Wednesday, June 28, 2006

School's Out...or is it?

For the first time ever, I gave my guys an official break for a few weeks this summer.  In PA we have to have an evaluation by a person with a teaching license.  Our evaluation occurred early in June, so I told the boys that we would not have lessons from the evaluation until we returned from our beach vacation in July.  Usually I just keep our routine year round, with a few days skipped here and there.  But this year, we've got a summer break of a few weeks.


So, let me tell you what we're doing since we're not "doing school."  Over the weekend, we took a camping trip to Gettysburg.  We spent several hours touring the battlefield and then visited the Hall of Presidents.  But we didn't do school.


Yesterday, we visited some friends from church and taught them a couple math games.  We also made up stories about a fish that won a contest on a busy street.  After our visit, we went to the library's summer story hour and listened to local readers read stories about animals.  The boys made cute little animals out of pipe cleaners.  But we didn't do school.


Today, the boys were working on their packets from the library.  If they complete 15 activities they can claim a prize and a free book.  McLane made salt dough and is working on a diorama of a wooly mammoth.  Walker T. searched the web to find a dog breed he would like to raise and did a little research about that type of dog.  Over lunch we listeneed to an adventure tape about knight.  And the boys set up a pet grooming business in the living room.  I was the customer who had to bring them stuffed animals to groom.  But we didn't do school.


Several years ago, I had a friend who was homeschooling her children.  One day when we were visiting I set up a little obstacle course for those children and we had fun running the course and timing each other.  We kept track of the times and tried to make our time better with each round.  We were having a lot of fun, laughing, playing, and even learning.  The mother stopped everything in the middle to get her children's attention and said, "Look, we're doing school!"  This experience made me decide two things: 

1.  Don't call it school.  When we're at the table we call it lessons.  I know tomAto tomAHto.  But to me, they're not in school, that is where you go on a bus and sit in a classrom.  We are learning as part of our life.  These are lessons.

2.  Don't call your child's attention away from learning to point out school!  Yes, log it all.  Keep your log book with you at all times and record anything you deem educational in any way.  But don't tell your children it's school.  It's life and life is about learning.  Learning comes in all shapes and sizes.


One of my prayers for our home is that we promote a lifestyle of learning.  I don't want the boys to compartmentalize learning and say that it only occurs from the hours of 8 to 3 Monday through Friday, September to June.  Life is always a learning process and I want them to love that process.  As I slow down for just a few minutes over our break, I can see that learning is happening in large quantities when we don't even plan it.  Praise God for answered prayer!


Enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Grocery Lists, Making Menus, and Meal Lists

I have a routine every pay day that makes my life SO much easier!  This routine has made my home organization so much better and I'd love to share it with you.  Every two weeks on the day before payday, I sit down with a blank calendar and three lists.


List #1:  the breakfast list.  I asked my family to list for me the breakfasts that they enjoy.  We now have a list of about eight breakfasts on the breakfast list.


List #2:  the lunch list.  See the description of list number one and insert "lunch" where it says "breakfast."


List #3:  the snack list.  This is a list of snacks I would like to keep on hand for the boys during the day.


On my blank calendar, I draw two horizontal lines on each calendar square.  On the block for the first day after pay day in the top third of the square, I list the first item from the breakfast list.  I continue across the calendar putting breakfasts in the first third of each square until the next payday.  Then I write down any grocery items I'll need to have on hand for those breakfasts.  Then I repeat this process for lunches.


Next I consult the snack list and write on my grocery list which items I'll need to replentish.


Now, we're ready to plan supper.  I ask my family if there is anything that they would like to eat for supper over the next two weeks.  The boys are usually full of ideas!  I try to accomodate any requests but I do add vegetables or a salad to most suggestions.  I take all of the family's meal plans, add my own preferences, and any new recipes I'd like to try and plot these onto the menu calendar.  Then I list all my grocery needs for supper.


At the end of this process, I have a grocery list ready to go to the store on payday and a complete menu right down to the snacks for the next two weeks.  But the truly beautiful thing is when my day or week gets busy.  Instead of feeling frantic about what to make for supper, or making the same breakfast for the fifth day in a row, I have a plan!  This has taken the anxiety out of meal times for me.  I have to keep my eye on the calendar to make sure I have things defrosted or marinated, but other than that, my life is simpler because of my menu calendar.


When making my menu, I do have a few rules.  The breakfast plan for Sunday morning is usually a breakfast casserole.  Sunday's can be a little hectic as we are getting ready for church and Sunday School.  It makes things a little less stressful when I can just pull a casserole out of the refrigerator and pop it into the oven.  By the time we're dressed, breakfast is ready!  Also, I am always open to change.  If Daddy wants to make waffles on a Saturday morning, we make waffles.  If we have LOTS of leftovers in the refrigerator, we have leftover night and move a supper to the next week.  And I'm ALWAYS open to dinner out when Daddy says, "Let's go out!"


That's how I plan my meals and groceries every two weeks.  It does take at least an hour, but it involves the whole family.  They are eatting the breakfasts and lunches that they originally suggested.  They have input into what we have for supper.   And I never hear "We're having this again?"  The time it takes to plan is well worth it.  With minimal effort, I always have the answer to "What's for supper?"

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Another use for zip loc bags... for camping!

We have just returned from our first camping trip of the season.  It did rain a little, and we did have some unpleasant neighbors in the site next to ours, but all in all, we had a fantastic time!


I just love to camp.  I think it's because I read and loved all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a child.  I always imagined myself a true pioneer girl.  Camping in a tent and cooking over an open fire make me feel like I'm on Little House on the Prairie.


Because I knew that we could possibly have rain over the weekend, I packed  differently.  I asked my boys to bring me three days worth of clothing complete with underwear.  Then I went to the kitchen, yes the kitchen, and grabbed my bag of 2 gallon zipper bags.  I packed each outfit individually into its own zipper bag and sealed it removing as much of the air as possible.  All of these little baggies of clothing went into our duffle bags ready for the weekend.


As we camped, when the boys got out of the showers at the campground, they removed their clean dry clothing from a zipper bag and got dressed.  At the end of the weekend, all of the clean clothes remained in baggies and the clothing needing laundered was easily distinguishable.


Another benefit to packing in this way is that my boys like to rifle through a duffle bag.  They pull clothing out of the bag while looking for something, like spare socks, or a swim suit.  I know you won't believe this, but the clothing they remove from the bags while rummaging RARELY make it back into the bag.  Because each of their outfits were in zipper bags, including their swimsuits, they didn't have to toss loose clothing anywhere.  Our clothes stayed clean, dry and organized.  It was a beautiful thing!


If you've read any of my other blog posts, you're beginning to think that this woman has a sick obsession with zip loc bags.  Not true.  But I'm beginning to believe that a book could be written about their use in society, let alone in the home school!


Enjoy your ride!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

money jars

At the CHAP curriculum fair this year I picked up a treasure.  Along with my copy of "Created to be His Helpmeet" by Debbie Pearl  I received a copy of Debbie Pearl's "My Favorite Homeschooling Ideas" audio CD.  I have listened to this audio about six times!  I enjoy the way Debbie speaks so soothingly.  I love the excited way she speaks of home educating her children.  You can tell that she really enjoyed her time with her children.


I'd like to tell you how we adapted one of the ideas from this audio.  Debbie mentions that her children had money jars and they would buy snacks like raisins.  This sparked an idea of how we would implement this in our home.


I grabbed three small plastic containers and placed a little change in each.  Right now, the boys containers have three quarters, three nickels, two dimes, and four pennies in them.  I explained to the boys that from now on, if they wanted a snack between meals, they would have to buy them!  We would develop a list of available snacks and the price for each item.  When they wanted a snack, they would have to determine the cost of the item.  Then they would give me their money, and tell me if they needed any change.  After this transaction, they could have their snack!  The boys were thrilled with this new game and quickly grabbed their money boxes and my label maker to put their names on their boxes.


This is not a program intended to curb snacking.  I wanted it to be fun, and not to feel like a punishment.  Actually, the way we are doing our money jars, the boys don't even know they are learning!  With the prices we set on our snack list, the boys have plenty of money for their desired snacks.  Also, each night, we renew the original amount of money in the jar for the next day.  This way, they never run out of snack money.


We did, however, set some rules.  You cannot buy a snack less than one hour before meal-time.  You cannot buy more than one of an item per day.  (I have a popcorn addicted son, who would munch bags and bags of popcorn each day.)  And Mommy reserves the right to veto a snack at any time.


This has been a wonderful activity in our home!  My oldest son was so excited about it that he told his friends from church, "Hey, guess what we're doing now?  We have money jars and we buy snacks at our house!"  And it has been great for money recognition, with which my youngest son used to struggle, and basic math.  The boys have to do the addition in their heads to determine the cost of an item, or a combination of items.  They also have to complete subtraction to determine the change that they are due.  And they are so quick!  It took no time at all for them to be making accurate change.  Last week, while at a yard sale, my youngest son purchased a stuffed animal for $.75.  He handed the seller a one dollar bill and said, "That will be one quarter back, please."  He's so used to telling me what his snack change will be, that he did it at the yard sale!


We put our list on a sheet of cardstock and placed it in a clear magnetic frame on the refrigerator door.  Items are priced at unusual numbers so that making change is a challenge.  A bag of popcorn might be 26 cents, a freeze pop, maybe, 9 cents.  Also, we have a charge for room service.  If you want to purchase a snack, and have Mommy deliver it to you in the living room, there is an extra fee!


So, fill a plastic container with some spare change.  Take an inventory of your snacks and make your list.  This is practical consumer math at its finest!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Think on These Things

My feelings were hurt.  I just couldn't seem to let go of the hurtful comment.  I kept turning it over and over in my mind and the more I thought about it, the more sullen I became.  I was getting more and more quiet as the day progressed and I just couldn't seem to stop myself.


You see, earlier in the day, someone had made a comment to me and it had hurt my feeligs.  This person did not intend to hurt me.  It was nothing malicious, but it still hurt.  Ever since that moment, I kept thinking about the comment and how much it hurt me.


Finally, I asked God, "What should I do? I keep thinking about this hurtful comment.  I keep playing it over in my head.  I can't seem to let go of it.  Why do I keep reminding myself of this pain?"


God's reply was simple.  He said, "You don't have to."


There have been a few times in my life when I've known the Lord is speaking to me.  His voice rings clearly in my head and in my heart.  I usually feel the Lord's leading in my life, but this is different.  When God talks to me this way, I have a feeling throughout my spirit that is like electricity.  The other thing that always comes with His quiet comments to my soul is scripture.  When He speaks, He lays a scripture on my heart that affirms His words.  This way, I REALLY know it's Him.


This time was no different, I cried out in my heart asking God how to stop thinking about this offense and He replied, "You don't have to (think about it)."  Then He reminded me of Phillipians 4:8:


Finally, bretheren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.


It was so simple, and yet to my broken spirit, it was so profound!  Was this offensive comment true?  No.  Was it honest?  No.  Was it just, pure or lovely?  No.  No. And no.  So why did I continually turn it over in my brain looking at it from every angle, contemplating it, and, yes, obsessing over it?


I determined to shut that thought down.  I focused on anything good that had happened that day.  And if that was not enough I focused on anything good that had happened that week!  And then I truly focused on the good, good God who took the time to speak to me and calm my chaotic mind.


I don't HAVE to think about the negative, offensive, or unkind things.  I don't HAVE to give them any more thought or energy from my mind.  I have a test for what to think about now.  I have a checklist.  If I find myself thinking about one incident or comment, I can measure it against Phillipians 4:8.  Is it truth?  Is it pure?  Is it lovely?


I'm committing to think about all those things that are of good report and virtue.  If I can give praise for it, I will think about it.  I'm determined to take all of my thoughts captive in this way. (II Corinthians 10:5)


I can't say that all of my days will be "sullen-free", but I can say that those sullen moments will be few and far-between.  I've  got the tools to keep myself from obsessing over hurtful words.  Isn't it great that we worship a God who gives us such good gifts?

Friday, June 2, 2006

Give Me a Zip Loc Bag

I have a confession to make.  I love plastic zipper bags.  I use them to contain the mini-books for lap books on which the boys are working.  I love to place just anything in a zipper bag.


This week, someone on the Notebooking Yahoo Group suggested this site:  for preschool activities.  Although I don't have a preschooler I was drawn to many of the messages on the list of activities found at this site.  And, of course, I loved the activities that are contained in a zipper bag!


OK, I've gone a little overboard about the plastic zipper bags.  But I do find them so convenient and easy to use to contain and organize many things.  Yesterday I bought a box of 3 gallon zipper bags.  I will be using these to hold each of McLane's lapbooks that must be placed in his three-ring binder portfolio for our year-end evaluation.


As I was reading through the ideas for preschoolers, I got an idea for an older student.  All of the materials could be contained in, you guessed it, a plastic zipper bag!  On 3x5 cards, write large numbers like 1,543 or 245,690.  On the back of the card, draw a picture of the appropriate cuisinaire rods that would reflect this number.  The student pulls the cards out of the bag and one by one, makes those large numbers out of cuisinaire rods.  He or she can check their answers by looking on the back of the card.


We don't use Cuisinaire rods (now I'm thinking I might want to find some!) but each of the boys has a mini-abacus.  I could do this same activity, replacing the rods with the abacus, for my guys to help them manage large numbers.


This same technique could be used to make different shapes from tangram pieces, or from pattern blocks.  Draw the complete shape on the front of the card and then repeat the shape on the back with the outline of each piece represented so that it shows the child how the shape is made from all the pieces.


So, invest in some zipper bags today.  Let me know if you come up with some great ideas!