One year ago, in the face of a dooming pandemic, I made the difficult decision to homeschool.
Oh, I worried.
I worried about FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I worried about them becoming hermits, afraid of unfamiliar shadows. I worried about them being taught by their mom, because as a former teacher myself, I know the power of a teacher’s ability to reach students in a different way than other teachers, parents or friends and I wanted that for them.
In all honesty, I still want to be that for other students.
I worried about them being left behind, especially as they witnessed their friends still attend our beloved, local school.
Ultimately, I went with my gut and we had an incredible year.
Spring arrived and with it, the hope of the pandemic’s near-end.
I started to prepare the girls for their return to school in the Fall, casually mentioning how cool it would be to wave to their friends in the hallway on their way to P.E., Music or Art class. Did they know the Fall Festival was already booked for this year? Were they looking forward to the Fun Run?
But upon Summer’s dawn, doubt settled in.
A vaccine, that I had traveled to another state to get just so I could get it as soon as possible, was available and yet, less than half the country had opted to receive it. The country was split- my body, my choice/ our country, our responsibility.
Now, variants are on the rise and social distancing measures, including masks are still required at school.
Holding a Masters in Elementary Education, I am in a unique situation.
My husband has worked from home since the pandemic began and I am able to stay home to teach with hired help to occupy the girls not currently in lesson.
Moreover, apparently I made homeschooling too fun. All three big girls have begged to continue; and while part of me felt that this was fear-based on having been away for a year, I couldn’t bring myself to convince them that their school could provide a better learning environment than what we had going on right in the Carawan Classroom.
My *entire* career as a parent has been blessed with the wisdom of my elders: Don’t blink. Cherish these days. It goes by SO fast.
Combine the pandemic, the pressure from my children, the wisdom of my elders and my innate joy in continuing to teach my daughters, and here we are.
It took many years, but in time, I learned that the simple things are the things that matter most to a two year-old. Sure, the iPad and expensive toys can distract, but what they crave? Your time.
With four young children, time is what I have the least amount of and yet I know it is precious to each and every one of my girls. This became even more apparent this week when the two year old climbed up to our homeschooling super-desk for an impromptu lesson with me.
It reminded me of the time before I knew what to do with a two year-old. I was a new mother and used every distraction under the sun including fun trips to the aquarium, zoo, children’s museum and children’s play places to keep my toddler happy. It took a visit from my mother-in-law to learn that my toddler was happiest sliding pine straw through the cracks of our deck for an entire hour. She craved quality time, not distractions.
Here are some fun and inexpensive things to do with your toddler:
Materials: Shaving cream from the dollar tree, a pan to draw letters, shapes and people in or a bucket to immerse toys in the shaving cream.
This is my least favorite activity because it is such a mess so not surprisingly it is also my girls’ favorite activity to do. That is why I almost always get the babysitter to do this activity with them😂. It’s still quality time- just not with my sanity as the price.
2. Water Beads
I order these water beads from amazon. A little goes a LONG way. Soak them for a few hours and watch them grow! You can store them in Tupperware bins for future use but beware, they will mold after a while! We get spatulas, measuring cups, ice cube trays and sort them by size or color. The girls love the way they feel and bounce and regrow when you add more water.
3. Rice, Pasta & Corn
You can also fill those dollar tree storage bins with rice, corn or pasta. Play with it then put the lid back on to store for another time! We use the same utensils as with the water beads. Since my youngest has multiple food allergies, she is limited to just the pasta but she still has a ball 🙂
3. Pipe Cleaners and Colanders
This is the simplest activity that has enamored my children for over an hour a time multiple times. Pipe cleaners from the dollar store + a colander = hours of fun. It is wonderful for their fine motor skills and requires little to no supervision from you. Winning!
4. Counting Bears
For the bargain price of $9 you can get yourself a set of counting bears that will entertain your toddler for hours. Elizabeth knows all of her colors and how to count to twenty thanks to these bears! You can get free counting bear mats at this site: https://homeschoolgiveaways.com/2019/10/free-counting-bear-mats-instant-download/. This was one of our impromptu lessons this week. She loves the feel of them and loves to sort them. She also makes pyramid towers out of the cups. You can play games like “which cup is in the bear in” as well as create a domino line of bears sorted by color or pattered by color. The possibilities seem endless!
I could go on and on about the time spent with Elizabeth. We spend a LOT of time outside, collecting “cypress balls” from the cypress tree at the end of our street, making “pancakes” out of the rocks in our rock garden, and pushing her baby dolls in their strollers all over our neighborhood. We paint all of the time, read a gazillion books, do puzzles, dress up, play with barbies and play with a TON of play doh but I wanted to at least provide you with a few activities that you could set your toddler up with and leave them be while you teach, wash dishes, or take a break for yourself! I hope this gives you a few ideas :).
The path to you-know-where is paved with good intentions, and so it also goes for homeschooling schedules.
I am teaching three out of my four daughters at home this year and had grand plans to begin with the eldest (3rd grade), move on organically to the 1st grader and seamlessly end with a kumbaya as I enlightened our third daughter, who is in pre-k.
Ha! That’s funny, now that I am a week into homeschooling.
With four young children, I am no stranger to plans constantly changing so it shouldn’t have come as surprise when nothing went as planned, as early as Day 1.
I did, indeed, begin with the eldest, but she lasted all of one subject before she was begging for a snack (1 hour after breakfast) and a break. I conceded and pulled her 4 year old sister in to our classroom. The humor in the book assigned by our curriculum Moving Beyond the Page seemed too advanced for her age so I skipped around quite a bit, remembering, the key is flexibility!
My eldest returned after her snack break and we completed her second subject before she insisted on taking a break to play with her sisters, so I grabbed our first grader and was able to complete both of her lessons in one sitting- honestly, they were way too easy for her, which I’m hoping is just a product of the beginning of the school year and not what she should expect for the remainder of the year. Either she’s way brighter than I realized or this curriculum is just way too easy for first grade.
I finally was able to drag our 3rd grader back to the classroom to complete math, which ended up being an extremely long lesson that we couldn’t finish.
By 12:30, I was exhausted but it was time to shove whatever food I could grab down my throat before lying down next to our 2 year old for her nap and popping a couple of Motrin for my headache!
The rest of the week continued much the same, with our third grader only wanting to complete one lesson at a time and eventually, our two year old wanting time in the classroom, too. As always, I adapted. As a Type A person, it has taken multiple children to force my hand at letting go. I like schedules, I like order and neither of those things can exist in perfection when you’re dealing with small children. The key is flexibility!
If you are reading this and have found yourself frustrated either with virtual learning or homeschooling, my advice is to take a deep breath and PIVOT, as Ross from friends would say. Set your goals, yes, but be prepared to change the path at the drop of a hat, keeping the end game in mind: the lessons you hope to teach them, your sanity and theirs. Above all else, protecting the notion that learning is fun!
Even though I am using a curriculum that includes daily lesson plans, I still purchased a teacher’s lesson planning book in order to keep track of teaching 3 different grade levels for three of my children. In addition, I will be taking on the responsibility of teaching Piano Lessons to our two eldest girls so I needed space to keep track of it all. This is the lesson plan book I used (affiliate link): https://amzn.to/3howwIQ
In preparation for the first 3 weeks of lessons, I organized each daughter’s materials and curriculum into three bins, looking ahead in each lesson to see which materials I would need to avoid scrambling the morning of the lesson to find a random 2 litre bottle, roll of toilet paper, etc.
I also visualized how the day would go, anticipating the need for sharpened pencils (thereby installing a sharpener nearby), quiet workspace (moving a desk into the big’s bedroom), and half-finished work (the use of magazine holders from IKEA).
Although I have a Masters in Elementary Education and am a classically trained pianist, I’ve never actually taught piano, formally. I’ve decided to rely on the Alfred series to guide our piano lessons. They offer free teaching manuals found here: https://www.alfred.com/alfreds-basic-piano-library-teachers-guides/ which I chose to have printed through Office Depot (what can I say, I’m a paper and pencil kind-of-gal). Aurora (age 8) has taken for three years but since we missed lessons in the spring I’m starting her back off at Level 1b with the option to add more advanced material as we go. I ordered her the lesson book as well as the theory book, technic book, recital book, and fun book. You can also find them bundled here: https://amzn.to/2QbVMWq. Harper (age 7 in October) will begin at Level 1a and if Emma (age 5 in November) shows interest, I’ll start her with the prep courses. I also added some really fun Faber Disney song books! I’m using the Primer for Harperand Level 1 and Level 2 for Aurora.
Like parenting, teaching is all about your ability to adapt and pivot. All of my lesson plans are written in pencil for this very reason!! It’s great to have a goal with the knowledge that plans will change. The more we accept this reality, the less frustration we will feel when things do not go as planned.
Christmas morning, 1988. My step-dad surprised our family with matching jammies he had sewn himself. Long after their divorce, I regretted not learning how to sew myself, for the memory of his gesture has never left my mind.
At 15, I left for an all-girls boarding school where one might assume I would have learned the home economics trade, but alas, it was solely academically focused and the opportunity continued to evade me.
Fast-forward through college and my first career as a teacher, beyond my wedding and the birth of my four daughters and as much as I wanted to, I still had not learned how to sew.
It took the interest of my eldest daughter to force my hand. First, she attended workshops, then week-long camps and finally, we attended a mother-daughter class together. For her 8th birthday she received a sewing machine, table, fabric and patterns but she still needs assistance and on my limited knowledge I have felt unqualified to help her.
Her sister’s 7th birthday is this fall and as a budding artist, we are having a painting party: cue, the need for a home-sewn art smock.
My eldest and I ventured on to Joann Fabrics to explore fabric options. Her first time there, she was like a kid in a candy shop!
Spontaneously, we decided to visit my mother-in-law the following weekend. She is a master seamstress, capable of anything from zipper and cushion repairs to quilts and curtains. After mentioning our project in passing, she offered to help. Why hadn’t I thought of this before??
Within hours we had cut the pattern and started to sew.
Our design was reversible with pockets on either side and after much finagling we tried it on our 4 year-old model and here she is!
Better late than never, right?
Life is never too far gone to try something new and I. am. living. proof.
Home with four kids for the last 100 days, we are running thin on creative ideas to keep them entertained. Toilet paper rolls to the rescue!
Maybe it’s the elementary school teacher in me or perhaps it’s the prospect of homeschooling this upcoming school year but I can’t seem to bring myself to throw away a paper towel or toilet paper roll, much less a tissue box or cereal box- they are free craft materials, after all!
I present to you, a DIY Dollhouse crafted by my three big girls and their very patient babysitter.
Not only did they create a two story house out of our Kiwi Crate Boxes but they also created furniture out of popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners from the Dollar Tree! If you look closely, you’ll see bunk beds, a couch and even a rug. We ordered the Peg Dolls from Amazon- honestly, they play with those dolls more than any other plastic we have in the house.
After years of failing to keep the craft materials in order, I finally broke down and purchased a Craft Cabinet. It holds everything from googly eyes, buttons and pom-poms to tape, glue and beads. I haven’t gotten around to labeling it yet- one day at a time….for now, it gets the job done and has definitely inspired the girls to craft more often :). I call that a win!
Now the question is. . . how long will this sucker last before it finds its way to the recycling bin? A great excuse to make a new one! Happy Crafting!
Lord, the subject of charts can be a touchy one for parents. I must admit that sentence feels rather ridiculous to type but there’s truth in the insanity!
Charts can be effective or (gasp!) addictively extrinsically motivating. Charts can feel oddly freeing for the Type A personality and constricting to those who feel “boxed” in (sorry, I had to).
One this is for sure- there is no shortage of charts in this day and age. And for our family, they have been helpful.
Here are some of the charts we have used:
I first wrote about this chart on my other blog New Leaf Parenting in an article titled Custom Creation. It’s such an effective chart, that it is worth mentioning again.
I borrowed the idea from a blogger named Amy who explains how to create your morning/evening checklist in this article. Here is what ours ended up looking like.
Our girls LOVE their chart. It replaces my need to remind them every two minutes of what they need to do next to get ready and bonus, gives them something kinesthetic to do as they complete each task. They love hearing the “click” of the magnets attracting. These charts have surprisingly lasted three years now! Since we are homeschooling this year, it’s time for them to get an update (read: no book bag necessary). I highly recommend them for both morning and nighttime routines.
In the same article I shared the morning/evening chart, I also shared our allowance chart. This worked great for years to motivate our girls. The charts were attached by a heavy duty clip to our refrigerator. Once they filled up their game board, they were able to cash in. As our girls have gotten older, they better understand the value of a dollar and unfortunately, are no longer motivated by pennies 😂.
Every time the child completed a task, they received the associated coin and were able to stick it to their chart. Once they filled up the chart, they could cash in!
Combination Allowance/Daily Task Chart
As the girls aged, I started looking for a new daily task/chore chart and came across this greatone. It provides the opportunity to combine both the daily tasks with money-making opportunities.
The Ol’ Fashion
My big girls got a little frustrated with the new daily/chore chart and wanted something simpler. Enter: The Ol’ Fashion.
Aurora unloads the dishwasher, sets and clears the table and makes her bed every weekday to receive $5 on Friday.
Harper feeds and cleans Oreo’s (our bunny rabbit) litter box (yes, he is potty trained- these are crazy times), sweeps the kitchen floor and makes her bed every weekday for $5.
If Emma, the four year-old, begins to gripe about not getting paid, the plan to is to have her open the window blinds (there are actually quite a few) and retrieve the newspaper everyday for $2 a week.
No chart. No stimulating visuals (sigh). Just ol’ fashion allowance!
One thing I have learned, charts are a deeply personal (read that as dramatically as you would like) choice. What’s right for one family is not for the other. It can take a lot of research- I highly recommend a “chore chart” search of google photos or Pinterest but set aside 4 hours to go down that rabbit hole- but when you find “the one”, your life will officially feel complete. Ok, maybe not totally but it does add a little structure to your days and that is worth searching for!