discovery-based learning

sparkle love

alabama toast

alabama toast

alabama toast

Making Alabama Toast

"Let's listen to a Parkle Tory!" 

Other than "I'm hungry," Finn's linguistically idiosyncratic way of asking for a Sparkle Story is one of the most common requests from his mouth. 

Our family loves the three story lines that we've been subscribing to for the past four months: Martin and Sylvia, Martin and Sylvia At Home, and Junkyard Tales. The stories are so down-to-earth, yet so rich in content, and always wholesome and entertaining. 

Martin and Sylvia are a five and seven year-old sibling pair whose seemingly mundane adventures reflect the experiences of many young ones. They are not charicatures; each child has difficulties to overcome, lessons to learn, and charming personality quirks. Martin and Sylvia's parents, however, are a rockstar team - and I really appreciate this! I can't tell you how many times we have used a parenting trick of theirs in a not-so-easy situation. Finn recognizes these tricks, too, and usually cheerfully says, "Oh! Just like Martin and Sylvia!" Score. 

We listen to the stories in the car and at home - often while preparing a meal or doing an art project. Sometimes, Finn will request to listen to a story while curled up in a window seat, watching the birds at the feeder. Perfect for a bit of quiet time. I love thinking about how his imagination is working to construct the characters and set. What a fantastic mental exercise - like reading Harry Potter before the movies came out, you know?

Do you have Sparkle Stories? Any other favorite audio books? 

starting on the homeschooling journey

homeschooling and games

homeschooling and games

That, my friends, is Finn's first legible letter. With all the hoopla and busyness that occurs every day at our writing center, his interest in all things letters and words has blossomed into a passion. It's time.

Time for me to start doing a little bit of planning, time for me to organize all of the learning materials that I collected while teaching 3-6 year old in that one-room Montessori schoolhouse in Mexico, time for a little daily activity - playful-yet-planned - to guide him down the path to literacy.

A year or so ago, I wasn't so sure that I would take proactive steps to help him to read. I very much believe that learning must come from a place of joy, curiosity, and intrinsic motivation. At two-and-a-half, Finn showed no interest in letter games and such. I was fine with following his lead, even exploring a more Waldorf-ian, later reading pace with him. I still think that is a wonderful approach for many children.

But my boy is intense and passionate about most everything. He's into it, and I will follow his lead. The more I think about it, the more I know that using games and fun activities to teach phonics and sight words is the right approach for him. The more "unconscious" he can be about learning to read, in the same way that a young child absorbs his mother tongue without effort, the less frustration he'll have down the road.

Although I have my graduate degree in Montessori education, a whole slew of handwritten curricula "albums," as well as experience teaching in a classroom, teaching my own child is a different ballgame. I've found that most of the Montessori materials are far out of my budget range, plus I'm running a business so I don't have time to make all of the traditional Montessori materials by hand (although I do have a good number that I made back when I was teaching (and before I had my own babies!) Plus, learning at home (at least in my home) is much less formal than it would be in a classroom setting. 

I felt a little lost with where and how to begin. And I'm trained in this stuff! It was all just a bit overwhelming. Until, one fortuitous day, John of Montessori At Home contacted me about using one of my photos in the next edition of his e-book. Why yes, of course, and oh my - what is this book?! He sent me a copy and I breathed a sigh of relief. Here it is. For all of you wondering how the heck to implement Montessori in the home, either in a homeschool or as a supplement to classroom learning, this is a real jewel. It's packed with sequential learning activities, it's organized, and it's not overwhelming. John, a former teacher and administrator himself, tells it to you straight. The activities are home-centered, the materials are easy to find, and he lets you know what you don't need to buy, as well as what materias are truly useful in a home setting.

Unlike How To Raise An Amazing Child the Montessori Way, which is a great introduction to Montessori for parents of young children, Montessori At Home is an organized curriculum for the 2-6 year-old.

Speaking of other Montessori parenting books, did you notice that two of my boys are on the cover of Learning Together: What Montessori Can Offer Your Family? As far as I can tell, it's only available in the UK, and I don't yet have my hands on a copy. A few more of my photos are used inside the book as well. How fun! Check out this review at How We Montessori.


Photo by How We Montessori




a few of our favorite toys (& a giveaway!)


We're outside a lot. Outside or in the kitchen. There are quiet, inside moments spattered throughout our days, though. I've been collecting a handful of fun games and activities to have on hand during such moments - educational toys, mostly, and a few fun board games (more on our favorite board games for three year olds in another post!)

Finn will spend a lot of time hammering shapes, making cars, trains, trees, etc. out of said shapes with this Haba Hammering set that I had in a closet for a while, just waiting for him to get old enough to try it out. It's certainly his favorite quite time activity (other than writing letters!) The recommended age is 4+ years, but, as you can see, this barely three year-old loves it, and it provides a fine motor challenge that's perfect for him.


It comes with examples of designs you can make with the shapes, but he prefers to go his own way. I think that spacial challenge would be a little much for him at this point in his development. 


I was pretty thrilled when For Small Hands (the Montessori-in-the-home division of classroom-focused Montessori Services) contacted me about reviewing a few of their products from time to time. They are one of my go-to educational kid stuff sources. They sent me Pattern Play, seen below, and Finn gave it a whirl.

pattern play

I was totally into this. It really is my kind of game - I always loved the visual/spacial stuff as a kid (no wonder I ended up designing sewing patterns!) and Finn enjoyed it, too. 

pattern play

Pattern Play (item #Y202) comes with a bunch of wooden blocks in various cuts, as well as a square tray. The most compelling part about it is the 20-something design cards that accompany the material. They are numbered by difficulty, so you can put out one or two cards during a play session for inspiration.

pattern play

Finn tried to work with the first image for a while, but was pulled away by the possibilities of making three dimensional structures with the blocks. He had a lot of fun.

pattern play

He's asked to play with this several times since, and it's been a great open-ended material for him. Sometimes he works with a card, sometimes not. The cards are still a little difficult for him right now (the box states that it's for ages 3-6) but I'm curious how that will evolve this year as his ability in this area is rapidly changing. All of a sudden, he's painting shapes, writing scribbles that look more and more like actual writing, etc. It's fun to watch! Also, I think the possibilities for this material extend far beyond age 6. As I said before, this 31 year-old loved playing with it! I've been meaning to do this activity with him to give him some extra "play" with spacial critical thinking. 

For Small Hands is giving away Pattern Play to one of YOU! Leave a comment to enter - I'll draw a winner on Monday, May 21st. Good luck!

Comments are closed. Congratulations to Catherine who said: Looks very fun. My five year olds would love this challenge. Thanks!




Sheep! Seventy of them. The boys and I had a grand time at Stoney Mountain Farm during their sheep shearing festivities. The gracious owners opened their home to a good bunch of people, offering entertainment in the way of wool harvesting and sustenance in the form of a tasty home-cooked lunch.




Having never seen a sheep get shorn before, I was amazed at how accommodating and docile the animals were through the ordeal. Look at the adoring eyes of that sheep up there! He looked like he was getting a spa treatment. 






In preparation for the big shearing day, I checked out some shearing-related books from the library. Pelle's New Suit will have to be added to our own collection. Not only does Finn adore the book, but he looks exactly like Pelle. Who knew? The boy with just a drop of Swedish blood in him (there's more Mexican in there than Swedish) would come out looking like the spittin' image of a turn-of-the-century Swedish boy. 


In addition to Pelle's New Suit , we've also enjoyed Feeding the Sheep and Weaving the Rainbow - all of which are about the process of shearing the sheep, making yarn, and then weaving or knitting clothing from the sheep's wool. 



We've been shearing some of our own sheep right in our living room. I love observing how new experiences come out in imaginative play, and how they are understood and written in the memory of a child through prolonged and repetitive play or games. 

Do you have a local farm that makes an event of shearing day?

baby rain pants


There's no such thing as bad weather - only bad clothes.

Very true. Since moving to our house in the country this past summer, we spend so much time exploring and working our land. Early morning is a favorite time to be outside; watching the sun rise, noticing the dew collect in the cup of a leaf, searching for frogs in our small pond. 

I already knew the importance of dressing children in layers of long johns if the weather is even slightly cool, but somehow I didn't figure out until this year the paramount importance of rain pants. 


Finn has had his pair since Fall (they're from REI) and they are our most-used piece of clothing. Even if it's not raining, the grass is damp in the morning, and there's always a puddle to explore. Rain pants give us the freedom to let him explore without a litany of parental cautions, most of which focus on our desire to keep him dry (because we know that clothes are washable, but we also know that being wet can be very uncomfortable and can spoil any well-intentioned nature walk.)


But what about Mr. Red-headed Crawly McCutie Pie? The REI pants only went down to a size 2T.

I needed to make him some pants - he needed them more than anyone, because he's always crawling and sitting on the damp earth. But rain pants require fancy material. You can't get it at your local fabric store, and you can't get it in most fancy quilt/fashion fabric online store, either. You can't use oilcloth or laminated cotton for rain pants (nor should you for kids' raincoats, as the material is not breathable.)

After a long search, I found what I was looking for! Waterproof, breathable fabric that is easy to sew. Now you can turn any pants pattern into rain pants. You can get it at The Rain Shed, an outdoor fabric specialty store. I used item #3388, 40 dernier ripstop 3-layer. 


You can use any basic, elastic-waisted pants pattern, although I like a design that also has elastic or velcro at the ankles to keep them snug against the body. Make sure you size up a bit, too, as these are meant to be an outer layer, worn over other pants.DSC_2662_4559

It's nice to be able to get right down there with them (I have rain pants, too) and not worry about soggy jeans. Just need to make a pair for Patrick, and we're all set!


Wow. I'm feeling so appreciative of your enthusiastic response to the fabric kits! I'm so glad that they're something that you'll find useful. I truly love sourcing fabric and putting together the kits - it's become one of my favorite parts of my job! Thanks again, friends.







This moment was perfect. Last week, as the sun rose and peeked through my bedroom windows, Finn found a special vial of bubbles from our local science museum. They are unpoppable. What's more magical than that? (And yes, the bedroom is still halfway painted and it's been that way since the weekend we moved in! Must get to that before the boys grow up.)

I can't find a recipe for unpoppable bubbles, though - do any of you know one? Our little vial is sure to run out pretty quickly!

Here's a recipe for bouncing bubbles that looks fun, though. 

Wishing you a fun weekend! I'll be finishing up Lachlan's birthday doll and hosting family that is coming in for the weekend to celebrate his upcoming birthday. Back on Tuesday with a one year-old!

on a rainy day

Thank you for your well-wishes for my dear Dad. His recovery is moving along steadily, and we hope he'll be out of the hospital by Thursday.

on a rainy day

We've had a handful of rainy days this past week, and that, coupled with some runny noses and persistent coughs, has kept all of us inside and mellow. 

Finn wrote a story the other day, which he dictated to Patrick. As they read it over together, Finn made edits. Love that. Patrick has fond memories of doing this same activity with his mother when he was a wee one.

We tend to use the light tray on dreary days; this time I put a plastic bin on top and let him loose with paint.

on a rainy day

on a rainy day

on a rainy day

The best part was print-making, according to Finn. Just put a piece of paper on top of the paint and smoosh, then lift it up. 

on a rainy day

We also used the light tray and plastic bin to do a float/sink experiment with household objects. Finn filled the bin with water (using a pitcher and going back and forth to the sink) and then we gathered the following in a bowl: crayon, ball of clay, apple, wooden egg, spatula, cookie cutter, plastic whale, clay formed into a boat, an almond, a bean, a pumpkin seed, a measuring cup, and a few other things I'm forgetting. Before Finn placed each item in the water, we formed hypotheses and dicussed the results. He was most impressed that the bean sunk while the pumpkin seed floated.

on a rainy day

I'm most impressed that he is writing stories and forming hypotheses. Wasn't it just two days ago that he was just starting to crawl across rooms? Before long, these boys of mine will be four and six, and my life will be totally different than it is now.

For now, you must excuse me - I have to sweep the floor yet again because something major happened this week (aside from my Dad's surgery). Yes. Lachlan is on the MOVE. And putting everything in his mouth. Lachlan is rather pleased, and I'm pleased for him. I must say, however, that I have just a dash of pity for my broom-weilding self, knowing that he'll only get faster. 

And with the snap of my fingers, the stay-put baby stage is over and a new one has begun! 

poet's walk









*This is Finn's first photgraph. It was very intentional - he wanted to take a picture of his prized digging stick. I think I'll print it off and frame it for him.*





Although there is frost on the lawn and the wood stove is crackling this morning, most days have been rather warm. Instead of bemoaning the nearly warm breeze (which I hate, being a mountain girl, and Patrick loves, being a Florida boy) the boys and I have taken to the trails, minus the long johns, jackets and hats. 

Wherever we go on our nature walks, we seem to end up at the river - donning rain boots for wading and mud play. This particular day found us at Ayr Mount on the Poet's Walk. We "wrote" poems, smelled the herb garden, and did a lot of digging. 

Hiking with small fries can be honey-dripping-slow, but I notice so much more when I'm with them. 

Happy weekending to you.

things we do after nap :: smorgasbord

things we do after nap

Playing with ice.

things we do after nap

Mixing colors (with eye droppers and pouring) on the light panel.

things we do after nap

Making warm softdough. We also made flubber the other week. I would love to find a natural source of clay for further "sculpting" play.

things we do after nap

things we do after nap

Stained glass with contact paper and tissue paper.

things we do after nap

Doll play.

things we do after nap

Sensorial table with insta-snow, styrofoam balls, and other containers for mixing and pouring. 

I really enjoyed taking the time to document and share some of the fun things we do around here in the afternoons, and I'm grateful that, as a community, we've created a library of ideas via the Things We Do After Nap flickr gallery. I'll continue to add photos to the pool, and I hope you do too.

Warm wishes for a festive weekend!

things we do after nap :: watercolor leaves

watercolor leaves

fun activity afternoons

fun activity afternoons

On one of my more recent finds at Discount School Supply was this pack of watercolor leaves. They aren't watercolor paper. I'd say that they are made of the same stuff as coffee filters. I've done something similar with the coffee filters and they work great. 

I pulled out some spray bottles, small dishes with brushes, and the bingo bottles, along with red, yellow, and green liquid watercolors. The plastic sensory bin and a laminated cotton fabric "splat mat" helped contain any wayward spray. Finn is usually amenable to keeping his mess in the designated area, although many children would experience more freedom of play (read: spraying colored water everywhere!) if this activity was done outside. 

Then we started spraying, brushing, and dabbing ... watching the paints creep together and the colors mix. We dried the leaves on newsprint on another table, then hung them behind our dining room table. 

Some of you have asked where I get my ideas for these projects. While some of them (painting the sky) just came out of my head, most days I rely on the huge wealth of ideas online to put together a project. Here are some of my favorite places to look:

Play At Home Mom - Reggio-inspired play exploration.

Teacher Tom - Lots of tinkering and child-led activities.

Filth Wizardry - So many ideas, I don't know where to begin.

The Artful Parent - Inspirational art projects, many ideas for babies on up.

The Crafty Crow - Compiles crafty goodness from around the web.

Childhood 101 Playopedia - Another list of good ideas sorted by age and type of activity.

There are so many more, so please share your favorite placed to find ideas in the comments!