Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Cultural exchange package: USA

We have received another cultural exchange package!

This time from a lovely family representing the USA.  The package is full of really well thought out and interesting bits and pieces giving a fantastic overview of the state of Ohio as well as the USA.

Here some of the items that were included in this bumper package...

  • A stars and stripes pencil, note pad and stickers
  • Some information about the local Armish community in Ohio and a miniature hay bale
  • Baseball beads
  • American flag craft
  • Red, white and blue stretchy stars
  • American flag pin badge
    • Red carnation (which is the state flower)
    • A Cardinal bird also representing Ohio
    • A wooden star to decorate
    • A rainbow crayon
    • American flag
    • Red, white and blue beads
    • Postage stamps
    • Monarch butterfly
    • Watermelon lolly pop
    • Snowman toy
    • American money and coins
    • Lots of stickers
    • And of course a letter and map with lots more information about the USA

    The family also sent a wonderful little basket inspired by the stars and stripes of the country's flag which we are using as we speak for our 'wooden dowel' activity.

    This wonderful opportunity to share information about our native countries was organised by Melissa from Chasing Cheerios and you can read all about the idea and objective of the exchange here.

    Sign up for the 2012 cultural exchange here.

    Handmade wooden dowel toy

    Being married to a Swedish man means that we have our fair share of IKEA furniture around the house (it also means that they are assembled in minutes without instructions).   It has been clear to us that Freddy (20 months) is currently in the inserting-dowels-into-holes sensitive period and we have several Billy bookcases without their full quota of dowels to testify to this fact.

    What to do about this?  How to harness it?

    Introducing the dowel inserting into hole activity!

    Farfar knocked this activity up in minutes from an off-cut of beech kitchen worktop and a drill just slightly larger than the dowels (which were purchased in a pack of 100).  After a gentle sanding with coarse and then fine sandpaper the block was complete and ready to hold lots of the little 6mm wooden dowels.

    The activity is completed by adding the lovely little American flag inspired basket from our recently received cultural exchange package from the USA to hold all of the dowels.

    At the moment we are using the block in it's current form but there are many additional things that could be done to add interest such as:

    • Painting the block in rows or sections and colour coding the dowels to match
    • Inserting pipe cleaners or thin sticks standing upright in the holes for a lacing or beading activity
    • Using rubber bands or ribbons to trace out shapes with all of the dowels in place
    • Using screws instead of dowels (Freddy will love inserting screws with a screwdriver)

    An excellent fine motor skills and concentration activity for a toddler!

    Wednesday, 24 August 2011

    Cultural exchange package: India

    Yesterday we received our cultural exchange package from a family representing India!  You can read about the family's preparation on their blog here.

    The idea of the exchange is to send a package to the participating families with a letter and items representing the country such as souvenirs or cultural bits and pieces.

    So here is what we received from India.....

    • A packet of 'Mango Mood' candies and dried Mango Bars to represent Mangoes in India
    • Several ingredients and a few recipes to try out including Mango Lassi and Pressed Rice Pudding (this was such a good idea)
    • A really interesting letter written by the children which shows lots of beautiful pictures of India.  It includes geographic, cultural and sporting information as well as specific information about where in India the family are from
    • An Indian flag
    • A two rupee coin
    • A packet of beautiful indian beads which we will incorporate into some of our lacing activities
    • A 'Rakhi' which is a bracelet tied on the wrist of a loved one during the festival of 'Rakhsa Bandhan', where sisters tie bracelets on their brother's wrists to protect them from evil 
    • A pack of 'Bindhis', which are worn on the forehead between the eyebrows by women and girls in India 
    • A wonderful traditional story and pictures about friendship
    • Some pictures to colour in including one representing Diwali day and one a Rangoli.

    This is a great package and will be added to our continent boxes when Freddy is older.  In the meantime I'll look out for other families wanting to participate in this kind of valuable experience and hopefully do it again soon.

    Sign up for the 2012 cultural exchange here.

    Tuesday, 23 August 2011


    This summer Farfar made Freddy a sandpit to play in and it was such a bit hit with him!

    Like clockwork every morning Farfar patiently helped Freddy to construct and destruct various sand sculptures.

    Although it doesn't look like it Roly the dog enjoyed being covered in sand to cool down a bit.  He also enjoyed digging for treasure but he only found the plastic sheet at the bottom of the sandpit.

    And after a busy morning of building sandcastles (or 'baking cakes' as the phrase goes in Sweden) Farfar still had enough energy to pull Freddy and his sandpit companion around the house a few times. 

    Monday, 22 August 2011

    Montessori mobiles for babies

    According to Montessori principles carefully chosen mobiles are an important part of a child's first environment.  The Montessori series of visual mobiles are designed to be presented to the baby who is not yet reaching with purpose or grasping with intent. They are hung out of touching distance, but not so far away that the baby cannot focus on them. There are then a series of mobiles designed to be grabbed and pulled when the baby is ready.

    The aim of mobiles in the infant’s environment is to:

    • encourage focus and concentration
    • offer a visual experience
    • give kinetic information
    • educate the aesthetic sense 

    Many of these mobiles are easy to make yourself as I hope to demonstrate in the next few posts.

    But first a summary of the mobile types and the age at which they are generally presented (these are just my favourite and for some there are many variations):

    My selection of mobiles from Michael Olaf

    Montessori Mobiles
    • Black and white pictures (0-4 weeks)
    • Munari Mobile (3-6 weeks)
    • Octahedron Mobile (5-8 weeks)
    • The Gobbi mobile (7-10 weeks)
    • Dancers Mobile (8-12 weeks)
    • Flowing Rhythm Mobile (8-12 weeks)
    • Butterflies (10-16 weeks)
    • Hummingbirds (10-16 weeks)
    • Mother and baby whales (10-16 weeks)

    Mobiles / hanging toys designed to be touched as soon as attempts at grabbing start
    • Bell on a Ribbon (12-16 weeks)
    • Wooden ring on elastic  (12-16 weeks)
    • Primary colours mobile (12-18 weeks)
    • Wooden musical mobile (16-20 weeks)

    The Michael Olaf Company is probably one of the best places to buy the mobiles from if you don't mind paying $30 - $50 for each one (I have bought a few but feel quite bad about it considering the amount of use they will get) but if like me you live in Europe or if you just fancy having a go at making your own then why not give it try?

    Mobiles should have no more than 5 objects and they should be real, such as butterflies, birds, or fish—things that move through the air or water.   They should be changed every week to maintain interest but it is also beneficial to reintroduce earlier mobiles later on as they are rediscovered by the baby with new enthusiasm and interest.

    I bought a special mobile hanger (from Michael Olaf for $12) to mount above the baby's bed but they can also be hung from the ceiling with a hook (but check that it is secured sufficiently).

    Stay tuned for tutorials and more mobile info.....

    Potty training

    Yesterday we started potty training!

    I'm not sure if it's the best time to start it with 6 weeks until the new baby arrives but Freddy is increasingly showing signs of being ready so I don't want to miss the opportunity.

    To be really successful at potty training takes real dedication, planning and patience.  There is a lot to be done far in advance of the moment you actually 'start'.  Having done done of this I intend to rely on words of wisdom from the web and good old fashioned motherly support.......

    Apparently the average age to start potty training is now around 36 months but Montessori observed that children have a particularly sensitive period from around 12 months to 24 months during which they can make the transition much easier than afterwards when accidents become more frequent.

    There are 4 things necessary to begin Montessori style potty training:
    1. a willing and supportive parent or caregiver [check]
    2. the prepared environment which helps the child to be in successful conditions right from the start (Montessori Ici has a great post on this) [check]
    3. the right time for learning (the sensitive period) [check]
    4. and having/taking the time to do it (and let the child do it as much as he wants) [check!]
    The cues to look for in your child to know that they are ready are:
    • being able to sit up unassisted
    • fascination with the toilet (whether it is to play in it, wanting to sit on it, wanting to flush it...even at 12 months)
    • imitating sitting on toilet or following parents and siblings in there
    • being able to pull pants up and down
    • Being dry for longer periods of time and even waking up dry from a nap or in the morning
    These cues are usually visible between 15-18 months of age, but some of them as soon as 12 months.

    The picture below shows our current set up.  We have a potty, toilet roll, spare cotton pants and a book about a boy who uses the potty, all on a little rug.  Many people suggest having this set up in the bathroom but I have found that if it is more visible Freddy is more likely to want to use it.  

    The most important aspect is the switch from wearing nappies to cotton pants.  We noticed an immediate difference.  Freddy seemed so proud to be wearing big boy pants and he didn't want to get them wet.  When he did have his first accident he was really upset and of course the wetness sensation was much more apparent to him without absorbent nappies [tusk tusk disposable using mama] to mask the feeling.

    When he has an accident we do not make a big fuss but we involve him in cleaning up and putting his pants in the wash.

    The North American Montessori Center says that most children who are put into underpants during the sensitive period for toilet training can be using the toilet consistently within a few weeks or months. They learn this out of their desire to be independent. It is a self-motivated process. The parent can be encouraging and can prepare the environment to support the child when he is ready: using the cotton training pants, allowing access to the bathroom, providing an appropriate way for the child to explore both the use of the toilet and to play with water, their patient explanation of body functions, the provision of old towels for cleaning up accidents, and their gentle understanding when accidents do occur.

    In my opinion the very best source of information and encouraging stories regarding potty training Montessori style is Montessori Ici's series on the 'Three P's', the book 'Montessori From The Start' and the rest of the interesting post on the North American Montessori Center blog.

    I'll keep you posted with progress!

    Friday, 19 August 2011

    Make your own twig whistle

    Freddy's Grandfather (Farfar) is a genius when it comes to wood; he can make anything from a whistle to a barn.  So here is the whistle and I'll ask him to rustle up a barn for a future post.

    The whistle is made from a piece of branch about 20cm in length and 1.5cm diameter (just approxomately as it's not so important).  The type of tree didn't seem to matter as he tried with a few different types before being satisfied with the result:  it seemed to be more important that the piece was well dried (for a good sound).

    Here is how Farfar did it:
    • Take a sharp knife and start by shaving a typical mouthpiece shape at the end of the twig that looks a bit like the end of a recorder.  This bit happened a bit quickly so I don't have a photo but you can see it clearly later on.  
    • Next score a ring around the piece of wood about 8cm from the end you just sculpted into a mouthpiece so that it cuts trough the bark only. 
    • Then, using the handle of the knife, tap around the ring you just cut in order to loosen the bark.
    • If you tapped sufficiently (and if the bark is dry enough) the 8cm length of bark should just slide off the end of the twig.
    • Once the tube of bark has been removed the wood underneath it is shaped as shown in the pictures below.  The idea is to remove a small amount of wood from the shaped mouthpiece end (to allow air to flow in), and then a large groove in the middle of the bare section where the sound will be created.  It is important that a small amount of wood is removed in between these to parts to create a channel for the air to pass through.
    • Replace the bark tube and cut a small slit in the same place as therecess you have created underneath (but not as big).

    The picture below shows the small gap created between the wood and the bark at the mouthpiece end.

     Then all you have to do is try the whistle out!  Nice one Farfar!

    Beautiful vintage Swedish abacus / chalk board

    I thought I would share this beautiful children's toy that Freddy was given to play with at Farmor (Father's Mother) and Farfar's (Father's Father) house.  It's more than 70 years old and has the Swedish alphabet and various numbers on a wooden frame surrounding counting beads and a small writing board.  This was the educational toy of its day no doubt and they don't make them like this anymore do they?

    Thursday, 18 August 2011

    Homemade chalk board table

    I really enjoy making things for Freddy (20 months) rather than just buying them and undoubtedly my most successful item to date is our chalk board table.  It's probably also one of the easiest things to make so I thought I would share it.

    In the morning Freddy often goes straight to this table and immediately scribbles with chalk whilst telling me the colours as he uses them, but better still he loves to take a small damp sponge and clean the table afterward (then draw, then clean, then draw, then clean etc).

    The great thing about having this drawing surface on a table rather than a wall is that there is much less risk of the walls / other things being 'decorated' and the table can be taken outside when the weather is nice.

    Here's how I did it:
    1. Take a small cheap table that you want to convert to a chalk board table.  I used everybody's favourite the LACK coffee table from IKEA which cost me 4.50 €.  It is the perfect height for toddlers (and very cheap).
    2. Take some coarse grade sandpaper (really coarse) and completely take the shine off the surface of the table.  Keep going until you can see the plywood starting to appear from beneath the paint; the more rough it is the better.  The first time I did this I didn't sand the table at all and the entire chalk board surface came off in one go when I cleaned it for the first time.
    3. Paint the top of the table with chalk board paint.  You can use a paint brush but I think a simple sponge roller works much better and gives a better finish.
    4. Allow to dry for 24 hours and then apply another coat.  
    5. Continue this process at least 3 times to get a nice thick and tough finish.
    6. Place a pot of chalks on the table.
    7. Cut a cleaning sponge in half and leave it in a small container or on a saucer deep enough to hold a little water and leave it nearby ready to be used to clean the table.

    This is the chalk board paint that I used.  It cost £6.99 from Baker Ross (my favourite supplier of children's art and craft materials in the UK).

    I should also say that the chalk I use is Giotto dust free colourerd chalk and I paid £3.40 for 100 pieces!  The chalk holder pot is just a small white ceramic plant pot on which I painted the word 'chalk' with black acrylic paint.

    Oh and can you see the Button Chicken on the shelf in the background?  The silver padded box contains lots of things to open and close such as bottles and boxes (I'll do a post on this as Freddy really likes it).

    And here is the table in our little classroom.  In this picture you can see the plants that Freddy waters each day, a beautiful painting by Freddy's uncle and a little bit of our shelving.  There are lots more things to show you in future posts.   You can also see my violin which Freddy has started showing an interest in and our 'painting washing line'.

    Sunday, 14 August 2011

    Rainy day

    A rainy day is the perfect time to learn to play hockey in the street at Auntie and Uncle's house (don't worry, there were no cars).

    6 weeks and counting

    Back in France now and just 6 weeks until my second little boy arrives and I don't feel prepared at all.  Pregnancy, lots of traveling and finishing off work have left me frazzled.

    So in an attempt to bring some order to the chaos I have done what I do best........write a list!

    These are the projects/tasks that I have set myself to do in the next 4 weeks (after which we travel again to England to have the baby there).
    1. Make a series of Montessori mobiles for the new baby (a whole series of posts coming on this project)
    2. Dig out all the baby clothes and things that are in boxes somewhere (and get them all washed and ready)
    3. Prepare the babies environment (sleeping/changing etc).  I have big plans for this!
    4. Completely spring clean and declutter the house (hello nesting instinct)
    5. Have a go at a few sewing projects 
      • Partchwork blanket
      • Fabric puzzle ball
      • Maybe even knit something? OK this is unlikely but I would love to make a knitted blanket.
    6. Make some grasping beads (I love these ones)
    7. Make some artwork for the babies bedroom ( I have wanted to do this for a while anyway)
    8. Introduce some new activities with Freddy that he can do on his own for short periods of time.  I have already set up an area in the house for us all to hang out together that I call our 'classroom'.
    The Flowing Rhythm mobile from Flensted Mobiles
      I know that most of these items are not essential but I have my heart set on being as prepared as possible (and most of them are pretty fun!).

      A note on sleeping arrangements: Freddy co-slept with us from birth (and still does)  and whilst it is wonderful in many many ways I have to admit that at 20 months he still needs to be nursed or rocked to sleep (several times each night) and I just don't think I'm able to do this again.  We are hoping to have a healthy blend of sleep independence a la Montessori and attachment parenting which we still feel is 'our style'.  My plan is to prepare for all eventualities and if we end up with 4 in the bed then so be it but we will see how we get on with actually using one of our spare bedrooms as a bedroom for a change.

      Crayfish Party!

      As recipients of our cultural exchange packages will know a crayfish party is an important part of Swedish summer culture.  The party,  called a kräftskiva takes place in early August and involves eating a lot of the little lobster wannabes outdoors with lots of party accessories including hats with crayfish on them, napkins with crayfish on them, plates drcorated with crayfish pictures.....do you see where this is going?

      Crayfish fresh from Swedish lakes
      Anyway, it's a really fun party and here are some pictures from ours......

      A man in the moon paper lantern is hung above the table.

      Traditional paper lantern
       The crayfish come in buckets full of murky lake water.

      The vodka flows, songs are sung loudly and if it's a good party it gets a bit rowdy.

      They are certainly very interesting creatures.

      A pile of carcasses gather on each plate (sorry vegetarians).

      Thursday, 11 August 2011

      The best recipe you can make with children: Choklad Bollar

      Another recipe for you but this time for the easiest 'baking' that you can do with a child. This is a very traditional Swedish recipe for Choklad Bollar (Chocolate Balls).  They taste delicious! Maybe you have already tried them at Ikea where there are sold in the Swedish Food Shop?

      The recipe is absolutely foolproof, quick, tasty and easy for very young children to do as you just mix all the ingredients together.  And better still there is no baking required so if a little gets eaten during the process of making them it's not a problem.  Similarly there is no agonising wait for them to be cooked before eating.

      300ml rolled oats (porridge oats)
      100ml sugar
      2.5 tbsp cocoa powder
      1 tbsp vanilla sugar (optional)
      100g softened butter
      Granulated sugar or coconut (to decorate the balls)

      Put the decoration (sugar or coconut flakes) into a bowl.  Then simply mix all of the other ingredients in a large bowl until combined.  Once mixed take small handfuls and roll into little balls.

      Papa demonstrating the rolling technique
      The balls are then rolled in the decoration (we always use coconut flakes rather than sugar).

      Coconut flakes are used to decorate the balls
      How easy is that??

      Not all the balls make it to the plate
      Counting the balls as they are made

      Then simply pack up a picnic basket and head for the local beach.

      Homemade play dough

      With the weather lovely and sunny I though that a fun outdoor activity would be to make some homemade play dough.  Finding a recipe was easy; in fact there is an entire website devoted to different types of homemade play dough at PlaydoughReceipe.com

      I decided to try the cooked version with cream of tartar as I have read that it is pretty fool proof from Counting Coconuts.

      This is the receipe that I used.

      2 cups of plain flour
      1 Tbsp. of cooking oil
      1 tsp. cream of tartar
      2 cups of coloured water
      1 cup of salt

      Just mix everything together in a pan and cook slowly on medium-high and stir it until the playdough thickens.  Be careful not to overcook as it will lose its shine and elasticity.

      Ingredients mixed in a pan
      I started with just a few drops of food colouring in the water mix but soon realised that quite a lot was needed.  I added about 2 teaspoons of colour directly to the pan to get a better green.

      Mixture after lots of stirring
      The mixture still didn't look very bright in colour but I stuck with it.  After just 6 minutes of heating on a medium heat the mixture started sticking together and so I spooned it all out onto a plate and let it cool down for 3 minutes.

      Removed from the pan
      Once it had cooled enough to handle I kneeded it over and over into a ball.  The consistancy improved as the ball formed and within 5 minutes it had a lovely shine and softness to it.

      After a few minutes kneeding
      The colour did improve as it cooled and I was very happy with the end result.  The ball was still quite sticky though so I added more flour until I got a wonderfully silky soft texture that didn't stick to the rolling pin when being rolled.  
      The photo doesn't really do it justice as it looks a bit dry but it was just like the stuff you buy in the shops and even smelt a bit like it too.

      Counting Coconuts suggests making a batch without colour and then adding colour afterwards when kneeding into balls.  This is what I will do next time so that I can have a few different colours.  It also looks like the colours will be brighter if they haven't been cooked.

      I put our batch in a metal tin ready for use.  Freddy really enjoyed playing with it but he did run away with a handful and then come back with a slightly green mouth so I suspect the salt doesn't completely deter children from trying to eat it.

      Wednesday, 10 August 2011

      Some of my favourite Montessori resources

      This is the first of what I suspect will be many posts sharing the little gems of useful information that I have found on the internet.  I will add all of these to my links page as well as a short description of the content.

      If you would like your site added to the list just leave me a message in the comments section with your url and I will add it.

      Click for links page

      Montessori materials
      • Montessori for Everyone is a very useful resource for printable materials that you can buy for all the curricular areas, including language, reading, math, art, music, science, history, and geography.  There are also some very good free printables for download.  Their comprehensive lists are a great way to start to develop a curriculum for each age range but you do have to pay for each one.  I have bought all 4 and especially like the fact that there is a list for toddlers (18 months to 3 years) as this is where most people start and need some guidance.  The Complete Collection CDs seem to be very appealing but way too expensive for me.  
      • Montessori Services is the best site that I have found selling mini versions of everyday tools and equipment and an absolutely huge collection of items for practical life activities.  I wish a site like this were available in Europe but until then I have to use the international shipping option.  The site is also a great place to go to get inspiration for new classroom activities and equipment that you can make yourself such as the smelling bottles.
      • Homeschool Creations has tons of free printables and great lesson ideas for you to do at home.  I really like the preschool and tot school ideas.

      Montessori albums
      • The Montessori Teachers Collective has albums available freely to view online covering the 3-6 and 6-9 age ranges.  The content is good and covers the traditional Montessori Materials although there are no diagrams or illustrations.  Still very useful though.  There are also really good graphical timelines of evolution, writing and numbers.  Even more than this though there is an online library which includes 11 books written by Maria Montessori, curriculum for 3-6, 6-9 and 9-12, lectures and much more that can all be read online.  This collection gives such a great overview of Montessori principles.
      • Montessori Primary Guide is a very simple to browse and well organised collection of activities; just like an online set of albums with some good videos available too.  All activities have a 'guide age' at which it should be introduced which I personally find useful.
      • Cultivating Dharma has a set of free to download albums for maths, language and geometry.  I have read through the albums and they are extremely well written with lots of insight I haven't seen before.  The age range is from 7 - 11 years and there are also a large number of really useful posts explaining lessons and concepts further.  Don't miss the timeline of scripts and the timeline of humans which are really amazing.

      Teaching resources
      • The Book Depository has free worldwide shipping and lots of very reasonably priced books for homeschooling and Montessori.  
      • Montessori World has free video introductory courses covering sensorial/practical life and reading with lots of demonstrations as well as a huge selection of exercises and curriculum ideas for all subjects. The sensorial/practical life course consists of 23 presentations with each presentation lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to slightly over an hour.  These videos are a must watch for anyone new to Montessori.
      • Montessori at Home is a downloadable book packed with Montessori activities for preschoolers (from 2 to 7 years).  I bought this for nearly $8 and cannot believe what great value for money it is. UPDATE: There is now a free version available too.
      • Montessori Mom is a completely free and vast resource.  I have found a lot of useful information there although the many advertisements and layout is a bit frustrating.  Good for looking for new ideas.

      • LaPaz Home Learning. A truly inspirational blog with a huge variety of activities with a strong focus on nature and outdoors.
      • The Home Teacher is another great blog featuring lots of easy and low cost ideas for Montessori activities in the home. Lots to see. 
      • I can't even start to tell you about how good Chasing Cheerios is; you'll just have to take a look. 
      • Counting Coconuts is full of fabulously original and creative ideas for preschoolers.  I check this site every day!
      • My Montessori Journey is a great blog that is no longer updated but contains endless posts about Montessori activities in a classroom setting.  I see something new every time I look.

      Art and craft projects
      • For those in the UK Free Range Education has a page full of links to resources such as chemistry equipment, weaving looms and fair trade craft projects (most deliver internationally as well).  Really useful if you are in Europe where it can be much harder than the UK to find suitable equipment for the practical life elements of Montessori within a sensible budget.  One site even sells "everything you need to turn a sheep into a jumper". 

      That will just about do for now but click on the links button to be sure to see the up to date list as I add more to it.
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