Sep 22, 2011

Thrift Store Shopping

I don’t shop at thrift stores often because I find that they tend to be time consuming. I can usually find new clothing on clearance for about the same prices as some used thrift store items.   With my own children, I always buy ahead when things go on clearance, and I shop garage sales whenever I have time.  When the weather changes at our house, I just pull out the tote marked with my boys' size and fill their drawers with "new" clothes.  Since we took in two foster kids though, I've been needed to find them winter clothes now.  It's hard to find good deals on in-season clothes.  So I called around and found that one thrift store in the community has five dollar Thursdays.  Everything I can fit into my little shopping basket (including shoes, belts, purses, etc.) is only $5.  I've already gone up there three times, and I've brought home over 60 items for my new foster kids!  Then I ran into a lady that I knew at the store, she told me that another thrift store in town is clearance all summer clothes at $0.25 right now, and all socks and underwear are free!  I'm not big on buying used underwear, but I found out that Walmart donates opened packages of new underwear to these thrift stores.  So call around and find out if any thrift stores in your area have any deals.  It will be worth your time!

Sep 15, 2011

Making Veggies and Fruit Fun

Have you ever tried having fun with your food?  Try making a face or some other recognizable object with your food.  You kids will love it!

Sep 13, 2011

Working and Homeschooling

Sometimes I feel like it is impossible to work and try to homeschool.  Am I insane?  Oh, yeah, we also are foster parents.  I was talking to another woman yesterday about the different things our family does.  She looked at me as if I had two heads.  It is possible though.  Here's what I have learned:

You must be very organized.  I plan out our homeschooling two week at a time.  All worksheets, projects, and/or other materials are put together on our homeschooling bookshelf at that time.

We use more worksheets than I would like.  I envisioned long days of hands on projects, but that isn't really happening right now.  We do get to do projects, but since I'm not with Luke five days a week while he does his school work, he does a lot of worksheets on the days I work. 

Prepare everything the night before.  As soon as the kids go to bed, I start dashing around.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next day are set out or prepared as much as possible.  Everyone's clothes are set out in the bathroom.  If I'm going to work, I put all of my stuff in the car in the evening.  Anything else that needs to go with us gets put right by the door.  Then I put a load of laundry in the washer.  If I have time, it goes in the dryer, if not, it goes in the dryer first thing in the morning.  Then it gets folded first thing in the morning. 

Be flexible.  Kids get sick, work doesn't get done, stress levels rise.  Remember to be flexible. 

Have a backup plan.  When I worked full time this was so important!  We only had one child at the time, but we also had a foster child.  It seemed like someone was always sick!  Make sure you have a back up plan when thing don't go right.  Who will pick up the kids, where will they go, can you miss work, how often can you work, etc.

Working outside the home and homeschooling is not ideal, but it is possible.  Do you work and homeschool?  Please share your advice and suggestions with us!

Sep 9, 2011

Book Report or Unit Study Idea

Last spring Luke and I studied the biographies of several famous Americans.  While studying Benjamin Franklin, he created a timeline mobile.  He enjoyed it so much, and he still can tell you so many interesting things about Ben Franklin's life.  Here's how he did it:

  • Go through the book or material and list the most important events in the person's life with dates.
  • Luke then printed the list and mounted each event on construction paper.  You could just hand write the events though. 
  • Punch a hole in the top of each event.
  • Tie a piece of yarn through the hole.
  • Hang the events at various levels, in order, from a wire hanger.

Did you have any good book report projects?

Sep 8, 2011

Disposing the Piles of Artwork

I save everything.  My husband saves everything, and now our oldest son, Luke, saves everything.  This creates difficulties when you have art work coming home from preschool, church, and now homeschooling.  I quickly realized that there was no way I could keep everything, but it is so hard for me to throw things away!  I figured out how to handle this problem though. 

Christmas Tree - December 2004

  • Take a picture of the item.  It's even better if you can take a picture of your child holding the artwork.
  • File the picture in your computer by name and date.
  • You and your child can then go back and view the pictures anytime you feel like it.

It's that easy.  Now I can dispose of the children's artwork without feeling guilty.  Of course, I do save some now and then.

Noodle Pumpkin - October 2005

Do you have solutions for keeping or disposing of children's artwork?

Sep 6, 2011

Preschool and Toddler Fine Motor Sorting Activities

I got this idea from our Parents As Teachers Educator who had come to our home to do a screening for our foster children.  This skill encourages color sorting,  sorting by size, and fine motor skills.  All you need is six different colors and sizes of the craft pom poms and an old egg carton.  You can find these in the craft section at Walmart or at craft stores.  Encourage your toddler to sort the pom poms by size.  Tell her to put the big ones in the back and the small ones in the front.  Then have her match the pom poms by color.  If you have a spoon or these Easter egg holders, have your toddler practice moving and sorting the pom poms with the spoon or holders for fine motor skill practice.  My kids love this activity!

Our littlest one is enjoying putting the pom poms in an old Parmesan cheese container.  Then he dumps them out and starts over again. 

Sep 1, 2011

How Can You Help Foster Parents

Many times when people find out that my husband and I are foster parents, they say they've thought about fostering parenting, but...  That's okay.  Not everyone is cut out to be a foster parent.  Your job, family, schedule, health or whatever may not fit the lifestyle needed to be a foster parent.  If you are really interested in fostering parenting, but just don't think you can do it right now, consider just being a support for a foster parent that you know.  I've complied a list of things you can do to help a foster family.

1)  Pray for the child, the child's family, and the foster family.  The stress and emotional toll for all involved is very high.

2)  Consider donating used or new clothes.  We are on our third foster placement now.  The first two only came with the clothes on their backs.  Our current placement has three sets of clothes.  Pick up clothes at garage sales or clean out your own kids' closets.  Ask the foster parent what the child currently needs.

3)  Consider donating new or used toys.  All three of our placements have shown up with no toys of their own.  Our home is filled with toys, stuffed animals, and games, but there is something special about owning your own toy versus playing with someone else's toys.

4)  Consider offering your time.  I don't know what the rules are in every state, but our state is strict about who can watch or babysit the children.  I can't just leave the foster children with my friend and go out on a date with my husband.  So offering to watch the children may be out of the question, but there are other ways you can donate time.  You can offer to come to the foster families house with a preplanned activity for the children so the foster mom can have time to fold the eight loads of laundry sitting in the laundry room.  You could offer to mow the grass or take one of the biological children on a special outing.  Be creative!  

5)  Be supportive and encouraging to the foster parents.  I had one friend see me struggling with my children at the public library.  She offered to keep an eye on three of them while I took one for a  potty break.  Another mom helped me load lunch plates as we struggled through the pot luck dinner line at church, while trying to hold a baby, hold multiple plates, and keep everyone in line.  I am so appreciate every time someone steps in and lends a helping hand!

If you are a foster parent, please share other sugestions you might have.

Aug 30, 2011

Fostering Parenting and Homeschooling

We have begun a new phase of life recently.  We have been foster parents in the past, and we homeschooled last year.  Now we are trying both at the same time.  So far so good though.  It takes an enormous amount of preparation and organization to keep everything running smoothly, but it is worth every minute!  Right now we are trying to school between all the appointments and visits that tend to surround foster children.  Does anyone else have experience in this area?  I would love to hear your advice. 

Aug 24, 2011

Get Your Kids to Eat Almost Anything

We have been having a little bit of trouble getting our kids to eat certain foods lately, but I came up with an idea.  Anytime the kids won't eat something, I sprinkle magic cheese (Parmesan cheese) on it.  They usually gobble it up in minutes!

Aug 19, 2011

Rough Start to the Beginning of the School Year

We started back to our homeschooling year this week.  We've also been without any Internet access for eight days.  It's been an interesting week.  I started the week with detailed schedules for myself and the school day.  Yesterday that went out the window.  I tried this last year too, but it just doesn't seem to work well.  We do better having a list of what needs to be accomplished and just checking it off as we go.  I think perhaps it is because we have a one-year-old messing up our schedule.

That brings me to another problem.  What do I do with the one-year-old while homeschooling the third grader?  I've tried to line up activities for him, but his attention span is limited to about 1-2 minutes per activity.  Then he just wants my attention.  We've tried putting him in the high chair with play dough or crayons, but he still eats everything in sight.  If anyone has any ideas, I would love to hear them!

Aug 11, 2011

Pizza Hut Book It Program for Homeschoolers

Do your kids love Pizza Hut?  How about rewarding reading goals with pizza?  Join the Pizza Hut Book It program, and your child can earn up to six personal pan pizzas by reaching reading goals.  This program runs October through March, but you can start enrolling now.  Enrollment runs through September 1, 2011.  The program is open to students in grades K-6.  Read more about the program here.  This program is open to public, private, parochial, or homeschools.  Enrollment forms can be found here.

Aug 10, 2011

Making a Volcano

Luke has been wanting to make a volcano for ages.  I kept putting him off because I thought the project would be very difficult and time consuming.  We finally make one yesterday, and it was so easy!  Here's what you need:

To make the volcano form:
6 cups flour
2 cups salt
4 Tablespoons oil
2 cups of water
plastic water bottle

Mix all ingredients until it forms a dough ball.  All more water if needed.

Place the plastic water bottle in the middle of a cookie sheet or other type of baking dish.  Use the dough mixture to form the shape of the volcano around the bottle.  Luke did not feel like we made enough dough to make a big enough volcano, so you may need to make more.  We didn't have any more salt though!  We had other things to do, so we allowed the volcano to sit and harden for several hours.  I'm not sure that was necessary though.  Then we added chocolate syrup for visual effects.

Now fill the bottle about 3/4 full of warm water.  You can add food coloring to the water for better effects.  We added red and orange, but we found if you add the food coloring to the vinegar the color is better.  You can also add a small amount of dish soap for a better bubble effect. Then add about 2 Tablespoons of baking soda to the water in the bottle.  Finally, slowly add vinegar to the bottle, and enjoy the show!

After the experiment we discussed the reaction and what actually happened when the baking soda and vinegar mixed.  Click here to go to the site where we found our idea and most of our information.  

Do you have any great science projects for kids?  Please share with us!

Aug 9, 2011

Ice Cube Painting

We've been wanting to try this all summer, but we just now made time for it.  I filled an ice cube tray with water and added washable poster paints.  We only have red, blue, and yellow, so we had a lesson on mixing colors.  We mixed the colors with toothpicks and then froze the cubes.

Frozen Ice Cube Paints
 I left the toothpicks in four of the cubes to see if they would work for handles while painting.  The toothpicks just broke- don't try it!  After the cubes froze, we took them outside and had a blast painting with them!

Ice Cube Painting

Aug 8, 2011

Diapering Tips for Busy Toddlers

These tips may seem obvious to some of you, but I just figured them out!  See if you can relate to this situation.  You are trying to clean up the stinkiest diaper you've had all day while your toddler tries to roll over.  You are holding his feet with one hand and the wet wipe with the other hand.  Meanwhile he is trying to help you by putting his hands down there in the stinky mess.  Have you been a similar situation?  I have a solution now!  During the day, we work on action songs that involve hand movements like The Wheels on the Bus, If You're Happy and You Know It, and Patty Cake.  Then when the diapering gets tough, I start singing.  His hands instantaneously start moving to the song.  It's like magic!  He sits still for a few minutes and his hands are occupied. 

We've also been having a problem with our toddler taking his diaper off lately, especially at night.  I fixed this by pinning his diaper with cloth diaper pins, and putting water proof training pants over his diaper.  I haven't had a problem since then!

Do you have any diapering tips?

Aug 5, 2011

Field Trip Ideas for Southern and Central Missouri

My homeschool group was discussing field trip ideas for the upcoming year.  If you live in the area here's a few ideas for Southern and Central Missouri.  I am recommending these from my own experiences.  I have personally visited all of these places either during a public school field trip or homeschooling field trip. 

Creation Museum of the Ozarks - Strafford, Missouri - Free
Read my earlier post on this free and fun field trip.

Runge Nature Center - Jefferson City, MO - Free
Visit the nature center and  learn about fish, forest, and wildlife resources through many hands-on exhibits.  While there we did a fun scavenger hunt of the center.  We also used binoculars to view birds and other wildlife in the observation center.  Luke's favorite part was checking out a backpack from the front desk and hiking.  The backpack contained binoculars, a map, and many different wildlife guides.  Hours are different depending on the day, so check out the website before planning a trip.

Springfield Conservation Nature Center - Springfield, MO - Free
Hike one of the six trails, visit the nature center, or attend a program here.  In the nature center you'll find a replica of a cave and pond, many hands-on exhibits, and a puppet area for children.   Hours are different depending on the season, so check out the website before planning a trip.  If you really enjoy fish and wildlife consider also visiting Bass Pro Shop while in the area.  Children can see many fish and even watch the divers feed the fish. 

HaHa Tonka State Park - Camdenton, MO - Free
Visit the ruins of a castle while enjoying the breathtaking views of the Lake of the Ozarks.  It will take you days to explore all of the trails and sites in this park.  On your visit enjoy seeing sinkholes, natural bridges, caves, and explore the island. You can even visit by boat!   Hours are different depending on the season, so check out the website before planning a trip.

Truman Dam and Visitor's Center - Warsaw, MO - Free
Watch the eagles sore over the water at this visitor's center or wander around and learn about the history of the Osage River Valley.  My favorite part of our field trip was the part outside of the visitor's center.  We visited an old schoolhouse, White Oak Cabin, the Hooper house and Farm Complex.  I have heard that the October Heritage Days are the best days to visit to get the most out of your experience.

Missouri Institute of Natural Science - Springfield, MO - Free
We were not sure what to expect when arriving at this small museum in southern Springfield, but we were pleasantly surprised by what we found inside.  Since we were the only visitors at the time, we were given a personal tour of the artifacts and history of the the museum.  Then we enjoyed a movie in the adjoining room.  We visited on a snowy day, but were told that next time we could fossil hunt outdoors for a fee of $4 per person.  Luke can't wait to go back!  To schedule a field trip call 417-883-0594

Bennett Springs State Park - Lebanon, MO - Cost depends on activities
Do you enjoy camping, fishing, hiking, or canoe?  If so, Bennett Springs is the place for you.  This is one of America's premier trout destinations.  While there consider planning a field trip to learn more about the fish hatchery and nature center.  Hours are different depending on the season, so check out the website before planning a trip.

Ozark Caverns - Lake of the Ozarks, MO
While touring this cave you get the opportunity to carry your own lantern into the unlit cave.  You will take a guided tour and see the beautiful Angel’s Shower, which is a continuous flow of water from a “showerhead” of stalactites.  The cave also has a great nature center with programs. 

Rutledge-Wilson Farm - Springfield, MO - Farm is free - Some events and activities do have fees
We used to live within walking distance of this park.  If your kids don't know what farm life is like, visit this 207-acre farm for a small taste of farm life.  Children can visit the barn to see sheep, pigs, and cows.  We even milked a fake cow while there!  You enjoy the farm themed playground, walk the trail, or fish in the pond while there.  I suggest visiting in October during their fall events.  What their website, as they have events all year. 

Christmas on the Farm

Jordan Valley Park - Springfield, MO - Free - It may cost if you park in the parking garage
Do your kids enjoy jumping in fountains or walking through miniature waterfalls.  Visit Jordan Valley Park for tons of water fun!  The fountains operate in 30-minute shows at the top of every hour from 10:00 AM - 9:30 PM.  The fountains are continuous from 11:30 AM - 1:30 PM.  Bring sunscreen and an extra change of clothes!

Jordan Valley Park

Wilson Creek National Battlefield - Springfield, MO - $5 per adult or $10 per vehicle
Step back in time and experience the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River here.  You can drive, walk, bike, or even ride a horse as you take a tour of this battlefield.  Not only will you and your children learn about history, but you can enjoy the beautiful scenery.  Visit the museum to learn more and see amazing artifacts from the Civil War.  Hours are different depending on the season, so check out the website before planning a trip. 

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

Elephant Rocks - Belleview, MO - Free
Would your kids enjoy climbing on rocks as big as elephants?  You can enjoy hiking, camping, and climbing while visiting this park.  Park hours change with the season.  While here, consider visiting Fort Davidson Historical Site in nearby Pilot Knob.  You can tour the visitor's center for information, artifacts, and a movie or walk through the fields and read about the Civil War battle that took place here. 

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum - Mansfield, MO - Children 6-17 - $4, Adults - $8, Seniors - $6
Have you read the Little House books?  What better way to learn about the author than to visit her home and museum.  I visited the Wilder home as a girl, and now it is on our list of places to go as a family.  You can also visit the Kid's Page for coloring pages, word searches, and quizzes. 

George Washington Carver National Monument - Diamond, MO - Free
Come learn about this famous scientists.  Students can enjoy the nature walk, museum, hands-on exhibits, and classroom.  The park is open 9:00 AM - 5:00 AM.  Guided tours are available 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM.  Click here to learn more about planning a field trip.

Orion Science Center - Camdenton, MO - $6 per person
Luke loves this place so much, we had to buy a season pass.  The Orion Science Center is Christian owned and operated.  Our favorite part is the outdoor activites.  You can make and launch your own paper rocket, launch water balloons, launch tennis balls, zip line, take a nature walk, or play in Noah's ark.  Check the website for hours, as they change with the seasons. 

Air and Military Museum of the Ozarks - Springfield, MO
Are your kids interested in the military?  This museum showcases over 5,000 pieces of military history.  They preserve and display pieces of military history for educational purposes.  I visited with a group of middle schoolers years ago, and we had a blast.  We were given a guided tour and were allowed to sit in an old helicoptor.

Do you have any field trip ideas to share from your area? 

This post is linked Chestnut Grove Academy's Field Trip Friday Blog Hop.

Aug 4, 2011

My First Blogging Class - Assignment 1

I'm taking an online blogging class right now to learn more about what I'm suppose to be doing!  This week we discussed thinking about why we blog and our goals.  Our assignment was to answer some of the questions in the class and post our answers on our own blog.  Here's what I came up with:

What are you going to blog about?
I would like to blog about frugal living, raising kids on a tight budget, and frugal educational ideas for parents to use with their kids

Do you plan to be blogging long-term – or is this just something you want to give a try right now and see how you like it?
I'm just trying this for fun right now. It's fun, and I love to learn about technology.

Do you have any goals for your blog that come to mind right away? How can you make these goals more specific?
      1. Write 4 posts per week.
      2. Link to one blog hop per week.
      3. Visit and interact with at least 10 other blogs per week.

Do you have any blogging goals?  Feel free to share your goals below!

Aug 3, 2011

Coupon Exchange Idea

On a trip through our local library's lobby, a white box with the word coupons on it caught my eye.  I ran over to see what was in this box.  (Notice the word ran - it's hard to take a one-year-old to a public library!)  A mom from my homeschool group set up a coupon exchange in that box.  Here's how it works:

1)  Each person puts coupons they don't want in a clear plastic bag.  Also included in the bag is a note card with the person's name at the top.  The plastic bag gets placed in the coupon box, along with many other bags of coupons.
2)  Anyone who comes in the library is welcome to sort through the bags of coupons and take what he/she needs. 
3)  As you go through the coupons, you write your name on the note card to remind yourself that you've looked through that coupon bag.
4)  If you see any expired coupons while searching, you remove them and put them in the bag marked for expired coupons.  These get sent to military families. 

I'm so excited to start participating in this coupon exchange!  My only problem now is how to keep my one-year-old entertained long enough to look through the coupons!

Do you participate in a coupon exchange?  If so, please share the details.

Aug 2, 2011

Buying Homeschool Curriculum and Books

Last year was our first year of homeschooling.  I bought a complete curriculum set from a friend for half of the original price.  After a year with the box curriculum, I figured out the parts we liked, the parts we didn't like, and the parts I felt needed to supplemented.  This year, I have used many different sources to find used curriculum.  Here's where I've looked for used curriculum:

1)  My first choice is the closest used Christian bookstore.  I trade in books we don't want, and walk out with the used curriculum we need.  Our store even has 40% off twice a year.  This is where I've bought most of our curriculum.  Of course, this only works if you have a bookstore near you.

2) Homeschoolclassifieds - I bought by son's math workbook here from an individual seller for $12 including shipping.  I was going to pay the publisher's website $15 plus shipping.  It arrived in less than a week in perfect condition. 

3) I bought a few odds and ends that we needed from amazon.  They usually have the lowest price for new workbooks. 

4)  Cragislist - I haven't actually bought anything here, but I check it from time to time.  I have seen homeschool curriculum for sale.  The good thing about cragislist is that you might be able to avoid shipping costs.  The downside is the time it takes to find what you need. 

5) - My husband and I bought and sold many of our college textbooks from this site.  I've found some homeschool curriculum here also. 
6)  Trade and borrow from friends

7) Mardel - If you have a Mardel bookstore near you, go visit it!  You'll find more than you need.  If you don't have a Mardel near you, visit online.  I love to shop online, but sometimes, I need to hold the books in my hand and flip through the pages to see if it's really what I want.  I could spend hours in this store!

Where do you get your homeschool curriculum?

Jul 29, 2011

Movie Review - Pilgrims Progress: Journey to Heaven

I'm not a big fan of letting my kids watch movies or television, but I have to recommend this movie.  Pilgrims Progress: Journey to Heaven is a movie based on the book by John Bunyan called Pilgrims Progress.  It is about a man named Christian who literally has to walk a narrow path to the Eternal City while carrying a heavy burden on his back.  Many times Christian is tempted to get off his path by things that look good or easy, and he does decided to get off the path a few times.  Each time he gets off the path, he has to face the consequences and then find his way back to the path.  We started watching this with Luke when he was six.  Now there are some scary parts that we skipped past when he was that young.  I though the whole story would go right over his head, but it didn't!  This is one of his favorite movies, and he has watched it over and over again.  What excites me is the conversations he starts about the movie.  He asks deep questions and we are able to discuss Bible verses and complicated issues with Luke.

Just last week in the car, he asked me why there is so much evil in the world today.  In his mind, it's so easy to follow Christ, he doesn't understand why anyone wouldn't want to follow Him.  I referred to the movie, Pilgrims Progress, as we talked.  I reminded him of how Christian had to walk the straight and narrow path to get to Christ.  It was so easy for him to get distracted and get off his path by things that look good at the time.  It's the same way with evil in the world.  The other path is wide and tempting.  It looks fun and easy.  Many want to travel that path instead of the narrow path.  That was all the explanation Luke needed. He said, "Oh, that makes sense.  Thanks."

Jul 28, 2011

Back to School Price Matching Deals

I'm having trouble getting to Staples in time to get some of their really good Back to School deals.  They sell out very quickly!  So I decided to try price matching at Walmart today.  I took my note cards and clipboard to the checkout, told the cashier how much they were, and checked out with no problems.  I was able to get a clipboard for $0.50 and note cards for $0.01 each.  Total=$0.52

At Walmart you don't even need the ad to price match.  I just tell the cashier how much the item cost.  They usually don't even ask what store you are price matching.  One time I even had a cashier write down all my items and prices so she could shop later!

Do you have any Back to School deals to share?

Jul 26, 2011

Finding a Cure for Dumping Toys on the Floor

My toddler is going through a phase of dumping everything out on the floor.  He doesn't really play with anything, but he loves scattering wooden blocks, mega blocks, and magnetic alphabet letters all over the kitchen and living room.  Yesterday he got out his magnetic letters and asked me to open them.  As I did, I spied an empty ice cream bucket on the shelf.  I showed him how to dump his letters into the bucket, rather than on the floor.  He thought that was a great game!  Today we are going to work on moving his blocks from one container to another rather than dumping and scattering them.  Hopefully this game will last a few weeks until he's back to actually playing with the toys again!

Do you have any ideas for controlling toy messes?

Jul 25, 2011

All About Me! Beginning of the Year Activity

This is a great activity for public, private, or homeschoolers.  I used this as part of a student portfolio in public school.  Now I use this as a beginning of the year activity as a homeschooler.  Each year I find or make a slightly different version of this.  You can download and print this activity by clicking below. 
All About Me

Each year that I taught fourth grade, I made each student a book or portfolio.  I didn't tell them that I was making a book but kept it a secret for the last days of school.  I used the All About Me activity as the first two pages of the book.  I had the students fill this out as they came in on the first day of school.  Then about three weeks before school let out in the spring, I asked them to fill it out again.  I did not mention that we had already done this activity earlier in the year, because I didn't want students trying to remember what they had previously written on the paper.  Then I included both copies in their individual student books.  They were then able to compare their likes/dislikes from the beginning of the year to the end.  I also included many work samples, two autograph pages, two scrapbooking pages, and a class picture in each book.  I took pictures of the students frequently and hung the photos on a rotating photo bulletin board.  At the end of the year, I would collect all the photos I had taken throughout the year, and let each student choose 8-10 pictures to add to their scrapbook pages.  It was a great end-of-the year activity, and the students had a nice portfolio and memory book to keep.

Do you have any beginning of the year activities to share?

This post was featured in the Homeschool Showcase #78 at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Jul 23, 2011

Favorite Websites We Use For Homeschooling

We incorporate the Internet into our homeschooling in several different ways.  I use the Internet to search for resources and lesson ideas.  We also allow Luke to use it to reinforce skills he is currently working on or struggling with.  Here are just a few of our favorite websites:

1.  Homeschool Freebie of the Day - This site allows you to download some kind of ebook, PDF document, audio drama, etc. everyday.  If you join their mailing list, you also get subscriber exclusive links.  We have found many great resources and other fun stuff through this site. 

2.  Homeschool Radio Shows - Do your children enjoy listening to radio dramas?  Luke can listen to these for hours if we let him!  This site contains living books for the ears.  We have downloaded many just for fun audio books and other historical audio books from this wonderful site.

3.  Kids Answers - This website is part of the Answers in Genesis site.  Last year we watched many videos from their website, including videos about pyramids and dinosaurs.  These always lead to great discussions at our house. Kids can also read articles from current or pass Kids Answers Magazine, read short articles about a variety of animals, watch a ton of different Bible based videos, or print one of their many different activities.  I feel very comfortable allowing Luke to explore anything on this website. 

4.  Fun 4 the Brain - I have not explored everything on this website, but we used this a lot for math facts review.  Luke really liked the subtraction and multiplication games.  He would beg to be allowed to play on this site. 

5.  National Library of Virtual Manipulatives - Are you lacking a manipulative to model a specific math skill?  Then this site is for you!  I used these virtual manipulatives many times when teaching math in public school.  Now we use it in our homeschool.  I found this especially helpful when dealing with positives and negative numbers in algebra.  They also have many mind bending puzzles for a variety of topic and skill levels. 

6.  Spelling City - This site offers a variety of spelling practice activities, quizzes, and tests all centered around your own spelling lists.  We only used the free portion of this site, but you can join to get more options.  Luke enjoyed playing games with his spelling words, and when I was very pressed for time, he even took his spelling test on the site.  This also allowed him to work on his typing skills.

Please share your favorite websites with us. 

Jul 22, 2011

Training Toddlers To Do Chores

I didn't put much effort in training my oldest son how to do chores at an early age.  Now, at age eight, it is a chore to get him to do chores!  When he was little, I was working full time and working on my graduate degree, and I just didn't feel like I had time to get him involved in chores.  Now that I am a part-time stay at home mom, I've decided to do things differently with our one-year-old.  Can you train one-year-olds to do chores?  Sure!  They can help out in so  many areas.  Here is a list of what he helps me do:

1.  Wipe off his high chair tray.
2.  Wipe water spills on the floor. 
3.  Put wet laundry in the dryer.
4.  Push laundry baskets across the floor to the appropriate room.
5.  Help big brother put away his shoes.
6.  Pick up his own toys.
7.  Help push the vacuum cleaner.
8.  Use the dust buster on small spills.
9.  Sweep the floor with his little broom while I sweep with the big broom.
10.  Empty and fill the dishwasher.
11.  Throws diapers in trash, and then takes the trash bag out to the garage.

Now I could do all these chores a lot faster, and a lot better, if I didn't have a one-year old helping, but he is so excited about helping.  Not only is he learning about being a valuable part of our family, he is working on his gross and fine motor skills with these chores.  Since he is constantly at my side helping me, we are also working on language and social skills.  I see chores as a learning experience in so many areas!

Do you have any hints for getting kids to do chores? 

Jul 20, 2011

Getting Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

Do your kids turn up their nose to veggies?  Up until now, I haven't had much of a problem with this.  Our oldest son, Luke, always been a very good eater, including vegetables.  Our toddler, on the other hand, has started pushing away most veggies.  I sneak veggies into many things though! 

The other day I made a big pot of chili.  While cooking the chili in the crock pot, I cooked a bag of carrots on the stove.  When the carrots were very soft, I put them in the blender and pureed them.  Then I just mixed them into the chili, and no one even knew there was a pound of carrots in the chili.  I also make my own pasta sauce in big batches at a time.  I add purred veggies to this too!  Then I use the pasta sauce for a variety of meals including, spaghetti, ravioli, pasta casserole, and homemade pizza. 

Do you have any secrets for getting kids to eat their veggies?

Jul 19, 2011

Multiplication War Game

Wow! I just read about this game yesterday at Let's Play Math, and I knew we had to try it. It's called The Game That is Worth 1,000 Worksheets. To play, you will need a regular deck of playing cards.  Everything is based on the card game of War. (Click on the website above for instructions on how to play War.) Instead of using the regular rules that the highest number wins, we turned over two cards at a time and found the product of the two cards.  We took out the Joker and King, and assigned the following values to the other face cards: Ace =1, Jack = 11, and Queen = 12.  If we master twelves, we might stick the King back in as a thirteen.  What a great way to practice multiplication facts (or addition/subtraction facts)!! This game will be played a lot at our house! Read about all kinds of math variations of the game War over at Let's Play Math.

Do have any favorite math games that your family plays?  Please share them!

Jul 17, 2011

Math Monday Blog Hop

I linked up with Math Monday Blog Hop today.  Check out all the great math ideas others are sharing.

Jul 16, 2011

Reading Aloud

Throughout my teacher education classes, I heard it repeated many times, read aloud to your students.  Now as a parent, I keep hearing about the importance of reading aloud to my own children.  We take time to do this everyday, and I wanted to share the many benefits I've seen from this simple activity.

1.  My number one favorite thing about reading aloud is snuggle time!  Your child will want to sit on your lap or as close to you as possible, even after the pictures have disappeared!

2.  You will be increasing your child's vocabulary without worksheets.  When you come across a difficult word, stop and ask your child what he/she thinks it means.  Give clues from the sentence or picture.  Then discuss the meaning.  Before you know it, your child will be using that word in his/her everyday conversations!

3. Reading comprehension will soar.  Last year when Luke was in second grade, when read the entire set of The Chronicles of Narnia.  Now he could not have read them independently, but his comprehension was amazing.  He would stop me and discuss connections between the characters and their interactions with one another.  He actually quoted Bible verses to me, and told me how those verses related to events in the books.  This was all without my prompting or questioning.  If your child does not ask questions, stop and discuss the book often.  Ask them about events, character traits, what he/she would have done in the same situations, etc. 

4.  Since we have read aloud to our children since birth, they love reading, and they love learning.  Reading is not an assigned activity at our house, but it is something the kids enjoy and choose to do.  Visiting the library is exciting for us, and buying new books is a treat!

In the past year we have been reading more chapter books to Luke.  We have covered the Chronicles of Narnia, some of the Little House on the Prairie books, and now we are reading several Beverly Cleary books.  We also read hundreds of pictures books.  Don't stop reading picture books as your child gets older.  Many picture books are actually written for the upper elementary through middle school audience.  These books can be read quickly and then discussed.  Some of our favorites include Max Lucado's children's books such as If I Only Had a Green Nose.  Don't forget the nonfiction and poetry books too.  Follow your child's interest in selecting these. 

Do you have any tips for reading aloud to your children or students?

Jul 15, 2011

Toddler Balloon Fun

This activity provided hours of fun when Luke was a toddler, and it  is so easy to put together.  All you need is a paint stirring stick, a sturdy paper plate (tape two together if you have flimsy plates), a balloon, tape and crayons.

First, have your child decorate the paper plate.  Any design will work.

Next tape the paint stirring stick to the paper plate.  I think masking tape would work best, but I only had scotch tape. 

Use the stick as a handle, and show your toddler how to hit the balloon with the paddle.  We made two so our kids could paddle the balloon back and forth.

This activity would be easy and fun for a play date, preschool class, or Sunday School Class.

Do you have any quick, easy toddler activities to share?

Jul 13, 2011

Sorting, Matching, and Pattern Fun

Do you have a bag of these foam shapes somewhere around your home?  I picked up these on clearance at a craft store years ago.  Since then I have found so many uses for them. 

They were designed to use for crafting projects, so of course, that's what I used them for.  I covered the edges of an old bulletin board for my oldest son's sports room.  We also decorated a sign for his door and made picture frames with the shapes.

Then I had the huge bag of foam shapes sitting around.  I starting to think about what else I could use them for.  I got them out one day when Luke was a preschooler, and we starting matching shapes and colors. 

Later, we started sorting them.  We sorted by color.

We also sorted by the type of sports ball.

We also did patterns.  This could be a little tricky, because kids will need to think about color and shape at the same time.  It's a good hands-on early math lesson!

Now I think we could use them to help illustrate multiplication and division problems.  We might get a few more years out of these old foam shapes!

Apparently they are also fun to roll around on them!  As I finished typing this, my toddler dumped out the entire bag and started to roll in them. 

Do you have any other good ideas?

Jul 12, 2011

Sign Language for Babies

Have you ever been frustrated when your baby or toddler could not tell you what they wanted?  Try teaching him sign language.  I taught both of my babies sign language from the very beginning, and it paid off. 

When we were teaching our older son sign language, I was concerned that he would be delayed in his language skills.  The opposite was true.  He spoke very early, and was speaking in sentences before expected. 

Now we are working with sign language with our younger son.  He is not speaking yet, but we can understand his needs through sign language!  I can't imagine the frustration I would have at eighteen months, if I could not communicate with him.  He signs more, all done, again, milk, please, thank you, bye, up, yes, no and down.  The only words we hear on a regular basis are mama and nana (means food - we're not sure why).  I am currently introducing new signs everyday.  We found a couple of board books at the library about using signs for foods and using signs for animals.  Those are his favorite books.  He sits in my lap and shows me that he wants to read them over and over.   

If you have a baby, I would suggest starting sign language now.  As you say a word, use the sign.  We always start with more, all done, milk, thank you, and please.  Baby Sign Language is a good website to help you get started.  If your child is already a toddler you can still teach him sign language.  I stopped teaching my oldest son sign language when he started speaking clearly.  Then his kindergarten teacher taught him the alphabet and the colors in sign language.  He picked it right up and used the signs at home.  Now I plan to continue teaching my toddler even after he starts speaking. 

Do you have a sign language success story?

Jul 11, 2011

Homeschool Showcase

Check out the Homeschool Showcase at Weird, Unsocialized, Homeschoolers.  Many great homeschool ideas have been contributed including my post about sensory boxes.  You can also read about how to make a puzzle sandwich or what to do on a rainy day.  Swing by and check it out!

Jul 9, 2011

Fostering a Love of Learning

As a public school teacher, sometimes it seemed so hard to show kids how to love to learn.  There were so many pressures for good state test scores, data, benchmark test scores, meeting state curriculum guidelines, etc.  I saw so many kids who were just there, doing the work, because they had no other choice.  Now as a homeschooling teacher, I pray that I will teach my sons to love to learn.

Yesterday as we visited the Creation Museum of the Ozarks, I saw the spark of learning in my oldest son's eyes.  He listened to our tour guide, answered, and asked questions.  When asked if he would like to view a video, he was very excited.  All of the videos were documentaries, geared more for adults.  After each video, he asked questions and asked to see another.  I love to see him enjoying learning.  He's not even realizing that he's learning!

I just want to encourage everyone, whether your kids go to public or private school or you homeschool.  Find out what your child is interested in, and then follow that interest until his/her interest changes.  Right now Luke is interested in science, dinosaurs, and the military.  We try to find books and websites to read on these topics.  He's now started a blog where he writes mostly about nature.  We try to take several nature walks a week, and we visit every science center and conservation center that we can find.  Whatever you child is interested in, follow his/her lead, and he/she will learn more than you can imagine!

How do you foster a love of learning in your child?

Jul 8, 2011

Creation Museum of the Ozarks

Does anyone know where Branson, Missouri is?  The Creation Museum of the Ozarks has a vision to build a Creation Museum in Branson.  We visited the Creation Museum in Strafford, Missouri today for a field trip.  My older son and his friend loved it.  (Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures because I was too busy running after a one-year-old.)  Anyway, we had an awesome time!

First we visited the hands-on corner.  The kids played with a bunch of different dinosaurs and puppets, looked at books, and put together puzzles.  Then we were given a guided tour of the museum.  The tour was wonderful.  Our tour guide explained how dinosaurs lived at the same time as man.  She showed the kids Bible verses, fossils, paintings, and many artifacts to support Creationism.  After the tour, we went to a back room where we watched a couple of videos.  We saw what it may have been like when God flooded the earth in Noah's time, how canyons are made, and how small our planet really is compared to the rest of the universe.  I am so excited about their vision for a new museum in Branson!

Have you visited a great, educational place with your family?

Jul 7, 2011

Family Movie Night

Are you planning on having a Family Movie Night anytime soon?  Check out Plugged In Online before you rent your next movie.  This website is run by Focus on the Family.  You can find honest, unbiased reviews of movies, videos, music, TV shows, and games before you buy or rent them.  There is a even a page for suggestions and frequently asked questions about Family Movie Nights.  I love this website, and I find myself checking it often before we watch movies. 

Today's Shopping Deals

I've been working on finding deals and using coupons for over a year now.  I feel like I'm just now starting to get the hang of this.  Here's what I found today:

Target: 6 rolls of scotch tape, one write on/wipe off board, 3 paperback novels, 2 sets of pens, and a bottle of baby soap =  $4.92. 

Staples:  25 sheets of Premium HP Photo paper, and 12 clasp envelopes = $6.00 (Regular price for both = $23.98)

Walgreen's:  6 cans of tuna and 1 dozen eggs = $4.30 - $3.00 in register rewards = $1.30 out of pocket cost

Jul 6, 2011

Reading Corner

Who doesn't want to curl up in a comfortable chair and read a good book.  I think it is so important to create reading spots in your home for your children.  When I taught fourth grade in the public school I always had several comfy reading spots around the room for the children.  (I wish I would have taken a picture!)  Now that we are homeschooling, I figured my own children needed their own reading spots.  We don't have a lot of extra room, but I squeezed an old beanbag chair and oversized pillow between the couch and one of our bookshelves. 
Our books are spread throughout the living room and hallway, all on low, easily accessible bookshelves. This created a problem for a few months as our toddler emptied them all daily. He's better about it now though.

If you have made a special reading spot for your child, please share it with us.

Carnival of Homeschooling

This post is part of the July 13th edition of the Carnival f Homeschooling.  Check out all of the great posts there. 

Jul 5, 2011

Freezer Cooking - Taco Casserole

I'm not a huge menu or freezer cooking planner, but I do like to get meals in the freezer when I have the opportunity.  Instead of planning out a big freezer cooking day, I just try to make huge amounts of whatever I'm cooking for dinner that evening.  I always fry my ground meat ahead of time and store it in one pound amounts in the freezer.  That way I can just grab a bag and heat it up.  Lately I've been combining ground chuck with ground turkey.  So yesterday afternoon I decided to make taco casserole (Luke's favorite).  It probably only took five minutes longer to make two casseroles instead of one.  Each casserole, when served with sides, feeds us two meals, so we got four meals out of one cooking session.  Yeah, less cooking for me! (I baked the first casserole, and I froze the second casserole, unbaked.)

Taco Casserole

12 taco shells, coarsely broken
1.5 lb ground meat
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix
1/2 c. water
2 Tbsp. dried onion flakes
1 - 8 oz can tomato sauce
2 c. Monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 lg. tomato, cut in wedges (optional)
6 stuffed green olives, sliced (optional)
taco sauce (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place half of the shells into a lightly greased 6-cup baking dish.  Brown meat and drain.  Add taco seasoning, onions, and water.  Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes.  Stir in tomato sauce.  Spoon meat mixture over taco shells.  Sprinkle with 1.5 cups of cheese.  Sprinkle remaining taco shells over cheese, and then the remaining cheese over the shells.  Arrange tomato wedges and olives on top.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Serve with taco sauce. 

Jul 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July to America!

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here."
- Patrick Henry

Math Monday Blog Hop

I linked up with Math Monday Blog Hop today.  Check out all the great math ideas others are sharing.

Jul 2, 2011

Lesson Learned from Kitchen Mistakes

Today I thought I would get up early and make Fourth of July treats for our Sunday School classes and for the party we are going to attend tomorrow.  My idea was to make star shaped crispy cereal treats with sprinkles and chocolate chip cookie cakes.  Here's a picture story of my morning. 

The cereal treats did not come out as expected.  They were too sticky, and I learned that you should cool them more than a few minutes before using cookie cutters on them. 

The first batch of cookie cakes were too thick and did not get done in the middle.  Yuck!

I tried to make the cookie cakes thinner, and they stuck to the pan!

Then I gave up and thought I would just make cookies.  As my oldest son, Luke, was pouring the dry ingredients in the cookie mixture, my youngest son scared him.  Luke dropped the flour mixture all over the floor.  Notice his footprint in it too!

I finally got a tray of semi-okay cookies for the party tomorrow.  We'll see how they taste.  Now I have pizza dough mixing in the bread machine.  Who knows what will happen with that!

So besides the obvious cooking lessons I learned today, I found a life lesson in my morning.  Sometimes as Luke gets frustrated with his math or spelling mistakes, he just wants to give up.  I was getting frustrated and grouchy in the kitchen this morning, and I wanted to give up.  Luke and I talked it over and decided it was not okay for me to be grouchy about my mistakes, but to learn from them.  We discussed how he has to learn from his spelling mistakes, and now I have to learn from my cooking mistakes.