Friday, 30 September 2011

Toddler Montessori materials cost comparison

For a while now I have wanted to buy a few infant and toddler Montessori materials to try out at home but I have found it really difficult to decide where to get them from.
Anyone that has done a little bit of research into the various material suppliers will have noticed that there are huge variations in quality and cost.  If you are buying materials for a school then I'm sure that it is much more preferable to invest in the premium quality materials but what if you want them for home?

I decided to do a little experiment and see what you actually get for your money if you buy based solely on cost.  But first a quick example of the variation in cost....


I chose a small selection of toddler materials that I wanted to use for the comparison.  These are the 6 items that I used: 

Object Permanence Box with Tray
Coloured Discs on 3 Coloured Dowels

Imbucare Box with Large Cylinder

Toddler Imbucare Peg Box

Sandpaper Globe of Land and Water

Pink tower (without stand) 
Cost comparison

The list below shows how much these 6 items would cost if you bought them from some of the popular (and not so popular) retailers.  Shipping and any import taxes are not included and there is a mixture of premium and discount quality.

For more detail feel free to download my spreadsheet [available shortly].

Of course the final price varies with shipping and import taxes but you can see quite a large gap between the most and least expensive options.

It is also worth noting that shipping costs from China are usually around 50% of the order cost.

The verdict

I decided to go with a purchase from a Chinese manufacturer and the decision is based on several reasons:
  • Despite the huge shipping fee the total cost of the order is still substantially cheaper than I could otherwise buy.
  • The manufacturer 'claims' to supply a large Montessori retailer in the UK.
  • They offer a good selection of materials for the older age ranges so if this is successful I might buy more.
  • There is no minimum order quantity which is usually the case when you buy direct from China.
I appreciate that many people (including me) have reservations about buying from China because of fear of poor quality, high delivery costs, toxic substances or just the risk of being ripped off so consider this a test on your behalf [biting nails nervously].

I have decided not to publish the name of the company until I accept delivery of the goods; I would hate to give publicity to a dodgy outfit.  But if all goes well I will happily share.   I will also buy a lead paint testing kit which are available to buy cheaply from EBay (just to put my mind at ease).

The order was placed several weeks ago now and as we speak it is on the actual boat shown below which is currently negotiating the southern tip of India (which I find fascinating to think of). 

So if all goes well and the Somali pirates aren't planning on starting up a Montessori preschool the stuff should wind it's way up through the Suez Canal and into Europe over the next 3 weeks.  If I do this again when Freddy is older we will definitely have some interesting geography work!

What do you think?  Have you done this kind of experiment?

Monday, 26 September 2011

Crochet baby blanket

I'm back!

I cannot even explain how brilliant the last week has been with little Henry.  He is a complete joy and we are all incredibly happy to be spending this wonderful time together.  Freddy has been an absolute star too and I don't even know why I thought I would have to work hard to teach him to share his Mama when his natural personality is so kind and caring; he just adores his little brother without a hint of jealousy.

But anyway, back to the important task of showing you what I did with that wonderful basket of wool........I made a baby blanket!  Boy am I happy with the results......what do you think?

The wool I used was bought from Buttnette in France and is a Merino Polyamide blend.  I bought one each of the 6 colours (2,50€ each) and used about half of each ball to create a metre square blanket using a 4mm crochet hook. 

I still can't quite believe that just a few weeks ago I had never even held a crochet needle and I have just made a blanket!  It's not going to win blanket of the year but I love the colours and simplicity of the design.

I wholeheartedly encourage anyone looking for a fun beginner crochet project to have a go at this especially as the regular changes of colour prevent boredom from setting in and the use of crochet techniques means that you can achieve fast results.

If you want to have a go at making one of these blankets then I recommend watching the series of tutorials from Bethintx1 on YouTube.  You only need to follow lessons 1 to 3 in order to do this blanket as it's just a very big granny square.

Here is the tutorial.
You can learn about your tools here.
Learn about wool here.
Learn about how to hold your hook here.

I'm not sure where this will all end as I can feel a slight crochet obsession building up inside me.  I have also collected a load of tutorials on my Pinterest board that I would like to work my way through.

Any suggestions for the next project?

Friday, 23 September 2011

He's here!

The lack of posts over the last few days must surely have been a giveaway that the little boy had arrived?

With not so much of a slight consideration that I had not yet finished making his blanket Henry decided to arrive after just 3 hours of labour and 8 days early.  He was born in water just as I had hoped and is every bit as perfect as I knew he would be.

Freddy has already been lovely to his little brother and wants to offer him food and toys all the time.

We are overjoyed, grateful and excited about this new chapter in our lives.

Monday, 19 September 2011

More adventures in sensory tubs

OK.  I admit it.  I have the bug.  These sensory tubs are fun to put together and really hit the spot with a toddler.  The last one I made was very basic but Freddy (21 months) enjoyed it immensely.  All was going so well until the sensory tub was used as a potty (yes it's true).  So the rice has been thrown out and I'm onto bigger and better things!

So here is the next tub freshly filled with rainbow rice!.  I found out how to make rainbow rice from My Name is Snickerdoodle (courtesy of Pinterest) but was very confused as to what rubbing alcohol was.  Thankfully a little google translation between American and English revealed that it is just surgical spirit...ahhhhh... is that what it is?!

I put some rice in a bowl, added a few teaspoons of surgical spirit and around 5 drops of food colouring.  I then mixed it all up and left to dry on kitchen roll......

But alas, it didn't work very well.  Perhaps surgical spirit is not exactly the same as rubbing alcohol?  Anyway it smelt really bad, I didn't want Freddy putting it near his mouth and it took forever to dry.

I then found an alternative method over at Momtastic that uses white vinegar instead of the rubbing alcohol.  I also decided to use the colouring pastes instead of liquid as I had heard that they give a more vibrant colour.  These are the ones I used; I think I bought them from Ebay a while ago for about £12 for 6 colours.

This method worked wonderfully and the rice dried within 10 minutes for each colour batch.  Plus the smell was much better than the awful surgical spirit.  I used white wine vinegar (which was all I had in the cupboard) so it smelt more like a Parisian Bistro than a hospital ward thank goodness.

And here is that precious moment just before the mixing began.  By the way for this tub I felt that there was no need to add anything more than the spoon as the colours were interesting enough and Freddy agreed wholeheartedly: in fact even the spoon was cast aside in favour of his hands.

Freddy definitely appears to prefer the 'full body' sensory experience and ended up in the tub again but there were no 'accidents' this time so the tub lives to see another day.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Can you crochet?

Oh what a beautiful basket of pastel coloured wool!  Now, what shall I do with you???

OK, if you insist, I will crochet you into a lovely soft blanket for my new little baby.

But wait.  I don't know how to crochet!

Don't worry.  Just watch the amazing learn to crochet YouTube series from Bethintx1!

And that was that, the start of something special (hopefully).   Here are my first few granny squares after just a few hours!

Stand by for the finished blanket.......

Mama's little helper

Before starting to introduce Freddy (21 months) to Montessori practical life activities a knocked over jar of lentils would have just been a nuisance but now it's an opportunity to get out the little dustpan and brush for some sweeping practice!

Mind you, with a baby about to burst out of the mothership in just over a week I wouldn't have been able to get down there myself to sweep them up anyway.

The sweeping up set was from Absorbent Minds (one of my favourite shops at the moment) and it's just perfect for little hands. 

I have seen in Montessori schools that they use making tape on the floor to mark out a square to help the children learn to sweep into one place before using the dustpan so that's what I will do when I think Freddy is ready for it but until then I'll just let him practice: especially if it means I can stay standing up.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Preparing for the new arrival!

It's just 1.5 weeks now until a new little addition joins our growing family!  I am really excited and full of a wonderful feeling of confidence that was missing in the run up to the birth of my first child.  With the second everything just feels more natural, more normal and a fear of labour or birth has been replaced with a knowing feeling that my body knows exactly what to do; I just need to let it.

With Freddy I wanted a home water birth without intervention but a slow labour meant that I was whisked of to hospital by the attending midwife at the first opportunity.  Thankfully my sister and husband fended of the 'offers' of cesarean section, forceps and who knows what else and little Freddy was born after 24 hours.

Still I am confident this time, even if the baby stays in his back to back position, we will be fine.

Every day we talk to Freddy about his new little brother and his response is always to say "play" and "soon".  I have no doubt that the transition from single child to brother will go smoothly but I am still trying to do what I can in advance to make things easier.

So here is the special little case that I have put together for Freddy that will come out when I need to feed the baby.  It is full of things to do that hopefully can be done with minimal assistance from me.

The little suitcase is from Krabat in Sweden, isn't it gorgeous?

The contents include:
  • The wooden picture tiles that I made a few days ago (which can be used in many different ways such as storytelling or catagorisation games).
  • A colouring book and packet of super washable pens (in yet another one of my drawstring bags).
  • A few sheets of stickers.
  • A book.
  • His favourite toy car (I love it too and it was a gift from Farmor and Farfar).
This should keep him occupied for a while! Although having said that, I would be just as happy with the 3 of us cuddling up together and enjoying a simple story or singing session but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

Update: Baby has turned! Houston we are cleared for take off!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Sensory tub fun

I have seen many of these sensory tubs online and have to admit that I didn't quite get them:  are they just for fun?  Are they supposed to introduce various subjects like Christmas or weather?

A quick look on the internet and I found out that they are simply a tool for children to learn about the world around them using their sense of touch. They allow children to explore different textures and apparently they are developmentally appropriate for any child who is out of the oral fascination stage (ie-putting everything in the mouth). Babies as young as one year can have as much fun with a sensory tub as a 5-year old!

I was pleased to hear that there is no wrong way to make a sensory tub. All you need is a tub and something to fill it with! So I thought I would have a go and see if the contents would stay in the tub for more than 5 minutes.

So I threw together this tub for Freddy....

It's a simple mix of rice, wooden coloured beads and kitchen utensils.  I chose not to dye the rice a different colour this time just in case it got eaten and plus I didn't want to jazz up the first tub too much otherwise where would I go from there?

Freddy really enjoyed it and his interest lasted about 15 minutes.  He also understood that the rice should stay in the tub and not be eaten.

The box I bought has a lid so I will keep the same tub for a few days and then try something a bit more adventurous soon.

By the way here is a great list of sensory tub ideas.
And here is a wonderful article which explains the benefits of the sensory tub experience for children as well as some more ideas for what to put in them.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Toddler 'curriculum' planning

I have really hesitated about whether or not to post this because I really don't like the phrase 'curriculum planning' for a toddler (18 months to 3 years) and I certainly don't plan on developing a study program for Freddy (21 months) just yet.  But, what I do want to do is develop a general plan of activities and areas of focus for us over the next 12 months or so until he is approaching 3 years old so that we can have a bit of structure to our days (for me as well as him).  I also want to have a general plan so that I don't just go making him felt animals for the next year (which I could happily do).

I have found reading this kind of post on other blogs so useful to think about new things that I can do with Freddy that I thought it was worthwhile sharing.

Montessori once said:
"But the children seemed to demand some conclusion of the exercises, which had already developed them intellectually in a most surprising way. They knew how to dress and undress, and to bathe themselves; they knew how to sweep the floors, dust the furniture, put the room in order, to open and close boxes, to manage the keys in the various locks; they could replace the objects in the cupboards in perfect order, could care for the plants; they knew how to observe things, and how to see objects with their hands. A number of them came to us and frankly demanded to be taught to read and write. Even in the face of our refusal several children came to school and proudly showed us that they knew how to make an O on the blackboard."
You can see from the quote above that it is through the early practical life exercises that children develop their hunger for learning and build a self confidence that allows them to develop into well rounded individuals.  I have definitely observed  this myself even with the small number of practical life activities that I have tried with Freddy: he really is so proud when he realises that he can do something for himself.

My aims for this coming year are therefore to:
  • Spend lots of time as a family enjoying nature and each other
  • Follow a basic Montessori activity plan (mine is at the bottom of this post)
  • Continue with lots of arts and crafts projects (I'm starting a local toddler art club in a few months so I will let you know how that goes!) and musical experiences (we currently attend a weekly music group)
  • Follow Freddy's interests and find appropriate activities to feed his hunger for learning
  • Help him to do as much for himself as possible

So here goes....

First I should tell you that the inspiration for this list has come from many sources including:
  • The book 'Montessori From the Start' by Lynn Lillard Jessen and Paula Polk Lillard which is the best Montessori book that I have read for preparing the environment, introduction to Montessori and activities for the under 3's.  I don't agree with everything in this book (notably early weaning) but that aside it's fabulous.
  • The catalogue 'The Joyful Child' from Michael Olaf which is also available to view online.
  • The amazing Montessori at Home downloadable activity 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.
  • The Toddler Comprehensive List available for download from Montessori for Everyone and gives a good overview of activities to try with toddlers.  I paid $4.99 for this list and felt that it was good value for money especially as there is little advice available online that is targeted at the under 3s.   There is also this great article on the same site that gives advice for keeping toddlers interested in activities.
  • And the last but by far the most important source of inspiration comes from Freddy himself and the things that he enjoys most.

I haven't included any Montessori albums as they usually start from age 3.  I will use these for developing a curriculum when I plan later activities.  The list below is aimed at the age range of 18 months to 3 years.

Practical Life
  • Fine Motor Skills such as manipulative work with hands
  • Gross motor skills like whole body movements
  • Care of self activities like brushing teeth and getting dressed
  • Control of movement such as walking on a line and carrying objects
  • Care of the environment like cleaning and looking after plants
  • Food Preparation and kitchen tasks
  • Sorting and catagorising activities
  • Grace and Courtesy such as saying please and thank you

  • Cylinder Blocks
  • Coloured Cylinders
  • Knobless Cylinders
  • Preparation for the Decimal System including the Pink Tower, Broad Stair and Red Rods
  • Geometric Cabinet and introduction to shapes
  • Learning about the senses including learning about colours

  • Counting up to 10
  • Number and quantity recognition
  • Stacking blocks like the Pink Tower

  • Separation and catagorisation based on names i.e. name and picture matching
  • Concept development like opposites 
  • Lots of storytime and reading
  • Reading and talking about books
  • Vocabulary development in everyday life activities i.e. body parts, left and right, seasons etc

  • Learning about animals
  • Caring for animals

  • Learning about plants and nature
  • Caring for plants

  • Talking about the past
  • Expressions of time such as seasons, day and night etc

  • Land and water
  • Knowledge about the countries in which we live (UK, France, Sweden)

Art and craft
  • All things art and craft!

Music and dance
  • Instruments, singing and dancing

For each section I have been collecting a detailed list of activities based on things I have seen on the internet or read in books and I will be selecting what order to do the activities in based purely on Freddy's lead.

I will also definitely be using the list of practical life exercises that I found on Montessori Mom (there is so much on that site).

Did I miss anything?  Do you have any ideas?

Monday, 12 September 2011

Gnomes in hats colour matching

The egg and egg cup colour matching game was such a big hit with Freddy (21 months) that I decided to make a variation of it to add to his special selection of toys for when I am feeding the baby.

I now really understand what it means to find exactly the right activity at the right time and colours is definitely a winner at the moment.  As well as that I think I mentioned in the learning about clothes post that Freddy really likes hats so with them incorporated too the game should be a crowd pleaser.

So here it is: the 'gnomes in hats colour matching game!'

These little gnomes are all dressed up and ready for a night out but with 6 of them and no arms in sight they need a little help putting on the right colour hat to match their outfits. 

To make them I bought a box of wooden people from Woodworks Craft Supplies in the UK.  I think they were about 30p each.  I also raided my felt stash for a selection of colours to make the hats with; I chose to add a few new colours rather than the traditional rainbow ones so that Freddy can learn them.

A simple semi circle of felt is needed for each hat but the size depends on the people used.

Just form the felt into a cone shape and sew or glue a seam (I chose to sew mine).  Here are the 6 little hats that I made.  If I had all of my craft things with me in England I would probably make a whole army of different colours but for a 21 month old I think 6 is a good number.

Check that they fit nicely on the head of the gnome-to-be.

Then just paint of decorate the wooden person as you like.  I used felt tip pens simply because it was quick but I think it would have looked better if painted.

I added a small tray so that Freddy can stand the little gnomes up on a flat surface wherever we are.

Finally I made a drawstring bag to hold the pieces in so that they could be added to Freddy's special toy case that I have been preparing.  Are you sick of the fabric yet?  I have made 4 of these bags so expect them to feature heavily over the next few weeks! :)


One last thought I should add is that it's a good idea to sew in a bead or something to give a bit of weight to the inside point of the hat.  Without it they can very easily be knocked off during the course of the activity which I think could be a little frustrating.

I am still trying to decide what to add to mine as my button collection is still in France but maybe even a dried pea would work well.  Also, I have had to fight the urge to put a little pom pom on the top of each hat because I don't have the time but how cute would that be??

Wooden picture tiles

Well we made it to England and now have just 2 weeks until our new arrival.  I found out that the baby is in a back to back position so I have been spending as much time on my hands and knees as possible to get him into the right position for the birth.

Another thing I am concentrating on, apart from scrubbing floors like a mad woman,  is preparing Freddy for the arrival of his brother as well as thinking about how to make our first few weeks together run as smoothly as possible.

So one thing that I decided to do is to put together a collection of activities that Freddy can do whilst I am feeding his brother:  a collection of special playthings that will only come out when it's time to nurse.  This, I hope, will reduce any frustration that Freddy may feel when having to share his Mama with a new baby.

This is the first of these activities.  A simple collection of pictures drawn onto sliced branches.  I saw these pieces used for an alphabet game once and I thought it was a lovely thing to make.

I took a selection of similar sized wooden slices and rubbed off any sharp edges with a fine grade sandpaper.

Then I just used felt tip pens to draw various pictures which are a mixture of things that Freddy likes to talk about, things that are new to him such as a windmill, and things that can be catagoried together such as transport, animals or food.

I'm not exactly sure how we will use the disks be it to tell a story, learn words or group things together but instead we will just see what Freddy wants to do with them at the time.

Finally, I rustled up a simple drawstring bag to keep them in.  For this I just used a scrap of fabric and an old shoe lace.

So simple but I have a feeling Freddy will like this.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Picking raspberries

Not much time to write about all the wonderful things we have been doing together as we have been busy packing our things for our trip to England tomorrow.  We are returning to England to have the baby so that my sister can deliver him (she is a trainee midwife in a wonderful non medical unit promoting natural childbirth).

So instead here are some lovely pictures of our raspberry picking session in Sweden.  Freddy is a berry fiend and just loves them all!

I can't remember what we did with these raspberries when we returned home but I think it was a simple pairing of berries and ice cream.  It might even have been the first time that he tasted ice cream (the non dairy variety of course).

It makes me so happy to look at his beautiful perfect skin in these photographs after more than a year of miserable eczema from his food allergies.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Montessori infant puzzle ball tutorial

How about this then??
I give you the Montessori infant puzzle ball!!......[applause]

These puzzle balls look beautiful and are wonderful developmental toys for a baby who is just beginning to grasp with both hands. The many "handles" of the ball help the child build wrist strength and coordination. Plus, it rolls a very short distance if dropped, thus eliminating frustration of a bouncy ball that rolls hopelessly out of reach. It does roll a bit, however, encouraging the not-yet-crawling child to scoot over and grasp it again.

The design of the ball has quite a history of tradition with quilt makers in the United States because it has been a favorite toy for many years.  It can also be used as a hanging toy by fastening it to a toy hanger with a piece of elastic, string, or ribbon. 

I found a tutorial to make the ball over at The Secret of Childhood and have added a few tips and tricks from a beginners point of view below.

Here's how to make it:
  • First decide how big you want the ball to be.  The ones that are sold at Michael Olaf come in two sizes: 5 inches and 3 inches in diameter.  
  • Select the fabric.  I like it when these balls are made with a combination of plain and patterned fabrics so I chose to go with a plain red and a white fabric with little red reindeers on it (so cute!). 
  • Find a plate or bowl which is the same size as the ball you want to create and use it to draw 9 circles of equal size; 3 of them on the patterned fabric and 6 of them on the plain fabric.  I chose a small metal bowl which has a diameter of about 15cm.  At this point I should say that I used an old pair of trousers for the red fabric and it was a cotton mix with a bit of stretch.  In hindsight I wouldn't recommend using a stretchy fabric as it can make it quite difficult to get the ball looking just right. 
  • After cutting out all of the 9 circles the next step is to further cut them into quarters.  To mark out the lines to cut just fold each circle in half and mark the fabric at either side of the resulting semi circle.  Then turn the circle through 90 degrees and do the same again.  Join the marks together with a ruler and pen as shown below.
  • Do the same for all of the circles (patterned and plain) and cut into quarters.  You will end up with 12 patterned quarters and 24 plain quarters.
  • Then take the patterned quarters only and fold them as shown below so that an ellipse shape can be cut from each of them.   For the first ellipse you need to fold and mark the fabric as shown before cutting but for all the others you can use the cut ellipse to draw around. 
  • Repeat this for all of the patterned quarters so that you end up with 12 ellipses. 
  • The next step is to begin sewing two plain and one patterned pieces together.  I had an overwhelming desire to hand stitch all the pieces of the ball but thankfully it subsided and I got the machine out which is just as well because there are a lot of them to make.
  • Lay one ellipse on top of a plain quarter so that the pattern is facing inwards.
  • Start the sewing of these two pieces together in the middle of the outside edge of the ellipse.  With this ball it is important to never start stitching in any of the corners of the ellipses as they need to be really strong.
  • Sew from this mid point towards one of the corners.
  • Then, when you reach the corner make sure that the needle remains in the fabric, lift the foot and perform a u-turn and sew to the opposite corner going over the stitches you had already made.
  • The picture below shows this finished edge.
  • Next add another plain quarter onto this piece.  To do this you need to tuck under the side that you have just sewn so that you don't go through it again.  Once again start from the mid point of the outside edge of the ellipse.
  • Sew to one corner then you need to leave the needle in the material and perform a little flip of the fabric so that you can sew down towards the point of the plain quarters without going through the ellipse underneath.  This is easy one you try it a few times.
  • Don't continue all the way to the point but instead stop about 10mm from it.  Leave the needle in the fabric and turn the work around so that you can continue back over the stitching you just did.
  • When you reach the corner again flip the fabric once more so that you can continue over the half completed edge from where you started. Make sure that you are only going through the ellipse and one plain quarter.
  • Continue to the opposite corner to complete the stitching around the ellipse.  Once again leave the needle in the corner of the ellipse and flip the fabric so that you can go through just the two plain quarters.  The photo below shows the fabric as it is flipped over ready to be pivoted around the needle.
  • As before stop about 10mm from the tip, turn the fabric around and back stick another 10mm.  Here is the finished piece.
  • Repeat this for all 12 segments and carefully turn inside out.  This is a bit fiddly if you are making a small ball.
  • It was at this point that I started worrying that my ball would be too small but I stuck with it (mainly because I didn't want to do another 12 segments).
  • Stuff the segment quite tightly.  For the stuffing I used an old polyester pillow that I had tried to wash in the washing machine but when it came out all the stuffing was in one big lump in the corner.  
  • Here is a stuffed segment ready to be closed but before I sewed it up I put a little bell inside to make the ball into a rattle.
  • Then close up the hole like so.  This part doesn't have to be so neat as it won't be visible.
  • Once you have 3 completed segments you can sew them together.  
  • Start by sewing the three points together in the middle.
  • Then sew all of the corners together to form the shape below.  It is important to make these corner joins very strong so double up the thread if possible.  I avoided sewing through the ellipses to keep the overall look neat.
  • The rest is pretty self explanatory.  Join three of these sections together going over the same corner stitching you just completed.  
  • Then join these three together to form the almost ball shape below.  At this point you can add a few more stitches to the centre of the ball as it will be your last chance. 
  • Turn over the ball and add in the last group of 3 segments (without joining the middle to the centre of the ball (unless you really want to and have very little fingers).
  • Finally I finished my ball off with some yellow embroidery thread to tidy up and reinforce the joins.

In the end I was very happy with the size of the ball (the same diameter as the bowl that I used despite the seam allowance) and I'm glad I put a bell in it too.

I can't wait to give this ball to the new baby when he is ready to begin reaching and grasping and I might even knock up a few more for fantastic new baby gifts for some expecting friends.

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