Fourth Great Lesson: Story of Communication in Signs

The Story of Communication in Signs is the fourth Great Lesson - it is found in the Language album. This story does not open up a subject album as such, because the children have been using language their entire lives - and developing language skills throughout their primary years and early elementary months.

Some children may hear this story before they do the "key lesson" on the Hand Timeline; while others may use the Hand Timeline first, then hear this story - the ideal is to do the Hand Timeline first, followed by the Story of Communication in Signs. The story should be modified accordingly.

Our goal is appreciation for written communication.

  • Materials: The only materials are a set of 8 impressionistic charts showing some of the writing styles through time - the charts are optional during the telling of the story. If they are distracting, we keep them aside and use them for follow-up; if they enhance the telling, then they are used during the story. Using 2-3 is generally most helpful. 
  • Timing: 5th or 6th week of the school year (repeated whenever the children like)

Most children love to copy the charts and highly appreciate books and videos that correspond with the topics introduced in this story. 

Bells and Tonebars

Due to their expense and the excuse by some adults that they have no musical talent, the bells are often overlooking or intentionally passed over in the Montessori homeschool - and in new or small Montessori classes/schools.

I can't do much for the price on the bells...

black notes in the back to hold their places,
but the movable brown bells are not in place yet. 
But I can say this: as a *sensorial* experience for the children, the adult does not have to know a lick of music or have iota of musical talent. The adult can be entirely tone deaf and still provide a rich experience for the children. 

I can't emphasize that point NEAR enough.

The control of error is in the child's ear - and it is the child's ear that needs to be trained. The adult can also learn from this material and let the children help be a control of error.

When in doubt, the black/white bells (that sit in the back and should NEVER be moved) can be numbered in pitch order, underneath their bases - so the adult can quickly put those ones back in place if they get out of order.

Only the brown ones should be moved and it is a matching exercise to the non-moved black/white bells.

The work of the child?

  • matching single pitches
  • listening to single pitches
  • listening to steps
  • grading in various stages (from simple to more complex)
  • naming the notes
  • additional naming systems
  • repeat all with the sharps/flats
  • composing music
  • playing written music

But even if all they do is LISTEN while striking and dampening - their ears are being trained. 

We always begin and end our bells work with playing the C-Major scale up and down - talk about ear training! This could be heard by the children several times a day and they will start picking up on the steps between the notes, just through consistent exposure. 

As for the money, there are a variety of cheaper options. The concern with the cheaper options: 

  • you'll want C to C (or G to G if that is all you can find)
  • you'll want the sharps/flats or you won't get from the material what the children need to get - and what any musically-needy adults need to get, sensorially-speaking. 
  • experientially, the children will be able to do SO much more with a full range of notes. 
  • however, if you have older children already and you know you are moving into the tone bars, you might be able to leave out the sharps/flats for now. 

I paid $350 for the set photographed, but through a company that was closing out of selling Montessori materials. They DID sell the bells for $500. Not perfect (if right next to each other, some of the bells touch each other and ding when the next one is struck - I keep meaning to widen the bases a bit), but certainly better than Nienhuis price. 
Adding sharps and flats
These are on the bell boards, but fully cover it,
so you can't see the spaces I painted on. 
If you can find a school selling theirs for a newer set, perfect!

The elementary tone bars definitely have more inexpensive options, particularly picking up a Suzuki tone bar set. This range is 2 octaves and you can do ALL the same work as with the bells, except the matching - unless you purchase an additional set in one octave specifically for matching (still ends up cheaper than the bells alone). 

For primary, they really should be housed in a way that only the pitches differ - not the appearance. 
For elementary, they CAN remain looking different, but it is so nice when they are the same size (more concentration on the part of the children). 

Some ideas here on the music materials: 

Research on Cursive Handwriting

Some links to research on cursive handwriting:

What Learning Cursive Does to Your Brain

Cursive Benefits Go Beyond Writing

Brain Research and Cursive Writing

Should Schools Still Teach Cursive?

Study: Learning Cursive in First Grade Helps Students

Edited to add a new one: 
Biological and Psychological Benefits of Learning Cursive

Each one of these studies focuses on learning cursive in approximately 2nd-4th grade (ages 7-9). The naysayers to cursive typically are the ones not realizing that the sensitive period for languages is 0-6 years of age, thus we should be giving the children the keys (muscle memory of the letter shapes, sounds of the letters) before age 6, at which time they receive all they need to read/write in cursive AND in print (because print just "happens" with children who start with cursive).

Then, we can spend those elementary years working on composition skills and pursuing SO many other interests pertinent to the elementary age - the second plane of development.

Montessori Articles:
Why Cursive First? (fantastic bullet-pointed list)

Should We Still Teach Handwriting in the Montessori Classroom?
(read the comments on this one for sure!)

There are plenty more, very excellent, articles - and quite a few not so excellent ones (both Montessori and non-Montessori). But these ones hit the main ideas.

Montessori vs Better Late than Early

I really like how the author of this post really gets down to the fundamental of Montessori: providing the rich environment and showing the "why"
Another post of the same author's - equally balanced:

To emphasize her points in Montessori terms - that rich environment is one which provides the "keys". We don't "worry" about mastery of math facts or of reading by a certain age - but we do utilize those natural ebbs and flows within a child's development to provide corresponding sets of keys, such that the child can take them in most deeply at certain times in life --- then USE them when he, the individual, is ready to do so.

So we provide the keys to reading and writing and mathematics (among others) - during a time when the child is particularly attuned to absorbing certain information (sensitive periods) -- and then the child can "read" or "have those facts memorized" when it works for him.

This is very different from those who are strong proponents of "Better Late than Early" who see Montessori only as an "Enforced Early Academics".

Montessori is about rich environment, sensory exploration, feeding a child's interests --- providing keys for the fun of learning. REAL life experiences above all else.

The academics come naturally and without fight or harm, when the keys are in place - and on a child's own timing.

Adult Planning in Montessori

Montessori practice is built on a tripod: the prepared environment, the prepared child and the prepared adult (see also spiritual preparation).

If any one of these legs are not in place, the tripod will fall.

The albums, with a *proper* scope and sequence *guide*
are the adult's tools for planning. 
There is a general impression by the general public that Montessori is so entirely child-led that the adult is not allowed to have any planning in place.

This is simply not reality - at least not for an authentic Montessori environment.

We adults cannot plan for a child's every interest or mood - but we do need to have the big picture so that we can follow the particular interests when appropriate.

It is the responsibility of the adult to lay the environment - which is a planning process in itself. The adult is planning what foundational experiences the child will have. Some of those experiences do not involve materials - or many materials - or use the same materials as already used, but in a different way.

Yes, many times a child will ask a question or pinpoint an interest - but more often than not, the adult is the one presenting new ideas to the child, providing the tools (the keys) - and it is the adult's responsibility to assure the keys are presented.

The adult is responsible for having the big picture - the map - in place so that the adult can properly guide the child. Yes, the child has freedom at all ages to stop and smell the roses, to dig deeply, to take a variety of paths (rabbit trails) --- but the adult knows the big picture and assists the child in digging deeper, in pointing a variety of key experiences (that all children need) and helping develop processes within the child (such as planning their time, planning their own projects, fueling creativity and responsibility) that allow the child to take greater ownership of their developmet and their work - as well as greater interdependence in the family and society at large. (think work plan development here)

Children left without a prepared adult who has done some planning (knowing that the plan will need to be flexible) will end up with Lord of the Flies. Evil and crying and children ill-suited to interact with society, let alone become adults in it.

We prefer Lord of the Rings around here ;)  Honesty, bravery, planning even without knowing where the journey would lead - in the end, all people working together to make it happen.

Elementary Science Supplies

Excerpt from related blog posts on "What Materials are Needed to have an Elementary Montessori Environment"? 
Montessori Keys of the Universe Kit
Science supply area (in elementary) - you want the generic supplies available, along with a few resources to generate ideas, so that if they have a question about something, they can work it out relatively quickly.

Anyone using AMI-style elementary albums now have the option at Home Science Tools to purchase a kit for the geography and biology albums - with just about everything you need in one package!

(I do not make any money when you purchase that kit - it is simply something I set up to make the obtaining of the needed materials easier for those who are using AMI elementary Montessori albums).