Thursday, January 30, 2014

Feeding 9 on a Dime: Menu February 2014

Granola or Cereal
*fruit, milk
Snack Plate

*fruit, milk

Leftovers or
Soup and Sandwich
Chicken Soup
Hamburger Soup
Potato Soup

WW Bread!

(baked) Oatmeal
*fruit, milk

Leftovers or
Soup and Sandwich
Tatertot Casserole
Steamed Veg

*fruit, milk

Leftovers or
soup and
Bean Bowls
Black Bean and Beef Taco
 All the Fixins

(baked) Oatmeal
*fruit, milk

Leftovers or
Soup and Sandwich
Chicken Cheddar Ranch Pasta
Steamed Veg
Granola or Cereal
*fruit, milk

Leftovers or
Soup and Sandwich
Finger Salad
WW Pancakes
*fruit, milk

Leftovers or
Soup and Sandwiches
Hot Pot
Fish and Baked Potato
*Snacks: Cheese stick, popcorn, fruit

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Seven Days of Homeschooling Seven: Why a School Room?

In the beginning of our homeschool journey I wanted my house to be a home and our school to be at the kitchen table. I kept a small shelf or cabnet with our supplies and we just cleaned up each day. Over the years the bins of books for each student, teachers manuels, supplies, maps, computers, printers, CD players, co-op materials and so forth took over. The kids needed space to spread out.

We tried using the couch and floor but I found productivity went way down for us. And I didnt want little TV Trays all over the house. Then the Lord blessed us with a larger Parsonage with a basement large enough and brightly lit enough to have a real  school room! Then I located some school desks for $2.50! So now our school room has a large Mom Meeting table, computer desk and seven little desks and everyone is happy!
Inside the kids desks they have pencils, their weekly binders and some textbooks. They also keep drawings and projects. On top we've taped some number and letter strips for those who need them still. On the wall we have our whiteboard and maps. We have shelves for the numerous books we have accumulated over time. And a large sofa for spreading out with a good book or watching your Math DVD. We love the space and Mom loves to leave "work" when she clocks out for the day.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Seven Days of Homeschooling Seven: Have a Plan and Stick to the Plan

When we first began homeschooling 8 years ago I had only 3 children and used a traditional textbook/workbook style where planning was very simple. My curriculum company sent me homeschool lesson plans and nice little work books that were simply do the next page.  I just did a number of pages in each workbook and read a number of pages in each "spine". I picked this curriculum because it was what was reccomended to me by my daughters preschool. It seemed solid and simple enough. But it was extremely boring!

The second year of homeschooling I played around with different types of homeschooling. The textbook model was boring and I wanted to have FUN with my daughter, so we experimented with Charlotte Mason ideas (for
those of you who dont know, its all about short lessons and great books mostly) using Ambleside Online, Five in a Row, Sonlight, Simply Charlotte Mason and eventually just free styled using "good books" and reading a lot. While this was nice and a great bonding time in our homeschool it often left me lazy not getting much done, making excuses for not "having
school" on any given day for any given reason and The Husband was seriously doubting our decision. Not that these curricula had anything to do with that. It was more me finding myself as a teacher.

By our third year of homeschooling I added in a second student and a philosophy that went beyond the textbook model. After much prayer I  felt that just reading "good books" with no plan of action wasnt going to help me keep consistent in our homeschooling or have any type of order. How would I be sure everything was covered? How would the younger kids get what they needed? After much research I felt drawn to the 4 year history cycle and decided that I needed a curriculum that would guide my way and offer some consistency. I also needed something that combined students and was developed by someone who knew more about education than me. I bought Adventures in My Fathers world for my then 3rd grade daughter and 1st grade son. That was the year we started with Math U See as well. It was great! I had direction and a plan! The Husband was very pleased because he began to see consistency in our homeschool.
In our 4th year I added another student to the mix and began to get very overwhelmed. I learned that the look say way of teaching reading didnt produce the best spellers so I choose to use My Fathers World Kindergarten along side Exploring Countries and Cultures, and I cried! These two hefty manuels, boxes of books, homeschool laws and thr
ee little futures were looming over my head! How was I going to do this crazy homeschool thing? Was I nuts?

So I made an excel spreadsheet. It sounds hilarious now, spreadsheet? What? But no really. I made a "plan". I started to map out each student and each subject and what our next year would look like. This was great because I could see what was working, what wasnt and how much I was projected to spend the following school year. I could also see what I needed for each student coming along. Now 5 years later Im using that same file changing it as I go.

I've learned to change how I teach the same book to each child instead of buying a new thing for each one. My oldest two children got tailored curriculum for them because I just bought something new each year. My youngest 5 will get tailored curriculum for them because I just change the way I teach them till I find a way that works for them. No more buying the latest and greatest item out there, unless something truly isnt working for us and so far the only thing thats gotten any change has been our spelling and Im very happy with what we are using now.

I've also learned how to tweak My Fathers World to work for us and how to combine the different programs. I've never used every single part of a My Fathers World year in one year. I've used it all but in different ways each year. My Fathers World is just a skeleton for our school. 

Having a good solid plan helps me see where Im going and where I've been. It simplifies things for me. I have a good list and no question as to what I need for the upcoming year. I know what I will need to spend and therefor how much to save and Im not wasting money trying new things just to go back to the old. I know my curriculum well, so I know what to expect and its easier to teach the younger kids and then Im only learning new things for my oldest. Having a plan also makes homeschooling cheaper for us as we reuse curriculum and teachers guides for future students. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Seven Days of Homeschooling Seven: Creating a Rhythm to Your Homeschool

 Its been such a wonderful blessing to have our years planned out for us with such a strong biblical foundation with My Fathers World curriculum. When we first began this curriculum I scoured the internet for other M.O.M.Y.S.(Mothers of Many Young Siblings aka Moms with Kids close in age) using My Fathers World. And while there are quite a few of us out there we tend to be too busy to blog about it. The one thing I love about My Fathers World is that it combines all of my children in 2nd through 8th grade in one nice package! But when I first looked at the Exploring Countries and Cultures grid I cried! It just felt like so "much" and I still had to teach each of the children individually in Math, Spelling, and English not to mention little ones on down the line in Phonics!  Often times I felt overwhelmed and behind, like a chicken with its head cut off running from desk to desk trying to meet everyone's needs. The more I asked around and searched the web I began to find some really great scheduling tips to make the homeschool year have a nice rhythm and the longer I homeschooled them the more natural it came to add one or two students each year. Its never been EASY just became natural over time. I'll save you the time and searching by listing some of the tips and ideas for giving your homeschool some rhythm.

This is a shot of my "schedule" made with Post-its so it can easily be changed when something doesnt work for us

1. Use your current routine as a guide. Most families by the time they begin homeschooling have some regular flow to their day, for us that would be breakfast at 8, lunch at 12, with nap immediately following, Dinner at 6, bed and bath at 8. A wise lady on a forum for Mothers of Many shared that she scheduled her school around these type of time posts and we latched on to that idea. Every school day we read our Bible and have Breakfast. At lunch we read our History and Science. At naptime we have Art, Music and Read Alouds. Between breakfast and Lunch we have our individual studies and between lunch and dinner we have chores and play time. Pretty simple! But remember as your children grow and change so can your routine.

2. Keep small idle hands busy! Small people who are not occupied with school work will get into a ton of mischief. Like the time a 4 year old let the 2 year old out of the house because "he wanted to play outside" in the cold winter and he was only wearing a DIAPER!. Things get broken, written on and strewn all over the house when Mom is occupied teaching the older ones. So keep them busy. Schedule their day by rotating activities. In our home that means little ones watch a preschool show after breakfast then come down stairs to play with some Laurie Puzzles or color quietly. Then just before lunch they can play in their rooms quietly. I just keep them rotated and a timer set to remind me to check in with them every 30 min or so. This is not a rigid schedule for them, just a natural flow from one activity to another. The timer is there for me so that I dont get wrapped up in what Im doing and forget to check in. Just teach them to stay quiet while you are having school.

3. Naptime or Reading Hour. Never ever give up naptime! Everyone needs a break from the 1 year old to the Mama! So if your not sleeping your in your designated spot reading or staring at the ceiling. :) Its just a time to relax and kick up your feet. We begin Reading hour after our Lunch and Read Aloud session,  clean up and Music, Art, Science time.  

4. Mom Meetings! Every day I meet with each of the children for a Mom meeting. For my oldest its pretty short, just enough time for her to turn in assignments for me to grade and get her assignments for that day. Mostly a check in and Q and A time. Then I move on to each of the younger 4 in school spending 15-30 minutes with each one as they need help and instruction. My Kindie and 1st grader get a bit more time as they are still in the need-mom-next-to-me stage. My 3rd grade son still likes to show me each assignment as he finishes it. I usually briefly glance but do not "grade" it till our next Mom Meeting. I even have a Mom Meeting for each of the littlest ones. For the 1 year old who still takes morning naps thats a song and rocking before his nap. Then the 3 year old gets a preschool workpage and some letter/color/shape review.

5. Student assignment books. Each of my oldest three have a student planner where we write out their assignments for that day (during Mom Meeting). These are priceless as they KNOW what is expected and I REMEMBER to check what they have done the day before. We also write in when Co-op, birthdays or planned school breaks hit as they like to be kept up to date. 

6. Bells and Whistles! I have an alarm on my phone that reminds me of important times through out the day. It rings at 6:33 a.m. when I need to get up and Matthew 6:33. It rings at 8:00 a.m. for Bible and Breakfast. It rings again at 11:30 a.m. when I need to come upstairs, wake the baby, check on the littlest guys and start our lunch. It rings one more time at 3:00 when everyone needs to get up from naptime and begin our afternoon chores. I also have an alarm preset for 20 min before Wednesday and Sunday Night church so I remember to begin to round up the troops and get out the door.

7. Light and easy Fridays! Usually we have school 4 days a week using Friday as an unscheduled light and easy day. On Friday we will do our Mom meetings only using the rest of the day for our Homeschool Co-op, Grocery Shopping, or play days. Sometimes we have school on Friday because another day needed to be light and easy for a doctor appointment that couldnt wait or other event that couldnt wait till friday and thats fine as well. Our schedule is set up in such a way that we accomplish a full weeks worth of work in 4 days and those 3 day weekends are awesome!

8. Be Consistent. The hardest lesson I had to learn was about consistency in homeschool. My first years I would base weather or not we had school that day based on how much I was up with the baby the night before or how pretty the weather was outside. And while that was a nice, laid back approach to homeschool it didnt equal much curriculum being covered or offer much confidence on the part of The Husband. When we did have a full school day it was often met with groaning. One day I just woke up to the fact that much like eating and sleeping, school was a necessary evil and in order for us to succeed we were going to have to be consistent. Homeschooling is my job and I clock in every day Monday through Thursday at 8 a.m. and clock out at 2 p.m.  Once we began to look at school this way the groaning went away and I find less excuses to "not have school today". 

My 5 P's of Grocery Savings..

When I was growing up  saving on groceries meant cheap, dented, tasteless food that my mother would gather from grocery store for pennies. And while she was able to "feed" the three of us for $15 a week at one point, often times our food was thrown away or choked down in misery! In her defense she was a working mom with two jobs and didnt have the time or the internet to help inspire her. And I did learn a lot about where to shop and how to save from my mother. When I had a family of my own to care for I really wanted to bless them with wholesome nourishing and delicious foods at home. At first I spent twice as much as I do now per person and used a lot of prepackaged ingredients. We ate well, but as our family grew our budget was not able to sustain that kind of menu. So necessity was the mother of invention, I needed to stretch what we ate with out sacrificing nourishment.

Now before I plan my menu and write down my shopping list I score the internet for frugal inspiration. Last week I stumbled upon Ben and Me and the 5 P's of Grocery Savings and was totally vindicated in our weekly use of Popcorn, Pasta, Homemade Pancakes, Potatoes and Homemade Pizza! I was so inspired I posted it on Facebook in which someone piped in about a blogspot post in the making. There are 5 things that consistently aid us in a frugalish grocery budget..

Plan.. Of course that is the first thing you hear when people talk of grocery savings, make a plan.. But Im saying stick to the plan! I plan every detail of what my family will eat in a course of a week, from snacks to sides. It helps me to use what we have. It also helps that I have an
arsenal of meals that we regularly eat so that I can take advantage of sales. I plan breakfasts and lunches the same every weekday. Oatmeal for breakfast and leftovers or soup and sandwich for lunch. Week nights all have a theme as well. Monday is Stew, Tuesday Casseroles, Wednesday Bean dish, Thursday Pasta, Friday Pizza, Saturday Fish or Meat dish, Sunday Roast. Sides are mainly the same as well. I have 4 to five recipes for each category and I rotate them or keep the ingredients stocked at all time. They all have the same basic items in them and I just need to change up something to prepare each one. Like Pasta night I have spaghetti, homemade mac and cheese, Bacon Cheddar Ranch Pasta, and Goulash as my recipes. Spaghetti and Goulash use different pasta but the same sauce seasoned differently. The other two dishes use cheddar cheese, cream cheese and milk with different shaped pasta and spices. The sides are always Salad or bread. Is planning scary? There are LOTS of free menu plans with shopping lists available on the internet to get you started. There are also some great menu plans for a small fee. 

Prepare. Another great tip I learned from other meal planners is to prepare in advance your foods. Can you chop all your veggies for the week when you get home? Can you cook extra beef or beans and freeze ahead? Can you make crockpot freezer meals after you get home from the store? What about using a 10# can of tomato sauce and make several nights worth of Spaghetti sauce to freeze for a quick goulash or old fashioned spaghetti. I like to survey the kitchen being sure we have enough tea and homemade bread for the next day, and pull out any meat for the next day while Im at it. Sometimes the best I can do is to think about lunch and dinner after breakfast and get them started either in the crockpot or thawing. Thats where my plan comes in handy. Im not searching for a food idea this way. I look at the plan and prepare what I need for that meal.

Purpose. Make a purposeful plan for leftovers. Often times when I make chili I will quadruple the recipe and save two portions for meals like Frito Chili pie, Chili dogs, or serve over baked potatoes for a baked potato bar.  When I make my giant batch of spaghetti sauce I remove a two cup portion and season it for pizza sauce or if the portion is small enough I will puree and use for Pizza sauce. And of course there's always the  Rubber Chicken idea (or in our case two or three chickens). Another way to have purposeful leftovers is to freeze the entire meal TV dinner style for work lunches or a TV dinner night. When you brown ground beef cook twice as much as you need and freeze the rest. The same can be done with beans, make double or triple the dry beans you need and freeze in two cup portions for adding to recipes. Beans are a HUGE money saver and can be added to any dish with meat to stretch it. Black beans to beef and white beans to chicken. Try making a few meals a week with Beans as the main dish, like Lentil Tacos or Black Bean burgers. Yum.

Pot Luck. We have lots of Pot Luck meals at our house to use up those leftovers. Saving up all those one or two serving dishes, heat them up and have a Pot luck style meal where everyone gets to sample all  or pick and choose what they love. This is a great way to see what is a favorite dish or what recipe needs to be recycled.

Be Picky. Learn to cook a few dishes really well. Be picky about your ingredients and dont settle for a box mix. Have you ever had homemade hamburger helper? Or a homemade biscut or cake? You will be amazed at how easy these recipes are and what a rip off tasteless prepackaged foods are. Also, when you have learned to cook foods your family enjoys the temptation to splurge on eating out is nearly gone. Lots of times we will eat somewhere and everyone will enjoy a dish so I will find a way to make it at home. My homemade version is usually better and the next time we eat out we are disappointed. When I was growing up my Mother was an awful cook, (its okay, she knew it) and when finances werent as tight, we ate out all the time! I used to struggle with the desire to eat out because the food was just better, but when I learned to cook delicious meals for my family I am  just not interested in eating somewhere else. Though I would love to skip the clean up!

And a few thoughts on Pizza, Popcorn, Potatoes, Pancakes and Pasta.. Pizza is a great place to throw leftover veggies and use Low Moisture cheese, learned that one the hard way. Another way to do pizza is rolled out jelly roll style, stuffed with cheese and meats and cut into swirls before baking. Dip these pizza rolls in pizza sauce for a different spin. We also have made our own stuffed crust! YUM! We buy Popcorn in huge bags from Sams Club. But keep it in the freezer. We love to make "hash" from potato, sweet potato, squash, apples, onion, garlic, peppers and sausage or franks. Potatoes also are in all our casseroles, soups, and are often a side in our meals, we use both white and sweet. Pancakes can be so fun! We have made them from oats, cornmeal, whole grain, apple, banana, chocolate and gluten free. These are great to freeze for another night. If your glueten free a pancake makes a great bread substitute for sandwiches and wraps and so forth. And Pasta, we buy in bulk at Sams or Costco and make our own sauces in stead of the jar or canned versions. Much less expensive.