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DIY Toddler Crayons

18 Oct

Here’s a super easy DIY project that even young children can do (with adult supervision and help with the oven, of course!). It’s also a good way to show them that even “old, used” crayons can be recycled into something brand new! Just keep out a container to collect the small crayons until you have enough.

I made these toddler crayons for the loot bags for Freestyle’s 1st birthday. They were colourful and pretty and easy for chubby little hands to grasp! If you have older kids, they still may like them or you could make them as gifts for younger friends, cousins, etc.

 

DIY Toddler Crayons 

 

 

Materials:

  • Old crayons too short to use (or a box of new crayons…I did this because I didn’t have a lot of crayons at that point…man, has that changed!)
  • Mini muffin pan
  • Oven
  • Cooling rack (optional)

 

What You Do:

1. Preheat the oven to about 275 degrees.

 

2. Tear off the paper wrapping off the crayons.

I sorted them into colour families because I wanted to make multi-coloured crayons and thought it be easier to mix and match this way.

 

3. Break up any larger crayons into smaller pieces and then fill the mini muffin tin.

 

 

4. Place the tin into the oven for about 10 minutes (or until all the crayons have melted).

 

5. Now, you can either wait for the crayons to cool or let the tin cool for a few minutes and then put the crayons onto a cooling rack.

Don’t they look so pretty? ūüôā

 

If you are making them as a gift, a head’s up: I would keep them separated and then package them at the last minute because once they start rubbing against one another in a bag/box, they get to be flaky and white (wax). You might even consider separating them with a square of tissue paper.

That’s it! A very simple rainy day project!

 

Colour Activities!

13 Sep

I can see a rainbow…

 

Colour Tablets (A Montessori Lesson)

  • Colour Tablets are a Montessori material that introduce children to colours. They are usually used in the Casa classroom (ages 3-6).Here’s a brief explanation (I didn’t know that Dr. Montessori originally used spools of silk!).
  • There are many DIY instructions online (most using paint chips). That link from Living Montessori Now also includes a video showing how to introduce the tablets as well. Love that site! Another simple DIY link here.

 

Colour Sorting Activities (Easy to DIY)

Colour sorting activities are easy to make using things found around the house.

 

 

Make your own Colour Booklet

  • Materials: Colour labels, scissors, glue, index cards, stapler.
  • I just used leftover paper seating cards (I’m a big fan of using whatever I have in the house!) and stapled them together. Then I cut the labels to fit and glued one at the top of each card.
  • We went through a couple of the colours that Freestyle was already familiar with and she named the colour, found the matching crayon, and coloured the card.
  • We’ll continue to do a couple whenever she wants to work on it.
  • It becomes a book to add to your library that she can “read” to us to review the colours. She was very proud to do this!

 

Colour Collage (our favourite!)

 

  • Materials: Coloured construction paper, flyers, scissors, glue.
  • Write “green” (or whatever colour you’ve chosen to start with) on the paper. Ask your child to point out green things in the flyers. Cut them out for her and show her how to glue them on the paper.
  • Freestyle learned to use a gluestick, which she LOVED.
  • I would show Freestyle pages with green vegetables and fruit so I could name them for her and talk about healthy food and introduce/review their names.
  • This activity had Freestyle visually isolating the colour green from the rest of the colourful page.
  • I liked that this showed Freestyle that there are different shades of green and pointed out that not everything will always be a solid green colour (introducing ambiguity).
  • I feel that this was her first introduction to using scissors (watching me).
  • For older kids, they can do this activity on their own on a rainy day. You can show them to layer the pictures to make a real collage.

Freestyle truly LOVED this activity!

 

Easy DIY Threading Activity

16 Aug

 

 

[EDIT: Since I wrote this about a month ago, Freestyle has pretty much picked apart the white paper that I used to wrap the container! So keep that in mind if you decide to make this. In the link below, I believe she gives an idea of how to better cover the container.]

 

I’ve been meaning to make this for Freestyle for awhile now (months, actually!), but of course my lazy self kept procrastinating until I forgot about it! I think this would be a great activity for younger babies (around 1 year) to start on.

What reminded me was this post from how we montessori, a great blog I just stumbled upon.

 

It’s very simple to make:

All you need is a container with a plastic lid, something to poke holes into the lid, and about 10 stick-like objects (I had a huge box of coffee stir sticks from my own very DIY wedding leftover!).

  • You could also use larger wooden sticks/straws and a parmesan shaker (the ones with larger holes on the lid).
  • Or, you don’t even have to make a container– clean some pennies and use a piggy bank!

 

This is a Threading Activity, so Freestyle will be working on her concentration, hand-eye coordination, and pincer grip. It’s also a great activity that Freestyle can do independently, so a perfect time to bring it out is when I’m making dinner.

 

 

 

And, it’s portable! Just keep the sticks in the container and bring it with you if you know you’ll need to keep them busy.

 

Pincer Grip Activity

19 Jul

 

Wooden Peg Pincer Grip Activity 

Age: 12 months + (Again, all children develop differently, so you can introduce this to your child earlier or later, depending on their readiness.)

Purpose: The pincer grip (the ability to use the thumb and index finger to grasp an object) is an important fine motor skill development. Activities that exercise the pincer grip prepare the child to hold a pencil (muscle development and control, coordination, purposeful movement). Dr. Montessori believed that exercising these muscles would prevent the child from becoming fatigued when he started to write.

Materials:

Wooden clothes pegs

Container (large enough to hold about 10 pegs with a lip that is narrow enough for the peg to be clipped upon)

Tray

 

What to do:

1. Place the wooden clothes pegs into the container and put it on a tray. Have child bring the tray to the table (or workspace on the floor) when ready.

2. Pour out the pegs onto the right side of the tray (or the left, if child is left-handed).

3. Show your child how to use her thumb and index finger to squeeze open the clothes peg and then clip it onto the container lip.

4. When she has clipped all the pegs onto the container, she can unclip and put them into the container one at a time.

 

Vocabulary introduced/used: clothes peg, clip. 

 

Go further:

  • Use tongs and tweezers to transfer small objects from one bowl to another. Objects could include: pom poms, cotton balls, sugar cubes, beads, etc.

Looking for “Montessori” toys?

26 May

 

First, let me be clear: Montessori materials (the materials that Dr. Montessori so carefully developed) are never considered toys. Actually, they are considered children’s work.

However, there are some toys out there that seem to align with Montessori philosophy and could be thought of as Montessori-inspired or Montessori-like toys.

I went to a warehouse sale the other day and was on the hunt for some deals on toys that I could use for future Montessori activities. I found this gorgeous Plan Toy that will be perfect for a colour sorting activity and a great example of a Montessori-inspired toy that can be used as a Montessori activity!

A friend gave Freestyle a Plan Toy when she was just born and recommended the line (come to think of it, she’s also a Montessori teacher!). They are eco-friendly and seem to be an ethical company, but the price tag reflects this (fair enough!). So I was so excited to see a table full of the toys at the warehouse sale!

 

This particular toy has a lot of the characteristics of a Montessori activity:

  • Made of a natural material— wood (from an eco-friendly and sustainable resource)
  • Bright and beautiful colours and appearance— attractive to children (and their parents!)
  • High-quality production— Montessori materials should be made for longevity so that the children have experience cleaning and taking care of them so that they do last for the next child.
  • Built-in Control of Error— The bees should match the hive colour when the activity is complete.
  • Made ethically, in an environmentally-friendly manner— bonus!
  • There is only one isolated quality— Montessori materials isolate a single quality to introduce new concepts. This way, the child is able to recognize the difference between the objects. Here, the bees and beehives are the same shape and size and they have the same appearance save for the colour. The child is then able to focus on the colours since everything else is the same!

So those are a few things to keep in mind when you are looking for Montessori-inspired toys and activities for your child. Don’t forget to only introduce the activity when you believe that your child is prepared (mentally and physically) for it. This is to ensure that they are Set Up for Success* an important aspect of Montessori philosophy.

 

Colour sorting activities such as this one are easy to DIY!

  • Save/buy your own small containers (yogurt cups, baby food jars, paper cups, etc.)
  • Paint/cover the containers with coloured construction paper.
  • Collect/buy small objects that will fit into the containers in matching colours (marbles, buttons, beads, etc.)
  • Tongs are optional. You can also use a spoon to spoon the items from a clear glass container to the coloured containers. Younger children can even use their fingers and practice their pincer grip!

*Montessori teachers (and parents!) make sure to¬†Set Up Their Children For Success. This means that before any lesson is introduced, the teacher has considered the child’s abilities and experience and believes that he or she is ready for the new lesson. Using the above activity as an example, I wouldn’t introduce it to Freestyle until she develops the fine motor skills to use the tongs.

The lesson is thoroughly thought-out and planned, which means that all materials and resources are prepared and ready to be used and that the teacher herself is familiar with the step-by-step instructions and the desired outcome. If I introduced this activity and didn’t have the tongs on hand, it would take away from the momentum as I leave to go look for them, wouldn’t it? Also, it would not help in teaching Freestyle to be prepared!

Any setbacks are anticipated and the teacher is ready to assist or even stop the lesson and re-introduce it when the child is better ready.

I always had to consciously keep this in mind while in the classroom, and I have to admit that sometimes during especially busy times of the year I forgot to consider it and it did not lead to a great lesson! This way of thinking can also apply to many aspects of parenting, huh?

Something from nothing…

15 May

…well, just a bit of flour and oil!

All you need is olive oil, flour, and water! That’s it!

Playdough is such a fun activity for toddlers! It’s a great sensory activity (you can even add glitter or sand to add a different texture to experience). It really is something that will just take a few minutes to make and will provide hours of fun!

I kept forgetting to make some for Freestyle but finally got around to it last week. I wasn’t worried about her eating it because she’s passed that stage (though she did try some mud the other day!), but ended up using a no-salt “edible” recipe because well, I didn’t have any salt left in the house.

I found this no salt playdough recipe from Naturalparentingtips.com.

Freestyle enjoyed helping to make the playdough!

The website said that the olive oil would be nice on your hands as you played, which was true!

Didn’t have any food colouring either, but you can add that too. Just use gloves!

Et voila!

We’re keeping it in an airtight container in the fridge and so far it’s lasted for a week. Today I noticed that the oil was separating a bit at the bottom, but I just kneaded for a minute before giving it to Freestyle and it was fine. It was actually more moist than the day I made it!

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?

I made a diaper cake!

24 Feb

When I was pregnant with Freestyle, the families in my ¬†class, in cahoots with some of the teachers, threw me a surprise baby shower. It was very sweet (though when the office asked me to come down to “take a call from a parent” so the parents could sneak in and set up with the class, my reaction was: “Um, no I can’t take their call now! I’m teaching!” It took them a few minutes to kick me out of the classroom. Ha ha.).

A couple of the moms made me a diaper cake, which was such a cute gift. Even though we used cloth diapers, we did end up using the diapers in the cake, so it was pretty useful!

The funniest thing happened was when I walked back into the room. One boy immediately said, “Mrs. MM! Do you like the cake? (giggle) DON’T eat it though, (giggle) because it’s made out of…DIAPERS! (burst of giggles)”

So, a good friend of mine is expecting a girl in a couple of weeks and a few of us are going over to her place and bringing her dinner this weekend. We decided to be practical and get her wipes and diapers of different sizes instead of toys and clothes (though I bet a couple of them will end up getting her a dress or two as well!).

I got her a huge box of wipes and decided to try my hand at a diaper cake, to go along with the diaper theme! I know they’re done a lot and now they have diaper monkeys and a whole zoo’s worth of diaper animals, but I’ve never made one before so decided to stick with a simple cake!

I didn’t think it’d turn out as nicely as it did, so I’m pretty happy with it. If anyone else has a baby shower to attend and wants to give it a try, the instructions are below. The secret is ribbon. Lots and lots of ribbon to cover up all manners of mistakes!

 

DIY Diaper Cake 

Approx. Cost & Time: $40-50 & 1.5 hours (+ extra 30 mins. if you have a toddler running around!)

Materials:

  • About 70 diapers, Size 2 or 3
  • Rubber bands (about 140 small and 4 large- so just get a bag of them!)
  • Ribbon! A different 1″ ribbon for each layer (3) & a thin satin ribbon for decoration and to tie up the goodies
  • 4-5 baby items (I used a stuffed animal, baby socks, teething ring, and a small photo frame)
  • Scissors
  • Tape (scotch & masking)
  • Cardboard
  • Various decorations (I used felt flowers with a wire stem, self-adhesive flowers)- Optional

What to do:

1. Tightly roll up all the diapers and secure on both ends with elastics.

45 minutes and 72 diapers later...

 

2. Stack the diapers into three circular layers and double-wrap a large elastic around the layers. For the larger ones, I had to wrap up a smaller circle before I added more.

  

Top tier- 7 diaper rolls (1 in the middle and 6 surrounding it)

2nd tier- 20 diaper rolls

Bottom tier- the rest of the rolls!

 

3. Place each tier on the cardboard and lightly trace around and cut out. For the largest cardboard circle, make the circumference a couple of inches larger.  I also wrapped it in wrapping paper to make it prettier. You can also just use a regular cake plate for the bottom. I just like using whatever is in the house!

 

4. I’m sure there’s a better way to do this, but I just used painter’s tape (masking tape would be better but I didn’t have any) to tape the diaper rounds onto the cardboard, making it into a 3-tier cake shape.

 

5. Now for the fun part- decorating! First, wrap each tier with the ribbon. I used scotch tape to secure it onto the diapers, but again, there’s probably a better way. Then tape the thin satin ribbon around the middle of each tier.

  

 

6. Decorate to your heart’s desire! Use the ribbon to tie the baby things onto the cake.

  

 

7. Use cellophane to wrap it all up and add a ribbon to the top.

 

Now you have a gorgeous gift for the expecting mom that will also be a cute centerpiece at the baby shower!

 

p.s. I’m not sure why, but my photos are now so small here! Usually when I upload them they are a good size. I tried changing the size but they’re already at 100%! Help?!¬†

Super Easy DIY Birthday Present for a Toddler

17 Feb

 

It was a bit of a whirlwind of first birthday parties last year. I met quite a few friends from a local playgroup (love this group of women!) and a few of our other friends also had babies around the same time that I did.

Usually, I like to give books as gifts to children (yep, I’m that “auntie”!), but recently I thought of a great (well, I think it’s pretty good, at least!) idea for a friend’s daughter’s first birthday party.

My friend had stated that gifts were not necessary on the invite, but I wanted to at least make something small and useful for her adorable little girl anyway, because we’ve had such a fun year hanging out on our mat leave year.

This girl painted for the first time at our house, so I thought it would be meaningful to make her a yearly art portfolio. This would be a sketchbook for her to draw or paint in each year, so that by the time she’s an adult, she’ll have a neat, all-in-one package of samples of art from every year of her life.

I know that parents accumulate a lot of artwork over the years and that organizing and storing it is a challenge already, so this would be one way to keep some of her art together that would represent each year of her life. I also thought it would be nice for them to look back to see how her art skills have changed and developed over the years. It would be fun for the child to look back on her own progress as well.

 

How to Make a Yearly Art Portfolio for a 1-Year-Old (or 2, or 3…)

What You’ll Need:

  • A high-quality sketchbook with at least 20 pages
  • Photo(s) of the birthday child for the cover or your own creative spin
  • Instruction page for the inside cover
  • Glue stick
  • Clear glue sealer (i.e. Mod Podge) & brush or sponge
For the cover, you can just do a simple title (“My Yearly Art Portfolio”) with the photo of the child, a photo collage, or decorate it however else you please.¬†I made a cover for the book by using Word Publisher. I had a photo of the bday girl painting at my house and changed the look of each photo to give it an Andy Warholish feel. I used the Mod Podge to seal and protect it…because I’m assuming that it will be saved and treasured as one of her most prized possessions for years to come! Ha!

 

On the inside cover, I used a photo I took of the child painting with her mom and just included a message to explain how the yearly art portfolio works:

 

My First Art Portfolio

(Child’s name, date)

How to Use

Happy 1st Birthday!

This is a yearly art portfolio for showcasing your (future) masterpieces created during your life as an artist. 

Every year, draw or paint a beautiful picture on one of the pages. Don’t forget to sign and date your art!

You’ll have a great keepsake of your artwork throughout the years to look back on and enjoy!¬†

Love from, 

MM, Biker, & Freestyle 

What I like about this gift is that it’s budget-friendly. Depending on your budget and the child’s age, you can include one or a combination of the following art materials/accessories: crayons, pencil crayons, watercolour set, paintbrushes (shorter, thicker ones for toddlers), art smock, non-toxic paints/fingerpaints, etc.

Et voila! A very simple, inexpensive, and useful gift that will (hopefully!) be enjoyed for years to come!

Make a Simple Puzzle Box

2 Feb

Here’s one of the first Montessori-inspired activities that I made for Freestyle. I got the idea from the great book, Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home from Birth to Age Three by Paula Polk Lillard & Lynn Lillard Jessen.

 

DIY Puzzle Box

Age: 15 months + (variations for younger children below)

Purpose: At this age, the child has more or less learned to connect her brain and her hand movement. Now that she can coordinate her hand movements and is ready (and wanting) more challenging work. This activity is great because it allows for

  • Concentration (repeatedly putting the discs through the slit)
  • Eye-hand coordination (accurately placing the disc into the slit)
  • Practice of the pincer grip (holding the disc between her thumb and forefinger)
  • The understanding of object permanence (the discs disappear once dropped into the box and then found again when the lid is lifted up)
  • The satisfaction after a challenge is met!
Materials:
  • box (I used a shoebox)
  • 4-6 discs (I saved up a few frozen juice lids, but you can use anything you have, such as poker chips, bottle lids, etc.)
  • utility knife

What to do:

To make: Using the utility knife, make a slit in the lid that is just big enough to fit the discs. Voila!

1. Take out all the discs and put them to the right of the box. Show your child how to pick up one disc and fit and drop it through the slit.

 

2. Allow her to try this on her own. Help guide her if needed, but if she is getting frustrated, that’s okay. Just redirect her to another activity and put this away for another time.

 

Go further:

  • For younger children (8 months +), they can try putting a small wooden egg into a cup or a small wooden cube into a box that just fits it. The child should be proficient with the egg and cup before trying the cube and box because it is much more challenging.
  • If you have wooden blocks at home (triangular prisms, cubes, sphere) you can trace those onto the different sides of a box (make sure that it is just large enough to fit the shape). Many people have a toy like this at home too. They work the same way, but are usually made of plastic. Montessori materials are natural materials (wood, wicker baskets, glass, real flowers instead of fake) as much as possible to cultivate an appreciation for the world. These natural materials also add to the sensory experience (weight of glass VS lightness of plastic, smell of wood, etc.).
  • Wooden puzzles with knob handles on the pieces are a great activity and are readily available. Fitting the piece properly gives the child the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. When they are younger, the knobs will make using the puzzle easier.