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 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!

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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!

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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, "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 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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