Monday, September 15, 2014

The Best Laid Plans...

When I started homeschooling a few months ago, I had many expectations as to how my days would go. I started out with plans and page numbers and projects and supplies. I'm sure that for some people the planning would have been successful, but not for us. Structure does not work for us.

The more structure I try to put into our days, the more difficult they become. Allowing my children to lead has been far more productive.

For instance, last week my older daughter had a fantastic week. She was slamming through the math workbook and her Draw, Write, Now book. She did a few pink series exercises and we did some really fantastic reading together. This week it's like I have an entirely different child! She doesn't want to sit down and work at all. I settled for having her sharpen her box of colored pencils today. My younger child is just the opposite, for weeks now she's been playing when we work and ignoring my nicely laid out Montessori shelves. Over the past week, she's blossomed. She did the pink tower, sandpaper numbers 0-2, and every single one of the Melissa and Doug tangram one sitting! She's loving it!

I think that structure doesn't work because this is not school, there are not 15 other children to set and follow examples. We don't have a set start time. We don't have a set recess time. We start when everyone is awake and fed and after morning "chores" have been completed. Today it was 11, some days it's closer to 9, sometimes if I know the weather will turn in the afternoon we just go outside all morning and worry about school in the afternoon. If my daughter starts an art project and loves it, she is free to continue with it for as long as she pleases (which sometimes can be days!). So much for those plans and page numbers!

In the grand scheme of life, I don't think taking a few days off is going to hurt my four year old (in fact I think it might help). We may not be sticking to our plans, but we are happy and we are learning...something.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

DIY Sandpaper Numbers

I decided to make a set of sandpaper numbers for my two year old. When my older child was using the sandpaper numbers, we made them out of notecards and glitter glue. They served their purpose, but I wanted to make something more lasting this time around.

The cost to make these wass negligible, as the only item I had to buy was an eighteen inch square of balsa wood from the craft store (and I used a 40% off coupon so it was less than $2). I already had dark green spray paint and extra sandpaper lying around the garage.

Cut the wood into rectangles about 3''x4'' and sand them.
Apply one coat of spray paint and then sand again.

Apply the second coat of spray paint.

Trace and cut out numbers from the sandpaper. I used a font called MontessoriScript that I found here. I made it bold and increased the size to fit my cards.
Use glue or Modge Podge to stick the sandpaper numbers to the wood.

I'm pretty excited about how these turned out. I'm hoping they get a lot of use.

DIY Media Center

So we finally decided to upgrade some of our furniture. Ikea, we still love you, but you remind us of our college dorm rooms. We wanted to start in our main living room because it is really the centerpiece of our home. Our dream would be to purchase the Pottery Barn Printer's Media Cabinet, but let's face it....$1100 dollars, when you have two destructive children and a dog who doesn't realize quite how big she is, is too much to spend (the entire set would be closer to $4000)!

Luckily, other people have also faced this dilemma. We found some plans on Ana White's blog and decided to give it a go. This was our first attempt at furniture building.

We deviated from the plans with regards to measurement. For the boxes and the shelves we used birth ply. The doors and the trim pieces are pine. The overall length of the cabinet is 64", just like her plans. Instead of four individually constructed bases like Ana's and Pottery Barn we made one large unit with three sections. We found that if we did four sections, then our stereo/blue ray/cable box would not fit!

Finishing the cabinet was the most difficult part. If anyone says staining is easy...well, they were probably using nicer wood than birch ply! We tried to use Minwax, but we just could not get a deep rich color even after three coats. I went to our local Woodcraft store for help, and I have to recommend Woodcraft of Denver very highly. The employees were so helpful and patient with me! I showed them a picture of the Pottery Barn cabinet and they helped me to find a similarly rich color. We used Minwax water-based wood conditioner followed by two coats of General Finishes Black Cherry water-based stain. We then topped it with three coats of General Finishes gloss polyurethane, sanding after each coat.

It was very difficult to get the color even, but we did get better with practice. We live in a very dry climate and were finding that the stain was drying much faster than the can said it would. We ended up using a "wax on wax off" tactic to avoid streaking and botching. Luckily, we started with the inside of the cabinets which are not visible!

I think this cabinet turned out absolutely fantastic. Our eventual goal is to make matching bookshelves for each side as well as a hutch for the top. The total time investment for this cabinet was approximately 40 hours and the total cost was $220 plus about $50 in tools that we didn't already have (the kreg jig).

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ducky Diaper Cake

A close friend of ours is getting ready to have a baby and I had a chance to make the diaper cake for her shower. The shower theme was ponds and ducks. I found this great little inflatable ducky on Amazon and used it as the base of the cake.

I didn't feel like making the standard round diaper cake because I'm not patient enough to wind a million rubber bands. I found this tutorial for making a square diaper cake and modified it to fit onto the duck. I used two Costco-sized boxes of size 1 a lot of diapers! I think it was approximately double the number the tutorial used.

My husband cut a piece of wood and screwed a dowel rod to it. This went through the four layers of the "cake" to hold the whole thing upright. It was a really nifty and easy solution.
The coordinating ribbons are just glued around the diapers (not to the diapers), they are just there to cover the rubber bands. The horizontal ribbons hold each layer of the cake together.
I picked up a few bath-themed items to tie to the cake along with a hooded towel for the duck.

This turned out great and only took a few hours to put together.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Seed and Plant Matching

I made this great work tonight. I can't wait to show the girls in the morning! Montessori Print Shop has a number of completely free printables. I downloaded the nomenclature cards for seed and plant matching twice. I mounted them on bright yellow card stock and laminated them. They turned out beautifully, if I do say so myself!

I also used a pattern from Montessori Print Shop, here, for making a folder for my nomenclature cards. I think it turned out great as well. I don't think I'd use it for a classroom because I don't think it would last, but for our home, it's perfect!

Then, for an added task, I found most of the matching seeds (I have a massive number of seeds saved...for what? I'm not sure...). I'm going to place some plain white squares of paper in the tray and have my older daughter create a seed book by writing the names of the plants, drawing the plants and pasting the matching seeds on the page.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

DIY Montessori Felt Parts of a Tree

The girls really love them some science! I would love to purchase all of the botany puzzles and cards, but unfortunately as a homeschool family I not only can't afford them, but I also don't really have the space to store the entire set of materials. I decided to make a felt tree to stand in for the parts of a tree puzzle.

The quality of these drawings is pretty low, but I thought someone else might benefit from having the pattern ready to print. Perhaps someday when I have lots of spare time I will make higher quality patterns. I will also try to add other simple patterns as we go along. The pattern can be found here:

Please link to this page!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

DIY Montessori Pink Tower

The pink tower is such a classic montessori material that I knew we had to have it for homeschooling. It and the brown stairs were my older daughter's favorite "work" for the better part of a semester and I'm sure her sister will love it too.  We already had a set of the cardboard nesting blocks, and those are great, but they lack the weight and flexibility of the pink tower.

My husband made these for us on a Saturday afternoon. He used a scrap 4x4 that we had left over from building our house. The pink tower is made up of ascending cubes, 1cm x 1cm x 1cm up to 10cm x 10cm x 10cm. He used a combination of the table saw and the mitre saw to cut them to the right size and then sanded them.

The hardest part of this is cutting and sanding the 1 cm and 2 cm blocks. They are so tiny!

Our 'pink' tower is still the natural wood color. I think we will paint it someday, but I really like the way the raw wood looks.

Our next project will be to make the brown stairs.