Barefoot in Suburbia

Homeschooling & Special Needs, Inspired by the Montessori Way

Green Christmas–gift wrapping December 22, 2010

Filed under: Saving the Earth — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 11:17 am

I’m slightly behind in getting this post written, but hopefully it helps some of those last minute gift wrappers! 

Over the past year or so, we realized just how much wrapping paper we go through between birthdays and Christmas…for a family of 5, it gets a bit ridiculous!  We decided this year that we need to change that–there is no reason we need to be buying new paper, just to tear it up and toss it in the recycling bin (because let’s face it…even recycling takes energy, so to reduce our environmental footprints, our first step should be to reuse when possible!)

We soon decided to switch to reusable materials to wrap gifts–cloth was our first choice.  We did a test run with Jedi’s birthday to see if he would be disappointed in the lack of paper wrapping paper.  Knowing how particular and set in his routines he can be, if *he* could make the change without too much resisitance, then we would be able to make that transition as a family.  Sure enough, he didn’t mind the cloth wrapping paper at all!  It’s still the same excitement (albiet, without the tearing sound), and every piece of it can be reused.

I will admit, I am *not* a sewer.  At all.  In fact, if I have to do anything with a needle and thread, it will go undone until the exact last minute possible, and then you’ll find me cursing the fact that I never learned to use my sewing machine.  So, if I was going to do this cloth wrapping paper thing, I would *not* be sewing anything for it (for those that love to sew, the only difference between what I did and what you’d have to do is that you’d probably bind the edges a bit to make the edges smooth and polished. 🙂 )

You can use any type of cloth for wrapping–some of our wrapping involves using old, outgrown clothing.  Some of it involves using scraps or clearance sale yards of cloth off a bolt.  And some of it is old bedding–old pillowcases make fantastic bags, and sheets that are no longer being used can easily cover larger gifts. 

Using the Furoshiki wrapping technique, it’s easy to create a decorative, festive, presentable gift using cloth that can be reused over and over again!

(For those that do the Santa thing, we told our kids that we will keep our cloth paper out with a note to Santa to please use our reusable wrap.  That helps to answer the question of “why does Santa’s cloth and your cloth look the same, mama?” LOL!)

Under the tree looks just as festive with colorful cloth instead of colorful wrapping paper!


Because we knew that not everyone we give gifts to uses cloth wrapping and not everyone is interested in using cloth wrap, we also came up with a solution for those gifts we had to mail out.  All year long, we saved the brown kraft paper that comes as shipping material.  We ended up with an entire large tote full of it over the course of a year (apparently we do a lot of online shopping, LOL!).  This paper was perfect to use for wrapping paper–we decorated it with silk flowers, raffia ribbon, stickers, and ink stamps.  The silk flowers could easily be reused, the paper was reused, and every piece of it could be recycled (except the flowers of course).

Our gifts that needed to be shipped out to family

And, since we did receive gifts from others that were wrapped in traditional paper, it helped us answer the question of “what do we  use as packing material to ship these gifts?!”  We simply reused the wrapping paper the kids took off their gifts, and crumpled the paper to use as packing material–another way to reuse and reduce!

I hope some of these ideas help green up your Christmas!


Allergen free holiday treats

Filed under: In the kitchen — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 10:50 am
Tags: ,

Being allergen free around the holidays can be tough, especially for kids.  Everywhere they go, they see fabulous holiday treats…chocolates and baked goods and other sugary goods.  In our house, we are gluten, dairy, egg, nut, and shellfish free, which generally makes most conventionial holiday treats off limits for us.  However, I do try to keep a few things on hand that are easy to take with us to gatherings and events. 

Our go-to recipe is a “safe” version of Rice Krispie treats–instead of rice krispies, we use Envirokids Koala Crisp cereal and Earth Balance spread for the butter.  These freeze very well, so we can make them ahead of time and keep them in the freezer to pull out during special events.

Another easy recipe is for chocolate covered cherries.  This is so simple, but the kids love it!  All you have to do is melt a pack of chocolate chips (we use Enjoy Life allergen free chocolate chips).  Then, dip maraschino cherries into the chocolate and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  (If you are dye free, we found some fantastic organic jarred maraschino cherries at our local health food store).  Then just put in the fridge until they firm up.

Our all time favorite treat recipe is for chocolate covered marshmellows.  We use these a lot during Easter and Christmas to replace the conventional chocolate covered marshmellow eggs & santas that seem to fill the store candy aisles this time of year. To make these treats:

Melt one bag of chocolate chips mixed with 1/4 cup of butter substitute (we used Enjoy Life chocolate chips and Earth Balance spread).  If you like flavored chocolate, you can add a few drops of extract–vanilla, orange, or peppermint all work well.

Coat the bottom of each cup in a silicone muffin pan with chocolate.  We *love* using Wilton silicone holiday themed muffin pans to make shaped treats. 

Place one marshmellow in each cup, on top of the layer of chocolate.  We have used conventional marshmellows and vegan corn syrup & dye free marshmellows and both have worked out really well.  We usually cut the marshmellow in half.

Then, fill the cup all of the way to the top with melted chocolate, covering the marshmellow.

Put in the fridge for a couple hours until the chocolate is completely hard.  The treats can then just be peeled right out of the silicone pans.  Store the treats in an airtight container in the fridge.

Chocolate covered marshmellows


Tot School Tuesday December 21, 2010

Tot School

Bitty Bug is 23 months old

This week, Bitty Bug was finally able to enjoy the snow.  I’m pretty sure this is her first winter where she can actually go out and play and enjoy the season–last year, she was still a little baby and wasn’t walking well.  This year though…she’s out digging in the snow, and sledding, and of course, having her first taste of freshly fallen snow.  That was one of the highlights of the week…she took one bite, gave an odd look because it was so cold, and then started shoveling fists full of snow into her mouth.  That girl…

Here’s a review of the week…

Bug, still enjoying the locks & keys work

Bug took all of the little gems out of the sensory bin and one by one dropped them into the clear container. She really concentrates for long periods of time when it comes to putting tiny things in containers...

Bug also loved doing the knobbed cylinders this week. She worked on these a lot, and is now really good at figuring out that she put a cylinder in the wrong compartment, even if the size difference is really small.

Bug received this Plan Toys garden for Christmas (to go with the PT dollhouse she's getting for her birthday). This is actually really good as a peg board-type activity...each little veggie fits into the little holes. It requires a good pincher grasp and good eye-hand coordination to get it just right.

Playing out in the snow. At first, she was not exactly sure how she was supposed to be walking on this slippery snow in such a puffy get-up...

Digging in the snow

Not even snow, ice, and temperatures in the 20's will keep this child off her plasma car though. She *loves* this thing and drives it around the neighborhood every chance she gets.

Off into the sunset...


Montessori Monday December 20, 2010

Filed under: Exploring Nature,In the kitchen,Preschool — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 4:12 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Jedi is 7 years 0 months old, Monkey is 3 years 10 months old, Bitty Bug is 23 months old

As we head into the week of Christmas, our time in the school room has been reduced as we replace it with more “real life” things.  That is one of the benefits of homeschooling…when holidays come around, we get to slow down a little with homeschooling, but we more than make up for it with “life school”–real life work in the kitchen, etc.  We’ve had a lot of fun this week making cookies, playing in the snow, and preparing for Christmas!

Here, Monkey is working on a shapes puzzle...when put together, all of the shapes make a house.

It's always entertaining when Jedi joins us for homeschooling. He was attempting to reinact the part of Charlie Brown Christmas where one ornament goes on the tree and bends the tree over. Unfortnately, this tree wasn't the bendy type...

Hammering golf tees into clay

Monkey giving it a shot

Working in the winter sensory bin

Helping to decorate cookies

Bug also came over to help with the cookies

Jedi working on his pan of cookies

Playing in the snow

Jedi's been waiting all year to make a snow angel!

Jedi teaching Monkey how to make snow angels

On the sled

Bug really wanted to try the sled, but then wasn't too fond of it once she got in

One of my favorite pictures of my three little ones (we were trying to take a picture for their Aunt Samantha to thank her for the Christmas gifts.) I think this is one of the few I have of all of them looking at the camera smiling at the same time!


Toddler Tuesday, plus a Child of God Advent activity December 14, 2010

Tot School  

Bitty Bug is 23 months old

As I started writing this blog post, I realized that a  month from today, my little Bitty Bug will be a great big 2 year old.  It’s hard to believe!  Well, I guess it’s just hard to believe it’s already been 2 years since she was born…it’s not really all that hard to believe that she’ll be entering the famous “2’s” stage.  She’s been a spunky, curious child with a fierce independent streak and a cute smile she uses to get herself out of trouble on a daily hourly basis.  She started out as the quiet baby who never cried…it’s hard to believe that it’s almost 2 years since we started to wonder how she would fit in to our wild crazy house because she was always so calm and quiet.  Turns out she was just spending her time observing and taking it all in because now she is the perfect fit! 

I don’t think I’ve ever found a more curious child either.  She notices *everything* and she can spend a long time just looking at a tiny bean or pebble or shell she finds…feeling it, looking at the shape and colors, and yes, sometimes even giving it a little lick. 😉  We constantly have to bring out new things for her to explore because she craves it.  She is a fun one to teach!

In addition to the regular Montessori work, I’m also posting a picture of Bug doing an advent activity (I didn’t get many pictures of them working with the advent stuff this week, so I didn’t want to forget to post the one I managed to get a picture of!)

Here is Bug looking at all of the winter matching cards

She found a match!

She also did a fantastic job with sorting seeds. Although she also wanted to sit there and hold each individual seed in her hand. 😉

Working with her new latch board. She really loved playing peekaboo with the animals behind each door! Obviously some of the latches were really difficult for her, but she did seem to understand a couple of the more basic ones.

Using little tongs to transfer yellow yarn (hay) into the toilet paper roll manger.

Then, when the manger was filled with hay, she put the little clothespin Jesus in it.

Beautiful little Bitty Bug ready for grandma and grandpa to come over for a Christmas gathering

Except less than an hour later, Little Miss fell asleep waiting for them. Isn't she just so sweet....


Montessori Monday December 13, 2010

Jedi is 7 years 0 months old, Monkey is 3 years 10 months old, Bitty Bug is 22.5 months old

Last week was one of those incredibly busy weeks, as those early weeks in December tend to be.  We had holiday visitors over this weekend, Tang Soo Do belt testing for Jedi and me (Monkey is doing her belt testing on Wednesday), and some sharp winter weather has hit Ohio hard. 

Jedi was home from school today because of the winter weather (you might remember that Jedi isn’t homeschooled at this current point, as it is not the best arrangement for him.  Sometime in the future he might be though!  He does attend an awesome Montessori school though).  So, Jedi decided he wanted to come join us today, even though the work is geared towards preschool and toddler…he took the work and made his own extensions though!  It’s nice when he’s home and decides to work with the girls because he gives the unique experience of the only person in the house who has actually completed the first three year cycle of Montessori work!

Here are some pictures from this past week:

I put out a keys and locks work this week.  I tried to find 4 different colored locks with matching keys because I had originally intended for Bug to work with this.  But Monkey loved it a lot!

Jedi working with the Lake and Island landform trays

With one of the continent boxes

Monkey also decided to work with the continent boxes

Transferring foam snowflakes with tongs

Monkey and Bug sorting seeds (I have sunflower and pumpkin seeds, mung beans, and white beans on the tray)

Using the winter matching cards

Musings of Me has this darling large gingerbread figure on her site, and I printed it, cut it out, laminated it, and punched holes around the perimeter of it to make a Christmas lacing work. Here's the link to her whole gingerbread curriculum:

This is another wonderful work from Musings of Me--Christmas shapes! Monkey would take a card that had a Christmas object on it, and then use various shapes to replicate the picture.

Can you tell I've been busy with my printer and laminator this week? I also downloaded Musings of Me's holiday patterning cards. Monkey still has a bit of a hard time with patterns, but she really enjoys trying them.

And the gingerbread counting work (can you guess where I got it from? I think here is a good place to say THANK YOU to Musings of Me for putting up an awesome free gingerbread themed Montessori unit! Monkey worked with it a ton this week (and Jedi's currently lacing the large gingerbread as I'm typing this!)

Using the Melissa & Doug bead sequencing set. I really really like this work. It makes Monkey think, a lot--especially since there is no set pattern. She really has to look at the card and concentrate on finding the right shape and color.


Tot School Tuesday December 7, 2010

Tot School

Bitty Bug is 22.5 months old

Because Bitty Bug is almost 2 now, she really seems to be able to comprehend and get into the holidays.  It is so awesome to watch her fascination with the Christmas tree (and especially the train that runs around it!) and the Elf on the Shelf!  And yesterday was her first time seeing snow that she could remember (last year, she was just turning 1, and I don’t think she remembers the big blizzard from that time!).  She’s also just noticing the lights on people’s houses as we drive around in the evening.  Just seeing how big her eyes get when she sees a new holiday things is absolutely wonderful!  So of course, once I put some holiday work in the homeschool room, she naturally flocked straight to it!

Here is her December travel sensory bin for when we're waiting in waiting rooms--some white felt "snow", little penguins & snowmen, various Christmasy pom poms, gems, & pipe cleaners, and the usual assortment of scoops, chopsticks, and cups.

Also in our travelling bin...the book Everywhere Babies (which is one of her favorite books), some snowflake and igloo bocks, a polar bear and penguin Animalz toy, the white board (this always keeps her entertained for hours! She loves the white board!) and a couple wooden vehicles.

Bug was so thrilled every time she made the toy elephant "drink" the water!

Working on the animal puzzle

Using a spoon to transfer the glass beads

She loved the island landform tray--here, she's making a whale swim in it.

Playing with her beach sand tray

Bug was really intrigued by this! I demonstrated the first playdough ball "cherry" on the pie, and she did the 2nd one. I'm not sure she knows what cherry pie is (I don't even know that we've had it in years? Now I feel the need to go make a cherry pie!) but she thought it was funny!

Bug's favorite animal is an elephant, and one of her favorite things to do is bounce. So, when she came across this bouncing elephant in the basement this week, she couldn't be separated from it! She decided she was then going to bounce everywhere!


Giveaway–Tracing board & gift certificate December 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 2:28 pm

I came across a fabulous giveaway that I wanted to pass on to my readers.  Montessori for Everyone ( is giving away a Montessori letter tracing board and a $100 gift certificate for the winner to purchase Montessori materials of his/her choice!  What a fantastic prize!

Of course, I’d love to win this because I’m forever shopping for new work for our school room, but I also want to pass on the link so that my readers can have a chance to win as well!


Montessori Monday December 5, 2010

Monkey is 3 years 10 months old

This week, Monkey jumped right back into things after a couple light weeks due to the holidays and illness.  She was really happy to get back into things as well!  I had quite a few new holiday-themed work out this week too.

Monkey and Jedi opening the day's door on the Lego advent calender. We don't usually do the themed ones, but Jedi is really into legos, and we couldn't resist having a new lego creation to build every day in December!

Using a spoon to transfer red, green, clear, and blue glass beads

Trying to feel which baric tablet is heavier and which one is lighter

Exploring the thermic tablets and sorting them by material

I put out three different types of boards that use screwdrivers. Monkey really loved working with these!

Another of the boards

Sorting Christmas buttons by color

Using the fraction skittles. She had actually used these in her homeschool co-op class, so she went straight to it.

This was a new work that I just purchased. Every numeral tablet is broken into a puzzle where the number of pieces equals the numeral in the tablet. This work is really interesting, but the first thing monkey did was tip the entire thing over without knowing what was inside. So, we spent a good hour putting all the pieces back together! Jedi tipped it over too on another day (nope, my kids don't wait for help with anything! LOL!) and even he found it really challenging, and he's 7. This might be something that goes back in storage for another year or two...we'll see if monkey wants to work with it this week, and if not, I'll put it up until she's a bit older.

Working with the spindle rods. Monkey really really was interested in these this week, so we worked on them a lot!

Working with the peg board

Monkey loves mixing colored water into new colors! She did this one a lot.

I also introduced the landform trays this week. Or rather, one landform tray. We worked on "island" this week. She loved making the fish go in the water and the animals on the land!

Decorating the mini Christmas tree. She loved this one too! She actually didn't want to take it apart again, but Bug wanted to work with it too, so we couldn't keep the mini tree decorated. It was a very popular work with the girls.

A clothes pin work. I glued shimmery foam balls to the end of clothes pins, and then cut a Christmas tree shape out of green felt. In order to decorate the tree, Monkey had to practice opening and closing the clothespins.

The December sensory bin...white felt strips, red/green/white pom poms, foam snowflakes, little penguin and snowman figurines, some clear red/green/clear "gems", red/green/gold pipe cleaners, and some more of the shimmery foam balls.


Heads up on some great deals for Montessori-inspired toys December 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 9:21 am

I just wanted to post a sale on Montessori inspired toys that I came across today (and bought from! LOL!).  I don’t have an amazon associates account linked to this blog, so there is no financial incentive for me…I just want to pass on a great deal. 🙂

Amazon has a today only sale on Melissa & Doug toys and there are several things that would be great in a Montessori-inspired homeschool.  Now, anyone who knows us knows I have a love affair with Melissa and Doug, and I already have most of the things that were on sale.  But, I did find 3 things that I’ve been eyeing and scooped them up today…

This Fold and Go Mini Barn…it would be a great beginning to the Phonetic Farm work!  It’s 33% off today:

Also on sale…the Melissa & Doug sequencing beads.  Perfect for pre-language and fine motor works:

I also scooped up the latches board for Bitty Bug:

Of course, there are a lot of other things (many of which we already have and use in our homeschool…the beginner pattern board, see & spell, wooden shapes sorting clock, the pattern blocks & board, etc.)  So, if you’re looking for some good bargains on Montessori-inspired toys, head on over to amazon today!