Thursday, August 28, 2014

Five Favorites (Back to School Edition)

Heather hosts Five Favorites now!  You know Heather, right?  Of course you do!  So do I... she's a friend in real life and in living color (and she sure is colorful, let me tell you!)  I'm linking up with said friend because I love her, and let's be honest - who can resist a good old Back to School anything?  Not me!  This is my time of year!  And, I mean, she mentioned me in her Five Favorites list thereby prompting me to panic about the "you scratch my back I'll scratch your back"  subtleties of blogging, only to realize one second later that Heather and I are friends and are way too cool and mature to fall prey to that sort of thing ;)  

So here are some of my favorite things to use in our little one room school house that are not books (because ohhhhhhhhh you know I love books and there's no need to write a whole other post about that right now...)

Five Favorites for Homeschool That Are Not Books or Curriculum


I might have this laminator even if we didn't homeschool, but I can't even begin to tell you how awesome it's been for flashcards, and DIY dry erase worksheets, and just protecting stuff that I don't want ruined.  Besides making flashcards nearly indestructible, one of the best things I've used this for has been my chore board magnet system - the kids know what they need to do each morning, they move the magnet when it's done, and the magnet stays in tact because - hard melted plastic:

used to do this with lessons to, but have a different system underway this year...


Melissa & Doug Write-a-Mat place mat: 
United States Presidents

Last year the boys memorized all the American presidents (to the tune of Yankee Doodle).  They would sing or say the list and ask, "Mom, was that right?" and though I have a Master of Arts in American history, I was never quite able to say "yes" or "no" with certainty.  I bought the place mat for $2 at the grocery store and learned the song.   It's been up in our dining room ever since.    


I've mentioned this before, but last year we discovered chalk pastels and really enjoyed learning how to use them.  This year we are going to get some more practice in using Tricia Hodges/Lucia Hames' book A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels.  

Here's a Monet copy-cat project the kids did with pastels last year:


Mason Jars

If you are not currently using mason jars for 50% of your homeschool storage needs, you may need an organizational makeover.  (The other 50% of your storage should be in the form of the best baskets in the world - click on THIS LINK and check out number 2 to see how I use the baskets for all the homeschool stuff that won't fit in a mason jar.

Mason jars are my go-to storage solution for science magnets, magnifying glasses, math counting stones, pencils, scissors, bits of chalk, glue sticks, and the cut flowers we sometimes have on the table.  And Mom's elixir of life - the afternoon iced coffee...


Like-minded Friends on the Same Crazy Ridiculous Awesome Journey

I don't think I could survive homeschooling in a vacuum.  An essential "favorite" for me and I think any homeschooling family is support - other families who are doing similar stuff, have a similar world view and similar desires for their kids.  I'm so grateful to have those friends here.  The past two Tuesdays, I've had the joy of spending the mornings with twelve amazing moms and 38+ fabulous kids at a local creek.  Splashing and socializing, conversation and crayfish.  A supportive community for myself, fun and edifying friends for my kids - definitely some of the most important tools for the start of a successful homeschool year :)

Don't forget to head over to Mama Knows, Honeychild to hear Heather dish on some of her back-to-school favorites :)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Beautiful Lego Mind (Embrace the Ordinary :: vol. 6)

This week I'm sharing with you an unexpected joy of motherhood: the oft Lego-strewn floor and the intensely creative brain of the child engineer who could build, build, build and still come up with new ideas all day long.   Aaron has a unique brain.  I think.  And I get to see it shine when he's in his Lego universe.  What a blessing it is to be his mom and to watch him at something he enjoys so thoroughly and is so skilled at!

I had no first hand exposure to Legos when I was a child and always thought of them as the toys that strange little boys played with. It certainly never occurred to me that they would be a favored item in my own home one day.  It appears I was wrong in my assumptions, and I now understand that Legos are the toys of fantastically awesome little boys!  

I love "Embrace the Ordinary" at Someday (Hopefully) They'll Be Saints!  It's a gentle nudge each week to intentionally seek out God's goodness in the seemingly mundane. 

I was so very happy to co-host with Gina these last two weeks!  Please join her and me in celebrating the little things - the blessings sometimes in disguise - and link up your own story or photo of "embracing the ordinary" things that make every-day life awesome!

"...there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary 
situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it."
St. Josemaria Escriva, Passionately Loving the World

Friday, August 22, 2014

Crochet Hook Size Reminders (best. idea. ever.)

At any given moment, I probably have four to five crochet projects going: large ones, like blankets that aren't very portable, small ones that I do carry around with me, experimental and pattern-trial projects, and usually a couple other things that I started even though I should have waited until some other project was completed.  

I always leave projects, take the hook with me to use elsewhere and then forgot what size I was using on the original piece.  I don't always use the hook recommended on patterns so there's no help to be found there, and I don't have enough hooks to leave them at the "project site" - especially my 4.00 mm, which has been my most frequently used hook lately.  Returning to a project after a week or two is something like this:  I'm positive I was using the 3.75 mm hook on this.  Or, maybe it was the 4.00 mm with really tight stitches?  I don't use the 3.25 mm very often, but I do recall picking it up recently... was it for this??  Yes, Yes, I'm almost practically mostly certainly positive!  This was the project I decided to use the smaller hook but the looser stitch on!!  Isn't it???  Isn't it?  Hello?  Hello, is anyone listening?  

So, I decided to solve my problem.  I packed my children up yesterday and took them to Hobby Lobby where they touched a lot of stuff like glass pumpkins and ceramic pilgrims, stroked fluffy fur-like fabric, flicked every dangly string of beads possible, didn't break anything but did attempt to fix a broken cash register, and tried to sneak candy onto the checkout counter hoping I would mistake it for yarn on sale and buy it.  

I got special pins and number beads.  

I had a lot of things on my to-do list for nap time yesterday.  None of them got done because I was obsessively focused on my concept: "marking" projects with the hook size so that I could walk away from it and not worry about what I was forgetting.   I made my new Hook Size Reminder Pins.  I am so excited about these!  Now, when I'm wondering what hook to grab for any of my works in progress, my wondering won't last long.  It's right there in black and white (with colorful beads, to boot!)  

There's no tutorial here.  It's too simple to insult your crafty intelligence with instructions.  The only things worth mentioning are * I tried it with plastic stitch markers first and it just didn't work * I was just going to use the color beads as the decimal point, but also ended up using them to "fill in" the space in front of and behind the number so they wouldn't slip around as much * I had wanted to color code the sizes with the beads, but a lot of the beads didn't fit, so I had to give up on the color coding and just use whichever beads fit on the pin * and it's worth going out to get the safety pins without the loop on the ends because then you can straighten them, put the beads on the "stationary" side of the pin and they won't slide off when you open the pin up :)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Best of Internet Yarn Humor

I'm taking a break from writing about school-ish things and instead am writing hardly anything at all and am gifting you with some of the best internet yarn humor, much of which I found around the time I was organizing my yarn stash last month :)  


my alter ego, sans cigarette of course  :)
or maybe a Halloween costume if we ever decide to get into that ;)


(Dear Amusing Yarns, I emailed you to get your permission to post this awesome graphic here but didn't hear back from you :(  If you come upon this and want to slap my wrist for assuming you'd love it if I shared your work with credit,  please feel free to email me!)




from Stephanie at


vintage ad found in the collection of paul malon 




image found at (link to original doesn't work :(  )
Who's original artwork is this??  It's so cute!


couldn't find a link to the original artist.  clearly not my clever work :)





This reminds me of my own kids who occasionally say things like, "Mom, if you let us have a lollipop we'll get you any kind of yarn you like!"  It's disturbing how well they know me ;)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

ABC's, 123's, and Other Stuff :: 25 Things to Use With Your Preschooler Instead of a Boxed Curriculum (Part 3)

Kindly read Part 1 for my take on homeschool "preschool" and Part 2 on the things our family prefers to do instead of preschool, and then hop back here to read what we do when the preschoolers actually "want in" on the school lessons action.  

*   *   *   *   *   *

Sooo, just to confuse you, now I'm going to admit that there are some circumstances in which you may in fact, want to use some "schoolish" stuff with your preschooler.  Here are those circumstances:

* your child has expressed a keen interest in something more than imaginative play, baking, and nature walks and has said some version of the following: "Oh Most Knowledgeable Mother, would you be so kind as to impart the wisdom of the alphabet on me, a humble, yet eager learner?"  

* it's not mandatory or too formal sit-at-the-table-and-hold-your-pencil-the-right-way style

* it's casual and cozy (think sitting on the couch or carpet or on the deck)

* it's enjoyable for both of you

* the materials you use are tools that help foster the child's natural curiosity and creativity that I've already spoken about in Parts 1 and 2

* it does not become the focus of having your young children at home and doesn't replace all the other things that may be more suited to a preschooler (see the previous "25 Things" list)

The list I've complied here are things that I occasionally used with my boys when they were younger and am know making available to the girls.  The girls tend to want more "school stuff" because they see their big brothers engaged in formal lessons.  I'm happy to oblige, but want to reiterate that my preschool children are never required to do any lesson that they are not particularly interested in.   When they are interested, sometimes I work with them, and sometimes they're left to their own devices while I work with the boys :)  Many of these activities come in very handy when it's best for the girls to be independently and quietly engaged in something so that I can have a couple uninterrupted minutes here and there with the boys.  (Some things on my list are academic-ish [not a word most well-educated people throw around, I know], some are sensory/manipulative/brain building activities, some are early science, some are just for fun!)

ABCs, 123's, and Other Stuff :
25 Things to Use With Your Preschooler Instead of a Boxed Curriculum

1) Beautiful ABC, 123 Books. I feel very strongly about this.  I believe that even kids deserve good books, and in this case, it primarily means it means good illustrations.   I will not just let any old ABC book into our home.  It must be beautiful.  Call me annoying, but that's just the way it is.  Here are some of our favorites:

* The Metropolitan Museum of Art books for kids (Museum ABC123Shapes

* Alphablock, Christopher Franceschelli
* Brian Wildsmith's Amazing Animal Alphabet 
* Charlie Harper 123's

2) Nature books with fabulous photographs. We love the Nature Babies Series by Aubrey Lang and Wayne Lynch

3) An engaging picture atlas (or two!) and a globe.  We have loved looking at the Nat Geo Wild Animal Atlas  and the Usborne Children's Picture Atlas which we just recently got from Molly!

4) Picture books that build character.  That's actually the title of a book also, so check it out of your library and you'll be well on your way to choosing some great character-building, age appropriate literature!  

Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories

5) Puzzles.  We have a lovely variety of large floor puzzles and wooden table puzzles.  (not just letters and numbers but this was the only pic I could find...)

6) Magnets. 

7) Alphabet and Number flashcards.  Again, pretty pictures are important.  (Usually, with any flashcards we have, I laminate them and put them on rings so that they stay together and stay intact.)  I love stuff like this to give the girls to look at in the car.

8) Wooden tiles / pattern blocks (or magentic pattern blocks)

9) Homemade Activities such as I Spy Alphabet Bead Bottle, Color Matching Craft Stick Drop, Craft Stick Number Matching, Clothespin Letter Matching

10) Handwriting Without Tears wood pieces and alphabet cards

11) Arranging Activities.  Some of our favorites are the HABA Geomix Learning Game and HABA 1001 Arabian Nights Arranging Game 

12) Do-A-Dot Letters  (downloaded from here)

13) PlanToys Preschool Number Cards and Alphabet Cards

14) Tracing paper, stencils, rubbing plates.

15) Various learning-related iPad apps.  Here's my list of ABC apps for little kids and a my list of brain-exercising apps for preschoolers.  

16) Alphabet and counting pages in plastic page protectors to be written on with dry erase marker

17) Rag Quilted Numbers. (I made mine using this tutorial)

18) Letter foods!  (like Scrabble Cheez-Its or letter pretzels) 

19) Workbook-y Stuff (like Dollar Tree Stuff - mazes and 1 -20 dot to dot, or workbook pages left over from the boys)  

20) Handmade Daily Weather Tracker.  I made this magnet board when the boys were little.  It needs some repairs now, but I should get it back out for Clare :)

21) Alphabet Post-It Notes. (a gift from my mother who has a special fondness for sticky notes and an uncanny ability to track down cool ones!)

22) Lacing cards .


24) ANY Dover Educational Coloring Book.  You can read about my extreme love of Dover coloring books here :)

25) Age appropriate games to practice pre-math skills.  Think Candy Land, Connect Four, Chutes and Ladders.  

FINALLY, if your four year old is nearing five and you think it's time to get a little more formal, these are the three things I've used and liked for "Kindergarten":  

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Math U See, Primer Level
Handwriting Without Tears, Letters and Numbers for Me 

Annnnnd... now it's your turn!  What activities and tools do you recommend when your preschooler is ready for a little light instruction??

** I really enjoyed writing this three-part series on (non) preschool.  It was such a great way to order my own thoughts on the subject and to get my lists of ideas down for myself and my kids.   Thanks for joining me!  I hope you enjoyed it also and got at least a few ideas you think might work for you and your little ones.   Let me know what you thought, and please feel free to pass it on, especially to families who may be considering homeschooling and aren't sure how to start with their young ones.  I always welcome questions and comments!  And remember, there is no one way to homeschool.  These three posts are merely an account of how we do it, what works for us, and what I think is great :)  Thanks again for reading! **
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