Mixed Bag Fundraiser Book Wish List

Mixed Bag catalogs went home last week! For those of you left in this world that don’t know about the Mixed Bag Fundraiser, I do it to raise money for books for the classrooms. Every year new and exciting books are published and I believe classroom libraries should be living and growing things, especially as we teachers work to create children who grow in to adults who love books.

Just to get you excited about some of the books you can help us add to our classrooms, I thought I’d show you some of the exciting titles we’d love to share with your children.


Botanicum is the latest addition to Big Picture Press’ Welcome to the Museum series. Last year’s Mixed Bag fundraiser allowed us to purchase Historium, Maps, and Animalium, all of which are equally gorgeous and fabulously illustrated. Maps is particularly wonderful and I can’t wait until The Story of Life is published in the United States.

Writer’s Toolbox Series

The Writer’s Toolbox series introduces writing to children in language they can understand, with appealing illustrations and step-by-step instructions. The books don’t take the place of the lessons we give, but enhance them. They can even inspire students to explore new areas of writing in their free time.

On Earth

A sweetly illustrated discussion of our planet, On Earth discusses some of our planet’s most difficult to grasp concepts in simple, easy-to-understand ways. I particularly enjoy the dichotomous illustration of night and day:

Feathers: Not Just for Flying

If you have ever explored the natural world with a young child, you probably have experienced their fascination with feathers. Feathers: Not Just for Flying explores the many functions these gorgeous appendages offer the avian world, and does it with words and illustrations:

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes is actually a book I saw at a Montessori Conference. It’s an introduction to all those tiny organisms we can’t see with the naked eye–which can engender curiosity about microscopes. It also discusses how things that appear to happen invisibly are only really invisible to the naked eye–like microbes breaking food down into compost and turning milk into yogurt.

Somewhere in the World Right Now

It was actually the endpaper that caught my eye with Somewhere in the World Right Now. It features a time zone map of the entire world, and it’s a good thing it does, because that’s the topic of the book. It explores what’s happening at the same exact moment around the world.

National Geographic Kids World Atlas

I’m also hoping for two more of the National Geographic Kids World Atlases. We have a few others in the room, but this is the one I like best. It continually proves to be the best resource for us. I’d love to have a few more on hand!

But maybe you should ask your children. What books would they like to see in the classroom?

Don’t forget!

Mixed Bag orders are due this Friday, September 30.

If you prefer to shop online or have out-of-town friends or family, MSO also gets 40% of your online purchase at Mixed Bag! Visit the Friends and Family Fundraising Page and enter MSO’s fundraising code:


Montessori Shout-Outs

I love it when Montessori gets a little love from the public, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share some recent places where I’ve seen or heard my favorite educational system get some of the attention it deserves. For those times when my opinion isn’t enough, or you’re tired of listening to me tell you how awesome Montessori is, I’ve found some further support. First up is a fantastic (and fascinating) book I read this summer called How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims:

I practically squealed when I got to this part in Lythcott-Haims’ book:

Take Montessori education, for example, which for over one hundred years has applied student-centered, active-learning approaches to K-12 classrooms. Students guide their own learning, particularly figuring out what steps to do next on their own, Assessments depend on well-trained teachers, not standardized tests. Montessori ‘unfolds’ students instead of ‘molding’ them. (p.157)

And later, in a section of the book where Lythcott-Haims gives advice to her readers about “How to Let Your Kid Play”, she brings up Montessori again:

Consider schools that value student-driven learning and play, such as Montessori schools, which exist nationwide.

The second piece of literature I want to show you is an article from the Wall Street Journal detailing something the author, Peter Sims, calls the “The Montessori Mafia.” As it turns out, Julie Lythcott-Haims used this article to support her for argument for Montessori education.

wall street journal copy

Not to be outdone, Forbes recently published their own article extolling the virtues of Montessori in the workplace. In “Montessori Schools Offer Big Lessons for ‘Managers'”, some of the features closest to the heart of Montessori are highlighted: the way the environment is designed to suit the child, the teacher as facilitator rather than deliverer of information, and igniting the child’s internal desire to learn rather than motivating them through external reward.


I don’t need famously accomplished people like Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to tell me that Montessori is an educational system that fosters independence, critical thinking, and creativity. My students prove that to me every day. Still, it’s always nice to hear that others feel the same way!

Montessori Materials Snapshots: Insets, Part 1

Montessori Materials Snapshots

Many Montessori teachers have a favorite classroom material. I have many, actually, but few items central to the Montessori curriculum have the kind of universal appeal as the Metal Insets. At the Montessori School of Ojai, where I work, students do insets from ages three through fourteen. At their earliest introduction, Metal Insets play a very important role in the child’s writing development. In later years, the insets fill a variety of important needs. Here’s a rundown of (some of) the many uses of the Metal Insets:

Metal Insets with Stands from Alison’s Montessori

  • They help develop the child’s fine motor skills, particularly those used in writing.
  • Insets act as a centering activity. If a student is distracted and unable to focus on assigned tasks, or is unable to begin work when they enter the classroom, asking them to do an inset can be the switch that turns the day around for them. Some students need to start the day with an inset every morning. My theory is that insets are a calming work that require attention and concentration–without calling on the higher order thinking skills they can’t access at the moment anyway. It’s like a mini-meditation, rather in the vein of Zentangle. It’s Montessori’s version of “yoga for the brain.”
  • Insets are practice in following instructions. I actually leave our inset “rules” on the white board throughout the whole school year after I’ve first introduced them. Because, let’s be honest, following instructions is a skill they need lots of practice with. I could–and probably should–write an entire post on the importance of following instructions, since the words have the potential to look rather negative when I put them down in black and white. Let me clarify. When I’m talking about following instructions, I’m not teaching my students to blindly obey and follow orders. What I am teaching is the ability to take in instruction and follow it accurately. (I tell my students they have to learn the rules before they can break them.)

Which brings me to the rules:

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencil Sets from Dick Blick

  • Treat the materials gently. All teachers emphasize care and respect for the Montessori Materials, and the insets are no exception. The frames are metal, so they need to be set down gently lest they make a great deal of noise. The insets themselves also have sharp corners, so they need to be handled carefully by the children so as not to hurt themselves or others. We use Prismacolor pencils, whose soft lead makes for vibrant coloring. They also allow the students to see firsthand what happens when they treat the Prismacolors carelessly (if they drop them, the lead inside will break, making them difficult to sharpen).
  • Set the inset frame on the paper so that no white is showing around the edges. The only exception to this rule is Inset #6, which I’ll explain in the next post. Inset paper is cut to

    Metal Inset Paper from Montessori Services

    exactly fit the inset frame (5.5 inches square or 14 cm square).

  • Trace your shape(s) and then remove the frame(s) before coloring. It’s always interesting to see which students leave the frame on and start coloring. I can promise–if you don’t mention this rule, one of your students will inevitably try it.
  • Stay inside the lines. This rule is why they leave the frame on. It’s also why you don’t let them. You don’t want staying inside the lines to be completely effortless. Then the exercise would lose its value! On the other hand, a fellow teacher told me she doesn’t tell her students to stay inside the lines, rather not to worry about that. Instead, she carefully models staying inside the lines.
  • Color lightly. This is often the most challenging task for students, especially if it involves retraining muscles. If they press hard when they write, they probably press hard when they color and their hand tires easily. If you can, demonstrate the way the colors look when you apply different pressures. Show

    Metal Inset Wooden Tracing Tray from Montessori N’ Such

    them which shade you’d like them to achieve. Remind the students their hands won’t tire as quickly if they don’t press so hard. They might believe you, but experience will probably be the best teacher for this particular lesson. Be upfront with the students. Explain that, if the children color in a dark way, the (costly) Prismacolor pencils get used up much more quickly. We want our pencils to last a long time because they are expensive, so if we color lightly, we all benefit by having them last. We want to help the children to realize that we invest in quality tools for important reasons. Coloring with Prismacolor pencils makes a satisfying and beautiful product.

  • Leave no white spaces. Also a tricky one, especially for those who are used to applying serious pressure with the pencil. For them, “color lightly” and “leave no white spaces” can seem like contradictory rules. Explain that it doesn’t mean that the white of the paper isn’t allowed to show through the coloring, so much as making sure each area gets an even amount of pigment.
  • Use long, brush-like strokes. Often, students color in choppy, uneven sections. This results in uneven shading because of different pencil pressures. It takes a lot of practice, so I repeat this rule as a soothing kind of mantra, over and over and again. Not to pressure them, but as a gentle reminder to relax the hand and make inset work more comfortable.

Other issues may come up as you set your students to work, but don’t worry too much. They’ll have plenty of opportunity to experiment with insets and to refine and hone their skills. My students keep an inset portfolio in their classroom throughout the year, which we add to continually.

Next I’ll be showing the inset exercises in the order we introduce them to our students, as well as some extensions some fellow teachers and I have created. I hope you’ll join me!

Room 2 (Renee’s) Classroom Wishlist II

Classroom Wishlist

All teachers have wishlists, so when it was suggested that I post some of my colleagues’ (and not just my own), I jumped at the chance. It’s not just an opportunity to peek into the needs of each classroom, but it’s a fun way to learn about awesome new materials.

 ~~All wishlist items are linked through the images~~

Large Outdoor Blackboard Daisies from Nasco

These outdoor blackboard daisies hail from England (although, don’t worry, the link takes you to a retailer in the United States). I have to agree with Renee that they would be adorable and fun in her yard. Chalk art is one of those consistently enjoyable childhood past times, and the petals provide a perfect frame for their temporary yard art masterpieces.

Music Wall from Sam Houston Elementary School

If you’ve never visited a playground with an outdoor music station, you’re missing out. I love this homemade version that Renee provided, but I do know that some playground equipment companies, like Schoolscapes, Nature’s Instruments, and Meyer Design make prefabricated versions.

Outdoor Balance Scale from ABC Does

As soon as I saw this weighing (or balancing) station, I could picture Renee’s students using it! It has a simple design but is capable of providing endless fascination in the form of experimentation, especially for those exploring the world. If Renee gets nothing else on her list, I hope she gets this.

Colored Bead Chains with Rack from Pink Montessori

The Colored Bead Chains are an essential Montessori material. We use them to:

  • Reinforce linear counting
  • Introduce skip counting
  • Introduce multiples
  • Teach squares and cubes

This is some of the foundational work that prepares our students for understanding the more complex mathematical concepts they’ll face in their Upper Elementary, Middle and High School years.

Gift Certificate from Montessori Print Shop

Gift Certificate from Montessori Outlet

Of course, a teacher’s work is never finished, which is why gift certificates to Montessori Print Shop and Montessori Outlet are also on Renee’s wish list.

Happy last week of school!

A Peek at Student Showcase

All the classrooms are wrapping up the year with their stunning Student Showcase projects. I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer you a glimpse at the work in progress before you see the amazing final products tomorrow night. It’s an event not to be missed! If this post doesn’t convince you of that, maybe a few photos will…


Caterpillar and Ladybug Art at The Absorbent Teacher

Room 4 -Infant Program-Teacher:  Jeannette Luna

The students have been learning about nature and different habitats, so to finish out the school year, we have made beautiful toe-print caterpillars on leaf rubbings. Nature art at its best!

Parts of a butterfly book at The Absorbent Teacher

Room 3 -Pre-Kindergarten-Teacher: Jenny Lang

Room 3 has been learning about butterflies! Come by and see their awesome “parts of the butterfly” books.

Sewing Leaf Insets on Burlap at The Absorbent Teacher

Room 2 – Pre-Kindergarten-Teacher:  Renee Warner

Each student  is celebrating our Botany lesson with an embroidered leaf shape on burlap.  They are very proud of their work!

Room 1 -Pre-Kindergarten- Teacher:  Janet Lindquist Lang

Room 1 has been studying visualization through the camera lens and students are proudly displaying their photography work. Stop by and discover!

Dinosaurs by Room 6 at The Absorbent Teacher

Room 6 -Lower Elementary -Teacher:  Liz Cossairt

Our Dinosaur Dioramas are a window into the three periods of the Mesozoic Era.  You will agree: the dinosaurs and murals are amazing!

Clay California Missions at The Absorbent Teacher

Room 8 -Upper Elementary-Teacher:  Ruby Cossairt

Following their study of  the Missions, students have created clay models of the Santa Barbara Mission.American History Table at The Absorbent Teacher

Room 9 -Middle School

Teachers: Libby Hawkins & Kirsten Dalto

The Middle School has prepared Living Statues from the American Revolution. They have chosen significant figures from this time period to learn about.  Ask them their name and watch them come alive!


Art – Colleen McDougal

See the amazing robots the children have made from recycled materials!

Art – Vic Schiro

Mr. Vic’s goal is to advance the children’s innate curiosities and observations of the natural world through the use of high-quality watercolor materials augmented with oil pastels.  The children learn the basics of color (the color wheel) and grow their technical skills throughout the school year. Come see the beautiful watercolors!

Cooking – Sara MacCracken

Thanks to a gracious donation from Driscoll’s we have been cooking & baking with lots of berries! We made raspberry blondies, blackberry breakfast cookies & raspberry sorbet. Today we are featuring dinosaur cookies with strawberry cream cheese frosting. Eat em’ up!

Animal Husbandry –  Stan Schneider

Students will be walking around this evening with  Amber (one of our miniature horses), and Franky and Billy, our pygmy goats.

Garden –  Jon Ellis

Samples of produce from the school garden are available.  Talk to Jon about his vision for the future of the MSO garden and how the curriculum is presented to our students.

Sign Language – Lisa Batchelder-Hetrick

This year the children in Rooms 1,2,3, and 6 have been learning the basics of A.S.L. We have had lots of fun learning through the use of songs, stories, games and activities.

Please join us:

5:00-7:00 on Friday, June 10

End-of-2016 Classroom Wishlist for Room 9 (Middle School!)

End-of-Year Classroom Wishlist

The Middle School’s wishlist is, perhaps, a little different for those of you who are looking for the traditional Montessori items. The classroom has an entirely different flavor from any Early Childhood room and, of course, their needs are different. Take a look at some of the items showing up on their end-of-year wishlist:

Timeline of American History Research Cards

ETC Montessori, as I’ve mentioned before, is an excellent resource for those working with the upper grades. When we visited their booth at the conference in the spring, my Middle School colleague was excited to hear that they would be expanding their M/S emphasis and publishing some of their work as iBooks. The American History Research Cards pictured above are one such item. I love the idea! It makes the material more affordable and easily accessible. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a manipulative like the working Timeline of American History:

or the American Presidents nomenclature cards:

One of the hardest parts of teaching the writing process is teaching students how to outline. Once the thoughts start flowing, the next step is organizing them. Reading Manipulatives has created a work designed to help students develop this skill, first by practicing with provided thoughts, and then moving, step by step, toward creating an outline using the framework.

Outlining Manipulatives

Clocca Concepts is a small company I discovered at the annual Montessori Conference the year before last, when I purchased their Punctuation Boxes. They make a few other materials for very specific skills, one of which has caught our Middle School Math teacher’s eye–their Coordinate Graph Curriculum:

The Coordinate Graph Curriculum includes a 19”x19” coordinate graph, 2-colored wooden markers, 3-level command cards, and nomenclature cards. This curriculum provides students and teachers with a hands-on approach to understand and practice those concepts.

That’s it for Middle School. Their needs are few (and many)! Look out for more end-of-year wishlist posts from my fellow MSO teachers.

See anything that strikes your fancy?