9 Tools to Organize Your Life (and Save Your Sanity)

Tools to OrganizeIt used to seem like I was on a never ending quest to “get organized.”  I constantly had piles of paperwork waiting to be filed or sorted, laundry to be folded, and generally a cluttered feeling.  Over the years I’ve reached the place I feel organized –  all while homeschooling, doing volunteer work, shuttling kids to practice and maintaining a blog.  It’s really been a combination of finding the right tools and developing good habits.  Today I’m sharing the real life tools and technologies that help me stay organized.  All links are informational, not for affiliate purposes.  

Eliminating the Paper Piles

Doxie Scanner – We’ve had a multi-function printer with scanner for years now.  I rarely used it because it was so inconvenient.  About a year ago we purchased a little Doxie scanner.  It is really small and easily fits in a drawer.   This is huge for me.  I hate filing and all that paper work takes up a lot of space.  Now I don’t have to think so hard about what to save and what to toss.  If in doubt, scan it and toss it.  If I don’t want to take the time to scan it, it almost certainly isn’t worth saving.

Evernote – After I’ve scanned documents I upload them to Evernote.  I pay the yearly fee to get the scannable pdf feature.  Any time I need to search for a document, I just type in key words and the file appears even if I didn’t use those key words in the title or tag.   I can create different folders for the documents and set reminders for myself.  I have folders for various bills, school work, school records, and even recipes.  All of it is readily available when I need it, no more paperwork piles cluttering the house.

Managing the Daily Household 

iCalendar or Google Calendar – I switched over to the Mac platform last year and I love how seamlessly it is working for our family.  We have a family calendar that everyone can share.  If I add an appointment that other family members need on their calendar, I just give it the right color code. “Viola!” it is on all our calendars across most of our devices.  Google calendars can also be shared in a similar fashion.

Dry Erase Board / Photo App –  When I run out of something I add it to the shopping list on the dry erase board that hangs in the kitchen.  When I leave the house to go shopping, I snap a picture of the list with my phone.  Admittedly it is a pretty low tech solution BUT it really saves time.  I find it easier than using a shopping app and better than rewriting a paper list.  I don’t end up with handwritten lists cluttering my purse and when I arrive home I only remove the items I purchased from the list (sometimes there are items for multiple stores) .

Library Holds / Library Reminders –  I love our library.  I can log into my account and check the entire regional system for any book I want.  If they have it, I can place a hold and pick up when ready.  Not only does this feature save time, but I also save money by purchasing fewer books and avoid having too many books cluttering my house.  Some books are even available electronically.  Our library also sends out e-mail reminders when books are due.  I can simply log in and renew online thereby avoiding late fees.

Online Banking – Online banking is a BIG time saver.  If the amount is the same every month,  just set up a recurring bill payment and you don’t have to think about it until the amount changes.  It is quick to schedule other bills and you don’t have to pay for checks or postage.

Label Maker – Another low tech solution.  A label maker is fabulous for keeping track of all the cords and chargers that come into our house.  I also use the label maker in the pantry.  It really helps me be consistent about where I place things and keeps the shelves looking tidy.

Baskets / Storage Containers – I use baskets and storage containers inside cabinets, drawers, and closets to group collections of similar items.  For example, I use a basket to corral the vitamins – it keeps them all easily accessible and tidy and prevents anything from getting pushed to the back of the cabinet and lost.  Another basket holds reusable water bottles – when it is too full we get rid of some.  Using stackable containers to hold bags of chocolate chips, coconut, powdered sugar, and brown sugar maximizes the available storage space and increases accessibility.

Managing a Team or Group

Shutterfly – I bet when you think shutterfly.com you think photos, but the “Share Sites” you can create FOR FREE are organizational powerhouses.  If you are managing a group or team these private share sites are fantastic.   I’m currently using these for FIRST LEGO League  (FLL) teams.  We need to keep a scrapbook, send emails, communicate the practice schedule, and organize research.    Over the years I’ve used these share sites to share photos with various teams and used the calendar portion to send out reminders about practices and games.  Members can update their availability for events on the site, which really helps the team manager.  Just this week I discovered some truly powerful features I will be utilizing for our FLL teams:

  • Members can subscribe to the group calendar.  Instead of typing everything into your own personal calendar, you can subscribe to the group calendar.  Like magic the practices and events go straight into your calendar.  For a team of 5 kids with an average of 2 people per child following the schedule that saves calendar entry for 9 people.  Yes please!
  • Journal Entries – I had given no thought to using journal entries.  Turns out this can be a powerful tool for organizing team research.  If one kid on the team reads an interesting article, they can create a journal entry with a brief description or question posed to the team and a link to the article.  You can even scan in attachments or link to videos.  You can make a journal entry noting books and videos that aren’t on-line to keep as a history of team reference materials.
  • Group emails – The site allows members to quickly do a group email for up to 100 members.  The list includes all members currently on the site.  No re-working across different systems.

Beyond the way I’ve been using the application, I think these sites could be helpful for organizing a volunteer schedule or even for helping your kids manage an independent research project.

Bonus 

Grocery Service / Curbside Pickup– This is the only suggestion I don’t currently use.  I do however think it could be tremendously helpful – if conditions are right.  Create your list and for $5 – $10 pick up your groceries on the way home.  No impulse purchases, no standing in line, no cruising the store trying to remember what else you might need.  I know some Giant Eagle stores and some HyVee stores are offering the service and I’m sure others are as well.

I was trying to pick a few favorites out of the list as the tools that were the most helpful, but I really feel like each one helps me create a more organized and peaceful house.

What about you?  What are your favorite organizing tools?

Hip Homeschool Moms  Finishing-Strong-Link-Up-Button-250-x-250

New school year resolutions

I love new beginnings and fresh starts.  I need them.  I need the reminder to evaluate what I’m doing and recommit.  As we head into a new school year these are things I want to work on as a mom.

new school year

1. Speak with kindness and encouragement – I sincerely believe the world would be a better place if we were all more intentional with our choice of words.  It grieves me to see parents speaking harshly  and I wonder how often that is me.  I truly think I will spend my entire life learning to watch my words more carefully.

2. Remember my kids – all kids – all adults are a work in progress.   Knowing something and being able to consistently execute on it are two different things.  I know how to do a better job listening to my kids, but I don’t always practice it.  My kids I might know how to defuse an argument, but be too set on winning the argument to care about de-escalating it.    As kids there are lessons they will have to learn over and over and over again.  I must be patient to teach those lessons over and over and over again – looking not for perfection in this moment but improvement.   Sometimes they will have all the knowledge they need but need practice facing the situation.  It’s difficult, but in those time I need to be able to watch them without lecturing.

3. Have a sense of adventure – Somedays instead of asking, “why?” I need to say “why not?”  Honestly I can be a bit of a ‘fraidy cat sometimes.  We go to a particular water park each summer and there was a ride there I had convinced myself I didn’t want to do.  This trip C asked if I would do it with him and I said yes.  It was actually sort of fun and not at all the big deal I had made it in my mind.  So many things I’ve been afraid of have turned out well.

4. Choose a positive attitude – I like to think I have this one under control. Yet when one of my kids struggles with a negative attitude for the 3rd time today, I realize I still have a long way to go.  I say to my child, “You have the power to choose your attitude” yet I also say, “Your behavior makes everyone around you irritable.”  If I can choose my attitude, I shouldn’t be claiming he is making me irritable.

5. Cultivate a thankful attitude –  I truly am grateful for the wonderful blessings I have in my life and I hope it shows in my general attitude and countenance.  This is one of those things I think I feel but I want to exude. It isn’t really enough to be quietly secretly thankful.  Thankfulness isn’t so much about our circumstances, but about our ability to see the goodness around us regardless of our circumstances.  Perhaps the reason I don’t exude thankfulness is because I do have a hard time transcending circumstance.  Sure sometimes I can be thankful in the midst of facing challenges, but make my environment dusty or smelly with some annoying bugs and I have a hard time.

Just this morning I saw this wonderful post called Give me Gratitude or give me Debt and I thought it was really good.  ( Ironically I was on my way to select new countertops for our kitchen. )  Anyway I think it speaks to the ridiculousness of our first world discontent.

6. Make time for friends – Not just vague, “Let’s get together sometime.” This year I want to make sure I actually say, “Would you like to come to our house next Saturday?” or “The boys are interested in seeing the ____ movie.  Would you like to go with us?”

What are your resolutions for the new school year?

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7 Hopefully Interesting Facts

A few days ago I was excited to see  Lucinda at Navigating by Joy had a fresh post.  I really enjoy seeing what they are up to at Lucinda’s house, so I headed straight over to see what wonderful book or science experiment they were doing.  I enjoy reading Navigating by Joy because Lucinda provides great links to learning resources and she challenges me to think outside the box (or rather the workbook ).  I’m often inspired by her to make sure we keep the hands on activities coming.  What I found that day was a delightful post “Seven Revealing Facts About Myself”.  It was great to learn more about Lucinda and I was honored to see Learning with Boys listed as one of her inspirational blogs.  Thank you!

very-inspiring-award1

 

Coming up with seven revealing facts was a bit challenging.  I hope you don’t think me too much of a chicken once you are done reading this.

Me at the Beach

1.  I learned to swim when I was 34.  When I was a kid my brother managed to teach me to back float and do a backstroke, but I couldn’t bring myself to jump into deep water and would sometimes be seized with fear if I was in deep water.  Once my boys started swimming, I realized how much I wanted to be able to relax in and around water.  I signed up for adult swim classes.  I’m no longer afraid of jumping into deep water and I can freestyle swim and tread water.  I’ve discovered I don’t actually enjoy timing my breath and having my face in the water for swimming laps.  But now I can go to the pool and swim laps in deep water doing the backstroke and feeling relaxed and happy knowing I can swim.

2.  My favorite drink is tea.  Hot or iced, black or green, sweet or unsweet.  I really like sweet tea, but I also like having a waist, so I no longer put sugar in my tea at home.

3. I started college as a journalism major and left 5 years later with a degree in Chemical Engineering – Environmental Emphasis.  A few more years down the road that turned out to be great preparation for being a homeschool mom and blogger.   I’m teaching science and coaching robotics and connecting people with resources and I love it!

Climbing stairs at Old Man's Cave4. I’m afraid of heights.  In the picture above I wanted to look up and smile, but I couldn’t because I was walking up steep stairs with gaps between them.   Fortunately I haven’t let my fear of heights hold me back from trying skydiving and parasailing, both were quite enjoyable.  If I remind myself it’s fun, I like zip lines too.  Mostly I just look where I want to go and push past the fear,  especially when I’m trying to keep up with my boys.

5. A few years ago we decided to give a completely plant based diet a try.  A friend of ours had been on a plant based diet for a couple of years and really loved it.  A couple of weeks into our plant based experiment,  I woke up and my hands and feet didn’t ache for the first time in years.  At that point I was hooked.  It is difficult for me to meet all our dietary needs and provide enough variety (especially for the kids) so we include some meat and dairy in the family diet at this point but MUCH less than we used to.   Amazingly going plant based provides me with more freedom to be creative when I’m cooking.  I make many meals without a recipe now and almost all of them turn out great.

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6.  Recently we’ve started taking the kids mountain biking.  I haven’t ridden much except nice flat “rail to trail” stuff for the last 12 years.  I enjoy being out on single track, but I’m probably pretty slow and not necessarily good.  Mostly I just enjoy being in the woods and the sense of accomplishment.  I’d rather be slow on the trail than sitting around watching TV.

7.  I’m constantly striving to be more patient, organized, social and adventurous.  While I’m at it, I’d also like to live simply and be content with what I have.   I never want to stop learning and growing and looking at things in a fresh way.  I really hope I’m challenging myself even when I’m old.

Now it’s time to turn our attention to some other amazing bloggers!

Here are the guidelines 

Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you.

  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  • Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Nominations. I am inspired by several blogs. Several of my favorites have already been nominated but there are a few more I haven’t seen nominations for:

Chris at Tales of a Househusband

Dave at Bloke School

Both of the above are written by homeschooling dads.  It’s hard enough as a mom to step out in the homeschooling world and try to “find your tribe” but I think it has to be even more difficult as a homeschool dad.  These dads are doing a great job and I love the fresh perspective they bring.

Melissa at Joys of Home Educating – Melissa has great photographs and I always want to head out for an adventure after reading her posts.

Claire at Angelic Scalliwags – I know Claire already shared her award but if you aren’t familiar with her site you really do need to check it out.

Julie at Highhill Homeschool – Julie always has a ton of great hands on science activities.

Again thanks to Lucinda for the nomination!  I know I’m going to think of more blogs I should have nominated – so many of you have helped me along this homeschool journey!

Back to School Blues and Excitement

Path through woodsOur local school starts this week and all around us the conversation is about back to school meetings and shopping for supplies.  Some moms are ready to have the kids back in school and some of the kids are ready to be back and see their friends.  Others are sad to see the end of summer.

My personal feeling is, “I’m not ready for school to start.”  Most people assume it’s because I’m not ready to go back to the daily teaching routine but the reality is:

1.  It’s good to see other kids out and about in the middle of the day.  During the school year, E feels sort of odd going out to lunch or running into the store during the week because inevitably we end up having a conversation about homeschool with a stranger.  C isn’t bothered by this, he likes to talk to new people and thinks more kids would homeschool if they had the chance.  People are very supportive, but E just gets tired of having the conversation. During the summer we blend in.

2. We enjoy the extra time we have with friends during the summer.  It’s easy to make plans.  We can meet at the pool or water park.   We might go for a hike or play next to the creek or spend the afternoon bouncing on the trampoline.  Once school starts and schedules fill up it becomes so much more difficult.

3. I enjoy the relaxed paths to learning the boys take during the summer.  I love the interest led approach to it all.  I wish we did that all year, but I feel the need to have structured  grammar, spelling and math during the school year.  The boys enjoy math with workbooks so that isn’t an issue.  If they were choosing to write their own, we would take a more relaxed approach to grammar and spelling during the year as well, but that isn’t where we are yet.  During the summer I don’t feel any conflict between my ideal picture and what our day to day looks like.

4. Once school starts back our experiences are different than our friends.  While we are still having adventures and going on field trips, most of our friends are back in the school routine.  Their conversations, especially the moms, revolve around the happenings and politics of school.

I like summer time when we are just another family.  During the school year it becomes obvious we are choosing a different path, a path I whole heartedly believe is the best path for us.  Sometimes my desire to fit in leaves me slightly melancholy this time of year and yet….

As the school year approaches the mood in our house is relaxed and calm.  We aren’t rushing about making sure we have school supplies.   We don’t need backpacks or lunch boxes or new clothes.  There are no supply lists to lead us on scavenger hunts through Target and Walmart.  We aren’t worried about adjusting to getting on the bus at 6:10 am or figuring out the expectations of new teachers.

Instead we are thinking about what we want to learn this year.  We are deciding which museums we want to go to and what concerts and classes we will try.  We’re looking for a place to take a glass blowing class.  We’re finalizing the decision of which to study first – atmospheric science or biology.  We are planning what activities appeal to us and culling things we’ve outgrown or that just weren’t particularly beneficial.  The freedom of it all is exhilarating.

We have lots of plans we are excited about this year:

FLL Collage August 2013

1. The FIRST LEGO League (FLL) season promises to be a great one.  This year I will be coaching an FLL team and we will have a mission table available at our house.  I’m not sure how this years theme – “World Class – Learning Unleashed”  – will fit into our studies but I know the project based learning that will occur will be beneficial.

2. Parkour classes – Once soccer season is over the boys will be trying out a parkour class at a nearby gym.

3. Skiing – We have ski passes for the first time ever this year.  I’m really hoping this makes winter more fun for us.  I enjoy exercising outdoors however I’m not much of a cold weather person.

4. Homeschool Outings – Last spring I found out about a homeschool group in our area that does field trips and a geography club.

5. Zoo classes – The boys had a great time doing zoo classes last year and are looking forward to these again.

Animal Science Collage

6. Science – The boys are still interested in learning about all things animal related.  We’ll be using that interest to learn more about biology.  We are also planning some studies of atmospheric science.  It seems like science learning comes naturally at our house, so I’m sure there will be lots of other short units as well.

7. Immersion Reading with the Kindle Fire. I’m excited to add this new resource to our arsenal.   Immersion reading is essentially a personalized read aloud experience.  The text is highlighted as a professional narrator reads the book.   I’m optimistic that it will help the boys increase their reading fluency and read books they might find intimidating otherwise.

This year promises to be a great year just like the years past.  We will be learning and growing and enjoying the chance to be outside when the weather is nice.  At the end of the year I know I will look back and see tremendous growth. I’ll also see areas we could have done a little better but all and all I’m sure it will be great.

What about you?  Are you ready to get back to school or would you like just a little more summer?

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7 Ways to Fix Zucchini

We’ve reached that time of the year when it feels like the zucchini is secretly multiplying behind closed refrigerator doors.  This week I was determined to use all the zucchini before the next CSA pickup.

Zucchini

Veggie Quiche– Since this was a complete attempt to use what was available I did not follow a recipe. (Actually, unless I’m baking I rarely follow a recipe.)  I used the food processor to slice up about two zucchini, added onion, garlic, and kale (about 1/2 a bunch) and cooked all the veggies until slightly soft. I placed the veggies in a mixing bowl and added sun-dried tomatoes, a few bacon bits, some feta cheese, and 3 eggs and poured the mixture into a pie crust.  I covered the pie crust edges with aluminum foil and baked for about 45-50 minutes at about 400 F.  (The boys offered the following improvements: Eliminate the zucchini – use more spinach and kale instead.  Replace the feta cheese with Mexican cheese and add more bacon bits. )

Zucchini Cupcakes – Absolutely delicious!  I replaced half the oil with peach mango applesauce.

Black Bean Zucchini Enchiladas –  Again this was a “use what’s available” creation.  I chopped up about 1 onion and 1 largish zucchini and a bit of garlic (I would have added red pepper if it had been available).  Then I added about 1/2 cup of frozen corn and seasoned the whole thing with 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 tablespoon chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  I sautéed all the ingredients in a small amount of oil.  Once the onions were almost soft, I added a can of rinsed black beans.   When the mixture was all warm I placed it in enchiladas in a baking pan, covered with enchilada sauce and baked at 400 F for about 15 minutes.  Then I added a bit of cheese and baked until the cheese melted. Serve with sliced avocado and cilantro for garnish.  There were probably about 3-4 servings.

Zucchini Fritters – I used the leftover grated zucchini from the making the cupcakes mixed with some beaten egg and a little flour to make fritters.  I served with a little sour cream and sliced tomato.

Black Bean Zucchini Quinoa Burgers – I linked to this recipe because the instructions look  fairly close to what I actually did.  Again I really didn’t follow a recipe, but I really should have taken notes while making mine because they turned out great.  I know I used some curry, nutmeg and turmeric as seasoning.

Zucchini Brownie

Also popular with my kids although not made this week:

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

Zucchini Brownies

What are your favorite zucchini recipes?

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Inspirations

Every so often I like to share some of the people and projects that are inspiring me.

This week the boys and I watched SHARK GIRL, an amazing documentary from the Smithsonian channel.  Madison Stewart is exceptional and inspirational.  It was great to see a young woman able to follow her passions, do research and change the world.  Right now the full episode is available via the link above.  If you have cable, SHARK GIRL will be airing on the Smithsonian channel at 8 pm and 11pm on Wednesday July 16.

 

IMG_0966I’ve read FIMBY by Renee Tougas for a few years now.  Renee and her family strive to live consciously and with purpose.  They are a homeschooling / unschooling / project based learning family living in Quebec.  Over the years they have chosen to hike and camp together as a family instead of having the kids in team sports.  Renee’s husband, Damien, had a dream to thru-hike the AT and this year the family is making that dream a reality together.  The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200 mile (3500 km)  foot path that stretches through the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine.  The trail is quite remote which means the family is carrying tents, food and other supplies with them and stopping to resupply at approximately 5 day intervals.   Did I mention their kids are approximately 15, 13, and 11?   I am completely blown away by their ability to get up and walk with a heavy pack EVERY DAY.   The planning and organization that went into this trip is just incredible and now the physical and mental fortitude required to stick with it is astounding. You can find periodic updates by following FIMBY on Facebook OR even better you can subscribe to their video series on Toe Salad (Damien’s blog).

code doodles

Back in November a friend of mine shared a post about “The Hour of Code“.  The challenge was for kids across the country to spend one hour learning how to program a computer.  The boys really enjoyed the first hour and readily did the “Beyond One Hour“.  Recently I got a bug to do use the artist section of the “Beyond One Hour” to make some doodles.  It was sort of like spending the afternoon with a spirograph, but easier to make designs in multiple colors and shapes.  If you haven’t had the chance to visit code.org yet, I highly recommend it.  They also have lots of links to kid friendly sites that promote learning code in a fun way.

Scott and Boys At Yellowstone

Sometimes inspiration is personal.  I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my husband.  He inspires me to stay fit so we can do fun active things as a family.   He doesn’t nag me to work out more (which I should), instead he sets a good example by staying incredibly fit himself and being disciplined about his food choices.

What stories and projects are inspiring you right now?

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7 Places our Summer is Going

Hope you are all having a great summer!

I’m finding myself looking back at the last month and saying, “Where is this summer going?” I vacillate quickly between feeling like we’ve accomplished a lot and nothing at all.  While consciously creating space in our schedule for rest, spontaneity, and UNscheduled time, I feel anxious that we haven’t DONE more.

So where has our summer gone so far?

IMG_0906 1. Camping – During the dark cold days of winter we set a goal to go camping every month this summer.  So far we’ve gone on two trips.  They were both full of gorgeous settings, hiking, and learning. The picture above is from our hike at Old Man’s Cave, part of Hocking Hills State Park.

Foot Golf 2. Soccer –  One of the MetroParks near us offers “Foot Golf”.  It’s played on the golf course but using soccer balls.  It’s a fun way to spend time together as a family and practice our soccer skills.  E attended a week of soccer camp and we’ve been trying to keep up with the World Cup action.  We don’t have cable, but we do get Univision (the Spanish channel) via our antenna.  I find it a bit difficult to pay attention to the visuals for the full length of a game when I can’t understand the audio. It makes a good hardship story for the boys.  “Our parents make us watch soccer in Spanish.”

Bedford MBT 13. Mountain biking!! – Some really nice trails just opened this month close to where we live.  10 miles of trails just a 20 minute drive away.  Yeah!  We’ve taken the kids out for a short ride there and just the other day my husband and I had a mountain biking date.   One of our camping trips had some ridable trails for the whole family and the other had some good trails for dad.   After nearly 12 years of riding only “rail to trail” type bike paths I’m really excited the kids are getting old enough to enjoy some single track.  This newest addition of local single track makes things much more doable for us.

 

4. Spending time with Friends – This is my favorite thing about summer.  I love the open schedule that allows us to meet friends at the pool, have friends come for dinner, and just have time to hang out.  This is one of those areas where creating space in the schedule is so necessary, but we also need to be intentional about ACTUALLY inviting someone for a playdate or dinner or field trip.

Declutter collage

5. Decluttering  – I really wish it hadn’t been necessary for me to spend so much time on this project this summer, however I’m so happy with the results. Our house feels more spacious and peaceful.  Preparing meals is easier with less stuff in the kitchen. I can actually go down to the basement to work out without feeling overwhelmed by clutter.  I wanted to think that because I try to be conscious about the things I buy, I didn’t have a lot of extra stuff hanging out around the house (well, except in the basement, there was no denying that).  I do have a lot of good habits – sorting our clothes at each change of season to get rid of things that don’t fit, avoiding the dollar aisle, and doing periodic purges of junk drawers and other hot spots – yet we still had a lot of miscellaneous / duplicate stuff in the house.   It’s been really eye opening.   While we don’t tend to be big shoppers we still have a lot of free stuff enter the house and kids outgrow clothes and toys.  I wish I had taken some pictures along the way during this process, but I never realize how big the change will be until I’m done.  There were also some time consuming tasks like taking an old dehumidifier to the scrap yard (where they are qualified to capture the coolant), making a trip to the Household Hazardous Waste Depot (open once per week for 6 hours), and converting some paper files into digital ones.  The huge stack of 17 plastic containers is the result of all the purging I’ve done so far.  My little Doxie scanner has been a big help in getting rid of paper clutter and using baskets in the cabinets really helps me keep things easily accessible and organized.

6. Listening to Audiobooks and reading – We are having a great time working our way through the Harry Potter series via audiobooks.  This is such a great way to make use of car time.  Of course we all want to continue listening when we get home too.   During our morning reading time, the boys are continuing to read book after book about a variety of animals.

NXT

7. Learning computing skills – The boys have learned a little about creating Minecraft mods.  E has also been getting together with his FLL team to do some informal programming on the NXT.  Every little bit helps.

What have you been doing this summer?

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Living with Less – Family Style

Minimalist decor appeals to me.  I don’t actually live that way – the people in my life prefer cozy furniture and plenty of electronics.  They like print fabrics, warm throw blankets, and color.  We also have stuff – I’m sure it’s more stuff than some families and less stuff than others.  Like Goldilocks I’m trying to find the just right spot for our family.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing a lot of de-cluttering.  I’ve donated some clothes and household things and I’ve contacted a place that takes building supplies and furniture to come get the leftovers from a few projects.  Unfortunately I’ve also had to throw away quite a bit of stuff.  I swear two trash bags worth of detritus exploded out of the kids’ drawer – old crayons, party favors, string.

All this cleaning and decluttering has me thinking about how living with less frees us to live life abundantly and feel good about the choices we make.  It has also impressed on me how hard it is to keep stuff from entering the house.  Even though I’m intentional about purchases, free stuff and kid presents still enter the house.  I have to accept that things will always enter our lives, but there are steps I can take to make keeping a clean and appealing home easier.

10 Tips

1. Buy less – skip the dollar aisle, don’t buy things just because they are on sale, buy only what you need.  I actually avoid certain stores because the visual overstimulation causes me to make purchases I regret.  Set space limits on certain items like nail polish, socks, and school supplies.  If you buy more than what fits in the space it’s time to weed out the old.

2. Avoid ads and tv shows that encourage consumption – HGTV  I’m talking about you.  Low key advertising only between shows is one of the reasons I love PBS Kids.  Most channels aimed at kids have very intense advertising.  Ads are created to make us buy things we wouldn’t otherwise.  Advertising tries to create discontent.  Throw away the catalogs.  DVR your favorite show and skip the ads.

3. Sign up to stop ads and credit card offers.  You can use opt out prescreen to stop credit card and insurance offers.  Catalog Choice and DMA Choice can help you reduce the amount of junk mail that comes to your house.  I signed up for these several years ago and it really helps.

4. Make it easy to recycle.  I stand by the recycle bin to sort the mail.  By eliminating credit card offers I’ve dramatically reduced the amount of mail that needs to be shredded and I’ve moved the shredder to a convenient location to avoid a backlog on items that need shredded.  We also keep a small recycle can in the kitchen.

5. Use a scanner to make a digital record of documents you think you MIGHT need or want again.  Paper clutter has always been an issue for me.  About a year ago I got a small Doxie Go scanner.  It’s slow but easy to use.  You can use a service like Evernote to store your documents in the cloud (free) and create a file cabinet of searchable ($) PDFs.

6. If an item isn’t working for you, don’t feel guilty about giving it away.  Get rid of things quickly while they are still useful to other people.  The bike your son outgrew last month is easier to find a good home for than the one he outgrew 3 or 5 or 10 years ago.

7. Think about the space you will gain by getting rid of items and how much easier it will be to find what you want and keep the house clean.   

8. Borrow before you buy.  Check out books from the library.  See if your friend has an extra cooler or folding table before you buy them just for a party.

9. Get rid of an item if you buy a replacement.  Whether it’s clothes or kitchen items,  there seems to be a temptation to hold on to old things after we replace them.  It’s fine to have one old pair of shoes for mowing the lawn, but you don’t need 4 old pairs of shoes for mowing the lawn.

10. Buy less, buy less, buy less – skip the dollar aisle, don’t buy things just because they are on sale, buy only what you need.   This was already on the list at number one,  however it is the most important step if you are serious about reducing clutter.

Have you taken steps to live with less?

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7 Favorite Games for Learning

Learning Games Title

I don’t know about you, but if we can develop academic skills while having fun I’m all for it.    Today I’m sharing some of the games we enjoy playing.
Scrambled States  – We’ve had this game about 3 years now and it continues to be a favorite.  We’ve adjusted the rules so speed doesn’t matter (decreases frustration AND keeps the cards from getting torn up).  It really helps the kids learn their states, capitals, and locations in a fun way.

Blokus  This game is great for developing spatial skills.  The game is for 2-4 players but we’ve found 3 is  ideal for everyone to be able to play all their pieces.  2 is too easy and 4 is very competitive and one person can be blocked and picked on.  With 3 players we can help each other out and usually get everyones pieces on the board if they play wisely.

Mastermind – This one is an oldie. I remember playing it with my mom.  One person makes a “code” with 4 colored pegs – the other person tries to guess the code in the right order from the 6 available colors.  I’ve heard some people allow multiple pegs of the same color but that seems like it would be impossible to solve.  After each attempt the guesser is given clues – How many pegs are the right color in the wrong space, How many pegs are the right color in the right space.  It really develops logic and critical thinking skills – in a fun way.

Uno  – We don’t play this one as much anymore, but I actually used it to help teach money.  We would play the game the normal way, but we kept track of our score using coins instead of writing it down.

Connect 4 –  This has probably been E’s favorite game since he was 3 or 4.  It seems like such a simple game yet it develops planning and strategy skills.

Bananagrams – The free form of Bananagrams works well with kids and I like the letter tiles.

Chunks  – I’m not sure how often we played the game, but the tiles come in super handy for rhyming exercises.

What are your favorite games?

This post contains affiliate links.

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Why We Homeschool

IMG_0493One of the things I really like about the homeschool community is the diversity.  Homeschoolers choose homeschool for a variety of reasons.  I think most of us who stick with it, do it because it works better for us.  I know in our case, we are a happier family because of homeschool.  So why did our family start down this path?

The tipping point for me was when our then 1st grader was sitting at the table doing some school related busy work and said in the most genuine tone, “We never learn anything at school.” I tried to be encouraging and point out the progress he made in reading over the course of the year. He really did have a fabulous teacher.  He looked at me with great sincerity and said, “I want to learn about science and animals like I did with you and Mrs. Jean (his preschool teacher).  I want to learn math not just do timed tests.”

I felt his frustration.  I understood it all too well.  I also knew there was another option.  My husband and I discussed homeschool when the kids were really young, but we also desired the social connections that come with school.  I had planned to go back to work part-time once the kids were in school.  The truth was – I missed the time we had together during the preschool years.  I missed going to the library for stacks of books and learning right along with the boys about animals and ecosystems.  I missed introducing them to new science topics and taking them on trips to museums and science centers.

We decided to give homeschool a try for a year.  It’s been three years and we all love it. For us it works better than traditional school.

So what are the reasons we continue choosing homeschool?

Choose Homeschool

 

1. Science is fun.  – In the elementary years, science seems relegated to a position lower than art or music.  At a time when children should be learning and exploring how the world works, science instruction seems extremely minimal. ( I’m sure the music instruction feels minimal to the future musician as well. )

While science is about facts, it is also an inherently creative pursuit. Kids need time to PLAY with science, be entertained by science, and make their own discoveries.  There is so much to learn from exploring nature and doing science experiments.  We have such great conversations about things we learn.

Because we homeschool, the boys have time to learn about coding and computing.  While I sometimes feel guilty that we haven’t done even more in this area, I know it’s so much more than they would have time for if they were in school.

2. Reading needs to be personal– I feel passionately that kids should be able to read books they find personally interesting.  If the book is slightly beyond their ability, we should take time to support the young reader.  If the book is far beyond their reading ability, but within their interest, it can become a read aloud.  Children should not be denied access to reading material BECAUSE of their reading ability.

One of our sons has dyslexia.   That doesn’t mean he can’t read, it means reading is not automatic or easy for him.  It takes him additional time to read most material.

In the homeschool environment our son has one on one reading support.  He selects his own reading material and has individualized instruction to teach him to read the books he finds interesting.  At the end of 3rd grade, he has read more than 40 books and had more than 25 books read to him this year.  His exposure to literature includes books like A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth along with many non-fiction books with scientific vocabulary he chooses to read on his own.  We continue to work on decoding skills, phonics, and fluency.  Because of individualized instruction I’m able to listen closely for “near-sound” pronunciations and make corrections.  At school he could easily be buried under a pile of worksheets to be completed and assigned reading passages until there was no time or energy for reading books he enjoys.  If you are only reading assigned material because it has been assigned, the motivation to keep going ceases to be intrinsic and may vanish altogether.  It is far better to teach reading, and other subjects, in a way that preserves the internal motivation of the student.

3. An individualized pace enhances learning – In some areas both boys work well ahead of grade level.  These are the subjects that are fun for them.  In other subjects I’m sometimes concerned.  But really, once the learning becomes individualized – the ahead or behind becomes irrelevant. The personal growth of each learner is the relevant measure of our success. Every child is an individual and homeschool allows them to learn in ways and at a pace that works for them.

4. Flexibility – If you reach long division on a day when your child isn’t feeling 100% you can postpone the introduction for a few days.   If your child has play practice until late, you can make adjustments.  Need extra time for reading? No problem.  Want to check on your science experiment over the next couple of hours? Go ahead.  Want to learn more about a topic?  Do more research.  Going on a great vacation with lots of learning opportunities?  Count some of those hours as school.

5. Questions are encouraged. – One of the hardest things for me when I transitioned from school to work was adjusting to the open-ended nature of projects.  No one was giving me a  list of requirements or a word / page count.  There was no answer key.  An acquaintance, who happens to be a physicist, remarked that was the hardest part for her as well.  Suddenly she was no longer even given the questions.  It was up to her to figure out what questions management would have and answer those questions along with other questions she determined would be relevant.

I want to make sure the kids learn to ask their own questions and follow their own curiosity.  This is perhaps more about me not squashing their natural impulse to ask questions.  Too often children are told – “That’s not what we are studying now.” instead of “Great question. Let’s write that down and look it up once we’re done with this.”

When our learning starts with a question posed by one of the kids, it tends to go more in depth and be far more interesting than anything I select.

6. Failure should be an option.  People are not failures, but sometimes projects are. I want to teach my kids how to pick themselves back up when things don’t go as planned and to persevere when things are hard.

Every science department on every campus has some research projects that were flops.  When we ask new questions and try new things sometimes they don’t work, but that doesn’t mean those things weren’t worth trying.  It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea to try or the people who tried weren’t intelligent. It simply means they learned what didn’t work under the conditions they tested the idea.

My kids are big Mythbusters fans.  I like when the show makes adjustments to their technique and revisits a myth.  That is what scientists and engineers do, they learn from their failures and try again. One of my favorite saying from the show is, “Failure is always an option.”

7. Less stress and clutter – I might be completely alone on this one, but homeschooling greatly reduced the amount of clutter in my house.   The boys brought home SO MUCH paperwork and so many trinkets from school.  I’m pretty sure a few trees have been saved as the result of us homeschooling.  Less clutter equals a more relaxed mom.

8. I enjoy seeing my kids developing accountability for their learning. It sounds sort of weird to me, saying that about kids who are 9 and 10, but they are really stepping up and telling me what paths they want to take.  They ask to be enrolled in zoo classes.  They  requested help finding a way to learn how to program Minecraft mods.  They tell me what things they think will be interesting to learn.  The older one sets goals for completing his math workbooks.  They are thinking about what career paths they want to follow, and directing their learning toward those areas.   They are far from being completely independent,  but they are developing a sense of responsibility for the path they take.

9. Relationships –  Relationships are enhanced by shared experiences.  Not only do we have more opportunities to go on field trips during the week, we also have more relaxed weekends and evenings to spend together.  The boys are used to spending time together, so there isn’t a readjustment period needed to enjoy vacations and holidays together.   Our relationships aren’t strained by homework or being in a rush.

10. Time is precious and limited.  The boys and I fall more toward the introverted side of the personality spectrum.  We enjoy people, but we also need time at home to recharge.    They need their own creative space and play.  Homeschool allows us time to focus on academic pursuits during the morning and early afternoon, followed by creative pursuits and play, and robotics or soccer practice in the evening.  I’m no longer trying to multitask through dinner prep, homework supervision, and sorting through their “take home” folders.  Having a well balanced schedule means everyone in the family operates in a better emotional state.   It also means we have time to build relationships with each other.  Our time with our children is limited – we want to make what time we have with them as long and as positive as possible.

 

What favorite subjects does homeschool allow you to pursue deeper?  What are your favorite benefits?

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