Grrrific Homeschool Lessons I Learned from Daniel Tiger – Part One

Grrrific Homeschool Lessons I learned from... Daniel Tiger, Part One with cartoon lightbulb on blue fence background

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Our God is so good. 

He knows what we need and he meets us where we’re at… even when “where you’re at” is buried under three loads of laundry, surrounded by a hopeless mess in every direction, with a crying toddler hanging on your leg, an oven timer beeping and older kids who are fighting instead of finishing their math.  

It was in a moment like this a few days ago that He caught my attention through the (unbelievably incessant) singing of the PBS character, Daniel Tiger. 

🎵“When something seems bad, turn it around and find something good.” 🎵

Continue reading “Grrrific Homeschool Lessons I Learned from Daniel Tiger – Part One”

Your A to Z Guide: The Best Kids’ Stocking Stuffer Ideas

Your A-Z Guide: The Best Kids' Stocking Stuffer Ideas on green banner with stocking background

It seems like every year I’m scrambling to figure out what to put in my kids’ Christmas stockings. If you’re like me, the last thing you want in your house is more plastic trinkets but I end up defaulting to that kind of filler when I can’t think of anything better. 

Well, no more!!  

This time I’m making a list, checking it twice and not wasting this opportunity to give my kids some useful, engaging and maybe even educational stocking stuffers!  

Trendy products come and go but these “ABC’s” – Awesome Brainstorming Categories – will never go out of style!  Each A to Z category will remind you of a whole group of stocking stuffer ideas to help you come up with the perfect picks for your kids!

The Stocking Stuffer ABC’s!

A is for Accessories

This category includes clothing like socks or boxers and outerwear like hats, mittens and earmuffs – really anything you can roll up compactly. Try earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings for your older kids and play jewelry or dress-up accessories for their younger siblings.

B is for Bedroom Decor

Help them personalize their space with glow-in-the-dark stars, a nightlight, or wall decals of their favorite characters like this one. Themed light switch covers are another small-sized stocking stuffer idea; they’re easy to change as your kids age out of Mickey Mouse mania and move on to Odd Squad obsession.

C is for Cards & Other Small Games

So many options here!  Some of our favorites are Blink, Uno, Bananagrams, Spot It, Set, Math Dice Jr., Tenzi, Rory’s Story Cubes, Star Wars Top Trumps, Phase 10, Waterworks and the Pictureka Card Game. 

D is for Digital Gifts & Gift Cards

For kids who like to pick out their own gifts, try gift cards to any of their favorite physical locations (restaurants, play-places, toy and game stores) or online stores like Amazon and iTunes. You can also give gift cards or subscriptions to services like Netflix, Pureflix, Hulu, Spotify and video game sites like Steam.

E is for Explorer’s Supplies

Sneak in educational gifts for your kids’ future adventures and science projects.  Open up larger sets like a backyard scientist kit and wrap each part individually to make it fit in a stocking (or to share it between siblings). My kids have liked this magnifying glass and kids’ compass for their explorations and this (surprisingly inexpensive!) pocket microscope is another great, stocking-sized option.

F is for Fun Food

Add a few special treats to their stockings that you don’t normally buy – maybe a favorite flavor of normally-too-expensive applesauce pouches or the individual serving boxes of cereals you usually don’t allow for breakfast. Novelty treats can be fun, too – my kids loved the year they got astronaut ice cream for Christmas (it went along well with our astronomy unit, too)!

G is for Gum & Candy

While we try not to fill up an entire stocking with candy, a few sweet treats are okay in my book. Toss in a few gold chocolate coins, candy canes or one of their favorite candy bars.  As for gum, I feel less mom-guilt when we chew Pur and Glee brands since they’re all the fun of regular gum (not quite as long-lasting, but still good) without as much yuck in the ingredients list.

H is for Hobby-Related Gear

This will be kid-specific, depending on their interests. Here are a few examples:

  • Biking – bike repair kit, bike pump, bell, wheel lights or other bike bling
  • Rock Climbing – carabiners, chalk-bag or grip-strengthening toy
  • Arts & Crafts – sketching pencils, drawing pens, pattern scissors, beads, sequins and other crafting supplies
  • Swimming – goggles, swim cap, diving rings and small water toys
  • Home & Garden Tools – kid-sized oven mitts, gardening hand tools, seed packs, gardening gloves, kid-sized hammer or a child-friendly manual drill
  • Reading – fancy bookmarks, stocking-stuffer-sized paperbacks or a reading light
  • Sewing – small sewing kit, sewing scissors, thread, pin cushion or buttons

I is for Inventor’s Supplies

My kids love their “inventor’s box” which we keep stocked with items like these:  small motors, alligator clips, rope and string, zip ties, wooden dowels, wooden wheels, straws, pipe cleaners, small LED lights, binder clips, battery holders and pulleys.

J is for Joke & Puzzle Books

Small or travel-sized joke books (our Garfield-loving family enjoys this one), crosswords, mad-libs, riddles and fact books are perfect for stuffing stockings. Even some larger paperback puzzle books can work in a stocking if you roll them up. 

K is for Keychains & Backpack Clips

Okay, these sometimes verge on being tchotchke. But for the older kid who actually needs a keychain, a nice one could be useful. And for your backpack clip connoisseur who collects different characters, another cute clip-on emoji might be a highly-prized addition to their collection. 😍

L is for Labels, Stamps & Stickers

Stickers, sticker books and rubber stamps are great for young kids or older ones into scrapbooking and crafts. Personalize the gift with “Property of…” labels or order stickers with your kid’s name. (Travel-sized sticker books should fit in most Christmas stockings but double check the product dimensions since sticker books sometimes don’t roll up easily.)

M is for Music Equipment 

For your young percussionists try new drumsticks, mallets, a triangle, shakers or finger cymbals. Other small sized instruments like a harmonica or recorder fit well in a stocking. If they’re already playing an instrument, think about accessories you’d be buying at some point anyway: guitar picks or a capo, a marching band music clip, reeds, a tuner or a metronome.

N is for Non-“Thing” Ideas

Christmas stockings are the perfect place to tuck “experience” gifts like passes for a museum, a roll of tokens for a local arcade, or a little card announcing an upcoming family weekend getaway!  Plus, you can always use the stocking as a hiding place for the first clue of a scavenger hunt leading to a larger gift hidden somewhere else!

O is for Optical Illusions & Logic Toys

Get them thinking with brain-teasers and logic toys. Rubik’s Cubes are classic but there are all kinds of crazy twists on it if they need a new challenge. Kanoodle is a new-found favorite logic game of ours and my kids go back to this optical illusions book again and again.

P is for Practical (& Still Fun) Toiletries

These are the kind of things you’d get anyway but can easily pass off as a gift (especially if you get a fun flavor, color or favorite character)! Cherry ChapStick and a flashy light-up toothbrush are some of my kids’ favorites. Or try other “fun-practical” gifts like glitter nail polish, fancy soaps, hair clips or character Band-Aids.

Q is for Quality Toys

I don’t mean a bunch of random, plastic doohickeys that break after 10 minutes and you find them under the couch two years later. I’m talking about higher quality toys that last or ones that would generate renewed interest in toys your kids already own. Maybe an additional LEGO figure, a new Hexbug Nano, Shopkins, a Thomas train car or some Hot Wheels cars. Play-Doh accessories wrapped individually or a pack of TOOB animal figurines fit well in a stocking, too.

R is for Recreational & Outdoor Gifts

Don’t forget about summer toys just because it’s the dead of winter! A jump rope, sidewalk chalk, small sandbox toys or beanbags are still great options. Or give them a new swing set accessory like a spyglass or climbing wall handgrips (this set we love is too big for a stocking, so split up the pack between siblings or put one grip in the stocking as a hint that the rest have been secretly installed outside)!  Then bundle up the kiddos and let them burn off some of their winter cabin fever in the backyard!

S is for School Supplies

The letter ’S’ is also for Sneaky Homeschool Mom! Who says glue sticks, tape and colored index cards have to come out of the “school supply” budget? Generate some back-to-school excitement with new supplies to carry you through the long winter ahead.  We love Pip-Squeaks markers for our youngest and a variety of tapes (packing tape, colored duct tape, regular clear tape, washi tape) for all the kids’ art projects and inventions. 

T is for Tiny Technology

Think ahead about the tech that will help you in your parenting or homeschooling and you’ll thank yourself later!  Give them a kid’s wristwatch to encourage time-telling or new earbuds to motivate them to use audiobooks independently. A headphone splitter might (might!) help your kids stop arguing over the iPad and these headphone adapters can help save your sanity by adapting regular headphones for use on certain electronic keyboards.  

U is for Useful Gear

A pocket knife, multi-tool or compact camping gear (like utensils or a personal water filter) could be great for your older kids while a flashlight or compact umbrella works for all ages. A money clip, kid’s wallet or small purse can be given just for fun or as a way to encourage money management skills. (They also work well to present a cash gift or gift cards).

V is for Videos

DVD’s fit into most stockings so stock up on family movies or educational ones for the year ahead. We’ve enjoyed Magic School Bus DVD’s, the What’s in the Bible series and LeapFrog phonics videos.

W is for Writing Utensils

You can find fun pencils with crazy toppers, pencil grips and colorful pens at most dollar stores. My kids love gel pens and actually stopped complaining (as much) about writing when we started using them!  White board markers and other fancy markers and fabric paint pens are perfect stocking stuffers. 

X is for eXtra Batteries

You probably wouldn’t want these to be the only thing in your kid’s stocking… and you might receive questioning looks at first. But if they’ve gotten toys that require batteries, they’ll be happy to use them right away! Plus, if they have a stash of battery-less, dead toys like my kids do, batteries will bring the old toys back to life!  It’s like getting all those remote control cars and talking dolls from Christmases past all over again! 

Y is for Yearly Traditions

Hanging stockings is a tradition all by itself so what better place to hide personalized ornaments, homemade coupon books or other fun “family tradition” gifts!  Another idea is to have each member of the family write a little note of encouragement or gratitude to each of the other family members and tuck the notes in each stocking. Gifts from the heart are the best gifts of all and it’s never too late to start a new tradition!

Z is for Zany Gifts

If your kid’s stocking is getting too “practical” or “educational”, mix in one or two off-the-wall or unexpected surprises like light saber chopsticks, this nose-shaped eyeglasses holder or some other family-specific inside joke. 

There you have it – the Stocking Stuffer ABC’s!  Next time won’t you sing with me?

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Your A-Z Guide: The Best Kids' Stocking Stuffer Ideas title on green banner and cartoon stocking background

4 Smart Money-Saving Strategies for One-Income Families (Strategy #4)

4 smart money-saving strategies for one-income families strategy #4 with piggy bank

So far in this series we’ve looked at ways to save money by being…

The final 4 C’s Strategy overlaps with #3 but I’ve kept them separate since each one has it’s own main focus. 

Being counter-cultural in our approach to money helps us zero in on our own goals and work towards them without being influenced by what culture says we’re “supposed” to do. Once you’re comfortable going against the cultural grain, it becomes easier to come up with all kinds of creative money-saving ideas that are unique to your own situation.

Continue reading “4 Smart Money-Saving Strategies for One-Income Families (Strategy #4)”

4 Smart Money-Saving Strategies for One-Income Families (Strategy #3)

4 smart money-saving strategies for one-income families strategy #3 with piggy bank

If you haven’t yet, check out Strategy #1 and Strategy #2 in this series.

So you read last week’s post and stuck around for more? Three cheers for you!! Honestly, the first two strategies are super-important but not all that exciting. They’re kind of like brushing your teeth. Necessary and effective? Yes. Exciting? Not so much.

Thankfully, once you make some progress with Strategies #1 and #2 – learning more about finances and minimizing your financial temptations – you can save even more by using the final two strategies to reach your family’s goals.

Continue reading “4 Smart Money-Saving Strategies for One-Income Families (Strategy #3)”

4 Smart Money-Saving Strategies for One-Income Families (Strategy #2)

4 smart money-saving strategies for one-income families strategy #2 with piggy bank

If you haven’t yet, check out the first post in this series here.

I’ve got good news and bad news. First, the good news…

The fact that you’re reading this means you’re already succeeding at Strategy #1 – you deserve a reward! Go get yourself a cookie! (I’ll wait here)

OK, now that you’ve got your cookie and you’re in a good mood… here’s the bad news. I’ll just come right out and say it….

This next money-saving strategy is the most fuddy-duddy, Debbie Downer, wet blanket of the 4 C’s Strategies. To make matters worse, I’m posting it on BLACK FRIDAY! I’m doing this partly because this is the day when this message is most needed and partly because I’m amused by the irony.

So, brace yourself. What I’m about to say sounds cynical and probably not very cool. But I do hope you’ll keep reading because Strategy #2 has helped us save so much money over the years and I think it can help you, too!

Continue reading “4 Smart Money-Saving Strategies for One-Income Families (Strategy #2)”

4 Smart Money-Saving Strategies for Single-Income Families (Strategy #1)

4 smart money-saving strategies for one-income families strategy #1 with piggy bank

Many homeschooling families (and non-homeschooling families, too) are living on one income in a two-income economy. 

Our own household income was cut by 50% when I quit my full-time architecture career to stay home with our first baby. We had some savings and made it work for the short-term but once we decided to homeschool we realized the “dip-into-savings-and-just-don’t-buy-stuff” approach wasn’t going to work for the long haul. 

The loss of one full-time salary or the switch to part-time income with fewer benefits is a huge adjustment. In a culture obsessed with money and material possessions you’ll need to muster all your courage and intentionality to stick to a financial plan that works.

But I’m here to tell you it CAN be done! 

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Top Handwriting Resources for Homeschoolers on a Budget

Top Handwriting Resources for Homeschoolers on a Budget

When my oldest son had some pre-writing work under his belt and was ready to start learning how to write letters and words, I researched the depths of the internet in the hopes of finding the one right, best method for teaching handwriting. 

Long story short, there’s no such thing.

Some experts say cursive first, others say manuscript. Some say lower case first, others say upper case. They all seem to have an opinion about which letters to teach first and which font style is the best for beginning writers – D’Nealian, Zaner-Bloser, Palmer, Getty-Dubay, Wingdings (ok, probably not that last one). What size should the primary lines be for which grade level? Will tracing ruin my child forever or is it a great first step toward handwriting success? And on and on and on….

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Achieving Handwriting Success with a Skill-Based Approach

Achieving Handwriting Success with a Skill-Based Approach on dark background with pencils on table

One of the beauties of homeschooling is that kids can work at their own pace based on skill mastery rather than age or grade level. This is helpful for all subjects but especially ones with physical coordination aspects like handwriting. Kids are all over the map when it comes to physical development.

Is your kindergartener’s printing better than your spouse’s? No need to hold them back with a “kindergarten” book! Does your older student need extra printing practice before tackling cursive? No worries! You can use whatever resources meet him where he’s at based on ability, not necessarily grade. 

At the end of the day, the goal is to have kids who can write neatly (or at least legibly) to communicate in written form. 

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Our Curriculum Choices – Year 5

sensible homeschool our curriculum choices year five on chalkboard background

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If you haven’t done so yet, read the first post in this series here and check out Our Curriculum Choices – Year 1, Year 2, Year 3 and Year 4.

Year 5 Snapshot

If you’ve been following this series of posts, we’ve now caught up to real time. I wrote about the first four years retroactively because I started this blog just before we began our fifth year of homeschooling. 

Since I can’t summarize a year that hasn’t happened yet, this snapshot will be a look at how our year has started so far. Later this school year I hope to post about lessons learned during Year 5… but I have to learn them first, so stay tuned. 

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5 Reading Incentive Programs and How They Can Work for Your Family

5 Reading Incentive Programs and How They Can Work for Your Family on cartoon background with boy reading book

There’s an ongoing debate as to whether or not reading incentive programs are a good thing. (Just so you don’t get your hopes up, this blog post isn’t going to settle the matter). 

Some parents and educators say reading incentives have absolutely helped motivate their reluctant readers. The kids just needed a little outside motivation to get them started and now their love of reading has taken off.

Others point to the dangers of external motivation and warn that incentive programs backfire. They say the programs are essentially bribes and when the incentives stop, so does the reading.

In my experience, there’s truth on both sides. 

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