Saturday, May 23, 2015

Homeschooling Means...#3

...I'm sleeping with the Principal.

(This new series is meant to be mostly lighthearted and fun.  Some may be serious, but most will be silly, braggy, or of the keepin'-it-real variety.  Not every homeschool is the same.  And some of these things could be said by public school parents.  This is just to highlight MY experience with MY homeschool and MY children.  Enjoy these little insights into our life and feel free to share your own "Homeschooling means..." in the comments!)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Time to Buy More Markers!

I can't wait for the back-to-school sales to start.  We are in desperate need of new markers.  I just went through our box and threw away a bunch of dead markers.  It seems like every time I do this, which is every couple months, I find a whole handful of dry markers.

This box may seem sufficiently full, but I assure you, it is mostly extra caps.  I keep all lids because I never want the kids to leave a marker to dry up with the excuse, "but I can't find the lid!"

This used to be one of my huge pet peeves-leaving lids off markers.  I used to get so angry!  Each marker represents money!  And that's in short supply these days.  I was frequently heard screaming, "Click the lid!!!"

But at the beginning of this school year I decided the fight just wasn't worth it.  I bought a few new packages on sale then explained to the kids (and calmly reminded them several times throughout the year) that I wasn't going to buy extra markers.  If they don't take care of them, then they will be thrown away.  And new ones won't magically appear.  And if they end up with no more red markers, then that's just gonna stink.  And maybe they'll remember next time.

Did they take care of them better this year than last? Nope.  Did they take care of them better in years past when I was hysterically crying about how expensive markers are?  Nope.

When the back-to-school sales start again, I'll go down to Walmart and pick up several packs of CraZArt's for a few bucks, and then move on.  It's really not as bad as I convinced myself it was for so long.  Peace in our home is worth way more than some boxes of cheap art supplies.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Homeschooling Means...#2

...we had the following conversation while getting the kids bathed before dinner.

Hubby: "Alright, kids, when you're done getting bathed, get day-clothes on." (We were going as a family to a party that night)

Me: "Actually, why don't we have them just put on pajamas?  We don't know how late we'll be out and it's one less change of outfits to deal with."

Hubby: "Are you sure?  They're not going to feel awkward?"

Me: (head cocked to the side) "Honey. They're homeschooled."

Hubby: (pause) "Ok, kids, get in pajamas."

Haha.  I love that it was a perfectly valid argument all on it's own.  See, aren't our kids kinda expected be awkward?  I say embrace it!  :)  They wear some of the weirdest outfits out of the house.  I love that they don't even care.

(This new series is meant to be mostly lighthearted and fun.  Some may be serious, but most will be silly, braggy, or of the keepin'-it-real variety.  Not every homeschool is the same.  And some of these things could be said by public school parents.  This is just to highlight MY experience with MY homeschool and MY children.  Enjoy these little insights into our life and feel free to share your own "Homeschooling means..." in the comments!)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Library Discoveries #6 Science Kit

Did you know the public library has more to offer than just books?  This is installment #6 in a series about the many things that can be checked out from my local public library.  The library has so many things to offer, but I'm going to focus on things that are kid-centric.

Check-Out Science by Lawrence Hall of Science

Find it on the website, have it "reserved" and sent to your local branch, and then pick it up and check it out just like a book.

Our science studies have been very loose this year.  I never chose a specific curriculum.  So these kits have been really nice.

What you get:

1 or 2 nonfiction books
2 activity cards
1 blank notebook to write in and keep (basically just a few pages stapled together)
1 free pass to the Lawrence Hall of Science

Unfortunately, the last 3 times I have checked out kits, they did not contain notebooks or museum passes.  The first time, I took the kit up to the service desk to ask about the missing pieces and she seemed pretty confused, as if she had never seen such a thing before.  When I explained what was missing, she assumed that the kit needed to be sent back to the central branch in between check outs to be refilled.  And it would appear that didn't happen.  They have none of the missing supplies in the back room.

Then she started showing me how to get a free museum pass through the library catalog (perhaps I will blog this feature later).  But I don't care about the museum pass.  I just wanted the blank notebook!

So she apologized and took the kit and said she would send it back to central.  A week later I reserved this same kit and another one because I wanted to see if it actually got refilled.  Nope!  

Oh, well.  I digress!

Even without the blank notebook, it's a pretty great kit.  The two cards walk you through everything step by step.  It tells you when to read each book, what to write about, and also steps to a related experiment using objects you probably already have around the house.

When we did the Modeling a Stream kit, it had us fill a jellyroll pan with cornmeal, prop it up at an angle, and pour water down it from the top.  We learned how water changes landscapes; water moves downhill; and that things like rocks, trees, and dams change the path of the stream.  This kit inspired Primus' science fair project.

Stayed tuned for the next installment!
1. Art Pack
2. Subject in a Box
3. Movies and Music
4. Audio Books and Read Alouds
5. Library of Things
7. Museum Passes

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Homeschooling Means... #1

...if you drop by on a day that we have no plans out of the house, then you will find me in my pajamas with un-brushed hair.  At least the kids will be dressed.  Well, maybe not the toddler.

(This new series is meant to be mostly lighthearted and fun.  Some may be serious, but most will be silly, braggy, or of the keepin'-it-real variety.  Not every homeschool is the same.  And some of these things could be said by public school parents.  This is just to highlight MY experience with MY homeschool and MY children.  Enjoy these little insights into our life and feel free to share your own "Homeschooling means..." in the comments!)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Library Discoveries #5 Library of Things

Did you know the public library has more to offer than just books?  This is installment #5 in a series about the many things that can be checked out from my local public library.  The library has so many things to offer, but I'm going to focus on things that are kid-centric. 

The Library of Things

This is a really new, cool program.  The "Library of Things" is a collection of many different "things" that can all be checked out.  Some "things" that are available include video games (for last and next gen systems), musical instruments, board and card games, and a sewing machine.  All of these items are housed at one particular library.  If you want to check something out, you have to go to that location; they do not transfer them to your preferred branch like they do with books.  Some "things" are on display at the branch, or you can go online to browse and have them reserved for you.

Given the expensive nature of these "things," the library naturally has put several conditions in place for checking them out:

You have to be 18 or older.
Only one "thing" may be checked out at a time.
You must sign an agreement at the circulation desk.

It's interesting to note, though, that video games don't require a signed agreement, don't have an age restriction, and don't count against your "one thing" limit.  Hubby and I beg the question, then why are video games considered part of the Library of Things collection instead of being treated as everyday library materials?

When I went to pick up my reservations the other day, I had a good chat with the librarian.  He thinks that change will be happening soon!  He hopes that by the end of the summer they will have more of an abundance of things (especially board and card games) and that the demand will die down a little with the program being less new.  That will mean that they can lift the one-thing-at-a-time restriction.  He thinks it will be great for library patrons to be able to check out a whole bunch of games at a time and hold game nights, for example.  They'll also be rearranging some of the shelving so that the entire Library of Things can be on display instead of hidden away in the back room.

(Edited to add: When I went today they had Things displayed along one wall as pictured above instead of just one portion of shelving.  Not sure if this is what the librarian meant or if it's going to be given an even larger home in the future.)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Practicing Different Skill Levels with Games

After posting last night about my thoughts on homeschooling three children, I remembered something else that has helped me teach more than one kid at once.  Games!

This Word Bump game by This Reading Mama is really good.  Each kid uses it to practice their own list of sight words or spelling words.  It doesn't matter if they are at totally different levels.

I also picked up a while ago some random game boards that didn't have any included pieces, dice, or rules (you can easily make your own).  So we made up our own rules.

Basically, when it's your turn, you read your sight word, spell your spelling word, identify an alphabet sound, or do a math fact.  If you were correct, then you get to roll the dice.

Again, this works really well with any skill that each kid needs to practice and at any level.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Advice for Teaching 3 Students

A fellow homeschooling mommy asked me for some advice on homeschooling 3 children.  She's been homeschooling one daughter while another daughter and son went to public school.  She'll be teaching all three at home this year and is understandably nervous.

While her three kids don't match up perfectly in age or needs to my kids, I was happy to help in any way I can.  I know I love to read other homeschooling moms' blogs to get insight on how they do things.  I rarely replicate things exactly as I read them in my own homeschool.  But I think it's still good to gather many perspectives to get the creative juices flowing!

Following is exactly what I messaged to her:

Sure. I hope I can help.

This year I have a 3rd grader, a 1st grader, and a preschooler.  Honestly, until a couple months ago, the preschooler (kinder in the fall) didn't get a ton of individual school attention.
But even so, I've learned a couple things these last couple months.  First, we need a pretty strict schedule, or else stuff doesn't happen.

At the very beginning of the school day, the preschooler gets half an hour of undivided attention from me.   We work on our reading curriculum and workbooks or whatever.  The girls are not allowed to interrupt me during that time (but of course they still do :) )

After that, the 1st grader gets half an hour of attention.  I check any work that she accomplished while I was working with brother and then work together on whatever she needs.

Then we break for snack and do science or history all together.  After that everyone goes back to independent learning and I can jump between them as needed, do chores, or play with the toddler.
Then a half hour before lunch, the 3rd grader gets her individual attention from me.

After lunch is literature time.  The 3rd grader is mostly on her own (reading an assigned novel and doing associated activities) and the 1st/preschooler do literature together (usually consisting of me reading them a story and them doing a craft.)

As you can see, the keys to this working for us is doing as many group subjects as we can and especially everyone learning to work independently.

Learning to work independently is the hardest but most important thing, I feel, for my kids.  The girls each have a clipboard containing a list of things they need to accomplish during the week.  I don't care what order they do things in.  Primus is in 3rd grade and really quite good at working independently now. Secundus the 1st grader is not so good at it and needs a bit of help being redirected/refocused.  It also super helps that she learned to read kinda early.  I feel that if a kid can read, then the whole world is open to them and they can learn anything.  So the main focus for us in late preschool/kindergarten is learning to read.

So anyway, that's basically how we do.  Every kid and every family is so different, though!  I'm constantly reevaluating and tweaking our homeschool.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Yelling and Miracles

On April 9th I posted on Facebook:  "Yesterday was a bad mental health day for me. But today I've managed to not yell at the kids at all so far. Not even raise my voice. Yay!"

My base mental state for the past 5 years or so has been "stressed."  Heavenly Father has taken care of us and blessed us in more ways than we deserve.  But still, the stress (influenced by lack of faith) remains.  I have ups and downs and the downs translate to taking it out on my children in the form of yelling.  I know it's not the best, most effective way to teach and parent. 

I have prayed to my Heavenly Father many times over the years pleading with Him to remove this yelling flaw from me.  I begged for help to be patient, kind, and loving. Taking out my stress on the kids isn't fair and they don't deserve it.  They deserve a better mother.  And like I said, I'd have my up days but then I always fall back down.

Then finally on April 8th I had a mental break down of sorts.  Usually how it happens it the stress builds and builds until it's all consuming.  And then I freak out, have a good cry, release it all, and then I feel a little better for a little while.  

So on this day I was being unreasonable and yelling at the kids more than usual.  And when I'm in a mood, they act up and then the situation snowballs.  No one was happy.  Thankfully Hubby was home.  At about 1pm he came up to me as I washed dishes, probably worried that I would throw a plate or something, and asked, "Honey, do you need a break?"  

I immediately said, "yes," turned off the water, grabbed my purse and shoes, and walked out the door.  I had an appointment I needed to be at in an hour.  So I sat in the drive way for a few minutes, bawled my eyes out, and prayed.  

When I did finally start driving towards my appointment, I continued to cry and pour out my whole soul to my Heavenly Father.  When I came home I felt tired, defeated, ashamed, ungrateful, and humbled.

The next day I woke up and I didn't yell at the kids.  I woke up the next day and didn't yell at them. Here we are a month later, and still I haven't yelled at the kids at all since.

I can't yell at them.  I'm weirdly physically incapable anymore.  It's a miracle.  Even if I'm shouting across the house to call them to dinner, I can't yell as loud or as intensely as I used to.  I don't know if this makes sense, but it's like something is restraining my voice.  

The change isn't because of my own will power.  And it's definitely not because the kids are perfect.  They've still needed discipline.  But discipline can be done calmly and with love.  Or at least without rage.

One of the most interesting things about this for me is that the focus of my prayers this time wasn't even about asking for help to stop yelling.  Sure, it was included in my pleas, but it wasn't a main focus as it has been in the past.

I don't want this to sound braggy at all.  That's not what I'm doing.  I just feel like I would be a truly unprofitable servant (more so than usual) if I didn't publicly thank God and witness of His power.

It reminds me of when I've talked to alcoholics.  Some have said, "I threw away that last bottle of beer and then never had the desire to touch the stuff again."  But then some struggle with it for the rest of their lives, taking it "one day at a time."  

We don't know why God gives us the challenges He does.  We don't know why He blesses us in the ways He does.  But I have a testimony that He knows all of us.  He knows what we need to experience.  He knows what we need to learn.  He knows how we need to learn it.  

I know that Heavenly Father knows and loves me.  I know that He knows and loves my children.  I am so grateful for that knowledge and that He has seen fit to bless my family the ways He has.  

Links from above:
Alma 19:33
Mosiah 2:21
D&C 121:43

Friday, May 1, 2015

I Don't Care!

You know those days when your five year old babbles on and on for 20 minutes straight about Pokemon?  And all you want to do is scream, "Enough!  I don't care about Pokemon!  Why did your uncle ever introduce you to such stupid nonsense?  Just go outside and play!"?

Ever been there?

When this happens I bite my tongue and just let him talk.  And talk.  And talk.  For whatever reason, this right now is important to him.  And he wants to share it with me.

A couple years ago a friend said something that really stuck with me.  I was at her house, visiting and preparing plums for canning, while our kids played in the backyard.  Her oldest daughter (how old is she?  Preteen, teen?) came into the kitchen and told her mom she had something to tell her.  

My friend didn't hesitate to excuse herself from our conversation, go in the other room with her daughter, and give her full attention.  

When my friend came back she indicated that what her daughter wanted to talk about wasn't really all that important.  "But," she said, "I need her to know that I'm willing to listen to what she has to say now so she'll know that I'm willing to listen anytime, especially when even more significant topics come up."

I want my boy to feel comfortable telling me about the things that are on his mind.  I want to hear him talk about Pokemon, not because I give a flip about Pokemon, but because he's interested in Pokemon.

I want my children to know that I will listen to them anytime about anything.

Open communication and mutual respect are probably the biggest things that will help us all survive the teen years.  And we're building the foundation for that now.

But I still might wish his uncle had never introduced him to Pokemon.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Library Discoveries #4 Audio Books and Read-Alouds

Did you know the public library has more to offer than just books?  This is installment #4 in a series about the many things that can be checked out from my local public library.  The library has so many things to offer, but I'm going to focus on things that are kid-centric. 

Reading aloud (mostly bedtime stories) to my kids is very important to me and I love to do it.  But sometimes I just don't feel like it.  Thankfully the library has several options to fill the gap.

I found out about Dial-A-Story, Playaway, Books-on-CD, and BookFLIX.


I thought this was an interesting idea.  Just call up the number, hand your kid the phone, and a friendly recorded voice on the other end will read them a picture book.  The story changes weekly.

Unfortunately, chances are we are not going to have the picture book that the recording is reading.  So the kid won't get the full experience of being read a picture book.  Maybe it would be good to keep the kid occupied and quiet for a few precious moments while in line at the post office or in a doctor's office?  

Secundus was very excited to try it out for me because talking on the phone is a rare treat.  But this time it was reading a book of poems and she just didn't get interested.  After two poems she handed the phone back to me and said, "Thanks, but that was boring."


This one excited the kids because it reminded them of an iPod.  You check it out just like a book.  What you get is a little audio player with one book loaded on it.  

What you don't get is headphones/speakers (you've got to use your own) and the associated book (if you want to read along, you'll have to check out the book separately.)  

Thankfully, we owned this book already and they eagerly took turns listening this fun story.

Most of the Playaways I saw available seemed to be chapter books so we'll be going back to get some for the girls.  

This picture book was fun, but not the best for Tertius because he can't read yet, and there was no "page turn" signal.


Picture Books

Of course the library has many of these available!  In the past we've enjoyed taking on vacation with us picture books that have audio cds included.  These types always have page-turn signals so they're perfect for kids to "read" independently.  

Often the CD will also include a track of the story read without potentially annoying page-turn signals.  And sometimes the CD will even include some bonus kids music.

Chapter Books

We recently discovered how much we like listening to audio books in the car.  After listening to Tales of King Arthur and Prince and the Pauper, though, the CD player broke.  :(  But I still picked up some new ones today to listen to in the house while we eat lunch.


I was so happy to find this!  We absolutely LOVE watching picture books being read online.  You access BookFLIX through the library's website by clicking from the home page on "kids" then "ebooks" then "bookflix."

This one is done by Scholastic and it has a huge variety of stories.  

When you select a pair of books, one of them can be "watched" and one can be "read."

The "Watch the Story" option is an animation of the story made by Weston Wood with captioning at the bottom of the screen so kids can read along.

The "Read the Book" book gives you the option to turn on the audio so it reads to you.  Or you can turn the audio off and make your kid practicing reading new books without having to leave your house to check out more.  Also of note, with this one you have to click to turn the page (something I don't always trust the youngest ones to do without my supervision.)

What's even better about this website is that it even includes games for all the books!

Stay tuned for the next installment!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Countdown to Easter

This year I decided that our Easter was sadly not Christ-centered enough.  We just haven't established any really good family traditions (beyond the Easter Bunny) yet.

After thinking about what we do to countdown to Christmas and seeing my friend post about what her family does, I came up with my plan.

This will be our new Countdown to Easter board.  There is a small lesson for everyday for 31 days contained inside an Easter egg.  Every night before family prayer we'll get the next egg, read the lesson, and attach an item to the board so we have a visual reminder of what we've learned.

The 31 days are divided into 3 sections.  1. Who is Jesus?  2. Symbols.  3. Holy Week.

The top row, Who is Jesus?, comes from this activity from the Friend Magazine.  For each day there is a statement about Christ, a scripture to read, and then either a discussion question or a song to sing. Then the accompanying picture gets velcroed to our board. (If you do this, be sure and click "download pdf" on the right side of the webpage.  That way you can print out the 2 page version instead of the small 1 page version.)

The next two rows are pockets made of clear contact paper to house all the 16 Symbols.  It's pretty ugly-looking on the board so I may have to brainstorm a better way to do this later.
The symbols section is where we'll learn all about the details of the Atonement/Ressurection and the events leading up to it.  The eggs contain a small object (like a rock for the stone that covered the tomb and a nail for the crucifixion) and then a scripture and brief description of the significance.

The final 8 days before Easter are Holy Week.  We'll read scriptures and look at pictures from the Gospel Art Kit to learn about the key events of each day leading up to the first Easter.  And that yellow summary gets velcroed to our board.

(I can't find the Gospel Art Kit online. Does the Church not make it anymore?  I think you can probably find all of the needed pictures in the Gospel Art Book or online here.)

I mod-podged the little labels to each egg and they conveniently fit in these two cute sparkly Easter egg boxes I have.

I'm very excited to implement this next year!  In fact, I don't think I want to wait until next year.  We just may do it now.  I just need to gather a couple more symbols (a tiny cocktail sword and soap) and then I'll be totally good to go!

(I would love to share the results of my hard work with everyone!  Unfortunately, I don't know how to insert a free downloadable/printable version straight on the blog.  But if you give me your email address, I'll send you the documents I created.  The vast majority of the information came from the resources my friend shared in her posts that I linked above.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bacon-Topped Meatloaf

Tonight I had a dear friend over for dinner and at the request of Hubby, I made meatloaf.  He really likes this meatloaf.  So do I.  It's really yummy even if we don't happen to have bacon to put on top. 

My friend requested the recipe so here it is!  I got it years ago from some blog or recipe site.  If anyone knows where the original likely came from, let me know and I'll gladly give credit where credit is due.  

Bacon-Topped Meatloaf

preheat oven to 350

heat in large skillet on medium-high heat:
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • add yellow onion (1 small, diced)
  • saute 3-5 min until lightly browned

combine in large bowl:
  • onions (the ones cooked above or just a few shakes of dried minced onions)
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • ¾ cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tbsp mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp ketchup

put on large greased baking sheet, formed in oval mound

brush 4 Tbsp ketchup on top
lay bacon strips on top

bake 50-60 min (internal temp 160-165)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mac'N'Cheese Casserole

You know those nights when you go, "Holy cow!  It's 5 o'clock already and I have no idea what we're eating for dinner!  What do you guys want to eat?"

Often in our house the answer is "Mac'N'Cheese!" (The blue box.) I've gotten tired of explaining to them (*cough* Hubby *cough*) that macaroni and cheese (especially the overly processed junk we buy) does not constitute a meal.

So instead I make it into a meal.  I've learned that my kids are more willing to taste new vegetables when I serve it in this casserole versus serving them on their own as a side dish.  I grew up on casseroles. All the important food groups for the meal in one dish.  Only one member of the household complains about the sacred macaroni and cheese being adulterated (*cough* Hubby *cough*.)  On this day Primus learned that she likes water chesnuts.

So here it is, my super easy recipe (can you even call it a recipe?) for a quick meal on those nights when you don't know what to cook and you want even the picky eaters to eat.  It's definitely not the healthiest dinner we eat, but it includes vegetables so I call it a win!

The rough recipe below is enough for our family of 6 to eat dinner plus lunch the next day.

Mac'N'Cheese Casserole

1. Cook 1 pound frozen vegetables according to package directions.
2. Cook 2-3 boxes macaroni and cheese according to package directions.
3. When you add the cheese powder/milk/butter to the macaroni, also add the vegetables and about 6 cut up hotdogs.
4. Stir it all up and serve.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Library Discoveries #3 Movies and Music

Did you know the public library has more to offer than just books?  This is installment #3 in a series about the many things that can be checked out from my local public library.  The library has so many things to offer, but I'm going to focus on things that are kid-centric. 

This one may be a big "DUH!" for some people, but I decided to include it anyway.  :)


Kid Videos

We don't have cable so the kids like to get a lot of videos at the library.

Our branch usually has a good selection of kids shows.  The only frustrating part is that sometimes the discs are really scratched up.  It's even worse because our DVD player is pretty sensitive.  Sometimes the DVD refuses to read the disc or it freezes, but the same DVD will be fine in the computer.

What's great is that they don't just have PBS cartoons.  They also get major motion pictures!  We've checked out Frozen on two separate occasions.  With the popular movies you have to reserve them through the website and get on a waiting list, though.


I like to pick up educational DVD's to have on the shelf for it we're having a sick day or a Mommy-is-too-busy-to-teach-but-we-can't-take-an-actual-holiday day.  Our favorites are the DK Eyewitness series, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and most things by Schlessinger Media.

For the Grown-ups

Hubby and I occasionally get some good stuff for ourselves, too.  Documentaries, TV series, and major motion pictures (both classic and current.)


I refuse to listen to kids' music in the car.  I'd rather listen to talk radio (which drives the kids crazy) or pop music on the radio (with my finger on the volume control to sensor as needed.)  But the library's extensive children's CD collection has been helpful when I have taken a turn leading our Mommy-and-Me music class.

If the month's theme is "animals," for example, then I quickly look at the back of every CD to read track titles and guess if it seems to go with the theme.  Then I take my huge stack home and decide which CD's to keep and use (no more than 10 songs are needed.)  I have found some really cool music that I otherwise wouldn't have known about.  My favorite find was Recess Monkey.  They've got some cool songs.

Stayed tuned for the next installment!