A camping unit really is such a great short unit to do during the summer months, when you are trying to fill time with activities that have some educational value and keep your kids away from media. If you are an outdoorsy family, I think you would have an awesome time building a unit around your trip (such as “what should we pack?” and have them help you pack or sing campfire songs around a real fire). We are not one of those families. Perhaps my husband will one day take our girls camping and I’ll gain the courage to join, but I have a huge phobia of snakes that really keeps my desire to go camping to a solid 0%.
Therefore, we spent the whole week camping in our living room! Aria spent rest times and bedtimes chilling and sleeping in her tent for 3 days. Because we spent the money on a tent this year (one that can also be used as a sun shelter- woohoo!), we didn’t buy sleeping bags but instead piled blankets and pillows all over the tent. Though we have a fire pit, because Skylar is still so little, instead we made a fake fire out of boxes and tissue paper. Then, when the girls wanted s’mores, we used the toaster oven and a homemade solar oven (which didn’t toast but melted everything down so it still worked).
On a day we had people in the house for hours working on our AC unit, we tried to do a few activities that would keep the girls out of the way, which isn’t always easy in a small house. We did some painting outside, we built a miniature campground in a box, a bear hunt in the backyard, and even planned out and packed what we would need for camping and then set up a mini campground on top of my bed after we took the tent down for the workers.
Since we are heading out of town and the girls were all set to leave a week early, I really needed something fun and exciting to keep the girls distracted. This unit was perfect because it was easy to pull the activities together, but still fun and kept the girls busy while I packed, cleaned, and did laundry. Aria is all set to go camping again already, so maybe we will repeat or add on to this unit later this summer. It was just that fun! Please let me know of any of your great ideas, especially when it comes to real camping!
These are a few of my favorite things…for long flights
In honor of a long flight I have coming up, I figured I would share my advice for how to entertain kids on really long flights. I have family in Japan and Hawaii, so I am used to long flights with children at this point, but it is never easy. Plan for months ahead if you know you are going on a long flight so that you don’t have to spend loads of money or time last minute scrambling to find things for the kids to do.
Obviously, when it comes to flight travel, the easiest thing to do is give kids technology to distract them. However, in the case of my kids, I’ve learned that after a while it might make them grumpy and keep them awake longer than they should be awake, so it is good to have lots of technology free items too. If you have technology, make sure to get headphones so you don’t bother others on the flight, and no noisy toys!
Here are some specific ideas:
But the best advice I can give you is to expect that things will go wrong. Long flights are hard on adults, so they are bound to be twice as hard on kids. Prepare for crying, exhaustion, and perhaps even temper tantrums so that when they occur, you have the patience to deal with them without anger! I’ve had flights where Aria or Skylar cried for hours, where everyone but me got sleep because the kids took turns sleeping, and flights where nothing seemed to go right with the electronics on the plane so we relied solely on the toys we brought. But, if you are prepared that anything can happen, it is far easier to go with the flow and adapt. Remember: the flight might be long, but the destination is sooo worth it in the end!
Newest favorite: The Shifu Orboot Globe (https://www.amazon.com/Shifu-Orboot-Educational-Augmented-Reality/dp/B075WW3JKQ)- way cooler than described, it teaches about cultures, food, animals, monuments, etc all over the world and from every continent
Dollar Store- Alphabet and numbers workbooks, toys related to units (for the best chance at finding goods, go once a month and start looking for supplies for your units months in advance), books related to units (especially Bible and Christmas stories, as they have tons of these), coloring books
Michael’s- craft supplies, activity kits, Safari Toobs, books, etc (never pay full price here! Always look for coupons in advance or pull them up from their site while in the store. Also, keep an eye out for the big sales of the year and stock up). The Sarfari Toobs are generally expensive and never on sale, so Jessica and I would usually wait for a 40% off coupon and go once or twice a week to get a Toob.
Bags of animals, ocean creatures, dinosaurs- the brand isn’t important, but you can usually find bags/boxes/tubs of these at every toy store. Find a deal and load up because they can be put to so much use during the year
Tents/teepees- we have a tent for a camping unit and a space ship tent for the solar system unit. We also have a teepee for our Thanksgiving unit. Not that you need all of these items, but a tent of some sort is great to have because it can be used in different ways than expected. Think: you use a tent and pretend you are Dave in the Lion’s Den. Just great things to have for pretend play
Rice box/water beads- great sensory materials when creating sensory boxes for different units. Rice has been our go-to, but water beads have an interesting feel that my kids really enjoy. If your kids are really messy, be prepared to have to clean as soon as they are finished playing!
Organized drawers/boxes for each unit (see my “how I organize my house” blog)- what I love about this is that not only are my units organized for each year so that I know exactly what I have for each unit when lesson planning, but also that Aria knows what each drawer and box is for and can pull the materials out, play with them, and put them back where they go when she is done. In a small space like my house, it is absolutely necessary for my sanity to stay organized
Craft drawers (also, see my “how I organize my house” blog)- we have a craft table, and right next to the table is a bunch of drawers full of craft materials that Aria can pull out as the need strikes her. In our school and guest room, we have paint, glitter, stamps, etc that Aria can also play with and freely pull out, though we set strict rules on paint and glitter only being used outside unless mom otherwise allows.
abcmouse.com- this has been a great resource when I needed to get something done as something to help me feel like Aria is doing something educational even if I am unable to help her. As Skylar has gotten bigger, she has started to use this more while I help Aria with her workbook. It’s nice that you only have to pay one fee for your family
DK Geography workbooks- for some reason, Aria loves the way these are set up and finds them to be really fun workbooks. She’s already excited about doing the kindergarten workbook next year
Sibling shelf- Skylar has her own shelf on our school shelves in the living room where she can pull out “school stuff” to do while we work on school. Mostly, I picked age appropriate learning games and tactile items.
Insect Lore bugs- our whole family loves these kits. The praying mantis one wasn’t quite as fun, but the butterfly kit is amazing! Ants and Ladybugs are next on the list! (http://www.insectlore.com/)
Preschool Prep videos- I cant speak highly enough about these. My girls watch these in the car and both of them will copy the sounds out loud. It has really helped Aria with her pronunciation and sight word recognition (https://www.amazon.com/Preschool-Prep-Collection-Letters-Digraphs/dp/B005XO7524)
Leapfrog Tag Reader- these can get expensive unless you find one at the consignment stores (as I luckily did), but they have helped Aria a lot with reading and she loves using her Tag Reader (https://www.walmart.com/ip/LeapFrog-LeapReader-Reading-and-Writing-System-Green/23662229?athcpid=23662229&athpgid=athenaItemPage&athcgid=null&athznid=PWVAV&athieid=v0&athstid=CS002&athguid=466001f5-c846a645-bfa64d2c82f6e870&athena=true)
Magic School Bus Science Kits- Human Body and Rainbow are the two we have and they are great because we can keep using the materials each year (https://www.amazon.com/Young-Scientists-Club-Magic-School/dp/B000MAD7FS/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1528743817&sr=1-1&keywords=magic+school+bus+human+body)
Raddish Kids Cooking Club- I found a deal on this cooking club and it has been a fun way to get Aria more interested in cooking in the kitchen. Plus, I’m a foodie and the food is actually good! (https://www.raddishkids.com/)
Though not always easy or perfect, I would call our PK-4 school year the “year we found our groove.” For any teacher, I think the first year isn’t easy. I look back at my first year teaching high school and think I remember more mistakes that I made than actual success stories. In a different way, my first year teaching Aria (PK-3 year) was not as successful as I would hope just because I was also balancing a 6 month old, breastfed child who required lots of attention when she was awake. I, of course, also had no idea what I was doing and wasn’t well organized until the second semester when Jessica really helped me realize that well prepared lesson plans really make or break a week, at least in my household. This year, it was wonderful to see Skylar get just as invested in some of our lessons as Aria, and it also made teaching much easier, as I wasn’t waiting until Skylar went down for a nap time to do school work with Aria. Additionally, I learned how to better search for ideas each week to make sure that all core materials are covered and have learned how to find the best sales and deals on school materials.
I think the thing I’m most blessed with when it comes to homeschooling is that my girls both truly love doing school related activities. Aria loves (most of) the thematic units, and each morning she asks me what we are going to learn about for the day. She is also extremely responsive to workbook materials and has become passionate about trying to read to me. Both of my girls also love to do artwork, which is really quite wonderful. I can set up crafts for them and they will both be focused for a few minutes to almost an hour working together, depending on the activity. I’m really lucky that my girls absolutely love each other and that Skylar wants to do whatever Aria does. Skylar has picked up so much from Aria this year and her speech levels are far above what her sister’s were at this age. Even potty training worked easier with her because natural school breaks were easy reminders to take her to the potty. (Yes, my awesome 2 year old is potty trained!). When Aria was busy doing things that Skylar couldn’t do, such as letters and numbers, Skylar was always happy to sit and do abcmouse.com or an activity I set out for her. Thank goodness for easier second children! Definitely made the balancing of the two girls far easier.
The year was not always a success, and I would argue that many of the things that didn’t work for us as a whole were due to my lack of motivation or organization. I’ve learned that going forward I need a math and literacy program to help me because I’m not good at keeping myself on track enough with that. I make sure to cover everything with each thematic unit, but I find myself far more motivated to do the art and science activities than the literacy or math, which means that Aria senses my lack of excitement and she loses motivation. Or Skylar distracts me with what she needs and we don’t have enough time to complete everything. There are some units that weren’t successful because I didn’t love them, such as our sports unit, but I will stick it out next year and try and better myself because I think a sports unit is good exercise and necessary learning experience for the girls. There were some units that didn’t work, like my Around the World culture and animal units, but they led me to understand I need to spend a week focused on each continent next year. I’m actually really looking forward to that!
One of the hardest struggles as a homeschool mom I had this year was feeling like a failure at times when seeing what other kids know or have done that I don’t yet have Aria up to speed on. I felt disappointed in myself when I realized Aria needed speech therapy because I wondered if I should have just talked to her more and if it was my fault for not putting her around other kids in a preschool (luckily, she is doing really well in those and is very self motivated to speak better). When I had to make a decision on if I wanted to try and do kindergarten or Pre-k 5/K next year (my daughter is an October birthday and therefore technically not old enough for Kindergarten), it became an easy decision when I realized how hard I was being on myself. I needed to give Aria and I time. She is very smart, very self-motivated, and loves learning, but I decided to see how she does next year and let her have fun and be little a little a bit longer. The best part of homeschooling is that we can self pace, and if she excels at kindergarten level phonics, writing, reading, and math next year, there isn’t anyone to tell me I can’t move her onto 1st grade stuff the next year! If she needs more time to prepare for kindergarten level work, we can stop and go back to preschool material and get stronger at that before moving forward.
I really can’t wait for the next year to begin. I’m so ready for the summer break to relax, rejuvenate, and not have to lesson plan for a bit, but I also am full of ideas for how to make next year an even better year for all of us. Pre-K 4 was such a great mix of fun and learning, and I have so many amazing memories from our lessons this year, but I look forward with so much hope and excitement for a much more successful Pre-K 5/K for Aria!
What worked best for Aria (and me) this year:
What didn’t work for Aria (and me) this year:
Jessica and Ana
Our Homeschooling Mission Statement: We will strive to be patient, godly examples to our children, integrating biblical principles and morality into every subject. Learning should be fun. We will foster an attitude of lifelong curiosity and play while providing the best possible education we can through books, art, technology, food, tactile activities, and cultural experiences. Learning will not be dictated by hours on a clock but will be a way of life for our families.