Our Montessori inspired shelves – 4 and 6 year olds

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Like most families, we have many play toys we have accumulated over the years.  While many of them are fun to play with, most of the time they are forgotten as they are placed in toy boxes.  I consequently decided to use the Montessori method of having learning activities easy to access and open via a bookshelf.  This has proved successful in our family, ensuring our children play with many of the toys they have (as I try rotate them as often as I can) but also encourages them to occupy themselves and not turn to screens which is always the easy option.

Since my last Montessori inspired activity shelf post (which you can find here) I have been able to update them with more exciting jobs for Xavier as well as Grace, thanks to A Whole Lot of Love.  I initially found it difficult to find exciting activities for school aged children but I have now included a few jobs which Grace thoroughly enjoys.

Here is our shelf as it currently stands…

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And here are the shelves in more detail…

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Block shape pattern activity – you may remember this job from previous posts showcasing our activity shelves (found here and here) but they live on the shelf for a good reason.  Both Grace and Xavier now play with it, sometimes spending up to 20 minutes replicating different pictures from the cards.

Animal block puzzle – This Melissa and Doug puzzle is now only played by Xavier but he loves it, usually completing all 6 animals before going on to something else.

Wooden blocks for free play – I often found my children using the blocks from the shape pattern activity to build towers and other interesting things so I knew I needed to include proper wooden blocks for free play.  I opted for a 50 piece set so it was big enough to build decent buildings, but compact enough for the shelf for easy access.  This beautiful set can be found here

Balance scales – I found this beautiful wooden one here and was immediately drawn by its versatility for play.  It comes with four wooden pegs but Xavier also loves to weigh his different trinkets (which I shared on Instagram here).  I like to use it to teach what is heavier than what and to practice addition and subtraction.

Dominoes with stairs and slide – This is a great domino play set and one my children have often played with on dreary rainy Melbourne days.  I like how it encourages patience (as it’s so easy to knock down!) but also creativity as this set (found here) also comes with stairs, slide and a bell for the dominoes to hit at the very end!

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Four logical thinking game – Grace usually gravitates towards this activity.  You replicate patterns but it has to be done logically, as you can only move a certain number of circles at a time.

Shape halves puzzle – There are three hexagons, squares and circles.  Each shape has a different type of half for it e.g. straight half, zig zag or curved.  It requires concentration as the zig zag is often confused with the curved halves!

Animal memory game – Most of our memory games are flimsy cards and since the children love playing memory, I bit the bullet and got good quality, cardboard ones (found here).  They are beautiful quality, the graphics of the animals are adorable and I know they will withstand a lot of play, unlike the other memory cards we have had!

Spelling puzzle – there are different wooden boards with a picture of an object and spaces for one to spell the word with wooden letters

Sandpaper letters – these are upper case sandpaper letters for Xavier.  He likes to put them in order of the alphabet and I ask him to spell certain words when he’s in the mood!

Replicating patterns with two toned tiles – This is a great activity and Grace’s favourite at the moment (you can see her playing with it here).  The tiles are two toned not only in colour but in pattern as well, making it quite difficult to replicate intricate pictures found on cards.  It’s great the tiles are magnetic so it’s convenient for travel, but also good if you want a break from the job and want to come back to it later.  We got this beautiful set from here.

Also tune in on our Instagram pageour Instagram page for an exciting giveaway so you too can have some fun learning activities for your little ones!

Thank you to A Whole Lot of Love for helping us update our activity shelf!

Products were gifted from A Whole Lot of Love but our opinions of them are our own.

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Our after school routine

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I recently read an interesting article about after school routines (found here).  Written by a nanny, she compares the two families she works for and their different views on screen time.  One family sets time limits on the amount of time their children can play on iPads/watch TV while the other, allows unlimited use.  The children of the second family, however, must complete their homework and other set tasks before they allowed to do anything they want.  The author then explains that they don’t always turn to screens, listing outside activities or even board games as ways they choose to pass the time before dinner, whereas children from the first family would sneak in as much screen time as possible, outside their set amounts.

I then remembered a discussion had with a friend who shared her rules on screen time at home.  Similar to the second family described in the article, her son earns screen time after doing tasks she sets, such as writing practice (which has improved because of the extra effort).  This made me think that we too, need to rethink our after school routines.

Our children return home from school and kinder tired on most days so I understand them wanting to take it easy and ‘vege out.’  I also believe that play is important not only for childhood memories but for learning as well.  Hard work was instilled in my siblings and I from a young age and extra work was given to us to help with our learning.  Upon reflection, I can see how it did help us at school, even though at the time, I hated doing more work at home.  This reminded me about ‘Outliers‘, a book by Malcolm Gladwell, which explores why some people are successful (a great read, if you have the time!).  In one chapter, the book too finds that extra homework is of some benefit.

I had a good think about all of this and ‘balance’ kept popping into my mind.  So I decided to incorporate my learnings from both the article and book.  After both children do their readers, all I ask of them is to complete two pages of English and Math books (I just bought Kumon books for $6.99 at Costco) and then they can do whatever they want.  It literally takes them less than 10 minutes to complete this extra task and so far, they have been very happy to do it because they then get free time.  While most days they choose the iPad and laptop, there have been instances where they have asked to go to the park or played with their toys.  And I know that outside play will be chosen more once the weather picks up!

This routine only plays out if we don’t have extracurricular activities after school and piano practice is done before school (since they like to wake up at 6am… fun times).  So for right now, this routine works for us but I am very aware that things can change very quickly and I am very happy to adapt to whatever comes our way.

So yes, these are busy days.  I don’t want to know how hectic things will get as they get older!  But it is a great feeling to have found a routine that works for us and makes our afternoon run a lot more smooth!

Preparing for the cooler weather

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The cool weather has finally arrived here in Melbourne.  The jackets are out, jumpers in drawers and lots of citrus fruits are now in our diet as we try combat the sniffles that usually accompany such change.

I have been meaning to try essential oils in our household for a while now, as I have heard of its many benefits.  I heard Lavender helps with sleeping, Peppermint and Eucalyptus assists with cough and colds and Frankincense can positively affect moods.  Since I wanted to try the oils on the children, I researched which method was best for their use.  While carrier oils were often suggested (where you use 10ml of a carrier oil to dilute with a few drops of essential oils), diffusers seemed very popular.

We were excited when Piping Rock offered to let us try their Essential Oils Starter Kit and Mist Vapor Diffuser.  The Starter Kit not only contains Lavender, Frankincense, Peppermint and Eucalyptus, but also Tea Tree and Cedarwood.  The Piping Rock website simply explains how each oil is extracted, the aroma, which part of the plant is used, benefits, history and what other oils it blends with.  I also appreciated the honest reviews each product contained, all from Piping Rock customers, since I was new to the essential oils world!

The Essential Oils Starter Kit contains six 15ml essential oil bottles, each with a dropper top for easy use.  A summary of the each oil’s benefits can be found below:

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We started off using Lavender and Eucalyptus with the children and have not stopped using these oils ever since we received them, especially when runny noses seemed to appear.  The Mist Vapor Diffuser was a hit not only because of its compact size but also because it turned out to be the perfect night light.  The kids take in turns choosing what colour the light is each night (you can even choose an option where the colours slowly change).  One limitation of this diffuser, however, due to its size, is that the steam only lasts 5 hours and not the entire night.  However, the children still love having it on each night.

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The other pleasant surprise with Piping Rock was despite being an American company, their prices are very affordable and shipping to Australia reasonable.  Shipping did take a while but if for the quality of product and price, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind waiting a bit either!

We’ll do anything to get a longer night sleep so it’s always great to find something that does help!

Thank you, Piping Rock for sponsoring this post.  Collaboration supported by Shopping Links

Our Montessori inspired activity shelf – 3.5 year old

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Now that Grace has commenced school, I have not prepared as many learning activities for her at home since she returns home quite tired and any energy she does have for learning we put towards reading.  Consequently, our Montessori inspired activity shelf now contains  activities predominantly for X man, who is almost 3.5 years old.  That’s not to say that Grace does not do any jobs from the shelf – she goes back to the Lego activity, block shape activity and letter puzzle every now and then.  I try to rotate the jobs on the shelf based on what the children go back to or what their current interests are.  So here are the activities in more detail…

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Hammer and screwdriver set – X man loves to fix stuff so he goes back to this job time and time again

Coloured popsicle stick patterns – I used the free printables from Playdough to plato and the kids replicate the patterns using popsicle sticks.  You may remember this activity on my Instagram page here.

Hanging clothes on line using pegs – I bought the clothes line on eBay, although you can easily make your own using string and a shoe box.  One bowl has pegs and the other has little felt clothes.  This is definitely a favourite job!

Musical instruments – This basket seems to live on this shelf as it always gets played with!

Sandpaper letters – I bought these off Amazon and I rotate between lowercase and uppercase

Make alphabet letters using Lego – I recently took this job out again for Xavier after putting it away once Grace did not play with is but she now goes back to it every so often.  You may remember this activity on my Instagram page here.  This is another great free printable from Playdough to plato

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Spelling puzzle – a great Melissa and Doug puzzle where you spell simple words using wooden letters

Shape halves puzzle – this was a favourite of Grace’s for a long time and now X man tries to do it.  It’s still a bit difficult but he seems to like it!

Block shape patterns activity – There are four level of cards where the child replicates patterns using certain blocks.  I actually bought this for my nephew 6 years ago which he kindly handed down to us when he and his siblings grew out of it!

6-way farm animal cube puzzle – another favourite puzzle the kids constantly go back to!

Beehive puzzle – the aim of the activity is to use the wooden tweezers to put bees in their corresponding hive colour.  It’s too easy for X man but he seems to enjoy it so it has remained on the shelf

Craft copying activity – jeans – we received this activity pack from the children’s childcare educator.  Basically they have to replicate the picture using a piece of material, scissors, glue and a black marker

And there you have it!  Our current Montessori inspired activity shelf for a 3.5 year old!  You can see our previous shelves here and here.

Learning about different countries with World Bites!

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We have been the lucky recipients of World Bites boxes over the past three months.  The kids were always excited to receive a new World Bites box each month and discover what new treats they could try.

World Bites is monthly subscription where you get to experience different snacks from all over the world, delivered straight to your door (tracked postage is included in your subscription).  We tried the France, Japan and China boxes and loved eating their favourite goodies but we also appreciated the added informative booklet.  As soon as the box was opened, the children would go through each box and package, trying to figure out which one to try first.  We would use the booklet as a guide to each snack (most snacks have a little bio on them e.g. why it is popular in the country and the type of taste) before sampling each one.  The booklet also provides some key phrases in the language, stats on the country as well as some photos of iconic buildings and monuments that make the country unique.

I used the World Bites boxes to help teach the children a bit more about these countries.  It’s easy to show them where Japan is on a map and even photos of Mum and Dad visiting there but it’s a whole new experience to see the written language on packages and to taste what is popular there.  Grace even identified that Chinese snacks are not as sweet as the France ones and Xavier loved looking through my China, France and Japan travel photos, especially the costumes from the streets of Harajuku as I tried to explain more about the culture and different lifestyles to what we have here in Australia.  If you follow me on Insta, you may have remembered us sharing how the kids made sherbet in a toilet from our Japan box, eating a new flavour of Pocky and trying a new type of sweet, Fraise Tagada!

And now here are some photos of us and our World Bites boxes!

::X man was very excited to eat the Pocky from our Japan box::

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::I really loved having these booklets to help teach the children more about the countries::img_0226:::Treats from our France box!::img_9527img_0227

::Our China box!::img_0235

::These double fruit flavoured Oreos were definitely a hit!::

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Thank you to World Bites for allowing us to taste the flavours of France, China and Japan!

How I am reducing clutter in my house

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If you follow me over on Insta, you’ll know that one of my 2017 new year resolutions is to reduce the clutter in my house.  It’s like my nesting phase has come early and I am determined to only have items in my home that we love and need before the new baby comes in May!

The items to be disposed of need to have lived in the house for a while (catalogues, newsletters and the occasional drawings don’t necessarily count unless they have been kept for a long period of time) and they don’t necessarily go in the bin.  We have made countless trips to our local charity bins and many other items have been given to family or friends we know will make good use of them.

Here are some of the tips and benefits I have come across so far:

  • Dispose of 10 items a day: this whole idea was to help me not feel overwhelmed by the daunting task.  I am not limited to 10 items and sometimes if I remove 20 or more things, I count that for the following day.  It has helped me take this challenge in bite sized pieces and to helps me avoid spending hours trying to clean a section with the end result of me leaving a bigger mess once complete.  Sometimes I clean a bathroom drawer while the kids are in the shower, a kitchen cupboard while dinner is cooking or even the a shelf while the kids get ready for bed.  It also ensures our bin isn’t overflowing come bin night!
  • Introduced capsule wardrobes for the children: I have loved having a capsule wardrobe for over 2 years now (my Winter and Autumn wardrobes for 2016 can be found here and here), where I only have about 37 items in my seasonal closet.  I have since done the same for my two children.  They are the grateful recipients of great hand me downs so by going through what they have before the season starts, I know exactly what they need and don’t need.  I have consequently curbed the amount of money I’ve spent on kids’ clothing which means less items in the house.  Win-win!
  • Reduced my shopping habit: Because I am consciously trying to reduce the amount of stuff in our house, I am more reluctant to bring more into it.  Therefore, I am a lot more picky when buying things and when I do, I make sure we need it and I truly love it.
  • Ensure everything has a home: Reading Marie Kondo’s book has really changed the way I live (you can click here to see how she has helped me reorganise my drawers!).  One of her great suggestions is that everything in your house needs a home i.e. a designated space for it to live.  Not only does that mean you will always know where to store it and where to find it, but it also means that it belongs.  Often I have items that I like, don’t really like but for some reason, want to keep.  If I can’t find an appropriate home for it, then I know it’s time to let it go.
  • Re-evaluate the toys and books for my children: I have always wanted to be clever with my storage solutions and was keen to have a living room with toys out of sight.  We got rid of 98% of our DVDs and now use our TV cabinet as toy storage.  Each child has a 40cm x 25cm box filled with a few activity and reading books as well as educational and fun toys that encourage imaginary play.  I did this with my children so they chose what they wanted and removed what they didn’t.  I am yet to do their bedroom but I will use a similar strategy.  I have, however, re-done their Montessori shelf in the spare room which I will share shortly!

I am still learning through this process but I feel so much lighter and happier even though I’ve only done a small percentage of our house.  Because I do things in bite sized pieces, I know exactly which area I want to tackle next and how to do it.  It’s great feeling that you can conquer a challenge you have wanted to do for years… and feel like you can actually achieve it too!

Why I don’t buy Christmas gifts for my nieces and nephews

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While Christmas is usually the season for family, joy and giving, it is also a crazy time when your ‘to-do’ and ‘to-go’ lists are filled with end of year concerts, celebrations, who to buy gifts for and who is hosting and cooking what for Christmas that year.

The days following Christmas, families usually do a stock take of what toys they currently have in the home.  Consequently, if you pass any local opp shop late December, you will often see charity bins overflowing with unwanted items with countless garbage bags next to them.  We have found ourselves in a similar situation.  While we have been the grateful recipients of great presents, Christmas usually brought in many little trinkets which our children may have played with for a day, but then quickly got bored of.

One year after the festive season, I caught up with a friend and we discussed how our Christmases were.  She  shared her sister’s request which made Christmas a little easier but all the more memorable.  No one was to buy gifts for her children.  Instead, if family wanted to give her children something, she requested the gift of their time.  Take them to the zoo for the afternoon, the movies, a sports game – anything that would allow the children to not only have fun, but to ensure they have happy memories with family.

I loved this idea so shared it with my family.  Interestingly enough, this was something my brother and now wife had always done for my children for birthdays and Christmas.  They would take the kids out to somewhere of their choice (usually McDonalds for lunch then a movie or fun play centre) and Joel and I have a rare morning or afternoon to ourselves to enjoy with each other.  Honestly – it’s the gift which everyone in the family loves.

On Joel’s side, there are 10 grandchildren and 10 adults.  It consequently worked out perfectly for each adult to take a child out on a special date of their choice for Christmas.  Last year, dates included a beach day, body boarding followed by fish and chips, a photography walk after high tea, a morning filled with painting, a bush walk then a trip to the Chocolatier, bike riding… so many fun activities.  This has not only been a great way for us to get to know our nieces and nephews on a deeper level, the fun memories made I know will last a long time.

I’m so grateful that we have the gift of time and am able to spend it with our loved ones.  And I’m also grateful that my children have wonderful family who are willing to take the time out of their busy schedules to spend with them so their childhood memories of family Christmas time will be filled with the fun dates they had with the people they love.