Jun 18, 2014

Year End Homeschool Program

Some of my favorite memories in school as a kid were the end of the year celebrations. The smell of summer brims with concerts, open houses and celebrations for the kids and their families.  I wanted my kids to have the same experiences and the extended family to feel a part of the magic that home centered education can bring.   I also wanted to share the beautiful art work and school notebooks the kids have worked so hard on throughout the year.    This was a great way to share more about our approach to homeschooling and the weekly community we are a part of.  

 We always visit our hometown at the start of summer.   Luckily, both sets of grandparents live in the same town as well as some cousins.  We invited them over for an art show, presentations and rainbow layered cake!  The kids felt very special and were so excited to show off their memory work skills.  

I primarily follow a Classical Method of teaching with includes the introduction of facts through “memory work” during the elementary school years.  This is the natural age when children are like sponges soaking up knowledge, so the idea is to introduce a  wide variety of facts and in multiple subjects without going into too much detail, unless they show interest.   The details will come later, when they are better able to understand and properly ask questions regarding the material.  We focus on history, Latin, geography, math, English grammar and science.  The kids all shared some facts they were taught in each subject as well as showed off some yearbooks I made to show all we had accomplished during the school year.  

I made the yearbooks very easily off of Simple Prints, it is a photo-book making app, and you can create them right from your phone.  Besides photos, I included curriculum lists, books read, field trips and other enrichment activities we participated in throughout the year.  I also created an art book, with photos of all the art they created and included all the science and history projects we made.  (Now, I don’t feel so guilty throwing some of them away!!) 

I also had awards made for each of the kids in an area I saw growth or a positive character trait I wanted to celebrate.  The kids really enjoyed the fanfare made over them for their hard work this year.  It is not always easy being different and I am glad for the opportunity to see them shine and be proud of their accomplishments. Much laughter was had and I think the family breathed a sigh of relief that the kids had all in fact learned quite a lot this year! 

Do you have any end of the year traditions?  Home-educated or not I would love to hear your ideas!  


May 29, 2014

Screen Free, Scream Free Car Trips

I have mentioned before we live away from all our family.  Visiting several times a year, requires a 14 hour road trip....3 kids, 1 dog and me.  My hubby comes along when he can get away, but I travel more often with the kids solo.  I have finally come up with a plan that works in keeping us all sane and happy upon arrival.  These tips will help you have a Screen Free, Scream Free Road Trip.

Now, I haven't always been against screen time in the car.  When my kids were younger, it was the only way we traveled.  A DVD and IPad were essential to a successful car trip.  However, when we started homeschooling I realized how valuable car travel was for learning.  My kids were so engrossed in car screen time, even a trip to the grocery store caused arguing over their desire to watch a TV program.  We were out of control and things needed changed.

I started by borrowing audio books at the library.  The kids enjoyed them and often asked to stay in the car when we arrived back home to finish listening to a chapter.  We started out with The Magic Tree House series and A-Z Mysteries when the kids were 8, 6 and 2.  The chapters were short and I honestly enjoyed the stories too.  We would often talk about the books in-between car trips too, in anticipation for the next chapter.  We still had the DVD in the car, but no one asked to watch it anymore.

Then, about  nine months ago, we started shopping for a newer car with less miles.  We talked about getting out of the minivan club, but after looking at other cars, we just couldn't give of the space and family friendly features.  So, we found a newer model Honda Odyssey with less miles and all the features we wanted except NO DVD!!  Could we really go this extreme?  Car trips to the store were one thing, but what about 14 hours road trips??  We went ahead and purchased the car and immediately my husband wanted to have a DVD  installed.  I didn't want want one, so we decided to wait and see after our first long road trip.

Guess what, we survived!!  All of us, and have traveled this way many times.  Now, it is not even a question of getting a DVD put back in, we are officially a screen free car trip family.    I pretty much feel the same regarding Ipads and portable gaming systems.  We have tried using them on past car trips and  I found they always caused fights and made the kids more irritable and crabby after playing for an extended time.  When we would get to our destination they would wake up wanting to play, theywould become addicted to the screen.  I found the saying,  "out of sight out of mind," to be true of the Nintendo Ds.  If the kids didn't see them, they never asked to play.  I just put them in a cabinet at home and honestly they have never asked where they are, even on road trips.

Now traveling without screens takes a little more planning on your part as a parent.  But it is well worth the effort!  I will share my secrets!

1.  A behavior plan  It is no secret we are a clean eating family.  We avoid sugar and processed food as much as we can.  But because we don't eat junk frequently it becomes a huge motivator for my kids.  So, here is what I do.  Starting a trip I tell my kids the expectations.  They are the obvious rules, no fighting, teasing, whining or distracting the driver (this is very important when you are the only parent/driver.) I also say when we will be stopping, my kids can go 3-4 hours between stops and I found if I tell them the time we will stop, they are less liking to whine, or ask to stop.    Then,  I allot my kids 5-10 dimes each. I place them by me, so I can easily remove one if they break the rules.   Each time they break a rule, a dime gets taken away, they can only earn a dime back by reading for 20 min.  At the end of our stretch in the car, they get the dimes to buy whatever they want at the gas station, or they can save to buy a more expensive treat at the next stop.  I do try and avoid drinks as they can run quickly through little ones, but other then that all treats are ago!  I vary the dimes, because you would be surprised how much junk food you can buy for a dollar.  I found I prefer $.50 each for long trips, because after 4 stops,  I am cringing at the amount of junk they have eaten.   They all get a fresh start  with new dimes after each stop. This is a very good motivator for my kids!  It works great and my kids are ages 4-10.  Just FYI, we still travel with snacks, but they are just healthy choices.

2. Audio books  As I said, my kids love audio books.  I try and pick out titles I will enjoy too and I have found my kids can  all really enjoy and get into much more adult topics then your typical kid titles.  I look for audio books at Thrift Shops, the library and Audible.  Some of our favorite titles have been:

3.  Games and Books  Books are a great travel companion, my oldest will bring his current read, but they all enjoy looking at books with lots of pictures and no story line to follow, since they are usually listening to an audio book.  My absolute favorite books are the DK Eyewitness books.  These come in a variety of topics and are not only educational, but interesting.  Even my 4 year old loves them.  The kids read facts and ask me questions and share pictures with the other kids, we all really love them.  I also love the Leap Tag Reader and books for my 4 year old. As for games think old school, license plate games and roadside bingo.

4. Talk  I find my kids ask a lot of really insightful questions while car traveling, when they are not locked into a screen!  We have lots of fun talks and tell stories and really bond over these car trips.  I hate to think what I would be missing if I just let them stare at a screen for hours, simply so I wouldn't be bothered.

5.  Music  Make a fun  play list, you can all sing too.  I also always play my favorite songs, nothing is more entertaining to a kid than seeing their parent act crazy.

I hope these suggestions help create fun road trip memories for your family.  I encourage you to turn off the screens and enjoy the time with your kids.  If you have any other suggestions, or a favorite game or audio book please share in the comments below.

Have a great trip!!,


 The links above are affiliate links and while your cost is the same low Amazon price, I will get a small % of the sales, that I can use for more great books and games for my family!

May 9, 2014

How We Survived Our First Year Homeschooling

If you told me 5 years ago, I would be just a few weeks away from wrapping  up our first year of homeschooling I would have laughed in your face.  While I have been intrigued with the idea since I was young and had cousins that homeschooled, I never thought it would be a reality for our family.   If you want to know what led us down this educational path, read here.  Now, here we are finishing up our first year and we all survived!

The year has been full and satisfying, but also busy and hard.  I imagine it is a bit like running a marathon, lots of hard work and dedication.  At times you want to give up and quit, but the feeling in the end makes it worth it all.    There were days I cried out of frustration over my kids behavior or just being overwhelmed.  But, there were also days I went to bed smiling and satisfied and filled with peace and joy over our schooling choice.  Some days I questioned my methods and my sanity, but than we had days that were so unbelievably wonderful and encouraging that made me feel I was indeed doing the right thing.

Overall, I have been so blessed by this year.   I learned my attitude was key for a successful day.  I needed to be on top of my game and prepared for the days to go best.  I initially had to learn to be more disciplined  with my own time and re-evaluate some of my expectations and ideas on what schooling looked like.

The first few months, were some of the most challenging.  I spent hours prepping, making a daily schedule and lesson planning and I was very discouraged when the boys did not meet my expectations of sitting quietly and happily doing all I asked of them.  In fact, it was the opposite, they questioned every assignment, dickered with me over the amount of work I gave them and ignored my requests.  This was very frustrating,   how dare they not respect my requests,  I am the teacher!   They would never question their teacher at public school, they would save their complaints for home, and I could always just say, "well don't do your work and you can talk to the principal  about it."  That statement held so much power for my kids.   I realized that by homeschooling, I had lost a bigger motivator for my kids.....the dreaded PRINCIPAL!!  

I came to the conclusion that,  we really needed to work on character development and make some changes in how our household was run before the kids would see me in the teacher role, as well as mom.  For our family this is what some of those changes looked like.

1.   Discussing expectations vs. privileges.  My kiddos had a real confusion between expectations  and privileges for living in our home. Once we cleared up the difference and  made a list of the two,  we posted it and talked about them alot. For example, they saw eating out at a restaurant and  treats after dinner as an expectation not a privilege.   Instead, I told them helping set the table and doing schoolwork were  expectations and the others were privileges, that they received when they met our expectations.  I  plan on doing a more detailed post about this.  

2.  No free time or screen time at all until chores and schoolwork were complete.  This became the best motivator for my kids.   

3.  No kids downstairs until 7:30am.     It is as if the kids have a sixth sense as to when I awake and they just can't wait to start our day.  I was burning out quickly, being with them non stop for 14 hours a day.  So I told them not to come down until at least 7:30.  This allowed me  much needed morning "me" time without the constant demands (and hunger) that come from the mouth's of my babes. We are still working on this one.

4.  Me admitting the fact that I wasn't supermom and I couldn't do it all.  We have no family where we live, the closest is 8 hours away!  The kids are with me or my hubby all the time, unless we hire a sitter.   So,  I hired a helper who comes once a week for 4 hours she does some cleaning,  folds all our laundry, and watches the kids if I need her too.  This was a game changer for everyone. Finally, our weekends were not spent doing laundry and cleaning house.  The kids look forward to her visits and she has become like family to us, I am so sad she is going to go college in August.

5.  Have the kids prepare their own breakfast/lunch/snacks several days a week.  Meals just about did me in, with the kids home,  I was responsible for 30 meals or snacks a week!    I decided to have my boys help in that department.  They (mostly my oldest, but the middle is in training)  make eggs, smoothies or waffles, sandwiches, mac and cheese or just fix cereal or have granola bars or snack lunches (sausage, cheese, fruit).   This has been a huge help!! 

6.  Change MY expectations and way of thinking about school.  This was a hard one for me.  I was raised in the public schools and in my mind school looked very different then what homeschool can look like.  The first several months I was trying to recreate "school" in my house.  I wanted the kids to sit still at the table and desk, quietly finish all work without complaints, and not balk at my demands to not only do the lessons I had created or purchased but ALSO do all the stuff a typical 2nd and 4th was learning at PS (just in case they went back, I wanted them to know what other kids their age were learning.)  We were all exhausted.   Our days were so crammed with worksheets and busy work no one was enjoying learning.  I finally re-evaluated our chosen curriculum (the one I spent hours preparing and organizing over the summer) and deemed it not a good fit for our very active boys and stopped worrying about what PS was teaching.   I embraced that learning can be fun and the reason I choose to homeschool was because I loved the idea of education fitting my  unique child's learning style and custom fitting it to their interests and levels. 

7.  Get support!  In November, I knew something had to change, or we were not going to make it through the year.  I was frazzled and frustrated.  I decided to visit a local  Classical Conversation, group that meets weekly and follows a Classical approach to homeschooling. This meant completely changing my approach to homeschooling and I found  a mix between  the Charlotte Mason and Classical approach to be a better fit for our family.  After we decided to join this group,  things greatly improved.  We all loved seeing the same families each week and the kids enjoyed class so much.  I got a much needed break during the week and most of all I saw my kids start to love learning!  I  began to relish my time spent with other homeschool moms.  It was therapeutic to sit and chat with other moms facing the same challenges and concerns.  We shared ideas and encouraged each other and it was a tremendous help!!

At year's end, I reflect on how much I have seen my children grow.  For the first time in 4 years, I see my middle son more then a child with a "label" that needs "fixed"  because he doesn't fit the expectation public school had for him.  He has excelled more in the last nine months then I have ever seen.  He is bright, kind, inquizative, funny, loving, polite and absolutely LOVES learning and has the most incredible memory.  I constantly find him reading history books and connecting facts he has learned with real life situations.   Once the labels and expectations for how children "should behave and learn" were removed, this little guy excelled in major ways.  

As for my older son, while he enjoyed and did fine in public school, what I have seen improve in him is a huge change in attitude.  His self confidence has increased, his attitude has improved greatly from being self-centered and difficult to more caring and helpful.  Even family and neighbors have commented on it. He has become more dependable, creative and self aware of his behavior and actions.

 My kids have spent hours in imaginative play, building forts, making up games, building bridges and studying rocks or just exploring the outdoors .  The amount of screen time they desire or seek out is minimal and mostly happens on Saturday morning, like when I was a kid.  

And don't even get me started on the social aspect of their lives.  I know this is always the concern to people who don't homeschool, but this is another area we have seen tremendous growth for both our boys, all while homeschooling!  My older son has has grown so much in learning what it means to be a good friend, being caring and compassionate towards others and most of all blessing others with his talents and gifts.  While my middle son has improved on conversation skills and listening attentively and more age appropriate behavior in social settings as well as developing friendships with others.   The improvements for both of them in this area, is the biggest blessing to our family....all achieved while homeschooling!

As for our overall family life, things are not so rushed and hectic.  Some evenings are spent lingering over dinner or hanging out together watching TV or playing outside.  The morning rush has been replaced with book reading, game playing or outdoor adventures before school starts.    My boys have become best buddies and have so many more responsibilities around the home.  I thoroughly enjoy teaching my kids and re-educating myself.  For the first time, I am developing a love for learning too.  I find history fascinating and have spent a few nights refreshing my fraction skills to prep for 4th grade math.    I see real purpose and self-worth in my new job as teacher and how important and blessed I am to have the opportunity to educate my children in a very personal way.  

This is not to say, homeschooling made my kids or family perfect, we still have good days and bad days, but the improvement I have seen in all of us this year has been very evident and encouraging.  The bonds we have made as a family unit far out weigh the hard days. 

My oldest son just walked in and asked what I was blogging about, when I told him our first year homeschooling, he said, " are you going to tell them how it has made me a more kinder person and how much I have learned  and that I actually like school now and how close it has made our family." "Yes, I said all that!"  I told him.  It 's moments like that, that make up for the worst days, make it all worth it. 

Homeschooling has been wonderful for us this year.  I don't know how long it will be the best fit for our family, but for right now it is working and the kids are not only learning, but thriving.  As of right now, we plan on continuing with it again next year for all the kids.  


Feb 17, 2014

Updated Kitchen and Living Room Pics!

So the last couple months have been busy!  With the holidays, birthdays, and family visiting it has been a festive time around our house.  I mentioned in this post we did a little revamp in the open spaced living/dining room and kitchen.  I had always been wanting new light fixtures since we have moved in and when you are already spending money to remodel a space, it seems like just as good a time as any to spend more!  I shopped around for good deals and with the help of my interior decorator found some fabulous lights I just love.   We replaced the ceiling fan in the living room....the old one was sponge painted gold and silver, it was hideous!  We also got new lights above the island and kitchen table and put in a few faucet in the kitchen.  I love these subtle changes!  The last change I made was the large wall in our living room.  I moved the previous pics you see here to my stairwell and instead made a collage of pics and wall decor.  I absolutely love the change and with the new appliances we got in the summer, I am completely happy with my downstairs living space, which is important since we are down here 80% of the day!  I also included some pics of the party we hosted for my husband's work that inspired all these renovations! 

party pics for work party

yummy food at work party!

I'm sure many of you are curious to know how homeschooling is going.  I plan on addressing that elephant in the room soon, sharing house pics is more fun!


Feb 15, 2014

My comeback.....the foyer makeover

Hello!  I know I have been MIA for several months, but I had some time and wanted to show you a home remodel project we had done recently.  If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen some pics about this project.  

When we purchased our home almost 3 years ago, I was not a fan of all the maple woodwork.  We did lay maple hardwood floors, which I love, but the trim, doors, and staircase all being maple was TOO much in the foyer.  It was very yellow/orange depending on the light and the wood was very worn, it was an eyesore to me, which is not what you are wanting for the entry of your home.  From the beginning we had plans to pull up the carpet on the steps and replace with wood and paint the railing.  We had some problems with the supplier of the wood and ended up getting so frustrated we just pushed the project aside for the last few years.  

In November, my husband came home from work and informed me we needed to host a holiday work party and that was the motivation we needed to get the project going again.  I had ideas in my head about colors for painting the trim in the foyer, while leaving the trim and doors throughout the rest of the house maple.  I was not bothered as much by the wood in the other rooms, just the foyer.  I had an interior designer pop over and give me her opinion.  She had the fabulous idea to paint the doors only on one side.  So the bathroom and study doors were to be painted black in the foyer, while they stayed maple inside their respected rooms.  She agreed the trim could be painted only in the foyer and it would not seem odd throughout the rest of the house to be maple.  I was thrilled with her ideas and we got right to work!  As a side note, we did not do any of the work, we hired it all out .  

So this is what we started with when we purchased the home, he walls were a soft ivory and front door was white.

 We had  the walls painted a few months after moving in a color called Comfort Gray by Sherwin Williams.  It looked very blue during certain times of the day, we were going for more of a gray....it was so frustrating, but we left it.  We also painted the front door black on the inside.  The chandelier we wanted to change too, but we left it for the time being. 
So the day after Christmas our remodel started!  We all lived in the basement for 10 nights, which started out as fun, but by the end we were all ready for our beds again!  We even went to the local indoor water-park for a night, we had such cabin fever and the weather outside was at record lows. 

However, the end results were fabulous!  The first night I just sat in the foyer and drank a glass of wine and was in awe of the transformation.  I felt like I was sitting in my dream home, it was a Pinterest moment come to life! The photos truly do not do it justice.  Without repainting, the wall color even changed to the silvery grayish blue we wanted from the start.   I found the light fixture, which we lovingly refer to as the "birdcage," from Joss and Main.  It has just a touch of glam and sparkle with some crystal droplets hanging around each light and the base. So, enough chit chat.....here are the pics!

 I am so happy we finally went ahead and completed this project!  I also got new light fixtures in the kitchen, dining and living room and made a huge wall collage.  The next chance I get I will post pics.  Have a great weekend!