{Made for Learning} Short Bead Stair

In our decade-and-a-half (plus) of homeschooling, we have discovered that nothing clarifies and solidifies understanding of math concepts like the use of manipulatives for younger children.  There are many types available, and we have bought several of them over the years.  The high quality, natural material ones were costly, and sometimes difficult to replace if pieces were lost.  There are less expensive, plastic options, which we also tried (as replacements), but didn’t like. They are all essentially the same – units and bars of differing colours used to represent numerals and quantities.

Anytime that I can make my own tools and materials – especially when that is a more economical option – I am happy.

Below are instructions for making your own bead stair sets.  We made 11 complete sets.  (I’m planning to post a little something on making bead stair trays, as well as on how we store our materials).

You will need:

  • 10 mm painted wooden beads in the following colours and quantities –
    • red – 11
    • green – 22
    • pink – 33
    • yellow – 44
    • light blue – 55
    • orange – 66 (traditionally, this would be brown, but I prefer the orange!)
    • white – 77
    • violet – 88
    • dark blue – 99
  • Paddle wire (craft wire that comes on a paddle).  Try to get tarnish-free.
  • Wire Cutters
  • Round-nose pliers
  • Felt pad to work on (handy, but optional)
  • Good, sturdy pair of hands. 🙂


Gather up your supplies. With a bustly house, it helps to keep them on a tray, if you have one available.


Sorting the beads makes work much easier than fiddling with plastic bags.


Cut the wire a bit longer than you think you'll need it. A good pair of jewelers wire cutters are essential.


Make a loop around the fattest part of the pliers for this project. It prevents the bead from falling off, certainly, but also gives a little something more for small hands (and big arthritic ones) to grasp.


Thread the bead (or beads) onto the wire. You'll have to eyeball how much you'll need for the closing loop. Trim if you need to and curl that wire around the pliers at the fattest point.


Continue this way with all of the beads, making bars as follows below.


  • Red – units
  • Green – 2-bead bars
  • Pink – 3-bead bars
  • Yellow – 4-bead bars
  • Light Blue – 5-bead bars
  • Orange (or brown) – 6-bead bars
  • White – 7-bead bars
  • Violet – 8-bead bars
  • Dark Blue – 9-bead bars


Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, right?

I got my coloured beads on EBay from two different sellers – Yo-Yo Beads and Hobby Funhouse.  Both were excellent!

{Made for Learning} Finger Paint

Do you remember finger paints when you were small?  I remember having little pots of paint, the cool semi-gelatinous texture, and a distinctive smell, not unlike play-doh.  I was five years old.

Finger painting is a wonderful way to introduce little ones to making art.  They have better control of their own fingers than they do a paint brush, and helps them to build a muscle memory of the way certain objects are formed in two dimensions.  Finger painting is an excellent way to re-enforce letter and number formation. It is also a wonderful way to teach children to mix colours.

As they get a little more advanced, finger painting can be a useful introduction to early figure drawing.

Of course, the extent of wonderful artistic activities is only limited by your imagination.  We’d sure love to see what you and your children make with your finger paints!

You’ll need::

  • 1 c. cornstarch
  • 1 c. grated soap (we use plain olive oil soap or goat’s milk soap)
  • 3 c. water
  • 1T. glycerine or white sugar
  • food dyes (we use India Tree plant-based food dye)
  • saucepan
  • bowl
  • wooden spoons
  • 3 flip-top squirt bottles

Also handy::

  • paint pallets
  • pad of large art paper

Gather your supplies... and your little helpers.


Pour your cornstarch (cornflour) into the pot...


and your sugar...


... and add 1 c. of water.


Stir and stir until completely dissolved.


Grate the soap


Luminous curly soap noodles (ours smell like sandalwood)


Add the soap curls to the pot.


Place pot over medium heat and stir constantly. As the mixture thickens, add as much of the remaining 2c. water to make the gel workable.


When it's ready, the mixture will be light and fluffy.


Divide the mixture evenly amongst 3 bowls (or however many you want).


Add food colouring to each bowl. We used 40 drops each, and obtained soft colours. Your results will vary depending upon the food colouring you choose. Paste colurants will give you the most vibrant colours.


Keep stirring until the colour is even.


Pour paint through a funnel into your bottles. Remember to thoroughly rinse the funnel between colours.



Take out the paper and fill the wells of the pallettes.


Magic time.


These finger paints can also be used in the bath!  Since they are soapy, they are also washable.  Lovely!



Tutorial:: Silhouettes

{From the archives – September 24, 2007}

I fell in love with paper art when I was first married. It is an easy and economical way to decorate your home. Making silhouettes of people you love makes the art more special, even an heirloom. This type of home-art is the epitome of Simple Gifts, I think! Below are silhouettes of my three oldest children, done just before Christmas of 1999. Catherine was 7, Andrew “Jack” was 5, and Caroline was all of 3 years old.

Over sixteen years of married life, I’ve made simple birth and baptism certificates and complex pictures. But I love silhouettes because they are so personal. They are portraits, really. The lack of details like color and shading makes the portrait even more intimate. The viewer is drawn to look more closely at the shapes of the subject’s features, the tilt of the head, the chubby roll under a baby’s chin, or the way a stray lock curls.

I’m not a true silhouette artist who can cut silhouettes from life. That is a very high art indeed. I take my studies from photographs. It may take a bit more time and effort, but I think it’s worth every bit.

When I’m going to make silhouette studies, I first take profile photos, trying to eliminate as much shadow under noses and chins as possible. I have found that using a natural light photo with a strong light (like sunlight) shining right on the subject works well. Flash works best when shot at the exact same height as your subject, but sometimes it can be too much, washing out important features. The beauty of digital cameras is that you can take several shots and chose the best. It’s also extremely quick – no waiting for film. You can, of course, use an instant (Kodak type) camera, but you are limited to the image size it puts out. Be sure to maintain the exact same distance from each of your subjects so that they are in perfect proportion should you want to do a group study. A tripod is extremely helpful.

You can scale digital photos in your computer to whatever size you wish. It is helpful to print your scaled photos on card stock or matte photo paper to make the template sturdy. I chose to make all of my silhouettes the same size so that each one will fill its own frame. If I were making a family study, I would need to be careful to respect the relative proportions between subjects so that baby’s head is not larger than big sister’s.


Gather acid-free scrapbooking supplies including a VERY sharp X-acto knife. I like to put a foamy pen grip on my knife for comfort. I have arthritis in my fingers and they become fatigued very quickly without it. Choose whatever papers suit your decor. As a rule, you want to have a dark solid for the image and a lighter pattern or solid for the background. But experiment! It’s fun and you can re-use your template if you aren’t happy with the results.

Here’s what the backside of your silhouettes might look like. Be sure to mark the subject’s name and the date the study was taken. You may want to pack away your template for later use. Maybe you want to make a page with successive years’ studies of the same subject. It’s nice to do baby, toddler, child, teen. You could even make a study of your entire family and place the silhouettes together to form one family portrait. And when you get more skilled, you can use a still-life photo of your family and create and silhouette portrait!

And here is a close up of my study of Louis. Notice that lashes, curls and chubby rolls can be enhanced lending more personality to the study.

Here is another close-up of a study I’ve done of myself (my daughter Cate was the photographer). Notice that the glasses have been carefully cut out and provide some interest.

Next, you will want to trace your template onto the back of your scrapbooking paper. Most scrapbooking papers are colored on one side and white on the other, which makes the tracing very easy to see. For my project, I chose to use a black card stock, which is colored on both sides. I’ve used a light colored pencil to make my tracing. Be sure to trace the mirror image, that is, the opposite, to what you want in the frame. And make sure your pencil is quite sharp for the finest possible lines. See how nice the white templates look on black?



Carefully cut out your image *just inside* the tracing lines, paying special attention to the small bits. In fact, do the smallest bits first. It is extremely important to have a *very sharp* X-acto so that your paper won’t tear. Avoid tugging to separate the silhouette from the paper. Careful cutting will also prevent the white from peeking out from underneath. If you do get “fluff-its”, just go back and nip them off from the right side very carefully.





You will notice that my templates have a flat bottom. Your silhouettes will be much more attractive if you trace out the contour of the near shoulder and cut it away, sloping elegantly towards the chest and back.

Mount your image onto your background paper (which you will have cut to fit in your chosen frame), being careful to position it so that the effect through the glass is pleasingly even. Another rule of thumb is to leave more head-space than at the bottom. This grounds the image nicely. You can use a glue stick or mounting tape. Please do not use liquid glue of any kind, you will surely be disappointed in the results. Tip: Leaving the edges of the image free gives more dimension to your image after framing. It appears to float.


Finally, you can embellish your compositions with journaling, or elements as desired. Be sure, at the very least, to sign and date your work. It is a good idea to mark your subject’s name on the finished piece somewhere, even on the back of the frame.

If you are going to mat your work, be sure your silhouettes will fit comfortably inside and that the mat is a good compliment to the overall composition. You can also embellish your mat-board if it’s plain white or cream. My recommendation is to let the piece live in the frame for a little while first to allow the piece to speak to you. Then you will know just what to do with the mat. Of course, you may already have a clear, complete vision. In which case, zhuzh away! In the event that your mat board and backing board are not acid free, you can purchase a spray-on product to neutralise the acid.

It’s also fun to mount the silhouettes on a letter, copywork, or essay hand-written by your child or spouse. Use a copy, of course! You could use the silhouettes to decorate scrapbooks, photo albums, notebooks. They can be used to make unique name signs for children’s bedrooms, or to assign a coat hook or cubby. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Silhouettes are a beautiful way to preserve a precious moment in time. Have fun, and send me pictures of your projects!

{I want to thank Monica at the Crafty Nest for linking this tutorial from a wonderful article on stencils and silhouettes.  I LOVE how she’s done her silhouettes on patterned paper!  They’re beautiful!}

Tutorial: Paper Ornaments

Another little tute for you to try with your children while pies and cookies are baking.  Our midwife, Sue, posted this craft on her Facebook page to make with last year’s cards (or leftover ones if you have them).  We had neither, so I pulled out our trusty scrapbook paper stack – the same stack we have used for three years running.

This one is a little more challenging than the Vintage Christmas Lights, and should provide some joy for the maths enthusiast in your family, too.  Alternately, have the kids do piles of different sized circles and have them figure up the inscribed triangles and call Maths done for the day. 🙂

You need:

Scrapbook paper or cards

A large paper punch or compass


Cardstock or scrap of cardboard (for triangle template)




Micropunch, awl, or sharp yarn needle

Stringing cord

This is my huge lever punch, which makes a super big 2.5" circle. I LOVE it. Find out why below.


Gather your materials. If you're anything like me, this will take half the day because we have too much {stuff} and not enough {space}.


Punch out circles from your cards or paper. If you haven't a punch, use a compass to scribe a 2.5" circle onto a piece of cardstock to use as a template. Then cut out a whole bunch of circles.


ABout 300 circles done in short order with my punch. Did I mention how much I LOVE this punch? {Save your scraps, this paper is spendy.!}


On the wrong side of your circles, make a nice, even triangle or...


create a template for an inscribed equilateral triangle. Lots of fun for the engineer in the family. The formula is:: a=3R/√3, where "R" is the radius of the circle. That literally made me lightheaded, but Brian had tons of fun.


That formula again::  a=3R/√3

Cut your triangle template out of cardstock. Trust me, you'll be glad you did. Remember to cut it out INSIDE the lines so that it trims out neatly inside the circles.


On the wrong side of your circles, score around the template using your scissor blade.


Fold all three flaps toward the right side of each circle.


You'll need FOUR folded circles for each ornament.


Using thinned glue and a paintbrush, glue only the flaps of the circles.


Stick flap of the second circle to the first...


More glue and the third and fourth circles.


Gather the children and have them finish up the rest of the circles. They'll love it!


Set your ornaments aside to dry.  You could add glue and glitter around the edges, too.  This hides any mismatched edges, if you’re concerned about that sort of thing.  I like the imperfection – but I also love anything that sparkles! 🙂  When everything is dried, punch a wee hole in one flap of each ornament and thread some cord through for hanging.

About that punch…

It’s a “Recollections” lever punch, available at Michael’s stores.  I bought a 2.5″ circle as well a gift tag cutter.  Why do I LOVE it so much?  I have pretty bad arthritis all over, but the inflammation in my hands can make crafting really difficult and not much fun.  Cutting with scissors takes me extra long and hurts after only a short time.  This lever punch allows me to use my whole palm for pressure, which relieves my fingers enormously.  I punched more than 300 circles really quickly.  I call that a brilliant invention.  Well worth the $16 I paid!

*I don’t get paid by Michael’s, this is my own opinion of a great product I wanted to share with you.

Tutorial:: Recycled Vintage Christmas Lights

We love making handmade ornaments for our tree.  Most years, we make things that are more ethereal – paper chains, salt dough shapes, popcorn strings.  This year, I wanted to add something up-cycled or recycled.  We haven’t had glass ornaments of any kind for about a dozen years because we have little ones.  I got tired of cleaning up shattered glass.

This summer, we cut down a HUGE evergreen tree in front of our farmhouse.  And twined into the branches was a string of Christmas lights – the great big sturdy glass kind.  I decided that I wanted to make some ornaments from them.  I’ve seen some lovely hand-painted ones on Etsy like these and these.  But I needed to make something a little bit simpler, something that everyone could do.

You need:

Vintage glass Christmas lightbulbs (or replacements that have been sanded)

Metallic enamel craft paint



Paint brushes

Disposable cups or bowls

Disposable spoons (optional)

Metallic elastic cord to match your metallic paint

E6000 or similar glue

We salvaged about 60 bulbs from the string that was on the tree. The glass was naturally etched from wear. We cleaned the bulbs off with a paper towel to remove dirt and grass.

Next, paint the metal threads with the metallic paint and set on newspaper to dry. Ours dried right quick. Do a second coat if you feel it needs it.

Make sure you get the entire metal area, including the very tip.


These bottles of glitter will go a LONG way.



Place about 1 tablespoon of tacky glue, thinned with water, into a cup. Paint an even coat over the glass part of each bulb.


Beginning at the metal thread end, sprinkle the glitter over the bulb. Be generous, you can knock off any excess.




LOVE the green! Keep your glitter cups separate so that you can salvage the unused portion. It’s spendy.


Silver! Looked nice on both the clear and the opaque white bulbs.


All done. Waiting to be strung and hung.  We’ll tie the stringing cord onto the threads and glue in place with E6000.  That will need to set overnight before hanging.  You could also use Superglue or similar.  Make sure your workspace is well ventilated. P-U !

What we used::

Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue

Martha Stewart glitter (we chose Carnelian, Aquamarine Crystal, and White Gold)

DecoArt Gloss Enamel paint in Shimmering Silver

Jewelry Essentials Stringing elastic cord in silver

E6000 glue

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