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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.

Comments { 18 }

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
Quiet Time for Mommy Is A Good Thing
Getting Chores Done – Train Your Kids as Young as Possible
Daily Homeschool Rhythms: Our Three Blocks – Independent Work, Circle Time, Tutor Time
Keeping Littles Busy: My Three Favorites: Include them, Pack n play, & Workbooks

Comments { 20 }

Reflections from Our Homeschool Year

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We finished up our school year this week! What a joy it was to celebrate our final day of school with a Medieval feast. We have made a tradition of the last day of school being a celebratory feast where we make dinner loosely themed according to the historic time period we studied for the year. Its become a favorite annual memory. So in celebrating a fun year of studying the Middle Ages, we had a feast of roast chicken, eggs, salad, medieval gingerbread and pudding on trenchers (stale bread that they used as plates) with spoons and our fingers and goblets of grape juice/wine with daddy and mommy serving as the Lord and Lady of our castle! We took the opportunity to speak words of affirmation to the kids specifically addressing the progress we have seen in their lives and hearts this past school year, and then we toasted to their graduation into the next grade.

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We also visited a local elderly care facility with some fellow homeschool friends and shared various poems and verses the children memorized, along with instrumental pieces they had learned this past year. It was really sweet to love on the elderly while giving the kids a fun means of presenting their hard work in a more formal and yet less intimidating atmosphere. And of course, the elderly just loved interacting with the kids. I hope to make this a regular event – a great way to combine ministry with teaching the kids to speak/present before others.

IMG_3603 As we finished up the school year, I’ve been reflecting upon the struggles and successes of this past year,  our fourth year of homeschooling. I’m so thankful for God’s grace in giving us a fruitful and enjoyable year. It’s so easy to forget all the good because they often get drowned by the difficulties.

Our daily morning circle time, a short time set aside each morning for all of us to sit down together to pray, read living books together, and memorize beautiful things, was a delightful time. We’ve used this format for a few years now (see Cindy Rollins, Teaching from Rest by Sarah MacKenzie or Your Morning Basket podcast for more details). We were inspired by living books of characters from the Middle Ages. Our eyes were open to the needs of the world, by praying through 40 Days, 40 Bites: A Family Guide to Pray for the World. We were blessed to learn rich theology about God and the world through the beautiful resource, The Ology: Ancient Truths Made New by Marty Machowski. We loved learning character qualities in poems, songs, and stories through the excellent free resources at Character First Education.

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We adopted a weekly poetry tea time into our weekly routine. My kids fell in love with poetry and tea. A fabulous combination. (It all started with listening to this podcast of Julie Bogart on Read Aloud Revival). It was a fun opportunity for my daughter to practice her enthusiasm for decorating. Studying a famous selection of art work pared nicely with our poetry time as well.

We were amazed by the life of artist, Michelangelo, and his unique fascination of the human body, in his towering sculptures of David and Moses. We used the beautiful Art Portfolios by Simply Charlotte Mason. We read about and listened to classical composers, Brahms and Schubert (with the wonderful Opal Wheeler biographies).

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We established a good morning routine where personal devotions, chores, and independent school work (math and handwriting) had to be completed before 9:00am for a little prize (amazing how they can work when you reward them with a jelly bean!), and it became such a great habit and routine. We’re maintaining this rhythm year round because it has worked so well.

I am so thankful for the ability to educate our children at home, and that the Lord is always faithful to lead and guide us, even when I feel completely helpless and clueless how to train and disciple them, or how to best meet their needs and various learning styles. He is always near to hear my prayers. And all these successes are simply his merciful answers to those prayers. Homeschooling is truly delightful when I focus on all these sweet memories made together, seeing my children learn to read, hearing their thoughtful comments, and knowing that I get the privilege of learning all of this right at their side.

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I had many tearful days, struggling with one child’s ongoing battle with maintaining a joyful heart in school and chores and prayerfully laying this child before the Lord day in and day out, pleading that the Lord would change both our hearts and give wisdom and grace. There were many frustrating moments of repeatedly reminding of another child to stay focused and be attentive and diligent in their work, and encouraging the other to practice self-control when they are tempted to freak out at the first sign of difficulty or messiness. We have seen great progress in these areas, and God has been mercifully guiding me in ways only He can. I battled against many lies from the enemy that I wasn’t doing enough, that I can’t do this anymore, that so and so’s kids are so much smarter than mine, and on and on. The enemy is a deceiver, and we have to be active in speaking truth to counter his lies. He only wants to make me loose my joy and fruitfulness in the traps of comparison and feelings of failure.

A few lessons I’ve been learning this year:

1. Eliminate Until There is Peace

You can have a whole list of great books, activities, and amazing outings planned, but if there is no peace, there is no joy, and no lasting learning will take place. Nancy Kelly’s simply challenge to “keep cutting back until there is peace in your home” (quoted in this fabulous article), struck a cord in my heart that I won’t soon forget. I am an over zealous homeschool planner, so I love to pick the best from multiple different curriculums and make a HUGE book list and lengthy homeschool plan. I want my kids to experience all the best options, right?! But our schedule became a little over packed and over scheduled pretty fast. We had to let go of my unrealistic expectations. Less is more. (Another fabulous resource along these lines is Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching from Rest – I’ve read it three times already!).

2. Stay Closer to Home

One of the things that was causing unrest in our home was an over scheduling of outside the home extra-curricular activities. I discovered through trial and error, that having to pack up the kids for activities (wonderful educational opportunities, no less!) is super stressful for me in this season of life. It feeds my temptation to burst out in frustration at my kids for the time and effort required, and thus damaging relationships. I also noticed a growing discontentment in the hearts of my children after all these fun activities (feeding expectations for more?). How could I guard against this?

I had to make a deliberate choice to stay closer to home for our well-being and to practice cultivating contentment. We set aside Fridays each week for the necessary grocery shopping trip (twice a month), and a monthly field trip and a monthly service opportunity (visiting elderly neighbors, serving a family in our church, etc), which sometimes fell on a different day of the week and we adjusted accordingly. There is real beauty and rest in just staying close to home. It fosters peace, consistent routines, and contentment.

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3. Pick Something and Stick With It

It’s so easy to pick one curriculum and then throw it out at the first sign of difficulty. But there is sweet reward when we persevere through the challenges and stay committed for the long haul. I am so guilty of this. I have used four different phonics curriculums, two different spelling programs, and four different math programs in the last four years! I’ve wasted a lot of money before the light bulb finally came on. So thankful for my patient husband. There is no perfect curriculum. Nothing out there is going to be perfectly fun and engaging all the time. I learned that it was time to make prayerful choices and determine to stick with it. There is grace to make changes, but there came a point for me personally that I needed to make a decision and be faithful and persevere. My kids need to learn this mutually. It is so good for our faith and character development.

It’s more important to remember that you can adapt the curriculum to your family’s needs, but its not necessary to throw it out altogether. You don’t have to be a curriculum slave either, thank goodness. It felt so good to see my daughter complete the All About Reading phonics curriculum this year. The fruit of making that necessary commitment. These thoughts have been instrumental in leading us to make the decision of using Heart of Dakota this upcoming school year, adapting to our needs, but then sticking with it for the long haul, Lord willing! I’m honestly really excited and at peace, not to mention all the time I’ve just freed up from piecing together my own perfect curriculum. ;)

It’s been a good year! Do you homeschool? What lessons have you gleaned this year?

Comments { 29 }

Fun Educational Gift Ideas for Little Ones

My goal this year was to focus on simple educational resources for my little ones that would be fun, could be enjoyed together or independently, and would help stimulate their brains and critical thinking skills. We have more than enough toys in our house and find they get old very easily. I grow tired of the clutter of toys anyway, so even with gifts from the grandparents, we ask for family memberships to a local museum that could be enjoyed again and again, or gift certificates to local children’s plays or musical performances. These are some of the best gifts that I have discovered that really build the thinking skills but are tons of fun at the same time, most appropriate for 2-6 years of age (although many are suitable for older children as well)!

LOGIC / BUILDING TOYS

Day and Night - this is a great little smart games toy perfect for 3-5 year olds in which you try to copy the picture by using the included blocks in a stacking pattern on the stand included. It has two different levels so can easily extend its use as your child gets older. I got this for my 3 year old son this year for his quiet time learning bins time.

Camelot Jr - another logic puzzle similar to Day and Night in which you build different road patterns to join the knight and the princess together but more advanced for ages 4 and older. Both are appropriate for boys and girls!

Wedgits - We bought these blocks for our learning bin time and the kids have had a blast creatively nesting, stacking, and linking these blocks together! This 30 piece set has a wealth of different creations you can make! Tons of fun! You can also get Wee Wedgits which are suitable for 12 months or older.

PUZZLES

You can’t go wrong with a good collection of puzzles! We enjoy the huge collection of Melissa & Doug wooden puzzles with 12 to 24 piece collections. While recently studying the solar system, we bought the Solar System floor puzzle and had hours of fun and learning time building it together. The GeoPuzzle collection (pictured above) is a wonderful resource for teaching geography and have fun assembling these continent puzzles at the same time.

GAMES

Candyland and Chutes and Ladders are fun but not very stimulating in my opinion. Here are some really fun games that are educational as well!

Spot It! - my kids loves this simple game in which you have to find the matching items between each card. There are many different variations to this game, but its fun to know that every two cards have some similar item to spot. Once you find it, you yell, “Spot It!” My daughter is actually quite superior at this game then myself.

Hiss – this is a new game to our collection this year! As the description states, as each Hisss snake slithers its way across the playing area it introduces color identification and visual logic: Does it make sense to have a snake with two tails and no head? Are those two colors the same or not? Even elementary counting skills come into play during scoring at the end of the game.

My First Uno – a fun stocking stuffer! Learn color and number identification with this fun and simplified version of Uno for ages 3 and up.

Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks Game - another fun stocking stuffer game for your little guy that reinforces numbers and counting with a favorite book theme that we all love! Classic Memory Game – you can’t go wrong with the fun game of Memory in this classic and beautiful edition. Eeboo makes multiple different memory games that are all colorful and of high quality. My 3 and 5 year olds both love this game and I have been amazed at how well my little guy does at it!

Richard Scarry’s Busytown - Before we take our annual vacation every year, our tradition is to buy a new board game that we can enjoy together on the trip. This year we picked up this Busytown game (because we love the book!), and had a blast using the magnifying glasses to find all the items hidden throughout the town. Great teamwork, matching, and object identification game!

Zoologic - An addictive game of deduction and logic. Players fill in the grid with the animals and food tiles, while avoiding chaos. Can be played together or independently.

Brain Quest - these learning card stacks are a favorite at our house! I love cuddling up with my little ones and looking at the pictures and answering the questions of each set in this collection that teaches essential learning skills advances with their age. I’ve been using the My First Brain Quest & Brain Quest for Threes as part of our preschool one on one time with my 3 year old son and the Kindergarten set with my daughter. Great stocking stuffer!

For other ideas, check out our Tools Instead of Toys post for a collection of wonderful real life tools and resources to invest in for your children’s development and education.

This post includes affiliate links to products that we use and love. Know that we do receive a small percentage of each sale made through these links. Thanks for supporting this site and our family ministry!

Comments { 16 }

Quiet Time Learning Bins for Little Ones

I have recently been trying to get a bit more organized in two areas:

1. Keeping my toddler engaged while I work homeschooling my Kindergarten daughter and vis versa.

2. Maintaining a peaceful nap period every afternoon.

I wanted some fun educational resources for my little ones to be able to work at independently while I rotated between working with each of them one on one. We also have a daily rest period after lunch when everyone goes to their special place (in their bedroom or elsewhere) for a quiet time or nap time according to their age. This is a time for us all to refresh ourselves with rest or quiet independent play. I find it essential for this mommy to have this period during our day to revitalize myself for the rest of the day. It allows me time to write, read, nap if necessary, and do a few clean up tasks here and there.

How do I keep everyone engaged but quiet during these periods?

I heard about the idea of quiet time bins in years past, so I knew it was about time to get creative and make something of it for our home. This one simple idea is a great solution for both my dilemmas mentioned above.

We compiled 5 individuals boxes for each child with 5 different activities for 5 days of the week.

I found these simple plastic organization shoe box bins at my local Dollar Store.

In each box, I picked out various age appropriate activities. I wanted educational, logic building, hands on, creativity inspiring activities, so we chose the following:

Toddler/Preschooler (2-4 years):
Beginner Puzzles (I found some cheap box puzzles at Dollar Store that I put in small ziploc bags)
Playdough (a few cans of playdough with cookie cutters -again, playdough is from Dollar Store – 4 colors for $1) – this is just an activity we use during school time because of the mess involved
Wedgits
Day & Night Logic Game
Pattern Blocks & Boards

Other ideas: Kumon First Step Workbooks (w/beginner scissors) – we have used and enjoyed these books in the past! Another favorite is My Book of Easy Mazes for this age group.

Kindergarten (5-7 years):
Sewing Cards
Magnetic Dolls Dress Up
Advanced puzzles (Stored in small ziploc bags and cut out small image of completed puzzle from original box)
Zoologic
Never Bored Kids Book or Kumon Cutting Workbook (with scissors, glue and other supplies)

We labeled each box according to the day of the week for its use. This allows the activities to be rotated and continue to be fresh with each week. Each day, I work for a 30 minute period with my toddler and my daughter plays with one of her boxes or works on independent school work. During rest time, if my toddler doesn’t sleep, as happens occasionally, I will also allow him to pull out a box. My daughter listens to books on tape and may occasionally play with her daily activity box during rest period as well. I have found it works the best keeping one busy at the counter while I spend some quality time with the other.

This is just a simple tool to keep everyone busy and engaged and your home running smoothly during these periods of your day.

For other ideas, check out these posts:

Quiet Time Bins – Keeper of the Home

How to Make Quiet Time Activity Bins – Nice Girl Notes

Quiet Time Bins – Holistic Homemaker

This post includes affiliate links to product recommendations that we use and love. Please note we do receive a small percentage of each purchase made through our links that help to support this site. 

Comments { 30 }

Juggling Homeschooling with Littles and Life

We have completed our first month in our new homeschooling routine at our house and my plan has certainly seen some adjustments. I never imagined the challenges of juggling time with each child in addition to feeding, changing diapers, and keeping the little ones happy. I didn’t think morning nap periods for my infant would change so drastically within a month period. There have been moments when I have been ready to throw in the towel when a child is inattentive, experiencing frustration, or not desirous to do anything. Balancing discipline and encouragement is a challenge. I imagined it all would just be so beautiful. I might just finally get everyone quiet and seated next to me on the couch to do the next period of school only to have baby start screaming through the monitor. How do you keep everything running peacefully and still keep the house in order?

At the same time, learning alongside my children has brought the greatest joy to my soul. As I sit and guide my daughter into the world of reading, my heart rejoices that I get to take her on this journey. To watch as they delight in science experiments and drawing projects, my heart rejoices that I am privileged to take responsibility of their education. Each sweet moment as we cuddle on the couch, I rejoice because they are with me. I get to speak hourly into their life. We get to clean our house together, prepare meals side by side, and learn life skills every moment as education becomes a lifestyle rather than a program. To know that I get to speak the love of Christ into their little souls and guide them, Lord willing, to a Christ centered worldview, I feel honored.

I have searched homeschooling forums and asked many a homeschooling mom how she does it all, because although I might be a homeschooling graduate, I have no idea how my own mom did it with three little ones, let alone managing the eight of us that she had.

It takes a godly determination to do this thing. I have to keep my vision and purpose in the forefront of my mind. Why am I doing this homeschooling thing again? (To learn more about why we have chosen to homeschool, visit here.)

1. Pick your priorities and do them first thing.

The most important things in my book are math and phonics. These are also the more difficult subjects and easy for little ones to get distracted. Do these things first thing in the schedule when the students are freshest.

2. Rotate fun and harder subjects.

To keep things fresh and fun, rotate between the subjects your kids love and the ones that are more challenging. In this way, we do math and phonics, then circle time (fun period), and then workbooks (a mix of fun and challenging).

3. You don’t have to do everything EVERY day.

The greatest encouragement I found was in this simple truth: you don’t have to do every subject every day! Since math and phonics are the priority this first year, we do these subjects each day. But history and science I was trying to do every day too which was driving me crazy to get it all done while still keeping them happy in their learning. So, I scratched that. I decided to do two days of science and two days of history, and then leave Friday open for art projects, music, and science experiments. A breath of fresh air.

4. Keep baby busy in the play pen.

I have found setting up a pack n play with lots of little exploratory toys is great for keeping babies busy during school periods. You might adjust to different stations as the baby gets bigger. Playdough station, coloring station, blocks station, etc. I remember keeping my 2 year old busy in this fashion last year. 15 minute time blocks at each station. Now, I often have my 3 year old play in the pack n play with baby while I work with big sister during the first hour if baby is not napping.

5. Keep the toddlers learning alongside big siblings.

As much as possible, I keep my toddler sitting alongside us during our circle time. This is great training ground for teaching him to sit still and learn together. I require him to sit for at least the initial 30 minutes then I release him to cruise around and play.

6. Take regular short breaks.

I have divided our schedule into 2 solid hour blocks. The first hour is math and phonics (for my 5 year old alone). The second hour is circle time, which includes Bible, Character, Memory work, History or Science, and Read Alouds. My 3 year old sits in on this period. Finally, during lunch preparations, I have both of my kids at the counter doing their workbooks while I prepare lunch (Karis is doing her math, criticial thinking, and copywork books, and Titus is doing a preschool workbook series -love the frugal simplicity of Rod & Staff books). But after each 30 minute to one hour period, I give the kids a thirty minute break to get out and play. This is when I do my housecleaning task for the day, clean up the dishes, do dinner prep, and care for baby as needed. So it adjusts daily, but I will often work for 30 minutes on math, then a 15 minute break, followed by 30 minutes of phonics and reading practice, then another short break.

So in this manner, I’ve simplified the schedule drastically. I want to keep the experience fun and the learning environment enjoyable. They are still little and we have many years ahead of us.

I need to learn to enjoy the journey and remember…learning is a lifestyle. They are learning as we do household chores together, as we prepare meals together in the kitchen, as we set the table and practice our manners at meal times. Education is not limited to the class room. There is grace to adjust and flex the routine as needed. And praise God other women have gone before me!

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Exodus Books Giveaway!

We are excited to bring to you a fun giveaway today from one of my favorite homeschool and Christian resource supply stores, Exodus Books, which is family owned small business located here Portland, Oregon. Exodus Books offers thousands of hand-picked literature and fiction titles and hundreds of life-enriching, God-centered resources. You will find family oriented games and art supplies in their wide selection.

Exodus Books offers a huge assortment of over 15,000 used curriculum and books, making it truly affordable for you to find the resources you need at a great price. I personally have used their large selection to buy the majority of books I have needed to companion our choice of the Sonlight curriculum, which has made it so much more doable for our family. All their new and used resources are also available for purchase online and they  offer a flat rate shipping of just $4.99.

I love browsing Exodus Books, online or in person, and greatly appreciate the helpful staff and the thorough online personal reviews offered on every resource in their store, helping me make informed decisions. Their website is new and improved making it easily navigable and user friendly. It’s back to school season, so may I encourage you to find your homeschool resources here! Save 15% today! See below for details.

Today, Exodus Books would like to offer a bundle prize of 5 great resources that feature different aspects of their store to 3 special winners! This bundle is valued at $92!

Cathy Duffy 100 Top PicksCathy Duffy has been reviewing home school curriculum for more than 20 years and her 100 Top Picks consolidates many of her favorites into one place. It provides a great starting point for those investigating educational philosophy and learning styles, helping you choose curriculum that is right for each child.

Honey for a Child’s HeartA helpful companion for finding the best quality literature for your family. This book discusses the importance of reading, various genres (science fiction, poetry, animal stories, etc.), and also includes extended book lists—over 1000 recommended titles! Many of these titles can be found through Exodus Books here.

Timechart History of the World
- Are you looking for a good timeline of world history? This book, with a nearly 16 foot fold out timeline is the best answer. On one side, the timeline offers 6,000 years of world history at a glance—thousands of dates, facts, and quotes in chronological sequence. On the other side, you can find charts of explorers, inventions, wars, and significant events of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Exodus offer it to accent their history resource section, where you can search for a given period (say, Ancient Rome) and then filter it by grade level and type of book: historical fiction, biographies, activity books and more.

Dutch BlitzThe first game Exodus started carrying remains their best seller. It’s an inexpensive and super fun card game from the Pennsylvania Amish–sort of a combination of Speed and Solitaire (but for up to four players). Not the only game they carry; there are nearly 300 board and card games in-stock!

Long Story ShortThis is a fabulous resource to help facilitate your own family worship and devotional time for children of all ages. It has a simple layout with specific passages of Scripture and discussion questions, making it adaptable for how much or how little time you have. It traces the story of God throughout the whole Old Testament, linking every story back to Christ. We love this guide!

TO ENTER:

1. Visit Exodus Books and check out their wide selection of resources. Find your favorite resource or feature on the site and share with us in the comments below. 

2. For a second optional entry, subscribe to the Exodus Books newsletter and let us know in a second comment below.

Exodus Books is offering our readers a special discount code towards your purchase. Enter coupon code: Passion2012 for 15% off a single order before August 15th, 2012. No minimum. The coupon cannot be applied to already discounted items or books that are non-discountable. The shopping cart with coupon code will display final prices and no adjustments can be made.

Like” Exodus Books on facebook and stay informed on the latest information and sales!

Giveaway Closed.

And the winners are…

1. Katie T (katrinafaust@….): “Wow, so many great resources. I am planning on reading the 100 Top Picks book and was also excited about the Doorposts character training materials on the site. Would LOVE to win all this as we prepare to homeschool in a year.”

2. Laura (laurachristinerodr…@): “I like the wide selection of Bible materials for the nursery school age!”

3. Heather H ( heatherehamm…@): “I love the wide range of homeschooling resources they offer – and the used book section (though I wish I could GO to the store…kind of far from Michigan :) . Love to hear about more homeschooling resources out there. Thanks for the giveaway!”

The gift bundle prize is open to US participants only. If a Canadian or other international participant wins, they will offer a $90 gift certificate equivalent. 

Winner will be randomly selected and contacted on the Wednesday following the completion of the giveaway. The end of this post will be updated to announce the winners. 
Email subscribers: You must click through to the original post on Passionate Homemaking to be entered into this giveaway.
No purchase necessary.

Passionate Homemaking was compensated for this review. There are affilate links in this post which means we will receive a small percentage of any sale made through our links. We only recommend products we use and love and want to pass on to you! Thank you!

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Summer Reading at Our Home

One of my goals this summer was and is to simply take more time in my day to just simply read. To cut back on all the outside activities we could participate in and spend a lot of quality and personal time reading books. We’ve been cutting back on many things lately amidst the challenges of launching a business, so we can have more intentional family time together. Thus my absence from the blog recently (which will continue through the remainder of the summer). I love cuddling up during our daily rest time routine and read a quality novel or inspirational book. My goal…1 hour per day for my own personal reading and 1 hour with the kiddos reading classic chapter books. Bring it on!

Here’s our list:

Chapter Books With the Kiddos

Here’s A Penny & Penny and Peter by Carolyn Haywood

The Ralph Mouse Collection (The Mouse & The Motorcycle, Runaway Ralph & Ralph S. Mouse) by Beverly Cleary

My Personal List:

Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – This is an amazing classic and story of redemption that was simply fabulous. I want to keep a good mix of old and new books on my list to stretch my mind at all times. It has been my favorite classic yet!

Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge – We are all creative and we need to start living like we are. We each have unique gifts entrusted to our care. This ebook is a short and quick read that will get you motivated to create beauty in your sphere for your Creator.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers – a retelling of the story of Hosea in California gold rush days, communicating the powerful love of God. Never read anything of Rivers so I am intrigued to read this one.

Knowing God by J. I. Packer – a rich theological book that beautifully describes the nature and attributes of God. Reading together with my hubby before bedtime and my heart is being renewed and strengthened while being enraptured into the splendor of our Creator.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser – Do you want to learn to write well? Well, I do. Thus this book is on my list. I want to take more consistent steps towards growing and improving my writing skills. Always learning, always writing…that’s my goal.

Shaping of A Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot – This book gives you a close up look into the way that Elisabeth Elliot was raised and how her parents took faithful and intentional steps towards raising their children to be godly and intelligent adults who desire to serve the Lord. Simple, Biblical wisdom.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty – Loved this novel! I am always cautious when it comes to novels as they can be quite intoxicating and ultimately time-wasting if I get caught up in them at the sacrifice of my other priorities, but the occasional novel can be very refreshing break. What Alice Forgot tells the story of how Alice falls and forgets ten years of her life and was a fresh reminder to me of the preciousness of life. I have been inspired again to be intentional, to appreciate my husband, and to treasure the fact that the Lord has given me three special gifts of life in my children.

True Woman 101: Divine Design by Nancy Leigh Demoss & Mary Kassian – so far this Bible study has been A+! My mind is being challenged to truly know and hold fast to God’s beautiful design for me as a women. His design is at the core of the work of redemption because it is designed to image the glorious relationship of Christ to His church. I’m posting the audio for our discussion here on the blog each week.

Anything: The Prayer that Unlocked My God and My Soul by Jennie Allen -thanks to Simple Mom‘s recommendation of this one, I was excited to pick up a book that would continue to challenge me to live intentionally for the Lord whatever the cost. We need these reminders on a regular basis in our culture when it is so easy to become consumed in ourself and our material accumulation.

That’s all for now! Can she read them all before the end of August? Well…I admit I did have a head start.

What’s on your summer reading list? Any good recommendations you want to offer?

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Homemade Summer Fun with Children

Guest post by Jaimi Erickson at The Stay-at-Home-Mom Survival Guide

Playing outdoors is one way for my children to explore God in their lives. Children in concrete stages of development love to explore by doing and outdoor time allows for so much exploration and learning. My children are ‘outdoor kids’, large motor machines. They need to get outside in order to keep their spirits in balance-I need that too. Thankfully summer provides a multitude of outdoor time for fun-and learning.

Having a 4-year old and a 15-month old allows me to bridge activities for two different skill levels, but two always-eager participants in any homemade ‘game’!  Some summer climates limit how many hours can be spent outside in a day. When we experience temps reaching 100+degrees, or afternoon downpours, we need to adapt our outdoor plan to work inside. This list of activities can be taken outdoors, but will work inside as well.  These are quick to create, low-to-no-cost (my mantra), and although are written with a preschooler in mind, I have noted how they can be adapted for younger ones.

1. Homemade Hopscotch Fun

On a rainy day, I used duct tape to create a hopscotch pattern on the back of a yoga mat. In about 10 minutes we had a new game to play that allowed us to burn some energy! We used homemade bean bags to toss. This game reinforced number recognition, exercised eye-hand coordination, and allowed for some gross motor movement to burn energy and work on balance.

[Adaptation:  I encouraged my toddler to step on the numbers and then I named them, or she tossed a beanbag and I identified on which number the bag landed.]

2. Homemade Bean Bags and Games

I made bean bags with scrap fabric, dry beans, and some quick stitches on the sewing machine.  They provided so much indoor (or outdoor) fun. We played “Simon Says”. (i.e. “Simon Says” put the bean bag on your head.”) We sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and placed the bean bag on each part.  We tossed them into a laundry basket from different distances (marked by masking tape on the floor). We each took turns hiding one bag in order to let each other seek it out. We worked on teamwork, large motor movement and vocabulary.

[Adaptation: I made bean bags in primary colors, so they could be used for color recognition. My young toddler LOVES learning to identify new body parts, so I placed the bean bag on her head, shoulder, arm, etc. while I said the name of each part to help reinforce this learning.]

3. Drop Cloth Painting Canvas

My children love art and creating artwork to send to the grandparents, so I am always looking for new materials to explore within our budget. I found an inexpensive drop cloth and cut it in quarters. This can be pinned to a wall, lightly nailed or clamped to a fence outdoors, or taped to a window inside to allow for a large painting surface. (I wanted to do this outside, but it rained so we improvised indoors!) Increasing the surface area where they could paint, and pinning the canvas up, involved more gross motor movement and added interest.

[Adaptation: My toddler painted on the lower half while my preschooler painted near the top so they were separate by working together.]

4. Packing Peanut Snow

We live in a hot climate in the southeast. Recently our electricity was out for 48 hours during high temperatures. We needed to do anything to feel cooler. Foam packing peanuts as pretend snow were a hit in our home! My daughter and son enjoyed scooping them, piling them up, and making snow angels while laying in them on the dining room rug. What a great pretend play scenario on a hot day-play like it is cold! Just ‘thinking cold’ and ‘playing in the snow’ of the packing peanuts helped ease our cabin fever. We dropped them from above our heads and tried to catch the ‘snow flakes’ as they fell. They can even be thrown and caught allowing for more muscle movement and exercise.

All of the activities I create are based on observations of my children combined with what they need to learn as they grow to be godly individuals. There are so many ways we can add interest to our time in God’s creation outdoors-or spend our time together while playing inside depending on what the weather will allow. My first ministry mission is to my family. My children want my attention more than anything.  When I combine teaching skills with activities that feed their interests in an intentional way, we have fun whether during a rainy ‘indoor day’ or an outside day in the sun.

Jaimi Erickson is a woman living in service to God’s mission. She ministers daily to her husband and two children as a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. She formerly served as a teacher in the Early Childhood field.  Jaimi shares motivation for stay-at-home-moms, household tips, and developmentally appropriate make-at-home activities for infants and up on her blog The Stay-At-Home-Mom Survival Guide.

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Tucking Them in With Truth: Scripture Memory with Little Ones

My desire is that my children would come to love and uphold the truth of Scripture in their precious hearts from their infancy. My prayer is that we might plant seeds of the gospel in their tender souls so they would desire to walk closely with Christ. I want to be able to memorize Scripture together with my children – combining storing truth in my heart and in their hearts at the same time. But how can this be done in a doable simple manner?

I was recently reading, Shaping of A Christian Family, by Elisabeth Elliot, and was inspired by her mother’s writing in the introduction with this simple challenge:

“I found that simply repeating Psalms 23 each night to Jim after he was tucked in bed was a painless way of implanting this beautiful song of David in his heart and mind. Winthin a week he was beginning to say it with me, and it was part of the going-to-bed ritual. As he mastered Psalms 23, we added other Scripture.

In teaching young children, it is well to remember the words in Isaiah 28:10, ‘For precept must be upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little.‘ It is thus our patient God has dealt with us; and so we must deal with our little ones, repeating often the Word of God so that it will be hidden in their hearts so they will ‘not sin against God’.”

Scripture memory doesn’t have to be complex and overwhelming. It simply requires repetition. I think the key here for me was the idea of simply adding it to one of our other regular routines – bedtime! We already have a regular bedtime routine established which helps settle the little ones down for the night in a peaceful manner. Why not follow the challenge to just read an adopted portion of Scripture for memory work during this time?

In this past month, we started our bedtime routine with reading a passage of Scripture, followed by a bedtime story, before tucking them in with a goodnight prayer. We began with Psalms 23 as Elliot’s mother had suggested. We read it multiple times a week for a two week period. It took maybe 5 minutes of time. We all just listened as I read it twice. In just two weeks, I was blown away at how both my 5 and 3 year old had memorized it completely.

I knew my 5 year old could do it as we have memorized a fair amount before…but hadn’t tested my 3 year old son. I finally randomly asked him if he wanted to share it. With great speed and fluency (even more solidly presented than his older sister), my little guy recited all six verses in rapid time. It was such an encouragement to my soul. These precious souls are listening. Their hearts and minds are ready to be filled with truth and they can memorize more than we can imagine. Since completing Psalms 23, we have memorized The Lord’s Prayer as well as Psalms 1 through this simple habit of reading a chosen portion of Scripture before bed.

Titus would like to share with you Psalms 23…May you be blessed today and encouraged that it is possible to  hide God’s Word in your hearts as a family and in this way prepare your hearts to continue following hard after Him. I share this as an encouragement to all of us that God will reward your faithfulness!

If you can’t view the video, click here.

{Photo Credit}

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