Introducing my Amazon Storefront

IMG_20190223_103750_762I have been working on something for you guys for a little while and am excited to share it with you today! One of my favorite things about following other homeschool accounts on Instagram and blogs is discovering the resources and products that other families use and love. I love seeing them in real life in their schooling and in their homes. Many of you ask me where I get certain things and what brands things are that you see in my Instagram posts. My hope is that I can share with you what we are using and love and that is helpful to you as you make choices on what to purchase for your own journey.

Recently Amazon introduced Amazon Storefronts, which is a place for small accounts like mine to post recommended resources all in one place with links for purchase through Amazon! I get a small kickback if you purchase an item from my storefront, which helps me buy more homeschool supplies. The products that I recommend are the exact things I have bought and are tried and true by my family. I plan to add to my Storefront over time, but for now I stocked it up pretty good with things I use and love if you want to take a browse.

Lesson Preparation

These are the products I use to print, laminate, and organize my curriculums and lessons. I especially love my printer and laminator! I use both every week and have had no problems with either one. The Amazon Basics laminator is an especially good price!

IMG_20190124_130536_133Sensory & Fine Motor Supplies

This category includes everything from the scissors we love to the net swing that we have hanging in our front yard for vestibular input. I have also included things you would find in a sensory bin like the water beads I buy and fine motor tools for scooping and grabbing!

Books

Here I have listed the must-have books for your home library. They are they ones we use for tea time poetry, reference for multiple lessons, or read-alouds that we read over and over. I have also included my top reads for the homeschool mama!

What Mama Loves

This was a fun one to put together as it is full of all the random things I personally love. Shoes, home decor, and my favorite coffee making gadgets. I am a fairly simple woman, but I have a few things that really bring a lot of joy to my life that I wanted to share.

Practical Life Skills

In this category I have included the things that we have that encourage my children to work alongside me in household chores and in the kitchen – things like child size aprons and a small handheld broom. My favorite in this section is definitely the hard nylon knives that they use daily in meal prep!

Art & Handcrafts

This may be my favorite section and my favorite part of home education! You will find the exact crayons,  watercolors, and clay we love and use on a regular basis. Everything in this section we have on hand for various projects. The yarn needles and the weaving loom are amazing tools for introducing handicrafts to littles.

IMG_20190218_103603_915Toys We Love

Here I have all of our favorite open-ended toys! These are basically all of the toys we own and encourage so much imaginative play. Currently my kids are mostly playing with Calico Critters and Magnatiles!

Phonics & Handwriting

I can’t say enough good things about the products I listed here. These are the books and resources we use everyday. I have also included the pencils and pencil grips we love!

Visit my storefront to see all of these items in detail. If you found this helpful, be sure to keep checking back as I will add items as I discover new things that we are using and love!

Advent Calendar Activity Ideas & Bible Reading Plan

Okay, so before you read this post thinking I am the Advent-pro, I must admit to you first that I have never once participated (and especially planned and led) this tradition. But oh, how Pinterest and Instagram have led me into new and beautiful things. I started seeing all these creative ideas, adorable calendars, and lists galore of things to include in Advent. So with less than a week before December 1st, I scrambled to put this advent calendar together. It is not a finished product, as I know myself too well to know I couldn’t plan an entire month of activities without things changing. I think I have a solid plan though that is simple, meaningful, and fun so I wanted to share!

First off, I turned our dining room chalkboard into a paper sack calendar. My hubby and I made this chalkboard a few months ago, but this could work right on the wall as well. I ordered these mini paper sacks and these mini red clothespins from Amazon. My garland was a Hobby Lobby find a few years ago in the regular greenery section, and I stuck some berries in it to make the red clothespins pop. I just hot glued some twine behind the frame of the chalkboard and strung it across to make my paper sack “clothes lines”.

Next, I made a list of activities I wanted to do with the kids throughout the month of December. I scouted out all the free or inexpensive events happening in our town and included some of those. I also included some activities centered around giving and serving. I wanted to keep them simple. I wanted to have the ability to pick one each morning and pop it in the bag before the kids wake up depending on which one made sense for our schedule, the weather, and let’s be honest, the one I wanted to do that day. I typed them into a table so I could print them on cardstock and cut them into cards to put into the bags. Here is my list of Advent activities:

  1. Make cinnamon applesauce ornaments for the Christmas tree

  2. Drive around with hot cocoa looking at Christmas lights

  3. Help wrap presents

  4. Make gingerbread houses

  5. Get bundled up and go for a wintery hike

  6. Have pancakes with Santa (local event)

  7. Bake cookies to share with neighbors

  8. Make caramel popcorn and watch a Christmas movie

  9. String popcorn and dried oranges for the Christmas tree

  10. Throw a birthday party for Jesus

  11. Go to the train museum to see the Christmas train (local event)

  12. Buy gifts for our cousins at the Dollar store

  13. Go to Holiday storytime at the library

  14. Go see the animals at the live Nativity (local event)

  15. Be in the Christmas play at church

  16. Buy coats for children who don’t have any (local charity)

  17. Draw pictures in Christmas cards for Operation Shoebox

  18. Go to Gingerbread Lane (local event)

  19. Read Christmas stories by the Christmas tree

  20. Walk through the garden to see the Christmas lights (local event)

  21. Pass out candycanes to people on the Greenway (local hiking trail)

  22. Go to the Christmas Village (local event)

  23. Make presents for homemade gift exchange (This is an extended family tradition)

  24. Go to Grammy’s house and open presents (Christmas Eve)

  25. Go to Auntie’s house for Christmas dinner (Christmas Day)

I decided I wanted to add a biblical emphasis to our advent and we LOVE The Jesus Storybook Bible, so when I stumbled across their Advent Reading plan I was thrilled. You can see the plan and download the cards I used for free here. I printed them double-sided on cardstock, cut them out, laminated them, and put them in the bags with the activity cards. I have a feeling we will be using these again so I wanted them to last.

That’s it! My plan is to open the bag in the morning during our “Together Time” and read the activity for the day and the correlating Bible story. Then, we will sometimes do a simple ornament craft that represents the story we read and we will put them on our Christmas tree. Keep an eye out on my Instagram to see our activities and crafts in action!

Step-by-Step Cardboard Playhouse

My mom recently called me with one purpose: to tell me that she got a new IKEA couch. She had saved the enormous box specifically for me, knowing she could count on me to turn it into something fun for her grandkids. She knows me almost too well – so does my husband. That’s why when we went to family dinner the following Sunday, he wasn’t too surprised to find himself rearranging the minivan and shoving a ten foot box into the back of it. We had to fold it and break it down a bit, but eventually we got it all home.

I considered creating a castle or a boat, but after much scrolling and pinning I decided to create a little cardboard village. I narrowed in on an eclectic little home, a modern large library with a bookshelf inside, and a little grocery market. I know I can’t knock this all out at the same time, but I plan to build on it over time since I have the cardboard for it! Here are a couple of the cardboard playhouses that inspired this project:

We have a split-level home with a long, narrow downstairs space that needs a lot of beautifying work. It has been a wonderful sensory play space for the kids. I am working on cleaning out some furniture down there that doesn’t get enough use for the space it’s taking up. Besides, where will the cardboard village reside if silly couches are in the way? Until I have enough space for it all, I decided to start with the little house.

I did half of this project outside in the shade while the kids played in the plastic pool and sandbox. I finished the rest of it one evening after they went to bed. I think it took me a total of 3-4 hours. Below, I’ve given you a materials list and then broken it down for you in steps.

MATERIALS:

  • Large pieces of cardboard

  • Duct tape

  • Measuring tape

  • Box cutter and blades

  • Spray adhesive

  • Fabric (large enough pieces to cover the sides of your playhouse)

  • Hot glue and sticks

  • Other embellishments such as a cabinet knob, paint, or fake flowers

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Lay your large pieces of cardboard out, and cut two rectangles of the same width and height. Mine happened to be 25″x34″, but you can work with whatever size cardboard you have.

  2. Cut out two more rectangular pieces with a triangle on top that are the same size (this should look like a pentagon or sides of a house). The height of all four pieces need to be the same, but these two can be narrower or wider than the previously cut rectangles, depending on how wide or narrow you want your house. I used the measuring tape to be sure the triangle was centered. My pieces measured 34″x34″, and my triangle was 14″ high from the top of the rectangle.
  3. Cut out your windows and door using the box cutter.

  4. Cover each side of the house with fabric. I used spray adhesive to do this, and it worked well. I used different colors of fabric for each side, only because I didn’t have enough fabric in my scrap bin to do it all the same. You could also use paint, wallpaper, or just let your kids color it!

  5. Duct tape all four walls together. I had to crawl inside and have my husband hold each wall for me to tape the seams shut. In some areas I used hot glue to reinforce the seams.

  6. Cut a rectangle for the roof, fold it, and hot glue it on. Add shingles if you would like. This was the most time consuming part, but they turned out so cute. I just cut out rectangles and used hot glue to attach them.

  7. Add embellishments. I added painted window frames, curtains, a cabinet knob for a door knob, and window flower boxes with fake flowers.

In one week this little house has been a flower shop, a puppet stage, and a market. Every stuffed animal in the house has been inside and it has been played with way more hours than it took creating it. I call that a win! I will update this post once the rest of the village is created.

Preschool Bookclub Playdate: Go Dog, Go!

This week we have been reading Go Dog, Go! By P.D. Eastman (Dr. Seuss). It’s an adorable book that teaches positions, prepositions, and colors. Throughout the story, a whole slew of dogs are making their way to a big tree. Once they get there, they all climb up a huge ladder to join a great big dog party. Loads of dogs with party hats, treats, playing games and having a grand ol’ time. Mixed into this plot is a dog continually asking another dog if she likes his hat, to which she always replies “No, I do not like your hat!” Then they say their good-byes and part ways. Until the end when her hat is decorated like crazy with streamers, flowers, and random things and when she asks him one final time his response is “I do. What a hat! I like it! I like that party hat!”

I thought it would be fun to mix things up and invite some friends for a “Dog Party” like in the story. We asked them each to bring a stuffed dog along. We started our playdate by gathering in a circle to read the story. Then I led them in a traffic light song with some simple sign language motions. There is a stoplight a few times in the story when the dogs are traveling around in cars, so I thought this would be a fun theme to bring in.

Twinkle, Twinkle Traffic Light

On the corner shining bright

Red means STOP

Green means GO

Yellow means go very SLOW

Twinkle, Twinkle Traffic Light

On the corner shining bright

Then we gathered at the table and decorated some party hats. I offered a bunch of random supplies like feathers, pom-poms, sequins, gems, and ribbons. I had regular white glue available to the kids and a hot glue gun plugged in away from the kids for any moms that wanted to glue something a little trickier on for their child.

While they were decorating their hats I melted and mixed together the chocolate and peanut butter for the Puppy Chow. You can find the exact recipe I used here. I doubled this recipe to feed 9 kids a good amount and some mamas too. If you have never had it before, it’s so incredibly delicious. I feel like it’s a childhood staple. A few kids helped me stir it up with the Rice Chex when they had finished their hats. Then, one by one the kids came and held open up a big zipper bag for me to scoop in some Puppy Chow and sprinkle in the powdered sugar. We zipped it back up, leaving some air in there and then they shook the bags to coat the Rice Chex.

We listened to music, snacked on our Puppy Chow, blew party blowers, and wore our freshly decorated party hats. Then the kids played with their stuffed dogs, these large blocks, and a big barn we have had for ages. They built towers and buildings for the dogs and pretended the barn was a dog house. Lots of fun imaginative, cooperative play was happening!

We ended our playdate by going outside for some Red Light, Green Light. We used the red, green, and yellow blocks to hold up as a visual cue to support the auditory cue. I feel like this really helped the young ones who had never played before catch on to the game. They took turns being the leader, holding up the blocks, and calling out the direction.

It was such an inexpensive, low-prep morning and the kids had so much fun! I love making books come alive for my kids and it’s even better to invite others along too. I’m already dreaming up our next Book Club Playdate!

 

Letter Recognition & Formation Strategies

In our homeschool preschool rhythm, my children and I spend two weeks learning each letter of the alphabet. As we move through the alphabet, we also review previously learned letters. Each week, we repeat these 8 solid strategies to expose new letters and practice their formation. I find that familiarity with the activities allows my children to focus on learning the letters, rather than how to master a new activity. At this point in their schooling, my goal is simply to expose them to the letters and their sounds and give them the invitation to practice forming them.

We usually do 2-3 of these activities each day that we have structured school time. For us, that is typically four days a week. I expose them to both the uppercase and the lowercase letters the first week, but when it comes to formation activities we do uppercase the first week and add in lowercase the second week.

1. Sandpaper Letter Tracing – I show them these cards for each letter we are learning, and then I model how to form the letter using my index finger and then an unsharpened pencil. My children then repeat what I just demonstrated.

2. Sensory Writing Tray – I often use salt for this, but sometimes I use similar items instead to go with the theme we are learning. I recently did birdseed when we studied birds and sugar mixed with sprinkles when we were reading books about cupcakes. First, I pour the sensory item onto a cookie sheet and provide a half sheet of cardstock with the letter printed on it for them to look at as they play. I model how to form the letters with my index finger on the tray. After writing a letter they lightly shake the tray to have a “clean slate” to write again. Oftentimes they will use the cardstock letter and bury it and then uncover it with their fingers.

3. White Erase Tracing – These dry erase pockets are one of my favorite supplies we have! I print an outline of the letter and slip it into the pocket. I model to the children how to form the letter using a dry erase marker and then give them a chance to try. Sometimes, my four year old does it correctly and sometimes they both just color the letter in with markers. Either way, they are watching me write it and say it and getting exposure to it. The curriculum I use comes with letter outlines, but here are some I found if you are not using the same curriculum.

4. Clay Forming – Using the same dry erase pockets with letter outline inserts and clay or playdough, I encourage my children to pinch pieces off and roll it into long strips. They then form the letter on top of the pocket. Sometimes I offer small items for them to press into the clay or playdough that start with the letter we are learning. We did coins for C. They pressed them in all around the clay letter and then pick them out over and over again.

5. Stamp It, Poke It, Write It – I get these printables from Simply Learning. She offers them for free with each letter unit. We have these capital letter stamps and these lowercase ones. My kids love stamping the correlating letters for the Stamp It section. Then, they use large push pins to poke the small circles in the Poke It section. I place the printable on a piece of foam board and tape down the corners of the paper for this. We have been using the same piece of foam for over a year. They aren’t ready for the Write It! Section yet, so I just point out what the word says.

6. 3-Part Cards – Nomenclature cards, or 3-Part Cards, are simply images with corresponding labels. They really help my children learn the letter sounds and have been one of the major factors in my son beginning to read. I wrote a blog post about how we use them in our schooling here. I currently make these cards to correlate with the letters we are working on. You can download these free printable 3-Part Cards here.

7. Handwriting Without Tears Letter Blocks – I discovered these materials when I was teaching a special needs child how to form letters. He went from absolutely hating writing to writing full stories in just a few months. They are certainly an investment, but I knew I would use them for years with multiple children. I have seen how incredibly they work, so it is worth it to me. We currently use the Capital Letter Wooden Blocks and the Capital Letter Cards. I lay the wood pieces out and give my children the cards. Then I ask them to choose which pieces they think they need and they build the letter on top of the card. Then we flip the card over and work through it together.

8. Chalkboard Write and Wipe – This is also a Handwriting Without Tears method that I learned while teaching. I model the entire process, then they repeat. First, I write the letter on a small slate. Then I dip a little square sponge into water and squeeze the excess water out. Finally, I erase the letter in the same way that it is written. My kids love it, the repetition is gold, and the pincer grasp gets a lot of work.

What letter formation activities do you use at home? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

Top 10 Screen-Free Road Trip Activities

Top 10 Screen-Free Roadtrip Tips

My son was asked to be the ring bearer in my close friend’s wedding, so we took the 11 hour trip to Florida on Thursday, stayed two days for wedding festivities, and drove 11 hours back on Sunday. I am not utterly against screen-time, as my children occasionally watch movies we get from the library or hand-picked shows. But I am against starting a terrible habit of endless screen time, show after show, for hours on end. In the past that is what having access to a DVD player in our van for trips turned into. The meltdowns when the shows were turned off were out of control. Every time we got into the car for a couple of weeks after the trip the kids were asking for shows to be turned on.

A few months ago we took a 4 hour trip and discovered that the DVD player was broken. We considered getting it fixed, but I decided I would challenge myself and the kids on this trip instead. So I planned out a few simple ideas, bought a few hand-held activities, and loaded up on library resources. I was amazed at how well they did. Here are my top 10 screen-free road trip wins. Tested and tried with my two preschoolers.

1. Melissa and Doug Water Wow Activity Pads – These were by far the most popular activity. I actually only bought one pad before our trip, as we had never used them before and ended up ordering a 3-pack to be sent to Florida in preparation for the long ride back. The water in the pens lasts a while, and the variety in the different books kept my kids busy for literally hours. I must share this tip because it would be downright mean not to: use a straw and your fingertip to collect water out of a water bottle to put into the water pen, rather than trying to pour it while riding down the road. Speaking from experience.

2. Cookie Sheet Magnet Lapboard – I got two inexpensive cookie sheets and gathered a bunch of magnets that we had around the house. Some of our favorite magnets are gear magnets and these animal magnets. I also brought our Fridge Phonics which both of my kids really like and worked well on the cookie sheet too. The kids arranged and rearranged magnets over and over. I also used small refrigerator magnets to hold the corner of pieces of paper down for coloring.

3. Lacing Activities – My 2 year old daughter loves to lace things, so I brought a few options of things for her to lace. She ended up working hard on every lacing activity. I stored the materials in zipper bags and scooped out a small cupful at a time for her to hold while she laced. That way if they spilled it wasn’t a huge mess, and I could give her more as needed.

  • Rigatoni pasta and thick jute – Try wrapping the tip of the jute with clear packing tape to avoid fraying and tying a knot at the end so they don’t fall off.

  • Pony beads and pipecleaners – I made a knot on one end and when she was finished, formed it into a bracelet by wrapping one end around the other.

  • O- Cereal and pipecleaners – We had cereal for road trip snacks anyway, so it only made sense to add this to our lacing stash. After making it, she ate it all off.

4. Books and Audiobooks – We loaded up on library books for them to thumb through before we went. I propped up a basket between the carseats with all of their books so they were easily accessible throughout the entire ride. My son especially loved reading along with books that came with the audio version. We must’ve heard Caps For Sale over fifty times. For Christmas last year my son got the audiobook The Cat in the Hat and Other Dr. Suess Favorites, so we checked out the 11 correlating stories from the library for the trip.

5. Magnetic Drawing Board – Any magnetic drawing board will be a big hit for toddlers and preschoolers, but they really liked the animal magnets on this one, as well as the soft back for their laps.

6. Stickers and Paper – I got a few pads of stickers from the dollar store and brought some construction paper. My daughter decorated the papers, her arms, legs and her clothes time and time again. If the mess doesn’t bother you, this was a huge hit.

7. Gluestick and Paper – I handed her a full sheet of construction paper, some ripped up paper in a cup, and the glue stick and let her go to town. She used the cookie sheet as her “table” for this activity.

8. Latch Puzzle Boards – Both of my kids love the farm one that we own and it’s an easy one-piece activity to bring along. Both of these would be perfect for little hands on a long car ride.

9. Clip Cards and Clothespins – You can find links to free printables of these all over Pinterest. I just used ones I had previously printed, cut and laminated for lessons in the past.

10. Clear Pouches and White Erase Markers – We use these clear pouches all the time. You could put a variety of worksheets inside and give your child a low odor dry erase marker to complete the sheet. There is something about writing with a marker that kids love. My two year old just drew pictures and scribbles on it, then washed it off with a wipe, and drew again. My 3 year old son traced letters on his. Both of them used their cookie sheets as their “table top” and little magnets to hold it down.

That wraps up my top 10 Screen-Free Road Trip Wins! I hope this inspires you to think outside the box when planning for your next long car trip or even doctor office wait. Do you have more ideas and resources for road trip activities? Comment below!