So those interwebs are a mixed blessing, but they are certainly a boon to anyone who makes anything by hand because there are a lot of really talented generous folk out there who make cool stuff and then post tutorials. This post is a general homage to them by way of a big shout out thank you to Amy of amyalamode.com who graciously posted a very detailed and also flexible tutorial (http://www.amyalamode.com/blog/2010/04/04/laptop-sleeve-tutorial/) on how to make laptop sleeves.

The outer layer of mine is a patchwork of cotton print scraps, the padding is from a felted old wool sweater, and the inner lining is some PUL that I had left over from making diapers. Kam snaps are from the same diaper making era. The PUL (polyurethane laminate on polyester knit) is waterproof, which doesn’t make the bag waterproof, but does give the computer a fighting chance against accidental spills.

The back is roughly the same.

And a view of the inside and the snaps.

It is exactly what I needed. Thanks again, Amy!

The sun was out in force today, and the accumulated snow on the old rock wall at the top of the village was no match for it. We took a walk up and did some careful looking and touching.

Scaly lichens and chenille mosses.

Tiny ferns.

Rocks rolled up like cinnamon buns.

Even a tiny wasp nest in a crevice.

The more we looked, the more we found.

We found one small chunk that had been knocked loose so we brought it back with us to start a moss garden. We also brought some soil from the road and a big flat rock, as we observed that that was how the rest of it seemed to be growing.

All in all, a wonderful sunny expedition.

Winter has come

The calendar tells us that winter is will not be here for another month and a half, but we have been preparing for it for some weeks now, here in the village, and this week, the snow began to fall.

Two weeks ago, we discussed the new season, and the children wove a new mat for their nature table, where they place treasures that they find outside. We went to the discarded clothing bins and the children chose items that reminded them of winter things like ice, snow, dead grass, and branches without leaves. Then we cut and tore long strips and the children took turns helping to weave them onto the warp. Old t-shirts, leftover yarn, and scraps of fabric, welcome to your new life as a beautiful weaving!


I am fairly certain that new technologies are anathema to many purist Montessori types. I am also pretty sure that Maria herself would probably have been less dogmatic about the whole thing. I have been using what I believe to be a great new tool and I wanted to share how I have incorporated this technology into my presentation sequence.

I do not believe that this app replaces the tools I already have. I do believe that it is an engaging way for a child to practice and reinforce what they have already learned. I think that is fits nicely into a modern Montessori classroom because it fits the following criteria.
1) It is self correcting i.e. the child must get the letters correct or the program will not allow them to go on, although after three incorrect attempts at a letter, the app will help.
2) As closely as is possible in a virtual format, the app follows Montessori principles, such as the three period lesson, clean and attractive aesthetic presentation, no external rewards; just the satisfaction of getting the correct answer.
3) The designer has taken care to match traditional Montessori colours and fonts and so the look of the app is immediately familiar to a child who has already worked with the concrete manipulatives.

The child I have been working with on this most recent presentation is four years old. She knows her letters, and has been working with sound pouches, a moveable alphabet, and has started practicing printing words that she has spelled with the moveable alphabet (we use felt letters). This week’s words were chosen by picking one word that seemed ” Hallowe’eny” and then brainstorming with friends to think of all the words that rhymed and seemed thematically linked. We then cut out felt shapes to represent each word, and she spelled them with her moveable alphabet, sounding out the individual letters as she went.

From this practice, we moved on to the app on the iPad. I like using this device because the screen is big enough that the letters are big. I also believe that the direct cause and effect feel of a touch screen is much more developmentally appropriate for a preschool age child than a mouse. Also, in keeping with the idea that children should work in whatever position is physically comfortable for them, the children can work with an iPad at a table, in a chair, or lying on the floor.

The company, Montessorium, has a number of apps which all look good. The one we are using in this sequence is the alphawriter which you can check out here:


It has four parts. In the first, called simply “phonetics”, the child is presented with a screen which has a picture of an object, a moveable alphabet across the top, and grey rectangles below the picture; one for each letter in the word. The app clearly says the name of the object once, then repeats it slowly by sounding out each constituent letter. If the child touches the image, the name is repeated. If the child moves a letter, the app makes the sound of the letter. If the grey rectangles are touched, the app makes the sound of the letter that belongs in that spot. When the child moves all the correct letters into position, they are presented with a new object.

I worked with the child, as you would with any new manipulative, showing what all the buttons did, demonstrating, and then watching as she tried it. She loves using it and was doing so proficiently by the second word. Two advantages it has over the real moveable alphabet is that the letters make their correct sound when tapped if the child is uncertain about the sound, and also, it won’t allow her to spell the word incorrectly. Because she had already used both the real letters and the virtual platform successfully with an adult, the child was comfortable practicing spelling alone, and was happily engaged while I worked with a younger child on a different activity.

The app also has a kind of word sound “I spy” game, which has proved popular, a phonogram section which some of the older children are working with, and a creative storyboard section that allows the children to make a picture with the objects that they have been naming, and add words to it with a moveable alphabet. Of course, the story that the child probably has in their head is much more complicated than anything they will conceivably write at this stage, and so I think that after the child has finished and saved their story, it is good to have them dictate the longer narrative to the teacher and have that saved along with their work.
For example, she chose not to add letters to this storyboard but had an elaborate story to go with the picture, and very much wanted to have her story with her picture so that she could keep it somewhere.

“There was a nut tree by an ant drinking late night tea, and under the ant was the moon, waiting for sunlight to come so it could go home. Meanwhile, under the moon and the ant were lots of animals drinking late night tea, just like the ant, and they loved and loved to live there, but they did not like to live under the moon and the ant. They wanted to live on top of the moon and the ant. Meanwhile, fish lived under all the animals, except a goat who lived with the fish. One night the fish could not reach his tea. All the animals could not survive without food and water, so they dug a hole up to the top of the ground and then jumped above the moon and the ant and lived happily ever after. The end.”

Thank you, Montessorium, for a great app!


This week has been all about buttons. It started with the reading of a Frog and Toad story about losing a button. At the end of the story, all the buttons that they find get sewn on a jacket to decorate it, which the kids thought was a great idea. So we went on a button hunt and found lots of great buttons. Then we sorted them. And we practiced counting with them. And then we decided to learn how to sew on a button so we made buttons out of felted sweater cloth and practiced sewing with a yarn needle. Then we decided to share our button fever with the elementary school students so we invited them to have a button tea with us, and we made cookies. Finally, we searched through our little library and found lots of great stories about buttons. These two and a button rhyme were our favorites. I wonder what next week’s impromptu theme will be?

I love the golden bead material and the kids are likewise drawn to it.  I have seen a lot of people using plastic grids to make the squares, and I may yet resort to this for the big cube but for the squares, I wanted to try doing something with the wires that I was already using so that the construction of the square wouldn’t be visually distracting.  The following is my attempt to share what I did.  Apologies for the low quality pictures; my camera has gone AWOL and I’m using my ipad camera for everything.

To make the 100 bead square you need 100 golden beads, twelve eye pins, and two pieces of thinner wire that are about a third again as long as your eye pins.  Start by making 80 of the beads into ten bars and set these aside.  It will make assembly easier if the ten bars aren’t super tight.  A couple millimeters of play is ideal.


Next, take three eye pins, and ten beads.  Take one eye pin and slide one bead onto it.  Then, thread a second eye pin onto the first.  Follow with eight more beads on the original eye pin, then add the third eye pin to the first and then the final bead.  You should have something that looks like this.


Cut the end of the first eye pin about a bead length away from the last bead and use pliers to roll the end around so that it makes another eye.  Try to leave a little play in the beads, maybe a couple of millimeters, so that you have space to do the next step.

Cut two lengths of wire that are about a thirds again as long as the eye pins.  Ideally they would be the same colour as the eye pins, but I had silver on hand so I used it.



Take one thin wire and wrap it tightly around the original wire at the same place that the second eye pin intersects it.  I wrapped it about three times and then tucked the little poky end in with the pliers.  Bend the thin wire up and to the left slightly and repeat with the other thin wire at the place where the third eye pin joined the original.  You should end up with something like this.


Now grab one of the ten bead bars that you already made and lay it on top of the horizontal eye pins under the thin wire and as close to the first beads as you can manage (which isn’t really the case in the picture below.  I think I was trying to show where all the wires were).


The next step is wrapping the thin wire over the second bead bar and then wrapping it once around the eye pin that it is sitting on.  Pull it tight and it will pull the bars close together.  The horizontal eye pin should slip between the first and second bead.


Repeat this step with the other seven pre assembled bead bars.

Using another bead as measurement, cut the horizontal bead bars with about a bead and a half of length past the last bead bar that you have added.  You may need to make it shorter.



Use your pliers to make an eye loop at the end of each of the horizontal eye pins.  Take your final eye pin, thread one bead on it and slide it through the loop you have just made. Then thread eight more beads onto the last eye pin.



Slide the end of the eye pin through the second loop and put the final bead on it.  Cut the eye pin and make a loop.  Wrap the wires around the final eye pin as you did at the beginning, cut the excess, and tuck in the ends.  Et voila!


Well I finally took the plunge and decided to make bead material.  For those  of you who aren’t familiar with Montessori, these beads are important to the math curriculum. I found these great wooden beads at Fire Mountain Gems and beads, thanks to Stephanie of ImagineOurLife for the tip. I bought the 6 mm wooden waxed beads and have been threading them onto the gold plated brass eye pins that they sell by the 100 pack. I got one package of each of the short bead stair colours, black, white, light grey, dark grey, and a lot of gold. I bought three packages of eye pins (21 gauge) but I will need to buy another pack to finish the 1000 golden bead cube. They give you two 16 inch strands per package, which works out to about 130 beads. The whole thing, including shipping, cost me about $103. I have enough to make at least: seven complete sets of the short bead stair image the short chains for each colour (my son wants photo and bead arranging credit for this one.) image bead squares for all colours up to and including 6 image three black and white bead stairs image three negative grey bead stairs


all the golden decimal material


(45 ten bead bars, 9 single beads, 9 one hundred bead squares, and 1 thousand bead cube) and a bunch of random extra beads of various colours. So not everything that exists in Montessori bead world but a pretty decent start.

I like that they are wooden, and the paint is non toxic. They are waxed, and so they are shiny once you start handling them. They are not all exactly the same size, but I like the slight variation. If you are adamant that the square be a real square, though, these are not the beads for you.

The eye pins made my life much easier. They are stiff enough to hold the bars straight. I used the 3 inch ones and saved the pieces I cut off to make the shorter bars and to make jump rings for the chains. I also used them to stabilize the squares and the cubes. I know that a lot of people have had good success using plastic grids for that, but I don’t love how they look. I will do another tutorial post of how to make the 100 squares without the grids.

We aren’t completely done yet, but my seven year old has been really helpful with making the eye loops with jewelry pliers on the bead bars once they are done, and the little ones have been having a good time counting the beads onto the eye pins for me. I was sort of dreading this project but it is actually going quite quickly.

Autumn has rolled around yet again, bringing with it school, crisp nights, beautiful colours, and cool days that inspire baking!  One of our recent forays into the world of baking is the making of challah.  We used Peter Reinhart’s recipe.  I am a fan of Peter and challah; the latter since my introduction to it when my friend, Naomi, had me over for Shabbat.


Turns out that challah is a perfect activity for little hands.  The dough is soft and somewhat sweet.  It is easy to roll and all the little ones got to try their hand at braiding.  The braids “heal” all the mistakes and imperfections as they rise and bake, making for a very proud little bunch of bakers when the loaves finallly emerge from the oven.


It was bound to happen sometime.  I started in public school, moved to private, wandered through Waldorf, and now I have started training for Montessori ages 3-6.   One of the many things I have learned so far is that the Montessori curriculum is heavily dependent on materials and those materials are very expensive to buy.  This is somewhat ironic to me as the first Montessori schools were with kids in housing projects and Maria Montessori and her untrained assistants made most of their own materials and used things that were easily accessible, like empty wooden spools.  Fortunately, there are lots of online resources for making your own, and much of that information is free.  In the spirit of that, I will try to add anything that I do to help others.  This post is named as a nod to one blog I have already received lots of help from; Making Montessori Ours, and I’ll take the opportunity to add a shout out to another I’ve been gleaning lots of great ideas from:  A Handmade Childhood.

I started with the Color Boxes.  After surveying the many creative options out there, I decided to make mine out of wood (fir) and then paint them with leftover house paint.  I chose house paint because it is safe for little people and basically free in the amounts required for a project like this.  I have been collecting almost empty cans from other people’s painting projects.  Color Box 3 involves 9 colours; 7 shades of each of the colours, so I have painted the first one of each colour undiluted and then added small amounts of white paint and mixed right in the can until the very palest shade is achieved.

We used scraps of wood and taped the ends off after sanding them smooth and then painted one coat of paint on the tops and sides.



While I was painting, I was concerned that the shades were too similar, but when they were dry, I found that it was pretty obvious when they were out of order and when they were correct.



I only did one coat because I like the wood grain showing through.  My four and six year old testers approve.  Passing adults arrange them too; they are kind of like visual candy.

Next up, pink tower and brown stair!

A poem for my friend Jess.

Snow soaked clouds flow over a rocky basin like cold honey from an overfilled mason jar,
wave whipped willows luff in a spring swollen lake,
driftwood stump a pirate ship for monkeys,
ponderosas defying one last snowfall dress in spring’s freshest green,
presumptuous pit bulls escort beer laden teens through jetsam laden with cigarette butts,
sifted handfuls of beach yield silky shards of malachite.