Saturday, December 1, 2018

First Communion Resources

Child number 9 is currently preparing for First Communion. Over the years, we have tweaked what we have used with the kids a bit here and there but the one constant that has remained is that we never rely on the parish materials to provide real preparation. Some of our parishes have provided ok resources but most have been very lacking.  Our current parish sadly falls pretty squarely into the very much lacking end of the spectrum.

This year we are using a variety of resources at home including read alouds, audio stories, DVD's, and hand-on materials.
The backbone of of our religious ed at home for this age is the St. Joseph First Communion Catechism (No. 0). Yes, this is the good old fashioned Baltimore Catechism with all the wonderful pictures and explanations.  I don't focus on memorization at this age but rather on becoming familiar with the answers and a basic understanding of what they mean.  We also use the 2nd grade Faith and Life books.
For read alouds we are using The Weight of the Mass, Patron Saint of First Communicants: the Story of Blessed Imelda Lambertini, St. Patrick's Summer,King of the Golden City,  and a short story about St. Tarcisius which can be found in the book True Stories for First Communicants. I have also found an audio version of the story on LibriVox.
We use several resources from Holy Heroes.  Their DVDs on The Holy Mass and The Eucharist achieve the goal of explaining concepts to children and keeping their interest WITHOUT talking down to them.  The Altar Gang audio CD volume 3 is all about First Communion and great to listen to in the car or during quiet time.
One of my favorite resources for combining solid teaching with hands-on projects is the Preparing to Receive Jesus program by Catholic Heritage Curricula.  This program teaches through a combination of stories and hands-on projects. The stories included in the program are older traditional stories that I love sharing with the children.  This program also has us making sacrifice beads, a personalized Mass book, and learning about the various sacred vessels used in the Mass.

With every child, I purchase a banner kit from Illuminated Ink. Not only do these kits help me avoid having to collect all of the materials and creative juices for a banner, they also include in depth explanations of the symbolism behind all of the items included in the banner.

With some of our older kids, we made lapbooks from Holy Learning. These wonderful resources allow you to customize your project for each child so you can easily work with younger and older kids at the same time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Advent Read Alouds

For several years now, I have intended to collect enough Advent books to read one book aloud each evening as a family. But I have always managed to put off collecting the books long enough that I was never able to make it happen. This year, I have actually managed to get the books together in time to make this happen. I won't mention how many of these books have sat on our shelves unread for the past several years waiting for me to get my act together.

So what will we be reading this Advent?

I have seen many people suggest wrapping up all of the books so that your kids can unwrap one to read each night. If you keep wrapping paper in the house, I can see this being a nice touch. We do our best to avoid wrapping paper so I'm planning to just put all of the books into one bin and pick a book each evening.

I will probably pick up a few more from the library to add to the pile as time allows and hopefully add to our collection over the next few months so that we have different selections for next year.

What is on your Advent reading list this year?

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?