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!
But then I reached out to pet him and he moved, sending me hollering!
I was three years old and my mom had walked in the door with a tiny, black puppy- my worst fear at the time.
She purchased the puppy to help me overcome my fear and Wesley (yes, named after the character in The Princess Bride) lived a long, happy life.
Fast-forward a few decades and I came to learn not only was I allergic to dogs but at least one of my daughters was, too. We haven’t owned a pet as a result and it’s obvious in the way my girls respond to animals: fear.
I really wanted my girls to experience both the joy and responsibility of pet ownership. Owning a pet is a wonderful learning opportunity for empathy. It can hardly be substituted so I started researching pets that might fit our family. After months of consideration and a few trips to our local farm, we decided on a Holland Lop rabbit and welcomed Oreo to our family in late May.
At first the Littles would never leave him be while my eldest, also the most fearful, kept her distance. Over time, however, the Littles have learned that animals, like us, have feelings and needs and that gentle handling is imperative. But perhaps the greatest outcome of pet ownership has been the developing relationship between our eldest and Oreo.
This child who has never had an affinity towards an animal of any kind adores our bunny rabbit, Oreo, and he, her. She will sit in place petting him for twenty minutes or longer, something she did not risk attempting the entire first month he lived with us.
Aurora has many fears but facing this fear and surviving it will only help her to recognize that, ultimately, she is capable of overcoming. That she is in control of her feelings and emotions, not vice versa.
Couldn’t we all benefit from this lesson? For months I have feared even the word “homeschool”. Afraid for my sanity, afraid for my kids’ happiness, afraid of the stigma, afraid of failure. What I have discovered, though, is that my biggest fear actually resided in the decision itself. Once I had made the decision (likewise, once Aurora knew the bunny wasn’t going anywhere) I settled in and focused on taking the next, small step.
There is uncertainty in the unknown. Too often, I find myself wanting to know it all before I’ve had the chance to live through it. The prospect is daunting but what if we didn’t let that stop us? What if, instead, we dove in and discovered reservoirs of knowledge and strength we knew not possible? What if instead of focusing on the bad, we allowed ourselves to revel in the possibility of the good?
If only we could give ourselves the permission to face our fears, perhaps we’d all find an Oreo happy ending like Aurora did. The prospect is just too good to not give it a shot :).
As a previous elementary school teacher and mother of four children, I am no stranger to misbehavior or cries for attention. My third-born has been testing my patience for the last 20 months. I have lost my cool with her more times than I care to count and attempted multiple methods to help her to not only learn how to reign in her outbursts but also to prevent them from happening in the first place. Here are some of the methods we have used to help:
The Gift of Time
I instituted one-on-one mommy/daddy/daughter dates. Each month our girls opened an envelope with a destination/activity inside they could choose to do solo with either mommy or daughter. As a family with four children, this allowed our daughters to have that precious one-on-one time with a parent of their choice. Bonus: they got a double date with mommy and daddy during the month of their birthday!
Homemade Photo Books
From thunderstorms to going-to-school jitters to daily routines and even overcoming a fear of dogs, I have created homemade photo book with each of my girls. It’s very simple to do:
Print photos of you, your child/and/or subject material (i.e. school building, dogs, etc.)
Get 4 or 5 pieces of paper- light colors can make it more inviting
Sit down with your child to write the book together, making it up as you go! Allow them to decorate so they feel they are a part of the book
Read and reread the book together. You will find this becomes one of their favorites because they get to see themselves in a book!
I Caught You Making a Good Choice!
I’ve tried the three strikes and you lose your treat method but only because I was desperate and exhausted. It never felt good to induce fear in my children so I decided to go for the positive reinforcement route. My second-born came home with a new pair of frozen jammies that my third-born dripped with envy for. I capitalized on her life-dependent need for those jammies and created a sticker chart for her. Every time I caught her either making a good choice (sharing) or taking deep breaths to breathe her anger out rather than lashing out with her fists or her voice, she receives a sticker. Once she fills the chart, she gets those jammies! She has since earned more stickers than this picture and I have to admit that the pride she feels when I “catch her”, is worth 1,000 Elsa jammies!
Side note: I was careful of my verbiage- instead of “I caught you being good” which assumes she is otherwise bad (let’s be real- her behavior is at times, ATROCIOUS) I used the phrase “I caught you making a good choice!”. Her behavior choices are frequently bad- but it doesn’t mean she is 🙂
Here’s to hoping a combination of these three things help!
Chances are, if you are a parent of school-aged children, you have been faced with some tough decisions concerning what to do with your children this coming school year.
I struggled and found myself unhappy with all of the options: virtual learning, in-person learning during a pandemic, or homeschooling. For me, it came down to picking the least worst option using the resources I have available.
Full disclosure: before deciding to stay home to raise my first born, I had received my Masters in Elementary Education and taught fourth grade for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, so this isn’t my first experience with teaching.
Also, I have the privilege of being a stay-at-home-mom, whereas others are working full-time and trying to figure out how in the world to manage a job while simultaneously educating their children.
Ultimately, I decided to homeschool because it was the one option that I felt I had control over, versus being at the mercy of our government/school district’s decisions. Homeschooling provided my children with the most normal, consistent school year, given the constraints of the pandemic.
Before coming to my decision, I spent weeks joining national and local homeschooling Facebook groups and researching the literally thousands of curriculum options available.
My intent is for my children to return to public school once (Lord willing) life goes back to normal (starting to wonder if that is ever actually going to happen . . . ) so I wanted to select a curriculum that aligned with state standards.
I also am a mother to a 2, 4, 6, and 8 year-old and don’t have a lot of extra time nor the desire to piece together a lot of different programs. I wanted something that was all-inclusive for my first year. A program that said, “Here. Do this.”
I found that in the program Moving Beyond the Page. It is a literature-based curriculum that covers language arts, social studies, science and math. I purchased ages 4-5 for my daughter in Pre-k, ages 5-7 for my rising 1st grader and ages 7-9 for my rising 3rd grader. The cost of the program initially gave me pause but when I stopped to consider all of the things we won’t be doing this coming year (ballet, gym membership, live shows), I realized it all comes out in the wash.
The program includes hands-on projects of which they send you all the materials you need down to the number of cotton balls in particular units for the 4-5 age. I LOVE this- that I don’t have to go searching around for a bunch of random materials; instead, everything is already organized and labeled by unit so that I can just grab and teach!
Once I shared the news to my daughters that we would be home for the 2020-2021 school year, I shared the examples and videos of the curriculum that we would be using. They were so excited the day the curriculum arrived, meeting the UPS driver in the driveway!
Once we had the materials, it was time to get them organized. Out with the couch and in with the giant super desk! I wrote about the transformation of our homeschooling space here if you’d like to check it out!
I will continue to share our experience with Moving Beyond the Page throughout the year so make sure to click the “follow” button to add your email for our updates!