Monday, September 15, 2014

The Best Laid Plans...

When I started homeschooling a few months ago, I had many expectations as to how my days would go. I started out with plans and page numbers and projects and supplies. I'm sure that for some people the planning would have been successful, but not for us. Structure does not work for us.

The more structure I try to put into our days, the more difficult they become. Allowing my children to lead has been far more productive.

For instance, last week my older daughter had a fantastic week. She was slamming through the math workbook and her Draw, Write, Now book. She did a few pink series exercises and we did some really fantastic reading together. This week it's like I have an entirely different child! She doesn't want to sit down and work at all. I settled for having her sharpen her box of colored pencils today. My younger child is just the opposite, for weeks now she's been playing when we work and ignoring my nicely laid out Montessori shelves. Over the past week, she's blossomed. She did the pink tower, sandpaper numbers 0-2, and every single one of the Melissa and Doug tangram one sitting! She's loving it!

I think that structure doesn't work because this is not school, there are not 15 other children to set and follow examples. We don't have a set start time. We don't have a set recess time. We start when everyone is awake and fed and after morning "chores" have been completed. Today it was 11, some days it's closer to 9, sometimes if I know the weather will turn in the afternoon we just go outside all morning and worry about school in the afternoon. If my daughter starts an art project and loves it, she is free to continue with it for as long as she pleases (which sometimes can be days!). So much for those plans and page numbers!

In the grand scheme of life, I don't think taking a few days off is going to hurt my four year old (in fact I think it might help). We may not be sticking to our plans, but we are happy and we are learning...something.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

DIY Sandpaper Numbers

I decided to make a set of sandpaper numbers for my two year old. When my older child was using the sandpaper numbers, we made them out of notecards and glitter glue. They served their purpose, but I wanted to make something more lasting this time around.

The cost to make these wass negligible, as the only item I had to buy was an eighteen inch square of balsa wood from the craft store (and I used a 40% off coupon so it was less than $2). I already had dark green spray paint and extra sandpaper lying around the garage.

Cut the wood into rectangles about 3''x4'' and sand them.
Apply one coat of spray paint and then sand again.

Apply the second coat of spray paint.

Trace and cut out numbers from the sandpaper. I used a font called MontessoriScript that I found here. I made it bold and increased the size to fit my cards.
Use glue or Modge Podge to stick the sandpaper numbers to the wood.

I'm pretty excited about how these turned out. I'm hoping they get a lot of use.

DIY Media Center

So we finally decided to upgrade some of our furniture. Ikea, we still love you, but you remind us of our college dorm rooms. We wanted to start in our main living room because it is really the centerpiece of our home. Our dream would be to purchase the Pottery Barn Printer's Media Cabinet, but let's face it....$1100 dollars, when you have two destructive children and a dog who doesn't realize quite how big she is, is too much to spend (the entire set would be closer to $4000)!

Luckily, other people have also faced this dilemma. We found some plans on Ana White's blog and decided to give it a go. This was our first attempt at furniture building.

We deviated from the plans with regards to measurement. For the boxes and the shelves we used birth ply. The doors and the trim pieces are pine. The overall length of the cabinet is 64", just like her plans. Instead of four individually constructed bases like Ana's and Pottery Barn we made one large unit with three sections. We found that if we did four sections, then our stereo/blue ray/cable box would not fit!

Finishing the cabinet was the most difficult part. If anyone says staining is easy...well, they were probably using nicer wood than birch ply! We tried to use Minwax, but we just could not get a deep rich color even after three coats. I went to our local Woodcraft store for help, and I have to recommend Woodcraft of Denver very highly. The employees were so helpful and patient with me! I showed them a picture of the Pottery Barn cabinet and they helped me to find a similarly rich color. We used Minwax water-based wood conditioner followed by two coats of General Finishes Black Cherry water-based stain. We then topped it with three coats of General Finishes gloss polyurethane, sanding after each coat.

It was very difficult to get the color even, but we did get better with practice. We live in a very dry climate and were finding that the stain was drying much faster than the can said it would. We ended up using a "wax on wax off" tactic to avoid streaking and botching. Luckily, we started with the inside of the cabinets which are not visible!

I think this cabinet turned out absolutely fantastic. Our eventual goal is to make matching bookshelves for each side as well as a hutch for the top. The total time investment for this cabinet was approximately 40 hours and the total cost was $220 plus about $50 in tools that we didn't already have (the kreg jig).

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ducky Diaper Cake

A close friend of ours is getting ready to have a baby and I had a chance to make the diaper cake for her shower. The shower theme was ponds and ducks. I found this great little inflatable ducky on Amazon and used it as the base of the cake.

I didn't feel like making the standard round diaper cake because I'm not patient enough to wind a million rubber bands. I found this tutorial for making a square diaper cake and modified it to fit onto the duck. I used two Costco-sized boxes of size 1 a lot of diapers! I think it was approximately double the number the tutorial used.

My husband cut a piece of wood and screwed a dowel rod to it. This went through the four layers of the "cake" to hold the whole thing upright. It was a really nifty and easy solution.
The coordinating ribbons are just glued around the diapers (not to the diapers), they are just there to cover the rubber bands. The horizontal ribbons hold each layer of the cake together.
I picked up a few bath-themed items to tie to the cake along with a hooded towel for the duck.

This turned out great and only took a few hours to put together.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Seed and Plant Matching

I made this great work tonight. I can't wait to show the girls in the morning! Montessori Print Shop has a number of completely free printables. I downloaded the nomenclature cards for seed and plant matching twice. I mounted them on bright yellow card stock and laminated them. They turned out beautifully, if I do say so myself!

I also used a pattern from Montessori Print Shop, here, for making a folder for my nomenclature cards. I think it turned out great as well. I don't think I'd use it for a classroom because I don't think it would last, but for our home, it's perfect!

Then, for an added task, I found most of the matching seeds (I have a massive number of seeds saved...for what? I'm not sure...). I'm going to place some plain white squares of paper in the tray and have my older daughter create a seed book by writing the names of the plants, drawing the plants and pasting the matching seeds on the page.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

DIY Montessori Felt Parts of a Tree

The girls really love them some science! I would love to purchase all of the botany puzzles and cards, but unfortunately as a homeschool family I not only can't afford them, but I also don't really have the space to store the entire set of materials. I decided to make a felt tree to stand in for the parts of a tree puzzle.

The quality of these drawings is pretty low, but I thought someone else might benefit from having the pattern ready to print. Perhaps someday when I have lots of spare time I will make higher quality patterns. I will also try to add other simple patterns as we go along. The pattern can be found here:

Please link to this page!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

DIY Montessori Pink Tower

The pink tower is such a classic montessori material that I knew we had to have it for homeschooling. It and the brown stairs were my older daughter's favorite "work" for the better part of a semester and I'm sure her sister will love it too.  We already had a set of the cardboard nesting blocks, and those are great, but they lack the weight and flexibility of the pink tower.

My husband made these for us on a Saturday afternoon. He used a scrap 4x4 that we had left over from building our house. The pink tower is made up of ascending cubes, 1cm x 1cm x 1cm up to 10cm x 10cm x 10cm. He used a combination of the table saw and the mitre saw to cut them to the right size and then sanded them.

The hardest part of this is cutting and sanding the 1 cm and 2 cm blocks. They are so tiny!

Our 'pink' tower is still the natural wood color. I think we will paint it someday, but I really like the way the raw wood looks.

Our next project will be to make the brown stairs.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Curriculum Choices 2014-2015

I have put SO much effort and research into our curriculum choices for kindergarten in the fall. I think I've finally got it all figured out.

History and Reading

We will be using the Build Your Library curriculum for kindergarten. It's a fabulous, inexpensive, literature-based curriculum. I really debated between Bookshark and BYL and decided on BYL for a few reasons:

  1. It is much less expensive, so if I end up not sticking with it I'm not out a bundle.  
  2. My daughter is only four, and the curriculum is a bit less intensive than Bookshark. 
  3. I really like the activities/art/ideas that are presented in the curriculum. Bookshark really didn't have much in the way of "extras" and my daughter absolutely loves her arts and crafts. 

We will be using Artistic Pursuits for our art curriculum. I got a great deal on this from another homeschooler who was finished with the book. My daughter loves art so I wanted to make sure that I picked out something that was very thorough. This curriculum is great, it gives a sort of tour of the various art materials and styles. 


We will be using Singapore Math Essentials for our main mathematics program but we will be using Montessori materials like the golden beads to supplement the text. The Essentials Kindergarten A text is very basic and probably better suited for a three year old. I think we will move through it very quickly and move onto the next one. I will keep updating posts about how we combine montessori and Singapore Math.


We will continue using the Primary Phonics system this year. We finished their K book a few months ago (the consonant book), and we are now starting to use their Level 1 workbook and reading series. My four year old wasn't too excited to begin this work a few months ago so we put it aside. Last week she brought it to me and wanted to try again!  I'm also using the Explode the Code Level 1 workbook from the same publisher. This seems to be a nice bridge between the two primary phonics level. 


The BYL curriculum that we are using has some science, but I will definitely be adding more. I plan on incorporating Montessori science and possibly getting the Singapore Science - My Pals are Here book for even more extras. Science is the most challenging curricula to find for this age group. Most of it really jumps around or is just purely experiment based. I will be posting updates about the materials I put together for our science. 


My daughter is only four and I really don't see handwriting as a necessity yet. She loves to do the Draw, Write, Now! books, so we will stick to those for the year.

And there you have it! Questions/Criticism/Concern always welcome!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Learning Our Colors

I realized that Little Duck, who is two, doesn't yet know any of her colors. I attribute this to "second child syndrome". When our first was little we were constantly talking to her and pointing out colors and shapes, but we just haven't done as much of that with Little Duck. I decided to make it a goal to spend at least an hour a day "working" with her. She's started really looking forward to "working" with mommy and that makes mommy happy too.

We started with the Montessori color tablets (Montessori Color Tablets #1). I introduced them the first day, saying "this is red" and placing the red one on the rug, then "this is blue" and placing the blue one on the rug, then "this is yellow" and placing the yellow one on the rug. Then I just let her play with them!

The second day I decided to focus on just one color. I brought out the color tablets, saying "This is red. Can you find me another one that looks just like this?" She was able to do that so we moved onto coloring with red crayons and talking about things that are red. Before nap time, we read a few books, and I had her find the color red on each page.

Each day we will add one color until she is able to identify each color in the Montessori Color Tablets #2 box.

One of our favorite toys for learning colors (and shapes) is the Lauri Toys Color and Shape sorter. My older daughter loved it and would carry it around for hours pretending that it was a birthday cake with candles. She loved stacking and dumping the rings. I brought it out for Little Duck the other day and she loved it too. It's amazing to me that the most simple toys are often the most popular with my children.

Here are a few of our favorite color-related books:
  • The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown - My children love this book!

  • What Makes a Rainbow by Betty Ann Schwartz - The text in this book doesn't do much for my children, but they love playing with the rainbow ribbons. This is a great book to keep a very small child entertained.

  • White Rabbit's Color Book by Alan Baker - This is a really great little book. The kids love the pictures of the little rabbit playing in the colors and then taking a shower.

  • Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell

  • Green by Laura Seeger 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

DIY Montessori Color Tablets

The color tablets are one of those materials that children use for only a short time between the ages of two and three. My two year old doesn't yet know her colors so I made her a set to help with that learning.

These tablets are made from balsa wood cut to 2 inches x 1.5 inches. The hardest part was cutting the balsa wood. I read somewhere that you can just score it and snap it, but that certainly didn't work for me. I ended up having my husband cut and sand them with his table saw and mitre saw. It took him about 30 minutes and I didn't cut any fingers off. 

Once I had the tablets cut I used Modge Podge to attach some paint chips that I picked up at the hardware store. I've never used Modge Podge, and it was a little tricky to make it look right. If I applied it to the paint chip, it didn't stick to the wood. I found that using a foam brush to apply it directly to the wood was the best option. I used a cloth to smoosh the paint chip down evenly. I was still seeing the edges pull up a bit so I just stacked the tablets and put a heavy book on top of them until they were dry.

Here's an image of the completed color tablets (set 1). I didn't make the entire set of color tablets because I don't think that is necessary in a homeschool environment. I just made enough for the first and second set of twenty two tablets (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black, white, grey, and pink).

The total cost of this project was about $4 for the balsa wood. The total time for this project was about 2 hours.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

To Homeschool?

The decision of wether or not to homeschool has been one of the most difficult decisions of my life! When I tell people that we are considering homeschooling for our children, they look at me as if I had suddenly sprouted a second head. We are not religious and do not have a community of homeschoolers to which we can easily attach ourselves. (I think homeschooling for religious people is much more widely accepted. There are more support groups and more curriculum choices available...Things are changing for the secular homeschooler, but it's still a pretty taboo topic in most of our circles).

Our oldest daughter attends a wonderful montessori preschool. She is four now and we couldn't be happier with her teacher and all that she has done for our daughter over the past two years.  We now have a second child who is two and we would love to enroll her in the same preschool for the coming year...but preschool is very far away from our home and also very expensive for two children.

We have been looking into homeschooling options for our older daughter once she finishes kindergarten.  There are a number of reasons for this:
  1. We live quite far away from even our neighborhood school. Driving to one of the charter schools in our area would require me to be in the car for over two hours a day.
  2. School days are so long! Add a seven hour school day to our two hours of driving to ten hours of sleep for the girls and there's really not much time for anything except for eating!
  3. Our school board has been taken over by political extremists. Yep, it's really very scary...
  4. I really like being with my kids (most of the time)! 
  5. Time. Homeschooling families generally complete their school material in a few hours in the mornings and then have the rest of the day for family time and extracurricular activities. 
  6. I don't believe in a one-size-fits-all education. Children learn different ways and someone who is managing 30 children and jumping through hoops for the school district is not going to have the time, energy, or resources to tailor their teaching for each child.
  7. I want to be able to take my children hiking and skiing and to the beach and to museums and to other countries! Experience is the best teacher. 
  8. I can pick my curriculum. I can use Singapore Math and Montessori methods. I can augment our science curriculum so that it is accelerated and challenging and fun. I can follow my child's interests.  (Also, I don't want to have to augment a public school education at home. After a 7 hour day it would not be fair to her to make her do more work at home.)
  9. Bullying, negative peer pressure, etc. These are things that every child will have to deal with at some point, but I think it's far better to ease a child into these situations with the tools to handle them than to throw them to the sharks at five years old as a kindergartner. 
Our original plan was to let her finish her three year montessori cycle and then to pull her, but we've made some great friends who are starting to homeschool their children next year. Also, a new secular homeschool curriculum was just released (Bookshark, I will go into more details on it in a later post) that will fit our family very well. It feels like the right time to start our homeschool journey.

I plan on keeping this blog updated with what's happening in our homeschool. I hope you will keep checking back for updates!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

DIY Roof-Mount Cargo Box Lift

My husband is a storage fanatic, he has a system for everything. We recently purchased a Yakima SkyBox 16S to go on top of our Jeep Cherokee. It's a great product, but it's huge and a little difficult to store.  Another cargo box manufacturer makes a cargo box lift, but with a price tag of $150+ it's not really accessible for the consumer on a budget. Enter my husband...

To begin, we needed to find an affordable pulley system. The parts to make a pulley system are readily available at most hardware stores, but we did some searching and found a  Ceiling-Mount Bike Lift at The Container Store that wasn't too expensive. 

Follow the instructions in the box to mount the bike lift to the ceiling (the one downside is that you do have to have high ceilings. We mounted our box directly over the parking space for the Jeep, this allows us to raise and lower the box directly onto the roof of the car. It's fantastic!

The bike lift can almost be used by itself to hang the cargo box, but we noticed that the plastic was bending on one side of the box. We didn't want to damage the cargo box so we decided to make some straps to hang it with. 

To make the straps, we used some inexpensive utility straps from the hardware store. We measured two, one strap for the front of the box and one strap for the rear of the box. Both straps should sit in front of the clamps that attach the cargo box to the rack. Wrap the straps around the box and leave enough material to make a loop on each side to fit over the hooks in the pulley system. Remove the remaining strapping material.

Sew the loops. I'm not much of a seamstress, so I copied the stitching pattern that was used by the manufacturer of the straps. It seems pretty sturdy.

Voila! Loop your straps under the cargo box, and attach to the pulley system. You may need to balance it out while it's going up because it tends to tilt a bit.

***Note: Do this at your own risk, I don't want to get sued if you do something silly and drop it on your car or your head.