Archive | March, 2012

Affordable Montessori at home WITHOUT the dollar store…

29 Mar

… is it possible?


These look just like the beautiful (but pricey!) Nienhuis Montessori materials boxes! But for just $5 each!


There are so many ways to make your own Montessori materials for the classroom or the home and it is possible to do so without spending too much money.

When I was teaching, the dollar store was my best friend! With a limited classroom budget (and I was lucky to have that, even!), I had to make those dollars stretch to buy things for the classroom, craft supplies, etc.  Not surprisingly, I ended up using some of my own money too- and we all know that that’s not unusual for teachers.

However, recently I’ve decided  to avoid shopping at dollar stores after asking myself some questions, including:

  • How do they sell ALL that stuff for so CHEAP? Well, I’ve read about the low wages paid to the dollar store workers (and long, long work shifts) and how they purchase wholesale items (or items that are unsellable at other stores)…but other than that, those super cheap items must be made in sweatshops if they can still make a profit on a $1 item, right?!
  • If the bottom line is, well, the bottom line, how likely are health and safety standards and regulations met for both the products and the workers? Especially for places churning out cheap items that they export for less than $1?
  • Plastic is not safe. A lot of chemicals and other toxins are used to make plastic. Yes, there are now BPA- and phthalate-free plastic options now, and it’s almost impossible to avoid all plastic. I just do my best to avoid having it in the house. Now, all these regulations for “safe” plastics…how strictly do you think they’re followed in other countries and in sweatshops?
  • The dollar stores now have such a wide selection of products that you could really kit out most of your classroom with their items. However, the quality of these products are most likely very low and Montessori materials should be beautiful and durable.
  • Montessori education teaches the child to consider the impact of his or her actions on the world around them by emphasizing the interconnection between the child and the world. If I believe that dollar store items are made in sweatshops, how can I then use those items as Montessori materials?

I’ve been trying to look up investigative articles on sweatshops and dollar stores online but haven’t found any useful ones yet. If I do, I’ll post it here.

I did find these tips on how to avoid sweatshop toys.


Here are some of the ways I’m going to try to do this (not very groundbreaking ideas, I admit, but it’s something at least!):

  • I just started doing Montessori activities at home, so I’ve been able to use a lot of what I already had at home.

I just realized that this bread cutting set that we got as a housewarming gift...

...had a tray that was perfect for carrying materials! Looks just like the wooden trays in the classroom!

  • Make a list of materials needed for future lessons & activities and beg, borrow, and steal from friends and family. I think I’ll send out a mass email once or twice a year with a list of items that I’m looking for and see what happens. Maybe even post a note on my mom & baby group forum if I think it will help. People love to help (especially if it involves them getting rid of old stuff that they don’t want!).
  • If I need to buy things, buy from other stores. I think it’s pretty hard to know where everything comes from (especially when companies get X item from company A that gets a part of that item from company B, which was put together in company C).
  • If I see things that are on crazy sale, I’ll buy it! Just the other day I found the boxes at the top of the post in the sale section at Chapter’s (I always take a look there!). They’re all a bit banged up, but usable. Original price was $30 and the green box was on sale for $5. The white boxes were $10 but I asked the manager if she would sell them to me all for $5 and she agreed! Woo hoo! I like them a lot because they look like the boxes that some Montessori materials are stored within (Grammar Boxes, Bead Bar Boxes).


So, my question still stands: Is it possible to run an affordable Montessori program at home without shopping at the dollar store? 

Answer: I don’t know yet…but I’m going to try!


Any other ideas on how to make affordable Montessori materials without shopping at the dollar store?


Deadline…what an omnious sounding word.

22 Mar

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

– Douglas Adams


I have not quite grasped the ability to work from home (without losing my mind) just yet. How do people do it?

Have a couple of half-written blog posts waiting to be completed, but honestly, I’m sick of sitting in this office chair, staring open-mouthed at the computer. I am definitely not cut out for office work! At least in the classroom things changed up all the time and you were always moving! While I’m up at night, after putting Freestyle to bed, I want to be hanging out with Biker, or getting the house back into it’s haphazardly tidy state, or really, just lying in bed reading a book.

Sigh. But I shouldn’t complain. I’m so, so GRATEFUL for this opportunity, a literal God-send. I do enjoy what I’m doing; I think I just need to get past this learning curve and settle more into a manageable working-at-home routine. I’m sure things will slowly get easier, as they always do.

Hope you (my imaginary friend who reads this) are well!

I’m just going to do one load of laundry, shower, and go tuck myself in and read until my eyes give out!

Good night (or “Nigh!” as Freestyle would say!)!

Introducing Pouring Exercises

10 Mar

Pouring Activity for Toddlers 


Age: 18 months + (another activity that can be modified to become more challenging as they grow!)

Purpose: Pouring exercises are a staple Practical Life exercise in Toddler and Casa classrooms because they are fantastic for developing hand-eye coordination, concentration, practicing aiming for a target, fine motor skill development. You know, the usual! Learning to pour is a practical skill that she will use daily during meal time when she is ready.




2 containers

Dry items to pour (examples: dried beans, buttons, rice, small pasta, beads, etc.)

What to do:

1. Have the activity set up so that the dry items are in one container on the tray.

2. Show your child how to carefully pick up the full container with both hands and slowly pour the items into the second, empty container on the tray. Vocabulary to introduce/emphasize: pour, slow(ly).

3. Put the first container down and repeat using the now full container.

Oh, here's when the Control of Error comes in...

Getting better!


Go further:

  • If you have one, you can use a small pitcher and a cup.
  • Add a third container for more fun!
  • Once your child is more confident (and adept!) at pouring dry items, she can try pouring water from a small pitcher into a container (or cup).
  • Use containers of different shapes and sizes.
  • Your child can even practice pouring into a funnel.

I’m Elmo and I Know It!

9 Mar

Freestyle LOVES to dance. I have a video of her dancing to LMFAO’s “I’m S.exy and I Know It” (totally age appropriate music, I know!). It’s pretty hilarious…

…but not as hilarious as this video that a friend told me about:


My favourite parts were: “Kids look at these crayons,” Elmo’s funky dancing on the planet, and the part when Bert goes, “Whaat?!” So funny!

I showed it to Freestyle and she was only mildly impressed. I think she was thinking, “Elmo ain’t got nothin’ on ME!” Honestly, anytime music is on (especially this toddler music CD that she got as a gift) there is dancing. She always needs to find  “Bahbee” (her baby doll) to dance with before she begins and if I’m trying to cook or wash dishes, she’ll usually try to entice me to dance too. Sometimes I have to tell her no, not right now, but whenever this one particular song comes on (it’s similiar to the Hokey Pokey, where you put random body parts in the circle where you focus on a part of the body, shake it, and turn yourself around), Freestyle is positively insistent and really, all you can do is take a dance break at that point to keep the peace in the house!

So, if you ever drop by our house around, say, 4:30-5:00PM, there is a very good chance you’ll see me, Freestyle, and “Bahbee” dancing up a storm to “Polly Put The Kettle On!”

A Quick Update!

9 Mar

I’ve been finding less time to write posts these past few weeks. For one thing, I just started a new job(!) which is PERFECT (the number of hours, the fact I get to work-at-home…) so any computer time that I have (usually during Free’s nap or after she’s in bed), is dedicated to that now.

I’m going to do my best to write up drafts here and there and post when they’re complete. I have a couple in the works already, including a pouring exercise that I recently introduced to Freestyle.


Another Update: Potty Training.

It’s going… just fine! I’m so happy that we caught Free at the right time (I honestly believe that is mostly why she’s been so successful) to start training. Right now she is pretty much fully trained during the day. She will either tell us that she needs to go or if we lead her to the washroom and put her on, she will almost always go then. We don’t put a diaper on her at home anymore and when we’re out, she just wears a cloth diaper… though I think we’re almost at the point when she doesn’t have to wear a diaper while we’re out!

I’ve noticed that in the past couple of weeks, her diaper will be dry after her nap! Though I’m pretty sure that she’ll still need a diaper overnight for awhile.

So, yay, Freestyle! I don’t presume to be in a position to offer advice to other parents (all my experience is just with potty training one child, after all!), but I’ll include what worked for us, just in case it is helpful to anyone else.


Here’s what I found useful during potty training:

  • Cloth diapers. They do say that babies in cloth diapers potty train easier (which was one of the reasons why we chose to use them) because they feel it when they are wet. When she was younger, Freestyle didn’t seem to care if she was wet (or worse), so I was a little worried that it wouldn’t help. However, as she got older she seemed to begin to get it, and right now when we’re out she would definitely react if she went in her diaper!
  • Introducing the potty at a young age. I read in Montessori from the Start that children typically show interest in potty training around the ages of 12 – 18 months. We started to casually introduce  Freestyle to the potty around 15 months by putting out the potty, leaving her diaper-less (sometimes) at home, and sitting her on the potty every hour or two. We took a break when the Christmas crazy began though and picked up around 18 months (when I first posted about it).
  • No diaper worn at home. Yes, it can be messy, but I did find that for us, it seemed to help Freestyle quickly grasp the connection between the feeling you get when you need to pee and then the act of peeing that follows (if she peed and felt it running down her legs!). After a couple of days, she seemed to understand the connection and was able to tell me if she needed to go.
  • Being consistently at home. When we first started, I realized that one reason why it wasn’t working was that we weren’t home enough. So this time I dedicated one full week to staying at home so we could get the potty training established. I understand that this is not possible for everyone. If I was working full-time, I would probably see if I could take a Friday or Monday off so that I could at least have a long weekend to begin.
  • Happy words when she is successful, encouraging reminders when she is not. No point traumatizing her a la Family Guy:

Peter in a bookstore. 

Peter: Yeah, I’m looking for toilet-training books.

Bookstore Guy: Oh, yes. We can help you there. “Everybody Poops” is still the standard, of course. We’ve also got the less popular “Nobody Poops But You.”

Peter: Huh. Well, see, we’re Catholic, so…

Bookstore Guy: Then you want “You’re a Naughty Child And That’s Concentrated Evil Coming Out the Back of You.”

Peter: Perfect!

Threading Beads

8 Mar

Bead Threading Activity


Age: 18 months + (can be adapted to be more challenging for older children!)

Purpose: Developing fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, patience, concentration.





Chopsticks, Pipecleaners, or Straws

My original idea was to use a chopstick (hey, I use what's available to me in my house!). It works well because it's a hard object so it won't bend during threading. It's long so a lot of (large) beads fit. The only thing is that you'll need to make sure your child holds onto the end the entire time. I thought of adding a ball of play dough to the end as one solution.

Using a pipe cleaner with a loop twisted at the end. Found that Freestyle had a bit of trouble because the pipe cleaner would bend, so this may be more suited for children with better developed dexterity! Would work very well with small beads!

I liked the bendy straw because the bend stopped the beads from slipping and the straw itself was stiff enough for the threading.


What to do:

1. Show your child how to hold the chopstick/pipecleaner in one hand and thread one bead using the other (most likely her dominant) hand. New words to introduce and repeat throughout the activity: bead, thread.

2. Repeat!

Next time we do this, I'll only set out a few beads! This is a bit too many!

Control of Error*: Beads are successfully threaded through.


Go further:

  • We are using large wooden beads here, but later we will move on to use smaller beads when Freestyle is ready.
  • Use a thick string (i.e. shoelace) with a knot tied at one end to increase the challenge.
  • Make it a math activity by counting the beads as she threads them.
  • Sort and thread the beads by colour, shape, etc.


* Montessori materials always include a Control of Error. This means that there is a way that the child can independently check to see if she has completed it correctly. In this activity, the child will know if she has completed it correctly if the beads are threaded onto the chopstick (yes, this particular example is sort of obvious, I know!). For other materials, such as nomenclature cards (where you have to match the picture, name, and description) there may be a small coloured dot on the back of the cards that do go together. When the child is finished matching them up, she can turn the cards over to see if she is correct. Brilliant, right? 🙂