Thursday, May 25, 2017

Saving Time with Subscribe and Save, Part 2

I thought I would do another post on Subscribe and Save.  We stopped using it for a while and then started back a few months ago.  The problem with it is that you have to stay on top of your subscriptions, or you can get too much stuff, and things will pile up.  But it is nice to get some staples delivered, and it saves a lot of extra trips to Target.  

Right now, we are getting: 
  • paper towels
  • toilet paper
  • facial tissues
  • baby wipes
  • family wipes
  • boogie wipes
  • Single serve coffee, called OneCup.  We don't use these all the time.  We make a big pot in the morning, but they are very convenient when we only need a single cup. 
  • cardboard litter boxes (I love these--with our one clean, gentlemanly cat, we use for a month or two and then toss.)  
  • toothpaste
  • floss (because we never remember to buy it at the store)
  • female hygiene products
  • disposable cardboard cups without lids (difficult to find at the store, and solves the problem of us leaving yucky mugs in the car and running out of mugs)
  • trash bags

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Best apps for Busy Moms and Dad

So, here is my list of the iPhone apps that we use the most for organizing ourselves and our family life.  (Some of these are paid apps, but I am not receiving any sort of compensation for recommending them.) 

  • Tiny Calendar.  I've been using this to access my Google Calendar (because Google Calendar's old app was no good), but my husband says that he prefers the actual Google Calendar app now.  
  • 7 Minute Workout App.  I used this workout regularly for over a year!  It has been a lifesaver, especially with a young baby in the house, and I have been very happy with the results, visible muscles and good, functional strength, no back pain.  Now I am wanting more variety in my workouts, but I am still using it more sporadically when I know I need to work my muscles but am too tired to do anything that takes more time.  The Smart Workout feature gives you a different full-body workout each time you use it.  You can do just one set (approximately 7 minutes), or two or three.  Lately, I am trying Daily Burn's 365 workout.  
  • AllowanceBot.  We use this to keep up with our kids' allowances.  Otherwise, I don't know how we would keep track of if we have paid them or not.  I also use it for Bee's clothing/shoes budget (he is in charge of picking out his own casual clothes and shoes now).  
  • OrganizEat.  I just started using this to keep up with all of my recipes.  I love it because you can just take pictures of your recipes.  Most of mine are on paper, so this is hugely helpful.  I've been getting all of my favorites in there, as well as ones that I'd like to try.  It's great to have it all in one place.  
  • Google Drive.  I try to keep all of my homeschool records in here for safekeeping and easy access from multiple devices.  I also strongly encourage Bee to keep all of his schoolwork there. 
  • Chatbooks:  I use this app to automatically make small, hardback books of my favorite photos on my phone.  It is such a relief to have printed, organized books of my snapshots!  It takes 60 photos to make a book, which in a hardcover version cost $15.  They are being sent to me once a month, as I get caught up.  Each book encompasses about two months of photos (at the rate I favorite them).  
  • Day One:  I try to make a few entries a month in this journal; hey, at least one a month.  At the end of last year, I made a PDF out of my entries, and I saved it to my Google account.  Eventually, I want to print and bind them, as a little window into our family's life for the kids to have (and maybe their kids will enjoy looking at it one day).  
  • Our Groceries: A nice grocery list app.  I certainly can't keep up with a paper list.  This will sync across devices, so my husband and I can share it. 

Record Keeping for the Relaxed Homeschool

I go off and on about record keeping.  Mostly off.  I am consistent about keeping the children's yearly standardized test scores (required only every 3 years), copy of our yearly declaration of intent to homeschool, and progress reports.  We are required to keep yearly progress reports on file--I find it much easier to keep these by semester.  Semester 1 is Jul 1 - Dec 31 and Semester 2 is Jan 1 - Jun 30. 

But I have found it difficult to consistently keep records on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.  I have also found that many homeschoolers seem to take pride in only keeping the absolute minimum of records required by the state.  This I do not understand.  As I see it, a family tragedy (such as an illness or my death) could send our children back to school.  Records could only be helpful in this transition.  Additionally, colleges and universities vary greatly in their requirements.  Bee has only one more year until he is in high school (!), and I want to make it easy on myself in creating a high school transcript.  And there is always the possibility of being investigated for education neglect.  What incredibly unlikely, I have always felt that decent records (particularly a standardized test) would shut that sort of thing down very quickly.

It's often recommended that homeschoolers keep some kind of attendance record.  It's always hard for me to know--do I count a day as a quarter day, a half day, a full day?  Should I count weekends?  So much of my children's education comes naturally through life that it's really hard to say what is school and what is not.  But I think having some kind of written record of what was done is a great idea. 

At times, I have kept daily records on paper or in an app on my phone.  The app I have used (Lesson Tracker) was the most successful, and the best thing about it was that it showed me how much my children actually do, both as part of their "school" and on their own.  However, it requires you to enter the amount of time your child spends on the subject each day, and sometimes I just felt a little bogged down by it. 

Lately, I've been using a new system (for attendance and daily records).  I made a table on Google docs (not the best application for making a table, but I managed).  It has each of the kids names and a place to check off all the subjects they do each day.  And a small area for notes to me jot down things.  Below, I have included a picture both of the blank table and of a sample for a very laid back few days like we've been having lately. 

I had to use abbreviations for the subjects.  They are pretty obvious, but they stand for Reading, Writing, Math, Science, Social Studies, Spanish, Arts (Music, Art, & Theater), Physical Education, and Home Economics.  I have the Home Economics on there because occasionally, we have to take a day off and do nothing but clean house (like if company is coming), and so checking that box off is a way of reminding myself that those skills are extremely valuable.  I don't use it for the kids' daily/weekly chores though. 

Next year, I will probably need to make a separate table for Bee and Bug, because Bee's subjects will need to be more specific and correspond to what will go on his transcript. 

For now, I am really feeling good about checking off the subjects every day and having a visual reminder that my children are learning and developing in all sorts of ways, often without my promptings. 

What I Love about Homeschool

So, today we set up our old bounce house.  The 9-year-old, Bug, (who is really too big for it) has been bouncing in it for much of the day.  The 2-year-old, Dot, is mortally afraid of it, just like Bug was when he was her age!  I had really wanted Dot to bounce out some of her energy.

We were afraid that Bug had made a hole in the bounce house earlier, and Bee was dispatched to see if there was anything he could do.  He determined that the problem was with the air pump connection, and the bounce house was soon working perfectly again.  Later, Bug wanted to use it again and asked me to help him.  I told him I was busy getting the crockpot ready and he should do it himself.  Lo and behold, he hooked it up himself and proudly told me that it was working better than ever. 

I was just thinking about how homeschooling provides all sorts of little opportunities like that for children to problem solve and feel useful and good about themselves.  This is in the midst of a rainy day with lots of audio book listening for Bug, woodworking for Bee, and way too much Daniel Tiger for Dot. 

We are not as much on summer break as I had originally intended, due to unexpectedly taking off time to move house locally (!) , but are having a pretty laid back couple of months. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

TOPS Science: Radishes: A Review

So, we finished our 3.5 weeks of TOPS Radishes today!  I'm happy we did it and very happy to be done. 

Bee (7th grade) was able to do the activities independently.  Bug (3rd grade) needed a lot of help and sometimes seemed to find the projects stressful, even though I simplified things for him.  The fact that Dot is a busy toddler and constantly needs my attention probably factored into this. 

Overall, I was pleased with my purchase and felt it was a very good value.  We fit a lot of science into 3.5 weeks.  I was especially happy with the data collection and final graph that they made, a very good experience for both of them.  They are both really interested in plants now and are excited about planting a fall garden. 

As far disadvantages, some of the experiments were a little bit dry and boring, particularly for Bug at his age.  Also, our plants didn't have enough light, so I would recommend that anyone follow the instructions carefully make sure to find a very sunny window or use a fluorescent light. 

It was great doing science every day for a few weeks.  We really got a lot done.  With Bee's robotics and environmental science classes this fall, I feel like he probably doesn't need me to do more formal science with him.  For Bug, I'm going to look into some super fun science experiments for his age to do in addition to his robotics.  Maybe we'll continue with plant science since that is most interesting to me. 

Anyway, I do recommend TOPS Radishes! 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Three Weeks of Spanish for You!

After 3 weeks of Spanish for You!, I am still very happy and impressed with the program.  It gives me the structure that I need, and it is easy to adapt and modify to my children's needs. 

Because Bug's age level moves more slowly than Bee's, my original plan was to supplement Bee and keep him at the same pace as Bug.  However, after three weeks, Bee has clearly mastered everything in lesson 1, so we are moving onto lesson 2, giving him more vocabulary and more practice with different verbs.  And we'll just keep moving him on. 

So, what I'm liking about Spanish for You! is the focus on constructing sentences and learning through play.  It is better to practice making sentences out of a few words than to learn a whole lot of words and not to be able to use them.  The latter is what I experienced in my language classes in school. 

What I am not liking is how cumbersome it is to go through the folders and files and print everything. 

Also, we heard the author say "listo" on one of the native speaker audio files, and Bee and I were quite honestly appalled at her pronunciation, which is far worse than mine (or Bee's).  I will not be using any of her non-native speaker audio files.  I'm sure that the author of this excellent series could improve her pronunciation with some lessons online .

Another thing I don't like is that this is Spain Spanish rather than Latin American Spanish. 

But let me qualify my complaints by saying that this is by far the absolute BEST curriculum for I have found so far for teaching my own children at home, and I'm extremely grateful for it, feel that my money was well spent, and I intend to buy more in this series.  It has given me the structure that I need to work with my children on Spanish at home. 

I do NOT think it is better than having them learn from a native speaker, but I just need a break from having so much of our day scheduled. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

First Week of School Done

My first week of school is over, and I am on my 4th blog entry of the day!  I think I'm just trying to organize my mind. 

So, overall, it was a very good week.  I got so bored this summer.  We still haven't made a lot of friends in our area, and I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor being with baby.  And it was wonderful in its way, but it actually got pretty boring by the end.  So, I am thankful to be facilitating some formal work for my children once again. 

So, this week we did Spanish (already blogged it), Science (already blogged it), handwriting, and grammar.  These were all subjects that I felt I wanted to give more attention to this year.  We did a minimum of grammar last year, which showed on their test results, and we did NO handwriting at all.  With a newborn in the house, it definitely wasn't a priority, compared to more core subjects. 

So, Bee dutifully did his cursive practice on his LeapFrog dry erase board each day.  I let him pick what letters/pages to work on.  He is fairly motivated to learn cursive, and certainly wants to be able to write his name well.  I think it's important that he know cursive well enough to read the writing of others, as well as historical documents, and to sign his name.  I guess I am not one who laments the "lost art" of cursive writing or penmanship in general.  Manuscript is easier to read and not any slower to write, or so I have read.  And as adults, my children will do most of their writing digitally, as I do.  They may type, or they may use dictation or touch screen techniques.  I'm not going to cry that they don't spend hours scribbling in cursive. 

Bug was pretty good about doing his handwriting of lower case letters.  He eschewed the dry erase activity, so I printed him worksheets.  He can be very perfectionist, so I tried to find worksheets that were mostly tracing, so it would be less stressful for him.  He has been pretty insistent about writing in all caps, but I told him that this year he needs to become more comfortable with lower case.  As an adult, of course, he'll be able to write in all caps if he wants.  My dad and grandma do.  Bug complained about how hard it was, but once he got started on his page, he was able to complete it quickly. 

Both boys have been told that they will do handwriting each day until they have mastered their objective. 

The grammar workbooks we are using aren't really textbooks, just exercises that cover the sorts of things that kids their age do in schools.  I need to do a little teaching and explaining for each of them, but that's fine.  Languages are my thing. 

So,  a good week, and now I am hanging out at the B&N cafe for a while, drinking a sugar free decaf frappuccino, blogging, doing some lesson plans, and just decompressing for a while without the kids.