Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Preparing the postpartum nest for recovery time (taking care of mom)

I just had my 8th baby.  Over the years I've come to find that preparing for a peaceful recovery time is just as important (if not more) as preparing for baby.  After birth mama is recovering from the toll that pregnancy has taken on on her body, recovering from birth, getting to know the new baby, building a nursing relationship with baby and dealing with hormonal changes.  Whew!  Thats a lot to deal with all at once.  I've found that the more time that can be dedicated to a quiet recovery the better I do in the following months and year.  There have been times when the recovery time has been virtually non-existent with me needing to jump into life quickly after birth.  While I was able to do this; my health suffered (mastitis several times and various viruses and infections that my body SHOULD have been able to fight off, but did not) and it really took me much longer to get back on my feet as far as caring for my family goes even though it looked like I had been able to just jump back into "life."

Important parts of postpartum recovery-

-Get help!  Can your husband take time off of work?  My husband has almost always taken 2 weeks of leave after our babies were born (we recently found out that he now gets 10 days of paternity leave!).  My mom usually comes for a week when baby is about two weeks.  That gives me 3 weeks to rest and adjust.  If your husband can't take time off and your family can't help look into what other options you have.  Are your friends or church family willing to help out a bit?  We've had young women come and stay with us a couple of times to help out.  Accept any help that is offered and keep a list of things you could use help with so if someone offers you know what needs to be done (laundry, meals, errands, cleaning the house, watching the kids....).  *It can be hard to ask for help, or to take the help offered.  A couple of years ago a dear friend sweetly reminded me that I needed to let others help me the way I love to serve and help others.  By not taking the help offered I was robbing others of the chance to obey God and serve in the way he had put on their hearts.  

-STAY IN BED!!!!  Try to stay in bed for a week.  Your body really does need this rest. Sleep when baby is sleeping.  I wear PJ's for at least that first week to help me remember that I'm supposed to be resting; even if I do feel well. This has the added bonus of not trying to get into real clothes for a while giving your belly a bit more time to shrink. ;)

-TRAIN your children!!!!  This can be so hard in the last weeks when you are not sleeping well and moving around is getting harder and harder.  The temptation to slack off is very real (and I've succumbed to it).  The more time you spend working with your children and training them during this time the better off you (and your whole family) will be.  Inspect the work you expect them to do.  Keep up with school (if you homeschool), too much free time will only lead them to trouble.  Work on any discipline issues (they will only get worse after baby if you don't).  Are any kids ready to step into some jobs you usually do, even if for a short time?  Some of my kids are learning to make some meals that I would normally do.  My youngest is getting used to his big sister putting him down for a nap, while his big brothers are doing his diaper changes as I will not be lifting him for a few weeks after I have baby.

-Prepare your room for an extended stay.  I make sure that everything (other than food and drinks) that I will need in the next week or so are in my room.  Baby's bed, diapers, clothes  etc. are all set up in my room.  I've gathered PJ's and sweats that I know will fit and they are in a nice neat stack with nursing bras and pads right next to them.  I'll keep some books, DVDs and thank you cards next to my bed as well.
This is an old entertainment center that has been repurposed to be used as a dresser/changing table.  Notice the pictures?  They are from the "belly picture" session we had with a dear friend.  I love the joy and anticipation represented in these pictures; as well as the thought of the dear friend behind the camera.

-Have treats planned.  This is a special time, make it feel like it is.  Have some favorite foods ready to go in the house.  Have some extra money set aside to get take out (I'm looking forward to sushi and Thai food as evening "dates" with my husband).  I also have tea and biscotti set aside to be enjoyed as mid-morning snacks.  Make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks as well; nuts, cheese, nut crackers, as well as fruits and veggies are some great ones.  Be sure to have a great water bottle that you enjoy drinking from; getting plenty of water is so important while nursing.
I find that ice cold water from a straw is what I do best with.  This insulated water bottle makes it easy for me to have water with me anywhere I go.

-CLOTHES that will fit after baby should be prepared before baby is born.  Chances are that you either don't own anything that will fit (if this is your first or you have a big space) or that the clothes that will fit have not seen the light of day for well over a year.  I pulled out some of the clothes I think will fit and made sure they were ironed.  Now they will be ready for me when I am ready to venture out of the house; instead of having to dig through my closet/bins to find something that needs to be ironed while trying to get out of the house with the new baby (as I've had to do in the past).

-MEALS should be planned and made ahead.  If you are blessed with meals from others these meals in your freezer will help you ease back into running your home while you continue to adjust.  Even if you don't have a large freezer many meals can be frozen flat in gallon bags.  You would be surprised how much you can get into that freezer above the refrigerator.  As a bonus if you can have a grocery list ready so that one of your helpers can make that run before they leave you will be thankful not to have to take the baby on that sort of trip quite yet.  *We've been so blessed with over two weeks of meals from our church family, friends, and even pizza delivery from family out of town!  This means we will not be getting into our freezer meals until around the time my husband will be going back to work! I'll have nearly two months of not needing to make dinner!

-A clean house (and I mean CLEAN, not just picked up) is a nice bonus.  It will be so much easier for you to enjoy your recovery time knowing your house has been cleaned well.  It seems many pregnant women can hardly help but do this in the last weeks anyways as they nest.  Cleaning out the entry closet, the sewing room, garage and pulling out fall clothes for the kids were on my list this time around.

-Enjoy your baby and your family!  This is a special time for bonding with your baby and getting to know him/her as well as a recovery time.  When all of the above are in order it will be much easier to enjoy this time.  Your family will be better able to enjoy this special time as well when your home is well prepared for baby's arrival.  This should be a special time for all of you!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Freezer cooking (preparing for baby/postpardum recovery time)

Its time for me to start filling up our freezer with meals so that after baby is born my family can be fed with little to no effort on my part.  It makes me feel so good to know that once all of my help is gone I'll have these meals waiting for our family to make life easier as we continue to recover and adjust.

I started my freezer filling weeks ago by researching recipes that would freeze well (my old standbys no longer work as we need to keep the meals dairy free for our toddler).  I found a bunch here that look like they will work well for my family.  I made up a master list of what we would need, looked through the pantry/freezer to see what we already had, and then made up my grocery list from there.  The day before our big cooking day I did a big shopping trip.  When we got home we set everything we could out on our school table with the recipe they belonged to as well as the (labeled) bag or pan that would be needed.

I hit the ground running the morning of our cooking day.  Chicken breasts needed to be cooked up for a couple of recipes and beans also needed to be cooked up.  After breakfast I was able to start assembling.  The rest of the family was occupied with our regular Saturday cleaning chores.  My husband was kind enough to supervise this and take care of the little kids.  This allowed me to give my undivided attention to the cooking.

By the afternoon everyone had finished their regular chores and came in to help me.  What a blessing this was as I was starting to loose steam.  My oldest took over a couple of recipes for me.  One of my boys took over a recipe as well.

I was very thankful for my five year old's help.  She was my little runner that afternoon; getting things I needed and putting other things away.  She also peeled quite a few carrots for me.

By the end of the day I was beat, done, out of steam.  I was glad I had started our dinner in the crock pot that morning.  I put my feet up for the rest of the evening and enjoyed the thought of the 29 meals waiting in the freezer.

*To help keep track of what is in there and allow my helpers to know what is available we have an inventory sheet on the freezer.  As I added meals I quickly wrote down what they were.  Now the trick will be to find what you are looking for. ;)

**The key to one of these big cooking days is being well organized ahead of time, including the meals you and your family will be eating that day and the care of any young children.  Working together as a team REALLY helps too.  I could not have made it through the last 10 meals or so without the help of our crew.  It also gives the whole family a sense of accomplishment knowing we did this all together. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Prayer Baskets- Taking care of Mom

I really struggle with getting my own quiet time with God.  Our family has Bible reading time together as a group and we work on verses and even do devotionals during the day.  That still does not change that I'm not getting my own time with God.

Recently while reading 15-Minute Organizer by Emilie Barnes, I read about having a prayer basket. I loved the idea, and thought it would help me.   My prayer basket has a small binder with divider tabs in it, a clip board for memory verses, a Bible, a silk flower (just for pretty), and supplies (including pen, postcards, cards, and stamps) and, if I'm reading one, a devotional book.

When I decided to make mine up, I thought that maybe my teen daughter would like one too.  I'd like to encourage this habit early in life for her so that she will (hopefully) not struggle as much as I do.  She thought that was a great idea.  We went out to dinner together and talked over what we thought our tabs should be labeled and put our binders together.  Then we went shopping for baskets and silk flowers (what a blessing, they were on sale!).

Our tabs we decided on are-
Rob(husband) and kids   OR  Dad, Mom, and siblings
Friends and Family
Missionaries and Pastors
Community and Nation
Notes and Verses

The postcards, cards, and stamps are so that we can send out thinking of you/praying for you notes out to those we have just prayed for or have been led to encourage.

I'm hoping that having all of this together will help encourage me to not only have regular prayer times but help keep my prayer life in order.  With a new baby on the way, I would like to use some of our nursing sessions for my quiet times.  My hope is that by using some nursing sessions for quiet time with God that I'll not only develop the habit of regular quiet times, but that my hunger and desire for these times would grow as well.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Back to school time!

We've spent our summer working on projects, child training, getting used to new chores, on vacation,  planning for the coming school year, cleaning and organizing.  Now its time to get back to school!

Back to school time is exciting for everyone.  Mom is usually refreshed and excited about what has been planned for the coming school year (looking forward to how the kids will learn and grow/what God will be doing in the family).  The kids are usually excited about the books and supplies they've been seeing coming into the house and are eager to get their hands on them.  It is a new beginning!
*This is our school room bookshelf.  It looks a bit sparse, but this is because I want the kids to be able to easily find the things they NEED during school time.  We have several other book shelves full of books (of all types) and curriculum (not in use this year).  Keeping this area simple and uncluttered allows us to find what we need and better enjoy our school year.

This year we have a baby due in October.  My hope is that by having our Circle Time and Table time well planned out and in this binder (easy to get to); that babysitter/daddy/nana will be able to keep things going while I'm recovering from birth.
*This binder not only holds the plans for the year, but most of the supplies for our table time crafts (minus things like glue, crayons, and other large items).  Anything that needed to be copied or cut out has been done and is right here ready for us!

The same thing goes for the individual binders.  By having everything planned out, assigned, and right there for the kids they should be able to keep themselves going even when I'm not on the ball.

*These two shelves contain all of the binders and textbooks the kids will need for this year of school.  

I've tried to be realistic in my planning.  Even if things SHOULD be able to move along without me I know I need to have low expectations.  Planning too much will just put unnecessary stress on everyone during this special time.  Reality is that having babysitter/daddy/nana here = FUN! we want to enjoy this time as well as be productive.  There will be distractions, things will move slowly, plan for it! Along the same lines, I know that as we adjust to a new baby and nursing again I'll be slow and will not get as much done once my help is gone.  This is applied to times like holidays or any other time when there will be many other distractions.

These posts on pre-schoool/kindergarten/1st grade, elementary/grammar school, and Jr. High explain how we generally go about educating our children, and some of the whys as well.

Monday, August 26, 2013

recovering from a road trip

We just got home from our summer trip.  Road trips/vacations are fun, but when we get home its time to pay the piper.  Often times we get home late at night, dump some stuff in the living room/by the door and head to bed.  We wake up to a big mess, a van that needs to be cleaned out, mountains of laundry, an empty refrigerator (or worse yet, one that was not emptied before the trip. Ick!) and some tired/grumpy people in the house.  I've posted before about how we do road trips, and travel in our trailer.  

I've been thinking through how we can make the transition home go a bit more smoothly, more enjoyable.  I've put a couple of these things into practice already (with recent trips), and they have helped.  Knowing I'll be coming home in the 3rd trimester, and that I'll be exhausted, motivated me to plan ahead and strategize a bit more this time.

Leave the house as clean as possible (and be the first one in the door when you get home)- You will be bringing a huge mess in as it is.  Walking into a clean house is like a breath of fresh air, and if you can manage to be the first one in it will remind you that its just the stuff from the van that you need to deal with.  The day before we leave I have the kids clean bathrooms and floors.  Before we leave the house the day of the trip everyone makes sure their rooms are clean and any of the last minute trip messes are cleaned up. (if you have someone watching the house or just a really awesome friend, maybe they will do a bit of clean up while you are gone?)

Plan for your meals when you get home, This one tends to be a hard one for me.  Our trips are long so most things in the refrigerator would be bad before we get back.  I'm not likely to remember to pull anything out of the freezer when we get home at the end of the trip.  Eggs last a long time in the refrigerator, make sure there are some for breakfast before you leave the house.  It is easy to wake up, make some scrambled eggs and maybe some canned fruit (or pull some breakfast sausage or muffins from the freezer); oatmeal is another easy breakfast (we generally don't do boxed cereal, it is expensive and really not at all healthy).  If you have someone house sitting or caring for your animals they may be willing to pull something out of your freezer to thaw so that you will have a homemade (freezer meal) thawed and ready to cook when you get home.

Put away as things come into the house.  This seems easy, but so often what happens is everyone just dumps things by the door (in the living room) and heads out for another load.  Make the goal to handle everything as little as possible.  Don't drop those sleeping bags!   Take them to the closet they live in, and put them away!  Take the laundry bags right to the laundry room (we have a darks bag and a lights bag), start a load right away instead of just dumping the bags!  If you've been able to do laundry along the way maybe your suitcases will be full of clean clothes?  (I think I had that happen one time, it was so nice!)

Grocery list and Meal plan all ready to go- I'm often so busy planning and getting ready for our trip that I neglect to plan ahead for meals or make my grocery list.  Being able to come home to a prepared meal plan and grocery list means one (or is that two?) less thing you need to think about.

Plan a vacation from your vacation We always add an extra day or two (this time three) of leave (for my AirForce husband) to our trip for recovery.  That gives us two adults at home supervising the clean up effort and managing tired children.  It also allows one of us to go shopping without everyone in tow (while the recovery effort can continue at home).  Besides the cleanup effort we do nothing else.  We sleep in that day or two (or three), make no other plans, make simple meals, and rest as we go about the business of cleaning up.

Be realistic; it takes a week or two to recover from a long trip (with a large or small family).  Even if you are able to jump back into your regular schedule in a couple of days remember that everyone will be tired and adjusting to being back at home.  Little ones will be fussy, bigger kids will be grumpy until they catch up on sleep (and you will be too).  Everyone will have enjoyed some extra freedom and distractions and will need to be reigned back in.  Chores and routines will take longer as you work back into them.  Clean up will take a few days even if you are diligent in getting things put away as you come in (it seems there are always gifts, purchases, or random things that have a hard time finding a home).  Be realistic, you just are not going to be back to "normal" right away.  With this in mind it is easier to have a good attitude as you work your way back to normal (whatever that is!).

What do you do to make recovery from your trips a bit better?  I'm still working on this, but I really think that the "vacation from your vacation" and being realistic in your expectations are two of the most important parts of making this happen.  I'll be giving all of this more thought in the coming year so I'm ready for our next trips.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Family Command Center

Managing my home and family in a peaceful and orderly manner is extreamly important.  If I'm not communicating effectively with them, if my head is not on straight, and we don't have reasonable expectations for the day then chaos reigns and no one is happy.  There is so much to keep track of, and so many people to keep on track.  My mind can't track it all.

So much time, energy, and even frustration can be saved by writing things down.  I have 100 things swirling around me at any given time, kids to keep focused, jobs that need to be done (for me and the kids), school to teach,  meal preparation, shopping lists, restrictions to remember/enforce, etc. This can all get so overwhelming and things can easily slip through the cracks.  Once these things are written down I don't have to keep thinking about them and trying to remember them.  This spot functions as my brain in these areas, so I can think about other things.  When written in a place that is visible to the whole family everyone can be on board and stay on track.

Large or small, a central place for family information is very helpful in the management of a home.  I've tried home management note books and binders, but that just never worked for me.  The notebooks ended up being in the way, looking like more clutter sitting around and was often in danger of spills and little fingers.  On the other hand; over the years I've come to rely on my white board and cork board for keeping track, organizing, and communicating with my family.  I pulled all of it together to make one small wall our "command center"

Some coats of paint, a new cork board, clipboards, scrapbook paper, laminating and a frame later I had this command center with a more unified look and more information that my family needed.  I had most of what I needed, painting it all brought a unified look to the hodge podge of stuff I brought together.  I had fun picking scrapbook paper that reflected the days/months/or rooms they represented on various sheets.

Our white board still serves as a central place for writing anything that needs to be communicated throughout the day as well as budget info, shopping lists etc.

The cork board holds our "job sheet" where kids mark jobs they need to be paid for (as well as penalties for poorly done jobs), cards and letters for all to see are often placed here as well.

One clipboard holds our laminated sheets of jobs for each day.  We can use a dry erase marker to mark off the jobs as we do them.  Everyone knows what needs to be done in the day and can easily see what they can help with.

The other clipboard will hold our memorization verses for each month.

I picked up the frame at Goodwill, used fabric for the background, ribbon for dividing lines and painted the frame.  This will be where all of our calendars come together, meal plans, activities, errands etc will be here for all to see.

I still need to pick up something for mail and papers.   To "read," "reply," and "file" will be the categories.

What do you use to keep your family in order?  What methods to you use to remember what needs to be done through out the day and day-to-day?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Homeschooling Jr. High

I have two kids in Jr. High level this year.  Since everyone does unit studies together and then does subjects like Math, English, and Reading on their own, Jr. High has looked very similar to Elementary schooling other than the levels at which they are learning.

Our family spends much time reading together and in discussion about what we are reading as well as about current events.  Our reading materials vary and range in topics; we've enjoyed history, economics, historical fiction, various cultural and religious books etc.  As our older kids get older we've enjoyed seeing the dynamics of this time change as the kids are better able to begin to process and think through these things on their own.

Educationally we use this time to identify holes/gaps and strengths/weaknesses so that we can better prepare them for entering High School level studies.

This is a great time of maturing Spiritually, Emotionally, and Physically.  Homeschooling allows us to help our children through this time in a safe environment, giving the input they most need (wisdom from their elders instead of foolishness of peer groups).  As with our younger kids their relationship with Christ is our first focus (at least this is what we strive for—we are not perfect though). Everything else seems to fall into place when our focus is on HIM.

*A note on holes and gaps.  Every form of education (public, private, or home) will have holes or gaps.  Our goal is to raise us life long learners.  Those holes and gaps will not matter so much if they love to learn and are capable of independent learning.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Elementary/Grammar school homeschooling

I recently posted about how I go about homeschooling my toddlers/pre-schoolers/kindergarteners.  Now I thought I'd move on to Elementary level.  As with the very early ages, there are also so many options out there for these ages as well.  Every family (and maybe even every child within a family) will look different in what they need and what works for them.

Our first priority in all of our children is raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  That means Bible study and character training comes first.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness  and all these things shall be added unto you.  Matthew 6:33

We firmly believe that if we are looking first to God, teaching our children through and in His word, that the rest will follow.  We do not believe that this ensures our children's salvation; that is work the Holy Spirit must do in them.  It is, however, our duty as parents to obey God's word and teach our children His word as we walk along the way.  This is our first priority as we are planning our school days and our unit studies.

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  Deuteronomy 6:5-7

This too will look different in every home.  For us we start our day in God's word reading as a family (we follow the Battle Plan for reading through the Bible in a year) and prayers.  Then we break to read Psalms individually.  Later in the day everyone who is able to read has Bible study time; younger kids (very early readers) look at picture Bibles for a while.  We also work on scripture memorization throughout the day.

Chores and helping around the home are also part of our children's education.  We start teaching these skills early on (babies and toddlers love to help!).  Hard work and responsibility builds character; additionally skills such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, organizing, home/finance management are skills that are needed by everyone in life but seem to be lacking in young adults  (not to mention kids, tweens, and teens) these days.

Our family has found over the years that we all function and learn best using unit studies as a group.  We all study the same subject; the books, projects and depth of study depends on the age and skill level of each child, but we do quite a bit of reading and discussion together as a group.  Every year my husband and I discuss what subjects we think our family should study (including what subjects would be relevant to what may be happening in our lives at the time).

Here are some examples for this year-
- All about me. This will include a study on life in the womb and anatomy.  We are expecting a new baby this year.
- Reformation. We study church reformation in October every year.  This provides a great opportunity for studies in history, geography, theology, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy.
- Thanksgiving. This is a study in early American history, the Pilgrims, and continued reformation.
- Christmas. This year in December we will start the month with a study of what happened to the Apostles after Jesus' death, then we will move on to a bit of a break but including studying "the Christmas Story" by way of Luke 2 and other books.
- The French Revolution
- South America and Cuba (my husband's work involves these areas right now)
- Arizona (where we live)
- Colorado (where we are moving)

Of course each child also has individual studies to do in Math, Grammar, Science, and Reading.

We use Life of Fred for Math.  We love these books and so do our kids!  I find them reading the books on their own time.   We've only been using these for about 3 years, so when a new lower level book comes in my big kids grab it up and read it before I start using it with the little ones.
These books are engaging, the kids want to learn!
Mr. Stanley's approach to education is similar to ours.  Math is not something that is it's own separate thing. It is part of life, and kids need to know how and where it will be relevant in their lives.  He brings other subjects such as science, history and grammar into the books.
His teaching is from a Christian world view (though it is not heavily obvious—just comments here and there).
Encourages independent study/learning; these books are intended to be used by the student on their own.
It is a reusable text book; buy it once, and everyone can use it!

Not a lot of repetitive work.  Some things just need drill work, so for that we have to supplement.

McGuffey's Readers/Spelling book and Harvey's Grammar are old old textbooks that I love using for reading, spelling and grammar.  My kids enjoy using them as well.  These books come with little-to-no instruction/direction on how to use them, which can be frustrating.  However, because there is little guidance for the teacher I'm better able to put my own spin on it for each child and what they need.

Apologia Science is what we've settled on as far as science goes.  My kids (even my younger boys that do not enjoy reading) have all enjoyed their individual science books and the experiments they get to do throughout the books.  They were able to guide themselves through these books.  Again, these are textbooks and are re-usable!

Workbooks come in handy for kids that just need some help in the basics, need some re-enforcement of what they've been learning, or enjoy that sort of work.  I just pick these up at Costco or wherever I may find them for the basics, but we've also enjoyed some from Critical Thinking.  My 5, 8, 10, and 11 year olds will most likely have workbooks to work through this year.  Some of them need it, while others will just enjoy working through them; all will learn.

When I'm on the ball as far as school planning, each of my kids will have a list of assignments for each month.  I want them to learn good time management skills, and this is one of the ways we teach them.  I check on their work throughout the month, but I let them manage the work load with other obligations and options.  Before the last week of the month I go over what they have left to do for the month; we talk about whether or not they have been making wise choices with their time.  If they have not been using their time wisely (going off and playing and working on other optional projects) they will be restricted to only chores and school work until it is all done and they are ready to start the next months work.

Each child has a reading list that they must complete for the year.  We assign one or two books a month that we know they would not just pick up on their own.  The kids do quite a bit of reading on their own choosing books that interest them (even these books are generally books we have brought into the house and WANT them to read. We just know they will pick them up on their own, so why assign them?).

Encouraging interests and hobbies is another opportunity for kids to learn.  We provide time for the kids to explore productive interests and hobbies.  Some hobbies that are being explored by our kids right now would be cooking, sewing, knitting, crochet, electronics, marksmanship, woodworking, tanning/skinning/taxidermy, jump rope, and animal husbandry.  Of course kids are always reading and exploring the books we have available here as well as at the library.  We keep our ears and eyes open for learning opportunities and activities in the local area.

The kids also take piano lessons.  We are so blessed to have a great piano teacher that is also a dear friend.  She comes to our home and spends over two and a half hours giving lessons to our five oldest kids.

Being a military family we move often.  We keep an open mind to what God makes available to us at each assignment.  In the past our kids have been in ballet, gymnastics, and speech club.  Your season in life, and where God has placed your family will help determine what your family will be involved in.  Be flexible and open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

That's the basics for this age range.  I hope you found this helpful.

Friday, August 2, 2013

School Supplies on sale (Operation Christmas child shopping!)

Its back to school time, and all the school supplies are on sale.  Not only can you find great bargains on things you need for your own family, but its a great time to stock up for Operation Christmas Child.

Our children love to put together these boxes, and they save up all year to help pay for them.  However I love helping them out by picking up some of the basics throughout the year.  This is a great time to pick up crayons, pencils, pencil sharpeners, markers etc to put into your boxes at a fraction of the cost had you picked these things up in November when you need to deliver your boxes.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Alpha-Phonics review

I recently received an Alpha Phonics program to review.  I had never heard of Alpha Phonics and as I have a 5 year old that is eager to learn to read and a 3 year old that will not be far behind her this was a great time for me to review this product.

I've gone through the process of teaching 4 (going on 5) kids to read so far.  One thing I've found is that just as all of these children are different in so many ways, their learning styles are also.  I've yet to find anything that will be just the right fit for all of them.  I doubt this will be the ultimate, perfect for everyone program.  But it does look good.

The first thing I did was read over the Teacher's manual introduction.  I liked that they took the time to explain the history writing, the development of alphabetic systems and our alphabet.  The lessons and materials are all quite simple.  I like simple, quick and easy; so do my kids.  I don't want to spend a bunch of time preparing for reading lessons, and little ones have short attention spans.

Pros to Alpha-phonics
-It starts out simple.  If your child does not yet recognize the letters of the alphabet, you start there.  If they do then you start with lesson 1.
-Even in lesson 1 your child will read simple words.  This is very encouraging to your child (and you).
-It is laid out in a very orderly manner moving your child right along.
-The teacher's manual tells you what to say, and what information to give the child in each lesson.
-The lessons not only teach reading, but grammar as well.  Example; in lesson 2 kids learn that names of people need to be capitalized.  Lesson 3 includes the explanation that sentences start with a capital letter (name or not) and end with a period.
-It offers simple writing exercise suggestions with many lessons.
-No silly pictures and foolish stories.  (though the Little Companion Readers you can get to go along with Alpha-Phonics do have pictures and cute stories)

-The first thing I noticed when I received the Alpha-phonics books was that it had a bit of a low quality production look, and had an outdated look.
-No pictures may be boring for children, though I find that pictures can be distracting.
-The program intends that both the student(s) and teacher have their own books.  I had only one and did not want to purchase a second.  The problem... The teacher's manual is in the back making it hard to give instructions while the child is using the book (I need the instructions in front of me; that's just how I function best).  I worked around this by removing the teacher's manual from the back of the book and using it separately; easy enough to fix, but worth noting.

I'm enjoying using this book with my daughter and she is excited to sit down to her lesson everyday.  It is working well for us so far.  Would I recommend it to a friend?  I would happily list it among the effective products I've used over the years when talking over reading lesson options with a friend.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Homeschool planning for pre-school/kindergarten/1st grade

A friend recently asked me about getting started with homeschooling.  Since I'm in the midst of our school planing this is a great time for me to post on how I go about planning and teaching these levels. Hopefully this will be helpful to her, other moms, and me (later when its time to plan again and I've forgotten this stuff).

These early years should really be focused on training in obedience, character development, contributing to household chores and just enjoying time reading and doing activities with mom.  There is no need to stress about these years.  I love this post a friend recently wrote.  *I group all of my younger kids together in this category.  This year I'll have the 2, 3/4, and 5/6 year olds doing all of this, we will be joined to a very small extent by the new baby (she will generally be in my arms, in the room/area, or in the arms of an older sibling).  Next year she will be an active participant in all of this. 

First off I want to point out that there are many wonderful complete curriculums out there.  For our first year I chose to use My Father's World, and we all really enjoyed it while we were using it (the kindergartener as well as the pre-schooler and toddler that joined us for some of it).  I've also liked what I've seen at Timberdoodle.  However....

I choose not to use a set like this.  I found that life was presenting us with so many learning opportunities and things we wanted to study as a family.  I was getting stressed about enjoying and learning in those times and finishing the curriculum I had purchased.  I wanted to study the Pilgrims in November, Christmas around the world and Jesus' birth in December.  I wanted to be free to study Texas and enjoy our trip there without worrying about making up the time "lost."  I could go on and on, but you get the point.  My husband and I now plan unit studies based on things we know will be coming up in our lives, or things that we just know the kids should be learning.  Our younger kids are included in these studies (this is a great way to go about schooling with just younger kids too!).

Some unit studies for this year
All about me (This will include a study on life in the womb, and anatomy with the older kids)
Harvest time (alongside the older kids learning about the Reformation)
Thanksgiving (this started as a Pilgrim study every year, but also includes expanded Reformation now)
France (Older kids are studying the French revolution)
South America and Cuba (my husband's work involves these areas right now)
Arizona (where we live)
Colorado (where we are moving)

Schooling these young ages should not take very long.  I'll break down how our day looks and some of what we cover (and where/how).  This is just to give you some ideas, everyone's home, family, and needs are different so you're days will look different too.  Our day starts out with family Bible reading and prayer, afterwards everyone goes to get dressed/make beds/clean rooms while I make breakfast.  After breakfast we do the dishes and do a few chores, then it is time to gather and start our school day together with Circle Time.

Circle Time
Circle time allows us to start our  schooldays together as a family, all on the same page (it helps the little ones know they are important in this process, the big kids see that the little ones are learning similar subjects.  We are a family, in this together).  This is where we will tend to focus on our current unit study.  While this has changed a bit over the years, the basics have stayed the same.  This is what our Circle Time tends to look like (we gather in the living room on couches).
Verses- My husband and I pick verses relevant to our studies or that we just want the kids to work on.  In the past we have used AWANA verses/books for this time as well as the My ABC Verses, Big Truths for little kids, and Discovering Jesus in Genesis books by Susan Hunt.  We still pull those books out from time to time for the little ones.
Reading- During this time I pick the books.  These are our Unit study books.  We take time to discuss what we've read.

After circle time I get the little ones focused on a quiet play activity; usually as blanket time or room time.  Then I do a reading lesson with the early readers and often math as well.  As with everything else in the homeschooling world there are many options out there for reading and math.  I've used 100 Easy Lessons, LeapFrog DVD's, and Bob books for this.  Simple work books for early reading and math skills can be great too.  Then I gather all of the little ones together again for table time (though if you've got an extra active child you may want to let him/her run around outside for a bit to blow off some steam).

Table Time
snack- the kids and I usually need a snack to keep us going at this point.
Activity- This can be a simple thing, or a great time to get creative (I like to mix the two).  When possible I'll include concepts from our Unit Study.  Here are some ideas...
Play dough- I like to make kool-aid playdough and have seasonal colors available for the kids
finger painting- I like making this Finger Fudge
Pre-school toys- (puzzles, pegs, math manipulatives (commonly bears or bugs), jumbo tweezers (transfer/sorting activities, this is great for fine motor skills)
Cutting/gluing activities- cutting pages (I make my own drawing lines on paper appripriate for the skill level), colages, tissue paper glued to coloring page. (in January we will make snowflakes from coffee filters one day)
Crafts- This would tend to be relevant to our Unit study (in the All about me study we will be doing body tracings on wide butcher paper, self portrait (using a face coloring page, yarn, fabric and markers), fill out an All about me worksheet, Family get the idea)
preschool activities in a bag- look here for how I've done them, this site shows some fun examples too.
Games- Bingo (we have a color/shapes set, and an alphabet set), candy land, memory....
I can do it!-  Teach a new skill like making salad, mixing up muffins, folding napkins, make place mats marking how a place setting should look so kids can set the table....the possibilities are endless!
*this is just to get you thinking, there are so many options and possibilities!
**I plan out both circle time and table time so I don't have to think on my toes.  I make sure to mix it up enough that the kids don't get board.

This is about all you really need to do for these ages.  The rest of the day should be a bit more free, while still directed.  Our day would tend to look a bit like this....

Outside if possible (if not; give kids some play time, but limit their options to one or two sets of toys)
Lunch (have them help you put it together and clean it up regularly; if not all the time)
Quiet time- I start this time reading to the kids, then we break up for naps or individual quiet times (reading/looking at books, quiet play(legos, puzzles, dolls, train set etc), DVD (once or twice a week), older kids have projects or finish school work.
Snack time- Kids need another snack to hold them over until dinner time.
Outside- if possible or just let them have some free time inside
Clean-up- get the kids involved in getting the house ready for Daddy coming home.  Clean up toys.  Help fold and put away laundry.  Get all of the odds and ends that have been left out.
Dinner prep- Kids can help with preparations from setting the table, to making a salad and getting out condiments.  They need to feel needed and important in the family, they also need to understand that it is hard work putting a meal together and learn to be thankful and help out!
Sit time!- The kids tend to get a bit crazy while mom is putting the finishing touches on dinner.  I declare "sit time" regularly during this time.  During this time the kids are required to sit still and quietly looking at books, they may not get up or talk. You will need to do some training to get them used to this.  Start with 5 minutes and work your way up.  Practice earlier in the day when everyone is in good moods and you can focus on training instead of dinner (better yet, start working on it this summer while you are NOT doing school!). ;)  Occasionally I'll let the kids watch a DVD during this time, but I'd rather not have that on when my husband arrives.

And that takes you to the end of your day!

*I have one day set aside for running errands, that way we really are home most of the week and homeschooling.  Try to make appointments for that day if possible.  Schedule any outside lessons for this time as well if you can.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Potty training

I'm about to embark on my 7th go round with Potty training!  I've spent almost all of the last (nearly) 13 years with at least 1 child in diapers, often 2, and even 3 and one point!  I had one 3 month break nearly 6 years ago, and I'm shooting for another one this summer.  I've found a system that seems to work for us, so I thought I'd pass on what I've learned over the years (knowing that I'm sure there is still plenty I can learn and that I should expect a curve ball at any time).

How do you know your toddler is ready for potty training?

-Watch for signs such as increased interest in the toilet itself (wanting to flush, and, checking out/playing with the TP).  These are small signs though and not ones that should prompt you to jump into potty training.

-Going to a private place (or standing by you) when dirtying diaper shows awareness of what is going on and that it should be done somewhere specific.

-Asking to be changed right away after wetting or dirtying the diaper.

-Keeping dry for an hour or more at a time is a big one.

-Biggest sign of all?  Letting you know BEFORE hand that business needs to be done.

-If we have major life changes happening in the next month or so I put off potty training even if the child is VERY ready.  Regression often happens when changes occur like a new baby or a move.  This is frustrating and discouraging to everyone and is best to avoid if possible.  If an unforeseen situation comes up after potty training be aware that this is something that can normally happen and work through it as positively as you can.  *I once put off potty training for two months even though the child was actually doing the "potty dance" and letting us know she needed to go.  My big pregnant belly was going to make training quite awkward and the transition of a new baby could have caused regression issues.  When we decided to train this little girl took less than a week!

*My current toddler is just under 2 years.  He is showing signs of being ready.  My last two were under 2 when they were ready as well.  The biggest influence on them being so young and being ready?  Cloth diapers!  Cloth allows them to better feel when they are wet/messy, helping them associate the sensations with the results.  They also feel more uncomfortable if not changed right away, they want to be changed or just not go in their diaper earlier on.  In my opinion disposable diapers are part of the reason children are potty training so much later now.

-Summer is a great time for potty training.  It is much more comfortable to wear next to nothing, decreasing the loads of laundry you will need to do during this time.  If you think your child may be ready and summer is close it could be a good idea to put it off a month or two.  If you are unsure, and it IS summer you may want to go ahead and give it a go.

Now that you think its time to start, how do you go about it?
First off approach this as something FUN!  Get the whole family involved and make it exciting.

-Start to prepare your toddler months in advance when you first start seeing early signs of being ready.  Start talking about where potty and poo poo belong (in the toilet, not the diaper).  Point out adults, siblings, friends etc that all wear underwear and use the toilet.  Get potty training shows for the child to watch.  Set out the potty chair for him/her to get used to.

-The week or so ahead of time really talk it up.  "Soon you will be done with diapers!"  "Next week you are going to try using the potty!"  "You are getting to be such a big boy/girl, its time to start wearing big boy/girl underwear!" etc.

-Don't expect much in the first day/week.  Expect that in this time there will be lots of accidents as they figure out the sensations, and what to do about them.  Don't expect any success in that time, there is learning happening in this process even if you don't feel like it is happening very fast.

What should I have on hand?

-We fill this time with treats, but they all have a purpose.
The salty snacks encourage the toddler to drink extra fluids.

Since juice is a special treat in our house, my children are extra willing to drink up.  Extra fluids = extra chances a trying to go!

Rewards should be given for not only successfully going in the potty, but also for keeping the underwear dry.  Especially in the first days; one small candy cold be given up to every 5 minutes for keeping the underwear dry or even for just sitting on the potty chair.  After you are getting some regular success scale back the rewards to only when going in the potty.  We give larger rewards for poo since kids seem to have a harder time with that (and it is just nastier to clean up). Rewards for success are extended to siblings in the earliest part of training.  This encourages extra enthusiasm from them.

-Have plenty of CLOTH training pants on hand.  They tend to come in packs of 3 or 4, I'd plan on having 6-8 (minimum, more would be a good idea).  The old fashioned ones are the best in my book, but I do have a couple of other options on hand.

These semi-water proof ones are useful once you're getting some success but want a bit of protection.  They are not nearly as absorbent as a cloth diaper, but will contain small leaks.  I reserve these for nap times and when we are out and about (once we have had a fair bit of success at home).

-A potty chair or seat for the regular toilet are nice but not necessary.

-Potty training shows; again these are nice but not necessary.  They help with the excitement a bit and can provide an opportunity for learning to sit on the potty chair by having the child watch the show while sitting on it.

-Disposable trainers do have their place, but not generally in the potty training process.  They have the same feel as disposable diapers and will not give the "wet" sensation that you want.  Stay away from using them in the early stages (the exception would be nap/night time if you want your child totally away from diapers, but need that protection).  We use them for night time and long trips (when an accident would be a minor disaster).

Potty training day (or 1/2 day as I like to start with)

-Stay Home!  Potty training does not go well if you are out and about.  Plan on (mostly) staying home for at least a week or two.  Try not to have any appointments or errands that you need to run so that you can have a longer period of time to consistently be working on this. Skip the play dates and outings, or save them for the afternoons.

-Start the day right away with training pants.  Every 5, 10, or 15 minutes ask if the child is still dry.  If so praise him/her and give a SMALL reward.

-Every 15 minutes or so encourage a sit down on the potty.  Give a reward just for sitting (I let my guy watch his favorite show while he is sitting.  It gets turned off as soon as he gets up), especially if he/she is not excited about doing so.  Don't be discouraged if he/she does not go on the potty or even gets right up and goes in the underwear.  Just say something like "Oh, you had an accident.  Lets clean it up together. Next time try to get it in the potty"  all of this with a smile on your face (even if its the 10th time this morning).

-Involve your child in the clean up.  Have them use a rag and even have a child friendly cleaner to use.  This helps them realize the work involved in the accidents.  Cheerfully clean up together saying things like.  "Pee belongs in the potty"  "After an accident we must clean up!"  "this is a big job, learning to go in the potty.  you will will have accidents, but you are going to learn and be a big boy/girl!"

-Work on hand washing too!

-Keep the child confined to non-carpeted area and non-upholstered furniture if possible.  This will both save on clean up and help keep you from getting discouraged and frustrated.  If such space is not easily available then use of waterproof pads may be advisable.  Make it fun though.  Bring special toys and activities to the child.

Take breaks

-I've found that sticking to the potty training in the morning for the first days sometimes helps.  It keeps us from getting worn out and discouraged.  In the next week or so it will slowly feel natural to extend that time farther into the day.

-I have a good supply of training pants on hand; if we run out I take it as a sign that it is time to be done for the day.  I get some laundry going and enjoy the rest of our day.

-If it really is not working well just stop.  Your child may not be ready yet.  Don't force this.  Children's bodies mature at different rates, don't push something that they just are not ready for.

Any other experienced Mamas want to chime in with some of their tricks or advice on potty training?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tips for visiting the Creation museum (with a large family or little ones)

We enjoyed a great visit to the Creation Museum this spring.  The whole family enjoyed it from Mom and Dad right down to the (nearly) 2 year old.  See our trip Part 1 and Part 2

The museum offers a few discounts, while the AAA or HSLDA ones were ones we qualified for we decided to use our military discount (all are nice discounts).  Once totaled up we realized we were just $20 shy of reaching the cost of a membership.  We considered that....

*Though one planetarium show was included in the ticket price, there were two shows going.  We wanted to see both, so that would cost extra.  With a membership those tickets are "free."

*We knew we would be purchasing some things from their store.  The 10% discount for members would be nice.

*We would also be having lunch in their cafe, 10% off there would add up quickly too.

We decided to go ahead and purchase the 1 year membership,  it made sense for our family.  Be thinking about this before you head there too.

The gardens and petting zoo are great parts of the museum experience, make sure you take the opportunity to enjoy them when you can.  For your safety they must close these areas during poor weather conditions.  A good thunder shower in the spring (like when we were there) will quickly close this option for you.  This wasn't a major issue for us, but one to keep in mind so you do not end up disappointed.

The Creation Museum is a very family friendly place.  I expected that to some extent, but there were a few things I wish I had known before heading in that would have made taking our crew in just a bit easier.

*I had been expecting the museum to be like many others where you can easily jump around to different exhibits.  While some of that is possible, the main body of it is a bit of a guided walk through.  It needs to be that way to truly absorb the message and get the most out of it.  The only problem(s)?  No access to (purchase) food and the next bathroom is about 2/3 of the way through.  These are easy to deal with and really are only an issue for those of us with littles that like to wait until the last minute to announce the need.  Make sure everyone uses the bathrooms just before entering this area and bring snacks.  Which brings me to the next point....

*I was unsure about bringing food and drinks into the museum, most don't like that.  I was pleased to find that food and drinks were just fine in every part of the museum (except the theaters).  I had brought  snacks and drinks for our little ones the first day, the second day I brought much more.  We also found the meal and snack options at the museum to be good....

*I guess I should not have been surprised to find a coffee shop in the museum, right next to the ice cream!  The cafe's prices were reasonable especially considering we were in a museum and there was no easy access to food outside the museum (this was their chance to gouge us, and they didn't!).  We appreciated that, and made use of the cafe both days.  Along with the pizza, burgers and sandwiches they also had soup and salad options.

*The museum is stroller friendly inside in every area.  I had very little problems navigating with our double stroller, I suppose it has to be so that it can be wheelchair accessible .  While you could do the outside with a stroller I would not (and did not).  Some of the paths would be harder (or impossible) to navigate limiting your access.  Our littlest one wanted to be up and about outside anyways so this was not an issue, but you may want to consider bringing your Ergo or other baby carrier with you for that portion.  I liked having the stroller with me inside since that gave us room for snacks, drinks and books we purchased.

Every single member of the staff as well as the volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful.  This was like a breath of fresh air after being in stifling humidity.  Its like going to Chick-fil-a when you are used to McDonalds. ;)  We enjoyed the cheerful faces, kind greetings, helpful tips, sweet chats, and even a quick rescue (in the way of a flashlight, opened door, and then chair in back) when the toddler desperately needed his sippy cup in the middle of one of the shows.  The wonderful atmosphere helps get the message across!

If you get the chance to visit the museum I hope these little tips help you better prepare for the logistics of the visit, and enjoy your time there!  If you get the chance GO!  It is worth it!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Summer road trip (RV/trailer, grain free, dairy free)

Last spring we acquired a travel trailer, and over the past year I've enjoyed settling into it a bit and figuring out a different way of traveling with my large family.  While pulling a little home behind us has its own set of difficulties I love that we do not have to pack and unpack for hotel rooms along the way. With food intolerances having our own kitchen is a huge help as well.

This spring we spent three weeks on the road going from the South West to the Mid-West.  With 9 in our family I had to plan well to get all of our clothes and stuff neatly stowed away.

*Clothes for 8 of us are in this closet.  Hubby has his own small closet.

*Each of these two drawers holds PJ's, socks, and underwear for 4 people.

Needing even more careful planning is the food.  Of course I'm wanting to help my family eat healthy and keep our budget low, but two of us also need to stay as wheat and dairy free as possible.  With limited space I needed to be creative and plan reasonable items and ingredients to be purchased along the way.  I also needed to be thoughtful of the fact that we are on vacation, treats and special meals should be planned so we are more likely to resist temptation on the road.  I also needed to keep in mind that we would be needing to pack lunches for meals on the go when we were at museums and such.

*Non-perishables stowed away under the dinette bench seat for later in the trip.  Mixes are made up as well for pancakes and anything else I think we may need to bake up along the way.

*My kids consider PB&J sandwiches treats.  Some begged for Kraft EasyMac, if ever I was to allow it, now was the time (a box of dye free Mac&Cheese was purchased so that our dye free kid could enjoy along with others when aunties made up the "real" stuff).  Crackers and cookies are simple easy treats that will keep the kids from asking for worse junk.

*Keeping plenty of water bottles and 100% juice for the kids will keep us hydrated and keep the kids from asking for other "juices" and sodas along the way.  The Hansen's sodas will keep hubby and I from being tempted by other sodas at gas stations.

*Our snack drawer;  applesauce/berry pouches and freeze dried fruit will make fairly healthy treats on the road when we run low of fresh fruits and veggies.  These will also be easy for me to grab for snacks to put in my purse/diaper bag to keep the little ones from melt downs when we are out and about.

*Careful thought was given to what we would be putting in the fridge.  Salads in a jar make a great lunch for hubby and me (maybe not as space efficient as other things, but the health factor outweighs that this time) home made salad dressings are all set for making more salads along the way.  Pre-cooked meats and sausages will make meals fast and easy when we stop.  Hard boiled eggs make for a fast, easy, healthy breakfast along with some fruit.

*Pre-cooked hamburger can be added to the crock pot in the morning without the bother of cooking it up and dirtying dishes.  Grain free muffins, breads, and cookies make the trip easier for those of us with dietary restrictions.  The pancakes-on-a-stick are another one of those treats that the kids begged for, they will make a fast breakfast one morning, then they will be gone and we will not have them again. ;)

Nut balls
aka grain free cookie dough
1 cup nut butter (I used 1 cup macadamia nuts and 1/4 cup coconut oil)
1/2 cup nut flour (I used almond)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 Tbs. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt (unless your nuts or nut butter are salted, then you may want to skip this)
1/8 cup (or more) mini-chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life brand)
*The kind of nut butter and nut flour you use will effect the flavor of your nut balls.  I find the macadamia nuts give a mild flavor that more closely resembles the flavor of a sugar/chocolate-chip cookie dough.  I found almond butter to almost give a PB taste, but if you want PB cookie dough just go ahead and use PB.

Mix all ingredients in a blender (I use my vita mix).  Transfer to a bowl and mix in chocolate chips.  Form into balls and chill in freezer until hard.  I store mine in the refrigerator or freezer and pull them out as I need them.  These will last well on trips as long as they are kept chilled/frozen.

Diapers and wipes enough to last the trip as well as a few toys for the kids are stowed up above the girl's bed (they don't really need much in the way of toys on trips, but a few do come in handy).  When going on a road trip this is also a handy place to stow treasures picked up along the way.

I'm always asked about sleeping arrangements first when someone asks about our trailer.  Our basic theory on the trailer is that this is a major improvement over tent camping.  If we were tent camping we would all be sleeping in one small space.  What we have here is a major improvement on that. ;) If a road trip; it is an improvement on getting two hotel rooms or cramming into one if allowed.

*The three girls all sleep on the queen size bed that is a slide.  They all end up squishing together so if we have another girl there is still room for her to eventually join them. ;)
*The couch provides a bed for one boy. (but it seems the toddler wouldn't mind joining him)
*The "baby" sleeps in an extra small pack-n-play that just fits in the trailer.
*The u-shaped dinette converts to a bed that is maybe full sized (it is an odd size).  Two boys sleep on it.  I think there would be room for a toddler.  There is also floor space available that we are not yet using.
*The toy-hauler portion of the trailer also houses a fold down queen sized bed.  This area can be curtained off from the rest of the trailer giving mom and dad our own room with some privacy.

There are so many configurations for trailers and RVs, I think the key is flexibility and creativity when packing a large family into one  of these.

We are fairly new to using a travel trailer.  I'd love hear the tricks and strategies others use for packing and doing meals for a large family in a small space.  So far I think we're about 50/50 as far as using it for road trips or actual camping trips.