DIY Felt Board

The last few weeks have gone by in a blur.

Atticus has been fighting naps and Ainsley’s schedule has been all over the place since she hit 7 months. The elder has also been increasingly jealous of my time with Ainsley, behaving badly as an expression of his displeasure whenever she’s around (otherwise he is such a sweetheart!). To top it off, the whole family has been hit by varying severities of the flu bug over the long weekend, which incidentally was the weekend before I officially returned to work.

With so much going on and so little time to do anything I needed to occupy Atticus, especially since he’s been cooped up at home. Finally motivated by the fact that I will have less time once I go back to work, I got down to making the felt board activity that’s been on my To-Do list for the longest time.

It’s so easy to put together and the possibilities with felt thereafter are quite endless, circumscribed only by your child’s interests and attention span I reckon. You can cut out any shape or size felt that you want your child to play with or you can save time by buying pre-cut felt pieces (cf. colourful cars in the picture below). Alternatively, if you already have any board pieces or hard stickers that have lost their adhesiveness, simply paste Velcro on the back and instantly revive their use on the felt board. That’s what I did with a pack of raised vehicle stickers that could no longer stick on the wall after Atticus repeatedly shifted them around.

The materials needed for the felt board are:

  • 20″ x 20″ canvas board
  • 1m x 1m felt (or just large enough to form a border around the canvas board
  • Staple gun
  • Scissors
  • Marker
  • Ruler (optional, depending on how neat you want to be – I gave it up given time constraints)

If you don’t intend to use Velcro and will rely only on static action to hold your felt (or any other material) pieces up, my research online indicates you can buy flannel instead of felt. Whereas felt would be able to cater to both, which was what I went for. Based on my experimenting at the store, wool felt suffers the least damage from the velcro pull. It is also the most expensive option. Acrylic felt on the other hand is the cheapest but fluffs the most. A good in-between would be mottled felt. That is what I settled for finally.

With the materials, all you need to do is:

  1.  cut the felt such that it forms a border around the canvas board wide enough to be pulled to the back;
  2. staple along the edges of each side at the back, always ensuring that the felt is taut;
  3. fold in the corners neatly; and
  4. staple the corners down.

I was quite pleased with the results and the board has held up well under the destructive hands of a near-2 year old. Yes, his rambunctiousness did deign to try the felt board activity for all of 15 minutes during which he was quietly engaged. Success, I suppose? Until he gets a little older, I guess I will just enjoy how those pieces of felt will get moved around the board at his whim and fancy.

  

Sleep Matters

To Montessori or not to Montessori?

I never really thought about the pedagogy of raising babies until I googled “floor beds”. By that time, Atticus was 14 months and I was trying to explore sleeping arrangements for him. Ainsley was arriving in September and we didn’t want to buy another crib but there were so many considerations floating around.

When it comes to sleep, we’re quite fortunate that Atticus became a great sleeper after his 4-month regression. Quite by accident I discovered, in the wee hours of the morning after pacing his room for an hour rocking and patting him, that he hated it. The instant I put him in his crib out of frustration and sheer exhaustion he stopped fussing on his own and slept. What a revelation!  As it turns out, in the world of tension releaser vs increaser babies (yes, there is such a theory), Atticus was the former. Tension increaser babies require parents’ help to be soothed and calmed down. If left alone, tension increaser babies’ cries only get worse with time whereas tension releaser babies need to be left alone to de-escalate.

We decided then that maybe Atticus could be sleep trained so we adopted the Cry-It-Out method and prayed to God he wouldn’t cry. He did. Boy, that was difficult for us as first time parents especially when we could not use the Pick-Up-Put-Down approach. Atticus was a tension-releaser baby. If we went in to soothe him he would only start to cry again, and each time that happened, the clock would have to be re-set.  So we huddled over the monitor, steeled our hearts and resolved that we would only let him cry alone for 30 minutes max. The first night, he cried for 20 minutes before he fell asleep; the second night it took him 10 minutes. By the third night, he knew it was bedtime and went down without a whimper. Since then and until recently, he has taken two 1.5 hour naps a day and slept through the night from 6pm to 7am without having to be rocked, patted or nursed to sleep. Believe you me, I was (and still am ever) so grateful that this is one area of parenting that has the least drama (on most days, anyway) that I do my best to avoid any disruption to Atticus’s sleep environment – anything to prevent the collapse of the blissful routine created around his slumber.

I didn’t have a choice though with Ainsley on the way. Change – no, changes – had to be made. The clock was ticking. My internet research told me I had to transition Atticus at least 3 months before the arrival of the new baby to avoid him having negative associations with the changes about to happen to his life. 3 months… ? It was already July for goodness sake.

I was 7 months pregnant then and really needed those famed nesting instincts to kick in. Ainsley was going to get the baby room so we had to clear out the study and move him in. (From the very day we brought Atticus home, we didn’t co-room, co-sleep or co-anything and we were adamant about preserving that with him and doing the same with Ainsley.) And where was Atticus going to sleep without a crib? Most children only transition to beds around 3 to 5 years old; besides, he was too young to climb into a bed by himself. A mattress on the floor then it would have to be. Is that a thing? Was it safe? Everyone I know uses a crib for babies.

I googled and you know what? There is a whole school of thought behind using the floor bed, all wrapped up in what is known as the Montessori method. Briefly, the method focuses on the development of children toward independence at their own pace and interests. One of the ways this is done is by a carefully prepared environment to facilitate freedom of movement. This is where the floor bed comes in (and I was a year late in the game because apparently Montessori babies start young and sleep on a floor mattress from as early as 2 months). With a floor bed, the entire room (baby-proofed) is accessible to the child and movement begets brain development. It also empowers the child and promotes independence. The child has the power and control within the room to decide what to do – stay on the bed? Get up and read a book? The child decides when to go to the bed, lie down and perhaps fall asleep, if tired. It seemed to me a lot of cognitive development, self-regulation and self-esteem are involved with just a floor bed and I was hooked to the idea. But would Atticus stay in bed? What if he hurts himself? Would his great sleep habits be disrupted? How are we going to monitor his movements when our baby cam doesn’t rotate?

Pregnancy hormones made my fears worse and if I had allowed it, I would have started to spiral. Instead, I took a week’s leave from work and busied myself with setting up the Montessori nursery for Atticus and making it child safe. For his reading corner, I found a kids’ book rack on Amazon which was easy enough for baby hands to navigate and placed it beside an Ikea arm chair sans its legs so he could climb on easily. Kids being kids, in case he fell (and he has so many times since, clambering all over the place), I ordered Soft Tiles to lay on the floor. I had some left over pieces, which I used to pad the walls alongside the DIY headboards I made around his mattress.

We also needed a baby cam that could have a 360° view of the room and  be viewed on both our mobile phones and the monitor. The closest thing we could find in Singapore is the Motorola Hubble MPB854 Connect. (It’s not the greatest but a review of this product really warrants a post of its own.) We set it up, held our breath when bed time came and omg this Montessori thing really works – Atticus walked around in the dark for a bit and simply laid down on the mattress to sleep. He’s done so ever since.

Naps on the other hand didn’t go so smoothly. It took a bit longer because he would rather read his books but no matter what he always fell asleep eventually, even if it was in his chair. Only very occasionally did he choose not to nap at all. I thought this was fine. After all, as I had read on so many sleep sites, all a mother can do is create the right environment for the child to rest/sleep. You can’t force the sleep part right? Except this became a problem when Atticus hit 20 months. I don’t know if toddler sleep regression was to blame but Atticus stopped napping in his room. Instead, he powered through the afternoon even if he was clearly tired. He’d read all his books, turn the room upside down and 2 hours later, rattle the door to be let out. Then he’d be out like a light by 7pm. While we did enjoy the early nights to ourselves again and joked that this was Montessori at work, the system was breaking down. Without his one nap (which used to be 2 to 3 hours long), by late afternoon, anything could trigger a meltdown. Overtired, Atticus couldn’t regulate his feelings. Parenting him became stressful and meal times were a hit or miss like, what happened to our wonderful sweet boy?

We persevered for about another month, partly to see if the  toddler sleep regression (if it was) would end and partly because I stubbornly refused to throw in the towel with our Montessori approach. Going back to the crib was taking a step backward in parenting, wasn’t it?

I finally caved when I realised my pride was hurting my child. In the middle of the night as I scoured the internet for advice on how to get 5 month old babies to take long naps, I came across another mom blogger whose wisdom was simple: Sleep is not a luxury for our babies, it is a necessity and it is our duty to get them to sleep no matter what it takes.

That weekend, I pulled out our Lotus Travel Crib (which we hadn’t used since Atticus was 5 months old for our trip to Perth) and set it up in Atticus’s room with his favourite book. He flipped through the pages for about 20 minutes and fell asleep for the next 2 hours. Now we alternate between the travel crib for naps and the floor bed for nights and we’ve gotten our sweet boy back.

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I love how the Montessori method gave Atticus independence and showed us early on to respect him as an individual with a will of his own. Nevertheless, I have to admit that it was time for change. Our boy needed his sleep and that’s what matters. Whether it’s Montessori or some other method, I’ll try anything and keep on adapting because that’s what moms do.

If you’re like us looking for a flexible sleep solution, a travel crib really is great to have. It’s useful for traveling, naturally, but it also saves you the hassle of having a large feature like a crib permanently set up. It’s easy to collapse or put up and can be stored away whenever the sleep issue resolves itself. Plus it’s large enough to last quite a while into the toddler years.

The Yookidoo Submarine Spray Station

This is a game changer.

When Atticus hit 18 months and became conversant with the word “No”, it became difficult to shoo him into the shower. Things got worse when diaper rash hit and he feared the pain that accompanied bathing. Between the rash and an increasingly strong willed child, bath time was no longer the fun-filled exploratory 15 minutes it used to be but an all out battle of wits amidst nerve-wracking wails.

Forget respectful mindful parenting or child-led montessori approach. The kid had to be bathed or his rash would get worse. Bath time became a dread for him and for us.

Until we got the Yookidoo Submarine Spray Station.

I first read about it on a mommy forum and thought, what the hell – couldn’t hurt to try. It’s available on Amazon and arrived about two weeks ago. This is how the packaging looks like:

The station comes with suction cups and is intended to be a bath tub toy. We don’t have a tub so I stuck the station on the glass shower wall and placed a basin below instead. I must say I’m quite impressed by the quality of the suction cups. They’ve held up to most of Atticus’s attempts to pull the station down. 

The submarine needs to be submerged for the filter to pump the water through the spray pipe. When water is sprayed into the yellow funnel, the eyes roll around and the propeller turns. When sprayed into the red funnel, the clock hands turn and streams of water shoot from the red-white striped pipe like a mini fountain.

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It was a hit straight away.

Atticus gets all excited when the streams shoot out and loves pointing out the wonky eyes and the turning propeller. The spray is also just the right size for him to handle without him getting frustrated when he tries to spray water and aim the jet stream into the funnels.  With this bath toy, Atticus gets to practice coordination skills (you have to press the side buttons to trigger the spray) and experiment with hosing things down. So far, he’s learned to wash the glass panel and spray water on himself at different body parts. Oh, and “Spray water at mommy.” Best of all, he likes bath time again.

Another great thing about this toy is that it’s easy to bring around so you can even use it just as a water play feature outside of bath time. Atticus was bored one morning so we brought out the Yookidoo Station and set it up in our balcony to play with grandma.

outside

The Yookidoo Spray Station costs US$24.95 on Amazon and requires 4 AA-batteries. Some reviewers have commented on how fast the toy breaks down (for someone, it stopped working after the first use), I suppose because the batteries and the mechanism is in water so much. It hasn’t for me yet so I’ll see how long before the toy fails.

In the mean time, the Yookidoo Spray Station has made bath time work for us again so I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts.