Tuesday, March 17, 2015

making tracks: a plaster cast tutorial

One of our favorite things to do on walks is look for tracks.  Since most wild animals are active during the early morning or evening - times when we're usually cozy at home - tracks are one of the best ways to observe who's been there and what they've been up to.  

A few weeks ago, we discovered several sets of deer tracks on the sidewalk outside our house.  We had so much fun following the tracks, imagining the family of deer that walked by while the neighborhood slept! 
I decided to build on this interest by making plaster casts of a few tracks with Elise that we could bring home. Something to actually hold in our hands and study!  

Here's how we did it:


What you'll need:

  • plaster of paris - we made 4 tracks and used about 2 pounds
  • water - we used less than our 32 oz bottle held
  • long strips of poster board - ours were about 3 x 18 inches 
  • paper clips - for fastening the poster board strips around the tracks
  • disposable bowls - for mixing the plaster
  • spoons - also for mixing the plaster
  • not pictured:  paper towels (this project is NOT as clean as I've made it look!!!) and bags for cushioning and transporting the finished casts 


^^ Find a track - the deeper and more well-defined the better! ^^


^^ Bend a strip of poster board into a ring slightly larger than the track, secure with a paper clip, and push securely into the ground. ^^


^^ Use a spoon to measure the plaster of paris into a bowl - we weren't too exact!  ;) ^^


^^ Add water and mix well - the ratio should be about 2 parts plaster of paris to 1 part water. ^^


^^ Gently pour the mixture over the track - an inch or so will do. ^^


^^ Have a snack - the plaster of paris will take about a half an hour to set. ^^


^^ We had hoped to make a Rosie track, but she was not cooperative - imagine that! ^^


^^ Use the trowel to loosen the soil around the track, and lift it out - wow!  ^^


^^ We let our casts set completely overnight before giving them a good scrub! ^^


^^ Guess that track!  We've been using our field guides to identify the tracks and read about the animals who made them.  I haven't done it yet, but I've been thinking about making a set of animal cards to match with the tracks...  I'll be sure to share them if I do! ^^

Thursday, March 12, 2015

busy hands - toddler edition


slicing strawberries
to top our morning oatmeal


dressing a doll
- doll clothes are a great way to practice buttoning, zipping, and snapping!


whoo hooo!!!  listening for owls
- inspired by Jane Yolen's Owl Moon.


scavenging around the house
for circles, squares, and triangles


filling a spool rack with beads
- a fun idea I'd seen floating around the Montessori facebook groups!


the completed project
Elise ran out of beads, so she finished filling all the posts with - surprise! -  spools!


exploring our winter nature table
- Usually our nature table is filled with items found in nature,
but this little variation inspired lots of play 
when the outdoor world was covered in snow!


Oh!  I'm in this one, too!  ;)
hanging peanut butter pine cones 
- a wintry treat for all our bird friends in the park! 

Friday, March 6, 2015

MT beach weather


The spring-like weather took us out on a little adventure this morning.
Instead of our usual loop through the park, we went a little further,
and explored a sandbar along the Yellowstone River.

Rosie went swimming!  
Wild dog - do you see the size of her stick?

Elise joyfully dug into the sand,
warm on top, cold underneath.
She told me she was "looking for creatures."

And me?
I sat back and soaked up the sunshine.

A perfect Friday activity.  :)


After our walk, I put together this invitation to create
with a few of the treasures we collected by the river,
 and a ball of fresh play dough.

You may not know, but we have recently switched to - gasp! - cooked play dough!
Yes, we ran out of cream of tarter one day, so we made a "no cream of tarter needed" recipe found on pinterest.  
The texture is comparable to the gooey Play Doh from the store.
Here's a link to the recipe we've been using:  Homemade Playdough (To the Moon and Back).

Anyway, I really want to put together more open ended art activities like this for Elise
- who has been creating like crazy lately!
This particular activity was inspired by this post from Happiness is here.
Do you read this blog?  I just discovered it a few days ago, and I can't get enough.
Check it out!

Happy weekend, friends!  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

a little tour: our calendar routine


March marks our sixth month of incorporating calendar activities into our daily routine, so I thought it was high time I shared a little about it with all of you here on itty bitty love!  

A calendar can be useful for...
  • supporting an understanding of the passage of time; 
  • introducing vocabulary like days of the week, phases of the moon, etc;
  • encouraging an appreciation of seasons;
  • making scientific observations of things like moon cycles and weather patterns;
  • providing the opportunity to count, everyday!  


Nuts & bolts:
  • I found a lot of inspiration for our calendar on the Counting Coconuts blog - please check out Mari-Ann's calender post if you haven't already. She also shares several free date card sets to download and print.
  • Our calendar is attached to a cork board with push pins.  The background for the date cards and days of the week is a piece of poster board.  I used a black marker to draw a grid of 2" x 2" squares, leaving a little room at the top for the days of the week.
  • The month, days of the week, year, and season cards are color coded by season - winter is blue, spring is green, summer is yellow, and fall is red.  When the season changes, I change these cards.
  • Each month, Elise and I make a new set of date cards.  Since our squares are small, I've found that a lot of the downloadable cards are too big.  Instead, I cut them from card stock, write the number in the corner with a marker, and give Elise a sheet of seasonal stickers for decorating.  This month, she adorned them with dabs of paint!
  • We mark the date by hanging a little necklace charm (a bird on one side, a bee on the other - my good luck charm while pregnant with Elise!) on that day's push pin.  
  • The phases of the moon cards are from Montessori Print Shop.*
  • The weather cards are from learn create love.*
  • The cards that aren't in use are held together with metal rings, and hang from hooks attached to the bottom of the cork board.  They're almost like little books, and I love that they're available for Elise to look at whenever she wants!
*  In case you're wondering, I don't have a color printer.  Instead, I uploaded the phases of the moon and weather cards to a local print shop, and then picked them up the next day - easy peasy!


Our routine:

We generally do our calendar routine around breakfast time, when we're talking about our day and the upcoming week.  If we miss doing the calendar together for some reason, I don't sweat it, but instead try to keep it up-to-date on my own since it's part of our environment.

  • First, we point and sing to the days of the week - in Spanish or in English - to the tune of "Oh, My Darling Clementine."  When we get to whatever day of the week it is, we pause, then jump up and down, waving our arms around, saying the name of the day.  ~ Sunday, Monday, Tuesday - Tuesday?  Today is Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday!, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday (repeat 2x) 
  • Next, we point and count the date cards - in Spanish or in English - moving the charm over one space to the new day.  At this point, I say the whole date, pointing to the calendar, and Elise chimes in here and there.  ~ Today is Tuesday, the third day of March, and the year is 2015. ~ 
  • Then, we chitchat about the season, the weather, and the moon.  We change the weather cards throughout the day.  For example, we might hang the sunny card in the morning, and then later add the windy card after returning home from a breezy walk.  We also change the moon cards as we observe the current phase of the moon - we try to check at night before bedtime.  The first quarter moon is easy to spot because it rises at noon!  Another little trick we've learned is that if you can "hold" the moon in your right hand, it's getting bigger (waxing); if you can "hold" it in your left hand, it's getting smaller (waning).

Elise participates in all calendar duties, including taking down the old date cards and hanging up the new ones.  I really enjoy watching her concept of the passage of time develop.  Last month we had a birthday party to look forward to, and Elise eagerly ran to her calendar each morning to count down the days.  

In the beginning, I wasn't sure about incorporating the phases of the moon and the weather, but Elise enjoys these two calendar features immensely - and they have really sharpened her observational skills.  One of my favorite moments was on a family bike ride last fall.  We were cruising along when suddenly Elise exclaimed, "Look!  A waxing gibbous!"  Hubs turned to me and said, "Did she just say waxing gibbous?"  As we watched Elise reach up to cup the outline of the moon in her right hand, I replied, "Yes, and it looks like she knows what she's talking about!"   

Friday, February 27, 2015

our favorite winter reads

We'd been waiting for a really big snow, saving good stuff in a sack.  Finally it was a perfect snowball day.  

- Lois Ehlert (from Snowballs)


Here are a few of our favorite books to snuggle up with on a snowy afternoon.  With the exception of the talking animals in Stranger in the Woods, all of these books are based in reality.  Which is just right for 2.5 year-old Elise - too much fantasy leaves her confused and concerned!

  • Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
  • Snowballs by Lois Ehlert
  • In the Snow: Who's Been Here? by Lindsay Barrett George
  • Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams II & Jean Stoick
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  • What Can You Do in the Snow? by Anna Grossnickle Hines

What do you plan on reading this weekend?  


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