Sean was in first grade when I first decided to homeschool. When I had a spare moment I was researching and reading everything I could possibly find about Montessori philosophy and materials.
I watched videos of Margaret Homfay lectures and presentation of materials (which BTW, I can't seem to find anymore.) I read books and blogs, and I looked at catalogs and spent hours reading emails through the Yahoo Montessori homeschool group. Those were as helpful to me to prepare for homeschooling as all of the other sources of information.
Although I know in my heart that Montessori can be done without any of the formal materials, and that the important part of Montessori is embracing the philosophy of trusting and following the child, those materials are so very cool.
I've always loved all of the materials. For me, the grammar symbols are very intriguing.
I'm a word person. I've spent most of my life writing, and the idea that words could have their own symbols was just exciting to me. If you don't have a copy of the symbols, you can find them here.
(There are other Internet sites out there that show the symbol chart. I just chose this one at random.)
I bought the set of wood, painted grammar symbols when Sean was in first grade. Back then we used the basics, the noun and verb symbols.
Now that he is an Upper El student we are going to be using them again, and by the time we get through the third year of Upper El we will have covered all of the symbols in the chart.
The way we use them now is not so concrete. He still has them in a basket on his shelf, but we also have a copy of them on paper, and he prefers to draw, so he has created his own symbol chart in his language composition book. I bring the basket out once in a while just so he gets that spark of memory from using them before.
Our language activities these days start with brainstorming ideas for a subject he would like to write about. Once he decides on a topic, I have him give me short sentences or words about the topic and I write those on a white board. Once he has exhausted his information about the topic, he looks at the white board and decides which of those words or short sentences should be in his beginning sentence.
He goes through each one until he has crafted a paragraph, or sometimes many paragraphs.
Then he goes through each sentence and labels the words with the symbols. Sometimes he likes to draw the symbol above the word, other times he uses a marker or crayon the color of the symbol to circle, square, rectangle, etc. around the words and makes his own chart in a way by doing that.
I love when he does that because it shows me he has taken what he has learned and used it in his own unique way, which solidifies the knowledge.