Monday, January 27, 2014

Never Miss Another Post!

I wanted to let you all know that now, you can be sure to never miss a blog post.  On the right side of your screen, under the 'blog archive' is a 'follow by email' option.  Type in your email address and new posts will be delivered directly to your inbox! I know you're as excited as I am!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Series of Fortunate (homeschool) Events

Remember this post?  It's the one where I talked about how we made a couple changes and now school is glorious and easy and blah blah blah?  Well, as is usual - the week after I posted that, we changed our minds.  Again.  It seems that whenever I make a public proclamation, something happens to make me change my mind and do a total 180.
I don't know if it's weather, or losing mid-year steam, but the kids turned into monsters.   I was seriously doubting that we'd be able to homeschool.  My patience was gone.  My kindness was gone.  I was frustrated and counted down the seconds until my hubby came home each day. 

Then, a series of fortunate events unfolded.

First, as I mentioned, my children were acting like monsters (I'm certain they couldn't have learned this from their mother...  Right?!) .  I felt that if we were stuck in the house together all day that arguments would ensue and everyone's mood would be negative.  It just so happened that we had a heatwave last week and the temperature rose to 45 and sunny.  So, I did what any true Ohioan would do - I decided we would spend all day outside burning energy.  We packed up and spent time at the zoo.  We guessed which animals would be outside by considering whether they were warm blooded or cold blooded and which part of the world they lived in - quite educational.  As we were walking the zoo (along with maybe two or three other families), I realized that we wouldn't be able to do this if we didn't homeschool.  I also realized that my decision to 'escape' for the day, was okay - it's alright to leave home and experience life - in fact, that's one of the reasons we started homeschooling.  And it was really nice to spend some time enjoying each other while learning.

Second, we joined a homeschool gym class.  The kids LOVED it.  They got to run around with other kids their age and play games.  I began talking to a mom there and she mentioned that she was a part of Classical Conversations and it just so happened that the next day was their open house - more on that in a second.  When we got home from gym class, the kids behaved so well!  They got along much better with each other and seemed to listen better too.

We decided to attend the open house at Classical Conversations.  I'm glad we did.  The day begins with a prayer and the pledge.  They then break up into groups with other kids.  They learn some geography, history/timeline, Latin, science, math, and a few other things (we had to leave early so we missed some).  The kids seemed to enjoy it - Little Lou said that she liked it, X-Man said it was too early in the morning, but I think he enjoyed himself.  Again, when we did our schoolwork, they listened really well and got along with each other for the rest of the day.  I have since met with the director and she gave me some more information and I asked a few questions.   She said that if we're interested in joining, that I could actually be hired on as a paid tutor since I have previous homeschooling experience.  So there's a lot of opportunity there.

We're also going to attend some private school open houses in the next month, just so that we can see what's out there before we make our decision for next year.  But again, as of this moment, we're leaning toward homeschooling.  Come back soon to hear how I've changed my mind again (smiley!). 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Back to School

Almost all of my state's schools were closed at least two days this week to cold weather (highs just barely broke zero degrees Fahrenheit).  But, in our homeschool, it was our first full week back from Christmas break.  And, it went REALLY well!

Last year (beginning of 2013) I made some changes in the new year which helped things to go more smoothly during class time.  I think Christmas break is a really good time to evaluate how things are progressing, get organized, and reevaluate curriculum/schedule/priorities.  I knew we needed to make some changes, and (one whole week into it!) so far, things are going well.

Nightly Prep
I had gotten into the habit of waiting until each morning to go over plans for class time.  Now, each night, I spend some time diving into the next day's work.  I skim everything we are going over the next day, and make an easy-to-follow schedule on the whiteboard.  On the whiteboard, I also include any discussion questions I want to go over, which really helps things to go smoothly.  When I wake up the next morning, I have additional  ideas that I wouldn't have had if I would have waited until the morning to go over the curriculum.

I also make sure all the resources and materials I need are in the classroom and are easy-to-find.

Hot Breakfast
Often, as I'm going over the days plans, I get the kids a quick bowl of cereal.  Since I've been getting everything ready the night before, I can spend time making them a nice, hot breakfast.  And, I can sit with them and eat with them - it is wonderful!  We talk about our day, and spend time getting into the right mindset for school.  As they get dressed, I can get the dishes done from breakfast.

Expanded Quiet Time
This was an issue I tried to resolve last year as well.  We were only spending a little bit of time in the Bible each day - just the daily amount recommended our curriculum.  Now we've been adding to that.  Each morning, X-Man spends some time reading a Bible or devotional book to himself.  Little Lou isn't quite reading, so I'll either read to her (whatever Bible story or devotional book she wants) or put in one of our Bibles on CD for her to listen to.  I also try to spend some time in the Word when she's listening to her CD. 

Then, we read a devotion together from a book that contains 365 devotions - they're geared toward small children, so they're short and perfect for my little people.

Clean as we go
By the end of the day, our homeschool room is a mess.  Papers, pencils, toys, craft supplies, everything.  Well, not now.  As we go, they must pick up everything they had out for the previous subject.  This also gives them some time to get up and move around.

Two Language Arts Sessions
This has been one of the biggest helps and positive changes in our day.  Before, I would have both kids work on their Language Arts work, and ask me for help as they went along.  Well, Little Lou still needs help with almost everything, and X-Man gets very frustrated with handwriting.  So, as a solution, for our last subject of the day, we do Language Arts in two sessions.  During the first session, I work directly with one child.  This means sitting there and kindly reminding them how to properly write their letters as they go.  If they start getting frustrated, I can spot it right away; instead of frustration ending in screaming or crying, I spot it, we take a deep breath or take a break and play with floam/playdoh/snuggle a stuffed animal.  During this time, the other child has options on what they can do.  They can write, color, read/look at books, do fine motor work, puzzles, Boggle, or even an educational app on my phone.  Once the first child has completed their language arts work, they switch.

Since it's our last subject of the day, they can continue working on whatever they would like as soon as both are done with their work.  I then have them stay in the classroom with me (contained mess) while I get everything ready, for the next day.

The Two Minute Rule
I get very overwhelmed when I see a sink full of dishes, or stacks of laundry in the hampers, or clutter.  Before, I would wait until the end of school to get any house work done.  This often meant that I rushed through the day so that I could do a quick clean-up before the hubby got home. Sometimes that quick clean up turned into a half hour or more of clean up. Now, I use the two minute rule.  If something will take me less than two minutes to do, I do it right away.  It could be wiping the kitchen counters, washing the dishes from breakfast, sharpening pencils as they break, filing school work in their portfolios, throwing a load of laundry in the washer, wiping the toothpaste off the sink, etc.  As long as it takes less than two minutes, if it will bother me to leave it, I just do it right away.  Then, when we're done, I don't have more work to do.  I can get right into dinner preparations.

It's amazing to me how a few easy modifications can make a world of difference.  Due to a few, minor changes, school is much easier, and it was pretty painless.  What changes have you made in the new year?

Seven Years...

Seven years.  That's the amount of time that I've known what unconditional love is.  This is going to be a short post, but I want to wish my kind, smart, wonderful little boy a very happy birthday.  I'm so happy that God chose me to be his mom, he means so much to me.  Happy birthday X-Man!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

WDW Dining - Magic Kingdom

After yesterday's post, I've been thinking quite a bit about Disney World.  So, as promised month's ago, I thought I'd do a Disney World post.  Today, I'm going to focus on restaurants at Magic Kingdom.  I'll tell you restaurants that we've been to and whether we recommend them.

Magic Kingdom
Quick Sevice
  • Casey's - this is located on main street and sells mainly hot dogs.  On our first trip, it was the first restaurant we ate at.  The hot dogs are good, but expensive (covered by dining plan). They also have french fries, and for dessert you can get the standard (yummy) chocolate brownie, cotton candy, or Cracker Jacks.  There isn't much seating, but there are several small tables outside - sometimes a piano player comes out, which is pretty cool! We would eat there again - though not by first choice. Recommended for lunch, but I don't know that it would hold you over for dinner.  Recommended for gluten free dining.
  •  Cosmic Ray's - we ate here on our first trip - it's located in Tomorrowland.  They have burgers, chicken, and ribs.  There is a large seating area inside, which is nice. I do not like the set up of this restaurant.  If you want burgers, you have to go to a certain bay.  If you want ribs, you go to a different bay.  So, either you and your party need to agree on entrees, or you'll be waiting in several lines.  Our food there wasn't great.  But I've heard great things from others - it just wasn't great for us. This would be substantial for lunch or dinner.  There are also gluten free options.
  • Be Our Guest - for lunch, this is a quick service - it's located in Fantasyland. There is quite a bit of seating, but if you want to eat in the West Wing, get there early!  We arrived 45 minutes before they opened and were still maybe the 10th person in line.  The opening is REALLY cool.  They come out and welcome you and cheer for you as you walk in.  It is easily the prettiest restaurant in all of Disney (at least the one's we've been to!).  And the food is excellent.  They have table service quality food for lunch.  They have sandwiches, roasted meats, and other yummy things.  My son inhaled his grilled mahi-mahi. And their cupcakes - SO good!  HIGHLY recommended (for lunch) - also great for gluten-free diets.

  •  Pecos Bill - this one is in Frontierland.  This year was the first time we ate there.  It was SO good.  They have burgers, salads, sandwiches, and other foods.  I got a southwest chicken salad and it was delicious.  There is quite a bit of seating there, and luckily, there are cast members to direct you to open tables.  Other wise, it would have been tough to navigate through the restaurant with two little ones and two huge trays of food.  We will definitely eat here again.  I feel that it would be substantial for dinner - there were also some gluten free options here.
  • Columbia Harbor House - this is located in my favorite part of MK - Liberty Square.  They are famous for their fish and chips and their lobster rolls. They also have chicken and some grilled entrees. I had grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, and couscous.  It was VERY good.  There are plenty of tables here, both upstairs and down.   I really like the theming of this restaurant.  It feels very Colonial and has creaky wood floors.  This is a great place for lunch or dinner (they close early in the off-season) - there were some gluten free options.
  • Pinocchio's Village Haus - this is located in Fantasyland.  It is probably my least favorite restaurant that we've eaten at in WDW.  They have flatbread and sandwiches and pizza.  They food was very bland.  There was quite a bit of seating, and some of the tables even overlook the entrance of It's A Small World.  One thing I do remember is that they had pretty tasty chocolate gelato.  I'm not sure about how many gluten free options they have.  The family liked it, but I did not.
  • My hubby LOVES these pretzels.  We got this one at a cart in Frontierland.  Not gluten-free.

  •  The Plaza Ice Cream Parlor - WOW.  So good.  This is located on Main Street.  We got the All-American sundae (which was covered by a snack credit).  It was easily enough for two people and was SUPER yummy.  Recommended for gluten-free dining.

  • Gaston's Tavern - this is in Fantasyland.  The theming is AWESOME.  It looks exactly how I thought that Gaston's Tavern would look.  They have steak on a stick, some baked items, and their featured item, LeFou's brew.  It's basically a frozen apple juice with a marshmallow foam.  It was refreshing, but a little sweet for my taste. Recommended for gluten-free diets.

  • Aloha Isle - If you like pineapple, you MUST get a dole whip float here!  So good, and covered by a snack credit!  Recommended for gluten-free diets.
Table Service
Of all the parks, I feel that Magic Kingdom's table dining choices are very limited.  We've eaten at only a few, one was our worst meal in Disney World, and one is one of our favorites.

  • Tony's - this is located on Main Street.  The theming is nice, it's supposed to look like the restaurant from Lady and the Tramp.  The food wasn't very good.  With the exception of dessert - their Pistachio Creme Brulee is DELICIOUS!  I really don't recommend this one.  They do have a steak entree, but I don't know how gluten-free friendly it is for children.
  • Liberty Tree Tavern - I love the theming of this one as well.  It's Colonial, with the creaky wood floors.  Each room is themed around a president.  We've only had dinner here, which is basically, a Thanksgiving Feast served family style.  I really enjoy this meal.  Almost everything (except rolls, gravy, mac and cheese, and stuffing) is gluten-free.  They will give you gluten-free rolls and gravy if you want it.  They will also give you ice cream (instead of craisin cake) for dessert.  They food is always quite delicious, and plentiful.  You can eat as much as you would like.  Highly recommended.  Also recommended for gluten-free diets.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Day 3 - Facebook Fast - Why I Need a Change in Priorities... Or do I?

When the hubby came home last night, I informed him: "Yesterday, I was certain we were going to do private school next year.  But, today, I decided that I think I want to homeschool."

His reply: "How much of this decision has to do with going to Disney World?"

"Um... Not, er... Not muuuch..."

And his response: "Well, none of this decision should be about Disney."


Now, to be honest, part, as in, like, 5% of my decision is based on travel.  I love that the last two years we were able to go to Disney World during the slow season.  We had low prices, low crowds, and got 'free' dining.  Had we traveled when most do (summer, holiday breaks), we would not have been able to get as much as we did for as little as we did.  It would have been miserable - long lines, big crowds, hot weather...  No thanks!  Sure, some places are best seasonally, (beach, seasonally opened resorts); but, some are best when no one else is there...  And, it just so happens that WDW is one of those places. Also, if we were to send them to private school, unless the hubby got a giant promotion, regular travel would fall out of reach for us.

So, yes, it (travel, WDW) did have a place in my current decision (which, again, will likely change several times).  Flexibility is one of the biggest pros for homeschooling.  When the other kids are in school, we get our zoos, museums, parks, to ourselves.   We can take vacations whenever we want.  We can take advantage of huge discounts at touristy places during the week while school is in session (we recently went to the biggest waterpark in the US and stayed in a suite with our friends for a total of $80 for our family's two day admission tickets and hotel).  I plan their doctor appointments for when other children are in school.  I do my grocery shopping when others are at work or school.  I love that part. 

After talking to the hubby, I felt a little guilty about travel being such a priority.  Then I thought about it some more.  Some of my favorite childhood memories are when we traveled.  It was time as a family with minimal outside distractions.  I always learned something without realizing that I was learning. 

These kids won't be little for long.  I want them to have cherished memories of us as a family. I want them to remember the times they spent having wonderful experiences, not the hours they spent sitting in a classroom.  I want them to see their learning come to life before their eyes.  Bottom line: I won't feel guilty about allowing travel/flexibility to be a part of our decision process.  It is a huge pro, and should we decide to homeschool next year, we'll take full advantage of this awesome benefit.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Day 1 and 2 - Facebook Fast

Today is the second day of my Facebook fast.  So far I've only typed in the URL maybe five times.  Which raises a red flag - I wasn't thinking of going on facebook, but apparently that was the main site I was visiting since this was an automatic thing...

Anyways, a long time ago, yesterday, when I started this non-facebook journey, I was 95% sure that I wanted to send the kids to private school.  I've been spending time doing some research and am now about 75% sure that I want to homeschool next year.  I'm sure that I'll be waffling quite a few times in the upcoming month, so I'm excited to see what our decision is going to be - are you on the edge of your seat too?!

Come back soon - I'll be posting often :)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Why I'm Giving Up Facebook... For Now.

Most of my readers are people that I know in real life; and, most of these people are connected to me on Facebook.  I have a feeling this post won't get many views until February since my main 'marketing' technique is posting on Facebook that I've added a new blog post.  Also, there's something to be said about consistency - of which I have none. 

Anyways, earlier this week I announced that I would be off of Facebook for the entire month of January - that announcement was mostly for accountability.  If I publicly profess that I'll be abstaining from Facebook, then it's more likely that I will actually stay off.

I also want to be more transparent, so, I thought I'd let my few faithful readers know why I have decided to (at least for this month) give up Facebook.

Facebook is a major time-suck for me.  If I'm bored, I get on Facebook.  If I don't want to clean/wash dishes/do laundry/do homeschool, I get on Facebook.  Basically, it is an escape and an enabler to my procrastination.  And, I need to face a big decision without distraction.  I need to spend more time in prayer and research and less time in distractions.

So, here goes. 

Homeschool is not easy.  Even with only two kids, it's not easy.  And, in some ways, I just want to give up.  I don't want them to fight constantly and I don't want to argue with them everyday about handwriting.  But I also (to be fair), haven't been giving it my all.  I've been lazy and I've been selfish, and it needs to stop. 

This month we're going to attend some open houses for Christian schools in our area to see what they have to offer.  I'm going to be spending the time that I normally would have spent distracting myself (on Facebook), in prayer and spending time with my children putting their education as a MUCH higher priority in my life.  I'll also be making pro and con lists and asking for advice from probably everyone I know...  So, if you are a praying person, won't you pray for discernment for us? 

I truly have no idea what our decision will be, but we want it to be the best decision for them.  I don't want it to be a fear-based decision nor a pride-based decision.  I want it to be a faith-based decision that puts their needs first.  I want to be open to what God wants for them and I want for us to find peace in this decision.  I'm sure I'll be posting much more on this in the upcoming days/weeks/months, so stay tuned.

For now, Happy New Year!  Come back soon!