Tuesday, July 26, 2011

M is for Magnet!

This all started when my toddler caught a glimpse of The Chipmunks on an in-flight movie. She fell in love. Hard.

She was given Chipmunk stickers and I made them into magnets so they would last longer. She played with them on a cookie sheet and loved it. Everywhere my girl went, so did the cookie sheet (in the car, to her grandparents house & nearly to bed with her). This lasted for days, and it got me thinking... how bout some more magnets- fun and educational ones?

A perfect use for this $1 book. You can find these books at the dollar store, Target dollar aisle, thrift stores or even use stickers instead of paper/books. Heck, you can even use cut out images from grocery ads and magazines.

Here's all you need:

Magnet sheets (local craft store)
*you can also use those FREE promotional magnets you get all the time (heating/cooling repair, insurance salesman, takeout number magnets, schedules). We actually used a 'save the date' magnet we were given for the Chipmunk magnets.
Spray Mount or Tacky Spray (local craft store)
This is liquid sticker. Lots of uses for this stuff.

Your images of choice and a pair of scissors.

Cut out your pictures. Place face down on surface (one you don't mind getting sticky). Spray even coat of tacky spray on cut-outs. Let sit for a couple minutes.
Stick images ( face up) on your magnet sheet. Press down to make sure they are all secure/flat. Cut around each picture. Done, you've got magnets!

Lots of things you can teach and play with these. Color matching, sorting (food verses non-food, animals) letters, phonics. These can go on fridge, magnet board/easel or travel with cookie sheet or other metal/tin case.

This was a free gift with purchase we received, a Mickey tin with stickers, pencils, sharpener.

So, I turned the stickers into magnets and added plastic magnet letters. Perfect for car ride since it has a lid, it's magnetic tin and it's smaller. I'll probably switch the magnet themes out every week for in-car play.

Also, don't be shy about asking others for those promotional magnets they no longer want. I asked family and received a pile of them fairly quickly.

I've also seen a few cute magnet play ideas that utilize real family photos and scenery. We're working on a fun one using photos and plan to give it as a gift soon.

There are many options and possibilities with this project. It's cheap, easy, takes little time and it's super fun to teach/play with.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Maxin' and Relaxin'...Favorites!

So, I've been asked to start a series called 'Favorites'.  Favorite mom/me things and favorite family/toddler things. Since I normally focus so much on toddler, I thought I would switch it up a bit and go first.

I like CALM. I like de-stressing. I like BATHS.

Here's a shot of my favorite area in our house. It wasn't exactly this straight/neat before I took the photo (dusted, removed crap that didn't belong and faced labels out)...c'mon, you know I'm a mom of a toddler- right?

This is in our bathroom corner near the tub. It's MY space. MY stuff. ALL mine. All about relaxing. Well, some of this stuff I actually use for house cleaning too (that's not so relaxing), but you get the idea.

Anyway, here are my favorite bath items. But, before I go into detail...let me assure you that while some of this stuff 'looks' expensive, it 'aint.

So, starting from the top left and working right:

A natural sea sponge. I've had this  particular one for almost 3 years. Sea sponges are great because they naturally resist bacteria/mold, have no harmful chemicals like synthetic sponges and they lather much better (saving you soap). If taken good care of, a sea sponge can last up to 10 years. For those with sensitive skin, this is great too (perfect for babies). I just love the texture and the clean smell.  Favorite place to buy from is Natural Bath and Body. You can get a sampler pack of 3 for $20 (you will want to get at least a 5-6" sponge).

-One with Nature Soap. My favorite is Dead Sea Salt Lavender. It's a $3 bar of soap from Vitacost, although you can probably find it anywhere online.  This stuff is natural, has a great lasting scent (not over powering) and lathers great.  Their entire line is nice & it's super affordable. I love to give them as gifts too, in a homemade bath themed gift basket.

-Dead Sea Mineral Bath Salt. Oh man, if you've never soaked in a mineral bath - stop reading this and do it NOW. A giant container of unscented Masada salts. $20, lasts me several months (I don't use this in every bath). Takes away aches and pains, relaxes you and exfoliates the skin..

- Pure Essential Oils. I use Plantlife brand. You can buy them separately or in a gift set. Well worth the $5 per bottle (if you buy singles). A little goes a LONG way. Some drops in the tub, in your spray bottle for cleaning, or premixed with your bath salts to add scent. I also have a mist aromatherapy diffuser that I use with them...really helps put a calm, light scent in the air. I use this in my toddlers room some nights with lavender to help her relax or eucalyptus if she has a cold.

- C Booth Oil, and Jojoba Oils. Seals in moisture and keeps you smooth/soft in bath and/or after bath. Super awesome stuff, inexpensive and natural. You can also mix in the essential scent oils if you wanted to.

- A bath candle and a back scrubber! I like Pickwick candles (a Kansas City company), but any candle is great as long as it's a relaxing scent ! For the back scrubber, I like a  good wooden one that will last! To be honest, my REAL back scrubber (aka:hubby) does the best job...hee-hee. Ewe. Sorry about that.

- Dr. Bronner's Pure Castille Soap. Saving the best for last. This is by FAR my favorite product in here. I've used this brand for years. One gallon lasts me over a year (with daily use of it). It's pure so you have to dilute it. I just refill my bottles with water and add the recommended amount of soap in. I use it for shower/bath (everyone in our family uses it), and some basic cleaning around the house. Lavender is my favorite, but I also get the smaller container in tea tree for cleaning/tub use too. We save a ton of money this way and I prefer the product, it's fantastic! They are also organic, fair trade and they do a ton of activism. The product packaging is an entertaining read too.

All of these things priced together comes out FAR cheaper than what I used to spend on bottles of shower/bath gels, multiple shampoos, scented lotions, oils, loofahs, sponges and bath salts in one year.  Not only do these products last much longer, they are natural, quality and have multiple uses outside of bath/shower as well.  

 A favorite accessory to bathtime is Natural Calm Tea. If you want to wind down proper, check this out. It's a powder magnesium nutrient drink so it dissolves in water- I drink it warm - but you can also drink it cold. I can't say enough good things about this stuff, I urge you to read the reviews and give it a try. Many of us are deficient and don't know it, thus causing a myriad of symptoms we wouldn't think could be connected. Even if you aren't deficient, it can work wonders on relaxing muscles, helping with tension, headaches and sending you off to a good nights sleep. I drink this nearly every night (with or without bath).

Lastly, not pictured in the bath item lineup is a DOVE chocolate bar. Really, any type of chocolate while you're in a bath is just fabulous (especially at the end of a very stressful day)!

What are your favorite bath/spa go-to items?

Friday, July 22, 2011

True Colors! (Montessori Knock Off)

This is kind of a Montessori Knock off idea....because I really loved this set of wood colored pencil holders (below) from Montessori Services.  $74.00.

Idea is to sort/separate colors and offer them to your child this way. Once again, a bit pricey and it didn't include crayon storage.  Plus, I shuddered  thinking about how my toddler would knock them all over in one systematic blow.

So, I looked around and found one blogger who did something similar- using small cans screwed  to a board (now, that's more like it). This image below is from MomsCraftySpace blog.  

But, this didn't include colored pencil storage.

So, here's what I came up with  to accommodate both pencils and crayons (finished product)...cost $9.

I used ...*brace yourself*...clear, plastic breast milk storage containers to hold the colored pencils on the back row. They don't say 'breast milk' on them  and they just look like standard liquid containers...right...right? What else was I going to use them for?

I also used Delmonte metal fruit cups (my hubby likes these in his lunch) for the crayons in the front row. Yes, I was impatient & dumped 4 into a large Tupperware at once...I couldn't wait for my husband to bring each one home empty! You gotta do what you gotta do. Plus, when I have a project on my mind...look out! I cleaned them out, used WD40 to remove the sticker residue & then I spray painted them.

I had many of the spray paint colors already, but had to buy 3 at $3 each (short cut bottles). I applied about two coats each. After they dried I sealed with a glossy clear acrylic spray. Any friends need some spray paint, let me know!

I had a leftover board from the craft room shelving that fit perfectly. I super glued the clear containers on with Fusion (that stuff is strong). I like it because it's a non-foam glue and dries clear. I screwed the metal cans on, two short screws per can. I also placed colored sticks between each can. The sticks aren't glued on... it's just fun for my girl to match them with the cans.

Another idea for the crayon storage would be to use lids from spray paint cans. They are already colored and are about the right size. You might be able to snag them for free from painting companies or hardware stores. I love this recycling idea. You could also use larger cans to hold the colored pencils too. Lots of options!

While we're talkin' bout color. Here's a tray activity we did recently. Using water droppers to color water and transfer water. The biggest part was learning how the dropper picks up water and also releases it with the same squeezing motion. This took a few times for her to master because she was so excited that she just wanted to stir.

Another fun and easy one is a color sort, fine motor. Picking up colored beads and putting them in the coordinating mini-basket. Plastic chip/dip tray and dollar store baskets/beads.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Buggin' Out!

So, this is the best $2.00 I've spent all summer (Dollar Store bug catcher with bowl tongs)!

We're getting lots of use out of it. We found these two  by our hostas. Easy to scoop them since they were 'pre-occupied'...yeesh!

I like to 'opportunity teach'. When an opportunity comes up, I try to expand upon it by grabbing relevant/matching items- right on the spot. I really don't plan these types of things in advance. Heck, this entire activity (including bug catch time), was just under an hour..then done. 

When we caught these dragonflies, I did a Google image search on  free dragonfly print outs.
This took little time, 5 minutes to find/print.We looked at our live specimens with a magnifying glass, compared/contrasted and colored.

I then found her two relevant puzzles and we played with those- spending a bit more time on the dragonflies in the puzzles (more comparing with the two live specimens).

We love the Melissa and Doug magnet puzzle. She has to use her hand/eye coordination to manipulate the magnet net to scoop each insect up.

Last week we found this furry lil' guy and did the same thing.Here's a collection of our photos on our caterpillar (now in the cocoon stage)!

p.s. I know the title of this post isn't really accurate (bugs verses insects), but I couldn't resist.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Montessori Knock-Off (Hammer Time!)

Song stuck in your head now? Go Hammer, Yo Hammer, MC Hammer...it's Hammer time!
Yea, so...this isn't about that song or MC Hammer (as cool as they both were).

I've received so many nice emails about this Montessori Knock-Off series (thank you!!).  I'm going to keep posting ideas until I run out of them. :)

Hammering is great for hand/eye coordination, it's under Practical Life in the Montessori learning approach. You can buy a hammer/clay set that looks like this from Montessori Supply for $60:

While that wooden hammer setup is nice, it's a bit pricey. I made my version for $4.

I used a dense Styrofoam cube from a local craft store ($3.99), my husbands golf tees (shhh...) and a play hammer (free).

Amazingly, you can use each  hole multiple times after you've sunk a tee in & there's no shredding or dust from this (plus you have 6 big sides to work with). I think by the time all 6 sides are exhausted, she'll be developmentally past it and ready to move on (aka: bored with it).

I personally like this method better because the tot has to hold the cube still while hitting the nail in - takes lots of concentration and coordination to do that!

You can also use clay to make your own. Here's one from United Montessori that I liked. It's using play dough in an air tight container (click link for instructions):

You could also easily make your own variation of this using golf tees as well (the real nails made me a bit nervous).

Go Hammer!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Montessori Knock-Off (Pincer Grip)

Practical Life is my favorite category under Montessori method, so much fun! 

A few days ago, under this category, we worked on fine motor skills- specifically  'pincer grip'. Pincer grip is the ability to pick up/manipulate objects using index finger and thumb. This helps the ability to hold a pencil/write.

Since we don't have a Montessori peg board (expensive), I found this cheap travel lite-brite that teaches the same thing (plus color sorting) . It was $1, it's safe (battery operated) and it's fun to see light up! I think this will get a few more years of use over a simple peg board too! 

It took my girl a few rounds of practicing (and some frustration) before she had it mastered. Now, this has become her favorite thing to do near bedtime.

Another thing we worked with were a pair of tongs. We had cherries that needed to be washed before snack time, so we used those. The activity was to transfer the cherries from the bowl of water to the dry bowl, using the tongs. This was a bit of a struggle for her, but after several attempts she was able to get a couple (she was so excited!).

This tong exercise was a bit easier for her, since we used cotton balls (they stick together making large clumps).  I keep this in our master bath (keeps her busy for a few minutes while I shower). She transfers the cotton balls around between each compartment.

If you read this bog, by now you know my affinity for buying things on the cheap for stuff like this. This hawaii wood bowl was only $1.50 at a thrift store (SEE, SEE!)

Your local thrift stores have all sorts of sectioned bowls & trays for cheap (and baskets too). No need to buy them from a Montessori supply.

There are so many great resources available online showing you how to develop and strengthen pincer grasp via different activities/games. Here's a great list by  Therapy Street Kids:

Pinch strengthening and control  
  • Tongs, tweezers, connected chop sticks, strawberry hullers: use these to pick up small objects for sorting, such as beads, marbles, beans, pompoms and cotton balls.
  • corn cob holders, toothpicks or large push pins (thumb tacks): Place a picture over a sheet of craft foam or cork board (or trivet). Then use the push pin or corn cob prongs to punch holes along the lines of a picture. Hold it up to let the light shine through.
  • place coins or bingo chips in narrow slots; a piggy bank is perfect, Connect Four game
  • eye droppers: make colorful dribble art creations by placing drops of colored water on a paper towel or coffee filter
  • spinning tops
  • geoboards: make shapes and letters using rubber bands on geoboards
  • pick-up sticks, Jenga, Don't Spill the Beanswind up toys
  • pegboard activities
  • Tiddly winks games, Ants in the Pants
  • Tong games: Operation, Crocodile Dentist, Bedbugs
  • Ziploc bags: encourage using fingertips to press and seal
  • Buttoning, snapping
  • pop beads
  • stringing beads
  • peel stamps and stickers
  • crumple small bits of tissue paper using fingertips, dip in glue and paste onto a paper plate or paper to make a flower bouquet
  • tear small pieces of paper with finger tips and paste them onto a sheet of paper to make a picture
  • Push a toothpick point into a Styrofoam tray or plate, or in aluminum foil placed over craft foam or cork board to make a picture.
  • Dress up dolls: requires a surprising amount of hand strength and endurance
  • Clothespins (open them and clamp them around edge of bowl)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Montessori Knock-Off (Sand Play)

This is an update/addition to my previous post Montessori Knock-Off, which listed other ways to create Montessori type learning activities on the cheap  (or free).

Here's another one we did recently (outside). Sand play!

A tray to keep the spills 'contained', dollar store funnels, small strainer, see-thru Tupperware container, small container to pour with & SAND.  You can use just about any containers you have really, as long as they are see-thru.

We also used our  'root viewer' to play with (the test tube looking thingies in the wooden holder).

You get the idea from the pictures on how this was used. This was a 30 minute activity and it left her wanting more when playtime was over. She was fascinated with the disappearing sand and the process of transferring it on her own.

To start her off, I demonstrate an action for her. Then I ask her to try it on her own and congratulate/encourage when she does. I then let her continue play without any instruction, unless she asks for help.

It was fun to watch her figure out different things on her own and variations of what we did together.

Now BEWARE, there's a reason  we did this activity outside. So, it turns out...the tray doesn't actually contain all the spills.