Monday, November 25, 2013

Back Home in Indiana

Part of married life is juggling family at holidays. We follow a common practice by switching who we visit for Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. This year, my side gets Thanksgiving and my husband's side get Christmas; next year we swap. 

Here's a peek at our visit so far:

The kids got out the hats and passed them around. My brother is not really that silly. 

Enjoy family this week! I am so thankful for all of mine!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Homeschool Organization Project (with a FREE printable)

I could not drag myself out of bed when my alarm went off this morning. Instead I snoozed it for an hour (just being real here). But I have an excuse; my throat is soar and scratchy, my sinuses are clogged, and my eyes are twice as heavy as normal- I've got a cold. I've had a cold since Tuesday evening, so I've been laying low this week at home with the kids. All of this time to sit and suffer gave me a chance to update my homeschooling "system" which has been in desperate need of an overhaul.

I spent most of August trying to find a lesson planning system that worked with our preschool curriculum and my style. In vain I searched planners online and in stores. I tried an app on my tablet. None of them were what I was looking for. So I even tried making my own. When I realized how much I hated all of those, I took a normal day planner and tried to turn that into lesson plans. That worked for a while until I realized I just did not need that much "planning".

Now, my number 1 planning tool is a highlighter.

I use a highlighter to mark the activities I want to do each day directly in the teacher's book (and I might also color a supply or preparation step I need to set up ahead of time). It seems so simple, too simple, and yet this is all I need to propel me through the day's work.

Here is an example from my teacher's book; so simple it's almost silly

Now that I have that basic step accomplished, I wanted to better organize my Paper. This includes filing Evan's completed work, my notes, attendance records (more for me to see how much- or how little- school we are doing each month), visual aids, really any papers associated with our homeschool lessons. Today I pulled all of these together in a 3-ring binder and in an accordion file organizer.

I have all of the visual aids from our curriculum (you can see which curriculum we're using here, and I do promise to talk about it soon, we love it!) stored by theme in this filer. Now I only need to open to the relevant category- say letters- and select the poster/visual aid I want.

Since I sent the "official" planners packing and am now using the highlighting method, I needed a simple monthly calendar to record our attendance and lessons completed so I can track where we are. I quickly sat down and created my own calendar with just enough space to jot down the lesson number completed each day.

Because I love FREE printables, I want to make this calendar available to you! (I spent two days researching how to attach this and so I hope the link below works, here goes nothing)

You may print as many copies as you wish for personal use, but if you share it, please link directly to my site.

Two Per Page Monthly School Attendance Tracker

Here is a quick glance at the remaining pages of my teacher binder:

Upcoming Work Pages

Here I've already selected the pages from Evan's student book that I wish to use in upcoming lessons. I'll probably do a few days to a week ahead for this.

Daily Visual Aids
This tab has the current, daily used visual aids kept in page protectors.

Completed work
The last tab houses Evan's completed worksheets.  I at least want to keep some of the work for the year to compare how far he has progressed as a gauge for me as his teacher.

And with those two filing tools, I feel more organized and better able to prepare our lessons. Planning and organizing is certainly half of the battle, I think, for homeschool mom's everywhere! I hope this inspires you to tackle some of your paper and find the perfect system for you. I'd love to hear your ideas- please feel free to comment or link to your blog below.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Marshmallow Painting

Autumn, my favorite season. So bright, so colorful, so easy to do crafts around that theme! Evan received paint and a pad of large paper for his birthday and I've been dying to really use them. We had fun with this craft, especially because Grandma Deb arrived minutes before we sat down to paint.

Supplies needed: white paper; red, yellow, green & brown paint; paint tray; paint brushes;
marshmallows (not pictured); paint cover-up shirts or aprons

If you do not have brown paint, mix your own (it was harder than I remember from kindergarten) 

If you have younger kids, you may wish to prepare the tree trunk ahead of time. I did mine while my kids napped so that it had time to dry. I realized later how smart that was because when they did the leaves, the brown did not mix with the other colors.

No need to be perfect (clearly). A simple tree with ample branches is fine.

Hand them a marshmallow and let them go to town. I wanted Evan to follow my instructions (practice in listening and obedience/following instructions) by stamping only and not smearing the paint around. But with Reese being only 23 months, I just let her freestyle.

Not seen in the pictures above is Grandma Deb who arrived just as we were sitting down to paint. It was nice to have an extra pair of hands for this messy craft!

One last tip, I turned their trees upside-down so they didn't have to reach as far to put leaves at the top of the tree. This worked great! If you use a huge piece of paper like we did you may want to do the same?

Leaf crafts are common this time of year, probably because they work as an avenue to teach so many things:

1. Colors: you can practice the basic colors or  introduced mixing two colors to make a third. We did this with red and yellow making orange. I waited to prepare the colors until they were at the table, and I took advantage of needing to mix our own colors to show Evan how it worked. By the way, I learned the hard way that you need waaaaaay more yellow than red to make orange.
2. Seasons: review time, the seasons, the month, etc
3. God's faithfulness: every year we know God keeps the seasons in their time. Ecclesiastes 3 and Jeremiah 5 both have verses that mention God's power and control of the seasons*.
4. Counting: Keep track of the leaves, for older kids, make a graph after painting to document the number of red leaves vs the green and yellow and so on
5. Shapes: If you use a stamp (in our case a marshmallow) then review the shape
6. Patterns & Active Listening: Tell your student which order to a series of colors, or one at a time direct him on the next color, adjust for age appropriateness

And now I have two beautiful paintings to decorate my walls!

*I believe we should always read the Bible in their greater context. However, I think this is one of the few exceptions because these verses clearly mention God's power over creation. Even though these short phrases occur in the middle of a larger context, I am not changing the meaning of that larger context of scripture by only pointing out the part about God's power. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Detroit Tigers Themed Baby Shower

So far in life I have two children, and 3 nieces. My poor son, Evan, is the only boy among all these ladies- until my first nephew arrives, that is! We cannot wait to welcome Baby Jackson into the world in the next few months. This is my SIL's first baby, so the family got to throw a baby shower for her!

Their nursery theme is Detroit Tigers, and my SIL asked that the baby shower theme follow along. We Michiganders were happy to oblige.

This is great-grandma and grandma to baby Jackson; we were co-hosts for this event.

This was a cute cake, check it out:

Some simple BBQ pork and chicken, with salads made up the menu.

I was in charge of the centerpieces, which you can almost see in the poorly taken photograph below (you probably wouldn't believe that I was a video major in college)

Piece number 1 is a small glass bowl and white candle (both 4 for $1 at the dollar store) atop a foam baseball "coaster". The foam baseballs I found at Hobby Lobby, 10 in a pack for $2.99 I believe it was?

These were simple cylinder vases from the dollar store filled with peanuts. I wrapped blue streamer paper (left-over from my son's 1st birthday party two years ago!) around the top to give it a pop of color, and used twine to add the bow.

I made banners that I stuck in these peanut vases, but none of my picture from the shower turned out well enough to see them and just now when I looked, I couldn't find them- I'm guessing some of the little girls from the shower gave them a good home.

My MIL had already gotten these orange flowers to match the orange table cloths she picked out. So all I had to do was make them work. I bought shapely vases from the dollar store, filled the bottom with peanuts (more for weight and to hold the flowers than for decoration, but it works) and the blue is the same streamer paper all cut up into shreds.

You can find my inspiration for all of these on my Pinterest board "Party Time". There are always a dozen more ideas I wish I could incorporate in things, but I've learned the best thing is to take a few ideas and run with them. I am first a wife, then a mother, and after those roles are fulfilled do I allot my time for other things. So, if you have an upcoming party or event you're helping plan, here is the advice I follow and therefore offer to you.

1. Establish your budget. Be realistic, and within your means. Speak to your husband first and get his input about how much you can put towards this event. And. never. ever. spend. more. than. your. budget.

2.  Get ideas. This is fun, but don't get carried away- remember The Budget. Use this time to find many different ideas. Look at tutorials to see if you can make decorations yourself to save money. Also, try to find items around your house to bring in for decoration. This includes craft supplies as well as items (e.g. don't go buy baseballs for a sports theme without raiding your husbands stash of sports equipment first, you get the idea)

3. Set a timeline. Finalize the party date and work backwards from there. Make sure if you're hand making any items to give yourself plenty of time to do them. Try calling ahead to stores to see if they have items you know you're going to buy to make sure they have enough in stock. My MIL and I went shopping for the Detroit plates and the store only had one package. We tried several stores for more before we found an alternative plate because no one had the ones we originally liked. A phone call could have saved us some leg work (and gas money!) And remember, as moms (if applicable), we have to plan time to do this around our kids' schedules. A friend volunteered to watch my kids so I could efficiently run errands (thank you Denise!). Another day, I waited for my kids' nap time and then crafted like crazy to get the centerpieces finished before they woke up.

4. Have fun. You can see that I am no Martha Stewart, and that is OK. Don't worry about perfection, and don't try to do something you cannot. Keep expectations real and you'll have fun!

Have you put on any parties? I'd love to see photos of what you did!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thanksgiving Lessons for 2's & 3's

Last year at this time I was making up my own "homeschool" activities to do a couple days a week with our oldest, Evan. He was 2 1/2 at the time. This year we are following a preschool curriculum, which we love! (I promise to post on what curriculum I'm using and how I'm using it in a post all it's own.) But I'm considering taking a break from the curriculum and spending the week leading up to Thanksgiving doing similar activities from last year. I had a blast this morning as I went down memory lane and reviewed the activities, Bible verses, and songs we covered way back a year ago. Check out this little guy (he looks so small!)

We focused on learning and activities centered around a Thankfulness Tree. They are easy to make and have dozens of variation options (seriously, if you want to lose four hours of your day, just head over to Pinterest and search "thanksgiving tree" and browse the variations). Here's our finished tree from last year:

And this year it would be so fun to include my almost-two-years-old, Reese. So if you'd like to implement Thanksgiving themed activities into your child's day, here are quick links to last year's posts.

Thanksgiving Day 1
Thanksgiving Day 2
Thanksgiving Day 3
Thanksgiving Day 4
Thanksgiving Day 5
Thanksgiving Day 6

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Quick Closet Tidy-up

Got 30 minutes? That's all you need for a closet tidy-up like this. Yesterday I was feeling unproductive and I've been meaning to adjust our master closet situation a little since I've recently put all of our shoes up there. So I decided to do a quick organizing project, here's the before:

You can see a small mound of shoes, two gym bags, and 3 purses on the floor, plus my wedding gown bag hanging inside the door (which does not allow the door to close). And yes, that small, little space is shared by both my husband and myself. Let the record show that he has more hanging clothes than I- probably because he's a pastor and wears a shirt and tie every week. As you can see, this system does not leave room for our laundry hamper.

First I pulled out everything from the floor and got it out of the way. Then I took down my dress bag so I could access the closet better. I added a small shelf to the back of our closet that I already had in another area of the house. It is similar to this one:

I just did a simple search on Amazon for "metal shelf" and this popped up. Mine has only three shelves. 

This allowed me to stack our shoes on the bottom two shelves. Next, I stashed my purses on the top shelf (which in the after picture is hidden behind the hanging clothes). I tucked the two gym bags on the left side of the shelf, on the floor so we can still grab them easily, but they'll stay put until we do. This left plenty of room for me to place our laundry hamper inside the door, which keeps the rest of the room tidy. And no more wedding dress obscuring half the doorway.

And that's it! A simple, no hassle, tidy-up project that organizes things more efficiently. Better organization equals a better clean-up system.

I'd love to see your organization BEFORE and AFTER photos. Feel free to leave a link in the comments.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When Your Ducks get Kicked out of Their Row

This morning began well. I rose before the children, made my coffee, and settled in for Bible study and prayer. Breakfast went well. The kids were in relatively pleasant moods. I had a general idea of where my day needed to go. My ducks were in a row.

And then... the dreaded AND THEN...

Perhaps I am not the only one to begin the day with one plan, and somewhere after I've settled on that plan, things go awry. I've learned that there are three duck-movers in life that tend to mess up my plans...

A Bad Plan This plan goes down simply because it is poorly formed, or not formed at all. A badly planned day means I'm running errands when I should be prepping dinner, and now I'm stressed and my toddlers are hungry and crabby. Another way I hurt myself with bad planning is not leaving enough time to get us out of the house. This brings out Screaming Momma who gets a migraine repeating to Toddler A that he needs to sit down! while Toddler B wants to buckle her own car seat and it takes 5 minutes- and the only reason Momma is letting Toddler B buckle herself anyway is because the meltdown is too sad to handle (not that this has happened to me or anything, this is purely hypothetical). If I had just planned for 5 more minutes in my leaving-time then I could be a "yes" mom and allow my daughter to buckle herself and we'd both be happy. And on time.

If those pesky ducks get out of order and it's not because of poor planning, it might be because of...

Predictable Externals If you have children (or a pet, or a husband) there are many little things that shove those ducks aside. These predictable things might be tantrums, burnt dinner, or missing ingredients for dinner, a phone call that goes longer than you meant, a school work meltdown, a spilled drink, an extra long or extra short nap, hubby late for dinner, and so on. Things that are a part of life but not always a part of every day. A lot of these examples are "small things" that with a little creativity, patience, and discipline, I can often recapture the plan and line those ducks back up (sans a couple missing feathers). I keep trying to remember that these are the teachable moments, the times where I bond even more with my kids and husband, and develop godly character in my life.

But then there are...

Unpredictable Externals And here is where my story continues. We dropped my husband's car off at the shop on Saturday; it was ready last night but we forgot to go pick it up. This morning, I desperately need to go grocery shopping. I know that when we run out of peanut butter, we're past due! I was just about to get ready to go, when we remembered that we were a one car household at the moment. That was unpredictable external number 1. Okay, I simply reverted to Plan B: I decided we could make it on the few things I had left in the house (instant pancake mix, anyone?) until tomorrow. So now hubby was getting ready to leave for the day when unpredictable external number 2 hit, the power went out. I heard our entire neighborhood was without power for a couple of hours. You cannot open the refrigerator, use the microwave, or cook when you don't have electricity. Our dilemma was, if my husband left with our only vehicle, I couldn't even run out for fast food with my kids (it was near lunch time and we had no clue how long the power would be off). And there before my eyes my little ducks ran around- out of order, and out of control- while I quickly came up with a Plan C.

There really is no way to plan for everything, but I have learned that I can plan to be flexible. In this way, I am honoring God with more patience. Another way to survive crooked-line-ducks is to find humor or at least joy in every situation. Things went badly for me today, and I got nothing I wanted accomplished, but it snowed! And for me, that is a huge joy!

So find those gems hidden in every situation and dwell on those, because no matter how much you yell at those ducks, they do not line up in response. I would know, I've tried.

My kids and I ended up driving hubby to work (he's a pastor) and then raiding his stash of sandwich supplies for PB&J. We also got to play with the nursery toys, which are fresher than our own, so therefore more fun!

Stick with it Momma's, your ducks are not the most important thing in your life, your family is. And I know you're doing a great job!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

7 Months Ago

My last post was 7 months ago (where does the time go?) I gave up Facebook on that day and I have not looked back since. I had no idea if I would go through withdrawals or get back online after a hiatus. Seven months later I can say that I will probably never go back to a personal FB page again. I really don't miss it at all. So there you have it (and maybe more than you wanted to hear).

I have definitely spent 2013 focusing on several disciplines that I needed in my life. You can read about my daily Bible study time here, and my exercising here. I will post updates about those two areas soon because they have really added richness to my life. Other than that, I tried to focus on my kids and husband much more than I had in the past. We spent most of May, June, and July out of doors in the kiddie pool. I don't think my skin has been exposed to that much sun since I was in high school! In case you were wondering, I've already lost my entire "tan" that I gained over the summer.

My husband and I decided that I could start homeschooling our oldest, Evan, this fall. I thought it would be fun. Go ahead- I'll pause for everyone to have a good laugh at the newbie, I understand. We've been hit or miss in our homeschool routine, but I keep tweaking things trying to find the rhythm best for us. Evan is only 3, so I got a really basic preschool curriculum and decided I would just make it work for us. My thoughts were (and still are) on the long, cooped up, winter months that come with living in West Michigan. I hope that some schooling during the week will wear out my son just a little and help keep us from getting cabin fever come February. My philosophy for now is to just build on what Evan already knows, at his pace, with little-to-no long term year goals. Example: I am not pushing him to be able to read by X age, or count to 100 by the end of the school year. If those things happen, great. If they do not happen, great.

I've really been taking each day at a time and trying to enjoy the moments. What everyone says is true "The days are long, but the years are short".