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The Basket of Known Objects

The Basket of Known Objects is one of the most simple and effective Montessori activities for babies.  It promotes exploration, language, sensory development and movement… Best of all, it’s 100% FREE!!

As its name implies, this activity requires placing 4-6 safe objects that you find around the house into a child-sized basket.  It can be introduced around the age of three months, or when you see that your child is beginning to grasp objects.  If your baby can sit up against pillows, you can introduce the basket in a sitting position.  Otherwise, you can place it on the floor next to your child and let him turn towards it.

The main purpose of this activity is to help your child explore the objects in his environment before he’s crawling; it’s like bringing the world to him!  While not a formal language activity, you can eventually introduce the names of the objects by conversing casually with your child as he explores.  However, first give him ample uninterrupted time to explore the basket and its contents.  Now is when you can grab that elusive shower or make dinner!

Our first basket was too big!

When I first introduced the activity to Zach, he was more interested in the basket than in the objects.  This was a little frustrating until I realized that this is the norm with infants; unlike pre-schoolers (with whom I am accustomed to working), babies will spend a long time just exploring the material and its container before engaging in what we would consider the actual purpose of the activity (of course, this exploration is also purposeful and incredibly important because for them, EVERYTHING is new!).

Our Basket of Known Objects has evolved with Zach’s interests (and, I must admit, my creativity).  At first, I chose four random objects (a measuring cup, a teaspoon, a baby food jar and a hand cream jar).  Note that these are real objects from our environment, not plastic toys.  As I moved around the house, I would encounter other items that could be introduced (a bracelet, a small box, a seashell, a coin purse, etc.).  Every few days, I would replace one familiar object in the basket with a new item and then offer the basket again.  We quickly realized that Zach would zero in on the new object.  Every. Single. Time.  Try it and see what your baby does!

When Zach began showing interest in crawling at around 6 months of age, I modified the contents of the basket so that they all rolled.  This provided lots of opportunity for chasing round objects around the living room!

Now that Zach is eight months old and on the verge of understanding language, I’m preparing a new basket, this time with objects that belong to the same category.  I’ve chosen to start with types of brushes – toothbrush, nail brush, hair brush, and basting brush – since that’s what I have around the house.  This activity will provide re-enforcement of the word “brush”, and will help him understand that within the category “brush” there are many types of brushes.

If you choose to offer this activity to your baby, use common sense to make sure all the objects in the basket are safe.  Tightly screw the caps on small bottles and check them often (some people even glue them on); avoid objects that can poke (especially before the child develops good coordination); if you are offering an object made out of glass, don’t leave baby unattended and make sure  he’s exploring on a soft surface away from walls.  If you choose the objects with care, you can leave your baby exploring on his own for as long as he’s interested (sometimes Zach would work with his basket for over 20 minutes).

Have you made a Basket of Known Objects for your baby?  Do you have any suggestions for parents who want to try this activity with their child?  Please share your ideas or experiences in the comments!

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Gobbi Tutorial, Part II (Hanging the Gobbi)

To see Part I (Making the Gobbi mobile), click here.

My dear friend Junnifa, who’s taking the Assistants to Infancy training, was kind enough to give me guidance and sent me the two pictures that show how to hang the Gobbi mobile.  I love her beautiful results!  Thanks Junnifa!!! 🙂

Materials:

  • Large piece of paper or whiteboard
  • Pencil or marker
  • Ruler or straight edge
  • Dowel
  • More embroidery thread (optional)

Instructions:

First, draw a straight line on a piece of paper or a whiteboard.  Line up the completed balls from darkest (left) to lightest (right).  Center the dowel over the balls.   Mark the center-point of each ball onto the dowel so you know where to attach them.

Next, move the dowel about five inches away from the spheres and tilt it an an angle (a 45 degree angle is pretty good, but you don’t have to be exact).  The closest sphere should be about three inches from the dowel. (Note: You don’t want the spheres to hang too far from the dowel because they get tangled.)

Tie the thread of each sphere to the dowel at the point you previously marked.  (This is the tricky part; you might have to tape down the spheres where the thread comes out of the sphere, so you don’t have them falling out of line, or get someone to help you hold the spheres while you do the tying!)

Straighten the dowel and check to see if the spheres hang in a straight diagonal line.

Trim the remaining thread where you made each knot.

Cut a piece of thread or fishing wire about twice as long as the dowel and tie it on both ends of the dowel (This will make a triangle with the dowel as the base and the thread as the two legs).  Cut another piece of thread or fishing wire and tie it to the vertex of the resulting triangle.  Use this thread to hang your mobile.

Optional: If you have leftover thread, you can wrap it around the dowel (see picture above).

I hope this makes sense… I’d love to see you finished creations and as always feel free to comment with questions or suggestions that could make this process even easier!

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Dog Days of Summer

When Zach was a newborn, we had a hammock set up in our family room/bedroom.  I spent several nights dozing with him on that hammock in the fog of early motherhood.  We  eventually took it down to put up the mobiles, but a few days ago Zach was grumpy, so my husband decided to rock him.  Within minutes, our baby was asleep with his hanging wooden ring safely tucked in his hand (check out the toes!!)…

When my husband’s younger sister was a baby, she received as a gift a cloth frog that could assume endless poses due to its birdseed innards.  Over thirty years later, the frog – named “Bleh” – still lives in my in-laws’ basement.  We recently received Bleh in the mail with a request that I clone it, since the poor amphibian is losing its stuffing through tiny holes in its fabric.  Using an old pair of yoga pants and a felted green wool sweater, I whipped up Bleh the Second in two nap times and a swim lesson.  Zach cracks up every time he looks at the frog… Wouldn’t you?

And finally… What do you do with a baby who refuses to sleep on his bed?  Why, you let him choose where he wants to sleep, of course!  (If you look closely, you’ll see he took his stuffed animal with him!)

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Texture Beanbags

Zach wants to touch EVERYTHING these days.  I have to be careful where I stand when I am holding him, because he’ll reach out for anything within arm’s length!  I’ve learned to keep the shopping cart in the middle of the aisle after a few near-catastrophes in the juice aisle.

I wanted to capitalize on his interest for tactile experiences, and I could tell he was getting bored with the objects in his activity area and needed new objects to manipulate.  A quick dash to the fabric store, four small pieces of fabric, and a dusting of the ol’ sewing machine was all it took to whip up these bean bags.  I chose all four fabrics in similar neutral tones to encourage isolation of the fabric textures, and filled them with rice instead of beans because I don’t want to worry about Zach swallowing beans if a bag bursts open while I’m not with him.

Flannel, burlap, cotton and corduroy.

The fabrics I chose are: cotton, burlap, corduroy and flannel.  In the Montessori Children’s House we have a fabric-matching activity with natural fibers (cotton, linen, silk, wool); I made my choices based on interesting and contrasting textures more than whether they were natural or not.  I whipped them up in one nap time, and Zach had a good time checking out the new contents of his basket!

(Sadly, our dogs found one of the bags pretty attractive, too… grrrr…)

 

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Suggested Color Gradation for the Gobbi

Hi crafty reader!  If you’re planning on making a Gobbi mobile, I have some info that might come in handy (don’t hate me if you already started, because I just got this from a helpful friend who’s taking the A to I course!  You can always make another one; babies LOVE these mobiles!).  Here are the suggested DMC embroidery floss shades for each of the potential Gobbi colors:

Yellow: 745 – 744 – 743 – 972 – 742

Green: 703 – 702 – 701 – 700 – 699

Teal: 3811 – 3766 – 3810 – 3809 – 3808

Blue: 3752 – 827 – 813 – ??? – 3760 (note: there’s missing shade, I’ll update this if/when she figures out what it should be)

Pink: 3608 – 3607 – 718 – 917 – 915

Purple: 211 – 209 – 553 – 552 – 550

Cranberry: 816 – 3831 – 3832 – 3833 – 761

Rust: 349 – 350 – 351 – 352 – 353

Here’s the DMC color chart so you can see what these shades look like before you go shopping.  Ooooooh, makes me want to run to my nearest craft store and stock up on thread!!

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Gobbi Tutorial, Part I

Disclaimer: I am NOT what you would call “incredibly crafty” and I’m also pretty bad at writing tutorials (How I successfully wrote 12 Montessori albums, I’ll never know).  I also haven’t taken the Assistants to Infancy training, so if there’s a different/better way to do this, please leave your comments below for the benefit of all readers.  

A few months ago I wrote about the Gobbi mobile, which is a favorite among babies starting around 8 weeks of age.  Several readers have asked me for a tutorial, so here goes…

Materials (can be purchased at Michael’s, JoAnn’s, or other craft stores):

  • Embroidery floss (aka, thread) in five ascending shades of one color (you will need 2-3 skeins of each shade).  Take a look at this list of suggested shades!
  • Five styrofoam balls, about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter
  • One embroidery needle (MUST be longer than the diameter of the balls)
  • One dowel (about 12 inches long)
  • Scissors
  • The patience of a Buddhist monk

Only one shade of floss is shown here, but you need FIVE shades!!

Instructions: (Click on pictures to enlarge)

Use the dowel to carefully bore a hole in each of the spheres.  Try to get the hole to run straight through the center of the sphere.  You can wiggle the dowel a bit as it’s going in, or scrape the sides of the hole once it’s made, so that the diameter of the hole is slightly larger than the diameter of the dowel (this will be helpful when threading the embroidery floss over and over again through the hole).

Prepare a long piece of floss (about 48″) and thread your needle.  (Note: I’ve seen some people thread the entire skein of floss at one time, but I have found that it gets tangled up and frayed.)

Pass your needle with the floss through the hole in one sphere, until most of it has passed through and you only have a small “tail” of floss sticking out.  Smooth that “tail” onto the sphere (the styrofoam will help to grip the thread) and bring the needle around to the hole where you started.

Insert the needle again, pass the thread through, and make sure that you “step” on the tail with the thread that is now wrapped from one end of the sphere to the other.

Bring the needle back around, and repeat, threading it into the hole and pulling the thread through.  Try to keep the resulting strands of thread as close together as possible, so they begin to cover up the white of the sphere.

When you’ve used up all the thread on the needle, leave a little tail and smooth it down onto the sphere.Thread your needle with more floss, insert in the hole, and repeat the process from step #3.  Eventually, your entire sphere will be covered in floss and no styrofoam will show through.

When you are done, pass the needle through the hole one last time and leave a length of floss about 12-16 inches long (this will be used for hanging the spheres).

Repeat the entire process with the next ball, using the next shade of embroidery floss.

Click here for Part II, where we discuss hanging the spheres.  Happy crafting!!

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As easy as a ribbon, a bracelet, and a bell

While Zachary observed his Gobbi mobile recently, I realized that from one day to the next he had started moving his arms. These movements weren’t the reflexive jerks of a newborn; they seemed to have a different energy and trajectory.

I mentioned this to my husband, so he decided to hold out a rattle near Zach’s right arm to see what would happen. Zach flung out his arm repeatedly while keeping his eyes fixed on the rattle, and several times struck the toy, causing it to chime happily.

This discovery prompted me to introduce a Montessori hanging toy designed to support this stage of Zach’s development (which started at 8 weeks). I stitched a wooden bracelet and a metal bell to a bright ribbon and hung these over Zach’s activity area, rattling the bell once to show Zach what the sound was. Then I stepped back to observe.

It took him a few tries, but soon Zach was swatting at the bell with singular glee. At first the arm movements were random, but after several days they have become more purposeful, and he will routinely lay on the floor mat for 20 minutes trying to make contact with the bell. The effort he puts forth is inspiring; his entire body is involved in making his arm move.

This simple material is a powerful tool to aid the development of the will. Dr. Montessori used the word “will” to mean “I want something to happen and I have the power to make it happen”. It is one of the most powerful developmental phenomena, because it is the fore-bearer to resilience, determination, and a healthy self-esteem. Think about it: How powerful is it to know that you have the power to set your mind on something and accomplish it?

With this simple material, Zach is beginning the development of his will; while the first few swats are random and not purposely meant to make the bell chime, he soon realizes that he can control when the noise is produced.

In case you’re thinking “Big deal, I could teach my dog to swat at the bell”, consider that (as often occurs in Montessori) the obvious purpose of the material is often not as important its developmental purpose. Yes, your dog could probably make the bell rattle, but he would want a treat or some praise in exchange. Your dog wouldn’t be driven from within to hit the bell.

For Zachary, the conscious reward is the sound of the chime, but sub-consciously he is being driven to hit the bell by an unavoidable impulse that Dr. Montessori called “the inner teacher”. He’s not doing this for praise (as a matter of fact, young babies are immune to praise!), he’s doing this for his own development.

You can’t speed up the work of the inner teacher; you can only thwart it or support it. Create obstacles for your baby (through excessive swaddling, caging, etc.) and this developmental energy will be deviated into temper tantrums and regressions. Support this creative force and watch your child flourish to the peak of his potential. The choice is yours. And it’s as easy as a ribbon, a bracelet, and a bell.

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Topponcino Tutorial

I’m very much a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of sewer, so I unfortunately don’t have a pattern or very precise measurements for the topponcino.  However, I can share with you how I made it and you can check out the pictures of my topponcino, in case you want to make your own.

Materials:

  • muslin fabric (or other thin cotton fabric) for topponcino
  • soft cotton fabric for cover
  • cotton batting
  • embroidery thread
  • sewing machine (or needle and thread)

Cut out two ellipses from the muslin, about 30 inches long by 15 inches wide (leave 1/4″ seam allowance).  Place right sides together and sew along the edge of the ellipse, leaving about 12″ open (so you can insert the batting).  Turn the sewn pieces inside out so the right sides are showing.

Place the muslin ellipse on top of several layers of batting (3-4 layers, depending on the thickness of the batting and on how thick you want your topponcino to be).  Trace the elliptical shape on the batting and then cut an ellipse from the layers of batting.  Insert these layers of batting into the muslin ellipse, making sure that they don’t bunch up.

The topponcino. Note the embroidery thread fasteners.

Using embroidery thread, sew through the muslin and batting at several points on the surface of the ellipse so that the batting stays in place.  Then sew the open gap in the muslin.  Now you have a topponcino.

To make the topponcino cover (like a pillow case), place your topponcino on your cotton fabric and trace the ellipse, leaving a 1″ seam allowance.  This will be the top of the topponcino cover.

This is the front of the cover (sorry for the spit-up, see what I mean about making 2-3 covers?)

To make the underside of the cover, repeat the process of tracing on the cotton fabric but this time make the resulting elliptical shape about 4-5″ longer than the previous ellipse (so you can have an open seam from which to remove the topponcino).  Cut this longer piece in half and hem the straight edges.  Match up the top and underside of the cover, with right sides facing each other.  Sew all around the ellipse (note: the two underside pieces will overlap a little bit).  Turn the cover inside-out and iron.

This is the underside of the cover.

Insert the topponcino in the cover and you’re done!  I suggest you make 2-3 covers, especially if your little one is prone to spitting up.

Happy sewing, and let me know if you have any questions!