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 LifePrint.com. 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..

Friday, March 6, 2015

Frugal Storage for Kids' Clothes

Having moved frequently over the last few years, I've learned that it pays to streamline what you take with.  Moving is much less expensive and much easier to do when you buy furnishings inexpensively and simply replace them when you move to a new place.  Besides, not being tied to one's furniture gives one more flexibility in the spaces one inhabits and how one does so.

One way that I have tried to be flexible is in how I store my children's clothes--not the ones that are waiting for the next child to fit, but the ones currently in rotation.  When space is limited, a chest of drawers may not be a viable option.  Coat hangers in closets are certainly cost-effective, but I don't think they are very practical (they stretch out knitwear and are simply difficult for small children to handle).

The difficulty is that clothes must be stored.  Storage can't wait for ideal circumstances or unlimited budgets.  Here are some low-cost options that have served me well at various times and in various places:
  1. My personal favorite is the television entertainment center.  These can be had free or nearly free on Craigslist, especially during garage sale season.  The shelves and compartments are good sizes for storing folded clothes and baskets with undergarments. Units with large spaces for a television can also hold a compression rod for hanging coats or dress clothes. They usually fit quite nicely in closets. The downsides of this idea are the space requirement and the need for patience and diligence in finding a suitable unit.
  2. Second hand chest of drawers.  This is the most obvious option and the easiest to use, but it poses the same challenges as option 1.  It also poses the difficulty of being more expensive in the world of resale.
  3. Bookshelf.  Same idea as 1 and 2.  Clothes store best on a bookshelf in baskets or cubbies.  I have also used a small, three-shelf wire rack from Walmart for this.
  4. In the absence of actual furniture, dollar store baskets are a good option--one each for tops, bottoms, and undergarments.  This option has a relatively large footprint on the floor, but it is very cost effective and good for training children to put their clothes away.  Baskets are also good, because they organize clothes while you wait for a suitable piece of furniture to present itself.  The baskets then translate into organized shelves.  They can also line up neatly under beds.
  5. Hanging shelves.  This is what I am currently using.  I purchased a 6-shelf unit at Walmart for $10, and it holds clothes for my three boys.  I have a Dollar Tree basket underneath for undergarments.  
  6. Nightstands.  When closet space is limited, but room space is not, one two- or three-drawer nightstand per child is a good option.  Night stands, like entertainment centers, may be had very inexpensively second hand.  Currently, I use a three-drawer nightstand to store my boys' pajamas.
  7. For smaller quantities of clothing or temporary storage, suitcases work just fine, and they slide very nicely under beds.

If you are thinking about clothing storage, take a look at what space is available and in what shapes.  Make sure that you don't have more clothing than your kids need, both to increase your number of options and to make it easier for your children to keep neat what they have.  Consider your needs carefully, and then keep an eye out for items that could fill the need and fit the space.  Your best solution might not look like what you expect.

This pst has been linked to WFMW,  Busy Monday and M2M Monday.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chocolate Pudding

In my last post, I mentioned making your own chocolate pudding.  I thought I'd share the recipe I use.  It's pared down from the recipe given in the United States Regional Cookbook. 

Chocolate Pudding

1 c milk
2 T cocoa powder
1 T corn Starch
3 T sugar
1 tsp vanilla (optional
  • Combine all dry ingredients in a small sauce pan.  I like to use a fork for this, because it breaks up the corn starch.
  • Add milk and vanilla (if using), and stir continuously over medium heat, taking care to break up lumps, scrape the sides of the pan, and dissolving the dry ingredients thoroughly.
  • When the pudding comes to a full boil (this only takes a few minutes, so don't go anywhere!) turn off the heat, and continue stirring for a few minutes to keep the pudding from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  
  • Allow the pudding to cool in the pan on the burner.  A skin will form on top as it cools, so you will want to give it a good stir before serving.
Notes:
  • This recipe doesn't look like it makes much, but the pudding is rich, so small servings are a good idea.  Serves 4.
  • You can multiply the dry ingredients to make a big batch of pudding mix in advance.  Use 1/3 cup of mix per 1 cup of milk.
  • For a change of pace, add a little cinnamon and chili powder to the dry ingredients to make Mexican chocolate pudding.

This post has been linked to WFMWBusy MondayM2M Monday, and MYHSM.








Wednesday, February 11, 2015

22 Things Not To Buy

I recently ran across a list of twenty-one things that are a waste of money, most of which were financial products, but it got me thinking about the ways we can save money in the home.  All of the items below take very little time and cost substantially less than their store bought analogs.

1. Laundry detergent.  There are tons of online instructions for homemade detergent, both liquid and powdered.  Any of them cost a fraction of what the commercial stuff costs and has the added benefits of being less toxic and less likely to trigger allergies.

2. Bread.  Yeast breads are a little time consuming, but there are many recipes that are low maintenance.  Personally, I prefer quick breads.  I set aside about an hour every week to make my sandwich bread, and I get other baking done at the same time, since the bread takes longer to bake than anything else.

3. Biscuits.  Biscuits are quick and easy.  If you mix up the dry ingredients in advance, you can have your own biscuit mix on hand to make it even faster and easier.  There really is no reason to spend money on mix or canned dough, except as a treat.

4. Pancake mix.  Same deal as biscuits, and you can add leftovers to your recipe (crumbs, rice, pureed fruit, etc.) to help keep things in the fridge from going bad.

Quick breads, biscuits, and pancakes that call for milk or buttermilk can also be made with sour (spoiled) milk.  Not only are they inexpensive to make, but they can really help you stretch your groceries and save you from pouring money down the drain in the form of spoiled food!

5. Tomato sauce.  Tomato paste is much less expensive, more versatile, and takes less space in the cupboard than prepared sauce.  And homemade sauce is much healthier than the bought variety.  Make it in large batches, and freeze in meal-sized or individual serving units.

6. Catsup.  If you keep tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, and salt around, you can make your own catsup.  The result is both tasty and healthy, as well as cheap.  Make a batch, and split it between the fridge and the freezer.

7. Soup stock.  Don't buy bullion.  Don't buy canned broth.  Don't even buy special ingredients to make  stock.  Just keep and boil your vegetable scraps, beef bones, and bird carcasses.  If you don't want to babysit the pot, make stock in the crockpot overnight.

8. Soup mix or cans.  Once you have stock on hand (and even if you don't), fresh soups are incredibly easy and inexpensive to prepare.  I make soup once a week for my cold weather lunches, and frequently in warm weather for light suppers.  Whether you use th stovetop or a crockpot, the time invested is well worth it, and little bits of leftovers can almost always find a second wind in a soup bowl.  Find a cookbook with a good selection of easy soup recipes, and go from there.  I like The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

9. Bread crumbs.  Keep lonely or stale pieces of bread and biscuits in the freezer, along with cracker crumbs and bread crumbs scraped off the cutting board.  You can also glean crumbs off of baking pans with a table knife.

10. Pancake syrup.  If you save fruit parings, you can boil and strain them.  The resulting juice can then be boiled with sugar to make fruit syrup.  The same can be done with liquid strained from pumpkin or winter squash puree.  I haven't bought pancake syrup in ages, and my only expense in making it is the sugar used.

11. Apple cider mix or mulling spices.  If you save some orange peels and keep cinnamon and cloves on hand, you can just buy apple juice and make it yourself.  And a cinnamon stick can be used for multiple batches before it loses its flavor.

12. Hot chocolate mix.  When I make my boys hot chocolate, I heat milk in the microwave and stir in a little cocoa powder (about 1/2 tsp per cup of milk) and a little sweetener (sugar or stevia).  If you like having something a little more grown up, try adding cinnamon and chili powder, some vanilla, almond extract, or instant coffee.

13. Lemonade or mix.  Why buy separate product when all you need is lemon juice, sugar, and water?

14. Dish soap.  I stopped buying dish soap about six months ago.  Now I just buy the big jugs of liquid hand soap to fill all our soap bottles.  The dishes are just as clean, but my hands are happier and my shopping list is shorter.

15. Baby food. When baby is ready to start eating soft foods, you might as well make them yourself as spend money on the watered down version in those little jars.

16. Canned beans.  Buy dry beans, cook up a big batch, and freeze in useable portions.  It's cheaper and healthier than the alternative.

17. Jams and jellies.  I've started making jelly from boiled fruit scraps, but making jams when you find a good deal on fruit can be very inexpensive, too.  Corn cob jelly is another option, although I have yet to try it.

18. Stuffing mix.  Do you have bread crumbs?  Basic herbs and spices? Salt? Stock?  Congratulations! You can make your own stuffing from scratch in about the same amount of time it takes to make it from the box!

19. Pudding mix.  Whether it's plain vanilla or chocolate pudding, bread pudding, or rice pudding, puddings are easy to make and can actually be fairly healthy when made from scratch.  Vanilla and chocolate pudding only take a few minutes to make on the stove, so the time savings of using a boxed mix is really limited.

20. Pie crust.  Hot water crust is easy, cheap, fast, reliable, and low maintenance.

21. Salad dressing.  Most salad dressings take only a few ingredients and a few minutes in the blender or food processor, and the results taste just as good as the bottled version.  Caesar, Ranch, and Vinegarette are my favorites.

22. Orange zest.  When you buy citrus fruits, you can always use a grater to grate the zest off of the washed rind before you cut open the fruit.  With lemon, lime, and clementine peels, you can also cheat by drying the peel and running it through a coffee grinder.

Making things from scratch can be a wonderful way to stretch your grocery budget.  While some things might be more time consuming than others, many involve a minimal time commitment or only demand your time on an infrequent basis.  Knowing how to make things from scratch and how to use things that others might throw away is also empowering and educational.  The things you make are often healthier than their store bought equivalents, and they bring none of that extra packaging into your home.  If you make something out of a waste product, you are also reducing the amount of waste you produce, and anything that makes use of leftovers prevents food spoilage.  Making it yourself reduces the trash your household produces, and that saves money on garbage bags (if not on paying for a larger can).  Best of all, cooking from scratch provides you with the opportunity to teach valuable skills to your children.  Not only does that enable them to save money in their adult ives, but it's time that you don't have to pay for their amusement or worry about what they might be destroying.

This post has been linked to WFMW and Hip Homeschool Moms, Buusy Monday, and MYHSM.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chores for the New Year

As birthdays roll around, so does a reevaluation of chores.  I find that the hardest part of assigning chores to the boys is my remembering not to do the work myself.  Half the time I remember that someone else was supposed to help about ten minutes after I finish the job--not good for instilling new habits.  Still, I try.

Here are the jobs I'm attempting to delegate these days:


  1. The Bat is learning to wipe down the kitchen floor.  He is also responsible for folding and putting away his own laundry.  In the kitchen, he is learning to help put away clean dishes.  This year, as part of school, he will also start learning to cook.
  2. The Eel helps me with the vacuuming, generally just one room.  It's a lot of work for a 4yo otherwise.  He also folds and puts away his laundry.
  3. I'm starting to teach the Elephant to get out and hold the dustpan for me when I sweep.  He also helps put things in the trash when asked.  When his brothers put their laundry away, I put all their socks and underwear in a basket, and he pours those into the correct drawer.
  4. Back when the Bat was 3, he learned how to do laundry.  Since then, we have not had a washer at home that he could reach.  He and the Eel have both enjoyed helping at the laundromat, but soon we will be able to do laundry at home again (at the end of the month).  When that happens, they will both learn to do their own laundry (working together), and will have an assigned day for that task.
  5. I used to have the older two clear the table, too.  But it's been a while since we've had a dinner table.  I hope to remedy that situation soon as well.  When we have a table again, the Eel and Bat will once again learn to bus the table after meals.
This post has been linked to WFMW and Hip Homeschool Hop.