making a country living

Country Living Magazine contacted us over a year ago, expressing interest in featuring us in their Making a Country Living column. In July, they gave us just about a week's warning that we would have a photo shoot in our home! A freelance photographer came up from Chicago and we spent a hot August day in clothes fitting for a December issue. A phone interview, fact checking, waiting and waiting and... it arrived in the mail today!

sheboygan local yokel craft fair

Sheboygan local yokel craft fair poster
We're heading into our fifth holiday season since starting Little Sapling Toys. That first year we did one craft show and haven't been available to do anything like that since then. During the summer, our family enjoyed the local yokel at Paradigm so much that we couldn't pass up the opportunity to join in the fun! In December we'll have a booth at the Sheboygan Local Yokel craft fair.

hipster costumes 2012

We're dressing our kids as hipsters this year with glasses, earbuds, scarves, cuffs, skinnies, and a few other touches.

chimney sweep costumes, 2011

It's about time to share my little chimney sweeps from last Halloween. We used white, grey and black clothing, caps, spray painted $1 store toilet brushes, and charcoal colored makeup.
And Nick was a lumberjack with his Carhartts, flannel shirt, red cap, beard and wooden axe.

building block puzzle review

This post was originally posted by Crafty Garden Mama, Becky Elmuccio

It's no mystery that we are Little Sapling Toys fans here at our house. We adore their alphabet and number blocks, teethers, and peg board puzzle and are always excited when the Tomato enters a new developmental stage and is ready for something else from their creative store. They recently contacted me in order to send us some other toys to review and so today's review will be the first of two.

I received the Organic Block Tray Puzzle and was once again struck by the beautiful simplicity and workmanship that is their trademark. Also, these USA made products are finished with local beeswax and organic jojoba oil, so the eco-friendly factor is high. This fractional puzzle fits together in a variety of ways, so it is a great toy with which to teach your child about problem solving and that there is sometimes more than one right answer.

We are at the stage, with an 18 month old, of talking about comparisons, so the following activities are best for this age group.
Sort by color
Sort by size
Sorting - In using three different woods, walnut, maple and cherry, Little Sapling Toys has given you the opportunity to sort the blocks by color. You can discuss light, medium and dark and ask your child to compare those gradients with other toys that he/she may have. We also use the cloth bag, in which the toy came, to do transfer sorting. In the bag, out of the bag, and in the bag once more can certainly fill some time. We can talk about things being empty and full and talk about what is missing if some of the blocks are in the bag and some are out on the floor or table. You can also sort the blocks by size in ascending or descending order and talk about large, medium and small. Finally, you can group the largest block by itself, the next size by itself, the next two together and then finally, the smallest four on their own.

Counting - There are 9 blocks altogether, so count up and down with them or practice numbers in the smaller groups that you sorted by color or size.

Patterning - While these blocks are not as evenly divided in colors as the peg board colors were, you can do some ABAB or ABCABC color patterning with them.
Building - At Tomato's age, we are into stacking and building, so we often take the puzzle apart and have at it in freestyle form. If you want more structured structures, see how high you can get a tower, how long you can make a "block train" (which goes really far when combined with the alphabet and number blocks set) or see how colors can alternate as you build.

As your child grows, you can explore other aspects of math with him/her.
Fractions - As time goes by, you can start to explore the fractional attributes of these blocks. By using the frame, kids can put the pieces in and talk about how they go together. If you use the largest block as one whole, then you can discuss the top row as 1/4 plus 1/2 plus 1/4, the second row as 1/4 plus 1/4 plus 1/2 and the third row as 3/4 plus 1/4. You can even take it further and state the the tray is worth one and move all the way out to sixteenths from there. You can also line them up individually against the whole and talk about adding fractions in that way.
Two halves equal one whole

3/4 plus 1/4 equals 4/4 or one whole

2/4 plus 1/2 equals one whole (Hello to working with least common denominator in a visual way!)

4/4 equals one whole
As your child grow in his/her knowledge, you could also hide one of the blocks and ask them which fraction is missing. It's a puzzle that never ends and that's a good thing!!
So, is there anything missing? I've been vacillating over the last few weeks as to whether or not I would like to see the tray labeled as 1 and then have one side of each block engraved as 1/4 or 1/8 or 1/16, etc. But, then I go back to liking them plain since it gives you the flexibility of talking about fractions as your child develops his/her number sense. You could always use a small removable sticker to label them in the fractions that you are discussing. If you want the largest piece to be 1, pop a sticker on there and say it is 1 and the smallest piece is 1/4. Take them off and put on new ones with the second largest piece as 1 and compare it to three of the smallest ones so that you can talk about thirds. Take those off when kids are ready to talk about the tray being 1 and so on. So, I think they went with the right design aspect in leaving it blank. Overall, I think the folks at Little Sapling have provided their customers with another toy that is aesthetically simple, but developmentally deep. Hop on over to their store, grab one and have fun filling the hours with it at your house!


Reading is one of the most important things a child will learn. Many parents want to know what they can do to help their child become better readers. While there are many options for caregiver to choose from, I love the 3 B's suggested by Jim Trelease, author of "The Read Aloud Handbook. "

The first B = BOOKS
Children need to be exposed to reading materials in their home. They need to see books on a daily basis. They have to be read to on a regular basis. Most importantly, a child needs his or her own book, with his or her name inscribed inside the book.
The Second B = Baskets
A basket full of books located in different areas of the home will give children the access to reading they need. Place these baskets in areas where they will be used most often. A few suggestions include: the bathroom, on or near the kitchen table, or in the car.
The Third B = Bed Lamp 
Allow your child to read before he or she goes to bed. Give them a lamp and the option to read a little bit past "bedtime." I know that my little girl will look at books before she goes to sleep, so her "bedtime" is about 15 minute early. I love checking in on her and seeing her soundly sleeping next to a pile of books. I hope she is dreaming of adventures with the nutcracker, peas and princesses, elves making fancy shoes, and cleaver cats who talk.

7800 hours

Did you know that a child spends about 900 hours a year in school, and 7,800 hours outside of school? Who do you think has a greater influence on that child? The teacher in the class room or the "teacher" they see every day and with whom they spend a majority of that 7,800 hours?
The most influential education a child receives is in their home, from their caregivers. And that education is rarely taught in a formal sit down situation. It is soaked up in every-day experiences.
Makes you stop to think about what lessons your child is learning every day. Are they learning respect and kindness because of the way we treat and talk to them and others? Are they learning manners because we say "Please and Thank you" to strangers and most importantly to them? Are they learning the value of books because we read to them, or take them to the library? Are they learning the importance of health and fitness because we eat healthy foods and participate in physical activities? What about forgiveness, tolerance, optimism, hard work, responsibility?
While parenting a child is one of the most difficult things a person will do, it is also one of the most rewarding and important things they will ever do. And evaluating ourselves and the lessons we teach will greatly benefit our children.


I recently read an interesting Time magazine article entitled "How America's Children Packed On the Pounds" It was disturbing to read the statistics. Jeffrey Kluger writes that an estimated 32% of America's children are overweight or obese. Along with the extra pounds, young children are being faced with diabetes, high cholesterol, heart problems, liver disease, and gallstones. Kluger states that "health experts warn that the current generation of children may be the first in American history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents'".
After reading this article, I evaluated my children's health as well as my own. Understanding the importance of eating and living healthy is the most important step in fighting obesity.  
Being willing to take an honest look at our eating and exercise habits is crucial.
I've come up with a game plan I believe will help my family and especially my children fight off obesity and live healthy well rounded lives. Over the course of the next few months, I'd like to share this game plan with you. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you are doing to keep your children healthy.


When my first child was 6 weeks she would not sleep. Not during the day and never at night. I cried a lot those first 6 weeks. Then a friend suggested "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Marc Weissbluth. It changed my life.
A few things I learned and love about this book:
*Every child is different so it is imperative that I understand my baby's sleep needs. I have to watch for cues she gives as she is getting tired. When my 3 year old has a meltdown, I obviously missed her sleep cues she gave an hour previous.
*Sleep begets sleep. This was eye opening for me. When my baby (newborn to 12 months) would take a longer afternoon nap, I still put her to bed between 6-630. She would go back to sleep easier and would sleep all night. On the flip side, Dr. Weissbluth writes, "Fatigue causes increased arousal. Therefore, the more tired your child, the harder it is for him to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both."
* If it is 5:30 pm and my 3 month old is cranky and crying, 9 times out of 10, she is tired. Putting her to bed as early as 5:30pm usually doesn't invoke an earlier wake up time (it never did with my babies).
*Allowing my baby to learn self soothing skills was harder on me than it was on her. And it proved to be invaluable.

Check out his blog:
Babble also posted a wonderful interview with Dr. Weissbluth. You can read it here.

letting children choose

I want my girls to be happy. I don't want them to experience some of the heartaches and disappointments I have seen in my life. I definitely don't want them making the same mistakes I did.
If I could just say to my girls "Jane, you will want to do A, B, and C. Never go near D and don't even think about E." Wouldn't it be wonderful if they would listen and follow my instructions exactly? Fortunately, they are individuals who want to explore and discover things on their own. Most likely they will forget about A and B, maybe do C, try out D and go straight for E. And that's OK. Throughout that process they will grow from their mistakes, just as I have grown from mine.
I've decided the best thing I can do for them is to fervently teach them right from wrong and then allow them to make their own decisions. They will love me for it, and I won't give myself an ulcer trying to control something I have no business controlling. So when my 2 year old is adamant about wearing bright orange and black cat printed pants with a blue and yellow flower shirt, I'll let her. Then I'll take a picture and post it on her Facebook page when she is 16.

seven minutes

"You need to spend 7 minutes with each child every day." When I first heard this, I thought, That's a silly thing to say. I am a stay at home mom. I spend all day with my kids. Every day. But then I sat down and thought about how I spent that time with them. It was always in-between things. In-between washing dishes, cleaning the house, changing diapers, doing laundry, cleaning up messes, making beds, paying bills and working my at home business. I was saddened to realize the time my children received was sometimes leftover and in-between.
So we began 7 minutes with mom. I ask my 3 year old what she wants to do with mommy. And I do whatever she wants. I turn off the phone and computer. I give 100% of my attention and time to my girls- one at a time. We've read a lot, colored, built towers, and played horsey. It has been amazing to see her light up when I tell her it's time for 7 minutes. It has become the most precious time of the day.
The key is to give 100% attention and to do whatever your child wants to do. Try it for a week and see what it does for your relationships.


We each have a dominate learning style, do you know yours? What about your child? As a parent and teacher of my kids, knowing how they learn best can be of great value. The three basic learning styles are audio, visual and hands on
Here is a little trick to discover your child's dominate learning style.
Ask her to describe something from memory. Maybe how her bedroom looks or what she wore yesterday. Then observe her eyes. If she looks straight at you or side to side while describing her memory, then she is an audio learner. If she looks up at the ceiling, she is a visual learner. If she looks at her hands or talk with her hands, then she learns best by being hands on.
When your child has a difficult concept to learn or is struggling with a subject, try reviewing the material in the manner that suits her dominate learning style.

Keep in mind that even though we have a dominate leaning style, we learn best when we combine all three styles together.