Isolation of difficulty, or “why are so many of the materials so plain?”

N is into puzzles. Really into puzzles. He ran through all of the puzzles we had from K’s toddlerhood in just under an hour, because hey, where’s the challenge? I mean, the lion puzzle piece fits into the lion-shaped hole with the same illustration. It’s a good thing that he loves repetition, because even though he figured out each puzzle in under two minutes, he was happy to do it over and over again.

When he started (and quickly finished) our wooden number puzzle a few days ago, I decided to extend the activity a bit and link the puzzle pieces to the fabric numbers I made way back when. Remember these?

So I pulled out the felt numbers and showed one to N. “This is number two. Your puzzle has a number two. Can you find it?”

He did. And so I silently marvelled at my son’s genius. Two years old and matching numbers! Hmm… better check it to make sure it’s not a fluke.

“N, this is number six. Can you find the six in your puzzle?”

No. No, he couldn’t. He did, however, find me the eight. I realized, belatedly, what he was matching: the colour! He was able to match the two because it was the same colour in both the felt numbers and the puzzle. When faced with different shapes and colours, N’s default was to match the colour. As you can see in this picture, that would be a rare match indeed.

That, in a nutshell (okay, a very large, slightly verbose nutshell,) is what isolation of difficulty is all about. Montessori materials are designed so that all of the components of a given material are identical except for the one feature that the material is supposed to teach. That’s why the pink tower blocks are all the same shade of pink. The tower might look prettier with multicoloured blocks, but the entire point of the material is for the children to practice their size discrimination. The sandpaper numbers, unlike my felt numbers, are all the same colour and grit of sandpaper on the same colour background; the only difference between them is the shape of each number, which is what the child is learning from the material.

So there you have it. Many materials are intentionally simple so that the children aren’t distracted or confused when learning new concepts. One day the children will be able to identify scents from varied objects or put a large number of different fruits and vegetables in order from large to small, and within that, in rainbow order. At the beginning, though, Montessori allows children to master each concept completely. You have to walk before you can run, as they say, and you have to recognize shapes before you can jazz ’em up.

Any questions?

Do you see what I see?

I recently learned that many of the parents who take tours of our school say, “why are the walls so plain? Why don’t you put up some posters or something? Aside from the fact that the teachers strive to keep the classroom looking peaceful and uncluttered, there’s a very important reason why the rooms look so plain to these parents:

The classrooms aren’t designed for the parents.

I tried something yesterday. The kids and I chose a couple of spots in our home and took the same picture, standing on the same spot, from each person’s eye level. Now, I didn’t choose the most Montessori-inspired spots, and I definitely didn’t clean up before the photo shoot (maybe I should have, but then it would never get done.)

When I stand in the living room and look out our front window, this is what I see:

This is what a four-and-a-half year-old sees:

The view at age two:

And here’s what the crawling baby looks at all the time:

It’s a pretty different view, wouldn’t you say? We did something similar facing our changing table, above which is hung a beautiful watercolour microcalligraphy print. Here are the four vantage points from tallest to shortest:

 

I don’t think our home is particularly unique in that the adults are the ones who have the most beautiful view. Looking at these pictures, though, I suddenly understand exactly why the baby loves to pull clothes out of their bins – there’s nothing to look at otherwise!

If you get down on your child’s level, what do you see? Does the child have interesting objects to look at and touch? Or is he relegated to the view of bellybuttons and the undersides of furniture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Montessori parenting really is different

We have a toddler shabbat program at our school now. Like the dozens of other toddler shabbat programs in Toronto, this one gives very young children – accompanied by their parents – the opportunity to set the Shabbat table, say the blessings, enjoy some challah and grape juice, and sing with friends. The children also have about thirty minutes of time to work with some very basic Montessori materials.

It is during this work period that I’ve been fascinated by the contrast between how most of the parents interact with their children, and how the Montessori-trained staff do.

Constant narration

In the current parenting culture, we seem to believe that we have to talk at our children nonstop. This used to irritate me when people did it to my kids, although I couldn’t articulate why other than a vague comment that “it’s insulting to a kid’s intelligence when you make their every experience verbally explicit.” Honestly, many experiences in life are more potent when you just shut up and experience them. Right?

Montessori philosophy pretty much agrees with me on this one (and it’s about time I was right about something, because so far today I’ve been wrong about many, many things. Just ask my four-year-old.) The child is supposed to learn from working with the materials, not from listening to an adult describe said work. When the adult comments or exclaims on the child’s efforts, they shift the focus from the work to themselves, breaking the child’s concentration.

Praise

Oh, I could write a book about the evils of constant praise, but many people already have. May I just say that I hate it? In a single afternoon, many weekends ago, I heard the following:

  • “Good waiting, you guys.” (I figured the fact that waiting patiently will get you a snack was reinforcement enough, but some parents apparently disagreed.)
  • “Good using your words!” (again, isn’t the reward of using your words that people understand and respond to you?)
  • “Wow, great jumping!” (It’s a bouncy castle. Kids love to jump in those. Just what was this parent hoping to achieve by praising something that the kid does – and enjoys – naturally?)
  • “Good eating snack, everybody!” (Has it come to this? We’re praising our kids foreating? You have got to be kidding me.)

Why exactly do we praise kids for every single thing they do? And what do you think happens to kids when they grow up and discover that nobody is going to praise them for taking out the garbage, showering, or fulfilling their job description?

The Montessori attitude seems to be that self-esteem comes from achieving mastery. Of course, praise that flows naturally from a place of delight with a child’s efforts is always okay. But when giving positive feedback, Montessorians generally stick to the facts, as in, “Wow. You poured water into all six glasses and didn’t spill a drop!” or, “You read that whole book without stumbling over the hard words.”

Can I just say, on a personal note, that I feel really validated by this approach? I want my kids to have self-esteem because they know that they are competent, capable, and talented – not because their mom thinks they’re cool.

Respect

Sure, we pay lip service to respecting our kids, but do we really? I know that I fail on this count multiple times a day, rushing them along when they actually need to finish what they’re doing, etc. But do we even respect the importance of what we believe our kids should be doing?

That sounded convoluted. Sorry. Maybe I’ll just skip to the anecdote.

When the mothers (and they are all mothers, although fathers are certainly invited and welcomed) arrive with their toddlers, the children immediately gravitate to the Montessori materials and begin working. What do the mothers do?

Oh, come on. Guess.

Yep. They talk. Loudly. About everything from their kids to their clothes to what’s for dinner. And this feels okay, because the kids are doing what they’re supposed to do, and the moms are doing what moms are supposed to do.

It would be okay in any other drop-in setting, in the sense that nobody would think to ask the moms to stop talking while their children played. But imagine that people kept coming into your workplace while you were trying to concentrate on an important project. And imagine those people, while not demanding your attention, were conversing loudly about things that had absolutely nothing to do with you and your work. Wouldn’t you stick your head up and say, “Excuse me, but I’m trying to work here!”? Wouldn’t you expect them to respect your right to a quiet workplace?

Montessorians respect children’s work, including their need for an appropriate workspace, materials, and yes, silence. We can talk loudly while the children play because they’re “just playing.” But if we take into account all the skills that our children are developing when they work so intently with the Montessori materials, it very quickly becomes very clear that we need to respect and support their work. And that means keeping the environment conducive to focus and attention.

Expectations

I often (about five times a day) say that the key to happiness is lower expectations. It’s true inasmuch as expecting my house to be a mess and at least one of my kids to be unhappy at any given moment helps me to face the chaos that is parenting with my sense of humour intact. And yet, my time observing the toddler program has reminded me that we (as a society) place very low expectations on young children.

Over the six-week program I’ve heard mothers exclaim “I had no idea s/he’d be able to do that!” over the following:

  • a fifteen-month-old using ice tongs to transfer pom-poms from one bowl to another… for upwards of fifteen minutes
  • five toddlers, all under the age of two, resisting the urge to drink their grape juice until after the blessing was said
  • a child (again, under the age of two) carrying a ceramic bowl containing water, without spilling or dropping it

And those are just the things the mothers exclaimed about. Other things, like the fact that all the toddlers drank from glass cups without any being broken, were taken for granted within the classroom but might surprise non-Montessorians.

In short, very young children are capable of a lot more than we think they are. My kids surprise me with this every day: yesterday K insisted on carrying a cafeteria-style tray laden with food – and real china plates – to our table at Aroma. I said “no” again and again until she wore me down with her insistence that she could do it. She did it. No tipping, no spilling. I was amazed. I also apologized for doubting her.

All of this makes me wonder, what else are our children capable of?

Imagine how the landscape of parenting in North America would be different if every parent allowed their child the time and space to focus on their interests, respected the child’s “work” (be it play, reading, or practicing new skills,) and had high expectations of their child’s ability to function competently in the world. How would our children be different? And how different would our schools look?

I can only imagine. Well, except for that last question. The answer to that is staring me in the face every morning at 9  a.m.

What abilities have your children surprised you with? Do you tend to praise? Over-praise? Or under-praise (like me)? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Parachute clip dressing frame (tutorial)

N has a new obsession these days: parachute clips. They’re on every highchair, carseat, and stroller; they’re even on K’s backpack, which N has adopted as his own for the purpose of practicing. He’ll crouch down, intently focused on inserting one side of the clip into the other. As soon as both clips are done he’ll come barreling towards me, thrust the backpack into my hands, and order, “puhn-ih,” which as far as I can tell means “open it.”

This would all be very entertaining except for the fact that K’s backpack is now MIA because N drags it around everywhere. Yesterday I decided that it was time to make N a dressing frame.

A what?

Dressing frames are found in every primary Montessori classroom. The children use them to practice opening and closing all kinds of buttons, snaps, clips, velcro, and zippers so that they will have the skills to dress and undress themselves. Typically, dressing frames look something like this:

I made my dressing frame out of an old IKEA picture frame, some ribbons from my sewing stash, and three parachute clips that I bought at Fabricland. It’s extremely simple.

Step one: remove the backing, picture, mat, and glass from the picture frame. Push the little metal tabs back so that they don’t stick out.

Step two: cut six lengths of ribbon, each about 3/4 as wide as the frame. Singe the ends of the ribbon by passing them close to a candle flame (this will stop the ribbons from fraying.) Note that I made the ribbons extra long because N doesn’t yet have the strength and coordination to pull on the ribbons while connecting the clips – if the ribbons are too short for him to clip them comfortably, he’ll just give up. Feel free to experiment with the best ribbon length for your child.

Step three: separate the parts of the three parachute clips. attach each piece to the end of one ribbon by looping the ribbon through the slot in the clip and then gluing down the end. I used fabric glue, but you can use whatever works for you.

Step four: Connect the clips to each other (so that you don’t accidentally glue the ribbons to the wrong sides) and glue the loose ends of the ribbons to the inside of the picture frame.

At this point, you may want to further secure the ribbon ends. I used a piece of wood trim for each side of the frame. Using wood glue, I glued the trim down over the ends of the ribbon and clamped it. After an hour, there was no way the wood trim – or the ribbon – was coming off.

And that’s it. Trim the ribbon ends, double check that all the glue has dried and is holding well, and your dressing frame is ready for action:

Any questions?

What does a Montessori mom do all day?

I’ve written a lot about the physical aspects of Montessori at home – what equipment you do and don’t need for children. It occurred to me today, as I ran errands with N and R, that you might want to hear a bit more about how Montessori philosophy affects our daily activities. Montessori parents have to run errands as all parents do; how different could it be?

Come on a virtual ride-along, and let’s see.

There were four items on our list this morning:

  1. Drop off purged clothing in a donation box
  2. Take expired medications and some old sharps (relics of IVF gone by) to the pharmacy for disposal
  3. Drop off Montessori Dad’s shirts at the dry cleaners (Pesach is coming, you know. Are your clothes ready for the holiday?); at the same time, return wire hangers for reuse/recycling
  4. Buy fruit and vegetables

With so many stops (all within a 1 kM radius of our home) and some sunny weather, I decided to take the bike. N helped me to put the bags into the bakfiets, and soon he and R were snuggled in among bales of clothing:

I biked over to the pharmacy first, where N carried the little bag of stuff to the pharmacy counter while I carried R. Then we hopped back on (and in) the bike and went looking for the clothing donation box, which wasn’t where I thought it was.

We have a great dry cleaner here who, in addition to using non-toxic chemicals in the dry-cleaning process, also has a covered drive-through area. You still have to get out of your car (or off your bike,) but it’s a few short steps to the back counter – totally safe (and dry) for leaving little ones in their seats, if that’s your style. It’s not mine (and not for safety reasons.) After parking the bike I gave N the wire hangers and showed him the bin for hanger recycling. He promptly dropped all but one hanger on the floor near the bike, so while I discussed stains and pickup times with the man at the desk, he went back and forth from the bike to the desk, carrying one or two hangers at a time. Finally they were all in the bin – no more to carry… so N took two out and started over again! That’s the Montessori toddler right there: repeating a task over and over to attain mastery.

But let’s move on. We needed some produce and so headed to the small supermarket up the street. Since I was wearing R, I gave N the task of pulling the basket:

You can see that most of the produce is way too high for him to reach. The bananas were sufficiently low, though, and he helped me choose a bunch and place it in the basket. N has a tendency to throw things, so first I modeled putting something in gently, then asked him to copy me. I did that with each item – I put in one apple, he put in the next:

An elderly gentleman took one look at the three of us and said kindly, “It might be easier to get one of those carts with the seat and put him in it.” I thanked him and said, “He’s learning how to grocery shop.” I know that we could be done a lot faster if I just put them both in the cart and did all the shopping myself, but that would transform N into a passive observer rather than an active participant in our daily activities.

(Lest I sound like a saint here, know this: I take the kids along on short shopping trips to small stores. When I go with a long list  to the huge, crowded supermarket, I go alone.)

We rode home and I gave N a small cookie to snack on (he had chosen his own cookie at the store.) R was still sleeping in the bike, so we wandered around the front yard and inspected the budding trees, the tiny baby daffodils, and the pebbles in the path. We picked and smelled some of the herbs (our parsley came back this year, the thyme never died, and I think even the rosemary is somewhat alive.) After a while, N sat down on the path and took in his surroundings, pointing and naming as many objects as he could identify:

When he was good and ready, N came up the steps and into the house. I was “good and ready” a full half hour before he was, but I refrained from picking him up and carrying him inside. “Follow the child. Follow the child.” I muttered, and rememinded myself that N needs time to concentrate on things that interest him without being interrupted (who likes being interrupted in the middle of something fascinating? Not me.)

And that was our morning. Four errands, three of which allowed for N to take an active part in their completion. When not in the bike, N walked under his own steam (and without hand-holding) and R was carried on my hip in the sling, which forces her to use her arms and legs to grip my body and her back and neck muscles to stay upright when I bend or lean over. Both children were included in the social niceties at each stop, and at the end N had a chance to spend time outside on his own terms. Life as a Montessori child isn’t just about all the pretty wooden toys and tiny tools; it’s about learning to take your place as a productive member of society – even when you’re just a toddler.

Saga of the big-boy bed

Bed or crib? Apparently, neither. He prefers to run around and rattle the bars of his prison.

We’ve been trying for the past couple of weeks to transition N to his toddler bed. He loves the bed: he hurls himself into it delightedly, pulls up the covers, and sucks his thumb. You’d think he could just stay in there and fall asleep, wouldn’t you?

Alas, as good as N was at going to sleep happily in his crib, he isn’t transferring those skills to the new bed. He gets up and runs around (we finally closed off the kids’ room with a baby gate.) He climbs into K’s bed and disturbs her. He opens and closes the bedroom door, thus darkening the room and causing K to panic (“I can’t see! It’s too dark!”) He rattles the baby gate. He babbles.

Okay, so it’s clear that he’s not ready for the responsibility of the big-boy bed, right? Mr. December and I reluctantly put N back in the crib to sleep… and he started screaming. “Bed! BED! BED! BEEEEHHHHD!” And suddenly we’re in a no-win situation: put him in the crib and he screams, keeping K awake and causing her to be exhausted and miserable the next day; put him in the bed and he fools around, keeping K awake and causing her to be exhausted and miserable the next day. You can see the bind we’re in.

This is not, strictly speaking, a Montessori-related problem. If we were “classic” (read: “hardcore”) Montessori parents, N would have been sleeping on a mattress on the floor from day one. He would understand that bed is the place to sleep, and we would be fine with him moving around his room quietly until he was ready to fall asleep. Oh, wait – that IS the state of affairs (his understanding and our acceptance of moving around until sleepy.) The only complicating factor is that N shares a room with his big sister.

It leads me to wonder – what do hardcore Montessori parents do when their children share a room? Does the situation even come up very frequently? Is Montessori parenting a phenomenon of the middle and upper classes? Does every young child of Montessori parents have his own bedroom? Or am I missing some semi-obvious way of teaching a very young child (20 months now) to respect his sleepy sibling?

It is an often-heard criticism of Montessori that it’s an expensive program and only available to the rich. It’s also incorrect. There are some (albeit not many) public-school Montessori programs. In fact, Maria Montessori developed her philosophy while teaching working-class Italian children. Nothing about Montessori requires affluence, because although there are many beautiful – and expensive – Montessori materials, you can just as easily apply most of the philosophy without them.

Which is all fine and good, but I’m still stuck with the problem of how to keep N from pestering K until he’s ready to fall asleep. They have to share a bedroom, and that won’t change unless we move or renovate (maybe in a couple of years, but not now.) Do I put her in a loft bed that he can’t climb? Sit in their room until K falls asleep, since N won’t get out of bed if he thinks we’re watching him? Get one of those puppy shock collars that zaps him every time he leaves his bed? (I kid! I kid! … okay, I considered it for a millisecond, but you know I’d never do that. Put down the phone. There’s no need to call CAS.)

Advice, anybody? What would Maria Montessori do?

How I sweat the small stuff

If my post about having child-sized tools and furniture convinced you, you may be trying to figure out where to get child-sized items that aren’t plastic and that are actually sized correctly for your kids. You could just go with a Montessori-oriented shop like Michael Olaf or For Small Hands, or you could save some money and collect things from a variety of other sources – if you know what to look for.

What’s wrong with the plastic stuff? For starters, it’s often garish and ugly (there. I’ve exposed my bias.) It’s also often not even the right size for a young child. Take the ubiquitous IKEA plastic tumblers. Sure, the cups are small – no, wait, they’re short. The diameter is pretty much the same as many regular glasses, which means that a child won’t be able to drink from it one-handed until maybe age eight, by which point you really don’t need plastic because of reason number three: kids need to learn how to handle fragile objects. I’ve written about it before, so I’ll just mention that N broke a glass for the first time last week. He was horrified and amazed, and has been noticeably careful with glasses and plates since then.

I find a lot of good stuff at IKEA. Not in the children’s section (they do have some cute china dishes, but they’re a bit too small even for a baby.) The shot glasses and espresso mugs are just the right size for a toddler – don’t forget that it’s not just the height of a glass, but its diameter/circumference that makes it appropriate for a child.

Dollar stores, dollarama in particular, tend to have a lot of smaller versions of adult tools. I suspect it’s because a smaller pitcher or colander requires less material and is therefore possible to sell for a dollar and still turn a profit… but it’s a boon to us Montessorians. Among the dollar store finds we use every day are small pitchers and jugs, a hand broom and dustpan, miniature spray bottles, a small colander, a little wooden tray, small bamboo cutting boards, and K’s tiny hairbrush.

I’ve noticed that places like Mastermind and Scholar’s choice sometimes have child-sized tools, but you’ll want to check carefully to see how functional they actually are. Likewise, specialty stores (Lee Valley Tools comes to mind) sometimes have good-quality child-sized versions of adult tools. K recently received a gift of a pocket hammer (perfect size for a child) and safety goggles, a child-sized garden spade and a set of kid-sized hand tools for the garden. The stuff is out there if you keep your eyes open. Oh, and your imagination. It doesn’t have to be marketed for kids to be the right size and weight for a child. Some of the nicest child-sized things I’ve found have been in regular kitchen stores: “cocktail” forks and spoons, pretty shot glasses, small plates.

As for furniture, IKEA has some great kids’ furniture that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, or you can build it yourself – there’s a fabulous website called Ana White that has tons of free plans for furniture, and most of it only requires a few basic tools.

Know what I’m still looking for, though? Child-sized cutlery with a knife that can cut something harder than a banana. Honestly, how am I supposed to teach my kids to use a knife if the only knives they can handle properly are completely useless? I might have to resort to grinding down the pointy tips of some paring knives if I can’t find something soon. It definitely helps to be a DIY-er when it comes to the small stuff.

If you’ve found a great (and preferably inexpensive) source of kid-sized items, please share it in the comments!

Playing with fire

About a month ago we hosted a birthday party for K. She requested a camping party, so we emptied the living room of furniture and turned it into a campground: tents, nature objects for a scavenger hunt, and a fire.

Yes, a real fire. No, we didn’t have a screen in front of the fireplace. That would have defeated the purpose – dinner was roasted hot dogs, and dessert involved s’mores. The kids needed access in order to cook that stuff.

The point of this story is that it was really a non-story: fifteen children and one toddler attended party with open fire – no injuries occurred. (For the record, we also had kids using pointy metal sticks to roast their hot dogs and marshmallows, and miraculously everyone still has two healthy eyes.)

For some reason this surprises people, especially when I mention the toddler who kept walking back and forth right in front of the fireplace. More surprise becomes evident when I mention that we didn’t even talk about fire safety rules.

As Montessori Dad says, “it’s basic evolution.” Fire is hot. It’s too hot to get close enough to be burned. Anyone who couldn’t figure that out within seconds was weeded out of the gene pool a long time ago.

This brings up a larger point: that of trusting the children to respect the tools and materials we use every day. Respect the fact that fire burns. Sit near it, warm yourself, roast some dinner, but don’t put your hand in. Respect the fact that scissors can cut, and learn to carry them safely when not in use. Respect the fact that ceramic dishes and real glasses are beautiful and fragile. Hold them carefully, put them down gently, don’t throw them.

The dishes thing is the one I hear about most often. When other people hear that I give my children real dishes and glasses they invariably say, “I couldn’t do that with my kid. He would just throw them.”  Well, he will just throw them until you teach him how to care for the dishes and hold them properly. Believe it or not, you can trust a baby to not throw a ceramic dish.

(Another aside: a week or so ago we had a babysitter helping me with dinner and bedtime. I reminded N to take his plate to the sink. He held it correctly – “fingers on the bottom and the thumbs on top” – and began walking to the kitchen. The sitter placed one hand on the edge of the plate, I suppose to make sure N didn’t drop it. What happened? N let go of the plate. He’s not stupid. If someone else is going to hold the plate, why does he need to? The next night I asked him to take his plate to the sink and he did it without dropping or tilting the plate.)

It comes down to trust. When we shelter our children from everything breakable, hot, sharp and pointy, we’re telling them, “We don’t trust you to handle this correctly. We don’t think you can learn how, and if you did learn we don’t trust you to remember and do it carefully. You can’t possibly be competent. We’ll just do it for you.” What a message to send our children.

The thing I love about Montessori is the trust and respect it affords every child. In K’s classroom and in our home, the message is: “We know that you can learn to do this correctly and safely. We trust that once you’ve learned how, you will handle the materials with care. We know that you are competent and responsible.” And it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The children use real glass and china, tiny beads, knives and scissors, all day long. And they do it safely and responsibly. They feel capable, they feel proud, and they feel respected.

And that’s why I let my kids (and yours, too!) play work with fire.

N, 11 months old. Yes, there was an adult very nearby. No, he didn't get too close to the fire at any point. The adult never had to step in at all.

When work isn’t a four-letter word…

My kids love to work.

That probably sounds odd to many of us – “work” usually means “the stuff I HAVE to do before I can get to the stuff I WANT to do.” Not so in Montessori. Almost everything we do is work: creative work, academic work, practicing new skills, maintenance work. The children choose their own work in school. Painting is work, as is practicing long division, as is preparing the snack. Work is fun!

In our home, it helps that I enjoy crafting and building, because I’m frequently heard saying, “I really want to finish my work on that blanket I’m sewing,” or “I don’t get as much time to work on my carpentry as I’d like.” My work is something I wish I had time for. Even Montessori Dad is often eager to get to work on some of his volunteer stuff.

Apparently the kids absorb it, because K is forever asking if she can do a particular job (imagine my surprise when she offered to clean the floor after N vomited. I declined her kind offer – we’re trying to keep everyone healthy and that means restricting access to one another’s body fluids, but that’s another story for another time.) Her latest passion is the dishwasher.

Overheard four nights ago in my kitchen:

“Mummy, can I put the soap in the dishwasher?”

“Of course you can, but please let me finish loading it first.”

“But I want to load it. I want the dishwasher to be my job!”

“Okay, then. It’s your job.” Your job ’til you move out of the house, kid!

K is inordinately proud of her new job. She even got out of bed last night, distressed because she’d forgotten to turn on the dishwasher. She finished the task, returned to bed and promptly fell asleep.

And as goes K’s interest, so goes N’s. He now takes his plate from the table (real china, of course) to the kitchen, dumps the remaining food into the green bin, and places it in his play sink.

I pray they’ll never grow out of this. As a fellow Montessori parent once said, “Montessori education just pays off in so many ways!”

DIY Toddler bed tutorial

A few posts back, I showed you the toddler bed I made for K. A couple of months ago I decided to make one for N, since R will soon be needing the crib.

No, N’s not sleeping in his new bed. He still doesn’t understand the whole “you need to stay in your bed” thing, and frankly I think he’ll learn that lesson much more quickly when he’s a bit older. But for now he’s excited to have a bed just like K’s, that he can climb up and sit on to flip through his board books. Here’s a pic of the bed:

Jealous? Don’t be – the whole thing took me about 3 hours to build, and I’m going to take you through the process. Ready?

First, the stuff you need:

Tools

  • handheld cordless drill/screwdriver
  • countersink drill bits (optional)
  • carpenter’s square (or other way to check for a 90 degree angle)
  • staple gun and LOTS of staples
  • ruler or measuring tape
  • sewing machine (optional)

Lumber (take this list to Home Depot or Lowe’s and have them cut the boards for you)

  • 2 – 1 x 10″ boards, 8 feet long. Cut each one into a 52″ length and a 29 3/4″ length.
  • 2 – 2 x 2″ furring strips, 8 feet long. Cut 50″ lengths of each.
  • 3 – 1 x 4″ furring strips, 8 feet long. Cut them into 27″ lengths – you should end up with 9 of them.
  • 1 – small piece of plywood (24 x 48″). Cut a piece 29 3/4″ x 22″.

Other materials

  • 1″ upholstery foam. Scraps will do, as long as it’s at least 5″ wide and you have enough to stretch along 200 linear inches or so.
  • Quilt batting. I used one and a half packages of 70″ x 100″.
  • Fabric to cover the bed. You’ll need a strip of 16″ x 135″ (I sewed a few strips together to make a long one) and a 35″ x 38″ piece for the headboard.
  • Screws. I used #8 screws that were 2″ long.

Got all that? Good! Follow along, now:

Building the frame

Lay the two 52″ long boards on the floor. On each one, measure and mark a line 3″ from one edge (long edge). Position a 2 x 2 x 50″ furring strip so that its top runs along the line. Predrill 5 holes (evenly spaced) along the 2 x 2, then screw it into the long board. It will look like this:

Set those two long pieces aside.

Take one 29″ board and predrill three holes on each side, about 1/3 of an inch in from the end. Take one long board and stand it on edge so that the 2 x 2 rail is close to the top. Stand the 29″ board on edge, align it at a 90 degree angle with the other board, and screw the 29″ board into the end of the long board:

Repeat with the second long board.

Take the plywood piece (22 x 29 3/4) and predrill three holes on each side. The holes should be within the bottom 9 inches of the board – you’ll be using them to attach the headboard the same way you just attached the footboard. Square up the corner and screw the headboard to the open ends of the long boards. You’ll end up with a frame that looks like this:

Congratulations! The woodworking is done! That means it’s time for…

Padding the frame

Take the upholstery foam and staple it around the top edges of the frame, like this:

Open up the quilt batting so that you’ve got just a double layer of it. Cut into a strip about 18″ wide. Beginning at one side of the headboard, wrap the batting around the frame lengthwise, stapling it inside the top and bottom of the bed frame. Take another doubled piece of batting and use it to wrap the headboard. It will end up looking like this:

Adding the fabric

First prepare your long strip of fabric. You can either cut an 16″ wide strip out of a really long piece, or you can be cheap like me and sew a few strips together.

Staple the end of the fabric to the back of the headboard (so that it’s ready to wrap around the sides). Begin wrapping the fabric around the frame, being careful to stretch it a bit so that it doesn’t end up wrinkly. Staple the top edge, then turn the frame on its side to staple the bottom edges. Be sure to pull the fabric tight and place your staples very close together so that the upholstery doesn’t look bumpy.

Now, the headboard. You can either sew a bit of a slipcover for it, or just wrap it and staple. I chose to sew a cover – I draped a piece of fabric over the headboard, pinned it where I wanted the seams to be, sewed it, and then put it on. Staple the ends on the front below the level of the 2 x 2 furring strips, pull tight down the back, and staple to the inside bottom edge of the headboard.

The ends where the headboard meets the side rails are tricky. I still haven’t figured out how to do it perfectly, so I’m no help to you here. Do your best. When in doubt, staple everything at the back of the headboard.

This is how mine looked at this stage:

You’re almost done!

Take the 9 pieces of 1 x 4″ furring strips, and lay them across the bed so that the ends are resting on the 2 x 2 rails. Spread them out evenly.

Now you can place your crib mattress on top of the rails, add bedding, and voila:

Happy building!

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