Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On the Menu this September

I have a confession to make: I am absolutely terrible at menu planning lately. I used to love jotting down ideas of what we'd eat for the next few weeks and putting it into execution but ever since we moved to Germany, it's been kind of a chore. I think a big part of it emanates from the fact that even if I had a menu all etched out, I probably would not follow through. Truth is: although I love cooking, it's not been exactly enjoyable in my small uninviting and ill-equipped kitchen (I sometimes wish I had always had the same kitchen and didn't know any better!). Add to the equation little Zahavah and Adrian who seemingly purposely choose this very hour to bicker and instead of a recipe for dinner, we have a recipe for disaster. 

What's for Lunch? - September Menu is Out!

In the end, I decided to change the schedules from last year to allow me to be somewhat "free" an hour before dinner" (4:30-5:30) so I could feed my family more properly for the only meal of the day we all get to share together but also because I am starting to feel the need for some "relaxing" time. Yes, relaxing = cooking! :)

Excited about this new twist, I quickly prepared a menu for the entire month of September minus the week-ends because it's usually a last minute decision as we tend to be out and about. This menu is a lunch menu BUT, what you see listed there is what we ate for dinner the previous day. That's right! Making fresh lunches everyday is time consuming considering everyone in my household expects a "5 star warm meal" and as such, we usually have leftovers from the night before unless of course, there has been miscalculations on my part (read too many second helpings!!!) and we end up having to have the soup of the week or sandwiches. Has there been any complaint about my system? Nope unless the meal from the previous night was previously disliked of course! :)
As you've noticed, our meals always include a protein, and two sides of vegetables unless veggies are included in the dish. In the cases where a grain such as pasta or bread is not listed or part of the dish, slices of whole wheat bread are readily available. For drinks, fat-free milk is served. For dessert, as you can see, fresh fruit is what we prepare. Fruit is, by definition, sweet and my kids love their fruit dessert. They do occasionally have a treat of course but they still need to gobble up their fruit first! :)
I am more than happy to share my menu with all of you interested in having a copy of it. I actually tried to upload my file to a server where everyone could simply download it but without much success I'm afraid. I'm not sure my format will/would download right for non-Macintosh users either honestly. I'm working with a .rtf type of document but I've also scanned it to a friendly jpeg. Of course, my scan didn't grab the fine lines in my table (Technology just loves me, doesn't it?) So anyhow, send me an -mail (sortingsprinkles at gmail dot com) and I'll e-mail you an .rtf or jpeg of the menu if you're interested! By the way, if you are intrigued by some recipes, don't hesitate to ask: I do share! :)

* * *

Your comments make my day ! 
(Please note : comments won't be visible until after my approval!)

* * *

Today, I'm happily linking up to

If you would like me to link up with you, please don't hesitate to ask, it might take me a week or two, but I generally do!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Recycled Wax "Royal Gems" Crayons

Well it sure has been a while since I last published a post hasn't it? In between field trips, multiple playdates and the enjoyment of the last warm summer days, my time spent at the computer has been cut dramatically but it hasn't prevented me from going shopping for back-to-school basics on one of our rainy days last week. Among the items on my list was of course the classic wax crayon pack. Who can forgo this staple? Every year, it seems like I buy a new pack or two; not because ours have been worn to nothing, mind you, but mostly because a few have broken in our pack and the children now refuse to use those despite mine taping them back together with masking tape (works great by the way!). On top of that, one must admit that the price of crayons at the back-to-school sales is quite amazing (19 cents, really?). Even if you don't need them, your brain almost tricks you into buying them because if you end up needing them later, you very well know they will be at least five times that price down the road...So I left the store with two packs of 24 brand new crayons (one for Zahavah and one for Adrian). I then decided it was time to figure out what to do with the broken crayons. After all, the kids were not suddenly going to start using them, right? It was time to recycle the old broken crayons into new crayons. What a "wicked" plan I thought: the broken crayons the kids had refused to draw with would, in the end, be used? hehehe I almost felt like I was sneaking medicine in their ice cream! :)

Gem Recycled Crayons
Recycle your broken crayons into these little gems!

I first gathered all the broken crayons accumulated over the last two years (not including the washable kind as I was told they would leave a white waxy residue) and removed the paper surrounding the crayons. In many cases, I was lucky...the kids had already done that! :) I then sorted the crayons by color and broke them in more pieces so they'd melt faster. I kept all the divided colors in paper cups (I used small "bathroom cups"). Adrian helped too. He broke some crayons and helped sort the colors so kids can definitely help with this process. After that, it was time to melt the crayons. I turned my oven on to 160C (325F), put my paper cups on a baking sheet and put the baking sheet in. Please be aware that paper cups are not supposed to be used for hot liquids according to most manufacturers. Check the label on your box before proceeding (my cups were for cold liquids only and I still used them but I put only 2-3 crayons in each and made sure to stay above the countertop when pouring in case the bottom of a cup would fall out and had no issues but it doesn't mean nobody will...)

Sorted Crayons
Sorted, broken, peeled crayons ready for melting

During this time, I sprayed a non-stick spray on my candy mold so the crayon wax would not stick to my plastic mold. My mold is heat resistant to 170C by the way so I knew my wax would not melt my mold during the pouring process. Be sure you check yours as well.

Candy Cold for Crayons
Oiled candy mold ready for pouring

After 10 minutes, all my crayons were melted (I had 2-3 crayons per small cup) so I took the baking sheet out of the oven using an oven mitt (I did check after five minutes using a toothpick), and quickly poured the melted wax into the molds. The paper cup themselves were warm to the touch but not hot (unless I would  have touched at the level of the wax of course, which would have been) so I used my bare hands right out of the oven to handle the cups but I had to be careful not to let the wax touch my fingers. Oven mitts are highly recommended for the pouring of the wax of course. We do not all have the same definition of what's warm and what's hot! :) 

I let the mold sit on the countertop for half an hour after the pouring was finished and then I put it in the refrigerator for another half an hour. After that, the crayons were hard and ready and came right out of the mold with a light touch of my finger (they just slipped out thanks to the oily spray). I simply took them out one by one so they wouldn't break but a faster way might be to put a towel on top of the mold and then turn the towel and mold over. I just didn't want to chance it. :)

Crayons Cooling
New wax crayons in the making and resting

I chose this mold (purchased on Ebay by the way) with Zahavah's Princess themed week in mind. (coming up in October) I thought having "gem" crayons would be fun for her and yet, not too difficult for me to make since this is my first time making "recycled crayons". I quite enjoyed the experience. If it didn't take this many crayons (see how some of my molds are not filled? And yet I used about 30 crayons for that!) and if the paper wasn't always glued to the crayons (it can be difficult to remove at times), I would definitely consider making more fun shaped crayons and offer them as presents for the kids's friends...Until then, we'll have to wait until more crayons break! :)

Recycled Crayon into Gem
Beautiful crayon "pendant" for my beautiful little girl!

* * *

Your comments make my day ! 
(Please note : comments won't be visible until after my approval!)

* * *

This post was shared with these wonderful blogs and websites this week:

If you would like me to link up with you, please don't hesitate to ask, it might take me a week or two, but I generally do!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Essentials of a Montessori Toddler Classroom

Unless you are a certified Montessori teacher taking a few sabbatical years, your first year of home schooling your child using the Montessori method can be a bit overwhelming. Despite all the research, planning, and reading, it's always a bit difficult to target what's really essential in a home school setting. You actually don't NEED that much, but some people choose to have it all. It's a bit like Montessori materials purchases; You CAN buy Nienhuis quality OR you can buy any other quality: You don't NEED Nienhuis quality in a home setting as only 1-2 children will handle the materials for a only a few years but you CAN choose to buy it if you want it...Below, I've listed my personal Top 10 Essentials for home schooling my toddler the Montessori way...

Montessori Albums
1. Montessori Albums

If you plan on starting to homeschool your children, you will need direction; some kind of a curriculum.  If you chose to homeschool with the Montessori method, your curriculum will be found in "albums" in which the scope (objective to be achieved) and sequence (order of presentation) will be presented for several, but not all, "activities". Several albums are available for purchase and each is different. I have bought some from both Montessori Print Shop and  KHT Montessori and would recommend both types. I've also gathered a lot from Montessori at Home, although it is not technically an album but more of an e-book with a lot of information on various aspects of the curriculum.

Lacing Mardi Gras Beads
2. An assortment of trays

Be they made of wood, acrylic or plastic, these will be needed in various sizes. It's always fun to have an assortment of colors as well to match the theme/materials being presented (see how I matched my Mardi Gras threading task with my tray above?). The trays should be light/small enough for your child to carry them around but they should also be sturdy enough not to break under the weight of the materials placed upon them. So far, I've had very good luck with Montessori Services's medium plastic trays (medium-size plastic tray shown above in picture in purple) and I just placed a new order for more colors and sizes for this year. Overall, you'll need a few trays as several will be on the shelves at the same time.

3. A Work Rug or a Low Table

Ah the work rug...It is awfully cute to see children working on their own personal rug in Montessori schools. I've been debating for years within myself whether I should have used one with Adrian or not. Truth is : in New York, we did not really have room for a work rug on the floor. All truth really be told: Adrian never had to fear anyone would walk on/over his work space either as we always did school when his sister was napping (still do actually). You see, I've never been convinced a work mat was needed in a home school setting so I never used one (couldn't anyway). It never caused any harm either as we had a small low table to define Adrian's work space. As such, school materials were "contained". For this upcoming school year though, I'll be dealing with a new little person: Zahavah. The small low table is gone and so is the small family room. Suddenly, the work mat does not seem like a bad idea...Or does it? The debate continues...

4. Low Shelving

Prior to starting your day, your trays should be set our and ready for presentation on shelves. Ideally, an entire room in your home will have been set aside for homeschooling and several shelves will have been put up (one for practical life activities, one for math, one for language, etc.) but life is, let's face it, not always ideal. Most of us simply cannot set aside an entire room for a school room in which case your shelves can be put up in the corner of your "school room". Some people even have "roll away shelves". When I first started with Adrian (barely 3 year old at the time), I used our cramped family room as our school room and had no shelves at all. I used the fireplace's low step as a shelf and only set out enough trays for that day on that step. Once school was over, they were taken away. Of course, it was more work for me and it didn't allow him as much freedom in his choice of work but he always ended up choosing everything set out anyway...Oh, one last thing, if you are planning on investing in shelves, choose low ones (easy access for children) that are not too deep and preferably ones with an option to lower/raise the shelves as needed. I like IKEA's Billy Shelf. We bought four and I find them to be the perfect height, width and like that the inner shelves can be raised and lowered easily. Extra shelves can also be bought. The very top is of course out of reach for the children but that is not a bad thing; materials like huge puzzle maps and cabinets can be put up there. Please note that the picture above shows our shelves in action in the "Play Room" a year ago. As such, they are not displaying school trays but! :)

Earth Beautiful Pictures
5. A Color Printer, lots of paper, card stock and an optional laminator

The Montessori approach is very hands-on but there are many times when three part cards and other printed materials will still be used (shown above : Earth's Most Beautiful Places  in a 2 Part Card format). As such, a good printer with lots of card stock will be needed for those moments. I don't have a top of the line inkjet printer but it does a pretty good job overall. I've also invested into a laminator over the Spring. I hesitated long and large before doing so because Adrian has always taken such good care of my materials and since I only have two kids, I feel like it's more or less needed. My daughter is a bit more rough with materials though (she is younger...) and I do think the presentation is neater with the laminator so from time to time, I'll use my laminator but I really do not think it's a necessity if you homeschool.

Pouring Coconut Milk
6. Small baskets, boxes, bowls, pitchers

With all the pouring and transferring done this year, pitchers, decanters, small glasses with handles, and no handles will be needed for sure. Small baskets and bowls and boxes will also be needed to hold the items put on the trays of course. All of these things can be found in craft stores and bargain stores, thrift stores, flea markets and the like but Montessori Services also has a nice variety if all you find in your locality is not suitable or expensive (above: Montessori Services' creamers on one of their medium size trays). I recently replenished my pitcher and basket assortment in order to have more variety and found the prices quite reasonable.

Volcano Eruption Dinosaur Bin
 7. Small themed objects

If you intend to use thematic studies during the year, (I use them year-long), small objects associated with that theme should be collected. For example, for our "fall" theme, I've already started collecting acorn caps and pinecones that fell recently. If you are heading to the seaside this summer and plan on studying "the beach" later this year, bring back some seashells, sea glass, and such. You'll quickly discover that the bargain stores such your local "Dollar store" / Euro shop, thrift store, yard sale, and flea markets are some of the best places to look for small, cheap themed items; especially seasonal ones. (Craft stores are also excellent resources). (Pictured above are some dinosaurs from Safari Ltd.'s Dinosaur Toob. These were part of of dinosaur week last year.)

Montessori Number Rods
8. Montessori Materials

Homemade or store-bought, a few Montessori materials will be needed during your toddler's first year of Montessori school. Which ones? It all depends on your toddler's rhythm. Some children are fast learners and some like to repeat activities for a longer time before moving on to the next. One thing is sure, the first year is a lot more about Sensorial and Practical Life work so set some money/time aside for a Pink Tower and a set of Brown Stairs at the very least. Number rods and Sandpaper numbers for math will probably also be presented. As for the rest, like I said, it will depend on your child but color tablets set 1 and probably 2 will probably be presented along with some fabrics...

 9. Child-Size Equipment / Child-Friendly Environment

Nothing will make life easier for your child than having child-size equipment. Children want to learn to become independent and can do quite a great deal if we show them how and give them child-size tools and access to what they need to do the work. A child-size table and chairs is a great start. A step-stool in the kitchen and bathrooms is another one. Take a look at the picture of our entryway for example; it's nothing fancy but it works great for fostering independence: the bench (it's actually an IKEA shelf we laid on its side...) allows the kids to sit and the cubicles allows free access to shoes which means the kids can pick up their shoes themselves, sit, put their shoes on and we're ready. When we come back, they sit, take their shoes off and slip them back into the cubicles. Magic! The coat rack is also child-friendly (another IKEA purchase!) as it features high AND low hooks. The kids put their jackets on the low hooks themselves and pick up their jackets themselves too! So basically, our kids have been getting  themselves ready for a while now (Zahavah is still working on putting her jacket on though). In the background...a "bit" of historical geography (an authentic map of Paris, France as of 1739) and a piece of culture (Cross carved in "Jerusalem Stone" - limestone carried in Israel and used in the building of religious temples).

10. Basic Art Supplies and Basic Musical Instruments 

During the "toddler years", basic art supplies and music instruments will be introduced. As such, you should have on hand a small supply of colored pencils, crayons, clay, tempera paint, watercolors, and scissors. An easel would also be a great addition. As far as musical instruments go, it can get expensive, no matter how "basic" they are so if you invest in them, make sure you use them! :) For this year, I intend to get/make (or already have/made) a triangle, rhythm sticks, drums, tambourine, cymbals, rainstick, kazoo, and sandpaper blocks. (Shown above are a triangle, rhythm sticks, a recorder and a ukulele.)

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is my personal Top 10 Essentials for my own personal Montessori Toddler Home School Classroom. These are the 10 things I could not do without (I think I did forget books though, didn't I? *sigh*) What are yours?

* * *

Your comments make my day ! 
(Please note : comments won't be visible until after my approval!)

* * *

Today, I'm happily linking up to

If you would like me to link up with you, please don't hesitate to ask, it might take me a week or two, but I generally do!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Our Classroom Calendar - A bit of History Daily

Every preschool and nursery you'll ever visit will probably always feature a big calendar up on their wall above the circle time rug. In an effort to teach my own children about the months of the year, days of the week and seasons, I too have decided to put one up. Only...after looking long and large, I couldn't find one worth putting up. I don't like the plastic looking things I saw for sale and started investigating how to make my own. After some research, I set my heart on (no surprise here!) Counting Coconuts' DIY version. As Zahavah is younger than Mari-Ann's son was at the time, I made some changes but overall, the concept is the same and they are quite similar.

School Calendar Corkboard/Billboard for Year 2013-2014

Our Classroom Calendar consists of a Cork Billboard (paid $10 for mine) loaded with nomenclature cards and pockets that have been stapled or push pinned into place. All labels were printed on cardstock and laminated for durability. Eventually, I would love to add more elements to our board but for now, I do think we have more than enough covered. I even wondered if I should really include the phases of the Moon on our board but as Zahavah is smitten with the natural satellite, I decided to put it on. Next year, I am hoping to make room/add a board extension for a News pocket and possibly a Conversation Starter/Prompt or Question pocket. It's not that I feel "Z" is too young for these this year; it's simply that the board is already borderline overwhelming for a 2.5 year old. News and conversations can still be done if need be that day without having yet another colorful pocket on the already somewhat busy board.

Calendar Pointers
Zahavah and Adrian woke up one morning and discovered the calendar!
They were thrilled and cannot wait for September now...

Overall, the calendar is intended for use during our "circle time" as an everyday history tool. I tried to make it as interactive as possible with a little charm  (we're using an actual Murano glass wine charm) to move from day to day on the big calendar. I also made a bookmark to slide into the day of the week pocket. In the future, two more bookmarks will be added (yesterday and tomorrow). Every so often, Zahavah will also get to change the big month of the year card, season card, and phase of the Moon card. Of course, everyday, she'll be responsible for checking out the weather and choosing the appropriate weather card and putting it on our board. 

Day of the Month Charm   Day of the Week Clip
Murano Wine Charm and plastic Paper Clip moving day to day

Interested in the cards themselves? I thought you might! Here is where I got mine...

Phases of the Moon - Free at Montessori for Learning
I honestly thought these were the best around. They truly show the moon is half bright and half obscured when it's in its first quarter for example. Most cards made it look like the Moon was half gone in that phase and it's just not realistic. From where I am on Earth, I still can see the Moon, it's just not as bright when it's partly obscured for example.

Seasons of the Year - KHT Montessori History Album (Album is $20)
I truly love how Karen Tyler did her Seasons cards. They show the same scenery but during a different season. Simply brilliant. On top of that the setting is simple so you truly notice how the seasons have changed the nature surrounding it. I already owned the album so I simply decided to use these cards for our board but you could do the same. I eventually would love to make my own if I find a sweet spot to photograph for a good change of season. Too bad we left New England! :(

Weather Cards - Sorting Sprinkles
I made these a while back during my son's preschool weather week. I selected the ones I knew we would use and put aside the ones I knew we would not (no sandstorms here). I also added a "partly cloudy" card to the selection. Overall, I kept the selection limited (sunny, cloudy, partly cloudy, rain, thunderstorms, snow, and fog because believe it or not...we get that a lot). I know a lot of you have shown interest in getting a set of these when I first posted about them but truth is, I did not take these pictures and most of them are probably copyrighted; as such I prefer to keep them for my own personal use until I investigate the matter further. :)

Calendar Cards - Free at Counting Coconuts
I'd love to make my own one day but for now, I'm a bit pressed by time and well, somewhat challenged when it comes to editing... :) Besides, some people are truly talented in that domain and provide theirs free of charge so I decided that for now, I'd use theirs. Counting Coconuts has several themed cards available for download so I do believe I'll try to change mine monthly and pick a theme that follows what we're studying that month.

Calendar Billboard Close-Up
Close-up of the Board...with an admiring Adrian...
who sat and sat pondering why I hadn't put August on the board

So how are you preparing for the upcoming school year? Do you also have a Calendar like we do this year? How does it differ? I'd love to hear from you!

* * *

Your comments make my day ! 
(Please note : comments won't be visible until after my approval!)

* * *

Today, I'm happily linking up to

If you would like me to link up with you, please don't hesitate to ask, it might take me a week or two, but I generally do!