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Kaitlyn Renfro

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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!

Back to School Featured

School Year Meal Planning

October 2, 2017

Congratulations! You survived Back-to-School! While this is certainly an accomplishment, it probably doesn’t look like things are going to slow down anytime soon. Sometimes we get into the habit of eating out a lot (or not eating at all) during this busy time of the year. But this doesn’t need to be a year-long habit! Today I want to share with you my biggest tips on how to make meal planning as stress-free as possible.

Leftovers Are a Teacher’s Best Friend

Happy Fall, y’all! This weather is perfect and so is Fall food for meal planning! This time is full of great comfort food recipes for soups, pastas, crockpot meals and casseroles (if you’re Southern like me!) and all of them are so easy to change batch sizes. My best tip for you? Pick a couple of your favorites, make a huge batch of each on Sunday afternoon, and prep them for dinners and lunches throughout that week. My absolute favorite Fall (or ANYtime) recipe is taco soup! There are a million variations online, but mine was truly a throw-all-the-cans-in-the-pot kind of recipe. So don’t be afraid to mix up your own!

Taco Soup Recipe

1lb ground beef or turkey

1 can of Rotel

2 cans of diced tomatoes (I love the salsa-ready tomatoes)

1 can of tomato sauce

2 cans of black beans

2 cans of corn

1 packet of taco seasoning

1 packet of Ranch seasoning

  1. Brown your ground beef or turkey in a large pot. Once it’s almost completely cooked, add the packets of taco and Ranch seasonings. Continue to brown the meat until fully cooked.
  2. Add ALL of your cans (I don’t drain any of them) to the pot of meat and BOOM. Taco Soup.

 Y’all. This is seriously the easiest recipe I’ve ever made and it is SUCH a crowd pleaser. Every time we have a family get-together or church function, this soup is requested! In addition to being ridiculously easy, this recipe makes a HUGE pot of soup. My husband and I could eat 2 bowls each on Sunday and still have enough left over for us to each have it a couple of times for lunch or dinner the following week. When it’s time to eat, all you have to do is put it back on the stove or in the microwave and add your favorite toppings! (Mine are sour cream and shredded cheese, but I bet avocado slices would be amazing too!)

Grab and Go!

While it can be expensive and unhealthy to get into the habit of eating out ALL the time, let’s be real. Teaching and parenting is EXHAUSTING. Sometimes you desperately need to sit on the couch with tacos or pizza on paper plates that you can just throw away. When it comes to making good choices for eating on the go, my biggest tip is to plan this out as well. On a budget? Find your favorite fast food places with “value” menus. Want to watch what you eat? Locate healthier options close to work or home.

While I was teaching one of my favorite lunch ideas was to grab a footlong sub from Subway, eat one half that day, and ask them to avoid dressing or tomatoes on the other half so I could save it in my mini fridge for the next day. It saved me so much time and money, and I had a yummy sandwich to look forward to!

Save Time and Money

Taking time out of your already hectic week to plan meals might not sound like it’s worth it. But I promise, you will save so much time, money and sanity if you get you an idea of your meals for the week.

Is this something you do? Do you have favorite recipes/tricks you’d like to share? This busy momma would LOVE to hear from you!

Homeschool Motherhood Organization

On the Road

September 24, 2017

Wow! I can’t believe how quickly things can change! Although, you’d think by now I wouldn’t be surprised a bit! In my “Renfros on the Road” post, I shared with you all that we were ready and waiting for my husband’s first call. Flash forward over a month and we’re already finishing up our first “deployment”!

Life On the Road

We knew things could change in a hot minute, but we really got a taste of that recently! One minute we were planning our 4th of July family gathering, the next we were running around like crazy people trying to gather up my husband’s new work clothes and work materials so he could leave THE DAY after getting the call to work with his father 13 hours away in Iowa. We were both shocked it happened so fast, but it was certainly great practice for what’s to come!

Due to the nature of Matt’s first “deployment”, we thought it was best for LG and I to stick around with family for a few weeks. Much like any job, there was a huge learning curve and Matt just needed time to wrap his mind around his new work without the temptation to hurry home to his little girl every night. While we missed him tremendously, having 2 weeks back “home” was great for me to gather everything I wanted LG to have while we traveled.

While we are planning on buying a travel trailer in the near future, there simply wasn’t time for that with how early Matt was called. Fortunately, he found us an AMAZING farm house in a tiny country town on AirBnB. It has been the neatest experience! We’ve spent lots of time checking out the town and nearby larger city of Des Moines, and we have loved getting to know the owner of the home! We’ve already decided she’ll be our first guest back home in Texas when we get our new home together!

Tot School on the Road

As you can imagine, I was extremely nervous about how life outside of our own home would affect our little one. LG is now 19 months old (I hate typing that!) and is a super smart, curious, spunky little one. How was I going to keep her busy in a place that wasn’t ours?! So, I spent several days sorting through all of her toys to find her favorites for fun and educational practice. I decided to bring this shelf and committed to filling up the 3 baskets with as much as I could to keep her busy. I split them up into 3 categories.

  1. Craft Supplies – My thinking in ordering this was simple – keep the messy stuff highest up. Ha! I was SO excited to load this basket with stickers, coloring books, crayons, KwikStix and a dry erase board. My girl LOVES playing with stickers, so I knew I had to grab a ton! Thank goodness, Michael’s has a BILLION sticker books to choose from and they’re each only $1! While traveling, I also picked up some Crayola Color Wonder markers and they truly are a wonder! I could almost guarantee a mom or teacher came up with this product!
  2. Fine Motors Practice – LG may still be only 19 months old, but I figure it’s never too early to practice our fine motors! This basket is home to lots of pom-poms, pipe cleaners, magnets, blocks, clothespins, and her stacking rings. I wish I had grabbed a pair of tongs in place of the clothespins for now, so I’ll definitely be getting one soon!
  3. Books & “Noise Makers” – I always try to keep lots and lots of books on hand! I love to read picture books to LG, but she’s still too excited about ripping pages out to give her anything other than board books to read on her own. I was THRILLED to find these board books with buttons on Amazon! They’re perfect for practicing her colors, numbers, animal sounds, and identifying every day objects. She loves them!! I also threw in her favorite “noise makers”. She doesn’t have a ton of tech toys, but she sure loves those!

Thankfully, all of these activities have held her attention really well while traveling! If you’re traveling anytime soon, or are just looking for activities your toddler can play with at home, I hope these are some great options for you! If you have any questions about where I got any of them or other ideas, leave me a comment! I’d love to chat with you!