Homemade Wooden Imbucare Box

Do you remember those plastic toys that had five holes of different shapes? Perhaps a star, square, circle, triangle and rectangle? Have you seen a one year old get frustrated by the amount of holes and find it overwhelming? My child has one of these plastic toys, acquired as a hand-me-down or a gift, and absolutely hates it. This was before I new about Montessori materials for the toddler age (I always thought that 3 years old was the magic age). When I learned about object permanent boxes that only have one shape I thought that my son would appreciate and enjoy this activity. When I looked up buying them, I was surprised by the cost.

If you were to buy an Imbucare Box new these are the prices you are looking at:

When you think that you will be buying 2-4 different single shape boxes, the price adds up quickly! I am not very good at woodworking projects but knew that if I wanted something like this for my son, I would need to make it myself. After a failed attempt at making a box from birch wood bought from home depot (I said I wasn’t good at woodworking), I found an easier way. It is not the exact form of the Imbucare box, and I would improve this in the future, but for a first attempt it has worked rather well (and cheaply!).

At a local craft store that always provides coupons, I found these unfinished wooden boxes for 50% off. They already have a hinged lid and a small magnet that keeps the lid on. Using a circular drill bit, I cut a circle hole that fits the sphere and cone shape, so all I have to do is switch the pieces and it is a new toy. The shapes are the same brand as the box, as if I remember correctly was only $3 (plus 40% coupon of course). The shape bag comes with three each of squares, cones, spheres, and cylinder. I painted the cones blue with craft paint I had at my house.

The green tab you see in the above photo is because that tiny magnet works so well! I used a glue gun and a piece of ribbon to make a tab that my son could use to open the box; holding the bottom and pulling on the top is too much coordination for him at the moment. When I make a box for the square pieces, I would like to buy a square, instead of circular, box in order to cut out a whole for easy access as you see in the traditional boxes that are sold.

I was trying to make a wooden, and more permanent (pun intended), version of my previous homemade coin slot box. I would say my son currently prefers the plastic-took-me-two-minutes version; I am wondering if it is because he prefers the cards to the shapes, or doesn’t like the box itself. I’ll keep you updated!

Cost Savings: $3 for box at 50% off; $1.80 for shapes at 40% off = $4.80 versus $21-57 Multiply this by 3 boxes and watch your savings increase!

Pouring Milk and Scooping Cereal

My son used to like Cheerios but for some reason will only throw them on the ground now if we give him dry cereal- put milk in it and it’s another story! He cherishes his cereal with milk, I can’t argue with him there. If my husband or myself pour a bowl of cereal he runs to us with glee excited to get some cheerios soaked in milk. I thought that he would enjoy learning how to pour his own bowls.

First lesson in pouring milk from a pitcher and scooping cereal with a spoon: while it was a success in that he didn’t become frustrated and he remained concentrated, it was not a success in actually eating cereal. Maybe Lesson #2 will result in more caloric intake.

He has only poured one time (see blog post here on homemade pouring kit)- a fault in my not having a real location in my kitchen for his glass pitcher and cups and giving him exposure. The lack of experience showed when he went to pour the milk and I couldn’t resist the urge to keep the pitcher from spilling all over him by guiding it to the bowl. I would recommend having lots of practice with pouring water before introducing milk. I believe with education it is important to realize when children need to take a step back, or where you jumped too far ahead as a parent or educator.

The next and more complicated task comes with using a spoon to scoop, stabilize the spoon and bring it up to the mouth.

Attempt #2 and 3 with eating cereal went much better. I suppose I can’t expect him to not spill the first time. It is easy to forget how difficult new tasks are to small humans.

I have noticed a big difference in his ability to properly eat cereal depending on the spoon that I provide him. All of the spoons we own were hand me downs, so I don’t know all the brands. Shown in the picture below, the easiest spoon for our toddler is a plastic one with a loop handle. The loop makes it harder to dump out, meaning he is more likely to get it to his mouth with the cereal still on it! The munchkin spoon is the hardest because it is so long, he has trouble maneuvering it around; the shorter the handle the better.

Fun fact: The two spoons on the left that are the easiest for my son were hand-me-downs from my husband’s grandmother.

The two on the left are the easiest for my 16 month to wield

Letting your toddler do things by themselves is an act of iron will. It is very hard to watch someone use a spoon upside down and not intervene, or bring a spoon to their mouth and dump it one inch too soon. Teaching a toddler is a messy experience, but without this experience, we don’t give them room to grow. So get your sponges and cloths ready, because they are going to make a mess! Next lesson up? Cleaning up after ourselves!

Cost: Price of one small bowl of cereal

Advanced Learning: As my son grows, we can add steps to this: getting cereal out of cabinet and pouring it ourselves (baby step: providing a small tupperware of cereal to pour into bowl, big boy step: pouring from the box!), wiping up spills, cleaning dishes, shopping for cereal, learning where wheat and milk comes from.

Nature Basket: Matching Nomenclature Cards to Object

My son is fascinated with everything outdoors. He loves being outside; if there was a refrigerator with food outside, I don’t think he would come inside at all. Twigs, rocks, dirt clumps, puddles, leaves, flowers, rocks, did I mention rocks? He is already a pro collector. I thought that a nature basket would be a good first matching activity for him.

I started by collecting four nature objects from our yard. We don’t have a pine tree, but luckily a neighbor does and the pine cones were laying in the street. While I may have been able to find a more durable leaf elsewhere, I wanted one that I had access to so I could replace it when he rips it up (I was right- day one with basket- ripped up leaf).

To make the cards, I took pictures on a white background hoping that it would blend in when I printed them out (not exactly but doable).

I then pasted these onto a word document, writing the name on top in English and on bottom in French. I really loved Three Minute Montessori’s post on the importance of choosing the right font. Since I was feeling a little lazy last night, I decided that font wasn’t too important since my son would probably destroy the cards before the writing meant much to him, and went with the print Comic Sans.

Here is the file I printed out to create the cards:

After printing, I used glossy laminate sheets that I had left over from my teaching days to laminate the cards. It is not a great laminate, definitely won’t last more than a month is my guess, but I already had them and don’t plan on buying a laminator… yet (they really aren’t that expensive these days).

Not professional grade but good enough for us!

First morning lesson went much better than I expected! He sat and watched as I brought each individual item out and matched it to the item. I made the first introduction short and then had him put the basket away on his shelf. We had a second lesson in the afternoon and he did well with handing me the object from the basket when I took out a specific card. The cards did get a lot of wear on them already so the next time around I will have to work at making the laminate stick better. I think I need to use two sheets of laminate stuck together instead of one sheet of laminate stuck to a piece of overlapping paper.

Side note: I forgot how spiky pine cones are and was worried that he would hurt himself, but he is very careful in holding it and seems to know not to squeeze.

Cost: $0.50 (for basket)

Advanced Learning: Three-Part Cards (one additional card with the label detached), Four-Part Cards (adding a definition), rotating and adding more objects to the basket, have the child make their own cards

Toddler Pouring Kit

When you walk through any baby aisle all you see are plastic cups, plastic spoons, plastic bowls and plates. Children are destructive we are told- don’t trust them with anything breakable. This all seems logical and all the non-destructible and non-spill items made sense to me. It does seem counter intuitive to give a 15 month old a glass pitcher. I handed my toddler a glass cup with trepidation. I held my breath as he looked at the new prize sitting on his table. I knew he was going to pick it up and throw it across the room. After it shattered into many pieces my golden retriever and my son would injure their feet on the shards of glass. As this went through my mind in excruciating detail, my son was unfazed. I am grateful that thoughts can’t be heard, for low and behold, he didn’t bang it, he didn’t break it; in fact, he held the glass in his hands with care. He picked it up with both hands and then set it back down on his table- then he repeated- pick it up, set it down, pick it up, set it down. Several of these practices and he took a sip.


Day one of giving him a glass cup and I made sure to stand right next to him. I did limit his time with the glass, as soon as he had taken a few sips, I praised his efforts and told him we would put the glass away until he was thirsty again. I made sure to not fill it too high in order to minimize spilling (for we did dribble some during drinking).

tiny hexagonal glass and glass pitcher sitting on a cloth napkin
$0.99 for glass $1.99 for the pitcher

Today made me think that the glass pitcher was not a mistake. He wasn’t ready for the pitcher today, but after giving him the next week to work on using his cup, I look forward to introducing him (with supervision) to pouring with the pitcher.

I found the hexagonal glass (better for gripping) and the pitcher at a local thrift store. I love buying from thrift stores for it keeps used items out of landfills. In addition, this particular thrift store runs the local homeless shelter- supporting the community and the environment through my consumerism. Who doesn’t like an excuse to feel good about shopping?

Costing a mere $3 for the the two items, here is a sample of what you would be paying if you were to buy this product new on amazon:

montessori pouring kit on amazon $15.95 + 10.95 shipping
Glassware is abundant at thrift stores- I highly recommend checking there first

Glassware is a very common item at thrift stores and a great place to save some money, especially on shipping! For a child size sponge, simply cut one a regular sponges in half.

Future Improvements: I still need to find some trays- one downside of thrifting, it does require some patience to find what you are looking for (or is learning patience a positive??)

Money Savings: $20-40

Homemade Toddler Slot Box

An Imbucare Object Permanence Box is meant to allow the child to practice seeing an object disappear and understand that it is still there, while at the same time working on muscle coordination. I won’t go as far to say that my homemade version is an Imbucare Object Permanence Box because mine is see-through and does not easily allow for retrieving the objects out of the box. I could work on improving my homemade version- mine is more focusing on coordination and muscle control over object permanence.

Purchasing an Imbucare Box from Neinhuis, one of the leading brands of Montessori materials, is not cheap on the pocket book.

Even buying this from Montessori Outlet is more than I am able to spend:

More than 50% off is still very expensive!

I had a restless child who needed a toy to concentrate on so I took an Indian food takeout container (those tall thick ones for liquids) and cut a rectangular hole in the top. I then got some old playing cards and taught my son how to place the card through the hole. He loved this activity! It engaged his brain and his body.

Careful cutting the hole not to create any sharp edges

I quickly learned that playing cards lose their shape in the hands of a toddler. After the cards became bent he would have a difficult time getting them through the slot. I tried to find a sturdier object so that he would not get frustrated. Finding a stash of old bank, grocery and university cards we were back in business! A much needed upgrade as credit cards don’t lose shape and they are thick enough that he can pick them up when they are flat on the floor.

The second issue with this activity is that I have to supervise him because he can’t open the lid by himself, these containers seal so well they are hard to peel open. So I have to stand close by to open and close the container as he goes through all the cards (watching a toddler slowly pick up and place cards in the slot is difficult to to intervene but he does well… just takes much longer than it would us!) Since he has a short attention span for activities these days, I don’t mind sitting with him but I wonder if I created a more Object Permanence-Like box if it will increase his attention span since he would have more independence.

While I wanted a quick and cheap activity on the go, there are ways that I plan on improving this DIY version to create a more permanent (pun intended) material to add to our collection.

Toddler Hack: $0, 5 minutes

Future Improvements: Add Object-Permanence element, use a non-plastic item

Money Saved*: $30-60

*Saved for college fund since I can’t DIY Diploma

DIY Montessori Shelf

Wouldn’t we all love to spend endless money on the perfect setup for every room? If I could, I would have bought this Montessori infant shelf from Sprout. I found this brand when I was searching for a toddler table (blog post coming soon). I decided to convert a bookshelf that we had in his room. We had LOTS of children’s books on the bookshelf, and my son liked to create chaos by pulling all the books down on the ground… over, and over again. I found myself constantly putting the books back on the shelf multiple times a day. This appeared to be a waste of my time and my sons’ time.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Then I started to think about it from my son’s perspective. If I saw a shelf full of books stacked really close together, wouldn’t I have the urge to pull them off the shelf as well?? Looking at adjacent photo, what can a child actually process? This shelf is overwhelming. The books aren’t viewed as single items but as a large unit built up of building blocks- and what do toddlers like to do with building blocks? Knock them over! Break them down to their smallest part to try to understand their structure.

Wooden bookshelves are expensive. Even before I decided on a Montessori set-up, I knew I wanted a real wooden bookshelf. Buying new was way out of our price range, so my mother in law found this wooden bookshelf at a consignment shop for us.

bookshelf with only two items per shelf.
Visually manageable for a toddler

The first of every month, I rotate the items that are on the shelf. Every item on this shelf was a gift we received. I keep his books in the top shelf of the closet and his toys in a toy box. I am no longer putting handfuls of books back on the shelf multiple times a day. My son now goes to the bookshelf and actually looks at the different items. He will normally just take one item to play with (or throw on the ground, let’s be honest). Even though the top shelf appears out of his reach, he actually really good at reaching to the top and likes getting the book up top. We did secure the bookshelf to the wall with cables for the day he decides to climb up the shelf.

His bedroom is less messy, I am cleaning up less and we are all much happier!