Tuesday, May 24, 2011

HoWL: Part 2-- Organize

Homeschooling with Littles: Part 2-- Organize!

Now that you have some items prepared, it's time to organize them all.

Why? Well, if you are like me, you may forget what's in all those bags, or you might be teaching your preschooler about the letter "c" and wonder if you have anything in your arsenal that you could use to assist or reinforce the topic taught. We also implement the "A place for everything and everything in its place" mentality in our home. That way you can find what you need right away and don't lose any precious school time. Organization is KEY to this system.
Here are some organizational ideas that I have found to be very useful in our home.

1. Keep things close to your school area-

I keep all my preschool items within arms reach of the school area. I have an organizing shelf that is strictly preschool friendly. I keep toddler friendly books in a basket next to the shelf. Teach your child where the "home" is for each item, have the child put away that item after they are done, and monitor them for the first couple of weeks to maintain the "place for everything and everything in its place". After a few weeks, your child will automatically (in theory) put away the item when they are done, in the correct "home", with little to no reminding on your part. I keep this organizing as uncomplicated as possible and as easily accessible as possible.

I keep my extra empty boxes a little bit higher on a bookshelf, out of toddler-hand reach. I do this because I can get these out when all other activities fail. I don't use them often, so when they come down, it is a special time. Each container can be used in different ways. A few boxes I have taped shut and cut a small opening in, so they can place small items inside, others have flaps or doors cut in. Egg cartons make great sorters.

I keep my activity bags in the shelving unit also, stored in two easy to slide out bins. One bin holds bags that we are currently working on, that incorporate with lessons, or bags that my preschooler still has not mastered. The second bin I keep bags that he has mastered and still enjoys using.

When one of my older children has finished their lessons for the day, but is still in the school area, they can help mommy out by pulling activities out of the second bin and sitting on the floor with my toddler. They act as a fun playmate/teacher and both parties enjoy this time (including Mommy who can use this toddler-free time to work with another student at the table). I store any other bags that are no longer age appropriate in our attic until a younger sibling can enjoy them later.

2. Catalog your items--

I have the memory of a bowl of oatmeal. If I do not immediately jot something down (ideas, conversations, dates) it will whiz right out my brain, never to be thought of again. To keep me from forgetting what's in all those activity bags or what books I can use for my preschooler, I came up with a catalog system. Right now my "catalog" is a crude sheet of ruled paper, with a list of every activity bag, book, and manipulative that I can use with my preschooler. I numbered all of my bags, front and back with a permanent marker (if you look closely, you may be able to see some numbers at the top of the bags in the pictures above). On my list I wrote down the bag number, the "title" of the bag, and included my own list of icons that help me understand the purpose of the bag and for what age it is appropriate. I keep a "key" at the top of the paper so I can easily identify the icon or icons I wrote next to the bag title.

For example: #22 Foam Letter Sorters A // 2+
According to my "key" at the top, I can tell that it uses letters (A), is a matching activity (//), and is appropriate for ages 2 and up (2+). You can come up with any icons that you choose, just be sure to include a key so that you can actually decipher your catalog later.

When I store my activity bags, I try to keep them all upright in the bins, with the numbers visible. You don't have to store them in numerical order, but it might help in locating a bag that much easier.

I include preschool educational books (like ABC books or shapes and colors books) and wooden toys in the list as well. These don't have a number, but I included the book title and what it's purpose is, or a description of the wooden toy/manipulative.

This catalog can now be my quick reference guide when planning out my school day or making out my lesson plans. But that's a whole 'nother blog post!

For the next installment, I will continue on with organizing...Your SCHEDULE!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Recycled Wool Sweater Diaper Cover

I found the idea here.

It went together rather quickly (a little over an hour, but I also had to re-teach myself how to make a chain using a crocket hook. thank goodness for youtube). I made the indicated "large" size, which was 2o inches for each side and left 4 inches in the leg openings. The leg openings were a bit snug for my hefty legged 1 1/2 year old, but worked! I loved this and am looking for any other shrunken wool sweaters I might be able to procure from our local thrift store....I want to make lots more!

This sweater had a rather wide waist and extra long cuffs, which I think worked well for the over all look. I can imagine that each sweater used could make dramatically different covers in size and appearance.

I made this to use as an actual cloth diaper cover, as the wool is naturally leak resistant (once lanolized and all that jazz), but really this would be adorable as just some bottoms to wear any old day, over any ole diaper.

Friday, May 20, 2011

HoWL: Part 1-- Prepare

Homeschooling with Littles (aka: HoWL)

Part 1:

When we sit down at the school table every morning, I like to have a handy supply nearby or already pulled out to entertain my youngest two. Your "supply" may be a stack of board books or a coloring book and crayons. And, although these are great staples to have on hand, little ones grow tired of these, or you are stuck reading the same book over and over and over again when you really should be instructing grammar or conducting a spelling test. To help out, here are some of the ideas we use in our house.


Most of you have seen or heard of Preschool Activities in a Bag. If you haven't, then I strongly suggest borrowing copies of their two books, or purchasing the e-books through their website. Once you get the general idea of filling a zip-close bag with little hands-on activities, you can expound from what they suggest and make variations of your own. Before you know it, you can have a HUGE supply on hand. I have made plenty, and have had friends pass theirs on to me when their older children grew too old for the activities. I have also found tons at used curriculum fairs, most of which were free or very very cheap. I have 58 bags in all!

I have also been a part of a few Preschool Activities in a Bag co-ops. Basically you and a few other moms share the load in making a large sum of activities and then separate the bounty out when your done. In turn you don't have to buy supplies for all 36 activities, but just for 12 or so. You can meet and assemble them together or just meet up to divide the bags out in the end. The website I gave above has a coordinator book that includes all the tips you need to host a successful swap/co-op.

Here are a few ideas for bag activities:

1. cut straws into 1, 2, 3, and 4 inch segments. place those and some colorful pipe cleaner/chenille stems in a bag. for the activity part, the child will push the pipe cleaners through the straw openings, placing as many on as possible. works on hand-eye coordination. suitable for 1.5 years and up. *possible choking hazard! use discretion.

2. save spent canning lids (not the rings for this), or save frozen juice can lids. decorate two with identical stickers. repeat with the other lids. you can use any stickers you have on hand. this will be a basic matching activity. you can use basic shapes and colors for younger children and numbers and letters for older children. you can also affix magnets to the backs so that they stick together as pairs or can be sorted on the refrigerator or other magnetic surface. suitable for 2 years and up.

3. cut shapes out of foam craft squares. use a hole punch to punch holes close, but not too close, along the edge of the shape. take a shoe string, and tying one knot at the end so that it will stay in place, show the child how to lace, or "sew" around the shape. to make them extra sturdy, if you want these to last through multiple children, glue two foam craft squares together before cutting them into a shape. suitable for 2 years and up.

4. pipe cleaners and cheerios, beads, or circular pasta. show the child how to place the pipe cleaner through the objects. work on patterns if you use colorful cheerios or beads. use discretion when choosing the object to place in the bag, beads and pasta can be choking hazards for babies and some toddlers. suitable for 1.5 years and up.

*I want to make this a regular segment on my blog, so be looking for bag activity posts in the future!

For littles who have not developed hand-eye dexterity, keep a supply of used cereal/cracker boxes, laundry detergent lids, empty oatmeal containers, etc. and let them fill and pour and close and open to their hearts delight. Some items that I have found that young toddlers enjoy placing in the containers are clothes pins, large hair bows, measuring spoons, and plastic spoons. Any item that is not a choking hazard works well and really can absorb a child for long periods of time.


We've all probably heard the idea of separating out your children's toys and putting some away, so that when you pull them out later, it is as though they have these new toys they have never seen. You can also implement this idea outside of the home!
Chances are you have a handful of friends who have children around the same age as yours. And chances are they have a handy supply of toys, bag activities, and books that they currently use in their homes. If they happen to mention how their child just seems bored with the toys they have currently, then why not ask if they would be interested in a Swap. If each family filled a tote with toys, books, and bag activities (along with a detailed list of what's inside the tote, family name, etc.) and if you had 3-5 families involved, you could host a Swap weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly and your child would have new toys and activities at the ready. Of course there is always a risk that items could get lost or damaged, so be sure to only put those objects in that you or your child don't have emotional attachments to.

If you have a local homeschool support group, try sending out an email asking others if they are interested in such an idea.


Investing in good toys, educational supplies, and books is instrumental in rounding out your supply. But be wise in your investments. Sure, those electronic toys hold their attention and bring a smile to their face. And some are worth the price. But, electronic toys don't last. They need batteries. They are noisy and, when brought into the schooling area, can cause disruptions. Paper and plastic toys and supplies are wonderfully inexpensive, but these also don't last.

I have a supply of 5-10 sturdy wooden toys, 5-10 wooden puzzles, and wooden blocks of varying size and shapes. These have lasted through all four of my children and show little to no signs of wear. I divide them up and put half up on a high shelf, so that I can switch out the supply as needed.

Check used books stores and used curriculum fairs for sturdy board books. Plastic bathtub books will also take a large amount of abuse and are drool proof when you have them on hand for teething 6-8 month olds.

The biggest investment we make each year is on our school books. This is also playing a huge role in my "Prepare" segment because the choices you make in curriculum could have the most impact on how well you survive homeschooing with littles.
When my third child was born, I was teaching my two oldest, then in 2nd grade and kindergarten. I thought I could handle a full regiment of academically challenging (yes I realize they were little, but I was a little over-ambitious at that time) school subjects. Halfway through the year I thought I was going to throw every school book I purchased out the window. I over-curriculumed myself. I had to take care of nursing and holding a 12 hour a day crying baby. I couldn't keep up and it took a toll on all of us.

If I was handing out advice, the one that I would stress above all others would be to invest in the minimum (both academically challenging and how many subjects to implement) of what you think you will need. Don't buy that full year, 5 day a week, Science curriculum, with weekly experiments...blah blah blah....yes, that one. Invest in two easy to implement Science unit studies. My next school year, when my third was a one year old, I purchased two easy unit studies, one on botany and one on anatomy (for k-3rd grade). I thought I would have one done in 6 weeks to 3 months depending on my ambition, and the same with the other unit study, with ample time at the end of the year to make up for days missed or to just take it easy. Turned out it took me 6 months to do just one! Yikes. Thankfully it was in my plan and it worked. I didn't over-curriculum myself.

By the time #4 came along, sweet Harry, I knew my limits and I knew where I could push it. My oldest could handle a bit more academically challenging subjects, but I chose to limit that to subjects that she could do on her own and would not require me to invest time away from baby and *ahem* intense toddler. She did challenging Bible studies and way above age-level Reading requirements, but stayed easy on Math, Grammar, History, and Science.

Also, don't invest in expensive co-ops that require a lot of your time and that you know will require extra homework. Save soccer, softball, basketball, and the like for another year. Over-committing yourself can affect your homeschool environment. Your littles won't be littles forever, and it will be easier another year to add in your extra-curricular activities. For now, be content with the minimum. Know your boundaries. Organize playdates or small unit study based co-ops with others to get your socializing in.

That was it! This post was a doozy! Thanks for hangin' in till the end!

For the next post, I will discuss how to organize your supplies and schedule. Why go through all that work preparing and not know where anything is or how best to schedule it all in to your busy day?!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Homeschooling with Littles About

I write this for me. Because I don't know how I survive some days. And, when asked, "How do you homeschool with a baby and toddler under-foot?", the only answer I can give is, "I just DO. I don't know how....it just happens."
I write this for my children, for if they ever choose to homeschool their own brood, I might get asked this question again, and I want a REAL ANSWER to give them. And goodness knows my memory is to shot now, I can't imagine what I will remember when I am 50.
I write this for you. If you struggle with homeschooling your older children and keeping your smaller children occupied, then I hope you can find something useful to utilize in your home. Or, if you don't struggle at all, but have grown tired of the plan you have now, you might be able to find something here, too!

This is a synopsis of what I hope to cover over the next few posts. I plan to cover a lot of ground, so grab a notebook (or turn your printer on) and keep up!!

1. Prepare: make, borrow, invest in all the tools you'll need
2. Organize: a place for everything, and planning your day
3. Enlist: don't be afraid to ask for help
4. Accept: when nothing works, breathe and move on
5. Enjoy: don't forget to enjoy them while they are little

I also hope that these posts might generate some feedback. So, for my 3 actual readers, chip in any tips you find relevant to a post as you read along.

Also, because I get sidetracked often and need breaks from self-mandates, be looking for a craft post (recycled wool sweater diaper cover!), and a happy birthday post for my (gasp!) 10 year old daughter. And food...you know THAT has to happen.

Oh, the calamity!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cornbread Breakfast

I recently realized that I had abandoned all other subcatagories on this blog and have, for the most part, just taken pictures of food. So, next week, expect a big installment titled: Managing a Homeschool Environment with Littles About. It is sure to be exciting! Well, not really. But you should come away with some good tips and tricks of the trade that I have observed and utilized over the past 6 years.

I leave you now with one final foodie blog before I am swept under, into the abyss of screaming babies and whiny toddlers, bloggin' that is.

This is, hands down, #2 (here are some others: #1, #3, #4,) in my top favorite breakfast meals list (yes, I have food lists). Leftover cornbread, in our house, is put either in stuffing or eaten by itself with a glass of milk for snack time. But, when I can, and don't mind the extra calories in the morning, I will indulge in this simple and satisfying meal.

Toasty Cornbread topped with Cheese, Fried Egg, and Tomato

1 piece leftover cornbread (we prefer the sweet johnnycake style in our house, but any ole southern white cornbread would do marvelously)
1 slice sharp cheddar cheese
1 egg (or two, if you're naughty)
1 slice tomato

Place the cornbread on an oven safe plate and top with slice of cheddar cheese. Put it in the oven (400 degrees) or toaster oven (medium toast) and let the bread get all toasty and the cheese melts, about 3-4 minutes. While the cornbread is in the oven, heat up a skillet and cook your egg how you like it. Perfection, to me, is an egg over-easy....but do as you wish. Once the cornbread and egg are done, place the egg over the cornbread and top with your slice of tomato.

You could get a little fancy and put some fresh basil or crumbled bacon over the top. Maybe a splash of hot sauce. But for me, I keep it simple.
And when my fork pierces the yolk, and all the runny goodness seeps into the nooks and crannies of the cornbread...oh, heaven.

Monday, May 9, 2011

As the World Turns

Life has been so dull around here, what with homeschooling, co-op planning and current co-op year finishing, oldest daughter birthday planning, weekend retreat camp, tornadoes, yard sales, spring cleaning, mother's day weekend extravaganzas, kitten care, field trips, play dates...
So dull, in fact, that I have been able to laze around and take pictures of little else but kittens. Oh my...so dern cute.
This one is Jenny. Who was referred to as Jimmy until one week ago. Somehow I think I kept looking at the same gray kitten twice and never noticed that this one was a girl!
I plan on more homeschool style posts in the weeks to come...and maybe a few delicious food posts to appease my food readers.
Peace and Blessings!


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