Tissue box toy

I’ve had this lovely idea from Anna bookmarked for a while. (Incidentally The Imagination Tree is one of my favourite sites and is full of wonderful ideas for small children. I highly recommend a visit!) When I first saw it I remembered how much fun Aaron used to have emptying packets of wipes and felt quite guilty that Tabitha never has the chance to do this because we use reusable wipes! So yesterday I got out my material bag and cut up about twenty different squares, which I put inside a tissue box along with the small playsilks. Tabitha had time for a quick play before bed.

I also figured out why my photos have been so blurred recently. The flash settings on my camera have been wrong ever since I got it back from repair. I wish I’d noticed sooner as it would have saved so many photos!

Dyeing playsilks with food colouring

Tacey over at The Good Enough Parent shared this very helpful post about Dyeing Playsilks. I’ve been wanting to buy some for a while so I thought I’d give this a try instead. I bought four 90 x 90 cm silk scarves and six silk handkerchiefs. The scarves were out of stock so the store lady kindly replaced them with 110 x 110 cm for the same price. All of that cost me about the same as one or two proper playsilks. I haven’t dyed the big ones yet as I need more vinegar, but here are some photos of the handkerchiefs. I’m planning something for Tabitha with these.

Unfortunately my dyeing session came to a premature end thanks to this.

I couldn’t get the cling film off one of the bowls so I stupidly took my oven gloves off. I was planning to just loosen the edge with my nails and then put the oven gloves back on to peel the cling film back, but the pressure had built up so much that the steam came whooshing downwards as soon as there was a tiny gap for it to escape. My index finger was burnt quite badly with some of the skin peeling slightly, while my middle finger fared a little better. After holding my fingers in cold water for two hours I went to bed with an ice pack strapped to my hand and crying like a baby. I can’t even begin to imagine how painful it must be to have severe burns all over your body. Fortunately it is feeling a lot better today. Now I just need to buy some more vinegar and dye the big silks for Aaron to play with.

How to build a cardboard castle – Part 1

Whilst browsing for ideas to use up my empty toilet rolls, I came across this. But although I was inspired, I wanted something a little more like the castle that my brother and I spent hours playing with at my grandparents’ house when we were younger. In the end I came up with something completely different and my toilet rolls are safe for another day!

castle 21 Cool Toilet Paper Roll Creations

To make the castle I used two empty veg boxes. They are usually returned to be reused but for various reasons we haven’t placed an order for a couple of weeks and so the boxes had been sitting around in our under-the-stairs cupboard. As one box wouldn’t have been tall enough for a castle, I decided to stick the second box upside down on top of the first box. This actually turned out really well because the rims along the top edges of each box became the battlements for play figures to walk along. If you don’t have boxes like these then you could use one taller box and make the battlements separately.

I cut the base out of the second box (it’s upside down in this picture).

Next I marked out where I wanted to cut, turning the corners of the box into towers.

I got a bit distracted by Tabitha whilst I was cutting this side and ended up cutting out the wrong set of squares!

Here is the second box after I’d finished cutting it. The bottom bit was once the top of the box and the top part was once the base.

Then I stuck the two boxes together at the rims and used pegs to hold it in place until the glue dried. You can see how I’ve cut the crenels and merlons (nope I didn’t know what they were called until I looked it up) correctly on the front wall but not on the back.

It’s nowhere near finished but I think it looks quite impressive already! Come back soon to see how we make the drawbridge and decorate the castle.

Waldorf window star

While the children were in bed I decided to make a tissue paper rainbow star to hang in our window. I followed the tutorial here. It was very easy and didn’t take long. I cut my squares to about seven inches and it made a good sized star. I’ve put it on the sliding doors onto our balcony as that side of the house gets loads of sunshine. Can’t wait to see what it looks like in the daylight, although I probably should have cleaned all the smeary little handprints off the windows first!


Making your own Montessori maths materials

Until recently I hadn’t really considered how to teach Aaron maths. At the moment he is learning through play and experience with real objects, which is fine. I had a vague notion that somewhere along the line we would start introducing workbooks. Then I discovered a completely different approach whilst I was researching the Montessori method. Mathematics is full of abstract concepts. The Montessori materials provide sensorial impressions of mathematical concepts, beginning with concrete experiences and gradually moving towards the abstract. My geeky side was thrilled to discover the likes of wooden fraction circles, Pythagoras boards and long division pegboards.

I was browsing through some Montessori maths supplies online and wondering if I could possibly afford to buy one or two bits, when I suddenly had an idea. Why not make my own? Whilst some of the advanced materials are definitely too complex to make, the first few sets look fairly basic.

By reading through the mathematics section at Montessori Primary Guide I was able to work out which materials I will need to begin with. For learning numbers through to ten the main materials used are number rods, sandpaper numbers, spindle boxes and numbers and counters. I then looked up the materials on Absorbent Minds, which seems to be one of the cheapest UK Montessori suppliers.

Number rods are ten graduated rods marked in alternating red and blue paint. The cheapest set online was £20.39. I’m planning to make the rods (well okay, get hubby to make the rods) out of planed square edge timber, which costs £1.30 for two lengths from B&Q, and then paint them with acrylic paints.Number Rods

Sandpaper numbers are tactile numbers on green board. The shop price was £17.99. A sheet of hardboard big enough for 50+ tiles costs £4.88. Fine sandpaper costs £2.88 and I already have green paint.Sandpaper Numerals 0-10

Spindle boxes have numbered compartments and 45 spindles. These sets cost £33.59 to buy! For the boxes I will use two craft boxes costing £1.99 each. For spindles I will probably use dowel moulding at a cost of £2.56 for four lengths. Unfortunately they won’t be as easy to grip as the spindles shown here, but I couldn’t think of a better alternative.

Spindle Boxes 0-4 and 5-9

Numbers and counters consist of number cards and 55 circular counters, costing £15.59. There will be plenty of hardboard left over from making the sandpaper numerals for this. I was thinking of using large buttons for the counters but it works out quite expensive to buy that many, so pennies from the penny jar will work just as well.

Numbers and Counters

So that’s four sets of maths materials worth £87.56 for approximately £15.60! I have the feeling we’ll be making a trip to B&Q next week. I want to dive in and get started straight away, but it will have to wait as we need to borrow some of my Dad’s tools. There’s no rush anyway, as we probably won’t be introducing formal maths learning until closer to Aaron’s fourth birthday. If my DIY attempts are successful I’ll post photos and instructions!

Threading and colour matching

Today’s skill box was all about threading. I wanted to involve Tabitha too, so we started off with a wooden train that had dowels for threading blocks with holes.

First Tabitha pulled the blocks off the train. Then she realised that she could put them back on again, which was a bit harder and required her tongue poking out in concentration.

Meanwhile, Aaron was organising the blocks by shape all on his own accord.

Then we moved onto threading pasta. The laces I picked up from the corner shop yesterday turned out to be too thick, so I had to borrow some different ones from a lacing toy we have. Aaron actually found this quite difficult as the pasta holes were quite thin and long. He only managed a few pieces before giving up and moving onto something else. His attention span seems really short this week, I’m not sure why!

This is a different twist on the colour matching caterpillar we did before. I printed out a circle with different colours onto card and then painted the ends of wooden pegs to match.

Aaron loved matching up the colours but was less keen on putting the pegs in place. Pegging is great for all the little muscles in his hands. Again he lost concentration pretty quickly and wondered off to play dens underneath the table with Tabitha.

Wise words about wind

Walking home from town this afternoon, Aaron was struggling to catch up and called for us to wait. When he reached us he explained “the wind is pushing me”. Then he turned around, ran back in the opposite direction and shouted “Aaron push the wind”! Got to love the way little minds work!

Feathering the nest

Tabitha had her one year review with the health visitor today, so we didn’t have time to go to Home Grown Kids this afternoon.  Instead we made a bird’s nest for our spring display. I cut out a semi-circle of card and Aaron covered it with glue. Then we stuck on twigs, lichen, feathers and wool. To my surprise, Aaron wasn’t really interested in this bit so I did ended up doing most of it.

To make a blossom branch, we scrunched up some tissue paper and stuck it on a stick.

We made some chicks with pompoms, googly eyes and yellow paper for the beaks.

Pouring and spooning

In today’s skill box was a bag of rainbow rice, a set of funnels, a measuring jug, a narrow container, a set of bowls and some measuring spoons.

I briefly showed Aaron how to pour rice through a funnel and then let him experiment.

He found that the rice tended to get stuck in the funnel neck, so he tried pouring straight from the jug instead.

He tested what would happen with two funnels.

Then he decided to spoon some of the rice into the bowls. He noticed that some of the measuring spoons were bigger and some were smaller.

You would have thought that by now I would know never to leave a 3 year old alone with messy stuff. It looks like I’m a slow learner. Tabitha woke up from her nap so I went to get her and came back to the sight of rainbow rice all over the sitting room floor! I told Aaron to get the dustpan and brush and clean it up. I was quite impressed when he went off to the kitchen, got the dustpan out of the cupboard and started sweeping it up! The task was a bit beyond him though, so I spent the next 20 minutes crawling round on my hands and knees. Lesson learnt this time? I hope so.

The wipe-clean letter and number tracing books I ordered from Amazon arrived today. Aaron was so excited when he saw them that he wouldn’t wait for me to finish cooking pancakes and just plunged right in.

While we were at the park this afternoon with some other home educators we collected some twigs, lichen and feathers for our bird’s nest. I don’t think we’ll have time to make it today though, so it will have to wait until later in the week.

Spring is in the air

Our topic at the moment is spring. We have a noticeboard by our dining room table where we usually pin our lapbooks up for a week or so. However I’m not planning to make a spring lapbook, so I thought we’d put some other decorations up instead.

First Aaron made a fluffy lamb by sticking cotton wool onto a sheep that I printed on card and cut out.

Then we made a daffodil. Aaron enjoyed painting the egg carton centre. Here is the template we used for the petals. For the stem we used a pipe cleaner.

Here is the noticeboard so far. It’s looking rather empty at the moment. Tomorrow we’re planning to make a bird’s nest, but first we need to gather some twigs, leaves, moss and feathers. I’d also like to do some tissue paper blossom on a stick. Any other ideas for spring decorations or projects are welcome!

Thoughts on Montessori

As I’ve become more involved with the home educating community, I’ve seen that different things work for different families and there are many ways of going about homeschooling. Although I have heard of various educational philosophies such as unschooling, classical, Montessori, Steiner and Charlotte Mason, I’ve become increasingly aware that I don’t really understand the principles behind some of the methods and how that might affect the day-to-day reality of home education. I want to learn more about different approaches, partly so that I can incorporate things that would work for our family into my ideas and partly because it’s difficult to understand someone if you don’t know what they’re talking about!

So mainly for my own benefit, I’ve added an Educational Styles section to the menu and I’ll gradually be writing overviews of the various different pedagogies and approaches to home educating. I started off with Montessori, for no particular reason other than that it was easy to find plenty of information on it.

My initial thoughts on Montessori are that it is particularly suited to a nursery or primary school setting. I love the various different materials but there is no way we could ever afford to buy or make more than a few of them. I’m not convinced that the hands off approach would work for every child, as I don’t think Aaron would always be able to learn a skill from seeing it demonstrated just once and he would get very frustrated attempting to complete it by himself. Then again, that might not be a problem in a setting with all the Montessori materials, as it would be easier to match activities to the child’s ability and the difficulty increase between each set of materials would be smaller. As a very scientific person, I do like the fact that the materials tend to be focused on language and maths rather than art. Many of the skill boxes I’ve been using with Aaron are inspired by Montessori activities. Reading about the sensitive periods was really interesting and something that I will definitely bear in mind when planning our work.

I did come across an amazing website, www.infomontessori.com, which is a guide containing exercises for the four areas of learning for 3 to 6 year olds. I also just noticed this paragraph on the home page, which pretty much answers my doubts above.

“Overall, what makes this method of learning so different compared to the conventional form of education we have today, is that the teacher does not stand in front of the class and teach each child the same lesson all at once. Each child is allowed to learn at his own rhythm in a way where he feels as though he is in fact not learning or being taught.

Montessori called this way of teaching “preparing the child for success”.  The teacher is there to guide the child through small Exercises in which the child will succeed. Through time, the Exercises rise in difficulty but because the progression is so well thought out, the child never feels as though learning is a struggle.”

Cress Eggheads

Today we went to the garden centre and Aaron bought a packet of cress seeds. He loves paying for things by himself and knows exactly what to do because he has watched me go shopping so many times. Back at home we stuck some googly eyes onto empty washed egg shells and then drew mouths with felt tip pens. We put some damp cotton wool inside the egg shells and then Aaron sprinkled some cress seeds on top. I put the eggheads inside a plastic bag and they will spend the next few days in a warm dark cupboard.

Aaron has a very busy social calendar nowadays! On Monday afternoons we try to go to the local Mini Music group. We’ve been going for about a year now and Aaron knows some of the songs, but his favourite part is definitely playing with the toys at the end. He’s starting to interact really nicely with some of the other children.

On Tuesday afternoons we meet up with some local home educating mums, usually in the park. There is a group activity followed by free play. This week it was so bitterly cold in the wind that none of the children wanted to stand still for the activity, so we walked back to one mum’s house instead. Her three year old insisted on giving his favourite toy train “for Aaron to borrow”, which I thought was a lovely way of encouraging sharing. So Aaron is looking after the train for a week and I’m hoping that he will want to let E borrow one of his own toys next week.

The Home Grown Kids meet takes up most of Wednesday by the time we’ve caught the bus there and back. We were in a different building this week and it had a well-equipped playroom and an outdoor play area, which Aaron loved. He spent hours just running around and going down the big slide. Several people commented on how confident and outgoing he is, so at least he doesn’t seem to take after me in that respect!

I keep meaning to take him to story time at the library on Thursday mornings, but I think we’re going to have to skip that for now as otherwise we won’t have time for anything else!

I haven’t done any Funnix work with him since we were all ill, but today he initiated some letter recognition by crawling under Colin’s desk and exclaiming that he could see an “m”. It was actually a capital “E” on its side, but it did look just like an “m” so I didn’t tell him that! Then we picked up a nearby tractor magazine and he spotted letters in the article titles on each page. Next week I’m hoping to recap all five letters and then begin the proper Funnix lessons the week after as I think he’ll really enjoy that.

Since he traced the days of the week in our caterpillar lapbook he has also shown lots of interest in tracing letters and numbers. I’ve had this and this on my wishlist for ages so now I think it’s time to order them!

Fun in the sun

Today is the first day I’ve felt more or less human since catching conjunctivitis and a nasty virus from Aaron. Sorry for the lack of blog updates but there really hasn’t been anything to say. We’ve done pretty much nothing for about a week and a half now. That hasn’t stopped Aaron learning though. We figured out a few weeks ago that he could definitely identify the colour pink. This week he has also correctly identified blue, orange and white at various times in conversation. It has taken such a long time but I think we’re finally starting to get there with colours!

It’s been a lovely sunny day, so I opened the balcony doors for the children to play outside. First we got out some cars and then I remembered a great idea I saw over at The Imagination Tree. So I fetched some big sheets of paper and squirted some paint onto a plate.

Aaron experimented with a few different patterns. His favourite was making a “ladder”. Tabitha did have a quick go with the cars but she preferred to practice navigating the small step through the balcony doors. Washing the cars in the mop bucket afterwards was great fun for both of them. Then I stripped off the kiddies, put them in the shower and hosed them down! Tabitha’s legs are still a rather peculiar colour though!

Authorised absence

Not much learning happening this week as Aaron is ill. He has a high temperature and a snuffly nose. He’s hardly eaten anything for days and he complains that just about every part of his body hurts. The poor lad has spent most of his time either in bed, snuggled up on the sofa watching DVDs or half-asleep on my lap.

We did meet up with a few local homeschooling mums in the park on Tuesday afternoon, which was lovely for Aaron as the children ranged in age from three to about six. He was too ill to go to Home Grown Kids yesterday, which was a shame as this week’s craft activity was making wind catchers. We spent all week gathering shiny things to use and it was actually quite difficult to find things of a suitable size for a younger child. We’ll have to make our own when Aaron is feeling better instead.

Plato on early education

“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be rather a sort of amusement; this will better enable you to find out the natural bent of the child.”

– Plato

Transferring skills

We didn’t get much done today as hubby took me out to dinner for Valentine’s Day. Here’s a quick peek inside Aaron’s transferring skills box this afternoon.

The box contained a set of small bowls, a puree tray (which has only been used once in the last three years, hopefully it will get more use as a toy!), a bag of pom poms in various sizes, salad tongs and a set of four different tweezers.

Aaron found the tongs fairly easy to use but the tweezers required a lot more concentration! He resorted to picking the pom poms up with his fingers a lot.

It’s rather blurry, but this was one of the moments you only have a few seconds to capture before the subjects have crawled off to do something else! They picked up two blocks each and were banging them happily. It’s so cute when they play together.

The schoolroom

I admit it, I’m obsessive about organisation. I like lists, plans and having a place for everything. If I don’t have a plan it tends not to get done. If I don’t have a place for everything it tends to get horribly untidy! So it made sense to start gathering all our educational supplies into one main place rather than scattered all over the house.

Yesterday we bought a cheap wardrobe for Tabitha’s room, which freed up the two sets of plastic drawers that her clothes were previously stored in. I spent this evening moving them up to the study and filling them with clutter homeschooling stuff.

The drawers on the left contain craft supplies, apart from paint and glue which are kept in a box on top of my Welsh dresser. The middle drawers have learning materials for letters, numbers, shapes and colours, as well as lapbooking supplies and a few other activities. On the right is equipment for skill boxes including materials for pouring, transferring, sorting, matching, fine motor skills, threading and stacking.

As I was typing this I realised that I also need a place to store all the home education books/catalogues/leaflets/papers that my mum passed down from when I was homeschooled! I guess they can go in that empty box on top.

I’ve been eyeing up storage solutions that could be used as a workbox system, but they are all so expensive. This week I found some cheap £2 boxes in Wilkinsons and realised they were just the right size to fit on our shoe rack, so the shoes have been dumped in a plastic basket instead!

At the moment we won’t always be using all the boxes or working through them in a set order, as our learning is still very informal. Our daily box setup will probably include a Bible memory verse, an activity for the weekly topic, learning some letters and a skills box. Hopefully I will get the box contents ready each evening so that we’re organised for the next day!

It’s not new, but here’s a quick photo of our reading corner. I have a thing about books facing outwards so that the covers can be easily seen. My dream solution would be rain gutter shelving, but it’s not likely to happen. A comfy beanbag and a sensory basket are on my wishlist to complete the quiet corner!

When I’ve got round to tidying up I’ll take a photo of the whole school/office room. 😉

Water cycle lapbook

At the beginning of the week we talked about sunshine. Aaron now knows the word “evaporation”, although he tends to call it “ation”! We boiled the kettle and watched the water turning into steam. He tore and cut up some yellow paper, then glued it onto a paper plate. He painted some yellow triangles to stick around the edge.

Next we talked about clouds. We tried dipping balls of cotton wool into white paint and pressing them onto blue paper to make a cloud scene, but it wasn’t very successful. The end result got turned into the sea for his lapbook.

Sticking cotton wool balls onto a cloud shape made a much more convincing cloud!

This morning we put a few drops of food colouring onto a paper plate and took it outside. As it was only raining very lightly, Aaron sprayed on some more water.

Then we did some crayon rubbings using raindrops cut out of sandpaper. Aaron couldn’t press quite hard enough, so I ended up doing most of it.

We gathered up all his crafts from the week and turned them into a water cycle lapbook. We did eventually manage to successfully “make rain” by holding a cold object above the kettle. When I tried this earlier in the week the cardboard wasn’t frozen enough. I ended up using an ice pack instead and it worked much better. So much condensed water gathered that we did have a few drops fall down!

Here’s the rainbow rice we made this morning. The red is a bit disappointing, but I was quite pleased with the other colours.

In today’s skill box…


I came across this idea of poking things into small holes to help develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills ages ago. I searched high and low for a shaker container with big enough holes in the top, but the only ones I could find were quite expensive. Then today when we were in town I found this kitchen utensil holder in Wilkinsons. It has large holes in the sides and slightly smaller holes in the base.

Tabitha didn’t manage to put any straws into the holes, but she did enjoy pulling them out.

It kept Aaron occupied for ages and when he finally lost interest he found new amusement by throwing all the straws on the floor and wallowing in them! Of course he did have to pick them all up afterwards, which wasn’t quite so much fun.

This time I caught his violin miming on camera. He’s holding the violin in the wrong place, but I thought his bowing technique was pretty good!

Aaron also noticed for the first time today that our lampshades are various different shapes (these cheap ones). He went round the house spotting triangles, square and circles. He’s known his basic shapes for quite a while now and loves to point them out, so I think we need to concentrate on some harder ones. Unfortunately there aren’t as many hexagons among everyday objects!

As you can probably tell, I finally have my camera back from repair. They phoned me up last week to say that it was “accidental damage” and therefore I would have to pay £23 to have it repaired, which I grudgingly agreed to. Today when I went to pick it up, the lady at Argos told me that it was the USB cable that was faulty, not the camera, so they had replaced that. I didn’t even have to pay, which was a very pleasant surprise!