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?

Lydia’s Montessori-Inspired Play Space

Montessori-Inspired Play SpaceHi, friends! We rang in the new year by repainting Lydia’s “play space.” (Seriously: we finished it up on it on January 1st. We’d been meaning to do it for months.)

“Play space” is what we’re calling the long, awkwardly narrow room by the kitchen because we’re not quite sure what else to call it.

We never really knew what to do with the space before kids. It used to act as a sort of living room, but we always ended up doing most of our “living room” stuff downstairs (entertaining guests, watching movies, etc). Now this is where Lydia spends most of her time (after the kitchen, perhaps), and we’ve decided to gear it to her everyday needs. But “toy room” didn’t sound quite right for the new space because toys only play a small part of Lydia’s daily play experience. (The room also features a large reading nook and craft area).

Lydia’s play space has very little to do with “Becoming Peculiar,” but I’m just so darn pleased with the final results I had to share.

Here’s what the room looked like before (several months ago):

gallery 01The walls were still the dull beige the former owners painted them (and I’ve never been a fan of beige.) Years ago, I’d decided on a medieval/Pre-Raphaelite look for the room, but that was difficult to pull off (a) on a tight budget and (b) now with a kid in the house.

So I decided to spunk things up a bit with a new coat of white recycled paint (inexpensive and eco-friendly), some bright/funky decor for the walls, and cheerful curtains from Ikea.

After months of gathering materials and planning, here’s what we came up with.Montessori-inspired roomThe view when you just walk in from the mudroom. The framed alphabet art and pillow are both from Ikea. The two tables are from thrift stores and have only been primered so far — I plan to paint them a light aqua.Montessori toy shelvesI’ve talked about our toy shelves a couple of times already (7 Cheap and Awesome Items to Add to Your Toddler’s Toy Shelf; Preparing the Environment for a Low-Media Toddler). Storing toys on low, open shelves is inspired by Montessori principles, wherein children are encouraged to do things for themselves as much as possible.

I try to rotate toys every few weeks to limit what’s available at a given time, giving toys some time in storage to “freshen up” in their appeal. These are ALL the toys Lydia can access at a time. I like to have them openly visible to keep things organized and make them more appealing.  I store collections (like blocks, tea sets and plastic animals) together in thrifted baskets or on wooden trays. Her play dough and accessories are on a tray together, too.

The easel is from Ikea and one of the best purchases we’ve made — she uses it every day. It cost a mere $15 and seems sturdy enough. (The chalk is kept in the basket underneath.) The other side is a white board, but we usually use it for paper and paint. It has a shelf for holding paints and brushes.

For the wall above, we painted an old thrifted frame black and used it to frame some of Lydia’s original artwork. Doesn’t get much cheaper than that.

Reading Corner / Book Nook with rain gutter shelvesI’ve also written about our reading nook (made from gutters) before (Preparing the Environment for a Low-Media Toddler.) We’re still thrilled with this setup. The only change here is the addition of the wooden letters above the shelves (from Hobby Lobby, 50% off). We also re-painted the wooden chair (which Ben built) to match the decor. (The sheepskin is from — where else? — Ikea).

Care of Self Table (Montessori)I’m also really proud of our Care of Self Table (another Montessori-inspired idea). it was our solution to the problem of how we could enable Lydia to easily wipe her face, brush her hair, and (eventually) brush her teeth independently. We wanted easy access to a mirror and a nice, low shelf. It’s also right outside the bathroom, so we can grab some water from the sink as needed.

Care of Self Table (Montessori)Ben designed and built this himself after I described what I wanted. (I helped paint!) We resized and framed an old mirror and secured it to the wall above the shelf. We currently keep a small hairbrush and a tray with cloths (which I periodically dampen, as necessary) on the shelf. During spells of the sniffles, I can add a box of tissues or handkerchiefs so she can blow/wipe her own nose.

We keep a wire basket underneath for used cloths.

And another source of pride and joy: Ben picked up this lovely antique dresser from the side of the road. FOR FREE.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe drawers were really hard to pull in and out, so he built new drawers for the inside (with new-fangled slides) using the original drawer fronts. So it has all its original charm without the difficult-to-open drawers.

We store Lyida’s art and craft supplies in here (beads, yarn, glitter, etc). She can open the drawers herself and loves to help herself to an “activiwy” at her leisure.

tableLydia, using her awesome Melissa and Doug triangular crayons from her craft dresser. The table and antique child-sized chairs were thrifted and repainted. (Like I said, we still need to paint the tables.)

There you have it! Hope you were inspired! And be aware that the room is rarely this tidy, and the rest of the house is not nearly as well-coordinated in terms of decor.

I’m Giving Up on Clocks and Charts (And Listening to Intuition) When It Comes to Raising My Child

My battle with clocks and charts started the day Lydia was born.

My wonderful midwife advised me that my newborn needed to nurse — i.e. actively drink, not just suck for comfort — for twenty minutes every 3-4 hours. Since with breastfeeding you can’t see how much your baby is drinking, it’s hard to know whether she’s getting enough; so I grabbed onto these numbers to guide and reassure me.

But no matter what I did, Lydia would never nurse for 20 minutes at a time. Not even close. I had a clock set up next to my nursing chair so I could keep an eye on it. She would nurse for maybe eight minutes and then fall asleep.

I would gently rub her, jiggle her and talk to her; but she was out. I would undress her, move her to the other breast, tickle her cheek. Nothing. She was done.

I was constantly anxious for the those first few weeks. She wasn’t nursing half as long as she should be. Was she getting malnourished? Was I stunting her growth and development?

At her first checkup two days later, she hadn’t quite gained as much weight as she should have, according to the charts. Oh Lord, I was starving her. I was failing her. How could I get her to nurse longer?! She was peeing and pooping a decent amount, and looked happy and healthy, but she wasn’t hitting those numbers.

I did more research. I tried more tactics. I sweated and fretted. Breastfeeding was a constant source of anxiety.

At her next appointment, though, she had gained a whole pile of weight. Without me having changed a thing. Turns out, she was getting plenty of milk out of those short nursing sessions.

I removed the clock from my nursing table and never had another major breastfeeding problem.

* * *

one year old

The clock next crept back into my life when Lydia was about to turn one. I had never kept track of how much sleep she got, relying solely on her cues. It was working wonderfully. I felt generally well-rested, and Lydia was growing phenomenally and developing right on track. I was vaguely aware that most babies at her age had two to three naps a day. She had two.

But gradually, she was refusing to take her first nap until later and later in the day, so that sometimes we couldn’t even fit in a second nap. I tried everything to get her to fall asleep earlier, but she just wouldn’t do it. I was spending hours every day trying to get her to sleep — rocking, nursing, singing, pushing her in the stroller, going for drives in the car, laying with her in a dark, quiet room. I even tried to quietly leave her in her playpen to rest, but she would just fuss. She just didn’t seem interested in sleeping.

I did some research, and discovered she wasn’t getting nearly enough sleep for babies her age — in fact, she was short several hours every day! I started keeping track of her sleep and I became even more stressed. Was I impeding her development? What was I doing wrong?

Again: she was a very content and inquisitive baby, bright-eyed and robustly healthy. She was gaining weight steadily, full of energy, and hitting her milestones right on time. But according to the charts and the clock, she was sleeping all wrong.

After several weeks of intense anxiety on my part and no change in her sleep patterns, I resigned myself to the fact that Lydia just did not sleep as much as other babies, and there was nothing I could do about it. I begrudgingly accepted the new one-nap routine and stopped watching the clock.

And everyone was happy.

* * *

lydia grapes

In the last few weeks, a similar pattern has been emerging: Lydia’s been refusing to nap every once in a while. At all. She just turned two, and she only sleeps about ten hours at night. Against my better judgement, I looked into how much sleep she’s “supposed” to be getting. Holy crap, she should be sleeping 2-4 more hours every day! That’s 15-28% less sleep than she needs!!

She’s a bright and imaginative girl, full of energy and words. She plays quietly by herself for hours, but also loves to run and play outside. Her coordination is excellent, and she’s fairly even-tempered (for a toddler), sociable, and recovers from illness quickly. She shows no signs of sleep deprivation.

But those numbers.

Lately, I’ve been running myself ragged trying to get her to sleep more. I’m implementing all kinds of routines, trying to get her to eat the right foods at the right times. I’ll spend up to two hours some days trying to get her to nap, but she’ll just pop up and go back to playing. It’s wearing me out. And for what?

Finally, yesterday, I decided to forget it. Every time in my history with Lydia that I’ve decided to stop looking at the clock, I’ve experienced freedom.

Lydia’s not like other kids. I need to face it. I can’t make her sleep, and it’s such a waste of energy to try.

I’m giving up the clock and relying on a much more subjective measure of her well-being: I’m going to look at her. Does she look healthy? Does she seem happy? I’ll pay attention to her eyes, her voice, her posture, her behaviour. I am finding that these are all much better indicators of whether she’s getting enough sleep or food.

*Big exhale of relief.*

Have you ever had a similar experience?

Related Post: For Moms Who Are Panicking Because Their Babies Aren’t Sleeping as Much as the Books Say They Should

Image by Simon Shek

How We (Gently) Night-Weaned Our Two-Year-Old

How we (gently) night-weaned our two-year-old

Over the last two weeks we’ve been slowly and gently attempting to night-wean our two-year-old. Until now, she has continued to breastfeed a few times a day and night (I talked about my experience nursing a toddler here). I thought I’d share our experience, to encourage other parents who are committed to gentle parenting — day and night — and to help them see that it does, indeed, get better.

Our Story

We’ve shared our bedroom with Lydia since her birth. We absolutely loved the experience.

She started out sleeping in our bed. We adored being able to wake up to that sweet face every morning. I loved how bed-sharing  helped me get plenty of rest during those tumultuous first months when she still needed a lot of attention at night. It also made breastfeeding and elimination communication a trillion times easier, which were very important to me and very enriching experiences.

Shortly after her first birthday, we started to find the family bed a little crowded as she began to roll and kick in her sleep quite a bit. So we set up a bed on the floor next to me. She still nursed to sleep, and then I laid her down on her floor bed, where she stayed until her first night-waking. She almost always ended up back in our bed by morning, but we were fine with that.

I want to take a moment to point out that it was never our goal to get her to “sleep through the night.” It just wasn’t that important to us. We were getting enough sleep, and my research indicated that it was perfectly healthy, natural and normal for infants and young children to wake up at night and need help falling back asleep. I was content to oblige. Lydia continued to wake up 2-4 times every night for her first two years, but she always went right back to sleep if I just let her nurse. I never even had to get out of bed. It was just no big deal.

Sure, there were rough nights — even rough weeks, where we felt horribly unrested. This whole last month was pretty rotten. But I knew that was a normal part of parenting.  Raising babies is exhausting. Their sleep needs are different than ours. Sometimes your sleep gets screwed up, but that’s to be expected.

The real impetus for change came shortly after her second birthday when I still wasn’t pregnant with baby #2. I practice fertility awareness, so I was aware my cycles still weren’t neeeeearly on track to have another baby. My luteal phases were WAAAAAAY too short to enable a pregnancy, indicating low progesterone levels. I did some research and discovered that low progesterone/short luteal phases are very common among lactating women.

Dang it. If I wanted to have another baby, I was going to have to wean the first one.

I know that night-nursing has the greatest impact on hormone levels (especially those related to suppressing ovulation — it’s nature’s way of helping space babies), so I determined that we would have to tackle that first. Moreover, if we were ever going to have another baby, it would be nice to have the first one sleeping a little better at night so I wasn’t juggling two babies every night.

Why Not Just Let Her Cry It Out?

Many people think the best way to deal with sleep issues is to just leave a baby alone in her crib, allowing her to cry until she realizes nobody is coming to help her and she finally cries herself to exhaustion. Repeat until she understands no one is ever coming to help her and she gives up crying completely.

This was never an option for me.

I won’t go into the research that shows that crying-it-out leads to high levels of stress hormones, or that babies learn to self-soothe through example — i.e. by their parents lovingly responding to their distress and helping them through their big feelings.

I will say that the very thought of a child being left to cry alone in a room makes me feel like I’ve been punched in the gut.

But more importantly, it came down to this for me: I never want to send my daughter the message that her feelings ought to be ignored or that she’s on her own.

Instead, I want her to get the message that I will always do my best to be there for her when she calls. I may not be able to give her what she wants, but I will listen and stay near until she feels better. I will never leave her in her time of need for my own convenience’s sake. She never has to be alone.

To me, that message is more important than a few more minutes of sleep every night. There will be time for sleeping when she’s older.

(I will tell you now, though, that our night-weaning process did involve a little bit of crying, but in the loving presence of her parents.)

toddler eating bacon(Enjoying breakfast after a restful night)

Step One: Learning to Fall Asleep Without Nursing

I started by taking The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers (by Elizabeth Pantley) out of the library, to look for some gentle solutions. I found plenty. I highly recommend this book, you guys. Really understanding and so helpful.

One thing I started to do was implement a consistent, hour-long bedtime routine to get her sleepy before bed. (Before that, I was quite inconsistent in our bedtime routine, and we often struggled with bedtime battles that made our evenings really stressful and tiring). I think this new routine helped pave the way for more restful nights.

At the same time, I started to implement “Pantley’s Gentle Removal Plan,” to get Lydia used to falling asleep without a breast in her mouth.

I would lay down with Lydia in her bed as I always did, and let her nurse until she was almost asleep. But then I’d gently break the suction with my finger and roll over so that she had to fall asleep without sucking. At first she wouldn’t have it. So as Pantley suggests, I’d let her nurse again some more until she was drifting off, and keep repeating until she was finally asleep without the boob in her mouth.

Within a few days, she was breaking the seal herself, rolling over and falling asleep on her own. Hooray!

When she woke at night, I would try to soothe her some other way (rubbing her back, talking to her gently, etc), but at first this was mostly fruitless and I would end up nursing her back to sleep anyway. But I took my time offering her the breast, and continued to use the gentle removal method, until she was sometimes able to fall back asleep without nursing at all. Success!

Step Two: No More Milk at Night

After a really crappy month of sleep for no discernible reason, with her often waking every hour at night for a week, I knew it was time to pull out the big guns. It was time to do this. It was time to night-wean.

One desperate night, I told her the mommy milk had to sleep. She couldn’t have any more mommy milk that night. She wailed in agony, and I rubbed her back and shushed her gently, telling her that I loved her, but the milk had to sleep. She screamed with rage. It was heartbreaking, but I was so, so tired. Finally, my husband took her in his arms and quietly carried her into the hall. She screamed and raged . . . until she fell asleep two minutes later in his arms. He laid her in bed between us and we slept. I was surprised how quick and easy it was.

She woke up once more, and screamed again when I told her the milk was still sleeping, but then promptly fell back asleep. I was shocked and a little delighted. I made a mental note to persist the next time she wailed for mommy milk. She might just fall back asleep.

The next day, I explained to her (over and over again throughout the day, and just before bed) that from now on, when it was dark, the mommy milk had to sleep. She could still have milk when it was light, but when it was dark: no milk. I took her into the bathroom to demonstrated light and dark with her so she could understand.

That night, when she woke up, I reminded her what I had told her. As she screamed and then sobbed, I rubbed her back and whispered to her softly. She fell asleep within two minutes.

We repeated this once more that night.

The next night, it happened once.

The next night, when she woke up in the middle of he night, she climbed into our bed silently and I rubbed her back and she went right back to sleep. No fuss whatsoever, and also no nursing.

And then the next night, she slept for eight hours straight without waking. At 6:30 a.m., the light in our room was on, so I let her nurse and she slept for another hour.


For four days in a row she slept from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. solid. Sometimes she would sleep an extra hour or two after that if I nursed her, but sometimes not. This is a girl who had never before, in her whole 25 months of life, slept through the night (apart from four or five random fluke nights). Before this, she almost never slept longer than 3-4 hours at a stretch.

It was beautiful. I was so much more energetic and less irritable during the day. She was still her usual, chatty, curious self (all that night-waking never seemed to bother her any), but I felt so much more centered.

And that cycle, my luteal phase was a whole two days longer than all previous cycles. We’re making progress!!


Where We’re At Now

It’s been two weeks and she’s consistently sleeping for 6-8-hour stretches, only occasionally waking but falling back to sleep quickly and quietly without nursing.

(There was one horrible night in the middle of that wherein she screamed on and off for almost two hours and I just sat with her and tried to soothe her. But it was only once.)

Now that we’ve managed to wean her at night, I plan to start slowly weaning her during the day, over the course of the next few months. I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t make me a little teary-eyed.

We’re also planning to move her into her own room soon (next to ours). We’ve been slowly preparing it; we just need to move the last of the furniture. That thought also makes me sad, but I think we’re ready.

Final Thoughts

I’m very satisfied with how everything went. I’m happy with the decisions we made.

If we ever have another baby and if we have similar sleep issues, I will probably try night-weaning a little earlier, allowing him/her to cry a little bit if necessary. (But of course, every child is different. Who knows what things will be like.)

I discovered that a little bit of crying is probably okay. But I wouldn’t try it before the child’s first birthday — I just don’t think they’re developmentally ready at that point — and I’d never let them cry for more than a few minutes, and never alone.

That’s our story. Hope it was helpful!

Any similar experiences to share?

Raising a Low-Media Toddler: Ideas for Toddler Montessori Activities

montessori-inspired activities for a toddler

Note: This is the final (for now) post in my Raising a Low-Media Toddler Series. It started here, where I explained why we strive to be low-media.

In my quest to find meaningful activities for my daughter, in lieu of entertainment media, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Maria Montessori and her education methods. I’m not even close to an expert — I’ve just read a couple of books and blogs, and have tried imitating a few things in my own home. But I continue to be inspired by the overall philosophy and by many of the most common practices. I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve tried.

But first, a little background:

Among other things, the Montessori method emphasizes practical life skills for young children. By fostering the skills children need to care for themselves and their environment, we help to cultivate independence and self-esteem. Consequently, in most Montessori-at-home books, you’ll see activities that help children learn how to dress themselves, feed themselves, and help out around the house.

In my last post, I discussed some of the ways I try to get my two-year-old daughter involved in everyday tasks, which is a huge part of learning practical life skills.

However, Montessori educators also commonly use a number of special activities that break down the different parts of frequently-used, everyday life activities, to help develop these skills. For example, to help children learn to serve and eat food, they’ll practice transferring items with a spoon or pouring liquids from a pitcher into a cup. To help children learn to dress themselves, they’ll practice doing up buttons on a dressing frame. Things like that.

I really enjoy practicing some of these activities with my daughter. I’m amazed how much she seems to enjoy them, too, repeating the same simple steps over and over again, just for fun.

A really important value in Montessori education is the child’s concentration. It’s a foundational element in the child’s future academic and creative work.

A child who can concentrate is capable of completing a task, from beginning to end — enabling a sense of accomplishment. A toddler who can concentrate on cutting up a banana or matching cards has begun to master a fundamental skill needed to someday read an entire novel by herself or learn to play the violin.

It’s a beautiful thing to see a 20-month-old absorbed in the task of pouring herself a glass of water or stringing beads onto a pipe cleaner.

A child who is absorbed in a task just for the joy and satisfaction of doing it is too busy to whine for a DVD. She is too busy building up valuable life skills and filled with pride to throw a tantrum.

That’s one of the many reasons I feel Montessori activities are such a great fit for a low-media lifestyle.

Here are a few activities we’ve enjoyed. Some of them are practical life activities; others are meant to develop the senses and a sense of order (sorting). All of them give my child a chance to practice concentration.

*Important Disclaimer:*

You are about to see a collection of photos of my child working in silent concentration. Don’t let these photos fool you into thinking she spends the majority of her time like this, productive and quietly serene. Please don’t let them fool you into thinking I’ve got it all together or even feel like I’ve got it all together.

In fact, a goodly amount of our days involve her clinging to my leg, wailing while I drag her around, huffing impatiently, trying to get things done around the house and periodically exclaiming, “I just can’t do this anymore!

And in spite of the confident tone in which I discuss my ideas, I spend a goodly amount of my time wondering how in the world other moms get anything done, EVER, and feeling like I’m failing at life in general.

Got that?

Okay. On to the activities.

Practical Life

Pouring water (and cleaning up spills)

pouring water - montessori practical-life activities for a toddler*keep a sponge handy so she can wipe up any spills

Transferring water with a sponge:

transferring water with a sponge - montessori activites for a toddler

Transferring rice with a spoon:

transferring rice - montessori activites for a toddler(I find it’s easiest to start with a measuring spoon)


3D animal models with corresponding photos:

matching animals - montessori activites for a toddler(I describe how I put this together in more detail here)

Coloured buttons with corresponding plates:

Montessori activities for toddlers: matching colours (plates/buttons)(She’s using the buttons I mention in this post)

Further Reading About Montessori:

Just as with my last post on getting your child involved in everyday life, I’m still learning how to implement these kinds of activities. I’m still quite new to the Montessori method, and have never had a chance to see anyone else put it into practice.

I draw a lot of inspiration from the blog How We Montessori. Beautiful pictures, simple ideas.

One of my favourite books on the subject is Maja Pitamic’s Teach Me to Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child. Lots of easy activities that don’t require expensive, specialty materials.

And I have gotten lots of ideas here: 50 Montessori Activities for 2 Year Olds from the blog There Are Only Two Ways to Live Your Life.

Related Posts:

Raising a Low-Media Toddler: Why Bother?

Raising a Low-Media Toddler: Preparing the Environment

7 Simple Sensory Table Ideas

7 Cheap and Awesome Items to Add to Your Toddler’s Toy Shelf

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