Desert Dough

desert dough5

This week’s science studies had us visiting the desert and after seeing a similar recipe for “cloud dough” floating around Pinterest, I knew this (re-named by us!) “desert dough” would be a great sensory activity for our desert theme. Yes, playing in the sandbox would have worked too. . . but let’s be real. This hugely pregnant mama is just way too uncomfortable to brave the heat and humidity of Kentucky in August!

The Recipe

Desert Dough has just two ingredients:

  • 8 cups flour
  • 1 cup baby oil

(Side note: we ended up making two batches, and while the first batch with baby oil smelled much better, canola oil was a great substitute and yielded the same final results.) With your hands, mix the flour and oil in a shallow container until combined. Then let the kids at it!

desert dough7

The “dough” has such an interesting texture. Dry, and silky. . . crumbly, yet packs well. My texture-sensitive child wasn’t so sure about touching it at first, but in the end all the kids dug in, had a great time, and stayed occupied for a long while.

desert dough2

We played in the dough with desert animals. It’s so rewarding to hear kids applying their learning to play.

“Look! I’m burying the scorpion. Remember how we read that animals sometimes dig holes to keep themselves cool?”

“I’m making sand dunes.”

“Oh no! A sandstorm is coming!”

desert dough8

desert dough6

desert dough9

Of course there was lots of non-desert play (read: goofing off) as well.

desert dough3

I’m not going to lie–the dough was a bit messy. But thankfully, it’s dry so the clean-up was fairly quick and easy. (And left the kitchen smelling like a freshly bathed baby!)

desert dough

Sometimes creative mess drives me crazy and I’d rather just have the kids read about a desert (or whatever). Other times I fully embrace the mess since studies have shown kids learn best and retain most information when engaged in activities that use their senses (such as art, music, food tasting, or this sensory play with “desert dough”). Taking the time to seek out creative projects to go along with our studies can be a lot of work, but I’m definitely seeing the theory play out in our own lives as the kids do seem to retain and apply the book knowledge more readily when we incorporate creative projects. Plus, it makes our day much more fun!

How do you feel about creative projects and messes?

Linked to SHINE Blog Hop

Apple Picking, Apple Eating, Apple Crafting

Flexibility is one of the best parts of having my kiddos home all day, and after hitting the studies hard the past three weeks, we took a day to change pace and go on a “field trip.”

apple orchard field trip

Our annual trip to the apple orchard came a bit early this year, and it was so hot and humid we didn’t last long. But the apples were fresh, the fried pies were delish, and the mini-break and fresh air was welcomed.

apple orchard field trip

apple orchard field trip

Since we spent quite bit of time on the apple theme last year, I wasn’t planning to include it in this year’s unit studies. But there’s always time for an art project!

paint

It was a simple project, beginning with an apple template and apple-colored tempera paints. After explaining the vision I had for the project, I let the kids have free-rein and was pleasantly surprised to see how many directions the project took. One simple template, so many uses!

apple art projects

Are you a Facebook fan? Every Tuesday is “Template Tuesday,” where a new template is released and announced on Facebook. For that Tuesday ONLY, the template is free to download, then goes to a minimal price for all to continue to enjoy. This week’s template was this versatile apple craftivity!

More apple-themed fun!

A Day in Our Homeschool Life

a day in our homeschool life

Maybe it’s true, and the third time is a charm:

  • Third year homeschooling.
  • Third school-age child.
  • Third week into a new school year.

I’m still holding my breath, but so far this third time around–things are going really well! Then again, maybe it’s just the calm before the storm (read: new baby coming!). I’m anticipating many adjustments in the next couple of months when we introduce a newborn and I’m no longer sleeping through the night. But for now, here’s what a typical day looks like for us. . . .

Morning

5:30 am My alarm goes off, and often gets a couple of snooze cycles. But I’m up and out of bed by 6.

6:00 am Jared and I shower/get dressed, and touch base about our day before the earliest rising child makes his appearance.

6:40 am I start breakfast while Jared greets the kids, changes night-time diapers, helps kids dress/choose clothes for the day.

7:00 am The kids help finish breakfast/set the table, and/or sit at the table and chat until it’s time to eat.

days of the week

Weekly meal planning keeps my sanity and takes the guess-work out of what we’re having. It’s boring and my “free-spirit” nature would rather make what sounds good instead of what’s on the calendar. But having several little kids has pushed me to realize predictability and procedure really does eliminate a lot of the stress and chaos. And so I fight the urge for variety–saving the new recipe experiments for dinnertime or weekends.

For us, breakfast looks like:

  • Sunday: Protein shakes (quick, easy, and filling on the way to church)
  • Monday: Breakfast burritos (scrambled eggs, crumbled sausage, cheese, salsa in a tortilla)
  • Tuesday: Greek yogurt, frozen berries, toast
  • Wednesday: Baked oatmeal, fruit
  • Thursday: Pancakes (waffles, crepes, or french toast), sausage (or bacon)
  • Friday: Fried eggs, toast, fruit
  • Saturday: Oatmeal/cereal

7:30 am Jared finishes getting ready for work while I clean up breakfast, start a load of laundry, and supervise the kids as they start on their individual lists of chores. We’ve been using (and loving) Chore Monster for the past several months, and the kids are very motivated by the checklists and points.

chores

8:00 am Jared leaves for work. Chores are supposed to be finished (and everyone that is finished by earns bonus Chore Monster points). Then they have (non-screen) “free time” until school starts. Most of the time they choose to read, color, play with toys, or go outside. During this time I’m checking-off chore lists, finishing my own morning to-do’s, making sure everything is prepared for school, and sneaking a peek at e-mail and Facebook.

It’s taken a lot of procedural practice, but most of the time the kids are self-propelled (with only a few reminders) because they know what to expect–thanks to consistency and our visual routine cards. We also discuss the daily routine at breakfast–making note of any special events, errands, or other changes that apply to the particular day.

Together Time

9:00 am School starts. We begin the day with the subjects we complete together: journaling, scripture study, history, and science.

journaling

{We begin each day with a journaling prompt.}

10:30 am Kids have a quick, simple snack (like cheese and crackers, rice cakes, granola bar, popcorn, etc.), then “recess.” If the weather is good, I encourage them to go outside. They usually get a 20-minute break (unless it’s been a rough morning and I need a little more time :)!) During recess, I get myself a protein-heavy snack, take a deep breath, and regroup for the next round of school: individual, grade-level work.

learning about clouds

{Learning about clouds during science}

Grade-level Work

10:45 am “Recess” ends and the littlest ones (Serity: 4, and Lydia: 2) begin to watch a “school” movie on Netflix. Some of our favorites are Leap Frog, Super Why, and The Magic School Bus.

Individual work time happens in 30-minute “station rotations.”

  • One child begins with “computer time,” and can play on approved educational sites (with headphones).
  • Another has “mommy time” and sits with me at the table or couch to go over new concepts and remaining assignments.
  • The third has “table time” and works independently at the table. (Serity being the exception–she watches the movie during her “table time.”)

station rotation

12:15 pm If everyone has stayed on task, our “station rotation” is finished, school work is finished, and the kids clean up for lunch. I start lunch and they clean/finish schoolwork/play until it’s time to eat. Part of clean-up includes putting books, binders, and papers away correctly in color-coded drawers.

labeled color-coded drawers

The labeled, color-coded drawers help us keep grade-level work organized. Each child has his/her own set of drawers–one drawer per subject (except history and science, because we alternate days on these subjects). The last drawer also holds a small treat they can have when their schoolwork is completed.  I’m a mean mom and make them keep these drawers organized. (I even check everyday to make sure books/notebooks have been put back in the correct place.) As I type it I realize how anal it sounds, but having a firm procedure set right at the beginning makes a huge difference in how our day goes. I tend to lose patience when we waste time because no one can find a pencil, or a red crayon, or the math book “happens” to be missing.

Lunch Time

We also have a lunchtime meal schedule–usually favorite “kid foods.” Sides change and usually include a seasonal fruit/veg. Lunch is the time I choose not to fight the battle of introducing new foods. I make myself protein-heavy salad, or leftovers.

  • Monday: macaroni and cheese (“Macaroni Monday”)
  • Tuesday: hot dogs/corn dogs
  • Wednesday: sandwiches (usually grilled cheese, lunchmeat, or PB&J)
  • Thursday: chicken nuggets/strips, tator tots or fries
  • Friday: mini pizzas (usually on half an English muffin or tortilla)

color-coded cups

We color-code everything! Dishes, notebooks, binders, pencil boxes, toothbrushes, etc. It makes life so much easier because there’s no fighting about who gets the pink cup, or who didn’t put away their XYZ, etc.

Afternoon

1:00 I clean the kitchen while the kids have (non-screen) “free time” (or if they didn’t get finished before lunch, they complete their school work).

1:30 I read the littlest ones (Serity: 4 and Lydia: 2) a story of their choice and put Lyddie down for a nap. Then the rest of us get cozy on the couch and I read aloud from our current chapter book.

reading about the Vikings

{I usually integrate the read-aloud with our current history or science unit.}

2:00 pm Mandatory quiet time. The older three don’t usually nap but I’m pretty strict about having quiet time because I’m an introvert and NEED time to recharge. The kids are allowed to read, color, build with Legos, listen to an audio book, play games, etc.–as long as it’s “quiet.”  If it’s been a rough day, I’ll take a short nap, but most of the time I work (create new products, blog, or respond to social media comments).

3:00 pm As long as quiet time went well (read: no fighting or bugging me!), the kids get a snack and have screen time. They take turns choosing movies on Netflix, or playing computer/Wii games. Since Lyddie is still asleep, the electronic babysitters usually allow me to keep working another hour or two(!).

computer

Evening

5:30 pm I start dinner and the kids clean-up and help cook and/or set the table.

6:00 pm Most nights Jared gets home about 5:45 and entertains while I finish making dinner. We don’t have a meal rotation for the evening, but I do pre-plan each week so I’m not scrounging around the fridge and wondering what to make amid whiny, hungry kids. My hate-to-plan-ahead “free spirit” did that for too many years and it used to be the hardest, most frustrating time of day. Though having a meal plan doesn’t make dinnertime completely stress-free, it has made a huge difference in reducing the dinnertime chaos.

7:00 pm Evenings seem to be the most variable for us with activities, late work nights, or errands. But when we’re home and don’t have some place to be, we clean up dinner, bathe the kids, have family prayer and scripture study, brush teeth, and put the younger ones to bed at 7:30 pm.

brush teeth

7:30 pm The older two stay up “late” and read another chapter or two with me, or hang out with daddy. Then they go to bed at 8:00.

8:00 pm Jared and I have our “8 o’clock talk” where we collapse on the couch and talk about (sometimes vent about!) our day. It’s also the time we bring up concerns, discuss the calendar, go over the budget, etc. Then we read scriptures together (I teach Sunday School, so we usually read and discuss the upcoming lesson material.).

9:00 pm By now we’re usually finished talking and reading, and have often moved onto getting dessert and/or watching TV. Some nights I work–cutting/assembling felt story sets, drawing clip art, etc.

10:30 pm We aim to head to bed.  It doesn’t always happen this early, but it’s the goal because the next morning comes early, and I need to be rested enough to do it all over again.

And most days I do want to do it all over again!

Linked to: SHINE Blog Hop, iHomeschool Network

All About Wolves

FREE printable wolf template

It started with a postcard from a friend’s summer vacation which soon developed into an impromptu interest-led unit study: reading about wolves in our favorite animal encyclopedia, looking up facts on National Geographic, watching a Wild Kratt’s episode about wolves, re-telling The Boy Who Cried Wolf, assembling cut-and-paste wolf art projects, searching for villianized wolves in popular fairy tales. 

wolf postcard

To go with this mini-study, I created a wolf template which can be used for a fun art project (we like to paint, cut, and paste).

FREE printable wolf template

The template can also be used as a pattern create a feltie to use on your flannel board. My girls are now begging for a Little Red Riding Hood feltie. (Coming soon?!)

FREE wolf pattern for flannel board

printable-wolf-template

 

Linked to: Hip Homeschool Moms

Homeschooling Through Life’s Seasons

Several months ago I looked around at my life and breathed a sigh of relief because it felt like we were smooth sailing. The cold, gray winter was over; we’d finally fallen into a homeschooling groove, the kids were becoming more independent in helping with chores; I’d lost 45 pounds of back-to-back pregnancy weight and had more energy than ever; my business was growing well;  and we were happy.

THM pics

But it often seems–for me, anyway–just when life is going well and that I’ve got it “all together,” a trial hits. In this case, it was a welcome trial, but also very difficult one in the form of a surprise pregnancy. And about the time we began racking our brains to figure out how it happened (I mean, we know how pregnancies happen, just weren’t sure how THIS one happened!) the sickness hit–all day and all night.

13 week ultrasound

{13 weeks: social media “announcement” via Instagram}

In our early marriage, Jared and I struggled with a infertility and multiple miscarriages. I will never forget the emotional pain of those days and have empathy for those who are dealt a similar challenge. Now we’re on the flip side and have been entrusted with a growing family and have both perspectives. Can I simply state: pregnancy has never been easy for me–in the trying-to-conceive phase, the growing-a-baby phase, and the postpartum phase.

When the sickness hit, (for me, it’s severe and lasts a long time) homeschooling came to a halt, designing came to a halt, housecleaning came to a halt. . . you get the idea.

During the long days of lying on the couch, feeding my kids boxed macaroni and drive-thru cheeseburgers–again, and cradling the toilet–I felt immense mommy guilt. There are plenty of things to feel guilty about when you join the mom-club, but the one that bothered me the most was homeschooling. I was firmly committed to making this thing work and refused to yo-yo them back into public school. But there was guilt and stress about how I could possibly educate them when I could barely shower and keep down my lunch.

team pink

{21 weeks: We find out we’re expecting our fourth girl! Big brother is disappointed, but taking it like a champ.}

As I lay on the couch counting down the hours until my husband got off work–allowing my kids to eat a third bowl of cold cereal and watch yet another episode of Magic Schoolbus–I realized I’d need to stop mourning this year’s perfect school plans and begin looking for ways to make the best of the “season” we’d been thrown in. And that’s what led us into three months of “interest-led” schooling.

What is interest-led learning?

As I understand it, interest-led learning is based on two foundational ideas:

  • children are born to learn
  • forced learning kills the desire to learn

I can see truth in these principles as I consider our journey in deciding to homeschool. It was gut wrenching to watch the spark die in my knowledge-hungry little boy during those years he attended public school.

What interest-led learning looked like for us: 

Maybe not as relaxed as a truly committed interest-led philosophy follower, but aside from finishing up the year’s math textbooks, we put away the rest of the curriculum, and read. A lot.

We read about plants, took a “field trip” to the nursery to choose seeds and seedlings, and planted a small raised-bed vegetable garden. Over the past few months the kids have been learning how to care for the growing veggies, and are now beginning to harvest and taste new things.

E digs in the mud

Or when a friend sent a wolf postcard from Yellowstone, we pulled out our favorite animal encyclopedia, looked up facts on National Geographic, watched a Wild Kratt’s episode about wolves, re-told The Boy Who Cried Wolf, assembled cut-and-paste wolf art projects, and searched for villianized wolves in popular fairy tales.

As stressful as it was for this routine-oriented mama to let go of the planned checklist, I look back at the past few months and realize stepping away from the textbooks and our curriculum plans didn’t neglect the kids’ education in the way I feared. In fact, having that additional time to play and explore has helped them develop MORE creativity and inquisitiveness.

reading

Throughout the day I often find one or more nose-deep in a stack of books, or spontaneous art projects. They “play” school–taking turns being the teacher (giving me a glimpse of what I must look like in their eyes!), write lists and descriptions of their favorite Star Wars and My Little Pony characters, build imaginative contraptions from blocks and Legos, and make up songs on the piano. They’re learning! And applying their knowledge! And it’s so good to see.

lego dragon

While I’m not sure I’m ready/willing to ditch the curriculum and jump into an unschooling lifestyle for my family long term, I can definitely see benefits to this interest-led learning. Most of all, I can see benefits to relaxing a little, and remembering the big picture, and knowing our schooling can be catered to our different seasons of life.

And this fall with a 4th grader, 2nd grader, Kindergartner, 2-year-old, and nursing newborn will certainly need some curriculum catering!