Favourite Montessori and Waldorf Christmas Presents for a Two-Year-Old

waldorf and montessori gift ideas for a two-year-old

I may not be breaking out the Christmas tree or festive tunes quite yet, but I have started thinking about Christmas gifts.

When it comes to buying for my kid, I really value suggestions from people who share my philosophies on parenting, education, stewardship, and the like. I try to be very careful in my selection, keeping things simple and to a minimum. So I thought I’d share the best-loved gifts I’ve purchased for my daughter. As many of you know, I’m really inspired by Waldorf and Montessori philosophies of childhood and education, so my gifts are naturally influenced by them.

I only feel comfortable recommending products that we’ve personally tried and loved. These are all gifts that Lydia received for Christmas last year when she was two. So we’ve had almost a year to enjoy and evaluate them. I have no qualms about recommending them! They have gotten much love and use.

I hope you are inspired by them, too!

Waldorf Doll (Bamboletta)

Bamboletta Waldorf Doll - Christmas gift ideas for a 2-year-old

This was our big splurge item last year — by far Lydia’s most expensive gift. But oh, she has gotten a lot of love!

The Waldorf philosophy of education emphasizes open-ended play, natural materials, beauty, and simplicity. All of these elements are found together in Waldorf-style dolls.

They are generally made of natural materials like wool and cotton and have very simple faces so that children can project a wide range of emotions onto them. The wool is naturally antibacterial, and slowly absorbs the smell of home, so that the doll will always remind the child of home. Significantly, Waldorf dolls don’t “do” anything (like cry, drink, pee, close their eyes, etc), unlike many contemporary dolls, because all of those things limit what the child can do and imagine with his or her doll. I find them absolutely beautiful and have fallen more in love with them over the last year.

I did a lot of searching, and have found that I love Bamboletta dolls most. They have, in my opinion, the most beautiful faces. They’re actually on the more affordable side, too. They are handmade in BC, Canada, with natural fibers like wool, mohair, and silk, and stuffed with locally-sourced wool. Every doll is unique, and comes with a name and birth certificate. They generally range in price between $130-$250, depending on size and other details. I decided to go with a Little Buddy since they are more affordable, and a good size for a toddler.

Waldorf doll - Bamboletta

So Etta came to join Lydia’s toy family last Christmas. She became best friends with Lydia’s sock monkey, Present, and their shenanigans together are never-ending.

I completely intend to eventually buy our next baby a Bamboletta as well, even if it’s a boy. Every little boy deserves a huggable little companion, too!

Also: I have since purchased more handmade outfits from Bamboletta, and the customer service is out of this world.

And I just want to mention this tiny, random detail: Etta smells absolutely amazing!! She was shipped to us with a tiny bar of natural goat milk soap in the box (specially formulated for washing her cotton skin), and whatever essential oils they used in that soap make everything that comes near it smell like heaven. It sealed the deal for me.

(Note: I am not affiliated with Bamboletta in any way; I’m just crazy about their products.)

Schylling Junior Helper Mop

Yarn mop. Montessori gift ideas for a 2-year-old

The rest of Lydia’s Christmas presents fell in the Montessori Practical Life camp. This mop is one of them.

The Montessori philosophy, like Waldorf, emphasizes giving children high-quality, child-sized materials made with durable, natural materials. This shows respect for the child and encourages her to care for her materials and her environment. Montessori also emphasizes allowing children to do things for themselves, recognizing that children like to imitate adults and contribute to the household.

I got Lydia this simple yarn mop and she absolutely loves it. (It’s not the most incredible quality, but you can actually do the job with it. Not like many of those cheap play items from Toys R Us.) Mopping is an activity that she really enjoys when she has her own mop. I’m not joking: when I say, “Lydia, do you want to come help me mop?” she runs to get her own.

Yarn mop. Montessori gift ideas for a 2-year-old

And importantly, it has stood up to a year of use just fine, and will continue to be used for years to come.

Playsmith Kid’s Big Tool Set

Tool set. Montoessori gift ideas for a 2-year-old(She got this from Grandma, at my request.)

This tool set contains a leaf rake, garden rake, shovel, and hoe. The handles are made of wood and the heads are made of metal. Again, the quality isn’t perhaps the most outstanding, and the paint has gotten some wear and chipping, but overall the items have all held out well, especially for the price.

Toddler shovel - Montessori

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALydia loves to do whatever Mommy or Daddy is doing, and these tools give her a chance to work alongside us outside.

Tiny Cleaver

Tiny cleaver - Perfect knife for a toddler. Montessori gift for a two-year-oldIt is my firm belief that a two-year-old should have her very own knife. (What, like you don’t have any weird beliefs?) Being able to prepare food is an essential life skill that can’t start being practiced too early; and cutting is a vital part of it. Kids need to learn to use knives!

I had a hard time finding a good knife that was small enough for a toddler, high-quality, easy to use, and safe. I tried some crinkle cutters which were decent but I wasn’t completely satisfied. I searched high and low until I finally came across the lovely little cleaver from Michael Olaf (a distributor or Montessori materials.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This little 6.5-inch stainless-steel beauty only costs $4.50 plus shipping and has been totally worth it. I love the sense of confidence and self-worth I can see when Lydia works with her knife. I hear so much pride in her voice as she says, “I’m going to get my knife!” It’s perfect for her little hands. It’s sturdy and sharp enough to cut things like chicken but not so sharp that I worry about her cutting herself. (AT ALL.) The blunt tip prevents accidents and the cleaver style keeps her fingers out of the way when pushing down.

Seriously, it’s perfect.

Stacking Cups

Stacking cups. Perfect gift for a two-year-old

Okay, so this isn’t really a Montessori or Waldorf item, though it does have some of the qualities of both: it’s an open-ended toy that promotes a wide range of learning.

It contains control of error because the cups won’t properly stack unless you do it in the right order. Playing with them teaches lessons in spacial awareness, size, geometry, etc.

They can also be used imaginatively: these cups have acted as drinking cups, bowls, caves for toy animals, flippers for her feet (don’t ask), and more. They’re also fun in the bath tub.

She has also played colour-matching games with them, pairing same-coloured cups together or filling them with same-coloured pom-poms.

Playing with stacking cups

A friend once described them as “the ultimate toy,” and I have to admit, these stupid cheap plastic cups have been one of the most-used items I’ve purchased for her. I highly recommend them. Babies can enjoy them, and Lydia still plays with them regularly at age three.

And that’s about it! What have been some of your best gift purchases for a toddler?

*This post contains affiliate links. Meaning that if you click through and buy something (from Amazon), I get a small percentage. Thanks for supporting Becoming Peculiar!*

Nontoxic Laundry on the Cheap: Green Virgin Products Review and Giveaway (Soap Nuts Liquid and Prespotter Bar)

Green Virgin Products Review and Giveaway. Green, safe, nontoxic laundry care on the cheap!

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about my experience using soap nuts. I’ve been a happy user ever since.

Like many people, I started out wary: using nuts to wash your clothes? What’s that all about? It sounded too weird and too different from the conventional detergents I was used to using. But I gave them a try and then never went back. (Well, okay, I’ve gone back to using homemade detergent here and there, just because the ingredients are so cheap and easy and to find locally; but I’ve gone back to soap nuts full time ever since I started to suspect the Borax wasn’t helping my hormonal imbalance problem. More on that later.)

Anyway, here’s a recap of why I love soap nuts:

1. In my experience, they’re just as effective as commercial detergents.

2. They’re inexpensive. Depending on the size of the bag you get, it’s possible to spend half as much on laundry with soap nuts as you would conventional detergents. Many people think safer alternatives have to be more expensive than conventional ones, but the opposite is actually true!

3. They’re environmentally-friendly. All you’re using is the lightweight shell of the soap berry, found primarily in Nepal and India. They are easy to grow organically. So basically you’re throwing organic fruit into your wash, which you can then compost. How is that not awesome?

4. With soap nuts, there are no worries about toxic chemicals. I’ve discovered that my hormones are very sensitive and easily disrupted by certain chemicals commonly found in cleaning and household products (to the point where I have trouble getting pregnant.) I do NOT want to mess with my hormones (or those of my family members), and soap nuts are the safest option I’ve found.

5. They leave no smell on our clothes. My husband and I are pretty sensitive to scent, especially synthetic ones; but soap nuts leave absolutely no smell on our laundry, which we love.

So now you’ve heard why I love soap nuts…

Green Virgin Products: Soap Nuts Liquid

Green Virgin soap nuts liquid -- natural, nontoxic, convenient and inexpensive alternative for laundry

Recently, a representative from Green Virgin Products contacted me, asking if I’d like to try their soap nuts liquid and offer a review.  He also offered to let me try their all-natural pre-spotter bar, too. (Side note: the company also sells my beloved soap nuts — all organically grown and for a great price.)

A chance to do my laundry for free and try out some wonderfully natural cleaning products? I took it.

Basically, the soap nuts liquid is just the extract from soap nuts that has been boiled out of the shells with water. So it’s still totally natural and non-toxic. Normally, soap nuts liquid has a very short shelf-life, so it’s not feasible to sell commercially; but the folks at Green Virgin Products found an amazingly safe preservative, allowing them to produce and ship it to us. (Learn more about the product here.)

To use it, you just use the pump dispenser to pump 2-3 squirts of liquid into your laundry, just like regular liquid detergent.

I love this product! It’s every bit as safe and effective as soap nuts, but with these added advantages:

1. There’s no need to keep track of how many times you’ve used a bag of soap nuts. (With raw soap nuts, you can re-use them 4-7 times, depending on the temperature of your water and how dirty your clothes are. We keep a white board above our machine where we mark down every time we use a baggie of nuts until they’re ready to be composted. It’s not a big deal, but it’s nice to not have to worry about this. With the soap nuts liquid, once you squirt it into your laundry you’re done thinking about it.)

2. No need to fish out the baggie of soap nuts before tossing the clothes in the dryer or taking them outside to hang on the line. This is so nice when you’re used to playing find-the-soap-nuts after every load.

Effectiveness?

I guess the Green Virgin folks had some Science performed on the liquid to determine that it’s even better at cleaning laundry than raw soap nuts, but I confess I didn’t notice a difference . . . both do a great job getting out body odour, toddler stains, and everyday messes from our laundry. I am not missing my store-bought detergent one bit.

hanging laundry indoors to dry(This is how we dry our laundry indoors, FYI).

Cost?

Unsurprisingly, this awesomely-convenient liquid does cost a bit more than raw soap nuts. But as you will see, it’s still a very economical choice compared to its major competitors.

With a top-loading machine, like I have (where you need to use a little more liquid per load), the cost is comparable to the leading toxic brands (about 23 cents a load); but with an HE washer it’s significantly cheaper (about 16 cents a load). And that’s only if you get the small bottle — larger-sized bottles are even more economical. (Here’s a chart outlining competitor prices to get an idea what we’re looking at.)

Moreover, soap nuts and soap nuts liquid naturally soften clothes, so you don’t need fabric softener. I haven’t used it in years. There’s more cost savings!

So if the choice is between Tide and GVP’s soap nuts liquid, it’s still a no-brainer: soap nuts liquid is a much safer, healthier, greener choice, that is every bit as convenient as the competition, and for similar or slightly lower cost! It’s a great option for those looking for natural solutions but who are not quite ready to throw bags of nuts in their laundry.

But if you want all the goodness of soap nuts, don’t mind the minor inconvenience of counting nuts and keeping track of washes, and want the most economical option, raw soap nuts are probably your best best. Either  way, give Green Virgin Products a visit!

Green Virgin GVP Formula 433 Non Toxic Solid Stick Prespotter

Green Virgin Prespotter bar review. Great for removing stubborn stains! Inexpensive, all-natural, non-toxic

Green Virgin also sent me one of their all-natural prespotter bars to try. Luckily, I have a three-year-old, so it wasn’t hard to find an item with a stain that would need some special treatment.

Stained dress before using Green Virgin prespotter bar

This dress came out of the wash with this orange stain still on it. Not sure what it came from . . . I think it was pumpkin risotto. So I followed the instructions provided on the website for treating stains: I moistened an old toothbrush, rubbed it against the bar, and applied it to the stain.

scrubbing 3Then I ran it through the wash again.

After using Green Virgin Prespotter bar: stain gone!

All gone! (Well, a TEEEEENY bit of residual colour, but come on. Pumpkin risotto. They didn’t send me a magic wand.)

Test #2: I’m also expecting a baby in the next few weeks, and wanted to get some newborn clothes ready for  the big day. Naturally, I only want the cleanest, safest things against my new baby’s skin. But all of my old onesies were disgustingly stained — all yellow and gross from spit-up. (Thanks, Baby #1). I didn’t want to use bleach or anything harsh on them. In fact, I was tempted to toss them out and just buy new ones. But I decided to try a few different stain removers on them.

See how nasty they look?

Stained baby clothes

On the first item pictured, I used the Green Virgin Products prespotter bar. I had to use a big scrubby brush because a toothbrush just wasn’t going to cut it.

Green Virgin Prespotter bar

I used other stain removers on the other items to compare. (On the second, I used a homemade detergent; and on the third and fourth items, a homemade stain remover using Dawn dish soap that has proven effective in the past.)

After treatment, I threw them in the wash with soap nuts liquid. I also poured some hydrogen peroxide into the bleach dispenser for good measure.

This is them after:

Green Virgin Products prespotter bar for removing set-in baby stains

Nice and white! Not brand-new sparkling white, but very acceptably white.

(Forgive me — the lighting is different because they’re taken outdoors at different times of day. But you can still see a HUGE difference.) The all-natural prespotter was every bit as effective as the Dawn dish soap version. But it’s cheaper and non-toxic.

The Verdict?

This bar is just under $7, and I can see it lasting a zillion years.  So if you’re placing an order for one of their soap nuts products anyway, I’d say it’s a no-brainer to toss in a prespotter bar and you’ll be set for years to come.

Wanna Win Some Free Soap Nuts Liquid?

Give it a try yourself . . . just leave a comment telling me why you’d like to try Green Virgin’s Soap Nuts Liquid, and you will be automatically entered to win one 8oz bottle! Giveaway ends November 19, when I will randomly select a winner. (*Update: Giveaway is over. Thanks for your interest!*)

Bonus: If you sign up for Green Virgin Products’ newsletter you can get exclusive coupon codes each month. The sign up is at the bottom of their home page.

What I’m Into: October 2014

October leaves

playing in leaves

October garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t even begin to talk about October without first making this important PSA: if you are experiencing any kind of back trouble, whether related to pregnancy or anything else, consider chiropractic care. Even if you don’t have insurance and will have to pay for it out of pocket. Even if you’re broke.

I mentioned last month that I was suffering from debilitating back pain related to my pregnancy. Seriously, you guys: I could hardly move. Getting out of bed and climbing down the stairs in the morning pretty much wiped me out for the day. I couldn’t get groceries, couldn’t cook . . . couldn’t do any of the daily household tasks that needed to be done. I was miserable and helpless so the whole family was miserable and hopeless. And we were ordering in dinner every night, which we totally can’t afford. I was panicking, because I didn’t know how I could possibly deliver a baby in a few months when already in this much pain.

So we decided it could hardly cost us more to go see a chiropractor. We sucked it up and I used my piddly savings from my blog’s ad revenue to see if my sister’s chiropractor could help me.

The first couple of weeks didn’t seem to help much, though my chiropractor seemed able to pinpoint exactly which vertebrae and joints were giving me trouble. I was feeling discouraged. Three $30 appointments a week were draining the bank account pretty fast. I stuck to it, though, and soon I started to feel better.

And now, four weeks later, I’m as good as new! I literally feel no more pain whatsoever. I can walk with my daughter to the park, climb stairs without thinking about it, and I’m on my feet most of the day again without trouble. The only reason I remember I’m carrying 30-odd extra pounds is because I get out of breath if I move too quickly.

So all that is to say: I’m so glad we went ahead and saw a chiropractor! Totally worth it. I am a firm believer now. My quality of life is improved a hundredfold, and we don’t have to order in crappy food every night.

Okay, moving on!

Books

During my last pregnancy, I probably read at least two books a month on pregnancy, birth, or infant care for the duration of my pregnancy. So that was, like, eighteen books. Plus a ton of internet reading. This time around, aside from some refreshers on pregnancy nutrition, I hadn’t read a thing.

I’m due next month (late November), so I thought I’d re-read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (Ina May Gaskin) — the book that sealed the deal on home birth for me last time. (Oh yeah, if you didn’t already know — I’m planning on another midwife-attended home birth this time around. I sometimes forget that people give birth anywhere else. Hoping for a water birth!) It’s just so comforting and inspiring. My anxiety about this birth has decreased since re-reading it. I believe my body can do it. I was made for this. Thanks, Ina May!

I also decided to try out The Nesting Place (Myquillyn Smith), just because everyone on the internet is going crazy over it. I had to wait months to get it from the library, it’s in such high demand. Turns out the timing is just wrong for me right now. With a new baby coming, interior design just isn’t on the forefront of my mind. And I felt like the opening chapters were just . . . stating really obvious things? But the latter chapters are more interesting, and the photos inspiring . . . I’m suddenly inspired to make some textured wreaths and sunburst mirrors for our house. In between gathering birth supplies and attending midwife appointments and freezing meals, of course.

Children’s Books

flora and the flamingo

We happened upon Flora and the Flamingo (Molly Idle, 2013) at the library recently. What a stunning find! It’s another gorgeously-illustrated wordless book with a unique twist — it has interactive flaps to help tell the story about a little girl learning to dance with a graceful flamingo. The artist is a former DreamWorks animator and you can totally tell.

It is, however, a very delicate book, what with all the white space and manipulable flaps; at three, Lydia is a little young to be trusted with it completely unsupervised. I’ve kept it on a high shelf and only allowed her to look at it when she asks. I would recommend it for slightly older children — maybe four or five. Little girls (especially aspiring ballerinas) will love this beautiful, charming book.

Little Oink

Back in March, I shared our love for the books Little Pea and Little Hoot. I remembered that there was a third one in the series out there somewhere, and I requested it through inter-library loan.

Little Oink (Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace) is just as funny and cute as the first two. This time, it’s about a neat little pig who likes to keep his room tidy, but his parents tell him he has to mess it up before he can go play. The illustrations are lovely and just as chuckle-inducing as the text. Ben and I enjoy this book as much as Lydia does.

Television

We started watching Veronica Mars (from 2004) on Netflix last month and weren’t crazy-impressed. It seemed a little cheesy and relied too heavily on narration in those first few episodes. But Leigh Kramer insisted we keep going, so we watched a few more episodes.

I’m so glad we did! We LOVE this show! We watched an episode almost every night until we finished season one. Spectacular! A very intriguing plot and wonderfully complex and interesting characters. There’s scandal and murder and intrigue but it’s not dark and gory like many shows these days. There’s witty banter and familial love and high school drama in there, too. Thanks for the push, Leigh!

Movies

We watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Netflix this month. Overall, we really enjoyed it. It’s funny and weird and has a happy ending. You get to see beautiful landscapes and it will make you want to travel the world and go on adventures.

With the Munchkin

One of the most fun things we did this month was just walk around the neighbourhood collecting leaves for crafts. Okay, so I was more into it than she was; but she ended up liking holding the basket. And it was good to get out of the house.

Beach sand play dough

I made this sand play dough for her, which she loves. I just had coarse commercial sand on hand — not beautiful, fine, Florida beach sand like in the original tutorial — but it still gives it a really neat texture and weight, and is fun with sea shells.sharpies on foil

Another fun and easy fall-back activity that Lydia loves is coloured Sharpies on aluminum foil. The foil makes the colours glow, and just offers a slightly different experience.

marker holder made with plaster of paris. Keep markers off the floor and capped!

And lastly, I made her this plaster marker holder, with instructions from The Artful Parent (Jean Van’t Hul). Like most kids, Lydia loves colouring with markers, but she always left the markers and caps scattered all over the floor. This was both irritating and it quickly ruined the markers. With this pretty new holder, she is much more likely to put her markers back where they belong. No mess, no drying out. WIN.

Linking up with Leigh Kramer!

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