Why I’m (Reluctantly) Supportive of My Preschooler’s Princess Obsession

Why I'm (Reluctantly) Supportive of My Daughter-s Princess Obsession

While we were in the hospital with Felix for five months and Lydia stayed with grandparents, something super-annoying happened: she fell crazy in love with princesses.

I don’t know if we could have prevented it. Maybe she just finally reached the age where it was inevitable. Princesses are everywhere, smiling with their pink lips and enormous eyes, promising love and elegance to all little girls who gaze upon them.

I had worked hard to keep them out of sight and out of mind for the three years prior. Absolutely no princess stuff entered our home. Her clothes were all practical and well-made. If I got a Cinderella or Ariel in a box of hand-me-down stuff it got promptly returned or given away before she could see it. For Halloween I dressed her up as a lion or a ladybug and she loved it.

But over the months we were separated, princess culture crept into her life more and more. She showed up at the Ronald McDonald house with sparkly shoes or an Elsa-emblazoned dress. She would run to us saying, “Look at my sleeves! They’re like Sofia’s!”


As a general rule, I hate princesses. Especially Disney princesses.

Here are a few reasons why:

They’re kind of crappy role models.

Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White are famous for not doing much of anything. Ariel is the worst — at sixteen, she runs away from her dad to an adult who is clearly untrustworthy so she can go be with a boy she watched on a boat for eleven seconds. They all have ridiculously unrealistic bodies (C-cup boobs and waists no wider than their boyfriends’ legs). I don’t want that for my daughter.

The merchandise.

disney purseThis collection of plastic trash can’t have cost more than 85 cents to make. (Photo credit)

Good heavens, the merchandise. If you can make a garment cheaper and uglier than you thought possible, the Disney princess franchise will find a way. If it is possible to get a princess’ face onto an item and sell it for triple what it’s worth, they will do it, whether it’s a crayon, a toothbrush, or a tiny bottle of crappy nail polish. There is no concern whatsoever for quality or durability.

I hate, hate, hate it. Just NO.

princess crapOMG. I cannot even. (Photo credit)

And while some of the princesses aren’t half bad in the movies (Jasmine and Belle are rather spunky and proactive), the way they’re represented on the posters and the board books reinforces the idea that girls and women are just for looking at. They just stand there with their hair twirled around their fingers and their ankles popped in the air.

I was once at a friend’s house and while she put her kids to bed I ended up looking through a Disney princess book. There was no action, no story; the whole book was just a series of pictures of the princesses in various passive poses. The entire text was made up of “Snow White is so sweet . . . Sleeping Beauty is so kind . . . Cinderella is so gentle.” They don’t do anything . . . they’re just there to look at and be admired for their feminine qualities. Which mostly consist in being nice to animals.

And yet . . .

You know what I did? I bought Lydia a tiara for Easter. I knew it would make her sooooo happy.

And I recently ordered a handmade Elsa dress from Etsy for her for Christmas. I can’t wait to give it to her because she is going to lose her mind.

Here are a few reasons I’m reluctantly tolerant of her princess obsession.

Elsa and Anna.

These are Lydia’s absolute favourites. No one holds a candle to Elsa in Lydia’s mind. And I can’t complain too much about these gals. Sure, they’re still insanely skinny, and that’s a problem. But they’re also complex, flawed, interesting women who defeat darkness with love. Elsa overcomes inner battles and decides to be true to who she is. Anna is quirky, clumsy, confident, and takes initiative to save her sister. They both make mistakes but they learn from them. I can get behind this dynamic sister duo.

I loved princesses as a kid, and I turned out mostly okay.


(And I grew up with the girl in the clamshell bikini who gives up her voice to be with a strange boy as my primary princess role model).

I LOVE LOVE LOVED princesses with an undying passion as a little girl. The eyelashes, the glass shoes, the glittery ball gowns, the curtsying. LOVED it. But even as a child I found their passivity annoying. (Maid Marian: “Robin! Help me! Help me!” Gag me.)

In my imaginary world, I was a princess who could sword fight and do karate. Sometimes I had to swoop in and save the man (who usually responded by proposing to me. I usually accepted). I took the qualities that I liked in my favorite male characters (Robin Hood, Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle) and put them in a princess body. I was eccentric and used nunchucks and solved mysteries. I saved orphans who were left at the garbage dump and took them with me to discover magical islands. I was an active princess, with goals and ideas and talents. I also happened to look stunning in a sequined ball gown.

And in real life, I tried hard at school, loved to read and paint, and played soccer with the boys at recess. I went on to get university degrees and become a critical thinker.

So maybe the princess influence wasn’t so bad.

So while I don’t love my daughter’s adoration for princesses, I realize they won’t totally ruin her sense of self.

And I have to actively remind myself not to devalue femininity. There’s nothing inherently wrong or anti-feminist about glitter and tulle and frills. Just like my imaginary princess self, you can kick ass and have adventures in diamonds and sparkly nail polish.

I know that it’s a losing battle.

It would be impossible to completely ban princesses, even if I wanted to. Princess culture is too huge. I don’t want to make myself an enemy and I don’t want to end up making princesses the alluring forbidden fruit. And I cannot seem to get the grandparents to stop buying her princess stuff.

So I try to just bring a bit of balance to the situation — I’ll indulge her desire for a bejeweled tiara but suggest a more neutral-themed birthday cake. I’ll print out Frozen colouring pages for her to colour but follow that with a quality bedtime story about nature or family.

And so help me I am never buying her licensed merchandise.

What do you think about little girls and princess culture?

Why We’re Not Doing Preschool With Our Four-Year-Old This Fall

Why We're Not Sending our Child to Preschool“Is she starting school this fall?”

“Oh, no. She’ll only be four in August.”

This is how many conversations have gone over the last year about our daughter. But after enough confused looks at my response, I finally started to realize something. These days, it’s normal for kids in North America to start school when they’re four. Even when moms stay at home with the kids.

I honestly didn’t know that before this summer. I thought five was still the standard age to start formal education (that’s when I started school), and that preschool was just free daycare for working moms if they wanted to take advantage of it. What confused me most, then, were families who did something called “home school preschool.” What? What does that even mean?

I imagine the only difference between “home school preschool” and “just being at home with mom/dad” is the addition of some formal lessons to the daily routine. Worksheets and the like. Probably primarily in reading and math. That sounds all right.

I just don’t plan on doing it.

Here are a few reasons why we’re not going to bother with preschool for our four-year-old.

  • I’m planning on home schooling. I’m planning on being at home with my kids regardless. So there’s no pressure to start anything official this year. And if I don’t need to go through the effort of planning and organizing a curriculum for another year, I’m not going to. I’ve got enough going on this year. (To be fair, I’m interested in unschooling, so I might never do a curriculum or formal lessons. I haven’t decided yet. But I especially won’t be doing them before our daughter is at least five.)
  • Kids in some of the highest-ranking countries for educational outcomes don’t start formal lessons until the age of seven. In fact, some researchers believe that pushing children to read too early (i.e. by five) can be detrimental to their academic outcomes. At the very least, it can’t hurt her to wait. I’m going to follow the lead of educators in Finland and elsewhere and wait a few years with the reading and math lessons. (Though I’ll definitely explore reading and math with her, casually, if she’s interested.)
  • Instead, kids (of all ages but especially before seven) need plenty of free play time. Time for running around, climbing things, dressing up their dolls and teddy bears, dancing, drawing, painting, and listening to stories. I can provide all that at home. (And in order to make sure she gets time to play with other kids, I plan on doing lots of outings with friends, trips to the park, and hopefully swimming and music lessons, too.)


  • Through informal games, activities and conversations, Lydia already has lots of fundamental reading and math skills under her belt. She knows that letters make sounds which form words, and she knows what a lot of those sounds are. She can count and do some basic adding and subtracting (“I ate one of the three bananas. How many are left?”). Anything academic she’d learn at preschool she already knows. So I’m not worried at all that she’ll fall “behind” her peers academically (although that shouldn’t really matter. Life is not a competition. But she’s my first child, so of course I secretly kind of care.)

So we’re just going to skip the academics this year. I am not even a tiny bit worried that she will miss out on learning opportunities. She can learn all she needs through play at home.

P.S. – I just happened to stumble across this article on Slate before publishing mine and thought I’d share it: If you are reading this article, your kid probably doesn’t need preschool.

Felix Victor’s Home Water Birth Story

Home Water Birth Story

(Warning: in case the title wasn’t obvious enough, this post contains details and photos from a real birth. You might want to skip this one if words like placenta make you squeamish.)

Well. Felix entered the world as a consummate gentleman, as conveniently as possible.

I’d been feeling really crampy and miserable the day before, so my mom had offered to keep Lydia overnight. Just in case. I ended up having the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time. (With Lydia, by contrast, I labored all night and gave birth in the morning, to be greeted by a nonstop stream of visitors for the rest of the day. NOT a great way to start things off.)

I told Ben he’d probably be able to go in to work today, since the cramps were gone and I felt so good. The baby was probably not coming today after all. But by the end of breakfast – around 7am — I told him to maybe hold that thought. I thought I was feeling pretty regular (though painless) contractions. I texted my mom to warn her Lydia might be spending the day there, and we probably weren’t going to make it to my 39-week midwife appointment scheduled for that day.

Beginning of labour (home water birth story)(Early in labour. That smile isn’t going to last long. Side note: paper-maché deer head = work in progress)

Ben stayed home, working in the basement, and I folded laundry and cleaned the kitchen. The contractions kept coming every five minutes, though they weren’t that long – only about 30 seconds. I kept myself busy.

After an hour of this I called my midwife to let her know what was going on. The contractions didn’t hurt too badly, but they were very regular, so she said she’d call back in half an hour. She did this twice before saying she was on her way. (She had an hour-long drive, and after Lydia’s quick birth she didn’t want to miss it.)

I stayed on my feet, pacing the room, pausing to lean against a counter or bookshelf to breathe through contractions, which were getting closer together and more painful. I was still doing okay, though – I even had time to put on makeup so I would look nice in pictures. Ben started to fill the pool and get everything ready: he set up a mattress by the pool and plugged in the heating pad with the baby clothes, blankets, and towels.

home water birth story - room setup

Obviously things got more and more serious. I continued to putter around the house, pausing to lean and moan through contractions. I was mostly cheerful until about three hours in — around 10am — when every contraction would leave me in tears. They HURT. And thinking about the baby coming made me an emotional wreck.

I alternated between pacing the room and sitting on my birthing ball, scrolling through social media to distract myself. I let my friends know what was going on. I put on my bathing suit top.

home water birth story - early labour(Still able to smile between contractions.)

home water birth story - birth ball

My midwife showed up half an hour later. She checked my cervix and said I was dilated about seven centimeters. Excellent. But no wonder I was in so much pain now – seven centimeters in three hours take some pretty serious work on the uterus’ part. She said I could get into the pool and she started to get her stuff set up.

I was so much more aware of everything this time, with it not being the middle of the night and not being fully dilated by the time my midwife arrived. It was pretty cool how prepared she was – she even had oxygen tanks in case the baby needed resuscitation.

The water felt amazing but the contractions were still coming on HARD. My midwife said that as soon as my water broke, I’d probably be ready to push. But the backup midwife wasn’t there yet so we weren’t in a hurry.

home water birth story - labouring in pool

OH GOSH the contractions were painful. I was getting louder and louder with each one.

Soon my midwife suggestion I go to the bathroom to speed things up even more (UGH). Contractions on the toilet were extra horrible. While I was there I lost my mucus plug. (See? Convenient. Kept the pool water clean.) I got back into the pool.

The backup midwife showed up soon after that, around 11:45am. She had such a warm, comforting, motherly presence, I was glad to have her there.

I was getting really loud at this point and this second midwife knew exactly how to squeeze my hips to ease some of the pressure. They suggested I try to toilet again. UGH again. They helped me there, I gave a little push during one of the contractions, and my waters broke – a tidy little gush right into the toilet. Pa-shew. Again: how nice. No cleanup. They helped me back into the pool.

The next hour was agony. I started to feel pushy so they told me to follow my body. I was pushing during contractions for half an hour when they checked and noticed I wasn’t really making any progress (GAH!). My midwife suggested that I wasn’t really pushing because I was afraid of the pain. They both suggested I try holding my breath and use all that energy (that I was spending on yelling) to PUSH.

On the next contraction I did that and felt a world of difference. In fact, when I pushed like that — with my whole body — the pain was much less. It was still unbelievably INTENSE, but not nearly as painful. They said to give it my everything, because I was exhausting myself and needed to get the baby out. So I switched gears from fearful to determined: I was going to PUSH that baby out.

It was absolutely horrible. I wish I was one of those women who could say birth didn’t hurt that much, but it did. Between contractions I was totally worn out – I would just slump back against Ben, who was supporting me with his arms, and whimper. When the contractions came and I pushed, my whole body felt like it was going to explode, even my face. I would occasionally reach down and feel that smushy little head still in the birth canal, which was exciting but also disheartening – it wasn’t going nearly fast enough. This was my second baby, it was supposed to go faster! Each time, though, I would say, “Hi, Baby!” and get a new determination to get that thing out of there.

And then, finally: crowning. OH LORD HAVE MERCY. Agony. I screamed my face off. So much pressure, so much pain. I was going to explode. Two more excruciating contractions and that thing finally popped out. 12:35 pm. Six hours after I’d first started feeling contractions.

And then I lost my mind because there was a baby on my chest. An enormous purple baby. A healthy, real-live baby out of nowhere. I was hysterical with joy. I DID IT!!!! And I took a look below – A BOY! Wow!!! Everyone had been right. A boy. Our little Felix. He coughed and gave a piercing, said little cry. He was breathing. He was here. Amazing.

Home water birth story

The midwives quickly helped me out of the tub and onto the mattress to deliver the placenta. I got to hold my baby the whole time – they just wrapped us in towels.

It was incredible, miraculous. My own new little baby boy in a sweet little body in my arms, sticky and wet. He made sad faces and cried a little. I whispered to him and kissed him and comforted him. What an ordeal he’d just been through! He looked so healthy and robust, though. His face looked so unfamiliar, so foreign – nothing like Lydia. But the fact that he was a boy felt exactly right. And also the fact that he was so huge. I could easily believe that this enormous child had been in my belly; I just couldn’t believe I had pushed this enormous child out of my vagina. HOLY CRAP. My body was incredible.

home water birth story

home water birth story - baby resting

The placenta came out with almost no awareness on my part. And then came the — ahem — repair work, which was horrifying but I don’t need to talk about that. I SQUEEZED Ben’s hand through it all. It took forever and ever (Probably ten minutes). I tried to focus on the sweet baby in my arms. My midwife told me the damage was actually not bad at all, which surprised and relieved me.

Finally it was all done. The midwives wiped down my legs and put dry underwear on me, stuffed with pads. They rolled me and Felix onto one side of the bed and then the other to change the sheet right under me. They covered me in warm blankets and propped me up to try nursing. Felix knew exactly what to do and latched on immediately. He was born for this.

Just then, my mom showed up with Lydia. Lydia bounced in excitedly to see Baby Felix. She was a little disoriented and confused. Where was the pool? (I had given her a pretty detailed explanation of how everything would go down, in case she would be present.) She was very excited to take her first look at him, and then went off to play. Ha. Toddlers.

home water birth story - big sister's reaction

home water birth story - first time seeing siblingIn the meantime, the midwives did paperwork.

When Felix was done nursing the second midwife did the examination. Lydia watched with great interest. He looked SO GOOD – so pink and strong.

home water birth story - sister watching examination

They weighed him: nine pounds even. No surprise here. I’d totally been able to feel that much weight against my lungs when on my back while pregnant. And no wonder pushing had been so much harder than with six-pound-eleven-ounce Lydia.

home water birth story - weighing

They measured his length: 23 inches. Again, no surprise here. He looked long.

I think after that I was helped to the bathroom to pee, which wasn’t horrible. Then I’m pretty sure I went back to nurse him some more. I’m a little fuzzy on the details after that.

I do remember scarfing down a bowl of hot pho that my mom had brought. I thought it was wonderfully appropriate that she had brought me the one food that had pretty much sustained me through my difficult first trimester.

After that I rested. Mom took Lydia home with her, the midwives packed and left. Ben cleaned up and did laundry while I cuddled with Felix, flitting in and out of consciousness. Then he laid down and rested with us, too. Just the three of us.

home water birth story(Yeah, I look tired. Also, Ben was our photographer throughout; that’s why he’s not in any photos. He prefers it that way.)

We had done it. Our little baby was here.

I’d started labour at breakfast and we were done it time to have a late lunch and an afternoon nap. I never had to leave my house. Thanks, little dude. I appreciated it.

(You might be interested in my post, 6 Reasons to Consider Home Birth.)

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!*

Lydia’s (Handmade) Third Birthday Party

Ideas for a handmade birthday party - homemade crown, cake, and banner

This weekend our Lydia turned three.

In recent weeks, I’ve been going around telling people what an absolutely delightful age this is. Lydia is utterly hilarious, imaginative, talkative, and smart. She’s been going to the potty all by herself, dressing herself, napping predictably, eating well, playing quietly and independently for hours on end . . . it’s been heaven with her. I couldn’t believe we finally hit our Golden Age.

And then this last week she decided to show us that three isn’t all cute conversations and walks to the park and pretty sundresses.

It’s also climbing onto the roof of the van in busy parking lots; refusing to nap and being miserable for the rest of the day; refusing to eat beloved meals and then complaining about being hungry all day; stealing snacks from friends at the park (and maybe hitting them a little bit when they don’t want to share); and wanting to sit on my lap every second of the day.

So just like every other age before it, three is full of delight and wonder and frustration and exhaustion. And I still wish she slept more.

Anyway, here’s how we decided to celebrate this snuggly, infuriating, energetic, independent, creative little girl.

I wanted to keep it simple, surrounding her with the people who love her most, and making her feel special with carefully-chosen items made with love.

Because it was the weekend and summer, we had our families over for a barbecue, as well as another young family. So grandparents, aunties and uncles, one little cousin and one little friend were all there to enjoy grilled kabobs, salad, and watermelon from my parents’ garden.

About a month ago, I started putting together some reusable, handmade birthday items in order to begin some birthday traditions which I hope we’ll carry out for years to come. Among these items were a personalized felt crown and a fabric birthday banner.

I’m really drawn to many elements of Waldorf education, including the traditions and overall aesthetic. I’ve been inspired by a lot of the felt birthday crowns I’ve seen from families with similar inclinations.

For the crown, I ordered a wool felt bundle online (I’d never used wool felt before, and it was HARD to find it in dimensions large enough for this project) and did some searching on Pinterest for ideas. I used the template found in Amanda Blake Soule’s The Creative Family.

I wanted something that wasn’t too childish or girlie, so she’d still like it in future years despite inevitable changes in taste. I also wanted the size to be adjustable, to be used (hopefully) for years. I liked the idea of using elastic in the back. Here’s what I came up with:

Felt birthday crown

felt birthday crown with elastic back

I wanted to include the letter L to personalize it. I added yellow flowers with black button centers after the black-eyed susans that are always blooming around her birthday. It’s not NEARLY as charming as many that I’ve seen, but I’m new at this. It made her feel special, so that’s the important thing.

birthday girl

Next on the list: I wanted to make a reusable fabric birthday banner. I was inspired by a friend’s Instagram picture of one such banner, and immediately set out to create one just like it.

Reusable fabric happy birthday banner

After I’d made it, I discovered the original designer was Marissa, an online friend who is a thousand times more talented than I am. She gave her blessing for me to offer a tutorial on how I made it, which I’m hoping to put together later this week (if folks are interested!) is available here!

And then for the gift.

I’d been planning on buying Lydia some art supplies from Hobby Lobby when we were in the U.S. a few days prior (I wanted to get liquid watercolours and some big watercolour paper), but it didn’t work out. So when my mom offered to watch her for an afternoon, I decided to sew a new dress for her Waldorf doll, Etta.  I picked out some cute fabric from my pile of quilting scraps. I didn’t have a pattern to go by, so I had to make up my own. Because I am slow, meticulous, and inexperienced, it took me five hours to put this together:

waldorf doll dress(If anyone is curious, this is a Bamboletta Little Buddy, which Lydia got for Christmas. I am completely IN LOVE with their dolls.)

I also threw in a couple of thrift store dresses I’d recently bought. So I spent a total of $3 on her birthday present this year. But she was thrilled, especially about the doll dress, and immediately got up to go put it on her.

new dress

new doll dress

And then came the cake!

If there is one thing that is overrated these days, it’s professional cakes. TOTALLY NOT INTERESTED.

Instead, I wanted something reasonably healthy and not too sugary. No artificial food dyes, either. These are little kids we’re talking about. Their behaviour gives us enough trouble when they’re functioning perfectly.

I went with a grain-free chocolate cake that I love (made with chick peas and sweetened with honey!) and a low-sugar cream cheese icing . . . dyed with beets!

birthday cake

birthday cake slice

I loved the beautiful magenta colour I got.

Again, I’m hoping to share the recipe later this week. You can find the recipe here! It was a big hit. No one could tell there was anything unusual about it — in fact, they raved about how moist and dense and chocolatey it was. I will definitely make it again.

Another blessed year with this beautiful and maddening little girl. I am blessed beyond measure.


7 Screen-Free Travel Activities for a Three-Year-Old

7 screen-free activities for a preschooler

We recently went on a trip with our extended family that took us six hours north of our home.

I really, really hate traveling. I get every kind of sick (carsick, seasick, airsick, you name it), and I just hate being strapped down for hours at a time.

We were traveling with our almost-three-year-old, which I knew was likely to make the experience even less enjoyable; but I really wanted to make the drive as tolerable as possible for all of us.

We don’t own any electronic devices (apart from our outdated Androids), so I knew I’d have to be a little creative to keep her occupied for so many hours in her car seat. Naturally, I also wanted these activities to be as mess-free as possible. (But I was not about to prepare elaborate handmade activities for two days. I am just not that productive.)

I looked through Pinterest for a few ideas, and headed to the dollar store for a few supplies. I think I spent about $13 in total, and most of the items I bought can be reused indefinitely. In fact, I decided that all the items would remain in a “travel bag” that my daughter would only get to use when going for long trips, to keep them special and interesting.

To my amazement, these few activities kept her perfectly content throughout the trip — both ways. She didn’t even nap on the way there, so that was about 11 hours combined.

The advantages of screen-free activities?

  • No annoying noises for us to listen to while we drove. Just delicious silence for us to enjoy as she concentrated on her tasks.
  • No post-screen hangover. I know from personal experience how hard it can be to go from staring at a screen to doing . . . anything else. And I imagine that transition is even harder for little ones. You know how miserable and whiny most kids get after extended time staring at cartoons or hunched over an iPad, right?
  • We avoided feeding the monster of screen addiction. (It’s a real thing.)

Here’s what we did instead:

Water Magic Colouring Book

Water Magic Book

I found a book like this one at our local Dollarama for $3. (It was a Carebear one).

I normally don’t buy gimmicky things like this for my child — this activity doesn’t foster any creativity, skill, qualities or knowledge whatsoever. You just make the page wet and colors magically fill in the pictures. And I generally dislike registered characters. But I made an exception for the trip.

Totally worth it. She played with it for a full 45 minutes on the way up and an hour on the way back. She would “colour” in every page, one at a time; and by the time she was done the last one, the first had dried enough that she could start all over again.

We actually found she liked it better to use a damp cloth rather than the magic water pen that came with it.

The only downside was that she so saturated the pages that by the end, some of the white coating started to scratch off. So it might not get much use after this trip.

Foam Clay


I found some generic “Floam” at the dollar store. It wasn’t as big a hit as the Water Magic book, but it was novel enough to intrigue her and keep her occupied for about ten minutes each way. I wonder if the name-brand stuff would be better — this stuff stuck to her fingers and came apart a little too much.

On the upside, it was quite tidy; and when I showed her how to use a big clump to pick up the little balls that were sticking to her fingers, she enjoyed working at that.

Stickers on a Sketchpad

stickers on a sketchpad

I got a couple of sheets of stickers and a good-sized, coil-bound sketchpad for her to stick them onto as she pleased. She LOVED it. Again, this kept her occupied for 45 minutes each way.

Stickers are great for strengthening manual dexterity, and the activity was great for exercising concentration.

New (To Her) Books

new book

I believe novelty is key when it comes to keeping little ones entertained on a boring trip.

I had pulled out a book from the closet where I keep thrift-store finds that I want to save for later. I intentionally chose a completely unfamiliar book full of detailed illustrations to captivate her attention. She enjoyed examining the images for a good 15 minutes.

Looking out the Window

looking out window

Remember when we used to do this? Before handheld video games were common?

I imagine this was no big deal for Lydia since she’s used to doing nothing in a vehicle.  (Half the time we don’t even have music playing when we drive.)

When she got tired of the above activities, simply looking out the window occupied her for a good hour. It’s my belief that kids CAN and WILL sit and look around quietly if their world isn’t normally dominated by screens.

Drawing on Sketchpad with Special Crayons


Again, I don’t normally buy this kind of thing — I generally avoid plastic as much as possible for environmental reasons — but I wanted to get my daughter some kind of new and interesting colouring utensils, just for the trip. So I got her a pack of Crayola Twistables (they were only $2 at our dollar store). The point is just that they were something she hadn’t used before, so they seemed special. They also don’t have caps that will get lost and don’t need to be sharpened. She used the same sketchpad she’d used for the stickers.

She coloured with them for about half an hour each way, and also used them during shorter trips while we were out there. They will remain her special travel pencils.



Okay, this isn’t really an activity, per se. But they kept her occupied and happy.

I bought bottled juice from the grocery store (something she never gets at home) and packed homemade popcorn. Add a straw and you have a happy little traveller!

 What are some of your favourite screen-free activities for little ones?

14 Montessori-Inspired Activities for a 2-Year-Old

14 DIY Montessori-Inspired Activities for a Two-Year-Old

About six months ago, I wrote a series about Raising a Low-Media Toddler.

In one of my posts, I offered ideas for Montessori-inspired toddler activities. My daughter had just turned two, and so I shared what she was doing at that time.

It’s amazing how much she has grown and developed in the six months since then! She can now do a whole range of new, more complex activities. I thought I’d share a few new ideas, then, for a child around thirty months, or two-and-a-half.

Most of these activities, I first introduced to her around her second birthday, but to my disappointment were too advanced for her. I had to put them away for a while. But I re-introduced them only months later, and to my delight, she was now able to enjoy and master them. (So if you try an activity and it doesn’t work out for you, don’t get discouraged. Just put it in the closet for a few months and try again. You might be amazed what happens.)

If you’re new to the Montessori philosophy, I offer a bit of an intro in my earlier post. I find this infograph from Racheous helpful, too: What Makes an Activity Montessori?

Note: I got most of these ideas either from Pinterest, or from the book Teach Me to Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child by Maja Pitamic (one of my all-time favourite Montessori books, and one I highly recommend if you’re interested in Montessori-at-home).

And bonus: all of these activities are incredibly low-cost, or even free — they typically use items you already have in your home. I don’t have the money to invest in fancy Montessori materials, so I do my best with what I have.

Here are 14 Montessori-inspired toddler activities we’ve enjoyed:

Developing the Senses

Colour-Matching Wheel

Colour Wheel Matching Game : 15 Montessori-Inspired Activities for Toddlers

Clothespin colour wheel matching game. 14 DIY Montessori-Inspired Activities for a Two-Year-Old

I got this idea here. I cut the circle out of a few sheets of stiff paper glued together (file folders, if you want to know), divided it into 8 wedges, and then painted the wedges and clothespins to match.

Sorting Buttons with Muffin Tins

Sorting buttons with a muffin tin: 14  Montessori activities for a two-year-old

Sequencing/Matching 2D Shapes (Circles)

Montessori activities for a two-year-old: matching sizes

I got this activity idea from Teach Me To Do It Myself.

This activity involves a sequence of 8 circles diminishing in size. (I created a PDF of the image, inspired by the worksheet in the back of the book, which you can download here). I printed out the image twice — first onto white paper, then onto red cardstock. I left the white sheet intact, but cut out the red circles.

Then I lay out the red circles in a line, in random order, above the drawn circles, and invited her to match the red circles up with the corresponding drawn circles according to size.

She was able to catch on quite quickly. I tried the same activity with squares and triangles, but for some reason she couldn’t get it at all. I’ll try again in a few months.

Feely Bag Game

Feely bag game: Montessori activities for a two-year-oldThis seems to be a common Montessori activity — I’ve seen it in many places. The purpose is to help develop the child’s sense of touch.

You need a basket, an opaque drawstring bag, a collection of familiar household objects, and a small towel. (Here, for the objects, I’ve selected an apple, a plastic flower, a head of garlic, a pair of toddler scissors, a pinecone, Gumby, a sponge, and a spoon).

Show the items in the basket to the child. Then cover the basket with a towel, and tell the child to close her eyes (or blindfold her) while you choose an item from the basket and place it in the bag. Then invite the child to reach into the bag and identify the item only by touch. Do this with each item, one at a time. This was a fun activity!

Practical Life

Clothespins on a Bowl

Practicing with clothespins on a bowl: Montessori activities for a 2-year-old

This idea also came from Teach Me to Do It Myself. It’s a great way to introduce your toddler to clothespins, which are useful for developing the pincer grasp.

Lydia still doesn’t have the strength to open full-sized clothespins, so I used mini ones (found at a craft store like Hobby Lobby). I just gave her a bowl filled with clothespins and showed her how to clip them onto the rim of the bowl. This is great for developing coordination and strength in the hands.

Clothespins on a Clothesline

Practicing hanging clothes on a clothesline: Montessori activities for a two-year-old

Practicing with a mini-clothesline: Montessori activities for a two-year-old

Once she had mastered clothespins on the bowl, I moved on to a mini-clothesline, which is more complex and requires even greater coordination. It involves first hanging the cloth over the clothesline and then clipping it in place. (I got this idea here.)

For this activity, you need a wooden tray, square scraps of fabric, string, and a bowl of mini-clothespins. I got my tray from Hobby Lobby for $6, and cut up some old t-shirts for the fabric scraps. I placed the cloths in a pile on the tray and set the clothespins beside it, and demonstrated with one piece before inviting her to try.

She loved this a lot more than I expected, and after the first time I often found her taking this tray off her shelf and doing this activity all by herself.

Stringing Pony Beads onto Pipe Cleaners

Stringing beads onto pipe cleaners: Montessori activities for a two-year-old

Pipe cleaners are great for little hands since they stay stiff and then grip onto the beads to keep them from sliding. (I’ve already sung their praises here).

Tip: for this activity, thread one bead onto the end of the pipe cleaner and twist it on, to keep beads from falling off the end.

Stringing Wooden Beads onto Embroidery Thread

Stringing wooden beads onto embroidery thread: Montessori activities for a two-year-old

Since thread is much trickier for threading than pipe cleaners, you’ll need plastic embroidery needles for this activity (I got mine from Hobby Lobby; you can also get them here). Again, tie a bead onto the other end to keep the beads from falling off.

Transferring with a Baster

Transferring with a baster: Montessori activities for a two-year-old

Transferring with a baster:14  Montessori activities for a two-year-oldIt took a while for her to grasp the importance of dipping the tip into the water, squeezing, and then lifting the tip before squeezing again into the next bowl.

Note the sponge, so she can clean up spills as she makes them.

Transferring with a Dropper

Transferring with a dropper: 14  Montessori activities for a two-year-old

Got this idea here.

Lydia had to use the skills she learned with the baster (above) to master this activity.

This one is part fine-motor exercise, part science experiment: I coloured some vinegar, and had her transfer it to a plate of baking soda to watch it sizzle and foam. Fun!

Button Snake

Button Snake: 14  Montessori activities for a two-year-old

This idea comes from Happy Hooligans, and you can get the details on how to make it there. A great way to practice buttoning!

Cutting with Scissors

Cutting with Scissors: 14  Montessori activities for a two-year-old

Yes, real scissors. No, she has not lost any fingers. (I bought her a pair of these Fiskars spring-action preschool scissors because I thought they would be easier to use, but she actually prefers the regular kind.)

I realize she’s not using the right technique here, but the concentration and the sense of accomplishment she gets out of it are worth it.

Sewing on an Embroidery Hoop

Sewing on an Embroidery Hoop: 14  Montessori activities for a two-year-old

Sewing on an embroidery hoop -- 14  Montessori activities for a two-year-old


Toddler sewing: 14  Montessori activities for a two-year-old

I got this wonderful idea from Childhood 101 and Filth Wizardy.

First, I put some shelf-liner (bought cheap at the dollar store) in an embroidery hoop. Then I threaded a plastic needle with embroidery thread and tied a pony bead to the end. I demonstrated how you push the needle up from the bottom, pull it through, and then push it down from the top.

A great activity for introducing kids to how sewing  and weaving work.


Number Rods


Number rods are a great, easy-to-make tool for introducing your toddler to numerals and quantity. I go into more detail about number rods in this post.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

Learning Numeracy with Number Rods: Montessori-Inspired Math for Toddlers

Learning with Number Rods: a great way to teach toddlers about quantity and counting

(Total change of subject from my evangelism series, I know.  All the blogging gurus tell you to focus on one central idea, but I just have too many interests. Sorry! Maybe a few of you will find this interesting? For the record, I’m planning to return to that series yet with a few more posts. Just taking a little detour.)

I came across number rods in some of my Montessori reading a few months back, around Lydia’s second birthday. They seemed like a great tool to help enhance her understanding of counting and numbers. I was really eager to make some for Lydia, and pestered Ben mercilessly to help me gather the materials and assemble them. I finally introduced them to Lydia with great enthusiasm.

She didn’t get it and was totally uninterested. I sighed and put them away for six months.

I recently re-introduced them to her, and to my delight, she takes great interest in lining them up and counting them, and will do so on her own initiative.

I really do think they enhance her understanding of quantity and numbers, and thought I’d share our experience.

Using number rods to learn math - Montessori for toddlers

Making Number Rods

Number rods are a set of ten lengths of wood that vary in size incrementally. They alternate between two colours (traditionally red and blue), and when you line them up in order, they create a “stair” effect.

My number rods are not perfect by Montessori standards, but they follow the same basic principles.

To make the number rods, I just had Ben cut ten lengths of solid oak, from one to ten inches long. (Each square is one inch tall. So our first rod is one inch long; our second one is two inches long, etc.) (Hint: You could probably use paint stirring sticks for this material).

I used two colours of paint that we happened to have left over from past projects (lime and grey). I marked them off into one-inch segments, used masking tape to create clean(ish) lines, and painted the segments one colour at a time (first the lime, then the grey).

I chose to add the numerals at the bottom of one side. They can be flipped so that the numerals don’t show if you prefer to use them that way.

Using the Number Rods

This tool is great, in my opinion, because it gives the child a sensorial impression of quantity. In other words, Lydia can see what each quantity looks like. She can see that when you go up in numerals, you get a greater quantity, which means a greater length. And she can see which numeral goes with each quantity, giving her greater familiarity with the numerals and what they mean.

For now, we’re just using them to understand length, quantity and and counting. Later, you can use them to learn more complex math skills.

When I first (re-)introduced them to her (at thirty months, or two-and-a-half), I simply laid them out randomly, and then told her I was going to line them up from shortest to longest.

I started with one and two, and then asked her which was the next longest. She quickly caught on and lined the rest up in order from shortest to longest.

Using number rods to learn quantity - math for toddlers

I then went through and counted them from one to ten, and invited her to join me.

I keep them in a Ziploc bag in her activity dresser (I know: NOT Montessori), and to my delight, she will often get them out herself and start lining them up, shortest to longest, completely independently.

Then she will go through and count them out loud, putting her finger on each one.

Using number rods to learn numbers - Montessori for toddlers

Have you used number rods? Any other great ideas or tools for introducing math basics to young children?

The End of an Era: Our Weaning Story

Me and Lydia

One month ago, at the age of two years and five months, Lydia nursed for the last time.

I would have been happy to continue our breastfeeding relationship, but I finally decided I wanted to do every last thing I could to make it possible to have a second baby. None of my other efforts so far (taking supplements, night-weaning, using progesterone cream, etc) had been able to do it so far; so with a heavy heart I finally decided we needed to try complete weaning.

She was already night-weaned — she never asked for it at night any more, and slept amazingly well. I mean, she still came into our bed at some point almost every night, but we had no problem with that.

A few months ago she was still nursing three times a day — right in the morning, before her nap, and before bed. For the first time since her birth, we had a perfect routine down. But for the sake of a potential sibling, I threw that beautiful routine in the garbage. (Can you tell I’m a little bitter?)

We  started with the bedtime nursing. Ben started putting her to bed, rocking her to sleep in the rocking chair. That one was quite painless, and within a week she had totally forgotten about bedtime nursing.

Next we tackled the morning one. That one was brutal, as it was her favourite one. We have a lamp on a timer in our bedroom that goes off at 6:30am, which had acted as her signal that she was allowed to nurse again (since nighttime nursing was out); the second it went on she’d always roll over and latch on.  There were lots of tears on both our parts when I started telling her we couldn’t have mommy milk anymore when the light went on. It was impossible for me to change that routine in any way because we always woke up together — we both need exactly 8 1/2 hours of sleep at night, and there was no way I could go to bed or get up before her.

We offered chocolate milk (cow’s milk, cocoa, and maple syrup) every morning while cuddling on the couch as a substitute. It broke her little heart, but she eventually accepted it. Again, it took about a week and she was over it.

Dropping the nap nursing was the hardest for me because I never managed to find an alternative way to get her to sleep during the day. For months, at 2:00 every day I would put her in the Ergo carrier and she’d nurse while I’d sing her lullabies and walk her to sleep. Then I’d put her down in her bed. I had to quit with the carrier because it reminded her of nursing, and nothing else has worked so far to take its place.

Since I stopped letting her nurse to sleep, she no longer naps consistently. It’s awful. Some days she won’t nap at all and then is miserable all evening; other days she doesn’t nap until supper, and then she’s up til midnight. Then we both sleep in the next morning and it just spirals into further chaos. I hate it.

But she’s finally weaned. She hasn’t nursed in a month. She rarely asks any more, and when she does, she laughs, like she’s half-joking.

I have to admit, if I don’t see any improvements in my cycles, I’m going to be pretty ticked off, because then we did this for nothing.

But of course, she would have had to wean eventually. She was totally old enough to wean — she didn’t need it any more for nourishment. She’s a great eater, and can get everything she needs from table food.

But it was something we both loved. It’s biologically normal for humans to continue to nurse until they lose their milk teeth. It was great for our relationship and her immune system. In other words, there were only pros and no cons. (Except that I wasn’t able to get pregnant.)

But this new stage is great, too. She’s eating better than ever. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll get a little brother or sister out of the deal yet.

Our Breastfeeding Relationship, In Sum

I loved breastfeeding from beginning to end. The moment I put that brand new baby to my breast for the first time, just minutes after she was born, I loved it.

I’d never felt so powerful as in that moment.

first nursing

And I continued to enjoy the experience. I loved those moments of intimacy with my daughter. I loved being able to provide her with that perfect nourishment. I could soothe any hurt or anxiety with my body. I never once minded her dependence upon me, and will never regret a single moment I spent nursing my baby.

I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to share this experience with my sweet Lydia, and hope that it blessed her, too.

How to Put on a Coat, Montessori-Style

Putting on a coat Montessori-style. Great for toddlers and preschoolers!

I promise Becoming Peculiar is not turning into a Montessori blog. Most of all because I am not even close to qualified to write one.

I’ve just been really excited lately at being able to put a lot of Montessori principles and ideas into practice. Now that Lydia is reaching two and a half, I am discovering lots of opportunities to practice the “Teach me to do it myself” philosophy encouraged by the Montessori method. But I’m nowhere near an expert, and we don’t do (nearly) everything Montessori.

I had a few minutes, and I just wanted to share this cool little tip.

I came across this idea for encouraging young children to put on their own coats when I was first reading about Montessori. I showed it to Lydia one morning when we were preparing to go outside, and after a few days of trying it she figured out how to do it by herself. Both of us were beaming the first time she got it. The sense of pride she emanates every time she masters a skill is what keeps me coming back to Montessori.

So I thought I’d share it!

Lay the coat down on the floor, upside-down. Show the child how to crouch down and put her hands into the sleeves, before raising it over her head and slipping her arms inside.

Make sense? Allow her to demonstrate:

See that look of self-satisfaction? Love it.

Before long, she can lay down the coat herself, too.

After she gets the coat on, I put the zipper together (i.e. I put the pin into the box and slider body — thank you, Google), as she doesn’t quite have the coordination to do this part herself; and then I hold the bottom taut while she zips it up herself.

Now, if we were real Montessorians, we would have already installed a low hook for her to hang up her own coat (and take it down); but since that would require significant shuffling around of our mud room, we haven’t gotten to it yet. I still have to hang it up for her on a hanger way above her head. We’re working on it, though.

Note: I shared this video with my Facebook friends, and a number of them pointed out that they learned/used this technique when they were little, though they didn’t go to Montessori.

I agree that Montessori probably didn’t come up with this technique, so they can’t really hold a claim on it; but I did learn of it through a number of Montessori-at-home books, and it’s definitely in keeping with the spirit of Montessori. So I’m sticking with the name.

Are you already familiar with this method of putting on a jacket? Do you practice Montessori in your home? Any favourite tips/methods/practices?

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