Monday, April 20, 2015

Clipboards, or My School Prep Routine

One thing that has been invaluable to me these last six months has been a clipboard.  I use clipboards to hold and organize the Bat's, and now the Eel's, schoolwork.

We do a lot of driving, much of it last minute, so a mobile work surface is very important to getting work done at all.  And since I photo copy all worksheets, intending to use the original books multiple times, a clipboard is useful for keeping all the copies relatively neat and intact.

Every Sunday, I photocopy each boy's work for the week.  For the Bat, that includes subtraction pages, English work (consisting of spelling and phonics sheets, his McGuffey lesson, and some lined paper for copywork), geography pages, and his Hebrew lesson.  I collate and staple into packets the pages for each subject, and arrange the packets in the order they are to be done.  Then I shuffle into the stack any books from which we are going to read for the week so everything is in the order it is to be used, and I put all of that back into the school box in front of all my originals and the books we won't use that week.

On any given day, I pull the copy packet I want the Bat to use from the front if the box and put it in the clipboard.  If I know that we will be busy on a particular day, I put two packets in the clipboard. If one day's work went unfinished, the unfinished work stays on the board, and I put the next day's work behind it.  At the end of the week, all the completed packets are stapled together and filed. When we have traveled, I have put all the work to be completed during the trip on the clipboard, and simply rotated completed work to the back.  It's been a very efficient way to keep work organized on the road.  Work organized on clipboards can easily be put away in a car side pocket, and is fairly likely to stay clean and smooth.

Now that the Eel has started kindergarten, he also has a clipboard, and its use helps me keep his work and the Bat's separated.   While that might seem insignificant, they are working through the same introductory Hebrew book, but on different lessons, and their math work is from the same series of workbooks (one for addition and one for subtraction).  If I don't pay attention, it's easy to get their work mixed up, especially right now, while I'm still getting used to having two students.

With active boys, it's handy not to need them to sit at a table to work, or to require them to keep track of loose sheets of paper.  The boys are also easily overwhelmed.  I've sound the practice of copying and separating into packets really helps them perceive the work to be in manageable chunks.  And the clipboard seems to help with reinforcing that perception.

When dh has been in town and taken the boys for a day, it's been very easy for me to hand him a clipboard with the day's work on it. It's far simpler for him to be my substitute for an afternoon if I can simply give him the work he needs to oversee, rather than a stack of books and a list if page numbers and instructions.

While this post is an overview of what I do and why, my clipboards are an integral part of all of it.  Homeschooling the Bat and the Eel would be far more cumbersome and much less pleasant without this trusty office supply.

This post has been linked to The Mommy ClubHearts for HomeWFMWHHHM2M MondayBusy Monday, and MYHSM.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Comfort for Sore Throats

I've had a theory for a while about making something with orange peels to help when a cold goes through the house.  Unfortunately,  I finally found an opportunity to try it out as we all did battle with a head cold last week.

I have no idea if this actually helped our recoveries, but it sure was soothing.  It combines four ingredients with known medicinal properties, all of which are common place.  While I haven't used it yet, ginger would be an excellent addition to the recipe.

Cold Treatment Concentrate

1/2 cinnamon stick
4 or 5 whole cloves

  • Put the peels, cinnamon, and cloves in a pot, and cover with at least 3 cups of water.
  • Bring to a boil, and allow to simmer until the cinnamon stick starts to be willing to uncurl.
  • Bring it back up to a boil, and reduce to about 1.5 cups of liquid. 
  • Remove from heat, and allow to cool.
  • Strain, and pour liquid into ice cube trays.  Freeze.  Once frozen, I stored the cubes in a sandwich bag in my freezer door.

To use, put one cube of concentrate into a tea cup, cover with boiling water, and add honey to taste.

This post has been linked to Hearts to Home, Thrifty ThursdayHHHWFMWBusy Monday and MYHSM.

Monday, April 6, 2015


For the last few weeks, I've experimented with letting the Bat and the Eel earn an allowance.  Thus far, it has been an effective tool in managing both of them and has helped to keep me organized.

It all started with the Bat (6), who needs to start learning about money.  He also desperately wants to be able to buy things on his own.  I've caught him stealing change out of my wallet on a couple occasions when he wanted to buy things from vending machines and I had already said no.  Taking "no" for an answer is a continuing issue for us and a matter of learning to control impulses. He's working on it. Discipline combined with explanations that the money was mine (not ours), that it was intended for other things that were more important, and that stealing is wrong, however, weren't making sense to him.  They were too abstract.

I finally decided to let him earn his own money.   With money being perpetually tight, I was hesitant about it at first.  I couldn't spare much or be depended on to have the right money on me on a regular basis.  I also wanted to make sure that the Bat could earn money quickly enough to see the value in his efforts.  After considering the price of matchbox cars, lollypops, Tootsie Rolls, and other childish priorities, I settled on an allowance of two pennies per day.

The Bat and I have discussed the value of his money.  He saves it in an old peanut butter jar, and knows that a full week's pay will buy a lollypop or a couple candies at the gas station or a discarded book or magazine at the library.  He also knows that he can save up to buy toys, and his current goal is a Dollar Tree toy.  I encourage him to save coins he finds on the ground, too.

The Bat earns his pennies by completing his schoolwork and chores and generally behaving himself.  In this way, I can reward good behavior and punish misbehavior, but the fact that his pennies aren't connected to specific tasks means that the Bat doesn't lose out when I am disorganized or if we take a day off of schoolwork.

I pay him for a completed day on the following morning.  Going to bed without fuss is part of earning his pennies, so paying out as part of our bedtime routine would be counter productive.   Generally speaking, the prospect of losing a penny (not earning one of the day's pennies) has been an effective way to pull the Bat into line when he misbehaves.  For the last few weeks, the threat of reduced remuneration has mostly replaced the need for corporal punishment.

Of course, the Bat can't have an allowance if the Eel is going to be left out.  The Eel can earn one penny per day. Being younger, he has fewer chores and less schoolwork, so his potential earnings are lower. His allowance has been an effective disciplinary tool as well.  While the Eel rarely requires redirection, he takes most forms of discipline as a personal rejection.  Attaching his behavior to a monetary goal has really helped him accept correction in a more thoughtful manner.

In the future, we may switch to a more formal chore/allowance system, but right now, this system is working for us. I've seen a marked improvement in both my older sons' behavior, and it has made my life less stressful without adding a lot of complexity to my day.

This post has been linked to Thrifty ThursdayHHHWFMWBusy Monday, and MYHSM.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pumpkin Apple Coffee Cake

Using the pumpkin muffin recipe I shared last week, I decided to try turning the recipe into coffee cake.  It turned out beautifully, so I'm sharing the recipe.  You can find more on cooking with pumpkins in this post.

Pumpkin Apple Coffee Cake

4c flour
2 c pumpkin puree
2 tsp salt
6 tsp baking powder
2/3 c sugar
1/2c oil
2.5 c water
2 tsp cinnamon 
1 tsp vanilla
1 apple, chopped


1 C flour
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c oatmeal
1 tsp cinnamon 
1/2 c oil

  • Combine all cake ingredients thoroughly.  
  • Pour into a greased 9x13 pan. 
  • Combine all streusel ingredients, adding more flour if necessary.  
  • Crumble streusel over cake batter.  
  • Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, or until a clean knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. 
This post has been linked to Thrifty ThursdayHearts for HomeWFMW, HHHBusy Monday and MYHSM.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dollar Store Homeschooling

Approaching the end of the Bat's school year, I am evaluating what has worked for us this year, what I want to do differently with him next year, and how I would tweak what worked with him to work with the Eel.  I'm also very much aware of all of the stress a lot of homeschool moms face choosing from among expensive curricula.

In the early years especially, it doesn't make a lot of sense to shell out huge sums for a curriculum.  If you are teaching material you already know, then the most important resource your child needs is access to your own knowledge and experience. When it comes to learning to read, write, and do basic arithmetic, what kids mostly need are effective practice materials.  The how-to can mostly come from mom and dad.

Expensive curricula aren't really an option for my family, and the craziness we have experienced over the last few years demands flexibility in schedule and approach.  I need to minimize the space that school demands, and I also need something that reinforces skills and introduces concepts without too much of a time commitment.  The Bat simply does not sit still, and his attention span is limited.  With other children to parent and dh being away most of the time, I don't have the time to commit to intensive schooling for several hours every day.  In order to meet these requirements, I compiled all the relevant materials I already owned, scouted useful websites, and made a list of what blanks needed to be filled.

Without reliable Internet access, I did not want to depend on printable materials for worksheets.  Instead, I sought out inexpensive workbooks for learning to read, write, and add.  It turns out that the teacher's section at Dollar Tree has perfectly good workbooks for a wide variety of grade levels and in various basic topics, along with paper with wide lines for early writers.  We went through a few pads of that paper this year. 

I invested in the First Words booklet, which has the child explore and write a few vocabulary words for each letter and several supplementary pages  in the back (including worksheets, puzzles, and coloring pages).  This set up meshed beautifully with our "letter of the week" system, covered most of the sounds made by each letter, and created a fun supplement for our use of the McGuffey curriculum.

In addition to First Words, I bought the booklet on addition, which covers everything from 0+1 to 20+20.  It does not provide instructions on how to add, beyond starting with horizontal problems and visual manipulatives and progressing through sheets of vertical problems and short word problems.  It also has supplementary material in the back, including several coloring sheets.  The Bat has worked through a few pages every week, and while he still has room for improvement, he understands the process of what he is doing.  Since the book isn't married to any particular technique, I've had the freedom to teach the Bat the Harry Lorayne's approach to addition without contradicting the Bat's workbook.  My only complaints with this book are that I found an error on page 1 and the word problems are in the middle of the book.  I delayed working through the word problems until the Bat could read them himself.

In a couple weeks, the Bat will begin working through phonics, spelling, and subtraction workbooks, all from the same series as the other two.  I'm looking forward to using all three.  And since I insisted that the Bat only write on photocopies of the worksheets, the Eel will begin using the First Words and Addition books later in the coming school year.

Because I already had the McGuffey readers from my own childhood (they're available free online in electronic form, too), my total investment for reading, writing, and addition curricula was less than ten dollars, even after you figure in writing paper, pens, and crayons (Don't buy Dollar Tree crayons.  They don't work well, and good crayons can be had at Walmart for half the price.).  What we do with our alphabetical subject of the week could easily be accomplished online or at the library, thus covering an introduction to science.  And the ASL curriculum that we weren't nearly consistent enough in using is free at Our Hebrew workbook was leftover from dh's childhood, but would not be expensive to replicate--especially if we were working on a more commonly taught language.  Our music curriculum is based on my own knowledge and materials I already had, but would also be easy to replicate through free printouts from the internet.

We also read through and discussed The History of Counting, which I bought with an Amazon gift card I got for free through Swagbucks.  It's an excellent discussion of what numbers are and do and a good introduction to the history of mathematics--a subject I believe is important to include in math education.

Dollar Tree has been a wonderful educational resource for us for a few years now.  We've found good board books, jigsaw puzzles, and books of word puzzles there since the Bat was about 2.  Now they are providing us with good, basic curriculum materials for a fraction of what comparable materials cost in book stores, office supply stores, or school supply catalogues. The investment in these materials has already paid for itself in the Bat, and my ability to reuse them will double their return in the Eel.

This post has been linked to Thrifty ThursdayThe Mommy ClubHHHWFMW, Busy Monday, and MYHSM.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pumpkin Muffins

Every Friday I do my baking for the week, including some baked good for breakfast on Saturday.  This last Friday, I felt like trying a new recipe, so I pulled out Auguste Gay's New Presentation of Cooking, which has a baking section I've been meaning to look at for a while. In short order I found a simple recipe for pumpkin muffins.  Since I stock up on pumpkin puree every fall, I'm always on the lookout for new pumpkin recipes.

The following is a slight variation on Gay's recipe.  The muffins came out soft and moist, with a subtle, but tasty, flavor.  I will definitely be making these again and playing with the recipe.  The recipe is also simple and frugal enough to be a good one for teaching children to bake and follow recipes.

Pumpkin Muffins

2c flour
1 c pumpkin puree
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c oil
1 1/4 c water
Optional: 1/2 tsp each cinnamon and vanilla

  • Combine all ingredients thoroughly.  
  • Ladle into greased muffin tins. 
  • Bake at 350° for about 20 minutes or until the muffins begin to brown on top.
This post has been linked to Thrifty ThursdayThe Mommy ClubWFMWHHHMYHSM, and Busy Monday.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Pregnancy Update

As I near the end of the first trimester, I realise that I have been more quiet about this pregnancy than about the prior ones.  The first trimester was uneventful, with almost no morning sickness.  I have been greatful to feel the baby move over the last several weeks and to notice my belly starting to grow, but those have been the main indicators of continuing pregnancy.  There simply isn't much to tell.

I've also felt very quiet about it.  In the wake of prior losses, the most recent of which endangered my life, I find myself protective of this one.  It is mine, and I'm not eager to share it with anyone.  This is personal and intimate in ways that my other pregnancies have not been.

At amost 22 weeks, I'm alittle more than halfway to my due date, and I've learned that this pregnancy is different in one, very unexected way:

I'm carrying a girl!

While I've hoped to have a daughter eventually, it's been a very abstract wish.  Now that wish is a reality, and I'm a little overwhelmed thinking about what that means for me as a parent.  There's no getting around the fact that girls and boys are different, and most of my experience with children,younger ones especially, at this point has been with boys.  So, while I'm excited and pleased at the prospect of raising a girl, the joy carries with it some of the same nervousness I experienced when pregnant with my first child.

It also drives home a shift in my family's life.  Over the last two years, we have experienced changes that have led us to give up or reevaluate almost everything we had assumed or owned.  Then, as I mentioned above, my loss last summer almost involved the loss of my life.  Immediately after, we embarked on a very new, very different chapter in our lives.  Welcoming a daughter after three sons seems like a fitting part of that shift and of my new life.

This post has been linked to M2M Monday and WFMW..