Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Listen. Yes, Just Listen to a Word for 2014

Last year, some of my live-and-in-person-friends, as well as some folks I "know" online opted to choose a single word to focus on for an entire year -- a word that summed up what they felt God calling them towards.  One that inspired who they wanted to be, how they wanted to live or where they felt growth needed to happen.  One single word that would guide their actions, reactions and even, at times, their (purposeful) inaction over the course of 2013.

This year, I thought I would do the same.

As a lover of words, a perpetual goal-setter, and someone who likes to think and reflect, I thought the exercise of actually choosing a word would be easy.  In fact, I was certain that with a bit of thought and some quiet time at Adoration, a word might choose me.  Indeed, I smiled, confident that THE single word would enter my mind, and, in a quick and striking moment of epiphany, I would know, "Yes! THAT is what 2014 is meant to be all about for me."

How. wrong. I. was.

The fact is that as I sat at Adoration on two different recent occasions praying, a number of words came to mind.

Then, more tumbled through my consciousness as I went about my daily life.

And, as the New Year drew closer, still more words raised their hands saying, "Pick me. Pick me!"

Soon enough, there was an entire cacophony of possibilities.  Yet, not a single one consistently spoke louder than the rest.

And so it was that I almost opted out of the entire One Word exercise for 2014.  

Yes, I almost decided not to listen to the still, small voice inside that had initially prompted me to reflect and pray about what I was to do in the new year, for the din of the possibilities was simply crowding it out.

But the whisper wanted to be heard.  And, it was.

I head myself thinking, What is it I am to do in the New Year?

What does God most want me to do... Do... DO!

Okay, it was not a whisper anymore.  It was a bit of an in-my-head, shout:

DO!  Duh... The profusion of words that have danced about your brain and heart for weeks are all nouns!


The fact is, you are just not a noun sort of girl.  

Well, sometimes I am.  But not when it comes to goal setting or guidance.  In both of those cases, I am a verb-person.  I like action, something concrete I can do.  Something I can try.  Something that may bring me closer to where  -- or who -- I am called to be.

So it was I began to listen to the now not-so-small voice inside of me that directed my word for 2014 was to be a verb.

A verb that could encapsulate many of the nouns on the busy collage of words that had popped into my mind and played tug-of-war my with heart over the past few weeks.  One that would help me grow as God's child.  As a unique individual.  As a wife.  As a mom.  Even as a homemaker and as a partial provider for our family.  A word that, ironically, the Spirit been trying to reach me with the entire time I had prayed at Adoration and in all the time since.

When I finally heard the word, I laughed.


Listen

 Yes, listen.

LISTEN is the word.

Stop thinking.  Cease searching.  Pause praying.  Just listen.  To your children.  To your husband.  To your heart.  To. Your. God.

That is what I am to do in 2014.  That is what will guide me.  What will guide you?

Share and be inspired with others at the Word for 2014 Round-Up.

Word for 2014

You can also link up and share more folks' words at Plain Grace.

Are You Ready to Weed Wheat Our of Your Diet?




Okay, these Christmas cookies may not look as pretty as the ones I grew up indulging on, but they were just as fun to make with my children and better still –they work with our children's diet, which is gluten-free, casein-free, dye-free and, also, mostly white sugar-, additive- and preservative-free. 

In essence, these cookies are symbolic of a journey towards better eating that our family has been on for several years now – not always pretty, but increasingly easy to digest and, at times, a delightful treat.

If you are considering a similar journey for your family, I would like to suggest a book I had the pleasure of reading a a part of the Bow of Bronze Launch Team:



http://amzn.to/1lvoWr3



Luke and Trisha Gilkerson's Weeding Out Wheat!

When I was offered a chance to review Weeding Our Wheat in exchange for an honest review, my curiosity was peaked.  Whereas I had done a significant amount of reading about why my family might want to go wheat-free and felt fairly secure in the science behind our choice, I had not given much thought to any potential faith-based pros and cons to a wheat-free diet beyond the fact that it did seem a bit odd that I was asking my children to eschew typical breads even when our frequent Bible story readings evidenced ample consumption of such foods.  And, so it was that when I received my e-copy of the Weeding Out Wheat, I dove right into it.

And, I do mean dove!  For, after opening the book on my computer, I did anything but browse it.  Instead, I found myself reading it all in one sitting and typing out six pages of notes and quotes as I did.  (Trust me, this is a rarity for me!  I almost never have time to red a book all in one sitting, much less to do so with enough concentration that I can take a few notes, much less pages of notes, on it.  So, I would say that Weeding Out Wheat, is an easily digestible read!)

What Weeding Out Wheat Offers

In Weeding Out Wheat you'll find nearly 100 pages of well-researched, well-thought and easy-to-understand text that explains:


  • why modern wheat is causing mayhem to so many people's bodies
  • what a wheat-free diet has to do with faith
  • and, what in the world you can eat if you go wheat-free

You'll also find that authors Luke and Trisha have stayed true to the book's subtitle, for Weeding Out Wheat is indeed "simple", "scientific" and "faith-based".

As I already mentioned, I read the book in one sitting.  That stands as testimony to the fact that it is written in a conversational tone that can be understood despite momma-bleariness.  In fact, as I read the book, I was impressed with how well Luke ad Trisha did cutting technical terms down to bite-size pieces that any layperson can digest and explaining the findings of their own research without being confusing or boring.

An an example, I found it real and refreshing they way they dealt with explaining "phytates":
Phytates cause minerals to be “bio-unavailable.” That means, when phytates are around, it makes it much more difficult for your body to utilize the vitamins and minerals that are present.
Phytates do this in two ways:
1) they bind up minerals and
2) they prevent minerals from being properly absorbed.
They’re sneaky little suckers...
Now, I’m not going to tell you that phytates are all doom and gloom... (page 32)

Likewise, I was wowed with how thorough Luke and Trisha's research was.  For while Weeding Out Wheat's style is easy-to-read, the research that went into writing the book was obviously intense.  In fact, ten pages of End Notes are included so that anyone wishing to corroborate facts like this one that struck me can.


Modern wheat has been so modified by humans, these strains are unable to grow in the wild anymore because they depend on pest control and nitrate fertilization. (page 9)

And the faith-part?  I found it interesting, logical, and, for me, comforting, as examples from the Bible and the authors' argument boiled down to the idea that the Bible does not mandate any specific diet, but that our faith does tell us to take care of our bodies.  As Luke and Trisha eloquently put things:


Just as we should never make an idol of food or any specific diet, neither should we ignore our diet...We should love taking care of our bodies, because our bodies are a gift from God—an eternal gift. (pages 74-75)

Some Take Aways

As I closed my e-copy of Weeding Out Wheat, I found myself sending links to the book to several friends whose recent complaints and ailments came to mind, for the book reminded me about just how many modern diseases seem to be connected to modern wheat.

I also found myself planning to take further steps in my family's journey to cleaner eating.  For while my children have been gluten-, casein, plus other-things- free for some time and my husband and I have been limited, we all too often replace the wheat, gluten and other things we used to eat with nutritionally deficient foods eating healthier junk food than others might at times, but junk food nonetheless.

Adding more and more nutrient-dense foods to our diet is in order!  (So is Mom finally taking the total gluten-free plunge for herself.  Wish me luck!)

But enough about me and mine.  How about you and yours?  Are you ready to weed wheat out of your diet?  or at least ready to learn more about why you might want to?  Then, I highly suggest reading Luke and Trisha's Weeding Out Wheat as a way to enlighten yourself and invest yourself in the journey.  And, then, as they say, just doing it.

To find out if you have a problem with wheat:


Give it up. Give wheat up for a minimum of 2 months with strict adherence. Some people can tell a difference within days, but it can take months for gluten and other wheat toxins to clear out of your system. Months. Sometimes longer than 2 months. (page 43)
Good luck if you do!  And don't be afraid to ask for help.  You can even join others in the Weeding Out Wheat Encouragement and Support Group on Facebook.

To Purchase Weeding Out Wheat


http://amzn.to/1lvoWr3

You can find Luke and Trisha's book as:


  • Amazon for your kindleRegularly $9.95, but now only $1.99 for a limited time (December 30th through January 1st!)




  • Paperback at CreatspaceRegularly $14.95, but now only $9.95 for a limited time (December 30th through January 1st!)


  • Paperback coming soon to Amazon.

Want More Information?


  • Read more about the book, and see what other products author's Luke and Trisha offer, at their site Intoxicated on Life.
  •  Think about things as you watch this short video:

 


  • Join the Facebook Launch party for the book, where you can win great prizes, too!



Thank You!

This post includes affiliate links to Amazon and Intoxicated on Life.  Should you choose to purchase anything by clicking through one of these, it won't cost you any extra, but it will bless our family with a portion of your purchase price.  We appreciate that!


Bow of Bronze Launch Team Disclaimer Graphic

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Love and Look Up This Season

As we enjoy the Christmas season here, I have been limiting my online time for blog reading and writing in order to focus more on faith, family, home and homeschool.  Thus, I missed posting the Training Happy Hearts link-up last Sunday and am only posting a brief message today.

I just wanted to pop on to wish everyone a blessed Christmas Season  and a fruitful New Year!

May God's love shine in you, through you and around you and may every experience be obviously touched by His light.


By the way, the photos on our "card" above were taken on an afternoon that I wrote about at Signature Moms.  As I reflected on the time with my children, I recognized 6 Lessons I Learned While Sledding.  That post culminated with the words:

Go play. Ride. Roll. Share. Love. Look up. The rest of today awaits you with abundant blessings! True beauty awaits us all…

I truly believe this and know I am focused on loving and  looking up as Christmas and the New Year unfold.  How about you?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Pre-Christmas Confession

Yesterday, I awoke happy and hopeful.  I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish, a host of meaningful two-days-before-Christmas ideas to bring to fruition with my children, a happy day ahead of me.

Or, so I thought...

Within hours, my mood changed.  I am not sure exactly why.  Nothing drastic happened.  In fact, the morning was quite ordinary.  Looking back, that may have been what set me off.

I wanted extraordinary.  Extraordinary energy to plough through mountains of clutter and unfinished tasks that I did not want to carry into the new liturgical year, much less through Christmas and into the new calendar year.  Extraordinary love to pour into my marriage, which the weekend had made apparent needs some extra attention.  Extraordinary confidence that I have prepared my heart, my children's hearts and, perhaps, my husband's hearts, too for the season that awaits us.

Yet, as I looked around my home -- and inside myself -- the extraordinary simply seemed nowhere to be found.  I was stuck in the mire of my own physical and figurative messes.

So, mere hours after waking, my eager, Christmas-is-coming-and-this-day-holds-such-promise attitude fizzled.  Eagerness, motivation and merriment evaporated.  Peace was nowhere in sight.  Darkness set upon me.

I realized I was tired.  Disappointed in myself.  Feeling as if my marriage, my home and my heart were impossibly unprepared for Christmas.  I felt sad.

I didn't want my children to feel sad as well. So, I set the kids down with a bite to eat and told them Mommy needed a shower, whereupon I went into the bathroom and cried as the water poured down on me.

Yes, I cried.  And cried.  And cried.

I thought I was done doing so, but as I toweled myself dry, I still felt less than cleansed by the shower and cry I had had.  So, I called my mom, who is always generous with her listening ear and unconditional love. 

While talking to Mom, I cried again.  I confessed that I did not really want Christmas to come.  (Isn't that horrendous?!)  I felt too unprepared.  I bemoaned the irony that for so many years as an "old" Singleton, I had cried at Christmastime because I so badly wanted a home, husband and children, and yet, there I was crying because I am so inept with what I had prayed for for so many years.  Maybe God had a reason for not blessing me with marriage and family earlier...

Mom listened.  She loved.  She encouraged.

I began to feel better and my children began to need my more direct attention.  So, I got off the phone, mustered a small smile and went on with the day with my children.

Still, as the noon hour neared, I felt pretty hopeless again.  I felt lost in the mundane and so far from making room for the miraculous.  And, that is when I accepted defeat -- defeat, thankfully, laced with promise.
As I wrote on my personal Facebook page, "And this is the moment when I realize that I failed at preparing my home and my heart for Christmas this year - not to mention failing at many other things. Luckily, light shines despite my failings," I meant it.  Despite my own personal feelings of defeat, I knew that light shines.

And, now, looking back at the afternoon and evening, I see so many places where that light shone through my inner darkness.  Where simple moments and praiseworthy relationships signaled hope, joy and love.

  • My children's laughter as they watched the Grinch, which I put on to keep them busy while I did a few chores.
  • My husband pulling up the road, home from work early, as I went out in the rain to fetch the mail.
  • My children not having to "keep busy" as I made my way through a pile of clutter, but
    thrilled to learn how to play "War" with Daddy, who was home with us.
  • My oldest, so eager to make his third confession that he ran into the church and knocked on the confessional door.  (Sorry to the man who was in there making his own confession at the time.  There was no light on to say you were.)
  • My husband's willingess to go to confession for the first time in a long time at my son's (and my) urging and the smile it brought my son (and, hopefully, the peace it brought my husband).
  • Our parish pastor offering a meaningful homily at the Mass we went to as a family after confession.  He exudes joy and gratitude.
  • New friends and old who responded to my Facebook post with understanding and encouragement, evidencing God's love pouring forth to me in hard-to-miss black-and-white.
  • A late night moment of quiet to silently cry once more, purging small vestiges of sadness that were still within me and welcoming gratitude in.
  • My children, my dear children, who slept in this morning, allowing me some quiet time to get a few more household things in order and to reflect for another, giving thanks and preparing my heart further for Christmas.
  • My husband, who is willingly off to work today and who will need to work on part of Christmas day.  He has his own struggles, as do we as a couple, but he is committed to us and loves us so much.  I am so grateful for that.  He remains an answer to a long-said prayer of mine and now my prayer transforms to allow our marriage to be all that God wants it to be.
  • Our Lord, who CHOSE to come live the mundane so as to help each of us move to the miraculous one day.  Yes, He CHOSE what I too often chagrin.  How humbling is that?  How encouraging?  How beautiful!
Yes, this morning as I put some of my feelings into words, I cry again.  But not with sadness.  Rather with thanks.  

Jesus came.  He lived with us.  He still does.  He lives in each of us when we invite Him to do so.  And He awaits our welcome when, for whatever reason, the inns (and outs) of our daily lives cause us to overlook Him.

Lord, thank you for being there for us in Heaven and on earth.  Thank you for being there for me -- and in me.  And in those I know.

I am sorry for every time I fail to welcome you.  I am sorry for every time I get so caught up in the mundane that I lose sight of the miraculous.  I am sorry for each moment that I fail to let your light shine through me to others.

I am ever grateful for the fact that even when I stumble in darkness, you remain steadfast for me, and for everyone.

This morning, I thank you for the quiet I had and for the joy with which my children woke up, asking, "Is it Christmas yet?" And, then, bouncing with anticipation as one shouted with joy, "One more day until Christmas!"

Thank you for gifting me time to wait.  In hope. In expectation. In gratitude.  

Thank for for offering me quiet time to pray for myself and for others, that no matter how we may be feeling -- merry, lonely, exhausted, excited, afraid or otherwise --  we may also understand that Love IS there. Light shines. Promises are kept. Joy awaits. 

May each of us breathe in a meaningful Christmas.


And, shine with joy!
(as my Nina is fabulously exemplifying this morning!)


Monday, December 16, 2013

Soap Carving: A Jonathan Toomey-Inspired Sensory Diet Advent Activity

When we were reading The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey this year, I smiled thinking back to an activity we enjoyed last year that I never posted about.  Then, I thought, Wow.  It's been a long time since I have posted a strictly sensory diet post on the blog.  


Mea culpa, fellow parents of "sensory kids".  We have become so "natural" with our sensory diet efforts here that I have not been as focused on coming up with and sharing them as much.  They just sort of happen through the course of life.

However, sometimes, I still "create" them, as I did last year with our:
Advent Soap Carving

Got some Ivory soap (or any bar soap really) and a butter knife?  Then, you're good to go.  You might also want trays to work on, a bowl for collected soap shavings, a copy of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (or any Advent-themed books which refers to carving), a CD player and the CD from The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey with CD: Gift Edition (or a copy of any Advent music or story CD).
To begin, read the picture book aloud.
Then, pop in a music or story CD, sit down with soap and knives, begin carving and enjoy.
It's as simple as that!
Or is it?  When you look at this seemingly simple activity from a sensory standpoint, you realize that it's actually layered richly in sensory diet experience.

Looking Through Your SPD Lenses

When you read the story, you could cuddle up tightly for some tactile input or have your child bounce or swing for some proprioceptive and vestibular input.  


The actual reading aloud will provide auditory input, especially when done with a dramatic voice.  Plus, of course, drawing your child's attention to search for specific details in the illustrations of the book will key into the visual aspect of reading aloud together.  You can also talk about the palette of colors in the book and what emotions they evoke, as well as look at the expressions on the characters faces to open up emotional awareness skills.



Carving the soap requires fine motor skills and, depending on the scent of the soap you use, can tickle olfactory senses.  

Playing music or a story on CD adds further auditory input.

Extensions/Variations



(1)  Carve wax candles, soft wood, ice or even playdough blobs instead of soap, depending on what you have around the house and what kind of material your children work best with  
(2)  For more snuggles and visual input, precede or follow the activity by watching the video version of the Miracle of Jonathon Toomey. 
(3) Experiment with different carving tools.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Living Advent: Tradition (and a Bit of Celebration)

Celebrating Luke's First Reconcilation
This week, we have continued to enjoy many of the activities with which we celebrated the first day of this liturgical new year:

We have also continued to weave our traditional Advent celebrations into daily life through such activities as:


This past week, we also enjoyd a few special events!

We kicked the week off with a Family Sabbath Day-Birthday combo, which had little direct connection to preparing our hearts for Christmas, but everything to do with celebrating blessings.  Our oldest turned eight and wanted to enjoy, Legos, knights and Japanese food together for his birthday.  So, that's exactly what we did!


Then, on Monday afternoon, we joined other homeschoolers in an event that I coordinated with a fabulously gifted woman from the local Self Help Inc. Coordinated Family and Community Engagement group.  She led us in an early learners peace-themed playdate which included playdough play, stories, songs, parachute play and making ornaments to bring smiles to needy families.


On Monday evening, we continued in the spirit of giving and fun by having the children help donate canned goods for a collection at Edaville Railroad’s Christmas Festival of Lights before enjoying our traditional outing there. 

 

Last year, we missed our annual trip to Edaville due to a belly bug.  This year, we did not want to miss it for anything since it was the ONE place that Luke said he wanted to be sure to go this season.


We’re so glad we listened.  It ended up being a relatively warm evening there, with no lines, loads of smiles and plenty of family fun!


Of course, after festivities all weekend and a very full Monday, by the time Tuesday came, our family was a bit wiped out.  So, while Mommy went off to a medical appointment, the children enjoyed time with Grammy.  Then, we all had a slow day of regular and Advent-themed learning before settling in to watch an animated version of A Christmas Carol and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey for family movie night, followed by a reading of the picture book, which we enjoy every year.

Wednesday and Thursday brought more life-as-usual – lessons, chores, work and simple Advent traditions.


Then, Friday, we joined other homeschoolers for a medieval Christmas workshop, complete with making Yule Logs, enjoying a mummery skit, creating a St. Francis nativity improv and “feasting” together at a lunch completed by spiced cider and mincemeat pie, too.


Then, as exhaustion and a winter bug hit the kids in the evening, we relaxed with a second family movie night (which is almost unheard of in our screen-limited home).  


Luke, Nina, Jack, Daddy and I enjoyed snuggling together to watch Samantha - An American Girl Holiday.  As we did, the children' empathy was evident in their facial expressions, questions and comments.  Indeed, I think I enjoyed watching my expressive kids watch the movie more than I enjoyed the movie myself. (Which is not to say the video was not a good one.  I liked it.  I just appreciated witnessing my children's understanding of values and virtues in relation to the video more.)

I also had to laugh when we were watching the extras on the DVD as a mini-history and culture lesson.  While doing so, Luke, our history lover, commented that the segment on women’s suffrage was the best part of the movie. 



Finally, we wrapped up the second week of Advent with a most special occasion – Luke’s First Reconciliation!

Our local parish had a simple, yet wonderful service for Luke and his peers, which Luke has been looking forward to all week.  I have no idea what he actually chose to confess, but can attest that it was so cute during the weeks leading up to yesterday’s First Reconciliation to hear Luke say, “Mommy, I’m sorry.  I will confess that.”  Our boy is clearly developing a greater understanding of “right” and “wrong” and understands the importance of the sacrament. We pray he (and his siblings!) never stray from their faith and the strength the sacraments can offer.
 
And so it is that as we head into this third week of Advent, we do so with thanksgiving, joy and anticipation.  So many blessings unfold every day and so many more await us.


How have you been keeping your focus on faith this Advent? 
 

(If you receive this post via email and cannot see the linky, be sure to actually click over to the blog to read browse the rich catalog of ideas there.)

*As always, we thank you if you choose to click through the Amazon links in this post to make a purchase (or do so with other affiliate links on this site). Doing so does not cost you anything, but it may help us earn a small percentage of your purchase price to continue training up our children. Thank you!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Comprehensive All Ages, Many Subjects Resource (SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review)

Have you heard about SchoolhouseTeachers.com, a division of The Old Schoolhouse, whose print (and, more recently, online) magazine has been well-lauded among homeschoolers since 2001?

 photo ST-Affiliate-300x300_zpsb38aa8ae.png
 
To be honest, until I was given the chance to take advantage of the SchoolhouseTeachers  Yearly Membership Option in exchange for an honest review, I had not heard much beyond the site’s name myself.  Now, I cannot wait to keep digging into this comprehensive online learning resource, as well as to share about it here so you can check it out, too.

What is SchoolhouseTeachers.com?

Basically, it is a comprehensive collection of resources to direct or complement any family’s home education efforts. 

Included in membership are:



  • articles, demo videos, e-books, handouts, lesson plans, printable games, worksheets and more to encourage and inspire parents, as well as to give them concrete tools that can make teaching children at home easier and more efficient.

  • regular updates of new daily, weekly and monthly material, as well as a staggering collection of archived lessons.

The resources on the site could easily be used as a stand-alone core curriculum or as supplementary ones.

Our Experience Thus Far

Because our family has been in the midst of our yearly Advent-centered lessons balanced with some unexpected medical appointments and life hiccups, I admittedly have spent more time browsing the site and using it from a Mama-Teacher perspective than presenting materials provided on it to my children. 

In fact, I was delighted to come upon some useful helps to quell the off-track feeling that I’ve been sensing lately.  Among them were

  • printable checklists appease the Type A-former teacher in me and are now going into a record keeping binder

  • a free membership to Applecore, which is already underway, and, hopefully, may help me keep better records of our home education pursuits.

  • the monthly reading list, which supplemented our usual extensive list of Advent and Christmas reading titles with some new additions.

 photo schoolhouseextras_zps3a20c85f.jpg

  • planners for elementary school and special needs which, I think, will improve the blog planning and record keeping binders I have been using in fits and starts for a couple years.

Plus, of course, there are ALL the awesome lesson plans and printables which have had me happily planning content and skills I want to weave into our curriculum in the coming year.  Included in these are:

  • art techniques, because all our children love art and one of them has already equaled my own limited art expertise. 
  • copybooks to encourage Luke’s handwriting and to feed Nina’s love for copying words and sentences even if she cannot yet read them with ease.
  • dailies in grammar, spelling and more, for when my former structured-schoolteacher-self battles my inner-unschooler, balancing Mom-directed seasons of homeschooling with more relaxed ones.

 photo schoolhousedailies_zps9ba017fe.jpg

  • early sensory activities, because even though I already have a huge repertoire of these up my sleeve, I love experiencing new sensory takes with the kids.
  • geography, because it will tie in nicely to a fair I will be putting together this winter.
  • guitar lessons, because I do not know how to play and the kids want to learn.
  • history figures, because we have a household of history loving folks here.
  • literature kits, because we are huge readers here and love to center learning around real books.
  • nature and outdoor lessons, because we love being outside anyway, but can sometimes use a little extra impetus to make our outdoor time focused learning time as well.
  • Tinkers club, because Luke and Nina LOVE tinkering and I love the experiential learning that takes place when they do.

But, planning is not everything.  Practice is vital, too.  And practice with SchoolhouseTeachers.com resources we have done these past few weeks.

Among the resources I shared with our children, our favorite so far was Everyday Games!

Being busy this month, I knew I had hit a useful goldmine for our current family needs when I began clicking through the Everyday Game archives.  Many of the games there centered on exactly the skills my children need to learn and practice.  Plus, they promised engaged, hands-on learning during morning lesson time, after dinner time or, really, anytime!

As such, on some days, the games that I printed provided a staple of our day’s learning, while at other times, they supplemented it.  Every day we used them, I felt grateful for the ease and accessibility of them.  They were truly click, print, gather a few materials that I already had around and play.

And play, play, play and learn we did!  With smiles.  With purpose.  With the kids on their own.  And with me getting some one-to-one with the kids.  Awesome!  


I stored the games in rotation on paper sorter shelves in a cubby in the living room.  With them so readily accessible, we played them often, slipping in phonics and math skills in with fun and together time.

Indeed, Everyday Games was just what our family needed during this season of homeschooling and, undoubtedly, is one resource from SchoolhouseTeachers.com that will continue to get regular use in our home.  There are pages and pages of games in the archives.  (Trust me.  I went through ever page of them while deciding which to print first!)

There are also pages and pages of other useful printables, plans, videos and more.

My children watched some of the Elementary Math videos with me (which appeared to be geared more to Mom or Dad as teacher, but which my children wanted to watch and learn from, too).  They also peered over my shoulder, eagerly asking, 'What's that, Mommy?" and "Can we do that another time?" as I clicked through the site getting to know it.  And, that's  what I love about SchoolhouseTeachers.com so far.  It excites our learning, and, if you think of learning as a meal of sorts, the variety of materials offered on the site can provide hearty main courses, effective sides or even worthwhile desserts – all nutritionally dense.  There is just so much brain food there and much of it can be used with flexibility.

A Balanced View

In the few weeks that I have had access to SchoolhouseTeachers.com so far, I have visited one part of the site or another daily.  In doing so, I have discovered countless resources that I will use with my children in the year to come as well as a number of resources that we have already been enjoying.  Without question, SchoolhouseTeachers.com offers oodles of useful lessons, printables and tools for our homeschool and can do the same for other homeschools with children from preschool to highschool.
My Top 3 Pros
  • Whether you lean toward pre-planned and structured homeschooling or move along with a more unschooly rhythm, SchoolhouseTeachers.com provides an affordable option for directing or enhancing learning for everyone in the family.  Core subjects, enrichment topics, even inspiration and support for moms and dads is all included.
  • Through SchoolhouseTeachers.com, you can team up with over 30 expert teachers to tailor the home education approach the is right for you and you children.
My Top 3 Cons
  • If you have limited online time or are easily distracted or overwhelmed, you’ll need to discipline yourself when headed to SchoolhouseTeachers.com.  For even though the site is meant to be “point, click, teach”, it can become “point, click, get lost in browsing layers and layers of potential plans and printables.”  I know that over the past several weeks I was guilty of spending far more time than I intended to spend online clicking through page after page of materials.
  • Although the basics of the site are easy to navigate, it took me quite a while to page through archives of Everyday Games and other lessons and printables that I was interested in.  While I enjoyed doing so, I wished the site had a better way to navigate archived materials and hope a future improvement for the site might include archives that are easily searchable by target age, grade level, subject, topic and resource type.
  • With many great printables and plans, the site could offer temptation to overspend on ink and paper.  I found myself having to hold back on printing too many of the Everyday Games at once, knowing that both our family budge and my children’s focused enjoyment of the games would be better off if I did not click “print” quite as often as I was tempted to do so.
My Bottom line

SchoolhouseTeachers.com offers A LOT at one low monthly or yearly price. 

After using the site for several weeks, I am confident that I will continue to return to it for lesson inspiration, printables and more in the coming year.  Whether our family is in a season of relaxed schooling where we simply want supplementary materials and printables games, of a more structured one where we want more scope-and-sequence, core-types of materials, I know I can find useful resources at SchoolhousTeachers.com.

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Celebrating Advent (and a Birthday, Too)

Wow!  As I downloaded this week's photos from my camera, I realized it had been a full, but mostly snapshot-free, first week of Advent.

Focused on living our faith, enjoying our annual traditions and regaining a better rhythm of life, it appears that after last Sunday, I totally forgot about capturing most memories on film.  Luckily, many remain in my heart and in my mind and even more, I pray, will be fondly recalled by our children in years to come as they choose their own ways of weaving Advent into everyday life.

Starting the Week and Starting Our Days

http://traininghappyhearts.blogspot.com/2013/12/eight-ways-to-celebrate-new-liturgical.html

Sunday was a fantastic feast day, filled with the 10 Ways We Celebrated the New Liturgical Year, which I shared about last week.

Since then, we've been weaving Advent into each part of our days, beginning shortly after we wake up.

In the morning, after we complete our Five Before Breakfast, we eat breakfast together and, then, enjoy reading Faith and Life chapters, participating in Holy Heroes free Advent Adventure,  and discovering what our "preparing our hearts and homes" mission for the day will be by taking a link off our Advent Chain.


Our Advent Chain

This year, making our annual Advent Chain included Nina and Luke cutting the paper strips for it; Nina counting out 24 of these; all three children sharing ideas about how we might prepare our hearts and homes for Jesus; Luke and Nina doing copywork to write some of their ideas onto strips; and me finishing up with writing the rest of the ideas the children dictated before assembling and hanging our chain.

Using the chain has meant that each morning one child takes a ring off the chain.  Luke reads what it says and we all work together to try to make whatever is written on the paper strip happen throughout the day.  If we succeed, we "graph" the strip on our hallway wall in our "Did It!" column.  If we did not, we try again the following day and, then, put it up in our "Not Quite" column.


Through doing all this, the children focus on faith, virtues and fun, while also getting in some gentle language arts and math skills.  Whoo hoo!

Holy Heroes Advent Adventure and Jesse Tree Ornaments

Each morning, we've also been enjoying Holy Heroes free Advent Adventure.  What fun it is to observe the children as they watch the videos, pray with the audios, color the free printables, chat about what they are learning, and, of course, laugh at the humor of the Holy Heroes Guides.  We are so grateful for the generous ministry the Holy Heroes family provides to us and so many others.


We are also grateful for all the bloggers who share free printables online.  This year, Nina chose a free printable from Tired Need Sleep to color pictures for Jesse Tree ornaments, while Luke and Jack both chose the one at Life Your Way.  (Admittedly, we have yet to cut out these ornaments and to put them on individual branches as trees, but since process is so much more important than product in our home, we are okay with that.)

Handwriting through Advent

After all this, we move onto simple home and health tasks and, then, either lessons or outings for the rest of the morning.  



As a part of our lessons, Luke and Nina have been teaching Jack to write his lowercase a b c's, with a little help from the TV Teacher's Alphabeats, which a local homeschooler kindly passed onto us.

After focusing on one of the letters with Jack, Luke and Nina further their handwriting practice doing copywork or writing sentences about corresponding words taken from our past Advent Alphabets.  So far, I've been able to put together two letters' worth of playing cards for us to use for memory match, Go Fish, sentence cloze challenges, art study and copywork.  I am hoping to get together more!

Baskets of Books and Every Day Altar Gang
 
Afternoon always begins with lunch and an eagerly awaited next chapter of The Jesse Tree, followed by countless picture books, rest time (when we are home), free play, more chores, more lessons or more outings.  And evening wraps up with dinner, intentional family time and more books before bed. (Or sometimes just going with life time!)



Every day, at least once, the kids also listen to Altar Gang He's Coming!, which they have now memorized and often act out.  

Movie Night, Family Adoration, St. Nicholas and Holiday Happenings
 
photo credit: Lumen Entertainment


Extra special seasonal times this week included curling up on the couch together to watch Lumen Enterainment's Skiff & AJ's Fantastic Voyage.  While this is not an Advent or Christmas video, we decided to start our Advent family movie nights with this favorite of our kids because it is a pro-life adventure, and, therefore, is easily tied to conversations about baby Jesus and about the value of life (one earth and eternally!)  Plus, it is just plain fun!

Then, on the day when the kids' Advent Chain link said "Go to Adoration as a Family", we let the children stay up late so that when I got home from work we could all head over to a local Adoration chapel together -- Mom, Dad and the kids.  Nina was so pleased there to pray the rosary there.  Luke prayed mostly through drawing his take on the Christmas Story. And, Jack, he prayed a little and, then, asked Mommy and Daddy to take turns walking him about outside, before finally asking me to just take him to the car so he could listen to "Skiff and AJ" until Daddy and the "big kids" were done visiting Jesus.


Friday, the kids were psyched for a quick St. Nicholas feast day breakfast of GFCF toaster waffles and "gold" juice (both favorite treats for them), along with readings and prayers, before heading  off to join some homeschooling friends for stories and crafts.



On the way home from the St. Nicholas celebration, I smiled a I heard the children chatting in the back about why St. Nicholas is so cool and what they want to do to be like him.  I smiled even wider later in the evening when Nina decided to secretly hide the Santa chocolate-turned-St. Nicholas that she had made in Daddy's car as a surprise for him.  Love that girl!

And love that we were able to cap our St. Nicholas celebrations off by joining in Mass  and a chance for me to go to confession at a friend's parish, where we were also all anointed with with Myrrh from Bari, Italy.  (As I understand, the myrrh continuously exudes from the bones of St. Nicholas and is collected once a year on May 9, the Feast Day of the Transfer of the Relics from Myra to Bari.)


Then, yesterday, we honored Nina's request for a special holiday family time by going to the Pine Hills Annual Holiday on the Green, where, among other things, the children marveled at the ice sculptors as they worked (and asked a lot of questions of them!). And, of course, we all took a photo with one of the folks that spreads the spirit of St. Nicholas' generosity.


It was quite a week of weaving Advent season activities into everyday life, and this week promises to unfold in similar ways -- starting not only with celebrating the second Sunday of Advent today, but also with celebrating Luke's eighth birthday!

Please join us in saying a prayer of thanksgiving and petition for our oldest:

Lord

We thank you for the gift of our eldest son and for all the loving, learning and growth we've shared together over these past eight years.  We ask that you continue to bless us with many years together to come and that you remain ever-present guiding Luke to grow in wisdom and stature.  We ask you to help Luke make a fruitful First Reconciliation next week and to be strengthened by his First Communion in the spring.  Please be with all of us as Luke continues to develop, helping us help him be open to your Spirit.  May Luke always choose You and, in doing so, may he fulfill whatever it is you call him to do.  With great thanks, we pray.
Amen

What Advent traditions do you enjoy and how do you incorporate them into your regular rhythm of life and learning?
 

(If you receive this post via email and cannot see the linky, be sure to actually click over to the blog to read browse the rich catalog of ideas there.)

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