Monday, June 22, 2009

Introducing a rug

In Montessori classrooms, children are encouraged to work wherever they're the most comfortable. Maria Montessori provided child-sized tables and chairs, but observed children often choosing to work on the floor. To accommodate that, she introduced small rugs that children could lay out on the floor. This provided a way to contain their work from spreading all over the floor, and to keep other kids from stepping in the middle of the work.

Yesterday, Nugget and I made a trip to Old Time Pottery, a local overstock store. I was able to find 2 lightweight cotton rugs with an unobtrusive pattern. These will be easy for Nugget to roll up and carry around.

I introduced the rug idea this morning along with a shadow matching game. I printed these pictures from a site with story stretchers for "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?".

Nugget was able to do the work quite easily. I think the more valuable part of this was the opportunity to see what the rug is for.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Clothespins and trays

I love to watch Nugget embrace the whole procedure of doing her Montessori activities. She seems to enjoy the fetching and replacing as much as the activity itself.

For example, I recently set up a few new activities for her -- flower arranging and clothespins. For the clothespins, she gets a tray with a basket containing the pins and a small round box. She removes the box lid and places the clothespins around the edge of the box. When they're all placed, she removes the pins, replaces the lid, and returns the tray to the shelf.

The purpose of the activity is to strengthen Nugget's fingers in the writing grip. When I introduced the activity two days ago, she couldn't get the hang of using the clothespins, either by pinching them or by squeezing them in her fist. After a few tries, she returned the tray and left it alone for the next day.

She picked it out again today, though. And, to my amazement, after a failed try or two she got the hang of the pinching motion and was able to place and remove the clothespins correctly!

She seemed to get a kick out of this, too, and repeated the activity numerous times. The fun part to watch is when she finishes putting the clothespins back. She replaces everything on the tray and returns the tray to the shelf. Then she picks the tray up again and takes it back to the table! She did this probably 3 or 4 times before moving on to her trains.

She really seems to see the fetching and returning as an integral part of doing the activities. I'm really happy with that. I think part of it is that she has a neat streak and we've encouraged it -- she's taken to cleaning up on her own during her play, without being asked. But I also think part of it is the delineation that the tray gives. I think it's a brilliant part of the Montessori method.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Next steps

This blog has been quiet for a long while. Part of that is because Nugget remains very imagination-focused.

But the other reason this has been quiet is because I've been deciding what my next step was going to be. It got to the point that we had to start thinking about whether we wanted Nugget to go to a Montessori 3-6 program next year (2010). I've embraced Montessori more than Waldorf during this time of experimentation, and I wanted to continue with that. But I wasn't feeling confident about my abilities to do justice to the Montessori curriculum at home.

So, after a lot of debate, we decided that we would run as true of a Montessori school as possible out of our house for Nugget. To that end, I've started a distance education program for Montessori educators. We plan to complete that certification and then outfit ourselves with all of the supplies you'd find in a Montessori classroom.

The plan isn't cheap. But it ends up costing less than a year of tuition at the local Montessori schools, and if we have a second kid, it can all be reused.

So we've financially committed ourselves to homeschooling Nugget for 3-6. Depending on how that goes, we'll think about continuing as she gets older.

Now the question is... where can we fit a classroom in our house?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sweet Pete

I was reading an old craft book with Nugget this afternoon ("How to Make Flibbers, etc.") when we came to instructions about putting cloves into an orange, which they called a "Sweet Pete". After I read it, it occurred to me that she might be able to do that -- and we just happened to have one about-to-be-thrown-out orange!

It's pretty simple. We used a skewer to make it easier (the book called for a toothpick), and Nugget did a fabulous job of pushing it into the orange (with me holding the orange for stability). She made a small hole, removed the skewer and placed it on the ground.

Then she picked just one clove from a bowl, turned it around so that she was holding it by the top, then pressed the pointy end into the hole.

She stuck with this for quite a long time, and covered a lot of the orange with cloves. It's sitting on our table, smelling fabulous.

I was really impressed with how Nugget handled this. She watched patiently while I demonstrated the first clove, then followed the process carefully each time. A few times she caught herself not putting the skewer down before picking up a clove, but she corrected herself. Also, there were some skills here that she's only recently mastered, like pushing the skewer into the orange in a controlled way and maneuvering the clove around in her fingers so that it was positioned correctly.

I think this was the best activity we've done in a while, and it just came out of nowhere. I'm going to keep my eyes open for more similar activities to exercise her new fine motor skills. Her ability to follow directions is also really promising for doing more complicated things in the future!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Idea stage -- Counting and sequencing cards

Wow, sorry I disappeared for so long! Nugget hasn't been interested at all in sitting down and doing activities -- when she hasn't been sick or having a dairy reaction, she's been all about imaginative play. Yesterday she pulled the lid off the game of Life, sat in it, and declared that it was her "sailing boat" and that she was off to an island. She then "landed" on the island, exited the box top, ran around the room "looking at the island", and sat back down in the box to sail off to another island. Then various friends and supplies started to come along, and there was no more room for the captain....

Anyway, I've been standing back and letting her and her imagination roam. She has plenty of toys that get used in creative ways in her various scenarios, so I've felt no need to stock up on more traditional Waldorf items. I do still long for some play silks, but I picked up some silk scarves at a thrift store and they've filled that role so far. If she starts to use them more, I may dye some of my own silks.

In the meantime, I've been doing some sewing and keeping up with the garden. But I'm starting to think about some new activities that I might try to introduce. Nugget's been doing some basic counting in her conversations -- one, two, and sometimes three -- but won't count items on demand. I thought maybe some cards with different items in various amounts to match up might be good. For instance, one shark and one elephant, two tigers and two butterflies, and three worms and three birds. Something like that, where the subjects were different but the numbers were the same.

I also would love some sequencing cards. I tried to look for some online to print out, but they looked pretty bad. I'd love to have three- or four-item sequences for her to organize. I don't think I have the straight-up artistic talent to do the drawings, so that might be something to pick up at the local teacher's store.

I'll try not to disappear for so long again, but I feel that Nugget's in a bit of a lull for the sort of things that I've been posting on here in the past. Guess I'll just have to evolve to keep up with her.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nugget's secret garden

It's finally finished! Nugget's garden playscape is done!

I've been working on this project for many weeks now. Nugget loves to garden -- both digging in actual dirt and pretending that she's gardening. I wanted to make her a little playscape where she could garden to her heart's content.

After a few nights of drifting-off-to-sleep planning and some wandering through Joanne's, I had a general idea for a magnetic garden using an old cookie sheet. I sewed some flowers first, then added fences, little mice, a hollow log for them to play in, a watering can, seeds to plant, and topped it all off with a previously-purchased fairy.

I'm quite proud of this little plaything. I'm going to keep it in reserve for her -- maybe it'll come out at her birthday in a few weeks.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Imagination explosion

Nugget hasn't been interested at all in the various Montessori-like activities that I've got around the house. She's suddenly very into open-ended, imaginative, independent play. It's great for me -- I've had enough free time to clean the guest bath and reorganize the pantry!

We have a lot of Little People toys and a set of Winnie the Pooh figures and buildings, but she doesn't go for any sort of organized pretend play. Instead, she crawls up onto the couch with blankets and various animal figures, builds herself a mountain and declares it an "elephant party". Or she pretends the couch is her bedroom. Or asks to have a large empty box put in her crib so that it can be her "worm house".

Any interference on my part in these journeys of imagination are going to ruin it, so my role has reduced greatly recently. The best thing I can do is to keep things uncluttered and organized, and to surround her with the most open-ended toys I can. Here's my and her favorites:
  • Finger puppets. I bought a pack of these at Ikea and put them in her Easter eggs. She doesn't use them as puppets past putting one on her finger and declaring, "Hi, I'm Monkey!". But they're a great, small size for her to be able to carry a bunch around at a time for various "parties", and they're nice and soft when they get left underfoot.
  • Gymnastic blocks and large balls. A friend got an AMAZING deal on a set of these blocks at a local resale store. Nugget has used them in different ways over the months -- as a step stool, obstacle course, and currently as pretend roller coasters.
  • Felt food. I made a few sets of felt picnic food a while back when I thought I was going to make and sell toys at local craft fairs. That failed, but Nugget uses her felt foods daily at her parties, to feed her rocking horse, and to make dinner.
  • Beans and rice. Yes, the small box of beans still gets daily use. In fact, 2 hours a day isn't unheard of. The sandbox full of rice gets less use, but still sees activity at least every other day.
The rest of her playtime is taken up with various things found around the house. Sometimes it's actual toys -- Little People figures or pom-poms -- but more likely it's random things she finds, like plastic Easter eggs, a deck of cards, or old greeting cards. We're pretty chill about her improvising with anything she can reach, which keeps her occupied and our stress level down.

Although there's not much news now, I've got a few things coming up. That magnetic garden I've been working on is almost done, just a few more evenings. And I've got a pile of Montessori books that I'm working my way though, including the original by Maria Montessori. I'm hoping I'll come out of my reading with a clearer understanding of the purpose behind many of the activities I've had a brief exposure to, and therefore a better idea of how to integrate them into our environment.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Day in

More illnesses in the family have kept me quiet for a while, but I've still been pushing ahead with the activities, at Nugget's request. I'm still having very little luck finding things that keep her attention for very long, but she keeps asking for more. I'm taking that as an endorsement, and working even harder to try to hit her developmental sweet spot.

The pasta stringing was pretty easy for her, so I dug out a bead stringing set that I'd found at a resale store and tucked away. I used a divided appetizer tray (75 cents at the thrift store) to divide the beads up by shape.

It's definitely been trickier than the pasta, and she's gone back to it each day. Today I even pulled out the shoelaces for stringing, and that's a whole new level of difficulty. She worked on it a bit, then decided that the laces were her "clothes", draped them around her neck, and proceeded to wear them around most of the rest of the day. Unfortunately, one of the cats thought those strings dangling behind her were for playing, and the two of them ended up on not great terms...

Speaking of today, I decided to spend the day at the house with Nugget. It can be tricky, because my husband is an Emergency Department nurse who works weekend nights. That means he sleeps weekend days, and we have to try to be quiet in the house. We did the usual toddler activities -- the rice-filled sandbox, finger painting (still not a hit -- too messy for her), stickers, etc.

I decided to try a twist on something I'd seen on another blog -- contact paper collages. They taped clear contact paper, sticky side out, to a window. I only had white contact paper, so I taped it to the table. I got out my endless stash of felt scraps and cut them into smaller, random shapes.

Nugget got the idea right away and started sticking pieces down.

However, the concept got boring quickly. I stepped in with some pompoms to add texture -- no go. Then I made my own scene. It was pretty fun, I thought!

But what really got her attention was when I came back with a strip of toilet paper and encouraged her to tear it to bits and stick those on the contact paper. THAT was amusing to her. If only I'd had colored tissue paper....

A little teaser -- I've been working a lot of these evenings on a very Waldorf activity, a magnetic garden scene. It's not ready yet, but I'm close. Nugget saw some of the pieces laying on top of the bookcase as I was carrying her to the car for a grocery store run. "I want to do that!", she shouted. "I want to do THAT ACTIVITY!!!"

So, I'm crossing my fingers that the many hours I've put in will come back in how long she plays with it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Where's the Waldorf?

You may have noticed -- I definitely have -- that this blog has a lot more Montessori-like activities than Waldorf ones.

I've been trying to fix that. I've been searching for Waldorf homeschool blogs, but without luck. They've either stopped updating or are focused at the wrong age. I'm going to keep looking, and maybe start looking for books as well.

One thing I have realized, though, is that I'm not willing to pull the more mainstream parts of Nugget's day-to-day life, like her Little People and Winnie-the-Pooh books. I know I could go more Waldorf by replacing everything with a few simple, wooden toys. But what I really want to do is simply supplement her life with Waldorf and Montessori-inspired, not wipe it out.

To be sure, we've already made the decision to step outside the mainstream -- no TV, few branded characters, nearly all used toys. But I also feel that some carefully chosen, pre-owned, and battery-less plastic toys aren't going to hurt anything.

I think that some of this will resolve as Nugget gets older and her imagination grows, as well. Right now she's more manipulative than imaginative, so a set of simple wooden peg people means little to her.

But I do hope to start incorporating more Waldorf. I haven't forgotten about it!

First stringing and sponging activities

I finally got Nugget the new activities she's been asking for. Unfortunately, I introduced these activities the morning that she first started to suffer from a nasty stomach bug. So she hasn't had much patience for them yet, although she's tried them a few times.

One was a simple wooden puzzle of three pieces -- a leaf, a squirrel, and a nut -- that fit inside one another. I picked it and two others (a chicken and her hens and a pig and piglets) at a thrift store. These are a different type of puzzle than Nugget's used to, and she still hasn't quite worked it out.

The second is her first stringing activity. I used rigatoni pasta (dyed with food coloring) and pipe cleaners. To keep the pasta from sliding off, I twisted a wooden bead to one end.

She's gone back to this one a few times, even while sick, so I think it might be a keeper.

Another attempt to provide sick-toddler entertainment saw me bringing bowls of water onto our lanai. Nugget wanted to float her turtles, but I also introduced her to moving water with a sponge. She gave it a shot a few times...

... but it quickly devolved into squeezing the water onto the ground and eventually pouring out the bowls.

It's very un-Montessori to do it so messily, but when the kid is so sick and grumpy that even smiling at her wrong sends her into a tizzy, correcting her few minutes of fun is the last thing I'm going to do.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Poor, deprived kid

Nugget keeps going over to the activity shelf and asking for a "new activ-ty?". Unfortunately, I'm stuck on what to do for her. I spent some time looking through the print-outs from Montessori for the Earth, but I don't think any of them are appropriate for her. They mostly involve sitting and getting a lesson, which she is not up for these days. She likes the sort of activity that takes little explaining, but that she can learn and explore on her own.

So I'm waiting to join a Yahoo group that focuses on creating Montessori materials at home, and I'm hoping to get some inspiration from the archives once they give me access. Maybe I'll also dig out a few of the little toys and puzzles I've tucked away, see if she's grown into them.

Monday, March 23, 2009

It was supposed to be a hammering activity

I bought a block of styrofoam and some golf tees the other day to make a hammering activity. However, Nugget has no interest in the hammering part of it. She's just pushing the tees into the block.

She has dubbed this a birthday cake which she's putting candles into.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Alternative activities

Nugget hasn't been too interested in the new activities I set out. She's done them once or twice, enough so that I know she understands them. But she just isn't taken with them. So I'm trying to learn from her lead, see what she's drawn to and how I can launch off that.

She has shown an interest in drawing and stickers. So I've set out paper and crayons, a plate of sticker sheets, and some Color Wonder paper and markers (MUCH neater for a kid who loves to draw on her hands). She can get them out on her own and make little masterpieces. Too bad she FREAKS OUT if I try to hang them up around the house. Pulls them right down. "No hang up!"

Gardening's still a big hit, so we go outside a lot. She waters plants and digs holes. I've had to keep her out of my vegetable garden now that it has tiny little sprouts, but she keeps occupied in the herb garden and the area we're clearing out around the heat pump.

Another one of her favorites is the bins of beans and rice. I have a smallish bin -- 15x12 or so -- on the kitchen counter by her Learning Tower. That one is filled with 4 different kinds of beans and her "cooking" pans and spoons. Outside on the lanai we have an underbed box filled with 15 pounds of rice, spoons, bowls, a pitcher, and scoops. She'll spend 10-15 minutes of alone time with that rice. She'll pour it out occasionally, but a warning usually stops it. She really likes the rice -- today she was getting frustrated while working on a puzzle, so I suggested we go out and play with the rice. On her way out the door she said, "I cheer up!". I think that means she likes it. :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Activity area reorganization

I couldn't sleep last night. Maybe it's because I had more caffeine during the day than I'm used to -- although I didn't have any after 2pm. Whatever it was, I found myself awake and energetic at midnight. I'd been meaning to re-work Nugget's activity area, so I decided to harness my energy for good.

The big things I changed were a refresh of the activities on her self, weeding out her puzzles, and adding some decoration to the walls and window shelves.

Here's her activity shelf. The top has the old stand-bys of crayons and bead stacking (although I've moved the beads from a Valentine's-themed bucket to a flower shaped bowl).

The middle shelf includes a line-drawing activity -- draw a line from the circle to the X.

There's also a basket with animal flashcards -- these can be matched to the flashcards stuck to the walls around the nook.

This is a shape-sorting activity. The foam shapes are from a magnetic building set that she isn't interested in.

The bottom shelf has the spring bird activity and a redesigned version of the pompoms and ice cube tray -- I've replaced the tongs with a spoon and glued small squares of color to the bottom of the ice cube hole so that the pompoms have a designated place to go.

On another shelf I have her puzzles, but I've removed those that she's grown out of (pretty much all the peg puzzles) and replaced them with trickier peg puzzles (matching by color and pattern) and jigsaws.

Now here's my next project -- this is a desk in the guest room that's been taken over by the pieces and parts for Nugget's activities and art projects. I keep her area so neat, but don't treat mine the same way!

Monday, March 9, 2009

First shot at spring scene activity

I introduced the spring scene this morning, even though I didn't have the goal photos prepared (see previous post). Nugget fooled around with the birds for a while, but really seemed to want a purpose (well, she did seem to have fun putting birds in the tree and claiming that the purple mommy bird was reading to the other birds).

So I grabbed my laptop and pulled up the pictures I meant to print. It didn't work nearly as well as I think real photos will, but we got somewhere.

This activity seems to be just right for her at the moment. She has no problem with the idea of matching an existing pattern. But the stretch is to reproduce that pattern somewhere else. A couple of times, she tried to lay the birds on the laptop screen directly. It took a fair amount of guidance to replicate the patterns on the posterboard (and the distance from the images to the scene didn't help -- I really want to be able to lay the photos right next to it).

But the concept seems to be within reach. I saw marked improvement in the few minutes we worked on it, which usually means that she's just about to get it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Thwarted by technology

I spent the evening working on a new "activ-ty" for Nugget, to be thwarted by technology at the last moment.

I put together a nice spring scene using felt on painted posterboard -- hills, sun, and one big tree in the middle. I also cut out a number of small birds in different colors of felt. I positioned 2 or 3 at a time in the scene -- flying around or sitting in the tree. I took pictures of each of these, with the intention that Nugget would reproduce the scene as seen in each photo.

With nearly everything done, the printer was out of ink. So I'm sitting here, excited to introduce the first new activity in a while, and I can't. Maybe I'll let her play with the scene without a goal, to get familiar with it. That may mean that when I introduce the photos, she'll be more interested in working toward a goal instead of playing.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thinking through the process

I've been quiet on here recently. Part of that can be explained by the fact that our family's been fighting through a number of food reactions and illness. But part of it is that I'm feeling a bit stuck.

I've got a lot of blogs that I check regularly that have crafty ideas and Montessori ideas. But I feel like Nugget's in a tough in-between place, maturity-wise.

She's interested in letters and words. But she's pretty short on motor control (fine and gross) and she's not great at following multi-step instructions or working on something for the process -- she wants to do it, finish it, and move on. So I'm having a hard time finding or coming up with activities that catch her attention but that she's capable of performing.

Hmm. Writing out that helps me a bit. Instead of coming up with activities that work in spite of the fact that she can't do those things, I need to think of things that will help her develop those abilities.

Also, I've been kicking myself about not having new work-like Montessori activities. But we're still doing a lot of day-to-day practical life stuff -- setting her place, putting her dishes away when they're clean, gardening.

And maybe it's time to turn my attention more to the Waldorf blogs. She's doing more imaginative play, like pretending to be different animals each day (did you know that a dino's favorite food is melon?). I may need to look into setting up her play environment to encourage her to take that on more independently.

Thanks for being my sounding board. :)

Shaving cream!

This one was just for fun. I emptied about half a can of cheap shaving cream into the tub for Nugget to play with. I expected hair styles for the bath animals, sculptures, and lots of smooshing.

Instead, I got this.

That's Nugget, trying desperately to clean herself up but just making things worse. My little neat-freak hated having the shaving cream on her -- even just on her hands.

I guess I could have anticipated this -- she doesn't like finger painting, either. Where did that personality trait come from?!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I finally finished Nugget's "I Spy" quilt! The finish work isn't the best -- it's a little puckery. But Nugget's not going to notice, and I think it's adorable. I'll try to get a better picture when we have sunlight.

It wasn't hard to make, it just took a lot of time. I learned a lot more about quilting, and where I need to do things differently. I'll probably do another one -- someday.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Spur of the moment activities

It's our morning at home, trying to be quiet so as not to wake my night-shift husband. We've got a couple hours to kill, and it can be a challenge. I threw together a few activities this morning -- one successful, one not.

The first was a kind of large puzzle/matching game. I took the pieces from a wooden pattern puzzle that she isn't quite ready for and spread them out over a sheet of posterboard with a large grid. Using crayons, I drew each shape in square.

I demonstrated a few pieces, then tried to encourage Nugget to do some. She refused and said, "mommy do it." I tried a few more, working to pull her into the game. But no luck. She declared it boring (does she even know what that means?), and I packed it away.

The other activity came about when we were putting her Little People away. I had two shoe box-sized containers because all the pieces won't fit in just one. I started to just throw them in, then had the idea to keep the people in one and the animals in another. And who better to help me sort them than Nugget!

She took to it pretty quickly, enjoying throwing them into the boxes and asking their names. She was really accurate with the "animal or person?" question except for dogs. All three puppy dogs went into the person box. I understood the first one -- he was dressed up like a firefighter. I was a little more surprised when the other two very dog-looking dogs went in with the people, too. Guess we'll have to work on that a bit....

Tongs: A study in three images

Nugget still doesn't quite get the tongs. She seems to have fun with them, though, so I'm just letting her figure it out on her own.

First, she uses her hand to pick up a pompom and shove it into the tongs grasped by the other hand.

She uses both her hand and the tongs to transfer the pompom.

She reverts to proper form to drop the pompom into it's place.

I really need to get around to refreshing her activities. She pulls them out occasionally, but nowhere near the frequency that she used to. I'll probably come up with a couple new activities and re-accessorize a few of the favorites. She still isn't feeling 100%, though, so she doesn't have the most patience with things or the longest attention span. I may put out just a couple simpler activities for the time being.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nugget's cabinet

Here's pictures of the cabinet in the kitchen where Nugget gets her plates and silverware. All of her plates are visible, but I'm trying to set her up for success here in the beginning by putting the plate I'd like her to get in the front.

When it's dinner time, I request that she get a certain plate ("the one with the bee and flowers", for instance), a fork, a spoon, and a sippy if I've pre-placed it.

Her highchair is pretty high up, and she was getting frustrated by having to blindly push her plate and utensils onto the tray. My husband had a brilliant idea and put a little step-stool next to the highchair. Now she can climb up and put everything in its place -- except that she can't put the fork on the far side of the plate. We've never really emphasized that, so I didn't expect it to be a big deal, but it appears to be one for her. She really, really wants to put that fork over there. So we still have to be around to help with that part. Maybe we'll spring for another stool.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Table setting

Sorry for being so quiet on here recently. Nugget has a cow's milk allergy, and she had a likely accidental exposure last week. We've been working our way through the various stages of the reaction, and it's left me pretty drained.

She hasn't been in any mood to do the activities. She has, however, been quite happy to set her place at the table. I set up a low cabinet with her plates and silverware. Each night before dinner I ask her to get a plate, fork, and spoon. She happily goes to her cabinet, picks them out, and carries them out to her highchair. It's too high for her to properly set her place, but she pushes them onto the tray.

If we ask, she'll pick out a bib (and try, amusingly, to put it on) and, when dinner is done, carry her plate into the kitchen (if dinner was messy, we scrape anything spill-able onto our plates first).

I've been really pleased with this activity. Nugget picked it up really quickly and loves having an "important job". I love that it's starting to incorporate her into the routines and chores of the house. I think the only downside is that I've had to remind her once or twice that the plates are for dinner time, not for picnics with her stuffed animals (I pulled out paper plates for that).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Great comparison of Montessori and Waldorf

I stumbled across a blog post with a really well-written and not-biased comparison of Waldorf and Montessori. I think it makes for great reading, and really inspired me to think more about the ultimate goal and underlying paths that the two philosophies take.

Where's Waldorf?

Friday, February 6, 2009


A few weeks ago, I bought a ice cube mold with heart shapes that I intended to use to melt old crayons in. When I was trying to come up with new activities, I set it up with small beads for Nugget to place inside, but that wasn't interesting. Last night I was looking at my materials and saw the tongs. She'd played around with them when I first bought them, but hadn't been able to manipulate them. I thought some more exposure might help.

I figured the beads would be way too hard to pick up, so I grabbed a few pompoms and set them out in a small bowl with the ice cube tray.

I showed her the activity around lunch, and it took her about half the bowl to get the idea of the tongs. I was thrilled when she first actually squeezed them with one hand, and did all sorts of cheering when she transferred her first pompom.

I didn't get a picture of her with the tongs, but this is her cleaning up so you can get an idea of what it looks like.

And, just because I'm so tickled with it, here's two pictures of her cleaning up her activities -- carrying a tray and putting an activity back on the shelf.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

So rewarding

This morning, while I worked on breakfast, Nugget got out her own work and set it up neatly on the table to use it. She worked quietly for a while by herself, then I heard her start using another activity. I came into the nook expecting to guide her through cleaning up, only to find that she had re-assembled and re-shelved the first activity by herself!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Our work and play spaces

I've had a few people ask about what Nugget's spaces look like. I'm going to share them as they are, but with the caveat that they're a work in progress. We've lived in this house for about 9 months, and we're still figuring out how our flow works into it. We're constantly tweaking where furniture is and where things are stored. In fact, I did a minor re-arrangement last night before taking these pictures this morning.

First, our "work" area. This is officially the breakfast nook, but we never used it as such. A few months ago we removed our cafe table and put in a toddler-height table and stool. Nugget eats lunch and snacks here and colors and does puzzles.

The black shelving unit is new, and holds puzzles on the bottom two shelves. The light wood folding shelves I moved out of her playroom just last night and set out her "work". This has worked out great, as she re-discovered some activities that hadn't been as easily accessible before.

Nugget still doesn't get the pattern activity (her Dad put the top pattern down), but she likes to make up patterns of her own. And she might understand it more than I give her credit for, just not like it -- she told us she was going to make a pattern, but a "different" one.

This shape/color matching hasn't been out for a while. I need to make some changes -- the cards slide on the table easily, and the shapes slide on the cards. Maybe some non-skid on the bottom of the cards, and gluing a few of the same shapes on top of one another to make a bigger, heavier piece?

This is Nugget's playroom. It's not your traditional Montessori or Waldorf environment -- there's more colorful plastic in here than hand-carved wood, but she likes it. We buy most of her toys second-hand at thrift stores and resale shops for monetary and environmental reasons, splurging rarely on nice pieces like a Haba doll or Plan Toys drum. Some of her favorites in here are a doctor's kit, Duplo (Daddy builds her robots), and various Little People. Outside the door you can see her cardboard playhouse.

I have some goals for these spaces. I'd like to put more shelving in the nook/work area, as well as more artwork. In her playroom, I'd like to start a rotation system with her toys. We'd tried that about 6 months ago, pulling a number of toys into the guest room. But then she discovered that trove of toys, and we just had two destroyed rooms at the end of the day.

In the kitchen she has a nice wooden kitchen of her own and a Learning Tower, along with lots of wood and felt food and cooking implements. I'm in the process of clearing out a cabinet to keep her plates and cups in so that she can start setting her place at the table herself. Hopefully I'll get that done tonight, and I'll have some kitchen pictures in the next few days.

Bead stacking

This is the bead and dowel activity I was mentioning. We finally acquired a 5/16" drill bit, so I was able to throw this together yesterday evening for use this morning.

I just took a piece of 1" pine I had and drilled a hole as big as the dowel. I cut the dowel to a seemingly-appropriate length and Gorilla-glued them together.

Nugget went right for this one. I intend to grow this into a pattern-following activity (giving her pictures of bead stacks for her to repeat), but for now it's a great fine-motor activity to put the beads on the dowel.

I need to tweak this by sanding the dowel smoother -- it's rough at the top, and some of the beads with smaller openings stick and cause frustration.

For now, though, it's a hit. She's gone back to it a few times. And pulling the beads off -- and dropping them on the floor to bounce around the nook -- seems to be fun, too.

Friday, January 30, 2009


I thought I had a great idea for a new activity for Nugget dealing with patterns. Here's how I presented it, thanks to my thrift store finds.

You can see one of the new trays, a piece of paper with two rows and 5 columns, and two wooden bowls filled with cardboard squares -- some colored with a black marker, some left brown.

Here's the activity when it's set up.

I filled the top row with a pattern of squares. The idea is for Nugget to reproduce the pattern on the lower row.

I was pretty excited about this one. It's a simplified version of a bead sequencing set that I lust after. I have the raw materials to make a set like it (colored beads, wooden dowel), but haven't had the time to assemble it (a theme in my life). So I figured I could do something quick and simple to see if it was worth finding the time in the immediate future to put it together.

Unfortunately, my excitement doesn't translate to Nugget's excitement. She watched as I set it up and pushed a few pieces around the board. But she had way more interest in the wooden bowls (which she hadn't seen yet).

So the pieces quickly found themselves scattered on the table, homeless, and the bowls were off into her wooden kitchen for use in making "soup". Ah, well. We'll just chalk this one up on the Waldorf side of things.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thrift store haul

I don't really have a lot of supplies around the house for traditional Montessori activities like scooping and pouring, or trays for presenting materials on. I'd been meaning to visit some thrift stores and see what I could get, but previous trips with my 20-month old have been pretty much fail.

Today, a combination of circumstances gave me about 90 minutes on my own near our small town's thrift stores. I took advantage of that to hit 3 of the 4 and come out with a great haul for less than $7!

You'll see a few trays (wooden and metal), some small bowls, a pitcher, two pairs of tongs, and various scooping implements.

Nugget got home just after me, so I quickly gathered up a few of the treasures, a box, and a big bag of rice. I set up a rice box on the lanai and she set about to scooping, pouring, and generally exploring the new experience.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Nugget's imaginative play is finally kicking in. It's still mostly imitative -- using her dollhouse to reproduce our daily activities, for instance. But she's starting to have tea parties with her stuffed friends and play with animals.

She's been using the green lid to a box of Duplo as a "field" for her Little People animals. I thought I could do one better pretty easily with a green piece of felt. But when I grabbed the green, I saw the blue. Ooo, a watering hole! And maybe some dark green, and some brown...

I put the green out and continued to add to it as she played. It's only partially done -- there's only so much sewing one can do while crocodiles and giraffes are being placed in the grass. But I like where it's going.

Now, to get to work on all those wooden animals I have in my head....

Recognizing values

Nugget is more than happy to count. She started by learning "one, two, tree!" because her dad would say that when pushing her on the swing. She slowly learned more numbers to the point that she counts to 10.

I'd been taking advantage of her interest in numbers to see what else I could teach her. But I wasn't getting anywhere. I soon realized that I needed to go to the very beginning -- helping her recognize that there's such a thing as different values. You have to know that one item is different from two items before you can start to name that difference.

So I made a matching game (shocking, I know). I put out 5 sets of cards, each with a different number of blue dots.

Sure enough, it was quickly obvious that she needed work in this area. She needed help with nearly all of the matches. We've pulled the cards out just a few times, but I think this is one of those areas where there's not a lot of teaching I can do -- her brain needs to hit a certain point for this idea to click in.

In the meantime, we'll have fun counting with her, and I'll try the cards occasionally. We'll get there.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sorting, sorting, and more sorting

Nugget goes through puzzles as fast as I can buy them. Because I haven't figured out yet how to make puzzles (I have the means, but haven't had the opportunity), I decided to see if she'd like some new sorting activities.

Color is old hat, and she's good with shapes. So I needed something different. I had a bunch of old catalogs and magazines laying around, so I decided to flip through and see what themes I could find.

The first one I picked up was my alumni magazine. It had a lot of pictures of people, and we've been working with Nugget on the man/woman distinction. Perfect! I cut out the best pictures and glued them to index cards.

Nugget was very excited to try her new game. She was hit-or-miss -- got about 2/3 of them easily with the rest needing correction. She had some problems with the idea of the two piles -- she'd say the correct word, but put it in the wrong pile. I think she just needs more practice with the two-pile sorting.

When Nugget finished, she asked for more. So later that day, when she took a crib nap (first time in over a month!), I grabbed a clothing catalog. This time, I decided to ask her to sort shirts vs pants. And since she plowed through the men/women so fast, I cut out a bunch.

This one didn't go over so well. She was distracted and sorted poorly, and wanted to be done before she got through them all. But she stuck with it all the way to the end.

I'll probably leave these out for a few days and see if Nugget goes back to them, but I don't expect them to have much longevity. I don't think sorting is really her thing anymore.

I'll have to keep an eye on her for a few days, see what she gravitates to (other than puzzles!).

Friday, January 16, 2009

I Spy quilt

My next project is an I Spy quilt for Nugget. I was inspired by this quilt, and I think I'm going to follow her lead pretty closely.

I spent the last few days hitting various fabric stores, picking out a quarter yard of this, a quarter yard of that. I probably spent about $15 on fabric for the quilt front, and there'll be a bit more of an investment for the batting and backing.

I've washed and ironed the fabric, and I hope to spend tonight making the final decision on size and cutting squares. From then on, it's just a lot of sewing.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Between a really nasty cold that took out our family, and a bunch of extended family visiting for my husband's first marathon, I haven't been blogging a lot.

Hopefully that will change soon -- I've ordered a tiny little fairy for Nugget to play with. She loves small things, and has shown an interest in fairies recently. I'm hoping to be able to reverse engineer the little fairy to make more, so I'll post when the fairy arrives!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Adding shapes to the mix

Sorting by just colors has become a bit too easy for Nugget. She isn't very engaged by the activity any more. I can't blame her -- even though I present it in three different ways (sorting colored beads onto dowels, sorting pompoms into boxes, and matching colored puzzle pieces to their appropriate spots), it's the same thing. And she knows her colors -- she can identify all the big ones by name (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, white, black, and grey).

I spent some time trying to come up with another sorting activity, because that seems to appeal to her sense of order right now. It wasn't until we were in a local teacher's store that inspiration struck, though.

I found a small bag of foam pieces in various shapes and colors. I also picked up some large index cards. When we got home, I put 3 different shapes in different colors on a card and traced around them, using crayons to color them in.

I laid these cards out on Nugget's work table along with a pile of foam shapes. I showed her how to place the shapes on the appropriate places, and she got to work. I only made one at first as a proof of concept, but she quickly worked through that and requested another. And another. And another -- a "harder" one. Does she really know what that means? Anyway, I obliged her and made one that looked like a robot with 8 shapes on it.

I got four cards made before she moved on. Which is impressive, considering that she's in the middle of a pretty bad cold. Here she is, in the middle of her first three cards. She sometimes needed correction on orientation, but in general she was able to do this on her own after the first demonstration.

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