Monday, March 31, 2014

Woven Felt Baskets

{If you saw our tutorial on how to make felt eggs, then you probably noticed the little woven baskets we put them in! Aren't they so cute? They are so simple to make and I definitely plan on making more of them in the future! You could make orange and black ones for Halloween or burnt orange, red and brown ones for autumn! Lilac purple and sage green ones for spring. Bright yellow and blue for summer. Seriously, the colour combinations are endless! It would also be so cute to have a whole set of stacking baskets! Ok, I'm done...}

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I knew I wanted to make small felt baskets for the Easter eggs I made. We've made woven baskets out of paper before, but I wanted these ones to be sturdier so we can use them for play and save them for next year as well. I looked around online to see what materials people used (regular vs. stiff felt, hot glue vs. craft glue, etc.) and came across a fantastic post! Pippa Quilts had these small woven felt baskets that were just so cute! Her tutorial was simple and easy to follow and she even has a second post on even bigger woven felt baskets! Seriously, it's worth checking out. :)

I started by picking out colours. The eggs are light and dark green, purple, pink, blue and yellow and I decided to stick to that colour scheme. You can use felt sheets or felt by the yard. I used a combination of both. 

Felt sheets are usually sized 9" by 12". So for the felt that was by the yard, I simply placed the felt sheet over it, pinned it and cut around it. I did not end up using the full sheet, but since they are already cut to length I will set them aside for future woven felt baskets.

Once you have the sheets ready, you can begin cutting out the strips. You'll want them to be about 3/4 inches wide. You can use a ruler or just freely cut them. (And just in case you are wondering, 1 inch was too wide. I tried!)

You'll need 9 strips for each basket. Since I was making two baskets, I cut out 18 strips.

I decided to test out fabric glue on these baskets to see how well they hold up and if it would be worth it for future batches. I only used fabric glue on the rings and used hot glue on the sides. So far the hot glue has my vote, not just for sturdiness, but because it is so quick to use. I had to let the fabric glue set overnight before I risked using them, so I do not think fabric glue will be ideal unless you have little clips to hold everything in place.

For the rings you'll want to add glue along the end and close it. You don't want to overlap it too much. A quarter inch is perfect. (Please note that I did not trim it like Pippa did.) You'll need to make three rings for each basket.

Then use the last six strips and weave them together. It should look like this.


Have the rings ready!

Start by placing the first ring over the woven felt. Weave every other felt strip through the ring.

Then fold the alternate strips into the center of the ring. Place the third ring over those strips. Fold the strips over the ring and trim them if needed. Glue them in place using a hot glue gun.

They should look like this when you are finished! I did not weave them too tightly, because I know the kids are going to try to stuff them full of stuff, so I wanted there to be a little extra room.


You could fill them with jelly beans! Or Easter grass, like I did. This is recycled crinkle paper grass, which my kids love for sensory bins!

And then you can fill them with eggs! Three plastic eggs or five felt eggs fit comfortably in them. They look adorable! 

Here are Bean's dark eggs!

And Munchkin's pastel eggs!

You could glue a handle on or loop a pipe cleaner through them, if you really wanted one. Bean requested one for a little while and took it off afterwards.

We will be using the baskets to store the eggs when they are not being played with. These would make such a cute centerpiece for Easter!

Please note that your little ones can help out with the weaving of felt baskets, but should not handle a hot glue gun. 

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to Make Felt Eggs

Update: Our Felt Easter Eggs are now available for purchase in our Etsy store!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!

If you have been following along on my Facebook page, you may have seen the sneak peek photos of my felt eggs. Well, here they are! And I have to admit, I am in love with them! They are so simple and cute! And they were pretty easy to make too. It took maybe two hours to trace, cut, sew and stuff them. 

I try to keep my felt crafts simple so they can easily be remade, so if you do not enjoy sewing you can use fabric glue or hot glue along the inside edge of these eggs and just stuff them or leave them flat. Originally we were going to use these single sheet eggs for a matching game, but my kids are getting older and match colours perfectly. So I decided I'd sew up the sides and add stuffing like our felt cookies. So far the kids have not wanted to add any decorations, so for now they remain plain. They love using them for pretend play and going on Easter egg hunts in our living room!

How to Make Your Own Felt Eggs

You'll need felt, stuffing, embroidery needles and embroidery thread. The egg template and disappearing ink pen is optional, it's just what I used.

1) Choose your egg pattern or freely cut them. Print and cut out the egg(s) you want to use. (I used a template similar to this one.) 

2) Choose the colours of felt you want to use. Use the paper egg as a stencil and trace around them using a disappearing ink pen. Then cut out the eggs. You'll need two for each egg. (We used the same colours for each egg, but you can go crazy and mix-and-match as you please!)

3) Pick out your threads and cut them to length. 54" inches is what I used for this size egg, with just a few inches to spare. (We use DMC embroidery floss for our felt crafts. You'll also need embroidery needles, if you don't own any already. They have a longer eye so you can easily thread your embroidery floss. Even though we chose ten colours for our felt, I only used one shade of each of these colours for the sets. I basically wanted the thread to look light on the dark felt and dark on the light felt. It makes the stitching stand out a bit more. I did my best with the colours we had available.)

4) Thread your needle. I used a blanket stitch but you can use any stitch you are familiar with. If you use the blanket stitch you'll need to put the two ends of the thread through the needles eye together. This will leave a loop at the end.

5) Start your first stitch from the back. Bring the needle and thread all the way through until you near the loop at the end. Slip the needle through the loop from the front. Pull tight, but not too tightly. You don't want the felt to bunch up. Move on to the next stitch. Start again coming up from the back and then slipping the needle from the front through the loop. Continue like this until you have an inch left to sew.

6) Gather up a small handful of stuffing and carefully fill the egg. You can add more or less depending on how full you want them to feel. We aimed for firm, but still squishy.

7) Once they are stuffed, continue sewing until you reach the last stitch.

8) You'll want to re-stitch through your first stitch. This will double-up the thread, but it will still look nicer than tying a knot. On the back of the stitch, slip your needle through the stitch and back through the loop. Pull tight for a small knot. Then slip your needle into the base of the stitch and out through another hole at the base of another stitch. Then cut the remaining thread. All done!

Then continue on to your next egg. It took appropriately an hour to sew all of the eggs, roughly five minutes for each egg.

I think they look wonderful! They actually look like painted river stones to me. Wouldn't they be a lovely addition to a small world set-up?

Immediately after I finished sewing them, I showed the kids and Bean started organizing them. She said, "these two go together and these two match too!" Even with only a few colours, she had fun sorting and matching them. 

Here's a sneak peek at what I made for the eggs! Little woven felt baskets!! Super cute! These will be perfect homemade gifts for Easter!


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Friday, March 28, 2014

Spelling You See Review

Spelling You See Review

I am so happy to share with you a new curriculum called Spelling You See! I received a PDF copy of the Spelling You See: Listen and Write (Level A) Instructor's Handbook and Student Pack to review. We needed to print out the activity pages for this product and we used a dry-erase sleeve for each page, so they could be reused as often as needed. We typically try not to waste paper, so using the dry-erase sleeves saves on needing to reprint pages. The cost of the product is $14 for the Instructor's Handbook and $20 for the Student Pack and is fairly inexpensive, considering how much material they cover, which is a lot! They only come in physical copies, however, as the PDF was only available for reviewers. There are over 200 pages to be printed between the Instructor's Handbook and Student Pack. I did not print off the Instructor's Handbook because I  read it on my computer. Though there are some extremely helpful pages that I do plan to print off to have on hand, such as the daily dictation lists. And I print off the next 7 pages we need from the Student Pack at the beginning of the week. It was recommended to complete one page per day, so I prefer the week-by-week printing, so that we don't accidentally get ahead of ourselves.

Spelling You See Review

We work on these pages almost daily (usually 5-6 days a week, depending on how many days we spend out of the house). We focus on one page per day, though occasionally Bean will request a second. I only allow a second page during weeks when we have missed a day and typically I'll space them a few hours apart. We aim for the completion of one page per day, but I let her complete the page as many times as she wants. This happens if she is trying to rush through the page the first time, and then calmly completes the page during her second attempt.

Munchkin, who is 2 1/2, is much more interested in learning to read, rather than learning to write. He enjoys fine motor activities, but besides colouring, he hasn't quite mastered tracing letters. We work on lots of simple tracing activities with him (straight lines, zig-zags, curves, etc.) that will eventually lead to working on letters. So for now, we focus on reading the letters and words. This product will be perfect for him next year or possibly the year after, depending on his progress. 

Bean, who is 4, utilizes this product more. She enjoys tracing the letters and words and likes that she is learning to read the words. She reads aloud the letters and words as she traces them. She enjoys this type of multifaceted learning: learning to read, while learning to write, while honing her fine motor skills. These worksheets are meant to help her visual memory and connects the sounds to the letters and words she is working on. We do lots of hands-on activities like this throughout the day and it has been the best way to teach them. 

Spelling You See Review

Level A came with a fantastic Instructor's Handbook that was especially helpful for me. This is our first year homeschooling, so it was a perfect way to familiarize myself with this teaching style. I read through it before I started using the Student Pack with my children and I occasionally look back to it when I have a question, because they have a very thorough explanation and walk-through of the course. It explains what the five developmental stages of spelling are and how you can tell what level your children's spelling level is.

Spelling You See comes in five levels, A-E (which you can download samples of from their website). The first level is Listen and Write, the second Jack and Jill, the third Wild Tales, the fourth Americana, and the fifth is American Spirit. This is the kind of engaging product that I want for my eager learners. Each level builds upon what you learned in the previous level, though you can start on the level your student is currently at. The first few levels could be used for remedial work for an older student who needs it and it doesn't seem like you definitely need any other level than the one your student is currently on. From our personal experience with Level A, I know that we would prefer continuing this series in order, since the teaching style is working for us.

For example, my children are using Level A, which is for a beginner reader who is learning letter names and sounds and is working on how to hold a pencil (we use dry-erase pencils). But if your child was a bit older, perhaps a first grader and knew this step already and could write lowercase letters easily and knows the sound of long and short vowels, he or she would be ready for Level B: Jack and Jill. The age range for the Spelling You See products is 4-10 years old. Most 4 to 5 year olds are in preschool or kindergarten and learning to write, so Level A would be perfect for them. Level B and Level C seem to fall into the first or second grade area. Level D is recommended for an 8 year old and Level E is recommended for a 9 year old. But it is suggested that if your 10 year old is struggling with spelling, they should start with Level D: Americana. Younger or older children can still benefit from this product if they are ready to learn how to spell or if they need to work on their spelling. 

For Listen and Write Level A there are 36 lessons divided into five parts, A through E. Each page is a worksheet that is meant to be completed in ten minutes. While it is recommended to complete as much of the page as you can in ten minutes and then put it away, even if incomplete, we do not. My daughter normally finishes before the timer is up, but occasionally she will take longer, and it upsets her to not finish it. She's a young perfectionist and has to make sure her worksheets are complete before she puts them away. I don't stress over giving her a few extra seconds to finish up.

You're meant to complete one worksheet per day and move on to the next the following day. The first fifteen lessons work on three letter words and introduce vowels one at a time. After that they move on to four letter words and then five letter words. Each page will have a focus for the worksheet at the top of the page and all of the letters are contained in boxes, which is supposed to make the brain learn sound-to-letter correspondence. Correct pencil grip is stressed and reminded for each worksheet. The Student Pack also comes with a Handwriting Guide, which is used to teach the students how to correctly write letters. Recently my daughter has been able to write a few letters completely on her own without having to trace them! 

This product also focuses on lowercase letters and not on uppercase letters. This is so that the student understands that uppercase letters are only used at the beginning of the sentence. They also focus on the importance of single stroke letter formation, excluding f, t, k and x, so that the student doesn't become confused with how to write the letter if they pick up their pencil mid-way through a letter. This is something that I have to stress with Bean, because she will often pick up her pencil or dry-erase marker mid-way through writing a letter to "fix" a part of it. So I have to remind her to write the letter all at once and that it's okay to make mistakes because she will become more efficient the more times she does it. I also have to remind her to say the sound of the letter, rather than the name. She is steadily becoming more familiar with the sounds of the letters and we have been doing letter sound activities, like matching and sorting, to go along with these lessons. 

The Spelling You See Level A product works well with our phonics activities. We originally used phonics flash cards, but now we sometimes use the dictation lists. Each week I add the words that we worked on to our "sight word/phonics word" tree, which is a simple brown tree with removable green leaves. The leaves are laminated and I write the words on them with a dry-erase marker. As they learn each word, we take the word out of the leaf bowl and add in to the tree. This way they can see their progress on the word tree. This is also the part I work on most with my son, since he does not participate in the writing part of this product. 

Spelling You See Review

While an experienced homeschooler may not feel the need to buy the Instructor's Handbook for each level, I would still recommend it. Each level comes with a dictation list that I found to be very helpful and Spelling You See does a great job explaining each level and its purpose in educating your child, what this level is going to teach and how you should go about teaching it to your child.

There is also a questions section, in case you need to look up an answer. For instance, if your child is struggling with the timed assignments, what should you do? My daughter likes challenges, but seeing the timer makes her feel like she has to rush. She quickly works through the page and then we wipe it down and she calmly starts again seeing that she still has plenty of time left to finish. As she gets more used to the timed assignments, she is becoming more comfortable with seeing the timer start and quickly working through her page, but taking her time where she needs it. On stressful days, which don't happen often, I'll remove the timer from the activity. But the timer is there to teach the student to work quickly and efficiently.

This product combines visual, kinesthetic and auditory learning, which is helpful, because children learn differently and this addresses the problems they may have with another educational product that may only focus on one or two of these learning types. And this isn't a product where you can just sit back and let your children do it by themselves. You can help them when they need it and you will be there step by step to remind them what to do and to sound out each sound with them. Or that may just be my personal preference for teaching. I don't want this to be just a boring worksheet for them, so we use these as inspiration for other activities. Like continuing the activity by bringing out our salt tray and practicing to write the words in the salt or scrambling up the letters with our letter tiles and seeing if they can arrange the word correctly (we have only worked on 3-letter words so far).

Will we continue using this product? Yes, most certainly! Have we seen improvement? Yes, but not immediately. It took more than a week for my daughter to become familiar with the routine, but now she understands what she is doing and quickly works through the worksheets. I still remind her what to do on each step. Would we pay for products from Spelling You See in the future? Yes, we plan to purchase Jack and Jill Level B when Bean completes Level A, but only when she is comfortable with continuing on to the next level.

If Spelling You See sounds like something that might work well for your children, you may also want to consider checking out their math program, which is called Math-U-See and is a division of the same company (Demme Learning). We would love to check out their Primer level and see if it works just as well with Bean! The Math-U-See products are a bit more expensive than the Spelling You See products, but from the reviews I have read, it works just as well!

Was there anything we didn't like about the product? Not specifically. While this product is very to the point and teaches easily, I did not see anywhere any suggestions on other ways we could use this teaching style or suggestions for activities that can be used to encourage them to continue learning while not working on these worksheets. We love hands-on learning and engaging learning is always more enjoyable. We are definitely learning a lot from these worksheets and I bet they will certainly pay off. But at the end of the day, they are a ten minute activity. So I find other ways to engage them with what they are learning, like using our salt tray to practice writing the words they used. We often combine our literacy and math activities with our fine motor activities and occasionally with our sensory activities. So for now, until we reach the other levels that will involve less of these hands-on activities, we will continue combining the worksheets with other activities that focus on what they learned.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

DIY Train Table Play Mat - Roads

I've wanted to make a play mat for our train table for quite a while, but I didn't know what material I wanted to use. Considering how much we love felt, I guess it was an obvious choice for us. So I went to our local Jo-Ann's and picked up a few yards of felt (brown, blue and green - you'll see what I'm making with the blue felt in a later post!). Originally the inspiration for this project was the Disney movie Cars. My son adores Mater and Lightning McQueen, so I wanted to make a road map that was inspired by the dusty desert roads from the first movie. One problem, the kids have never seen it! So I wasn't sure if they would like it. I decided to begin making the play mat, but save the reveal for Easter, when I'll be giving it to my son as a gift in addition to the Cars movie. 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!

I chose a medium shade of brown for the desert. One yard was longer than I needed for the length of the train table, but I needed the extra felt to make the mountains (more on that later!). I buy felt by the yard and am usually lucky enough to get it on sale. So I only paid $2.49 per yard, compared to its usual price of $4.99. That's a bargain! Especially considering that felt sheets range from $.34-.99! 

I don't have a dedicated craft space, so I used my living room floor. Since I have pets, I laid down a clean sheet first and then spread out the yard of brown felt underneath. I smoothed it out before placing the train table pieces on top. I made sure everything was lined up before I began cutting. I did not bother to draw a line to cut along, I just gave it a two-inch border and cut freely.

FYI: felt LOVES pet hair, so you may want to invest in a lint brush for this play mat if you have pets.

It looked like this when I was finished.

I put the train table pieces back on the table and tucked the felt around the edges. This turned out to be a tight fit, but the felt is smooth and the kids wouldn't be able to pull it up to take it off. 

The roads in the Cars movie look like faded tar, so I picked out a medium shade of gray that is still dark, but not completely black. At Jo-Ann's this shade is called "charcoal". I used some of our train tracks to make road patterns. I did not want to make straight roads, since my son usually likes to drive his cars around in a circle. I laid out the charcoal felt and arranged the tracks on top.

Originally I used a disappearing ink pen, but I switched to a black Sharpie for a darker line so it'd be easier to see.

I try not to waste any felt, so I created different tracks that fit inside the other designs.

I waited until I had all the patterns drawn before I began cutting them out. For this project I did not use my favourite tiny felt scissors. I used a regular pair of fabric scissors and they cut a much cleaner line.

I cut out quite a few larger patterns for the road.

Each of them varied a bit, but for most of them I left an end to be connected to another piece. In addition to the large pieces, I also made a handful of smaller pieces that could be used to connect or extend the roads.

As you can see, Munchkin loves the round tracks!

Munchkin noticed that I made a g. :)

At one point I wondered, "would the dollhouse fit around the roads?" I figured it was worth a shot. It'd be great to create a play mat that both the children would love. My daughter loves playing with her Fisher-Price dollhouse, but it does not have its own dedicated space. I decided to try and arrange the roads to make it work.

I liked that it fit in the middle, but it might be difficult for Bean to play with the house while it was sideways. So I decided to move it around again.

And aren't those wooden crates cute? I found them at Target for $3 each and added in some brown felt at the bottom to make them look like fences!

It was at this point that I decided I also wanted a green play mat for the train table! Especially if I'd be adding the dollhouse to make it something Bean would want to play with too. Eventually I'd finish the brown play mat and it would be a desert wonderland! But for now, I wanted to create a "spring" themed play mat. It will be warm some day...

I took off the brown felt and used the same process to cut and tuck in the green felt. It will need to be ironed to remove the crease from being folded at the store.

I added on some road pieces to see how it looked and completely loved it! The roads even look like a tractor!

I added a few different cars to see how well they fit. My son especially loves his Safari Ltd On the Road TOOB and Hot Wheels Cars, which are all fairly small cars. These roads are only wide enough for one car, which was perfect for the size of our table. We live in an area where there are lots on one-way streets, so it doesn't look too weird for them.

I ended up removing the big road circle and added the dollhouse, with the inside of the house against the edge of the table. Bean had ample space to play with her dollhouse and loved the way it was positioned. We pretended they lived on a dead-end street. We'll have to make a "driveway" soon.

I began adding farm animals, trees, road signs and people. These animals are from the Safari Ltd Down on the Farm Mega TOOB (which was our first TOOB and I'm so happy we discovered them!) and the people are from the Safari Ltd Wild West TOOB. I really hope Safari Ltd eventually makes a "modern family" toob! They do have a People Ranchers Set on Amazon, but it is super expensive, as well as a People in Motion, People who are community workers and a Bundles of Babies TOOB. Which I supposed could be used to make all sorts of families, but we don't own any of them, so we work with what we have. :)

I am excited that I decided to go with a farm theme, because it gives me an excuse to finally make some "farm land" which I have been wanting to do for a few weeks!

I started adding in some small details here and there... added a duck pond...

And then a small beach for the duck pond.

We had this other corner that was pretty empty and I wasn't sure what to do with...

So I added in the mountains, rocks and trees from our tub of dinosaurs.

The palm trees looked out of place, but oh well! They made the pond look cozy!

For those of you not familiar with Safari Ltd. TOOBS, here is a picture to show you the difference between the size of their regular figures (the horse on the left) and their TOOB animals (cows on the right). The small toob animals are the perfect size for preschoolers and older kids, but my toddler never had any problems with them.

I put the pigs back in their pen and added in some mud! I plan to sew or glue layers to the mud to add some dimensions and make a feed bin.

I think it looks lovely and homey! I worked on this at night and couldn't wait to show the kids in the morning... They rushed right over and started playing! I had a happy mommy moment. :)

Even without the house and animals, it's still a fun mat to just play with the roads and a few cars! (Also, beware of cats! They will be all over this felt! We have to cover this up at night so they leave it alone.)

My plan is to continue working on this and steadily add more things for them to play with. So far I'm working on a few plots of farm land (which will have removable vegetables), a few feed bins, trees and bushes (the kids have specifically requested a blueberry bush!), mountains and rocks. I'm sure the list will keep growing! Please let me know in the comments if you would like to see anything in particular!

Future felt plans ~

I  plan to make a camping set for the summer, which will include a tent, sleeping bag, fire and spare logs, marshmallows and hot dogs on sticks and other goodies. Possibly a flashlight and lamp, if I can manage to make them doll-sized! How does that sound? Let me know! Thanks!

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