Giraffes, giraffes, and more… giraffes!

You know that moment?  The one when your child blows your mind, again… and you think, “Really, God?  Am I REALLY the right one for this job?”

This weekend Cody took me on a fabulous two-night stay to Las Vegas.  It was our first getaway together since before we had kids.  (No, a “babymoon” when super pregnant with each child does NOT count as a true vacation with my sweetheart!)  And we had a wonderful time.  We did Vegas right.  We went to our favorite History Channel reality show stops (Gold & Silver Pawn and Count’s Kustoms), we spent time at various resorts along the Strip, went to do the Freemont Street Experience, spent a about $20 in some slot machines, and yes, we even renewed our vows in a service performed by none other than Elvis himself.  It was a wonderful weekend.  And then we came home.  Which was wonderful, too.  The kids were happy to see us, and it was great to sleep in our own bed again (although that bed at the MGM Grand was as close to perfect as I have slept in at a hotel in a very long time).

But then this morning came.  And reality dawned.  The two hour time difference smacked me in the face and coffee just wasn’t enough.  After dragging the kids through a grocery shopping trip that was simply exhausting for all three of us (each in different ways and for different reasons), we finally checked out and got into the car.  And that’s when it happened.  That moment came.

Becca opened her mouth.

And out flowed the most amazingly long run-on sentence with no breath taken in between that I had ever heard.  Basically, she wanted to learn EVERYTHING there is to know about giraffes IMMEDIATELY upon arrival to the house.  I convinced her that we could wait until after nap time, and Mommy would be more prepared.  (Aka – Mommy could be prepared at all because I have ZERO clue where this sudden interest in knowing EVERYTHING about giraffes came from, and of course had nothing printed about giraffes.)  So, instead of slamming my head repeatedly on the steering wheel (as I wanted to do), I calmly drove home, wondering, as mentioned above, how I could possibly be the right parent for this amazing child.

So, I somehow got the groceries unloaded, kids into rooms for play time, groceries put away, and then sat down to my computer to do a little work… and to find something, ANYTHING on giraffes.  Because with Becca, there is no hoping that she’ll forget.  Nope, I said I’d have it after nap time, so I’d better have it after nap time or I’ll have a sad scientist on my hands.

This is where Teachers Pay Teachers came in handy once again, for the bazillionth time.  I swear, I can always find just what I need on there – and this time each of the activities I got was free.  So I’m linking to them below for you – the creators have information about his/her products inside the files themselves.  And then I felt like I needed one more activity that would be a little bit more hands-on, so I created a cut and paste alphabetical order worksheet, which I’m also attaching below (for free!).

As soon as she got up, the first question she asked was “when can we start learning about giraffes?”  So I got her some lunch and when she was done, we sat down to begin.  She read the information sheets and answered the questions (I write her answers for her as she dictates them to me), and then she did the alphabetical order sheet, which she loved… and anytime I can get her to practice cutting it’s a good thing!  When we finished (about ten minutes later), I set her up to watch the Wild Kratts episode about giraffes, and she was super content.  When her daddy came home, she showed him her work sheets and told him everything she had learned about giraffes, and was so proud of all she had learned.

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Whew.  Mommy saved the day.  Again.  Barely.  So, if you have a child who is super into giraffes, there are some fun (and FREE) activities here.  Or, if you have a child who spontaneously spouts out things they want to learn about, check out Teachers Pay Teachers and search under the free stuff – you never know what treasures you’ll find!  🙂

Links to FREE printables about giraffes:
Graphic Organizers – with non-fiction Giraffe text IMG_8426

Giraffe Alphabetical Order cut and paste worksheetIMG_8423

Reading Comprehension Giraffes worksheetIMG_8425

Safari Literacy PacketIMG_8424

Our Penguin Unit

Throughout this post there will be a variety of links.  Some will be to other websites or files for you to download.  All sources are credited where necessary.  There will also be affiliate links which will be denoted with (aff link).  When you choose to click on these links to purchase items, I make a tiny % of the sale profit off of that item.  That goes to helping keep this blog alive.  Thank you for your purchases.

So of course this blog post wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of back story.  I’ve said previously that I’m great about setting goals, but not so great about putting the nose to the grindstone and actually making them happen.  But this year that is going to change!  Because I’ve switched my focus from super long term objectives, so short term monthly objectives.  Especially when it comes to school at home.  Becca’s love for learning is voracious. She keeps me on my toes at all times.  She constantly is begging for more activities, more books, and asking more and more and yes, more! questions.  Since having her own dictionary and LOTS of other non-fiction reference books in her room the questions have backed off a little bit, but not entirely.  She just can’t learn enough, fast enough.

I used to stress out thinking that homeschool needed to look like me sitting down with her all day and actually doing instruction time.  All day.  Boy doesn’t THAT sound like a nightmare with a child who has SPD and has to move ALL. THE. TIME.  Except when she doesn’t because she needs to be wrapped tightly in a blanket and suck on her finger.  But then this fall I read a book that truly changed the way I think about homeschool.  I realized that what it looks like for somebody else isn’t going to be what it looks like for us.  And that is OK!  (Thanks again to Alicia Michelle from Your Vibrant Family for your encouragement and support every step of the way!  I believe I CAN do this homeschooling thing as long as I have to!  Which I not-so-secretly hope is not very long!!)

Anyway, I discovered that I can plan a STACK of activities for Becca and we can sit down and do them in an hour, or an hour and a half.  And then we are done.  I’m now realizing – that’s ok!  We go at her pace, I tell her what activities we’ll be doing, and she selects which order we do them in.  She gets to take breaks between them if she so desires, and play with learning games, engineering materials, etc.  (All of her breaks are STEAM breaks of some sort.)  When she is done, we take a STEAM break (want some STEAM activity ideas?)…  Then we get back at it.  All the while, Brother can play in his room on his own, and is perfectly content since it’s no more than an hour and a half time block.  (Yes, I am blessed!)

So back to those goals – I decided that it was time to do a thematic unit from start to finish.  And actually finish.  So I gave us two weeks.  Which was a perfect time frame.  She goes to Mother’s Day Out a couple days a week, and we often don’t do “school work” on those days, though sometimes we do.  Just depends.  I like having the flexibility to let her be three and a half, while also letting her brain be whatever age it happens to be that day.

learning about penguins

So the past couple of weeks we have been learning about penguins.  I first told her we were going to make a mystery picture to find out what we were learning about.  Granted, this took a little bit longer than her attention span, but I kept it exciting for her by asking her which block to color next, and we traded off who colored and who read the letter/number combos, and who found the right block to color.  We got to a certain point on it, and the light bulb came on!  “We’re gonna learn about penguins!  Like in my Magic Treehouse Book Eve of the Emperor Penguin!” (aff link)  She was so excited she was literally jumping up and down in her chair.

We sat together (she often sits in my lap while we do school) and talked about all she already knew about penguins (which was actually a good deal) and then we both came up with some questions we wanted to answer about them.  I wrote down what she dictated to me on one of the graphic organizers, and then we talked about another way to organize our thoughts – with flaps.

graphic organizers

She really enjoyed the flaps, which I cut from one file and attached onto another.  (Hey, teaching is all about getting creative, right?)  All of the files I used will be linked in a list below.  All were found on teacherspayteachers.com as freebie files.  Later in our study, we talked about how we can also organize our thoughts into a web format.  She decided that for her, she prefers flaps as her method of thought organization.  She especially liked having the definitions of the penguin vocabulary words behind a flap, so that she could easily just flip and see the one she wanted to see.

coming soon

You might have seen this picture if you follow my page on Facebook.  This was one of her favorite parts of the unit of study.  I modified her old Antarctic Habitat Box to be just rock salt and white rice (less messy), and she not only got to have free play time with the penguins and their blue activity tray (aka water), but she also used the penguins (want to get your own set? Click here – aff link) and her penguin word bank sheet to sort and classify them.  We pulled a few prey and predators from our ocean habitat box as well.  She enjoyed acting out the food chain in her habitat, pretending the penguin ate a fish, and then a leopard seal ate the penguin.  Morbid?  No.  Not at all.  She is fully immersed in how the animal kingdom functions.

penguin reference guide

Then, we took all of the worksheets we completed and compiled them into a book.  She drew her version of a penguin on white card stock paper for the cover, and I even stapled onto the back cover her story book that she dictated to me.  Not only does it serve as a mini-portfolio of her work, it’s also a great reference guide for her in the future.  She is so proud to have it on her bookshelf in her room.  (And she took it to Mother’s Day Out to show her teacher and coordinator!)  We also wrote on the back cover the title and author of the two reference books we used (Penguins by Emily Bone, and Nat Geo Kids Reader – Penguins aff link).  We also listed the YouTube video we watched to learn more about a crèche, and the fabulous online resource of the New England Aquarium, where we saw amazing penguin pictures (we found them when searching for “molting”) and learned more about penguins in captivity.  It was important to me that she start learning the importance of sighting her references when she does research.  We didn’t go into formal sighting rules, just listed them so they are credited and we could go back to them in the future.

And now, to give more credit where credit is due, here are the links to the files that I used from TPT.  Again, they were all freebies, so I can share them with you, but please realize that these are NOT my creations – each creator has a page within the file that gives her credit for her work.  And each of these files is WONDERFUL!  I’m so thankful for a resource like TPT to find fabulous content for our projects!

Penguin Mystery Picture Graph

Penguin Word Bank 

All About Penguins

Flip Flap Fun

Penguin Pre-Writing Fun

Did you like this post or find it helpful?  Please comment and feel free to share on social media!  I’d love to see how you’ve used these ideas to help your own students!  Follow my Facebook page here.  Check me out on Pinterest here.  And now also on Instagram!

Create Your Own… Recycled Christmas Tree

steam activities header

Looking for a super fun, EASY, throw-it-together-in-two-minutes project for your kids that involves STEAM?  Check out this fun little engineering activity I did with Becca this morning!  She had to miss “school” (Mother’s Day Out) today because we are all sick, but I promised her something fun.  She agreed that this project delivered on that promise.  And seriously, ya’ll… it was SUPER easy.

recycled christmas tree

All you’ll need are some cups (any kind of cups would work, but we happened to have green and yellow solo cups, so we had a green tree with a yellow star on top!), some straws, some fruit pouch lids (or any sort of recycled lids you can use), and some masking tape!  Our lovely Christmas tree is now in our foyer on our entry table next to our nativity set – she said we should put it there so Baby Jesus could see it.

This project was great for her problem solving skills – we had to use a lot of tape to make sure the cups wouldn’t fall, and she was upset that our first design didn’t look much like a tree, so we re-built it and she was much more satisfied with it’s shape the second time.  We spent about twenty minutes working on this together.  It was the perfect easy time killer, and lots of giggles were included!  She can’t wait for Daddy to get home from work so she can show him our “masterpiece!”

Looking for more Christmas activity ideas?  Check out my post here for little “busy bag” activities you can put together to keep even your toddlers busy!

Looking for more STEAM and Engineering activity ideas?  Check out my STEAM and Engineering pages!

Christmas Activities

I debated about how to do this post – if I should put everything separate so it doesn’t seem overwhelming, or just put it all together.  I decided it’s easier to reference later if it’s all together… and honestly, if I wait on some things until later, you have less time to do them with your kids!  So… get ready.  I’m about to bombard you with a bunch of fun ideas – the first several will be great for even your little toddlers, and the rest will be geared toward your older kiddos.

Many of these activities I have stored in little plastic bags and all inside a storage box (in fact, the same box that once held our Apple Activities).  But a couple of them are ready at the window any time one of the kids wants them.  The great thing about the activities in the box is that while Becca is working on her activities, she can select something from the box for Gray to do, to appease his desire to do what she is doing.  She can also interact with him on his activities, and I love watching the tender moments they share (which usually come right before a snatch-grab-cry-scream fest HA!) together when working on a project.  If you have a toddler and an older child, you know how hard it is to find something they can both do either together, or to keep the little one occupied while the older one does something different.  This box of activities seems to be my best effort yet in this department.. and is about 80% effective!   So, here we go!  Let me know if you try any of these with your kids!  I’d love to see you share pictures on my Facebook page, as well!

sticky window

The Christmas Tree Sticky Window is super simple to make – just draw a Christmas tree onto a piece of clear contact paper, and then attach it to your window with tape – so that the sticky side is out.   Then, cut various shapes out of felt or other fabric (so that they won’t adhere permanently) and let your kids decorate the tree over and over again!  While Becca enjoyed this activity at first, this is definitely a Grayson favorite.  He LOVES standing at the window and moving the shapes around.  Of course, he also loves to carry the shapes all over the house and leave them random places…

shape identification

This felt Christmas tree was a busy bag I made a few years ago at a MOPS meeting – simply by cutting shapes from various colors of felt.  It’s a great activity for the kids to do together – Becca loves to tell Gray the names of the shapes and their colors.  She likes to make patterns of ornaments – he likes to throw them in the air and watch them rain down around him.  Either way, they are happily occupied.

writing coloring

In an effort to provide activity for Gray AND Becca in the same box, I have a couple of Christmas coloring books and some blank paper that either of them can enjoy, but I also have magnetic Christmas words that Becca can spell, and then write in her bare book (I found a bunch of them in the Target dollar section at one point this summer!).  She also has two rhyming word wheels that she can practice with and write the rhyming words in her book.  Gray loves that he’s “writing” with crayons while Sis is writing too.  He feels so big and important, and it shows!  We just have to watch that he doesn’t run around with a crayon sticking out of his mouth… he has that tendency.

geo shapes

We have some really fun building materials – you could use anything you have laying around – Legos, Duplos (for your little hands), building blocks, marble runs, whatever you  have.  Challenge your little ones to build a Christmas tree out of the supplies provided!!  Looking for more STEAM Engineering ideas?  Click Here!

reading retelling

We have a play Peanuts nativity set (affiliate link – thank you!) available on our low window sill for Becca to retell the Christmas story anytime she’d like.  Gray also enjoys playing with the characters, and he loves to sit and listen to her act out the story.  I also provided in her Christmas activity box Jan Brett’s Gingerbread Baby and Gingerbread Friends (affiliate links – thank you!) books – along with a tiny stuffed ginger baby that she can read the books to, and then use to re-inact the stories.

christmas treeNot an activity for Brother, Becca LOVES making Christmas trees of various designs using green popsicle sticks, red buttons, white pom poms, and one gold one for the star on top.  She has come up with some of the coolest, and also weirdest designs.  Some look like trees, and some, well… don’t.  But she is having a blast, it’s a great sensory activity for her that really allows her imagination and creativity to go wild.

fine motor

Becca struggles with some simple things like getting dressed, and in order to strengthen her hands and fingers to work on those little things like putting on socks and shoes, I try to find lots of fine motor skill practice activities for her.  I had some green colored pasta leftover from one of our habitat boxes, and also have some little Christmas jewelry pieces that I put in some little containers and let her string onto pipe cleaners to make bracelets and necklaces.  She LOVES it, and it’s great practice.  I even made an extension to this that stays in her room for holiday play – mini ball ornaments that she can string onto pipe cleaners.  It’s fabulous for her, and I’ve seen just in the past couple of weeks her fine motor skills making some great improvements!

star math

I programmed several index cards with a variety of patterns and addition/subtraction/multiplication story problems, and had her use these little star cards to solve them.  She even said “I wish all math was fun like this!”  So we’ve started using the star cards for other kinds of math too.  You could use anything you have around the house – scraps of paper, fabric, cut pipe cleaners, Legos, Duplos, crayons, etc.  Hands down, using manipulatives makes math more fun!  (And Mr. Gingerbaby even got involved in the math, too!)

more math

Becca has always struggled with seeing the importance behind having any numbers beyond 20.  She can count to 100 now with ease, but just really doesn’t see the point.  But she does love a good challenge, so I cut some 100s grids into lots of funny pieces, and she really enjoys putting them together.  I also took her sensory box from last Christmas and stepped it up a notch.  She loves playing with it with her balance.  She has discovered that the shiny and matte ornaments do not weigh the same as each other.  She has weighed the cookie cutters that are also in the box, and loves to scoop and pour the rice/split peas into and out of the balance.  She gets so excited when she makes them equal, and loves trying new combinations to see how much she needs to equalize if one side has more ornaments, etc.  I love seeing her creativity come out in this simple hands-on sensory activity, and I love to see her enjoying math.  She’s measuring with her measuring cup each time, and getting better at recognizing the values, etc.  Seeing her enjoy math is so good for me – I’m not a fan of math at all… so I try hard to make it really enjoyable for her so that she will love it.

What Christmas activities do you have going on in your house?  We are also doing daily advent activities, reading lots of Christmas books, and watching lots of special Christmas shows.  I’m hoping we can get out to look at Christmas lights sometime soon as well.  It can be such a crazy time of the year, but when we remember to stop and focus on the Reason for the season, it is all worth while.

May God richly bless you and yours this Christmas!  I look forward to hearing from you on Facebook, and I look forward to starting the new year with some new resolutions and some new post ideas!!  Do you have something you’d like to see me post here on my blog?  Send me an email!  I’d love to hear from you!

 

Deep Breaths… of Hope

Hey ya’ll.  So you know those days weeks months when you have great intentions but everything is just so insanely busy that you don’t know which end is your head or your tail?  Yeah.  The old analogy of running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off… Here we are sitting in November, and I’ve been holding out on you.  Because I have a secret… it’s this amazing book that I read that I want you to know about!  But it’s more than that.  It’s a deep breath of hope.  Because if you’re like me, you have so much on your plate, and so many good intentions, but homeschooling gets shoved into a corner… and so do you.  You might feel distraught or like you’ve let down your kids.  If you have a gifted child and you’ve chosen been forced to homeschool because there just isn’t another option right now for your child, I definitely know how daunting it can be to approach every new day with confidence.  Heck, it can be daunting to approach every new day.  PERIOD.  What is confidence???

So I’ve got a book that I want you to sit down and read over the holidays.  It’s going to give you a jump start for a fabulous new 2016 with renewed HOPE for your homeschool experience!!  It’s a book written by my friend, Alicia Michelle, whom I found through a mutual friend.  You might remember me mentioning taking her Bloom class this summer before the school year started.  This book, her “Back to School Survival Manual,” was a PHENOMENAL encouragement to me, and really set us off on the right foot.  It also gave me the HOPE to know that seriously, ya’ll, there are gonna be months like October.  Where no blog posts get written.  Where good intentions fall by the wayside.  Where homeschool becomes unschool becomes no school at all… where mommy’s health and kids’ health becomes an issue that sends everyone to the couch for one more episode of Zaboomafu and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  But by reading this book, I’ve been encouraged… and I have found HOPE!

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Perhaps my favorite line of the whole book is in the last chapter, but seriously, ya’ll, it sums up the last month of my life.  When I got to page 70, I was in the middle of feeling pretty useless as a homeschooler.  I was feeling down.  I was feeling like a failure.  And then I read this.

“Bottom line: We will fail, in some way, shape, or other. We will mess up. Our kids will mess up. And our homeschool year won’t turn out like we expected.”

She goes on to give me hope that I CAN restart.  I CAN apply pillars of time to organize a daily rhythm (like in Part 3).  I CAN go back any time I want to Chapter 1 and revisit why I’m doing this.  Homeschooling is NOT something we plan to do forever.  But in the season we are in, it’s where we are.  So, I need to carefully evaluate how I’m letting others’ opinions of homeschooling affect my own attitude toward what is a necessity at this point.  I love her title on Chapter 1: “Mama This Is Your School (And Noone Else’s)!”  I have to remind myself of that regularly.

I love that she provides printable charts and questions to answer to keep me focused and on the right path.  I can print them out and write on them over and over again, or I can answer them in my head – whatever works better at the time.  I also like that with a digital copy I can pull it up on my phone or my computer – meaning I have it with me anywhere I go to encourage me when I need a little pick me up.  Since she sent me the book back on September 1, I’ve flipped through it various times when I’m feeling like I just can’t do this anymore, and the encouragement and deep breaths of HOPE I get every time I read it are so wonderful.  (Yes, ya’ll, I’ve been keeping this secret HOPE from you since September… I’m so sorry!  But better late than never, right??)

Truly, if you are a homeschooler who is new, or a homeschooler who has been around the blog block a bazillion years, this book it going to give you a deep breath of fresh air and HOPE to start your 2016.  If you buy yourself anything for Christmas this year, make it be this book.

Here’s a quick glance at what she has included:

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And now… wondering where you can get your own copy?  I’d sure appreciate you using my affiliate links here:  Back to School Survival Manual

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Also looking for help with planning and flexibility?  You might be more interested in her Back to School Bundle, where you’ll get the Back to School Survival Manual AND her book, Plan to Be Flexible!

PTBF + BTSSM