Monday, August 20, 2018

Get Ready 4 Kindergarten Birthday Box

Do you have a preschooler in your house who is just dying to jump into school like the big kids? Or are you just looking for fun and easy projects to do with your preschooler that require zero prep time on your part? The Get Ready 4 Kindergarten Activity Boxes are the answer to either problem.

These activity boxes are designed to help little ones get ready for kindergarten while providing a guided program for parents that incorporates literature, crafts, games, and more.  We received the Birthday Box to review with our 3 toddlers.
Our box focused on shapes. Included in the box were two craft projects, plastic shape tiles with pictures the child could attempt to copy, an Eric Carle book, and shape related flash cards for the child to match with the designated shapes.
The plastic shapes and book were the hands down favorites of the kiddos.  One of the pictures they were asked to copy was of a caterpillar. We are currently watching a bunch of caterpillars at home and waiting for them to turn into butterflies so this was an instant favorite for Seamus.
The book arrived wrapped like a birthday present. Instant bonus. What kid doesn't like opening presents?

The craft projects included in the kit were making bird feeders and writing a thank you note. Nothing fancy or out of this world BUT every single item for the projects were included in a single bag per project. No chasing down glue or paper or anything. It is all right there at your finger tips. This is simply wonderful. This means you can open the box and go or hand a project off to an older sibling without worrying about them needing anything.

Seamus, Charlie, and Kolbe all loved the box and playing with it. I recommend this resource to any parent who is looking for an easy way to add some fun to their school time with their toddlers.

I received a free activity box in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own. No other compensation was received.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Planting the Seeds of Faith

Every year about this time, I find myself searching for some inspiration to carry me through yet another homeschool year. Let's be honest here. Homeschooling our brood is a bit of a challenge.  Even if I feel that it is the absolute best option for our family, I still sometimes go kicking and screaming into the next school year.

This year I read Planting the Seeds of Faith. This short book contains a collection of articles by 10 homeschooling supporters. Some are long time homeschooling parents, others are priests who strongly support Catholic homeschooling as a way of providing an authentic Catholic education today.

Although every single chapter had something to offer, I have to admit I got the most out of the first chapter written by Mary Ellen Barrett. I heard her speak on a similar topic at a homeschooling conference a few years ago and found her thoughts in this book to be incredibly moving and inspiring.

I'm still looking for another book or two to read so please give me your favorite resources for homeschool inspiration.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Multi-Student Catholic Planner

Since we've been homeschooling for 16 or 17 years, I would say the biggest challenge over the years has been managing to keep multiple students organized and on track at the same time. In those early years with only one or two students, keeping everyone organized was a fairly simply process.  As more students have been added, the challenge has gotten bigger. Throw in a few years with premature babies, deployments, and serious medical needs and chaos was sure to ensue.

Into this picture enters the Multi-student Catholic Planner by Jennifer Harbor Rainey.  This planner has so much to love for the large family mom. First, it is uncluttered. I'm a huge fan of keeping things simple. Too much extra is simply sometimes just too much.

The 36 weeks of planning pages are undated. This means you can start and end your schooling on your schedule. Take a few weeks off and not lose a single weekly layout due to the wrong dates.  These planning pages provide a 1 page layout for every day of the week preceded by a weekly general planning sheet that includes space for meal plans, a grocery list, a weekly scripture memory verse, and a saint of the week. 5 subjects are labeled leaving 3 spaces unlabeled for your own personal touch.

After these planning pages, you will find monthly calendar and planning sheets. These pages provide space to track long term goals, field trips, spiritual goals, and provide a list of feast days.

In the back you will find pages to track reading lists, student grades, and more. The final section of the planner includes basic Catholic prayers providing the perfect resource to keep on hand through out your day.

This planner is also very reasonably priced and not too bulky so it can easily be carried with you during your day.  This should provide a handy organizational tool for moms of many this school year.

I have received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review of said product. All opinions expressed are my own.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Meal Plan

M: yogurt, granola, fruit (B), sandwiches (L), 3-cheese crockpot pasta (D)
T: eggs, toast (B), pbj (L), beef stroganoff (D)
W: cereal, fruit (B), soup (L), simple green chili chicken (D)
T: baked oatmeal, apple butter (B), BLT wraps (L), leftover night (D)
F: eggs, hashbrowns (B), macaroni and cheese (L), May the 4th Party (D)
S: bagels (B), Cinco de Mayo Feast (D)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Money Monday

We are still fighting our battle to pay down all of our consumer debt. This battle seems to be one sometimes of two steps forward, one step back. In the last couple years, we have dealt with huge amounts of medical bills (we had an 18 month period with 6 different surgeries), way too many car repairs, actually replacing 3 different vehicles, house repairs, and just lots of assorted chaos.  Even with all of this, we are committing ourselves to taking the time to plan a vacation for the family each year as frugally as possible.  We simply do not have many years left with all of the kids at home. Making time for family time and memories is important to us.

Replacing two cars in a two month span (both unexpected) has left us with a very tight budget for the year. Even used vehicles add up when the replacement fund was empty to begin with. Sigh. So I am hoping by giving myself a bit more accountability, I will make continued forward progress on keeping under budget, putting money in savings, and continuing to pay off the debt.

Our current grocery budget is quite a bit lower than I would like it to be. Doable if I stick to a meal plan and freezer meals so I am hoping once we use up a bit of the meat in the freezers, I can rearrange a bit to make space for freezer meals. Yes, I see the irony. The freezers are jam packed so full of beef that we lack room for other stuff. Our yearly beef purchase always comes from our tax refund and is a blessing with an otherwise tight grocery budget. I don't have to plan for buying meat. Chicken, pork, fish, beans. Those all come out of the grocery budget this year.  We were unable to purchase our usual whole pig this year due to replacing a car after an accident. A bit of a bummer but that is the way things work out.

So the reality is that living on a tight budget requires constant planning and rethinking. Constantly searching for new ways to cut costs or reuse or rethink.  Yes, I realize some folks would say go out and get a job. I've considered that. Repeatedly. Every time I got ready to apply for one, one of our cars died.  Every single time.  When we are down a car, there is no way to add another work schedule to the chaos. I figured this was God's way to saying stay home for now. It's where you belong. I'll revisit the idea in a few months perhaps.

So what have we done recently to save some extra cash?

I finally found a way to cut the older girls' hair that we are all happy with. This takes care of not only haircuts for them but also for me. Haircuts are one of those things I hate to pay for. Heck, I think the last time I paid for one for myself was sometime in the first year we were married. Instead I was having Alan trim it once a year or so. If you are someone who enjoys haircuts and pampering and such, this probably sounds awful to you. But I do not enjoy having someone else cut my hair at all so it never bugged me.  I was, however, struggling to find a decent way to cut the girls' hair without leaving them horrified at the results.  This has finally been achieved. On haircut day last week, 10 folks received haircuts. The three-year-old will need some finishing touches later this week when we can get him to sit still but otherwise, everyone looks great.

When we received the party pack from Kikkoman for our house party, it came with several coupons for free items. After our guests took some home, we still had a few left. I've been able to use these for free items to put in our pantry for meals. I have one more coupon waiting to be used.

We are starting to sort through the extras in the house and look for things to list for sale to bring in a bit of extra cash. Although I normally try to donate everything we can, right now we are in need of the extra funds enough to try selling a few items first. I still plan to purge and donate a bunch as well since you do save money when there is less in your house and things are better organized but I have my eye on a few items specifically for selling.

I've been using Swagbucks to earn gift cards a bit more than usual. Last month I was able to pay for a huge case of disposable diapers for bedtime. Yes, we SHOULD be using cloth and for a very long time, not using it would not have been thinkable. I do intend to move back to cloth at night but for right now, this is where we are. Several of the toddlers like to climb in bed with older siblings at night so it is just easier to use disposables at the moment. And when I can get the diapers for free, I can live with that. This month I plan to save up the gift cards to replace the leaking coffee pot and broken reusable filter. Although I am totally ok with never having coffee in the house, several of my family members think this is something unthinkable.

Last week was break week for the local schools which meant many of the children's activities were cancelled. Combine this with sick kids for most of the week and the van was parked in the driveway for most of the week. This saved quite a bit of gas for the week. The realities of driving a large van include the fact that it costs at least $5 every time you pull out of the driveway to go somewhere. I do my best to combine errands and put more than one kid in the same activity to cut down on driving but we are rather busy right now in this season of life and constantly filling that van.

What creative ways do you have for saving a few pennies?

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Divine Mercy Sunday

We decided to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday in style this year. At least in OUR style. And that means crafts and food.
 I had other plans. Grand plans. They feel by the wayside and I am completely ok with that.
This year the younger crew made these Divine Mercy crafts from CatholicIcing. You can see each kid has their own take on things.
We made brownie sundaes this year as well.  I had intended to read one of our favorite books on the subject with the kids but, alas, I cannot find it. I know it is one the shelves and I know I just saw it and had it in my hands a week or so ago. But today, today I could not find it. So so frustrating. I'm hoping to find it later this week and share it with the kids.
Tomorrow we will break out the HolyHeroes CD during quiet time. And perhaps send up a few prayers to find that missing book.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Divine Mercy Sunday!

CTC Math

One popular math program in homeschooling circles right now is CTC Math. CTC Math is an online program covering grades K-12, from beginning counting all the way through to calculus. We tested it out in our home over the past month.

The positive aspects of this program are many. This program is online so you can access it anywhere with an internet connection. You pay one fee and have access to all the grades for all of your students. This is beneficial both for students who excell at math and for students who struggle. With access to all grade levels, a student can just keep moving along when they finish a level and there is no need to purchase new materials. A student who is struggling can easily repeat lessons and get extra practice until they understand a concept.

If you have a student who is easily overwhelmed by seeing a whole page full of problems at once, this program can help alleviate those feelings because problems are presented one at a time. This was a tremendous benefit to my 3rd grader who just gets anxious when he sees a page full of problems stretching out before him.

This program provides skill assessments so you can place your student at exactly the right place in the program. No need to review material already mastered. You can assign tasks for your student to complete by a certain date and give quizzes and quarterly tests all through the program.

One of my favorite features is the weekly update that is emailed to the parent which details exactly what each student accomplished that week. You get a list of log in times, lessons covered, grades, and more. This is incredibly helpful to me with one particular student who likes to fib about what they have done that day.  I can log in on the parent side and immediately check on what the student has accomplished that day and immediately verify if progress was made or not. This simply lowers stress levels and avoids confrontations and frankly removes the temptation to fib about what you've done that day because you know Mom can check immediately from her computer. Maybe you don't have a student who likes to stretch the truth but then again, maybe you do.

There are a few negatives.  This program is online. I know I listed that as a positive but bear with me here. Online only means you can't pack it along in the car. Online means it is all on the computer. Personally, I'm not a fan of lots of computer time for elementary and middle school aged kids. I've even seen a negative side in lots of online classes for high schoolers at times. For younger kids, I really prefer to keep them off the computer as much as possible and working in other ways.  So I really would not attempt to use this program with anyone under 3rd grade. 

The yearly subscription fee does mean that you have to plan to pay every year. Although the cost is fairly minimal if you have several children using the program, it will add up over time compared to some other computer based programs that are a one time purchase.

The program was not as user friendly as others we have used. It did take me a few days to figure everything out and there are still a few features that I am still getting used to.

After using the program with an elementary student and a high school student, I am overall very pleased with the program. We do plan to continue the program with two of our students for the rest of the year. 

I received a free year subscription to CTC Math in exchange for this review. I was not compensated in any other way and all opinions are my own.