Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Five Ways to Show Support for Children's Ministry Workers

Have you ever wondered how you can take care of the ones who care for the children? Today, I'm sharing some ideas about how to do just that! Point number two: "Value their time. If you must have a meeting, be prepared and keep it as brief as possible." CLICK HERE TO READ MORE!
Value their time. If you must have a meeting, be prepared and keep it as brief as possible. - See more at: http://donnaperuginichildrensauthor.com/2014/08/26/5-ways-to-support-childrens-church-volunteers/#sthash.k49RQk2m.dpuf
Value their time. If you must have a meeting, be prepared and keep it as brief as possible. - See more at: http://donnaperuginichildrensauthor.com/2014/08/26/5-ways-to-support-childrens-church-volunteers/#sthash.k49RQk2m.dpuf
Value their time. If you must have a meeting, be prepared and keep it as brief as possible. - See more at: http://donnaperuginichildrensauthor.com/2014/08/26/5-ways-to-support-childrens-church-volunteers/#sthash.k49RQk2m.dpuf
Value their time. If you must have a meeting, be prepared and keep it as brief as possible. - See more at: http://donnaperuginichildrensauthor.com/2014/08/26/5-ways-to-support-childrens-church-volunteers/#sthash.k49RQk2m.dpuf

I'm honored to be featured at Donna Perugini's website (the author who brought you great books like The Flight of Orville Wright Caterpillar), so won't you join me over there and weigh in on the topic? I look forward to hearing your ideas!

Monday, July 14, 2014

K-3 Free (and Inexpensive) Homeschool Resource Round-Up

Are you just starting out with your homeschool planning, but not knowing where to turn? I was like that a couple years ago when we began! I knew we wanted to homeschool, but I didn't have a set "philosophy" to guide me through those uncertain first months. Also? I didn't have the budget to just go out and buy the curriculum that most appealed to me (any of them!)

Here are some of the (free) resources we've relied on for the past couple of years, and one of the relatively inexpensive things we've used too!

Free Resources:

Ambleside Online- This is a website that is based on principles of a Charlotte Mason education. Admittedly, the first few times I explored this site trying to figure out how this might work for my brood, I kinda got a little bit cross-eyed trying to figure out what we were supposed to actually do. Then I started reading about Charlotte Mason and her ideas on education. Ah, it made so much more sense after that! That being said, I don't recommend trying to use this without having read a bit about Charlotte Mason. This is one you can use for all ages.

Easy Peasy- Easy Peasy has every grade laid out from preschool through high school. It is a site that is put together by a Christian mom of many. She wanted the curriculum to be online to keep track of what her children had done year by year (and also so it could be reused by her younger children), and made it available to other parents and caregivers. I like the concept, and you don't need much more than an good internet connection to use it.

Education.com- This is a great resource for worksheets and projects to do. I believe you are allowed five free downloads per month. I've found it easy to locate a good quality, grade-level worksheet on various topics.

Homeschool Share- Lapbooks and Unit Studies galore! (Also, they have many resources for Five in a Row, if you're using that.)

IXL- IXL is math and language arts for K-12. This is very kid-friendly, and I like that they allow your child to do 20 practice questions per day. You don't have to sign up and pay for their service, though if you want to go beyond the practice questions, you will have to. It is nice to use in addition to another math program just to gauge where your child is at currently.

Khan Academy- Khan Academy is a non-profit that has teaching videos and exercises for math, and many other subjects. For math, it is the most basic arithmetic all the way to stuff I never learned, like calculus and other difficult-sounding mathematic disciplines. (Can you tell I'm not a math buff?) I haven't spent very much time exploring their other resources, but it does look rather extensive.

Lesson Pathways- This is a good one if you want a fully guided custom curriculum (for K-5). I like how you can simply click on certain units to remove them (if say, your child has already mastered that lesson) and you can move the units around to put them in the order you want. You can even combine grade levels in a certain area of study. The only caveat I would offer for this resource is that many of the outside links are no longer good. This makes it a little frustrating, but you can easily find alternate projects or worksheets elsewhere (and you have the option to report any links you find that don't work). It does help when you want grade-level appropriate ideas. We've discovered many favorite books and authors through the ideas on this site. To use it, you only need to register with an email address. (They have never contacted me or sent me emails, in case you're worried about that!)

Simply Charlotte Mason- Can you guess what we're doing this year? Yep, we're inspired by Miss Mason and her excellent ideas concerning education. I actually have found this to be a great deal simpler than using Ambleside- at least for the way my brain works! If you want to incorporate her method into your homeschool, you just need to figure out what works better for you (whether Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason or any other Charlotte Mason website). I like the more modern books recommended here, and I like their free curriculum planner. Yes, it still takes planning, but it is totally guided and they offer sample schedules as well. (Also, both Ambleside and Simply Charlotte Mason have online forums for all of your questions!)


Five in a Row- I wanted this list to be full of FREE resources, but I couldn't leave this one out. It is not free, but you can find the volumes of this book at Amazon for relatively cheap and find most of the recommended books at the library. So it's almost free. We love using Five in a Row, because, well...we love reading. It is not intended to be a full curriculum, but it does open the door to many cool educational things to share with your little ones!

(If you like these resources, feel free to follow my Homeschooling Ideas and Resources board on Pinterest!)

*Contains affiliate links

Have you used any of these resources? Which one is your favorite?
Linking up with these fine blogs:

A Little R & R




Monday, July 7, 2014

Unburdened: 9 Ways to Create an Uncluttered Atmosphere

Recently, I started writing about my word for 2014, "unburdened." God laid this word on my heart, and it filled me with so much hope, showing me so many possibilities for the new year.

One way that He is unburdening me, is through the physical decluttering of our home. I don't know about anybody else (actually, I do, because I watch Hoarders!) but I have way too much stuff in my life! A few years ago, we moved from a small apartment to a smaller apartment, and I think now, we're rocking about 700 square feet! In the mean time, our family grew larger, and our surroundings...didn't (or haven't yet).

Over the past seven months, I've really begun to question my relationship with things. I know for me, personally, my relationship to my stuff was influenced in part by my upbringing, and the fact that we moved about every year or so when I was growing up. When I turned 18, I realized that I had moved more times than I had had birthdays! So, stuff was the constant in my life. Usually. (Things tend to mysteriously disappear when you move frequently, and you're a child and you don't pack all your own things, but I digress!)

I came to understand that I had a tendency to hang on to things because I didn't have roots anywhere- I think I was just grabbing on to whatever was in my reach! Crazy, right? Plus, I have also confronted the fact that I struggle with attention issues (but that's a whole 'nother blog post!) and don't always have the focus to realize when objects are overrunning my life.

I'm on the path to a decluttered lifestyle. I've made a lot of progress over the course of this year, but I'm not yet where I want to be. I'm encouraged because of how much I've unloaded, and I've learned a lot in the process and had many "a-ha" moments. I'm getting there!

Are you also struggling with the amount of stuff (or the wrong kind of stuff) in your life? Here are some ways to help you get started on the journey of unburdening yourself via your environment.
  1. Confront your junk! Literally and figuratively. Reflect on why you have so much stuff. Have you recently downsized and now your belongings don't fit your new environment? Do you, like me, have any deep-rooted reasons for hanging on to things you don't need any more? Figuring out the why will go a long way in helping you declutter and actually stay that way.
  2. Get inspired: Peruse Pinterest for decluttering tips, join a Facebook group with people who are also on a journey of decluttering, read blogs about minimalism. Minimalism is a good key word- don't be intimidated by that word, either. It's not just about sparse decor and furniture, but more like a way of life!
  3. Set a goal for yourself: Setting a number of items you wish to get rid of helps. FlyLady has some great pointers- like using a timer everyday to keep you on track with daily decluttering. Or set a lofty goal like 2014 in 2014 where you get rid of (you guessed it) 2,014 items in one year (that's what I'm doing, by the way).
  4. Get real: Do you really need a certain item? Does it get a lot of use in your home? Is it something you're hanging onto because it was a gift, and it never really worked for your particular style or needs? What would it take to replace it if you ever needed it again? Just being honest with yourself will really help you in the long run to get your space under control.
  5. A place for everything, and everything in its place! I keep saying this to myself when I'm organizing. If it doesn't have a place, maybe it's time for that item to go! Or maybe you really need it, and something else needs to go to make room for it.
  6. Keep it movin'! Pack up a box or bag, and immediately put it in the car to be donated. Don't let the stuff pile up in boxes or bags, or worse, keep them around so that you can reconsider getting rid of it. Trust me, you will feel awesome once you start doing this.
  7. Stop bringing stuff into your home. This one is so hard to do, but you must learn to become disciplined with yourself and your family. This is one area I'm struggling with too, especially since the children seem to attract stuff from every corner of the Earth (I'm totally being silly, but sometimes it seems every time we leave the house, they come back with more stuff!) Learn to say no to yourself and others sometimes! You have to figure out what this means because everyone is different- but don't shop for unnecessary items, and if you go to places where the children accumulate stuff (like little toys), develop a system for dealing with it right away to keep it under control.
  8. Get your children on board. You don't have to completely clear their room of toys and have them play with sticks (though this might appeal to some, ha ha), but explain to them why they should pare down their possessions. They will have more space to play with the things they love, and more time to play with them since they won't be spending so much time cleaning up their belongings. I had my three children each select 10 things (or sets of toys, like train tracks or blocks, for instance) that were most important to them. We managed to get rid of so much this way. When Christmas or birthdays come around, re-evaluate. If people ask what they want or need for gift-giving occasions, point them in the direction of adding to existing collections- it's much easier to organize toys that are related than to have to find a way to store some completely new kind of toy. Maybe even ask for experience gifts like passes to the zoo or the movies.
  9. Don't get frustrated. Remember that you didn't accumulate so much stuff overnight, so it might stand to reason that it will take time and changing perspective to really declutter your life. Every little bit of progress helps! And if you lose momentum, just get going again.

Are you on a journey of decluttering, too? Share your experience in the comments! 

Linking up with these fine blogs:

A Little R & R




Monday, June 16, 2014

15 Love-Inspired (Non-Fearful) Reasons to Homeschool

Once while reading a Christian parenting book, I realized how many of my parenting decisions were based on fear. It was kinda crazy to think about, but many choices have been made because I didn't want a certain thing to happen! I was afraid.

The Bible has much to say about fear. One thing I've read said that the Word addresses the issue of fear 365 times! A daily reminder from God to not fear (by the way, I've never counted references to fear in Scripture, so I don't know for sure if that estimate is exact- does anybody want to confirm?)

When we made the decision to homeschool, I'll admit, much of it was due to fear. (Some fears can be healthy, though, so I'm not saying the reasons aren't valid!) Fear about bullies or other negative social influences, fear about (for us) our son getting a hold of some kind of problematic food (he is outgrowing a few minor allergies), fears that his educational needs would not be met and he would grow to dislike school. There are more, I'm sure, if I really think about it.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love." 1 John 4:18

As homeschooling moms, we need to look to love for our motivation in everything! Here are some of my favorite love-inspired reasons to homeschool. Some of them fun, some of them serious. What reasons can you add to my list?

  1. I get to be with my babies all day!
  2. I get to learn alongside my children (yay, me!).
  3. My children have the opportunity to experience the real world as we move through our day together, rather than only interacting with their peers.
  4. No alarm clocks! (Unless we have some place we need to be).
  5. Our mornings are calm, and we all (usually) get as much sleep as we need.
  6. Education is tailored specifically to my child's needs.
  7. If they have mastered certain material, we get to move on- no waiting for others to catch up.
  8. If they need (or want) more time with certain concepts, we can "camp out" there for as long as we need (or want) to.
  9. My children eat home-cooked and lovingly prepared meals all day.
  10. We have a ton of freedom to explore our community resources (parks, museums, libraries, etc.) while they are not busy.
  11. I get to read (and re-read) lots of favorite books with my children!
  12. We can learn in our pajamas!
  13. Nobody has to raise their hand to use the restroom. :-)
  14. More time for (godly) character development!
  15. Time! Time to be together, time to develop our relationship, time to explore their interests and hobbies, time to be creative!

I'm sure there are many more love-inspired reasons to homeschool! What are your favorites? Share in a comment!

Linking up with these fine blogs:

http://http://christianmommyblogger.com/fellowship-fridays-underdog/A Little R & R



Inviting Cooperation from Young Children

I just celebrated my youngest guy's second birthday this month! Could it already be? I swear I was just telling you all that I was expecting him!
At any rate, he is quickly gaining independence and communication skills and reaching other important milestones so fast. It can be hard to keep up with all the changes, am I right, moms? I feel like I was just getting the hang of mothering this baby, and now he's already into "young child" territory!

Are you in the same season with your little one(s)? Or maybe you work with toddlers or preschoolers on a regular basis. Whatever the case, we could all stand to take a minute and see things from a young child's perspective for a minute to figure out ways to best communicate with them to make our days run a little more smoothly! Today, I'm revisiting some of the ways that have helped me deal gently, but effectively my little guy (and that I still frequently use with my older children now ages 4 ½ and 7).  I'm honored to share these tips as a guest on my friend Jenni Mullinix's blog! Join me over there today and share any additional ways you know of to invite cooperation from toddlers and preschoolers! (Click the link to continue reading!)

http://http://christianmommyblogger.com/fellowship-fridays-underdog/A Little R & R




Monday, June 9, 2014

Unburdened: An Introduction

I hinted back a few months ago in another post, about having chosen a word (or rather it choosing ME) for 2014. This is my first time just meditating on a single word for the year, rather than setting a bunch of goals of things I wanted to focus on for the year. Both ways are great! Both ways keep you from drifting through the year, and both things can be used as a filter for decisions to pass through so that you don't waste your time and energy.

At the beginning of this year, though, I think I was feeling overwhelmed, and just needed to find that "laser-focus" and clarity to come out ahead when all is said and done (something that seems to have eluded me in some seasons).
The word that settled in my spirit is "unburdened". I know, six months into it, that this is God's path for me this year. He has been faithful to show me so many ways that He is indeed, unburdening me. And it's awesome. 

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Through this process, I'm beginning to see how "heavy laden" I am. Or was. I don't know that it is totally obvious that I have been crouching under the weight of spiritual, physical and soulish burdens- and the fact is, I don't even think I realized it! But God knows. Of course He does. And as He is peeling back those layers, I have been able to breathe easier, stand up a little straighter, and see His vision a little more clearly.

"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2

Some of the unburdening has been simple, little changes. Others, much bigger and more complicated. Some things, a little silly, and "why didn't I think of that sooner?" But all woven together, and totally evident that God is at work in me!

This unburdening is part of the reason I've been able to get back into blogging! I have renewed purpose for this space, and I hope you'll join me here as I continue to share what God has been doing over the coming weeks! 

Did you choose a word for the year? How's it going? Share in a comment!

Linking up with these fine blogs:

http://http://christianmommyblogger.com/fellowship-fridays-underdog/A Little R & R



Monday, June 2, 2014

Changing my Filter

I got a "check" in my spirit the other day. You know how that goes.

I was writing a blog post last week about What I'm Into. Typically, in that kind of post, I (and the many others who write these kinds of posts) will list certain categories and then share things that held my interest or occupied my time. It's all for fun, and to show more of the personal side of the blogger on the other side of the screen.

The "television" category came up. I started to recall what I had watched all month. I typed. I stopped. I read what I wrote. Hmm. Really? I quickly realized that I didn't really want to share that with the world! *

Not that I was afraid of being authentic so much as I realized that sharing what I watched wouldn't be helpful to anyone. I certainly didn't want to encourage anybody to then go and actually watch the programs or movies I had watched (or at least to the extent that I had). A thought popped into my mind: if I don't think I it would be beneficial to share this with my readers, maybe I shouldn't be watching it!

As Christians, we're called to wisdom!

The foolish woman is noisy; she is simple and open to all forms of evil, she [willfully and recklessly] knows nothing whatever [of eternal value]. Proverbs 9:13 (Amplified, emphasis added)

This woman has no filter on what comes in or what goes out!

Adhering to this idea of filtering and discerning what we take in or allow into our airspace kinda goes counter-culture. It's pretty much seen as a virtue to be open to all things. But God wants us to be vigilant, and protective of our minds and hearts!

Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23 (Amplified)

Entertaining though it may be, we need to be mindful of what we watch on television. The content as well as the quantity. I don't say this to be legalistic, of course, but we need to be aware that some things can easily drown out the voice of God. It doesn't happen right away. It's gradual. In hindsight, I saw this happening with me.

I don't know about you, but I need to be aware of His presence and actually hear His voice more than I want to be amused. I don't want anything, whether television, movies, music, or whatever, to dull my appetite for Him!

How about you?

*For anyone who simply must know, I watched a couple seasons of House, M.D. and a romantic comedy or two. I realize there are worse things, but with everything, we need to think, "am I helping my spirit?" If the answer is "no", it's time to adjust accordingly!

Linking up with these fine blogs:
http://http://christianmommyblogger.com/fellowship-fridays-underdog/A Little R & R



Friday, May 30, 2014

What I'm Into (Mostly)- May 2014

Happy nearly June! I wasn't sure if I was going to create one of these posts this month. I kept trying to make it happen, and then...it didn't. Then, I "made up my mind" (yes, in quotations!) that I would go ahead and just do it, only to stop half way and decide that the world would be okay without knowing what I did in May. (I mean, right?) But then I remembered I had already worked on editing some photos for this post, and thought maybe, just maybe, I'll type up a slightly modified version of What I'm Into. And here we are! 

May was an eventful month. I launched back into blogging after a long, unintentional hiatus. I'm happy to report that I managed to publish something almost every week this month. I've been busy with trying to figure out how it is that we're supposed to promote the blogging these days. So much has changed! I've decided to venture into the land of Twitter! You can follow me there too (no, really! You can!) ;-)

Books- I'm currently very close to finishing Beyond the Sling by Mayim Bialik. Yes, I'm a crunchy mom. Well, mostly. I think I fall in the mid-range of maternal crunchiness (if you didn't gather that already). This is one of those books that has me nodding in agreement most of the time. Lots of good research about birth and infancy and beyond. It would have been awesome to read when I was expecting for the first time (so, you know...look into it, if you are going to have a baby soon!)

Also read: The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings. I really, really related to this book, a memoir of a woman's first year homeschooling her elementary-age daughter. She humorously looks at many different approaches to homeschooling, sharing her different experiences trying to find her "tribe". She sometimes goes to great lengths to immerse herself in the lifestyles of certain kinds of homeschoolers with hilarious results. One thing I did not appreciate about this book, however is the author's criticism of certain sects of Christianity. If you're also sensitive to that kind of thing, there are a couple chapters in which you will want to "chew the hay and spit out the sticks". If you are just starting out on your homeschool journey, or even if you've been at it a while, I think you will enjoy this book. I was utterly surprised at how quickly I got through this one! (Being that I've been reading most books at a snail's pace lately!)

Want to Read- A big ol' pile of books! Including Hands Free Mama (I impulsively grabbed this one from the library, because...well, it was there!) I think I may need to return it and come back to it later since it seems so involved and meant to be read slowly to take everything in. I also found an old copy (like from the 1930's old) of How to Win Friends and Influence People at a library sale a while back that I really want to read. I read the paperback version while I still worked at the church, but it's definitely a good book to re-read from time to time. This printing of it includes a chapter on marriage, which I'm looking forward to reading.

Television- Umm...let's just say in an earlier draft of this post, I realized that I probably need to re-evaluate my viewing habits! It's not that I've been watching total trash or anything, just nothing particularly edifying! 

In other media-related news, we observed a Screen-Free Week for probably the third time. It was so awesome. The children actually loved it, and we were inspired to get outside and savor the last of the lovely (Sonoran Desert) weather until probably October or later. The children enjoyed a nature scavenger hunt in the park (found items pictured), and also found a new passion for card games- more specifically the game "war". 

Learning with the Family (AKA homeschooling)- This month, we've revisited the beauty of lapbooks. We've done Five in a Row (as I mentioned in another post) and some of them go along with that, but I found a wealth of free resources for other titles (lapbooks as well as unit studies) in Homeschool Share. I love that it's all laid out for me. No real planning required (yippee!) We love exploring all the little avenues of learning opportunities that present themselves in children's literature. So much fun.

One of the books we read was Make Way for Ducklings. We later had an awesome visit to a riparian preserve in our area- I knew there were ducks there, so I hoped we'd get a chance to sit and observe them for a bit. They were so cool! We brought along some bread crumbs and we made instant friends (pictured). Apparently the sound of a Ziploc bag opening is to ducks what the sound of the can opener is to cats! My children named them Mr. and Mrs. Mallard after the ducks in Make Way for Ducklings. We later walked along one of the lakes and found even more ducky friends. 

Other News- We celebrated a birthday- my oldest is now seven! (Note to self: find some way to slow this down a bit!)

Next Month- More birthdays! This guy is turning TWO! Hardly believable! I blinked and he sprouted up into a toddler. 

Well, those are the highlights! What have you been up to? Share in a comment!

Contains affiliate links

Linking up here:

What I'm Into 


Monday, May 26, 2014

Tips for Visiting the Library with Little Ones

I've always heard that one should write what they know. Haven't you heard that? Well, this knowing has come by much trial and error, and frazzledness at the end of a trip to the library with my three little ones, ages 7, 4 and (almost) 2. I began to think of ways I could streamline our trips and make it so it didn't turn out to be a stress-filled frenzy where I crazily tried to manage the needs and desires of my three children and myself. I know it probably sounds melodramatic, but it can be that way sometimes! (Being outnumbered in public is no joke, people!)

Being homeschoolers (and avid readers), our regular library trip has been an important part of our week for a long time. We go at least once a week, if not more. We also have library cards at more than one library. (I know, I'm really asking for the crazy-making). ;-)

Whether you're getting ready for the Summer Reading Program, or you simply want to make visiting the library a regular (and stress-free) part of your week,  here are some tricks I've discovered that go a long way in keeping the weekly library trip an enjoyable experience for all of us!

Before you head out:

  1. Make a list! Yep, Type-A's rejoice! Do you know what books you are after? Take a few minutes to write them down to keep your time searching focused. (I've learned the difficulty of the having my head tilted sideways and sometimes bending over looking for interesting, good quality books while trying to keep track of three little people, who are sometimes going in three different directions!) Get inspiration from lists like this one, or this one, or this one, if you don't know where to start! Which leads me to my next tip...
  2. Utilize your library's website! You can search online to find out if a book or other item is currently available. You can also place a request for the item if you know you need it and can't get there right away, and the library staff or a volunteer will retrieve it and put it aside for you. Some libraries even offer a mobile app. See if your library does! Oh, and two words: interlibrary loan! You probably can't go to ALL the libraries, but they can come to you! Sometimes other libraries in your county will have an important book that you need and your local library can borrow it from them for you. There is usually a wait of a few days, but it's totally worth it to not have to drive across your county (or city, in some cases) to get a certain book.
  3. Collect any items that you've borrowed during previous trips. If your child has gotten their own books, they can gather what they checked out and place them in a reusable bag (I don't recommend grocery bags because books have pointy corners that like to poke holes in grocery bags). Everyone can carry their own stuff to the car.

At the library:

  1. At the book return, each child can practice putting their own books in the slot (except for maybe the ones who can't reach yet- but at least seeing their older siblings do it will make them want to do it later on, and create that expectation that they will eventually take on this task).
  2. Each child that is able can grab a basket to carry their selections around the library. This is one I just recently discovered, and my littles are loving it! Our library has the same little hand baskets that you see in grocery stores. If yours doesn't, maybe they can collect their books in the reusable bag they brought. I like that they use the baskets because they each keep their materials separate, and it also deters them from getting more items than they can carry- which means fewer items to keep track of at home. It's a win-win. Plus I don't have to carry everything! Yay!
  3. Get them their own card. The rule of thumb that has worked for us so far, is if the child can read independently, then they can have their own card. Our library has no age limit, so it's up to the parents to make that call. Of course, we are still financially responsible, but we haven't had too many charges on their cards. Once, when my son neglected to take care of a book, he got charged for it. I had him roll coins to pay the fee. I don't know if this really made an impact on him or not, but we haven't really had any issues since.
  4. When wrapping up your library adventure, each child can bring the items they wish to borrow to the checkout desk. (We have self-checkout kiosks, and you might like to take advantage of that option, but I really like the opportunity afforded to my little ones to practice their people skills while they check out their materials.) They get their items checked out, put the borrowed things in their bags and carry their own stuff to the car, and back inside the house.

At Home:

  1. Find a special location for borrowed library items. We have a rule that library items are not kept in bedrooms. It's way too easy for something to get lost under a bed or in a closet or under a pile of clothes or something. That was a hard-learned lesson after spending 45 minutes looking for a board book. Ain't nobody got time for that! Keep library books on a designated shelf or in a basket in a main living area in your home. Trust me! It's so worth creating this habit. This is a good way to prevent damaged items too!
  2. Make a plan to visit the library again very soon! Most libraries allow items to be out for three weeks, but why wait that long? Set a day each week when you will visit. Tuesday has become our day to visit our local library. Sometimes we visit for various events on another day of the week, but we usually don't return or check out books on that day, just to keep things simple. 

Most important: have fun! Children love visiting the library, and it's one of the best places to go when it's too hot to play outside. And it's FREE! You never know what awesome resources you will discover when you visit. Happy reading!

What tips would you add that have helped you have a pleasant library experience? Tell me in a comment!

Linking up at these fine blogs:

A Little R & RGospelHomemaking.com

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fun Read Aloud Chapter Books for Young Children

Did you know that this week is Children's Book Week? I didn't (until this morning), so it's by happy little coincidence that I'm writing this blog post (that I started working on last night). :-)

In our house, we love books! Oddly enough, we have never really developed the habit of bedtime story reading with our children until now. I have an almost seven year old, and a four-and-a-half year old (plus a toddler; who's NOT yet reading) who are both independent readers. So, aside from our school time reading together, the majority of their reading is solo. Enter chapter books! They don't yet read longer, more involved material by themselves, so it has been a wonderful way for me to bond with my big littles, and a way for me to get to read some classics that I somehow didn't get around to reading as a child. It's a win-win!

We started reading a chapter at bedtime most nights. There were times when we fell out of the habit of reading at night when dinner was served too late too many nights in a row, but for the most part, it has been a habit we've come to really look forward to.

Here is a list of the books we've covered so far this school year, and brief(ish) thoughts about what we liked (and didn't quite like) about them!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory- This is one classic on this list that I actually read (and more than once at that) during my childhood. I always dreamt of visiting the chocolate factory, and this did not fail to inspire chocolatey dreams in my offspring, either. It was easy to read, because we were eager to see what happened next. Would little Charlie Bucket find a coveted Golden Ticket? Oh, the suspense! ;-) (There is some mild language in this one- but if I remember right, it's of the donkey-inspired variety).

James and the Giant Peach- We liked this one too, but the book about Charlie is still the favored of author Roald Dahl in our collective opinion. I wasn't a fan of James' aunts or the manner in which he came to live with them (parents were eaten by a rhinoceros or something). I felt that it was a tad brutal (okay, a lot of Dahl's stories include things along these lines, to be fair), but the children didn't seem to get caught up on it (probably due to the ridiculousness of being eaten by a wild animal on a city street), though I may have purposely raced past that part! (Ditto on the language- I actually don't remember what but just be warned that it's there!)

Winnie the Pooh- Oh, my! What a wonderful book. It was equally pleasing to my six year old boy and four year old girl. They of course were already familiar with the characters in the book because of the Disney movie adaptation, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, but it did not fail to delight them in any way. That "silly old bear of very little brain" is even more endearing to me in print than he is on screen, and you get to see even more of the sweet and silly machinations of his fluffy brain in the book.

The House at Pooh Corner- More Pooh songs and delightful interactions between these beloved characters. It's a must-read if you like the first one (I should say if you've read the first one- of course you liked it). I love the humor and wit that AA Milne weaves through these stories. And we all loved getting to know these friends even more. Consider yourself warned, though, I teared up at the end!

Little Britches- While I really liked this story, it was definitely a challenge to get through! I think the material was a bit mature for my children, and a semi-tedious book for a four and six year old to sit through, but they still enjoyed it quite a bit despite this (I should note that it was not located in the children's section of the library- also, there are some instances of swearing in this book, but was easy enough to substitute "darn" for " !@#$%^&*" and stuff like that.) I had come across this title in a thread about chapter books somewhere on Facebook. I think it was recommended to someone who was looking for a book similar to Little House on the Prairie books, but for boys. It was definitely that, but a little later chronologically. What I really liked about it, personally, was that it kind of gave me a glimpse of what life was like for of one of my great-grandfathers. He actually lived in this area around the time set in the book (1906). Anyway, there are lots of character-building lessons in this story, but admittedly, many of them were kind of over the heads of my babies at the time. Needless to say, this one might be a good one to save for your older littles.

Pippi Longstocking- Oh, Pippi! How we loved your amusing antics. I remember watching Pippi Longstocking on television as a child, but never really read the book. She appeals so much to my unconventional side, and I really appreciate how she boldly "lives her truth". Ha. True, some probably won't appreciate the trouble she gets into, but it also can open up a dialog with your children of why certain behavior probably isn't a good idea or very realistic. Still, there were plenty of laughs while we read this book- and the children were definitely captivated by Pippi and her adventures.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle- This favorite by Beverly Cleary was fun for us to read. The children especially enjoyed the sound effects (enthusiastically provided by yours truly). Ralph is certainly a charming character, and I think we can all relate to his story! (I also appreciate some of the questions that came up because of the time period of this book...like, "Mom, what is aspirin?" Ha ha!)

Mary Poppins- I almost didn't start reading this book to the children because of some of the mixed reviews I read. Actually, we are not quite finished with it, so hopefully we don't run into any of the negative things people have said about this. Most of them being related to Mary's attitude- they found her to be mean and nasty in some parts. Well, she's definitely not like the character in the movie version of the book, but mean and nasty? Not really (in my opinion)- especially after seeing shows like Super Nanny, it's easy to see that British nannies commonly take a no-nonsense approach (unless that's just a made-for-TV stereotype) and Mary Poppins would naturally NOT be the "Spoonful of Sugar" offering peach of a caretaker as portrayed in the Disney movie. They have many adventures, for sure, and it's really a fun read for the children and I (at least so far- I hope I don't run into any zingers in the last couple chapters!)

What are some of your favorite chapter books for kids?

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Reflecting on Our First Year of Homeschooling

I'll start by saying that we are about to be preparing for our THIRD year of homeschooling our children (my about-to-be 7 year old son, 4 1/2 year old daughter and soon to be two year old son). Just typing that makes me realize how far we are into our journey! I haven't been around here much to document all this in real time, but hopefully if you are just starting out or considering homeschooling your little ones, you will find this helpful!

If you've been around a while (you know, since before I fell out of the blogosphere), you may remember that I was debating on what direction we would take with our son's education. I wanted to homeschool, but I was concerned about having a new baby in the mix. We considered doing an online public school, and actually had almost completed the enrollment process. Thank God for Holy Spirit, I just didn't have total peace about that choice, and at the last minute, we decided to homeschool independently.

Why did we decide against online public school?

I'm so glad you asked!

I had concerns. I'm a reader of the fine print (usually) and it seemed to me that their requirements might be a little much for us. One thing was, I didn't like that we had to log two hours of online work each day, and if we missed a day (due to illness or vacation or anything) it had to be made up. (I know some devote longer than two hours a day to homeschooling, but for us, for just starting out, for kindergarten, it seemed a bit much.) One of my personal reasons for wanting to homeschool is the freedom it affords. All states are different, I learned. Some have strict laws about how much time is spent on education, some don't. Ours doesn't. Initially, I thought that not having to plan lessons and such would be a blessing with a new babe in the house. But then, I figured it might be even more demanding of me to make sure those hours get completed. I would have to facilitate whatever he was doing for school work, and keep him on task. With a new baby, it's hard to find two hours to devote to anything (except for the new baby, of course!) And if I understood correctly, it was two hours of computer work, plus the other non-computer learning he had to do.

As it would happen, I also ended up seeing a couple of threads on Facebook and elsewhere about this very thing, and some of the experienced parents confirmed my suspicion that this was a lot to deal with. There was stuff I hadn't thought of, like the fact that teachers interact with students via webcam (not sure if this would be at the kindergarten level, but I'm thinking it is)- but, hello! Kinda out of my comfort zone (not that it would be unsupervised, but still). Then, of course is the fact that it is a state-sanctioned, secular program along with whatever ideas and ideals they might present. I just didn't want to deal with that. (Again, these were our concerns, someone else might be perfectly fine with this set-up).

What we did do:

The first year, we kinda winged it! I explored a lot of options, and with our fairly limited budget, I used many free resources online. I loved exploring Pinterest and getting ideas. I frequently found other resources through homeschool blogs and homeschool pages on Facebook. I utilized our local library (and also interlibrary loans) for books. 

By the time we began "officially" homeschooling, we had accumulated several inexpensive workbooks and packs of flash cards from places like Target and Dollar Tree. These I would grab up any time I saw them during the back to school sales. 

I heard about Five in a Row, and I immediately fell in love with the concept of literature-based learning. A big bonus being that Five in a Row is a Christian organization, so the book selections are in line with our values and world-view. I bought the first volume from Amazon, and started to explore. We rowed a few books, but I did have trouble tracking down some of the titles at the library, and didn't want to pay a lot to order them online.

We also had purchased a membership to the local natural history museum. My son was obsessed with dinosaurs, so that choice only seemed...er...natural to do. We went at least every couple of months during that year, and guess what? He was hardly into learning about the dinosaurs. Apparently, I signed up for our membership on the tail-end of his obsession! There was one room with a marble run-type contraption with PVC pipes that had magnets on them that you could arrange and re-arrange on this metal section of wall. You're supposed to line them up and drop a ping pong ball and watch it roll down the track you make. Both my two older children were occupied with that for the longest time. At the natural history museum! :-)

What I realized:
  • Children's brains do not care about grade levels! Learning happens all the time, with or without a curriculum! Last year, my son was five years old, and technically in kindergarten. He was learning "kindergarten level" things well before we ever seriously considered homeschooling. He had already learned to read by age 3 ½ (I was an early reader as well, and we read a ton around here).
  • I like focusing on really good quality literature, and that year, we discovered many favorite authors and stories.
  • I'm not so good at the planning (yet). There, I said it. I think I would try and try to plan out a week or two or more in advance, and part way through it, kinda feel like poking my own eyes out. Not really, but it could be agonizing. Naturally, I'm the type that I feel like I must make the absolute right choice in any given circumstance (I'm quite notorious for taking forever to order in a restaurant- so now, I usually check the menu online to alleviate some of that!) I think it's all about learning what works for everyone. One needs to assess the amount of direction the children need to continue on their path of learning and how much planning and preparation is required of the parent before it becomes a huge, monumental task that becomes disheartening and discouraging for everyone.
  • There is a lot of support online! Lots of groups, helpful Facebook pages and blogs. I am not alone!
  • Our homeschool is NOT going to look like pretty much anyone else's homeschool. We have a different approach to learning, different values, different space, different resources and different needs.

Moving Onward:

Have we found our groove? I'm gonna go with "no" (or maybe, "not quite") at this point. We are (as I'm sure we will continue to be) an evolving unit, and I will continue learning more about my children's educational needs. One idea that has intrigued me this year is unschooling. Currently, if I had to label our approach, I would say we are "eclectic", pulling our learning from various areas, fields of thought, and experiences, while still trying to stay in line with suggested grade level material (for the most part). Unschooling sort of throws all the convention out the window and allows children to forge their own path. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the philosophy of unschooling to see if it is a good fit for our family and our individual learners. I remain open to God's leading- I know He will show me (as always) what path to take!

Do you homeschool? Are you considering it? Share your thoughts in a comment!

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Friday, January 31, 2014

What I'm Into this Month- January 2014

Don't you love how I proclaim my inability to be quiet and then go silent for almost two months? Yeah, me too.

January has been a pretty busy month for me. I feel kind of behind, because I didn't really sit down to think about my goals for the year as I usually do, but I did choose a word (or maybe it chose me?) and I hope to be able to share about that sometime soon! (I guess maybe choosing a word kind of eliminates the need to make a huge list of goals. It is the filter through which every decision can be made as it comes. Kind of a nice change!) It's actually working out nicely for me, and I keep seeing God reveal this chosen theme in different areas. He is so good!

Here's a hint at what my word might be: I've joined this 2,014 in 2014 challenge where you get rid of 2,014 items in (you guessed it) 2014. I've just grown so tired of being disorganized and cluttered and weighed down by all the unnecessary items in our (tiny) home. I've been so drawn to the idea of minimalism- especially since my brain tends to get overwhelmed with too many choices. I mean, why do we really need so much stuff? I think it gives the illusion of prosperity, but it's a lie. You can't be prosperous when your stuff is sucking the life out of your home. When you don't have space to create or relax or whatever it is you do with your space...when your stuff is not contributing to your well being...in the instance of hanging on to items that don't work, or that don't work for you (I'm looking at YOU, pre-motherhood clothes!)
A box of items that no longer live here. Yay!

Anyway, that decluttering journey has begun. I've started to donate items to a local women's center, as well as hauling stuff to Goodwill. And some stuff (you know, like trash) is just going in the trash. That counts too.

Books- Well, I have turned into quite the slow reader. (It may have something to do with a busy toddler I know...hmm.) I am still reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. Matter of fact, I renewed it from the library twice, and then checked it out again. That's how quickly I'm getting through it. It's a great book, and I'm getting a lot of good tips from it and gaining understanding about my own behavior as well as that of my children. I just can't seem to get through it with any speed. I might read more quickly if I could read more than five minutes every three days or so. Ah well. I will finish it. Eventually.

Want to Read- I cracked open Teach Your Own (try as I might to commit to reading one book at a time!), and so far that's pretty interesting. I really love reading books about homeschooling. It's so eye opening- especially being that my husband and I both attended public school- and we literally knew two families who homeschooled before embarking on our own journey with our children!

Television- Ah...well Downton Abbey is BACK! I have church on Sunday night, so I don't get to be home to watch it when it airs, but God bless PBS. They stream it for free online, meaning I am able to watch it the next day. And I can pause it too! I think we all know why that comes in handy. I've never been so sucked into a television show as I have with DA. It's so not my style to be obsessed with a television show, but I love following the lives of these fictional people. And then? Then once I've finished an episode, I have to follow it up with reading someone's commentary on the episode. I can quit when I want to. ;-)

Films- Akeelah and the Bee is streaming on Netflix now. That was such a great movie! I love watching stories about unlikely-seeming people with a gift who triumph over their circumstances. It helps that I LOVE words. I shared this quote from it on my Facebook page a while back: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Marianne Williamson

So inspiring!

I also watched a documentary called The Cartel- about the school system in New Jersey. Umm...scary! Films like this make me so glad we chose the homeschooling route- not saying schools are necessarily like this everywhere (I know they're not- at least not to that extent), but to think that there could be that kind of corruption lurking in a place where we send our children to learn? No, thanks. We were warned. The love of money is the root of all evil. It's even more terrible when people can't resist the temptation when precious children are involved.

In My Kitchen- Bread! Lovely bread. Baked by yours truly. I've been using this recipe as a guide, and trust me when I say, it's delicious! (I've tweaked it a bit, using bread flour instead of whole wheat- actually the last few batches I've baked, I've used about a cup of whole wheat flour and it's really good. The time I used all whole wheat flour, no one was really impressed.) I'm still soaking it to release the nutrients, and that seems to be a good thing. Everyone seems to be tolerating it well. (If you have read for long, you might remember that I had to eliminate wheat from my diet when I was nursing my daughter- well I did the same with my newest addition- now going on 20 months old- and I introduced soaked bread with no issues. He even eats it just fine.)

Not bad for my very first bread attempt! Was delicious!
 Anyway, this bread reminds me of the fresh bread that is served at some restaurants. Only better. Mmm...bread!

Also? Helpers! Why didn't I get on this bandwagon sooner? I had read an article recently and one of my take-aways from it was the importance of allowing children to learn to do things that benefit their family. Learning to do things for themselves and how it builds their confidence. Genius! Ha. I know I've had the tendency to simply do things because I want it done a certain way (not thinking about how I might be hindering their growth) and it's "easier" to just do it myself. But I've been so blessed by my children's willingness to help out and how it actually frees me up somewhat. (And it helps them, of course!)
My little workin' man!

What I'm Looking Forward to Next Month- My husband is celebrating a birthday! That's exciting. Not sure what we will do to celebrate just yet. I will have to come up with something. Also, my oldest boy will begin taking karate classes. Super exciting!

So tell me, what are YOU into this month?

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