Archive for October, 2014

I love to pre-plan my monthly menus. I find that this not only makes life easier for me on a daily basis, but it is a huge help in my food costs each month. One area that I always seem to forget is planning out our lunches. Each week, lunchtime is a meal that we just grab something from the pantry. Rarely have I planned ahead. I am making changes to that though.

On Pinterest, I have become hooked at searching the kids’ Bento lunch ideas. Have you seen these cute meals that some parents put together? They are absolutely adorable! Now, our 8 year old daughter is giving all the expected girlie responses to the pictures. Our son, not so much. The basic ideas though are great.

I went to Dollar Tree and found some 3-sectioned round plates with lids in their food storage container aisle. These are as large as a standard dinner plate and about 1 1/4” deep. I ended up buying 5 of them with plans to buy 5 more next time I am at the store. All I will need to make these a perfect option for packed lunches on our outings is to buy an insulated food bag like those found in grocery stores.

I designed a planner form to use for pre-planning the lunches. I based the design upon the layout of the sectioned plates I purchased. I added an extra space in the largest section where an optional 3rd side dish or other item can be placed. The plate chart looks like this:

The first form that I made is a simple one that is pretty generic for any Bento style container with 4 sections total. The form gives you ample room to record lunch ideas 5 days which include a main dish plus up to 3 sides. The second form is more of a chart with the plate graphic for each weekday. You can fill in the plates with the items you will be packing. The bottom portion of both forms includes a shopping list for recording what you will need for each week’s lunches.

I love the idea of having the written planner for the lunches. Each week, I will be able to have a set plan that I can work from throughout the week. Even though we homeschool, I can still prepare the lunches the night before and have them ready to go the next day. When we have an outing, these pack and go lunches will be a huge benefit. We can continue to eat vegetarian foods in spite of a lack of vegetarian choices at the venues we go to. The packed lunches will also be healthier and cost less than eating out at a fast food or other restaurant.

Just as with my weekly dinner menus, I will save the menus that I put together. This gives me a ready supply of ideas. Typically, when I use my weekly dinner plan sheets, I have a selection of 8 different weekly menus. When I plan m monthly grocery shopping, I choose 4 of the weekly menus and that will give me a month’s worth of meals. Each planner sheet contains a grocery list for that specific week’s menu. Having the lunch planner will make the shopping for lunches a lot easier. Just as with the dinner plans, I can see at a glance what groceries will be needed. When making out my shopping list, I combine the grocery lists from each planner form onto a single grocery list.

You can download a free copy of the Lunch Menu Planner for your own use. I ask that you do not repost the link to the download to your blog or try to pass off my forms as your own. Please refer people back to this blog post to access the download if you want to share it.

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At some point in every homeschool family, you will have a moment where something in the curriculum just doesn’t click. You can be going along very well, then suddenly, you hit a snag. What do you do?

We recently hit two such snags. Our daughter doesn’t like to write……at all. It is a real struggle some days just to get her to do the minimal amount of writing. So, what do you do when the curriculum your child otherwise enjoys just happens to be heavy on the writing? Here is what we have started doing.

The first thing is to go ahead with the lessons of the curriculum but to do them lapbook style instead of notebooking. She still has to do some writing, but it is far less than before. I am also considering allowing her to use my laptop to type some of her lessons. For example, instead of having to copy a poem by hand, she will type it up. This will also give her keyboarding practice.

Even though she may not be doing as much actual writing, she is still learning. The longer that I homeschool Little Miss, the more I realize that the same techniques that work on Pookie are the ones that help her learn best as well. She thrives on hands-on projects as well as being a visual learner. This is one aspect of homeschooling that I love. As I recognize a learning style that is needed, I can make adjustments that a school setting would not have the freedom to do.

The second snag we hit is in math. The program she is using alternates from being too slow to being fast. We hit a fast stretch in which a new math concept was taught. She hit a wall rather quickly with that. So, we have set aside the math workbook and are teaching the lessons through hands-on. For example, when learning fractions, instead of focusing only on the workbook assignments, she is using measuring cups or fraction puzzle pieces to see how they all fit together. We also can use the puzzle pieces to teach adding and subtracting of fractions.

She is still on track as far as keeping up with her curriculum, we just do it using a different approach. As we go along, she is learning far easier and retaining the information much better than previously.

As for her writing? Well, we are doing a Flat Traveler project to help with that. She has a set of forms to fill out about the area her traveler goes to. She also hand writes the letters that are mailed with the traveler. I have bought her a journal to start keeping as well. This will give her the writing practice that she needs each day.

Each child learns differently. As home educators, it is our job to learn how each child best is able to learn the lessons before them and to present the information in a way that reaches the child best. Gradually, we begin increasing the assignments that the child has difficulty with, but only after they have mastered each new level. Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. That is how each of us learns best. One step at a time. Steadily moving forward until we reach the highest level obtainable to us.

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Last night I read the book, “Who Needs a Prairie”, by Karen Patkau.  This is a children’s book which is meant to help teach children about the grassland ecosystem.  Living in the prairie lands the book was focused on, I really had high hopes for it.

prairie book


The pictures in the book are nicely done.  Unfortunately, that was the best part of the book.  As I was reading, I felt as though it had been written by someone with ADD.  When describing one scene, it read as though the author was making a list instead of describing a picture.  Jumping from one thing to another in her “list”, it reminded me of a conversation with someone who can’t stay focused on topic.

Books, such as this one, are great opportunities to bring a child to a place they may never have the opportunity to visit in person.  I feel that the author missed her opportunity to transport children to the prairie through her words.  At one point, I actually fell asleep reading the book.  If I cannot stay awake while reading the book, how can I expect my kids to be interested in it?

As a homeschooling Mom, I am always on the lookout for books that we can incorporate into the children’s resource collection.  I had truly hoped that this book would be one we could add.  There are several more books in this series that focus on the other ecosystems and habitats.  After reading this one, I am reluctant to try the others.

Another issue that I had with the book is that the author had used terms and names for wildlife that are not common here in the US.  It took looking into the book’s glossary to try and guess what she was talking about.  One such example is her constant referral to one species as a Pronghorn.  Now, I have lived in the prairie ecosystem area for over 20 years and have never heard the term pronghorn.  The glossary description gave me a clue when it mentioned the size of antlers the males and females have.  It was a search on the internet however that confirmed that pronghorn are antelope.  If a child were to be reading this, would they have known that she was talking about antelope?  I highly doubt it.  Yes, as homeschool parents, we often encourage our children to look things up.  I feel however that in books that are meant to inform, children shouldn’t always need to have a secondary resource to interpret the book that they are reading.


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I am always surprised at how many homeschool families still are learning about workboxes.  We have been using them in one form or another for several years now.  It began with stumbling across it on the Internet and reading many blogs.  I ended up buying the book and  have been thrilled with the results.


For anyone just starting out with workboxes, I highly recommend buying the book.  Ms. Patrick offers a detailed description of what the workbox system is, how it set up, the function of it, and the reasons why it is set up a specific way.  Based upon the TEACCH method of instruction, the workbox system takes a child through their school day with a emphasis on teaching them independence.

The heart of the system are the containers used as the workboxes.  Each assignment or task is placed into its own bin with all necessary materials.  This is perfect for easily distracted children.  Instead of getting side-tracked when fetching a box of crayons or a pencil, the supplies are in the bin ready for use.  The less times a child has to go find a school supply, the better the day goes.

I quickly realized that the Montessori style of learning uses a system similar to workboxes.  Each activity is on its own tray or basket.  Again, all components to the activity are included.  Like workboxes, the trays or baskets are placed onto shelves for easy access.   The workbox system can be used with any curriculum your family or class decides to use.

One of the things that I love about the book is the detail Ms. Patrick puts into her examples.  She takes figuratively takes you by the hand and guides you through.  She is a firm believer of using multiple activities to help teach one concept.  A file folder game, a worksheet, or a poster activity all on the same theme will help to teach a concept to your child.  For example, let’s say that your child is learning US geography.  In one workbox, you can have a map with instructions to color in certain states on the map.  At a geography center, you can have a US map puzzle to be put together.  In a file folder game, you can match a list of states with their state capital.  All the activities help to teach US geography, but in different methods.

Ms. Patrick gives wonderful examples in the book for turning any knowledge needed into a file folder game.  One idea that I am taking from the book this year is a labeling activity.  In her book, Ms. Patrick uses file folder games, but I am using a slightly different method.  Print out a picture of a skeleton.  Or you can simply buy a small one from the dollar store as they are selling Halloween items right now.  Write onto strips of cardstock the names of the various bones.  Place magnetic tape on the back of each label.  Tape the skeleton onto a cookie sheet.  Next, place the bone name labels at the appropriate spot.

When Ms. Patrick wrote the book, she gave many ideas on how to set the system up and to teach.  On the internet, you can find many blogs which show pictures of the workbox system in use.  There are a wide array of ideas on how to implement the system in your own home.  Whether you use the bins as Ms. Patrick suggests, a set of drawers, or file folders as your method of organizing, the end goal is the same.  You are teaching your child independence and time management.  The inclusion of a visual schedule aids greatly in the time management aspects of the system.   Even Pookie is learning to use the visual schedule to know what order t do his activities in.

Though Ms. Patrick’s son is on the autism spectrum, the routine of the system is enough  for him to stay on task.  What a great inspiration for me with Pookie!  Little Miss benefits just as much through the organizing of her work.  She is able to focus on the tasks before her without my constantly being at her side.  While she does activities that are very self-reliant, I can work with Pookie on his tasks that require my help.

The book will benefit kids in public school as well.  Having their homework center set up in a similar fashion will give them the organization they may need.  A set of drawers just for keeping their supplies near their desk will cut done on the time spend doing their homework.   The age that you can start workboxes is easy to figure out.  At what age are you starting to preschool your child?  You can train them from the beginning to use workboxes.  That is how I began with Pookie.  I set his Montessori activities into the drawers.  Each drawer contains one activity.  Using his visual schedule as a guide, Pookie is learning to navigate through the workboxes and gaining independence.


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