The Cuddly Alphabet

soft sensory alphabet by environments

I’m always on the lookout for literacy, and this has to be the cutest alphabet set I have EVER seen. Sweet little stuffed alphabet letters in various patterns, colors, and fabrics. Best of all, some of the letters crinkle, some squeak, some rattle, and some jingle. Just…so…adorable!

We discovered this set while putting together our new library baby program which involves unstructured social time and soft playscapes. But we also wanted a way to work in our best buddy, the alphabet. Enter the Soft Sensory Alphabet by Environments. The set comes with a fabric basket, and each machine washable letter is 5″ tall.

soft sensory alphabet with fabric basket by environmentsThe set retails for $62 online at Discount School Supply. The price is a little steep, but we couldn’t find it less expensively through any other vendors. Etsy, of course, has some fabulous fabric letters, but I don’t imagine they’re machine washable like this set.

How did the set go over? The babies and toddlers loved it. They pounced, sorted, stacked, and rattled the letters. Some traversed the gallery, grasping a favorite. Others spent a good amount of time removing letters from the fabric basket and putting them back in again…

alphabet playtimeThis little girl and her grandparents were naming all the letters as she picked them up. It was incredible to see her grab one and proudly say “W!” all on her own. The Soft Sensory Alphabet by Environments is definitely recommended!

alphabet friends

Let’s Get Small

lets get small

Book lovers dream of that big, beautiful library with the cozy chairs and the rolling ladder. But books can tend to take up quite a bit of space. Today, we have a solution for you! It’s the My Miniature Library kit by Laurence King Publishing, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini (ages 6+, retails for $20). Katie took the miniature kit for a tiny test drive…

my minature library kit by laurence king publishingThe packaging for My Miniature Library is a delightful cardboard box in the shape of a book. When you open the box, you are greeted with a small instruction booklet, 18 sheets of books covers and pages, and a cardboard punch-out bookshelf.

kit contents of my miniature libraryThe 9″ x 12″ box containing the kit (and this is really cool) is also the set of the library. Prop it up on its side, and it becomes your library, complete with chevron hardwood floors, birds in flight wallpaper, and a window framed with fall leaves. When you are done playing with your miniature library, you simply pack everything inside the box, close the lid, and slide the kit on a shelf until next time!

set for my minature libraryThe kit contains the makings for 30 tiny books: 20 pre-written (both fiction and non-fiction), 8 books with title prompts you can author yourself, and 2 completely blank books for whatever topic you desire. Here’s a set of the pre-printed book sheets (which were primarily fairy tales):

ready made book sheets for my miniature libraryAnd here’s a set of the design-your-own sheets:

make your own book sheets for my minature library kitGenerally, the instructions are very clear, concise, and easy to follow. Especially the cardboard bookshelf. The books are where I started to run into some trouble. To create a miniature book, you first cut out the 2 strips that become the book pages, and the cover of the book. Then you carefully accordion-fold the book pages together, and glue them inside the front and back of the book’s cover.

book folds You have to carefully cut the 2 page strips in order to not lose any of the text or images. You also have to cut out the cover. For 30 books, that’s 90 pieces of paper to cut. That’s a lot of cutting.

Also, folding the 2 page strips is a bit tedious. These books are small (1″ x 1.5″), so it takes nimble fingers to make sure the tiny pages are folded just right. The covers have a tiny spines that require more nimble finger work.

It took me around 6.5 minutes to make a book from start to finish. Multiply that by 30 and you are looking at well over 3 hours to make all 30 books. Also, the packaging doesn’t mention needing glue to attach the pages to the cover. That piece of information is buried deep within the instructions.

However, when finished, the library is positively adorable. The stories are cleverly edited, so nothing is lost in the retelling. I love the option for children to write and draw their own books. The quality of printing is top notch, and the book illustrations by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini are just incredible. Here’s an illustration from Hansel and Gretel:

hansel and gretel illustration by daniela jaglenka terrazziniAnd here is the finished library, bookshelf and all. We placed my toilet paper tube portrait of Johnathan Swift (who you first met here) in the library so you can get an idea of the size ratio.

finished my miniature libraryHowever, I disagree with the recommended age of 6+. I think children 10+ are better suited for the complicated cutting and folding to put these books together. With an estimated 3 hours to craft all 30 books (and that’s after all the cutting is done), I can imagine many children would give up well before all of the books are finished. Children under 10 might also have trouble writing small enough for the design-your-own books portion of the kit. Still, there’s no denying the awesomeness of your very own library with readable books and gorgeous hardwood floors!

Recommended, with caution. Be prepared with good scissors, strong cutting and folding fingers, a glue stick, and lots and LOTS of patience.

The Old Switcheroo

the old switcherooThe future is here, because some amazing genius has invented color changing markers. But do they really work? While Crayola, Alex, and an intriguingly named company called Wham-O all have versions of these markers, today, we’ll be testing the Switch-Eroo set of 12 color changing markers by Ooly ($9).

ooly switcheroo color changing markersEach marker has a color chisel tip at one end, and a slightly rounder white tip on the other end. The premise is simple. Use the color end first, then turn the marker around and use the white end on top of the color. Here’s a rainbow with the color end of the markers:

rainbow testAnd here’s the results of the white end on top of said colors. Pretty cool right? The color yellow was especially surprising. Look at those big, bold purple circles!

rainbow resultsThere was no smudging as you “reversed” the colors, though in my opinion, there seemed to be a lot of yellow resulting from the color reverse. Red, orange and light green? Those basically all reversed as yellow. As did blue and pink. But look at the dark green. It reversed as red! Very cool.

other marker set colorsOne question you might be asking: Does the white end do anything if you just use it on paper? Nope. Below you can see my yellow scribble, and how I drew on top of it with the white end of the marker. But you can barely see where I departed from the yellow and drew an arrow pointing upwards. Once the white tip moves off the color, the ink basically becomes invisible.

marker on paper 5

However, this begs a further question: Can you use the white end to write invisibly on paper, then scribble over it with the color end to reveal a secret message?

yesWooo hooo hooo! The coolness factor just increased ten fold.

I expected the white ends of the markers to start staining as I progressed through testing, but they didn’t. They stayed clean except for maybe the faintest touch of color on the tip. Nice.

The Ooly Switch-Eroo color changing markers are terrific. You not only get 12 extra colors in a set of 12 markers (though there did seem to be a lot of yellow going on), you also have a mechanism for writing secret messages in technicolor. The markers have plenty of ink, and I like the company’s color choices. So for the little artist in your home, this is a terrific extra that will no doubt inspire more creativity. Recommended!

Bonus points to anyone who recognized the Winnie the Pooh reference in the blog title. 1989! Represent!