Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Best Educational Toys for Young Children - Bonus Review: Best Sippy Cup Ever

     The holidays are approaching! And some of us are starting to think about Christmas gifts.  I have recently become somewhat anti-toy, since I feel most toys are unnecessary and do not enrich our children.  Here is one of my favorite blog posts called 18 Non-Toy Gifts for Children.  These are great suggestions for enriching gifts that won't clutter up your home.  HOWEVER, there are some hidden gems in the toy world that I think are educational, fun, and inexpensive.  Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Wooden Shape Sorting Clock
     My toddler, Dylan, just received this as a birthday gift from Grandma, and she loves it!  This clock puzzle is a fun way for both toddlers and preschoolers to work on their color, shape, and number recognition.  It requires hand-eye coordination and encourages counting practice.  The movable hands allow for older children to work on telling time.  It is simple, easy to clean up and is not overpriced.  My girls (ages 2 and 4) have really enjoyed it.

2) Wooden ABC/123 Blocks Set
     I love these traditional blocks! They provide ways for little ones to work on letter, number, and picture recognition.  We use the blocks to spell out words or play matching games.  My toddler also works on her hand eye-coordination by stacking the blocks nice and high and then knocking them down for a good laugh.  These blocks are classic and are also very inexpensive.

3) Dramatic Play Costume Sets
     I am a firm believer in encouraging pretend play.  Through role playing and pretend games, children are able to explore their creativity and artistic abilities.  These abilities facilitate confidence and innovation.  The greatest educational advances are through creativity and art.  We are always looking for ways to facilitate dramatic play in our home.  By handing my children pots and pans or giving them a giant cardboard box, they are able to let their imaginations go to work.  These role play costume sets are so cute! They can be individually priced or they offer them in bundles which are a little more expensive but provide fun options!

4) Personalized Name Puzzle
     We received these as a Christmas gift a couple years ago and they are still one of my favorites.  My kids enjoy puzzles, but the fact that these are personal and unique make my girls cherish them more.  These puzzles help our children to practice spelling their own names and support fine motor skills.  They are a little more expensive than most puzzles but are precious additions to the home and can even be used as wall decor. :)

5) World Map or USA Placemat
     These placemats are a perfect way to introduce geography to young children early on without even suggesting a formal lesson.  Children will naturally start asking questions about the countries and states that they see just beneath their meals.  They can be used at times other than eating as well.  They are very inexpensive and will undoubtedly encourage learning.

*Bonus Mommy Review: The Best Sippy Cup! Nalgene Grip-N-Gulp Water Bottle

      Over the past 4 years I have been through SO many "non-spill" cups for children.  I've tried almost every shape and size.  But I have recently found my go-to cup and have been recommending it to moms everywhere.  This water bottle is a brilliant design!  They call it "virtually indestructible" and I agree.  It is very durable and holds a good 12 ounces, but can fit into any cup holder.  It is stain resistant and is, by far, the easiest sippy cup to clean, due to its wide mouth and large mouth piece, with only one removable rubber sip valve. When I tried one out,  I immediately ordered one for each of my kids.  I love these cups!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Why Homeschooling Is Awesome: Reason #5 - Date Night Counts as a Parent-Teacher Conference!

     I firmly believe that a strong parent-teacher relationship is vital to the success of a student.  When the relationship is between myself and my husband, it makes it pretty easy and fun! ;)  Date night can count as a parent-teacher conference or a PTA meeting.  How cool is that?

     We try to schedule a date night once a month.  It is always nice to get out of the house and have some one-on-one time to re-kindle those giddy, date feelings about your spouse.  It maintains an important marital bond.  This bond also contributes to the success of our family as a whole.  We talk almost daily about our family and about being on the same page for goals, but date night is a completely different setting and allows us to have fun together.

     On date night, we inevitably always start to discuss our children.  We talk about how much we love them, and how different they are from each other.  We talk about their strengths and their weaknesses.  We talk about what they love to do.  We talk about their learning styles.  We talk about all they have learned and what we hope for them to learn in the future.
      We know our kids better than anyone and we care the most for their happiness and success.  That's sounds like a pretty productive parent-teacher conference to me!


Friday, October 24, 2014

Pumpkin Unit Study for Kids (PreK or Kindergarten)

     Pumpkins! Pumpkins everywhere! It's that lovely time of year when we see signs of Autumn and we look forward to the approaching holidays.  The first colorful sign we see here in Southern California are pumpkins.  We love those bright round beautiful pumpkins on doorsteps, in stores, and decorating homes.  Not to mention all the yummy Pumpkin recipes that pop up!
     Here are a few of the Pumpkin recipes that I have on my Pinterest board (Hopefully someday I'll get around to trying these out, haha)...
- White Chocolate Pumpkin Snickerdoodles
- Pumpkin Gingerbread Muffin
- White Chocolate Pumpkin Blondies
You can visit my Pinterest board called Sweet Tooth for more yummy looking recipes that I never make but daydream about. Haha!

And here is an outline of my Pumpkin Preschool lesson plan:

- Knuckle Pumpkin Prints
- Pumpkin Mosaic
Knuckle Pumpkin Prints
- Crayons & Watercolor Pumpkins - I enjoyed doing this art project to classical music and instructing Marley to draw a "still-life" painting of our pumpkins.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

30 Helpful Tips for New Homeschoolers from Experienced Homeschoolers

     First of all, a great big THANK YOU to the lovely homeschooling mothers who contributed their bits of wisdom to this list!  I am so fortunate to be part of some fabulous online support groups.  And these women are there to help each other and share their experiences.  The following is a list of advice or tips they gave for newbie homeschoolers.  We are hoping that others can learn from past mistakes or have some luck by borrowing another's wisdom.  If you have any more tips and/or suggestions that might help, please leave it as a comment.  THANK YOU!

  • 1.  "Don't wait until just before a holiday to check out books from the library regarding that holiday.  The good books may be all checked out for the month."

    2.  "Do not buy a used curriculum without finding out all the details, like if it requires supplemental workbooks, or if it requires an online account that can only be used once."

    3.  "Don't spend money on curriculum before you check to see if anyone you know - friends, other homeschoolers, someone online, your library - has a copy you could look over and 'try before you buy."

    4.  "Find out your child's learning style and THEN buy curriculum. Just because it works for someone else's child doesn't mean it will work for your child. 

    5.  "If your library let's you reserve books online and pick them up at the drive through window take advantage of it, I do this and it works perfectly! We can go into the library and let the kids choose their choices and not be worried about locating the books we need for our lessons." 
  • 6.  "Just because you like a curriculum one year doesn't mean you will like using it the next. You may change after summer break, the curriculum may change due to the advancing of grade levels, you may find something you like better, your extra curricular so may not allow you the same amount of time, you may have more kids that can share curriculum than you had the year before and they may need something they can share better, or the publishers may change things under your nose (k12 anybody?)." 

    7.  "Make sure you budget time before school starts to research things and have what you want well in advance of when you plan to start school because it will take more time than you think to get what you want and even then it may not be what you really want and you may need to change."

  • 8.  "You don't have to have the same schedule as the public school kids."

  • 9.  "Your home gets messier, because you live there more....just turn cleaning into a consistent routine so it doesn't pile up crazy...even if it seems like you don't get very much done in one day...keep going."

  • 10.  "Consider donating something from your curriculum that you really like to your library, and maybe also something you don't want anymore, and encourage others to do the same, if your library will take them. That way if a few people donate a few things and keep it going, eventually there will be a good place to reference new materials so you can get a really good grip on what the stuff is like before you have to buy it. It gets expensive buying things only to find out you can't/won't use it, even if the stuff is cheap, it adds up and takes up space and gets frustrating."

    11.  "It's important to know what works for your family. Some of that is just trial and error. I'm thinking mostly about homeschooling philosophy and how your family works together. There are so many ways to do things that you have to find what works for you - just like parenting. It's not a 'one size fits all' deal. It'll be different for every family and even for every child."
  • 12.  "Try to buy on ebay to get good prices. The math curriculum I got ended up having one of the books messed up. It had pages that were duplicated, and some pages were missing. So not always a good deal!"

  • 13.  "101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum is the #1 book that helped me the first year of homeschooling."

  • 14.  "Don't worry SO MUCH about a curriculum! Your kids will learn whether you want them to or not, and whether you have everything mapped out and organized or not   You will figure out a curriculum later on, or as you go."

  • 15.  "Pray. Pray about your decision. Pray for your kids. Pray to know how to best met there needs. Pray about curriculum choices. Pray about styles (unschooling vs. Structure ect) to use when teaching your kids. Pray."

  • 16.  "Talk and read.... talk to other homeschooling moms, read homeschool blogs and books and as you do those prayers will be answered. Listen for the still small voice that will guide."

  • 17.  "Take time to detox, plan on taking MONTHS off "school" and then get started with whatever form of education you feel is best...when you are all ready and have a solid foundation. Get to really know your kids. Play with each other, clean together as a family, pray together!"

    18.  "It is normal to have bad days. There will be days when it seems like hardly anything got done, but they are still learning! There is down time in school & days when a substitute just shows a movie, so it is ok for you to do the same occasionally."
  • 19.  "Don't stress about whether or not they are making progress. No matter how you homeschool, (or how badly you think you are failing) they ARE progressing."

    20.  "There are gaps in every education. Homeschooling lets you choose where they are."
  • 21.  "Don't mess with early academics until they've learned to read and write. Bookwork is a lot easier when you don't have to read aloud every single lesson. Until then, explore the world and learn through play."

  • 22.  "You'll likely not have to really teach a kid to read. Read to them, sound things out as you read, point to words. They'll be ecstatic when they break the code and will be full of self confidence that they "did it themselves," which they did...with love and only guidance from you. Let them score the big points. It will keep them curious and bold."

  • 23.  "Try not to take credit for 'teaching them' things. Say things like, 'He learned...,' 'He found...,' or 'She researched...'  When you give them credit for their work, they'll have a vested interest in taking responsibility for working. It's like their pay."

    24.  "There's nothing wrong with taking a day off now and then to work together and get the house back in some semblance of order if you need to."

  • 25.  "I would add that you don't have to use a curriculum. If you want to, that's cool, but another good way is to just use books, movies, and explore the real world through your children's interests."

  • 26.  "Take other's advice lightly, do what works best for your own children."

    27.  "Try to refrain from scheduling the week full of extra curriculars and classes, leaving little to no room to explore."

    28.  "Make sure your Tuesdays are free. It seems that everything in the home school world happens on a Tuesday."

    29.  "If you are having discontent in the home (ex: disrespect, power struggles, fighting, disobedience, etc), stop trying to push academics or a curriculum.  Take time to assess what is happening in your home and repair the bond between you and your child or spouse.  Your relationship with your family is the most important thing.  There is no point in trying to teach your child when they do not respect you or if they are not happy.  They won't retain any information that way."

    30.  "You're not a school--don't try to be."

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why Homeschooling Is Awesome: Reason #4 - A Curriculum of Life Skills

     Welcome to Motivational Mondays!  I am inviting all bloggers to link-up with me and share your motivational posts for moms/parents and homeschoolers.  I think reading supportive and encouraging words is a perfect way to start off your week.  
*Please remember: Prior to adding your link, you must review the link-up guidelines here.
Thanks for stopping by!

     My husband co-authored this post, since he came up to me and dictated this experience with our 4 year old daughter, Marley.

     Marley and her dad went on an assignment/field trip together to the grocery store.  He told her they needed supplies and ingredients to make tacos.  He went over the supplies they needed and he let Marley push the mini grocery cart (which I think is adorable when the stores have them).  He said he had the time of his life watching her look for the supplies and teaching her about picking items that are good quality and reasonably priced.  She paid close attention and was very interested in his methods of shopping.  He taught her how to tell if an avocado is ripe to use.  He even tested her to see if she understood and she did a great job picking out our avocados.  My husband came home and told me about their experience with so much enthusiasm. He told me he is enjoying homeschooling.  He also pointed out to me that he knows full grown adults that aren't very knowledgable in efficient grocery shopping.

     I have been told on several occasions that the upcoming generations are lacking in life skills.  Many teenagers and college aged kids are growing up without learning how to take care of themselves on a daily basis.  Some skills that are being overlooked in traditional education are: Cooking, cleaning, shopping, doing laundry, simple problem solving, and being responsible to carry out tasks on their own.  I have also recently heard employers say that it is difficult to find employees, even college graduates, that can handle a problem by themselves.  
     Why are kids not learning these basic concepts?  Too much television? Cell phones? Video games? Lack of daily responsibilities?  Too much time spent on homework?  I do not know the reason for this oversight, but I do know that these life skills are more easily learned at home and through family interaction.  I also know that life skills are not only valuable in the home.  These skills create a sense of responsibility and confidence.  They teach people the value of a strong work ethic.  Those lessons and skills are priceless and will inevitably create a more successful person in all aspects of life.  We are grateful for the flexibility of homeschool, so that we may focus on those life skills and make sure our children are growing up to be self sufficient.