A Kid Friendly Ostara / Spring Equinox Celebration

Kid Friendly Ostara

It’s officially SPRING!!! I have been feeling so over all the cold weather and grey skies! It’s SO nice to finally feel the air warming up and see the SUN!

This was our first year of celebrating Ostara and I had been SOO looking forward to it! Never heard of Ostara? Then before we get to our family celebration, it’s time for a history lesson!

Ostara is one of the 8 seasonal holidays that make up the “wheel of the year” (but you may know it as the Spring or Vernal Equinox).

The word Ostara is an English evolution of the word Eostre; Eostre was a Germanic goddess of Spring. One myth claims that Eostre once found an injured bird on the ground in late winter. To save it’s life, she changed the bird into a hare but the transformation wasn’t perfect. It looked like a hare, but kept it’s ability to lay eggs! The creature would decorate these eggs and leave them as gifts to Eostre as thanks for saving it’s life.

Other myths associate rabbits and eggs with Ostara as symbols of fertility and re-birth, which is a common theme of Spring: baby animals are being born, trees and flowers begin to bloom, crops/gardens are being planted, etc.

Celebrations of Eostre were held during Eosturmononath, the fourth lunar month (mid-March to Mid-April). Often these celebrations involved the decorating of eggs, egg hunts, and gifts. As Christianity began to spread, many customs that were previously associated with Ostara were combined with and adopted into the Christian holiday “Easter” and it’s easy to see the resemblance and symbolism here (celebrating the rebirth of the Christ seems fitting during the time of year when re-birth is thematic).

The Spring Equinox or Vernal Equinox, when both the northern and southern hemisphere receive equal sunlight (as the earth tilts and the sun begins to bring more daylight to the northern hemisphere), occurs around March 21st each year (in 2019 it is March 20th, in 2020 it will be March 19th). Some earth / nature centric religions (wiccans, neopagans, etc.) observe the equinox as a holiday, others observe the Sabbat Ostara. JudeoChristians observe Passover and Easter around the same time (usually between Ostara and Beltane aka May Day). Regardless, this is a a time of spiritual significance!

Okay, enough history. Back to our celebration!

We started the day with a trip to our local dollar tree. (We go there a lot because it’s like a treasure hunt each time!) I don’t mind getting my seasonal flowers from there and we like to peruse the craft supplies and seasonal decor – which is exactly what we did! We always leave there with waaay too much stuff, because it’s really hard to say no to something that only costs a dollar…

Anyway, I got some things for our seasonal / holiday table (it’s really my personal altar, but I like keeping it decorated for the season or current / recent holiday). K got some sparkly eggs, bunny ears, and a balloon that said Happy Birthday (haha). It made her happy because it was rainbow colored – and it was actually semi-appropriate because my sister in law’s birthday is on the 21st and my mom’s birthday is on the 22nd – even though K wanted to keep it for herself!

We also made a stop at our local herb shop, because K wanted to make a potion to help the plants grow and bring out Spring. I picked up a few things to add to my apothecary closet and K picked out rosebuds and passion flower for her potion.

Once we got home and unloaded everything, we dove right in to potion making!

Potion making is super fun! I love seeing what K will pick out to blend together. She usually picks out really good blends! For her Spring Potion we used: Pink Rosebuds, Passion Flower, Lavender, Chamomile, and Calendula. She ground up each ingredient with our little mortar and pestle and combined it all in a glass bowl that we use specifically for herb blending / potions. Then we added some Rosewater that I’d made from the red roses hubby brought me for Valentine’s Day.

Because I’m a modern gal, we used the microwave to heat up the concoction. 2-3 minutes was plenty! We poured the liquid through a mesh strainer into a clean bowl and then funneled it into a small 2oz. spray bottle and voila! Our Spring Growing Potion was ready!

K wanted to put it to the test immediately so we went outside and sprayed all of our landscape bushes and the beginning shoots of our daylilies with the potion. Of course we had to chant our intentions too – so we firmly, but lovingly, told each plant to “Grow, Plant, Grow”!

After our successful potion mixing time, we spent some time doing new flower arrangements for the fireplace mantle and foyer table. I keep ALL the flowers I ever buy in a giant bag so I let K go through and pick whichever ones she wanted to use to make the arrangement for the table, while I placed white and peach colored lilies in the vase for the mantle.

After that we re-decorated the table and had an indoor egg hunt! We also went to the library and got some Spring themed books, which we are still reading through and likely will renew at least once!

I was also able to take some me-time to be outside and just give thanks for all of the abundance of the season, the gift of life, new opportunities, fresh starts, and everything Spring represents to me personally.

There’s not a lot of information out there for families who want to celebrate and create Ostara traditions together, but I think we managed well enough on our own! If you celebrate Ostara with kids I’d love to hear what you planned!

xo and happy Spring!
–Marissa

Our Super Simple System for Making Sight Words Easy and Fun!

I don’t know about other homeschooling / unschooling families out there but I’ve always been overwhelmed with the idea of trying to teach reading. Letter recognition, letter sounds, those seem easy but piecing that together into reading just seems hard! Especially because the English language has so many weird exceptions, silent letters, words that sound the same but are spelled different, etc.

Luckily for me, my daughter is a SPONGE and soaks up all knowledge. She WANTS to learn and has been starting to ask how things are spelled.

Being an unschooler, I haven’t wanted to push reading before she is ready – but since she’s showing interest in the subject, I’ve taken the opportunity to introduce sight words and work reading into our everyday lives.

I personally think that memorizing sight words can be really really really boring and is a bit too much like public school learning for my liking. Here’s how we use the concept of sight words, but make it fun, and easy too!

First, I looked up a list of sight words that are typically learned at ages 5 – 6. I copied words from the Dolch Sight Words Kindergarten and 1st grade lists (you can also download these as pdfs) onto colored index cards.

Overachiever Confession: I really wanted to color code the parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) but didn’t have enough index cards / colors to do this. I figured I’ll update our system once we’re actually ready to cover those concepts. She’s only 5 after all!

I found and purchased a photo album and organized the index cards alphabetically into the pockets. This helps me be able to easily see what words we have to work with and find specific words as needed.

Our Super Simple System for Making Sight Words Easy & FUN! #unschooling #homeschool #kindergarten #myunschoollife
Our Super Simple System for Making Sight Words Easy & FUN! #unschooling #homeschool #kindergarten #myunschoollife
Our Super Simple System for Making Sight Words Easy & FUN! #unschooling #homeschool #kindergarten #myunschoollife

I also bought a few colored magnets at the dollar tree and voila! our sight word system was complete!

We choose 8 words to work with at a time. K likes to be involved and pick out her words, so I let her choose 4 words and I choose the other 4. Typically I choose words that can be used to make  multiple short sentences or phrases.

Using sight words with actual context seems to really help K learn them! Plus she likes to rearrange the words to see what sentences she can come up with. This provides us with opportunities to discuss sentence structure and verb tense too!

Our Super Simple System for Making Sight Words Easy & FUN! #unschooling #homeschool #kindergarten #myunschoollife

While the concept of “sight words” is generally to know the word “on sight”, we initially work on sounding out the words, rather than straight memorization. The “on sight” part comes when I ask her to point to specific words – which I don’t really do daily… it’s pretty random, because well…unschooling. 😉

I plan to start writing the date next to each sight word as we learn/ review them so I can see and remember the last time we worked with a specific word. I’ll likely do this in pencil so I can erase / re-write as we add new words in.

So there you have it! Our super simple system for making sight words easy and fun! How do you approach reading / sight words at home? Tell me in a comment!

xo,
Marissa

Our Current Amazon Crushes: ASD/SPD Friendly Products, Unschooling Resources, and Home Organization


We are an Amazon Prime loving family. I mean you just can’t beat free 2 day delivery, basically anything you could ever want to buy, and bargain hunting! As an unschooling family, we find lots of educational goodies on Amazon. As a mom, I’m also always looking for things that make my life easier. Aaaaand I buy myself the occasional “treat” or two as well.

We tend to batch buy things about once a month, after “crushing on” it for a while. Here are some of our favorite purchases so far this year

THINGS FOR K:

Kids Bluetooth Wireless Headband / Sleep Mask
K’s SPD often amps up at bedtime, when every little noise is heightened. She’s consistently bothered by small house noises, the threat of thunderstorms, trucks going by on the road, the threat of smoke detectors going off (which they recently randomly did for no reason at all. Checked the batteries, they were fine.), etc. etc. She tried using her hardshell noise blocking ear muffs but those are, as you can imagine, incredibly uncomfortable to sleep in. So off to Amazon I went and found this gem! It’s a soft headband that covers the ears and can cover the eyes too – that has bluetooth wireless capability! SCORE! We linked this to her “music box” tablet (old tablet repurposed to just play music in her bedroom) and she loves it! The addition of the music helps block more noise, it’s soft and comfy, AND it helps block out unwanted lights. This has really helped her settle down and get to sleep faster!

Assorted Tumbled Rocks
This product is a GREAT price for the amount of rock chips you get. These are NOT large tumbled stones, but rather small 1cm ish chips. They would be good for decorating projects, art projects, math manipulatives, etc. We use them to represent the things we are thankful for each night and collect them in our “Thankful Jar”. This also gives us a daily opportunity to work on identification of each rock. While they are small, you should still be able to easily identify each of them, as the assortment seems to contain several of the most popular stones. I.E clear quartz, amethyst, lapis lazuli, citrine, carnelian, etc.

Rock on! Geology Game
Since we have been using the assorted rock chips for our thankful jar, K has wanted to know what each one is and has been getting very interested in various gems/stones. And like I said above, we’ve been working on identifying the ones in the assorted batch we purchased. But sometimes we find one that I don’t know what it is – or can’t remember. We’ll look it up of course, but I bought this game so that we can work on even more rock identification in an even more fun way! I’m hoping it will help me finally recall the name of that weird light pastel green rock K loves (haha).

Piano for Kids
As I mentioned in our recent Unschool Life Update, K has been working on learning basic piano. She got a keyboard for her birthday in February. I did a LOT of research on various kids piano books and this one really seemed to take the cake! I’ve been really happy with it so far! It’s easy to understand and progresses nicely. It teaches correct finger position and two-handed play from the very beginning. But above all, it makes practicing FUN!

Spanish/English Storybooks
My husband and I both speak Spanish as a second language. I actually currently teach Spanish for our homeschool co-op – it was my minor in college. Hubby has family that are native Hispanic. So one of the things we really have wanted to teach K is Spanish, from a young age. Language learning is much much easier for young kids than it is for older teens and adults, unless they just have an affinity for languages. K LOVES learning new Spanish words and actually uses them appropriately. One of the ways we include Spanish in our unschooling life is to read bilingual books together. The below books are some that we LOVE! Notice that The Story of Ferdinand has a separate book for the English version and a separate book for the Spanish version. We actually like having two copies of books like this because then one of us can read the Spanish version and the other can read the English version – so both parents can be involved in storytime!

CONFESSION: Hubby and I often battle over who gets to read the Spanish version, because we BOTH want to!

Goldilocks and the 3 bears (Spanish / English)

The Story of Ferdinand (Spanish)

The Story of Ferdinand (English)

Goodnight Moon (Spanish / English) 

Things for me:

The Complete Medicinal Herbal 
One of my 5 year goals is to obtain an herbalist certification. I’m looking into and planning to participate in a reputable course as soon as I can work it into the budget. But since we’re also trying to finish up a million home improvement projects to get our home ready to sell, enrolling in an herbalism course is going to have to wait awhile. So in the meantime, I’m self-studying and working with herbs on my own.  This book is one of my favorites so far! I’ve bought a couple others from half-price books but they haven’t arrived yet….

Adjustable Book / Tablet Stand
I really bought this for K to use as a music stand when she’s practicing keyboard, but I’m definitely going to be using it too. No more flat tablet on the countertop when looking up a recipe. No more flat textbooks when I’m studying! The stand easily folds flat and has several adjustments for various viewing angles. It’s made of a study thick plastic that doesn’t feel cheap!

Leaf Shaped Ceramic Mini-Dishes
As I’ve mentioned, I’m getting into herbalism and as part of that I’ve been making our own incense recently. I actually prefer to use loose incense on these Starlight Charcoal Rounds, so I had to search for little bowls or plates for burning the incense. I wanted something with a depth so we could layer sand, charcoal, incense. These cute little dishes, which are technically appetizer or sauce dishes, caught my eye! I love that they are leaf shaped and so kind of go with the whole herbal vibe and they come in 4 lovely colors! Great price and quality.

Dymo Label Maker
Since I am a serial craft supplies collector… I mean you never know when you’re going to need 50 buttons for some art project and as unschoolers our supply of cardstock, stickers, white paper, paint, crayons, etc. must be stocked at all times! So much art and crafting happens in our house – SO. MUCH.

The problem is that my house has very little storage space. And craft supplies have traditionally been stored all over the house. Some in my closet, some in K’s closet, some in the office, etc. They haven’t had one collective “home” since we’ve lived here. Part of that is the lack of storage space and part of that has been my lack of organization because it’s really really daunting to organize as much art/craft stuff as I have.

However, since we’re preparing to move and since I’ve grown more and more fond of a minimalist-ish lifestyle – I’ve been facing the organizational problem head on. The first thing I did was to purchase a bunch of plastic food containers from the dollar tree. The second thing I did was to purchase this label maker form Amazon. BEST PURCHASE OF MY LIFE.

I’m nowhere near done with my craft supply organization project, but we now have stickers, crayons, colored pencils, glues/tapes, watercolor paints, paintbrushes and sponges, etc. all in their own labelled storage containers. The containers make it super easy to pull out the desired supplies and put back all nice and neat with the lid secured so things don’t get spilled or mixed up. The labels make it super easy to quickly visualize what is in each container.

Since doing this, hubby can now get K set up with paint supplies quickly and easily -because he can actually FIND them now. Whereas before I was the only one who knew where x,y, z supplies were hidden.

I’ve also been able to use my handy dandy label maker to organize all my new herbs into my apothecary closet! What was once a ragtag assortment of bagged/jarred herbs is now nicely and neatly arranged and labelled so I don’t have to go digging through a box to find what I need!

i know I know, this all sounds like basic organization 101, and it is. But for me, someone who is busy and just hasn’t made the time (up til now) to organize, this has been life changing!

Clothing Organizer Bags
One of my other organizational projects has been to clean out and tidy up our walk-in closet. Which isn’t exactly the most well designed closet in the world. While it’s technically a “walk-in”, it has weird angles and hard to reach places. And there’s shelving that was added that just doesn’t make sense… it’s been kind of a trainwreck.

I finally decided enough was enough and ordered these clothing organizer bags, which stack up nicely once they’ve been filled with folded clothes. I’m using them to store our out of season clothes and some of my husband’s more formal button up shirts, that he doesn’t wear very often but still needs to keep in case he has a face to face work meeting or has to travel for a business thing.

These have freed up a lot of space in the closet and keep clothes from being shoved to the back of the closet where they just get forgotten about. When not in use, they fold flat and take up very little space.

Makeup Train Case
Still on the topic of organization… I have been struggling with my makeup storage for years! At first I simply tossed everything into a makeup bag, but caps and lids would come off and everything would get coated in sticky eyeliner goo or silver eyeshadow powder, etc. So then I bought a countertop organizer that’s clear and has various compartments/holders for brushes etc. But even though I’ve drastically reduced the number of eyeshadows and lipsticks I own, I still have too many makeup items to store neatly in even two organizers.

So I finally gave in and purchased a dedicated makeup case, with dividers and shelves and a brush holder, and a mirror too! I haven’t actually gotten this in the mail yet – it should be here this week, but I’m super excited to 1) get all the makeup off the bathroom counter and clear up some visual space and 2) not have to lump everything together into one catch-all bag. Plus the case I bought is super stylish 😉

So there you have it! Our family’s favorite Amazon finds from February/March!
Affiliate Disclosure: If you see something you like from our list, we do receive a small commission from Amazon if you purchase from our links – but this is at no cost to you!!

xo,
Marissa

Our Unschool Life Update

It’s been a good while since I’ve written anything – we’ve been really busy! I personally can’t wait for the homeschool co-op year to be over so we can gain back two of our weekdays! It’s been a great experience for both of us, to get out of the house, for socialization, and for K to learn important values like listening, independence, sharing, taking turns, etc along with the weekly explorations in science, art, reading, etc that they do. But it’s also been a drain on our time and has impeded the flexible lifestyle we are used to.

Since it’s been a while, here’s what we’ve been working on / up to!

1) Music

K got a keyboard for her 5th birthday and we’ve been using this color coded system to help her learn the basics. This book teaches two handed method from the beginning, with correct finger-key placement. It uses color to identify notes and longer/shorter boxes to identify longer/shorter note duration. Each song gets a little harder, introducing more notes, more movement, and more variation. K loves it. It’s a little challenging for her since she doesn’t have good fine motor skills – but that’s just another reason I love it and she needs it!

2) Geography

Our local dollar tree has a small section of educational books and teaching resources. On our last trip for craft supplies, I found a US map and a globe ball. We started out just talking about the hierarchy of country, state, city/town, which the maps really helped visually enforce. K wanted to know where we live, so we located our state on the US map. We’ve also since identified some of her “favorite” states – like Florida and Missouri – that we visit often.

We’ve used the globe ball to discuss continents but identifying them is still a hard task for her. We’ve gotten Antarctica down, so 6 more to go! We like to toss the globe ball and try to figure out what continent we see when we catch it. We’ve also watched a few youtube videos and tried to match the continent shown to us with the correct one on the ball.

3) Science

Also at the dollar tree was a Solar System mobile project, which my husband and K worked on one Saturday together. I’m pretty sure A did most of it, but K was at least seeing the planets and colored a couple herself. They didn’t finish it all, and she actually asked me the other day if we could finish it, so hopefully when we put it all together she’ll get a little more interested. She knows several of the planets names at least, so I think that’s a good start for being only 5!

4) Reading

K has been expressing more interest in spelling/reading so I looked up a big list of sight words that kids would normally learn in Kindergarten/1st grade, there’s about 70-100 words, I don’t remember exactly. I wrote each word on an index card and then organized them alphabetically into a photo album. Every week or two we pick 8 words out and put them on the fridge with their own special magnet, so that each word can be moved around independent of the other words. I usually try to pick words that  can be interchanged to make up several short sentences. For example, this week we have “I” “have” “a” blue” “bird” “he” “is” and “good” hanging up. From these words we get the sentences:

I have a blue bird
He is good.
I have a good bird.
He is blue.
He is a blue bird.
He is a good bird.
etc.

K is learning really well using this method! She loves pointing out words she knows in books and other places!

5) Writing

K has begun to ask to trace letters and numbers. I have a big activity book I got from Walgreen’s and a couple we got from the dollar tree. She picks pages at random and traces the letters, words, and numbers. She’s done a few color by number pages and dot to dot’s too. Other activities we work together on, when she can’t easily figure out the instructions/goal.

With this, she’s independently begun to write her own name! She still asks what letter comes next, because her name isn’t the easiest to spell, but given the letters she can correctly write her own name now, which seems like a huge win to me!

6) Math

K still enjoys playing math games on the tablet and is working with numbers up to 20 now, for both addition and subtraction. Some pages in the activity books require counting and filling in the missing numbers in a sequence and she does great with these – math is probably the area in which I supervise her the LEAST. She’s a numbers natural!

7) Character Building

We’ve been working on practicing thankfulness each night before bed. As part of our night time ritual, we each say three things we’re thankful for that day. We use these small tumbled stones to represent each thankful and collect them all in a glass jar so we can see how it all adds up! This is one of my most treasured moments of each day and I think it’s helped all of us be a bit more mindful of how blessed we are.

We also take a couple rocks to symbolize anything we need help with – like getting good sleep, making good choices, etc. We combine our “thankfuls” and “helpfuls” together in place of a common bedtime prayer – and I think it MEANS more than just reciting some words that happen to rhyme.

8) Faith

Speaking of prayer, faith IS an important part of our lives, but we take a very non-traditional approach to it. We do not attend a church as a family, but rather we take time to talk about spiritual matters/morals whenever it comes up. We take a more earth-centered, nature based, approach to spirituality so we talk a lot about taking care of the creation (not wasting water, not littering, recycling, etc.). We don’t like using myths or stories to explain things that science explains (like where rain comes from), but we will use them to explain holidays and why they are celebrated/how different people celebrate different holidays. We honor several seasonal observations, as well as several of the mainstream holidays.

Currently we are preparing for Ostara, or the Spring Equinox! Modern Easter borrowed a lot of the Ostara traditions so we will still color eggs and do an egg hunt, but we will also take time to notice the signs of Spring, to celebrate the changing of the seasons, and to give thanks to the Creator for this season of new life. We will celebrate Ostara as a family with a few symbolic activities such as planning/preparing our herb garden, making birdfeeders, etc.

I didn’t cover EVERYTHING, but that’s basically what we’ve been up to! Of course K still has free art time (and has been covering every surface of our walls with her drawings), and play time. We’ve had days where we’ve visited with family and friends and also days  where we’ve stayed home and done nothing. That’s the beauty of unschool life, you just see where it takes you from one day to the next!

Til next time!

–M

Kids Visual Scheduling Tools

Visual schedulers can be a wonderful tool to use with kids to help them learn daily routines and life skills. But they can be especially useful for kids with ADHD, ASD, SPD, or any behavioral/learning disorder that affects attention span or executive planning. Using a visual scheduler for kiddos that need a little extra help focusing can tremendously reduce stress levels on both parents and children, and can even reduce the occurrence of meltdowns!

Here are 3 AWESOME resources to get you started:

1) Timo – Kid’s Routine & Scheduler (App)

Not to be confused with TiMo (a banking app), THIS is a fabulous app that is FREE to download and use, from the Google Play store. Though it says there are some in-app purchases, I have yet to find any that need to bought for app functionality. In fact I haven’t seen any in-app purchase options at all. Maybe they are for avatar appearance items, as I haven’t really investigated that area of the app too much.

This app allows parents to select from various common activities, for morning, afternoon, and nighttime, in order to create a visual sequence of tasks/activities for the child to follow. Each task gets assigned a “time limit” between 5 and 60 minutes, and you can edit the amount of time you’d like to assign to each task. If a child completes the task within the allotted time, they get a star! You can allow the entire sequence to play automatically, but I recommend setting it to manual so that “IF” a child needs more time than you have set for a task, they don’t get behind on the next task(s) in the sequence – which could end up causing MORE frustration/meltdown behavior.

2) OKID Visual Schedule Magnetic Cards

This product is perfect for your kitchen command center! Each card is colorfully illustrated and magnetic, so you and your kiddo can plan out the day by re-arranging/adding/removing cards as needed from your chosen metal surface (fridge, dishwasher, magnetic board). You could set up one side of your surface for “To Do” and one side for “Done”, or simply follow the sequence you’ve laid out.

I like this product because, sometimes routines change. For instance in our house, we don’t always have the same morning routine because two days a week we go to a co-op and those mornings look dramatically different from mornings we don’t go to co-op. There’s lunches and backpacks to grab, coffee to make, and the whole time-table of our morning is more regimented in order to get out the door on time! So being able to customize the daily order of events is a plus!

3) OK to Wake Clock

While this isn’t exactly a “scheduler”, it is a very useful tool for mornings and helps your little one understand the concept of “morning”. Mornings can be dark or super bright, depending on where you live, what season it is, etc. and the changing seasonings/times/level of brightness can be confusing for our littles. This OK to Wake clock helps them understand that “wake up time” is constant, even when the sun is not.

Of course, “constant” is subjective to your individual schedules, but you get the idea. Regardless, this clock changes color when it’s OK for your child to get out of bed – giving you a few more minutes of sleep/quiet!

Disclaimer: Our model also has a physical alarm. So, pro tip, you might want to turn the volume down or turn that feature off, otherwise if your kiddo isn’t awake yet, they certainly will be once the alarm goes off!

Keto NO BAKE Cheesecake

I am not a photographer by any means. I WISH I had lovely food pics to go with my recipe posts – especially this one. Maybe one day…

Then again, maybe not, because this cheesecake never sticks around long enough! Super simple to whip up in 10 minutes flat, the hardest part of making this zero carb dessert is waiting for it to set up in the fridge!

You only need 3 simple ingredients, a block of cream cheese, a cup of heavy whipping cream, and a zero calorie sweetener (we use Splenda).

The BEST THING about this cheesecake is that an entire 1/4 of it has only 267 calories. (WHAAAT???!)

KETO NO BAKE CHEESECAKE:

Step 1: Soften the block of cream cheese in the microwave. Poke a few vent holes in it so it won’t splatter everywhere. Microwave for 30 seconds, flip and microwave again for another 30 seconds or so until you can easily spread the cream cheese around the bowl.

Step 2: Add about 6 packets of Splenda (or 1/4 cup of the granulated type) to the cream cheese. With a hand mixer, blend until smooth.

Step 3: Into a separate bowl, pour 1 cup of heavy cream. Beat on med-high speed with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. (Until it looks like whipped topping).

Step 4: Add the cream cheese mixture to the cream and mix thoroughly. 

Step 5: Transfer mixture to a shallow pie pan or dish and chill until set (approx. 1-2 hours). 

For a fall variation of this, we’ve added pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice, which was pretty good – but I just love the plain version so much!

Another variation we’ve tried is to add a single flavored drink packet (the kind for an 8oz. drink) to the cheesecake mix, instead of the Splenda, to create flavors like lemon or strawberry cheesecake!

If you’d like to add a Keto friendly crust, I recommend using almond flour. Simply mix about 1/2 cup of almond flour with a couple tablespoons of melted butter. I like to add ground cinnamon and a packet of sweetener to the mix too. Then press into the bottom of your pie pan before spreading the cheesecake on top. (I practice “intuitive cooking” so I usually don’t really measure this kind of stuff. Just eyeball it).

Again, this is such a simple recipe you can’t really mess it up! Try different things and if it doesn’t work out, you can always whip up an original!

Next time we make this, I’ll try to snap a pic 😉

xo

Marissa

Our favorite products for kids with sensory needs

My 4 (going on 14… anyone else have one of those?) year old daughter, K, was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder a couple years ago. She’s had issues with her ears since birth and it’s suspected that her SPD is linked to that. She has a HUGE noise sensitivity as well as some vestibular and proprioceptive delays.

We’ve been through therapy, took a break, and are looking to get back to an OT soon.  K just started attending a local cottage school (where I teach) one day a week and could use the extra support.

Over time, we’ve accumulated several things at home to help support her sensory needs. Amazon is a FANTASTIC place to find toys and tools for SPD/ASD kiddos. Here are some of our favorites:

1) OUTREE Kids Pod Swing Seat Hammock


Swinging is one of the best activities for sensory input. (Check out these  benefits of a sensory swing). We purchased this one for K and hung it in her room. It can support up to 170lbs. Pro Tip: If you’re hanging this inside, don’t use the anchor that comes with the product – use a different heavy duty anchor. The anchor that came with the product failed and caused the swing to fall, but the anchor we replaced it with has held the swing up fine.

This swing can be used indoor or out and, other than the anchor design, is a good quality product. The exterior is a canvas material, which is suitable for outdoor weather. My girl loves curling up in this with her stuffed animals!

2) Vanderfields Earmuffs for Kids

Noise sensitivity is a common symptom of sensory processing disorder and ASD. My daughter is literally terrified of flushing toilets, hand dryers, blenders, the vacuum…pretty much anything with a small motor. Or a big motor. Okay, pretty much anything that makes loud mechanical sounds. And water.

Bathroom trips in public were a NIGHTMARE before we purchased these noise blocking ear muffs. She’d stick her fingers in her ears and refuse to move. It’s incredibly difficult to get a child to use the restroom when they won’t use their hands.

These noise blocking ear muffs have been a LIFE CHANGER. Public restroom visits are a breeze now. If I’m blending a smoothie or vacuuming, I just give her advance notice and she grabs her ear muffs. These travel with us everywhere. She even uses them at night sometimes when it storms, since she’s also bothered by thunder.

These come in 8 fun colors – I let K pick out which one she wanted. They are cushy on the ears and expand to fit even my adult sized head (I’ve used them while operating a table saw). These do NOT cancel ALL noise, but rather lower the noise level by about 20 decibels. (For reference, normal conversation is about 60 decibels, while many household tools hover around 80-85 decibels.)

3) SENSO MEGA BUNDLE Sensory Chew Necklace – Silicone Chewy


I’ve sometimes found K biting her hands or fingers – especially when she’s upset or tired. We got a chewy necklace like these, from a birthday party, and she wears it out when we’re going to do something that’s particularly demanding on her senses. However, it’s currently lost in the abyss so this multi pack is on our list for the next Amazon order!

These are silicone, so they are soft on the teeth and won’t cause any problems for those who are allergic to latex (me!). If your kiddo is a chewer or just likes the oral sensation, then these necklaces are a MUST!

4) MarvelBeads Water Beads Rainbow Mix – 8oz


If you’re like me and are sick of dealing with kinetic sand and sticky slime, then these are the perfect alternative for you and your kiddo! Mine spent a good hour (or more!) squishing these around, scooping them up, filling jars, etc. They can also be frozen for a totally different sensory experience. If you’ve got a kiddo that needs tactile input, I highly recommend trying these out.

5) Seamless Socks

I don’t know about your kiddo but socks used to be the biggest pain and would inevitably cause a meltdown. That little line on the toes annoys me at times, I can only imagine how irritating it is to my hypersensitive sensory avoider. We started turning her socks inside out, but sometimes that still bothers her. These seamless socks are on our wish list right now! I love them because they are cute animal characters – which my girl LOVES. Her favorite pair of socks right now are a pair that, when you put your feet together, make an owl face. I’m thinking these will be a stocking stuffer for Christmas this year!


Do you have any products you have found that have helped your kiddo and supported their needs? I’d love to hear about them! Please share in a comment. 🙂

xo,
Marissa

Unschooling Kindergarten: Our typical week

Since K is only 4, and since we’re following a pretty unstructured homeschool ideal, our routines look different each week.

The whole idea of “unschooling” is that kids learn by default. LIFE is an excellent teacher and there are plenty of ways to learn spelling, reading, writing, and math BESIDES sitting at a desk and toiling over worksheets or other busy work. For instance, cooking can be a great way to learn fractions and addition. Simply slicing an apple and having a discussion on the number of pieces as they are eaten covers basic counting and simple subtraction concepts. Reading together promotes letter recognition, phonics, spelling, and –whoa– reading skills.

Life provides plenty of opportunities to learn and as a skill or concept is needed, kids tend to be more ready and willing to learn it. When learning happens all the time, there is no separation of “this is schooltime” and “this is free time” – which, by the way, tends to promote the idea that learning stops outside the classroom and equates learning with work, which can make some kids dislike learning!

When learning is done spontaneously, when the child is interested and ready, it really flows much more smoothly!

I know, I know, K is ONLY 4 (5 in a few months) – so I can’t say for 100% certain that these ideals and what I believe will hold up in 5 to 9 years. BUT I’ve done plenty of research into unschooling and so far, I’m really not seeing anything I don’t like or that scares me.

AND let me just say, there is a HUGE HUGE difference between unschooling (life based, interest led, learning) and EDUCATIONAL NEGLECT (not taking an active role in your child’s education, not teaching or guiding them to learn anything). Unschooling parents are often incredibly involved. It takes actively observing your child to be able to identify where their interests are leading them at any given time in their life, and to help foster those interests and provide educational resources for them to learn from. Unschooling is NOT passive by any means!

So all that said, here’s what a week might look like for us:

Mondays:
K is currently taking gymnastics. She loves the class and it is helping her learn to follow instructions (listening skills), interact with other kids her age (social skills), work her body (exercise), do things on her own (independence). It’s also building confidence, and helping support her SPD/vestibular input needs.

I am a believer in natural wake times and slow starts to the day/week. Thus, we typically don’t plan much else for Mondays because as a sensory avoider, gymnastics actually takes a lot out of her system. I don’t like to make the mornings super busy so that she isn’t drained by the time gymnastics rolls around in the afternoon. But sometimes we might run an errand or visit a friend/have a short playdate.

Tuesdays:
I started teaching at a local homeschool cottage program this fall. Two days a week, 7 hours total. K is enrolled in the kindergarten program and only goes 1 day a week (4 hours). I love our cottage school, and I chose to be involved with this one in particular, because her grade level is interest-led. There is a routine to the day, but what they explore/study over a given period of time is determined by what the kids show interest in. Right now they are exploring building, and deconstructing, with various materials.  They also do things like circle time, writing their names, and open play.

While radical unschoolers might say this isn’t unschooling, because she is indeed in a class setting, I say I make my own rules and K was interested in going to a class so she is. She loves it and it makes her happy, so we’re doing it. She’s learning independence, practicing her social skills, and getting to do other fun educational activities – WITHOUT the pressure to perform, pass a test, or meet any specific educational standard or milestone.

After cottage school, we go home to unwind and rest our bodies. Again, we don’t like to pack our days to the max. So cottage school is all that’s ever on the agenda for Tuesdays.

Wednesdays:
Since I do work from home, I’ve got to sit at my desk at least every once in a while. The good news is, I run my own business so my hours are flexible. I’m in the middle of re-working my office hours since my husband just started to work from home full time for his company. In the future, I’ll probably start working more in the evenings, but I have been setting aside a full day on Wednesdays to get stuff done.

Since K is an only child, this has been leaving her to her own devices for much of the day. This is the one day we usually let her watch more of her favorite shows or play on the tablet longer. I hate it, because I don’t agree with letting electronics be babysitters, but at least I know she is watching educational shows on PBS or playing educational games on the tablet (see my post about our current favorites here).

As far as what she is learning on Wednesdays: patience is a big one and something she struggles with (as any kid does). Being self-sufficient. Self-entertaining and self-soothing. Math and Spelling concepts via her game apps. And PBS kid shows cover a whole gamut of topics from daily routines, to friendship and kindness, to math, science, reading, and more!

Thursdays:
On Thursdays I have to teach at the cottage school, but K isn’t enrolled for Thursdays. She goes to my parents’ house for the day, and honestly, this is probably one of the most educational days for her. At their house she gets to pretend play all day. They have chickens and she’s learned to feed them and collect eggs. She’s helped them plant a garden. She explores nature and goes on hikes and other adventures. She has a slew of toys and books, dress up items, her own bouncy house, and basically anything she could ever want. Like honestly, her days there are what I wish I could give her. But I’m not in the life stage my parents are, I’m content with our lives, and I’m just grateful that she gets to experience having grandparents in a way I never really did.

What’s she learning? Socialization with adults and family bonding. Since I know her time there is spent doing what she is interested in doing, I’m confident in saying that Thursdays are unschooling at it’s finest. She’s learning. I might not be there to see it, but she’s learning.

Fridays:
Fridays are our adventure days. We have a few places we like to rotate through, such as the library, the science museum, the gymnastics sportsplex, the art studio, etc. Sometimes we arrange play dates. Sometimes it’s just me and her. Sometimes we grab lunch at Panera or IHOP. We go with the flow on Fridays. It’s a nice way to wrap up the week, reconnect, and get ready for a family weekend.

What’s she learning? Spontaneity, flexibility, transitions, and whatever else we talk about during the course of the day. Depending on where we go, she’s also likely learning something related to reading, spelling, math, engineering, art, science, music, etc.

And that’s it. I don’t sit down and plan lessons. I don’t write out learning objectives or goals. I’ve consulted a “kindergarten readiness checklist” and a few other educational milestone charts and she’s on par, if not ahead, of where she would need to be in a public school setting. I mean, the girl does addition/subtraction with digits up to 10! She’s beginning to show more of an interest in spelling and is catching onto some sight words. She can write her name (with some guidance on the letters) and she even knows some Spanish.

So I’m not worried about being more structured or having formal lessons. The best thing about homeschooling/unschooling is that it’s flexible. We’ll do what works for us, for as long as it works for us. If it stops working, we can change it! We can explore any subject for as long as we want to and we can skip any subject that we don’t feel particularly inclined to explore. We can integrate fundamentals into nearly any situation.

Some people hear unschooling and ask, “But how will they learn math?” or “How will they learn to read?”

To them I say that I highly doubt she’ll be 18 and unable to do any math or reading. It’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE in this day and age to go your entire life and NOT learn anything. I understand there are exceptions and I am privileged, so sure, this method might not work for everyone. But for us, it makes sense.

If you’re interested in learning more about unschooling, I highly recommend looking up Sandra Dodd. She’s written quite extensively on the subject. Warning, she does talk about RADICAL unschooling, which is applied to other areas of life outside of education. I do not subscribe wholly to those ideas, but here and there we take a little and apply it as appropriate for our family.

If you’re unschooling, leave a comment below! Always happy to connect with other unschoolers!

xo,

Marissa

Our Favorite Free Educational Apps for PreK/Kindergarten

How much screen time your kiddo gets is a hot topic in today’s society.  Personally, I feel that electronic devices are neither good nor bad – they are a tool, and tools are neutral. In my opinion, what makes screens bad is how you use them. If you’re using them as an all day long babysitter so you don’t have to interact with your kids – I consider that a bad use. If you’re using them interactively with your kids, and they help bring you closer together, I consider that a good use.

In our house, we use screens as a tool for pure entertainment at times, but the majority of the time we are using them for educational fun.

I have an old tablet that I’ve set up specifically for my daughter. She doesn’t have free access to it, but it’s essentially hers. I’ve loaded it up with several games that are learning based and age appropriate for her. We get the tablet out every few days or so. It’s kind of a special treat to her to get to play on it! And I’m happy because she’s having fun learning! Unschooling win!

If you’re like me, then you’re probably constantly on the hunt for good apps. These are our favorite FREE educational apps (for preK/Kindergarten) – in no particular order.

ABC Spelling by RV AppStudios

This app is completely AD FREE, which as a parent I LOVE! I don’t have to worry about my little one accidentally purchasing anything. This app has 3 different games which help teach simple spelling of common sight words. There is a LOT of positive feedback during the game, including a character that routinely says “I believe in you!” which I just think is so powerful for little kids. Stickers and toys are awarded as your child completes levels.

Math Kids by RV AppStudios

Also by RV AppStudios is this an AD FREE math gem! There are 8 different game modes in this app, which covers addition and subtraction using numbers up to 20. (There is a setting to restrict math problems to use only numbers up to 5 or up to 10.) The UI is colorful and fun! My daughter spent an entire HOUR playing with this app and was SO EXCITED to come tell me about the addition equations she was learning. “1 plus 9 equals 10 Mommy!” will never NOT be adorable.

Khan Academy Kids by Khan Academy

This app is also completely free and ad free! It covers several educational topics such as letters & spelling, numbers & counting, reading, and logic. It also has a collection of books, videos, and coloring pages. I love this app for the variety. It has an automatic “learning track” which you can just resume each time you use the app, or you can handpick activities from the library. Highly recommend this app as an “all around” for meeting preK/K learning goals.

The Cat in the Hat Builds That

I love all things PBS, but this stand alone app is one of my favorites! It’s a STEM based application that allows kids to explore things like friction, velocity, bridge building, and other science and engineering concepts. It’s a little on the more advanced side for a 4 year old, but with a little help my daughter really enjoys this app.

Highlights Monster Day

This is a cute app that has kids guiding adorable “monsters” through daily habits and activities. From waking up to an alarm clock, eating breakfast, getting dressed,  and brushing teeth to school day activities and bedtime routines, this app is tons of fun! There are 4 monsters to start with, and each has a different routine. Additional monsters are unlocked as you play! This is an AD FREE app, but occasionally there is a pop up to subscribe to emails. It only pops up like once in an hour, so it’s not interrupting play time too much.


There are a TON of good apps out there, and I’m sure we’ll discover more as K gets older, but these are the ones we are loving on right now. Go check them out!

Got a favorite to share? Comment below!

xo,

Marissa