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.