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Kaitlyn Renfro

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Ready for the Road

April 12, 2018

Springtime is upon us, bringing new life and a fresh start! For our family, Spring also brings new adventures! Along with “April showers” come hail and wind storms, meaning we will soon be heading out on our way to work in – well, who knows?

Working the Storms

If you haven’t been following Tenspire for very long, you may be wondering why on earth our work life revolves around storms. I’ll admit – saying that sounds pretty crazy myself sometimes! But for those curious, my husband is a catastrophe insurance adjuster and we travel for his job. When storms bring too much damage for the local adjusters to handle, catastrophe adjusters are called in to represent the insurance company and help get claims handled. The exciting thing is that this can happen anywhere in the U.S. The crazy thing is that this can happen anywhere in the U.S. Ha! Since this job can keep you at work out of state for months at a time, our family decided to sell our home and purchase an RV so that we can travel and stay together. It has been an absolute blast so far!

Waiting for the Road

Once my husband receives a call for work, we have just a few days to hit the road. Unfortunately, that could mean we have just a few days to make a 20+ hour drive. (We never know until we get the actual call.) While he and I love taking road trips together, road trips with a 2 year-old are a bit more complicated. So to help with the possibility of long-distance travel, we decided to get a head start and take some time to explore the areas halfway between us (Texas) and the states that commonly have these storms. So here we are, hanging out in Tennessee, waiting to see where the weather takes us next. I can’t wait to keep you all posted on our newest adventure!

Organization

Spring Cleaning in the Classroom

March 14, 2018

Spring is in the air!

All the world looks fresh and new. All the world, that is, except for every classroom in March. By this time in the school year, my classroom was overrun with piles of half-used supplies, papers to grade, graded papers to put in portfolios, centers, etc……. I felt like a crazy person trying to keep up with all of those piles, but the craziest part was that they were probably just going to get bigger. Spring may be the beginning of many things, but it also brings the ending of the school year.

Why Spring Instead of Summer?

I know a lot of people like to save their cleaning for the end of the school year, and that’s understandable. Most teachers I knew had cleaning and reporting days built into the last week of school. And honestly, most of us had no time to think about Spring cleaning before then. But while Spring may be busy, EOY is just as busy.

The end of the school year brings about all the things. There are so many tests, parties, conferences, assemblies, YOU NAME IT. You’re so busy DOING all the things, you almost don’t even have time to ENJOY all the things! So why add cleaning out your classroom to your end-of-the-year to-do list?

What Should I Clean?

Not only does cleaning out your classroom in the Spring free up your time in May and June, it also helps you better prepare for your end-of-the-year events. I can’t tell you how many times I nearly lost my mind because I couldn’t find student work saved for EOY portfolios, only to find them crammed in a “safe spot” after school let out. If I had only taken a few days to clean out my classroom in the Spring, I wouldn’t have had these issues!

If you’d like to carve out some time to clean out your room before the end-of-the-year chaos begins, here are three areas that were most beneficial to me!

Papers – Go through all those piles of papers piling up throughout your room! Chances are you’ll find some of your students’ “missing work”, papers that need to get sent home, or papers that will be very beneficial in your EOY parent conferences.

Centers – I loved getting all my centers reorganized and put back together during this time of the year. It didn’t matter if they were doing Christmas stations in April, my kiddos LOVED reviewing stations they were familiar with during their free time. It gave them an extra boost of confidence and helped me see which kiddos were still lacking.

School Supplies – By this time of the year, I had tons and tons of broken crayons, glue sticks missing their lids, scrap paper, etc. floating around my room. Instead of throwing it all out at the end of the year, I tried to gather it up to put out as community supplies. Or, if I could, I’d sneak the newest-looking supplies into the supply bags of students I knew couldn’t afford to bring new ones. (Frankly, if these supplies had been sitting unused in community bins, I didn’t see anything wrong with handing them over to someone who needed them.)

If you have trouble enjoying your end-of-the-year activities because you have so much going on, I hope these tips will help clear your schedule a little! Do you have any other tips for cleaning out your classroom? I’d love to hear them!

Homeschool Organization

RV Lessons for the Classroom – Part 2

February 9, 2018

As I mentioned in Part 1 of my RV Lessons for the Classroom post, space is always a major concern in both the classroom and RV (or ANY home, for that matter). Very few teachers I know are blessed with ample space for their supplies and students, so being particular with the space you have is very important.

Evaluate Your Space

My first classroom was tiny, and now I’m living in a tiny space. So as you can imagine I’ve had my fair share of working with a limited amount of room. The first thing I always do is evaluate the space I have before I start bringing in everything I think I “need”. If I reverse this order, I end up with a bunch of stuff crammed into nooks and crannies that I’ll never get to use because I won’t even be able to see that they’re there!

As you know if you follow me on Instagram, I’m a planner and a list-maker. I love writing things down because it helps me better visualize what I’m dealing with. So when I get into a new space, I take some time to write down all of the spaces I have. (Shelves, cabinets, wall space, furniture, etc.) Doing this allows me to prioritize the things I allow to take up this precious space.

Evaluate Your Needs

Once I’ve listed the spaces I have to fill, I start thinking about the materials that MUST fill it. For our RV, these things included clothes/shoes, toys, school supplies, kitchen supplies, work materials, etc. For my classroom, these things included my library, stations, textbooks, manipulatives, charts/reminders, work spaces, etc. Each of the things I NEEDED got assigned a spot and it was pretty easy to see what I would/wouldn’t be able to bring to my classroom. This helped me only bring in the things that I needed, as well as decide if I needed to purchase or request any additional furniture for storage.

Of course, my classroom wasn’t perfect and neither is our RV. But using these strategies to plan out my space has greatly helped me use what I have more efficiently and effectively. No matter what amount of room you’re working with, there’s always room to free up!

Homeschool Motherhood

New Year, New Adventure

January 15, 2018

Well, it’s been about 6 months since we sold our house and jumped into my husband’s new career. If you’ve been following along with our journey for very long, you know that it’s just about time for a new adventure, right? HA!

Full-Time RV Life

Our original plan after Matt’s first storm deployment was to purchase a new house. Once we got home in November, we immediately began our search. Of course, we found plenty of homes we liked, but we hit a wall financially. We could either put a down payment on a home and hope our leftover could hold us until Matt’s next storm (we have no idea when that will be), or we could continue paying off debt. We couldn’t do both.

With how much we loved living in our sweet little RV during work, we knew we could handle living in it longer. In fact, it was sad putting it away in storage while we were living with family. So, we made the decision to go full time with our RV! We are so excited about paying off additional debt (student loans, we’re coming for you!!!) and love living the simple life in our little home!

Routine

Along with this new adventure has come a new routine. It’s pretty similar to our life during deployment, but very different from the routine I posted about a year or so ago. So, I thought I’d share it with you fellow SAHMs/WAHMs!

8am – Most days, LG is awake by this time. She’s usually ready for breakfast and we all know I’m more than ready for my coffee. Ha! We get breakfast going and relax with our beloved Veggie Tales!

9:30am – By now, LG is ready for her activities! This is where living in our RV brings so much peace to our days. Living in a big house meant chasing this spunky little 2-year-old girl all over the place before I could even finish my first cup of coffee. With our reduced space, I can see her from any spot in the RV. This gives her so much freedom to play as she pleases! Of course, she’s a 2-year-old and loves to be next to Momma most of the time, but having your kitchen area just a few feet from your living area and bedrooms makes things quite a bit easier! During her morning play time, LG loves to do crafts, read her books, and play with her puzzles.

11am – Since we live in climate-confused Texas, our morning activities tend to vary this time of year. In the warmer months, mornings are always our outdoor time because it’s the only time we can stand the heat. Now, this is either our outdoor time or time to run errands.

12pm – If you know me personally, you know I’m pretty strict with meal and sleep times. I don’t know about your kiddos, but ours can be a completely different person if we vary from certain schedules. So every day, lunch is at noon. Followed by…

1pm – 3pm – Nap time. Any earlier or later and we’re asking for it. Ha! During this time, I do as much blogging and TPT work as possible!

3pm – When LG wakes up, she eases back into reality with a snack and sensory play. This is when we get out our fun sensory bins and match up cards. She absolutely loves them! Once she’s ready to get going again, we use this time to run any more errands or get outside if it was too cold in the morning.

6pm – Like I said, I’m pretty strict with meal and sleep times. We try desperately to have dinner ready by 6 or 6:30pm so we can enjoy a meal together, watch a movie or play, and have baby girl in bed by around 8:30pm.

Does your little one have a routine similar to ours? I know I can’t be the only momma with a kiddo who needs some loose structure like this. ……..right?

Organization

RV Lessons for the Classroom – Part 1

December 22, 2017

So you probably read the title of this post and are thinking I’m crazy. How can you take lessons learned from living in an RV and relate them to teaching? It may seem a little far-fetched, but I promise – making full-time RV life manageable is not very different from making your second home, I mean classroom, work best for you and your students.

Wants vs. Needs

The first lesson I learned happened VERY quickly. While packing for our first deployment, we had no idea how long we would be away. Unfortunately, you can’t pack an entire 1,800 square foot house into a 35-foot-long RV. It just doesn’t work that way. (Believe me, I probably would have if I could.) I was forced to really evaluate what we NEEDED and what we really LOVED. For example, I now LOVE my RV wardrobe. I have a small closet (probably fitting 30-40 hangers MAX) and a basket for folded clothes. There is nothing in there that I don’t absolutely love and want to wear every single day. Now, I can’t say that for my home’s closet and am seriously debating having a major purge ASAP.

Having to narrow down my closet to the things I loved most really showed me what I don’t need or miss. So often, we hold onto things “just in case” and then “just in case” never comes up! If you do this at home, I can almost guarantee you do the same thing in your classroom. Teachers are notorious for hoarding – you just never know when you’re going to need those empty toilet paper rolls and googly eyes! However, all that hoarding for “just in case” causes so much clutter that we begin to lose sight of the things we really need for our students to be most successful.

If you think you might need to reevaluate the items in your classroom, take a look at the list below of areas that easily become a hoarder’s paradise. On your next classroom work day (do those even exist anymore???) or maybe one day over the break, spend some time in your room to get things tossed out. It will be well worth the extra work for the rest of the school year!

Areas of Clutter in the Classroom

– Teacher’s desk

– Stations/Centers (This was my weakness! Give me alllllllll the center activities!)

– Leftover school supplies

– Guided Reading/Math materials

– Paper scraps (Yep, I was “that” teacher.)

– Filing Cabinets

– Leftover classroom party supplies

Homeschool Motherhood

RV Toddler Must-Haves

November 27, 2017

It should come as no surprise that living in an RV with a busy toddler can be exhausting. When we first got ours, we took it out for a week to get used to maintaining and living in it. In addition, I had no car for the first month of my husband’s “deployment” and was in the RV all day while he was at work. Needless to say, I had to get pretty creative with ways to keep her busy and would love to share 3 toddler RV must-haves with you today!

Noise Machine
The first must-have isn’t exactly to keep your kiddo busy while they’re awake, but trust me you’ll appreciate it. Living in such close proximity to each other means you hear everything from one end of the RV to the other. This can be especially tricky with a little one who needs good sleep. (And let’s be real – if Momma is going to get anything done, good toddler sleep is a must!) LG sleeps in the back bunk room but because the door doesn’t actually latch, it can be difficult to keep sound out. So we use her AC fan and a noise machine that plays calming pond sounds. Thankfully the AC fan is pretty loud, but a box fan would work perfectly! While we still stay as quiet as we can, this allows us to watch TV and talk at a reasonable volume without waking her up.

Craft Box
Kids. Love. Crafts. I don’t care how old they are, kids just love them! They are open-ended and allow kiddos the chance to be creative and use their imagination. Back home we have a different bin (cheap $1 WalMart tub) for each season so that we can mix things up. But in our RV, I keep a generic craft bin. These items vary from relatively mild supplies like Color Wonder markers and stickers, to messy craft supplies like water colors and finger paint. If the usual toys and puzzles just aren’t cutting it, the craft box never fails to excite LG! And craft supplies for little ones can be SUPER cheap! Head to the Target “dollar” spot, the Dollar Tree, or a clearance section anywhere for odds and ends that your kiddo will love to piece together!

Outdoor Activities
Finally, sometimes we just need to get out. When we didn’t have a car available during the day, LG and I would hang out in the shade next to our RV. Most RV parks are great about keeping picnic tables in each spot so you don’t get cabin fever. We took advantage of this whenever we could by doing our water sensory play or messy crafts on our table! One of her favorite activities to do was scoop puree pouch lids in and out of her tub of water. If things got messy, oh well! We were outside so she could get as messy as she wanted!

While we’re certainly learning lots of tricks during this adventure of ours, these are just a few things that have proven to be very helpful while living in our RV. However, I hope they help you and your kiddo have a fun, stress-free day no matter where you’re living!

Motherhood Organization

Making Mornings Easier

November 16, 2017

When I was teaching, I was surprised by how many non-teacher friends couldn’t believe what time I got up or left for work each day. The craziest part of this to me was that I was the queen of sleeping as late as possible and still getting to work on time. (I lived 5 minutes away and regularly got out of bed after 7:00am and was still at school by 7:45am. THANK YOU dry shampoo and coffee pot timers.) While I of course had mornings when I was feeling a little more frantic than others, I attribute my easy mornings to 3 main things.

Plan a Week of Clothes
Call me a crazy girlie-girl, but this was my favorite way to plan ahead for the week! Each Sunday evening, check the weather for the following week. Then take 30 minutes or less to plan your outfits, including shoes and accessories. Use this time to take care of any ironing and find a good spot to lay them out. Our old closet had a small space on one wall that was too small for shelving but perfect for a rack that I could hang my outfits on. This made mornings soooooo much easier! I just grabbed that day’s outfit and was ready to go!

Make a Week of Breakfasts
Time for coffee in the morning? ABSOLUTELY. Time for breakfast in the morning? Not unless it’s a Saturday. I’m not a fan of sweets in the morning (except my super sweet coffee, of course) but I never had the time to make things like eggs. So, I got into the habit of making ahead breakfast burritos and/or breakfast casserole. Even if I didn’t have time to eat at home, I could still take them to school and pop into my microwave I kept in my classroom.

Find a Consistent “Drop Spot”
Finally, find a “drop spot” that works for you. Make sure it’s a place where you can easily drop off your things, but where you’ll always see it as you’re leaving for work in the morning. My spot was on top of the dryer in our laundry room. I walked past it every morning and afternoon, so I knew my bags would always be there. I kept my purse, keys and teacher bag there. If I was taking something like muffins for breakfast, sometimes I’d even leave them there as well!

Mornings can be tricky. These things helped me stay organized so that I could sleep in just a little longer. While this was before I had LG and left the classroom, I can only imagine how much it would help to plan out these things if you’re getting kiddos ready for school in the morning, too!

Featured

Kitchen RV Lessons

November 6, 2017

As you can imagine, I’ve learned quite a few lessons after living in an RV for several months. These lessons have simplified how I cook and shown me how insanely overwhelmed I was with what I had in my previous home’s kitchen. Who would have thought I’d be less stressed in such a small space?!

Minimizing Dishes = Minimizing Time
This is probably an easy one – If you cook with fewer dishes, you will spend less time washing them. And this is a really important thing when you’re living in an RV because everything must be hand washed. Talk about time-consuming! In our RV kitchen, we have just enough plates and bowls for foods that are too heavy for plastics. For water, we drink mostly bottled and sparkling water and for coffee, my husband and I each have one regular coffee cup and one travel thermos. My daughter has more dishes than anybody, but I suppose that just goes with the toddler life. Ha! Overall, using things we can toss or recycle saves us a ton of time on washing.

Work with What You’ve Got
There are certainly times that I plan a meal based off of cravings, but I generally try to plan meals around sales and cooking supplies we already have. This has been especially helpful when it comes to dishes. When we began to stock up our RV, we knew we’d be limited on kitchen space so we’d have to be selective with them. We decided on the following – a crockpot, one small pan, one larger pan, one medium sized pot, a muffin pan and a pizza pan. Aside from the crockpot, all of these dishes are able to fit into our oven for storage. (We don’t use the oven often enough to keep it empty.)

I’ve found that the easiest thing to do is plan a meal using the fewest dishes. For example, we might grill meat on the outdoor grill, cook “baked” potatoes in the microwave, and cook some vegetables on the stove. This leaves us with one or two cooking dishes to clean along with whatever plates or bowls we ate with. This has taken meal planning to a whole new, efficient level and I love it!

Break Out the Crockpot
My most recent favorite cooking tool is using a medium sized crockpot! It may take up some counter space, but the clean-up is WELL worth it! The best part – you can purchase crockpot liners that work WONDERS and take a huge chunk of cleaning time out of your evening!

I can’t end this without sharing my new favorite recipe! We tried this out just a few days ago and it was a major hit. As a bonus, it’s gluten-free and you would have never known!

Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs
1. Pour one large jar of spaghetti sauce into your crockpot, turned to low heat.
2. Add a McCormick’s Thick and Zesty sauce packet and stir.
3. Add about 12-24 frozen meatballs and make sure they’re covered with the sauce. (We used gluten-free meatballs and they were amazing!)

Let the sauce sit on low all day, stirring occasionally. When it’s time to eat, boil your spaghetti noodles (we used Ronzoni gluten-free noodles) and add your sauce! This is by far the easiest way to make spaghetti and our kitchen smelled amazing!! ENJOY!

Homeschool Motherhood

“Play” School Routine

October 19, 2017

I may be a stay-at-home momma, but in my heart I will always be a teacher. As my daughter gets older and my time at home with her pushes me farther from my days in the classroom, I get the urge to start academic practice with her. She’s so smart and curious that it’s easy to forget she’s only 21 months old. (Yes, I’m that mom who still uses months.) While she’s already ahead of the game (have you SEEN her pencil grip, y’all?!) I don’t want to push her or rush her through being a little one! So for this school year, we’re taking things slow and PLAYING.

What’s “Play” School?

I’m sure this “play” school thing isn’t original to me. If you browse Instagram or Pinterest for just a bit, you’ll notice a million amazing ideas for sensory play. They’re all perfect for practicing fine motor skills and introducing other skills like colors, seasons, etc. As a former 1st grade teacher, I can already imagine how starting early with these skills will benefit LG greatly in the future. And, the activities are a BLAST!

As a planner, I love to pick a few fun activities to do each day. I don’t set a schedule for them so that we can go with the flow. But having things readily available and prepped makes it so much easier to grab a great practice activity when we have the time for it. If we’re not able to do them one day, we just push them over to another day!

Our Routine

Having a solid routine while on the road in an RV is tough in general. Throw in a curious, energetic toddler stuck inside with her teacher momma and you’ve got quite an interesting combination. Like any other time I start getting stressed, I decided to solve this by planning ahead. However, for the same reasons I listed above, these plans still have to be very flexible. Sounds like a fun challenge, huh? As of now, here is what we’re working with!

7:00am – Wake up… breakfast/coffee… Sesame Street or Veggie Tales (LG’s FAVORITES!)

8:00am – Walk around the pond/outside play time

9:00am – Indoor sensory play… independent play time… crafts

11:00am – Outdoor water play or bath time

12:00pm – Lunch and books

1:00pm – Naptime/Momma’s work time

3:00pm – Wake up… snack… outside play time

4:00pm – Indoor sensory play… independent play time… crafts

6:00pm – Dinner… family time

8:00pm – Bedtime routine

Just like anything with a toddler, this routine is very flexible. Meal and sleep times are pretty solid, but everything else is there so that we have an idea of what we can do. Does this look like your schedule with your little ones? What are your favorite activities to do together or for independent play time? Check back soon to read about a few of ours!

Language

Nouns Stations

October 11, 2017

We all know that there are some skills that can never be practiced too much. In my opinion, one of those skills is working with nouns. We worked on them in 1st grade, and then again when I taught 4th. They are just one of those skills that gets built on year after year. So, the earlier they’re mastered the better!

What’s Included?

If you’ve spent any time in my TPT store, you probably know that I LOVE stations! I used them like crazy in my own classroom and have so much fun creating them! Some of the hardest things for me to find when I taught 1st grade were Grammar stations that were at an appropriate skill level for my little ones. So, I created these! Included are…

– 2 versions of “Scoot” – one with pictures and words only, one with nouns used in sentences

– picture and word puzzles

– picture and word sorts

– mystery nouns

All stations focus on identifying nouns as people, places or things!

How Can I Use This?

My favorite way to start off with stations is to use them in whole or small group. This gave my kiddos a chance to use them once before using them on their own. Each day, we completed the activities as a group at the beginning of our Grammar time. Our favorite activities to do were the “Scoot” activities! They’re such a great way to get kids moving and working with their classmates! Then, they easily transition to stations!

If you’d like to check out these stations and more, click on the picture below!