Yet another mommy blogging about how cute her kids are.
Category Archives: sanity savers

Egg Bakes

by Toni

Breakfast for me almost always means a glass of milk and a piece of raisin toast.  I just don’t require that much to get going in the morning and also, I don’t like making a mess in the kitchen first thing.  (There will be plenty of mess throughout the day to compensate.)  The children, generally, follow suit by having the same or a simple bowl of cereal.  Will is a different matter altogether.  In his world toast does not qualify as a meal.  Monday through Thursday this doesn’t matter because he purchases his morning sustenance on the way to work and on Saturdays he takes the children to a local diner where someone else cleans up the mess.  That leaves Fridays and Sundays.  (Friday = Co Op day and Sunday = church.)  Which meant that either Will went without breakfast (Will = grumpy), Will cooked his own breakfast (Kitchen = disaster area), or I cooked breakfast along with doing  everything else that has to be done to get 4 children out of the house on time, relatively clean and with all their stuff. (Me = stressed AND House = disaster area).

I knew that somehow I should be able to make something the night before, thus relieving the stress of cooking something before the caffeine started working but everything just seemed too complicated and even if I made a casserole ahead it was still another meal’s worth of ingredients that had to be gathered and prepped and stored until it was time to cook it.

Then angels descended from heaven bestowed this blog upon our little world.  She has all sorts of yummy recipes but what saved us isn’t really a recipe at all.  While perusing her blog I noted how many breakfast casseroles she had posted and in looking at them one after another after another a surprising and delightful lightbulb clicked on.  I realized that, in fact, they were all. the. same. recipe.  Not exactly of course but the premise for each followed roughly the same pattern.  Egg. Cheese. Filler. Bake.

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The answer was staring me in the face.  Breakfast does not have to be a long, drawn out gourmet affair.  It doesn’t have to follow a recipe.  It can be made from what we have one hand.  Simple can be appealing too.

Drawing from Kalyn’s Egg Bakes example, here’s how Friday/Sunday breakfast prep goes now.  While I’m cooking dinner (either the night before or earlier in the week)  I keep an eye out for veggies that might work well.  One night I saved some asparagus.  For the picture below I had chopped green peppers and onions.  From a stirfry night, I saved broccoli.  Whatever I happen to be chopping anyway, just set some aside.  If I don’t have anything then I’ll use fresh spinach or canned mushrooms, olives, or green chilis (all of which I almost always have on hand).

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On kitchen day (That’s Thursday around here.), I prep some kind of meat.  Sausage, Italian sausage, ham,  bacon … something.  I’m already prepping all sorts of things and the kitchen is already messy, so why not?

Because we love cheese around here there is always something interesting available in addition to sharp cheddar (our standby).  And, of course, eggs.

So after dinner, but before I’ve cleaned up, I pull out a square foil cake pan.  I love the planet and all but I don’t want to have to scrub out a casserole dish after I’ve gone to so much effort to avoid mess.  Also, these little cake pans are perfect size for my family right now.

Annnyway, into the cake pan goes the veggies, sprinkled with the meat, sprinkled with the cheese, sprinkled with salt and pepper.  Cover it with the plastic lid that comes with the foil pan and stick it in the fridge.

Next morning,  I crack 6 eggs in a bowl and, using a fork, whip them up with 6 splashes of milk.  Add a bit more salt and pepper and pour over the all my prepped ingredients. (Remove the plastic lid first, duh!  Winking smile)  It never looks like enough egg but after 30 min or so in a 350 degree oven it puffs up beautifully.

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And there was peace and contentment in the Simple house.

 

In as much as breakfast is concerned at least.


Hanging Your Magnet Board

by Toni

A few months ago this gem of an idea from Nic and Kate floated across my Pinterest page.  It caught my eye because 1. kiddos wearing nothing but a diaper are stinkin’ cute and 2. the idea of a place to play magnets that is NOT in the kitchen is absolutely brilliant.  At our house we have a “no toys in the kitchen” rule because you know knives, fire and mommy tripping are not good combinations but somehow (in the past) if there was a magnet attached to said toy it was allowed around the rule.  No more. 

Within the week, I slipped down to our local AutoZone and snagged one of those big oil drip pans in her picture.  Not knowing quite where to hang it …. or how to hang it,  I let it reside on the living room floor while the children had their fun stomping across it, using it as a drum, picking it up and shaking it to hear that funky sound metal makes when shaken and yes, playing with magnets.  Evening came and still no hanging inspiration so I slipped it under the couch.

Since that day, it’s made many an appearance.  A large drip pan is actually helpful in oh so many circumstances: keeping Easter egg dye contained,

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covered with a towel for spontaneous water play, as a landing spot for watercolor paintings to dry …. the list goes on.  Still, I didn’t want it to reside under my couch forever.  I wanted it hung so I could have cute pictures of my kids in diapers learning their alphabet.

So I returned to the original question of how to hang a large slightly floppy piece of metal and added in the mix another problem.  I not only wanted it hung I wanted it un-hangable.  It was so useful that I needed to be able to take it down…. frequently …. and with ease.

To give credit where it’s due I should tell you that Will was the one who hit upon the genius of using some kind of magnet but I was the one who scoured Amazon and found these babies.

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They are magnetic tool holders and I bought two which arrived today.  So I hung them today. 

Perfection.

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Well, almost.

If you’re wondering why one is absolutely level and the other is ever so slightly wonky; that’s a long story involving studs, a too powerful drill and crappy wall anchors. Also, there may have been a little inexperience in the mix. Still, it gets the job done.

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On and off with ease and cute diaper pictures to boot.


Absolute Best Invention Ever …. For Chickens

by Toni

If you’ve ever had chickens then you know that keeping them with fresh clean water is essential for their health.  You probably also know that “fresh, clean water” and “chickens” rarely appear in the same sentence together much less the same pen but today that changed.  Actually, it changed a long time ago when this handy, dandy invention was … uhm … invented; but it changed for us today. 

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By the by, did I mention we have chickens again?  That’s kind of key information for this story.

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Aaaannyway, what you see are called poultry nipples and they came from this website.  I spent $35 for 3 nipples and the special bit to drill the right size holes which seems like a lot until you realize that a regular chicken waterer costs $25 – $45 AND has to be disinfected regularly.  You know, because it’s full of poo. … eww.

It took Dora and I approximately 10 minutes to complete the installation.  We drilled 3 holes in a small bucket I had around, screwed in the nipples and hung that bucket in our temporary brooder.  Soooo, easy. (That’s the same amount of time it usually takes me to clean and refill their traditional waterer.)  Our 6 chicks are 2 and 3 weeks old.  The smartest among them took a mere 10 minutes to figure out the trick of pecking for water while the most cautious waited 30.

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I guess she was wanting to see if any of the others died first.  Come to think of it.  Maybe that makes her the smartest.

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… as well as the most elaborately coiffed.


How We Workbox ~ Part 7 (The Change Up)

by Toni

If you missed Part 1 of this series you can find it here.

Don’t know what workboxes are?  Check out this link.

 

In baseball, a change up is a off speed pitch meant to surprise the batter and throw off his timing.  However, the pitcher doesn’t plan at the beginning of the game when he’s going to throw a change up.  Instead, he waits until he needs it to shake things up a bit.  In my workbox world the concept is similar.  When I see interest waning in a particular subject, I know it’s time to throw a change up.  I keep a list of ideas handy and whole host of supplies in standby mode for just such an occasion.

Here are some examples from the past few weeks:

Sister’s writing box usually looks like this:

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but one week I could tell she needed a little boost so I replaced it with this:

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The skills required to draw a detailed picture are the same ones that develop good handwriting but I didn’t tell her that.  Instead I assigned some pages to complete in lieu of her regular work and told her to have fun.  She did and she produced a great picture in the process.

 

Brother’s History box usually looks like this:

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But he’s six and world history at six isn’t a particular priority to me.  We’d been having some trouble keeping up with our read-aloud (I usually read it at breakfast or lunch while the children eat.) so on this particular week we replaced History with Charlotte’s Web.

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I can hear you now, “but won’t that put you behind schedule?”  I don’t think so.  The whole point of the skeleton plan is to allow for flex.  I know that at a chapter a week we could finish the designated portion of “A Child’s History of the World” in 36 weeks.  I also know, having skimmed the material, that there are several chapters I will probably just summarize rather than read.  As I said, he’s six.  Armed with this information I know I can probably skip a week of History and it won’t affect is ability to get into Harvard.  But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that this did put me behind schedule.  Very few school children completely finish their textbooks by the end of each year, why should I feel the pressure to make my kids finish theirs?  We’ll get as far as we get and if we need to we can always pick up there next year.

Sometimes the idea for a change up comes from a book already in the schedule.  Brother’s history includes a number of Usborne books which often have little activities in the sidebar.  If, as I read ahead the night before, I see that I have the materials available and I’m interested then I’ll add them to the box for the next day.  If I don’t or I’m not then I won’t.

Sometimes an idea starts as a change up but works so well that it sticks.  Sister doesn’t like to write very much so I relieve this stress for her where I can.  She says her spelling words out loud and only has to write the ones she misses.  In one workbook I allow her to highlight the answers within the text rather than writing them out.  Both of these adaptations started as change ups.

Sometimes change ups come from an outside source.  Aunt R gave Brother several small science experiment kits which I knew he would enjoy but which I also knew would get lost and never used in the chaos that is our lives right now.  To keep that from happening, I tucked them into my supply closet and over time, as I saw them and remembered,  they went into  his science box.

Sometimes change ups are not even about the kids.  I recently came across the Postcrossing website and thought it sounded like fun.  Since I didn’t have any extra time to devote to setting up such a project we replaced Geography this week with postcard writing.

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Or what about this one?  I don’t really enjoy the book “Leading Little Ones to God”  We have it.  It’s an easy fall back and it has generated some great conversations; still I’m always on the lookout for ways to change up Brother’s Bible box.  This week his Sunday school lesson was lying on the table as I prepared for the school  week so I popped that in for discussion.

The possibilities for change are endless.  The biggest challenge is letting go of the notion that you are not “following the schedule.”  If they are learning and enjoying learning then I say you are right on track.

 

So there you have it.  More than you ever wanted to know about how we workbox. Certainly it’s more than I ever intended to write. Smile


How We Workbox ~ Part 6 (Inside the Box)

by Toni

If you missed Part 1 of this series you can find it here.

Don’t know what workboxes are?  Check out this link.

 

If you’re like me then all this instruction is nice but what you really want to see are pictures.  What does it actually look like?  So, here you go.

 

                  Sister’s Boxes                               Brother’s Boxes

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BIBLE STUDY:

Sister ~ The ICB Illustrated Bible: New Testament and Memory Verses from anAWANA book we had on the shelf.

Brother ~ Leading Little Ones to God, a copy of The Living Bible, Missionary Stories with the Millers (which we read on Fridays) and whatever scripture I’ve chosen for him to memorize.

 

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HANDWRITING:

A Reason For Handwriting Series (each at their own level).  These books have 4 days of practice and on the fifth they copy a scripture in their best handwriting onto a special decorated sheet to be given away.

 

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PHYSICAL EDUCATION:

Homeschool PE by Anne Elliot

This isn’t really seatwork but we do it together and I do consider it part of our curriculum .  Sister is our equipment manager so she reads the lesson plan and collects supplies for the day.  I haven’t yet figured out how to fit balls and bats and such in the box. Winking smile  Brother is our water boy so he gets drinks for everyone while Sister gets the equipment ready.

 

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LITERATURE

Sonlight Readers (Sister at 4th grade level and Brother at 1st)  These boxes do get changed up quite frequently but since I’m using Sonlight there is a plan is already written out for me.  To make scheduling even easier, instead of following the exact page numbers presented in Sonlight’s guide I figure out the average number of pages they need to read to finish on schedule and assign that.

 

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MATH:

Sister ~ Math U See Gamma 

Brother ~ Horizon Math (1st)

Math for each progresses at a “until you understand it” pace.  For Sister this means that she watches the video and completes one practice sheet each day until she is confident in her ability to pass the test.  She may take a test at any time but if she hasn’t worked all the practice sheets then she must make a 100% or the following day she’ll do more practice. … She’s very good at knowing when she’s ready and has yet to miss the 100% mark.  For Brother – none of the concepts are really new to him, yet.  Mostly, it’s just practice to help him work faster.

Friday’s are for Fact Practice so I try to come up with some fun way to approach these exercises.

Critical And Creative Thinking Activity workbooks (each at their own level)

Brother’s Critical Thinking workbook makes an appearance in his Math box but Sister’s sits in her Spelling box.  Both of them do a couple of pages each week.  Brother adores his.  Sister, not so much.  She doesn’t like that many of the questions don’t have “right” answers.

 

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SPELLING / PHONICS

Sister ~ Sequential Spelling

Love, love, love this.  Sister is actually a pretty good speller but she lacked the confidence to just try when she was unsure.  This book has shown her just how many words she knows.

Brother ~ Explode the Code 1-3

These correlate somewhat with his Sonlight readers and the exercises are very much helping to improve his speed.

 

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HISTORY

Sonlight Core (Sister at 4th grade level ~ American History 2nd Year and Brother at 1st ~ World History 1st Year) 

I basically do the same thing here (averaging out pages) as with the Reading boxes above.

 

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ON THE SUBJECT OF LIFE?? (This is our box labeled BANK.)

Earn It, Learn It: Teach Your Child the Value of Money, Work, and Time Well Spent 

This isn’t really your standard sort of textbook but we are having a lot of fun with it and learning about all sorts of jobs in the process.  Each month they choose a career and complete tasks that replicate real world work from that career.  We decide ahead of time how much “cash” each task is worth.  At the end of the month,  I open my “store” where they can buy small items with their Earn My Keep cash.

 

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ART

Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters (These pictures are from our week studying Claude Monet.)

Because Art is a rather time intensive and sometimes expensive “do-together”, it only comes around once every three weeks. This three week window allows me to budget for the next project, order books from the library and acquire any hard to find supplies. On Art week we spend Monday delving into a particular artist, Tuesday continuing our study and getting supplies together and finally, on Wednesday, we complete a project related to that artist.  Originally, I meant Thursday and Friday to be focused on etiquette but so far our art studies have spilled over into those days.

 

You will note, of course, that three boxes are missing from my list.  Like Art, our Geography and Science studies are time-intensive “do-togethers” so they also follow a three week rotation.

 

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GEOGRAPHY

A Childs Geography Explore His Earth

On Monday, we read the lesson as a family, Tuesday is for making a pretend postcard as if we visited the place in our lesson, Wednesday is for a Reaching Out activity and on Thursday we complete one of her “Too Fun To Resist Excursions” which is often a craft of some kind.  Each chapter includes a list of extra resources to look at and I love that I have three weeks to order them from the library.  On geography week I don’t assign these extra books but instead strew them about the house for the children to find.

 

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SCIENCE

Sister ~ The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms

Brother ~ Nature in a Nutshell for Kids

Real Science 4 Kids (Biology) Sister ~ Level 1 and Brother ~ Pre-Level 1

On Week 3 we tackle science.  Monday and Friday are for Nature Notebooking.  On Tuesday we read our lesson.  Wednesday we experiment and Thursday we work on creating a study folder related to the lesson.

 

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OKLAHOMA STATE HISTORY

My State History Funbook by Joy Dean

They each have a copy of the same book and fill it out to the best of their ability. In addition to that, I ordered a slew of travel brochures (free!) from the OK Tourism Department.   We have yet to hit this box this year but last year we took a week here and there and did it instead of our standard fare.

 

So that’s our base curriculum for the year.  But obviously, the same old thing day after day gets boring (and that’s just for me!  Imagine how the children feel?)

 

Next time: the change-up.


How We Workbox Part 5 ~ (Stepping Through)

by Toni

If you missed Part 1 of this series you can find it here.

Don’t know what workboxes are?  Check out this link.

Before our week starts, utilizing my skeleton plan as a guide, I flip through the pages each child will encounter that week.  I note any special supplies they might need and either place them in the boxes ready for Monday or set them aside for use later in the week.  I check that all the tags are in place (Toddlers LOVE the sound velcro makes.), write down any special instructions on sticky notes, place those in the appropriate boxes and then I’m done.  (This part takes about 40 minutes to an hour for both kids.)

On Monday, after breakfast and morning chores are complete, the children start working through their boxes.  We don’t start at a particular time.  Even so, “school” tends to be in full swing by 9am and complete before lunch.  In addition to the subject tags, there are numbers on the boxes which contain assignments for that day or a “Do Together” tag if we will do the activity together as a family.

On a typical day their loaded boxes will look like this:

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(Yes, we have carts now.  I got them here and we love them.)

You’ll note that on this day each of them have 9 total boxes (7 independent + 2 “do-together” ones).  Assuming I stick to my skeleton plan, this is the most they will ever have in one day.

So here’s the routine …. FINALLY. Smile
** Each child pulls out the materials from their first “tagged” box,

** completes the assignment noted on either a sticky note or daily schedule card (getting help where necessary),

** has their work checked by Mom,

** cleans up any mess,

** returns materials (and the number tag) to the box and finally,

** moves on to the next “tagged” box

The child is done for the day when there are no “tagged” boxes remaining.

That’s It.

Really.

Which begs the question, if the process is so simple why did it take me four blog posts to get here?  In one word ~ preparation.  Workboxes are all about having the materials ready and waiting for your little learners and as I stated back at the beginning one can easily spend an hour plus each night doing all that prep work.  My hope is that the posts leading up to this one will give you some ideas on how to overcome the preparation monster.  Sure at the beginning of the week I might spend an hour reviewing assignments and pulling supplies together but on Tuesday I can reset both sets of boxes in about 10 minutes.  It’s the same on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  So for comparison ~ old way: 5 hours MINIMUM prep time; new way: 2 hours MAXIMUM prep time.  Big difference.

So in case you missed the previous posts or just need a recap, here are the highlights:

** Only keep the parts of the system that work for you. (we tossed schedule strips, learning centers & waiting stations)

** The bulk of your curriculum should work even when you don’t plan it.  (if your instruction note can simply say “next lesson/chapter/page” then you’ve found what I’m talking about.)

** Don’t think you have to plan all 12 boxes every day!  (Or if you do, fill each one with a very simple assignment.)

** Have a plan but make it as general and flexible as you can.  You’ll be building in fun on the fly and you don’t want your precious plan to cramp your style.

Next time: What’s in our boxes.


How We Workbox ~ Part 4 (A New Framework Finally Emerges)

by Toni

If you missed Part 1 of this series you can find it here.

Don’t know what workboxes are?  Check out this link.

Please don’t misunderstand the title of my last post.  “Ditching the Plan” does not imply having no plan at all. I am well aware of the “he who fails to plan, plans to fail” concept and all that.  “Ditching the Plan” means that I am comfortable and willing to deviate from the plan when the situation calls for it because I haven’t wasted time putting my heart and soul into the creation of every detail and because I am trusting that God is much better at mapping out the nuances of my days that I am.  What I am proposing is a plan that is flexible enough to absorb exceptions with ease.  Indeed such a plan will invite exception and the learning experience will be all the richer for it.

Having developed and embraced this new (to me) philosophy, I finally began to choose my curriculum for the year and create what I call my “Skeleton Plan” ~ a framework upon which I could hang ANYthing.

Here’s how the process played out.

First, I decided what material I wanted to cover and what “subject” that material was best categorized as.  Then I assigned a box to each of those subjects.  The boxes are tagged to help the kiddos keep track of what they are working on. We have boxes for Bible, Writing, PE, Math, Reading, History, Spelling/Phonics, Art, Geography, Science and Oklahoma History.

Next, I decided how often I could truly touch each of those subjects and scheduled them accordingly.  The resources I chose for Art, Geography and Science all require a significant amount of preparation and/or project time so I knew that realistically I could not do all of those every week.  Even two in a week would be a stretch so I put those boxes on a three week rotation.  Bible time is very important to us so that box gets filled every day.  Our writing curriculum had a natural 5 day schedule as did the one Will chose for PE. We use Sonlight for our History and Reading and though in the past I’ve tried the 5 day schedule, this year I recognized that for us the 4 day plan would work better.  The Oklahoma History book I have really works best if approached in spurts so I didn’t schedule it at all instead we will pull it out when interest in the other subjects wanes and we need a different kind of week to get us motivated again.  That left me with one empty box.  I had several “fun” books I’d been wanting to incorporate somehow so I picked one, assigned it to the last box and made it completely optional.

This is my skeleton plan for the year.

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(It hangs on a ring in my supply closet for easy reference and since you can’t read the picture, here’s what it says.)

Box Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Bible Personal Devotion / Bible Reading Time / Memory Verses Personal Devotion / Bible Reading Time / Memory Verses Personal Devotion / Bible Reading Time / Memory Verses Personal Devotion / Bible Reading Time / Memory Verses Personal Devotion / Bible Reading Time / Memory Verses
Writing A Reason For Handwriting
Practice 1
A Reason For Handwriting
Practice 2
A Reason For Handwriting
Practice 3
A Reason For Handwriting
Practice 4: Entire Verse
Write out entire verse and share with someone
PE Learn A New Challenge Choose a Movement Card Learn About a Team Sport Play a Fun Game Heritage PE 2nd Friday & Zumba 3rd Friday

All Other Fridays: Do a Health Research Project

Math Sadie: Math U See (practice current lesson, test when ready)

Riley: Horizons Math

Sadie: Math U See (practice current lesson, test when ready)

Riley: Horizons Math

Sadie: Math U See (practice curent lesson, test when ready)

Riley: Critical Thinking book (1pg)

Sadie: Math U See (practice current lesson, test when ready)

Riley: Horizons Math

Sadie: empty

Riley: Critical Thinking Book (1pg)

Reading Sonlight Readers Sonlight Readers Sonlight Readers Sonlight Readers empty
History Sonlight History Sonlight History Sonlight History Sonlight History empty
Spelling Sadie: Sequential Spelling (nxt lesson)

Riley: Explode the Code (avg 2 pages/day)

Sadie: Creative Thinking Book (1pg)

Riley: Explode the Code (avg 2 pages/day)

Sadie: Sequential Spelling (nxt lesson)

Riley: Explode the Code (avg 2 pages/day)

Sadie: Sequential Spelling (nxt lesson)

Riley: Explode the Code (avg 2 pages/day)

Sadie: Creative Thinking Book (1pg)

Riley: empty

Art

Week 1

Study the Artist Gather Supplies

Sadie: Draw and Write History
(occasional)

Art Project Etiquette & Manners also Tea Party Prep Tea Party in the afternoon
Geography

Week2

Read “A Childs Geography: Explore His Earth” Lesson Write Home About It Reaching Out Too-Fun-To-Resist Excursion empty
Science

Week3

Nature Notebook Activity Real Science 4 Kids Lesson Day (Biology) Real Science 4 Kids Science Experiment Day (Biology) Review Lesson using Study Folder (Biology) Science Lesson Follow-up (as necessary)

Or Nature Notebook Activity

Bank Current Earn My Keep Task (completely optional, does not have to come from the book, 0-2 tasks per week) Current Earn My Keep Task (completely optional, does not have to come from the book, 0-2 tasks per week) Current Earn My Keep Task (completely optional, does not have to come from the book, 0-2 tasks per week) Current Earn My Keep Task (completely optional, does not have to come from the book, 0-2 tasks per week) Last Friday of the Month ~ Mom’s Earn My Keep Store Opens
OK History Occasional
but at least a few days each quarter
Occasional
but at least a few days each quarter
Occasional
but at least a few days each quarter
Occasional
but at least a few days each quarter
Occasional
but at least a few days each quarter

I know it still looks kind of complicated but you should know that it took several drafts to reach this point.  The hardest part was not the arranging or scheduling but LEAVING ideas OUT.  Each time I finished a draft I would go back and closely examine every item.  Did I really think this was an activity that I could maintain (or would it be worth the effort required to maintain it) ??  If not, then out it went.  I kept cutting in this way until I was satisfied that the remaining plan was quite general, flexible and sustainable.  Even so, after the first week I still ended up tweaking it two times more.

Then I made tags for each of the boxes.  This was completely unnecessary but it was fun.  It looks cool and the tags help the kids (and me) keep track of what they are working on.

These are Brother’s tags – some of Sister’s look slightly different.

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Bible

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Spelling

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Writing

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History

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PE Class

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Geography

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Reading

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Bank

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Math

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Art

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OK History

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Science

Next time: a step by step through our day.


How We Workbox ~ Part 2 (Change is Good)

by Toni

If you missed Part 1 of this series you can find it here

Don’t know what workboxes are?  Check out this link.

The schedule strips do exactly that.  They are laminated strips of paper with velcro dots on them.  To the dots the teacher applies schedule tags in the order she wants the tasks completed.  Schedule tags could be a box number, a learning center task, some sort of chore (like “feed the dog”) or even a random exercise (do 10 jumping jacks)  (examples here and here) The idea is that they allow you to order much more than just your school day and that the tasks you schedule break up the monotony of only doing boxes.   Great concept so I made a set of strips for each child along with all the appropriate tags I could think of.  In the beginning, they did help order the day.  The children faithfully moved tags from strip to workbox to a “completed” pile for about three weeks.  Then I noticed that only about half of the tags were being moved each day and then a couple and then none at all.  Having acclimated to the new system the children, of their own accord, dropped what was no longer useful.  I started to be upset.  I had spent a lot of time cutting out those little tags. Besides the system said you should use them.  Leaving them out wasn’t “right”, was it?  Then I took a reality check and realized the answer was, “Yes.  It was right, for us.”  Change #1 ~ complete.

 

Change #2 ~ The end of my perfectly perfect school room.

You can actually do workboxes just about anywhere (Nowadays we sometimes even take ours outside.)  But in her e-book Sue Patrick does place some emphasis on providing a particular work space for each child.  Because all the materials are readily available, the child should not stray from that work space and that will help him/her remain focused on the task at hand.  In theory, a good idea.

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His space.

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Her space.

In reality, these pictures show our school room in the cleanest, most uncluttered state it has ever been or ever will be because each day after school time was over this room reverted back to its original purpose(s): toy playing/game playing/tv watching room. This meant that in addition to refilling boxes each evening I had to do a massive cleanup of the space to prepare for the next day OR motivate the children to do a massive cleanup OR have school the following day in a pit of chaos.  More often than not the lot fell to choice #3 and let me tell you a pit of chaos does NOT promote focus on the task at hand.  So I let go of my notion that school should have a room and we moved downstairs to the very sparse, uncluttered and generally clean dining room table.  An unexpected and delightful side effect of this move was that now I could complete simple tasks like throwing in a load of laundry or preheating the stove for lunch without going “all the way” downstairs.  A good thing since any mother knows leaving a room for more than 5 minutes is an open invitation to bicker with your sibling.

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The new space ~ Love the light!

The last change happened after the first of the year.  Baby Z arrived at the end of November.  Then there was Christmas and sometime in January it became obvious that school needed to get back in gear or we’d never finish.  Unfortunately, as I had predicted, there was even less time to plan than before.  There was no way I could come up with material for 12 boxes …for two children … every night.  So I didn’t.  We dropped down to 6 boxes most days and only 3 or 4 on others.  In those boxes I placed workbooks that the kids could do on their own with consistently simple instructions (like complete 1 page per day), or a book they could read on their own with consistently simple instructions (like read 1 chapter per day), or direction to use a computer program on their own with consistently simple instructions (like visit 1 lesson per day).  I’m guessing you’ll have picked up on the pattern by now.  In this manner, nightly planning went from 1 hour plus to 10 minutes and we finished out our year (making up for lost months) about mid-July.  It wasn’t pretty.  There were far more worksheets than I liked but they did the work … daily.  They did it well and without complaint.  Even with all these tweaks the workbox system still worked.  The next question was how to take this knowledge and add back in some fun.

 

to be continued …


How We Workbox ~ Part 1 (The Way We Started)

by Toni

We’ve been homeschooling for about 4 years now.  At first it was just Sister then, last year Brother joined the mix.  At that time we had a one year old in the house and were expecting a fourth.  Life was crazy!  Homeschooling was hard and inconsistent at best.  When we did “do school” it wasn’t the fun stuff like science experiments, PE games or art: it was worksheets because worksheets are easy to plan.  Unfortunately, they do not inspire a love of learning.  I knew that something had to be done so I went on a quest; reading about all sorts of methods and systems and that’s when I stumbled upon Sue Patrick.

Sue had developed this system that could be used with any curriculum and any age.  She claimed that it made the day flow better, that it made planning easier and that it allowed kids to be mostly independent during school time.  I bought the e-book and read dozens of blogs on the subject and then jumped on board.

The idea is that each child has 12 numbered boxes.  Divided among each of the boxes are their assignments for the day AND all the supplies needed to complete those assignments.  For example, a young child’s box might contain a color by number sheet.  It would also contain a box of crayons.  Or a box with cut and paste work would contain scissors and glue as well as the necessary papers.

This is what Sister’s filled workboxes looked like when we started.

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And Brother’s

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In addition to the simple rule of always providing the correct supplies. There are other important nuances. 

**The boxes are numbered because it is expected that the child will work them IN ORDER.  This allows you as the teacher to follow a not so favorite subject with a favorite one and by so doing keep your child motivated.

**There must be some visual cue so the child can easily look and see which boxes are complete and which are left.  The original system calls for removing completed boxes from the shelf altogether. We have tweaked this a bit and use removable tags.

**Boxes are meant to be worked independently UNLESS otherwise specified by a “work with mom” tag.

Sue’s original system incorporates more than just seat work for the day.  She adds in learning centers, games, chores etc. so she also uses what she calls “schedule strips”.

 

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(in this photo you can see Brother’s yellow schedule strip hanging from the wall.)

 

Following the system to the letter worked great! …. at first.  The kids had a clear understanding of what was expected each day.  The whining and complaining became magically almost non-existent.   They could continue working  even when I was distracted by my littlest and consequently we were typically finished with seatwork by noon and often much earlier.  I loved it.  They loved it.  But oh, the planning time it required. 

I spent about an hour each night filling boxes for the next day, printing out or writing instruction sheets and resetting the schedule strips.  This time was significantly increased if I wanted to add in any special activities or make/change the learning centers.

 

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Sister at our “Sign Language Learning Center”

 

The system was great but for me it was not sustainable.  I had another little on the way. Sleep was already a precious commodity. I needed something that didn’t require so much daily care and feeding.  In addition, while I wanted my kids to be able to work independently, I also wanted to work with them when I was not changing diapers or picking up toddler messes.  So we started making changes.

 

to be continued ….


Balcony Math

by Toni

My recent post on Staircase Math triggered a memory from this past February.  That would be the very same February that snow fell continuously on our state for days and days.  Those would be the same days and days that we spent indoors with 4 children ~ four very bored children.  So one day when tensions were especially high I pulled out Dora’s basket of Duplo blocks and we threw them from the balcony.  Amazing how much stress throwing things can relieve.  Anyway, BEFORE we started throwing things, I placed some bins on the floor below.

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in the bins I placed numbers for scoring

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Each person was assigned a specific block color and could drop as many blocks as they wanted as fast or as slow as they wanted.  Aiming, of course, for the bins below. 

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When the basket was empty, each child was responsible for adding up their own score.  (In this instance it was easy because scoring was all about counting by 5’s or 10’s but you could do 2’s or 3’s or 12’s or whatever.)

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Finally, I sent them downstairs to gather all the blocks and they came up to do it again… and again … and again.

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