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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Get it together!

Finally, available time meets, inspiration and motivation. Hence, my first blog post of the new year! Isn't that the way it is. As a homeschool mom, it is often the second biggest struggle, to keep up with your everyday tasks and homeschool. Some, myself included, would say that homeschooling is equal to having a full time job. Only you do not leave the house and come home to everything just as you left it. You are here all day, creating and cleaning up messes. So how do you maintain your home, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and everything in between, AND homeschool and do a perfect job???? I have the perfect answer...wait for it....wait for it.....I HAVENT A CLUE!!!!!  :)

Does that make you feel better. You see there is never going to be a complete balance where everything works in harmony together. Schedules change, stages of life change, and circumstances change and all of those things are a huge factor in how the outflow of your days run. So does that mean we need to throw it all out the window and just wing it....absolutely not. We need to be faithful stewards of our time, resources and heart attitudes. We are teaching our children more than just reading, writing and math. We are teaching them how to handle life, how to live in day to day life, how to faithfully pursue what is good, even when all odds are against us. When we are organized and have a plan, things run more smoothly and we are less likely to fall into patterns where our sinful attitudes take over and make ours and everyone around us lives miserable. The fact that they see that we are trying to make time to get to the important things, is teaching them to be good stewards of their time.

So, you say, how do you do that, if there is no perfect balance. Well there's not a pat answer. I would say the first place to start is with your spouse. Some spouses will be more understanding and allow grace, when the laundry piles up, as long as the floors are clean, while others may believe that laundry washed, folded and organized neatly in the drawers is a necessity and that the floors can wait. There would be no use in polishing those floors till they shine, when your spouse values clean laundry over that, it can cause tension between two people, when one feels like, Goodness, I thought I was doing a great job, look how clean the floors are, and the other is frustrated with the laundry. Getting on the same page by sitting down and figuring out together the top things that need to be done each week, that are important to both parties, and getting them in order together by priority is a huge way to avoid arguments over unmet expectations and it provides a great starting block for how to focus on your daily tasks.

After you do this, you can sit down and plan. I have found it very helpful to have a written schedule. This being said, you MUST not take the written schedule too seriously because times, they are always a changin. If you don't know where to start, there is a great resource out there available from one of my favorite bloggers Jessica, at Life as Mom. She has an e-book, Organizing Life As Mom. The resources for planning are worth every penny, and it doesn't cost a pretty penny either. I highly recommend this as a place to start. Since it is an e-book, you can download it right away and print the pages you want to use (there are several different options included, for each category so you can pick the styles that best fit you). I have used these for a couple years now. I have also created my own forms for the things that changed over time and didn't line up with the forms offered there.

Since times are changing I recommend either sending the forms to Kinkos or another copy shop and getting them printed on laminated pages, or another more affordable alternative is putting them in page protector sleeves. With both of these options you can use dry erase markers to fill in your schedule and you can change it freely as you try things out to find what works. She also has one available specifically for homeschool, but I do not have that one.

So that is generally speaking. More specifically speaking, let's talk housework. Keeping up with the housework is by far one of the biggest challenges for homeschool moms, especially ones with younger children that are limited in their chore capabilities. I highly recommend having a list of chores for your children to complete each day, based on their ability level. Post it on a chart and give them a star or check every day they are complete and a reward at the end of the week if you so choose. For Moms chores, I have found that different things work at different seasons. Here are my top three that I change between, depending on what season of life we are in.

Option 1: One Room A Day-Using this option you create a schedule M-F (you can include weekends too if necessary) where you concentrate on cleaning just that one room (or zone) that day, when it's done, your cleaning tasks for the day are done (for me I include rooms that are attached to other rooms, such as, the master bath with the master bedroom, powder room with the kitchen, upstairs bathroom with the school room etc but you could break it down so that bathrooms is one of the days I say zones because you could call it by zone I usually include the two upstairs bedrooms, bath and school room as one day. It doesn't take long to clean them. Break it down in a way that works for you, the idea is to keep it to something you could spend only about 30-45 min tops (or less) cleaning a day  (that's not including the things you do every day, we will get there) Think about what rooms would be better on which days...if you have a big out of the house day, the easiest to clean room or zone should go on that day. If you have a day when people come to your house, make it the main room you will be entertaining in. Just think about what will work best for your family. I created my own schedule specifically for my day to day cleaning, with a list of the room to be cleaned and a checklist. Life as mom also offers a cleaning checklist in her book.

Option 2: One Day To Clean It All-There have been seasons where schooling days don't go as smoothly as I would like, or doc appointments etc. fill up the days when we are not schooling and I am unable to do Option 1. In order to not make myself feel like a total failure at keeping up with the house, I throw option 1 out the window and move to option 2 and pick one day, where I have a review day, an easy school day, and we all clean the house as a team...mostly me though, if I am being honest :) This works for me because my house is not huge, but I have friends that say it would not work for them because their house is too big and they wouldn't be able to do it in one day. You could consider breaking it into two days in that case, maybe an upstairs day, and a downstairs day or something.

Option 3: Duty a day-Similar to option 1, but break it down by cleaning duties, one day you vacuum/mop, one day you dust, one day you clean the bathrooms etc. This is also good and keeps it more open and not too much pressure on you.

So these are the three options I use most often depending on where we are at in our season of life. I am usually always touching up during the week too, by wiping down dirty sinks with a towel, giving the kids the dusters to have them go through a quick run through of the house just helps keep up easier and makes less pressure if you fall behind. These ideas are to be a guide line to getting the house clean. In addition to this there are daily duties that need to be done, such as laundry, dishes, making beds, picking up and touch up cleaning.

For beds and such, we do a morning High five, and an evening High five, with the five things the kids need to do in the morning, make beds, get dressed, put away pj's, brush teeth, and kitchen duties. For bedtime, its bath, pj's, put away dirty clothes, brush teeth, potty. Life as mom suggests this and has a chart available in her book. I created my own chart in word, with clip art for each thing. Its posted on their bedroom door so that we can make sure we do it each morning and evening.

For laundry, I have a rule, one load of laundry, from start to finish (wash, fold, put away) EVERY DAY. Some families may need to do two loads a day like this if you have a larger family or if you usually do 1 load a day, but need to catch up . I usually put a load in first thing in the morning, switch it at snack or lunchtime, and fold it during naptime, put away after nap (my kids all still take naps, even my 6 yr old so I am blessed) fold it during whatever free time you have to do tasks like this. I usually separate them, whites, colors, jeans, towels etc. and choose the pile that is biggest, but if there is a need for white shirts and the colors pile is bigger, I still choose the one where there is a need. Just some basic laundry principles to guide you.

For dishes, I usually run the dishwasher after dinner and try to unload it before bed, that way I start the morning with a clean sink and ability to clean up after breakfast with ease. That's just me.

For picking up and touching up, I usually clean up everything right when we finish in a room. I have a toy organization system, which I will share in  my next post, where I have everything categorized into bins, in a LOCKED closet and the kids are aloud to choose a bin of toys each to take out. They are to be responsible for the cleanup of that bin of toys as long as it is out, no matter who played with it. When its cleanup time, that's the bin they are responsible for.

They each have kitchen duties (simple ones on their level) so whenever we are done with a meal they do their kitchen duty. We always clean up the areas we play in or school in, before moving on to another. Another thing I have done on crazy days (and a lot of them are) where the clean up each room before we leave it principle doesn't work, is group clean up at nap time, and just before daddy gets home. I always try to have the house in order before daddy gets home. He's been hard at work all day, I want him to have a nice environment to come home to, so I make this a priority each and every day.

I also have a set time that I start dinner, it's usually toward the end of the kids naps, but if that doesn't work, either have them help you, even if that's hard at first, they will eventually learn and it will be less of a hassle, but  if you don't want to do that figure out activities such as outdoor play, play dough, puzzles, games, a movie, extra school work, whatever you choose to occupy them so you can focus on cooking. This goes for your 30-45 min cleaning time as well, if you have children that don't nap.

These are just some of the things I do to stay on track, but that is not to say I don't get off track. When I do, I just try to take it a day at a time, try not to freak out, my frustration trickles down to everyone else in the family and makes life miserable. So stay calm, breathe,  pick an option 1,2, or 3, to focus on and just start from there instead of trying to put all kinds of pressure on myself to get it done right NOW!

If you just can't do that, take a day or two off from formal schooling, give worksheets, use online resources, whatever you want to do, and get it together. I try not to do this too much, but the reality is, sometimes you really have no choice and it's the better option for everyone, especially if you are having a hard time keeping your cool.

So if you choose to hop in where you left off and its option 1, start with whatever day it is and clean that room. You will be back on track in a week. If its option 2, wait until the day you have for cleaning and do it then or revert to options 1, or 3, to help you get caught up in the week. Then resume full option 2 level cleaning on the appropriate day. Etc. I have provided links to the organizing book by Jessica at Life As Mom, and I will be happy to provide you with my own templates as well if you would like.  I will talk about how to get a handle on organization and less disastrous messes to clean up in my next post. I would be happy to hear your suggestions on organization and how you keep on track as well.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can we afford to homeschool????

One of the things I struggled with when considering homeschooling was if we could afford it. Some of the curriculums out there can be pretty pricey. Some of the ones people recommend most, were out of our budget.

I have good news, it IS possible for even the most financially challenged family, to homeschool their children if they so desire. There are tons of free resources out there for early child education, the downside of that is that it does take some time to research, and also some preparation time to put it together and teach. Here are some of my favorites:

These are just a few of my favorite places to go, but a little research and you will be pleased to find there are MANY free resources out there. Decide what's right for you.

I homeschooled my 6 yr old since he was small, mainly to pass time together in a constructive way. I wasn't planning to homeschool, but it became such a part of our life, and I had a huge network of friends and support, that we decided to give it a shot. The year before my son was going to enter Kindergarten I did a full time homeschool regiment to find out what worked for us and what didn't. One of the things I learned was that I really needed to find a good concrete curriculum.

In spite of all the great free resources available, I felt like all I did was plan, plan, plan. I actually like the planning part, but it was taking time away from my family of very young children who really need mommy's attention and direction at this stage of their life. I found myself planning and putting together lessons the morning of the lesson, I felt frazzled and like I wasn't doing my best job, and I wasn't even sure I was teaching him everything he was supposed to learn.

I thought to myself, if I am going to do this I need to get a good curriculum that would tell me what to teach and have the lessons generally planned for me. I searched alot of different options and I found many affordable options. Here are some of my favorites:

www.rodandstaff.com (this is the curriculum we chose, it is a good solid curriculum, but I have had to do some adapting to make it more interesting and challenging for my son)

www.aophomeschooling.com (Alpha and Omega Publishing has some affordable options as well as some free resources)

There are a number of others as well. There is a book called 100 top picks by Cathy Duffy that I highly recommend to anyone considering homeschooling, it has great reviews on many curriculums out there.

In addition you should check your local resources, there are many used homeschool bookstores out there, they sell the books and curriculum and other resources that homeschool families have sold to them and they are offered at a more affordable price than buying brand new.

You may also find a curriculum you love for the core subjects, and then find other free or low cost resources to supplement the other subjects. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can teach what you want. There are a number of Christian books available at the Vision Forum a favorite site of mine for finding supplemental learning materials.

There is such variety out there, that with a little research I think you will find, that you CAN afford to homeschool, at this point for our family, I feel like we can't afford NOT to.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Teachable ME! - Is it something I'M doing??

So after my crazy mommy week last week, I got to thinking, why in the world are my boys doing these foolish and crazy things SOOOO often, and as soon as the opportunity arises. After much thought and prayer, I concluded that they obviously have too much free time on their hands. Too  much free time, means too much time to think about foolish things, and this momma ain't raisin no fools! The other issue has been that they also are obviously not taking into account how their actions affect other people. Lets not forget to mention the obvious reason, they are sinners in need of a savior. The only obvious solution to that is to immerse them in scripture teaching, more than ever.

Therefore, I am implementing a new way of doing things around here. We will be having many more devotional breaks in the day. Our current curriculum is a Christian curriculum and is wonderful, but we need more time with one on one discussions about life using the scriptures as a guide, teaching them how it applys to thier life...Also Mommy needs to be more diligent to make time for QUIET TIME!!!! Now while I would like a little more "quiet", what I mean by quiet time is time for myself to be immersed in the scriptures, checking my own heart and seeing where I need to change...this time cannot be neglected, when it is...believe me it comes out in ugly ways, and guess what...little eyes are watching and learning. Often when I come to these times when things are overwhelming, it is really nothing more than my children acting out what they see in my own life. The Lord is always so faithful to reveal those things tenderly to me, to bring conviction and repentance.

From a practical standpoint, the oldest, and middlest boys are old enough to do many of the things that I do for them, so it's time to step up the responsibility level for them. From now on, if they create a mess, whether it be as a result of foolishness, or as a result of playtime, THEY will clean it up. I almost always have them help clean up after their playtime, but usually in the case of their foolish messes, I administer proper discipline, correction and instruction and then send them to a secure location (their room, the couch etc.) as sort of a time out, while I clean up the unexpected mess.

 That is NOT going to be the case anymore, they need to learn that it takes hard work and time away from things that are more important or desirable to clean up a mess that shouldn't even be there in the first place. Shame on me for not doing this sooner. To be honest, I think most often the areas my kids struggle with the most, are because I enable them, by doing not giving them enough responsibility over whatever area of life they may be struggling in, usually because of my own selfish desire to get things done the easy way....well easy doesn't always pay, you usually pay later, with interest! At least that's what I am  learning in my own life. I always try to see the bigger picture. I want to be faithful to deal with these issues now, when its just a spill on the carpet etc, so that I am not facing these issues in thier later years, when it will be harder to correct. I dont want to watch my kids spiral out of control like a tornado, leaving destruction in thier own lives, and the lives of those around them.

I've instructed them on why I am doing this, and that they need to take responsibility for their actions. I will provide them with the necessary items needed to clean up their mess, when they make one, as well as standing by with instruction when needed, for as LONG as it takes to get the job done. They will have to clean the whole thing up. Of course I know they are only 3.5 and almost 6 ysr old, and it's not going to be a job done to my high standard of course, but I can go over it afterward and "perfect" it if I have time or so choose, but mainly I am hoping this will make them think twice before choosing to do something foolish.

The other principle I am applying is that of keeping them busy with hard work. A child who is busy working hard on GOOD THINGS, won't have much time to think about doing foolish things. Right now I have decided to start giving Joshua more school work than I was previously giving him, of course breaking it up throughout the day, but instead of having so much "free time" I will be giving him some more fun projects focusing on what we've been learning in our class time. Also more review and studying on the things that he needs to work on. He is a very bright boy who loves to learn so this isn't like torture for him lol.

This is not to say that I am not allowing them to have free time, just not as much of it. I am hoping that they will realize the value of free time, and decide to spend it wisely when they do have it.

I will also be having them work alongside me more often, even if it is a little slower for me, or a little frustrating at times, I would rather deal with a little frustration, for a short time, until they master a skill and can be completely helpful and a little more self sufficient, than have to deal with the frustration of the many consequences of their foolish choices while unsupervised in their free time, as I am working on my stuff. So with dinner prep, if they are around, they can help me with what is not a danger to them, even if it's only helping me to clean up as I go. With laundry, they can practice folding things, or sorting things into piles of whose stuff belongs to who, matching socks etc. Sometimes I give them some baby wipes and have them wipe their toys tables etc down with them. These are all things they are capable of.  They enjoy doing most of these things anyhow, I usually just would rather do it myself so I can get it done, fast, and right....are we seeing a pattern here......

I think if we are to be good parents, and this principle works with most any relationship, we need to be willing to examine our part in the other persons failures, maybe we are not playing a part, but I think a wise friend/co-worker, brother/sister, husband/wife etc. will at least take the time to sit back and examine themselves to see if there is any way they are personally making a difficult situation worse, and if so, what can they do to help make it better. As a mom it is my duty and responsibility to be faithful in my training of my children, and I believe that means examining myself and if I am helping or hindering my young ones.

Even if I wasn't playing a part in hindering them, by allowing them too much free time, and doing too much for them, therefore not allowing them to learn that their actions have deeper consequences than just simple discipline and correction, I would still say that these are great principles to establish to keep your kids on track and not pummeling down the road to destruction.

That's my teachable ME moment. I love how the Lord provides these wonderful teachable moments to help us to grow in wisdom. Parenting is no easy task. I don't know what I would do without the wisdom and guidance that comes from above.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Teachable ME! What I am learning in my own life

I am a firm believer that there is something to learn from every situation, if you are open to seeing what there is to learn, you can be blessed by even the most frustrating and even heartbreaking circumstances, and grow in wisdom and knowledge.

This past week as I took some time off from formal schooling, to do our seasonal clothing switch, I was faced with a number of extreeeeemely frustrating circumstances, while my kids were off routine, and less supervised than usual, I have been dealing with one crazy mess after another, that my kids have created, using the insanely intelligent and overly curious minds that God gave them, and I truly rejoice in this about them, because I know the Lord created them with these qualities, because he intends to use it in their lives for his GOOD purpose. I love finding ways to channel these qualities for good in their lives. Sometimes, however, as in my own life, they use the gifts God gave them to do not so wise things.

I think the following series of pictures should be self explanatory…..But some others that were not photographed include, milk on the computer, hot sauce in the dog dish, and rice all over the family room floor….
Joshua, my 5 year old decided to carve his own pumpkin out of a pumpkin I had to make a pie...

Baby threw the leapster Explorer in the toilet...money down the drain...literally

 My three year old unraveled 3 rolls of toilet paper in thier entirety...

My 5 year old did this last mess trying to make cupcakes he said...

He put it in the oven

the entire house covered in green food coloring....

Yesterday, upon cleaning up the Green food coloring mixed with dish soap, ice cream and my dog (who ran through the concoction and then through the house) I was struggling with the frustration of having to clean up yet another mess, a mess that was making me less productive with the things I needed to get done. I continued to struggle with this in my mind all evening, “All I ever do is clean up after everybody else’s mess,  don’t they consider the consequences, surely they know better, surely I am training them to make wiser choices than this…..” I was having a hard time dealing with this graciously. I was at the end of my rope after this grand finale for the week of disasters. I was angry and frustrated and everyone was well aware.

After I got my composure and got the kids in bed. I lay praying about all of this pouring my heart of anger and frustration out to the Lord in brokenness. He is so faithful, He called to my memory, all the MANY times, that I have created a mess of my life, even with consequences that affected others I loved, all because of my poor choices and decisions, when I should have known better.

I was reminded of how graciously and mercifully he dealt with me through those situations. How often He gave me insight and restoration, all the while cleaning up my messes for me, not dealing with me as I deserved.  He is a just God, those whom he loves he disciplines, I have had my fair share of discipline from the Lord, but I have had so much mercy and grace poured out in my life, I have no right to not extend the same to my children when they fail.

The Lord has set the standard, and he has also set the example. I need to model the Lord and his attributes in my life, so that my children may see him through my example and come to know him. If I teach them about the love, mercy and grace of God, apart from his Justice, I am doing them harm and not good. Likewise, I need to provide discipline, correction and instruction, but if I do that apart from Love, Mercy and grace, I do no good, I am like a clanging gong or a cymbol.

That’s my Teachable ME moment for the week, as the Lord continues to be faithful to reveal to me my own sinful heart as he teaches me to be more like him. What ways does the Lord use your kids to reveal the areas of life you need to work on?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Recycle, Recycle, Recycle! Re-purposing common household items for teaching

Re-purposing containers
We’ve been talking about how to take common household items you would normally throw away in the recycle bin and re-purpose them for your learning environment. This not only saves you $ in your budget, but it gives you more room to do some other fun things or buy other resources you need. Why pay full price for something that you could make yourself. That’s my motto with pretty much anything.
The other reason is that in doing this you are teaching your children valuable lessons about being good stewards of the resources they’ve been blessed with. Not only are you educating them on keeping the environment healthy, but you are teaching them resourcefulness, and creativity.
I grew up in a family, where my mom and her sisters were the most creative people I knew on the planet when it came to resourcefulness, my mom when shopping would always say, I’m not buying this I could totally make it myself, and then she would! I learned from her and plan on passing that on to my children as well.
We may be just creating simple learning tools, but it’s so much more than just what is on the surface.
That being said, today’s recycling idea of the day is re-purposing containers.  I am notorious for storing  up containers for a rainy day. I use them for everything. When I got a great buy 2 get 3 sale on some nut mixes in a plastic container I was overjoyed! We used 2  of them to make a time capsule to go along with a history lesson, and 1 to store pencils, and another to store markers. This is perfect so that my little 1 yr old will not be able to unscrew the tops and get to them.

The larger containers I use for storing random items, like this large container I use for storing some simple foam squares acquired in the dollar section of target that we use for counting and sorting and building.

Egg crates are another EXCELLENT recyclable. You can use them as paint pallets for keeping colors separated, for counting activities, sorting, creating games to practice learning. A favorite of ours is moving a board piece and you have to spell your vocabulary word and state the definition, if you spell the vocabulary word correctly you move one space, if you say the definition and spell the vocabulary word correctly you move two spaces. We’ve also used them for progressive story telling where I put some random small toy inside an easter egg and as the child opens the eggs they need to build a story around what is inside the egg. It is a great way to get them using their imaginations.

You can also recycle things such as Kleenex boxes, and baby wipe containers to hold things such as note cards and vocabulary words, you can even turn them into prize grab and go containers for rewards.  I recently repurposed a Kleenex paper towel dispenser  to hold my “what’s the weather like today?” cards so they are handy when I go to do that portion of our school day with the little ones. It even matches nicely :) I also repurposed a baby wipes container to store my chalk and eraser, I can easily grab one or put one back through the slot in the top.

I hope these ideas will inspire you to look beyond the container to see the many other ways you can enjoy creating fun learning activities and memories to cherish with your little ones to make their educational time fun and interesting.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Recycle, Recycle, Recycle! Re-purposing common household items for teaching

I am beginning a new series on recycling everyday household items and making them into great tools for learning. Recycled idea of the day is, bottle caps! These are a favorite thing of mine to use when teaching. I save all of them in a big bin. Then I have the younger ones sort them by color.
I use them for all kinds of things, from counting, number/letter recognition and order, pattern making for the younger ones, to making mathematical equations, distinguishing vowels from consonants and spelling with the older ones. They are also great with art projects and games. A favorite of ours is tossing the caps to get them in a bowl while saying their memory verses, they have to say it until they get the cap in the bucket. You can do this with math facts, spelling, or any fact your little ones are trying to memorize.

This is just one of many ways to recycle common household items, and save your family money! Instead of spending outrageous amounts of money on fancy counting blocks or letter blocks etc., I usually don’t pay full price for something I can make on my own, buy a book or take a field trip instead with the money you save, your kids will also learn from your example on how to be wise with their resources.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What the Teacher Wants!: freezing weather, snow, and bears...oh my!

What the Teacher Wants!: freezing weather, snow, and bears...oh my!: Guess what? We had snow. I know, right? The day after Halloween, we HAD SNOW and it was only about this much . but I pouted like a 4 year o...