Advent at Our Home: Our Favorite Christmas Books & Resources

IMG_3957The holidays are upon us, and I just love this time of year! I love making it meaningful and Christ-centered with so many wonderful resources at our disposal. I love pointing my children’s hearts to the manger where the greatest love story of all time began, and to set our hearts anticipating the coming arrival of the baby King. I just wanted to share some of our favorite resources we have used over the years to make this time of year special.

This year, we will be taking off from our normal school routines for the full two weeks before Christmas, so we can have extra time for Christmas reading, Christmas themed handicrafts, and baking. These are wonderful learning activities and are a lovely break from the regular school books. We will continue our daily couch time, where we will be reading picture books, memorizing a Christmas Scripture passage, reading and memorizing Christmas poetry, and the like.

Family Advent Devotional

Each morning, during our usual family devotion time, we will light our Advent wreath, and read a section from Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room by Nancy Guthrie. We will be using this excellent and rich devotional this year for Advent. Nancy Guthrie has done a fabulous job providing some meaty biblical content that is short and bit size. It also has a sprinkling of Christmas hymns and their intriguing histories throughout the book.

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Other great options:

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Advent- by Ann Voskamp – This is a good devotional to accompany a Jesse Tree style advent (check out our Jesse Tree here), where you put an ornament on the tree to represent various events throughout the story of the Bible, giving the full story of the coming King. My kids have always loved putting the ornaments on the tree. It made the stories so tangible. We have used this book the past several years. Overall, I believe it a good resource, although can be a little overly poetic at times. You have to like her style of writing. :)

All is Bright: A Devotional Journey to Color Your Way to Christmas – Nancy Guthrie – What a fun resource that has both advent readings and beautiful coloring pages! This book is just lovely and fun. Has coloring pages for adults and children. This has the same content as Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room as I mentioned above, but includes coloring pages.

Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Family Devotional – by Marty Machowski – This devotional has short and meaningful advent readings while incorporating several hands-on activities. An excellent resource, especially for the busy family, as it has just three readings for each week of Advent.

If you have just littles, you will want to check out Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands. I loved using this when my kids were younger.

Advent Circle Time

Each morning, we will snuggle up on the couch for our Christmas themed Circle Time. We will be memorizing Matthew 1:21 and Isaiah 9:6-7 (which we began last year, and will add verse 7 this year), memorizing a Christmas poem (A Christmas Carol by G.K. Chesterton), and doing one Christmas Fun Mad Libs (for laughs and language building). We will conclude our circle time by reading a Christmas picture book (see recommendations below).

In addition, we will have poetry tea time once a week with Voices from Christmas, a lovely poetry book that highlights the perspective of the different people surrounding the nativity, and T’was the Night Before Christmas and other Seasonal Favorites by William Lach. We will also enjoy some of the beautiful paintings from The Christmas Story (Metropolitan Museum of Art). Sprinkled throughout our days at home, and while in the car, we will listen to our annual favorites: Handel’s Messiah,  Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, Focus on the Family’s Christmas Carol (favorite!), Hallelujah Handel!, and Classical Kids Christmas albums. We also have the audio version of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, because that is another hilarious favorite around here.

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 Christmas Activities

I am not a very craftsy mom, but Christmas break gives us a fun opportunity to learn new handicraft skills with a few simple Christmas kits: sewing ornaments, beaded ornaments, origami, etc. And of course, they must be all-in-one kits for this mama. Karis and I made these felt bird ornaments (pictured below) last year and they were super doable and turned out beautifully and teach hand sewing/embroidery skills. We will be making this felt ornaments set this year, and I’ll include both my 7 & 9 year olds. They can make a great Christmas gift for grandparents or relatives as well.

We will be using Bake Through the Bible at Christmas this year as a fun baking opportunity to do with my kids. I’ll be rotating through each child to give them a one-on-one time to bake with mommy as we work through this book. We will share the finished products with friends and neighbors.

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Other fun crafts we recommend:

Beaded Candy Cane Ornaments (all-in-one kit – great for little hands!) – The Beadery Holiday line has some other lovely simple bead kits as well.
Nativity Scene Gingerbread House (so much fun! Or buy a pre-baked all-in-one nativity scene kit)
Nativity Scene Cookies (with these Nativity cookie cutters) – Use these cookie cutters to make a Gingerbread Nativity Scene
Easy Christmas Origami (a fun book for kids to learn origami -see picture below)
Make Cranberry Bread for the neighbors/co-workers – Last year, we made Cranberry Bread (from the delightful book Cranberry Thanksgiving) in miniature loaves to give to friends, neighbors, and co-workers. It was delicious and received rave reviews! Another favorite for gifts is Taste of Home’s Pumpkin Bread (oh my! This is the best recipe ever!).

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Christmas Family Read-Alouds

In the evenings, we love to snuggle up for a family read-aloud with Daddy. This year, we will be reading Bartholomew’s Passage, which is the second in a series of adventure stories centered around the birth of Christ. Need a fun family read-aloud for the holidays?

We have greatly enjoyed all of these titles over the years:

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – by Barbara Robinson – A hilarious account of one town’s attempt at putting on a Christmas play with the most obnoxious family in town taking the lead roles. You can also get the picture book version.
The Christmas Carol - by Charles Dickens – I absolutely love this picture book adaption too! And you can’t miss the Focus on the Family Radio Theater: A Christmas Carol. It is fabulous and you’ll want to listen to it every year!
The Twenty Four Days before Christmas – Madeleine L’Engle –  A sweet short Christmas tale.
Keeping Holiday – by Starr Meade – Go on an allegorical adventure into the true meaning of Christmas with this story.
Jotham’s Journey: A Family Storybook for Advent – by Arnold Ytreeide – These are just delightful adventure stories set during the time of Christ from the perspective of a shepherd boy and his companions. My own parents read this series to my siblings and I growing up, and it has been so much fun to continue the tradition with our kids. Just a little tip: Start before Thanksgiving if you want to complete it before Christmas (gives you a little buffer room). Also in this series, you will want to check out Bartholomew’s Passage, Tabitha’s Travels, and Ishtar’s Odyssey.

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Favorite Christmas Picture Books

We absolutely love Christmas picture books! We love pulling out or unwrapping a new title for each day of December. We have done an Book Advent Calendar basket for a few years now, where we wrap up 24 Christmas picture books (in brown paper from Dollar Store) and open a new one each day. I’m not sure I’ll get around to wrapping them this year, but I certainly will have a pile to draw from each day. My kids never seem to get too old for picture books, and they still eagerly anticipate pulling out the stash year after year. “Oh, I love that one! I remember that one!” are the cries you will hear around here. I usually buy 1-2 new titles each year (usually from my favorite used book store, Thrift Books), and the rest we get from our local library (and yes, I’ve wrapped those too!). You can see my previous recommended list here. I have updated with some of our newest favorites below.

The Christmas Promise – by Alison Mitchell
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree - by Gloria Houston
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
The Town that Forgot About Christmas – by Susan Leigh
Cranberry Christmas - by Wende Devlin
Mortimer’s Christmas Manger – by Karma Wilson
Humphrey’s First Christmas – by Carol Heyer
The Crippled Lamb – by Max Lucado
The Story of St. Nicholas: More than Reindeer and A Red Suit by Voice of the Martyrs
Fear Not, Joseph – by Julie Stiegemeyer
God Gave Us Christmas – by Lisa Tawn Bergren
How the Grinch Stole Christmas – by Dr. Seuss
A Christmas Carol - by Charles Dickens (adapted)
The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs
The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Rick Osborne
The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg
The Legend of the Christmas Stocking by Rick Osborne

Happy Christmas Advent planning! Would love to hear your favorite Christmas crafts and resources ideas!

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Healthy Coconut Vanilla Granola (sugar free, dairy free, gluten free)

IMG_1082Want a easy and delicious granola that can be eaten any time of the day? This is hearty and healthy and protein packed, to sustain you throughout your day. It is great with milk for breakfast, served with yogurt for a fruit salad bar, and mixed in with raisins and nuts for a crunchy trail mix. It is also my daily bedtime snack! :) We love it. It can be sweetened as you prefer, but I love xylitol made from birch trees (rather than from corn as many brands are) because it doesn’t spike your blood sugar and tastes so yummy.

Ingredients:

8 cups rolled oats (use gluten-free oats if you are more cautious about gluten contamination)
1 1/2 cup coconut flakes
1 1/2 cup xylitol (or replace with your favorite sweetener – 1 cup raw honey or maple syrup works too!)
4-5 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 scoops protein powder (I use paleo protein powder or Jay Robb’s stevia sweetened protein powder), optional
1 cup coconut oil (extra virgin, cold pressed), melted
1 cup egg whites
1 cup raw mixed seeds, ground in coffee grinder (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds/flax seeds, and or sunflower seeds – I usually do a 1/4 cup of each)
2 teaspoons sea salt

Directions:

Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl until thoroughly mixed. Spread out evenly over two large 12×17 baking sheets. Bake at the lowest temperature you can set your oven to (150-175 degrees) for 1-2 hours, till just lightly browned. Rotate the pans at least once while baking, and mix up the granola on the tray a couple times throughout the baking time to get it evenly toasted. It will still be soft when you remove from the oven, but will harden as it cools. Makes about 1 gallon.

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Training Your Kids to Help with Chores (Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life – Part 5)

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Tuesday is folding laundry day! Every one folds their own laundry.

In this series (find the series index here), we have been discussing how to keep our homes running smoothly even while many of the hours of your day are consumed with homeschooling. In this post, I wanted to discuss training up your littles to help with chores and home maintenance. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I have received about chores has been to never underestimate your children’s abilities. They are more capable then you think.

Little People Are Wonderfully Capable

Even at 18 months of age, they can learn to pick up after themselves with a little guidance and training. It will pay off in the long run if you begin early to train them to see how valuable their contribution is to your family. We emphasize how important each one of our children is in helping our home run smoothly. We are a team, and we work together as a team. We value working hard and training our children to learn to stay focused, work diligently, and pursue excellence in all their pursuits, and learning how to do chores is a great means of working towards that goal. We want them to be hard workers and valuable contributors to their future work and service. Children are such wonderful little helpers, and we want to encourage them in that vision. They are proud of their accomplishments are we praise and encouragement them.

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Titus is doing extra chores to save up for something special

At our home, we daily assign two chores to our kids based upon their ages and abilities. We set a goal of finishing these chores in 30 minutes before breakfast. If they can do so, they are awarded with a little treat. These daily chores are in addition to helping with dinner dishes and basic house pick-up throughout the day and/or at the end of the day. Fridays is our half day of school, so it usually has an extra chore assigned to help get our home ready for the weekend. We enjoy resting from chores on the weekend, but the kids do continue to help with the dishes. The weekend is also great for teaching them how to make breakfasts and such.

Lower Your Expectations

Of course, I must say, you really have to lower your expectations if you are going to homeschool and maintain a home. My perfectionistic nature has had to be stretched in this way, as it takes time for the kiddos to learn to be diligent and for their physical bodies to be able to handle some jobs. I personally don’t have much time or energy these days to do much more than maintaining the kitchen and preparing meals…so I’ve had to let go of a perfectly clean home. It’s just not feasible. The kids are in training…and there is grace for Mommy to overlook the crumbs in the tight corner and the food caked onto the floor that doesn’t get scrapped off. There will be another day for those to be cleaned up.

Summer is for Chore Training

Every summer, I re-evaluate the chores and the children’s abilities, and usually move things around a bit. Easier chores move down to the next child in line as the older kids become more capable. As our numbers have increased, certain jobs need to be done more frequently, so that must be considered as well. I take the summer time to train each child in their new assignments. This way, we are all ready to go once school starts again and everyone is mostly trained in how to do their new jobs. We teach new chores through a 3-step process. First, I demonstrate the steps for completing the chore. Second, we do the chore together. Thirdly, they complete the chore on their own, while I supervise, encourage, and give reminders as needed. Each of these steps may take more than a day, but slowly but surely, they learn and can complete it eventually on their own. It can be helpful to post a printed copy of the steps for the job in a visible place in the room (i.e. inside the bathroom cupboard for bathroom cleaning instructions) so it is easy for them to review.

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Check out our current chore chart here: 2016-2017 chore chart. This list just gets taped onto the side of our refrigerator. They memorize it very quickly and don’t need it posted for very long.

Here are some chore assignment ideas based upon ages that we have used at our home:

Ages 2-3

Clean up shoe shelf (Put shoes neatly on shelves, hang up loose coats, etc. Learn how to put away shoes and coats when we come home
Wipe down chairs and coffee tables (with a simple gentle cleaner and rag, a little one can learn how to spray and wipe down chairs and low tables)
Put dirty clothes in laundry hamper
Help set the table
Fold towels (we start around 4 years of age to teach the kids how to fold towels, washcloths, etc, and by 5 years old, they are folding their own laundry and putting it away)

Ages 3-5

Making their bed and picking up their rooms
Empty dishwasher (Tip: Store your dishes and cups down on low shelves so littles can put them away at a young age. This is also a great time to teach them how to be careful while they carry fragile items to their storage shelves.)
Make PBJ sandwiches (at 5 years old, my littles learn how to make their own sandwiches, which frees up mommy’s time in the kitchen)
Vacuum (Chose a lightweight vacuum, so that the kids can learn to vacuum around 5-6 years old. We start by assigning them a small room to vacuum a couple times a week.)
Fold their own laundry (We start this around 5 years old, and we don’t expect those clothes to be super neatly folded for some time! But if I don’t look too closely, who’s to care?)

Ages 6-7

Help put away groceries
Learn how to make basic breakfasts (One morning a week, they get to make breakfast as one of their chores. My 7 year old is currently learning how to make French toast.)
Basic bathroom clean-up (We call this “5 minute bathroom” and includes teaching them how to wipe down counter, sink and toilet. Many times we allow them to use disinfecting wipes at this age to keep it easy and simple for them.)
Sweeping & moping (We have a very simple and lightweight Sh-Mop system that makes it easy for little ones to do moping)
Vacuum stairs (we use a handheld vacuum to easily vacuum stairs at this age)
Empty trashcans and take out trash cans to corner on trash collection day

Ages 8-10

Bring down and sort the laundry for washing (this includes making piles of whites, darks, colors, and starting the first load in the washer)
Full bathroom clean-up (We call this “10 minute bathroom” and includes wiping down counter, sink, toilet, bathroom mirror, shower/bath, and sweep and moping floors)
Clean Windows (With a simple squeegee blade and washer brush, littles can learn how to clean windows. A basic step stool is helpful for this if they are not tall enough.)
Ironing
Vacuum out car and wash outside of car
Wipe down kitchen cupboards and appliances

Ages 11-up

Learn how to clean kitchen thoroughly (my goal is to teach my kids how to thoroughly clean kitchen by age 12)
Weeding & mowing lawn
Learn how to prepare basic dinners

If your kids are younger than this, don’t be afraid to get some housecleaning help! I have personally hired a young high school gal off and on over the years to help with various deep cleaning before my kids were really helpful around the house. That’s okay! You only have so much time and energy. Otherwise, just keep up with the basics. During busy seasons or a season with lots of littles, I stick with the goal of having the main living area floors swept once a day/mopped once a week, clean bathrooms (mainly counter and toilet 1-2 times per week, using disinfecting wipes to keep it even easier) and a basic house pickup at the end of each day. The other chores can wait for another day. Don’t pile on unnecessary guilt. Little hearts filled with love are more important than a perfectly clean home.

Allowance

Because we are on the topic of chores, questions about allowance are sure to come up. I know there are valuable opinions on both sides of the spectrum, and you have to come up with a plan that works for your family. We have chosen to give our children an allowance because we want to encourage them to work hard and be able to save up for things they want to buy, especially to enable them to be generous with others. My littles love buying gifts for one another or birthday presents for friends and family, or simply giving to various needs that arise. My 9 year old has such a generous heart and nearly all her money is given to others. I want to encourage this. So, we give our kids $1 per year of their age per month, so $9 for my 9 year old each month, $7 for my 7 year old, etc. We start this system when they turn 6 years of age. Because my 5 year old is also a valuable help to our family, I give her $2 per month, which she is simply thrilled with. If they want to buy something above and beyond what their monthly allowance allows, we do occasionally give extra chore opportunities for the kids, on a case by case basis. It’s always in process, and may change as the years go by, but this is currently working well.

In conclusion, I encourage you sisters to train up your littles to be good helpers around your home, and in turn, you are training them up to be good workers in the years ahead, and they will be more capable to serve and bless others around them as well. Don’t carry all the load yourselves. Lower your expectations and enjoy the process.

To read the rest of the Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life series, visit here.

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Favorite Thanksgiving Picture Books

IMG_3840We adore picture books around our house, especially when they are themed around the upcoming holiday season. Today, I wanted to share some of our favorite Thanksgiving picture books that will be enjoyed by all ages! Many of these you can find at the library, but some of them you’ll really want to add to your family collection to pull out year after year.

Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende Devlin – this by far our all-time favorite Thanksgiving book! I highly recommend you add to your collection. A delightful story of welcoming the outcast. 1971 classic returned to print. This book also includes a fabulous recipe for Cranberry Bread on the back cover that is really incredible. We made it for neighbors and friends last Christmas and received no end to complements on it.

Over the River and Through the Woods – by Lydia Child – This is a lovely fun poem that is compiled in a beautiful picture book. Find a recording online and enjoy singing this engaging poem. My children have requested we memorize this poem for the month of November.

Sharing the Bread: An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Story – by Pat Zietlow Miller – This is another one of our favorites as it emphasizes the beauty of celebrating with family and how a family works together in preparing for the celebration. Delightful!

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The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh – In this festive Caldecott Honor–winning picture book, Alice Dalgiesh brings to life the origin of the Thanksgiving holiday for readers of all ages. If you want just one book on the history of the first Thanksgiving, then pick this one to add to your shelf.

Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation (Time Traveling Twins) by Diane Stanley – My kids beg for this one every year. Join the time traveling twins and Grandma as they head back in time to learn about the first Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation. Fun and engaging!

The Very First Thanksgiving Day - Greene, Rhonda Gowler – A simple but lovely rhyming account of the first thanksgiving.

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving  by Joseph Bruchac – I love this re-telling of the story of Squanto and how he helped make the first thanksgiving possible. Another good title option is Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas.

Sarah Gives Thanks (how thanksgiving became a national holiday) by Mike Allegra – A fascinating account about how Thanksgiving became a national holiday and the courageous woman behind it. Another good version of the same story is Thank You, Sarah by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Saying Grace: A Prayer of Thanksgiving – Virginia Kroll – A Christian fictional account of a young pilgrim girl and how her family learned to say thanks.

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving – Louisa May Alcott (illustrated by Jody Wheeler) – this is a sweet picture book adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s classic. The abridged edition illustrated by James Bernardin is also a lovely version.

The Pumpkin Patch Parable – by Liz Curtis Higgs – A fun story about shining your light in the harvest season.

P is for Pumpkin: God’s Harvest Alphabet by Kathy-jo Wargin – a rhyming alphabet themed book highlighting different themes of the Thanksgiving/Fall season.

Give Thanks to the Lord – Karma Wilson – A lovely book based upon Psalms 92.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving books?

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Our Daily Homeschool Routine (Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life – Part 4)

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“How do you get everything done?” Is an important and valuable question that every homeschool mom receives. It is important because homeschooling does require some major juggling, planning, and a flexible mindset. It is valuable, because it is our God-given mission to manage and organize our domain in a manner that is pleasing to Him, and to train and disciple our children in character, truth, and academics. That’s a-lot. And it is certainly not something I recommend doing on your own strength. Thankfully, we have a pretty awesome God, who is near and open to our prayers.

God worked in an orderly manner, and we are called to do the same. There are many different ways to run a household, and my methods work well for our family, but may not be the best for everyone. A schedule provides good structure and routine, which is really beneficial for children and teaching self-discipline, but it also must be held loosely as seasons and needs adapt and change. That is why, I am always praying that our homeschool would be spirit-led, and not mommy-led. I want the Lord to be our ultimate teacher. I want to follow His plan…which may be a twist and turn from my own.

I love praying this promise over my children each day, “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children (Isaiah 54:13).” Did you hear that? The Lord is their ultimate Teacher. He’s in control of all that they need to learn in order to equip them fully for the good work that God has called them to accomplish. It does not depend upon me. There is so much freedom here. So just get rid of that guilt right now. You are going to fail in some way, and that’s okay. He already lived the perfect life for you.

Anyway, back to the schedule. Our daily routine is divided into four blocks: morning duties, independent work, circle time, and tutoring time. These routine blocks are not set to a specific time each day, but do happen approximately at the same time each day, but can be rotated as needed. I like the flexibility this provides for our family, because there are often needs that come up that cause one or more of the blocks to get delayed and need to be moved around. But the ultimate goal is that all four of the blocks get finished by noon each day.

I’ll discuss these four blocks in detail:

Morning Duties

7:00am is our morning wake up time for the kids. They are responsible for making their bed, getting dressed, picking up their room after themselves, and coming down for family devotions by 7:30am. After devotions, the goal is to get their morning chores done in 30 minutes before breakfast. Each of my children has 1-2 rotating daily chores that they do to help our home run smoothly. I’ll discuss this more thoroughly in my next post on chores, but for example, my oldest (age 9), sweeps and mops the kitchen one morning each week, cleans the bathroom two different days, and starts washing and rotating laundry every Monday (which is our laundry day). My 7 year old is able to sweep and mop, do a quick bathroom cleanup (wiping down counters and toilet), and vacuum different areas. My 5 year old daily unloads the dishwasher at breakfast and then will either fold her laundry, wipe down chairs, and is just learning to vacuum the living room, or organize the shoe shelf. We start kids on the dishwasher at 3 years of age at our house, so she can really do it fast now!

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Independent Work

This block of time follows morning duties, and is the time when the kids work on their independent school subjects. This includes workbooks and assignments that they can accomplish on their own. Mommy is on call as needed to help with a math problem or reading instructions (for my non-readers). I am usually cleaning up the kitchen, doing dinner preparations (pulling out things from freezer, etc), and caring for our toddler (getting her dressed, fed, etc) during this time. Independent work for us is mainly math workbooks, xtramath drills (a great free online service for reviewing and mastering math facts) handwriting or copywork, spelling, independent reading assignments, and instrument practice.

I write out my 4th graders daily assignments in a spiral notebook (pictured above). My 2nd grader just does math, xtramath drill, and handwriting/copywork, so he doesn’t need the assignment list yet. My Kindergartener works on her Rod & Staff workbooks when she is inspired to, but is not required. The goal is to finish these assignments up by around 10:00am, when we start circle time.

I do follow Charlotte Mason’s recommendations of keeping these early elementary years assignments to 5-20 minute chunks per subject. So handwriting is 5 minutes (or approximately 1 page), and math is 15-20 minutes. We stop wherever they make it to, rather than being obsessed about finishing one lesson each day. We use sticky note tabs at the top of our books to mark our places, which has been such a time saver this year. The kids can easily find where they left over and continue their day’s work. One to two pages in each is usually sufficient for making great progress without losing their attention or energy span. It’s a lot more peaceful that way for us. This block of time usually takes 30 minutes for 2nd grader and 45 minutes to an 1 hour for the 4th grader.

Circle Time

Our Circle Time block is a time when we sit down all together to do reading aloud, prayer, memory work, history, geography or science and any other reading we might be doing, rotating through most of these books/subjects, rather than doing every one, every day. It takes roughly 1 hour each day, give or take. We work on memorizing Scripture verses, a poem, and review some old ones. We pray for the nations. Then we read aloud from a history book and a biography or classic storybook. Currently, we are reading A First Book in American History, and With Two Hands. We are primarily using Heart of Dakota’s Bigger Hearts for His Glory, as the foundation for our circle time this year, adapting to our needs and preferences. I usually include 5-10 minutes of reading a picture book aloud to my 5 year old (check out our kindergarten reading list here), and the older ones love listening in too.

Any subjects that we can do together to enrich our homeschool with truth, goodness, and beauty fall into this time. One day a week, we do poetry tea time and picture study instead of the above routine. My baby and Kindergartener usually play together in the pack n play or with play dough in the highchair/counter or eat snacks :) to keep them busy. My 5 year old participates in circle time for at least the first half and listens nearby for the second half.  Some years, it has worked best to do circle time first thing after morning duties, but this year, it seems to work smoothly after independent work. When I have a nursing infant, I always schedule this time when baby is taking morning nap. I love that we can move these blocks around as needed.

Tutoring Time

Lastly, I do an individual tutoring time with whatever student needs focused reading instructor. Right now, I spend 15-20 minutes minutes with my 7 year old as we work through All About Reading level 2 & 3 this year. I usually fit this time in whenever it works. Sometimes it comes before Circle Time if my older student needs more time on her independent work or sometimes afterwards.

Our goal is to finish our formal studies before noon each day. After that, we have lunch, quiet time, and then play time. We have one afternoon outing a week for ballet lessons and piano lessons. Fridays is primarily a half day schedule where the kids do independent work, spelling tests, and a monthly field trip or grocery shopping trip (twice a month).

At five o’clock daily, everyone is called in for our 10-minute tidy time. This is when we do a quick clean up of the house in preparation for daddy’s return home and dinner. I usually assign the kids to different areas of the house, depending upon where they played that day. This works really well for getting the house in order for a smooth start the next day. After dinner, we usually have family time, daddy reading aloud, playing games, wrestling, watching a movie, or something similar. Bedtime for baby is around 7pm, and for the older kids it is 8:00pm.

That’s it!

For the introduction to this series and the series index, visit here.

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Finding a Wealth of Free or Cheap Audiobooks

2831212101_9e9fc3bbdb_zTaking a short break from our Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life series today to bring you these awesome resources!

We are huge audiobook fans at our house. Every afternoon we each cuddle up in our own quiet time areas or beds and enjoy a few hours of delightful imaginative adventures, myself included. I take naps on a regular basis while dozing off to an audiobook. It works wonders. I also love listening to books while I make dinner at night, or while washing the dishes throughout the day.

When each of our children have turned around five years old and no longer needed a daily nap, we have purchased a refurbished Apple Ipod Nano (which are usually under $100) for them. These have become their most treasured possession I believe, because of all the fun adventures they have enjoyed while listening to them. We do limit content to audiobooks, with the occasional music track for things we were working on memorizing. But it has no other ability to access internet, photos, or videos.

So where do we get all the audiobooks?

Librivox

Librivox is a free audiobook service providing thousands of old classics in the public domain. You’ll find Anne of Green Gables series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series, Thorton Burgess animal stories, and so much more. The quality of these recordings can vary, and the selection is limited, but still worth checking out Check out our recommendations here: Librivox audiobooks for Children. Our favorite narrators include: Mary Anderson, Karen Savage, and Mark Smith. Check out Read Aloud Revival’s list of the Best Librivox Narrators. I’m currently enjoying Eleanor Porter’s Just David on Librivox. Gene-Stratton Porter’s books have been some of my favorites too!

Overdrive

Overdrive is a free service offered through local libraries across the nation,  that allows you to borrow and download a wealth of audiobooks for 21 days each. You can borrow up to 15 titles at a time. You just need a library card and make sure your library offers the service. Sign up for a free account and start borrowing online.  It is easy to download the Overdrive app onto your computer in order to transfer audiobooks to your devises. For iPhone, you can use the Overdrive app directly on your phone for listening. For my local friends, you can check it out through Multnomah Library. Overdrive also provides the ability to borrow kindle/digital book titles as well. We’ve enjoyed Roald Dahl titles (one of our family’s favorite authors), Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes series, Mrs. Piggie Wiggle series, Anne of Green Gables, Beverely Cleary books, The Boxcar Children, N.D. Wilson, and much more through this service. All of Read Aloud Revival’s Best Audio Book Recommendations (with the exception of the Little House series) I found available through Overdrive.

Hoopla

Hoopla is another service offered by through the library that has tons of audiobooks as well. You can borrow 8 titles each month. Hoopla has a lot more Christian Audio titles, so you can find books like For the Children’s Sake, Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga series (my current personal favorite!), John Piper, Gloria Furman, Elyse Fitzpatrick, G. K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and many other fabulous authors. I also found audio versions of many Shakespeare plays. I just finished listening to The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton with this service. Delightful. Currently listening to For the Children’s Sake before launching into the new school year. They also have a wealth of classics too. Hoopla also offers movies for borrow.

Kindle/Whispersync

Another good option for cheap audiobooks is by using Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice Ready deals, which is basically Kindle books with Audible narration. And you don’t need a kindle device either. You can read Kindle books through Kindle apps on your computer or phone. If you find a kindle title you would like, look underneath the Buy Now button to see if they have a check box that says “Add Audible narration to your purchase for just $1.99/etc”. They offer this audio addition feature at a great discount from buying it separately, but you are still getting the complete audiobook that can be used independently or together with the kindle book edition. You can actually find many classic kindle edition books that Amazon offers for free or just $0.99 and add audio for just $2.99 or less. Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, for example, is just $0.99 for kindle and audiobook! Check out Amazon’s list of Kid’s Titles with up to 80% off narration. This uses the Audible service without the membership cost. Titles can then be downloaded through Audible.com or using the Audible app on your phone. I discovered you could buy YWAM’s Christian Heroes Then & Now biography series for the very best price by purchasing them this way. You can get the kindle edition for $7.50, and add the audible narration for just $3.49…which equates to getting the audio book for $11, which is the best deal around on this series (they normally sell around $15-20 for each audiobook version).

So that’s how we enjoy hundreds of audiobooks for free or little cost!

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Quiet Time for Mommy is a Good Thing (Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life – Part 3)

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How do you find rest amidst the busyness of homeschooling and maintaining a home?

I look forward to our afternoon quiet time, which comes, Lord willing, each day. So do my kids actually. It is a daily scheduled time of rest in our home. Time to cultivate peace in our home, quiet in our souls, and renew our minds and bodies. For some, the 5 and under crowd, this means a nap. For older siblings, this means reading, listening to audiobooks, coloring, painting, legos, and other quiet time activities. They each go to a separate area, outside or inside, on the bed, couch, or table, or in the hammock or blanket in the yard. I’ve even seen them take their quiet time in a tree. For myself, it also means a short nap, personal reading, and/or writing. Napping while listening to an audiobook is my favorite. :) This gives me scheduled time to cultivate my own continued learning.

In our home, our goal is to finish our school subjects by lunchtime, and then we have set aside a two hour period after lunch in our home for this purpose. I guard against the temptation to fill up this time with other demanding obligations, such as cleaning and such, because I know my soul and spirit needs this. I am weary by the time the morning school and chore period is over. Its draining. I’m an introvert. I need some alone time, so I can renew myself to face the rest of the tasks ahead of me after quiet time. There is no guilt or condemnation here. Why? Because it is a little safeguard against getting overtired which can feed frustration and anger. It is a time to fill my cup of grace again, so I can continue to outpour the grace and love of Christ out upon my family for the remaining hours of the day. It gives the children time to rest from one another and give them opportunities to read and enjoy story in their own little worlds. We all come back together more refreshed and happy again. It’s a gift.

In our day and again, it is easy to overbook our schedules, filling them with too many outings and scheduled activities, often leading to grumpy overtired children. This is especially true when your children are young. Even if you have to keep the actual napping portion short, and then allow these little ones to look at books or color, it is still hugely beneficial. I did discover that if my kids nap past a certain time in the afternoon, they would have a harder time going to sleep at night, so we moved naptime up a bit, or I woke them up sooner. It was easy to flex and adjust as needed. It’s worth it!

In addition to our daily quiet time, I try to schedule a 1-2 hour outing once or twice a month for myself to get out of the house and have some quiet time at a local coffee shop. I use this time for planning, journaling, and reading. This might be after my husband comes home from work, or while a family member is over watching my littles. Or maybe you could trade babysitting with another mama to help you cultivate this space. The quiet and getting out of the house is so refreshing and revitalizing. We need it. This is good.

So, yes, you can homeschool and still have quiet breaks. I am a strong proponent of keeping this mama sane and joyful. It may not work for all, and that’s okay. Try to carve in some quiet time in your day wherever you can find it. But starting when your kids are young does make it easier to uphold this practice. We are going nine years strong!

The Lord will fight for you, and you can hold your peace and remain at rest. (Exodus 14:14)

How do you find time to have quiet rest and refreshment as a homeschooling mom?

To return to the series index, click here.

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Keeping Kindergarten & Early Years Simple (Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life – Part 2)

IMG_0333One lesson I have learned over the brief years of my homeschooling experience is…don’t start too early. I was that over zealous excited mama of a smart little 4 year old. I was super pumped with the idea of homeschooling my own little flock, that I was confident beginning early would only help my children become smarter, more developed, and more prepared for life.

What could it hurt to start teaching her to read? She might be that brilliant one who picks it up early and will be reading The Hobbit at age 7 or 8. I loved browsing the curriculum catalogs and breathless at all the amazing curriculums available for my preschooler. SO many wonderful options…So I began investing in many different glamorous curriculums.

Most of these struggles really birthed out of my own pure vanity. I wanted to have the smart child that memorized amazingly lengthy poetry and recited it confidently before an audience. I wanted the child that learned to read at 4 years old. Aww…what a nice pat on the back I would get. It was all about me.

Fast forward several years, and you see a strained relationship between mother and daughter because I pushed too hard and too early. Reading lessons became a daily battle. Her love for learning was quickly eliminated. All in the name of getting a head start. This head start quickly became a huge step back. I had to learn the hard way to let go and give my child opportunity to just learn and explore. To play and observe the world around her. When I let go of our vigorous academic load and just give her more time, I found much more peace and joy flowing in our home.

If was only after this time, that I stumbled upon the wisdom and educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason. She strongly recommended that you do not start any formal academics till 6 years of age, and I have definitely seen the wisdom of this advice with my second child. She recommended these early years be a time devoted to developing good habits, character and obedience training, and filling their minds with wonderful good books and living ideas. In this way, the rest of the homeschool journey will be more smooth and peaceful as their little hearts are in submission to the authority in their lives. I am so thankful I have been able to allow my second child and subsequent children enjoy the journey without the pressure.

In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air” (Charlotte Mason’s Home Education, Vol. 1, p. 43).

Isn’t that a freeing idea? Can we let our children spend their early years in the fresh air?

Simply Charlotte Mason has a great series about A Parent’s Chief Duty – Early Years that I’d encourage you to read.

What does the early years look like now in our home? 

Preschool and kindergarten and well into 1st grade are simply a time of reading fun picture books, lots of playing, and a few fun basic workbooks when they feel inspired to join in with the older siblings.

I found my littles love to do what big kids are doing, so having some simple workbooks on hand were really convenient for feeding this interest. We have used the Rod & Staff preschool ABC workbook series a couple times now and really recommend it. (They call them “preschool”, but the content is very much kindergarten materials. We skip the Bible stories ones because we use other Bible resources. We use the A-F set only, as they usually are ready to move on to something else after F. The G-L set are good for 1st grade, if you want to continue.) It is cheap and effective.

Most of what the average kindergarten curriculum include is just picked up through osmosis, so it really can be a waste of money to invest in a full preschool/kindergarten curriculum. The $20 workbook set from Rod & Staff just strengthens the knowledge they picked up through observation of the world around them.

My daughter, Eden (who just turned 5 years old) and I, will be reading through the books pictured above as our Kindergarten reading list this year. I love spending 5-15 minutes first thing each morning filling her little love tank (as my mother used to say). My toddler often snuggles up with us two. Our list includes some fabulous picture books that we’ve enjoyed a few times through now, and are in hardback editions, so they have good longevity. I love the collections style format, because they are so many stories in just one lovely hardback book. You don’t have to deal with flimsy individual titles cluttering up your shelves. Most of them are also very reasonably priced, especially if you compare to purchasing the titles included in each collection individually. This list could easily carry us well into first grade…we’ll see how far we make it. I am so excited to read these books once again with Eden.

After our reading time, she may or may not work on a page or two in her Rod & Staff workbooks while big siblings do their independent subjects. I never push it. That’s it. Reading aloud to your littles is the best early years curriculum.

Here are our “must-read” of the titles pictured above (from left to right):

Eloise Wilkin Stories (Little Golden Book Treasury) - This is our favorite beautiful collection of children’s stories about being Mommy’s helpers, seeing God in nature, and so many more sweet stories.

Frog & Toad Storybook Treasury by Arnold Lobel –  Who can get enough of Frog & Toad? Probably my all-time favorite children’s book. Everything by Arnold Lobel is delightful.

Harper Collins Treasury of Picture Book Classics - Some of our favorites in this collection include From Head to Toe by Eric Carle, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Crictor, and Caps for Sale

Make Way for McCloskey by Robert McCloskey – Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sals can’t be missed!

The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury – selected by Janet Schulman – This collection includes such titles as Madeline, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Goodnight Moon, Millions of Cats, The Story of Ferdinand, and more.

The Berenstein Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature by Stan & Jan Berenstein – This is such a fun introduction to science and nature concepts, including calendar, seasons, weather, animals, plants, and the earth itself. Love this book!

A Child’s Book of Character Building (book 1 & 2) by Ron & Rebekah Coriell – A great introduction to various character traits and how to apply them at home, school, play, and displayed in the Bible.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George by H.A. Ray – These collection has been read and re-read numerous time. Lots of laughter and fun.

Mike Mulligan and More: A Virginia Lee Burton Treasury  - Another of my favorite children’s collections!

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne – What’s not to love about Winnie-the-Pooh?

Fairy Tales and Fables by Gyo Fujikawa – one of the most beautifully illustrated collected of classic fairy tales I have ever seen. We also love his A Child’s Book of Poems and A Child’s Garden of Verses.

James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – lovely true animal stories from a veterinarian.

A Beatrix Potter Treasury- the collection I have appears to be out of print, so I linked to another similar complete collection.

Aesop’s Fables for Children illustrated by Milo Winter – definitely the best Aesop’s Fables collection with a wonderful CD as well. Just wish this edition was hardcover.

Uncle Wiggly’s Story Book by Howard Garis – This collection of wonderful stories of the “bunny rabbit gentleman” and his adventures is a great transition from picture books to chapter books. Each story has a lovely emphasis on serving others and character building. The stories are magical and so engaging for kids. We will read this towards the end of the year. My Father’s Dragon (although not pictured) is another favorite transition book.

A Little Book of Manners: Curtousy and Kindness for Young Ladies (or the boy version here)- Emily Barnes

God’s Wisdom for Little Girls or God’s Wisdom for Little Boys – Elisabeth George

A Treasury of Mother Goose illustrated by Hilda Offen – our list would not be complete without this fun collection of Mother Goose.

I also would like to add one of Shirley Hughes Alfie collections to our set this year.

When our littles turn 6 years old, and they begin to express interest in learning how to read, we begin All About Reading pre-reading curriculum, and gradually work about 15 minutes each day through this program, progressing into All About Reading Levels 1-4 over time (usually finishing by the middle of 3rd grade). Alongside phonics instructions, if they desire, we just use a basic 1st grade math book (only if they really want to start math, otherwise waiting longer is just fine too). And then they just sit in on morning time read-alouds with the older siblings. So freeing and sweet. Just another way that we eliminated until there was peace in our home, and the littles still learn so much through simple exploration and observation. Dress ups anyone?

Above all, these early years are a time to allow these littles ones to grow, explore, play, and just be a little child.

If you need more proof as the benefits of delaying formal education, please check out Raymond Moore’s studies, Better Late than Early and materials by Charlotte Mason. As to the benefits of reading aloud, you can’t miss The Read Aloud Handbook and the wonderful resources and podcast put out by The Read Aloud Revival (I don’t use the membership, but the reading lists and podcast are fabulous and free). 

To return to part 1 and the index for this series, visit here.

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Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life: Part 1

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A reader asked: I have a 5.5, 4, and 9 month old and we are beginning to homeschool this fall. I am really nervous. I was wondering if you would consider doing a blog post about your daily rhythms with schooling and having various aged kids. My 5.5 year old is just starting kindergarten, so I know it’s not going to be “that big” of a deal…nevertheless, in my years as a stay at home mom, I have come to covet my alone time and chore routines and I am anxious, knowing that I will have to sacrifice some of that. Specifically, how do you get chores done? When do you prepare food? How do you entertain the other kids? How do you keep kids from being bored at home?

First of all, be anxious for nothing, dear sister. The Lord gives peace. He is the Giver of all Wisdom. When in doubt, He is the Giver of peace. When you have too many choices before you, seek His face. When you don’t know how you will handle it all, simply knock and ask for His grace to know what you should do. Seeking the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and direction day by day is my main help and companion for my homeschool journey. He’s got the best homeschool advice. Pray through your daily schedule – pray through each planned encounter with your children.  This work is hard. It is more than we can do on our own strength.

The beauty of homeschooling is that you have the freedom to adjust and flex to your own family’s needs. You don’t have to look like a public school. Your kids don’t have to be doing formal lesson six or more hours a day. It’s okay to stick with the basics (the 3R’s as they are often called) during busy seasons of newborns, starting a business, or moving. I’ve done it. It’s really freeing to just let go of the pressure and snuggle up to read aloud while nursing. Give yourself grace…because God has poured it out in abundance for us to embrace. You have many years ahead. You don’t have to cram in all the subjects, every single year.

If you can see learning as a lifestyle, rather than restricted to certain “scheduled” school hours, you will be able to witness learning happening as siblings work through squabbles, do basic chores, visit with a neighbor, explores in the yard/garden, or looks at a picture book.

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As Durenda Wilson, in The Unhurried Homeschooler, says, “There have been seasons when I wondered, ‘What am I really teaching them?’ At the time it seemed like all we did was make meals, change diapers, and try to keep the house from falling apart. But somewhere in those moments of working alongside each other and just being together, they learned. They learned about life and love, honor and respect, hard work and play.”\

Must of the struggles I have experienced while homeschooling come when I am listening to too many outside voices, too many wonderful podcasts, books, or homeschooling friends. Sometimes you just need to pull back and sit at the feet of the Savior.

You don’t have to fit your homeschool into a box, a prescriptive curriculum, or educational philosophy. Each of your children is a unique person with a different learning style. If I see them as a unique and beautiful child of God with a specific calling for their lives, I will treasure the journey and not checking off the boxes. But give yourself time to find your groove. Most of my homeschool friends, including myself, testify that it has taken three or four years to figure out what works best for their family. That’s okay. You don’t have to figure it all out at once.

With that in mind, how do we get things done over here? Homeschooling does take a bit of organization and planning to keep life running smoothly, but you will still have grace for those days that will come when you need to put the books aside and take a nature walk instead. Eliminate until there is peace in your home. If there is no peace, there is no learning going to be happening either.

IMG_0530I do believe it is good to have a few books on hand that offer encouragement and perspective now and again throughout this homeschooling journey. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of any or all of these books, as you will reference them again and again. I re-read at least one of these each summer before a new school year. Highly recommended. They are all nice and short too, so very manageable to read through. Everything I have to say comes from these lovely ladies. :)

Teaching From Rest – Sarah MacKenzie

The Unhurried Homeschooler – Durenda Wilson

For the Children’s Sake – Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit – Teri Maxwell

 “God doesn’t call us to this work and then turn away to tend to other, more important matters. He promises to stay with us, to lead us, to carry us…What that means on a practical level is that we have to stop fretting over every little detail. We need to stop comparing. We’ve got to drop the self-inflated view that we are the be-all and end-all of whether the education we are offering our children is going to be as successful as we hope it is. After all, our job is not to be successful – success itself is entirely beside the point. It’s faithfulness that He wants. God is good! He isn’t going to let us pour out our hearts for our children only to be left choking on the dust of our mistakes.” – Sarah MacKenzie, Teaching from Rest

I’m breaking my response to this question into a mini series:

Keeping Kindergarten/Early Years Simple (Part 2)
Quiet Time for Mommy Is A Good Thing (Part 3)
Our Homeschool Routine: 4 Daily Blocks (Part 4)
Getting Chores Done – Train Your Kids as Young as Possible (Part 5)
Keeping Littles Busy: My Three Favorites: Include them, Pack n play, & Workbooks

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Homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice-Cream (Sugar free!)

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One of my favorite family fun activities every summer is making homemade ice cream! I absolutely love my Cuisinart ice cream maker for its functionality and simplicity. Its a wonderful investment for blessing your family with yummy healthy treats. Keep an eye on the price…it fluctuates all the time. Homemade ice cream is a breeze to make and yummy! You can use various milk options due to your preferences, and can adapt your sweeteners as well. I use almond milk and xylitol because it is sugar free and on the Trim Healthy Mama plan that I follow loosely. It doesn’t spike your blood sugar, and easily adapts to all recipes because it is a 1:1 ratio, so its a great option if you want to go a bit more healthy. :) This recipe is considered low-carb on the THM plan (if you use sugar free chocolate chips). I prepared this mint chocolate chip recipe for my husband as his request for our Father’s Day dessert. We were all delighted with the results! It was fabulous!

Ingredients:

3 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or milk option of your choice)
1 cup xylitol (or sweetener of your choice – white sugar, rapadura, honey, etc – I buy xylitol through Azure Standard, but it is also available through Amazon)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 cup chocolate chips (I used Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chunks, but Lily’s chocolate chips are a true sugar free option for the purist)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients, except chocolate chips, together in a blender. Pour into your ice cream maker and allow to combine according to manufacturer recommendations (I do 30-45 minutes). Add chocolate chips in the final 10 minutes. Transfer to a freezer container and place in freezer till firm. Enjoy!

Check out our recipe index for more ice cream recipes!

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