Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Our 2016 Homeschool Curriculum: Part 2

    *Note: This post may contain an affiliate link to Amazon.com. I am a personal affiliate with Amazon.com, and as such receive a small compensation for each product purchased through the link provided. (Thank you!). 

     Our main objective for "homeschool curriculum" at only two years old is predominately teaching proper behavior and responsibility within the home. Although academics isn't our main focus just yet, there are several options that we will begin enjoying together by the end of the year.

Objective(s):
* Create time in the day for an activity
* Sit still and follow instructions for short periods of time
* Utilize book-based activities and inspire love of reading
* Main goal- daily one-on-one time 


Methodology:

     I strongly believe that reading is foundational in education, and if a child can learn to read well and enjoy it, then there isn't anything he/she can't learn. Therefore, I prefer to introduce a book-based curriculum in which we read a book and then enjoy several activities based on that book. Fortunately, there are several options to accomplish that goal!

1. M is for Monster- Themed boxes include a book (optional) and four activities.
     Ideally, I'd create all activities myself as a vast majority are rather simple. However, I don't have a tremendous amount of time right now to plan activities and shop for each component. Caring for two very young children and our home requires quite a bit of my time and attention! So, David and I discussed purchasing pre-made activity sets instead. These are more expensive than creating everything myself, but we feel like areas like education, books, and one-on-one time are all worthy investments. Purchasing activity sets also relieves me of the stress and guilt over creating or not creating activities. Though pricey, this will be a great option for us initially.

2. Story S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-r-s® for Infants, Toddlers, and Twos: Experiences, Activities, and Games for Popular Children's Books- A collection of books and activity suggestions (three activities per book).
      This is my favorite resource! The activities are easy and focused on simple play. I especially like the age range of "Infants, Toddlers, and Twos," which allows there to be activities for one-on-one time for each of my children or all of us together. I am eager to begin utilizing this manual much more! Once Annelise is a little more independent and I have a little more time to plan and prepare activities, we will move on to this resource.

3. (possibility) Before Five in a Row- A collection of books and activity suggestions (several per book)
      This resource is the same premise as Story Stretchers. There is a selected book and then several activities based on that book. The manual lists the age range to be 2-4 years old. During these young years, that is quite a range of skill and comprehension variation! This resource requires a little more planning to determine the most appropriate activity according to my child's abilities. We may use it once we finish with Story Stretchers, or we may use it as a companion.
   
4. "All Aboard the Animal Train" by My Father's World- Curriculum package for the youngest homeschooler
      My Father's World offers a curriculum specifically for 2-3 year olds. I like that it's book-based, all inclusive, and teaches academic and character lessons. It is quite expensive, as is any curriculum package. This will be the last element of "curriculum" we'll enjoy this year as I intend to begin it with Tennyson in the fall. We may continue to do some Story Stretchers or Before Five in a Row activities, but "All Aboard the Animal Train" will be our main focus.  

     Again, I don't intend to be very rigorous in schooling at just two years old. My main intention is to simply have a planned activity for us to do and get in some quality one-on-one time. Some days that may mean an activity from the above mentioned resources. Other days, it may be building with blocks or going out for a treat. The point is to make a point to create that time together with each of my children. I find that this is easier to maintain if I have a plan. :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Our 2016 Homeschool Curriculum: Part 1

     Our present approach is anything but academic. I once was in favor of a more academic approach, but have since changed my persuasion. Instead, I merely have a few objectives in mind for education at a two year old level. 

     My primary mode of "education" is highly oriented to lessons in practical life and proper behavior. Although I do believe my two year old is capable of academic skills, my greater concern at this moment is elsewhere. Academic lessons can be introduced at a later time, whereas properly navigating the big world with big emotions is a matter that is best addressed in the present. We will introduce the more academic side of curriculum later in the year.

Objectives:
* following instructions/ first time obedience
* clean up after oneself
     - pick up toys after play
     - remove dishes from table when finished eating
* verbal manners
     - ask for items politely ("May I ...)
     - wait until everyone is finished (or nearly finished) eating and then ask "May I please be excused"
     - say "please" when wanting something & "thank you" when given something
* complete morning routine
     - get dressed, fix hair, straighten bed sheets, carry dirty clothes to laundry room, help unload 
       dishwasher
* contribute to household tasks
     - help unload the dishwasher
     - rinse handwashed dishes
     - load laundry from washer to dryer
* proper behavior in public
     - walk holding a hand or the cart
     - stay beside Mama or Daddy at all times
     - speak quietly
     - don't ask or grab for things
     - prepare to leave/leave when instructed
* communicate effectively (ie, without tantrum)
     - use words or signs
     - understand & accept "no" and boundaries
* establish understanding of "focused playtime" & expectations 

      These objectives might seem too high of expectation. However, Tennyson regularly demonstrates all of these on a daily basis at only 25 months old. He knows what is expected of him. However, even then we do still quite a few moments in which he's not listening and following instructions or having a tantrum on the floor. I do not expect a two year old to behave perfectly. I do, however, expect us to use every situation as an opportunity to teach and practice. I believe one part of my job as a mama is to first teach and then guide my children to learn that which will lead to them to be successful individuals. 

Methodology: 

1. Utilize every situation as an opportunity to teach and then practice. 
   
2. Repetition, repetition, repetition
    (Example: I have him repeat one word at a time "May I please be excused" after a meal instead of fussing to get down from the table.)

3. Remind before correction is needed
     (I can frequently be heard saying "we're going to look but not touch" throughout a store!)
     
4. Practice & reward
   (We will soon begin giving Tennyson a job chart of household tasks he can do. After so many he receives a new book, and after so many more he receives a new toy.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Choosing Tot School Curriculum

     The concept of "tot school" has exploded in recent years. There is now an impressive amount of material and/or curriculum available online. It's so much that choosing what to do and how to do it can be very overwhelming. 

     We've tried a couple different ideas and even one curriculum package. However, they've not been a good fit for us, and were discontinued. Eventually, I saw that I needed to reevaluate our needs and choose a curriculum that suited us best. 

     I've written about our homeschool curriculum choice for 2016 (two years old) in two upcoming posts. Beforehand, though, I wanted to share about how I arrived at those choices.

1. Understand that "tot school" is not preschool.
      As tot schooling has grown in popularity, I've noticed an influx of preschool concepts being applied to two year olds. Although a two year old may be capable of these concepts, they may not be developmentally appropriate. A two year old's world is much different than a three or four year old's. It's tempting to begin introducing these concepts early, especially with so many fantastic materials available. I, too, find it exciting to see what my two year old can learn and accomplish at such a young age. However, I have to remind myself that he's only two and preschool concepts can wait until preschool. There are many more concepts that can be taught at two years old. Futhermore, simple playtime is learning at two years old. There are numerous abstract concepts that are being learned through uninstructed play. 

2. Evaluate time 
     We began "tot school" when Tennyson was 18 months old. As much as we enjoyed those times together, they required me to spend a significant amount of time beforehand planning and preparing. My time availability over the last several months has become increasingly limited. I'm kept plenty busy caring for two very young children and our home!
       When time is severely limited, an exchange or a sacrifice is often required. What would you have to give up in order to "tot school" your toddler? Would you have to allow the house to be messier? Would you have to allow your appearances to be a little unkempt? Would you have to allot little to no time for yourself and your own interests? Would the exchange or sacrifice be consistent with your values and philosophies for your family?
        Or, perhaps the exchange or sacrifice comes in the form of finances. Perhaps it becomes more advantageous to purchase pre-planned and packaged curriculum or materials. Would this, too, be consistent with your values and philosophies for your family?

3. Evaluate financial investment
       If the desire is to have a designated time and "tot school" activity each day, then there will likely be some degree of expense. The extend of that expense will likely be dependent on the method chosen. Some methods require very specific materials. For instance, weekly themes are wonderful but require very specific items that may only be utilized a few times. Another example is the method-specific materials associated with a Montessori approach. As mentioned earlier, if you choose a pre-packaged curriculum then these will usually have a high upfront cost. 
       Whatever the method, I highly suggest preparing for the expense. We've known we would like to homeschool, and so each paycheck we've been setting aside a small amount for this purpose. I've calculated the amount needed for our desired method, and we'll begin that method officially when that total amount is saved. Once that curriculum is purchased, then we'll immediately begin putting aside the same amount to purchase the next curriculum. This way, we've already made education costs a part of our life without it impeding current living standard or causing us to go in debt. In the meanwhile, I set a small budget each month for purchasing things like new books and/or new educational toys for each of the children. A monthly (or maybe even weekly) budget amount can be an excellent idea for being financially prepared. It may be helpful to set a weekly amount to spend when making weekly themes available. This way, you're not tempted to accidentally spend too much. Again, regardless of the method, it's wise to work towards being financially prepared for known expenses. 

4. Evaluate home storage space 
       Purchasing or printing materials for "tot schooling" means you'll need a place to store those items when not in use. Do you have adequate space for displaying current activities? Do you have adequate storage space for those activities when not in use? Will you mind your dining room or other room of your house to look more like a school room if necessary? Would your husband mind? For us, we have a rather small home and are limited on what can be stored nicely. Therefore, I'm very selective about what items we bring in and/or keep. Our limited space has served to narrow our curriculum choices. 

5. Choose a method
     There are three very common methods for tot schooling- theme-based units, book-based units, and Montessori (though there are many others as well). I mentioned these several times in the above criteria because those factors will assist in determining the method that is best suited for your family. You may find that one method, and that be all you need. Or, you may find that you are interested in multiple methods and able to do a combination approach. For me, I can easily become overwhelmed my viewing too many methods at once. I prefer to choose a method, and then fully explore and invest in it. I may need to change methods to find a better fit, but will still only pursue one method at a time. Like I said, combining too many methods and materials is very overwhelming for me. I don't want to put too much stress or strain on homeschooling at a two year old level. I want to keep things as simple and fun as possible!

     I've prepared posts for the next two weeks detailing our plan for Our 2016 Homeschool Curriculum. Though I use the terms "homeschool" and "curriculum," and have even talked extensively in this post with those ideas, our intention is not serious or structured school. My main goal is to simply have a designated time and activity in each day to have one-on-one with each of my children. One-on-one time is so important, and I find that it is easier to ensure we hold that time when an activity is prepared and waiting for us. I've tried several approaches to create this time. The criteria listed above has come to be how I finally narrowed down a method that was most appropriate for us. The upcoming posts are the conclusions I've drawn for what "tot schooling" looks like for our family. 

      If you're interested in creating a very simply and inexpensive "purposeful playtime" or "tot schooling," then stay tuned! :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

February 2016 In Our Home (And Big News!)


     February has presented us with some challenging situations. We experienced quite a few exhausting and stressful moments! We also experienced a couple of big answers to prayers. 

      New neighbors moved into the townhome beside us at the beginning of the month. As we've done with each new neighbor, we made a plate of homemade cookies and walked over as a family to introduce ourselves and welcome them to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, they have kept to themselves and we still have not met. So, we enjoyed the cookies ourselves and left a note extending a welcome and interest in meeting. (We are separated by just a wall after all!). For the most part, they've been quiet neighbors, for which we are very grateful. Occasionally, though, their extended family visits and the noise level becomes very loud. This poses a challenge for our children to sleep well during the day. We've had several days in which neither child has napped (but have had plenty of meltdowns as a result of no nap at such young ages). These days have been extremely trying for me. I won't deny having joined in the crying a time or two. These moments have made me long for us to know if/when we'll move and for us to finally have a home that isn't connected to anyone else. 

      We have been sitting with a house downpayment in the bank, but unable to purchase due to an upcoming but unknowing move. My husband has been seeking the next step in his career for quite a while. Although, he's received quite a few interviews and "runner up," the right position hadn't been offered. The endeavor hasn't just been about the job position, but also the need for a relocation offer. Big moves are very, very expensive, and that seems to be a big hurdle in this process. Consequently, we've been living in what I've been calling "limbo land" in which we are neither rooted here nor there. The process and uncertainty has been a challenge. My heart has broken each time I saw my husband put so much hope in an interview and then be denied. 
     
      Situations like these have been a reminder to me that faith isn't something we demonstrate in how I respond to situations. Honestly, I've responded rather poorly to challenges this month. I tend to be rather reactive and over-emotional. It's partly the result of my own personality, but also due to that being the kind of home and family I grew up in. However, it's something that I'm continuously working on. I want my husband and children to have an emotionally stable wife or Mama who responds to situations with faith God. Am I faithful in all situations, or am I carelessly reactive? This month I've not wanted to be faithful. I've wanted my husband to finally have success after working hard to achieve the next step in his career. I've wanted my family to be in a house of our own instead of a rented townhome. I've wanted my plan to be the one followed. Yet, in truth it's all a part of God's plan.  He has a plan, and I simply need to follow it by faith. 

8 months old!
       I'm certainly glad His plan has included these two children! Some days are difficult, but then there are so many more joys. Annelise is now 8 months old and growing like a weed! I had to do some shopping for 12 month clothes and size 2 shoes for her! I have my doubts that she'll be in those sizes very long though! She's still completely intolerant of "tummy time." At 8 months old, she still doesn't lay on her belly for even five minutes before being in a fully scream. Consequently, she does not roll around the floor or attempt to crawl. She does, however, get around quite a bit still! She prefers to be sitting, and will bend her knees forward to scoot anywhere she wants to go. Sometimes she'll flatten out from the seated position to reach something and then gets back upright. She will also scoot to a surface and pull up on it. She's not standing but she can lift her little bum off the floor. It's so cute to look over at her and see these little hands and face peeking over the top of a surface. She's got to keep up with big brother! They still thoroughly enjoy each other's company. The relatively close age gap between them does pose additional challenges, but then I watch this beautiful budding friendship between them and I'm assured and grateful for their closeness. 
   
25 months old!
       Tennyson is such a good big brother. He's also the best little helper around! All day long I hear some variation of "I help!" If I'm doing dishes, then he's quick to say "I help with the dishes" and joins in unloading the dishwasher or rinsing dishes that I've handwashed. The same occurs when I'm doing laundry. I'll set him on the dryer and hand him laundry to throw into the washer. Or, I'll hand him the wet laundry to be thrown into the dryer. "I help with the laundry." When I say "yes" to him helping and he completes the task, he has the biggest, proudest expression on his face. I believe children genuinely enjoy contributing to the home and family. They gain such a great sense of value (not to mention meaningful skills and the notion of all contributing to the home!). His favorite activity is cooking. He loves to "cook!" It's become our go-to activity for one-on-one time. 
   
      Practical life has become our one-on-one time or "tot schooling" activity of choice. Recent months of managing two very young children and our home has shifted my perspective on the notion of tot schooling. As much as I love the many fantastic activities available, I simply don't have the time to plan activities and shop/collect the materials for them. I've decided to reconsider our objectives for "tot school" at this age. I've also decided to take a less hands-on approach to the creation of our activities. I'll have two posts coming up that will tell all about "Our 2016 Homeschool Curriculum." Suffice it to say, I believe I've found objectives and methods that fit our life currently. 
            
     Speaking of current life- As I write this post,  a big change has come to our family! 
We're moving!!!! 
 Yep, the job and living situation that we wrestled with understanding and accepting has made a complete flip. We have only three weeks until our family of four makes the approximately 1473mi. move to Texas. We'll be going from freezing in PA to roasting in TX! (Seriously, the temperatures there are our summer temperatures and it's just the beginning of spring! Ahhh!). I'm honestly rather sad to leave. I've come to really enjoy life here. We have friends here. We have nearby parks, libraries and other fun places for the kids. This has been home. The convincing part of leaving is buying a home with a yard for half the price of what we'd be able to have here. I'm looking forward to finally having a house! I can't wait for the children to spend the day casually playing in their own backyard! 
    
      Before we get to that point, though, we have quite a move to make. There are a lot of details in arrangements that need to be made and tasks that need completed. I'm going to be a busy(ier!) Mama in the coming weeks. I still intend to maintain my weekly blog post resolution though. I've been working on several, and should have the next several weeks covered. I'm not sure if I will be able to read comments through the app on my phone. I can always be reached through email though (ourhomemakingstory (at) gamil (dot) com). 

    Lastly, my "Homemaking Challenge" has taken a back seat to teething this month.Miss Annelise has been waking frequently at night and occasionally for long stretches of time. Consequently, my alarm has been set for 6am instead of 5am. The delay has resulted in feeling more stressed and rushed, which is one reason for me preferring to wake before the children and adequately preparing for the day. However, getting up early has been a struggle with such little rest at night. Nevertheless, I keep trying each day! Once I get seven consecutive days with that goal then I'll move on to the next. (If you're following and would like to move on before me, then the next challenge is to shower daily). I haven't forgotten about the challenge. I've just needed to give myself a little allowance for not upholding it when something out of the ordinary is also happening (like a teething baby or moving 1500 miles!). :)

On to the next month and the next adventure! :)


Friday, March 4, 2016

Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie Recipe

    I love pot pie! It's quick, easy and enjoyed by all. I've assembled several recipes to create one that I use for cooking pot pie for our family. We cook dinners to serve our family twice, which is eight servings. If you're cooking for a smaller family or only desire to eat it once, then you may need to adjust the proportions. Enjoy!

This is one of those meals that don't photograph very well.
 I promise it tastes much better than it looks! ;)
Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie
Serves: 8 

Ingredients:
For the filling:
4 c. shredded chicken or turkey
2 c. frozen mixed vegetables
2 cans cream of chicken soup (or use homemade cream of anything mix)
1 c. milk (omit milk if using homemade cream of anything)
For the biscuit topping:
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. all-purpose flour
3 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
3/4 c. (1.5 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
1/2 c. canola oil
2 c. buttermilk (homemade version= 2 T. lemon juice or vinegar + 2 c. milk)

Directions:

  1.      Combine chicken or turkey, vegetables, soup and milk in baking dish. 
  2.      In a separate bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in butter. (A stand mixer does a wonderful job for "cutting in" the butter!). Add canola oil and buttermilk.
  3.      Bake in 375 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until filling is bubbling and biscuit topping is golden brown. If need be, cover with aluminum foil to allow everything to fully cook without burning the biscuit topping. 


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