One of the trays on our math shelves this month holds a basket of stones we picked up on the beach a couple of years ago and a little cup, containing two 10-sided dice and a +/- die.
I put it there, intending E to review his addition and subtraction facts, with the stones available as a self-check. W, I decided, would be able to practice his addition and subtraction facts, using the stones for assistance as needed.
But it was C, our two year old, who was first to take that work off the shelf, carry it over, and carefully place it on the rug he had laid out just moments before.
Now, C does have an uncanny math sense that has stunned our family on multiple occasions, but he is not ready to work on math facts - at least not in the formal way I had planned when I put that activity together.
C, however, had his own vision about what he could do with this job. He took the stones out of the basket and looked carefully at the different patterns on each stone. He noticed some were bigger; some were smaller. He felt how smooth they were. He lined them up on the little work rug in one long line and counted them (with a little help from me towards the end). And then he put them back.
Watching C that morning took me back to last summer, when I first told people I was going to homeschool. The most common question I heard was, "What are you going to do with C?"
And actually, I had the same question.
What was I going to do with C?
I knew I would set up an area of work activities geared toward his interests and ability level.
I knew I would teach him how to complete the basic Montessori work cycle of choosing a job, completing the job, and returning it to the shelf. (Although, in all honesty, I vastly underestimated how long that would take to become routine. Think months, not a morning.)
I knew I would encourage him to come and go, as he decided, as he would be toddler in a primarily elementary environment.
And I knew that some days, this whole juggling three-different-kids-at-three-different-levels gig would be tough. Really tough. I wasn't at all confident about how I would work with my older sons, and still be available to C.
What I didn't know, though, was how C would surprise me with his natural ability to differentiate his brothers' work, creating learning experiences that met his needs - or that those would be some of his favorite jobs in our school room.
He puts beads into the divots of the multiplication and division bead boards, using his pincer grasp.
He sorts the math bead-bars into the correct boxes (one of his all-time favorite jobs), practicing color identification and sorting on a larger scale than I would have ever put on his shelves for him to do.
|Sorting beads last winter.|
|And this week.|
He asks for glue to make a "/C/, /C/, /C/" with the black beans his brother was using to learn about Braille. (Don't judge me for not thinking of this on my own.)
He draws in our salt tray, practicing his pre-writing skills with his finger or a pencil.
And he loves to do animal and botany puzzles, work that it's unlikely he would have access to in a typical toddler classroom, even in a Montessori school.
My son is two. There are days he tests every boundary I set and days he squeezes out my last drops of patience. That's part of being a toddler.
There are also days that I am not up for letting him sort a hundred colored bead bars, and I steer him toward a different choice. That's just part of being me.
More often than not, though, we find common ground. Because as intentional as I've tried to be with the activities I put on the shelves for him, C has shown me that he is quite capable of finding his own work in our school room. He's shown me how to look at what he could get out of the work, before I consider directing him elsewhere. He's taught me to follow the leader.