Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Art Gallery Wall

If you follow me on Pinterest you'll know that I've been consumed interested in playroom design and layout for the last couple of months.  

In spite of our painting plans being postponed, we have assembled our new IKEA "Expedits" and I've spent the last couple of weeks making my husband arrange and rearrange perfecting the placement of our new furniture.

Now, while I'm not yet ready to reveal the room in its entirety, I would like to give you a little peak at a little corner I've been working on that's making me insanely happy!

After deciding on the placement of our big wall unit, I was left with a little patch of wall.  
Looking at some of my favourite pins for inspiration made me realise it would be the perfect space for the kids to hang some more of their art work.

This site proved to be my biggest inspiration, along with this pin.  While I liked the bright colours used in both of these, I wanted to keep most of ours white and add a few pops of colour (which is my design approach to the whole playroom).

I had a good hunt through all my frames and craft supplies and found a great start - two frames, some canvases, wooden letters, wooden pegs and a bit of spraypaint!

I also had this height chart picture frame that I brought years ago and have never found quite the right place for.
In all I spent about $35 on the rest - I decided to forgo the 'hello" and purchase the more appropriate "PLAY" and "create".  (These are from Spotlight but you can get similar wooden letters here.)  There were also a few boxes of crayons (I like these ones), another can of paint (a pretty yellow this time) and some of those brilliant Command hangers to stick everything to the wall.

The top frame got a coat of white paint, as did the bottom panel which is actually the original backing to a frame I converted into a cork-board for my shared boys' room makeover.  The paint is pretty patchy but as these are going to covered by the kids art most of the time I'm not too bothered.  
A pair of pegs per frame got a quick spray too, then they were hot glued onto the frames.  I'm not sure how well this will hold but for now I've been super careful when opening them to peg up our artwork. 
The wooden letters and word and the three little canvases had a quick spray, along with the little plastic animals I chose to attach.  They've been hot glued to the canvases.

The melted crayon art was fun to do.  I followed this tutorial linked to on this site and used about 4 boxes of crayons to find around four of each colour.

I had a bit more splattering of melted crayon than I expected, but that may just be because I own a pretty powerful hair-dryer!
I am really thrilled with how it's turned out.

Add in a few of the kids' artistic efforts and this little patch of bare wall has become colourful, creative, functional art gallery for my budding Monet, Raphael or Picasso.
How do you display your children's artwork?

Friday, 18 October 2013

Montessori Support for Preschoolers

I've written a couple of posts already about my journey into Montessori and my goals for implementing some of these strategies with my children.  

Both of these previous posts contain some of the activities I've set up for my toddler, though some of those are suitable for and have been enjoyed by my preschooler.

Today I want to focus on exactly what I'm doing to support my 4 year old who also attends a Montessori preschool five mornings a week.

Each week at preschool they focus on a particular sound in order to explore letters through phonics.  To support this at home, each week I set up a tray/basket of objects whose names start with that sound.  This basket is left on display and the children can explore the items when and if interested. 

On the recent school holidays we did a review of all the sounds encountered last term.  This was a giant treasure basket full of objects and letter cards for each sound.  The idea was to identify each object, then the sound and place it in the appropriate column.

The first time I introduced this to my preschooler he lost interest after about five items.  (His 7 year old brother finished the activity that day).  The next time we tried he nailed it.

Granted, some of the items needed explaining (infant, for example) and items starting with the 'a' sound proved to be really hard to find, except for apple.  I used aeroplane and ape anyway.  The jar full of 'air' is a stretch too.

I've introduced the concept of Homework this semester in order to establish a bit of a routine for us all and to make him more aware of the need to provide a bit of space and quiet to his older brother whilst he is completing his homework.

On Monday, we use this phonics book that came home from preschool to practice letter formation.  He likes tracing but is reluctant to do more than one letter with that support.  Colouring-in is not a favourite thing either, but he gives it a go and I'm not pushing him.

On Tuesday, we practice name writing for with a simple blank notebook, a name card and pencil.  The idea is the child starts by tracing the name card to get a feel for the shape of the letters and how to form them, then they use the card to copy the letters, then they build up to writing without it.  This week we copied for the first time.

Wednesday he usually volunteers to write his name some more, though we have a new numbers book that we've introduced this week.  We've also been looking at numbers on a Thursday by exploring the concept of "how many is" using, of all things, poker chips.

We are currently arranging up to ten with confidence and I'm planning to put together some beads in groups of ten to demonstrate numbers from 10 to 100.

I'm also making more of an effort to allow him to do tasks himself and build independence.  This is quite difficult for a control-freak like me.  

As well as things like jigsaw puzzles, I'm letting him do more household tasks himself too, such as allowing him to pour his own cereal and milk, encouraging him to dress himself- especially shoes and socks, letting him spread his own bread or crackers at lunch and to help with cutting.  I purchased a cheap egg slicer that he has been using to help me prepare strawberries and kiwifruit for afternoon tea.

I've found that these simple tasks are really boosting his confidence in himself and he just loves to be helpful.

His regular jobs of setting the table, packing away his toys and school supplies and making his bed seem to be happening easier and with more enthusiasm too.

Do you have special tasks you let your preschooler do?  I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Recipe - Pineapple and Coconut Muffins

Here's the recipe for the muffins I mentioned in my last post.

Like these ones they are gluten free, dairy free, nut free and refined sugar free. They are also SO good you may want to double the batch!

Pineapple & Coconut Muffins

1 cup of shredded coconut
2 cups of gluten free flour (if your blend does not include Xanthan gum add 1 tsp)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb soda

1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup maple syrup (or to taste)
440g tin of crushed pineapple in juice
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat your oven to 200'C.  Grease or line a 12 cup muffin pan. (I like silicon liners)

2. Spread the coconut on a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Pop in the oven until lightly toasted (about 5 minutes).

3. Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl, making sure to break up any lumps in the bicarb.  (You could sift, but I'm way too lazy!)

4. Mix together the milk, oil, vanilla, pineapple and maple syrup, if using in a separate bowl or jug.

5. Add the wet ingredients with the toasted coconut to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Spoon into the prepared muffin pan.

6. Bake at 200'C for 20-25 minutes.

7. Enjoy! 

Also delicious with a fruity little drink with fancy umbrella...

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Seasonal Envy Disorder

I'm suffering from SED- Seasonal Envy Disorder.

Hearing stories of stunningly beautiful Jacaranda blossoms heralding the spring from my friends and family living further south in Australia, not to mention getting overloaded by fall crafts and decorations on Pinterest, has got me feeling a little disenchanted with Darwin's constantly hot weather.
Sadly, here in the Top End we don't have four seasons.  European Australians have officially identified two seasons- Wet Season and Dry Season. They went all out in the creative naming stakes, huh?

The difference, aside from the amount of H2O falling from the sky, is minimal. It's still at least 30'C every day in the dry, though admittedly the air lacks it's usual stifling humidity and the nights cool off beautifully.  It's still hot every day. 

Palm trees don't change colour, there are minimal flowering shrubs and Cold? Jumper-wearing, hot-chocolate-drinking, warm-your-toes-in-front-of-the-fire Cold? Forget it! (Unless you were to go camping inland a bit in the middle of the dry. Though we weren't really that lucky.) 

Then there's the unofficial third season called Build-Up, so called because the heat and humidity just build and build and build.  Storm clouds and thunder threaten on the horizon but it never rains, just builds and builds until everyone gets a little crazy! 

The Yolngu people, the indigenous Australians from Arnhem Land, have identified six seasons in the Top End. 

In addition to the wet season proper (known as Gurnmul or Waltjarnmirri) which is January to March and the dry season (known as Dhaarratharramirri) which runs from late April to August, they have identified a further four seasons using important environmental indicators that assist in their food collection and nomadic movements.

Baarramirri (late December & January) is a short season characterised by the breaking of the wet.  Mirdawarr (late March and April) is the end of wet season with scattered showers while the air is still hot & humid.  Rarranhdharr (September & October) are hot periods towards close of the dry season.
Then there's Worlmamirri (from late October to December) meaning the 'nose of the wet season'. The nose! I just love that term.  The nose of the wet is that build up- a period of maximum heat and humidity immediately before the rain season, characterised by those violent thunder storms of increasing frequency. 
Unfortunately, the end of Term 3 holidays fall right on the nose.  A whole week at home to entertain the kids when it's too hot to go to the park or play outside after, well, 9am in my opinion. It's also too crowded and awful in shopping centers and movie theaters. So, we spent last week at home trying very hard to avoid the heat and to cool ourselves down as much as possible.
We put the garden sprinkler under the trampoline which made for some cool bouncing. Then we tried attaching the sprinkler to the top of the trampoline. Wet jumping gold!
We splashed in the spa.
And had a "tropical island" themed day.  You know how much I love a good themed day! (If not, see here, here, here and here)
Tropical Island day requires beach towels spread out in front of the television, an appropriately themed film (we chose Nim's Island), fancy drinks with umbrellas and suitable snacks.
Toenails painted like a rainbow help too. 

These are coconut and pineapple muffins served with Watermelon and mint slushies. The umbrellas are essential. 
UPDATE: Recipe for Coconut and Pineapple Muffins is now here.
As well as trying to avoid the heat, part of my SED means that I try as hard as possible to pretend that's it's not ridiculously hot.  It's not the build up, and there is no 'nose'. Last month I decorated the dining room to pretend it was spring.
This month we're getting in the spirit for Halloween, which isn't really a big deal here in Oz, but we have a bit of fun with a few little treats anyway.
So, are you lucky enough to experience the traditional four seasons? If so, which one is you favourite? Or, if you are a Darwinite (Darwinian?) do you enjoy our weather or do you pine for variety in as dysfunctional a way as me?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Simple ideas, big success

I've read so much about Montessori lately that I fear my head may explode.

What I'm finding overwhelming is not the concepts - which are in fact simple, logical and effective - but the sheer quantity of information out there.

The discovery one of site/blog leads to another, which leads to another and the simple beginning I'm looking for becomes a comprehensive-detailed-guide-to-Montessori-homeschooling...and that's all a bit much for me at the moment.

My goal is this-
  • To provide introductory activities for Rohan (21 months) which means mainly Sensory and Practical Life
  • To allow Hamish (4 1/2 years) to get a bit more of the pincer grip practice and support the phonics and number learning he's doing at preschool
  • and to provide a few open-ended topics to engage Liam (7 1/2 years) to the level that interests him.
I have found a few great sites with easy, make-it-yourself activities.  

The quick start guide in John Bowman's Montessori at Home is helpful.  If you're wanting to start out easy, like me, read pages eight and 70-72.  My advice, read the rest in small chucks to avoid feeling completely out of your depth!

Yesterday, I was lent a copy of How to Raise an Amazing Child (the Montessori way to bring up caring, confident children) by Tim Seldin.  It's a wonderfully presented, basic guide to starting out on this journey and I've found it enormously inspiring.

So, what have I done so far?

We decided to postpone the painting and set up the new Ikea shelves in the playroom in time for the school holidays. I'll post some photos soon, though you can see some in the background in the shots below - along with the enormous mess we were relocating sorting through.

Then I made a few basic activities.  I'll share these, along with age recommendations and enjoyment reviews, in a few different posts so as to spare overwhelming you lovely readers.

First up, an empty baby wipe container and some pom poms.  He opens it...
Fills it...
And does it over and over again!  Repetition is an important part of the Montessori approach.  He's building important neural pathways right here...
Hamish tried this one once.  Too easy for him!  He, and Liam were very helpful in opening the top and tipping the pom poms back into the tub for Rohan to try again, though.

The next activity is pouring.  I started with some smaller, ceramic cups but he found those impossible to grip, so we've adjusted to these Ikea cups and some popcorn.  We'll experiment with different cups as our grip and control improve.

It took a while to master.  I demonstrated - the Montessori way without talking - and showed him how to pick them up if he spills them.  The tray adds what Montessori calls 'control of error', that is, a place to catch the spills.  Accidents are not mistakes but very important parts of learning.  So too, of course, how we deal with our mistakes.  (Think I could use some practice with that!)
 Look at the absolute joy on his face after his first successful pour...
NB: I have had to pack the popcorn up high and he brings the cups to me if he wants to do this one.  He's just a bit too little to understand "Don't tip it all over the carpet, please!"

Hamish loved this one too- "It's just like at school, Mum!  So much fun!"

We've had a lot of success with simple stacking, again, just using what we had at home, not specialised equipment.  We have some size-graduated stacking blocks and cups too, but these were out and he chose to interact with them...
For Hamish and Liam, stacking is all about 1) height and 2) knocking down forcefully.

Finally, this threading activity was a hit - just a colander (this one is kid sized from an Ikea kids' kitchen set) and some pipe-cleaners...
The other two were interested in this one too.  A good concentration task.

Our playroom is open to the rest of the house, so I'm not restricting these activities to a particular "school" time.  For now I'm just keeping these on the shelf and seeing if and when they're interested in exploring them. 

Are you familiar with the Montessori philosophy?  Got any hot tips for a newbie?