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!

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.

Open-Ended Play Must-Haves

Open-ended play is play that allows children to express themselves freely and creatively. It is the type of play that there are no rules to follow and no pressure to produce a specific finished product. Over time, I have minimized our toy selection down to only a small amount of open-ended toys, with the exception of puzzles and this letter sound toy. It is also the only toy we own that requires batteries. My reasoning for this is that I would rather my children be the ones making the firetruck siren or the moo of the cow as they are playing.

There is certainly value in some “close-ended” activities such as puzzles and board games. For the majority though, I find that because open-ended toys have multiple uses, they encourage much more imagination, spur on creativity, and engage children longer.

Here are my Must-Haves for Open Ended Play:

Blocks– In our house blocks have been used time and time again as towers, barns, dog houses, and many more things. My son has had these wooden blocks since he was barely crawling and still plays with them regularly. We recently got these big interlocking blocks and love them as well! If your child has developed enough fine motor skills, smaller blocks like these are also great.

Playdough and clay– We enjoy making our own playdough, but this natural dye clay is also a really quality set if you prefer to buy yours. You can find my DIY playdough recipe here. Our favorite playdough tools include this ALEX toys wooden tool set and this Melissa and Doug dough and tool set.

Baby dolls and accessories– My daughter plays with babies every single day. We had a “Baby Doll Brunch” for her second birthday and she got all stocked up on every baby doll accessory she needs to take great care of all of her babies. Some of her favorites are this stroller, this baby carrier, baby bottles, a rocking chair, a baby bed, blankets, pacifiers, and a high chair.

Stuffed animals and puppets– We have a huge box of random stuffed animals that we have collected over the years and a similar puppet set. My kids give them voices and names and stories. They often play puppet show, tea party, or picnic with a bunch of their animal friends.

Art supplies– We incorporate art and crafts into specific homeschool lessons, but we use the same materials for free playtime as well. I’ve compiled a list of our favorite art supplies. In addition to this list, my kids love drawing on our easel.

Play kitchen and accessories– We have the IKEA play kitchen in my daughter’s room and it gets a lot of use! We love this dish set, these pots and pans, and any play food by Melissa & Doug. I have also picked up wooden kitchen bowls and utensils from garage sales and thrift stores to add to her kitchen as well.

Dress-up clothes– This can be anything from Daddy’s shoes or a blanket cape, to a doctor set. We have a princess dress, a dinosaur costume, sunglasses, pearls, purses, firefighter helmet, and more little dress-up accessories that are always being used.

Toy animals and mini replicas – Miniature real-life toy replicas are probably the most used item on this list in both schooling and playtime. We use them to act out stories, for letter sound matching, categorization, in playdough, and many other ways. I am slowly collecting different animal groups, but so far we have these dinosaurs and these sea creatures. I also love these jumbo farm animals from Learning Resources. I recently also got these fruits/veggies and flowers and created 3-Part Cards to match them for our garden theme. This post offers the free matching printable and other ideas to use them.

Tent or fort– Of course this could be made from blankets and chairs, but we got this play tent with a tunnel for our kids for Christmas last year. I have been amazed at how many ways my children have creatively played with it. The tent has been the Three Little Pigs’ house, a library, the post office, and many more things. They also like to bring books in it and “read” with a flashlight.

Marble Run– My kids absolutely love this marble run. We got it about a month ago and they haven’t stopped creating pathways for the marbles. It has been neat watching them learn what works and doesn’t work as they build, and having to work as a team to create.

Household items– Last but not least, some of the best toys for open-ended play are everyday household items! More than toys, you will usually find my kids playing with blankets as capes or fort walls, our clothing for dress-up, cardboard boxes for cars or boats, and the list goes on. Try to look around your home through the lens of a child. You’ll be surprised what you see.

I hope that gives you some ideas if you are leaning towards a more simplistic, open-ended play atmosphere for your household. What are your children’s favorite toys that encourage imagination and creativity? I would love to hear!

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!

Homeschool Preschool Supplies

Below I have a comprehensive list of items I find the most useful to have on hand year-round. If you are just starting out, don’t let this list overwhelm you – you don’t need to buy it all at once. When I first began homeschooling, I made an Amazon Homeschool Wishlist and added everything to my list. When a lesson popped up that required an item, I would buy it until eventually I was fully stocked. You can click each item and it will take you to the exact item on Amazon that we use. Sometimes I buy supplies at local stores, but I have included affiliate links for everything if you prefer to shop online.

LESSON PREPARATION

The first three items are for for organizing the printable curriculum. We are currently using The Peaceful Preschool curriculum, and you can read more about how I build off of it here. After much research, I decided on the printer listed above, and it has been perfect. I also use my laminator weekly. If you don’t have a laminator, the one listed here is inexpensive and gets the job done. Scissors will do for cutting out laminated cards, but having a paper cutter for this task makes prep so much faster. Lastly, the trays, baskets, little bowls, and little pitchers are used for our Tot Trays.

ARTS & CRAFTS

Each unit has theme-specific arts and crafts activities. The materials listed here are ones we use time and time again. Additional supplies may come up for certain projects, but the ones above are the staples. If you have never introduced Dot Markers to your child, they will love them! The acrylic and watercolor paints I listed are bigger investments up front but they last a year or longer, even with as much as we use them. I love the Twistable Crayons because they don’t break and little fingers are getting extra fine motor practice when they twist them up.

LETTER RECOGNITION & FORMATION

I use a variety of sensory methods to introduce letters and to invite my children to practice letter formation. You can read more about the multiple activities I use to teach letter formation and recognition here.

TOGETHER TIME

Each morning we sit together in the living room for what I call “Together Time.” This is a time we read stories, sing songs, do fingerplays, play group games, and introduce new Tot Trays. I’ll be writing a more detailed post about our Together Time soon.

SENSORY & FINE MOTOR SUPPLIES

Sensory learning and fine motor practice are essential to our learning. The Helping Hands Tools and the Tweezer Set are two of the best purchases I have made to help my son’s pencil grip. We use the Tunnel and the Hopper Ball in moments that my children need to get their bodies moving and some wiggles out before moving on to the next activity. Sometimes I just let them freely play with them, but usually I incorporate them into a lesson.

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!