Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fall is in the air!

I have to say fall is by far my favorite season! There is something magical to me about the leaves changing, the weather cooling off, and the thought of sweatshirts by a fire pit roasting hotdogs. 

One of our favorite fall activities would have to be visiting a local farm for their military appreciation day. It is not often that you can find such an amazing activity for the entire family for FREE! Yep totally 100% free! 

While we were there this year the children took part in several activities inducing the mummy wrap. Yes that is one of my children wrapping another one in toilet paper. I was a bit worried they would try recreating the mummy wrap here at home but so far so good.


The fun did not end there however!  We were also treated to a free lunch, face painting, bouncy houses, barrel rides and much much more! 

The coolest part (for me anyways) was the hayride out to the pumpkin patch and the SIX free pumpkins they gave us! 

We absolutely loved getting to spend time exploring all of the activities provided and can not thank the local farm enough for opening up their grounds to so many military families. It was wonderful to be able to spend time enjoying the moment and making memories.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

4H has blessed our lives

Living in the middle of New Jersey as a military family we do not have a lot of opportunities to experience farm life. Things that were common every day experiences for me as a child are unique and amazing experiences for my children. When looking for opportunities to add more farm based activities into our lives I found our local 4H program to be a wealth of activities and information. 

I had no idea that the 4H programs covered such a variety of topics or that you did not have to own your own livestock to participate. I feel like a whole new world has opened up for our family! 

We started off my joining our local "Chicken Club". We get together as a group once a month to learn about chicken facts, do activities, and play with chickens. We also were assigned one day a week to feed and care for the chickens on a local farm. My children love getting to experience life with chickens....and I love not having the responsibility of 24/7 care! 

The 4H leader for our chicken club wanted any children who were interested in raising chickens to have the option to do so at home. With that in mind she purchased several chicks for the children to borrow and take home to raise. We came home with these adorable little balls of fluff!  The children get to take care of the chicks, play with them, and watch them grow up! When they get too big to stay inside any longer and we are ready to send them back to the farm we simply take them back and introduce them to the flock on the farm. I love it!

Our oldest two daughters will also be borrowing two chickens from the farm to show at Farm Fair this spring!

We did not stop and just chicken club however. We also joined the gardening club located on the same farm. Our family was given a small plot of land in which to learn square foot gardening. In this area the children are able to plant anything they like. The go each week to weed and care for their garden. The amazement on their faces when they pick a tomato they grew is seriously magical!

After working on their own square foot garden the children then get together to work on the community garden surrounding their private gardens. The children work together with the club leader to plant all sorts of new and exciting plants. Seeing all the children working together to plant and maintain the community garden is such a blessing to me. They always come home exhausted and absolutely filthy.

One of the huge blessings we have received through our gardening club would have to be the fact that it has gotten our 10yr old dyslexic daughter excited about writing! I know this sounds kind of odd...a gardening club does not necessarily scream "Learn to love writing" to me either. Our daughter however was extremely excited to be elected as the club reporter. She could not wait to start taking notes and writing articles to publish each week. I almost tipped over dead when she enthusiastically added her name to the election process for reporter. This is the child that has always hated reading or writing in any form. I will forever love 4H if for no other reason than showing our little girl that writing can be fun.

We did not stop with just two clubs however....no that would be slacking. We signed up for two more that are a little more outside the preconceived notions about 4H.

All six of our children are taking part in a 4H based art class as well! I am head over heels in love!

 Our second unusual 4H program is a 6th though 12th grade engineering club! I was a bit nervous about signing our oldest daughter up for this club. It was a bit outside her comfort level but I figured it was worth checking it out. She absolutely loves it! On their very first day they made toothbrush robots and art bots. She was so excited to show me her little robot and tell me all about how she built it. She has been dealing with autism related social anxiety since she was a very little girl so seeing her jump right into a club and flourish has been amazing. She did not stop there however! She was voted as the club secretary and could not be more thrilled with the position.

I know a lot of people think 4H is just for the farm children in the community but that could not be farther from the truth. It is an amazing program that will bless any child that is able to take part. I strongly urge you to contact your local 4H agent and see what they have to offer in your area. If they do not have a club you would like to see already set up it is a simple process to start a club yourself. If took me about 2 hours to get certified as a 4H volunteer and a friend and I have another club in the works!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Lizard Lady Strikes Again!

Our 10 yr old daughter is obsessed with lizards. 

No seriously she is flat out OBSESSED. 

She spends hours each day out in our backyard catching lizards and studying their markings and anatomy. I was shocked at how many small lizards she was able to catch each time she went out. I don't know about you but I am not the fastest moving person on the planet. The thought of being fast enough to catch a baby lizard just blows my mind.

Not only did she catch one....or two...but she has caught as many as eight in one afternoon!

She and her siblings used an old cooler to build a lizard habitat in which to keep them and continue studying them through out the day.

I do insist that she let them go at the end of the day. Of course that is always met with the puppy dog eyes and the "but mmmmmooooooooooommmmmm" response of a heartbroken child. I do not think I am going to be able to hold her off on purchasing her very own lizard for much longer.

I am trying to find ways to incorporate her love of lizards into her school day. I am currently researching different field manuals with the intent of having her identify each lizard type and hopefully keep a record book of her discoveries. If you have a favorite field manual please let me know!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Invertebrates are cool

Our science lessons this month have been revolving around invertebrates. I don't know about you but I am not all that keen on bugs. Butterflies are cool...the rest...nah....not so much. Unfortunately my children feel the same way about bugs as I do. I an attempt to spark some interest I thought a little field trip to the local bug museum was in order. 

First off who knew there were whole museums full of just bugs? That is it...an entire building full of all different types of beetles, ants, butterflies, walking sticks, and much much more. 

We loved these "windows" into different habitats scattered through out the museum. It was like a game of where is waldo as we tried to find all of the different types of moths, walking sticks and such scattered through the "picture". It was a great chance to talk about camouflage techniques and  native habitats.

Of course the butterfly displays were the coolest things in the entire museum according to my oldest two daughters. They were however very sad that so many butterflies had to die to make these displays. We did learn a great deal about them as we worked our way through the museum. We can now tell you all the ways a butterfly is different from a moth and why the blue morpho butterfly has "eyes" on the underside of it's wings.

The coolest part of the museum would have to be the touching section! We were able to hear a brief talk about several different invertebrates before being able to touch them! I touched a hissing cockroach, a millipede, a scorpion, and a tarantula.  Some of my children were brave enough to touch a few of the specimens. Most however declined. We did learn a great deal about each of the invertebrates before they were brought around for touching. For example if you see a scorpion with small pinchers you want to stay far far away, it has very toxic poison.

So was I able to instill a life long love of all things creepy crawly? Not on your life.  I did however get a little more knowledge into their little heads and I got bonus points for a field trip in the middle of the week. That is always a hit with my family. I am looking forward to studying something a little more cuddly in the future....panda bears anyone?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Everything is educational

We recently took a family vacation to Wisconsin to see my father's side of the family. While there I over heard my father telling someone that everything we do is in some way educational. While I do not think EVERYTHING we do is educational I do tend to make sure the kids are challenged and shown new things even when on vacation. 

One of the things I attempt to share with my children is an in depth look at things that can be seen as controversial. It is all well and good to tell someone "this is how this works". It is a whole new ball of wax to actually see and experience these places and to then allow the children to ask questions and come to their own conclusions about what we are seeing. 

One of the places we visited was a mink farm. These farm raised mink are raised in "houses" until they develop a desirable pelt. They are then killed, skinned, and turned into coats and such mainly for European countries.  I could have told my children what my ethical view point was on the subject while sitting at our dining room table. All while shading my talking points in an attempt to push them to see things my way. I did not do that. I intentionally did not share any of my view points or shade my narrative in any direction.

We took a walk around the mink farm and got an up close and personal tour from the owner of the farm. He took us through and showed us all of the different steps of raising farmed mink. This included preparing their food, how they are watered, where they are kept, their vaccination schedules, etc.


The children  asked quite a few very interesting questions about not only the farm raised mink but wild mink as well. Thank goodness for google on my cell phone!  

So what did they decide about mink farming? It doesn't really matter does it? 

They had a hands on view of a real life facility. They got to ask questions and delve into the information surrounding the operation. When the person they were asking did not know an answer they researched and found it for themselves. They then formulated their own view point on the subject based on their experience, research, and internal belief structure. 

Will their view point stay the same as they age? Maybe. That isn't the point however. I am not trying to teach my children to feel a certain way about certain subjects. I am teaching them to investigate, question, research, and become involved in things they know nothing about before forming an opinion. I am teaching them that they can not form a view point on a subject without first seeing and researching the subject.  Walking blindly into an opinion without all of the information is a dangerous way to live your life. 

I hope that as they age my children will continue to question and investigate the world around them. That they will never be persuaded to simply adopt someone's opinion on a subject simply because they are told to do so. The world is full of people willing to share their opinions based on little to no facts. I hope my children will learn to base their opinions on their own research and critical thinking. 

Not a bad lesson while on vacation, huh?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Self Directed Learning

I have to say there are somethings in life that I will never get tired of seeing. My children taking the lead and delving into topics that interest them would definitely fit this bill. 

We are not unschoolers in the traditional sense of the word. We do have a curriculum that we follow and I do make sure they are doing certain lessons each day. I do however let them spend quite a bit of time working on their own projects and interests through out the day in an attempt to encourage self directed learning.

There is nothing sweeter to me than to see children really investigate and learn about a topic that interests them. The fact that they are doing this all on their own makes it even sweeter.

You never really know which way their interests is going to take them on a given day. They may spend one entire day working on airplane collages and learning the name of every single air frame they can find (thank you hubby!). Then the next day they are learning how to build little cottages complete with peaked roofs and decorative accents.

I love watching their little brains work on new projects and follow their investigative instincts to new discoveries. I would have to say it is by far my favorite part of homeschooling!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A day in the life

I have been hesitant to post this "day in the life" piece simply because I do not want to make any other mothers feel they are not doing enough....or show that *I* may not  be doing enough! I decided to go ahead and send it "out there" to the world in an effort to show how our lives flow while homeschooling 5 children and trying to keep everyone alive in the process. This is a "typical" day in our lives. Every day is not like this however. We are just like every other family out there. Some days go smoothly and some days are a struggle. It is what it is. I hope you find these notes on how our day progresses to be helpful.

The breakdown: 7th grader, 4th grader, 1st grader, 1st grader, kindergarten, and 3 yr old. Oh, and a husband who works nights.


Let's go!

  The children and I wake up. The kids brush their teeth and get dressed while their father dishes up the breakfast I made the night before.  After they eat it is time for the rabbit to be fed and then the children are free to go play. Meanwhile I am still in bed checking out what has happened on the internet since the night before.

  Hubby comes down and joins me in the master bedroom. We spend 30min together talking about how his night went and any plans I have for the day. This is the only alone time we have during the day.

  Hubby goes to sleep for the day and I head upstairs for my breakfast. I have my breakfasts made up in bulk and stored in the freezer. I make a quick protein shake while my spinach, egg, and feta quesadilla heats up.

  Time for my first workout of the day. I complete 35 minutes on my stationary bike completing a hills and valley routine. The children are still playing quietly together. This early in the morning they still like each other.

  I am done with the bike and start my morning chores. This is when I clean up the breakfast mess in the kitchen, dining room, and living room. I also take this time to pull a meal from the freezer and get it started in the crock pot.

 I pull out all of the books needed for the day and call all of the children to the table.

  Our oldest 4 children (12, 9, 6, and 6) begin working on their math work for the day. Meanwhile our 5 yr old works his way though his kindergarten workbooks and our 3 yr old works on her coloring and playing with the math manipulative blocks.

   The twins (6 yrs) finish up their math and move on to their handwriting practice. Sara (9yrs) also finishes up her math and moves on to her spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

  The twins move on to their phonics warm-up. I have found that having them do a quick phonics warm-up before starting their reading helps their letter recognition greatly.

  Sara (9) finishes her spelling and starts her morning break. The twins progress to their reading work.

   The 5 youngest children (9, 6, 6, 5, 3) sit down to watch the Leapfrog Talking Words video. Why do musical frogs make everything so much easier to learn?

  I move on to helping our oldest daughter (12) finish her math lesson. Why do percentage symbols and decimals make everyone crazy?

  Our oldest moves on to her spelling, grammar, and punctuation work.

  Snack for our youngest two children (5 and 3). The Leapfrog Talking Words movie has finished so all 5 of the younger children head outside for "recess".

 Our oldest has finished her spelling, grammar, and punctuation work. I spend a few minutes going over her remaining assignments for the day focusing on the work she needs to complete on her own. She then heads to the playroom for her "teenage" time alone with just the tv.   At this point I head to the kids bathroom to pick up the dirty laundry and clean the dried toothpaste off of the sink from the morning brushing frenzy.

  Time for my 30min morning workout with Faithful Workouts. The church ladies really kick my butt when it comes to squats and weights. Do I know how to have a good time or what?

  I am all finished with my workout and it is time to make a snack for our twins.

  The twins start their science and history work.

   Our oldest two (12 and 9) join in for their half of history as well.  Our youngest (3) comes to the table as well to color another picture.

  Sara (9) starts her eye exercises, Hailey (12) starts her reading work. The twins and our son take a break while I straighten the kitchen, dinging room, and living room again.

   Sara (9) is off on her break and we all begin our lunch routine. My lunch again comes from the prepared meals I put in the freezer over the weekend. The children make their own lunches consisting of sandwiches or leftovers.

  Sara (9) starts her science lessons. I read the material to her while she works on drawing a picture concerning the material covered. I have found that when dealing with dyslexia, eye muscle weakness, and ADHD it is best if she keeps her hands busy while listening to her material.

   Sara starts her reading work. We use a dyslexic curriculum for her and it has been a Godsend. The work is difficult for her but she is progressing through the material on a steady basis.

   Sara is done for the day and I am off to start the laundry from the kids bathroom hamper. After getting that started I clean up the mess in the kitchen from lunch and load the dishwasher.

  Our oldest daughter starts her science. She had 2 experiments to complete today which is always fun for everyone in the house. Of course this is also when my husband wakes up to ask for a sandwich and a glass of milk. I quickly take him his sandwich before getting back to the science experiments.

  The youngest 5 are all headed back outside to play in "chalk city". I love having a large paved area in our fenced in back yard. The children are able to ride their bikes and set up chalk villages all day long.

  Our oldest is finished with her science and headed off for some alone time in her room. I forgot how much "alone time" a pre-teen needs. She is very thankful to have her own room in this new house.

  I get a few minutes to spend some time working on my blog.

  I head off to check the laundry and  watch the oldest 4 girls put on a doll fashion show with the outfits they made all on their own.

 Off to the grocery store to get the essentials for our field trip tomorrow.

Back from the grocery store and mom gets a snack and some time to watch the news. Meanwhile our oldest finishes her writing assignment and 2/3rds of her reading assignment.

Time to make lunches for our field trip the next day. We will be heading to a living history village! We go with simple bagged lunches of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels, oranges, and juice pouches.

I make rice to go with our crock pot dinner, pack husband's lunch and dinner for work, and then wake hubby up. We all sit down to eat dinner while hubby has his breakfast. This is usually a short affair as the kids never like what I have made for dinner and I am usually so hungry I eat like it is going out of style.

 The twins (6) and Meg (3) get their dunking in the bathtub. With 8 people and 1 hot water heater we have to spread our showers out throughout the day and double up when possible.

  I am off on my 40min hike through the local state forest. I love having this time alone to just think and decompress from my day. Meanwhile hubby is headed to his shower before work.

 I am finished with my hike and and headed for a shower and then a rest before it is time to get the rest of the children clean and ready for bed.

 It is time for Brent's bath. After finishing up with his bath I make breakfast for in the morning, clean up the kitchen again, and give twins their anti-seizure medicine. Hubby grabs his lunch box, kisses everyone goodbye and heads to work for the night.

Bedtime for the 4 youngest. This is my downtime to do whatever I want. I am a wild woman and head to the master bedroom to lay down and read a book. Meanwhile the older two girls are required to have quiet time in their room until their brother is asleep. Once he is asleep they are welcome to watch some tv until their bedtime. They are expected to turn the tv off on their own and begin their bedtime routine at 9pm.

 Older two girls take turns in the shower and then bed time. After her shower our oldest (12) finally finishes her reading for the day. I guess better late than never.

  I am exhausted headed to bed!

So there you go, a day in our lives. We completed all of our school work, the house is reasonably clean, meals for tomorrow finished and everyone is clean and in beds. Now to do it again tomorrow.....oh wait tomorrow is a field trip! Definitely the best part of homeschooling! Our lives may seem chaotic and slightly insane but I would not trade this time for all the money in the world. We are truly blessed each and every day to have this time together.


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