Saturday, November 19, 2016

How I Homeschool - Kindergarten Edition

Today, we will be talking Kindergarten and homeschool.  I am a firm believer in keeping Kindergarten short.  After teaching that grade for a few years in a Christian school setting, I realized that the real learning of a kindergartner happens in a very short period of time.  So, when I had my first at that age, I decided for formal learning, we would stick with the 3 R's, Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmatic.  :)  And, that is what I have done.  Yes, other subjects were touched on, but at a very informal level.  As you keep reading, you will see what I mean.

The first R - Reading:

Reading for our homeschool has happened very differently than I ever dreamed.  I was taught how to teach phonetically in college, and I was a firm believer that this was the right way to do things.  And, for my oldest 2, it worked out this way just fine.  But, as I have mentioned in a previous post, my oldest 2 boys do not learn the same way.  Both are auditory learners.  When I sat down to teach them phonetically, it didn't click at all.  So, I had to find a whole new way to teach them.  My youngest boy, I have seen, can learn phonetically as well.  However, my littlest lady, has been my challenge.  It was until recently, we found out why she didn't learn to read well and is still reading at a lower level than her age, dyslexia.  Dyslexia is a challenge in and of itself and one day I will address that, but for today, we will stick to kindergarten.

I ended up, with all my kids learning differently, testing many different reading curriculum to find out which works best for my kids.  And, I have come to the conclusion, you need to find the best curriculum that works for your child's way of learning.  I am still devoted to phonetically teaching as much as I can.  I find that they can decode better if they have these skills.  But, I also see that whole language and auditory learning have their place as well.  Here is what we tested out and what seemed to work best for our children and their learning styles.

Phonetically - 

Reading Made Easy by Valerie Bendt - totally phonetic - both my big girls learned with this and it is well done.  
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons - another great phonetic one we tried but I found I like Reading Made Easy better.
ABeka has great flashcards and other things for reviewing the phonics skills you need.  You can also find these things online for printing yourself at home by other mamas.  List will be provided at the end of the post.  

For my auditory learners-

Hooked on Phonics - my oldest boy, this was the only way it finally clicked.  I love this program. 
Starfall - a tremendous learning website that you can introduce reading skills in a fun online setting.  The reading part of the website it totally free.  They also have a yearly membership fee you can pay for access to other stuff.  It is one of the least expensive ones around for homeschooling families. We use it, pay the fees, and love it.  It also has an apps which are very helpful for on the go learning.  Highly recommended.
ABCya is another great website for skills of all levels and the games are totally free (you can pay for an adfree version)
Teach your Monster to Read - a relatively new one that I have discovered with my last 2.  Developed by Usborne books.  I use it from time to time for fun review.  However, the downfall to it, it is voiced by a British person so sometimes it is hard to make out the sounds.  That being said, my youngest 2 still enjoy it tremendously!

For my dyslexic child

All about Reading - Hands down, this program is worth every penny.  She has soared with this program.  I really wish I have known sooner of her learning disability and started this.  Giving myself grace in this area and pushing forward. She will catch up.

I also found that a bit of Dolch learning for her boosted her spirits as far as reading was concerned.  We did that with her before she got the diagnosis and what we learned in those first couple of years, she still remembers and uses today.   Good website for learning more is They also address the dyselxia issue there as well.  I will also provide links for great places to find free emergent readers and other reading help that she adored.  To be exact, both of my youngest 2 read through them and loved them.  

The second R - Writing:

We kept writing very simple.  Sometimes we were given books and I would use them.  Other times, I picked up little ones at the Dollar Tree or Sams Club.  And, yet, other times, I would use freebies off the internet.  We basically started with learning to write our ABC's usually tied in with what they were learning phonetically in reading.  Then I would add simple words that we would read and write.  After that, I would tie in their reading lesson with their writing lesson having them write sentences from what they were reading that day.  This has worked quite well for all but my youngest daughter due to her dyselxia.   So, when she was in kindergarten, we just used simple copywork of simple sentences that I read to her first.  She loves to write no matter what.  :)

The internet is full of free writing places, copywork pages, etc.  I could write a huge post of all the freebies and probably never get them all in.  So, I will list a couple of my favorite sources at the bottom.  Starfall, again, also provides writing pages that tie in with their website which you can print for free.  I liked to use them with my boys since they used that website all the time.  Great way to tie it all together.

The third R - 'Rithmatic (or Math)

This is another area where you need to choose what works best for you and your child.  Math is my weakness.  I never did well in school with it, so I look for materials that are easy for me to teach and them to learn.  Thankfully, math is not a hard subject to teach in kindergarten.  I started off using ABeka and found it too cumbersome.  Then, I switched to Spectrum.  And, I provided loads of hands on.  Hands on, for us, is a great thing in kindergarten and provides a visual to see the concepts better.  Spectrum in not a difficult math and I found it just enough, in addition with the hands on, to prepare them for the first grade learning. 

For hands on, here are a few resources that I have found handy to have around in the house:

Dry pasta
Bingo chips
Flannel graph shapes (I had the Abeka ones from my teaching days, but you can easily cut shapes out of flannel, make more than one for patterning practice)
Kinetic Sand
An Abacus
Wooden blocks, specifically different shape ones
A clock with moving hands (I recently saw the Dollar Tree had one or you can make your own)
Play money that looks like ours, not pretend monopoly money
Hands on fraction game, like this
Make your own thermometer - I made one out of  felt and card stock that we used
If your kid loves flashcards, then flashcards of addition and subtraction (easily obtained at a dollar tree)
Lego, these can be used for so much stuff
Plastic bears (not needed but definitely a fun addition)
For your auditory learner, math facts on CD put to music

And, that's about all we did for formal learning in kindergarten.  But, what about history, science, and all that other stuff?  Well, I never did buy one piece of formal curriculum for kindergarten for those subjects.  I usually did interest led learning or nature for science.  If they were interested in butterflies, we would read all we could on them, raise them, find and study the different types around our yard.  We've done similar with other interests like cars, fire trucks, dinosaurs, ladybugs, the planets, the body, all based on what and when they were interested.  History usually revolved around the calendar holidays and what each one meant and stood for.  There are all sorts of books that tie in with those.  I, also, adore the Five in a Row books.  They are great guide books for reading some of the most beloved classics ever written.  We would "row" books and learn so much through those studies.  I never felt the need for anything more.  Music was played constantly and I was always talking to the kids about genre (we listen to a lot of different genres) and what instruments were being played.  And, as far as Bible, reading Bible stories, memorizing verses, and playing with flannel graph was enough.  We did some fun projects from time to time with all of the above, but for the most part it was just plain fun.  Kindergarten should be informal for the most part with lots of time for them to still be kids.  And, don't forget field trips!  Wow, those can be loads of fun.

I hope this helps you see what we did in our kindergarten year.  And, gives you a springboard for ideas to use with your children.

Goodness from around the 'net:

Other reading curriculum out there:

Reading the Easy Way - she uses the Dolch method in her reading program
R.E.A.D - this is brand new this year but it looks wonderful, phonetic based

For good resources for reading games and Dolch emergent readers, these ladies have tons of stuff:

Other good resources for reading, writing, or hands on learning:

Homeschool Creations (she also has fun pages that tie in with the Five in a Row books)

Other good reading/learning websites (does have fees)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Crockpot Beef Broth

I have been making chicken broth in the crockpot for a few years now.  It is so easy to do this way!  I wrote about how I do that here.   This year we slaughtered our meat cow, and I asked the butcher to save some of the bones for me.  I was planning to give my recipe for making broth in the crockpot but this time for my beef.  Again, it was a total breeze!  I have made it three times so far and it has come out just lovely.

The steps to making it are similar to making chicken broth with one exception.  You will see that in a moment.


1 beef bone uncooked (I had my own, but I know you can ask butchers at grocery stores for them as well)
2 stalks celery, leaves and all
2 whole carrotts, do not peel
 6 cloves garlic
1 whole shallot
herbs of choice - I use rosemary, thyme, and basil
 3 tbsp.salt
12 peppercorns
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar, I prefer the raw kind with the mother still in it (like Braggs)

First step is to brown the bones.  This is what makes the biggest difference between the chicken broth recipe and the beef one.  You can do this one of two ways.  I have done it both ways and find the oven easier to do this with.  But, you can use the stove top as well.

You could either cook them in a bit of olive oil in a skillet on the stove top.

Or, you can brown them at 350 in the oven in a roaster with olive oil.

I like browning them in the oven.  Less splattering and smoke all over the kitchen.  And, I didn't have to constantly turn them.  It came out nice and evenly browned.  I let mine brown for about 15 minutes.  

(this pic is not the greatest.  for some reason, I had a hard time capturing the brownness in a photo)

After that, dump your bones into the crockpot (I did one in each) and cover with water.  Add all veggies, salt, peppercorns, herbs, apple cider vinegar, 

(there are carrotts there, just buried)

Turn on low and leave cooking for 24 hours.  Your house will smell divine after a while.  I usually get it going one morning and tend to the rest the next day.  Once cooked, turn off, take off the lid, and allow to cool enough to handle for the next steps.

I, then, set up my "strainer" area.  It is basically my colander inside a large bowl, nothing fancy.  I dump all the contents of my crockpot inside and strain all the lovely broth through.  Unlike with a leftover chicken, there is no meat to pick.  At this point, you can just toss all the stuff in the trash.   Now you have a lovely bowl of broth.

Take the broth and divide into containers in 2 cup portions.  I like to recycle the lunch meat tubs for this purpose.  You will see I marked them with a "B".  Since I have chicken broth in the freezer, I marked them so I can tell the types apart.  And, that it.  These can be frozen from here ready to go whenever you need broth for your cooking.

It really is easy and makes such great broth!  I love making my broth this way.  And, as a bonus, you get good smells throughout your house.  But, most importantly, you know what all you have put into your broth.  You know the salt content, you can name the ingredients, and there is no MSG.  Now, that is something to smile about.

Happy cooking!!!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Me and my crazy two month menu plan

We've all been there!  Its been a rough day.  Laundry and housework needing attention, toys all over, kids screaming, bosses calling, husbands needing something.  Oh my word!  After a quick glance at the clock, you realize it is time to be cooking dinner.  You race to the kitchen and see that you, again, do not have anything out for dinner.  "What's for dinner?"  someone asks.  You feel like snapping.  You run to the pantry in hopes that when you open that door, some magical meal will just pop out and have itself ready for you.  But, alas, that does not happen.  WHAT IS FOR DINNER!?!

I have been there (and truth be told, still do get there from time to time).  But, a few years ago, I decided I needed to get a grip on my menu planning.  My mom was a menu planner.  I learned to appreciate the skill from her.  But, I wanted to take this to a whole new level of insanity.  :)  I decided I wanted to plan out 7 days a week, 3 meals a day, for 2 whole months.  Then, I would plan to use that menu as my base for the next year.  It took me a few days, lots of planning, but the rewards have been rich!  I have my menus planned out for the year, and I have found it saves on our grocery bill as well to have it planned out.

How in the world do I pull off such a feat?  Well, I am here to let you have a peek at how I formulate a two month fully functional menu.  

Step 1 - I made a list of the meals we enjoy broken down by breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, breads, salads, soups, casseroles, etc.  (top pic)  Every single one.  I keep it as a working word document so I can add a winner at any moment.  This has also been tweaked as taste or dietary needs have changed over the years.   (After I took this pic, I realized it could use some updating again.  We have changed some things dietary wise recently.)   I pull this working meal list out and then I am ready for step 2.

Step 2 - When I am ready to sit down and plan for the year, I like to keep things simple.  I have made a planning template (bottom pic) for a layout of how I want to plan out the 2 months worth of foods.  I print this up making any notes on how many times I want that type of meal, who will cook when, when I want to try new recipes, etc.  If I want themed dinners, I jot that down, too.  This year I decided we would have a theme each night.  This is my favorite method to plan by.  Here is how we are doing our meals this year:

Sunday - kids and papa cook, mama's day off
Monday - Mexican Monday
Tuesday - Italian
Wednesday - Chicken or Fish
Thursday - Beef or Pork
Friday - Pizza and movie
Saturday - Soup Saturday
5th Sunday - Kids pick day

You can tweak the themes anyway you like.  We are tossing in a French meal once a month as well.  If you like Chinese or something else, add that in.  Make it work for your family.  

My breakfasts and lunches are fairly easy.  I have about 2 weeks of rotating meals that we go through.  We usually have eggs, granola and yogurt, toast, pancakes (once per week), and biscuits or muffins.  I have a couple special breakfasts that we make but they are for special times only.  Lunches are fairly simple, too.  Soups, sandwiches, baked potatoes and broccoli, quesadillas, tacos or taco salad, coconut chicken and fries, macs and cheese, hot dogs usually make up our lunches.  After teaching all morning, I need to get meals on quick (this year my sweet oldest is doing lunch Monday through Thursday).  Once I have all notes written down and my master meal list together, I am on to step 3.

Step 3 - With all the prep work done, its just a matter of filling in the blanks.  I print out Money Saving Moms one month menu planner which you can find here.  I fill it in completely.  I don't add snack choices down but there is an option there if you want to.  Most of our snacks are grab and go so I don't need to.  I label at the top Month 1 and Month 2.   And, you're done!  It takes about a week of work (which for me happens during our TV time when I can actually think), but I have a working 2 month menu that has been a huge blessing to me!

When I am ready to plan and shop for the week, I have a different planner. I like this one from Encouraging Homeschool Mom.  It will do two weeks at a time.  I prefer to consult my menu each week though that way I can work the menu and our schedule together.  I may need to be somewhere and need to be sure that a crockpot meal is in place, or we may need a bag lunch because we are heading to DC for a field trip.  I also have a printable shopping list that I made years ago (the same time I made the working meals list), again all broken down by department.  I sit down with both of these and begin my weekly plans.  

First, I mark down all dates of importance.   Birthdays get super special treatment here and favorites are always fixed so that day is usually totally changed around from what I have written down.  After the special scheduling notes are down, I just consult my main menu pages with the corresponding week and write them down.  If I have found a new recipe I want to try, I toss that in instead of something already written down.  I enjoy trying new things so allowances are made for them.  Sometimes special requests are made, and I try to see if that works as well.

Once it is all written down, I mark up my grocery list with what we need for those meals down to the last veggie or fruit.  And, I add whatever other things we might need.   I am not a huge couponer since I do most of my shopping at Aldi, but if I need to do those things, I do that then as well.  Saves time in the grocery store later.

And, folks, that it!  Yes, it is alot of work at first, but the weekly planning may take me a half hour each week.  It has saved me tons of time and money to work out a menu this way and given me much peace.  And, mostly, I can get up each morning, glance at my menu, take out what we need, and answer those "What's for dinner" questions.  

I hope this has helped you and you can see the benefits of such a crazy feat!  If you have any questions, please leave a comment below!  Happy planning and Bon Apetit!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Dolls and homeschooling


This is the last of a four part series I have been doing on using toys in education, specifically Lego and dolls.  Today, we will cover how we use dolls to add a fun element to our schooling at home.

As I mentioned in the last post with dolls, we are from a family who loves dolls.  We collect many different ones.  However, we have found the world of 18" dolls (and sometimes 14") are the best to add homeschool fun.  I also mentioned in that post that you can do this rather inexpensively, if you have a good or even creative eye.  

If you have any sewing skills, there are literally hundreds of sewing patterns out there for dolls!  I have a large collection  (large is an understatement, ahem) of doll patterns.  But, as a seamstress, I have been able to mix and match patterns and come up with some fun costuming for my girls' dolls based on a period of history we were currently studying.  You don't have to go as complicated as I have and some patterns are definitely easier than others.  If you don't have an ounce of sewing skills, but still want to add this fun flair to your education, Etsy is an awesome place to find dolls clothes of many eras already made for you.  A bit more costly, but it will definitely get you what you are looking for.

(Medieval doll outfit and Tudor era doll outfit)

You can also literature in with your girls' dolls.  When the Wizard of Oz was celebrating their 75th anniversary a few years back, we did a study on history behind the movies, Kansas, how the movie compares to the book, etc.  When it was over, I decided it would be fun to make a couple of doll outfits for the girls.

(Glinda and Dorothy, including ruby red slippers)

You can even tie in movies with your dolls.  I have a housefull of Disney princess lovers, myself included.  When Frozen came out, as you know, it went gangbusters, even here.  My littlest girl was totally enthralled.  I ended going Frozen crazy with her.  :)  She got Elsa and Anna outfits.  The bigger girls got them for their 18" dolls.  And, then I ended up making these cute little rag dolls for my littlest girl, especially after Frozen Fever came out.  

(Anna, Elsa, and their mermaid friend)

Again with any of these, if you have no sewing skills whatsoever, a brief browse around Etsy will give you lots to feast your eyes upon.  More than you can afford I am sure.  You can also find lots of homemade accessories to fit your needs as well.  

One fun thing that I did with my girls, was incorporate the American girl history dolls with our American history studies.  The history dolls fit so nicely into various events of history.   We learned about clothing and food from the different eras, different customs, major events that happened during that dolls period of history, etc.  It was a fun way to make history become relative to them.  You can even make clothes from the different eras.  The 3 big ones, Simplicity, McCalls, and Butterick, all have patterns.  But, if you want authentic ones, look no further than here.  American girl a while back published patterns for their doll clothes.  That has ceased.  But you can find them all here for FREE!! 

I hope this got some creative juices flowing for you.  I have enjoyed doing this series.  It is fun to integrate beloved toys into your child's education.

Goodness from around the 'net:

Here are a few freebies to help you with an American girl historical doll study:

Lapbook templates from Homeschool Share, these only cover some of them specifically.  I used the basic templates for any that weren't covered.    They also have a free set of diy templates that you can use for any lapbook.  Link is found here.

Free unit study help can be found at Thrifty HomeschoolingField of Daisies, The Unlikely Homeschool (this link shows just Julie but you can find the rest at the bottom of the post), and Catholic Missionary Family (again this is just Caroline; links for more included).  These all have tons of great ideas but if you need more I am sure you can find them.

American girl itself has some free guides that I found useful.  You can locate them here.  

This website is full of great craft ideas based on the eras of each doll.  I loved and did lots of these with the girls.

This is not free but if you want to do American girl studies but not all the work, this is for you!  And they look great!

One of my daughter's has taken her love for dolls and crafting for them to youtube.  You can see her creative genius here

Pinterest and etsy can glean you a ton of diy or ready made for your dolls.

Some of my favorite internet doll pattern companies are found at: - she gives away a pattern free every Friday and you can get freebies if you sign up for their email  (she even has patterns for the mini dolls)

Last but not least, if you want to browse the Big 3 for patterns, here are their websites.  And, if you catch Joann Fabrics for their 99 cent or even 1.99 pattern sale, you can get a good deal on them.

This is not all that is out there.  I am sharing my personal favorites.  But look around and you will find more!  Lots more.  

Do you have any other homeschooling with toys ideas to share?  Please leave a comment!