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!

Learning how to take care for the family dog

As it happens more and more these days, I am learning not to be surprised when my son shows me he is ready to help with a new chore or activity rather than me introducing it first. This is how we stumbled upon helping him learn how to care for our family dog. These two are inseparable when we’re at home, and while our pup does seem slightly irritated by our son most of the time, she also seems pretty attached and secretly in love. We’re grateful that she is so patient with his learning curve. The following activities are what he has been learning to be apart of:

  1. Feeding breakfast and dinner
  2. Dehydrating (to our dismay)
  3. Brushing
  4. Walking and hiking
  5. Petting gently (not hitting)
  1. Feeding the dog

I have tried to get our son to practice scooping by giving him Cheerios or Rice Krispies, but he normally just throws it around (or at the dog), which is why we only eat cereal with milk and not dry. My son is obsessed with our dog’s meal time. The minute he hears the utility door open up, I think he runs to the food bowl faster than the pup. While we used to grab him and take him out of the room kicking and screaming, we started letting him scoop the food and place it in the bowl. What intention and focus on this little toddler’s face! He is so proud to scoop and pour. The tricky part is that when he is done, he immediately wants to grab the food. Occasionally we will use a tiny scoop so that he can scoop many times, but have found that his attention span isn’t that long. This task definitely requires supervision by a parent. He is slowly getting better about not grabbing Walden’s food while she is eating (we’re trying to prepare him for a world that is not as passive his dog thankfully is).

2. Dehydrating the dog

While our child loves to feed the dog, any attempt to give water results in our son immediately dumping the container over. His curiosity with water overrides any introduction on our part to leave water bowls alone. Other than making sure our dog gets water when the little one is sleeping, we haven’t found a solution to this problem yet. Let me know if you have any ideas!

3. Brushing

Brushing our dog is probably our son’s second favorite dog activity behind feeding. He loves to come over when we our brushing our long-haired pup, sometimes kindly and sometimes unkindly asking to take the brush from us so he can have a go. We hadn’t yet gotten him a brush for his hair, so this prompted us to start giving him a brush to groom himself.

4. Going for walks

Hiking together

As our son started to have shorter attention spans with going for stroller walks, we started handing him our dog’s leash to hold onto. He loves holding the leash now. When we go for hikes or walks, he will ask to hold the leash. We make sure to hold halfway down to make sure our pup doesn’t get excited and knock the baby down. Hopefully this will help to keep his interest in hiking and maybe one day we’ll make it farther than a quarter mile!

5. Learning to have gentle hands

tug a war

We have been lucky to have a dog that has always played so gently and age appropriately with our son. She knows not to pull to hard or get too aggressive. Unfortunately, our son is not this attuned to gentle play and had to be taught to pet gently rather than hit aggressively. He learned this pretty quickly but still needs constant reminders. Now that he is much more active, he can get too handsy and think that our pup is his personal jungle gym. While our dog is extremely patient, all animals have limits, so we sometimes separate the two if our son is not able to calm down. Most of the time, he responds to our requests to treat her with care.

All of these activities helping to care for our dog are a wonderful way for our son to be involved. He already adores the dog, and now he can help take care of her. As an only child, his relationship with our dog is helping to teach him empathy and care. I am grateful that he has her to play with and learn from. Now if we could only teach our golden retriever that she is supposed to bring the ball back… but for now we’ll let our child chase her around.

Cost: No more than the dog already cost

Advanced Learning: Take your child to the vet with you when your dog goes for their check-up, this is a great learning experience to see what veterinarians do and to help them understand that we all go to the doctor; get a book on pet anatomy and learn about their body structure; teach your dog tricks and let your child learn the commands; watch dog shows together or go to a local dog show; volunteer at the humane society; get your dog trained to be a therapy dog and visit local hospitals together.

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

Outdoor Toddler Clothes Line

We’ve all been told the phrase “If you want something done right, do it yourself” at least once, if not multiple times. There is nothing farther from reality when teaching a toddler how to do chores. Today we worked on hanging our laundry outside. I didn’t plan on doing this, it was my son that taught me that he was ready and that I needed to include him.

toddler hanging shirt on laundry line

My son was standing beside me fussing and whining. I was focused on the task of getting the laundry up and trying to get him to play independently (i.e. chase our dog around the yard). When he wouldn’t let up, I gave him one of his shirts and told him to put it on the line, gently guiding his hand. He beamed with pride when it stayed up! I handed him another one, he focused on getting it on the line, it fell, but he just asked for another piece of clothing.

I know that I need to be more patient and slow down. I can thank my son for helping me to teach him. Sure he piled the clothes into one area or half of them fell down and I had to go back later and fix them, but that was not what my son saw. He learned how to do something new, he enjoyed working alongside me, and he felt pride in his work. Perhaps next time his coordination and his attention span will be longer.

Getting distracted by birds chirping

Adult to toddler hack: In order to make our clothesline toddler friendly, we just added a rope at his height at the bottom. Cost= $0. Time=5 minutes

Advanced Lessons: for older toddlers and children you can incorporate lessons on solar energy and/or practical life of folding clothes after they have dried

Toddler Level Mirror

It’s hard to be a little kid in an adult world. Everything is made for big people and you are working so hard to navigate this world but don’t seem to fit in. Having a toddler sized layout is important for building self-esteem and independence. Unfortunately, it is surprisingly counter intuitive and difficult to do as an adult that has had adult sized items for so long. One way I like to help myself navigate this new world better is to crawl around and see what my son’s perspective is and how I can better create an appropriate environment for him. It is not something that has happened quickly, but I like to give myself credit even for the small things. My house doesn’t look like a Montessori classroom or a toddler oasis but I am trying one item at a time.
One rearranged item is better than none I tell myself!

mirror hanging at toddler height on bedroom wall

It’s a small change I made. I happened to have this non-glass mirror hanging above my dresser so I could put my earrings in. It was very useless since I can’t wear earrings anymore unless I want to risk losing my lobes. I decided to hang it low in my son’s bedroom so that he can see himself in the mirror.

The first time he got a peek he did a double take. He smiles when he sees himself. He gets joy from seeing me in the mirror and then turning around and seeing me right there. Sure it’s covered in finger prints most of the time and doesn’t entertain him for more than a couple minutes, but I believe having this at his height is one small step I can take in making him feel confident in his environment, making him feel that his room is his.

Future goal: a brush on a shelf so he can learn to comb his hair

Homemade Bilingual Books

Finding bilingual materials is a constant challenge in the United States- especially if the language you are learning is not Spanish. With a lack of resources available locally, I can either order them on Amazon Canada, French websites, or the free shipping version is to make my own!

Like all good blog posts, I got a little help from my friend Dolly. Have you ever heard of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library? If you didn’t already love Dolly, here is another reason to love her, her commitment to childhood literacy. We signed up to receive a free book each month. After two months of this we realized that we had been gifted so many books by family and friends, combine this with our weekly trips to the library, we quickly took ourselves off the list. Books are not something we needed more of, but if you are struggling to make it to the library because of the number of children you have, or if your library is far away and you would like to spark joy and literacy in your child by getting a free book in the mail every month (until the age of 5)- please sign up for Imagination Library!

Two of the books we received from Dolly were bilingual books- in Spanish and English! What a great way to introduce children to another language. Speaking French myself, and not Spanish, I decided to take a Sharpie and write in the French. While I could just translate in my head, I want my son to see the words and when I am exhausted at bedtime, language translation does not sound like a fun activity.

trilingual children's book: Spanish, English and my hand written French.

With a sharpie and some time, I added a multilingual book to our collection. Thank you Dolly!

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!

Bilingual Bébé

Before my journey into parenthood, I was a high school French teacher. I didn’t grow up bilingual and always wished that I had. While I love learning languages and cultures, language learning does not come easy to me. I had to work really hard to acquire French skills, especially since I am a very quiet introvert. I studied abroad for six months, spent a year working at a bar in a French monastery, spent a school year working in Senegal and I still try to keep up the language with movies and practice. What better way to practice than to speak to my son in French.

During the first six months of his life when all he did was sleep and gurgle, I read him my French novels, we listened to French podcasts together and I spoke to him with my heavy accent and strange foreign way of speaking. At first I was afraid I would mess up his brain speaking to him in a non-native language, but after reading the limited research available, it didn’t appear that this would be the case. There isn’t a lot of academic research as to what happens when a non-native speaker tries to teach a second language from birth, it appeared that my son might not master the language completely, but just a little exposure to a second language is beneficial.

During my graduate studies, I spent a summer working at a Montessori preschool in Guadeloupe (French speaking island in the lesser French Antilles). I noticed that a lot of parents at this private school tried to introduce their child to English at home. Their parents all had heavy accents and limited vocabularies (like me!) but those that had the most exposure to English at home were the most comfortable and had the best comprehension in English class at school.

So to all you parents out there who are hesitant- go ahead and learn a language with your child! In the U.S. the easiest language to learn together is Spanish- the public library has the largest selection of Spanish children books over other world languages. With language learning apps like Duolingo, you can advance your skills during nap time, and then read books together at bedtime.

It’s easy to not speak to my son in French, especially with a monolingual dad. I like the mental focus it takes. I will follow up this post with resources I use or make in French, and those available in other languages as well. My son isn’t speaking yet, but I have secret hopes that he’ll say Bonjour before Hello.