weather! So most of the morning was spent with me working on the website and planning our road trip for next month, and the kids playing downstairs with their outdoor kitchen undercover.

In a break in the weather I came out and checked out the garden in more detail and we discovered we already had a healthy capsicum plant growing. I also took some photos of a fruiting tree we have in the back and posted it up on a local produce facebook page to get it identified. It turns out we have a Guava tree!

My parents are coming up to visit us for Easter and Hannah has been asking how many days until they come frequently for the last few weeks. I suggested that when March starts we can write up a Countdown Month, which is something we’ve done for a few fun events we had planned at the end of the month in the past. So today we did just that, and Blake also chose to create his own as well. I realised while they were writing that in real life we actually have very little reason to write numbers by hand. Apart from writing my street and phone number on a form (and they’re often online these days!) I rarely have to write numbers. It reminds me that we are unschooling in a time of transition in terms of our society and where it’s headed. I have a few deeper thoughts about this topic that I’ll expand on in a future post.

Hannah and Blake were both thrilled with their countdowns and it’s definitely calmed their anxiety of how long they need to wait for their grandparents to come. The countdown is a good example of a natural extension facilitated by me, by suggesting a way in which their needs could be met in a different way. Of course it includes handwriting, numeracy and practicing skills such as using the ruler and understanding the concept of time; but that is always just a part of it, not the aim. The aim is always to assist my children – where needed or invited – to be involved in their world in a way that helps them to get the most out of it.

Thursday –

Today we were invited to a meet up with some new unschooling friends who live on a property close by. We wandered around following my friend while she fed and rounded up the chooks and we discussed the banana plants growing near by.

The children were hesitant at first but soon ran off to play in the fort, while us mamas had time for a coffee and a catch up. These sort of days are so important to me to curate, not just for the children to play in different environments and to make new friends, but also so that I can do that too! Unschooling is something that is so much easier to do with good local support and I am happy to say that we are finally finding our community here.

Later in the afternoon we headed down to the local playground and after only a few minutes an old Labrador wandered over. He was calm and friendly and first we thought he belonged to the boy who kept looking over our way from his front fence so we decided to go over and enquire. Unfortunately, the boy said that the dog had walked into his yard and upset his pet dog so he was making sure he wasn’t going to come back in. Hannah suggested we look around the dogs collar and we found a tag with his name ‘Hank’ and a phone number on it and I rang it once we go back to the park.

The playground isn’t fenced so Hannah stayed close by to make sure Hank didn’t wander onto the road. The number went to message-bank so I discussed with the kids what we should do. They were very worried that Hank’s owner wouldn’t pick him up and they wanted to look after him. It was nearly 5:30pm so I suggested that maybe the owner was at work so would probably get my message once they got home and noticed Hank missing. We walked him back to our house but he seemed a bit distressed by that and sat waiting at the gate. Luckily the owner rang not long after and came to pick him up immediately. Apparetly he had dug under the fence! The kids were really excited that the afternoon took an unexpected twist and couldn’t wait to tell Brian all about it on the phone that night.

Friday –

Since we handn’t had much time to play at the park the day before while helping Hank get back to his owner, we decided to go there mid-morning. We have two small strollers for Daisy’s dolls and they all wanted to take the strollers and their dolls to the park. When we arrived Blake asked why he didn’t have one as Hannah and Daisy had been the ones to push both strollers to the park. The strollers were both actually Daisy’s as I had bought one for her birthday and then a second for Christmas when I believed the first was broken, but Brian had actually fixed it unbeknownst to me. I considered Blake’s question and suggested we take a trip to the shops and buy one. It is a 35 minutes drive away but I felt like driving and just blasting some tunes in the car, and I also wanted to see if the desk I wanted had arrived in stock so it was a win-win. We were in and out of the shop in 15 minutes, and were able to buy the desk too so I was happy.

We got back home in time for Daisy to nap which is our quiet time during the day. We don’t have a TV anymore (for almost a year now) but we have Netflix on the laptop and H and B take turns choosing a movie or show to watch while Daisy naps for about an hour and a half. Sometimes we’re out and they miss out on this, but if we’re home this is a general part of our day. It gives me time to do something for myself or get some extra rest too. After their movie ended Hannah brought some books out and all three kids looked through them, asking me various questions and wondering about different ideas that came up through investigating the books. They also spontaneously made some mobiles with coat-hangers!

We would usually go to the beach in the afternoon but they just couldn’t get enough of the park and all three wanted to take their strollers and dolls along so we did. I desperately tried to get a photo of this cuteness but by the time I set the camera up Daisy didn’t want to push hers anymore of course!! At the park, I noticed Blake spent a lot of time playing in the sand with leaves and sticks making up an imaginary game which was interesting. It reminded me of how my brother used to play when we were children.

Saturday –

When I got up this morning Hannah was reading Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss to Blake and I just caught the tail end of the story. I asked her to read it to me while I prepared breakfast and although I knew she could read fairly well I was still surprised that she read the entire book, only pausing to check on the word ‘May’. Even though the book repeats a lot of the same words, they are often one after the other in the typical Seuss lyrical fashion and here was my 7 year old reading it without pointing to words, with full comprehension and correct accentuation throughout. Yes, I am proud! And so was Hannah. She couldn’t stop beaming.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed that she is beginning to develop that ease with reading – where she attempts words constantly on signs and books and forms, really anywhere where there is written language to read. I can see when she is ‘in the flow’ the words just come to her now, she doesn’t seem to need to really try anywhere near as much as she did. It’s been such a process and she’s still evolving her skill of course, but I think we can officially say we have a reader in the house! It’s honestly magical seeing how reading develops through the unschooling approach. We were planning to visit their Nanny (Brian’s mum who has been quite unwell recently) and I suggested Hannah bring the book along and read it to her which she was very excited to do. It was such a nice moment of connection too for our families together.

Sunday –

Today was a complete wash-out and incredibly rainy. It was perfect sleepy weather so I slept in while the kids and B watched a movie. Blake had found a new book on the bookshelf and asked me about it. It was another easy chapter book I had bought recently after several recommendations from friends – The 13 Storey Treehouse. We sat down to read it straight away. As predicted they loved it, I even had to stop them after 3 chapters so I could eat something! It’s so exciting to show them the variety of books available now that we’re moving on from simpler picture and story books.

During Daisy’s nap the kids and I sat down to a game of Kids Scrabble and then then we headed to the shops to get some bedding for the spare bedroom in preparation for my family coming for Easter. Hannah also reminded me to buy chalk for a blackboard I had picked up at the markets yesterday. They all had a go with it during the afternoon and after Daisy went to bed, Blake and Hannah drew portraits of each other which was fun to watch!

Monday –

Again more plans thwarted by the weather, but of course the day just went ahead with all our usual spontaneity and fun. Brian was lying on the couch and the kids instigated a game of Tickle which was all fun and joy until Brian accidentally knocked Hannah in the mouth and suddenly there was lots of blood. Another loose tooth ready to come out after a bump (last time Hannah’s mouth accidentally hit the top of my head in a friends pool!).

Once that was sorted we turned up the tunes while the kids helped Brian set up my new desk. Hannah and Blake played a game of Snap and then back outside to burn off some energy before the rain started again. Hannah drew up a calendar countdown for Daisy to cross off and this led to a long conversation with Hannah about days, weeks, months and years and she was quite frustrated as she couldn’t quite grasp the idea. In the next week I’ll see if I can work with her with some sort of visual aid to help her understand it more clearly.

So that sums up our week from an Unschooling perspective! Comment below if you have any questions and if you’re wondering how we came to make this decision you can read more about that here!