February 3, 2016

{Review} All About Spelling

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This year I took a break from our usual spelling curriculum (Phonics Road) to try something new with my 3 oldest kids. I felt we needed a change of pace and something different for the year. I chose All About Spelling because it teaches in a way that is similar to the Phonics Road.

Both programs teach with the Orton-Gillingham method that introduces phonogram sounds (letter sounds and sounds of letter teams). The Phonics Road is a complete language arts program while All About Spelling focuses only on spelling skills. However, All About Spelling uses a more multi-sensory approach to teaching spelling. Also, it doesn't require the amount of writing that the lessons in Phonics Road require.

I'm glad we took a year to try something new and take a break from our usual curriculum. Doing spelling lessons with a fresh approach has been a nice change this year.

So far we have used Level 1 (with Curly, Tiger, and Bee), Level 2 (with Curly), and part of Level 3 (also with Curly).

What about the program do we enjoy?

Letter Tiles
The tiles are lots of little pieces to keep track of in your homeschool. However, they have greatly benefitted my kids as using the tiles forces my kids to segment words into different sounds. This has helped them see each sound in various words.
I can't say how beneficial this has been for Curly who was a natural reader and learned to read without a reading program. She excels in reading but has a very difficult time with spelling because she pictures whole words and is unable to see the various pieces of each word - namely each individual sound. Using the tiles has forced her to slow down and break words down into their parts.

Syllable Division Rules
The program teaches syllable division rules. I had never learned most of these rules so we've all had to learn them together. Learning these rules and then dividing words into the various syllables to see spell each part separately has been very helpful for all of my kids. It makes the words less overwhelming and allows them to tackle longer and more complex words - one syllable at a time!

Slow Pace
All About Spelling introduces letter sounds and teams slowly so kids get extra practice. I appreciate that each lesson focuses on specific sounds or teams. This ensures that my kids are not overwhelmed.

Ability to Customize the Lessons
While the program can be done at a slow pace with only a few teams or sounds introduced at each lesson, the program pace can also be customized. It is very easy to accelerate the program and cover multiple lessons in one week if a child is ready to move faster. This makes All About Spelling an ideal program to use as review.

The lessons in Level 1 contain extra words and also phrases to dictate to the child to reinforce concepts taught in that lesson and in previous lessons. The later levels also contain sentences for dictation.
These are my favorite part! My kids often spell words correctly during spelling time because they are focused on the letter sounds and teams. However, once they are writing a composition or working in another subject, they frequently misspell words. This is a common problem among elementary kids who are still honing their spelling skills. However, by dictating the phrases and sentences to my kids, they are having to spell words correctly in context. This helps them have better carryover into other subjects.

Ease of Use
The program is incredibly easy to use. The lessons are clearly laid out and explain exactly how to teach each concept. I don't have to read ahead in lessons or do any advance planning.

I'm so glad that we are trying a new program and experiencing success in spelling while also enjoying our spelling lessons!

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February 1, 2016

{Intentionally Organized} List Making Edition

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If you ask any of my friends to describe me they will undoubtedly say things like organized, Type A, or even obsessive. I am all of the above and more. I love to create systems to stay organized and I hate for things to be out of place.

Lists are just about my favorite thing ever! I make them for everything and I drive everyone around me crazy with my check lists.

After I chose my word for the year - Intentional - I set about thinking of all the ways I could be more intentional. And making more lists was at the top of my list. It's a problem, or more like a sickness rather...

I have lists everywhere. I lose lists. I have duplicate items on multiple lists. I must need a list to organize all my lists!

No, that's not the answer. Instead, I made a few changes and organized my lists.

Step 1
I got a new planner. Now all of my lists are in one place. This one has sections for goals, places for lists, pockets to hold extra lists, and removable, reusable laminated dashboards to allow for frequently updated lists.
I sweetly asked my hubby to buy me an Erin Condren planner. I love it. It's so pretty and has so many sections for lists and notes.

Step 2
I created a master list. This is really my brain dump list. Everything that needs to be done and every random thought I have throughout the day is placed on this list. My mom bought me a pretty notepad that is designed for making to do lists. It even has tiny checkboxes next to each item. Now I can just write everything that pops into my head onto this huge list. And I keep it in the pretty pocket at the back of my planner.

Step 3
I organized my lists. I have one for grocery shopping, one for things that must be completed each week, one for things that need to be done each month (but are not time sensitive), one of honey-do's for my hubby (he just loves this one....), and one for my blog. I look through my giant brain dump list and categorize items and put them on the appropriate list.

Even with this system I still felt somewhat disorganized in some areas. I told my husband that I was too tired to think anymore. I blamed pregnant-brain for this but he encouraged me to make more lists to eliminate some of the items that I had to think about during the day.

So I thought about what things stressed me out the most.....
Trying to decide on appropriate consequences for my kids
Making sure parts of the house were deep cleaned
Remembering what usual items we needed at the grocery store
Ensuring my kids completed their chores

Then I made some lists for those items as well.

  • I created a discipline chart that includes Scripture verses and consequences. I thought about the 3 areas where my kids were currently struggling the most and wrote down applicable rules, Scriptures, and consequences.

  • I made a cleaning checklist by dividing the house into zones. Now I know which area of my house should be cleaned during the week. I don't have to try to remember the last time I cleaned the bathrooms.

  • I also created a grocery list printable that lists all the items we buy on a regular basis in the order that you can find them in the store. Now I print out one list per week and circle items that I know we need. If there are any extra things for a special recipe, I just write them in. Now we don't forget the usual items and have to make extra grocery trips.

  • I wrote several checklists for my kids and their chore times. I wrote down daily chores but I also made special cleaning checklists. I made a list for their room that includes all the specific items that should be cleaned. Now when I ask them to pick up their room, I can give them the sheet that lists all areas of their room that need to be cleaned. Then when I check their work I use the list to hold them accountable. I was tired of asking them to do a job and then finding the job was very poorly done. Now they are responsible for making sure that their cleaning list is complete.

After completing the Make Over Your Mornings course from Money Saving Mom (which I totally recommend), I realized that I was suffering from decision fatigue. Did you know there was such a thing? I simply thought my brain had wandered off and left me feeling scattered and disorganized. Now I know that I was falling apart because I had so many decisions to make during the day and my poor brain was overworked and tired.

These lists will help me eliminate many of the decisions and all of the over-thinking that I do during a day. Now I can switch to auto-pilot for many tasks and have some brain power left over by the evening.

My meal planning lists and daily routine also help eliminate this brain fatigue. Now I can function with intention because my brain is back on board. Isn't that great?

How can you eliminate brain fatigue in your life and be more intentionally organized?

If you need a boost, check out the course from Money Saving Mom. It was the perfect way to begin my new year with intention! Now I totally need her book.......

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January 27, 2016

Parenting in Real Life - A Story from Our Recent Move

This story actually happened months ago. But it's only just now that I can laugh about it - well, sort of laugh about it. It was definitely not funny at the time. In fact, as I look back I'm not sure how I survived those 24 hours.

Survive we did, and a few weeks later we moved into our new house in another state. However, moving with small children is just the worst. 

Here's a little peek into our moving experience.

We were renting our house in Texas and had talked to our landlord about breaking our lease a few months early. She agreed and also agreed to wait and put the house on the market until after we moved out. I think she felt it would sell better without all the "stuff" from a family of 7. This was a huge relief to me!

We started packing and house hunting and preparing for our big move. A few weeks later we got another call from our landlord. She had changed her mind and was going to put the house on the market 30 days before we moved out. This meant that she was sending her realtor over the next week to take pictures and then the house would be on the market. After that week, we could have showings at any time.

Y'all, I just sat down and cried. It was too much at that moment.

So we spent the next week frantically packing and cleaning. We cleaned and boxed and vacuumed and attempted to somewhat stage the house. By the end of the week the house was looking pretty good for housing a family of 7.

We put the kids to bed that weekend with plans for my hubby to take them out of the house for the hours that the realtor and photographer would be in the house.

In the middle of the night we heard a strange noise followed by the stomping of a child coming down the stairs. It was Tiger and he was horribly sick. He told us that he had thrown up in his room.

I quickly got to work putting him in the shower and getting him cleaned up while my hubby went upstairs to assess the situation. I came running up the stairs minutes later and found him standing in the middle of the room with a look of absolute horror on his face. And at this point I should say that my husband has super hero powers and is the diarrhea and vomit cleaner-upper at our house. He is not usually phased by the awful-ness, unlike me.

Well, this time he was not ok. 

As soon as I entered the room I ran back out screaming, "Open all the windows!"

Tiger was very sick. He had projectile vomited all over the 4 moving boxes that we had packed in his room that day, down his bunk bed stairs, on his carpet, the bookshelf, the lower bunk bed, and over two different walls of his room.

His room was absolutely covered.

I cried again while my hubby grabbed a steam cleaner, rolls of paper towels, and every cleaning spray in the house.

We spent the rest of the night unpacking all the moving boxes, repacking them, and throwing the old boxes away. Then I scrubbed the stairs and frame of his bunk bed while my hubby started the laundry. Together we scrubbed and steamed the carpet.

The next morning I got out the touch-up paint and repainted a large portion of two walls in Tiger's room while remaking his beds. My hubby had to steam clean the carpets a second time.

We left all the windows open for the rest of the day and cranked up the essential oils diffuser to attempt to get the smell out of the house before the realtor arrived.

Our work was rewarded and the realtor and our landlord were pleased with the pictures.

But that was definitely one of the longest and worst nights of my life. 

Moving with children is terrible for so many reasons. Here we are today in our new house and the move was worth it. But I hope that there are not any more moves in our near future.

Some days parenthood feels like a wonderful blessing and other days it's just a vomit-filled nightmare. 

Consider yourself warned!

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January 25, 2016

{Intentionally Organized} Meal Planning Edition

One area that needs a lot of work in our household is meal planning. I've slacked off over the past few months due to moving and pregnancy.  Therefore, we've had to scramble to put dinner on the table many a night.

I'm ready to make some changes and have a new plan in place for ensuring that there is food on the table with as little stress to me as possible. I'm going to be intentional in planning meals for my family.

We can't use all those wonderful meal-planning services, apps, and websites due to our food allergies. So meal planning and even recipe creating are up to me (with lots of help from my wonderful hubby).

Here's how I'm meal planning for the new year.

Weekly List with Menu Categories

I created a weekly list with meal categories to simplify my planning. Each day of the week has a specific type of meal. For example, mine looks like this:

Sunday: Beef
Monday: Mexican
Tuesday: Soup or Crockpot
Wednesday: Pasta
Thursday: Breakfast for Dinner
Friday: Chicken
Saturday: Pizza

So, every Tuesday night I plan some type of soup recipe for dinner and I know that on Thursdays we will have our favorite breakfast foods for dinner. Easy!

I also created the same type of schedule for our breakfast menu with some days being oatmeal or muffins or cereal.

Having the meals divided by category makes meal planning much more efficient. I don't have to think through what meals should go on which day, I simply look at my list and select a dish that fits into the correct category.

Recipe Binder

To help with meal planning and keep our recipes organized I created a recipe binder. I actually have two - one for baked items (desserts, muffins, cookies, breads, etc) and another for meals and sides.

In our meal binder, I have a section for each category on our weekly category list. I've typed out our favorite recipes and slipped them into page protectors behind the correct category.

Now I have our favorite recipes with any modifications (for our food allergies) all in one place. If a recipe is in that notebook, then I know it's a meal we enjoy and would like to make again.

As I plan our meals, I look at my category list and then flip to the correct section in my binder. I pick one of the recipes, write it on the calendar, and then I'm done with my meal planning.

Monthly Meal Calendar

Rather than plan on a weekly basis, I created some monthly calendars.

I printed off some blank, generic calendar pages and wrote in meals for an entire month, making sure I didn't duplicate any throughout the month. I created two separate meal calendars with an entire month's worth of meals. (As we try more new recipes and have additional choices, I hope to make more monthly calendars with new options).

Having a monthly planned calendar means that I don't have to do detailed meal planning every week. What a huge time saver!

Weekly Calendar

While I have monthly plans, I do review them weekly. I go through the planned meals for that week and make any needed adjustments.

For example: if we have a planned night out or another activity, I know I might need to change the meal for that night or plan something very simple that can be eaten in the car. Or if I'm someone's sick I know it's time to simplify a meal or two for that week.

The monthly calendars are meant to give a starting point to my planning but to also remain flexible.

Once I have reviewed the meal plan for the week and made any needed adjustments, I write it into my planner. Then I also write the menu on a chalkboard in our kitchen.

These two steps help me stay accountable to our meal plan for the week. Everyone sees the menu on a regular basis and knows what meals are on our list, which means I feel obligated to make the meals I had planned. My kids do not like going off the menu plan! Type A much?

Seeing the menu chalkboard also helps remind me of upcoming meals so I can do any prep work ahead of time. I can move food from the freezer to the fridge a day or two in advance, and I can also do some simple prep the night before.

Grocery List

After reviewing my meal plan and writing our menu on the calendar, I create a grocery list.

This is fairly easy since all of my recipes are in one place. I page through my binder and read each recipe. I do this in my kitchen so I can check the fridge and cabinets for ingredients.

Once my list is made, we get our groceries on the weekend and it's usually my hubby who does the shopping one night while I put the kids to bed. Yes, he's awesome like that!

Weekend Food Prep

I review my menu plan at the end of the week so that I have a new plan in place before the weekend. We get our groceries on Friday or Saturday so that we can have some weekend time for food prep.

On the weekend I go through our recipes and see what I can prep for the upcoming week. I dice veggies or even cook entire meals to put in the fridge or freezer. I have items in baggies ready to dump into the crockpot and I bake bread or make snack items for the kids.

Doing some preparation on the weekend saves so much time during my week nights! Sometimes I even double certain meals to keep one in the freezer for those times when I can't cook the planned meal.

The added bonus to doing some the prep over the weekend is a cleaner kitchen during the week. I make my giant mess on the weekend, so my kitchen is less disastrous during the weeknights.

Breakfast Prep

While I prep many dinners on the weekend, I do my breakfast prep the night before. I see what is planned for the next day and I set out ingredients at night. For some meals, I go ahead and prepare them (liked baked oatmeal) or I even bake them (like muffins or breads).

This ensures that the mornings run more smoothly because all the ingredients are out or already prepared for me.

So that's my meal planning strategy. My plans are not revolutionary but are instead fairly simple. I've found that this is the best way to make sure I follow through - if the plan is easy and uncomplicated it usually means that I actually use it. 

Here's to saving some money this year by eating at home and enjoying our family time around the dinner table!

Do you have to tackle meal planning and cooking for your household? What keeps you organized?

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January 20, 2016

Reading Challenge For Kids

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I have one strong reader, two emerging readers, and one little one who's begging to learn to read. Our house is filled with books. I read aloud to my kids daily. I also have them read aloud to me daily. However, I felt that my kids were not making personal reading time a priority. I want them to read and read and read!

So for the new year, my husband and I created a reading challenge for our family. It was based on the idea from the Read Aloud Revival at Amongst Lovely Things. You can read more about her winter reading challenge.

We challenged our 3 oldest kids to read individually for 20 minutes every single day.

Our Reward System

To encourage their reading we set up a two-fold reward system.

  • Every day that they read for their 20 minutes, they would get 15 minutes to play a game on the iPad or iPod.
  • At the end of the month, if they have completed their individual reading challenge every day, they will collectively earn some money that can be spent on an item that they choose together. Some months we might buy a prize and keep it on top of the fridge to motivate them each time they see it. Either way, there will be a monthly prize. 

We chose to do a two-fold reward system so that our kids could experience the instant gratification reward of having game time each day after completing their reading. However, we also wanted them to experience the delayed gratification of receiving some spending money at the end of the month.

The first reward is an individual reward to spur them to continue their own personal reading time. However, the second reward is collective. They want to earn their spending money together so they are constantly asking each other if they are reading. This eliminates the need for me to remind them as they are reminding (or maybe nagging) each other to finish their reading.

Our Tracking System

I printed off a simple calendar page for each month and posted it in the kitchen. When my children complete their reading for the day, I write their name on the calendar for that day.

When they tell me they finished their reading for the day, they have to tell me a little bit about what they read. They love telling me about what is happening in their books. They relish being the story-teller and pulling me into their books, sharing their reading journey with me. It also helps me assess how well they are understanding what they read. It's a win-win!

My kids have been excited about the reading challenge and are begging for more books. They are also sharing their stories with each other and encouraging one another to keep reading.

Do you create reading lists or challenges for your kids?

If one of your goals for the year is to encourage a culture of reading in your home, I hope you will start your own family reading challenge. 

Here are some of the books on my kids' lists if you need inspiration to get you started!

Curly (age 10)
Princess Academy
Tuesdays at the Castle
Secrets of Shakespeare's Grave
Nuts to You
Guardians of Ga'Hoole

Tiger (age 8)
Dragon Slayer Academy
Magic Tree House
Secrets of Droon
A to Z Mysteries
Dragon Masters
Secret Agent Jack Stalwart

Bee (age 6)
The Kingdom of Wrenly
Greetings from Somewhere
Daisy Dawson 
Violet Mackerel
Princess Posey
Amelia Bedelia Chapter Books

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