Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Do You... Expose Your Kids to Great Ideas?

alternately titled: Teaching Your Kids Without Telling Them It's School

So how do I expose my kids to a variety of topics that I don't plan to formally teach during our school day? I'm a sucker for books.  I am constantly picking up books at the library that pique my interest and bringing them home to peruse...and hope my children will want to peruse them, too.  Rather than assign them as required reading, I've started leaving a variety of books in a stack on the coffee table.  We spend a lot of time in our living room so the books are sure to be seen.

Sometimes I'll read part or all of a book to my kids in the evening as they're settling down for bed and  sometimes I simply leave the books there for my kids to discover on their own.

Here's a small sampling of the books that have rotated on and off of our coffee table this year:

{The following contains affiliate links.}

A Beatrix Potter Treasury
and Beatrix Potter(biography) by John Malam
100 Great Poems for Girlsedited by Celia Johnson
100 Great Poems for Boysedited by Leslie Pockell
Toilet: How It Worksby David Macaulay
The American Story: 100 True Tales from American Historyby Jennifer Armstrong
My Mommy And Me Story Bibleby Tracy Harrast
Top 10 Dogs for Kidsby Ann Graham Gaines
Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everythingby Maira Kalman
Illustration School: Let's Draw Happy Peopleby Sachiko Umoto   
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verseby Marilyn Singer
13 Buildings Children Should Know
by Annette Roeder

The variety of subjects, reading levels, and styles introduces variety that might not be found in our school curriculum, plus providing snippets of various history, science, literature, or art topics may just spur a desire in one of my kids for additional independent learning.

During certain seasons of the year, I'll also place a stack of themed books out to help us celebrate.


My How Do You...? series is back for a limited time.  If you have an idea for a topic, leave a comment here or on my Facebook page.  In the meantime, you can browse the archived index of past topics.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Easter Eggs

Our family makes a yearly event of dyeing eggs for Easter.  Last year, we invited a group of friends to share in our tradition with us, but this year we worked on our project alone.  We scaled back acadmics to the very basics one day last week and devoted our school day to "art" instead.  

We began with shaving cream eggs. Aside from a few messy fingers, it was an easy variation to traditional dyeing.   We filled a 11x8 baking pan with shaving cream and 8-10 drops of food coloring. Then we used a toothpick to swirl (but not blend) the colors. 

After rolling the eggs through the rainbow mix, we set the eggs on an old towel to dry before wiping off the shaving cream to see the results.  (I didn't get an individual "after" photo, but you can see a few of the tie-dye eggs in the vase below. 

After dyeing a few shaving cream eggs, we moved on to egg dyeing with a twist.  The dyeing part was the same as usual (boiling water, a splash of vinegar, food coloring), but we used an Easter egg color chart to achieve specific colors with names like lime, cantaloupe, maize, and raspberry

The other difference this year was that we inserted the eggs in a whisk before dipping into the hot water.  It saved us from worrying about burned fingers or splashes of water all over the table from dropping the eggs into the cups. 

We chose to displaying our array of eggs in a vase on the kitchen table.  After using food dyes and shaving cream on our eggs and then leaving them out at room temperature, they are no good for eating, but buying 18 eggs is far less expensive than many craft supplies.

We ended our day with one last egg decorating project: Minion eggs.  Recreating these little creatures from Despicable Me was super easy.  All we needed were a few cheap plastic Easter eggs, electrical tape, googly eyes, and a permanent marker.  The kids created their Minions in secret so that each one could be different.  Then they did a big reveal to each other when they were done.

Not up for boiling water, food dyes, or googly eyes? My kids have also had fun coloring these free Easter egg printables this year.

What about you?  Have you done an Easter crafting?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How Do You...Revive an Old Blog Series?

Between February 2012 and March 2013, I regularly wrote "How Do You...?"as a weekly series for my blog. I answered questions such as How do you grocery shop with kids? How do you keep track of library books?, How do you keep a toddler in bed?, and How do you keep the bathroom clean?

I let the series fizzle because I ran out of ideas and reader questions dwindled, but I'd love to revive the series on a short-term basis!  This go-round, I'm setting aside Wednesdays to answer your questions.

To make this work, I need your input!  What do you want to know?  Leave a comment here or on my Facebook page.  I can't wait to hear from you.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Coming to a Theater Near You

This is part 5 of my Based on the Book series. First I talked about 4 books that I thought were superior to their movie counterparts.  The following week it was 2 movies that I liked better than the original books.  I also shared a few choices that were too close to call  and wrote a book review.

During February and March, I read three books that are are being released as movies in the theater this year.  I came to very different conclusions about each one!
Books I've Read in Anticipation of Movies Coming Out This Year
{All book and movie titles are Amazon affiliate links.}

I had heard great things about The Fault in Our Starsby John Green.  I'm not one to jump on a bandwagon.  In fact, if a book or movie gets a lot of hype, the rebel in me resists reading or watching it. I eventually broke down, though, when I read a synopsis of the plot.

The Fault in Our Stars is the story of two teenagers who meet at a cancer support group and the book follows their emotional friendship and the events of their lives over the portion of a year.  I thoroughly enjoyed the story.  It was authentic without being sappy.  However, it had a moderate amount of language (maybe a PG-13 rating) and many of the characters' beliefs about death and what happens when we die were in opposition to how I believe. 

Now I know why the book got rave reviews, but I had enough reservations that I can't give it my  wholehearted recommendation.

I was excited to begin Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trailby Cheryl Strayed, but I almost quit before the second chapter. I probably should have.

I was fascinated by the story of a woman who set off alone to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (the more rugged West Coast sister to the Appalachian Trail).  It was interesting to read of the people she met and how she survived. I was amazed at how little she ate and the tremendous load she carried, and I was sickly fascinated by the descriptions of her bruises, blisters, and missing toenails.

Now for the downside. The language was horrible (definitely beyond a PG-13 rating). The author's lifestyle choices were morally lacking. The need for a Savior was obvious. I could only recommend this book with a long list of warnings.

Now I can talk about my favorite.  The girls and I read A Bear Called Paddingtonby Michael Bond together.  I had never read Paddington as a child and had no idea what to expect. For some reason, I thought it might be dull,  but I adored it!  I loved the writing style.  I loved the story.  I loved the illustrations. My girls did, too. 

The book follows the story of Paddington, a Peruvian bear who ends up at a train station in England.  It follows his story as the Browns bring him home with them and he settles into life with the family. It is witty and funny but heartwarming, too. 

No warnings or hesitations needed on this one.  It's a gem!

Have you read either of these books?  What did you think? 

Next up in the series I'll talk about some book-movie combos that are worth mentioning but don't fit into any category! 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Chore System That Works

When I posted my goal update last week, I had 2 different individuals ask for more details on how we do chores and allowance at our house. While I'm not sure if our system will be useful to any other family, I am more than happy to share what works for us.

I want to preface this by saying that we felt a need to make a change because I was always nagging and reminding.  "Did you remember to feed the cats?" "Have you folded and put away your pajamas?"  "Why haven't you brushed your teeth?!  We need to start school in ten minutes!"

Brian and I wanted to create a chores system that had the kids taking more initiative for their own work.

What we found to be most effective was to give each child a list of  requirements (based on their age and ability) and also give them a time deadline.  For example, Owen (7) is responsible to make his bed, get dressed, brush his teeth, help straighten the boys' room, and spot clean the bathroom every morning.  He can do this in any order he wants (and he can even do other leisure things as well) as long as his responsibilities are done by 9 am when we start school.

Other morning chores which were assigned to different children  include tidying and sweeping the laundry room (which also serves as an entrance to our house), walking and feeding the dog, feeding the cats, and unloading the dishwasher. Everything must be completed by 9 am (10 am on the weekends). 

Giving the initiative to complete their own work over to my children leaves me free to handle my own responsibilities or read a book to Alaine or take a shower because I know that the work will be completed and I'm not needed as a nagging reminder.

To ensure that each child knows what is expected of them, we have posted small charts in inconspicuous places around the house.  For example, on the inside of the bathroom cabinet is the bathroom checklist.  Owen rarely refers to it now, but it's there if he needs it. It is also there if another child needs to be a substitute.  When Owen was sick with a virus last month, Maddie was able to step in and clean the bathroom for him by following the checklist.

If a child has not completed their responsibilities by the set time, if they repeatedly do a poor job, or if they complain about what they are given to do,  a certain percentage is taken from their allowance.  It's only had to happen twice because my kids take that dock in pay very seriously!

We made the decision years ago to pay our kids an allowance starting when they turn four.  While we believe that everyone must contribute to the family and that working together is a part of living together, we also believe that teaching children to handle money at a young age is a valuable skill.  Allowance is not a freebie in our house.  It is something that must be earned.

At dinner time, we have a separate set of chores.   Because the two oldest (11 and 9) take care of the dog in the afternoon before dinner, they are excused from setting the table.  Owen (7) and Ben (5) do that together, each with specific tasks. Clearing the table is on rotation-- Gavin on Mondays, Maddie on Tuesdays, etc.  Table clearing used to be a group effort, but it seemed like one child always got stuck with the bulk of the work.  It wasn't intentional, but one kid often lingered at the table.  Another needed to use the bathroom after every meal. Another talked while working.  And before we knew it, the table was 75% cleared by one child.  By rotating days, the table gets cleared regardless of the worker's style. 

One last note: Last summer, we instituted a little School of Home Skills into our weekly routine. It was one of the best things we could have done for training our kids in valuable life skills. It might be time for a  refresher course this summer.

Monday, March 31, 2014

a Monday Morning Mommy Moment

This Mama wants to show off a little. If you are not my children's grandmother or other close relative, you may wish to click away (because there is no other point of this post other than to do a little bragging).


My three oldest kids are entering a local art competition.  The directions are simple.  Draw, paint, or doodle a migratory bird that can be seen in our area. 

Owen (7) knew immediately he wanted to draw a goose.  He settled at the dining room table and got to work, finishing in 20 minutes-- not because he was in a hurry but because he knew exactly what he wanted to do.  That is so indicative of his personality.

Maddie (9) was not so decisive.  She considered many, many different varieties of birds.  Then she doodled ten or fifteen on a scrap piece of paper.  "To practice," she said.  When she finally settled on the bald eagle, she asked if we could check out some books at the library so she could study an array of photographs before she decided how she wanted her eagle to pose. 

Gavin decided on a sand piper easily enough, but finishing his drawing took multiple hours over several days.  He is precise and particular and a bit of a perfectionist.  He was terrified that he would need to erase something and leave marks on his page.

The artwork went into the mail on Thursday. The deadline is mid-April and winners are chosen in May.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring Goal Check-In

I love reading other blogger's goal posts.  It's a nosy little peek into their lives.  It's inspiring and informative and fun, but maybe that's just me.

I also love writing goal posts.  It's a way to put my goals in writing, track my progress, see what I still have left to accomplish, and evaluate if each goal remains important to me. I abandoned a few goals last year...without guilt!

With a quarter of the year behind us, I figured it was time to do an update and include a few links and pictures. My goals are bulleted while my notes are written in teal.

I accomplished much in the kitchen over the first quarter of the year.  The only item left on my list is vanilla.  I have the beans, but still I need to purchase the vodka.  I attempted other new recipes, too, like this delicious Giant Cinnamon Roll Cake.

  • Eat at Chipotle.  (Am I the only one who hasn't been?!)
I crossed this goal off in February and I talked about it on the blog here.  I met a great group of friends for lunch on a cloudy mid-week afternoon.  The weather didn't zap our spirits. The conversation was fun and the food was delicious.  I've requested Chipotle as my pre-half-marathon dinner.  Yum!

  • Run a 2-mile race with Brian.
We ran our race together on a cold, drizzly February morning.  Brian had a head cold and didn't feel at his peak, but he met his goal and ran the entire course.  I met both my conservative and my ambitious goals.  I shared another photo and details from the race here. 

  • Train and run a 1/2 marathon. 
Brian says that 2 miles is enough for him and he'll leave the longer distances to me.  My half-marathon is in less than a month. I'm at the greatest intensity for my training right now, but I'll be entering the taper in about 2 weeks. I'm using a combination of training plans, but am relying most heavily on this one. This plan is different than many plans in that it has you running fewer days a week (3 days versus 4 or 5), but each workout focuses intensely on a specific area (speed, tempo, or distance).  To date, I've run 206 miles in 2014.

  • Build my upper body and core strength.  Hold a plank for 4 minutes.
I started the 30 Day Plank Challenge  last November, but could not get past 2 minutes, 40 seconds.  Brian and I started The Challenge together in February, but we kept forgetting about it and lacked consistency.  Maybe we'll try again in April or May.

  • Learn to change the oil in the van and learn to change the wiper blades, too.
No progress so far.  This is a leftover goal from 2013 and I will do this someday!

  • Take each child out individually for a meal at a restaurant they would enjoy.
Accomplished...almost! We decided to pair up the kids who especially enjoy each other's company so I took Alaine and Maddie out for a Sunday afternoon lunch together.  A few weeks later, Brian took Ben out for pizza and a milkshake.  Tomorrow the two older boys have a planned dinner outing with Brian.

  • Read 50 books-- not including books I read aloud to my kids or books we read for school.
I think this goal was too conservative.  I will be finishing my current read today and bring my total to 21.  In this quarter of the year (winter) I read more than any other time, but still... it will be surprising if I don't exceed this goal. 

I've added 2 secondary challenges to my goal.  I want to read most of the books from the 2014 Sisters Book Challenge I'm doing with my sister.  I've read 3/10.  Plus I've chosen 4 classics I want to read by the end of the year.  I've read 1/4.

  • Develop a new chores system for the kids, including responsibilities for the two youngest.
Brian and I sat down in the first week of January and talked about how to reboot our chores system.  We both agreed that we wanted to require more responsibility and encourage initiative  We changed up which child was responsible for certain chores.  We added some new jobs.  We re-thought how we pay allowance. We presented our new plan to the kids and gave it a trial run for the remainder of January.  When we started back to school in February, it became official.  One big change: Benjamin (5) has a small list of chores he must complete on his own without reminder.  He is doing wonderfully! We decided to keep Alaine  (3) in "training mode." It doesn't mean she doesn't work or contribute to the family, but she does it close by my side.

  • Take (or have someone else take) new non-candid photos of my kids. 
I've been waiting for warm weather before even considering this and the warm weather has been slow in coming this year.  My sister has volunteered to do the photography, but she is having surgery in April so maybe May or June.

I'll do another goal check-in at the end of June.  Did you make any goals this year? How do you plan to accomplish them?

Monday, March 24, 2014


This is part 4 of my Based on the Book series and also a book review for the 2014 version of Sisters Book Challenge.  When Kati gave me my list of ten books for the year, there were so many good choices and I wanted to read them all at once.  Instead, I broke the list down into manageable pieces and decided to read 1 selection a month. My choice for March matches perfectly with my discussion of books and their movie counterparts.

For every Sound of Music {swoon}, there is a Seven Brides For Seven Brothers {ugh!}. Not every musical is created equal.  For me, My Fair Lady sits neatly in the swoon category. However, I had never read the play on which it was based, Pygmalion(affiliate link) by George Bernard Shaw.  I snapped it up for free on my Kindle and started reading it in the van while waiting for Brian to run an errand.

In the beginning, I found it hard to read.  While a story fills in details and uses creative imagery, a play states it directly.  Instead of describing how a character may be standing, a play simply says [Character] standing upright by the desk with her hand on the corner. It took some getting used to. 

The other thing that surprised me was how bare-bones the play was compared to the movie musical. It shouldn't have surprised me, given that the play was short, but I kept waiting for certain plot points from the movie that never happened.  And I hope this is not too much of a spoiler alert, but the ending of the book and the ending of the movie are complete opposites.  All through the play, I thought I knew how it would all turn out in the end, but I didn't know at all!

Have you ever read a play?  Maybe Shakespeare? What did you think? Did you find it awkward or did you love it?

Come back next week when I discuss a list of books I want to read before they are made into movies. 

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