Sunday, December 22, 2013

Our Christmas Eve Box!

I've seen this on Pinterest and I love this idea. I really wanted a special Christmas eve tradition for my kids. So I am making them a Christmas eve box! It's a big box with a tag that says "do not open until Christmas eve." It's got comfy new pajamas for the kids and fun things to do that night. And on Christmas morning they'll look adorable in their new jammies for photos. Here's what I've included in the box:

There's a train! He's going to love them!

For oldest boy: He loves his robe but he was outgrowing it, so I found new one at Target. Then I ordered new Hanna Andersson pajamas with train decal (he loves trains). Hanna Andersson pajamas are expensive but they had a sale and I know they will last and last and can be handed down to his brothers.

Adorable reindeer pajamas!

Middle boy: He gets his brother's old robe which is still in great shape, and these new Hanna Andersson jammies with reindeer that I found on ebay. They are so cute and Scandinavian-looking (I'm half Swedish so I love that!)

Baby boy: I found some cute striped Carter's jammies for him at Target. I love Carter's for babies. I forgot to take a pic of those but you get the idea.

All the boys: For story time I got a beautifully illustrated hardcover copy of The Night Before Christmas. I fell in love with this version when I saw it at Toys R Us but I got it a lot cheaper on Amazon. For making and decorating sugar cookies, I got Christmas cookie cutters and a pack of assorted decorations for cookies: red and green sugar, sprinkles, etc. For the movie I found this Original Christmas classics collection DVD at Costco for $17 something which was the best price anywhere. It has the old Rudolph, Santa, and Frosty the Snowman movies I remember from when I was little, plus a few more. Then I got cute pouches of cocoa with Santa on them. I found those at Cracker Barrel. I could have also put in mini marshmallows and popcorn but I already opened the packages so I'll just bring them out when we're ready to party.

So, on Christmas Eve we'll be watching Christmas movies, drinking cocoa, making cookies, and reading The Night Before Christmas! The kids are going to love it! What goodies would you include in a Christmas eve box?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Autumn in the Arizona Desert


In most places in the United States, folks are wearing coats and watching the leaves turn colors. But we live in Phoenix, Arizona, which is in the Sonoran desert; we have an entirely different climate. Our leaves are still green and still firmly attached to the trees--they don't fall until late November or December. And we are still wearing our shorts. Instead, Autumn for us simply means that the summer's scorching heat finally breaks. This happens in October. Instead of 110+ degrees, we get to enjoy temperatures in the 80s and 90s. Cool breezes begin to blow across the desert. It's something of a celebratory time. Folks emerge from their air-conditioned homes, where they've largely been trapped for the past 5-6 months. Suddenly children are playing in the streets, riding bikes and scooters, playing ball and flying kites. Parks are busy again. Windows are open to admit the fresh air, and people sit outside on their porches and patios in the crisp evenings.

Now that the searing heat has passed, it's also time for the fall growing season. The garden centers and nurseries are busy places. We plant our veggies and herbs in September and October, and it's time to sow the rich green winter rye grass. And backyard barbecues are a delicious change.

Nature study time

For us homeschoolers, it's field trip time. The zoos, botanical garden, hiking trails, historical sites, farms, and pioneer town are places we can actually visit now. Outdoor nature study is possible again. I like to take my kids to some of the nature parks around town. It's a great (and free) place to get up close and personal with the desert wildlife. We have seen quail, roadrunners, jackrabbits, huge black millipedes, lots of lizards, and even a baby rattlesnake. The famous saguaro cacti are interesting to examine, with their accordion sides that expand and contract depending on how much water they are storing. Other desert trees and plants have their own ways of surviving through the dry periods, and we can look and learn about them. Birds are migrating to our southern clime during this time as well, and we can see species that we never normally see. There are lots of pretty hummingbirds about, too.

Halloween is an exciting holiday for the kids. After many months indoors, it's fun to dress up in costume and enjoy the cool evening, going from house to house and getting candy. Another tradition you will see around here is celebrations for Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead).

Since Arizona borders Mexico, and a lot of people here are from Mexico, we have adopted this interesting and colorful Mexican holiday. It is a celebration in memory of loved ones who have passed on. People set up lovely decorated altars with photos of deceased family members, candles, gifts of food and drink, and beautiful skull and skeleton figures. At Dia de los Muertos celebrations around town you can find skull jewelry and skeleton decorations to purchase. Our church celebrates this holiday with several altars set up in the sanctuary. People bring their photos, and the sermon is devoted to the memory of those who have passed. It is a healing moment for those who grieve for someone.

Coloring calavera (skull) masks

Mexican families visit the cemetery during this time. I like to go there too, together with my children. It is a good time to remember those in our family who are no longer with us, and to recognize that death is part of life. Sometimes I see Mexican families at the cemetery who bring flowers and gifts for their loved one, and light candles. Sometimes they even bring folding chairs and a picnic, and sit near their loved one, telling stories, playing guitar and singing songs.

When we go to the cemeteries we visit the graves of my maternal grandparents and a great-grandfather I discovered while researching my father's family history. I want my children to know their names, and when they lived, and know some stories about them. I think family history is an important part of homeschool history. My 6-year-old likes to investigate the oldest part of the cemetery, with headstones and mausoleums going back 100 years or more. A lot of Arizona history is resting there. I tell him how they lived here back then, sleeping out on the porch or roof during summer nights, wrapped in wet sheets because they had no air conditioning. We cannot imagine it!

I would say for those of us living in the desert, Autumn is our happiest time. Even though we don't have beautiful fall colors to enjoy, we have the most wonderful weather. It's a lot like Spring for those who live in snowy climes. After many months of remaining indoors, we can finally go outside and experience the wonders of our desert home.

So have you ever been to the Sonoran desert? What's autumn like where you live?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

10 Rules I Never Thought of Before I Had Kids

A lot of times when my kids do naughty things it's just because they really don't know any better. They're pretty young after all. I often find myself explaining that what they are doing is not okay, and I have had to come up with some pretty crazy new rules. Here's a sampling:

1. We do not chew on our toenails.
2. We do not eat diaper cream.
3. We do not eat old jelly beans out of the trash.
4. We do not recycle our good kitchen utensils and removable hard drives.
5. We do not throw rocks, garbage, toys, binkies, etc. in the swimming pool.
6. We do not take the goldfish out of their tank to play with them.
7. We do not take off our pants and pee in the front yard.
8. We do not jump on Grandma's expensive electric adjustable bed (oh no, too late!).
9. Especially when Grandma is holding a cup of hot tea, we don't whack her with stuffed animals (poor Grandma).
10. We do not call our preschool teacher a bad word!

What are some crazy-sounding house rules have you had to come up with for your kids?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Moon Cakes!

Last Thursday was Chinese Moon Festival. My husband is rather apathetic about Chinese holidays; I think they make him feel a little sad. He can't spend them surrounded by his parents and extended family as he used to growing up. And his kids are growing up in American culture with American holidays and he just doesn't see any point. Well pooh to that! I wanted to introduce the kids to this holiday as it's part of their Chinese heritage, so I decided to learn more about it.

I found out Moon Festival, also known as Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrates the harvest and family, and the harvest! People return to their villages or their hometowns and spend the day with their families, and they have a feast. It sounds kind of like Chinese Thanksgiving. And they eat mooncakes! They are pretty little pastries with lotus seed paste inside. No idea what lotus seed paste was like, but they sounded yummy. I'd never even seen a mooncake before. I ask my husband. He doesn't like mooncakes. Too sweet, he said. And expensive.

They are expensive, I discovered. We were shopping and I saw they had some for sale at the local Asian market. For around $30 for a box. Of four. Wow.

A few days before the festival day, I decided to get the mooncakes. I grabbed my hubby and the kids and marched them down to the Asian supermarket to buy them. I wanted my kids and I to try them. So we went into the store, mooncakes. They were sold out. Darn. My husband's Chinese friend told him, "Duh! They are always sold out if you wait till right before the moon festival." Kind of like pumpkins at Halloween, I guess.

So there went my Moon Festival plans. Oh well. There's always next year. So it's not a total bust, my son and I made some Chinese lanterns out of construction paper. It's an easy craft. Here's the instructions we used:

Chinese Lantern Tutorial

After we made and decorated our lanterns, I hung them over our dining table (taped them to the light fixture), and we went out to look at the moon, which on Moon Festival night is full, and it's supposed to be the brightest moon of the year. It was very bright, and we could see easily in the moonlight. When we went back in the house, Daddy arrived, with two mooncakes! His friend who had laughed at us gave him a couple for us to try!

Moon cakes

Aren't they beautiful? Wow, so pretty. No wonder they are so expensive. Inside each one is lotus seed paste filling, and in the center is a salted egg yolk, which looks like the moon when you cut the mooncake. My husband told me you are supposed to eat the mooncake by cutting it into four pieces and sharing, because it is so rich.

Lotus seed paste filling and an egg yolk in the center

I took a piece of mooncake and tasted it. The lotus seed paste tastes like sweetened peanut butter! Yummy. And the egg yolk is salty. The mooncake reminds me of a peanut butter cup, without the chocolate. It's very sweet and salty and rich. My oldest child hated the mooncake (but he is super picky and hates most foods) and my 2-year-old liked the lotus seed part but spit out the egg yolk. But I liked it! I'm going to buy a box of mooncakes every year from now on. And I'm going to be sure to buy them very early!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Thousand-Year-Old Eggs

My husband is Chinese, born and raised in China. So you can imagine he has very different tastes than I do. Actually he is very open to trying new things and got used to American style food quite quickly. He also really enjoys foods from other countries; he eats Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, and Thai food regularly. And I try to be open minded as well; I love the interesting and delicious Chinese meals he and my in-laws make, which are nothing like what you would find in a Chinese restaurant. But some of the things they eat are a bit too different for me. One example of this cultural divide between us is preserved duck eggs, also known as thousand-year-old eggs.

This is what they look like in the Asian market

They look very strange. They frankly look rotten. But my husband and my in-laws eat them with gusto, and even my very American children will have a bite or two now and then. I have never tried them myself, partly because I am not a fan of eggs anyway, but also I just can't seem to wrap my brain around how they look.

They are grey with black spots, and individually wrapped.

They are produced by taking fresh duck eggs and coating each one in a mixture of tea, ashes, lime, and salt. They are rolled in rice husks and then (traditionally, I don't know how they do it now) they kept them in a jar in a cool dark spot or buried them in the ground for 100 days (no, not actually 1,000 years). When they are ready, the coating is washed off, they are peeled and sliced, and they look like this:

The egg white has turned to an amber-colored gelatin, and the yolk is a grey color. They are served as sort of a side dish or condiment with other food. Often they are dressed in dark Chinese vinegar with a few drops of sesame oil.

My husband enjoying one with his chicken enchiladas!

Maybe I'll work up the nerve to try them someday. My husband keeps trying to get me to. I'll wait until I'm not pregnant though, because everything tastes gross to me right now. So have you tried 1,000 year old eggs? Has anybody who hasn't grown up with them tried them?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Making Chinese Peanuts

This is one of my favorite recipes that my Chinese in-laws make. It's a great snack and they are so fun to eat with chopsticks. They are salty, flavorful and crunchy, but not in the way that we're used to in America, where we eat our peanuts dry-roasted. They are moist, and perhaps more like a vegetable than a nut. Think edamame (soybeans), if you've ever had those. To get the ingredients you will need to go to an Asian supermarket. You can find the peanuts there; they are shelled and raw (not roasted or salted). These are 12 oz bags and I used one for this recipe.

You'll need a 12 oz package of raw shelled peanuts.

Then you'll need some wonderful exotic spices. 

Talk about fragrant! Red peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, and star anise.

The star anise is so pretty; it looks like stars. 

Star anise.

Then there's  fresh ginger. You only need a tiny bit of ginger, so buy a small knob of it, and maybe have another recipe ready to use it in so it isn't wasted.

Fresh ginger.

Put the peanuts in a saucepan and add enough water to cover them. Then add two slices of ginger and 2 anise stars. For the red peppercorns, I use a half-teaspoon size measuring spoon as a scooper and scoop out a rounded spoonful of peppercorns and throw them in the pot. Then you'll need a tiny piece of cinnamon bark. These are the size pieces I'm talking about:

Tiny bits of cinnamon bark.

One or two of these is enough. A little goes a long way. Now everything's in the pot. Bring it to a boil. I put the lid on but leave a gap to let steam out, and cook it for 20 minutes on medium-high.

After 20 minutes, turn off the stove and add a tablespoon of salt (or more or less, depending how salty you like things) and let the peanuts soak for at least a half-hour. When they are done soaking, we eat them warm immediately, and the leftover peanuts we eat cold from the fridge. Scoop them out of their broth and into a bowl, and be careful not to eat the anise, peppercorn, ginger, or cinnamon bits (warn the kids). These peanuts are best eaten with chopsticks, which just makes it more fun! Yummy!

Get the most out of the public library

I occasionally add affiliate links to my posts--this means that if you click on a link to a product I have shared with you and purchase it, I get a bit of compensation. I only recommend products that I own or would actually buy myself. And every cent I get goes toward more homeschool stuff for my children's education, so thanks for your support. You can read my full disclosure policy here.

I really make good use of the library as a resource for our homeschool. I looooooooooove the library! We get so much out of this resource for our homeschool and it saves us lots of money. However, I had to come up with something of a system to use it effectively and not get fines! I thought I'd share the ways I get the most out of our public libraries:

Avoiding fines
I figured out pretty quick that in order for my library use to help my budget instead of hurting it, I was going to have to get really organized about returning things on time. Plus my husband was getting really mad at me about all the fines. Ooops! Sorry, Babe.

First of all I started going to the library on the same day every week. I put in the homeschool schedule. Wednesday is library day. Sometimes we skip a week or go to a different city's library, but we always go on Wednesday. So the books are always due on a Wednesday! That really helps with my constant absent-mindedness. And if I need to renew books, I always do that on Wednesday, too. So this helps me remember to address my library business on that day every week.

The other thing I started doing was posting our library due dates in a conspicuous place in the homeschool area. I just write it on a little note-paper and clip it to a pushpin on the wall. It's right next to our calendar, which we do daily, so I see it every day, and I can check at a glance when things are due. This has helped me so much and I always get the books renewed and returned on time now.

Since I often have books from different library systems I put the city name on there. I am hoping you don't notice that July 26th is a Friday. I forgot to get a book I needed for homeschool so I stopped by and got it on a Friday. But normally the due dates are always Wednesday. Do you like my dry-erase accessories holder? I made it out of laminated paper with a cute sticker on it! I'm so proud.

Not losing library books
Our library books used to be all over the house, and we kept losing them under the couch or under the bed, or they'd be in the playroom being used to build things. I kept having to renew them instead of returning them because I couldn't find them! So I got this cute basket and placed it in the homeschool area. Our library books now have a home. The kids can flip through them easily and I can watch over them better. I still have to remind the kids to put them back, but we're working on it. We haven't lost a single book since using the basket.

Knowing my library policies
Another thing I did was go to my library's website and research the rules and policies. I made sure I knew how long different library items, such as books, DVDs, and CDs can be checked out for. I honestly had no clue before. I found out how many times I can renew items (6! That's a lot!). Also I found out that I can join any city library system in my county for free! I am now a member of 3 different library systems; in addition to my city's library, I got cards for two adjoining cities. This allows me a better opportunity to find the books I need. Be sure to check out the library regulations in your area, and see if there's a similar arrangement! It's really helpful to have so much selection. Sometimes you are allowed to join another library for a fee. If it's not too much, consider doing it if the library has a nice variety of books.

Got the books we need for our curriculum
The curriculum I use for literature and history is Build Your Library. It's appropriately named, since it's literature-based and requires a lot of books. Most people who use these kind of curricula, I think, just buy all the required books to save time and bother. But since our homeschool is budget-impaired I can't afford to buy all the books required. :( Occasionally I'll come across the relevant books at the thrift store (for $.40 or $.50) or at the Scholastic warehouse sales (for $1.50) and I'll grab them (score!) but I can't count on it. However, since I am now very organized about these things (not that I am organized about anything else) I get nearly all the books from the library and save the money for other things.

This is how I do it. When I got the new curriculum for this year, I looked up each book we would need, and searched for it in my city's online library catalog. If it wasn't there, I searched the other two library systems. I marked down which libraries had each book. Any books I couldn't find, I went ahead and bought on Amazon. This year I bought the two spines that I would need for the entire year, and I ended up having to buy only two other books that weren't at the libraries. This saved me about $240! Well worth the extra work.

I usually make up my homeschool lesson plans about a month ahead, so when I do that I just write down each book on the week we'll need it. Each Friday I do a little check of what's coming up in the homeschool, so at that time I go online and place holds on the books I need for the upcoming week or two. By Wednesday, there they are, set aside and waiting for me at the closest library branch. It's all quite easy and convenient, since I planned ahead. And it's great that I can renew, search, and place holds all online.

As another option for the books I can't get at my local libraries, I could use Interlibrary Loan (ILL) to get them through a distant library. You can get books sent from any library anywhere (it's amazing). However, at my library it takes 7-8 weeks or more to get the book, renewals are iffy, and it's just hard to plan that far ahead, so I haven't resorted to it so far. But now I know I have the option.

Summer Reading Program
The library has other features we make use of. One is the summer reading program. Most libraries have them. My kid really enjoys getting the prizes. Honestly we read every single day anyway so it's not much of an incentive for him, but it makes going to the library fun when he gets a prize. This year I was really stoked because the prize for finishing the summer reading was a free book of our choice! I love getting free books for the kids since I don't get to blow all my money at Barnes and Noble like I want to. This is the book we got: 

Cute and very educational. I love the Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science series.

Other fun stuff at our library
Most libraries offer classes, programs, and fun activities. A couple of the ones we make use of at our library is the LEGO club and the Culture Pass. The LEGO club is once a month. The kiddos love going to that. They just have tables with big piles of LEGOs and they get to build stuff. Then their creations are displayed in a glass case in the library until the next month. It's fun. I want my kiddos to love the library like I did when I was young, so anything that makes it an attractive place to go is a winner with me. The Culture Pass is something we use all the time for homeschool field trips. It's an awesome program for getting free admission to select local museums, the botanical garden, and the zoo. Yeah, sometimes you have to fight to get the coolest ones, but it's so, well, free!

So be sure to get the most out of your library for your homeschool! What do you use the library for?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Organizing Our Daily Work: One Workbin instead of a stack of Workboxes

I would like to take a minute to show you how I organize my kid's daily work. I've come up with a simple system that's working like a charm, and taking up very little space!

My kiddo has between 8 and 9 subjects to complete each day (I know that sounds like a lot, but each one only takes 10-15 minutes to complete). But I needed to get all those subjects organized and prepared, and I wanted the kiddo to be somewhat responsible for doing his own work. I know he's only 5; I still have to sit with him at the table and do practically everything with him, but I'm sure he'll get more independent as he grows and I want to encourage that. I looked around on the internet and many people are using some variation of Sue Patrick's workbox system. I love the idea of it, and how it organizes everything, but it takes up a lot of space for all those boxes! My homeschool storage space is a china cabinet in one (small) corner of our (small) combined living room/dining room. It's my only spot for homeschool stuff, so there was no way to fit a stack of workboxes in. I also have two more children who would need their own workboxes eventually, so whatever I came up with had to fit in a small space!

So this is what I came up with: "work folders" stacked into a "work bin." We have one bin for "to do" (on the left) and another for "done" (on the right). I got these cute bins at Staples ($9.99 ea) and they're just the right size. The folders in the "to do" bin are stacked one on top of the other in order from first subject to last. Each folder is labeled and has an image representing the subject, since he can't read all the subject names yet. I printed out some cute clip art for labels and taped it to the folder with packing tape, covering it so it can't fall off or get dirty. I put workbooks, worksheets, and flash cards--whatever we need for our lesson--in the folders. Books and binders don't fit in the folders, so if there's one to use with the lesson I just place it under the folder. The labeled folders then function as dividers. Any books, binders, craft supplies, etc that are under the folder but on top of the next are used with the top folder's lesson.  I also threw together some bookmarks so I can mark where in the book he needs to start. Then he puts it back in where he leaves off so it's ready to go for the next day.

We go through the folders in order, and the order is the same every day. I think that helps with building habits, and knowing what is coming next helps eliminate some griping.  He is required to go get the folder on top of the stack (and any accompanying books) and bring it to the table to work with me. When we're finished he goes and puts everything away in the done bin. This lets him see how much more he has to do, and gives him a sense of accomplishment as he puts each folder into the done bin. He knows he's done when the last folder is complete. The folders also help with some of the complaining because it is not so much me telling him what to do. Instead he sees it as "that's what's in the folder, so that's what I have to do." He actually loves most of his lessons, but handwriting elicits groans!

Eventually I will replace all the paper folders with these heavyweight poly folders. They're tough and should last a long time no matter what I stuff into the pockets.

Handwriting Without Tears workbook, and some lined paper to write his name.

We sometimes do an internet-based lesson, so in order to put those lessons in the folders, I printed out each online curriculum's logo, laminated it, and I attach it to the folder with a clip or just stick it in the pocket. When the kiddo sees the logo, he knows it's time to go to the laptop. I did the same thing with an ebook we use; I just printed and laminated an image of the cover.

I load the folders after school is done, or before bed. It doesn't take much time, because I've already filled out a weekly planner sheet with the chapters and activities we need to do. And most of the subjects are the same every day, so I don't even have to reload those folders. It's a simple system, but it is working very well. The kiddo knows what he needs to do, and he knows what's coming next. And if I want to I can put a fun activity as a surprise in one of the folders. So that's what we're doing; I hope you find it helpful!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Our Huge New Family Bed

Today our new bed was delivered! It is a California king, and now we have two California Kings in one bedroom (luckily we have a large bedroom!). Since birth our first child has flat-out refused to sleep in his own bed (even within the same room), so we have always had a family bed. Now with two children in the bed and another on the way (and a very tall daddy and a plus-size mommy) we were out of room. We decided to go all out and get another Cali king since we had the space. We asked the mattress delivery guy to tie the legs of the two frames together for us, and now we have the hugest bed ever! It is 7 feet long and a full 12 feet wide. Right now we will have 4 people sleeping in the bed, but when the new baby arrives in August it will be 5.

 We put the bed with one side against the wall. This is where I'll sleep, with the new baby between me and the wall, so he can't fall off the bed or get squished by one of his brothers. Then the boys will sleep in the middle, and Daddy will go on the left side. If the boys fuss about who gets to sleep next to Mama, they can take turns, sleeping one night closer to Dad and one night closer to me.

We put separate bottom sheets on each mattress. There is a crack between them, but they're pushed pretty tightly together, so it's not going to be an issue. I even laid down right on the crack and it was soft and not bothersome at all (yay for pillow-tops). Anyway, can you see me sewing and washing 12 foot wide sheets? I don't think so. Nobody will have to sleep on the crack, but if they roll over there they'll still be comfortable. We have an assortment of blankets and/or top sheets so that everyone can have their own. In the morning we'll just fold all these up and place them at the foot of the bed. That is how beds are made in China, where my husband is from, and it will work perfectly for us with this big bed.

One nice thing is I am able to get three long underbed storage bins under the end of the bed (you can just see one under the right side in the pic above), and one on the side, so that's where I'm putting stuff like wrapping paper, baby things, and the craft supplies I don't want to share with the kids. Yay for storage, especially since the bed takes up so much space. And yes, we actually still have room for other things in the room besides the bed (told you we have a big room). We also have two dressers, a big tv, two desks, a changing table, a treadmill, and a bookcase in there.

So that's our super family bed! It will be great to sleep comfortably and to see the kids so blissfully sleeping snuggled close to us. And as far as the kids are concerned, it's a great place to play. So far they're enjoying bouncing, having pillow fights,  and turning somersaults on it. So what do you think? Would you ever try a bed like this?

Friday, March 29, 2013

My Mini Shopping Spree

My haul
What a day! We haven't spent so much money in I don't know when. First we went and purchased our second Cali King bed. We are going to have the hugest bed ever, with two Cali Kings together. We have children who equate sleeping in their own beds (let alone their own rooms) with child abuse and torture. Since we have a huge bedroom, and a new baby on the way, we decided to just give up and get ready to have 5 people sleeping in a ginourmous bed. I can't wait until it is delivered tomorrow.

After bed shopping we went out to lunch and went shopping for new bed linens. We struck out at T.J. Maxx (no Cali King stuff), but at Tuesday Morning they had a great $300 sheet set on clearance for $80, and with today's 50% off clearance sale we got it for $40. Sweet! We also picked up a couple of mattress pads at good prices. I just love Tuesday Morning. And I often find the neatest educational toys there at great prices.

Then we got home and found a surprise gift of $100 in the mail. Yay! So Grandma and I drove out to Lakeshore to buy a few items I've had my eye on. The hubby came along and while we were shopping he took $20 and went off to the casino down the road. We picked out a microscope, place value blocks, place value practice board, a magnetic fractions set with board, addition flashcards, a pack of phony money, a small hourglass (minuteglass?), a prism, and a map of the solar system with planet descriptions and decorations. So there we are, nearly done shopping and my husband comes back with $110! Wow, good job honey! So I got a laminating machine too! I am so excited. I have I pile of things I have wanted to laminate, so I can't wait to try it out! We had such a fun day shopping; it so rarely happens on our budget.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Our New First Grade Curriculum (UPDATED)

Our Chinese curriculum choice: My First Chinese Words
**UPDATE** I've made a few changes since we finished our kindergarten level work and moved into the first grade work. I discovered The Logic of English Essentials curriculum and I love it! I am using it on my Chinese husband to improve his English reading skill as well as on the kiddo who is an emerging reader! So I have completely changed the way we were approaching phonics and reading for first grade. You can see some stuff is crossed out--we're not using it any more. And new stuff is marked with an asterisk (*).

So here's our new curriculum, to finish the end of kindergarten and continue through first grade. Yay! I'm so proud that I put together my first curriculum by myself. No more K12, "online public school" rules and regs. All the curriculum is secular. I decided we'll be homeschooling year-round, since last summer he was so bored. It is so hot here in the summer and we can't go outside anyway, so we might as well enjoy the air conditioning and learn stuff. Then we'll take a nice long break in the cool season when we can actually enjoy doing stuff outdoors. We've started already with this (except a few bits I haven't bought yet); and we found we are finishing school in 2 1/2-3 hours. It's just right! We don't use all these materials every day, but we switch it up and have some variety. Some subjects, like art and science, we're doing once a week. I'm really happy that we can do this!

 *Logic of English Essentials (LOE)
*Homemade LOE flashcards
*LOE Phonogram and Spelling Game Book + game cards
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (book)--using only for the readings
K12 PhonicsWorks Basic Readers (left over from our unfortunate K12 experience)(completed)
Progressive Phonics, intermediate level (free download)(too easy for the kiddo)
Beginning reader books from our local library
Sight words flash cards, level b(no sight words used in LOE)

Handwriting Without Tears, 1st grade (yellow book)

Math Mammoth, 1st grade
Assorted manipulatives: base 10 blocks, snap cubes, abacus, school money, magnetic fractions set
Addition and subtraction flash cards

Build Your Library Curriculum, 1st grade

 Build Your Library Curriculum, 1st grade

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2 (ebook)
Build Your Library Curriculum, 1st grade (nature study science; we'll do this during the cool season)
The Magic School Bus episodes (YouTube)(he watches them constantly anyway, so they're no longer part of our daily work)

The Happy Scientist (online subscription)

Home Art Studio DVD: Kindergarten

Mandarin Chinese
My First Chinese Words Curriculum (We purchased the subscription to the online component,
workbooks, games, and flashcards)
Fun Fun Elmo (Mandarin YouTube videos from the makers of Sesame Street)
Daddy (He'll tutor us in pronunciation [because mine's terrible] and writing Chinese characters)

Salsa  (Free Spanish videos from Georgia PBS)
Spanish flashcards that I make myself
*The kids' godmother Marvah (she'll tutor the kiddo in Spanish conversation)

Brain Quest Workbook, grade 1

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why We Left Online Public School (K12)

So I started out the year with much excitement, awaiting the first day of school (kindergarten!) and those big boxes of (free!) school materials from the online public school. The school we chose used K12 curriculum, which I had heard was good quality and very expensive to buy. And when the boxes arrived, the curriculum and books looked great. The materials seemed to be based on the latest research for kindergarten (I know because I took a class on early childhood education) and there were manipulatives and great storybooks.

What we got from the online public school
Pretty soon, however, it became clear that this school was no fun. There were deadlines we had to meet, online sessions we were required to attend, extra assignments, assessments over the phone (tricky), and tons and tons of work! Although when I signed up, the school told me we could do kindergarten in two hours a day, the amount of material he was required to get through each day was overwhelming. There was no way anyone could do it in two hours. Some of the subjects, like literature and history, seemed way too advanced for kindergarten. He was being asked to do things like name the purpose and audience of a story, and learn about the contributions of Andrew Carnegie (what?). And a lot of the lessons in math consisted of doing the same thing a hundred different ways. It was a lot of boring work! On the days we did finish school, it took about 8 hours to finish. And it was supposedly half-day kindergarten we were doing. We hardly ever finished. And he fought with me every day, and I had to yell at him and threaten him with consequences to get him to do the work. And the first ever report card he got in his life was awful. He was failing to meet requirements in almost every subject (he was understanding everything fine, but he was behind). And this child is super smart.

Now some parents tell me that they deal with K12 by skipping a lot of the material that isn't neccessary for their kids to understand and meet the objectives. Well that sounds reasonable, but in actuality the school isn't set up that way. The end of each lesson has a quiz, and for him to answer all the questions correctly, he would have had to go through all the material. And we did skip (a lot). He is advanced in phonics and math, so we skipped (marked as complete) a lot of early lessons in those areas. But it didn't help us get ahead.  And I just don't feel comfortable with a system that requires me to skip half a year's lessons or say we did things that we didn't. That is just weird and unnecessary. It feels like lying.

I struggled with this for half a year. When we started again in the Spring, I couldn't stand it. I had had enough. I found an online homeschool program that day, Time4Learning, and signed him up immediately. My husband was not happy. It had been hard enough to convince him to go along with the online school. Now we were going school-less and he didn't know what to make of it (he's from China, and the only people who are "home-schooled" over there are people who can't afford to send their kids to school, and they can only grow up to be poor farmers and street-cleaners [according to him]).

But it has been great. Without the rules and deadlines of the online public school, we can do what's best for the kiddo. We do things he actually enjoys. Some of the subjects we do only take 10 minutes, instead of an hour, and we finish school before lunchtime every day. Now, school takes just 2 1/2 hours. He has stopped fighting me about doing school (well, except for handwriting), and he gets really excited about some of his subjects, because they are light, interesting, and fun. He is learning so much more than before because he is motivated and not bogged down with too much work. We are able to do more subjects, and ones that are very important to us and we never had time to do before, like Spanish, Science, and Chinese.

So that was our experience with the online public school using k12 curriculum. Maybe it works for others, or maybe it works better for higher grades where the students have longer attention spans, but it was definitely not for us.