Homeschool Resources for Struggling Readers with A Multi-Sensory Approach

My daughter is 7 and has been homeschooled her entire life (we started when she was 3). She struggles to read – has always struggled. Part of that is due to a visual processing delay, part of that is due to very low frustration tolerance, and part is due to lack of focus and other aspects of autism that affect her learning.

Over the last year, we decided to focus ONLY on language arts and math, pushing phonics and reading skills more than anything else to help her get caught up. The beauty of homeschooling is the ability to slow down or speed up learning, based on your child’s needs, and tailoring their lessons to their skill level.

In our homeschool we use an arsenal of resources including games, workbooks, media, manipulatives, etc. which I have SCOURED the internet (ok let’s be real… I scoured Amazon) to find.

If you have a struggling reader at home, check out these resources! We use a combination of these daily and have seen a LOT of improvement in her reading ability!

180 days of spelling & word study

These workbooks are fantastic! We’ve worked through grade 1 and are on track to finish it in time to begin grade 2 this fall. I credit this workbook with the majority of progress we have seen this year. It is very logically orgnanized, and provides a one page daily exercise to strengthen vocabulary, spelling, and reading. This workbook focuses on phonics to create weekly word groups, explores changing verbs to past and present tense, provides sentence context and sentence building practice, and more. I already the grade 2 workbook in my Amazon cart and will be clicking that buy button within the next few weeks.

Handwriting Practice Paper

Every week we use the vocab list for the 180 days book and I have K write the words one or two times each. I got really tired of trying to use spiral bound notebooks or loose leaf paper for this – the notebooks I had on hand were all college ruled and I honestly hated the thought of buying a wide ruled notebook. I wanted lines with the dotted middle line for her and I wanted to be able to use the same notebook for the whole year. This book of 100 pages (it comes in a 200 page option too) fits the bill! We use it for ALL of our writing practice, from handwriting practice to sentence building. It’s easy to recognize too, as opposed to non-descript school notebooks that tend to get lost in the shuffle more often than you’d think.

BOB BOOKS

I LOVE these little books. Each short story focuses on a handful of key letters/sounds, which build on each other as you progress through the set. We’ve worked through 2 sets of these, are currently in the middle of set 3, and I fully anticipate buying future sets as K progresses further. I also really love that the illustrations are simple and use only 1 or 2 colors throughout the whole book. For kids with visual overwhelm (or a visual processing delay) reducing the amount of “noise” on the page is VERY helpful! There are also Bob Book Workbooks that have accompanying activities for extra practice/immersion.

Big Box of Sentence Building

This was a recent addition to our reading toolkit. It’s admittedly a little overwhelming with how MANY words are included in this box. BUT, we took the opportunity to sort the words into various parts-of-speech. So now we have sandwich baggies of “verbs”, “nouns”, “prepositions”, “pronouns”, etc. If you get this, I HIGHLY recommend sorting the words in this way, because it is MUCH easier to find the words you need when practicing sentence building.

We use these tiles to build silly sentences, or to use her words of the week from her 180 days workbook in sentences. Or I will build a sentence and have her read it for practice. There are a myriad of ways to use this resource!

my first bananagrams

This is a version of the classic bananagrams that is geared toward younger kids and early readers. Letter tiles are bigger and differently colored, with vowels standing out in yellow among red, blue, and green consonants. Some double letter tiles are included like “oo”, “th”, “wh”, “at”, “ea”, etc. It does come with instructions for game play, but we tend to use these as manipulatives to practice spelling “by ear” (given a word, find and arrange the correct letter tiles to make the spoken word), or to practice word families.

learning palette

There are also SO many packs that can be used with the palette base, not just reading based packs. There are packs for addition and other math concepts too! I like to select one “sheet” from the packs we have and use this as a warm up activity. It requires a little visual scanning, critical thinking, and fine motor skills. This palette is a great addition to a multi-sensory approach to reading and best of all, it is self-correcting (answers on the back). Once you buy a kit with the base, you can simply search for the stand alone packs, like this one, to add on as needed and there are various grade levels to choose from!

my first reading library

From Usborne Books comes this FIFTY book, phonics-focused, library for emerging readers. Starting with the green level, kids and adults take turns reading, gradually increasing the amount of words and pages the child reads as you progress through the set. Pages meant for adults to read aloud are in smaller text, while pages meant for children to read aloud are in larger text. The stories are short and cute, and the books include reading comprehension questions/activities at the end of each story. We do one of these about every other week, as the reading skill needed increases with each book, at a more rapid pace than the Bob Books, and the illustrations tend to be a bit distracting with lots of color and detail.



In addition to the above resources, we also utilize media like Teach Your Monster To Read and Education.com. I also have a WISHLIST of items from Amazon that I’d like to add to our arsenal. Some of the items on this list are:

Teaching your child to read, especially when they have special needs associated with autism or ADHD or visual processing delay, can be frustrating and difficult at the best of times. I know there are have been so many days I have literally cried feeling as if I am failing at this homeschooling thing. But, over time I HAVE seen definite improvements, and each week seems a little less difficult than the last. I credit the tools and resources we are using. Some kids just need a different approach. For us, a multi-sensory approach works best and we love mixing and matching games, media, and workbooks for our language arts and early literacy lessons.

Please leave a comment and let me know if you have tried any of the resources listed and how they’ve worked for your family!

xo,
Rissa

Planning Our Year-Round Homeschool

This is the year – the year we get organized with homeschooling, make a plan, follow a curriculum, etc. etc.

We’ve been pretty much unschooling since K was born, but this year we are planning a big move to a state with more homeschool “rules” so we have to make some adjustments and I figured it’s better to get into the groove now rather than later. Plus, K was diagnosed with autism earlier this year and really needs more consistent structure and routine in order to retain what we learn. So, this weekend, I spent a good chunk of time planning out our homeschool year.

If you’ve never planned out your homeschool lessons, it can be pretty daunting and overwhelming. So I’m sharing with you how we are structuring our months, weeks, and days!

First thing’s first, you need a GOOD PLANNER! I’ve looked and looked and most planners either just don’t provide enough space or they are for teachers in public schools. But I finally found THIS ONE that I just LOVE! It works well for one child OR multiple children. (Bonus Points for being under $10.)

It took a bit of math to figure out how to get 180 days to split up evenly through the year for our year-round schedule, but it actually works out really well!

To do year-round homeschooling, and get a full 180 days in, you can plan lessons for 3 months and take every 4th month off. For us that means we start school in September, and take December, April, and August off. So our last month of lessons for any grade level/specific curriculum is July.

This leaves roughly 15 extra “floating” no school days to scatter throughout the year for:

  • Holidays that don’t fall on weekends
  • Birthdays (K gets her whole birthday week off)
  • Vacations that don’t fall within the off months
  • Sick Days

The benefit of homeschooling here is, if you need to make up any school days, you can always do lessons on the weekend or planned off months.

Once I had the year schedule planned out, it was time to move on to planning our weekly flow. In order to do that I had to decide which subjects we would do on which days. You COULD do every subject every day, but I feel like that’s a bit much at her age and that it would cause definite overwhelm for us both.

Here’s what our weekly schedule looks like:

Daily: Since K struggles most with reading, I decided that we would focus on language arts (including spelling, phonics, writing, reading, and reading comprehension) every day – and this makes up the bulk of the daily work. I also planned one page a day from the 180 Days of Geography and 180 Days of Social Studies for First Grade workbooks, as well as ASL practice.

Mondays Only: I planned Mondays to be “slow start” days, so we do less language arts, but add in Piano and Art. This is also the day we learn new signs for ASL, which we will practice throughout the week.

Tuesday/Thursday: In addition to the daily work, we will do Math these days, with new concepts being introduced on Tuesdays and reviewed on Thursdays.

Wednesday/Friday: In addition to the daily work, we will do Science these days, with new concepts explored via videos and books on Wednesdays and lab on Fridays.

The curriculum I’m using for each subject is sequential, so we will just start at the beginning and work through to the next lesson each week. The workbooks for Geography/Social Studies are 1 page a day, and to work through the entire Math workbook, we’ll do 2 pages a week. There’s 1 ASL lesson per week, 1 new piano lesson per week, 1 Science concept per week, 1 Math concept per week… Easy Peasy!

As far as day to day flow goes, we start around 10am, take a full hour break for lunch around noon, and finish around 2pm. That allows everyone wake up at their own pace, have breakfast, and settle in. It also allows for PLENTY of frustration/meltdown time, breaks, and rabbit holes.

And there you have it! If you missed it, check out what curriculum we’re using this year HERE.

xo,

Marissa

DIY Painted Acorns & Acorn Necklace Tutorial

It’s officially FALL! Here’s a cute and easy fall craft you can do with ACORNS – assuming the squirrels haven’t gotten to them all first.

Acorns are popular symbols in jewelry and keepsakes, as well as in folklore and magick.

  • Acorns are an old symbol of good luck, strength, and prosperity.
  • Carrying an acorn in your pocket is said to protect you from illnesses.
  • Placing an acorn on your windowsill under a full moon is said to bring you good fortune.
  • “Passing the acorn” is an ancient pagan practice of gifting an acorn to a fellow witch at Samhain.
  • The red tannins from the water of soaked acorns can be used as a dye. Tannin-water from soaked acorns is also anti-septic, anti-viral, and will help with minor burns, rashes, and poison ivy.

Because it’s fall, and nearly Samhain, I wanted to preserve some acorns and place them on our family altar and make a necklace for K and myself to wear! Fortunatley, we live in an area of the country where several types of oak trees are abundant – and the acorns have just recently begun to fall. Preserving the acorns for our decor was super easy, and the necklaces turned out really cute! Here’s how:

First, collect some acorns – obviously ๐Ÿ˜‰ If acorns are not available where you live, you can get them from Amazon! Make sure they do not have any holes or visible rot/mold. It’s OK if the caps come off, you can glue them back on. Just make sure you have a cap for every acorn!

Rinse the acorns in water and gently brush over each one with a bristly paintbrush, toothbrush, or other soft bristled brush.

Set them on a flat surface to air dry for 1 hour. Then place the acorns (and caps) in a shallow baking dish and place into an oven set to 175F. Allow to remain in the oven for 2 hours, rotating the acorns every 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Once they have cooled you can leave them as is, or you can place a shiny clear coat over them, or you can paint them! I recommend using enamel or acrylics if you choose to pain them.

If you want to make your own acorn necklace, you’ll need:

  • a needle
  • an eye pin (or jewelry wire to make an eye pin)
  • a chain with a clasp, leather cording, or whatever you want to string the acorn on to make the necklace.
  • an extra o-ring
  • an acorn, prepared as above. It’s actually easiest if you chose one that has been separated from it’s cap – though you’ll still need the cap!
  • hot glue gun

Instructions:

  1. Insert the needle straight down into the cap where you want the eye pin to go. Be careful not to put too much pressure on the acorn cap so it doesn’t crumble or crack. Wiggle the needle around to enlarge the hole a bit then insert the eye pin, loop side out.
  2. Trim the eye pin so there is only a little bit inside the acorn (about 3-5mm). Bend this part of the eye pin so it doesn’t pull straight out of the cap.
  3. Fill the acorn cap with hot glue and quickly press the acorn body into the cap. Hold pressure until set.
  4. Place the o-ring through the eye pin and close securely.
  5. You now have an acorn charm that you can place on your necklace chain, cord, or string!

We tried making the charm with 2 holes in the cap at first, but it was very difficult to pass the eye pin through both holes. The second charm we made, I used the method above and it worked wonderfully!

A note of caution, make sure if you paint the acorns that they are good and dry before you wear them as a necklace!! I’d even advise putting a clear coat over the paint so it doesn’t rub off on clothing. My little one treated her acorn as a chewie necklace shortly after we made hers and it resulted in a blue face and stained shirt! (c’est la vie)

The rest of our acorns are resting in this adorable leaf bowl on our altar!

I’m slightly addicted to colorful acorns now and I imagine we will make this a yearly seasonal tradition! Waxed pinecones are next ๐Ÿ˜‰

For more acorn and fall craft ideas – follow us on Pinterest!

Easy Fall Leaf Print Art Project

Easy Fall Leaf Print Art Project

What’s a better way to learn about different trees / leaf patterns than this esay leaf print project?

All you need are leaves of various shapes and sizes, acrylic or tempura paunts, brushes, and a printable surface (we chose a small canvas, but you could also use t-shirts or tote bags!).

We gathered our leaves from our backyard, but you could gather them really anywhere during the fall! Special places or on a nature walk… Try gathering both deciduous and coniferous leaves! Just make sure you choose leaves that arent too brittle or they will break and crumble when you try to press them down.

Once you have your leaves, evenly paint the underneath side of the leaf to get all the vein patterns. You want a thin wet coat, no glops or it won’t show the print very well.

Position your leaf painted side down and lightly press/rub from the stem outward towards the tips, being caregul not to scoot the leaf across the surface of the canvas (or t-shirt, paper, etc.)

Then, gently peel the leaf upward from its stem and voila! You should have a leaf print!

Try painting patterns or multiple colors on a single leaf for more artsy prints. Also, don’t be afraid to let the prints overlap!

Experiment and have fun. Try to identify the trees each leaf came from, talk about the differences you see in the leaf patterns, etc.

Once we were done with our leaves, we let the re-painted and let the leaves dry, then ran them through oyr laminator. We cut out around their shapes and, with the help of Facebook and Google, identified each leaf’s tree and wrote its name on the unpainted side in Sharpie for my daughter’s nature collection (and educational purposes)!

Science Explorations: Butterflies & Ants

Our last day of co-op was in late April and I’m just NOW starting to feel like we are settling in to our new routine. Probably because as soon as I finished my last day of teaching, I came down with a rotten head cold, followed by K and my husband both falling ill with a flu-like virus.

On top of all that, we are desperately trying to finish up a million house projects so we can list our home on the market! Exciting stuff, but I feel like there is just this never ending list of things to be done… Also, our son (my stepson for technicality purposes) comes home for the summer next week, so we’ve been re-organizing his room.

Due to all the sickness and house-work we haven’t taken a lot of time to do any “on purpose” educating. I mean, as unschoolers, we don’t really do this on a day to day basis anyway, but we are usually more intentional about at least presenting learning opportunities.

We have done a couple cool things recently though, like raise butterflies from caterpillars and keep an ant farm!

K got both of these kits as gifts (one for Christmas and one for her birthday) this past year and we’ve been waiting for the weather to be warm enough to order the live bugs. Did you KNOW you can buy ants on Amazon?!?! There is something so weird about getting tubes of ants in the mail… and FYI, the ant farm K got is sold separately from the actual ants, which is nice if you’re gifting the set or the weather isn’t quite cool/warm enough yet to ship live ants and set up your farm right away.

The butterfly kit and caterpillars came from Insect Lore and I HIGHLY recommend this product/website for anyone who has kiddos interested in bugs/butterflies. The kit came with a info booklet, a “garden” (mesh enclosure), and a voucher for the live caterpillars. When we redeemed our voucher, we also purchased a couple plastic models of the butterfly life cycle to go with the whole experience. The models helped reinforce butterfly life cycle vocabulary and helped K visualize what would happen to the caterpillars next.

We successfully raised 4 beautiful butterflies – although one had crumpled wings when it emerged (sad face) – and it was really cool to watch the whole process of metamorphosis! I’m NOT an insect lover, but I would definitely recommend doing this with your kiddo – and we’ll likely do it again because K loved it so much (she’s a butterfly girl!). I’m thinking that next year we’ll couple the project with the planting of some butterfly friendly plants too (hopefully at our new house).

All in all, these were both cool science explorations that were easy to do at home and required very minimal effort/active time.

If you wanted to take these projects a step further, here are some ideas!

-check out books about ants/butterflies at your local library

-browse YouTube and create an educational playlist of videos about ants/butterflies (or check out our curated playlist!)

-do some butterfly crafts

-do some ant activities

-make butterfly food for your newly emerged butterflies (9 parts water to 1 part sugar. Boil until dissolved then let cool completely and add to a sponge. Place sponge in the mesh butterfly garden enclosure)

-Make an OUTDOOR butterfly feeder

-have a picnic. Use a magnifying glass to look for worker ants (just be careful not to scorch them!)

I hope you all have as much fun with this as we did!

TTFN,
-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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 thatย  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 daysย  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

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