Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Weekend Projects

Now that school has started I've noticed all those little projects that I wanted to finished over the summer and didn't. So this weekend I got busy and completed two projects and got further on the third than ever better.

Project number 1: A new pacifier keeper for Piper. I had Jathan's old one but it just didn't seem girly enough and then I'd gotten one at a flea market when we were in Alabama but it was excessively long and I didn't care all that much for the pattern on the ribbon. So I tried to copy Jathan's old one with some cute purple polka dot ribbon that I've had forever. My sewing wasn't perfect but I think it came out pretty good.

Project No. 2: Decking out my cabinet doors. I'd seen someone (on Pinterest) fill an empty frame with chicken wire and I thought it was so cute. I had some leftover chicken wire from my chair project and I found some empty white frames at the SWAP shop that just so happened to perfectly match the mirror window pane over my sink. I bought some inexpensive ribbon at Walmart, stapled the chicken wire to the frame, and used a command hook to attach the whole deal to the two cabinet doors that flank the sink.

Super easy and I love it!

Project No. 3: A rag rug. The pieces to this one have been sitting around for quite some time. First I had to cut up the sheets into a bazillion long strips. Then I had to figure out out to crochet. Then I had to find enough quiet time to concentrate on my amateur crocheting skills long enough not to forget over and over what number stitch/row I was on. There is seriously no telling how many times I have unraveled this project and began again. Today I got this far and remember what part of the instructions I'm on. Hopefully I'll finish this sometime within the next decade. = )

And that's what I've done this weekend...what have you guys been up to? Any cool projects?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The First Day of School

Monday was the first day of the 2011-2012 school year here at the Combs Christian Academy! We started out our day bright and early--6:30 a.m.! While that's the norm for many families it is definitely different for us. We ate breakfast together and had a family devotional time then Keeleigh began her KONOS reading and Jathan (and Ryland) and I began working on phonics with his new phonics pad.

Piper was a good girl and hung out in her Sleepywrap for most of the morning. I swear she LOVES that thing and I love having her close to me.

After Language we all enjoyed a little break.

Then we worked on Math. Jathan also worked on his cutting skills. Ryland tried to follow along but thought the scissors belonged inside his shirt for some reason!

We moved around throughout the day sometimes working in the school room at our desks and sometimes reading in bed and other times we hung out at the kitchen table.

Piper hung out in her wrap some more...

This is what Math looks like at our house. = )

Jathan played a game where you roll the dice, count the number, then add that many beads to a pipe cleaner. He thought it was really cool.

After Math we ate lunch (Keeleigh requested chicken sandwiches) but some of us didn't make it through the meal.

Jathan laid down for a nap after lunch as well. While the boys were sleeping Keeleigh and I did our KONOS activities which, that day, centered our learning about how our ears work. She set up an "ear" that you could crawl through and boy was Jathan surprised when he woke up from his nap. The look on his face was classic.

Keeleigh led him through her "ear." Did you notice the skull piercing on her auricle? It's just like her new cartilage piercing.

Inside the auditory canal, Keeleigh explained how we hear to Jathan.

Did you know pantyhose makes a good eardrum?

And beyond the eardrum lies three tiny bones--the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup. Keeleigh though our potato masher looked a lot like the stirrup.

Past those tiny bones is our cochlea and beyond that the auditory nerve which leads to our brain. Here Keeleigh is starring in the role of "brain." = )

She let Jathan had a go at it, too, though.

It was a really great day which was proceeded by two other really great days. I think we're going to love using KONOS this year!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Our Homeschooling Journey, Part Two

The summer that we moved to New Orleans I began preparing to begin our first year of homeschooling. I had decided that we would use Abeka books since that was the same curriculum that Keeleigh had use at the school she attended. They also seem to be pretty parent-friendly in that they contain detailed lesson plans that you can easily follow. I was feeling pretty confident and downright excited.

One day I remember visiting the on-campus homeschool coordinator's house (can't remember why exactly). When I walked in another mom was leaving and we spoke for just a moment. She found out I was going to be homeschooling and asked, "How are you going to do that with him?" pointing to then 11-month old Jathan. Actually I hadn't totally thought about that but I smacked a smile on my face and told her we were just going to do the best we could! And that's just what we've done all this time. I do my best and let God do the rest. I figure that way most of the burden is on Him and He's way better qualified than I am for boss status.

It has been pretty fun figuring out what to do with Jathan, however, since creativity comes naturally to me. This year I decided to put some of the my ideas and ideas I'd found online into a busy box for Jathan and Ryland. Here are some of the things in our busy box in case you're looking for educational ways to entertain your toddler or preschooler.

I found these mini-loaf pans at the SWAP shop and brought them home to use in a sorting game but Ryland found them first and played with them by himself for at least 30 minutes. He stacked them and unstacked them then put things in them and took things out of them. It just goes to show that kids will play with the darndest things!

I came across this next idea after following many, many great links through one mom blog to another. It's a "clank can" made with an old Carnation Instant Breakfast can and some can lids. My can opener cuts them off with a smooth edge so they are safe to play with. I cut a slit in the lid and after printing the templates and preparing them on the can lids Ryland or Jathan can drop them into the can which makes a lovely clanking sound--music to a kid's ears. They can play with it alone or as you read the story and drop the animals in in their correct sequence. Ryland loved this one. Click here to see the website I found it on which has printable templates for this can and others.

Along those same lines, I'd previously made a piggy bank out of an old butter bowl and some baby food jar lids. Originally the butter bowl had a piggy bank print out on it and the lids had numbers on them but after a lot of play from Ryland and Jathan both, the piggy and numbers got ripped off. They're totally unnecessary, however, and Ryland still really enjoys playing with this.

Another idea I found online uses any sort of empty container with a lid that you can punch holes in and some pipe cleaners. Bend the pipe cleaners in two and wrap them around each other to make them sturdier then your child can push them through the holes. I applied colored-coded hole reinforcements around the holes so that this can also be a color matching game.

The next activity was so appealing that I just about couldn't keep Jathan and Ryland off of me while I made it. Apparently pom poms are fun! Simply take an empty contain and punch holes in it just big enough that the pom poms will need to be pushed through!

And the activity that I originally had in mind for the mini-loaf pans? It was a sorting activity. I cut out a set of squares and a set of circles and laminated them for durability. I got Ryland started by putting a circle in one tin and a square in the other. He caught right on!

For a clothespin drop game just save a Pringles can and buy some super cheap clothespins at Walmart in you don't have extra laying around. It sounds super simple but I promise they liked it!

Although most of the items in our busy box are upcycled and homemade I did find this Mr. Potatohead toy at Walmart on sale and threw him in there, too. Every kid loves Mr. Potatohead, right?

To make a button snake, take a length of ribbon, a button, and several squares of felt. Cut a slit large enough to accommodate your button into the center of each felt square. Sew one square on the end of the ribbon and the button on the other end. Kids can use this to practice their buttoning skills and as they get older they can make patterns with the felt if you use different colors.

The next activity is for when the kids need to get up and move a little. It's called rollacise which I'm not totally impressed with but, hey. All you have to do is print the template out by clicking here and apply foam shapes to a wooden block (we used a spare building block). We played this today and Jathan really liked it. It gets them active, talking about animals, and counting all at the same time!

For color matching practice, cut a circle out of cardboard divide it into eight "pie pieces" and color each slice a different color. Then label 8 clothespins with the colors and let your child work their fine motor skills by attaching the clothespins in the appropriate space.

Another great way to work on colors is to get some (free!) paint chips at the store and cut them apart. You can play matching games with the shades or flip them over and play a memory game. You can line them up using your color circle above. There are lots of possibilities!

Yet another color activity calls for an empty egg carton and some colored corks or blocks. I got ours on the $1 aisle at Target.

Paint the bottoms or glue different colors of construction paper to the insides of the egg cups. Let your child match the colors!

You can use the same concept to apply to numbers except write numbers on the bottoms of the egg cups and drop in the appropriate number of beans (or other small counters).

For number play, save your lids! I used apple juice lids to make a caterpillar head with a little face and a random number on the top. Then you can use smaller lids (we used Sprite lids) to make the caterpillar body with a number of lids corresponding to the number on the first lid.

Speaking of lids we save pretty much all of our lids which I just throw into a ziploc bag and let them sort from time to time as an early math activity. They can sort from smallest to largest or make groups of each color, whatever!

I also always try to keep a TON of books on hand and fun educational toys or interesting objects.

My aunt gave Jathan this particular toy for Christmas and he totally loves it (and, okay, I do, too!). It's way fun so I highly recommend it.

And of course you've gotta have playdough on hand! We bought the little gift pack ones and put them in a storage box along with some of the playdough toys we've collected. Playdough always has a lot of fun toys to cut, stamp, and squish your dough with.

Jathan is working on learning money right now so I was happy to find these large paper coins and some plastic ones. He lays out the large coins and puts the small matches on top.

And finally we made an I Spy bottle because Jathan completely adores the I Spy books. It's made almost entirely from junk you have laying around! Clean out your junk drawer...

Put a few of the interesting items in an empty bottle (one with a wide mouth works best)...

Then add some cheap white rice (about 3/4 of the bottle full) and shake it up.

Then the kids can roll the bottle around and search for all the cool things inside.

So there are some of my ideas to keep little ones busy for not a lot of money!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Our Homeschooling Journey, Part One

Like every journey there are some things you know before you even take your first step, some things you may never understand, and lots of things you can only learn as make your own way. Likewise it's important not to be afraid to stop and ask for directions from those more familiar with the territory. It's also important not to be afraid to get off the beaten path every now and again and explore uncharted realms. This is the story of the first leg of our homeschooling journey.

Homeschooling is something that is relatively new to us. I'm not sure I'd even heard of homeschooling when I first had Keeleigh and I only ever knew two or three people who were homeschooled before we moved to New Orleans. Our family was blessed in that Keeleigh was able to stay at home with my mom who taught her a lot during their days together then she started kindergarten at a small private Christian school in our hometown. It wasn't until she was in 2nd grade, I believe, and I'd just had Jathan that I felt God was leading me toward something different. I had a new little baby at home and could not bear to leave him. Fortunately I worked in a position that I was able to take him to work with me for several months. It was during this time that I began to pray that God would allow me to be a stay-at-home mother.

Keeleigh was doing very well at school as she always has and I guess that--and, you know, an infant and my job--made me lax about becoming involved in her school work. One day I checked her take-home folder and found that she'd missed a spelling word or two on her test that week. It wasn't a bad grade by any means but she could have made a perfect score with some help and encouragement from me, I knew. It bothered me most of all because I had not even looked at her spelling list that week. This is a second grade spelling list, I thought, what else am I going to miss?

Soon after that God impressed Deuteronomy 6:4-8 on my heart. It says, "4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [2] 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

I knew that it was MY responsibility to see to it that my children were taught certain things first and foremost being God's Word. I felt like God was letting me know that however my children were schooled they were still MY responsibility and I would answer to Him for what they learned, good or bad. I know that public school or private school is the very best thing for some children/families and I certainly don't think it's impossible for your children to learn all the good things they need to if they're not homeschooled. But I knew that I could not trust myself to be diligent in making sure Keeleigh and my future children were doing their very best and learning all that they should if I was away from them for 8+ hours a day. It made a lot of sense to me that God had said I should teach my children at all different times in all different places from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep. Then, I thought, I would feel the full weight of my responsibility and take it more seriously.

I prayed even more earnestly that God would provide a way for me to stay at home and then He let us know that He wanted us to move to New Orleans for Jackie to complete his master's degree. That was not exactly what I had in mind but you know what? It has been an absolutely amazing experience that I wouldn't trade for anything. Through this I have been able to stay at home and begin homeschooling which was my heart's desire. Don't get me wrong, it has not been easy and I certainly do feel the full weight of my responsibility now. But I'm glad because now weak areas are more obvious to me. Not only do I know what words Keeleigh can and can't spell, I know the daily goings-on of her life. I know what character traits she needs to work on and I know how to pray for her spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental growth. I'm learning slowly but surely how every moment is a teaching moment--something that is true whether you consider yourself an "official" homeschooler or not...if you have children then you "homeschool" them to some extent! We learn our reading, writing, and arithmetic, and we learn how God wants us to behave and how He would have us manage our lives. I say "we" because I definitely think I'm still learning as well--that perhaps that's why God wanted me to homeschool because He knew it would mature me in ways that nothing else would.

I don't expect my children will turn out perfectly because I do this. I know that they are just people, sinners like the rest of us, and that they will make mistakes and have to figure some things out by themselves. But I do want to give them their best chance at success and, for us, that meant homeschooling.

It's my hope that someone will read this who might be considering being a stay at home mother or homeschooling but doesn't know how to begin or even someone who has never even considered it because they didn't know it was a possibility. To that person I want to say, it is possible! The place to begin is in prayer. Let God know what your thinking or how you're feeling and trust Him 100%. God answered my prayer with a "yes" and made the way for us in a very unusual way (so typically Him, don't you think?)--He moved us 450 miles away from the only home we'd ever known and He cut our finances in half (or more). Life became simpler in some ways and more complicated in others and we became distinctly aware of our true dependence on Him. We've made sacrifices and we've cried tears and we've been frustrated and said words we wish we could take back. But I know that it has been completely worth it and that we're getting better at this everyday and through this we're strengthening our Christian walk as well.

The NOBTS campus has been an absolutely wonderful place to begin our homeschooling journey because there is such a support group here. Our children definitely don't suffer from lack of socialization! There is a PE class and other classes where they can take advantage of other parents and friends' teaching talents. There is a resource room where we can borrow books. And there are moms who are always willing to help you or at least say, "I understand." I'm so glad this is where I've been able to get my feet wet.

School will be starting Monday here at the Combs Christian Academy and this year we are doing something a little different. This is the first year I've felt confident enough to branch out, to choose an incredibly different curriculum (KONOS) than we've ever used before. We'll be forgoing text books in some subjects and reading "real" books. We'll be doing an incredible amount of hands-on learning including experiments and field trips. I honestly cannot wait because I know this fits my personality and Keeleigh's personality so well! And that's possibly one of my favorite things about homeschooling, that you can tailor it to meet your needs and your child's needs and learning style so that true learning takes place and a love of learning is fostered. So stay tuned for lots of picture posts about our adventures this year!

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Additions to Our Balcony

A while back my mom share a Better Homes and Gardens garden book with me and in it was the idea to turn an old chair into a planter. I kept my eye out for a chair at the SWAP shop and it wasn't long before one turned up! It was the perfect style and shape but unfortunately it had a very different paint job than what I was looking for. It looked a little folksy to me and was kind of cute but I decided to sand the paint off and use some of the left over paint from when I painted my accent wall in the living room.

I borrowed a sander from some really great friends who were extremely patient with me since it ended up taking FOREVER for me to get all the paint off. Sanding off the paint proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be (story of my life, ha!). I have no idea how many layers of paint were on that chair. It was as if someone had 10 gallons of 10 different paints and tried to see how much they could use up.

Here's a before shot with Keeleigh all prepped to give me a hand sanding.

One can of paint remover and two packs of sandpaper later, it was ready for paint which was a piece of cake. Then Keeleigh helped me staple some chicken wire into the bottom where the seat previously was. We added a coconut liner and plants and voila! Our balcony is a little cuter!

A close up of the plants...aren't they pretty? = )

I tried to make sure to choose plants that could withstand the full sun of the balcony. I can't
remember all the names of the plants but I know this one is called Moss Rose. I chose one pink and one yellow one and they've taken turns blooming.

The chair planter has also become home to my little thermometer lizard which has lived in three generations of my family's granny's then my mom's and now mine. This is probably his hottest home thus far!

Jathan added his own plant to our balcony a while back. We ate a cantaloupe and he asked to save the seeds and plant them. I didn't expect much when he pushed the seeds into the soil of one of my planters but they popped right up and now we have a little baby cantaloupe hanging off the railing!

The yellow Moss Rose...

My little mini-rose which was a Valentine's day gift from a friend has also been blooming off and on all summer. Unfortunately it's out of focus in this picture but trust me, it's beautiful.

And, as always, my little palm looks gorgeous against blue skies.

I love gardening! Someday I hope to have a yard where I can go even crazier planting flowers and I'd love to have a raised vegetable garden. I'd love to have the space to make and display more creative planters.