Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Pants, bib and sling

I recently made three of the projects in Growing Up Sew Liberated by Meg McElwee. 

I started with the Bubble Pants, which were not the easiest pattern to follow for my skill level! I struggled a bit with attaching the middle bit to the legs and managed in the end. They look a bit strange seen flat like that with no baby wearing them but I think they will be good for when my baby wears bulky washable nappies. There will still be plenty of room for his bottom to wriggle around! The elasticated ankles are also a practical feature of these trousers as babies don't get their feet caught in the fabric and can play with them (suck them?) easily. Lastly, they are reversible! Which will give me double options when dressing him. In conclusion I would say that these seem like the most practical baby trousers I have seen so far.

I also made the All-By-Myself Bib from the book. I used jersey cotton for the main fabric and woven cotton for the bias and appliqués although the pattern called for rib knit (which I didn't have). It was rather easy to put together. Because I added appliqués to the original pattern I lined each half of the bib so the stitching wouldn't show on the other side. It was fun to draw the appliqués - I drew the star and my partner, Chris, drew the rocket - a real team effort! The envelope neck means that there is no fastening to this bib, no itchy velcro on the back of the neck or unpractical poppers. You just slip it on and off! If you hadn't already noticed, the bib is reversible, so if it gets dirty on one side, you can just turn it around, no need even to take it off, just turn it around the baby's neck. On the absorbency level, I am not sure how well it performs. Even my double layer of fabric does not feel very thick and I am not convinced that liquids wouldn't just go right through. I won't be able to test it on my baby though as this is not for him but for his cousin!

Lastly, I made the Ring Sling. I used normal weight cotton for it and it is very good like this. This pattern is really easy, all you do is cut out a large rectangle, hem up all four sides, pleat one of the short ends, slip it through two rings, and sew it on! The thing that took me the longest (one long day...)was to wait for the rings I had ordered to arrive. I ordered them on an Ebay boutique, Herbalbaybee, which seems to be the only place in the UK for baby sling rings. They have them in a variety of colours and two sizes and these are rings especially made for slings so they are extra strong.

I tried the cradle carry and the hip carry with the sling. Whenever I saw ring slings before it looked to me as if it was unsafe but actually trying this on feels very secure (even though it wasn't a real baby, I had to pull quite hard on the fabric to release it from the rings). It is easy to adjust the pouch to the baby's size and position by just pulling on the tail hanging from the rings. Depending on which side of it you pull, you can tighten the bottom of the pouch or the top. And if you want to breastfeed, you can leave the baby in the sling and just adjust the pouch (or support the baby if you are sitting down) to bring baby to the breast. The tail can even be used as a nursing shield if needed. 

When the baby is bigger they can sit up on your hip while supported by the fabric of the sling. The legs of the baby are not supposed to be dangling like they are on my photo, I just couldn't put the teddy right! The baby clings onto you as well with their legs. I saw other ways of carrying a baby in a sling, and I was told by a woman that she still uses her sling to carry her 3-year-old on her back. I am rather impressed by the cleverness of such a simple piece of fabric pulled through two rings!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Four months later

It has been quite a while since I last posted, and many changes have taken place in my life since May.

- I have stopped working with children but I am still passionate about methods of education and everything that revolves around young children.
- We have moved to a new geographical area and have been busy exploring its beauties.
- I have completed the first part of my Montessori training and I am now a certified Montessori classroom assistant.
- I have discovered that my partner and I are expecting our first child, due in January.

I am very excited about all this; so much in our lives already revolves around our baby although there are still four months to go before we meet him. These last years, while reading up about young children, I have also absorbed a large quantity of information about infant development and needs. I am hoping to use this knowledge to parent our son in a gentle and respectful way which I will be discussing on this blog.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Bottle hide-and-seek for readers and toddlers

I made a special toy for Alex who only started reading this year. I collected nine small objects, making sure that Alex would be able to read their names. Some are from the pink series and some from the blue. Alex has to read the first word on the laminated cards attached to the bottle and find the corresponding objects inside the bottle by shaking the lentils around.

I am preparing a toddler version of this: I took photos of the objects I had picked for the bottle, printed and laminated then. They are ready to go, I just need to find an empty bottle!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

A busy morning

Playing the Ghost Game

Exploring designs and patterns with the pink tower
Finding pairs of objects by touch
Completing a puzzle blindfolded

Montessori Insets for Design

A special request for this Christmas peg activity

Saturday, 7 May 2011

One story

A few weeks ago, in an "adventure playground" that couldn't have a better name, I witnessed a story evolving.

There were three boys who had found a den made in between bushes. They saw the many drawings sellotaped to the branches all inside it and the oldest boy declared: "It's the girls' den. We have to take over it." He showed the two younger boys how to make weapons made of a bunch of stinging nettles stabbed onto the end of a stick. They carefully went inside the girls' den and rubbed their stinging nettles against the floor, the bushes and the drawings. They told me they were "infecting" the place.

The two girls, 7, stood watching from far away. They looked to me as if they were debating whether to fight for their den or surrender. When the boys retreated to a nearby hide to watch the girls, they timidly approached the bushes where their den was built. They went inside it and looked around, not daring to touch anything after seeing the boys "infecting" their belongings. Suddenly the boys popped out from their hide, yelling "go away! It's our den!" while brandishing their stinging nettles weapons and threatening to hurt them if they didn't leave. The girls looked scared while they were running for their lives as the boys chased them. The girls didn't come back. The boys made drawings of their own which soon replaced the girls's. 

I am fascinated by children's play. I am amazed at their capacity at leaving the real world for a while to deeply enter their own. Even though the boys and the girls were enemies in the scene I have related, they were also accomplices as the girls pretended to believe that their den was infected. Even the boys knew that stinging nettles cannot "infect" a place, since they entered it themselves after the girls surrendered. They all knew it was fake, but they all kept on playing, as seriously as ever.

The drawings the girls first hung in the den struck me as "mark makers", as signatures to indicate whose den it is. The boys picked that up quicker than I did and ended up replacing them with their own.

The two younger boys were happy to let the older one command, and it may have been this organised hierarchy that led to their victory. The girls did not have a commander, they were both debating what to do and approached "timidly", without a clear action plan. Their unconfident attitude gave away to the boys, even before they had started the attack, that they would be victorious, probably adding to their already high self-confidence. 

Play definitely is a serious matter that allows children to rehearse skills needed in adult life. I am very grateful for being able to witness such scenes almost every day of my life.  

Monday, 2 May 2011

Body outline art

Alex lay on a large sheet of paper while I traced his outline. We both marvelled at how tall he was!

He added his eyes, nose and mouth while I coloured in his clothes. We used the Stabilo Woody 3-in-1 colouring pencils that turns into watercolours when you add a bit of water. Alex dipped his hands in water and smudged the colours all over. He thought it was magic and called everyone in the house to come and see!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Painting rocks

Today I showed Leo, almost 3, how to mix colours. As he had never done it before, I let him choose pairs of colours from the six different ready mix paint bottles we had. He mixed black and white, red and blue, and red and yellow. With his homemade grey, purple and orange, he painted rocks of different shapes and textures.

 As it was very windy today and we were outside, the paint was drying almost instantly and changing to a much lighter shade. Leo didn't like that and so he kept on dipping the drying rocks into a bucket full of water that was next to him, noticing that his wet paint looked brighter and more vivid than his dry paint.

Colours, textures and experimentation were definitely the focus of this fun activity.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Inspired by the Montessori mobile alphabet

One day, as I was in the process of making my own mobile alphabet, a 6-year-old visitor caught a glimpse of it and asked to be shown. I didn't have a tray at the moment (the letters were stored in plastic boxes) and hadn't finished painting the letters, therefore the whole thing wasn't very appealing.. It didn't stop him, instead he felt inspired to start a list of words ending in -at.

Since he already knew how to write, he proceded to write down his list on paper, probably partly because it was taking too much effort to find each letter in the state they were in, and partly so he could take his list home. I love his very ambitious and organised start of the list below!

This is what the finished homemade mobile alphabet looks like. I used the tray from an old print found at a charity shop and the letters (3 packets I think) are letters that are used for arts and crafts. I gave each letter several coats of either red or blue and they were good to go!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Montessori pink action cards

Once a week Alex and I have 40 minutes to wait between going to two places. When it rains we play games in the car. I made some CVC action cards a few weeks ago. They are CVC words such as "run", "cut", "sob", "sip" glued onto rectangles of pink paper (Montessori colour coding for CVC words, the first stage of reading) and laminated. The way we played was as follows: I held all the cards in my hand in a fan, face down.  Alex picked one while I looked away. He read it in his head and made me guess the word by doing the action. This game helped him with his silent reading much more than any of his school homework that directly asked him to "read in his head". Everything is so much easier to learn when it has a purpose, isn't it?  

You can download the cards by clicking here.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Handmade Colour tablets

Montessori colour tablets are used to teach children the names of colours and refine their visual sense. Box 1 teaches the primary colours, Box 2 teaches primary, secondary colours, pink, brown, black, white and grey. Box 3 has shades of the above 9 colours except for black and white. The child has to arrange the shades in order.

We made a Box 1 set some time ago. We bought a wooden strip of wood the same width we wanted the tablets to be, cut them to length and sanded them well. Then we put sellotape onto the sides and painted over both sides with acrylic primary paints. We had to apply several coats to make sure the colour was absolutely opaque and even. We painted two red, two yellow and two blue to make the Montessori Colour Box 1. I made a little origami paper box to contain them but it turned out to be too weak and it broke as soon as a child used the tablets.

The cheeky Squirrel

I have been making items for a little online shop of mine recently. It is mainly children's things like felt balls, mobiles, crowns, dolls, etc. The shop hasn't got many items at the moment but I am working on it.

Please click here to visit my shop! 

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Beleduc Cat Puzzle

Puzzles are great educational tools. When they have 5 layers and depict the insides of a house cat, they fascinate as well as pose a challenge to young children. I once visited a Montessori nursery for a morning and I was lucky enough to be able to observe the Beleduc Layer Cat puzzle in constant use throughout the three hours that I was there. One little girl in particular spent more than an hour putting it together again and again. She was insatiable! As soon as she put it back on the shelf, it was immediately picked up again by another child.

This experience definitely influenced me into buying it for the children I look after. A decision I don't regret. They like to know the names of the different body parts.

Beleduc make other layered puzzles: fish, frog, butterfly, child,... A great present for a child interested in anatomy.

Toddler activity

This is a work I put up almost a year ago and never talked about on here. I bought in Ikea a set of child size cutlery that came with a sorting tray for about £5. It has aluminium blunt knifes, forks, soup spoons and tea spoons. For this activity I simply offered Carla (23 months) the empty tray and the cutlery mixed in a pot. I deliberately omitted the tea spoons as they were too similar to the soup spoons for Carla's stage. You cannot see it in the photo but I had glued shapes of the different items cut out of dark paper at the bottom of each compartment for an easy start.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Baby signing with Bruno

Bruno is a hearing child and was 13 months when his parents and I started signing with him. We originally started signing in view of me speaking French to him, which would have added to his Polish and English. In the end, we decided against the French but in favour of signing, as a bridge between his two languages, and as a means for him to convey his needs.

We started with "more". We would sign it every time we said the word. About three weeks later, Bruno signed "more" himself, at first with no relation with the situation, and then he started to really get it and ask for more of everything, to see what effect it would have. One day, as I got to the end of a book I was reading to him, he signed "more". Not only had he understood that he could get more of something physical, but he could also ask for something to be repeated!

The second sign we introduced (a few days after he had mastered "more") was "potty". He was very much into going to the potty at the time and he used the sign frequently. More signs were quickly added as we felt that they were a very useful tool for expression to have: milk, drink, music, book, walk, baby, shoes, monkey, bird, sleep,... All I can say is that he has taken to it like a duck to water and is really enjoying it.

Bruno is now 20 months and he has about 20 signs in his repertoire. Everyday he shows me his need for more signs as he discovers more of the world. He is now starting to orally repeat words more often, and his favourite one is "bye-bye", which can take a lot of different meanings: goodbye, shut, finished,... Even though he is improving fast with his pronounciation, he still has a long way to go until he can talk. In the meantime, signing allows him to communicate his needs and feelings in a way that would have been impossible otherwise.

Our interactions are so enriched by baby signing. He doesn't cry or get frustrated when he wants us to know something, he just signs it. We seem to understand each other so much more now that he can sign, and we are certainly more in tune with each other. Bruno feels like a part of the household, being supported and encouraged in his progression towards talking.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The winner

Thank you to all who participated in the raffle in aid of Japan. Together we have raised £17 which will be added to Jo's total of £3,191.34.

Carlotta wins the set of three educational materials, congratulations! 

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Another week!

Due to the small numbers entering my raffle (2 persons so far), I have decided to extend the deadline and run it for another week.

The new deadline will therefore be Sunday 10th April, 18:00 GMT.

If you are not interested in the prize but would still like to donate to the Japan appeal, you can leave a comment on the raffle post and your donation will be added to Jo's running total at the end of the raffle. We have almost reached the £3,000 mark, so please please, make a donation.

As a reminder, you can enter as many raffles as you want, as many times as you like.

Good luck to everyone!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

3 days left!

Only 1 person has entered my raffle so far, so if you enter, you have a 50% chance of winning the three educational materials. And all for a good cause!

Go on, enter, there's only three days left!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Japan Earthquake Appeal

In aid of the Japanese earthquake disaster and in cooperation with Jo at A bit of this and a bit of that, I am organising a raffle on this blog.

The prize is a pack of three handmade Early Reading and Writing materials:

1. A sandpaper name flip book. This material is used to teach children to recognise and write their name. The flip pages mean that you can isolate each letter to teach it. I used Montessori colour coding, except that I got it wrong for the one pictured. Your one will have red consonnants and blue vowels, unless you use different colours and you let me know. I will use the name that you communicate to me.

2. Second in the pack is a homemade spinny speller. Again, the Montessori colour scheme is used (right this time!). The spheres are fixed and used as handles while the cubes spin to make a total of 64 real and nonsense CVC words.

3. The third item in the pack is a red felt letterbox, a green felt enveloppe (not the one pictured) and a stack of coloured cards to write on. Your children will love posting notes to you and will practice their handwriting at the same time!

All items are handmade.

For a chance to win this Early Reading and Writing Pack, you need to make a donation of £5 to GlobalGiving, come back to this post and leave a comment with your receipt number and a valid email address. For more chances to win, you need to make another £5 donation and leave another comment. If you want to donate £10, you will need to do two £5 donations so as to get two receipt numbers and be entered twice. You can enter as many times as you like.

If you make a mistake or forget to add your email address, please delete the first post and re-write it.

Anybody can enter, I will ship worldwide.

The winner will be drawn using a random number generator.

This raffle will close on Sunday 3rd April, 18:00 GMT.

The raffle being held on this blog is in cooperation with A Bit of This and A Bit of That. We are in no way affiliated with Global Giving, that's just our chosen method of getting funds safely to the affected area.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A homemade Montessori-style puzzle

Inspired by Montessori materials but dejected by their price, I decided to try and make something myself. I made a knob puzzle with six circles of graded diameters. I used the saw blades I had and consequently I wasn't able to use diameters with an equal difference, which means that this material isn't as mathematical as I would have liked it to be, but it still appeals to toddlers.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A voucher book

Alex picked "Make a voucher book" from the art jar a couple of times and asked me what it was. By the time I had finished explaining he had already wandered off saying that it was too boring. I really like the idea of him making voucher books for his friends and family as they are simple and much appreciated presents that he can make himself (and practice handwriting, but don't tell him that). To show him what it was, I made him one this afternoon.

He really liked it and immediately redeemed his "snack" one. He asked if I could make him another snack voucher afterwards because he was still hungry.

The voucher book has a nickname here: "the thing that mummies like", after one of my attempts to convince him it was a good idea to make one for his mum. He never remembers the word "voucher" but he does remember that his mum would like one!


A tip found on The Artful Parent to encourage creativity is to draw frames for the children to paint/draw in. Irresistible! My frames only remained empty for 5 minutes before being used and abused by two excited boys!

Art jar

I stole the idea for the art jar on Chasing Cheerios, and montessorised it a bit with the tongs. It has been such a hit with Alex! I am convinced that at least half of the success of the art station has been down to the art jar. When I ask him what he wants to do after school, his answer is invariably: "I want to do the ideas box" (he has a bit of trouble remembering the name, so we might just rebaptise it!)

Our "art jar" is not only about art. It also disguises some writing activities since it is a perpetual challenge to convince Alex to practice handwriting. Some of the writing activities were found in The Write Start by Jennifer Hallissy, which is an amazing book with tons of ideas to encourage writing:

- writing your favourite menu

- making a voucher book for someone

- writing clues for a treasure hunt

- writing a card to someone

- making a doorknob sign

I can't remember most of them now but do check this book if you know a reluctant writer in need of help.

Art Station

Alex (5) and his brother Leo (2.5) have got a new art station! I have rearranged their space in the kitchen to optimise it for creativity. All the art materials are organised in a tidy way in the drawers on the left and I always make sure there is ample space on the desk to carry out any project. Each of them has their own drawer in which I put printables that are adapted to their skills. They also have a blank sketch book each with detachable pages so that their art is kept in one place. On the right of the picture you can see a blue bin; In there I put things from the recycling: egg cartons, cereal boxes, kitchen towel rolls and any interesting packaging. They use them for junk modelling. So far this setup has worked really well and both boys go to the drawers to find new exciting things to do.

We also got a new easel, the Melissa and Doug Deluxe Art easel, which is great. It has three positions to accomodate the children's size, a chalkboard on one side, a dry erase marker board on the other and a roll of paper down the middle that can be pulled over the top for painting. I made them the Petit Artiste Art Smock from Sew Liberated which they like pulling over their heads independently.

More photos of their art to come!

Book diary

How many books of your childhood can you remember? I only remember a handful of them although I must have read hundreds! The Reading Environment by Aidan Chambers suggests the great idea of making a reading journal starting in the early childhood. Before the child can write, parents and carers can write entries for them, simply stating the title and author of the book. You can also add one of the child's interesting comments about it, a short summary or even grade it out of 10. Not only does a book diary help keep track of reading, but it also shows a bit of who you are to others. Aidan Chambers suggests that all school children should have a book diary that new teachers could read at the start of a new year to get a snapshot of that child's personality. The books you choose to read reveal who you are.

I followed his suggestion and gave Alex a book diary. He was over the moon with the excitement of having a book just for him, one with an elastic band to keep it closed and a ribbon as a bookmark! We went through the library books we had already read and started adding entries. He was very proud to show it to everyone at school. He is eager to be able to write it it himself but for now he would still like me to do it because he doesn't want the pages to get messy.

Recording authors is a good way to raise children's awareness that a book is written by a person and doesn't just come out of nowhere. As I was reading all the entries to Alex a few weeks ago, we both noticed that several of the books were written by the same person. We wouldn't even have noticed without the book diary.