Category Archives: Activities

How To Make A Button snake. Dressing Practice For Toddlers.

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One of the core principals of the Montessori prepared environment is beauty.  Not in a grandiose manner, but in a natural, tranquil, enticing and ordered way.

Learning materials should be equally beautiful, carefully crafted and presented.

It is for this reason that I seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time creating materials relative to the amount of time he will probably spend on them.  Ok, I probably make things that are a little advanced, but I figure over time, these things will live a long, well loved life, that will make the hours of crafting worth while.

This button snake is a perfect example…it could be a much simpler task than I created for myself, but I wanted a snake that would look good and stand the test of time, in beautiful rich and tactile colours.

The idea of the button snake is to help with practical dressing skills…self-dressing coordination, concentration and independence from about 2 years of age.

The original inspiration was a much simpler version, made in felt.  The squares of felt simply need cutting to size, with a slit in the centre…have a look at Counting Coconuts version here.

I had this old fabric sample book which was going spare, the rich velvety colours were too tempting and the rectangular samples folded into perfect squares…no cutting needed!!.

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Here’s how to make one…

Start with your fabrics of choice, my squares were just over 10cm x 10cm.  You will need 20 pieces of fabric to make ten squares, don’t forget to allow for the seams, so your squares should be a couple of cm larger than you want them to end up.

With the patterned sides together, stitch all the way around, leaving a gap of approx 5cm.

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Turn the squares the right way, through the opening.

Use a chopstick to get into the corners and achieve nice crisp squares.

Press squares flat.

Close the seams with a blind (ladder) hand stitch.

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Set up your sewing machine for buttonholes.  Stitch a central button hole onto each square according to manufacturers instructions.  (Definitely practise this on a scrap of material first, it took several attempts to get this technique perfect and make sure your button fits through the hole!)

Use a craft knife or stitch-ripper to open up the buttonhole.

Tips:  I chose a contrasting thread for the buttonhole, to highlight the opening.  I also made the largest size hole available on the sewing machine, I plan to start with a large button, and sew up the hole for use with a smaller button as he masters this one!

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Finally, take a length of ribbon and securely attach two buttons, one at each end.  I tried a couple of techniques as you can see from the buttons in the picture, just use plenty of stitches as this is going to get pulled about…a lot!

This one could be quite frustrating for little fingers, so take plenty of time demonstrating how to thread and un-thread the buttons at the beginning.

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I’m linking up at Montessori Monday, check it out for lots of other great inspirations.

Montessori Monday

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Sensory Rice Tray…How To Use Colouful Rice With Toddlers

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This green rice has been hanging around the kitchen for a week.  I was desperate to colour it up, but I have been unsure how best to use it with the little guy…so it has been sat in a box looking very green and sorry for itself!

Part of the problem I guess, was knowing the mess that would follow after just a few minutes of play, I couldn’t figure out a way that he would play with the rice, instead of just launching it skywards immediately.

Dry rice is brilliant at waking up the skin receptors on the hands, it is great for those who love tactile play as well as those who don’t (they can use spoons and tools), and you can scent it to calm down an energetic toddler (lavender) or to perk up a sleepy one (peppermint).  I really like the idea of using a scented rice as an introductory activity to get the brain in the zone for a task that might need a higher level of concentration.  Then there are also the fine motor skills that are always under development, grasping, reaching, manipulating with the hands and fingers in preparation for handwriting , self dressing and feeding.

So today I took the plunge.  I shook out a new shower curtain to cover the floor and I sat back as he played like a pro, for near 30 minutes.

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Colouring rice can be as simple as adding food colouring to a box or bag of rice before shaking it up until everything is covered evenly.  Some ‘recipes’ call for hand sanitizer and microwaves, but I like to keep things as straightforward as possible…

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Make your colourful rice…

Add rice to a bowl, bag or box.

Add a drizzle of food colouring (add more colour until you reach the desired vibrancy.)

Shake or stir until all of the rice is evenly coloured.

Spread on a tray and leave to dry out overnight.

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Then it is time to make up your sensory tray…

I chose a deep tray, and kept the activity simple.  I placed a spoon and a bowl inside the tray, and added a bagful of pompoms for a totally different texture…and that was it.

He spooned the rice into the bowl, he grabbed handfuls of rice and sprinkled it about, he tried to bury the pompoms, he was totally engrossed…for 25 minutes…

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…and then he did this!

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…but I think half an hour of enjoyment was worth a bit of spilled rice!!!

You can take the dry rice to so many different levels for different ages.  You can use it for mark making, or for themed sensory trays like this Christmas one, or imaginative play like this farm themed idea, just by changing around the objects  and toys that you place in the tray.

The Little Helper Kitchen Tower Unveiled.

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So here it is…the kitchen helper in its almost final incarnation!

After a total of EIGHT coats of primer, paint and varnish, it finally stands proudly in the kitchen.

The little guy knew straight away how to climb the ladder at the side, and once up on his shelf, he started clapping his hands…congratulating himself, or possibly me, on our achievements!

Then, with his hands on the top bar he started shaking the whole thing a bit too vigorously! Now I can see why those anti tip feet are pretty vital to the construction.  They are all put together, just not painted, I must get them fitted ASAP.

Something that the plan didn’t incorporate, was any kind of safety or support enclosing the upper part of the tower. The Idea of the large opening is that your little helper can find their own way up onto the platform, climbing in though the nice big space.  But once inside, my guy has a tendency to forget he is up high on his new platform.  I need to come up with a removable idea, just to keep him safe while he is learning about his new space.  Any ideas??

For now I will keep a close eye on him, keep the kitchen door shut when I am not in there, and get the anti-tip feet painted and fitted.

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Under construction.

The idea is both common sense and Montessori inspired, helping your little person to help themselves.  I hope that he can join in with the family at the counter top, he can start practising his chopping, mixing, washing and drying with the adults so that he can get a little bit more involved in everyday activities.

For now he will just be eating everything in his reach…and making a whole lot of soapy mess!

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Breakfast at the counter.

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Making a soapy mess!

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Banana attack.

If you fancy a go at making your own kitchen helper tower, have a look at the plans on the AnaWhite website.  Her plans are really detailed down to the complete cut list for your wood.  She has some great ideas and hundreds of other plans varying in difficulty.  I think I might have a go at making his little bed next!!

Has anyone else made anything like this before, how has it worked out in your kitchen?  Let me know

Extra Sensory Scented Play Dough.

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Home made play dough is such a simple pleasure.  Grown ups and kids alike can’t help but give it a squidge.  It is quick and easy to make, and you can vary it in endless ways.

Today, I thought I would treat the little guy to a new batch of the squishy sensory stuff as we were a little housebound.

To make things a bit more interesting, and to stimulate the senses, this batch was a kind of aromatherapy dough.  After learning about importance of sensorial activities  in a Montessori setting, this seemed like an ideal variation on the usual play dough theme.

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I used the recipe below to make up a nice big batch of dough which I split in half.  I coloured one a light green and added a few drops of peppermint oil.  To the other half, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a little red colouring.  Mint creams and cookie dough, it would be a miracle if he didn’t devour the lot!!

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Not having had much luck with cookie cutters and rolling pins in the past, I decided to bring some contrasting textures and colours into the mix.  Some natural, some man made, the variety kept him interested for so much longer than I had anticipated.

Play dough is a great tool for fine motor development.  On its own, each squash, squeeze, poke and prod is developing a skill.  The extra elements help to multiply the possibilities of exploration and investigation.  The change in pressure required to poke in a spaghetti stick is different to the pressure required to press in a flat star shape. A bowl of rice behaves differently in little hands to a ball of dough.  Try out the recipe below, and add anything you can find to change up the experience.

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2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons oil
1.5 cups boiling water

Mix the flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil together in a bowl.

Add the boiling water and combine with a spoon until a dough forms, add more water slowly if needed to bring all the ingredients together.

Turn the dough out onto a surface and once cool enough to handle, begin to knead for a few minutes to create a smooth bouncy dough.

Divide the dough and colour or scent  using some of the following ideas…

Cinnamon
Ginger
Cocoa
Essential oils, peppermint, orange, lavender…
Rosemary
Ground cloves/nutmeg/mixed spice
Turmeric
Food colouring
Food flavouring

Then raid the cupboards for some textures…

Dried pasta
Dried beans
Dried rice
Straws
Pebbles
Leaves
Paper clips
Glitter
Beads
Feathers
Cookie cutters

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A Taxing Task For Mum, Advanced Vegetables!

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This would have been a fantastically simple exercise…had I not decided to make my own flashcards! The printer and I battled it out for nearly two and a half hours of nap time. Dinner and housework were totally abandoned in my quest to produce these printed vegetable cards.

As you probably know by now I love to make things myself. Ok, I didn’t turn those super cute wooden vegetables by hand on a lathe, but what I wanted, right at that moment, was a handful of flashcards to try out a really simple matching activity.

I made seven different cards, (the radish, card number eight, sadly met a sticky end at the sharp point of my scissors) and left them on his little table to see if he showed any interest…

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It wasn’t until the following morning that the little guy had a peek at the vegetables sitting in the basket on the table, as he climbed onto his chair I lay just one card in front of him, and picked out the matching vegetable. I then lay down a second card to see if he would reach for anything.

…He grabbed at everything!!!

…It was like a test to see if mummy could retrieve the matching cards fast enough!

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I think it will be one activity that we will see a progression with. It may be the most complex task that has been presented to him so far, and I hope we enjoy learning and growing this activity.

Sorting objects or toys, be it according to size, colour or category, helps children develop their intellect. Matching and sorting goes one step further to help with problem solving and categorising.

What I find interesting is that the ability to see patterns of any form, is helpful when learning the patterns of language in speaking and writing. Sorting, matching and sequencing are a way for a child to recognise differences and similarities visually, and while my little guy is not ready for words and numbers, these basic vegetable skills may be setting him up to tackle those advanced numeracy and literacy skills later on.

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There are hundreds of free downloadable templates online, I simply copied and pasted into keynote, four to a page, to match the vegetables we had in our selection. I printed them onto glossy paper and then cut them into individual cards.

Sounds simple! I found it more than a little taxing! You could buy a set of cards, or cut the pictures from magazines of catalogues, or even from an old children’s book from a thrift store. but I liked the fact that I could just use the objects we had already, and print out some matching pictures without having to spend out on anything expensive.

I have totally fallen for these beautiful Michael Olaf fruit and vegetable cards cards though (spotted on howwemontessori) which I may invest in as I see the little guy progress with his matching if he enjoys it.

Stacking And Scooping, Bringing Montessori Into The Home.

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When the time came to start thinking about nursery and pre-school for my little guy, it didn’t take much research to find that the Montessori approach really resonated me.  When the guy was tiny, we often remarked on his concentration on the smallest of things, like nothing else existed around him just that one object…

Then I found this quote:

“A child’s different inner sensibilities enable him to choose from his complex environment what is suitable and necessary for his growth. They make the child sensitive to some things, but leave him indifferent to others. When a particular sensitiveness is aroused in a child, it is like a light that shines on some objects but not others, making of them his whole world.
The Secret of Childhood p. 42, Chap 7

Montessori concentrates on these sensitive periods, using them as a guide to focus on a particular area of learning that each individual child is receptive too.

I LoVe that idea, so for pre-scool at least, Montessori is my first choice.

It will be a little while before he starts attending official sessions at nursery, but in anticipation of that time, I am trying to start to bring some Montessori play into our home.  I am slowly filtering in some new activities and clearing some shelves to have these activities within easy reach.

Starting in the playroom seems obvious, but hopefully we will roll out activities into different areas of the house like the kitchen and bathroom.

The activities are so simple, but teach so much.  I never thought this simple spooning activity would occupy him for so long, but, he was riveted for a good five minutes, the concentration was incredible!!

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It teaches coordination and concentration, spooning into a bowl without spilling the grain.  I chose some dried black beans so they would contrast with the cream carpet and he could see them clearly to pick up when he missed the bowl.

Of course it was always going to end like this!!

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Every little person probably has some stacking toys at home, so instead of throwing each hoop onto the hard floor to make a noise, I made the effort to show him how to stack them properly.  In a nice clear and clean space, he actually started stacking, not throwing!

It seems too simple, but it is a great way to develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and a sense of order, something which Montessori understands to be a trait of all children to be developed.

20131027-144040.jpg 20131027-144053.jpgI will add to the collection of activities as I gather materials and ideas, so come back and have a look soon.  Meanwhile, why not try out some homemade paint!

Have fun, and feel free to comment and share more ideas with me.

Homemade Non-Toxic Paint For Crafty Toddlers!

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Now I don’t suppose there is anything wrong with a bottle of paint from the craft store, kids the world over have been painting anything and everything with it, tasting it and treading it into cream carpets in many a home.  But there is something so satisfying in making your own paint, a smug arty glow before the kids have even begun to create their own masterpieces!

I have always ben a bit of a scientist at heart, so I guess that cooking up some cornstarch paint is my bit of messy play before the little guy gets stuck in.

It is so simple to make, it washes off little hands so easily, and it is totally non toxic and edible (not tasty) so kids of all ages can join in…even the ones who just want to taste the brushes and sample the bright colours!  Along with the basic cornstarch and water mix, I used some natural food colourings from the supermarket, these contain paprika, tumeric and spirulina to get their vibrancy so I felt comfortable that everything was mouth friendly.

How to make the paint…

1/2 cup cornstarch/cornflower
2-4 cups water
Colouring of your choice

Add the cornstarch to a pan and slowly add 2 cups of water to make a smooth mixture.

Begin to heat the mixture, gently stirring.

As the mixture starts to turn lumpy, remove from the heat but continue to stir until a smooth, thick, gloopy mixture is made.

Slowly mix in 1-2 extra cups of cold water to thin the mixture to the desired consistency.  You can use it as a very thick paste to paint and squish with your fingers, but we like it a little thinner for brushes and sponges.

Divide into separate containers and stir in desired colours.

We covered the table with some plastic sheeting and set out brushes, paper, cardboad etc…

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Then you just need to add a kid!!  Or two!!

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The quantities left plenty to be stored for a rainy day…but use it within a week.

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