Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Reading Nook

We have a pre-reader in da house! Something has clicked in that head of hers and suddenly letters and sounds and sight words all have meaning. She is SO enjoying being included in all the reading fun, so we thought it would be fun to celebrate that a bit.  This weekend we moved her bed and made her a reading nook...no, not an e-reader...an honest-to-goodness old fashioned nook. The kind the e-readers were presumably named after.  

She got the beautiful fairy house for her birthday, so we added a floor pillow we had, an old teddy bear of mine for her to read to, a magnetic fridge phonics game in case she wants to hear a letter sound, and some Winnie the Pooh First Words flashcards.

Then I hit up Goodwill for some 39 cent books.  I got an alphabet book, a couple of Bob books, a set of easy readers about Worm, a couple of picture-dictionary style books and put in a copy of Brown Bear, Brown Bear that she made at preschool and can read herself.  The idea was to get books she could read on her own.  I spent five whole dollars!

She has really been enjoying reading in HER nook (and her brother is oh-so-jealous, which she also enjoys).  This morning she was reading to her baby sister when I went in to say good morning.  She is taking her new skills very seriously. There is a fine line between encouraging her and pushing her...we hope we fall on the encouraging side...she seems proud of herself.  We certainly are!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Small House

Some days it feels a bit like this

We live in a beautiful house.  It is a 1,700 square foot ranch, and we use every inch of it.  It has four bedrooms, a living room and family room, two bathrooms, a laundry room, garage and a good sized (albeit dodgy to access) attic.  We have a backyard with a shed and several garden beds. We live across the street from a playground (aka the yard we don't have to mow).  We LOVE our house.  

I can't help notice, though, how many, MANY comments we get about how we can't possibly stay in our house now that we have three kids/the kids are growing up/the kids' stuff is getting bigger/we are homeschooling.  There are days where we feel rather squeezed.  We have toyed with the idea of adding on and may well do so at some point.  I have friends who live in even smaller places and I admire their mad organization skills and know they get asked the same questions I do.  Compared to homes around the world, 1700 square feet is huge.  And yet, our house is considered small for our sized family in our part of the country.  This got me thinking- haven't people been living in much smaller homes with many more children for years?  The answer, of course, is YES.
Graph found here
The average new home size has more than doubled in the past 50 years, while we are having fewer children.  With the recent recession, new home sizes have decreased slightly, but for the most part, people still desire more, more, more space.  I understand this, really I do. There are things we dislike about our current space.  But for the moment, we are staying put in our "little" house and making it work for us.  Here are a few things we like about our place and some ways we make it work.

What we like about our "small" home:

1) We are together.  There are spaces for us to have some alone time, but for the most part we are together. Life is never boring when you're together.  Plus, we can supervise our kids easily.  No baby monitors needed.  Not to say that they don't occasionally sneak away to color on the walls or splash in the toilet...but at least they have to work a little harder at it.

2) I can pick up the house in a few minutes and deep clean it in a few hours.  Since children seem to mess up every available inch, fewer inches= less mess.

3) It is affordable. Heating, cooling, lighting...it all costs less, and if we're lucky (and disciplined), we might just pay off that mortgage sooner than later.

4) It is cozy.  We know every nook and cranny of this house...no monsters hiding anywhere!

5) It makes us want to be outside more...especially in the summer, our sliding door opens and the yard becomes part of our house.  I can see the kids playing outside from my kitchen window, and feel safe with them out there.

6) It makes us pare down our stuff.  We can't have everything, so we make decisions about what stays and what needs to find a new home.  Everything that stays has a place and value. Goodwill loves us.

Tips for making it work:

1) Use every inch. Our front hall closet holds toys and games.  Our girl's closet holds the changing table. We don't have a guest room, we just have our kids bunk in together when we need an extra room.  Our daughter naps in our bedroom so her sister can still play in their room during the day. Every room is used every single day.

2) Every item must earn its keep.  We recently realized that neither of the two lovely desks in our office had been sat at in months.  We sent them to new homes, purged old textbooks, consolidated two bookshelves and moved the sewing table.We added a loveseat and a new table Matias got for his birthday and voila...a comfy office/craft room/homeschooling room. Even something nice is just in the way if it is not being used.  Don't hold onto things thinking you'll use them in the future.  If they haven't been used in a while and you won't need them in the immediate future, take them to the attic or pass them on.

3) Rearrange to meet your needs.  Our kids have shared rooms in all possible combinations. Matias' room was a playroom for a while.  Our office has morphed several times.  Our living room is rearranged frequently.  Our computers and printer have lived all over the house. The master bedroom held the changing table and nursery furniture when new babies came home.  Nothing is set in stone...move it!  (Pro tip...marry a man who enjoys moving furniture as much as my dear husband.)

4) Be creative.  It started out as a tv stand.  Then it held a dollhouse. Then it was a bench in the laundry room that held hats and mittens.  Now it holds dress-ups and Duplos and is our puzzle table.  A cabinet, with the doors removed, becomes a shelf.  A shelf with a cash register and some toy food becomes a play kitchen.  The "linen"drawer under the crib holds the dolls and toy animals.

5) Don't fear the "lived in" look.  We have a time line running around our living room, maps on the walls, a solar system hanging in the kitchen, instruments on the floor by the piano, and guests hoping to hang their coat are greeted with a closet full of games.  No denying it...we have children.  "Lived in" doesn't have to look messy- we keep things neat- but this is where we live and learn, and it shows!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Our Solar System Unit

Welcome to the Moon
I've had a few people ask me what curriculum we use for homeschool preschool, and how I plan our units.  The answer is that we don't use a set curriculum, and I make it up as we go. I thought I would give you a little look into our latest unit on the Solar System, and how it came to be.

I have been planning to study space with the kids for a while, so I have been pinning ideas on a Pinterest board, hitting the library and collecting books and resources from thrift stores and the Target dollar section for a while.  Things like this:

Space has been a topic in our house since Matias received Space Legos for his birthday.  We started our unit by listing everything we already knew about the solar system, and listing some questions we'd like to answer.  Then we read through a few of our books, and did some of the space jigsaw puzzles from the Solar System book.  Then we took our our space cards and arranged the planets (and dwarf planets) in order in Matias' pocket chart.

Space Legos
Planet cards
We also painted, cut and glued rockets from a fun printable craft site, LearnCreateLove.

We researched the relative distance between the planets and then colored and cut out the planets and spaced them in the correct ratio throughout our house.  Poor Pluto (who we decided to include, despite his downgraded status) had to hang from the tire swing outside, because our house just wasn't long enough! This was a great math activity that the whole family helped with...and a good opportunity to practice REALLY big numbers!

I love the website 1+1+1=1, and used a bunch of her themed printables for a memory game, planet sorting and some handwriting practice.  The kids love writing with dry-erase markers, so we did quite a few letter tracing and word writing sheets.  

As luck would have it, Matias got some AWESOME space-themed birthday gifts, so we broke those out as well.  He and Matt found a website that diagrams the night sky minute-by-minute, and they placed the glowing planets and stars around his room in accurate positions. They made the stars into constellations: the little dipper, cassiopeia and cygnus.  

We also had the chance (on a beautiful Indian Summer November day) to try out his Green Rocket.  

Too excited to hold still for a picture
Assembling the rocket and launcher

Figuring out how to aim it
It is easier to stomp on the launcher when someone is holding your hand so you don't fall over.  Besides...they weren't quite sure just what it was going to do, and holding hands makes you braver!

It flew REALLY far!  
To play a bit more with our ideas, we created a moonscape sensory bin.  First we watched a YouTube video of the first moon landing.  Then we mixed "moon sand" and "cloud dough" along with some tinfoil, some egg cartons, a flag, a few astronauts (Buzz and Neil) and some homemade lunar landing modules.  We talked about how to make craters and made a great mess.

So by now, the kids had learned quite a bit about space, so we decided to have a little space celebration.   We watched The Magic Schoolbus: Lost in Space and enjoyed a treat of Astronaut Ice Cream.  The movie and snack totally took me back to my childhood...I always used to buy astronaut ice cream at the museum shops when I went on a field trip. The kids decided it was also pretty awesome.

So there you have it- our space unit.  We worked on this for about two weeks, off and on.  We tend to go in spurts where we will spend a few hours on a topic one day and then take a day or two off.  Though I leave out the workbooks and games and books, so the kids dig into it on their own even when we're not officially working on it together.  It didn't take too much effort to put together because I had been collecting things for a while...a few hours perusing the interwebz and printing things off, a trip to the library and one order from Amazon Prime (love).  I have to say, the Internet has revolutionized homeschooling- I have videos, information and the work of a thousand other dedicated teacher moms at my finger tips, and I try to take advantage of that!  Why reinvent the wheel?!  

Hope you enjoyed this INCREDIBLY long post...if you made it this far, congratulations.  You're out of this world :)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

We thank you Lord for happy hearts,
For sun and rainy weather.
We thank you for the food we eat, 
And that we are together.


Sunday, November 18, 2012


The characters:

Matias- manic learner whose mind has been blown by the changing of the calendar to HIS birthday month, wearing enormous headphones.

Violet- recently gave up naps, life after 4pm rivals Shakespearian tragedy

Beatrice- newly mobile, sibling chaser, vandal

Helen- seeking refuge from her home filled with the smell of spray acrylic, hopeful that her two oldest children could be entertained by the computer independently while she sat happily reading to her youngest.  Fool.

The scene:

A library with 2 little computers, puppets, puzzles, baby toys, books and a twitchy librarian

The play:

Helen: Okay guys, go ahead and play your games, I will be over here with Beatrice. Have fun!

Helen untangles Beatrice from the headphone cords and carts her off to the board books


Helen: Ssssshhhh.


Helen: Ssssshhhh.


Helen: Ssssshhhh.


Violet: Mommy, I need you!

Helen: Ssssshhhh.

Beatrice: glabble glabble glabble gaaaaaah

Helen: Ssssshhhh.

Beatrice follows Helen to the computers, crawling at lightning speed, mashing buttons and plucking the "alt" key off Violet's computer.

Helen: Bea, nooooooo!!  Give it back...spit it out.

Violet: AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!  She STOLE MY COMPUTER.  Mommy, she is grabbing my cord.  Get her get her get her off of me! She has my hair.  My cord.   

Helen: Ssssshhhh.

Sobbing, Violet throws her sister to the ground.  Helen returns the alt key, picks up Beatrice and returns to the board books.

Helen: Ssssshhhh.

Violet: MOM, this won't work.  Fix it.  I NEEEEEED YOU.

Repeat from *********


Helen: Ssssshhhh.


Helen: Ssssshhhh.

Beatrice: nom nom nom, gaaaaaah eeeeeeeeeegggggoooooooo baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Helen: Ssssshhhh.


Helen: Ssssshhhh.


Helen: Ssssshhhh.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Matias Turned 5

Time just won't slow down...Matias turned 5 this month!  He is such a fun, smart, quirky kid.  His current favorite things are Legos, logic puzzles, math, playing pretend with his sisters, maps (he is becoming a human GPS), taekwondo, spending time with his grandparents...he's a very happy boy.  Here are a few snapshots of how we celebrated his big day.  But first...the obligatory sentimental pictures...

2012 He has gotten bigger...
...and so has his sense of humor!
We voted on his actual birthday
Party snacks and happy kids
Lego man treasure hunt 
Putting the clues together
Searching for the treasure
Enjoying the treasure.
Lego bingo was a hit. 
Enjoying gifts...he loved everything he got...his friends know him so well!
Halloween costume-turned-Lego-pinata
Lego crayon coloring
Lego cupcakes
Happy boy blowing out his candles.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas ChildThis year we decided to do something new leading up to Christmas...Operation Christmas Child.  I had heard of this organization through our homeschool group, and then it kept popping up on my blogroll, so I decided it was time to particpate.  Matias and Violet both got to pack a box for a child roughly their age and gender. Of course, we turned it into a learning activity...that's how we roll around here!

First stop- the bank.  The kids filled out the withdrawal slips and chatted with the nice teller at the bank as they took out some cash to buy gifts for their children. They had to keep within their budget, and then fill the rest of the box up with things we had around the house.

Then we sat down and discussed how our children might be living, and watched a few of the videos of children receiving their boxes.  I would be lying if I said that we weren't all touched by these videos.  Matias, in particular, was very concerned when one of the videos mentioned that some of the kids didn't have parents.  He burst into tears, climbed into my lap and asked if that was REALLY true.  I hate to see my kids upset, but there are some things in the world that we should all be upset about.  We should all feel passionate about caring for the most vulnerable.  I think a project like this is a good way to introduce kids to poverty and need because it allows them to do something tangible to help.  The goal isn't to make them (or us) feel guilty or depressed...it is to help develop a servant's heart and the habit of sharing with those in need.

Following this, we discussed the difference between wants and needs, and made a list of some things our Christmas children might both want and need.  Then we hit the stores.  We did our best to tally up our purchases as we shopped, and came out with just enough cash to cover our gifts (after Mommy fished around in her purse for a spare quarter or two...not going into the concept of taxes quite yet!)

We decided to get plastic shoe boxes and "wrap" them with bandanas inside so that the kids could reuse the wrapping.  We tucked in the items we purchased (Legos and a princess doll being the MOST important) and then searched the house for other goodies we could include: Halloween candy (non-chocolate), tubes of toothpaste, soap, some cars and toys the kids were willing to part with, stickers, school supplies...it is amazing what you can find when you go looking.
A very neat part of the experience was doing the coloring page that OCC provides on their website.  The kids filled out information about themselves, added a picture and sent it along to their child.  There is even space to put your address, so perhaps someday we'll hear back from them.  Not holding my breath, but it would be neat!  We also decided to donate the $7 per box shipping fee online so that we would receive a tracking code so we can follow our boxes and see where they end up.

We looked up our (very convenient) Drop-Off Location and left our boxes with piles of others to be shipped overseas.  The kids even got OCC stickers.  Drop-off continues all week, so you still have time to put a shoebox together if you'd like.  It doesn’t take long.  We will definitely be thinking about the little ones who will open our boxes as Christmas draws nearer.  Fun, learning and charity...hard to beat that!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Traveling with Kids- WHY

We travel quite a bit with our brood...whenever we can, really.  In some ways, it may seem like a bit of a waste to spend all that time, money and effort traveling with little ones who are not even going to remember the trip.  Traveling with young children is almost ALWAYS more difficult than hopping a plane with just 2 adults.  And yes...the occasional trip without the kids is definitely good for the soul (and the marriage).  But we like to travel a lot...far more often that we would choose to be away from our kids.  Hopefully we will have many years to travel alone in the future, but that is not the season we are in now. So we are embracing the opportunity to show our children the world- and finding that there are so many benefits to traveling with kids- even really young ones.

Reasons We Love to Travel with our Kids:

1) The look of discovery on their faces is worth a million bucks (or at least the price of a place ticket- which is not that much less than a million bucks these days!)

2) They discover that other people live differently from us...and yet pretty much the same as we do as well.

3) Everyone we love doesn't live near us.  It is worth traveling to see our loved ones and build those relationships.

4) They learn that people can communicate in different languages...this is something that must be discovered...you can't just tell a child this.

5) They learn that THEY can communicate in a different language...our son just lit up when he said "Salut Grossi" to our friend's Swiss grandma and she understood, and Violet discovered that she didn't need to speak the same language to play dollhouse with her little friend!

6) It helps them be flexible...they learn to sleep anywhere, eat new things, meet new people.

7) They recognize places they've been when they see them referenced in their lives...there's the Eiffel Tower!  That looks like the Alps!  There's Mt. Rushmore.  We've BEEN to that place!

8) They discover that they CAN travel.  Planes, trains, automobiles...they develop a comfort level and confidence that they, too, can navigate the world.

9) The world becomes really small for them.  Since returning from Europe this summer, my son has his next 10 trips planned...Egypt to see Abu Simbel and the Ramasseum, Peru to visit Cuzco and Machu Pichu (with a side trip to Easter Island). Singapore to visit Aunt Hannah and Uncle Jacob.  China to see the Potala Palace and the Great Wall.  We should all have the chance to dream about trips we will take without thoughts of time off and money even crossing our mind.

10) Family memories....funny stories...tales of near disaster-turned-humor...who else would I rather spend time with than my funny family?

So there you have it...WHY we travel with our kids.  Stay tuned for the next installment...HOW we travel with kids.  Read our travel log from our big summer trip here.
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