Wednesday, October 15, 2014

PlanetBox Lunch Box Review and Sale!

*This post contains affiliate links.

The new school year brought some changes in our home with T starting back at a school. Over the past two years of homeschooling we all got very used to eating at home for lunch. T would fix his own lunch most days, at whatever time he felt like eating lunch. He often ate leftover dinner foods for lunch as opposed to sandwiches. There are days when he is happy to have a sandwich for lunch but I really wanted to find a lunchbox that would allow him to have other options that he was used to. I found a wonderful lunchbox that is exactly what we wanted. I purchased this lunchbox for T to take to school with him but he is also great for field trips or day trips for homeschoolers as well. 

First Day of school lunch. Turkey and cheese sandwich cut into the shape of an apple with a left made from nori (seaweed) and a gummy worm inside. Goldfish crackers, baby bell cheese, chocolate peanut butter power ball, strawberries and raspberries and one small cookie. 

The Planetbox lunchbox systems is made of stainless steel so I don’t have to worry about chemicals leaching from plastic. I can put it in the dishwasher or hand wash it depending on how quickly I need it washed. It has lots of little sections to keep foods separate and allow for the food to be on display. Sometimes I like to make cute little lunches that have themes, when I have the time, and this works great in the Planetbox. There are three sizes of Planetbox, the largest is the Launch, medium size is the Rover and the smallest is the Shuttle. The Rover kit (which we have) comes with a lunch box, insulated lunch bag, set of cute magnets to go on the top of the box, and two waterproof containers. 

First Day of School lunch in Planetbox Rover

Inside of the lunchbag has a spot for a napkin or utensils and ice pack.

My favorite part of the Planetbox Rover is the one piece, dishwasher safe stainless steal box. Its so easy to pack, send and clean when finished. I love not having to put everything in the wasteful plastic bags. We have a few reusable baggies that work ok, but this is so much easier and faster to pack and clean. T’s favorite part is the little treat compartment in the Rover. There are 4 larger sections but also one tiny little section in the center that holds a treat. I don’t feel bad about sending one tiny little mini cookie or a few M&Ms. He is thrilled with the treat even though its tiny. 

Planetbox offers several cute magnet sets to go with their lunch boxes. T and I had some trouble choosing a set for his Rover. He ended up choosing the dinosaurs but he was not thrilled with them. They had a lot of cute selections for toddlers and girls but the older boy selection was not very extensive in this box size. Luckily for those purchasing at this time, they now offer custom magnet sets. You can actually put any picture of your choosing on a set of magnets. We are still deciding what we want to have made but I think we’ll be ordering those soon. 

Planetbox Rover with Dinosaur Magnets

The price of this lunchbox is fairly high. When I first saw the price I was a bit shocked and even thought of dismissing it because of that. The more research I did and the more I thought about it, I changed my mind. First, this is a stainless steel lunchbox that will last for years. Planetbox has a 5 year warranty on them. If you can expect your child to use this lunch box over a five year period the price doesn’t seem so bad. Most plastic lunch boxes out there you are lucky if they last one school year before they need to be replaced. The Planetbox can be used for years and passed down to siblings (although I think B will be getting her own soon). 

I was so happy with my Planetbox purchase I have become an affiliate and they kindly offered a private sale for my readers. Planetbox is offering 15% off any of the basic, plus and complete sets (Launch, Rover or Shuttle) to my readers on October 16 and October 17, 2014 only. Individual Items and accessories are not included. Please enter the code ExpeditionMontessori2014 on the last page of your checkout to receive this 15% off discount. 

Here are few lunches T ate in the first few weeks of school. 

Leftover orange chicken with rice (inside big dipper), red bell peppers, cheese crackers, fortune cookie, power ball, string cheese, strawberries and one gummy worm.

Strawberries and blackberries (in big dipper), carrots with ranch (in little dipper), turkey sandwich cut in half and stacked, cheese curds, cheese crackers, small cookie.

Leftover grassed beef taco meat (in big dipper), wheat tortillas, lettuce, cheese, cheese crackers, apple and small cookie (T has access to a microwave to heat his meat, you must never place the metal dippers into the microwave, reheat on a plate).

Turkey and cheese sandwich, cheese crackers, baby bell cheese, carrots and pea pods with ranch (in little dipper), a few chocolate covered peanuts.

Turkey and cheese pinwheels, ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisins), strawberries and raspberries, string cheese, cheese crackers, power ball and one small cookie.

Raspberries and plum (in big dipper), cheese crackers, turkey and cheese sandwich cut and stacked, string cheese, orange bell pepper slices and one small cookie. 

*This post contains affiliate links. I am an affiliate of Planetbox, if you click on one of the links in this post and make a purchase I will receive a small commission. This will not cost you anything. This review is my own honest opinion of this product and company. I purchased this product myself and was not compensated for this review.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Future Looks Different For Us

It has been quite some time since I have posted to this blog. Our family has been adjusting to some changes and I have not had the time to write lately. When I started this blog, it was to share our adventures with others who may be interested in the Montessori method at home. This school we decided as a family that homeschooling was not working the way we had hoped. We decided that T (8) would be attending a Montessori school this year. I will be continuing with this blog, but the focus will not be on Montessori elementary homeschooling anymore. I will focus on my toddler, B (2.5) and her early Montessori education at home. I will also focus on some of our after school activities for elementary. We are still very much following Montessori, just not at home full time.

I would like to share some of the reasons for our decision with you all. A big part of this blog for me is sharing the good and the bad with those who may be in a similar situation. We struggled with homeschooling for 2 school years. My son attended a Montessori school for Primary and when the school developed some major administrative issues, we decided to pull him from the school. We looked for other options but we were very set on a Montessori education and the schools nearby were very limited, especially for elementary. We felt that our best option was to homeschool using the Montessori method. At the time, I was only familiar with the primary program and I dove into researching Montessori's elementary curriculum. I believe that the fact that we started homeschooling at the same time as transitioning to elementary was the worst timing for both of us. I did not have any teaching experience and I had no idea how to plan lessons. My son knew how things worked in primary and did not want to change his methods. We also had not acquired all of the materials we needed because I did not know how quickly he would progress. I purchased mostly primary materials when he was almost finished with them.

Our first year of homeschooling was horrible to say the least. We struggled every day and I began to give up. My son did not want to be at home, he missed his friends. He struggled with reading and writing which made most other subjects all that much harder. I let go some, and we did some unschooling for most of that year. The second year, I felt that we had wasted so much of the first year that I needed to get him on track. He was still struggling and I wanted to give up. We did a lot of field trips and anything that got him interested in work. The Great Lessons helped with his interest, but not as much as we needed. We talked a lot about how things were going and I found that he was just not happy at home. He missed his friends, he missed working with other children. He has been a very social child his entire life, and he was not thriving in this environment. We had homeschool groups but they were once or twice a week for an hour or two. His sister was home with him, but she was a toddler. He needed the collaboration with his peers that Montessori talks about in her elementary methods.

Another issue that we had was my daughter who was only 6 months old when we started homeschooling. She was also not happy with the situation. It was very difficult to have mobile infant in a classroom full of elementary Montessori materials. My son worked on the floor on rugs most of the time and she would rampage through the room scattering everything and putting tiny pieces in her mouth at any change. We had to ban her from the classroom altogether for my son to get any work done at all. I had to set up a separate space for her work as she got older because the age difference was just too great. There were times when she had recently turned 2 that she could work in the classroom with her lessons as my son worked on the table next to her. It would only be for short times and both would end up distracting each other.

In the end, we decided it wouldn't hurt to visit some local schools. There were two open houses of Montessori schools nearby. We took T with us and his eyes just lit up. He was so excited at the thought of attending either of these schools. He talked with the teachers and asked them questions. He walked around the room examining the materials and comparing what they had to what we had at home. I had not seen him this excited about these materials since he left his old school.

It hurt a little, to be honest, that he wanted so badly to go back to school. I had put everything I had into homeschooling him. I spent all of my evenings preparing lessons and materials for the last two years. I spent my days teaching and doing anything I could think of to get him excited about learning again. In the end, the idea of going back to school is what got him interested in learning. Once we toured the Montessori schools and talked with him, we decided to enroll him. Once he knew that he would be going back to school, he started working harder at home. His reading and writing improve dramatically over the next few months. He seemed happier all around.

I write this in part to explain our decision to no longer homeschool our child. I also write this in part to let others know that homeschooling really isn't the best option for every child. I love that we have the option to homeschool, and we are keeping that option open for next year if things don't go well at school, but it doesn't seem like it is for us. I have read many blog posts from homeschooling moms telling me that anyone can homeschool and any child can be homeschooled. For a while I felt like a failure because of this. I realize now that just because any child can be homeschooled, doesn't mean they will be happy in that situation. I would rather my son be happy and excited about learning at school.

I hope to continue this blog with a different perspective but the same goal. I will continue to share our journey through Montessori education, some from home and some from school. I hope you continue on our journey with us and I would love to hear some of your comments on what I share.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tot School: DYI Color Matching Toy

B is 2.5yrs old and she has known her basic colors for quite some time already. She got very interested in colors right around her 2nd birthday. We spent a lot of play time talking about what color her toys were. She would start out by asking what color each toy was and later went to quizzing me, her dad and her brother to see if the answer we gave was what she knew it to be.

I had plans to make this color matching toy for her months ago but got side tracked and totally forgot about it. I decided to go ahead and make it anyway because I thought she would enjoy playing with it.  I am considering added numbers to this toy in the future because she is very interested in numbers at the moment. For now she is having fun matching the color of the little peg man and his cup.

This is a really simple toy to make and it cost very little. I bought the little wooden peg men and cups from the craft supply store (I think it was Michael's but Ive seen them at Hobby Lobby too). For 6 of each, using coupons I spent less than $5. I used regular watercolor paints (melissa & doug was what I had on hand but any brand would do). I finished them off with natural beeswax polish (Three BEEautiful Bees  is the brand I used)

Once you have your pieces, check them to make sure the pegs fit into the cups. I had to sand several of the cups and pegs to get them to fit well. You need them to go in and out smoothly and leave a little extra space because the watercolors will make them expand slightly and the wax will make them slightly sticky.

I found that the pegs and cups were quite varied in size so I made sure that each peg fit into a cup and kept them together.

 Paint with regular or liquid watercolors making each set a different color. I had 6 so I made the colors of the rainbow. If you have some wooden pieces with darker parts use those for the darker colors, use ones that have less imperfections for the light colors where they will show through more.

I let these dry a couple of days before applying the beeswax polish. Usually watercolors dry pretty quickly, they were probably done in a couple of hours but I didn't check. To apply the beeswax, just take a small amount and wipe it all over each piece, including the inside of the cups and allow to dry overnight. The next day take a dry, lint free cloth and buff the surface of each piece, including inside the cup. You really just need to wipe off enough that it doesn't feel very sticky and the pegs slide easily into the cups. At this point you are done! I let them sit for a couple of days before giving them to B just because we had other things planned. I noticed that the stickiness was totally gone after a couple of days.

I placed these on a small tray for B, but a basket would work well too. If you have a smaller child a basket would be easier to carry.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Everything is Awesome when Lego makes Female Scientists!

I posted on Facebook not too long ago about a product that I was really excited about. I promised to tell you all what I thought of it when it arrived. Well, today my Lego Research Institute set arrived in the mail and I have to tell you all about it.

First, I would like to state that I am a HUGE Lego fan, as are my husband and both of my children. My husband and I played with Lego as kids and still build today. T started with regular Lego (after megablox and duplo) when he was about 3. B started with regular Legos before she turned 2, although she still builds duplo as well. I don't recommend regular Lego for that age unless you are supervising them because it is a chocking hazard. Other than being really big fans of Lego, I have no affiliation with them. The only downside we have found with Lego is the high price tag, but in general, I find them to be worth the price because of the open-ended play opportunities. Now on to the review.

Lego set 21110 Research Institute

I ordered this set online on a Saturday morning. I had seen sneak peeks for this set last month and had been waiting for it's release. I woke up on Saturday and a friend had shared a article stating that the set had been released. I immedately went straight to to see if it was in stock. The list price for this set is $19.99 which is a little high for a 165 piece set, but not so much that I was shocked. I waited long enough to call my local store to check stock and when I found they didn't have it, I went ahead and ordered it. Later that day, I read that they were out of stock and backordered until the end of the month. I was pretty excited that I was able to snag one. It took just under a week to arrive which isn't too bad since it went FedEx Smart Post.

I would like to make it clear that I bought this set for ME! Yes, that is right, I bought it for myself, not my kids. T (boy 8yrs) wants it also, but there was a limit of 1 per household when I ordered it and I wanted it for myself. I don't order much for me, so I'm not feeling guilty. T gets a regular allowance and I told him that he could buy it himself if he really wants it. I think the fact that he does is a good case that kids like science and they don't really care if the person is a boy or a girl in the set. He might replace their heads and hair with boy minifig heads, or maybe not. I think this set would be great for either gender. I think B (girl 2yrs) will like this set when she is older, right now she is sticking with basic blocks. She has a few girl minifigs that she likes to play with already. I really wanted this set because I love science. I studied biology and chemistry in college and practiced as a microbiologist for a short time and then a chemist for several years before having children. Science is a great love of mine that I hope to continue to pass down to my children.

This set comes in a cute little box that includes each smaller set in its own individual plastic bag. It also comes with a booklet with the instructions and a short description of each career (astronomer, paleontologist and chemist. It also has information on the lady scientist who came up with the idea for this set.

I built all three scenes in about 15 minutes. They are not difficult to put together, although the box has it listed as 10+ for age. My 8 year old son was watching over my shoulder telling me he could help me if I have any trouble. There are a lot of very small pieces so finger dexterity is important.

The chemist is a dark haired woman wearing a white lab coat, orange top, gray pants and safety glasses. She has a work bench with flasks and jars. There are also syringes in the drawer and some glasses with handles in the cabinet. Honestly, I have no idea what the gray and yellow thing in her left hand is supposed to be.

 The Paleontologist is a red haired woman with a blue top and brown pants. She holds a magnifying glass (that REALLY WORKS!!) and has a microscope (sadly this doesn't work, wouldn't that be awesome?) and a skeleton of a dinosaur (T-Rex I assume).

The Astronomer is a blonde woman with a gray blazer, pink top and scarf and blue pants. She has a super cool telescope and a constellation chart. The telescope has a protractor to get the correct angle.

Here are a couple of close up shots of the minifigs, they all have two faces. Not sure what was up with the exposure of my photos but the only thing I changed was turning their faces around.

And a closeup of the adorable little syringe (3 were included) and glass with handle (2 were included) that were hiding in the chemist's drawer and cabinet.

I just love this set! I was so excited about it and it really is even better than I expected. I had fun building it and then played around with a bit for fun.

Since I have red hair I swapped the brown hair for red on the chemist (to make her me) and put on her scared/shocked face. I also put the microscope in her lab since I love using them as well. I put the little yellow disc under the microscope to pretend it is a petri dish growing something yucky.

The set up of the microscope didn't really work for her actually using it without a step stool of some kind. I took apart the stand, placed the microscope on the lab bench and used the stand as a chair. I was able to look into the microscope much easier this way.

I highly recommend buying this set if you are able to get your hands on it. I'm sure it will be available soon and surely there will be plenty before the holidays. I think it is a great way to introduce little girls, and boys too, to different fields of science in a fun way. I am really happy that Lego made these female scientists. I would have been happier if one of them was male just because it might appeal to both boys and girls equally, but it might change the message to girls since they are all different fields of science. To be totally honest, there are so many boy minifigs, I don't see why any boy that liked this set couldn't just swap out the heads/hair to make them boys. The lab coat body looks neutral, the others look more feminine but you could swap out the torso as well. Or just let the boys play with girl minifigs, the girls have been playing with boy minifigs forever.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Happy Birthday Harry Potter!

Wait... you didn't know that July 31st is Harry Potter's birthday? Ok, I'll admit it, I didn't know until last week either. A bookstore nearby was hosting a Harry Potter birthday party last Saturday and I took T. We had an awesome time!

I started reading the Harry Potter series aloud to T when he was about 4 years old. We had been reading aloud to him since birth and he became quite advanced in his ability to comprehend complex story lines. At first I thought it might be too old for him but we gave it a try. He really enjoyed the story, as did I, so we continued. As we continued, we discussed the story line just to make sure that he was actually understanding the plot. We took breaks between books to explore other pieces of literature but we always came back to Harry Potter. I have to admit, I didn't expect that I would love it as much as I did. After each book was completed, we would sit together (sometimes Dad joined too) and watch the movie that went along with it. We would then discuss the similarities and differences between the book and the movie. Of course, the movies were never as good as the books but they did do a really good job on the movies as well.

In honor of Harry Potter's birthday we attended the bookstore's party which included the children being sorted into houses by the sorting hat. T was sorted into Ravenclaw, which disappointed him a bit because he wanted Slynterin or Gryffindor. Each child received a goodie bag with a coloring page of their house crest, stickers, a word search, a maze and two bookmarks. T's favorite part was the glowstick wand each child got. The served birthday cupcakes (the one pictured below was mine, T got one with green frosting for Slytherin but he ate it so fast, I didn't get a picture). They also served pumpkin juice which was sort of like a pumpkin latte but without the coffee. I thought it was yummy but T didn't care for it. 

While we ate, one of the employees read from the book "The Tales of Beetle the Bard", which we really enjoyed as we haven't read that one yet. They also had a Harry Potter trivia with prizes for the top two winners. We didn't win but it was fun just the same. Finally, we played a guessing game where the child randomly chose a character name from a jar. Everyone except that child got to see who the character was, then the child had to ask "yes or no" questions to determine which character they had chosen to be. T was a bit embarrassed that he first chose Hermione but he was thrilled that he chose Tom Riddle for his second character. For those who haven't read the books, the reason he was embarrassed is because Hermione is a girl. It was a really fun afternoon of Potter fun and it was all Free! 

When we got home we were on a Harry Potter kick and T suggested we watch one of the movies. I normally would have said yes, except that he had just gotten back from a week at his grandparents house where they let him watch TV all day long if we wants. I told him I had a better idea and pulled up a photo that I had pinned quite a while ago of DIY wands from chop sticks.

We collected supplies from our art closet and got to work. T decided that chop sticks were too short for a proper wand but we had some small wooden dowels that worked nicely. We slightly sharpened the tip of each dowel with a pencil sharpener. Then I used a low temperature hot glue gun to add lots of glue to one end. We didn't use many beads as in the inspiration photo we just used a 8mm round bead for the end. I rolled the glue in my hands after it had cooled a bit to smooth it out. T wanted his just smooth, I added a spiral of glue all of the way down my handle.

Before painting

Close up of my wand handle with spirals.

T mixed some red and green acrylic paint to make a nice dark brown for his wand. After his was painted, I added a little white and yellow to the brown to make a lighter brown that is almost gray once dry. Once painted and dry, they actually look like solid wood. We thought they turned out really nice. The wand with the longer handle that is lighter in color is mine, the darker wand with the shorter handle is T's.

T proceeded to dress in his Death Eater halloween costume from last year and enjoyed playing with his new wand.

If you or your children are interested in magic or other fun fantasy novels, consider reading the Harry Potter series. T is planning to reread the entire series soon on his own. The movies are really good too. I feel like the first few movies are fairly tame for younger children but you may want to pre-watch the second half of the series as they get quite dark. We read these and watched the movies over several years. I was comfortable with him, at 4, reading/watch the first books but he was 7 before we finished the series. Even if you aren't interested in Harry Potter, this wand craft would be super fun for any sort of magical play. Just supervise young children because these can be dangerous.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Frozen Felted Necklace

The Disney movie Frozen has been a huge hit with kids everywhere and B (2.5yrs) is no exception. Frozen was the very first movie she ever saw at a movie theater. She has been obsessed ever since! She knows the words to all of the songs and sings them all day long. We are not big on characters in our home but every once in a while the kids are just so into something that we just go with it.

I have been seeing some lovely chunky necklaces all over the internet over the past few years. I've always liked how they look but I was concerned about the small beads and metal connectors most of them have. I also have only been able to find the big beads that are quite heavy. When you add a bunch of these beads together, its just too much for a 2yr old's neck. I decided to try something different, and it was so easy that she could help with much of it.

T (8yrs) and I have dabbled with wet felting in our homeschool in the past. We found it to be quite messy so B was not allowed to participate. I was planning to give it a try outside this summer with both kids but then I found a pin on pinterest that changed everything. With this simple trick, even toddlers can participate in wet felting balls even in the house.

Before you begin, please remember that all children should be supervised while wearing anything around their necks, like this beautiful necklace. Also remember to supervise your children while they are using tools that may be sharp. 

You need one small plastic container with a lid that is watertight. The original poster used Ziplock brand, I used Glad because it was what I had on hand. I recommend not using Glad because they are not watertight. I still used it, I just wrapped a cloth around it to keep the water from flying everywhere. If you are buying new, look for ziplock or another brand that would be watertight. Just take a small wad (about double the size you want your ball to be) of wool roving in your choice of colors and place it in the container. Add a small amount (I used 1 TBSP) of hot water and a drop of dish soap, then seal the lid.

Now comes the fun part.... shake the container! Shake it up and down and all around! Toddlers love shaking things and B was thrilled to shake each and every ball until her little arms got tired. It only takes a few minutes for a perfect sphere to be formed. If you want to speed it up a bit, take the ball out a couple of times and roll it around in the palms of your hands squishing the water out. I did that with most of them because it really made it super fast.

You could do it the traditional way without the container by just rolling it around in your hands, but when T and I tried this, we had trouble getting the balls to come out even. There were lots of cracks in our hand rolled balls as well, this didn't happen with the container.

For our Frozen inspired necklace, we used natural white, purple, light and dark teal colored wool roving. Since B is 2 years old the necklace needed to be fairly small. We made two of each color for a total of 8 wool balls. This would be a super cute necklace itself, but B wouldn't consider it a Frozen necklace without Anna and Elsa. We decided to add a bottle cap charm to the necklace.

To make this charm you need a bottle cap (I bought ours from a craft store and it came predrilled and had a hanging ring), Mod Podge Dimensional Magic and a sticker or printout of your chosen image. Ours was a sticker from an activity book I found on clearance at Target, I just trimmed it to fit into the bottle cap. I did this part myself but Im sure an older child would have no trouble with making the charm as well.

Place the sticker or printout into the bottle cap

Add the Mod Podge to the top. It will look cloudy when wet but will dry clear. My bottle cap was not totally level so I placed a paper clip under it so it would dry even.  I let this sit for 24 hours before moving it.

Now all of the materials have been made it is just time to assemble the necklace. Grab a piece of ribbon (I had some periwinkle ribbon with shimmery edges left over from my wedding, still fine after 10 years LOL), and a large embroidery needle. Thread the ribbon through the needle and start stringing the wool balls placing the bottle cap charm in the center.

You might want to use a needle nose pliers to help get the needle through the wool balls. I found this very difficult without the pliers but it was easy with it. I consider this an adult job, even an older child might have difficulty and it can be dangerous with the sharp needle.

Once you have it all strung it should look something like this. You could leave it as is and tie a bow on the back to keep it closed. I decided to go another route.

I wanted to make the necklace a little safer for my toddler by using this type of closure. I made another slightly smaller wool ball and put a fairly large hole through the middle of it with a skewer. Then I threaded the ribbon through in opposite directions. This makes the necklace adjustable so it will fit over her large toddler head and yet not so big that it will hang too low while she is wearing it. It also has an added feature of coming completely apart if it is pulled on so that helps prevent strangulation. Of course, you still have to supervise your child while wearing any type of necklace around their neck, but this helps.

Here is our finished necklace! B was thrilled with how it turned out and she loved that she helped make it herself.

If you like the outfit, this is where I bought it Adorable Essentials