Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tot School: Spring is Here!

Tot School
B is currently 30 months old.

The highlight of this past week was making Spring Cookie Cottages together as a family. (See this post for more details and photos of this fun activity!)

We were blessed with a couple of days with really nice weather this past week, so we couldn't pass up the opportunity to spend lots of Tot School time outside working on large motor skills.

B is getting quite confident on his tricycle these days, and has wanted to spend lots of time practicing.

We've also enjoyed batting practice,


kicking a ball,


and bouncing.

B is definitely happy that Spring is here!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring Cookie Cottages

Remember our Valentine Cookie Houses? Well, we had so much fun with them, that we decided to try a version using Easter candy. I made them 1/4 the size of the Valentine houses, which turned out to be a great size. I call them "Spring Cookie Cottages".

This is the one I made. I used M&Ms, Pez, and coconut grass.

This is B's creation. J put on dots of icing, and B enjoyed placing the candy pieces on the dots. (Great for fine motor control, sure, but also just plain fun!)

Here's J's cottage, complete with decorative brick wall and "Easter eggs" hiding in the grass! The shingles are (of course) jelly beans--J's favorite.

Here's the one N made, with a Starburst door and colorful gravel. (Who needs to mow a lawn?)

K created a cozy honeymoon getaway cottage, with a cute Pez chimney and a flower bed overflowing with colorful blooms in the back.

Of course, eating the houses is the best part of all. Just ask B!

For other tot-friendly projects and recipes, visit Delicious Ambiguity.

Weekly Wrap-Up: Almost Spring Edition

Can it really be time for Weekly Wrap-Up already? The calendar says yes, so here we go!

A few highlights of what's going well:
  • I managed to get all the drawing prizes packed up and shipped out. If you were one of the winners, the Post Office tells me you should be receiving your goodies today (if they haven't arrived already). Although it may sound strange, I truly enjoyed the whole giveaway process so much, that I can't wait to hold another one! Stay tuned.
  • I finished another week of C25K! Although it's not my main goal, I have lost a couple of pounds in the process, which feels good.
  • Baby P took her first step this week! She has been working very determinedly on her balance, and is improving every day. This has been such a joyful time for all of us to see her progress and celebrate with her.
  • B has loved playing with balls this week, practicing catching, throwing, and kicking. The weather was nice enough for part of the week for him to play in the backyard to his heart's content. Winter and too many sick days were definitely hard on this active child. Welcome, Spring!
  • B is getting very good at dressing and undressing himself, which we are all celebrating. He also learned to peel an orange with very little help, which he was ecstatic about.
  • K has really been enjoying math. In the past couple of weeks, she has especially had fun devising numerous ways to use and play with attribute blocks as well as exploring non-standard measurement.
  • K completed the first level of All About Spelling, and is thrilled to move on to Level 2. She particularly enjoys manipulating the phonogram tiles and writing with markers on our "Spelling Board" (large white board). She has a great intuition for spelling, but this program is great to reinforce more specific rules. This has really increased her confidence in this area.
  • N has been spending a lot of time this week riding his bike around the neighborhood. It has been a long process for him to feel confident on it, but he's finally there! This has been a great experience for him to keep trying something that didn't come easily to him and to overcome his fears to reach a goal. We have all been thrilled at his success.
  • Since N joined a Cub Scout group a couple of months ago, he has had great fun working through the requirements. We decided to make "Scouts" one of our daily workboxes, so he has been making steady progress. He earned his Bobcat badge in about a week, and is now working toward his Wolf. This has been a fabulous program for him, with a good mix of learning activities that we might not come up with otherwise. He and J are looking forward to his first Pinewood Derby next month!
  • We had a great time as a family making Spring Cookie Cottages. This is definitely a holiday tradition we will be continuing!
A few things that haven't been so great:
  • Baby P is definitely in the process of cutting some teeth--the two in front on the top--and it has been a miserable week for her. She is also getting a cold, and has not been sleeping well due to congestion. We're all extra tired and needy this week!
  • We had a dentist appointment this week for N and K, which, although it went well, was an interruption in our schedule. Although workboxing definitely helps with this, I still struggle to get back into our routine after it is disturbed.
  • I have been feeling emotionally drained and on the verge of burnout lately. I have decided it's time for another personal retreat, which I'll be able to take in a couple of weeks. I just hope I can hold it together until then!
Well, that's our week in a nutshell! To see what other homeschoolers have been up to this week, visit Kris's blog.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fun with Filling in the Blank

One thing I have done with my children beginning when they are toddlers is to give them a chance to "fill in the blank". When I read a familiar story or sing a familiar song, I will pause periodically, allowing them to supply the next word or phrase. When they are very small (or when the story is less familiar to them) I might be met with silence, so I'll just say the word myself and continue. I have always been amazed, however, at how soon they really can supply missing words, and all three of my oldest children have really enjoyed the "game" as toddlers.

This is a great way to encourage memorization at a very early age. It also increases the interactivity of stories and songs (making them more enjoyable and memorable), points their attention at the connection between spoken and printed words, and heightens awareness of individual words, phrases, and language patterns (such as rhyming).

I just had to share a humorous experience we had with this technique recently, though. B chose this story for bedtime reading:

We went through the first two-page spread, with him "filling in the blanks" as follows:

Me: "Come, be my . . . "
B: "friend,"
Me: "and together we'll . . . "
B: "play."
Me: We'll be happy and . . . "
B: "busy"
Me: "all through the . . . "
B: "day."

We turned the page and came to this:

Me: "Together we can . . . "
B: "swing from a tree,"
Me: "we can . . ."
B: "EAT BUGS!!!"

Now THAT's true friendship!

We all (including B) laughed so hard when he said it, that we couldn't even finish the story. It was the most memorable bedtime we've had in a very long time. I guess it shows that this fill-in-the-blank technique can encourage family bonding as well!

Monday, March 22, 2010


Thanks to everyone who participated in this giveaway! This was even more fun than I thought it would be. I enjoyed meeting other homeschooling bloggers as well as clearing a little space off my shelves. I may have to do more giveaways like this in the future, just for fun!

Here are the official winners, chosen by

Drawing 1: Basic Signing Vocabulary Cards, Set A
Winner: Spesamor Academy

Drawing 2: The Usborne Internet-Linked First Encyclopedia of History
Winner: Mama Hen

Drawing 3: A Thomas Jefferson Education
Winner: Charity

Drawing 4: Junior Great Books complete set of K-1 Student Anthologies
Winner: Jeanine

Drawing 5: Assorted computer learning games
Winner: Brandy

I will be sending each of the winners an e-mail today asking for mailing information. Congratulations, and thanks to everyone for entering!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tot School: Sherlock Deluxe

Tot School
B is currently 30 months old.

(Note: This post is the third in a series on adapting games
to play with a toddler. Find the first two posts here and here.)

Another game we've had fun with lately is Sherlock Deluxe. Although the recommended minimum age is 5 years, I heartily agree with the claim on the back of the box that calls this "A Memory Game For the Whole Family!" J and I enjoy playing as much as our children, and it is easily adaptable for younger players as well.

The game comes with a large deck of sturdy, easy-to-handle picture cards attractively illustrated with common animals and objects such as a balloon, a key, a duck, a drum, a sun, and a lightbulb.

Also included is a pawn in the shape of Sherlock the dog, the game's mascot.

When played according to the game instructions, the deck is shuffled, then eight picture cards are arranged in a circle as in the photo above. The players agree on a reasonable amount of time to memorize which card is where, then they are all turned face-down.

The person to the right of the current player places the pawn in front of any card. The current player then attempts to name the object or animal on the card. If the card is guessed correctly, the player moves the pawn the number of spaces and in the direction shown on the card. The player's turn continues until the pawn lands on a face-up card, which the player then wins. (The above photo shows a turn where the player correctly named the lightbulb, then moved around the circle and correctly named the duck, and is now ready to guess another card.) If a player guesses incorrectly, all the cards are turned face-down and the next player takes a turn.

This is a fun alternative to matching-type memory games, and the number of cards can be adjusted up or down to increase or decrease the level of challenge. One time, when we were all playing, I asked everyone to tell us their strategy for memorizing the cards. It was fascinating (and a great learning experience) to see that we each had a different method of accomplishing the same thing!

Here is the way B and I like to play together--with just four cards at a time. The game usually holds his interest for at least two turns each (sometimes longer), and I have been amazed at his ability to remember the pictures. His favorite thing, though, is moving the pawn, which is great for counting practice.

When we first lay out the cards, I verbalize my own strategy of memorizing them--relating them to a person, object, or location in the room. For example, I'll say, "The duck is sitting on Mom's head, B is playing with the yo-yo, the light bulb is hanging on the fireplace, and the chair is by the bookcase." B has really picked up on this, and will repeat these phrases when guessing the cards on his turn.

In addition to playing the game as intended, we have used (or plan to use) the cards in the following ways:
  • B loves to just look through the picture cards and talk about the animals and objects he sees, asking lots of questions.
  • One day, B decided to sort the cards according to the numbers on them.
  • N and K used these for a story game they devised all on their own, where each player draws a certain number of cards from the deck, then has to write a cohesive story containing all of the objects. They turned out so fun!
  • The cards could be sorted into different categories, based on color, purpose, usual location, etc. I would like to try this type of activity with B this week.
I'm sure there are many more options for using the components of this game--I would love to hear your ideas!

To see what other tots are doing for fun and learning, be sure to check out Carisa's blog.

Friday, March 19, 2010

C25K and Me

Well, after lots of talking about what I'm doing with my children in our homeschool, I've decided it's time for a post on something I'm working on! The newest learning experience in my life is J and I deciding to undertake the C25K challenge. Since neither of us has ever been into running (or anything even close to it), this was a BIG step for both of us! When J first told me several months ago about the concept of C25K and mentioned that he was considering trying it, I was really skeptical that anything could turn ME into a runner. In short, I scoffed.

I couldn't stop thinking about it, though, and I started reading everything I could about the program. Somewhere along the way, I realized that 5K isn't really as long as I always thought it was, and the idea of disciplining myself to do something I've never done before was definitely appealing. Once we decided to do it, it has actually been very exciting! We've both been amazingly successful in rising early and completing our workout for the past two weeks, and we still feel motivated to continue. Here are some of the reasons I think this is working for us:
  • We're doing it together. I can't count how many times I've begun an exercise program (though never running before!) and then just kind of gradually let it slide. I definitely have motivation issues when it comes to working out! Since the C25K program is built on a 3-days-per-week schedule, we can alternate mornings (and both take Sunday off). I honestly don't enjoy exercising with other people, but there's just something about both of us doing the same workouts (though on different days). This kind of support has made ahuge difference for me, and for J, too.
  • Our kids know we're doing it. The ask us each day, "Was this your day to run?" and "How did it go?" It has been fun for them to see us learning something new, too--especially something that isn't easy for us. This is especially motivating, since I can't imagine expecting them to keep working on things that are difficult for them if I can't do it myself!
  • We found a great iPod Touch app. One of the reasons I was hesitant to try this program was that I had envisioned having to use a stopwatch to gauge each section of the workout. Thankfully, though, we came across this great app for the iPhone/iPod Touch. This program simplifies the entire training process--not only does it help you track your progress through the pre-set workouts, but it serves to cue you during each actual session. You can have iTunes playing in the background with whatever audio you choose (I prefer podcasts), and a pleasant voice tells you to "run" or "walk" or to begin your cooldown at the appropriate times. I seriously cannot imagine trying this program without it!
  • The program itself is brilliant. One thing that's difficult for me in many areas of my life is pushing myself too hard too fast and burning out. This program is specifically designed to keep that from happening, and it is geared toward building up endurance gradually.
  • Even after only two weeks, we've seen progress! I will freely admit that I really struggled on the first day of trying this program. Due to all the reasons listed above, though, I kept going. As I completed each session, I found myself covering more distance in the same amount of time. More important to me, though, is the fact that I have felt significantly more able to sustain each run on each succeeding day. This has been amazingly motivating to me, and my husband reports a similar feeling.
Although I never thought I'd say this, I really am looking forward to continuing this running program. I would recommend the C25K challenge to anyone, and someday, when our kids are older, I will definitely be recommending it to them as well!

Weekly Wrap-Up: Our Very First Edition

I recently became aware of a great homeschooling blog known as Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. (Isn't that the best title?) Kris hosts a weekly link-up where bloggers can share what's going on in their lives that week. I especially like how the focus is not only on the "school" part of homeschooling, but on each family's life as a whole. As I've stated on the sidebar, I personally believe that life is learning and learning is life, so this makes a lot of sense to me. I really like the idea of taking time each week to recap what has actually happened. I'm hoping to be able to keep this up from week to week!

Here are some of the highlights of our week:
  • J and I have accepted the C25K running challenge, and are going strong! Read all about it in this post.
  • I am making progress on putting together the framework for our World Investigations study. This has been a great opportunity for me to really dig deep into what I want my children to learn about who they are and what their place in the world is. This has turned out to be more challenging than I thought it would be, but also more rewarding! It will definitely be a long-term ongoing project, but maybe the materials I create will be useful to someone else in the future as well as to our own family now. That would be very satisfying to me!
  • We have discovered two very well-done computer learning programs, Timez Attack and Typing Instructor for Kids, that have served as great incentives for N. Although we do not use them to replace the other math and typing materials we are using, they are a fabulous supplement for extra "drill" work. Who needs flash cards or boring practice sentences when you can conquer "bad guys" with your multiplication prowess or become king of Typer Island by improving your keyboarding skills? N is nothing less than thrilled with both of these programs.
  • K's Drawing Notebook continues to be a favorite activity, and we have enjoyed looking back through the pages to see her progress. We've also nearly completed Level 1 of All About Spelling with her. We zipped through it pretty quickly (since she already knew most of the material) but I am glad that we started with the first level anyway. The explicit instruction in concrete spelling rules have been very helpful for her at this stage in her writing/spelling development. I love the fact that, when she is writing something during the day and asks, for example, "Does this word end with 'k' or 'ck'?", I can remind her of the specific rule we have learned, and she figures it out on her own. I find this program extremely empowering!
  • B is becoming more and more verbal, and is maturing in many other ways as well. One thing I have particularly noticed this week is that he has begun searching for his favorite letters whenever he encounters print, making an important connection between the letters he knows individually and the contexts where they are usually found. He is also showing lots of signs that he is ready for serious potty learning. (Wish me luck on that one!)
  • Baby P has begun insisting on feeding herself almost exclusively. I love to see her choosing greater independence, but I had forgotten how messy, emotional, and frustrating this stage can be! She is also cruising around and desperately wanting to walk. We have been working on balance with her, which she loves.
The other day, a friend commented that my blog seems to portray a homeschooling life that always runs smoothly. I guess I do have a hard time writing about things that I am struggling with, at least until I know they're getting better. I've decided that this weekly wrap-up would be a good place to list things that have not been going so well. (So, here you go, Em!)
  • Baby P has not been sleeping well at all this week. We think she might be getting more teeth in, but so far, nothing is showing through. This is a big challenge for me, since I have a very difficult time going back to sleep if awakened in the middle of the night. This lack of sleep makes it really hard for me to function as a mom the next day. I'm still learning to be patient with myself in this regard, but it's not easy to let go of the guilt.
  • Both B and Baby P are in the process of settling into new nap schedules. (Baby P is trying to move to one nap instead of two, and B is trying to give up naps altogether.) This is extremely frustrating, since it throws off our precariously-balanced schedule far too easily.
  • My kids are backsliding quite a bit in the area of "first-time obedience". We've had to increase discipline in order to get us all back on track, which is not fun for any of us.
  • Personally, I am struggling to feel like I have enough time for my own growth and development. I did enjoy two evenings this week out of the house with wonderful friends. This definitely helped, but it is a constant battle to find the right balance.
All in all, this has been a fairly calm and productive week, though, and I feel very blessed in many ways. Stopping for a moment to evaluate how things are going is such a great idea--thanks, Kris! I look forward to getting to know the other bloggers who participate in Weekly Wrap-Up!

Spring Cleaning Giveaway


I must admit that one of my favorite things about spring is the irresistible urge to clean, organize, and pare down my possessions. So, of course I was thrilled to discover the Spring Cleaning Curriculum Giveaway blog hop hosted by The Curriculum Choice. What a great motivation to look through our ever-expanding curriculum materials and move some on to new homes!

I have five sets of books and/or materials to give away. Everything is in gently used or like-new condition. These are quality materials that we have outgrown or just don't fit our style for whatever reason, but they may be just the thing you have been looking for! Please browse through the items below, then leave a comment on this post letting me know which drawings you would like to be entered for. (For a bonus entry in each of your desired drawings, become a subscriber or follower of "agile homeschooling" and leave a comment with that information.)

This drawing will run through midnight on Sunday, March 21st, 2010. On Monday morning, I will choose a winner (using and post the results here on my blog. Please make sure I have a way to contact you, either through your profile or by leaving your e-mail address in your comment. Thanks for playing, and good luck!

Drawing 2: The Usborne Internet-linked First Encyclopedia of History.

Drawing 4: Junior Great Books complete set of K-1 Student Anthologies.

Drawing 5: Assorted computer learning games for toddlers to age 5+. Please note: These will run on any Windows system through XP (and probably newer systems, but I make no guarantees), and Mac systems through OS X Classic Mode. They do not run on our new Mac, because it doesn't support Classic Mode. This is why I am passing them on to a new home!

For more Spring Cleaning Giveaways, click on the blog hop links below!

MckLinky Blog Hop

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Getting Ready for a Giveaway!

Just a heads up that I will be participating in the Curriculum Clean-Out hosted by Curriculum Choice later this week. Stop by from March 19th to 22nd for more details on how to win free stuff!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lunch Ideas: Bagel Faces

I don't know about you, but I am always on the lookout for new lunch ideas. As I have mentioned before, my kids would probably eat the same thing every day, but I prefer a little more variety.

On our last trip to the public library, we found this book, which I have been eyeing online for a while:

Before I really had a chance to look through it myself, however, N had swiped it. The next day, he came to me with a list of all the recipes in the book he thought worth trying, complete with a list of ingredients we would need for each one. (Ah, my list-maker! Don't know where he gets it . . . .)

One day last week, we decided to try something from his list--the Bagel Faces. We used mini bagels, with each person choosing a favorite spread (mayo, whipped cream cheese, and swiss cheese spread were the winners). For decorating the faces, we had grape tomatoes (whole and sliced), sliced cucumbers, sliced carrots, and cheddar cheese cut into "matchsticks". The possibilities for toppings, of course, are endless, but these are the faces we created with what we had:

So much fun! What an easy way to make lunch into a creative project instead of just another meal. I think next time, we'll try peanut butter as the spread with bananas, apples, raisins, and nuts as the toppings.

The rest of the book is delightful as well, with each recipe in both text and step-by-step picture format (for ease of use by children). The authors also include helpful tips for cooking with small children and quotes from the preschool "critics" they tested the recipes with. The book is illustrated in a simple, whimsical, hand-drawn style that is very appealing to both me and my children. Now that I've seen the book for myself, I may just add it to my wishlist!

For other tot-friendly projects and recipes, visit Delicious Ambiguity.

Tot School: Fun with Plastic Containers

Tot School
B is currently 30 months old.

One day, I decided to pull out one of our "container buckets"--this one filled with all sorts of plastic containers we've saved:

The idea was for Baby P to enjoy exploring something new, but B decided he wanted in on the fun, too. He rummaged through the bucket for a while, just figuring out what was in there. Then, next thing I knew, he had found five matching halves of tube-style travel toothbrush holders and decided they would make great bowling pins! After several attempts to find the best ball for the game as well as modifying the entryway "alley" with pillow "bumpers", we came up with this arrangement:

He had lots of fun, and also lots of counting practice, since the best thing is announcing to everyone how many pins you've knocked down each time!

A little later, I found him "pouring" this ball back and forth between two containers. This was especially entertaining, since the ball in question is one that erupts into electronic sounds each time it hits or is hit by something.

Although I didn't snap any photos, he also spent quite a bit of time sorting all the containers into similar types, opening and closing lids, and hiding small objects inside containers and getting us to guess which one the objects was in. These and other activities with the plastic containers kept B (and Baby P) occupied nearly all day.

Aren't children amazing? Given the right environment and opportunities, they will direct their own learning and practice the things they need with such creativity! I love the chance I get to be reminded of this on a daily basis.

For more fun ideas on how to learn with your tot, visit Carisa's blog.