We live in the same town I grew up in, and my parents still live here. There are definite pluses to that: free babysitting, a close family, and never really “missing” my mom or dad. On the other hand, though, because we’re all so close (us, my mom and stepdad, and my dad all live in the same town; my brother is a half hour away; the in laws are a half an hour the other direction), we’ve never really had the opportunity to develop Christmas traditions for our own family. Since we’ve been parents for ten years now, we thought it was time.
(Our traditions thus far have involved “going to Grandpa’s [my dad] house on Christmas Eve, going to Grandma’s [my mom and stepdad] house on Christmas morning, and going to Grandma and Grandpa’s [my in-laws] on Christmas afternoon. Talk about exhausting!)
I mentioned once before that we explained the Santa Claus myth to our kids last year. They took it well, and we don’t regret for one second stopping the perpetuation of that particular tradition. We told the kids the true story of Saint Nicholas of Turkey, and based on his tale, we bought new “stockings” for everyone. Instead of visiting the Christmas section of the store, we visited the clothing department and bought real socks, just like those that Saint Nicholas would have stashed the money inside to help the poor people of his village. I then embroidered each of our names on one stocking. Because they’re real socks, we purchased them in pairs (obviously), so I’ve stashed away the sixth one if/when we have another baby.
Hubby and I each read the book The Zero Waste Home over the summer, and while we aren’t able to implement all of her tips based on the shopping options near us, the one that stuck with us the most was the zero waste, and yet “real,” Christmas tree. We had a real tree once when we were first married, and it was a disaster! It was so hard to cut the trunk straight enough to get into the stand that we just bought an artificial tree the next year. The author of the book had a solution that was the best of both worlds (a living tree, but easy and waste-free): a real tree in a pot. Bring it inside during the Advent season, and when once Epiphany comes around (traditionally the day the wise men visited Jesus), undecorate the tree and put it outside. The tree continues to grow in its pot all year long, but it’s not inside the whole year. We absolutely loved the idea! So this year, we’ve left our artificial tree in the garage and we purchased a potted Christmas tree (photo above, at the top of the post). We also decided that we wanted to go with a simpler, more natural look as far as decorations go this year. To accomplish that, we bought one bag of cinnamon-scented pinecones (do they have those where you live? You should totally get some if they do. They’re heavenly!) and I tied hemp cording that I found in the jewelry making section of JoAnn’s to each one for hanging. We wanted to buy some wooden discs to decorate for the ornaments, but after searching two craft stores, Amazon, and Home Depot, we couldn’t find exactly what we were looking for, so we made our own. The kids found a branch outside that had fallen from one of our many pine trees, and we took it across the street to our neighbor. She used her table saw to slice it up for us, and then she and Seahawk drilled a hole in each one. I tied hemp cord through each of those as well, and voila! Exactly what we wanted. Even though we’d originally planned to decorate the wood discs, once we got our branch sliced up, we found that it was beautiful all on its own, so we forwent that step. Add a string of white lights and a dozen candy canes, and that’s our tree. And we love it!
Earlier this week, my dad brought the kids a gingerbread house to build and decorate. They loved that project! I had fun decorating it with them, too. I’m thinking next year, we’ll try doing it completely homemade, though. There’s nothing I love more than making something most people just buy. I did the icing and the kids did the decorating. I’m especially proud of the icicles hanging from the roof!
One last thing on our new traditions. Gifts. We rebelled hard against consumerism last year and didn’t buy gifts at all for ourselves or our kids. Don’t think us complete Scrooges, though; we gifted our kids with “experiences.” We took them roller skating and to the zoo at different points during the year as their Christmas presents. This year, we’re trying to walk the line between getting the kids “nothing” and going absolutely crazy – like the grandparents are likely to do. I first brought up to hubby the idea of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh gifts that Jamie from The Unlikely Homeschool does. We tossed ideas around for a couple of weeks, and were getting a few good ones for each category (Gold is something desired, i.e. the “big toy” the kids want; Frankincense is something for everyone to share; and Myrrh is something of spiritual value), but then hubby found this little poem that he liked even better for simple gift giving:
(I don’t know from what website he found the poem, so if you do, please let me know so I can link back and give credit where credit is due.)
So that’s what we’re doing for each boy. Most of the things are chosen, but not all are made/bought, but we’ll be ready by Christmas.
What are some of your Christmas traditions?
Welcome to my first official review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew! I was given a yearly membership option to SchoolhouseTeachers.com in order to write a review on the site. I can sum up my feelings about the site in one word: amazing. But that’s not a review, so let me go over some of the many wonderful things you’ll find there.
I’ve spent most of my time in the “Pre-K/Elementary” tab, simply because that’s how old my kids are. There’s so much information there that so far I’ve barely been able to scratch the surface. Take a look at all the topics:
We’ve already used the French lessons. I’ve really loved having a lesson plan. I know the basics of the language, but not necessarily how to teach it. The printouts (for teaching the lesson and worksheets for the kids) are wonderful. We’ve done the first two lessons so far: the French alphabet and accent marks. Some of the things in the later lessons (counting, primarily) are things I’ve already taught them, so we’ll breeze through those more quickly than we have thus far. I just love knowing that they’re getting the foundation they need for the language.
The Science tab is also pretty cool. There are YouTube videos from Jason Lindsey explaining some of the basics of why things are (or happen) the way they are (or do). There’s a new video up each week, and they’re designed to be hands-on experiments that you can do with your kids with things you have around the house. This week’s video answers “why do cranberries pop when you boil them?”
For the parent who wants to homeschool but is completely unsure where to begin, SchoolhouseTeachers.com has a “Dailies” tab that will give you a straight up, daily lesson in each subject. No (well, very little) planning needed. Just go to the site and print. Easy.
There are topics in the “dailies” category ranging from copywork (which Munchkin is working on right behind me as I type this post) and math to spelling, art, and even tests if you want to go that route with your kiddos.
I think my favorite thing (that I’ve found so far) on the site is the planners that are included absolutely free with your paid membership. There are 5 of them, and you can download, modify, and print them to fit your teaching style/homeschool situation. There’s the basic planner for moms; a planner for parents of special needs kids; and student planners for elementary, middle, and high school kids. All I’ve had time to look at thus far is the elementary student planner, but it’s absolutely wonderful. It includes not only the planner pages (calendars), but also articles specifically geared toward the kids and pages of “important lists” – things like the planets in order and a times table.
You can start your very own membership at SchoolhouseTeachers.com for only $3. That’s right – $3 buys you your first month of full access to the site. If you like it, you can continue your membership for the low monthly price of $12.95. Based on the amount of content on the site, and the fact that not only is updated regularly but the back lessons are archived for access later, $12.95 a month is a real bargain. But it gets better. Buy a full year all at once and you’ll save 10%, bringing the price to $139. And during the month of December, if you sign up for the annual price, you’re locked in at that rate, and you get an additional membership to gift to a friend. Believe me, any mom with school-age kids would be super blessed by this gift! Oh, and one more thing: the price, whether monthly or yearly, covers the whole family. There’s no hidden “additional kid” fee.
Keep in mind, too, that just because my review focused primarily on the elementary part of the site, that’s not all there is. There’s something there for every age range from toddlers through teens. Perfect for any family!
I’m not the only one reviewing this site this week. Head on over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew to find even more opinions on the site before you buy in. It’s always best not to rely on just one person’s opinion, after all.
Seahawk is on a basketball team. Our local parks & rec department provides team sports for all the kids in town (who want to play and pay the fee, of course) below high school. This is our first experience with it with our kids. I played basketball for two seasons about a million years ago – seriously, I wasn’t that much older when I played than Seahawk is now. Anyway, it’s been a very rewarding experience for the entire family. Seahawk is learning the essentials of the game as well as good teamwork. Both are good lessons for kids.
Last Saturday was his first game; that’s what the picture is from. There are only 7 kids on his team, so each one gets loads of playtime in the games.
Tomorrow he has official team pictures followed by Game Number 2. Do you have any fun weekend plans?
For a long time, hubby and I talked about making family photo books instead of an individual “baby book” for each child. This year, we finally did it.
I’ve mentioned before that hubby is a cartoonist (we make most of our living through the sales of his books). He also has a book layout business on the side. He uses Createspace for all of his printing, so when we wanted to do our family photobook, using them was a natural choice for us. There are definite pros and cons to going with Createspace over one of the “drag and drop” photo book companies.
* The price. Our books are 38 pages, full color, and only cost $3.65 each (plus shipping, of course). That’s the price for up to 40 pages. The pricing above 40 is still very affordable though. And black and white is even cheaper; that starts at $2.15. The $3.65 price is the minimum, and there is a 24 page minimum through Createspace because all books are perfect bound (standard paperback binding). For small run printing, you can’t beat them. We know – hubby researched book printers for a year before finally going with Createspace.
* The freedom. With a drag and drop company, you’re stuck choosing their templates and hoping your pictures fit.
* The freedom. Wait, you already said freedom. Wasn’t that a “pro”? Yes. But if you don’t have any graphic design experience, it’s a con, not a pro. Because Createspace is aimed toward “real” books, they don’t have any prefabricated templates to use for your interior. You have to build all the pages from scratch. They do, however, have prefab covers you can use. I was able to build the interior myself, with just my crude understanding of Photoshop, but fortunately for me, hubby has a much better handle on the program, so he was able to build us a custom cover. That’s what you see above.
Here are a few of the spreads from our book:
Pardon the black boxes; the real book has the kids’ names in it, but I didn’t want to post those here on the blog. And because of the way it’s saved, going in and making a quick change to the text wasn’t possible. But you can see what I mean about the complete freedom in our design. No two pages are quite the same, and we were able to include our own little “articles” and captions. Being on my high school yearbook staff back in the day definitely came in handy for this project! The methods have changed in the past 14 years (!), but the concepts are the same.
I ordered one copy of the book a couple of weeks ago – a proof copy – so we could look through it and make sure the pictures printed as well as we hoped they would. They did! Now I have three more copies scheduled to arrive here next week. One will go to my mom and stepdad, one to my dad, and one to hubby’s dad and stepmom for Christmas. We also ordered one for hubby’s grandma (we stayed with her when we were on vacation back in July), but we had hers shipped directly to her; we figured it was better to pay shipping once instead of twice (once to have Createspace ship it here, then again for us to post it to her).
I couldn’t be happier with the results of our 2013 family yearbook! I’m super excited to do one of these every year now, possibly more often, depending on how many pictures we have.
We were cooling our heels after church last week while hubby talked to his dad, and Small Fry found the wireless mic hiding in the pulpit. When Grandpa’s the pastor, you get a little more leniency in where you can go as a kid in the church ;). Of course we had to take the microphone away almost immediately, but I couldn’t resist snapping a picture first.
You know how little kids are always underfoot? Especially in the kitchen?
And how their toys are never put away?
I came up with a great solution to these problems. Enter the “Toy Drawer.”
(Pardon the blurry picture)
I emptied out the drawer in the kitchen that Small Fry could actually reach and designated it as his area. It was just holding the seldom used baby bottles that had been his, anyway. I moved those up high (we used glass bottles, so it probably was time to move them out of his reach anyway to avoid a tragedy) and moved his toys – which had been overrunning the living room – into the drawer. Now whenever he wants a toy, he knows exactly where to find it. He’s small enough that he’s still in board books, so his books go there too.
I tried to get him to hold still long enough to be in the picture with his drawer, but no such luck. With 16-month-olds, you take what you can get though ;).
The best part is that when it’s time to clean up, when his things have gotten out of control, he’s already being conditioned to tidy up after himself. Obviously he doesn’t understand enough to “clean his mess,” but he does understand, “Go put this in your toy drawer.” It’s wonderful!
So, hopefully this idea can help someone out who’s low on space and just can’t sacrifice floor area for a traditional toy box. And honestly, that’s another benefit to the drawer: it’s smaller than a toy box, so a) things don’t get buried and never played with and b) when it does start to get too overwhelmed, there’s not so much to sort through to decide what to keep and what not to.
Happy toy storing!
P.S. You might notice that I changed the name of my blog. No big deal, and content will be pretty much more of the same; I just wanted something that wasn’t simply my name as the title.
Disclaimer: I was given a free 6-week trial to K5 Learning. I was not compensated in any other way or paid for this review. This post contains affiliate links. If you subscribe to K5 Learning using a link on my blog, or list me as a reference when you sign up, I will receive a small commission. All words and opinions are my own.
K5 Learning is an online program that emphasizes reading and math in various grade levels. You start by creating a login account for yourself, the parent, and one for each child. My kids loved having their own login information and password. You can make it easier for the kids to be sure that they’ve typed their password correctly by having it show up as they type it (as opposed to bullets) if you want.
The next thing to do is to have your child(ren) take the assessment “test.” I’m hesitant to use that word, test, but it’s the best one I can think of right now. That involves a series of problems to solve, some at the grade level you’ve assigned them, some below, and some above. This isn’t designed to frustrate your child, but rather to get a true assessment of where they are academically. Once they’ve finished, you can log in to the parent-side of the site and view their results, or you can wait a few hours and receive and email with the results in it. I printed a copy of the boys’ results for my own records.
Once your kids have been placed in the appropriate grade-level for the program, the fun starts! There are animated lessons in a variety of topics. The program placed Seahawk in “upper 4th/lower 5th” grade for math, so he worked mostly on place value. It challenged him a lot more than our workbooks because it went up through the millionth place. That was good for him, even though it took him a little longer than he was used to. (Previously, he’d only gone up through the hundred thousands in place value work.) Munchkin was placed in “upper 1st/lower 2nd” in the program for math, which I’m not 100% sure was right for him. He does 3rd grade math at home. His work was mostly geometry – shapes and colors. It was really easy for him. I’m sure I could have gone in and adjusted what it had him doing, but for a fun, supplementary thing, I didn’t stress about it.
Because we do a Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling (using real books and real life to learn instead of textbooks), we didn’t use the reading side of the program past the assessment. My kids are prolific readers, and we insist that they read a lot, plus we read a lot to them, so a reading lesson isn’t necessary for our family.
The only thing I would change about the program is to allow it run on mobile devices. We only have one computer in our home, and my husband works from home doing a graphic design business, so he uses the computer during the work/school day, which made it impossible for the kids to get to use the program every day. Having been able to access it on our Kindle Fire would have been much better for our particular situation.
The assessment I mentioned is free on the site. You don’t have to sign up for anything to have it done. Once you’ve done that, if you want to continue on with the program, it costs $25 a month for the first child and $15 for each additional child. Or you can purchase a year at a time for $199/$129. They also have a 14-day trial that’s absolutely free – you don’t even have to put in your credit card and remember to cancel before the end.
I was recently invited to do a review of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine (November/December issue), so here we are :).
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine is a magazine specifically geared toward homeschool parents – right up my alley! I’d never read it before, but I have been following their blog for a couple of months, and they always have loads of good things to say there, so I was confident the magazine would be great too, and I was not disappointed. I especially loved the Christian focus of many of the articles. Providing a Christ-centered education for my boys is of utmost importance to me, especially as we begin to enter the Advent season, and there were so many great pieces that not only provided ideas for keeping Christ at the center of our lives, but why we must do so.
I particularly loved the article Having a Holiday Heart: Seven Reasons to Celebrate (even when you don’t want to). Pulling examples directly from the Gospel of Luke, the author offered food for thought on the breakdown of the word “holiday” (holy day) and the fact that every day is holy to God, and therefore should be holy to us, even when we’re having a “down” or “off” day, and how each participant in the original Christmas story had a celebratory heart, even in less-than-ideal circumstances.
The article on using the public library to create your own homeschool curriculum was a fascinating read for me as well. I’ve been homeschooling my boys since Day 1, and only this year (Seahawk is in 4th grade, and Munchkin is in 2nd grade) feel like I’m doing something “right.” Things like this article serve as great reminders for how to put together a simple unit study without spending a dime. Always good for people on a budget! The emphasis in this month’s issue was science and history/social studies, and was Part III, so I’m very interested in going back to the past issues and catching up on the series.
We all know that the holidays are coming – can you believe Thanksgiving is next week already?! So the piece surrounding the history of our traditional holiday foods was excellent in both timing and content. Did you know that even hares and dormice were stuffed in the early days? Me neither. Or that stuffing (or dressing, depending on how you cook it) was traditionally a way to use up leftovers, not as its own dish? Kind of reminds me of a quilt (which is another of my passions, as you know) – in the early days, quilts were a way to use up extra fabric, but now there are specific “quilting fabric” sections in the stores. How far we’ve come. Those are just two of the interesting food histories touched on in the article. There are also histories for pumpkin pie, gingerbread, turkey, fruitcake, and candy canes.
Even the ads in the magazine were fascinating to me since this is the first year I’ve really thought about homeschool curriculum (beyond just the workbooks for every subject that my kids hated). I don’t use any purchased curriculum, except for our math books (the one holdover from our workbook days), but it’s still interesting to see what other people are using. And I’m not opposed to purchasing something if I think it would be a good fit for my sons. I spent the first three years of my homeschooling not having a clue what I was doing, which wasn’t good for them or me, but now that we have a bit of a system down, I’m feeling open again toward traditional curriculum (my last experience, the infamous “workbook period” of our homeschool, while necessary for my own confidence boosting, was not of the “super positive” variety).
The magazine is available for free online bi-monthly; I’ll definitely be reading it again! I wish I’d known about it years ago, but as the saying goes, “better late than never.” I barely scratched the surface of what’s in there in this review. For any of you who are experienced homeschoolers, newbie homeschoolers, considering homeschooling, someone considering going the homeschool route, or even just parents of kids (of any age – articles cover educating children from elementary through college prep years) I definitely recommend checking it out. With well over 150 pages, there’s bound to be something in it for you.
For more information on the Schoolhouse Review Crew, click HERE (and I highly recommend visiting their site, too – even if you don’t have any intention of homeschooling; the current post is about creating your own Christmas traditions, which is a topic dear to my heart this year, and I’ll touch on it in a future post). To read this month’s Old Schoolhouse Magazine, click HERE. For a list of mobile apps the Crew offers, click HERE.