Monday, November 11, 2019

Christ-Centered Christmas Countdown Ideas

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Not only does the Christmas season seem to be getting earlier each year, but it tends to get busier and busier! How wonderful it is to slow down, and share with your children what Christmas is all about. Here are some ideas to countdown to Christmas and to keep Christ at the center!

Nativity Themed Unit Studies

Peaceful  Press Christmas Unit Study
Here is a beautiful study by The Peaceful Press. While I haven't done this particular unit study, everything we've studied through them has been amazing! Everything is centered around learning the true meaning of Christmas.

If you don't want to buy a unit study already prepared, follow me on Pinterest to find ideas of creating your own. I love taking well loved books, and creating activities around them. There are so many nativity crafts on Pinterest, and you can use this link from Christian Preschool Printables to find handwriting practice, crafts and more!

Wrapped Books counting down until Christmas

Over the years, we've been collecting Christmas books that are put away until the first day of December. Then, each day, my son opens up a wrapped book under the tree in his bedroom. Most of the books are about Christ's birth, or about why we celebrate Christmas. You could do 24 books as a countdown, or just do the last 12 days leading up to Christmas.  No need to buy all the books either! I have borrowed some from the library and wrapped them before. My son didn't mind that they needed to be returned. I love reading Christmas stories together as a family. I am looking forward to Baby Girl enjoying the tradition this year!

Shepherd on the Search

This cute little Shepherd is the Christian alternative to the Elf on the Shelf. I honestly hate the idea of an elf reporting bad behavior of children and reporting to Santa. As my best friend pointed out, it takes away the ideas of grace, mercy, and generosity. Whatever your stance on Santa Claus, this little shepherd still includes the fun of finding him each morning, but teaches children that Jesus is the reason we celebrate.

I will add that I did not like the book that came with the set. I didn't feel like it was entirely Biblical. We just don't read the book and enjoy all the fun things this little shepherd brings. You can find all kinds of ideas for him too, on Pinterest.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Paying Cash for Christmas

While my husband and I have managed to go through our marriage without getting in debt for Christmas, it has always drained our account, and in the past we desperately awaited the next paycheck. I do know so many struggle in this area, as well, and the idea of 'buy now, pay later' can be appealing. If want to take control this Christmas, and take financial stress out of the holiday bustle, then I hope these tips can help!

About 9 months ago, I decided to read Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey. I read the entire thing in one day, and was ready to tackle our small amount of debt ($5000 on a Jeep). I've always been a little flighty, when it comes to sticking to things, and I worried that I would even quit before the 90 days. When that 90 days saw us completely pay off the debt and live more at peace, I was hooked! No going back now!

What really helped me was my first tip for paying cash for Christmas:

Download the Every Dollar App

We are cheap people, and have continued to use the free version, but I can see the appeal of upgrading to the premium one. Either way, it helps you track ALL your expenses and guides you to giving EVERY DOLLAR (get it?!) a home. I researched our expenses from previous 3 months to get an idea of how much to give each category. Because of this, our eating out expenses, and random Walmart trips have decreased by $200 a month!

After you put in all your expenses, make a category for Christmas and put a number there that you will stick to! How do you get that number? Here is my next tip:

Write down everyone you need to buy for and assign a price point for each person.

I also write down 'co-worker gifts', 'Christmas parties' and then add maybe $50 just to cover any last minute people I have forgotten about or that come up. For my husband's extended family, they put a cap at $25 per person when they draw names for Christmas. This is so helpful in putting an average of how much we will spend! I try to find sales and deals that allow a gift to be worth $25, while paying a little less. I also apply this $25 limit to the rest of the extended family members, to make things easier to budget (And so I don't get carried away!).

When it comes to your children:

Kids don't need $1000 worth of toys and the latest trendy items!

Look around your house (or yard). Where are the gifts you got them last year? Stinging I know! Half of what my son got has either been trashed, or not played with. While this may seem depressing, this encourages me to make sure what I get him will be useful (or well played with) and not cost me an arm and a leg (no guilt then, if we have to give it away). We put a cap of $100 per child in our house, but before the age of 3-4 it was $50. This includes stocking gifts and wrapped ones from us. If you are needing ideas, I will be compiling a few gift guides this month, so stay tuned for that!

The number you put as a budget for your kids is up to you. Know that your kids crave your presence over presents. It may not seem like they do, but when they look back after they've grown, will they remember that you gave them the high dollar gadget they requested, or that you always made homemade pancakes Christmas morning and watched a new movie that you got for Christmas?

Were you looking for handmade items to be the next tip? Well, I'm not much help there!

I absolutely love my husband's aunt's homemade sourdough bread she makes every Christmas, or the handmade apron I received one year. I am sort of, kind of, crafty, but I haven't gotten the hang of DIYs for Christmas gifts. If you make the world's best cinnamon rolls, or love to crochet, by all means make that scarf! Don't think you actually HAVE to spend a lot money on people at Christmas.

What tips do you have for paying cash for Christmas? I would love to hear them!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Explode the Code Review

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This is another subject that I saw my siblings go through before I chose it for my own homeschooling year. While initially an easy choice, these have been workbooks that I've had a hard time getting used to. I've even considered changing to something else after the first few weeks, but I told myself to just get through the first book, and I'm so glad I did! If you've been considering using Explode the Code for your own little one, you can check out my pros and cons list of this phonics program.

First off, the Primer Books (Get Ready for the Code) were amazing! Because my son was already quite familiar with the alphabet, he sped through the primer book I found for him, and really enjoyed the simple graphics, and fun pre-reading activities.

For the other books, I like how there are very frequently reviewing lessons to go over everything that has been taught.

I love all the silly sentences that get to be read at the end of each lesson (this is Book 1). My son is really bad at trying to guess what the sentence will be based on the illustration, so the crazy sentences help me know that he is actually sounding them out.

The books seem to go at a really good pace. This is good since my son struggled in the beginning. He is going over all the concepts he had a hard time picking up, and each book is thorough with the concepts they teach.

While the illustrations are cute and simple, after seeing the beautiful colored illustrations of A Reason for Handwriting it's hard not to compare the two. The black and white drawings are fun, but sometimes they can be a little hard to guess what they are. (which is actually good for sounding out the sentences and not guessing what comes next)

My personal opinion is that there is a lot of writing back to back. We do three pages per day, and it seems they put a lot of handwriting together. For a beginner writer, this can be a struggle. For a little boy who wants to get everything right, or takes a long time writing certain letters, this can make the lesson drag on. As he learns handwriting, and understands the concepts, this is getting easier and easier.

My son would get frustrated when he couldn't understand the concept or sound out the words. He had such a hard time in the beginning, and while they DO repeat concepts over and over again, this didn't make the first few lessons any easier.

Closing remarks and tips:
Overall, I would say I have enjoyed these books, and as my son grasps the concepts I enjoy it more (and so does he)! This past week he asked to keep going past the amount of pages I assigned to him!
Something I would recommend doing is set a limit for each day, so your child doesn't get too frustrated or over tired. My mom would set a timer, for us we do 3 pages a day. Do whatever works for you and your child!

Have you used Explode the Code? What do you think?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Day in the Life of a Homeschool Mom

Trying to write a 'typical' day in my life, is like trying to ride a unicorn on a's impossible! I decided to try my best to be realistic. Just know that there are days when I accomplish more, and days when I accomplish absolutely nothing but keeping my children fed and somewhat happy (points for that, right?!). If you are finding such days in your own life, grab a coffee, read a good book, and remember that tomorrow is another day!

6:15am I wake up to the sound of my husband getting ready for work. I put Baby Girl in her crib (because no matter how good of intentions I have, she always is there by morning), and head like a zombie towards my coffee pot. While the haze starts to lift, I read my Bible, post a picture to Instagram, and do any blogging I need to do. 

7am By this time Little Man is awake and has asked at least 5 times if it's time for breakfast yet. I sigh at the empty coffee mug and slave in the kitchen to assemble his favorite breakfast: yogurt with a granola bar (okay, so maybe I'm joking over the slaving part-but not his favorite breakfast part! He literally just wants to eat this everyday!). I have started eating oatmeal in the morning, as a quick but warm fall breakfast!

8 am At this time, Little Man has eaten and gotten ready for the day, I've gotten ready for the day, and Baby Girl might be awake and wants to be fed. Even the dog has been taken care of for the morning. This means it's time for school!

9am We've covered Music, Bible, Read Aloud, Science/History, and sometimes Art. I used to include Phonics (you can look at this post for what my son's schedule looks like), but we've figured out that Phonics and Math are best done during Baby Girl's nap. 

10am Recess! We head outside where I make sure Baby Girl doesn't consume grass or leaves, and we watch Bubba play. We will sometimes go on nature walks, or just simply watch Little Man do tricks on his balance bike. 

11am Lunch This includes me making what I make Peanut Butter and Jelly, fruit, cheese stick and whole wheat goldfish crackers. This is where Little Man gets to watch a small cartoon while I eat leftovers from the night before (or something else). I normally put Baby Girl to bed and let Little Man lay down for about 20 minutes. 

12:30pm By this time Little Man is laying down for half an hour, Baby girl is napping, and I'm sipping my afternoon cup of Joe. This is where I get 20 minutes of 'me time'. This can be Youtube videos, a good book, or art. Right this second I'm in this time slot, and typing an extra blog post!

1pm Little Man is normally up and around, and this is where we will complete any school that didn't get done in the morning time. I also do housework during this hour. I do some in the morning, but it's more like 'what can I squeeze in here' than actual checking boxes off a list. (you can find a wonderful checklist here by Clutter Bug!)

2pm On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays It's time for me to teach piano. Most days I will only have a small break between each lesson before doing another one. On Thursdays it's homeschool group activities day. Wednesday is my 'off' day where I only have one piano lesson in the evening before church. 

4pm Piano is normally over, and my husband is headed home from work. It's time for me to make supper! We eat supper early, because of my husband coming early, and I feel like it's better for us to do so. 

5pm Ideally supper is being cleaned up (I am working on being more consistent in making sure I clean up things right after supper) and Little Man has asked my husband for the 20th time if he can play/build/play video games. At least my husband is now getting all the questions and not me! ha!
6pm This is the time we are visiting as a family. In a perfect evening this would be discussions about our day, maybe a board game, or a delicious dessert. What it normally ends up being is a chaotic tornado of toys swirling around the living room, and at its chaotic center, my two children-and also my husband. 

7pm A nightly, week day tradition is  watching Andy Griffith. Since we've watched most of these by now, I am also getting things prepared for the next day, maybe folding clothes, or playing with the kids. 

8pm Bedtime for the kids! That beautiful time of the day when the house is quiet. My husband and I go to sleep around 9:30, so we get a little time to catch up on a tv show, or sometimes I'll read. 

2am Baby girl cries
4am Baby girl decides sleeping through the night is a thing of the past, and this is probably the point she ends up in my bed. You wanted this to be realistic, right?!

As I said before, no day is typical, but this is as close as I can get! What kind of day are you having? Productive, or 'At least the kids are alive' kind of a day?

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Friday, October 18, 2019

A Reason For Handwriting Review

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When it came time to pick my son's handwriting curriculum (which you can see the full list of here), there was no hesitation before choosing A Reason for Handwriting. I had two of my siblings go through the handwriting course when they were young. Not only did it help them obtain great handwriting, but they were copying Bible Verses. I remember my sister carefully coloring the illustrations and copying the verses, and when she was finished, she would gift these to family members. I was in Thailand at the time, and I think I still have a few of these keepsakes.

The Kindergarten version is a little different, in that there are no Bible Verses yet. Kindergartners learn how to form shapes, then letters based on these shapes. I really like how they do the letters in order of how they are made, not in order of the Alphabet. This makes it much easier for my little 5 year old to grasp, and his handwriting has flourished. Like the other books, there are still adorable illustrations, that my child can color and gift. There are already colorful animals gracing refrigerators in our family!

I am not sponsored by this company, and I paid full price for the book, but I just can't say enough good things about this course! When we received the book, my son ooo-ed and aaahh-ed over the colorful pictures inside, and Wednesdays (the day we focus on handwriting) is his favorite day of the week for school.

What do you use for handwriting? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Whirly Squigz: A Timberdoodle Review

Back in July I talked about how I was including my Baby Girl in our homeschool year. She is 10  months old, crawling everywhere, but not quite walking yet. While she may not be walking yet, she is into everything! My hope was that adding these Whirly Squigz to her basket would help in keeping her occupied while Little Man and I worked on his Kindergarten studies.

The first thing I noticed about Whirly Squigz is how durable they were! Made out of silicone, they are very durable and perfect for little fingers to grab. Baby girl puts everything in her mouth, and these toys were no exception! She's been teething a lot here lately, and these made the perfect teething toys.

Another thing I liked about these toys, is that they could be separated and put in three different areas, and really function as three different toys. The suction cup on the bottom suctions really well (but not so much a baby can't pick the toy back up).I have tried several different surfaces, and unless the surface is uneven or bumpy, it will pretty much suction to anything.

The one 'con' I can give this toy is that Baby Girl was still too young for this toy when we got it. It is made for 10 months-3 years, and she just turned 10 months a week ago. Since she didn't quite 'get' the spinning aspect of the toy it didn't keep her attention as long, and I was unable to get a picture of her spinning it. However, big brother has really enjoyed these over sized 'figit spinners' -what he calls them-and showed Baby Girl enough times, that she has attempted to spin them a few times.

I also want to add the 'flower' with only 2 'petals' doesn't spin as well as the others. However, this is the one Baby Girl really enjoys as a teether.

Overall I would say that these would make great birthday or Christmas gifts for babies 10 months or older. They can be separated and make great toys to occupy little ones when you are out and about, or at home. They suction on tables, high chairs, windows, and refrigerators. You can click this link to buy it separately, or it also comes with the tot school curriculum from Timberdoodle. This would be great for introducing your little one to school (especially if they have older siblings they want to be like!), and helping with motor skills. Later I'll be writing Christmas gift suggestions for little ones, and I see this making the list!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Smart Farmer: A Timberdoodle Review

If you've followed me very long on this blog, you know we are using The Playful Pioneers Curriculum from The Peaceful Press. Right now we are in the middle of Farmer Boy and learning all about farm animals, planting, school in the 1800s, and all the wonderful life lessons you can find in all of Laura Ingalls' books. When getting our curriculum ready for the new school year, I knew I wanted this game from Timberdoodle, to help with critical thinking.

My son received this on his birthday, and couldn't wait to open it! He loves other thinking skills games from Timberdoodle, like Rush Hour Jr. (he plays this all the time at my moms) so he was excited for a game all his own that was similar. 

Smart Farmer is a game perfect for his age, and I don't think I would go any younger. He had no problem setting up the pieces in the correct places, but struggled to figure out how the game worked at first. Once I explained how it worked, he managed to figure out the first puzzle. He worked many levels on his own, but didn't quite understand that you needed to group the like animals together. I believe he will figure this out soon. 

Smart Farmers comes with a game board, fence pieces, itty bitty farm animals, and a puzzle manual. Each puzzle in the instruction manual increases in difficulty, to help keep the game challenging. The pieces are a little too small for baby sister to get a hold of, so we have to be sure and play it on the table or higher surface. Each piece is made very well, and I can see it lasting a long time! 

If you are thinking about a curriculum for building thinking skills, this game might be perfect for your 5-10 year old! It's cute, fun, and very educational. It even caused this momma's brain to stop and think a minute! My son loves puzzles, and I feel like this one is  a 'next level' puzzle. I am now also considering getting other puzzles like this from Timberdoodle. This game is also a part of the complete Kindergarten Curriculum from Timberdoodle, so you could have this as part of your main curriculum. I highly recommend this game for little ones who love puzzles, farm animals, challenges, or all of the above!

Christ-Centered Christmas Countdown Ideas

note: Amazon links are affiliated. If you make a qualifying purchase, I make a small commission. Not only does the Christmas season se...