Monday, September 1, 2014

Hymns That Have Special Meaning to Me

Music is powerful.  It can touch hearts and spirits and enlighten minds.  D&C 25:12 says, "For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads."

There are a few LDS Hymns and Primary songs that hold special meaning for me.

1. Be Still My Soul
When Hubby and I started dating, he was my first boyfriend. More than that, he had become my best friend. One afternoon, after dating for about 4 months, he unexpectedly broke up with me. He said he had been praying and felt that we needed to break up.

I went to my room and cried and prayed. I was crushed and confused. I could not imagine what it was going to be like without him being an important part of my life. After having a good cry, I picked myself up and drove to the church so I could practice the organ. I wanted to be completely alone so I could think (and cry and pray some more) and also I wanted to do something that could maybe take my mind off of the situation.

After practicing the various things that I wanted to master, I went over to the piano. I opened up the Hymn book and began playing random hymns. One that I found myself singing along to was, "Be Still, My Soul."

As I sang through the verses, I felt the Holy Ghost wash over me. I felt so strongly like I was being enveloped in the arms of my loving Heavenly Father. In that moment, I felt the reassurance that everything would be ok. This hymn was speaking directly to me. The words were written specifically for me.  Life is tough. And I know that my Father in Heaven is aware of my struggles. He loves me, and is with me.

2. High on the Mountain Top
When I was in labor with Primus, I didn't have an epidural or anything.  Especially near the end when I was in transition and exhausted from being on my feet literally all night, I needed something to think about to focus on instead of being overwhelmed by the pain.  So I started singing church songs in my head.  For most of the time the song I kept getting stuck on or coming back to was High on the Mountain Top.

3. Where Can I Turn For Peace?
When I was in Young Women (maybe 16 years old), our leaders wanted to put together a small group to sing this for Sacrament Meeting.  I think we ended up performing it on two separate occasions.  I was selected to be one of the sopranos.  The highest note was hard for us to hit but I was able to get it.  I don't think I'm the best singer, but my leaders praised me and told me how good I was several times. I really appreciated the confidence and self esteem boost!

4. Master the Tempest is Raging
I think this was one of my piano teacher's favorite songs.  When she started teaching me to play the hymns, this was definitely high on her list of ones that she wanted me to learn.  She passed on to me her passion for the way the music builds to a frenzy and then ends serenely.

This song details one of the coolest stories from the New Testament.   Christ literally has power to make the winds and waves obey him!  At times in my life I have felt like I might perish from the storms of trials beating upon me.  But when I am in the depths of that panic that the Savior's disciples were feeling, all I have to do is cry out to my God in faith.  He can deliver me, calm my storms, and give me peace.

5. I Love to See the Temple
This is my kids' favorite Primary song right now and has been for a while.  A recording of them singing it serves as my ringtone.  And no matter how many times we sing it, we still can't seem to be able to keep the two verses straight! :) 

It's a nice tune with a great message.  I truly do love to see the temple!  When I hear this song, I am reminded of when Hubby and I were married (or "sealed") for time and all eternity in the temple (meaning for this life and the next).  I am so grateful for the Priesthood power in the temple that makes it possible for our marriage and relationship with our children to be permanent.  It's not "till death do us part." 

6. Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel
In our first ward after being married, the chorister was a wonderful man who liked to direct the congregation as if it were a choir instead of a group of mostly untalented average people who preferred to keep their eyes on their hymnal.  We quickly learned, though, that we had to keep our eyes on Bob. 

I was called to be a regular substitute accompanist. Typically, congregational hymns are accompanied by an organ.  I had learned to play organ but was not very confident.  That was just fine in Bob's opinion!  He preferred the piano anyway because it was easier to get more expression out of it.  He wanted us to crescendo, decrescendo, rest, hold, speed up, and retard in various places so we could really feel the spirit and meaning of the song.

One song in particular that I cannot hear now without missing Bob is Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel.  At the chorus he would slow us way down and then slowly build the speed and volume as we went, to give us the feeling of pushing a handcart to get it going from a dead stop.

7. Scripture Power
I remember learning this song in Primary when I was a child.  One time, a couple years after we had learned it, we must have had a new pianist that didn't have a copy of the sheet music (since it's not in the regular songbook.)  Several of us kids asked if we could sing that song when we were told to choose our favorite to sing.  We were very disappointed when we were told that this one wasn't an option.

Many years later Hubby and I were called as Primary teachers in our first ward.  Scripture Power was one of the new songs that was taught that year.  When I heard it after forgetting about it's existence for so long, it was like meeting an old friend again.

Above all, it's such a fun song with a simple message, "Scripture Power keeps me safe from the power to win...everyday I need the power that I get each time I read."

What's your favorite religious hymn?

Friday, August 29, 2014

I Could Never Homeschool Because... Six Excuses

I'm going to start right off the bat and say that I don't care if you homeschool your kid or not.  It's a personal choice between your family and God.  Homeschooling has been a wonderful experience for my family.  Maybe it can be a wonderful experience for yours.  Or maybe public school, charter school, or private school is best.

My goal here is not to tell you that you should pull your kids out today and convert your playroom into a school room.  My goal is to give some points to ponder to all those who are thinking, "I think my children could really benefit from homeschooling.  Unfortunately, I could never do it because..."

1. They won't listen to me.
I'm going to start really blunt with this one.  You're the parent.  Your kids should listen to you.  Period.  Chores need to be done so you make them fun and/or non-negotiable to make sure your kids get them done.  Same with school work.  You've gotta do what you gotta do to make school work happen.

2. Homework time is the worst!  I can't imagine doing that all day.
Homework =/= Homeschooling.  Homework and homeschool are two completely different animals.  Homework is done after the kids have had a long, tiring 6 hours at school.  They would rather just chill in front of the TV or play.  If you work in an office, do you come home and want to do 2 more hours of paperwork?  No!

When I homeschool, I get my kids at the best part of the day when their attention spans are longer and their minds fresh, rested, and open.  And we are usually done soon after lunch time.  I firmly believe that 3 o'clock is a kind of witching hour.  Everyone (including me) just wants a snack and a mental break.

3. When I'm pregnant, I just can't function and schoolwork wouldn't happen.
I totally sympathize with this one.  When I'm pregnant, I usually get hyperemesis gravidarum which basically means that I puke all day.  Thankfully I did not get it with my last pregnancy.  Also, my first trimester (where I felt "normal" morning sickness and exhaustian) happened to fall during summer time. So I have not had to do school with those challenges.

But I have thought, "what if?"  And my answer is that it would suck pretty bad to have to get up early every morning and get the kids fed, dressed, lunches packed, school papers packed and drive them to school.  Sure, I could come home again and take a nap.  But then I would have to be conscious and functioning again at 2:30 to do pick-up.  Even not pregnant, I hated being a slave to daily drop-off and pick-up times! (Primus and Secundus each spent some time at a 5 day-per-week preschool and I also did a lot of driving for my friend's boy at one time.)  Then, after school I would still have to monitor homework time.  See #2 above. 

Hypothetically, if I were pregnant during the school year and all I wanted to do was sleep and puke, I can imagine our school days would look something like the following.  Not the ideal situation, but it would work and it would only be for a season.

Stumble out of bed at 9.  Get the oldest kid to get cereal for the littles.  I would then encourage the oldest kids to independently work on their assigned core subjects (teaching independence is a big key to making homeschooling successful in general) while I would attempt to read to the littles or pretend to listen to them practice reading to me. After an hour I would probably give up, tell everyone to  pull out pattern blocks and geo boards, and remind myself that "children learn through play."  At lunch time I would stumble into the kitchen and throw PB/J sandwiches and Go-Go-Squeezes at everyone. The rest of the afternoon would be filled with Bill Nye the Science Guy, Magic School Bus, School House Rock, and Liberty's Kids while I napped. 

4. I have to work.  
Honestly, I have not worked outside the home since my oldest was born, so I can't speak from personal experience.  And I cannot wrap my head around the idea, either.  It seems like there just aren't enough hours in the day!  But I have met working moms (online and in real life) who somehow make it work.  So it's possible.  Somehow.

5. Isn't it expensive?  I can't afford it.
Homeschool is only as expensive as you make it.  There's this great myth that our society and educational system believe that says, "More money equals a better education."  False.

I currently spend $4000 per year on curriculum, art supplies, and enrichment classes.  I'm fortunate to live in a state where I can be associated with a charter school that gets public funds to pay for all those things for me.  It's pretty awesome.  And the money is one reason that we homeschool, because I would not be able to afford to send my girls to gymnastics, ballet, or music lessons on my own.

But!  You don't have to spend $2000 per student per year to have a successful homeschool with happy, healthy children who learn a lot and grow to be functioning members of society.  I follow a cool blog where this mom said back in 2012 that with 7 children (including a baby) her homeschool budget for the year was only $500.

To homeschool cheaply you just have to be creative.  The web is full of free and cheap resources.  The library will become your best friend.  Alibris is an online bookstore where my friend with 5 kids gets tons of used books on the cheap.   I've been lucky to find some awesome stuff at thrift stores.

Also, sending your kid to public school can get pretty expensive, too! Every year you have to buy new back-to-school outfits, new backpacks, school supplies, supplies for the kids that can't afford them, and things like Kleenex for the class.  Then there's the field trip fees and fundraisers.  Plus, you may feel obligated to spend a bunch of money and time making a Pinterest-worthy teacher gift for the first day of class, Christmas, and the last day of class.

6. I really need my alone time.
Introverts homeschool too.  Here's one. Some families have a strict quiet time after lunch each day.  The littles nap, the biggers read, and mom does whatever she wants.

Like I mentioned above, one key to a successful homeschool is to teach your kids to be independent.  While they work independently, you could declare a "teacher prep hour" and go to a room where you won't be disturbed.  Of course, especially in the elementary years many subjects and assignments will still need hands-on support.  But a lot of things can be done on their own.  And it will take time for your kid to get to the point where they will pull out an assignment, do it, and then pull out another one without being harped on.  We're still working on it with Primus in third grade but she's almost there!

One last idea, if you can afford it, is to put your children in enrichment classes a couple times per week.  Drop them off at dance, violin, art, writing class, science lab, karate, etc (or two back-to-back classes!) And then if you still have littles with you, take them to a park where they can run while you watch from a quiet, shady bench.  Or if you're lucky enough to not have young ones tagging along, take the time to get your nails done, read a book while lounging at a Starbucks, or go grocery shopping without grubby hands trying to sneak candy into the cart.  Just because it's called "homeschool" doesn't mean that every subject every day has to be taught by YOU at HOME.

All of the above excuses for not homeschooling are very valid ones.  With any decision made, there will be pros and cons.  The cons have to be weighed and perhaps overcome.  Life, especially as a parent, is never smooth or easy so we have to prioritize and plan accordingly.  If you feel that homeschooling is what your family is supposed to do, Heavenly Father will guide and help you to make it possible. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

13 Tips for Nursery

At church, my current calling (unpaid assignment) is Nursery Leader.  Basically I'm the teacher (with a couple awesome assistants) for the 2 hour Sunday School class for 18 month to 3 year olds.

I don't claim to be the best Nursery leader.  I also don't claim to have come up with all these things myself.  However, I do love my calling and I think our nursery is pretty great.  Maybe some of these ideas will be helpful to others.

1. Think about your schedule and mix it around until you find a routine that works for your kids. 
Take into consideration the time of day, if the kids ate snack during Sacrament Meeting, and attention spans.

Last year we started the class with the lesson.  As soon as the kids came in from Sacrament Meeting, we had chairs set up for them to immediately come in and sit down on.  Surprisingly, they had great attention spans when we did it this way!  I thought the last thing they would want to do right after sitting with their parents in one meeting would be to sit still for another meeting.  But it totally worked.

This year we have been unable to continue that because I'm also the organist.  So I'm always a little late getting to the room.  Here's what we're trying currently:

Before church I set up the room with a few activities and toys.  Not very much.  Sometimes playdough on the table (that's a real winner!)
Once the kids get tired of those things, we put them away and sit them down for snack.
After snack we sometimes go for a walk outside.
Next is free play time.
The last 20 minutes is clean up and then music and lesson.

2. One popular item to have out as the kids gather is the book basket
 Recently we had two new additions to our nursery who have had a hard time transitioning.  (If kids cry for their moms, I don't take them there unless they are out of control to the point of disturbing other children or if mom instructs me otherwise.)  A real winner with each of these new children is reading!  If they're crying and pointing to the door, sometimes nothing else will calm them down as fast as a good book.  It's really surprising how well it has worked in these cases!

3. Another good strategy is to keep the sad child busy. 
 One boy got to the point where he wasn't screaming and crying the whole time, but if he sat down to play and got to thinking about mom, then the waterworks would start again.  So for a week or two I just made him my special helper.  I had him follow me around, giving him jobs the whole time.  He got toys out of the closet with me, cleaned up a spill, put the music activity on the table, stacked the chairs, etc.  He was so engaged in helping that he didn't have time to be sad!

4. Use sippy cups instead of little disposable cups. 
 It's sometimes a pain to remember to wash them each week, but it's cheaper than continually buying paper cups.  And we never have to worry about spills on the table!

Also, the kids are learning responsibility by helping to dump out their cups in the sink and put them in the wash bucket.  They love to help by doing this job!

5. We do keep little dixie cups in the closet, though. 
They're good for if I forget the sippies or if kids have extra snack they want to take home instead of throw away.

6. The kids love to go on walks for a change of scenery. 
It also gives one leader a chance to stay behind and clean up/set up the room without little ones underfoot and grabbing things from the closet.

We don't use the classic rope-with-handles that a lot of nurseries and preschools use to go on walks. It seems so boring to me and not worth the hassle of teaching them to stay holding onto the rope.

Instead, we're working on teaching them to walk reverently down the hall. Once we're outside, they're free to run to the nearest lamppost.  Then they have to wait at the poll until everyone arrives and they're given the OK to go to the next pole.  So we make our way around the building like this, going from pole to pole with lots of praise for listening and waiting. 

7. Our nursery owns several doll strollers, almost one for each child.  
The kids love to take these on our walks (with or without a doll inside.)

8. As an alternative to a walk outside, we used to take the kids into an extra section of the cultural hall.  
This let them work on gross motor skills (throw balls, hula hoop, run) and get lots of energy out in a short time.  It also takes less adult supervision if you're short handed for the day.  And finally, it's a safer option if you have kids who are "runners."  Don't want to risk one of them bolting ahead and going into the parking lot!

9. I play a little game to get everyone's attention and to get them calmed down and ready to reverently walk down the hall.  
I stand at the door and say, "If you're ready to go, put your finger on your..." and then I'll name a body part.  After doing this 3 or 4 times I've usually got everyone playing along.  The last one before I open the door is, "If you're ready to go, zip your lips." Some of the kids have learned what to expect so when they hear us say it's time to walk, they'll stand near the door, look up at me, and put their finger on their nose in anticipation.

10.  The same type of technique is useful in getting everyone reverent for prayer, too. 
 I usually lead them in a verse of Roll Your Hands or My Hands before we pray at snack and at the start of the lesson.  Both of these songs end with the children folding their arms.

11. I'm liking the prayer wheel I made a few weeks ago
 Some of the older kids have gotten eager to say prayer which is great!  But the fights over whose turn it is were taking away from the Spirit.  So now it is totally fair.

12. Have a fun way to select songs for music time. 
We have a fish board.  It's a big blue poster board that has laminated fish shapes attached to it with velcro.  Each fish has a song title written on the back.

Usually I'll start music time with letting each kid choose a fish from the board.  Then one at a time I choose a child who's sitting reverently to bring me their fish so we can sing it.

13. Make pick-up time smoother and less chaotic with a name chart.
Our nursery room consists of two sections, each with it's own door out to the hallway. At the end of church, while we're doing music time, we pull the room divider part way to encourage the children to stay in only one section. 

Hanging on the outside of the door where we are, there is a big poster that has every child's name attached to it. When a parent is ready to pick up their child they take off the name and slide it under the door.  Then we know to gather that kid, their shoes/hair bows/ties, left over snack, and coloring page.  Then one leader escorts the child to the empty section of the room and out the door to their parent, out of sight of the other jealous children.

What's your best tip for a successful Nursery?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Our First Week

We've completed our first week of the 2014-15 school year! 

This week I wanted to ease the kids back into the routine so we didn't just jump in with a full load.  During our Table Time the girls didn't do any of their core subjects.  Instead, I told them to pick a topic and research it during the week and prepare to present their findings to the family on Friday.  I didn't give them any parameters.  I wanted to see what they would come up with.  Also, one of my goals with this was to get them to dig through our nonfiction book shelves.  They hardly ever touch that shelf and I wanted them to see what wonderful things are found there.

Primus chose to study about bears.  Secundus chose to study about tigers.  It was interesting to me to see the different ways they went about it.  Primus, who doesn't like to write, drew several pictures with pencil as she went and labeled them with facts she learned.  Secundus, on the other hand, drew only one tiger picture and colored it with crayons.  For the rest of her report she copied down word-for-word a few sentences about her animal that she read.

Other than the research project, we did literature, watched some history videos (Liberty's Kids and Horrible Histories), watched some Bill Nye the Science Guy, and did some investigations with eggs. 

Our science exploring with eggs was prompted by this video.  Did you know you can stand on a carton of eggs and not crack them?  I also realized that the kids have never seen what happens when you let an egg sit in vinegar for a while.  That was really fun to see the shell was dissolved the next day.  After playing with it and bouncing it for a while, I let Secundus try to cut it with a knife so they could see if the inside changed too.  It was really funny when the membrane popped like a water balloon on her!

One week down, 36 to go!  Tomorrow the real work begins as we pile on the full load.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Schultuten and First Day Pictures

We started our first day of school with our new tradition: School Cones (or Schultuten in German)!  It's a pretty cool old tradition in Germany.  Basically, kids receive a cardboard cone full of goodies like candy and school supplies on the first day of the new school year.  Google it.  It's neat.

Anyway, this is our second year.  It was such a hit last year and the kids were so excited to receive them again.  The fillings and how I would decorate them were a surprise so everyday that Primus saw the blank empty paper cones sitting next to my chair she would remind me, "Don't forget to finish them before Monday!"  These simple cones made the kids look forward to the first day of school!

You would have thought it was Christmas morning and they were opening their stockings!  This year they got breakfast plus a small toy.  Homemade pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, a juice box, an applesauce squeeze pouch, a fruit roll-up, and a Minion toy (I think they're from a happy meal.  Hubby found a whole bag of them at a Stuff Swap.)

Our other First Day tradition is pictures before school.  We don't do fancy or cute or Pinterest worthy.  Homeschooling for us means no adorable pictures next to the front door wearing new clothes and an over-sized backpack and holding a hand-crafted sign.  Homeschooling for us means taking pictures in the messy living room wearing pajamas and holding a schultute after searching the house high and low for the camera for a half hour. :)

Primus.  Third Grade.  My super responsible special helper and Amazon woman. 

Secundus.  First Grade.  My "smarty-pants" (by her own description.)

Tertius.  Preschool.  My rough-and-tumble, Energizer Bunny, stereotypical boy. 

What special first-day-of-school traditions do you have?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How I Teach My Kids to Read

 When I started homeschooling Primus in Kindergarten, I felt overwhelmed and clueless about what curriculum I should use.  The only exception was that I knew without a doubt that I needed to find Distar to teach my daughter to read. (Also known as Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons.)

I didn't gain my conviction about Distar by reading the research or reviews, but because I had seen it in action first hand all the years that I volunteered in Mrs. Bhatti's Kindergarten class.  I knew that this was a program that had been around for decades and worked.  I also appreciated the fact that it is totally scripted for me, is a step-by-step phonics approach, and each lesson takes only about 15 minutes.

I was very pleased to learn that it was available in a format specifically designed for parents to do one-on-one with their child.  The first thing I did when it arrived was to tear out every page and put it in a binder to make it easier to use one page at a time.

The method claims that it is great for young children (your child doesn't even need to know all the letter names before starting!) as young as 3 and a half. This fits perfectly with my philosophy about learning to read: teach your kid to read as soon as you can and then the whole world is open to them; they'll be able to learn anything!

Primus was almost five and a half and very bright and she zoomed through the first half of the book, doing a couple lessons each day.  I started Secundus when she was about three, I think, but stopped not long after because her speech issues were making it hard.  We started again slowly when she was four and she did really well.  Tertius is now four and starting his last year of "preschool" before Kindergarten and I am excited to start him out with it.  I've been working all summer preparing.

One downside to this book is that the parent's script and the things the student is supposed to read are on the same page.  That makes it really hard to work with a wiggly child who would rather lie down and hold the page over her head or jump up and down. I knew Tertius especially would need to be able to hold his own word cards so he can focus on one at a time while I can still have my script in front of me.  

This project has taken me hours and hours to complete, but I am confident that it will pay off!  If you have decided to purchase this curriculum (My favorite vendor is Rainbow Resource) and would like to make cards like me, leave a comment with your email address and I'll send you the documents I created. (I also found these are available for purchase here but I still would have made my own cards because I could not find it available through any of my school's approved vendors.)

As you can see, I've color-coded everything to keep them organized.  I've also written on the back of each card which lesson number they're used in.

 For the letter sounds I cut 9X12 pieces of construction paper into 16 pieces.  For the words I cut the construction paper into 12 pieces each.

I also laminated them with clear contact paper for extra durability.  But only the front sides because, dang!, that was a lot of cards!

I also made copies of each of the stories and put them in a separate binder.  The shorter stories are laminated and the ones that take up a full page are in sheet protectors.

Starting with lesson #74 the program transitions from the weird look of Distar into a normal font.  At this point, instead of making individual word cards, I kept each block of practice words together like they appear in the book. These are stored in the sheet protector with the associated story.

It is so fun to watch the kids start to master reading and be excited to show off their new ability to daddy!  School starts on Monday and I can't wait to start this new journey with my boy!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Chore Wheel

I really like charts and lists.   And our chore time routine is always evolving so I want to share with you our latest incarnation. 

But first, as a reminder, here's where I talked about our previous routine. 

This is the check-list that I made and posted in the kitchen to help everyone remember what needed to be done.  I covered it in contact paper so we could use a dry-erase marker on it.

In that post and also in this one, I mentioned about the kids earning "media allowance."  I searched the blog and was surprised to discover that I had never given that concept a post of it's own.  So here's the short version: the kids earn time to watch movies or play video games (in half hour increments) by doing school work and chores.  We used to have envelopes tacked up to the bulletin board where they would keep their little paper movie bucks.  But now we just do tally marks.  This has been a great way to motivate them to do all kinds of things!

This sign is covered in contact paper like the checklist above.  But the dry-erase doesn't come off perfectly so it's looking pretty messy.  I'm going to have to come up with something else.  Maybe at least putting it in a sheet protector might be better. (And who's idea was it to use green marker on green paper?)

 So finally here's the new method we're going to try this school year.  Hubby had the idea of assigning each kid to their own room.  We're hoping this means the bathrooms will get cleaned more often!  We're also thinking that it will be easier to award media points to each child in a fair way according to how much work they do. 

Chore wheel!  It will get rotated one place every evening.
(Please excuse the giant black blobs in the place of my kids' names.  Privacy.)

The four rooms that we want cleaned up each night are the living room, school room, kitchen, and bathrooms.  Obviously the boys are too young to clean up by themselves so they've been assigned to be Mommy's and Daddy's assistants.

In each room I've hung lists of what needs to be done there.  I won't expect them to do every single thing on the lists every night, but the more things they do in a half-hour period, the more media points they earn.

We have two other wheels hanging up on our kitchen wall right now, too (I even made a prayer wheel for Nursery at church.)  A prayer wheel...

And a Family Home Evening wheel. 

This way, we don't have to worry about arguments of who's turn it is to pray ("I always get picked!  I don't want to do it again!"  "I never get a turn!")  The Family Home Evening Wheel is also helping us remember to actually do FHE each week.  The six assignments we rotate through are: conducting, opening song, opening prayer, lesson, closing song, and treat.  (Our Evening Prayer from the prayer wheel doubles as our closing prayer for FHE.)

Finally, here's how to make an easy wheel:

1. Cut out the center circle from one cheap paper plate.
2. Use that circle as your template to cut a circle from construction paper.
3. Find the center point on the construction paper and draw your lines to divide it into the correct number of sections.
4. Glue the construction paper to your paper plate circle.
5. Use a brass fastener to attach your circle to a second paper plate. (The concave part that you would eat off would face the wall.)
6. Tape pipe cleaner to the back of your wheel for a way to hang it up.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What I Look Like Today

You've got to go check out my friend's blog Brave Bride.  She's hosting a photo challenge asking us to share a selfie.  She's inspirational and I love her!

So this is me.  Unretouched.  One shot.  I weigh more than I ever have but I am happier with my appearance now more than ever.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fairytale Town Literature Study

Not far from us is a cool theme park called Fairytale Town.  Every play area is based on a folktale, fairytale, or nursery rhyme.  This year for our literature curriculum, Secundus and Tertius are going to study every story that is represented in the park. 

I searched through the stuff I already own, all over the web for free resources, added some of my own ideas, and have pulled together what I hope will be a really fun curriculum.  When we're all done (I'm not sure if that will be at the end of this year or sometime next school year) we'll gather some friends and schedule a field trip.  I can't wait!  I haven't told the kids yet and I'm sure they will be super excited!

Humpty Dumpty’s Bridge
the following activities from nursery rhyme pack bought from here
color rhyme page
cut/paste sequencing page
label it page
writing prompt
retell using puppets (made using graphics from nursery rhyme pack)

King Arthur’s Castle
the following worksheets found here
history vs fantasy
Tales of King Arthur

Mary’s Little Lambs
the following activities from nursery rhyme pack:
color rhyme page
cut/paste sequencing page
label it page
writing prompt
retell using puppets (made using graphics from nursery rhyme pack)

The Old Woman in the Shoe
craft:make paper shoe (2 identical sides, stapled together to make pocket) and fill with paper chain children

The Tipi (Hiawatha)
make Venn diagram: our culture vs. Native American culture in story
discussion questions found here under "Lesson Plan"

The Crooked Mile
craft: attach extra long string between two opposite ends of long paper. Then make it crooked, tacking it down with glue
write another verse: what else could be crooked?

Owl’s Tree House and Pooh Corner (Winnie the Pooh)
Wise Old Owl rhyme found here (we recently read the old Winnie the Pooh books so I wanted to do something different)
Discuss: Why is listening wiser than speaking?
Owl handprint craft found here 

Farmer Brown’s Barn
read various “farmer brown” stories
writing prompt for Click Clack Moo found here. “Use a story starter (one of these examples or your own) and have the students illustrate. Farmer Brown walked by the pond. He looked into the water and saw… Farmer Brown ran to the pond. All the ducks were furious! Farmer Brown couldn’t believe his eyes! …”
sequencing pictures of wool from sheep to sweater found here
“in the barn there was a ….” book found under Day 3 here

Three Blind Mice
crossword puzzle and mouse bag puppet found here

Sherwood Forest (Robin Hood)
activity sheets found here
(I going to just get a book from the library and not use the one these activity sheets were designed for.  So we'll only use pg 1, 3, 5, and 9)

The Three Little Pigs
retell using felt board characters bought from Lakeshore Learning 
activities from Literature Pockets, Folktales and Fairytales for grade K-1 

The Three Billy Goats Gruff
retell using felt board characters bought from Lakeshore Learning 
activities from Literature Pockets, Folktales and Fairytales for grade K-1

The Cheese Stands Alone (Farmer in the Dell)
sequencing activity found here
dance/game directions found here under Day 1

Jack & Jill Hill
crossword puzzle found here
puppet slider craft found here

Mother Goose
information about the origins of mother goose found here
watch the old Disney video “The Truth about Mother Goose" link found here
make book of favorite nursery rhymes (staple pages together with words typed up and kids draw one picture for each)
mother goose coloring page found here

Jack and the Beanstalk
activities from Literature Pockets, Folktales and Fairytales for grade K-1

Cinderella’s Coach
My Wonderful Wish writing prompt found here
watch Disney version and do venn diagram story vs. movie
“How Cinderella Changed" watch craft found here

The Little Engine that Could
discussion questions and Word Family Train booklet found here under Day 1 and 4
make an illustrated book of things that were hard but you were able to do
conductors cap craft found here

Rabbit Hole Slide (Alice in Wonderland)
craft stick critters found here
cheshire cat smile puppet found here

The Dish & Spoon Cafe (Hey Diddle Diddle)
the following activities from nursery rhyme pack:
color rhyme page
cut/paste sequencing page
label it page
writing prompt
retell using puppets (made using graphics from nursery rhyme pack)

Hickory Dickory Clock
crossword puzzle found here
mouse and clock craft found here

Peter Rabbit and His Sisters and Mr. McGregor's Garden (Tale of Peter Rabbit)
paper vegetable garden collage
letter to Mr McGregor found here
coloring page found here
discussion questions found here

The Tortoise & the Hare
activities from Literature Pockets, Aesop's Fables for grade 2-3

The Alphabet Garden
abc garden collage craft: long strip of green paper, glue long blue sky on top, glue on small brown paper stems. Draw green letter shrubs on top of stems.

Urashima Taro (The Fisherman and the Turtle)
read online here
paper plate sea turtle craft found here

paper plate toadstool craft found here
leaf rubbing fairy to sit on it found here
paint rocks to look like toadstools tops (red with white spots) for garden

Pirate Ship and Pirates' Cove (Peter Pan)
draw map of Neverland using imagination
make Hook's hook with tin foil
discussion questions and pirate hat craft found here

Yellow Brick Road (Wizard of Oz)
the following activities found here
Kansas and Oz maps
character mini books
writing assignment/craft: which character are you most like?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Our Favorite Lunches

We sometimes struggle with variety in our meal plans.  This is mostly a problem with dinners as the kids don't seem to mind too much if we eat the same lunches all the time.  But I do know they appreciate it when I make something other than sandwiches.  So I wanted to share our standard lunches.

First, to make sure we eat enough of the right healthy stuff each day, we have a routine and aim for 5 servings of fruits and veggies (usually 2 or 3 fruit and 3 veggie).  We have a snack of fresh fruit between breakfast and lunch.  Apples and bananas are staples around here; or we might have another in-season fruit or pomegranate seeds from our freezer. 
We have fruit juice and a serving of veggie (usually whatever we have raw in the fridge- carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers) with lunch. 
Our snack before dinner consists of a serving of something like crackers and fruit (usually something easy to grab like dried fruit, apple sauce pouches, or fruit cups.)
Our final two veggie servings for the day are served with dinner.

Finally, on to our favorite lunch entrees:

1. Peanut Butter and Jelly.  Obviously.  Definitely the common fall-back.

2. Ham and Cheese Sandwiches.  I load mine with a bunch of lettuce and either put tomatoes or pickle inside or on the side. My kids hate mustard, but they love having sandwiches with mayo and barbeque sauce.

3. Pizza Crackers.  The kids love to make and eat these. Stick a plate full of them in the microwave for 15 seconds at a time until they're done. I can almost make them as fast as they get eaten!

Just layer a Ritz cracker, pizza sauce (our favorite is Contadina Pizza Squeeze because it's easier for the kids to help), pepperoni or cooked/crumbled Italian sausage, and cheese.  Cutting string cheese with kitchen shears is super easy and fast.  But I prefer to use chunks of Mini Babybels because they melt better.

4. Leftovers. One big perk of homeschooling is being able to just open the fridge and warm up whatever was left from dinner the night before. 

5. Corndogs.  One of these days I'm going to try and make my own mini corn dog muffins.  That would be really fun for the kids to help with.
(Picture and recipe found here.)

6. Little Smokie Quesadillas.  These were a free sample at Sam's Club once.  I was surprised at how much Secundus and Tertius loved them.  So they begged me to grab a recipe card and ask me to buy Little Smokies whenever they see them at the store.
(Picture taken from here.  No recipe available, but it's pretty self explanatory.)

7. Taco Bowls.  This is something my kids loved but for whatever reason, I haven't made in a really long time.  They're not huge fans of taco salad inside, but I'll fill them with things like raw veggies, string cheese, and cut up hot dogs.  It's just such a fun novelty to be able to eat your bowl when you're done.
(Picture taken from this Amazon listing.  I'm not sure if this is the same brand I own.)

What's your kids' favorite lunch during the school year?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

School Organization Fall 2014

 School starts for us in less than a month!  I've been working on getting organized and ready for the new school year.  I'll have two official students (Primus grade 3, Secundus grade 1) plus Tertius doing some preschool stuff and Quartus who's 18 months.  Here's what our plans are.  Maybe it will give you some ideas.

Daily Schedule.  This is going to be posted on the wall in our kitchen.
As you can see, 7:30 is when I aim for everyone to be awake and getting started with the day.  "Devo" stands for devotional.  It's our time as a family to pray and work on our scripture memorization. 

 By 8:15 hopefully the kitchen table is clean and everyone is ready for Table Time.  Everyone (even the boys for most of the time) will be sitting at the table and working on things like math and writing.  Mostly independent work-book stuff.

9:30 is snack time.  We're usually not big breakfast eaters (just cereal or oatmeal) but by 9:30 we're ready for some fruit. Under that I have posted History.   I have several word strips that have velcro on the back so they can be changed daily.  I aim for doing history and science each twice a week.  We do science and history all together in either the school room or the living room.

After lunch is another velcro spot where I can change activities out.  I aim to do Literature 3 times per week.  This year Secundus and Tertius will be doing literature activities together while Primus will be studying chapter books like Charlotte's Web and Bunnicula.

The school day officially ends no later than 3pm with snack.

 Weekly Assignments Clip Board.  Each student has their own. 
 Last year we did daily assignment sheets.  This year I want to try weekly assignments to encourage independence, personal responsibility, and the idea that it's a good idea to get the "boring" stuff out of the way first so then the rest of the week will be more time for fun.

All page numbers completed, test scores, and anything else applicable will be written on these sheets to make record keeping easier for me at the end of each month when I see our supervising teacher.

Writing Activity Ideas This is taped to each of the girls' clipboards.
I want the girls to have lots of opportunities to write throughout the week.  But I also want this to be an area where they can choose to do what really interests them.  So they're each expected to do 3 writing activities per week in addition to their Daily 6 Trait Writing book and any writing associated with other subjects.  This list gives them ideas of things to do.

 Book Baskets.  Each kid has their own basket that holds all of their individual work and clipboard. 
I got these at a thrift store for only a couple bucks each and everyone has their own color.  They sit on a shelf in the school room when we're not using them for Table Time.  All science, history, German, art, and literature stuff is stored all together in a separate location.

Record Keeping.  I'm an over-achiever sometimes.  I'm also paranoid and want to make sure EVERYTHING the kids learn or do is thoroughly documented. 

About once a month our supervising teacher comes to document our attendance, relevant things that we've done, and collect work samples.  Before she comes, I type up everything we've done and send it to her so she can pick out what she needs to send on to the school.

Then after our meeting I staple all loose work samples that she didn't take together with that kid's weekly assignment sheets and store them in my filing cabinet until the end of the year.  If the teacher wants work samples from any of the workbooks (math, handwriting, spelling, language) then they can be ripped out and given to her.  Otherwise, I probably won't be tearing out those pages.  (A couple years ago I tore every page out of Primus' math book so then she could just have one sheet of paper in front of her at a time.)

(Edited to add:) I also have a simple notebook where I record all of our group learning and activities each week.  I tell the kids that it's my brain because it's also where I write school supply wish lists, grocery lists, keep track of school money left, all planning notes about future birthday parties, list of things borrowed or loaned out, etc.

Are you ready for the new school year?

Hook's Revenge-Pirate Face

 Enjoy this lovely pictures of the girls giving me their best Pirate Face. 

A friend of a friend wrote a book called Hook's Revenge.  By sharing our pirate face picture, we have a chance to win some cool stuff related to the book.  And you can enter, too! 

Why do I care about this contest?
1) The story came highly recommended as a fun adventure
2) I recently read a book to the kids from a different author that was also set in Neverland.  They loved it!  We're currently picking out way through the original Peter Pan, as well so this might be a good fit for us.  Though, Hook's revenge does appear to be for older kids.  That's ok, I'll read it and then pack it away with my growing stash of literature for the kids.
3) Who doesn't love free stuff?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Finger Painting with Yogurt

This is an activity I used to do all the time when Primus was 3 and Secundus was a baby.  It's a fun activity and snack all in one!

This can be done with either vanilla yogurt or vanilla pudding.  We've always done yogurt, but pudding would be nice with its thicker consistency. 

Divide your snack into 3 bowls and color them with red, blue, and yellow food coloring. 

 Give each of the kids 3 tiny bowls so they can have a little bit of each color.

  A big white plate makes a great canvas for mixing colors and painting.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Paper Graduation Cap

 Finally, here's the tutorial I promised.  Just in time for next year!  :)

Cut a 9X12 piece of black construction paper in half longwise.

Staple the ends together to form the circular band.  Do it so the flat side of the staple is against the kid's head and the ends are pointing out so they don't grab hair.

Cut a second piece of 9X12 black construction paper into a square.

Cut little notches all around the band you made and fold them perpendicular. 

Glue the little tabs to the square paper.

 Once you try it on your child's head, you'll want to trim the band down so it's not as tall.

Glue a little black pom pom to the center top of the square paper.  Wrap the string of your tassel around it and glue that down.

To make the string:
Take a long piece of yarn and twist it tightly.  As you twist it, fold the yarn in half.  It will twist on itself.  Tie the ends together in a knot and it won't unravel. 

The make the tassel:
Start making a large pom pom with 4 fingers like it shows here.  When you're done wrapping, fit the twisted string you made between the yarn on one end.  Tie a string close to that end, instead of in the middle. Finally, only cut the loops far away from where you tied it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Cheapest Way to Pay it Forward

I struggled to get out of the store after a long, tiring grocery shopping trip.  The baby was strapped to me in the Moby Wrap, crying,  and two little ones were ordered to hold on to the side of the over-full cart.  Soon after stepping out through the automatic door, a woman with a kind face and a teenage daughter stopped me.  "You're doing a great job!  Your children are so well behaved!  Please let me help you with your groceries."  She then pushed the cart while I held one child in each hand.  Once we reached the car, I buckled in the little ones and calmed the baby while her and her daughter tried to figure out how to fit all my bags around the stroller in the back of the car.

Her kind words (and many others like them over my 8 years of being a mother) really struck me.  Her words even had more impact on me than the fact that she helped pack my bags into the car.  I want to be that woman.  I want to pay that forward.  I want to lift others up! 

I'm not in a position currently to help others financially.  And as a busy mom I don't always have the time and energy to give service in the traditional sense.  But kind words are free.  Kind words are easy.  Kind words are uplifting.


"I'm so stressed out!  I don't feel like I'm doing anything right some days!" my friend lamented to me.  She was working herself ragged trying to take care of her home and children and dealing with the other stresses of life.  All she could see was the things that were going wrong.  But all I could see were the many wonderful things she was doing right.  So I touched my hand to her knee and said, "I've been there, too.  It seems I'm "there" often.  You are a good mom!  You're an inspiration to me."


"Go tell Shirley 'thank you' for having us over," my friend told her little one after a fun playdate.   The handsome boy reluctantly walked closer to me and mumbled a shy, "Thank you."  I knelt down at his level, looked him in the eye, took his hand gently, and said, "You're welcome.  I'm so glad you came today."


We all stood up and started putting away our chairs after the closing prayer of the Family Support Group, for which I'm facilitator.  As we worked, we continued to talk with each other about God, addiction, our loved ones, our struggles, the 12 Steps, and even unrelated things like the weather.  Sometimes the "meeting" after the meeting is the most uplifting and supportive part.  This is our time to make real connections and friendships with each other, share ideas, and expand on thoughts and testimonies that were shared during the meeting. While one member told us about how excited she was to visit her grandkids in another state next week, I noticed Jane (name changed) try to sneak out.

She had only attended a couple times and shared a tiny, mostly vague, part of her story so far.  I wasn't sure what in her life had prompted her to start coming, but it was very clear that she felt hopeless and depressed.  Obviously she needed healing and peace, and I knew that she could find it in the Atonement of Christ through the 12 Steps. But in the beginning of “recovery,” before you gain a testimony of the process, it can be hard to attend each week. Just like with addicts, co-dependents won't seek recovery until the pain of the solution is less than the pain of the problem. Many new members of the group need encouragement to keep coming back. They need to feel like they are loved and that their contributions to the group are important. I caught her eye before she had a chance to step out the door and said, "Thank you for coming.  You're right where you need to be.  See you next week!"

I looked down at my peacefully nursing newborn.  As a new mom, I quickly became overwhelmed with thoughts of all the things I needed to teach her.  Then my mind cleared and I thought, "If I could have her learn just one thing, what would be the most important?"  So I looked her in the eyes and said softly, "You are a daughter of God.  And you are of worth because you're His child and He loves you."


Everyone needs to feel needed.  Everyone needs to feel loved.  

What can you do to lift those around you?  Even sharing some simple words of kindness can make a huge difference in someone's life, young or old.