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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?

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!

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!

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!

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.

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!

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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!

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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!