rah-rah storytelling

DSC_7146 - Copy


Show Me a Story, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways ... did you recognize the stones in my calendar? Just a small tribute to what I believe to be an absolutely magnificent new book.

As a blogger, I receive the occasional catalogue of soon-to-be-published titles, and this one immediately caught my eye and I requested a review copy. That was six months ago or so, and I've been eager to have it in my hands the whole time.


We love a good story. From the time Finn was a wee one, we would tell him stories about his day - mundane stories that he would listen to with as much rapt attention as an eighteen month-old could muster. Lachlan, though prone to more movement than his brother was at that age, now requests a Sparkle Story when we're in the car.


Patrick is a self-made storyteller, having a wide array of humorous, real-life tales that he conjures up in social situations - from living with two elderly, Irish uncles who wandered his suburban neighborhood looking for a pint to sleeping on the edge of a cliff in an indigenous community in rural Mexico.

My storytelling is self-conscious. Hesitant. But for my boys? For my boys I can tell a story. And that's what I love about Show Me a Story . Like a puppet show, it adds a visual dimension to storytelling that takes the focus off of the teller and gives hesitant tale-crafters - either a parents or young children - something visually concrete - a hook, of sorts - on which to hang their stories.


The book is filled with craft ideas to inspire and expand a child's (or family's) storytelling passion. The story rocks are just the beginning, and most of the projects require little by way of specific crafting skills (i.e. sewing or knitting - although some of the ideas do involve fabric and simple sewing.) I found many of the projects to be appropriate for Finn to use, if not make. Each project does have a suggested age range for use as well as an age range for making the material.

I think storytelling as an art is woefully overlooked in most curricula. The ability to "hold" an audience, to think on one's feet, to craft a compelling narrative - fiction or non-fiction - often gets lost. It gets lost in our emphasis on being consumers of stories rather than makers of stories. Of course, reading and writing skills - from listening comprehension to communicating via the written word - are key skills that play a huge role in the potential formation of the person as "storyteller," and certainly enrich our lives in their own right. But we often stop there and never explore our full potential as storytellers. For many of us, (myself included) we're just beginning to tap into storytelling as creative expression now that we have a doting and forgiving audience in our young children.

When I was living in Mexico, I had the pleasure of getting to know a wandering Italian puppeteer, a lanky fellow who sewed his own felt vests and made bread from a culture he carried around with him in the pocket of his baggy pants. His Spanish was more Italian than not, but the children loved his stories. Not all of us are destined to be nomadic story minstrels, but anyone can be a storyteller, in any profession. Patrick is one. I think his ability to tell a good story has helped him both professionally and personally. If you're interested in exploring your own inner storyteller, or if you'd love to encourage your children tap into their storytelling spirit, please grab a copy of Show Me a Story . You'll love it, I know.


How can you not love a book that ends like this?

what's today?

Here's my answer to Finn's question:




Turns out, our days are pretty simple. Simple enough to be described by one or two main activities a day, in three year-old terms. In my terms, it's more like "wakeupprocessphotosbloggoforarunshowerpacklunchremembertoscrubthepoopoffofthatdiaperetc ..."

You know.

But isn't it nice to look at it like this instead? I think so, too.


I've edited out the name of Finn's Waldorf nursery as well as a friend's name, but here's the low-down:

- Everything I used here was found either in my scrap fabric pile or in my art closet, except for the metal clasps - I think they're called findings? - which I found at Michael's and hot-glued to the activity squares.

What you'll need:

-smooth stones, one for each child

-mat board. I found mine a while back at the Scrap Exchange, a creative reuse center

-fabric and paper scraps

-one larger piece of fabric (brown linen in my case)

-thin cardboard - cereal box thin (this is for the brown labels)

-hot glue gun

-metal findings, both rings and clasps

-Mod Podge

-acrylic paints or other paints if you wish

-Micron pen for little details

-random stuff around the house

-felted wool sweater for the "day" pockets for the stones



Go at it! I can't really give you any specific instructions other than I used collage, got crazy with the Mod Podge and hot glue, and had a lot of fun doing it!

Happy weekending, y'all.

games for three year-olds

homeschooling and games

Those who know me well will find it comical that I'm writing this post.

I'm not really a game person. Growing up, we rarely played board games, but we did get out Scrabble on occasion, and I've always enjoyed that.

I think I would like playing a board game with adults, but I always end up watching the kids when the board games happen when extended family comes to visit because, as we all know, if Mama sits down to relax, there's some sort of siren that goes off that demands her immediate attention. A spill, a book to be read in her lap, a diaper to change, a snack to be made and consumed, an art project to do, etc. etc.

But lately, I HAVE been able to play some board games. Board games for three year-olds. And I'm liking it.


The first is Zingo - a snazzy bingo game for pre-readers that has a very fun-to-operate tile dispenser. We first played Zingo with our friends on our trip to the mountains this past winter, and I'm glad we decided to add it to our (very small) collection.

homeschooling and games

Peaceable Kingdom makes really great cooperative games. This one, Count Your Chickens, is gratifyingly quick to play and fun for counting practice. Finn wants me to tell you that he likes the spinner.

homeschooling and games

Another game we like is Busytown, which has a big playing board that needs to go on the floor. This means that Busytown play is, for the current family stage we're in, relegated to Lachlan's naptime. The part of this cooperative game that really holds Finn's interest is the search for objects in the illustrations. You find as many objects as you can in the allotted period of time, then you count up how many you found. I'll be honest - this game isn't boring for parents, because the searches are a good challenge, even for us!

homeschooling and games

When I was teaching in Mexico, we had the most lovely, handmade Balancing Moon game. It was a favorite among my students, so when I found a similar one at a local store, I snapped it up. I don't think it's easy to find - this is a slightly different version on ebay.

homeschooling and games

It's a simple game - a good introduction to the concepts of balance, weight, and gravity. A fun after-dinner family activity.

homeschooling and games

Here's a homemade favorite. This is our family memory game, which I blogged about here. You can find the instructions for making your own out of fabric in Alicia's wonderful book, or you could make a simple version from printed pictures backed with a pretty scrapbooking paper.

homeschooling and games

What are your favorite games for little ones?

mama solidarity


I just want to add something here - an apology of sorts - if this post made any other mama feel overwhelmed in any way. My dear friend commented to me today that some people might feel worried that, if they're not teaching reading at age three, then they are not "up to par" as a mother. Let me tell you something - we mamas need to stick up for each other. Breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, co-sleeping, crib sleeping, no TV, media-rich, public schooling, private schooling, homeschooling, working, or stay-at-home. Being a mother is the hardest job out there. We all have ideals that, at times, we can uphold with ease, and at other times, life just throws us curve balls. You totally don't need to homeschool to be the best mama for your little one, nor do you need to teach them to read - it's just as acceptable to wait for that to happen in school! This reading stuff is a teeny tiny part of our days. Most of it is outside, unstrucured, and - like many households with young children - chaotic. Also, Finn goes to a Waldorf home nursery two mornings a week, and my parents care for both boys those afternoons. I'm a mix between an working mama and a stay-at-home mama, and I have the odd advantage of having a partner who is in the same boat as me.

There are rough moments when I think to myself "There is no way I can homeschool this boy, I can barely keep my cool!" There are moments when our biggest work around here is recovering from all of the anxiety produced by Lachlan's heart condition and the crazy months of hospitalization. There are moments of such sibling disharmony that I wonder if I'm doing something totally wrong. There are moments when I wish I had more time to be with the boys, and that I could really be a stay-at-home mama. That will never happen. 

I always try to remind myself that I am what they need. And you, dear readers, YOU are what your child needs - working, breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, school-choosing or choosing to homeschool, Montessori or Waldorf - the life we provide for our little one is challenging and chaotic - even desperate - and totally beautiful in all of its imperfections.

You know I speak from the heart here. I'm a mama of a breastfed until self-weaned child and a pumping, then formula-fed child. I'm a mama of a little boy whose biggest challenge is overcoming his fears and learning to control his temper and get along with others, and the mama of a contented extrovert who lets the world roll of his shoulders. I'm the mama of a little baby who was born naturally in a birthing center and had his first nap on his daddy's bare chest, and the mama of a little baby who was born in a hospital with thirty medical specialists in the room watching, a baby we had with us for forty minutes before they took him away and hooked him up to an IV, in preparation for his first open-heart surgery two days later. By the time they took him away, I had a rush of oxytocin and spent the next few hours in a blurry haze without my baby boy to cradle as the love hormone did its non-productive work. I know we all have different circumstances. We all have very different children who are their own people - not just products of who we are or how we act as parents. We are all mamas, and we all love deeply, tenderly, and in a life-consuming and life-giving way.

All this to say that you totally don't need to feel pressured to teach your three year old his letters! ;) And I hope, as we begin exploring this new part of our family's life, that you will always remember that what I offer here is in the spirit of solidarity and idea sharing, not dogma or judgement or anything of the sort. We all go our own ways, and those ways are unique to each family.  

Much warmth and love,



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!

writing center update

writing center times two

We're back from the beach! As always, there's a ton to do upon returning from vacation - bare cupboards to fill, a birthday celebration for my three year-old to plan and attend, gardens to weed, work deadlines to meet ... the list goes on. 

Just a quick post today, but I wanted to share with you this tender experience between my boys this morning. Finn wanted to show Lachlan how to write letters and suggested bringing over the high chair for him. It worked really well. There was space enough for both of them at the desk, and being in the high chair kept Lachlan busy on his own side of the desk, rather than "rearranging" Finn's work, as he is apt to do. The whole thing was so sweet. They did this for half and hour, and would have spent more time there, but it was time to head out the door.

Mariah of Playful Learning just did a round-up post of other writing centers if you'd like to take a look. Lots of inspiration there!

writing letters

writing letters

Like the art closet, I've had this writing workshop in the planning stages for many, many months. Originally inspired by my Playful Learning E-course and Mariah's wonderful book by the same name, it was the call of the child that propelled me into action. When Finn started "writing letters" to everyone and everything, I knew I couldn't put off the writing workshop any longer.

writing letters

Finn is almost three (the big birthday is less than two weeks away!) and he is a fellow who (mostly) takes good care of his art supplies and writing tools. But his brother? Notsomuch. So first thing's first - Finn needed a space that wasn't accessible to little hands. A child-sized table would have been ideal, but this works best for shared spaces.

writing letters

You can see here that we have five envelopes, one for each family member plus one for "outgoing mail," where we can deliver inner-family notes and deposit letters that need to go outside to the mailbox.  

writing letters

writing letters

writing letters

This is a small binder that I found in the Martha Stewart collection at Staples. It's a perfect size for holding pre-printed address lables and stamps.

writing letters

The sheet protectors have four compartments with flaps over the tops, and they fit an accordion-folded set of address lables rather well. 

writing letters

And here's the space in action!

writing letters

Practicing the proper pencil grasp ...

writing letters

picking out Auntie Liz's address label ...

writing letters

putting the stamp on the envelope ...

writing letters

licking the envelope ...

writing letters

using his return address stamp ...

writing letters

and putting it in the outgoing mail envelope!

If you add some scissors to the writing table, he'll stay there all day, filling envelopes with tiny pieces of cut paper. 

All in all, one of the most-loved spaces I've created for my boy. I hope he continues to use it often, bringing his own ideas to the table while thinking about and creating for those he loves.