Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Right Hat for Success with Classroom Volunteers

It’s the beginning of the school year. Many of my teacher friends have returned to school. Many of my parent friends have sent their children off to school. As a former teacher, I wanted to share this thought with you…

Teachers wear multiple hats and even capes. We are communicators, facilitators, disciplinarians, evaluators, counselors, super heroes, and even mother-figures, but there’s another hat that needs a spot in the collection.

We all want our students to reach their highest potential and we see how differentiated instruction is beneficial to reaching this goal, but it’s difficult to say the least when teachers are stretched thin. At some point, it’s best if we take off the cape and say, “I just can’t do this on my own.”

There is a whole group of people out there that can help. Most teachers ask for parent volunteers at the beginning of the year and we get a few responses. We use the parent resources we can, but there’s an untapped pool of parents and grandparents out there that aren’t getting involved. Parents often don’t realize how useful they can be in the classroom, can’t speak English, or work full-time. So, we need to put on our Recruiter Hat and show them how they can get involved.

How to be a successful recruiter:

1.    Begin asking early and ask consistently. That doesn’t mean badger parents, but ask parents at Open House to mark the types of volunteering they can offer on a form. Then, call on different volunteers to help at different times throughout the year. 

    Check out this Bulletin Board craft that will help you get your year started off in the right direction by letting your students' parents know that you encourage their help and support at home and at school!

2.    Ask for help in a variety of ways. Yes, it would be great to have help in the classroom, but parents can be beneficial at home or occasionally traveling to stores to buy materials we need like paper plates for a story sequencing project.

3.   Be specific in your requests for the types of help you need. A parent might not feel comfortable teaching a small group, but they might be able to supervise students working on computers, read a book to the class, or listen to students as they read sight word flashcards.

4.   Ask them directly. Get to know your parents when they come in for Open House or Curriculum Night. Think of ways they can help that would work for them specifically. Then, make a phone call to personally invite them to help out the class.

5.    Offer a volunteer mini-course. There are parents that would love to teach small reading groups or work with students as they write stories, but they don’t have the confidence to volunteer or the knowledge to do it right. Teach them the basics they would need to successfully support students in these areas.

If you’re a classroom teacher, I encourage you to take the time to recruit parent volunteers. In the long run, it will save you time, not to mention all the benefits of having more help in and out of the classroom.

If you’re a parent, I encourage you to find a way that you can support that classroom teacher. The more help she has from parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, the better she can teacher all the students in her class, including yours.

God Bless You on Your Learning Journey ~

Teacher’s I have these excellent products that I developed and used in my classroom for 9 years that helped me get my parents involved in practicing reading skills with their children! I hope you take a moment to check it out!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Chalk Rocks: An All-Natural Art Craft

Kid’s Art: Rock Chalk Designs

Are you planning to do a rock study this year? We’ll if you are save this activity for when you finish. It’s a lot of fun and it will give your students a relaxed environment to talk about the observations they make about rocks together.

The Preparation Stage…

Go on a Rock Hunt

Grab a bucket and head out to the woods or a rocky creek bed or anywhere you might find some pretty big rocks. You don’t want your child picking up anything that is going to injure their back lifting it or their foot dropping it, but something about the size of a man’s fist is good. Grab a few if there are plenty available. We had a good time looking for just the right size rocks. We compared the sizes of all the rocks we saw. We talked about their weight as we picked them up… or tried to. We talked about how some were stuck in the ground and why/how that happens sometimes.

Cleaning Rocks

We had a lot of fun with this part of the activity as in we made a really big mud mess! I gave my kids a tub of water and some paintbrushes to wash the rocks off. They had a good time flinging mud sprinkles as they scrubbed away at their rocks. It was fun for me to listen to their conversations about the rocks during this time. One would say, “Look! I found a shiny spot.” While the other child would point out that he found one with black speckles. Once we got all the mud and dirt off of the rocks and onto our clothes, we set the rocks out to dry. If you’re not into letting your kids get dirty, wearing old clothes or a smock would be a good idea.

The Designing Stage…

Rock Chalk Designs

Once the rocks were dry, with chalk in one hand and a rock in the other, my kids started decorating. Lily Anne loves pink, so here rocks were pick by design. Caleb tried to draw trucks and tractors on his rocks, but in the end decided to color them in.

Using chalk paint would also be a fun way to decorate rocks.

The best part about this activity is that we can enjoy the beauty of our art word, but that the rocks can be returned to nature undisturbed. I especially enjoy find artistic ways my kids can express themselves without using a medium that takes up space in our limited space RV. Taking a picture helps us keep the fun memories and the beautiful designs in our hearts.

I hope your children enjoy getting creative with rocks too! I’d love to hear how they went! Feel free to let me know in the comments below or find me on Facebook or Twitter! I always love to hear from my readers!

God Bless You on Your Learning Journey ~

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Curriculum Choice… The path that lead me to Christ Centered Curriculum

The path that lead me to Christ Centered Curriculum

This is the time I have been waiting for… my oldest child has turned 5 and will officially begin kindergarten in our homeschool. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a teacher. Teaching is in my blood. It’s my passion. My boy has been learning since the day he was born and I’m proud of his academic knowledge. He’s a pretty smart kid. But, for me, this is different. This is kindergarten.

Initially, I wasn’t really looking for a curriculum. I have GOBS (this is a literal amount meaning Grand, Opulent, Bountiful Supply) of teaching materials from my former days as a public school kindergarten teacher, but there was one area my materials were deficient. Biblical lessons.

We probably have about 5 Bible Story books, but I haven’t really been happy with them either. The information has been so watered down in them. It makes for an uninteresting and more importantly a difficult to relate to or learn from kind of story.

So I started my search… I looked at as many Christian based curriculums I could find. Based on my research and the samples I looked at I found some that seemed very worksheet based, some that told Bible stories in the same watered down style, and some surprisingly didn’t seem to focus much on God at all. At this point, I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted, but the curriculums I looked at didn’t feel like what I was hungry; I was blind.

I asked the few people that I know that homeschool what curriculums they were familiar with or would recommend, but they named some of the same ones I wasn’t impressed with. I was disheartened. While I can’t say that I specifically prayed for God to guide me, it was definitely a prayer that was in my heart. Looking back, I should have stopped relying on my own research and asked God to lead me, but thank goodness we have a gracious God that knew what I was looking for even when I didn’t have a clue.

Somehow, going from link to link one day, I landed upon this article written by Doreen Claggett, “God-Centered Education vs. Child-Centered Education.” This article challenged many of the educational beliefs that I had formed over the years as a classroom teacher and even more so those that I had formed through my research of the best homeschooling practices. But… I know God was working in my heart, because the statements she made, many which contradicted my own teaching philosophies, began to make sense. It’s like the scales fell away from my eyes and I was no longer blind.

What challenged my teaching philosophies:

1.    A God-centered education begins with memorization and develops into understanding, not just through experiences. Sorry unschoolers, this applies to you. Honestly, I’ve dabbled in unschooling my children, allowing them to just learn through the experiences we provide them with as we travel around the country, but the best experiences are the ones that we studied about beforehand. Providing children with a multitude of experiences is a wonderful thing for their background knowledge, but the experiences themselves do not provide a deep and lasting education. Taking the time to learn about a historical site, animal habitat, landform, or any other educational opportunity before your child experiences it, and better yet discovering the connection to God will enlighten their minds so much more.

2.   In a God-centered education, the teacher is the imparter of knowledge, not the facilitator. Again, this contradictor the facilitator push from the public school system. I think in an effort to try to move away from the boring lecture, as usual the pendulum swung to the other extreme. But, if you think about it, little ones absorb knowledge from the ones they talk to and when they discuss thoughts and concept. The teacher is the one with the knowledge. Around a table or while sitting on a couch together, that information can be passed from the teacher to the student. Memorization is the beginning of a journey toward understanding. We don’t have to wait until the child is “developmentally ready” to understand a concept before we introduce it to them. Before that time, they have the ability to memorize the information until the light bulb goes on. Claggett says,

“…we need to recognize that the appetite that is fed the most will grow the most. The more "fun, fun, fun" is incorporated into education---and children's daily lives---the more likely they will crave "the world and all that is in it" (1 John 2:15-17). Normally, when the fun-and-games stop, so does the learning. How then can we expect to instill a delight in God and lifelong learning if He seems dull in comparison to worldly pleasures? And how then will that ultimately affect His command to study to show ourselves approved unto Him (2 Tim. 2:15)?

3.   A God-centered education is structured to work first, then play; not play as work. This conclusion made me widen my eyes! I am all about playing games and having fun learning. They’re little kids. They want to play. They need to play. Right? Yes, but they can play after they work. Not everything we do in life is fun as children or adults. We need to instill from an early age a dedicated attitude. One that is committed to accomplishing something no matter how boring or difficult it is, because it is worth it. Once done, we can thank God for His help throughout the struggle, enjoy a feeling of accomplishment, and celebrate with a time of play. This is what we as mature adults do. We should encourage our children to learn the importance to getting a job finished, rather than satisfy their own desires of having fun. Yes, they may be young, but they can do it at their own level and they should be trained from an early age, because self-discipline, self-control, and self-denial are difficult concepts that take a long time to master.

Why I chose Christ Centered Curriculum:

After reading this article, I clicked on the various tabs at the top to read more and more. I learned about the Christ Centered Curriculum, but I wanted to know more. I found samples some from the Christ Centered Curriculum website and some from other online sources. I fell in love with the way scripture and principles of God where woven through each lesson. I wanted to learn even more so I purchased the book, “Never Too Early” by Doreen Claggett, which I highly recommend for you to read. The book shares a great deal of insight that I feel is important to know beforehand about the curriculum and how to use it properly.  To me, this doesn’t seem to be a curriculum that you just buy and get started with because over the years most of us have heard the statements of the world so often that we accept them as truths. I know I did. You know the statement, “Not everything on the internet is true.” Well… that’s true. Our source for information should come from the Bible. It’s not out of date and with a little help, we can find the answers to our questions on how God wants us to educate our children.

Is it everything I hoped for?

I don’t know yet. I’ve purchased the Complete Math + Phonics Package B, which includes Package A resources (created for older 3 year olds… Lily Anne) and Package B resources (created for older 4s and 5 year olds… Caleb). Some of it will be a review for him as he already knows most of his numbers to 100, recognizes all letter names, letter sounds, many sight words, and is beginning to read cvc words, but I wanted to go with this package because scripture is tied to each concept. This is what we will be focusing on this year.

When the school year is over, I plan to do a review on the Christ Centered Curriculum to let you know if it was everything I was looking for in a curriculum.

Do you use Christ Centered Curriculum? Have you in the past? Did it work for your family? If not, did you research how it was created to begin with and why? I’d love to hear from you.

An Enlightening Statement:
God centered education was designed from the begin by the Hebrews so that “Scripture was the starting point of instruction; it was never tacked on.”

God Bless You on Your Learning Journey ~ 

Side Note:  Do you love the First Day of School sign on the Cover photo? It is made by my friend Gillette Smith and she does great work! It's actually a front and back sign with the back being the Last Day of School! If you're interested in more information about buying one (great for traditional school as well as homeschoolers!) contact her:

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Hotel Hacks: Tips for Making Hotel Stays Easier

Five Hotel Hacks

We just finished a month long hotel hop from Georgia up through Wisconsin around the lake to Michigan and back down to Georgia. You can read about our travels for the Chicken Whisperer tour where my husband teaches workshops and does book signings by reading Hoteling-it Around the Country.

While preparing for and during our travels, we came up with some hotel hacks that made our travels easier and more home-like. I’d like to share them with you!

Hotel Hacks

1.    Insulated cooler bag: These types of bags are perfect for storing your shower items. No travel-size bottles for us! Inside we place shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body wash, lotion, our scrubbies, and toothbrushes (more about this later). The insulated inside makes it an easy clean up if anything spills and you don’t have to worry about anything leaking through.

2.    Suction cup hooks: We’re a scrubby family. After a few days of traveling, I quickly realized, there is never a place to hang your scrubby where it won’t fall to the bathtub floor. Ick! I stopped by the Dollar Store and picked a couple up. There was only one hotel that had a textured shower wall where the hooks wouldn’t stick to the wall. All the other showers worked perfectly! We never had to worry about where to place the scrubby again!

3.   Fold-Up Stool: We didn’t actually take this on the Chicken Whisperer tour, but we had to stay in a hotel about a month afterward and that time I made sure to bring the fold-up stool from our camper. I have a 4 year old and a 3 year old. Hotels don’t make sinks for children of this size to reach. Maybe you have a better idea, but every time they went potty or needed to brush their teeth over the tour period, I had to lift them up to reach. I’m not 20 years old anymore and my kids are getting heavier and heavier. During the last hotel stay, my daughter was able to get on the potty and wash her hands all by herself just with the help of the stool! It made life so much easier!

4.   Cheap Plastic Toothbrush Holder: We always cover our toothbrushes with the Steripod toothbrush sanitizers, which worked out perfectly because we kept all our toothbrushes in a cheap plastic toothbrush holder and then we stuck the whole thing down into the shower bag. Once we arrive at the hotel, I pull it out and place it next to the sink. I never had to worry about our toothbrushes rolling over and touching the hotel counters… Yuck! The picture above is a toothbrush holder I found at Walmart specifically for traveling, but you can use any holder that fits toothbrushes for your family members.

5.    A Nightlight: I was surprised by how few bathrooms had a dim light. It was either on or off. In the middle of the night when I take my kids or go myself, I prefer not to blind us. Next time, we will pack a nightlight for sure! These are the nightlights we use from Walmart in our camper.

I hope you found this post helpful. Maybe you have some helpful tips as well. Feel free to share them in the comments below so we can benefit from each other!

God Bless You on Your Learning Journey ~

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hoteling-It Around the Country

What is Hoteling It?

You might be thinking, is this like when we go to the beach for a week? Not exactly…
This may not be something you ever need to do, but some people plan this type of trip occasionally while for others this is a daily way of life.

For those of you that might be new around here, my husband is known nation-wide as the Chicken Whisperer. A couple of times a year, he tours the country to speak at workshops and do book signings. These typically last 6 – 8 weeks. Normally, we do this in our RV. I’ve covered the Chicken Whisperer Tour a few times before: Florida Bound 2014, CW Fall Tour 2015, Chicken Whisperer Fall Tour Complete, CW Tour Update, and more…  

This time, things are a little different. About a month before the tour, my husband threw out the idea that we might want to stay in hotels for this trip. I made that face like, “You’ve GOT to be crazy!” He ignored me and continued sharing his thoughts about how it would be great on our gas mileage and since his events are back to back causing us to have to stay in a different place every night after traveling 2 – 3 hours every day to the next event, it might work better for us… this time.

I am NOT a hotel person, especially with kids. First, the last few times we’ve stayed in hotels it’s like moving a mountain of toys, snacks, books, shoes, computer bags, diaper bags, homeschool materials, clothes, a radio for music we listen to at bedtime, Lily’s eating chair, etc. You’re exhausted after rolling the cart where the wheels are always flat to your room.  Then, I feel like I have to keep them really quiet the entire time we’re visiting, which is like asking someone to keep a rooster from crowing all day long. It’s not possible without making them stew meat. Not to mention, there’s just the stress of being somewhere that’s not yours, night after night. Not your bed, not your shower, not your carpet, not your light that you can dim in the bathroom, and not your kitchen… which leads us into another issue. This trip is going to last 4 weeks round trip. Four weeks of not having our own kitchen to cook our own food. I really wasn’t looking forward to it, BUT my hubby had a point, so I said I’d give it a try, but we had to do things different. We made a plan on how to organize everything we were taking to keep things at a minimum. This is how we did it…

How we pack for multiple hotel stays

This hotel stay was going to be different. We were not lugging everything including the kitchen sink into the hotel room as we normally do. We were going to be organized, so we came up with a plan.

Packing the truck
We wanted to pack the truck to make things easily accessible when we needed them. Here’s how we did it from the front to the back.

What we bring inside the car:

In the seat between the kids, we always bring a toy bin of things the kids can play with. I have them choose their own toys they want to play with on their trip before we leave. They can only reach the toys on top, but it’s not too hard for me to turn around and hand them what they need when they ask.

Behind the toy bin is a red bag that holds some of our school materials including clipboards with blank white copy paper, workbooks, coloring books, and construction paper.

In the floor…

In front of Lily are 2 bags of snacks.
In front of Caleb is another box of schooling supplies.

What we bring inside the Camper Top:

Closest to the tailgate (See the picture above from Left to Right):
Box of shoes: We brought 3 pairs of shoes each. In the box we have our tennis shoes for times we needed them, but this box eventually made its way toward the back. We didn’t wear shorts often in the northern climate, so we just stuck with the boots we wore each day. We kept our sandals in a plastic bag in the hamper that we took into the hotel each day for showering.

Cooler: We brought a few cool foods that we would bring in with us to put in the fridge each night.

Computer Bag: This is my husband’s computer bag and it went with us everywhere.

Hamper Basket: This worked like a suitcase for us and went in the hotel each night. There were a few things that always stayed inside it like the medicine bag, diaper bag, and AED. We often stacked the bath bag and shower bag on top of it. Each time before entering the hotel, I would pull out clothes to wear for the next day from the black drawers, which we would talk about next.

Black Drawers: These drawers held all of our clothes. Each person in the family had a drawer. Additional drawers held swim suits, cold clothes gear (hats, scarves, & gloves), and pajamas.

Hanging Clothes: On the left are my husband’s work clothes and on the right we hung our heavy jackets.

The next section shown above includes these items…

On the left, is where my husband’s work box started out. It soon ended up under the dirty clothes hamper on the right because it was a frequently used item. We took it out at each of Andy’s events. We also kept his stool with the event box, since it would come out each time.
We brought a black bin that we filled with water bottles at the beginning of our trip. It was a lot cheaper than picking up a bottle of water at the gas station all the time.

Beyond that on the left are boxes of extra books, magazines, and pamphlets that we would use for Andy’s events over time, but we didn’t need all of them every time. For each event, I would pull out one box of each so I had them stacked with that in mind.

On the right, you’ll see the filled gas can, which we always carry with us on trips like this. You never know when you’ll be traveling in the middle of nowhere and need gas, but none of the stations are open.

Further back, are tools that always stay in the truck. Better to be prepared.

Once we checked into the hotel, the right side of the bed next to the black drawers was empty, so we brought Andy’s work stuff that he would need for his event forward for easy access.

After his events, we put all Andy’s work stuff back where they started and we’d return to the hotel.

The next morning everything we took into the hotel was returned to its place in the truck, but all the dirty clothes would be placed in the dirty clothes bin and would be replaced with new clothes for the next day.

Every couple of days, we tried to reserve a hotel that offered coin laundry, but occasionally we had to find a laundromat.

What do we take into the hotel?

Not the kitchen sink. I mentioned most of the items earlier in this post. Our list is much more streamlined and efficient. We quickly figured out a Tetris method of how to fit everything on the cart each time we roll it into the hotel. 

What homeschool materials did I chose to bring?

I minimalized my homeschooling materials for this trip, not because I didn’t plan on working with my kids, but because we didn’t have a lot of space. With what I know how, I could have weeded out even more. Here’s a list of things we actually used…

Dry erase markers
Dry erase board
Clipboards with blank copy paper

Before leaving, I found some worksheet resources I thought would benefit my kids on Teacherspayteachers. They have a lot of great products for all price ranges, even FREE!

I actually created a new product while on the road, so I used the business centers at various hotels along the way to print out the pages as I completed them for my kids to test out during schooling time. You can check out Veggie Themed Basic Math Activities at The Learning Wagon Store!

How and where do we fit in time to school?

We were able to fit in a little homeschooling every day. I tried doing things at various times during the day, but on event days, we had fun carschooling. After getting Daddy all setup, we went back to the car got down to work. Sometimes, we just sat in our seats and used our clipboards to practice writing our last name, write numbers, or do basic addition. I used the dry erase board to practice reading letters, blending, sight words, and sentences. Other times, we had fun in the back of Daddy’s truck. With the hotel items dropped off and Daddy’s work stuff out, we had some space to have some sensory play with kinetic sand and play dough. When we had a day off, we homeschooled in the hotel or even better, we roadschooled. We found some awesome places nearby to learn from. The most memorable was seeing one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. This was a first for our whole family! We had a great time playing at the beach, but we also enjoyed our trip to visit the De Zaan Windmill at Windmill Island Gardens. It’s the only authentic Dutch windmill still working in the United States! These were just a few of the great adventures we had traveling around from state to state.

I hope you found this post helpful or at least interesting to see a different way people live. In a future post, I'll be sharing some of our hotel traveling hacks! I hope you come back and join us! 

Don't forget to follow our journey and be informed about new products as they enter my store by Following me on Facebook and Twitter!

God Bless You on Your Learning Journey ~

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

3 Reading Practice Activities

3 Reading Practice Activities

We love playing games during our learning times. These 3 reading activities make it fun to practice letter names, sounds, sight words and blending words.

Reading is fun!

Peek-A-Boo Letters

For this activity, I folded a sheet of copy paper in half 3 times so that when you open the sheet up there are 16 squares. Then, I cut across the3 folds going across the short side of the paper. Each cut strip should have 4 squares.

Then, I wrote a letter inside each square. You can use painter’s tape to cover the letters yourself or like me, you can allow your little one to tear the tape and cover each letter herself. Once they’re covered, the student can choose one to uncover and say, “Peek-A-Boo (letter name)” or “Peek-A-Boo (letter sound).”

Then, the student can recover the letter and choose another one.

Peek-A-Boo Blending

This activity is just like Peek-A-Boo letters but instead, I wrote words in the squares for my son to practice blending. First, he covered the words with painter’s tape. Then, he chose one to uncover and sound out. Once he figured it out he said, “Peek-A-Boo (word).” Then, he covered the words back up and chose another one. The game gets more and more fun because the next time he uncovered the word, he was already familiar with them and could figure out the word much faster.

Sticky Letters & Sticky Words

For this activity, I tore short and long pieces of tape and placed each on the ground randomly. Then, I used a permanent marker to write letters and blending words. Each child took a turn. Lily Anne chose letters to name and Caleb chose words to read. Once they read them, they could peel them up.

Letter Bash & Sight Word Bash

Lily Anne played the Letter Bash game. I used painter’s tape to tape a letter to a paper cup. Then, I created a small tower. Lily told me the letter name and then got to throw a ball toward the tower to knock it over. She had a blast!

Caleb played the Sight Word Bash game. I taped a sight word to each cup and created a tower. Caleb read each word and then through the ball to knock down the tower. I love it when they get so excited they jump up and down all over the place when they’re learning! I know I’ve got a winner.

I hope you have as much fun with these games as we did. I’d love to hear how they went! Feel free to let me know in the comments below or find me on Facebook or Twitter! I always love to hear from my readers!

God Bless You on Your Learning Journey ~

Are you interested in more ways to practice sight words? Check out my post on Sight Word Games.

I also have several great products that you’ll want to check out! Just click the images below.

You can find me at these great Link Ups!
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