Montessori: Felt mat for the moveable alphabet

I was playing on Pinterest the other day and I came across a sweet flannel mat that someone had made to use with the Montessori Moveable Alphabet.  (MontessoriMom has a good explanation of the lesson and purpose of  the materials.  Simply Montessori also has a good post about alternatives to the more expensive Nienhuis sets for home use.)  It reminded me of the mats that I had made for my son’s primary class way back when…pre-blog!  I thought I’d post some pictures in case you would like to make your own mat.  They turned out beautifully.  They are made with wool felt.  Since felt doesn’t fray you can just sew the two pieces together without any of that sewing right sides together, turning, top-stitching, etc.

Measure your letters, and pin your ribbons to match the height of your letters (see photo).  Sew the ribbons in place along both the top and bottom edges of the ribbon.  Let the ribbons overhand the edges a bit.  Hand sew the dotted lines in place with either embroidery floss or pearl cotton (which is thicker).  Tuck the ends of the ribbons between the front and back of the mat (you might use an iron to get a nice crease), and topstitch around the entire mat.  That’s it!  So easy.  And as I’ve said before, while wool felt is expensive, it’s durable and beautiful to work with.  An alternative would be a wool blend felt (Wool Felt Central is a good source), which is still nice but significantly cheaper.

The green mat above was my first mat in a tabletop size.  Then, I made a larger, floor-size mat using cream wool (I’m not positive since it was 4 years ago, but I remember it wasn’t “felt”, it was more like wool coating, purchased at my local fabric store.)  Made using the same technique however.  The ribbon is just a standard, satin type ribbon.

Look at little J, at 3 years old, rolling up his mat to put it away!

Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane!

Turkey Buttoning Activity

Thanksgiving is a little less than 2 weeks away!  There’s still time to make this adorable turkey buttoning activity!  It’s a great activity for 2-4 year olds, and helps practice those fine motor skills in a fun way.

You can find the instructions on my blog, here.  After I made the first one for my son’s Montessori class, the other teachers saw it and wanted one too.  By the third one, I had learned a few things.  1) Use brown thread to go around the turkey body,  🙂  and 2) A zig zag stitch going around the body and feathers looked better.

Hands Around the World Wall Hanging

I just HAD to share my talented and awesome friend’s work.  She doesn’t have her own blog to share it all with you, and I couldn’t let this go without sharing with the world.  It is gorgeous!  And I’m not sure if the photos do it justice.  She created this for our Montessori school’s annual auction fundraiser.  I helped her brainstorm the design (and I cut out a lot of those hands), but it turned out so much *more* than I was envisioning.  She traced each child’s hand in the daycare room at school.  So the hands are from ages 3-9.  Then we traced these onto various shades of wool-blend felt in skin tones and cut out the hands.  She free-hand drew the earth’s continents and cut those out.  And then she hand sewed the entire thing together.  I absolutely love the stitching detail that she did on the background.  She said that it was being shifty so she needed to do something to keep it together, but practicality aside, I just love the concentric curves going up and down on the piece.  We cut out the letters using the wool-blend felt and my Sizzix.  Worked like a charm!  They are attached with a simple running stitch.

She got all the felt from Wool Felt Central.  I have the “Wool Sampler” box set which comes with all the colors that they sell and we were able to pick out the various colors that she wanted to use for the skin tones, and the right color blue and green for the earth.  I think she chose a great color for the background.  I think it’s the pistachio.  The order came really super-quick, which I was surprised by since they are located in Nebraska, and we are as far away on the East coast as you can get.  She also used the 20% off coupon on Wee Folk Art, so saved some money there (it’s a fundraiser after all!).  Wool Felt Central has a cheat sheet for matching their felt colors to DMC floss, so she was able to order floss that matched all the colors of the hands, background, earth, etc.

See?  Isn’t even the back gorgeous?!  I absolutely love how it turned out and thank you for letting me share it with you!

She also made a special piece with the older children in the daycare program (ages 6-9).  It was one of the murals on Art Projects for Kids (see here).  She used the tutorial provided on the blog to mount the drawings to a canvas using the dry wax paper and sharpies.  I think the kids did an amazing job.  The total canvas size is about 20.5″ x 20.5″ if I remember correctly.  She did touch it up very slightly in a few areas, but the kids all did an amazing job with the detail work.  I was really impressed.  My favorite is the tiger!

I can’t wait to see how much they go for at the auction!


It was a frosty morning today.  Low of 25 degrees last night, and I had to bundle up in my winter coat, hat, scarf and gloves when I walked the dogs this morning.  Time to put away the Halloween decorations and start thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas!  I’ve actually been thinking about Christmas for quite awhile, but I’ve mostly been doing thinking and not a lot of doing.  Time to put things into gear!  In the meantime, I need to put the garden and yard to bed, and plant some bulbs before the ground gets too hard.

I dug up my carrot crop the other day.  I planted my seeds about 3-4 weeks too late, so they are all very tiny.  But, they are so sweet and yummy.  I roasted a bunch for dinner the other night, and will probably do it again tomorrow.  I’m definitely making sure that I plant them on time next year.  Hubby built a special deep square foot box for them (4′ x 4′) which is what put us behind this year.  No excuses next year!

And before I start talking about Christmas….if you missed it last year, this Montessori practical life buttoning felt turkey was a huge hit with all the kids in my son’s Montessori school (age 3-6 classes) last year.  Think about making one for your own little one!  It was really quite easy.

When I made the second and third ones, I switched to a zig zag stitch as I went around the outside of the turkey body and the feathers, and it looked a lot better.  The face is hand-embroidered.

Also, if you are really thinking ahead, I thought I would share my wool felt advent calendar that I made two years ago.  I just *love* it!  It was so worth all the time that it took to make each individual pocket.  If you start now, you can still be done by December 1st!

The chickadee pocket is one of my favorites.

Montessori Aprons

At the end of J’s first year of school, I promised J’s Montessori teacher some new aprons.  I’ve been completing them a little bit at a time.  Well, it’s now a new school year, and J was headed off to 1st grade down the street, and the aprons still weren’t completely finished!  So, over Labor Day weekend, I finished the rest of them up!  Hooray!  Two new “special” aprons for practical life activities – lemon/orange juicing and one for banana slicing.  (Just noticed a little bit of another project peeking out in the upper right hand corner of the picture below.  That will be for next week, I’m really happy with how it turned out!)

J in the banana slicing apron

Then I made six snack aprons with plain fabric.  The fabric is an organic cotton but in a heavier weight than normal quilting cotton.  Therefore, I only used one layer of it instead of two.  I made the first two with handmade bias tape, but that was taking me quite a bit longer than normal, so I switched to store-bought, even though it’s plain, in an effort to complete the aprons in a timely fashion.

By the time I got to the sixth apron, I had finally figure out a way to match up the starting and ending of the bias tape so it looked nice.  I washed them before giving them to the teacher, and realized that I should have pre-washed the little twill tape that acts as the holders on the shoulders.  I had pre-washed all of the rest of the fabric and didn’t really think about the twill tape holders shrinking as well.  It’s not a big deal, but something to learn from.  I hope the children in this year’s class love all the new aprons!

Good-bye Montessori, Hello Public School!

Well, my baby is a first grader.  How did that happen?  Didn’t we just start at his wonderful Montessori school yesterday, his cute little three year-old face a little apprehensive, but totally game?  No?  That wasn’t yesterday?  That was THREE YEARS AGO?  *Blink*

J's first day at Montessori in 2007, Age 3

In the beginning, he liked to sit in his cubby until he was ready to join morning circle

Then it came time for year 2 of Primary.  He was now an expert and excited to go back to school.  They stay in the same classroom for all three years of Primary, so he was happy to be going back to his wonderful teachers, and the same friends.  With some new friends to meet as well!

Second year of Primary, Age 4

Doing transfer work on his first day of school

That was a super-fun year!  He learned so many things, including learning to read!  He has always been so excited to show me his reading chart which shows how many books he has completed.  After learning the sounds of letters, and how to blend the sounds (which took him a little while to master), they start reading real “books” with the Bob Books.  We also had them at home, and his teacher was concerned that perhaps he had memorized them.  But, I think that once he figured out that blending thing, he was ready!  He has become such a great reader!

Then, onto our big, important third year of Primary.  This was his Kindergarten year, and his big brother was attending our local public school.  Should we send J to Kindergarten there too?  We did consider it, but the Montessori program is so amazing.  And I thought that it was beneficial for him to complete the entire three years of the program.  He had been building on so many things his first and second year that he would get to experience in his third year.  He had watched and learned from those older children.  I wanted him to be the “older child” who could model for the younger ones.  Do all that work that he had seen them doing that he wanted to do too.  And what a great decision it was!  He loved his third year at Montessori!

3rd Year of Primary, Kindergarten, Age 5

And yes, he’s still wearing the same fleece jacket!  We got a lot of years out of that jacket.  He has definitely outgrown it now.  He had a huge growth spurt between age 5 and 6.  In mind and body!  What an exciting year it was!  He brought home so many maps, became an amazing reader, and one of his favorite things….finished his math book and his number roll.   A huge roll of papers, connected by tape, where he wrote out the numbers from 1-1,000.  Yes, 1,000.  And at the end of the year, he completed his third Montessori birthday celebration when he turned 6.

His birthday sculpture representing the four elements

And this week, he said good-bye to Montessori and started first grade with big brother.  Wow, was he ever excited to ride on the bus!  And on the first and second days of school, I heard words like “awesome” and “excellent.”  Although, I don’t think we are saying good-bye to Montessori.  It’s not something that you say good-bye to really.  It’s such a part of him now.  And it’s a part of us, as a family.  We have made so many good friends over the last three years.  And we definitely aren’t saying good-bye to them!

But we are saying Hello to First Grade!

K (3rd grade, Age 8-almost) and J (1st grade, Age 6) on the first day of school, 2010

Second day of school, little bus snafu on the first day

Bye guys!

Montessori Word Family House

J’s teacher showed me an idea that she got from a blog and asked if I could come up with something similar for their classroom.  Well, how can I say no to such a challenge?  **Update** I finally found the link for the original inspiration for this project at itty bitty love.  She has some examples of word family cards that the children can choose from.  Check out her blog.  Great Montessori ideas!

Word Family House

The purpose of this work is to put a word ending in the top attic window.  So there will be a card with “AT” on it for example.  Then, the child will have more cards with the “AT” ending which the child places down the right-side column of windows, cards with beginning sounds, and then objects that match the words that can be created…”CAT” or “BAT” for instance.  I’ll try to get some pictures of the work in progress once J’s teacher puts it out.

The size of the red house is about 12×12 inches, which was just the size of the pieces of wool-blend red felt that I had (purchased from Felt-o-Rama).  The white windows on the red part of the house are 2×3 inches.  I sewed those on with my machine and a straight-stitch.  So here was my process:

1) Cut out two pieces of tan for the roof.  Attached the window in the center of one piece using white embroidery floss and a whip stitch.  Then, I used a back-stitch and dark gray floss to make the window panes, and to outline the window.  I then put the two tan pieces together, sandwiched in a piece of dark charcoal (a felted sweater scrap) and used a decorative stitch to sew the roof together.

2) Cut out the main house window pieces.  I attached these to the front house piece with Heat-n-Bond Lite in order to get them to stay on securely when I was sewing them on.  I find this works better than just pinning which can cause the pieces to turn out a bit wonky by the time you are done if you aren’t careful.  Then I sewed them in place with my machine, matching thread, and a standard straight stitch.  I hand-stitched the window panes with a back stitch and dark charcoal embroidery floss.  You could put the windows on by hand with a whip-stitch but I was trying to save a bit of time with eight windows!

3) I then embellished the house a bit with the purple coneflower, grass and butterfly.

4) While watching the awesome skating on the Olympics last night, I put together the two red pieces by hand with a blanket stitch.  Stitched all the way around all sides.  I then attached the roof using a whipstitch along the bottom edge of the roof where it meets the front piece of the house.  I didn’t tack it down in the back at all.  I didn’t really feel like it needed it, but I can do that later if it turns out to need some additional support after it’s been used awhile by the children.

Purple coneflower embellishment on the house

Butterfly embellishment

This was a fun project!  I can’t wait to see it in action in the classroom.

Christmas Gifts – Fabric Baskets

I came across the Alexander Henry Good Earth fabric a few months ago, and *knew* that I needed to make something with it for J’s Montessori teachers.  The little children in costumes from around the world are adorable (called “You and Me”).  So I showed it to my friend, and we came up with a plan to make fabric baskets.  After searching around through many tutorials, we decided to use the tutorial from Pink Penguin.  It’s for a patchwork basket, but I just modified it to remove that step, and I enlarged the pattern as I wanted mine to be bigger.  Her tutorial was great and I didn’t have any problems at all.

Before I cut into the expensive Good Earth fabric, I decided to make a prototype which I gave to my friend as a little Christmas surprise.  My friend has these beautiful chickens that my boys adore, which is why I chose the chicken fabric from my stash.  It’s a home dec weight.  The top part of the basket (the red dots, which I’m almost certain is an old Michael Miller print) is just normal quilting cotton.

For the chicken applique, I cut out chickens from the bottom fabric, attached them with Heat and Bond Lite, and then did some “sketchy stitching” around the chickens (using some stabilizer underneath).  I loved how it turned out!  I wanted to keep it, LOL!

Side 1

Side 2

I increased Pink Penguin’s pattern by 25% to make this basket.  I also pieced the bottom since the fabric was directional and I didn’t want the chickens to be upside down on one side.  So, assuming that Pink Penguin’s basket is a “small” size, this would be a “medium” size.

Bottom piece (chicken) = 8″ x 12.5″ (finished size, if your fabric is directional, take this into account, I cut two pieces 4.25″ x 12.5″ and sewed them together with 1/4″ seam)
2 x Top pieces (red dot) = 4.5″ x 12.5″
Lining (also red dot) = 12.5″ x 16″
Handles (two different fabrics) = 2.75″ x 12″
* Use 2″ for the box corners in those steps

So, the chicken basket was lovely, but my friend and I decided that we wanted our Good Earth baskets for the teachers to be a bit bigger, so I enlarged the pattern again by 25% to a “Large” size.  We actually didn’t quite use these measurements in our “world kids” basket because I wanted to fussy cut the children so that you didn’t have half a head on there.  However, I did test out the original sizes by making a basket for my MIL for Christmas which I don’t seem to have a picture of.  I’ll have to remedy that.

<<EDIT>> Took a picture!  I used fabric from my stash for this, and these are from Sandi Henderson’s Ginger Blossom collection.  The bottom red stripe is the Denyse Schmidt County Fair.

"Large" size

Original “Large” sizes

Bottom piece  = 10″ x 15.75″
2 x Top pieces = 5.75″ x 15.75″
Lining = 15-3/8″ x 20″
Handles (two different fabrics) = 4″ x 15″
* Use 2.5″ for the box corners in those steps

Modified “Large” sizes for “world kids” fabric

Bottom piece  = 11.5″ x 15.75″
2 x Top pieces = 5″ x 15.75″
Lining = 15-3/8″ x 20″
Handles (two different fabrics) = 4″ x 15″
* Use 2.5″ for the box corners in those steps

We made two “world kid” baskets.  One in a red/pink tone and one in a blue tone.  J had definite ideas as to which of his teachers should get the red and which should get the blue, and he was right!  I had a hard time buying the children fabric because I couldn’t really tell what the colors were online and if one fabric at one store was either the same or different than the same fabric from another store.  So, I ended up buying yardage from two different stores.  It turns out that they were different!  One of them definitely had a blue tone to it (the children’s clothing) and the other was definitely more “pink-y”.  (They also make the fabric with a blue background, so there is a total of three different colors.)  We used home dec weight fabric from my stash for the bottom – from my Denyse Schmidt County Fair score a few months ago.  It worked perfectly!  I love it when that happens.

For the inside, we paired up “Around the World” fabric in Blue with the blue basket, and used the map fabric (in Brite) with the red/pink basket.  The handles on the blue basket are the “Hello” fabric in Blue, and the handles on the red/pink basket are “Goodies” in Brite.  Because these baskets were larger than the original pattern, and I was using just quilting weight cotton for the top, I also added a layer of medium weight interfacing to the lining to give the basket more structure.

The baskets were a huge hit!  I also filled them with my homemade blueberry jam and homemade pickles.  J’s teacher said the pickles reminded her of her mom.  Ahh…that is so sweet.

Montessori holiday apron

Gingerbread friends Montessori apron

I picked up this gingerbread friends fabric last year but just got around to making the apron last week.  Just my standard Montessori apron.  Double-sided with double-fold wide bias tape around the edges of the apron and the neck.  Used some cotton twill tape to create shoulder loops which is how the teacher hangs it up (it’s heavyweight, 3/4″ I think, I just buy it by the yard at Joanns).  I do promise to make a pattern for this sometime!  I tried to do it last week when I was making it, but I was distracted at the time, and made the pattern wrong and have to re-do it.  I buy the bias tape in the little packages at Joanns.  It takes almost an entire package to do the outer part, so that’s why I usually use a different color on the neckline.  I used a small zigzag stitch this time on the outer part, which looked nice.

I’ve been super-busy holiday crafting and will hopefully be able to share some of that soon.  Some of it I have to hold off on sharing because they are gifts and I wouldn’t want to give away the surprise!  I finished up my holiday shopping this morning, and now I just have a long list of homemade things that I want to make — top of the list is finishing my teacher gifts which are 98% done, and making the boys their Christmas Eve pajamas.  (Oops, cancel that, not finished with my shopping.  Just checked my list and I have one more thing to get.)

We had a great snowstorm last week – complete with all-day snow and the kids had a snow day.  Now we can be ready for Christmas!

Montessori holiday buttoning activity – Turkey-Lurkey

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Laura over at My Montessori Journey posted the cutest felt turkey last year that she made into a practical life buttoning activity for her class.  Well, I saw it last year and marked it, but then it got lost in my legions of crafting bookmarks.  Well, thankfully she recently re-posted it and J’s teacher saw it and forwarded it to me!  I worked on it last night while watching HP Order of the Phoenix (have to brush up before the DVD release of Half-Blood Prince next month – already on pre-order, yes, I’m one of those people), and then finished it up this morning before taking J to school.  We were a few minutes late, but I think his teacher forgave us when she saw the turkey!  And we were thankfully there in time for J to respond with a chipper “Bonjour!” when she called his name at circle, although he was still at his cubby putting on his inside shoes.

It’s made of wool and wool-blend felt that I had in my stash.  I hand-sewed on the facial features with a basic running stitch and just used whatever buttons I had on hand that were approximately the same size (so the kids could put the feathers on in any order).  I made it with two layers of felt for the turkey body, and the feathers.  So I sewed those together with my machine.  It would have been nice to hand sew those, but that would have taken considerably longer and this is just as durable and nice.  Especially considering it’s an activity that will only be out on the shelf for a few weeks a year.  The feet are just one piece of felt, and I made sure to go over them twice with my sewing machine just to make sure they wouldn’t get loose.  Hmm….I probably should have used brown thread in my machine.  Oh well!

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It turned out great and I really can’t emphasize enough the difference it makes when you use wool and wool-blend felts.  It’s so much nicer than using acrylic felt.  It just has a better textural quality, both in terms of working with the materials, and using them.  100% wool felt is pretty expensive, but the wool felt blends that you can buy at places like Prairie Point Junction and Felt-o-Rama are also quite nice.  The green and red feathers are actually scraps from my advent calendar from last year.  I keep every minute bit of wool felt scraps, LOL!  The black eyes are some tiny scraps of recycled wool sweater (felted in my washing machine).