Growing Every Day

Spinning Plates

We are back!

We have just started back to school this past week after having our six week summer break.  It was well needed for all of us.  Stepping back into schoolwork and prep is a stark reminder to me of one of my weak areas in life:  spinning plates.

What I mean by this, is that I would love to say that I multi-task well…I do not.  I have three major areas that I feel I need to focus on in this season of my life – school, home, crafting business.  During the summer we take a break from school, there are few to no craft shows I attend in June or July, so that leaves me with home.

I had gotten into such a great rhythm, getting up early (just before the kids wake) to have some me time (I never thought I would do that in my life, but I have enjoyed it).  Then doing my exercise video, reseting the kitchen, and working on the household chores for that day.  It was a beautiful thing.  I felt I was making progress, and then school starts and my next craft show is in four weeks.  So, you can probably guess what my house looks like at this moment!  Now, I understand my house does not have to be perfect, but I can tell you that clutter distracts and can agitate me.  I get a lot less done when too many things are out of place.  So, back to the spinning plates of life.  Maybe, just maybe one day I will learn how to keep these three plates a-spinning at the same time.  But for now, we may have a few metaphorical plates broken all over the not-so-clean kitchen floor.

Toothy Mats

On the up-and-up side of things, I did find this really fun resource at the end of last school year (May-ish).  They were created by Lucky Little Learners over at the TeachersPayTeachers website.  It is such a simple idea, and so ingenious at the same time!  This is just the motivation my kiddos needed for some extra practice with no groans.

These Toothy Mats include a mat with a fun face and a wide open mouth.  Each skill has a set of problem cards and either a blank mat or a mat that has some problem set up help.

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The student works the problem and then checks his/her answer.  If they are correct, then they get to draw a tooth in the mouth.  Each correct answer continues to fill the mouth with teeth.  It is just a lot of fun!  I simply printed mine out and slid it into a page protector so that Princess and Builder can use a dry erase marker.  Lucky Little Leaners has a post on her blog site explaining more about how she uses them in her classroom.

The Toothy Sets are offered as a bundle, or there are some individual toothy mat characters that you can purchase for a lesser price.  I went ahead and purchased the Math Bundle, because it included skills that both kids are working on.  I could also see Princess continuing to make use of these even after Builder has moved on from the included concepts.  Another beautiful thing about these mats is that the blank mats can be used with any worksheet.  So Builder will still be able to practice the Toothy way even when he advances beyond the skills included in the bundle.

I have not looked through the complete line of products Lucky Little Learners offers, however, I do know that the Toothy Mats come in math, grammar, and phonics.  Follow this link to check out some of the Toothy (or Hairy) options she has to offer.

Your Turn to Play ~ What is one of the best resources you have found to keep skills sharp?

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Yep, we made it!

Today is the last day of school.  Needless to say, I wanted to make it fun and memorable, special.  What did we do?  Took Daddy to work, and spent all morning at an eye appointment to get new glasses since my old ones were broken.

Hmmm.

I was tempted to get upset, to throw my hands up in the air and wonder to the heavens why my plans never work.  (Yes, a.k.a an adult tantrum).  However, we chose to just go with it and spend some time with a nice treat at Panera, and plan to just play the day away.  Maybe a special extra screen time here, a batch of peanut butter cookies there.  This creature called homeschool has a mind of its own sometimes.  Sometimes we need to tame it, and sometimes we need to just let it be.  Today, I am going with let it be.

When you get down to it, what is the “last day of school” for us?

It means next week we do absolutely nothing.  This is probably more for me than Princess and Builder.  No planning, no time management of lessons, nothing.  After that, we start working on finishing up those books and units that need to be wrapped up.  Two pages of handwriting this day, one math lesson that day, 20 minutes of keyboarding the next day, etc.  A slow easy pace, that continues progress, but takes nothing out of any of us.

The Last Day of School…thank you Lord.  This is the day that the Lord has made I will rejoice and BE GLAD IN IT!!!!!

Your Turn to Play ~  Are there any special activities you do for the last day of school?

Finish Strong

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Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.com

Finish strong.

I hear and see these words a lot during this time of year.  We are almost there.  We have almost made it.  Summer break (if you take one) is in our sights.  I have to be honest though.  My thought is not as much finish strong as finish consistent.  Keep on going, keep on doing, keep on being what we have been throughout the year.

I need to be strong to finish consistent.

This is the time of year reflection begins.  There were goals at the beginning and mid school year…where are we compared to those goals?  Are they realistic to strive for with 5 weeks left to go?  This is the time I make one last readjustment and set our sights on what seems realistic for the next 5 weeks.

To add to all of this reflection, my brain also begins thinking to the future, to future curriculum.  Where will we start next year, what will we focus on?  It doesn’t help that the wonderful world wide web starts sending me messages of 20% off this curriculum and freebies on that curriculum.  Ugh.  These are wonderful, but my head can really start swimming in this sea of possibilities.

So in the midst of this time of pushing through, I remind myself of the task-at-hand.  This is the time to keep focus on that which needs to be done in the present.  With the finish line ever before us, we need to let ourselves focus on the task-at-hand.  My desire and prayer is that I do not miss this present moment for worry or concern of the future moment.  I know it is good to plan.  It is good to set goals.  However, I can so easily get caught up in the future and what I want/need it to be.  If I am always future minded, my present will become a checklist and procedure.  If I trust in the vision given to me by Jesus for the future, and I trust it to be there, then I can have peace in the to-dos of today.  I can be present here, because I know my Jesus is there.  He is there holding in His hand that vision, and He is present here leading me there!  He is the path, and I will walk with Him.  This equals peace, joy, and strength.

Give Him your there, so you can be present here.

Be strong, finish consistent.

Your Turn to Play ~ What is something that helps you push through this time of the year?

Spring has Sprung

Lord have mercy.  It is beautiful outside.  The sun is shining, or sometimes a nice refreshing rain is falling and all we want to do is be outside.  This seems to be the most difficult time of the year, the “almost done” period that coincides with the call of nature.

Time to get serious…

…and head outside!  Now, not everything we do can be done outside.  However, if it is possible, we will do it.  Builder was having real trouble (insert much complaining and whining) with settling to work on his math and word work the other day.  Almost losing it, I declared, “Let’s use sidewalk chalk!”  A chorus of cheers followed.  The magic of sidewalk chalk never ceases to amaze me.

I took the same old math worksheet and wrote the problems on the sidewalk/driveway.  Builder hopped on his tricycle with chalk in hand and drove to each problem solving it quickly.

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His word work was identifying complete and incomplete sentences.  I simply wrote the words “incomplete” and “complete” on the driveway, read aloud the sentences, and Builder wrote the sentence number under the correct title.  Once again the tricycle was involved in driving to and from each category.

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Princess also did her math via sidewalk chalk.  Her word work was not really conducive to working on the pavement, but a clipboard and sitting on the porch worked just as well.

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Another example of springtime adapting…Builder is working on putting together our family tree for social studies.  He has been gluing pictures of each person, copying down birth/death dates, etc.  We have now switched it up a bit.  He is learning to handle old documents such as old obituaries, or birth/death certificates and has become a “History Hunter”!  He finds the required information and anything he deems interesting about the person and records it.  To change it up a bit, today we decided to hop in the van and go find his great grandparents burial site.  Having the grave-site in town helps.  Now we are planning field trips to other states to find other family members grave-sites.  This was just another way to break the monotony, getting outside in the name of learning, growing, and exploring.

This is the time when creative juices must flow to keep on keeping on!  Even the smallest changes keep things fresh.

Your Turn ~ How do you deal with spring fever in regards to homeschooling?

Emotions vs Truth

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Photo Credit:  Kevin McCroskey

There are so many emotions associated with homeschooling.  From delight, love, companionship, success, reward, laughter, joy, and celebration to dread, fear, frustration, anger, defeat, incompetence, disappointment, and so on.  This journey is one heck of an emotional roller coaster.

So, in all honesty, why do we do it?  This question is a doozy.  I have never actually been asked this question of anyone but myself.  What have I done?  Why am I doing this?  I know we have so many wonderful days, and yet the really difficult, hard days are what seem to take over my emotions.   Fear is a major player in this battle of emotions.  Am I doing it right?  Am I doing enough?  Are they doing enough?  Am I cheating them of something better?  This is a nasty war zone.

Point blank, I do this because God has called us to do this.  I am well aware this is not everyone’s path, nor does it have to be.  He made it very clear (once I would listen), that this was His path for us.  It was not a path of my devising.  Honestly, it was nowhere on my radar, for that matter, being a stay-at-home mom was nowhere on my radar.  Yet, I would not change it for the world.

Why do I bring this up?  Partially, I bring it up because I am in a place of need to remind myself why we are doing what we are doing.  Once shared with others, it seems easier to stand my ground.  It is our testimony, one of our weapons of warfare.  The enemy will inevitably try to deter our way.  Through faith in why we are here, by the word of our testimony, and the Truth of God, we can stand strong.

When it comes down to it, Truth trumps emotion.  I can stand on Truth, emotions will cause me to sink.  Emotions are wonderful, and God given, but they were never meant to be our standard of truth.  They were never meant to lead the way.  Truth is our Solid Rock on which we stand.

Your Turn to Play ~ How do you handle the emotional roller coaster of homeschooling?

Music Time

I always knew music would become a component of our learning journey.  My husband and I were in band all through middle school, high school, and college, continuing after.  Music is simply a part of who and what we are as individuals and a family.  The same has shown in Builder and Princess.  They go around singing to themselves, to each other, and to us.  Truly, there are days that I feel I live in a musical…and I LOVE IT!

With that, I wasn’t exactly sure when and where to start.  Well, just recently I stumbled upon an amazing resource that I want to share with you.  It is another web resource that has a portion free, and another portion that is available by purchasing a paid premium account.  However, there is enough of the free material to get us well on our way.  It will also give us that period to see if this is truly the best fit for us.  At the moment, we are in love with it.  Granted we honestly have only completed one lesson, but that is all it has taken for all of us to be excited.

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The resource is Hoffman Academy, online piano lessons.  The website is very nice, neat, and easy to maneuver.  I have been impressed with the resources sent my way upon creating our free account.  The lessons are in video style and Mr. Hoffman (the teacher) seems to be a wonderful instructor.  The introductory material on the website refer to him as the Mr. Rogers of piano lessons.  From what I saw in the first video, I can see that.  After the first lesson video, Builder and Princess, were playing their first song – Hot Cross Buns.  In a 13-minute video, not only did he teach them how to play the song, but he introduced where the song originated from, as well as the beginnings of the do-re-mi scale.  So much rich learning introduced in such a way that my kids got it without a hint of effort, and they never lost focus.

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The Hoffman Academy recommends 2-3 lessons a week with daily practice.  With this schedule in mind, there should be about 24 months of lessons in the nine units available.  As I said, we are not very far into this course, but we are super excited about it.  I didn’t want to wait any longer before sharing this resource with you.  I highly recommend you take a look into it, and give it a try.  If you do, be sure to let me know how it works for you and your family.

Your Turn to Play ~ What role did music play in your life growing up?

Mystery Science

Science and I are getting along better these days.

Growing up, and far into adulthood, I never enjoyed science.  It was too…unpredictable.  And it never failed that what I expected to happen, did not in fact happen.  This frustrated me to all ends.  Now, I find myself having to teach it.  Lord have mercy, and He has.

My husband has a scientific mind.  The type that are never satisfied with the activity at hand, but has the innate ability to ask the inevitable, “What if we did…”.  This is also how Builder thinks and revels in getting to do science activities with Daddy.  However, doing science each week with Daddy doesn’t exactly work well into our schedule.  So though it works every now and then, we needed a different solution for a more consistent science experience.

So, I have pressed on and pressed into the Lord to help me in this area.  One of my realizations is that science truly sets you up to continue learning.  There is no failure in science, only an opportunity to learn more.  In the past, every time my outcome did not match my expectation I became frustrated at my “inability to do science”.  Now I realize when something doesn’t work out as expected, we get to figure out why.  This leads to a much deeper understanding of the topic at hand.

Now that I wasn’t scared of, or even angry with, science I was better equipped to decide how we wanted to approach it.  We did some individual units found here and there on the web.  However, I really felt like I was shooting in the dark when it came to a forward motion in science.  We were just kind of hit-and-missing.  Recently, I found MysteryScience.

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Builder was the main focus for this choice, however, Princess has jumped right in and joined us in science time.  MysterScience has many units to offer from Plants to Weather to Energy/Motion and beyond.  The material age range listed is from 5-12 years old.  This seems to be about right on the lower end since Princess is 5 and can join right in.  We don’t have experience at the upper level as of yet.

Each unit has a set of mysteries revolving around the theme.  We are currently working our way through Plant Adventures and are on Mystery 3 of 5.  Each Mystery has three parts:

Exploration

Each Mystery has a 20-45 min slideshow/video that is narrated and sets up the mystery at hand.  This section teaches all the information along the way that is needed for the upcoming activity.  The video pauses every now and again with a clarifying or critical thinking question to discuss with your student.

Activity

After each exploration, there is a hands-on activity.  From our experience, these have been very clear and the video leads you step-by-step through the instructions.  This has made it very easy to step into a facilitating role.  The activities we have completed have been anywhere from 25-35 min long.  Both Builder (7) and Princess (5) have loved them.

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The activity from Plant Adventures – Mystery 2: Do Plants Eat Dirt?       (Growing radish seeds)

Optional Extras

Each mystery has optional extras to add to and extend learning.  We have used some of these, but not all.  The total process done in one day pushes our boundaries of focus.  I have tried splitting the whole thing into a two to three day process, but the kids are so excited to do the activity once we get to it that I have not wanted to stop them from doing so.

Mystery Science has a free trial and also pricing for homeschoolers, as well as other school pricing.  We are still in our free trial until June 2017 and we will be purchasing the full version once our trial is over.  It has been so much fun and the work put into it by the creators is spot on.  If you have been searching for a good solid science curriculum, I encourage you to check out www.mysteryscience.com.  For me, it was well worth the exploration.

Your Turn to Play ~ What has been the most difficult subject for you to step into as teacher?

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