Archive | July 2012

Saturday Project: Water Toys

We are a water family. Doesn’t matter if it is the beach, the pool, a waterpark, or the sprinkler. If there is water around, we will be there. Because of this I am always looking for some fun, easy, and inexpensive ways to make various water toys. Here are a few of our favorites:

#1. Water Sponge Balls – instead of water balloons, try making these sponge balls that are great for using over and over again. (TIP: We actually made ours with 2 layers of sponge strips instead of 3 like the directions suggest, making even more balls per sponge pack.)

#2. DIY Sprinkler – White Rabbit Farm has instructions for making a great sprinkler from a 2 liter bottle and a simple male-to-male hose connector from the hardware store.

#3. DIY Water Slide – Using just a tarp the sprinkler you made in #2 you can make your own Slip ‘N’ Slide. Try adding a few drops of baby shampoo to keep the slide extra slippery!

#4. Kid Wash – Living Life Intentionally has simple instructions for building your own kid wash out of PVC pipe. Configure your wash any way you want!

Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Home Schooling

As we move toward back-to-school time I tend to reflect on our decision to home school our kids. We went into this out of necessity (there were no acceptable English-speaking schools in our town in Taiwan) but now we love the lifestyle and are continuing to home school now that we are once again living in the United States.  When we began our home school journey, I didn’t get the typical warnings and advice because we moved very quickly and we didn’t have a choice about home schooling. This year, our first back-to-school time in the US as home schoolers, I am really caught up in the things I wish someone had told me before we started home schooling.

While researching this I found a great article from listing their most important things to know. These were good and are definitely things you should consider before home schooling. Here are my words of advice and experience for the new home schooler:

#1. Don’t get overwhelmed on curriculum choices. There are so many options and the truth is that most of them will guide you to teach your child what they need to know. Pick one you think you may like and get started. If it doesn’t suit your family, try something different next year – or even this year.

#2. Don’t be afraid to scrap something that isn’t working. I know you paid good money for that curriculum, but if it isn’t working for your child or family don’t be afraid to scrap it and move on to something that will work better for you. It will be worth the extra cost in saved headaches and tears for you and your child.

#3. Generally, the school day is a lot shorter than you will expect. I was initially often surprised by how quickly we got our work finished each day. I was tempted to try to fill the extra time with more lessons (RESIST!). But Husband, who is an elementary school teacher, explained to me that a lot of the time at school is taken up with things like moving kids to and from specials (music, gym etc.), and having the kids who understand something do seat work (code for busy work to keep them occupied) so that teachers can work more closely with the kids who are not understanding something.

#4. It doesn’t matter where the work gets done if it gets done. At first the temptation is often to do school at home, keeping the structure, having the kids sit at desks or tables, etc. and formatting your day like a school day. This is especially true for parents who were not home schooled and when the kids have already been in school. While we run a fairly regimented and well-scheduled day, part of the benefit of home schooling is flexibility. If the kids want to take their spelling test while lying on the floor, does it matter? I have one kid who seems to ned to stand up and move about the same time we do science. I spent a lot of time fighting with her to sit still and participate, but she wasn’t engaged and “getting it”. When I started letting her stand up and wiggle during science, she actually listened better and participated more.

#5. Try to teach as many things as you can just once. Many subjects (science, history/social studies, art, music theory, etc.) can be taught across grade levels. This means you teach it once to all the kids. This was a huge time saver because I don’t have to give one-on-one instruction for every subject. Many curriculums have activities that cross a span of ages for just this application.

#6. Don’t be afraid to let the kids learn on their own. My goal is not to teach them but to teach them how to learn things for themselves. As children age, they can become more independent learners. First Born reads her math or English instructions and then does the work related to that days topic. She only receives instruction from me when she has a question or doesn’t understand something or if, when I check her work, I see that she needs more help. This frees me up to work more one-on-one with the younger kids.

The best thing about home schooling, besides the relationship-building with my kids, is the flexibility it offers. Don’t get tied to someone else’s idea of what home school should be! Take the time to figure out what YOUR home school should be.

Saturday Project: Flip Flop Stamps

This week’s project is easy and cheap…two of my favorite things! The kiddos can help with this and that will make it more fun for them to use too.

We are making flip flop stamps for the beach. This is a great project for any time you will be in the sand. Here are the steps:

#1. Pick up a pair of inexpensive flip flops (Old Navy comes to mind) for each kid (and adult too if you want in on the fun).

#2. Pick up a tub of foam stickers at the craft store or your local mart. These can be shapes or letters. For me it depends on what is cheaper. Whatever you pick will be what you “stamp” in the sand.

#3. Attach the stickers to the flip flops. If you are serious about keeping the stickers on you can even hot-glue them. Remember to reverse the order of the letters if you do a word so that the stamps “say” something when you follow the footprint. This isn’t critical but a nice touch. (The shoe in the picture says the name “May” along the footprints”.)

#4. Walk around on some wet sand and leave your stamps all over the beach.

Branding Your Family: Family Mission & Vision Statements

Years ago, right after the birth of First Born, we had the opportunity to attend a class at our church for new parents. Most of what was said in that class has long since been forgotten, but one thing really stuck with us, and that was the idea of creating a “brand identity” for our family. This concept centers around creating a mission and vision statement for the family and then building from there. Our family has established mission & vision, a theme song, a family Bible verse, and even a mascot…Football Turtle!

The idea behind these things is that they help you to not only identify what is important to you as a family and filter your activities and life through that, but that they also build a greater sense of unity, much like a sports team. You want your kids to grow-up and still want to be part of your family and creating this unique sense of family identity helps encourage family unity and loyalty.

So, how do you start?

Step #1. Individually make a list of values that are important to you and why. Both parents should do this. Older children may also offer their list of suggestions, but this is you, as parents, making the decision for the direction of your family, so you have the final say. These lists should be compiled separately. Don’t share them yet!

Step #2. Set up a kid-free time to go through your lists. Get a baby-sitter or wait until the kiddos are in bed, but schedule a time with no TV to talk about this, and only this. No discussions about household chores or car repairs. Devote scheduled time and compare lists. Odds are, some will overlap (hopefully). Maybe you didn’t use the same words, but the general value is the same. Narrow down the list to the items that you both agree are the 5-10 most important for your family. Be sure to include why you believe in these things or what you want your family to look like as it relates to a particular value.

Step #3. More kid-free time! Set up a second time to come back to your values and make sure you both still agree that these are the most important. This can be a day or a week later. Don’t wait too long, though, because you want to keep the project moving forward. Here is our family’s vision and values statement: Family Values and Vision Statement

Step #4. From these values, identify the goal or mission of your family.

Step #5. This is where is really gets fun. Do something creative with the information you have just decided on. We have our mission and vision statement hanging in our family room. My husband even printed it on business cards that we each carry with us. We gave one to the grandparents and other people who care for our kids to let everyone know that we make decisions for our family with this information as our goal.

Step #6. Take it further! We have a theme song (Beautiful One by By The Tree). We selected three Bible verses to guide our family that we all memorize…1 Timothy 4:12 (Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for all the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity), 2 Timothy 3: 16 (All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness NIV), and Deuteronomy 6: 6-9 (These commandments that I have given you today are to be put upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames fo your houses and on your gates. NIV). These verses guide our decisions and our parenting.  And as you saw earlier, we even have a family mascot. Football Turtle was born out of our family’s love of football and the beach, specifically sea turtles.  Okay, so I probably spent way too long designing him but the kids love him. They want to make him into a flag to hang outside our front door and on our car! This is the kind of family unity we want to create!

UPDATE: During the summer of 2012 we have added a home school crest to our family branding. You can find instructions on how to do one of your own under Home School!

Have you created a mission, vision, or values statement for your family? Share your experience in the comments!

Efficient Packing for Trip

As we prepare for vacation, cramming 5 people into a Corolla for 25 hours plus all our stuff, I am all about getting packed as efficiently as possible. When we moved to and from Taiwan we packed in large Space Bags (great for moves or long trips). So we are applying that same idea in smaller scale for our vacation.

Lay out everyone’s clothes by outfit. Include underwear, socks, and hair accessories or hats. Select 1-3 pairs of shoes that will work with various outfits. We typically bring tennis shoes, sandals, and flip-flops. Place each day’s outfit into a one-gallon (or quart for smaller kids) zipper-bag and seal. If you are really serious, you can even suck the air out of the bags to make them flat and even smaller. We also pack one bag with 2 sets of pajamas, and an extra bag for each person with spare underwear, bras, and socks.

Bonus – dirty clothes go right into the zipper bag, keeping things in the suitcase separate and making it easy to pack back up.

For what to pack, check out the Master Packing List. For how to get it all in the car, and what to do on the way, check out Road Trip Tips.

Cleaning Makeup Brushes

Cleaning make-up brushes is an important part of keeping your bathroom and toiletries organized. Recently I was at a pharmacy and saw that there are many products on the market for cleaning brushes. Of course I stood there thinking about ways to do this without spending so much money and using things I already have at home. I came up with 2 great mixtures that left my makeup brushes like new.

#1. 1 tablespoon of white vinegar, 1 squirt of baby wash, 1/2 cup warm water. Swirl your makeup brushes around in this to degrease and clean off all the residue that has accumulated on them. Rinse well with cold water. Repeat until the brushes don’t color the water with makeup. Rinse one final time and let air-dry.

#2. 1 teaspoon of Dawn dishwashing soap, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar, 1/2 cup warm water. Again, swirl your makeup brushes around in this to degrease and clean off all the residue that has accumulated on them. Rinse well with cold water. Repeat until the brushes don’t color the water with makeup. Rinse one final time and let air-dry.

Countdown Calendar

Kids at our house get really anxious about 2 weeks before anything “big” happens. A lot of our life in the last 2 years has meant we didn’t have more than 2 weeks notice for big things (like our moves to and out of Taiwan but as we settle into a calmer life back in the US we are once again planning things well in advance. After discussing with Little Man (who is 4) for the ten-thousandth time that our trip west to visit Meemaw & Granddad was still 2 weeks away, I had a brilliant (ok, maybe not brilliant but creative) idea to create a countdown calendar for the two kiddos who seemed to need the reminder of how many days left. Now, every day when they ask if it is time to go on our trip, they go to their calendar and either mark or the day, or tear off the tab for the day.

These calendars can easily be made in any document program (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Pages, Numbers, or Keynote or similar) and customized with picture relating to whatever you are counting down toward. Now my kids ask once, I tell them to check their calendar, and the mark off the current day, then they don’t ask again until the next day. I wish I had thought of this sooner!

Saturday Project: Canvas Glue Art

I am obsessed with canvas art right now. Darn Pinterest! So this weekend’s project is another canvas art project, using glue to creat a dimensionall drawing. Here are the steps:

#1. Purchase a canvas and some while school glue (Elmer’s for example).

#2. Decide on what image you  want to draw on your canvas. I recommend searching for silhouette clip art of whatever image you want to put on your canvas to give you ideas. Simpler outlines work best. Skip this step if you want to do a free-form or abstract shape.

#3. With a pencil, draw your design onto the canvas. Skip this step is you are doing a free-form.

#4. Trace over your pencil lines with white school glue. (See picture for this step)

#5. Let the glue dry for 24 hours. This is crucial if you plan to add color. If you want to leave it all while (and you can’t see your pencil marks) you are finished.

#6. Once the glue is dry, spray over the whole canvas with a color of your choice. Once dry, you have a great piece of art!

TIP: If your glue dries and is not as “dimensional” as you would like, just trace over your lines with glue with a second (or third!) layer. This is also a great way to add various layers of dimension to your work of art.

Dishwashing Tubs for Organization

Most of us don’t use dish washing tubs unless we are camping. But I love these for organizing. You can pick them up for under $3 for the largest sizes at your local ‘Mart and at times they are under $1.We use these bins in all rooms of our house. You can get them in a lot of colors these days and can spice them up with vinyl stickers or paint to match any decor. Here are some ideas for ways to use dish washing tubs:

In the kitchen:

  • In the fridge we have two – one for produce that doesn’t fit in the crisper drawer and one for items we use regularly such as string cheese, fajita shells, lunch meats etc.
  • In the pantry we have two – one for paper products for entertaining, another for potatoes (to keep the dirt contained) and other extra produce that doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

In the school/office area:

  • One for library books so you always know where they are
  • One for scrap paper and one for extra printer paper
  • One for math manipulatives
  • One for science kit pieces
  • Divide one with silverware trays for extra scissors, pens, etc.
  • Art supplies (paints, brushes and the right paper all in one bin)

Kids’ Rooms:

  • Toy storage for items like Legos (sort by color or set), Hot Wheels or other cars, Barbies etc.
  • Clothes such as socks, underwear etc. can easily be stored in bins that are stacked on shelves in the room or closet

Bathroom/Linen Closet:

  • Organized items being stored by type (bin for hair and cosmetic products, one for paper products etc. )
  • Keep all first aid items in one bin, including alcohol, peroxide,, ace bandages etc.
  • Store sheet sets by room in a bin
  • Keep guest sheets and towels in one bin