Montessori On a Budget

When I started off with Montessori 2 years ago I thought I needed all the materials.  They each have a specific purpose and skill they teach and they fit together in a perfect way.  I thought if I skipped one I’d miss something.  But over time I realized that a home won’t be exactly like a Montessori classroom.  Without the other children and without the set up of a specific class with only Montessori materials available, things are different.  Things work differently.  Things have to be adapted.  And most people don’t have the money or space for all the materials.  So this is what I would have done differently.  What materials I would have skipped or substituted or made myself (or which I did make myself) and which ones I’m glad I have.  Now what my kids weren’t interested in or loved may be different for someone else’s.  Each child is unique.  There isn’t one way or one answer, so these are just my experiences and thoughts.  I’ve only included the materials that we’ve reached in our journey.  There are more primary materials but we haven’t come to them yet so I can’t comment.  I highly recommend getting a set of albums to understand the scope and sequence of each material to help you decide what you need.  There are links to sites to purchase materials in the pictures and in the written text.

Language

Moveable Alphabet

I started off doing cursive because that is what is recommended in Montessori.  It’s said it’s easier for a child to write as they don’t have to take their pencil off the paper and that it activates a different part of the brain.  Pumpkin 1 learned the cursive lower case letters and picked up print letters on her own too but she really struggled with writing.  When she did start writing she wrote in print.  It seemed that cursive has too many steps to remember vs print.  She wants to write in print so I’m following her lead and have shifted my materials to print.  The print moveable alphabets are a little cheaper.  You could also get this verson on Amazon from Learning Resources set which is also magnetic

It doesn’t have as many letters as the wood moveable alphabet (and is the wrong colours) so if you do want more letters then buying two is about the same price as buying the wood set.  One set fits perfectly in this box.

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If money is really tight you could print off a paper version and the above box is a great way to store it too.

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Sandpaper Letters

I went with these sandpaper letters when I switched to print to use with Pumpkin 2.  I actually really prefer them.  The sandpaper is great, it doesn’t shed sand everywhere and they’re smaller which is helpful when it comes to storing.  They come in a nice sturdy box.  They’re not colour coded like the Montessori sandpaper letters are.

It’s also pretty easy to make your own “sandpaper” letters from sticky back felt.

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Another alternative is these grooved boards from IFIT Montessori.

These have upper and lower case letters and numbers and other symbols so it’s great bang for your buck.  You just need a stick of some sort for tracing.  I have these and they’re great quality.

Small Objects for the Sound Game or Sound Boxes

These aren’t necessary.  You can play the sound game with anything in a room or outside.  However my kids do really like them.  They like to sort them out.

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They can be a bit of a distraction though.  I had a bunch from my mother (who is a teacher) and bought a set from here.   Purchasing a set made things much easier and probably saves money in the long run vs trying to buy your own objects individually.  Their set also was carefully thought out with many of the objects able to be used for CVC words and phonograms as well as tricky letters like infant for “i” and vacuum for “v”.  One could also print off pictures.

Metal Insets 

These are great to have for developing writing skills.  They are super expensive though.  However, there is a very affordable plastic version available on Amazon.com (and ships to Canada).  I recommend having them.

Sensory

Pink Tower

I’d say it’d good to have this.  It’s still used pretty often by my kids.  I haven’t found a set of stacking blocks the same.  Having 10 is important (much of the sensory materials are in sets of 10) and the weight is very important (thus nesting boxes just aren’t the same).

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If you know a carpenter they could maybe cut a set for you.

Brown Stair

My son really loves the Brown Stair (mainly to drive cars down it which is a no no in Montessori but I gave up trying to stop him).  However, if you’re on a tight budget I’d skip it and just get the Pink Tower.  If you are going to get it go with the stained not painted version.  My painted version has chipped a lot and I wish I got a natural wood one to prevent this.

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I don’t recommend getting the mini set of either.  They just aren’t the same sensory experience.  I’d rather skip the Brown Stair than have a mini of both.

Knobbed Cylinders

For some reason I love these and find them very satisfying to do.  My kids were crazy about them from about 18 months to 2 and then weren’t interested in them again.

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Again don’t waste money on the mini set.  Either skip them or Montessori Outlet sells the blocks separably so you could just get 1 or 2 blocks.  If your child is 3 or older and you’re on a budget, just skip them.  I don’t know why I like them so much but my kids don’t.

Knobbless Cylinders

There isn’t really anything that is a substitute for these.  I’d recommend them.  I’d probably chose them over the Pink Tower if funds were limited just since they teach a similar concept of size difference in many different ways.

Red Rods

I wasn’t going to buy these but got them in an order mix up and kept them.  However, they were almost never used except by Pumpkin 2 as swords.  After a million times of taking them away and trying to get him to stop using them in dangerous ways or as a vacuum cleaner or lawn mower (??), I put them in the basement where they remain to this day.  Personally I’d go with cuisenaire rods.

They’re of course way smaller and different colours (so not one concept is isolated and you lose the weight difference) but they so much less dangerous and easier to store in a home.  You could paint them all one colour if you wanted.  When it comes to some of the sensory materials I feel free exploration is a better way to good.  That’s my Reggio side.  I’d rather let my kids play with a bunch of cuisenaire rods and learn through play.

Constructive Triangles

I’m going with the same philosophy when it comes to these too.  Learn through play.  I really love this Learning Resources set and so do my kids.

They’re great on the light table and so open ended.

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Another alternative is the regular pattern blocks.  There’s a ton of patterns you can print off online for kids to use.

My kids prefer the magnetic pattern blocks though.  We have this set by Melissa and Doug and it gets used often though it’s not as durable.  I also print off and laminate patterns and use them with the tiles on cookie trays.

Geo Solids

I haven’t found a set of Geometric Solids that has all the same shapes as the Montessori ones.  I’d say it’s important that they be solid wood for the weight (not foam or plastic).  The closest set I can find is this one.

But it has shapes you don’t need, different sizes and doesn’t have an ovoid.  You also don’t have the base pieces.  But if you’re on a budget this is probably your best bet.

Colour Tablets

My kids were just never interested in these.  I painted a set of wooden peg people which my kids liked better but it was tricky to get the shades right.

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Easiest thing would be to just get a bunch of paint chips and cut them and use them.  You could laminate them for durability.  Here are some more DIY ideas:

DIY Montessori Color Tablets

Sound Cylinders

These are pretty popular here.  But they’re not hard to make on your own.  See the below link for lots of ideas.

DIY Montessori Sound Cylinders

Binomial and Trinomial Cubes

There isn’t really an alternative to these however they don’t get much use in my home.  They may come in handy in the elementary years but they wouldn’t be first on my list to purchase of primary materials.  However, as I’ve mentioned, some kids really loves them so you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Geo Cabinet

Way too expensive and bulky to make practical for home use.  You can get shape puzzles and have your children trace them.

You can also make templates by tracing them for kids to match to.  When it comes to the more complicated shapes there are lots of other ways to teach those.  Smaller knobs are more desirable though as they teach the pincher grasp so have lots of regular wood puzzles with small knobs for your child to use.

Other Sensory Materials

There are a few other materials like the thermic tablets, baric tablets, fabric squares, smelling bottles, etc….  I think there are many other ways to do these sensory activities and some of the materials are easy to DIY.  What you get really depends on you budget.  Also many of these require you child to be blindfolded.  For some reason my kids always insist on peaking which defeats the purpose.

Math

Number Rods

I only have the table top number rods and those have been enough.  Honestly we’ve rarely used them.  My kids picked up numbers and one to one correspondence without them.  There’s so many ways to teach this, even just in daily life.  You wouldn’t miss them if you skipped them.

Numbers and Counters

Counters can be anything – stones, buttons, cars, blocks, paperclips, candies.  Fridge magnets can be the numbers.  Here we are using pine cones we collected with fridge magnets.
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Sandpaper Numbers

I’ve never had them or missed them.  You could get them, they’re not that expensive, or you could make your own set.  You could also get the grooved set mentioned under Sandpaper letters that contains the numbers too.

Spindle Box

It’s so easy to make your own of these with a tackle box from the Dollar Store and permanent marker and Popsicle sticks.

The great thing about the one I made is you can use it on the light table.  We’ve used plastic stir sticks and plastic ice cubes from the Dollar Store.

 

Stamp Game

Pumpkin 1 much prefers my DIY Stamp Game to the original.  And it was so inexpensive to make.

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Dollar Store tackle box, glass gems (I did have to hunt and pay more than I wanted for the red ones), permanent marker and wood peg people or you could use game tokens.  I just wrote the numbers on the bottom of the gems with permanent marker and voila.  Pumpkin 1 likes glass gems.  The numbers do tend to get scratch off with rattling around in the box so one day I may coat the bottom in clear nail polish.  This set doesn’t have everything the purchased Stamp Games does but we aren’t using those pieces yet and it won’t be hard to add.

Place Value Mat

Not exactly a Montessori material but I highly recommend having one.  We use it with the Golden Beads and the Stamp Game.  It’s fast and easy to make your own.

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100 Chart

This one from Learning Resources isn’t that much cheaper but it’s magnetic so one bump doesn’t ruin all your hard work.  Also you can write on it with a white board marker.  It’s two sided, one with numbers and the other with just the grid.

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Another idea is just to print one off and use stickers.  My kids LOVE stickers.

Teen and Ten Boards

I printed off the Teen Board from Montessori Print Shop and it’s been a hit.  I find kids like velcro (I cut velcro to fit in the middle of the “0” of the 10).  I bought a Ten Board.  Big flop. Pumpkin 1 hates it.  I should have just done a printed version.

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Hanging Bead Stair

There is a 1-9 version and a teen version.  They’re not traditional Montessori materials and not necessary to have.  However my kids have always enjoyed doing them.  I think they liked the fine motor aspect of hanging the beads.  You could get the teen one instead of the Teen Board.  But again, not necessary though nice to have.

Golden Beads and Math Beads

I love the bead materials.  For the Golden Beads one could use base ten blocks but you’d need a lot for the Montessori works.  You need at least 9 1000 cubes, 45 hundred squares, and lots of 10 and 1’s.  So it may not be worth the cost in the end.  Plus the beads really give a visual of the amount.  I made my own bead materials (well I should say making, I’m not finished yet though I’ve completed the Golden Beads).  I purchased the wood numbers for durability.  You need 3 smalls sets and 1 large set.  The purchased paper sets aren’t that much cheaper.  You can also print your own small for $1 and there’s free large ones here.

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Making your own bead materials isn’t hard, just time consuming.  Just make sure you use spherical beads not pony bead or you’ll wind up with rectangles.  Pumpkin 1 likes my cheap home made beads better than the purchases ones I have because my faceted ones are more sparkly.  Here’s a great tutorial on making your own bead materials  (Just note, if you do use wood beads like she did, it’s not going to save you much money.  Faceted beads are the most inexpensive way to go).  For the wood 1000’s cubes I’d just go with the store bought ones for durability though you can make paper ones.  I’d prefer them 3D for the sensory experience.  They’re not too pricey.  For the 45 100’s wood squares you can print ones off and laminate them.

 

Geography

World Puzzle Map

My kid prefer the felt one I made to our wood one.  It was a lot of work and you can’t trace it to make your own maps but I like it and it takes up less space.  The template is from Imagine Our Life and is free.

 

Flags

We do have a world flag map which is a big hit at our house.  Pumpkin 1 knows pretty much all the flags so I highly recommend it.

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But for the flags of all the countries this is what we did.

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The stickers are from this book and there’s two sets.  One set I put on the maps that come with the book and put them in a binder and the other set I put on wood rectangles.

Puzzle Maps

I do have all the Puzzle Maps as I got a good deal on them on clearance.  But one could use a globe and an atlas to learn the countries of the world.  There are also these cardboard geo puzzles.

If you do purchase the puzzle maps you’ll need a way to store them, they are big.  My shelf is made out of an old end table.

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Globes

They’re nice to have.  They’re not too hard to make yourself.  I found small globes at the Dollar Store.  This blog’s a great place for DIY ideas.

DIY Montessori Globes

Land Form Trays

Pumpkin 1 has always loved these.  I’d recommend having them as they’re a great sensory experience.  You can also make your own.  You’ll also need a way to store them.  If you purchase I recommend getting the cabinet too.

Easy DIY Land and Water Forms

Continent Boxes

Technically these are supposed to be folders of pictures.  This is a great inexpensive way to go.  But boxes are fun too.  Take your time and don’t try to fill them all at once.  I still haven’t done all the continents.  Montessori Print Shop has lots of photos and maps you can print off.  Many people like to add Safari Ltd Toob figures.

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You can put money in the box, books, flags, toys, whatever you come across.  Popular in ours is Viewfinder reels.

Botany and Zoology

Botany and Zoology Puzzles

I do have these and the storage shelves and they have been very popular in my home.  I didn’t realize when I purchased them that the Zoology ones corresponded to the types of Vertebrates and I don’t have the turtle and wish I did.  If I were to purchase again I’d spend a little more and get the ones with the bones underneath to fit in with the activities on Vertebrates.

Leaf Cabinet

I have this, I got a deal on it as it was a damaged display model.  However we never use it.  It’s not really necessary.  The metal insets teach the same skill and there are other ways to teach the type of leaf shapes.

Life Cycles

Not exactly a Montessori material, we really love our life cycle figures.  We have a combination from Safari Ltd and Insect Lore.  Some are available on Amazon, some at Michael’s stores (don’t forget to use a coupon, Michael’s always has coupons).

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We also use Safari Ltd figures not just in our Continent boxes and Life Cycles but learning about insects and Vertebrate and Invertebrate sorting.

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They are great to ask for for Christmas and birthday presents.

Music

Bells

You’re probably not going to easily find an affordable set of Montessori Bells so you’ll have to DIY.

Staff

I made my own staff materials.  I used gems for the scale and I printed and laminated notes for rhythm.  One could also just put their child in music lessons.  Pumpkin 1 was doing piano for a while but we took a break.

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Other

There is still other things you’ll need.

Shelves

You definitely need shelves.  Ideally they should be child height but if space and storage is a minimum taller is better.  Don’t forget to attach shelves to the wall for safety.  You can easily add more storage space to shelves by getting shelf board cut and buying shelf clips.  Also these kitchen storage racks work great on cube shelves.

Work Mats

Carpets from the Dollar Store or Walmart work well.  Some people use towels.  One with lines works well for the Moveable Alphabet.

Album

These are a MUST have in my opinion if you are homeschooling Montessori.  I feel Keys of the World are excellent and the most affordable.

Laminator

There are many materials you can print off.  Having a good laminator is a must.  I have this one.

It used to be for sale on Amazon.ca but it seems to be gone.  You can check Walmart or Staples.  You don’t need a very expensive one but you will need lots of laminating sheets.

Practical Life Items

You can get most of these at the Dollar Store or use items around your house.

Trays

You’ll need lots of storage trays.  I do like the look of wood trays but plastic works fine.  There are lots of trays at the Dollar Store.  Try to use all the same colour, like white or tan, to keep it from being distracting.

 

So I know I’ve probably forgotten some things but I hope this is a pretty helpful list of the materials and what has worked and hasn’t worked for us.  I hope it helps those who are just starting out make the difficult decisions on how to Montessori on a budget and what to purchase.

 

 

My Top Kindergarten Homeschool Curriculum

Now of course I haven’t tried all the curriculum out there but these are the ones that have had great reviews and I too am enjoying using.

Handwriting Without Tears

Handwriting Without Tears Kindergarten Kit (with  Standard Letter Cards)  -

Pumpkin 1 really needs help with her handwriting.  We started with cursive and she knows her cursive lowercase letters to read but not to write and she wants to write in print so I’m going with that.  The HWT program works very well with montessori other than being print and starting with capitals but those are easier for a child to form.  Also it doesn’t mean you can’t be teaching them lowercase letters for your moveable alphbet and sandpaper letters.  The HWT program at first can be purely a fine motor exercise.

RightStart Math

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This program is great and really helps a child to visualize numbers.  I really like the use of the abacus.  We combine it with Montessori Math as there’s nothing like the golden beads and stamp game.  They’re just amazing.  But I think the ability to visual the abacus in the mind makes a huge difference in doing sums in the head.  I also plan to introduce the Japanese abacus when Pumpkin 1 is 6.

Building the Foundations of Scientific Understanding

This book is excellent and fits in perfectly with Montessori.  It’s very hands on and lists a number of books for kids on each topic.  It helps build a great foundation of understanding the world around us.  It covers several grades.  Many of the books recommend in it are from the series “Let’s Read and Find Out” which are wonderful books I keep adding to our small collection of them as we learn a new topic.

The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading

I’ve found this to be an excellent reference to all the letter combinations and phonograms a child needs to learn.  It also gives examples of words for each combination and sentences and paragraphs to read.  I use it more as a reference than an actual curriculum.

Explode the Code

Explode the Code, Book 1 (2nd Edition)  -

 

Pumpkin 1 for some reason doesn’t like using the moveable alphabet but likes workbooks.  I was finding she just wasn’t getting enough practise with new word combinations or sounding out.  When she reads she prefers to memorize words rather than sound them out.  These workbooks get her doing more phonetic reading Though they seem to repeat the same type of activity over and over with just new sounds.  We started with book 1 just for review and filling in any gaps.  She likes to colour the pictures after she’s done her work in the book for the day.

Keys of the World

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These are excellent Montessori Albums for a very reasonable price.  I couldn’t get by without them.  The theory album is a must read.  If you’re planning to homeschool in the Montessori method I highly recommend these.

 

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Months of the Year; Sun and Earth

I put this together for Pumpkin 1 to practice reading and to learn the order of the months of the year.  While she’s at the learning stage she can match the Earth slips to the words on the Sun.  This makes it more of an absorbent mind activity.  Later, when she’s familiar with it, she can flip the Sun over and put the slips around without the control.  I added a peg person to put on the month that we are in.  It can further be used to explain the movement of the Earth around the Sun and how that creates our season and months.

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You can download a PDF of this activity here: sun months  The sun is printed on yellow construction paper or you could use yellow card stock.

Multiplication

After addition with the golden beads, Pumpkin 1 wasn’t keen on subtraction, so on consultation with other Montessori moms, I introduced multiplication.  Multiplication?  For a 4 year old?  Yes!  Multiplication is only the addition of the same number multiple times.  Usually this is done in the Montessori classroom with a group of children.  Since we don’t have a group, I used little peg people.  I thought that would make it more fun for her.

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After giving each “person” the same amount.  We added it all together.

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Who knew multiplication was so simple and fun?  Pumpkin 1 didn’t want to try it again so I made it more engaging by appealing to her sense of imagination.  We said the golden beads were treasure each person had and we had to figure out home much they had altogether.  After the second calculation she told me the people were tired and needed to go to sleep.  Oh well.

We actually had a really good work session today (in between Pumpkin 2 throwing things, climbing on me and treating me like a jungle gym while I tried to work with Pumpkin 1).  He always wants to be a part of everything but he’s still in a key time for gross motor skills.  I really should put an oval line on the floor.  I wish I had a balance beam.  He did work for a bit on the Animal and Plant sorting cards.

Pumpkin 1 did some Pink Series writing and reading.  I’ve put all the materials for the Pink Series in tackle boxes.  She’s good at writing with the moveable alphabet but she still really struggles with sounding out.  She’ll say the sound of each letter but when she puts it together will use different letters or say what she thinks not what she read.  She is really good at sight reading and knows a lot of words that way so she gets frustrated at having to sound out, she wants to just memorize every word.

We did the life cycle figures and read the little life cycle books, Pumpkin 2 sat on my lap to listen.  Then the two of them worked on patterning with the math link cubes, Pumpkin 2 just did whatever Pumpkin 1 told him.

 

After that Pumpkin 1 did the North America continent map with flags, and matched the objects in the continent box with the cards.  We also read the little book about North America and she looked at pictures of Banff Park with the ViewMaster.

Then that I suggested lunch but she wanted to do the Flag Map.  Somehow, the key I made, is lost but she remembered almost all the flags and even corrected me when I confused the Algerian flag with Pakistan’s.

It’s great when we have a good work session, especially since yesterday’s was a bust.  I just need to find more for Pumpkin 2 to do.

Introduction to Addition

So our new math materials from IFIT arrived quicker than I expected.  I was very happy with the quality.  I’ve always been happy with my purchases from there.  Pumpkin 1 was excited to use them.  I realized after that I should have done the change game before addition, though it’s not necessary.  However now that we’ve done addition I think I’ll stick to static addition (no carrying) and then introduce changing once she’s confident with addition.  I’m planing to teach her to add from left to right than right to left since that’s how you use the soroban.

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So first we did two amounts on different mats.  The wooden cubes and squares and the large and one of the small number sets are all from IFIT>

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Then we moved all the materials onto one carpet to “add” them together.  It’s such an ingenious way to teach addition and really gives a child the concrete, hands-on experience of it.

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I’d been struggling on how to move forward with language and the moveable alphabet with Pumpkin 1.  Someone suggested trying the Montessori Pink Series.  I downloaded the card set for free from The Helpful Garden.  It went over really well.  Pumpkin 1 was really into writing the words.  I think it helped to have them sorted by the vowel.  It was too hard for her to hear the different vowels so this way it’s easier for her to break down the word to write it.

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Later I caught her trying to sound out words in a learning to read book.  We’ve looked at the books before but she hadn’t figured out the concept of sounding the words out so I put it aside.  It’s exciting that she’s transferring the knowledge to other areas.  It’s hard to trust the Montessori process because it’s different than what’s traditionally done, but it really works!

 

What Montessori is really like with a 2 year old….

So Montessori with my kids is very child directed.  It’s often really hard to let go and let them choose what work they want to do but we have to trust their inner needs and processes.  What you see in blogs is only the best parts.  It’s usually skipping the difficult parts, the children being silly, the children being grumpy, the children lying on the floor and not getting up, the children making the Toob figures attack each other, the children throwing a material or insisting on doing it incorrectly.  Here is a good moment with my 2 year old.

 

Here is a real moment with my 2 year old during the same work session.

I didn’t get a video of him trying to walk on them.  He also tried to walk on the Brown Stairs.  He may be a little young still so I’ll keep things light and I put them away when he’s not treating them with care.

Pumpkin 1 also was being difficult today.  Wanting to do the Golden beads and then pretending she didn’t know the names of the numbers or just refusing to talk at all.  It’s so frustrating as a parent teacher because you worry and work so hard and then you’re left trying to figure out why and you always feel like you’re failing somehow and that you have to prove yourself to everyone who may think you’re making the wrong decision.  I’m not sure if the work was too easy for her or too difficult or she just wasn’t interested.  I’m leaning towards it being too easy and am hoping when the wooden cubes and squares for the addition come in she’ll be challenged.

So, I hope this post makes you smile and breath a little easier when your kids are stressing you out.

Vertebrate and Invertebrate

Here is Pumpkin 1 doing some spontaneous vertebrate and invertebrate sorting.

 

The cards are free from The Helpful Garden

http://thehelpfulgarden.blogspot.ca/2012/07/vertebrate-and-invertebrate-sorting.html

Flags, Pompoms and Boomerings

I find practical life activities impossible to leave out because my 2 year old gets into them and makes a mess so we don’t do them as often as we should.  This is a cheap easy one to set up.  The tray is an ice cube tray from the Dollar store.  The pompoms are from there too.  She’s using tweezers from Scholar’s choice that came in a large container of them, I’ve given some away.  They’re easy to use for little hands.  This activity helps build finger strength for writing and fine motor skills.

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Pumpkin 1 LOVES this flag map from Affordable Montessori.  I thought the price was really reasonable and the quality is better than expected.

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I don’t even know the flags so I’ve been learning them.  It’s amazing how fast you pick up something when it’s hands on like this activity.  The map has a key on the back with all the flags and country names but of course you can’t check the back when you’re using it so I made a printable version.

You can download it here: flags

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Have I said how much I love Discovery Toys? Oh, I did?  Haha, they’re just so wonderful.  I love toys that engage and challenge my children, that teach them math, reading, logic, reasoning, prediction, memory, and so many other skills plus they have a life-time guarantee so I don’t have to worry about anything breaking.  We incorporate many of the Discovery Toys into our homeschool activities.

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Today Pumpkin 1 was really engaged in making patterns with the Boomerings.  These are so great, they can be used from infancy right on up until childhood.  They’re really strong and durable and there’s an activity set that comes with different activity cards for matching, patterning or math. Putting them together also is great for her fine motor skills and strengthening her fingers.

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You can even use them for dress-up!  Princess Pumpkin!