Our homeschool space update – art, work, and practical life

As the summer starts edging towards autumn (and it really does feel like that here in London – sunny days are sandwiched between days of pouring rain, the blackberries in our garden are coming to an end, and the apples on our neighbour’s tree are ripening) my thoughts are inevitably turning to planning for the months ahead – definitely a habit entrenched from years in education when September meant new stationary, uniform, and back to classes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our rhythm and what I want it to look like come autumn, as I feel a bit like I’ve lost my way during summer. I’ve also been thinking hard about Frida’s work space (our “homeschool space”, if you will – AKA half of our dining room) and how it’s working for her following a recent developmental leap. I’ve made a few changes recently, mainly focused around making her art materials more accessible and appealing, and allowing her to be more independent whilst caring for herself and our home. 

The first change is that I have brought Frida’s table into the middle of her work space, rather than leaving it tucked in next to the chalk-board. Already I’ve observed that she is using it more – and using the chalk-board more, too, as it’s more visible now. 

We have also attached a spice rack to the side of the table to store her crayons and coloured pencils, so that these are convenient and accessible for her. Another spice rack has been painted with chalk-board paint and attached to the wall to store Frida’s chalks. 

I have also created a little art material storage area, by using a tiny £5 IKEA bathroom shelf unit. These are not all our art materials, but having everything out would be overwhelming for a 28 month old, and her parents! I have included some finger paints (in dispenser jars to make it easier for Frida to help herself, alongside ramekins for the paint), paintbrushes, watercolours (a review on these coming up soon), glitter glue pens, marker pens, and modelling clay. Other materials I will rotate in or bring out when she will use them. Paper sits tucked behind these materials, flush to her shelves. 

Finally, I have recently added a little practical-life area to the room, with a child-sized clothes’ horse, a basket of pegs, a hook for a tea-towel, a water dispenser, and a basket of cleaning cloths, cut down for little hands. Next to this area is a stand with her cleaning tools and apron. 

Her work shelves remain much the same as I only updated them a few weeks ago, though since then I’ve made a couple of tweaks after observing Frida (you can read about what was on them at the beginning of the month here). 

There are no toys in this space, unless you count things like puzzles and jigsaws, as I have decided to consciously separate imaginative play from her work space. This works well for us. 

As you’ll have noticed, in this space Frida currently has access to paint pumps, water, and art materials. I want to stress two things, in case you’re reading this post thinking “oh I could never give my child free access to those things, my child would make such a mess and I would find it so stressful”.

1) Frida DOES make a mess. Some of it accidental – she is two, and she’s learning! – and a lot of it intentional – it’s exciting to see what happens when a glass overflows! Frida is also an a developmental stage where she needs to push and test boundaries, which can be a wild combination when mixed with free access to messy things.

2) I find it really hard to let go. I am not one of those amazing people who can just relax, laugh about the chaos, and sit back. I am really working hard to to be more relaxed about mess and spills, and trust in Frida’s learning process, but it’s not easy for me or at all natural. I’m trying my best to not interfere too much but my goodness it’s difficult for me. 

However, despite this, I think it’s so important that Frida have independent access to these things. Mess provides an opportunity for modelling and/or practising tidying. Spills provide a wonderful practical life lesson in cleaning and wiping. I want Frida to know that I trust her ability to use these things in the correct manner (eventually, when the novelty wears off and the repeated lessons sink in – she’s got a long time to learn) and I think the positives wholly outweigh any minor stress on my part around mess. In fact, I think it’s a good learning opportunity for me, too. 

I am sure this space will see many more iterations as Frida grows and her needs change, but right now I hope that these simple changes will make her space work even better for her. 

Does anyone else feel like they are constantly changing their spaces around? How much freedom do you give your children around “messy” stuff – and how do you stay hands-off, trusting the process and allowing your children to make a mess? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Toddler art activities: modelling clay 

We have recently introduced Frida to modelling clay! I have such fond memories of using modelling clay (I think we called it plasticine?) as a child, and so was really looking forward to getting some out to use with Frida. 

Although I could have made a batch of playdough and mixed up all different colours, I thought it would be simpler and nicer (and actually a bit cheaper than buying loads of food colouring!) to buy some ready-made modelling clay. 

I went for this stuff by Okonorm as it’s non-toxic and gorgeously bright soft clay that doesn’t dry out at all, despite being stored in open air. 

Although the primary benefit to modelling is that it’s fun, playing with materials like clay, dough and bees wax is so good for young children – the pinching, patting, kneading and rolling all help to build up the muscles and fine motor coordination they will need for holding a pencil and writing. 

I also find it’s a calming activity that we can do together as a family. There’s something so soothing about using modelling clay to create simple figures, even as adults. A few days ago the three of us sat down and modelled and chatted for a while before supper, and it was so lovely to create and play together in that way. And of course, modelling encourages imagination and creativity. 

Frida is still too young to be able to make anything realistic, so what I’ve found she really enjoys is if I make a simple figure or two (say, a cat and a mouse), and then she can make them “food” and “blankets” and so on. This stops her getting frustrated at her own technical limitations whilst allowing her to create purposeful things to use in her play. We have also made simple flowers together, and Frida is getting better at “fixing” models when they break, for example sticking an errant ear back onto a dog! 

This is obviously an approach tailored to Frida’s personality – other toddlers may prefer parents to leave them to it, but Frida definitely prefers us to be involved. 

Do you use modelling clay with your toddler? What’s your favourite way to use it? 

Montessori shelf update at 25 months 

It’s been over a month since my last post. Eek. Sometimes life gets in the way, and I’ve found it hard to find the time at the moment. Those of you who follow me on Instagram (come and say hello!) will know that Frida’s sleep patterns have been unpredictable to say the least, and whereas before I could rely on having the time to blog during naps that is not the case any more.

I have also had a couple of personal issues to deal with over the last few months, and I just haven’t really had the head space to be thinking much about blogging. But I’m starting to get back into a rhythm again, and I want to try and make the space in that rhythm for blogging more often.

I recently decided to do a major declutter of Frida’s work shelves, where I keep some Montessori-inspired activities as well as art materials for her. Working on the less is more principle, I cleared the top of the unit, took a long hard look at the contents, and put most of the materials we had out away.

I also took down all of her paintings that I had affixed to the wall; they were making the space too busy, and I think I made an error in putting them up to begin with. It was just too much. I’m still learning! I repainted the wall to get rid of any traces of paint, and for now I have left it bare. I might put up one frame at some point, but I need to think about it carefully.

You can see what Frida’s shelves looked like before in this post.

On Frida’s work shelves, she now has:

Bead threading. I have provided a selection of wooden beads (all the same colour, as I want her to focus on threading rather than colour) and a shoelace with a bead knotted into the end to allow for threading.

Frog life-cycle models, frog life-cycle book. Earlier this week we spent an afternoon at a pond, dipping for and meeting tadpoles and toads. Now her interest is whetted, I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce some frog life-cycle materials for Frida to explore.

This lovely book Growing Frogs is from the library and is perfect for toddlers to primary age children. The life-cycle set can be bought here.

Butterfly and caterpillar figures, magnifying glass. Frida enjoys exploring these materials, and is currently working on how far away from the object to hold the magnifying glass in order for it to work – she is learning that when you hold the glass to your eye, or directly to the object, it doesn’t do much!

I have also displayed Insect Emporium on the top of the unit (such a gorgeous book – we love it), and held it open at the caterpillar and butterfly page.

The caterpillar and butterfly figures are from an insects Safari Toob and the magnifying glass is from Plan Toys.

Clown stacking puzzle. Frida is still not hugely into puzzles, preferring imaginative play, but this stacking puzzle seems to hold her interest. It’s quite challenging for her but with patience, she can complete it. I have found it a good material for developing her fine motor skills as well as her concentration.

I can’t find this for sale in the UK, my mum bought in in a charity shop (thrift store) so I think it must have been discontinued. It’s for sale on the US Amazon site here.

Watercolour painting tray. With a small jar of paint (I like Stockmar), a brush, and some watercolour paper. I will rotate art trays so that she always has one self contained art activity available, as well as her crayons and coloured pencils.

Geometric solids. I love these geometric solids for light play and for sensory activities using kinetic sand or water. When Frida is older we will use them to discuss shapes, volume, geometry, light and much more, but for now they are for her to play freely.

Not pictured is a tub of kinetic sand for further play, and a big mat to work on (to contain the sand).

Invitation to draw with wax crayons and colouring pencils. At the moment, I keep a big roll of paper (from IKEA) out on her table, along with a basket of wax crayons – you can’t get better than Stockmar beeswax crayons – and some coloured pencils (also from IKEA), as a permanent invitation to play.

Frida’s favourite thing is to ask us to draw something then help to embellish it, but I hope she will gradually enjoy drawing alone more and more.

There is also a plant which Frida can help to care for.

I really enjoy the process of observing Frida and our environment, seeing what works for her and what doesn’t. This space feels so much more appropriate for her now, and I’m very happy with it – for now!

What are your children working on at the moment?

What’s on Frida’s shelves (22 months) 

I recently decided to refresh Frida’s art shelves and change the area a little bit. Previously, these shelves contained only art materials, but I thought it would be sensible to use them for Frida’s Montessori-inspired work, as I wanted to keep this work separate from her other toys. Frida is tall enough to reach her art materials now that I have put them on the top of the unit, and can clearly see what she is reaching for.

She has the following art materials freely available to her:

  • Paint
  • Felt-tip pens
  • Coloured pencils
  • Wax crayons
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paper (both plain and coloured / textured)
  • Stickers and sticker books

Liquid watercolour, glitter, glue, and other materials I keep stored away out of reach.

In addition to her art materials, on her work shelves Frida has:

Shadow matching cards.

These are a lovely, simple material for toddler matching work. You can read my blog post about these here. 

Geometric solids and kinetic sand (sand not pictured) 

These solids are a brilliant way of introducing 3D shapes to toddlers in a fun way. There’s no pressure for Frida to learn or memorise shape names (though I mention these to her), they just provide her with a tactile way of exploring 3D shapes as well as a fun tool for building with her kinetic sand.

I keep the kinetic sand in a big tupperware tub, which sits just behind the shapes on the shelf (fun fact: this is the same tupperware I brought Frida’s placenta home in!)

These are the geometric solids we use and this is the kinetic sand.

2D shape work

Frida is using this as a puzzle and as a matching game, as I made her some simple cards to go along with the puzzle. This is also a great way of expanding her vocabulary to include shape names.

We choose to use the proper words for the shapes such as quatrefoil and rhombus rather than clover and diamond.

Similar shape puzzle here.


Colour paddles

Frida still loves to use these, enjoying holding them up to her eyes and experiencing the change in colour.

Similar colour paddles here.

Knobbed cylinders 

These are still keeping Frida engaged but I think it’s time to add more to keep this challenging. You can read my blog post on these here. 

I didn’t buy these but this set looks similar.

Ink stamps 

These are still in rotation as Frida is still showing interest in them, but they’ve been on her shelves for months now! You can read my blog post on these here. 

This is the stamp set Frida uses.

I feel like this area works well for our needs at the moment, though I have had the same pieces of Frida’s art work up for months now so I need to find time to refresh these. As ever, I am constantly finding that I need to make tweaks and changes to our space to ensure it’s fit for purpose and fulfilling all of Frida’s needs. But isn’t that part of the fun of Montessori!

Making simple Valentine’s cards 

This year Frida made a few simple Valentine’s cards to send. It was a very lovely activity to do together. 

Last week we prepared some paper to use. Frida made a glittery collage (crayons, glitter glue, pink hole-punch litter) and painted some water colours to use as a base for the cards. Whilst painting she spilled some watercolour, so I used that as an opportunity to show her basic printing – pat paper down onto the spill then lift it off and see the colour! 

I then prepared some very basic cards made of folded white card, and cut out backgrounds and hearts from her decorated paper. 

Frida applied the glue to the back of the cut-out paper and helped to stick them on. 

Frida then decided who each card would be sent to (a few friends her age she sees regularly, her daddy, her cousin, and her grandparents) and she “wrote” a message inside each one. 

Whilst Frida napped I made simple envelopes, and then she proudly carried her cards carefully to the post-box at the end of our street to post them.

We missed last post (oops) so our cards will arrive at least a day late, but I’m hoping that it’s the thought that counts! 

Her finished cards below (minus one which we hand-delivered). 

Toddler art: silver materials on black card

Usually Frida used white card or paper as a background to her art (except of course her backboard). I thought it would make a nice change to present her with black card as it is such a striking material to use.

As this was the first time she had used it I stuck to offering just one contrasting colour, silver, in the form of glitter glue (PVA mixed with loose glitter) and a sharpie. 

Frida immediately loved this! We talked about how her work looked a bit like the night sky, but mostly I think she just found the contrast very pleasing. Despite having had a very busy day with no nap, she had lots of patience for doing this.

She worked on a few different pieces, all using the same materials, for a good chunk of time. She then did need a bath as she was pretty covered in glitter! 

I’ve been really disorganised, but I’m going to start putting together a folder with all of her art work in, properly dated and labelled. “Duplicates” (Frida will often produce several similar pieces in one sitting) can be used as a quick basis for a birthday card or thank you note. 

What are your favourite toddler art materials? 

Toddler art: stamping with ink 

Frida often does some sort of art activity in the mornings after breakfast, whilst I clear away the dishes and generally restore some order. 

This morning Frida decided to work with her ink stamping set. Ink stamping is a great art activity for toddlers – it strengthens the hand and arm muscles, requires coordination, and develops those all-important fine motor skills. 

Frida has a stamping set from Melissa and Doug which currently lives on her art shelves, available for her to access at any time. She also has free access to paper supplies. 

I have also seen these stamps presented in a tray, with just a few stamps offered along with paper and the ink, but so far keeping the set together is working well for Frida. She enjoys selecting which animal to use as much as she enjoys the stamping, I think! 

Frida has had these available to her for a good few months now but it’s only recently that she’s been able to reliably make clear stamps. 

I can imagine she will enjoy using letter stamps when she is older and learning how to write. 

These photos were taken early this morning, before we cleaned Frida’s art shelves and wiped down her blackboard, so please excuse the messy background. 

What art activities are your children working on at the moment?