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Ashley

Creativity Homeschool Motherhood

A Meaningful Easter Snack

March 1, 2018

My boys absolutely love Easter. And of course, one of the things that they look forward to each year is the infamous Easter Egg Hunt!

In the weeks leading up to Easter, we probably have a hundred Easter egg hunts in various forms, just because my boys are completely captivated by “the hunt.” They ask Mommy and Daddy to hide eggs whenever they have a chance. They hide eggs for each other. And as the actual holiday approaches, we get to go to a few organized events (either with our co-op, church, or other family members) where the Easter Egg hunt is in full swing!

As much as I love a good Easter egg hunt (my parents have actually held one for the adults the past few years), I never want my boys to miss the true meaning of Easter – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, when they were young, I started trying to brainstorm ways we could weave the two activities together. Now, of course, we’ve done the popular Resurrection Eggs – which are absolutely wonderful! However, one element was missing for my boys – FOOD! I mean, with all of that hunting, they definitely needed a snack, right?

So, we created this Resurrection Snack Mix that not only points to the true meaning of Easter but also gives them a little something to eat after using all of that energy to find the eggs!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Clean, plastic Easter eggs
  • Pretzel sticks
  • Fish crackers
  • Chocolate chips
  • Small marshmallows or Popcorn
  • Any small red candy (sometimes I’ll save red M&Ms from the Valentine’s assortment)
  • Large bowl

Now, you can do this a number of ways. If you want to place the actual snack mix items in the Easter eggs, be sure that you wash them thoroughly before filling them with the food items.

Then, fill the Easter eggs with the various items listed above. Leave at least one empty egg. Then, hide the eggs for your kids to find. Be sure to give them instructions NOT to open any of the eggs yet. Once all of the eggs have been found, come back together. Then, open the eggs and dump the contents into the large bowl. As you open each egg, explain what it represents in the Easter story:

  • Pretzel sticks – remind us of the wooden cross, where Jesus died
  • Fish crackers – remind us that Jesus taught his disciples to be “fishers of men.”
  • Chocolate chips – remind us of the dark sin that we were covered in
  • Small marshmallows or Popcorn – remind us of how the blood of Jesus makes us as white as snow
  • Red Candy – reminds us of how Jesus suffered and bled for us
  • When you get to the empty egg, celebrate that it is empty because the tomb was empty – Jesus is ALIVE!!!

If you’d rather not fill the individual eggs with the food items, simply place a small piece of paper with directions on which food item to add to the mix. See the FREE Download below. Then, as you open each of the eggs, you (or your child) can read the item listed and you can simply add it to the bowl that way, again discussing what each item represents.

Then, you simply pass out the snack mix for your kiddos to enjoy!

An added bonus to making this snack mix is that it will last for 3-5 days if you keep it sealed well in an airtight container. And this means you can continue to draw their attention back to the true meaning of Easter. I hope you enjoy this fun snack mix!

If you give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes. Leave me a comment below – I’d love to hear all about it!

Homeschool Motherhood

The Homeschooling Gift I Never Expected

January 1, 2018

As I’ve shared before, homeschooling was never something I thought I would be doing. You can read more about that journey HERE, but in short, after lots of prayer, conversations, and advice from people we deeply respect, we finally came to the conclusion that this was something the Lord was calling us to do – at least for a season.

And while I never expected to be in this role, the more we thought and prayed about it, the more excited I became.

I knew there would be some incredible benefits to being home with my kids and homeschooling them as they approached school age.

I knew that I would be able to build a strong academic foundation while also being able to pour into my kids spiritually. I wanted to be able to weave Biblical truths into our teaching and I knew that was not something that would be possible at a public school.

I loved the fact that I was going to know the nuances of my kids simply because I would have months and years to observe their behaviors. Having had my oldest in childcare until he was around 18 months, I loved the fact that now I was going to be the one who would pick up on little things that no one else might notice, simply because I was around them so much.

I looked forward to building strong relationships with my kiddos just because we would spend so much time together and do so many things together. The sheer quantity of time we would have together would be irreplaceable.

With two energy-filled boys, I was thankful that they were not going to be locked into an 8am-3pm class schedule at such young ages. They would have plenty of time to play, use their imaginations, run around outside, and not be subject to so many of the demands that are placed on our young children.

All of these things were things that I expected, or at least hoped, would come out of me leaving the classroom, staying home with my boys, and homeschooling. However, in the past few months, I have seen another incredible gift that has come out of this decision.

My boys are best friends.

And I’m not meaning the kind of “Well, we’re brothers so of course we’re friends.” No, I mean the kind of best friends that if they could choose anyone to do something with, both of my boys would choose each other.

Recently, we asked our boys individually (when the other one wasn’t around), “So, who would you say is your best friend?” Without hesitation, they both replied, “My brother.”

My oldest tends to be an early riser, and if he’s been awake for more than 10 minutes or so, he’s eagerly waiting for his brother to arise – sometimes going in and waking him up just because he “misses him so much” (his words, not mine).

When one of them gets hurt, the other one often cries too.

And just this past week, my boys were at AWANAS, and it was “Store Night.” My oldest picked out an item for himself and one just for his brother with his AWANA bucks. My younger son (who is in a younger class and doesn’t earn bucks just yet) got to pick one item from the store. When we picked them up, the gift my oldest had selected for his brother was the exact gift the younger son had picked out. He knew his brother so well that out of all the items in the store, he knew exactly which one his brother would want.

I’m not saying any of this to brag – believe me, they have their moments, and sometimes they really just need some space from one another.

But I share this because I truly believe that their closeness has come as a result of our choice to homeschool for this season.

This is our third year “officially” homeschooling our oldest and I started thinking. 3 years, approximately 180 school days every school year, at around 7 hours a day.  That’s 3,780 hours that these boys have spent together that they otherwise would have been separate. And that’s a lot of time.

A lot of time to build a relationship. A lot of time to have shared memories. A lot of time to talk, laugh, and play together. Plenty of time to get on one another’s nerves, but also plenty of time to learn how to talk, forgive, and make-up.

I know that this isn’t a possibility for everyone, and I know that every kid is different, but the relationship that has developed between my boys is absolutely priceless. And one I pray that will only grow stronger over time.

We don’t know how long we will homeschool, but this unexpected gift is something I will always be grateful for!

Culture Featured Homeschool

12 Picture Books that Instill Biblical Truth

December 5, 2017

The Christmas season is upon us! This is truly one of my favorite times of the year, and some of the things that I especially enjoy are all of the wonderful children’s books that we pull out for this special season. Now, we have our fair share of fun, silly, and just generally amusing Christmas stories, but the ones that I adore, are the ones that share about the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. Whether these books are relating the nativity story or conveying a modern tale of someone sharing the love and story of Jesus, these books are gifts that so beautifully reinforce the truths I am trying to teach my children.

I love these books – and the number of these books grows each year; however, we really only pull these treasures out for the month or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the rest of the year they are barely touched. The problem with this is I want to be reading my children literature that supports Biblical truth throughout the year – not only during the Christmas season. So, I’ve compiled a list of 12 of our favorite picture books that instill Biblical values and truth – and can be read all throughout the year.

And if your kiddos are loving the Christmas books, why not gift them with a book that will support you in your teaching of Biblical values all throughout the year?

Below I have listed 12 of our favorites, with a few short notes about each one. The links below are affiliate links, but that is truly for your convenience! We simply love each of these books and I wanted to share them with you!


You Are Special by Max Lucado – This is one of the well-know Wemmicks series books. And if you haven’t heard of them, check them out – seriously, each of is excellent. In this book, we meet the Wemmicks, who become obsessed with stars (good marks) and dots (bad marks). The main character, Punchinello becomes entirely wrapped up in what others think of him, until he has a meeting with his Maker, and is reminded that he is special because he was His. This is a beautiful story with a powerful truth. The book is a little on the longer side for a picture book, but both of my boys have loved these books since they were young!


If Only I Had a Green Nose by Max Lucado – This is another in the Max Lucado Wemmick’s series. I really could list each one, but wanted to add some variety to my list 🙂 In this story we again meet Punchinello, who makes every attempt to fit in, only to find that as soon as he makes a change, the fad that is “in” has changed. He learns about the importance of being content with who he is and how his Maker crafted him, rather than looking for worth in the eyes of others. Good Good Father by Chris Tomlin – Both of my boys love the song “Good Good Father,” by Chris Tomlin, so when this book came out we had to check it out! In the story we meet Tucker, a little bear who is seeking help from the King. He travels to see him, meeting several animals along the way, who each tell him one great thing about the King. As he gets closer to the castle, he has doubts about whether the King would want to see him. Yet the King appears offering sweet Tucker an abundance of love. This is a precious story about the great love of our God.
God Knows My Name by Debby Anderson – This is a delightful book that even the youngest readers will enjoy. On each page Mrs. Anderson conveys truth about all that God knows – from the number of hairs on your head to the number of stars in the sky. She talks about how God knows just what you’re feeling and how he cares for things in His creation. The pictures are colorful and inviting. It is evident that Mrs. Anderson was a kindergarten and first grade teacher, as young kids are drawn to her text. I also appreciate that she includes several scripture references to go along with her writing.

The Prayer That Makes God Smile by Stormie Omartian – This is a beautiful book that teaches children about prayer. It talks about different times that you can pray, things you can pray for, ways you can thank the Lord in your prayers, and the truth that God hears our prayers. She then talks about the best prayer of all – asking Jesus to come into your heart and be your Savior. Now, I have to warn you – if you’re reading this as a parent to your little one for the first time, be prepared to have tissues ready. I wept the first time I read this to my little guy, and still get teary eyed every time I read it. This book is rather lengthy for a picture book, but the pictures are adorable and the message of the book is powerful! The Oak Inside the Acorn by Max Lucado – Yes, this is another Max Lucado book, but not a part of the Wemmicks series. He just has so many excellent children’s books! This book shares the powerful truth that God created each of us with a purpose. And while it may be tempting to look around at what others have or can do, we must cling to the truth that God has a purpose for each of us, as this oak tree learns.


The Blessings Jar by Colleen Coble – This is a great one for little ones – especially as a gift from a grandparent. In this board book, Punky Grace is having a rough day – and a case of the grumpies. Then, her grandmother takes her on an adventure, looking for all of the little things she has to be thankful for. Soon, her blessings jar is filled to the top, and her grumpies have gone away. This is an adorable picture book with a great message about being thankful!

God Loves Me More Than That by Dandi Daley Mackall – This is another great story for little ones, with an important reminder for every reader. The story works in sets of 4 lines, where the first three lines rhyme and the final line in the set reminds us that God’s love is bigger, higher, deeper, etc than anything! With its colorful, child-friendly illustrations, this is a delightful book that teaches about how much God truly loves each one of us!


The One Year Devotions for Preschoolers by Crystal Bowman  – This has been a favorite in our house! Over the past few years both of my boys have loved this little devotional, so much so that our copy is literally falling apart. Each day has a child-friendly devotion that centers around a topic preschoolers may face – having a rough day, making new friends, when you’re afraid, etc. The illustrations are simply adorable, and each devotion has a verse and a rhyming prayer to share with your child. This is a great way to start teaching your kids to spend time with the Lord each day.


It Will Be Okay by Lysa TerKeurst – In this story we meet Little Seed and Little Fox, both of whom are dealing with fears. A beautiful friendship is formed, and as changes begin to occur and fears creep in, they continually remind each other that the farmer is good and the farmer is kind. As someone who personally deals with fear and worry, this story was a lovely reminder of the good and kind Father we serve. And just as Little Seed and Little Fox learn to trust in the farmer – and that things will we okay – this story encourages each reader to trust in the Lord, even in new or even scary circumstances.

Jesus Calling Bible Storybook by Sarah Young – Penned by the same author as the Jesus Calling devotional for adults, the Jesus Calling Bible Storybook weaves kid-friendly versions of Bible stories with a Jesus Calling style devotion at the end. The short devotion written by Young is written as though God is speaking to the reader, but can easily be modified if you think it may be confusing to young listeners. The combination of stories, devotions, and colorful illustrations make this a delightful read for kids!

With You All the Way by Max Lucado – Now, this one seems to be a little harder to find, but both of my boys love it so much, I had to include it! It tells the story of three knights (probably why my boys love it) who are all on a quest to win the hand of the King’s daughter. However, they must travel through the forest of the Hope-nots in order to succeed, with only the King’s song to guide them. Which knight is successful – the strongest, the fastest, the smartest? It is the one who chooses the right companion for the journey knows the King’s song well enough to hear it above everything else. This is a wonderful story that illustrates the way the Lord is with us in all things, and it is by learning to listen to his voice that we can have victory. There’s one page that may be a little scary for the youngest readers, but such a gret story with great truth!

**BONUS**
Now, you’ve got the list of 12 awesome books, but there’s one more resource I want to share with you! I’m not an affiliate or anything, but my kiddos have enjoyed this so much, I simply had to share it with you! It’s the Clubhouse Jr. Magazine for Kids. It’s published by Focus on the Family and is such a fabulous resource. It contains stories, activities, coloring pages, snack ideas, and more for your kids! This magazine is created for kids ages 3-7, but there’s also another one for older kids called Clubhouse Magazine. We’ve only gotten the Jr. version but my boys love it! They definitely look forward to receiving it in the mail each month – and it’s a gift they receive all year long! I hope you’ll check it out!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these resources and are encouraged to check some of them out further. I’d also love to hear your thoughts. Comment below with your favorite from the list – or leave a comment and let me know other books that you love that teach Biblical truths – I’d love to check them out!

Creativity Homeschool

7 Different Ways to Use Dot Markers

October 17, 2017

My kids and I looooove using dot markers!

Not only do they help kids with their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, but there is really no clean-up for Mom! Yep – no paintbrushes, no water cups, no paint pallets – it’s simply the dot markers and the paper. Seriously, it can’t get much easier than that when it comes to art!

I love that the dot markers can be used for skill-focused activities as well as free creative expression. The boys love the bright colors and the ease of use – and that they last for so long!

There are so many educational and fun ways to use these and I wanted to share a few of my favorites today!

  1. Letter and/or Number Recognition

When my boys first began working on letter recognition, they absolutely loved getting to “dot” the letter on the page. Because using the dot markers made the task so simple, they were really able to focus on the letter recognition skill and have fun in the process. Since this was an activity they asked for repeatedly, I’ve made my A-Z Dot Pictures available for FREE below! Just click on the picture to grab your FREE set!

  1. Patterns

Again, the simplicity of use makes these a perfect tool to use when teaching patterns. Since there’s no cutting or gluing this is a great way to practice simple patterns, especially when you’re short on time!

 

  1. Color by Code

This works similar to the letter and number recognition, except with this activity you can work on distinguishing between different numbers, letters, and even sight words.

  1. Graphing

Kids love to take surveys of neighbors, friends, classmates, and family members, which can then be translated to a graph. However, keeping the graphs accurate can get a little tricky for little guys. Using dot markers can really help with this – especially if you use a different color for each option. My kiddos have always been thrilled with the results!

 

  1. Resist Art Projects

Both of my boys love doing arts and crafts projects, but I am not a super crafty person. But using dot markers for tape-resist art projects have given us some pretty great results. You simply tape off the part that you want to keep white, and then the kids can just go crazy filling in the rest of the space with the dot markers. We usually keep it simple by doing a simple shape with the tape, but I have seen others actually tape the outside of the project so that the kids are actually filling in the shape with the dot markers (kind of like a stencil).

 

  1. Mazes

I’ve already mentioned how we have used dot markers to identify letters, numbers, and sight words, but this option allows your students to practice putting these elements in order. For example, you might have a maze where students have to follow the alphabet A-Z. Or perhaps they’re following counting numbers from 1-20. We’ve even used this type of activity in practicing spelling our names. Using dot markers not only makes it easy for them to fill the space for the maze, but it also makes the path at the end very clear.

  1. Free Creative Expression

Dot markers are so easy to use, my kids love them for just creating pictures of their own. They come up with some of the most creative ideas. And if you want to work on fine motor skills while still letting your kids get creative, there are a number of printables that have adorable graphics with space for kids to “dot” in the pictures. This allows them to be creative while still focusing on being accurate with the dot markers.   

We absolutely love using dot markers, and I hope this post gives you a few new ideas on how you might be able to incorporate this wonderful tool in your learning.

Do you have other ways that you love to use dot markers?! Leave me a note in the comments – I’d love to hear about it!

Homeschool Motivation

Fall into HIM this season

October 9, 2017

As a former elementary school teacher, and now a homeschooling mom of two boys, I have always loved the idea of fall – cooler weather, pumpkin spice everything, a landscape dotted in lovely yellows, oranges, and reds………

But then, the reality of the season hits, and it’s a looooooong stretch of 5 day weeks – without any holiday breaks between Labor Day and Veteran’s Day. Now, I have heard rumors about some schools getting Columbus Day off – or even a short fall break – but in all the schools that I’ve worked, it’s just one long push from the beginning of September until mid November.

On top of this is the fact that (here in the states), fall is the beginning of the new school year. And while there’s always an excitement and energy for the beginning of the year, it also means that much of your time is spent not only on teaching your material, but also “training” your kiddos for the year.

So when there’s not a single break in sight, your to-do list seems to be growing by the minute, and your kiddos just can’t seem to remember what you told them two minutes ago, it can leave you feeling like you are constantly “living tired.” Have you been there?

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hit these seasons, I have a tendency to want to just dig my heels in, push through it, and assume that I will get to rest when the season has passed. After all, if I don’t do it, it’s just not going to get done – and that’s just not acceptable, right? (sarcasm intended).

However, I have learned there are two major problems with this approach.

#1 – When I “dig in,” I begin to focus on all of the things I need to do – the tasks, the calls, the chores, the errands, the paperwork, etc. I become so fixated on what I’ve got on my plate, I can become oblivious to anything else. And sadly, my gaze shifts from my Heavenly Father downward to the things of this world.

#2 – Even when this season passes, there are going to be new things that fill up your schedule. Just stop for a moment to think. Once we hit Veteran’s Day – yes, you get a day – but Thanksgiving is right around the corner. And then, the whirlwind of the holiday season is upon us. Most likely, even your Christmas break will be filled with a flurry of activities, commitments, and travel.

So, if digging in and pushing though is not a legitimate option, what can we do? Let’s consider an alternative. Rather than dig in and try to do it all in our own strength, let’s stop, and SOAK IN His presence.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

I have been weary. I have been burdened. I have yearned for rest. And His solution is simple: “Come to me, learn from me.”

So, may I encourage you to set aside the laundry, the papers, the cleaning, the lesson planning, and all of the other things you have on your plate, and simply rest in His Presence. Read His Word. Talk to the One who knows you better than you know yourself.

It doesn’t have to be long, but this time will fill you with a peace, a strength, a renewed purpose, and dare I say, even a joy to carry with you into this season. He knows all that is on your plate, He knows your heart, and He longs to meet with you.

Believe me, sister, the time spent with your Creator is not lost time, rather it is a precious time that we cannot afford to lose.

Back to School Classroom Management Organization

7 Tips for Successful Classroom Management

September 12, 2017

The day had finally arrived. I had just graduated from college with my teaching credential a few months earlier. My classroom was organized, decorated, and prepared for the year. I anxiously awaited the arrival of my new 34 students! I was only 22 years old, and while my carefully laid out lesson plans, strategies for differentiation, and sheer excitement for teaching gave me confidence, one area that I realized I was not prepared was classroom management – specifically, how do I get 34 completely different students to cooperate, listen, and “buy-in” for the year. Thankfully, I had a wonderful grade-level team and an incredible principal and mentor who helped me establish classroom routines, procedures, rules, and expectations that made that first year a success. I could not have done it without them!
So, for all of you first year teachers, and even those who may have been in the classroom for a long time, here are my top seven tips for successful classroom management:

1. Articulate Your Expectations

If you fail to clearly communicate what you expect from your students, they will inevitably fail to live up to your standards. Now, this requires that you actually decide what your expectations are. Begin by selecting what behaviors you want to teach. What expectations do you have for transitions? Turning in work? Needing to use the restroom? Getting books from the classroom library? Noise level? Sharpening pencils? Asking for help? Dismissal? The list goes on and on. However, choose which procedures you have specific expectations for and go from there. Remember, you can’t teach the behavior unless you have determined your expectations for it. So, spend some time mapping it out – it is time well spent!

2. Practice, Practice, Practice

I always spend the first few weeks of school practicing the different procedures in the classroom over and over again – making sure the students know exactly what it looks like and sounds like to carry out the procedure correctly. Yes, we literally spend time walking from the playground to the classroom, passing in blank papers, pretending it is the end of the day – multiple times! Although it can be incredibly tempting to fly through the teaching of classroom procedures and expectations to get to all of the academic stuff, don’t do it! If you want to have an effective learning environment, you are going to have to spend time teaching and practicing procedures. If you do it the beginning of the year, you can establish clear expectations with a receptive audience in a positive light. Otherwise, you will inevitably spend time during the year battling for control of your classroom or trying to get your students to “un-learn” what they have been doing for their procedures all year. Trust me, taking time in the beginning is SOOOO worth it!

3. Look for Every Opportunity to Catch Kids Doing the Right Thing

Everyone appreciates praise for doing something well. So, especially in those first few weeks of school, help your students learn and apply the classroom rules, procedures, and expectations, by highlighting the students who are doing these things well. Be specific in your compliments so that others can learn from their example. Rather than say, “Great job, Leah!” you might say, “I really appreciate how Leah quietly came in from recess, took her seat, and now has her eyes on me.” Or “Thank you, James, for raising your hand before you speak.” The kids usually catch on pretty quickly. When students are receiving specific feedback and attention from you (and even the rest of the class), it gives them less reason to act out in hopes of receiving negative attention.

4. Establish Classroom Rules

This might be a “no-brainer,” but having classroom rules in place is an essential component of a successful classroom management plan. Now, the debate goes on as to whether to create rules as a class or to have your own rules established when you begin the first day. I have used both and both have been effective – the choice is yours (or perhaps your schools). However, when establishing rules make sure that they are fairly global in scope – otherwise you will end up with way too many. So, rather than “Don’t lean back in your chairs” or “Only walking feet in the classroom,” use a rule such as “Be safe.” Both of the previous rules are encompassed in that general rule without having to create a list of 25 different rules addressing safety. On that note, however, spend some time discussing what that general rule might look like in the classroom. In my classroom, we always brainstorm at least 10-12 examples of what following that rule looks like and what following that rule does not look like. for the younger kiddos, having picture cards also really helps! Again, just like procedures, spend some time on this one. If your students truly understand the rules, you will have far fewer struggles enforcing them.

5. Be Consistent with Consequences

This perhaps is the hardest one for me – especially in those first few days and weeks of school. I so desperately want the students to know how much I care about them, that it can be incredibly difficult to “reprimand” those cuties for what might seem like small offenses. The reality, however, is that those adorable little kiddos are smart. And if they know they can smile, sniffle, or plea their way out of a consequence, they will! So, be consistent! If your students come in the classroom unacceptably, make them do it again, and again, until it is right. If you use a behavior clip chart, colored cards, or some other method to hold students accountable, start using it right away. I don’t usually send home a weekly report for behavior that first week of school, so this is a perfect opportunity to teach your students that you have expectations and that you will be consistent in holding them accountable. Believe it or not, students actually find comfort in knowing boundaries, and being consistent assists in making those boundaries clear.

6. Establish Positive Teacher-Parent Relationships Early

While building relationships with parents may seem out of place in a discussion about classroom management, I have found that building positive relationships with parents makes a huge impact on what happens in the classroom. When parents understand that you want the best for their child and that you want to partner with them in helping their student grow, they are much more receptive to a phone call or meeting in which you have to address a challenge that has arisen. Begin by making a positive phone call in the first 2 weeks of school. Most parents dread the “phone call from the teacher,” so make the first call purely positive and be specific. As a parent myself, nothing warms my heart quite like hearing a specific compliment about my child. Communicate with parents early and regularly. Ask them questions. Let them know that you are on their team and you are invested in each student. Building these relationships is a tremendous asset in understanding student behavior in the classroom. Parents are able to share insights from home and you are able to share insights from school. Together, you can partner to make the school year successful for each student, which aids greatly in classroom management.

7. Make Sure Your Students Understand that You Are On Their Team

While I have alluded to this in other tips, building relationships with your students and reminding them that you support them, believe in them, and want the best for them is the essential component that binds all of these strategies together. Look for the best in each of your students, and as your relationships grow, I have found that issues with classroom management dwindle. All of the rules and procedures will not be nearly as effective unless the students first believe the teacher is in their corner.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my tips. I hope they give you some strategies to implement as you begin this school year. I’d love to hear any of your thoughts on successful classroom management strategies! Comment below with your favorite classroom management strategies!

Back to School Homeschool Motherhood

Homeschool Preschool: Letter of the Week

September 1, 2017

When I was first blessed with the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom I  was overjoyed. I soaked up all of the snuggles, hugs, “conversations,” and time with my boys.

However, as my firstborn got older, and I came out of the fog of having a newborn, I craved more structure.  Perhaps it’s the teacher in me, but I wanted to start implementing a regular routine in our day. I still loved just getting to spend each day with them, but I knew I wanted to begin working more intentionally with my oldest and create a daily routine that would work for us all.

So, our homeschool preschool was born. My husband is a teacher, so when he headed back to school, we started up as well!

At the time, my oldest was not yet 3 and my youngest wasn’t even a year, so our preschool was very basic. Lots of play, exploration, and using our imaginations. But for about an hour every day, we tried to work more specifically on skills that I felt were important for him to learn.

We always began our day by reading from The Beginner’s Bible and singing a verse song or two. (I highly recommend Steve Green and Seeds Family Worship if you’re looking for some) Then we moved into our alphabet work.

For simplicity’s sake, we started with a letter a week. I know there are so many different opinions about the order in which to do the letters – but again, keeping things simple – we just went in alphabetical order.

There were some foundational skills I wanted to work on with my son, but I didn’t want to be searching for, printing, and preparing a new activity every day. So, during the summer (before we officially started our homeschool preschool), I created packets of activities that would set me up for success.

The purpose of these activities were to help my little guys begin to recognize and write their letters, to work on distinguishing between capital and lowercase letters, and to introduce them to the sound that each letter made. I also wanted to include activities that allowed them to practice counting objects, begin learning basic patterning skills and even be introduced to the wonders of science. I’m a huge fan of reading to your kids, so I also looked for books that included ideas or characters related to the letter. And since kids always love a good snack, I brainstormed ideas for letter of the week snack ideas.

Here’s a peek of some of what’s included in each letter packet:

The beauty of the activity packets was that once I had made them, I was set. I didn’t have a lot of prep work during the week because we focused a lot on play and when we were all ready to have a little more focused time, the activities were already ready to go. I just printed the pages I wanted for the week on Sunday evening, and I truly had the rest of the time to focus on my kiddos.

These packets gave me a focus for the week. And since I already had these ready to go, I could be as creative (or not so creative) as I wanted – or as the week allowed. Baking, crafts, gross motor activities, field trips, art projects, games, the list goes on and on. But I actually had time to think about what those other activities could be because my letter work was taken care of.

And I have to say, I absolutely fell in love with homeschool preschool. I loved being able to watch my kids learn and grow. I loved seeing them get excited about learning. I adored getting to instill values that were important to our family.

But I also loved the fact that we could move at our own pace. If we needed a break, we took a break and went outside. If someone was sick, we took the day off. If a task was a little too advanced, we waited until he was ready. We weren’t confined to a strict time schedule. It definitely brought some much needed structure to our day, but these boys still had PLENTY of time to play and we still had a lot of flexibility.

And what I loved even more – I used these letter of the week packets 2 years in a row for my oldest. During the first year, when he was 2 and turning 3, we just worked on recognizing letters. We talked about each letter’s sound, but I definitely didn’t expect him to master it. I showed him the capital and lowercase version of the letter of the week, but if he was able to recognize any form of the letter during the week, I was thrilled and we celebrated. We worked on counting objects, but I didn’t require him to form numbers correctly or even consistently match a group of objects to the number in written form.

Then, the next year, we went through the alphabet again, but this time we focused on different skills. We moved on from just recognizing the letter to being able to write (or trace it). I started to emphasize the sound that the letter makes and we worked on finding objects that began with that sound. He started to recognize the difference between capital and lowercase letters, and he started being able to count a group of objects and point to the number that represented the number of items. Sometimes we repeated the pages we had used the year prior (mostly because he had enjoyed them so much), but we also used pages that were just too advance the year before.

By the time that year was over, he knew all of his letters and could identify each letter’s sound accurately. His fine motor skills (writing with a pencil/pen as well as beginning scissor skills) had improved dramatically. For the majority of the letters, he could recognize, write, and differentiate between capital and lowercase. He recognized numbers 1-10 and was proficient in one-to-one correspondence for these numbers. He recognized different types of patterns and was able to continue them. However, most importantly, he was excited about learning. He felt confident whenever we talked about school. And he was eager for more.

The next year, my oldest was 4 going on 5, and so we moved beyond simply working with a letter a week; however, by this point, my second son was now two going on three, and I already had all of the materials I needed to start working with him.

And that’s part of the beauty of these digital resources – you can print and re-print pages as often as you like for your kids or class. No need to go out and purchase additional copies! You are set!

I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed using these resources with my boys – and then with the homeschool co-op that we are a part of.

If you’d like to get a taste of what these packets offer, you can sign up to receive my FREE Dot the Letter A-Z Set HERE.

Can’t wait to see how you use these!

Back to School Homeschool Motherhood

Why We Start School BEFORE the First Day of School

August 11, 2017

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the flexibility of the schedule. Now I’m not just talking about the day today schedule  – I’m also talking about the yearly schedule. If you look into the legal requirements for homeschooling in your state, you’ll find that most states require a certain number of days or hours, but it doesn’t dictate when those days or hours have to be. So, for our family, we start “school” before the formal first day of school to get some of those hours in ahead of time.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for summer break. Believe me. I was an elementary school teacher for 8 years, and my husband is currently a teacher……so we LOVE our summers. We also know that the kids need that break too. So we always take a few weeks completely off, and we definitely don’t do school when we are traveling, visiting family, or on vacation. But for those weeks in the middle and end of summer when we’re home, we definitely try to put a few hours of school into our week.

Our “summer school” days are not our typical days. We only put a hour or two in, as opposed to a full day, but you’d be amazed at how much you’re able to cover in that seemingly short amount of time. We also don’t try to cover all of the subjects. One day we might focus primarily on language arts and art project. The next day we may dig into a fun science activity and review some math. And although I don’t count these days as full days in our calendar, it really gives us a jump start in to the year.

There are few reasons we really love this approach.

Number one. Starting school in the summer gives me some time to figure out what using my curriculum really looks like. The teaching guides and what I think should happen is one thing, but when I actually put the material in front of my kids, it could be something totally different. So spending some time before we’re in our formal school year figuring out just how long that reading lesson will take or just how much prep time I need for science is super helpful. Though the time each day is limited, it gives me a chance to kind of experiment with the curriculum so that I can better prepare and plan when the formal school year starts.

Number two. If you’ve been anywhere around the teaching world, I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “summer slide.” Basically, it means that during the summer a lot of kids lose some of what they’ve learned in the previous school year and they’ve “slid” a little bit backwards in their learning progress. It’s totally normal, but by keeping my kids involved in activities that review what we’ve done the previous year it helps prevent them from falling into the summer slide trap.

Additionally a lot of the material we cover at the beginning of the year is review of the prior year. For instance, this year my son is starting first grade. Having looked at and planned some of the curriculum, it’s clear that a lot of the material in the first few weeks even the first couple of months reviews what he learned in kindergarten. So, by tapping into some of that material over this summer, we’re not only engaging in our new curriculum, but we’re also continuing to review concepts and material that he learned or was introduced to last year.

And number three – (and perhaps my favorite) – by putting some hours and days in during the summer, it gives me a little bit more flexibility during the actual school year. If we have to take a few days off for travel, sickness, or if we just simply need a break, we’re able to do that (and still meet or exceed our requirements) because we’ve built a little cushion during the summer. And we all know that sometimes we just need those random breaks.

So, if you’re planning on homeschooling this year, and just can’t wait to dive in, go for it! Take it a couple of hours at a time, and you’ll learn so much – even before the school year starts!

Back to School Homeschool Motherhood

Mapping Out Your Homeschool Year

August 3, 2017

Planning Your Year

Planning an entire year might seem completely overwhelming, especially if this is your first time. But let me tell you, the time you take to map out your school year is well worth the investment! Without a doubt, plans will change, things will take much longer (or shorter) than expected, but if you have this general curriculum map in place, you’ll have an idea of where you’re going and about the pace you need to go to get there.

Pacing

When I taught in the classroom, we often referred to this as our pacing guide. Being a runner, this resonated with me. For example, if I’m running a half marathon (13.1 miles) and I want to get in under the 2-hour mark I know I have to keep a pace of about a 9-minute mile with a little wiggle room. Some miles might be faster, others will be slower, but I know about the pace I need to go to meet my goal. The same is true for your curriculum mapping. If you know you have X amount of lessons to cover and 180 or so days in which to do it, you’ll want to know about the pace you need to go.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT about “just getting through the curriculum.” Part of the beauty of homeschooling is being able to adjust to your student’s needs, interests, and learning style. However, I also know I’m responsible for equipping my kiddos (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and academically) for when they transition to public school. And so part of that requires I move at a pace that does prepare them academically.

Okay, let’s dig in! If you don’t have one yet, grab a planner to jot all this information down (I suggest in pencil)!

So, let’s start with the simplest part. Begin by establishing your starting and ending dates. Now as I shared in a previous post, we always “start” our school year a little early – getting our feet wet with some of the curriculum in the summer. But we still establish a date when we’re going to start that full day schedule. Once you have those, block off holidays and any other days that you know you will not be conducting school. At this point, make sure that you have – at a minimum – the number of days required by your state.

Now, you’ve got your big picture outline, and it’s time to start actually adding the meat of your planning.

I suggest starting with your mathematics curriculum. I suggest starting with math because it tends to be laid out in lessons that will consecutively build on each other and it’s a subject you’ll likely be doing every day. Start by evaluating how many lessons are in your curriculum – be sure to count any review and testing days as lessons as well. Then, divide the number of lessons by the number of weeks in your calendar, and you’ll have a general idea of the number of lessons you want to cover each week. Using the planner, pencil in when you’re going to do each lesson. This is where you want to start paying attention to dates and day. If you know you’re heading into a break, you aren’t going to want to start a brand new unit right before. Also be sure to plan review days. Not only is it important for kids to review the material they are learning, but it gives you the freedom to spend two days on a lesson that your students find more challenging.

I suggest moving on to language arts next. I advise you to do these two subjects first – simply because they are two of your core subjects that you’ll be doing every day, and if you can get these two subjects planned, the rest will be a piece of cake.

You’ll take a similar approach in planning your language arts curriculum as you did with the math. However, many language arts curriculum are planned out in weeks or units as opposed to numbered lessons that you often find in math. But you’ll basically start the same way. Evaluate the number of weeks or units that are in your curriculum. Look at the number of days you have in your calendar and divide to see approximately how much you need to cover each week.

Remember, you’re getting a big picture idea with this planning. You don’t need to go into great detail with every single component of the curriculum. So don’t stress about that! You’re just trying to get an idea of the pace, and when you get closer to the actual teaching, you’ll be able to spend more time preparing for all of the components of the lessons.

Once you have your language arts and math planned out, it will be time to tackle the other subjects. What else do you want to include in your teaching? How often do you plan to teach those subjects? You’ll likely include history and science. But do you want to include art? Bible? Music? Foreign language? This will depend partly on the age of your student, as much more is required for older students.  

One thing I DO NOT recommend is trying to hit every subject every day – especially if you have young ones. Not only will your kids burn out – but you will too!

So, maybe you plan to do history on Monday and Wednesday and focus on science Tuesday and Thursday. You can leave Friday open for other specialized activities or just for review. Or may you choose to really focus on a history unit for a couple of weeks and then dig into a science unit for a few. The choice is really up to you.

The big idea with this planning is to assess where you want to be at the end of the year and then to map out a general plan and pace. This has made such a difference in my planning – and I sincerely hope it helps you as well!

Do you have other tips? How is your planning going? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a note in the comments below!

Homeschool Motherhood

2 Summer Reads for Homeschool

June 21, 2017

Ahhhhh, summer. A season filled with unmistakable sunshine, the sound of water splashing from the pool, gardens full of fresh fruits and veggies, and a much needed break from the daily school routine. And if you’re a homeschool mom, like me, you probably anticipate the summer just as much (if not more) than your kiddos.

Now, we don’t totally abandon all educational activities during the summer, as I’ll be sharing about more next month, but it’s definitely a less structured season and the planned educational activities are less frequent.

However, fall always comes faster than I expect, and I have found that if I don’t take the time to rest, reflect, and prepare for the next year, I start the year feeling like I’m already behind.
So, I’m excited to share two books that have inspired, encouraged, and blessed me in my homeschool journey. These are perfect reads for the summer – because who really has time to read another book during the school year?

The first book is Christ in the Chaos: How the Gospel Changes Motherhood by Kimm Crandall (**affiliate link). In this powerful book, Kimm shares about the battles that so many moms face, but are often hesitant to share openly. With great transparency, she shares how she struggled with (and sometimes still struggles with) feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to “do it all” and make it seem easy, how she placed unrealistic expectations upon herself and then kicked herself when they went unmet, how she constantly fell into the mom-comparison trap, and perhaps the one that spoke to me the most, how she allowed her “performance” as a mom to dictate her self-worth.

This book spoke directly to my heart. At times, I really felt as if she had taken a peek into my journal and was speaking right to me. Kimm does not come across as the expert who already has it all figured out. Rather, she shares with great vulnerability anecdotes from her own life and constantly reminds us of our desperate need for Christ.
Christ in the Chaos does NOT outline a five-step plan for being a better mother or give you a checklist to eliminate chaos. Instead, she calls each reader to bask in the grace of God and find our identity in Him – knowing that we cannot do it on our own strength, and that we are not enough on our own.

The book itself is broken into ten short chapters – again, perfect for mothers. In fact, this one is on my list to re-read this summer!

The second book I’d recommend is Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie (**affiliate link). Like Christ in the Chaos, this book is written from a Biblical perspective; however, unlike Christ in the Chaos, this is specifically written for homeschool parents and the entire book focuses on that subject.

As a homeschool mom, I know I have wrestled with the questions: Am I doing enough? Am I doing this well? Will my kids be successful in the long run? Was homeschool the right decision? And when I meditate on these questions, I am left feeling stressed, burdened, anxious, and completely exhausted.

Sarah uses her own experiences to address these questions and provide incredible encouragement and affirmation. She emphasizes the fact that teaching from rest does not mean ease – quite the opposite; rather, it is having meaningful learning and growth, but without the stress, anxiety, and overwhelm so common in many homeschool moms.

Sarah shares practical tips and ideas from her own experiences, but also highlights the fact that every family is different and you truly have to find what works best for you and your children. She focuses on the opportunities you have as a homeschool parent to build an irreplaceable relationship with your children and how you can tailor your curriculum to suit their needs and interests.

As a former elementary school teacher, this book really challenged me to alter some of my approaches to homeschool because it reminded me of the fact that my homeschool classroom does not have to look just like a traditional classroom, only at home. And I found incredible freedom in that. As she shares in her book, “What if, instead of trying to make the most of our time, we worked harder at savoring it? What if we were more intentional and lavish with our time and more detached from our checklists? ……Teaching from rest doesn’t mean we aren’t planning ahead…..It means we are doing one thing at a time, and we do that thing with all our heart.”

This was such an inspirational read, especially for homeschool parents (like me) who desire to create a loving and nurturing homeschool environment, but are struggling with numerous anxiety-inducing questions and doubts. It has definitely impacted my approach to homeschooling for the better!

Do you have any reading planned for the summer? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments below.