Showing posts with label Tips And How-To's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tips And How-To's. Show all posts

Narrowing It Down - Tips For Picking Curriculum



So let’s say you’ve decided to homeschool in the upcoming school year, and you have started looking into curriculum.  How do you not get overwhelmed with the endless curriculum options out there?  Because seriously guys, there is so much.  I’ve heard from so many new homeschool moms that all the different curricula is overwhelming.  How do you start to narrow it down, how do you figure out what will work for you family?  I have a few thoughts and tips on where to start.



Figure Out Your Homeschooling Style (As Much As Possible Anyway)

Before you start to wade through curriculum, I think it’s helpful to think ahead to what you are hoping to get out of homeschooling, for yourself and your kids.  What exactly do you want your homeschool to look like?  What are your main goals for your kids?  How do you want to evaluate their learning? Do you want it to look like textbooks and quizzes? Do you want opportunities for learning through doing?  Do you want them to develop any particular skill really well?  

One thing that really helped me was doing a little research into different homeschooling educational philosophies - learning more about the possibilities really helped me figure out the specific things I wanted for my kids out of different subjects, and out of our homeschooling journey as a whole.  I wrote a summary of some popular homeschooling styles here, and I also highly recommend watching this video to give you an idea of the different homeschooling styles.  

Don’t get too bogged down in research, but once you know the types, I think you should think carefully about which style (or which aspects of different styles) appeal to you.  If you really like the idea of learning through interesting books (as opposed to textbooks) that will affect the curricula you pick. If you want your kids to have more input into what they learn (as in unschooling), that will guide your whole year.  If you love the idea of the trivium in classical homeschooling, you’ll want to look for a curriculum that incorporates some of that.

And if you look at all the different styles and you still have no idea where to go with it - don’t worry.  I’ve got more tips.

Attend A Curriculum Sale 

If there are any homeschool conferences or curriculum sales in your area, I highly recommend you attend (though I do realize that this may be hard to accomplish in 2020).  If you can’t find a curriculum sale, see if there are any physical bookstores in your area that carry homeschool curriculum (Mardel’s is one), or you can ask friends who are already homeschooling if you can come over to look through their curriculum.  It is so much easier to get an idea of what you like and don’t like in a curriculum if you have a chance to look through it.  

Even if it’s a curriculum you aren’t initially considering, take a look at it anyway.  Read through the parent notes at the beginning of the book and start thinking through what you agree or don’t agree with.  Look at a curriculum that has a lot of moving pieces, and see if you like that or not.  I think just looking through different curricula of different styles will help you start to decide which direction you want to go.

Choose A Curriculum That Appeals To YOU

I think it’s tempting to try to choose a curriculum that’s going to be perfect for your specific kid and their learning style.  But…as Pam Barnhill says in Plan Your Year, “the best homeschool curriculum is the one that will get done.”  And especially if your kids are young, the person who is driving the curriculum is you, as the mom.  You want to work with a curriculum that you are excited about, that you want to open up and start with your kids.  If you open up a book and feel excited to teach the subject to your kids, then your kids are most likely going to become more excited to learn it.

Consider Your Child’s Dislikes

As you are looking at curriculum, I think considering what your child hates to do may be more important than considering what they like.  One of my goals for homeschooling is that my children learn to love learning, so I don't want to make it harder on them than necessary, especially in the younger years.

If you kid really hates writing, you’re going to want to avoid a curriculum that’s mostly writing-based.  If they are still getting a handle on their reading, don’t choose a curriculum that expects the child to read huge chunks of text (unless you know you have time to read it to them).  If you know your child loves learning in a certain way, by all means incorporate those things!  But pay attention to the things that are difficult for them, or that they dislike, and find a curriculum that you can adapt to work around those things until their skills develop more.



Other Things To Consider:

Worldview

One of the most important things to me in picking curriculum is making sure that I choose a curriculum with a biblical worldview.  A major reason why I homeschool is so I can impart a knowledge and love for the Lord to my kids as an integral part of their education, so I try as much as possible to pick curriculum that fits with that (especially with subjects like science and history).  Before you pick curriculum, make sure you are okay with the worldview it has as its foundation, and also make sure you agree with how it presents differing worldviews.  Since this is such an important aspect to me, I've eliminated a lot of curricula on this point alone!


All-In-One Or Piecing It Together

Is it really important to you to choose an all-in-one curriculum, or are you okay with piecing together different curricula for different subjects?  A lot of moms like the ease of an all-in-one curriculum, and the fact that a lot of the subjects can be integrated and connected in an all-in-one, because someone else already thought it out for you.  Other moms (like me) have specific ideas about how they want to teach different subjects, and it’s easier to choose curriculum for subjects individually in order to get exactly what they want.  

Learning Styles

What about learning styles, you may ask?  How do you figure out if your kid is an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner, and how do you find a curriculum that fits with that?

This is just my opinion about learning styles in my experience so far, so take it with a grain of salt…but I don’t think kids’ learning styles are quite as important as people sometimes think.  Learning styles are still being researched, but it's my understanding that there is no hard evidence to support the learning styles theory, or the idea that we must teach to specific learning styles.

In my very unprofessional opinion, I suspect that most people probably work within a combination of learning styles - some people may lean more toward one style than another, but most people are served well through a combination of hearing, sight, doing, etc.  

And if your child really does appear to lean heavily toward one learning style, you can probably adapt most curricula to fit within that.  For example, if your child retains more by hearing, consider the audio version of a textbook if it’s available, or just plan to read it aloud to them (or have them read aloud to themselves).  But where a curriculum doesn’t quite fit, your child can also get practice in other learning skills too.  Maybe your child is a big visual learner, but practicing listening skills through audiobooks would also be a good thing for them, for example.  You don’t necessarily have to pick a curriculum that focuses on one learning style just because your child might lean that way.  

However, I do think it’s important to consider your child’s skill areas and areas of struggle when choosing a curricula - this is less about an innate "learning style", and more about being aware of where they are excelling or still growing. To me, it’s more important to consider my child’s current skill level in order to not overwhelm them in that area too quickly, as I explained under “Consider Your Child’s Dislikes”.  If my child is a weak writer, I want to gradually stretch them in that area, but I don’t want to make them drink from a fire hose by choosing a really writing-heavy curriculum either.  That would just be a recipe for a miserable year for everyone.

Subjects To Do Together

If you have multiple kids it is very easy to combine different age groups for certain subjects.  You don’t have to do this - you can choose grade-specific curriculum for each child in your house if you would like.  But if you have a bunch of kids (like I do) doing some subjects all together will make for an easier and shorter homeschool day, so that may be something to consider when you are looking at curriculum.  

For example, we do history, science, and Bible all together as much as possible in our house.  I read the book to all my kids, and then I might give my older kids a couple extra tasks to reinforce the lesson.  We are able to do subjects that way because I chose a history and science curriculum in which we could all participate together.  If I had chosen a curriculum that was more grade-specific, or an all-in-one that had different books for different grades, this might be harder to do.



So to sum up, here are some questions to ask yourself, and these will help inform what kind of curricula you should be looking at:

-What is my preferred homeschooling philosophy and teaching style?  Does the philosophy of the curriculum I’m looking at fit with that?
-Does the curriculum I'm looking at support or undermine the worldview I am trying to pass on to my children?
-Do I want an all-in-one curriculum, or do I want to hand-pick each subject?
-Do I want to combine multiple age levels for certain subjects?  Is the curriculum I’m looking at conducive to that?
-Have I looked inside the curriculum and read the teacher’s notes?  Does the philosophy of the curriculum make sense to me?
-Am I excited about this curriculum?  Would I have liked it as a kid?
-Is this curriculum a good fit for my child’s current skills and abilities?  Will it stretch them without overwhelming them?  Does it include too much of any elements my child struggles with? 

I hope this post has been a little helpful if you are still struggling with choosing amongst the sea of curricula!  And if you have any questions or additional tips, please add them in the comments!

Stuff To Do In The Winter With Your Kids



How is winter treating you?  

I have always loved snowy winters and every year I wish it would snow more - I am certainly getting my wish this year!  We have had snow every few days for a few weeks now.  I love that when I look out my window everything is pretty and white, and seeing the snowflakes fluttering to the ground puts me in the mood to bake and snuggle on the couch with a book.

However, every year I also seem to forget how hard it is to be stuck in the house with multiple young children for an extended period of time.  We are definitely getting some cabin fever over here.  I have to remind myself that during this coldest time of year, we are all happier if I put a little effort in to plan specific activities to do with the kids, instead of leaving them to their own devices.

I'm re-reading this post I wrote for Rooted.com about winter science activities to do with your kids - in the midst of busyness and all these snowy days, I forget all the fun ideas I had!  If you are struggling at all with winter doldrums, go check it out and maybe it'll stir up some ideas for you too!



Tools For A Social Media Break




I knew from the start that I wanted to completely break my phone habit with this year's social media break.  I don't like how my hand is often reaching for my hone before I even realize it, and I figured getting rid of Facebook and Instagram for a while would be the first step.

There are some complications though, with taking a break from social media.  How am I going to still share photos with my family (which is a big value of Facebook to me)?  How am I going to be able to get my blog posts to people who only read through Instagram?  How am I going to have the motivation to resist signing back in to check just "one more thing"?  And would getting rid of those two apps be enough, or would I just find other ways to waste time on my phone?

I don't want my bad habits to be diverted to other digital activities during this break.  I want to spend time doing things in the real world, and develop some "analog" skills that have been languishing for too long.

As I was mulling all that over, I found a few resources that have been or hopefully will be very helpful in making the most of my attempt to break my phone habit over the next couple months, and I wanted to share them with you here!

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport - I listened to this book in two days over the weekend, and picking this book up now was so timely for me.  Newport is talking about the very thing I've been struggling with, getting a handle on your "digital life" and making sure that the ways in which you use technology are actually serving you, instead of making you a slave to technology.  This book gave me so many things to think about, and strategies for making sure that I break my phone habit long-term, not just until my break is over in January.

Freedom.to - This is a tool I read about in Digital Minimalism, and I went straight home and signed up.  Freedom.to allows you to block distracting websites (specified by you) for certain blocks of time or on regular schedules (also specified by you).  I've set mine up to block time-suck websites for the hours of 9-5, Monday through Friday.  Like I said, I didn't want my bad phone habits to just get diverted to other digital time wasters, so this tool should help alot!  They are running a special right now too - you can try it monthly for $7, or get a whole year for $20!

Later.com - I mentioned in my first post about taking a social media break that I am still going to use a scheduler, to let people know that I've posted here on my blog.  This is the scheduler!  You can set it up to share to multiple social media websites (without being signed in), but the one that is most useful at this time for me is posting to my blog Instagram, because this is the only website I'm aware of that let's you schedule posts to Instagram.  I know there is a decent portion of readers (though not as many as you might think) who keep up with blogs through Instagram, and I didn't want those of you who keep up with me that way to totally miss out while I have the app removed from my phone.

Chatbooks - Another hesitation I had with giving up Instagram specifically is that I have a recurring series that automatically prints my pictures to these cute little photo books through Chatbooks.  My kids LOVE these books and are constantly carrying them around.  I was a little sad to miss a couple months of capturing our memories this way, until I remembered that you can add photos to a Chatbook manually through the app.  Did you know that?  It will take a little more intention from me to remember to add photos to the book when I don't have an instant audience or the boost of "likes", but that's also the whole point of my social media break - to be more intentional with how I'm spending my time.  I'm thinking about printing out books of the best photos from the month and sending them to our family members who really enjoy photos of the kids.  Yes, this will cost me more money, but I have to think it will mean a little more too.  (There is also just good ol' texting for sending photos, which I plan on putting to use!)



I'll write another post soon about things I'm hoping to spend time on instead of my phone, but I wanted to share these tools this morning for a few of you who I know were also considering some sort of digital break!

Do you have any other resources I should know about that are helpful for breaking bad phone habits?

Also, real quick, did you know that I actually had a newsletter for this blog?  I haven't sent a newsletter out in years, but I figured now might be a good time to dust it off.  If you need a way beside social media for keeping up with this blog, you can sign up for updates below!



My Tips For Taking Your Own Family Photos

(Photos in today's post are from last year - I haven't been able to bring myself to sort through yesterday's disastrous photo attempts yet!)


Photos play a huge part in memory-keeping for me.  As I mentioned before, I am not great at remembering the smaller events of my life, but if I have a photo, I am able to immediately remember details that would otherwise be lost to me.

When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I realized how critical photos would be for me in my memory-keeping.  My babies all have grown too fast, and I am so glad I made sure we got some really good photos together to mark the passing of each year.  

For really big events, like maternity or newborn pictures, I've always outsourced and got my amazing photographer and dear friend to do some photos for me!  But for regular, run-of-the-mill family photos, I usually do them myself.

(Proof that I can sometimes take a good family photo with the tripod!)

Despite yesterday's photo struggles, I usually am able to get some pretty good photos each year, and I thought I would give you my best tips for taking your own family photos - or basically just tell you how I manage it.  I am still really just an amateur, hobby photographer, so your mileage may vary with these suggestions, but this is how I take our family photos.

(If you want tips for taking photos of yourself with a tripod - I can't help you, ha!  That's one tripod skill I've never mastered.  If I'm the lone adult in the picture, then it's most likely one I had Derek take for me!)

What I use:

My DSLR (I have a Nikon D5200 and a 50mm f/1.5 lens)
A tripod (this one)
A remote shutter release (this one)
My iPhone 7+



1. Scout out a spot to take photos ahead of time.  

Every time I've taken photos that have gone smoothly, it's been because I found a spot I liked ahead of time and started putting the photo together in my head.  I think about where I'll put the tripod, how I'll arrange the family, where I'll run in to join, etc.  I try to think about light and shadows and whether morning or evening would be the best.  The couple hours right after sunrise or right before sunset are best, and try to stay out of direct or dappled sunlight!  Good lighting is everything.


2. Pack an emergency photo bag.  

I usually pack a bag with things like a blanket to sit on, extra memory cards and camera batteries, candy to keep the kids happy, hairbrush, makeup, extra diapers, etc.  I've been burned before when I didn't think things through, so I try to plan ahead for problems that might arise so I'm prepared.


3. Be meticulous about getting set up.  

When we arrive at the spot I've (hopefully) scouted out, I take a couple test shots first to make sure my settings are proper and the light is good (I didn't pay enough attention to this yesterday, hence why a lot of our photos are junk).  I get my camera and tripod set up and fidget with it until it's directed right where I want the family to stand, then I have my husband go stand where I want him.  My husband is usually my focus point, because he is the only one in the family I can trust to stand still!  I get the kids arranged around him, and keep in mind to leave a space for me to stand.  

Once everyone is arranged, I go back to my camera, set the focus point on my husband, and ask him not to move his head.  Then I switch the shutter setting to the remote, go over and rearrange children if necessary, stand in my spot, and start clicking with the remote!


4. Check the photos!  

I usually have to repeat this process a few times to make sure everyone is looking good in the actual photos and everything is in focus.  I'm always sorry later when I don't take breaks and double-check the photos in the back of my camera!  I've taken a whole group of photos before, only to realize later they were all out of focus.

5.  Take a lot of shots.  

Most likely most of the shots you take with a remote are going to be just okay, but if you take a ton, you are more likely to get one that might work.

6. Be a little silly.  

In the photos where everyone is smiling, it's usually because we all just got finished yelling "chocolate cake!".  Seriously, instead of telling my kids to say "cheese", I tell them to say other foods they like.  Usually there is more giggling and general enthusiasm that way, which translates well in photos!  This is my favorite strategy for when I'm trying to get a good shot of just the kids too.  My best trick is to be a goofball, balance a pinecone on my head and then let it fall off, throw some leaves, peek out from behind a tree and make a funny face...all with my camera at the ready to catch the laughs!  It helps that my kids are quick-laughers too.


7. Tell everyone to look at one person.  

I really like a good "candid" shot, so after we try a few smiling at the camera, I usually pick a person and tell everyone else to look at them!  It turns out well when everyone is looking at one of the parents, but you have to make sure you are not just smiling blankly at the camera.  Look at everyone else as they are looking at you, or laugh a little, and it turns into a great fake-candid shot!



8.  Try tickling someone.  

When we have a child (especially a baby or toddler) who is crying, we tickle that kid.  We could be really obvious about the tickling and get more of those fake-candid shots while the kid is being tickled, like I talked about above.  Or sometimes we are really subtle about the tickling, so it doesn't cause a ruckus but leads to some good smiles.  There is a blurry line between crying and laughing, especially in photos, and sometimes tickling is the best way to save the photo session!

9.  Take it slow, and bring candy.  

When a photo session is devolving, I try to let the kids have a break to explore a little.  Often if they have time to get some energy out, they are ready to try taking another photo.   I try to take a breaks too so that we can also enjoy the experience, instead of being stressed about getting the photos done!  (Note: It's best if you start earlier than you think you need to so time is allowed for this sort of thing before you lose the light - another mistake I made yesterday.)  This can also be a good time to get more casual shots, or wider-angle shots of your kids exploring nature (I use my iPhone for this - maybe someday I'll get a better lens for scenery shots).




I have also been known to break out the candy to improve moods.  This is not normal parenting...this is parenting while trying to take photos.  Normal rules surrounding bribery do not apply.

10.  Know when to let it go.  

As I shared yesterday, sometimes photos just don't work.  I've been known to break our family photo sessions up into two shorter attempts, because little kids only last so long before they are ready to be done.  I've tried before to persevere when I could tell everyone was losing focus, and it's never gone well.  If everyone is crying and miserable, it's better just to call it quits.  You can always try again another day.  

Or you can do what I'm doing this year, and resort to getting your photographer friend to help, ha!  Some stages are just hard (ex: when you have an almost two year old), and reinforcements may be in order.  But don't let a bad attempt make you think you can't take your own family photos - it happens.  Just try again another day.


Have you ever tried to take your own family photos?  How did it go?






Should You Visit Kennedy Space Center With Young Kids?



We almost didn't go to Kennedy Space Center on our trip to Florida.  This was a special (ie. expensive) trip for us, and we barely had enough budget to cover everything we wanted to do.  We considered skipping Cape Canaveral to save a little money, but I'm so glad we didn't!

I did not expect us all to enjoy Kennedy Space Center as much as we did, but my excitement spilled over onto Instagram, and I got a few questions about whether it is worth it to go with young kids.  My short answer is yes, depending on ages!  But I wanted to give a few more details on what we enjoyed about our visit there.

(Rockets in the rocket garden.)

1. I could tell they really want to inspire kids.

The first thing we did when we arrived was to get on the bus to visit the Saturn V rocket, which is the rocket that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins to the moon.  They played a video on the bus, and I could see right there that one of the goals of the Center is to inspire kids to be interested in space.  They showed interviews with kids, the video was really friendly, and they talked about an "astronaut in training" program for kids to give them an idea about what it's like to be a part of the space program.  I was inspired myself!

When we arrived at the Center, my kids were genuinely interested in seeing the rocket and the moon capsule.  It's honestly hard not to be interested in the rocket, because it is so huge!  You can't help but be impressed.  We also got to look at the moon capsule, and I explained a little bit about the thickness of the walls.  It was cool for them to see it and have that tucked away in their memories for when we learn about space in school this year.

They also had a show about the history of the moon landing, and once again, my kids were way more fascinated than I thought they would be!  It was a gripping show (there was alot of drama with the moon landing!), and you could see the goal of it was to not only inspire adults but kids too.  Afterward we exited into a room that showed artifacts from that period of space exploration, and my kids loved seeing the space suit with moon dust still on it!


(Outside the Kennedy Space Center.)


(The Saturn V rocket.  These pictures do not do it justice!)

 (We couldn't even get the whole circumference of the bottom of the rocket, it was so huge!)
(My girls, looking at the moon capsule.)

2.  There are many activities specifically for kids.

Aside from all the history at the Center, they also have alot of activities that are specifically for kids. After we visited the Saturn V, we came back and checked out the Atlantis exhibit.  We watched a short movie about the development of the space shuttle, and it was incredibly well done.  We exited from the movie right into into the room that holds the Atlantis space shuttle!  The whole production was really well done and inspiring, and on top of that the sheer size of the shuttle is absolutely amazing!

I was also surprised at how many activities they had for kids in this area specifically, but at the Center in general:

-They have fun green-screen photo booths where kids can pretend to be astronauts in a photo. 

-At The Kennedy Space Center they had a kids' play area.  

-At the Atlantis exhibit they had a very fun slide that coincided with the angle/curve the space shuttle uses to land  (you can watch the video on my Instagram highlights!).

-At Atlantis, they have a faux International Space Station tunnel play area for kids.  My kids did not want to leave!

-They have a shuttle launch simulator.  My biggest three (5 years old and up) were all able to go on the shuttle launch experience with me, and it was really cool!  They had a fun educational video to explain what was happening, and the simulator experience itself was fun and wild!

-They have "astronaut training simulators" for moving a robotic arm, docking a space shuttle, etc.

Keep in mind that this was only at the areas of Kennedy Space Center that were able to visit.  There are two or three other areas that we missed, including a section called "Journey To Mars: Explorers Wanted", the new Mars rover vehicle, and various shows and IMAX movies that I think my kids would have also enjoyed.

 (My kids by the rocket that launches the space shuttle into space.  I couldn't even get a picture of the whole thing, it was massive!  That orange bit is the very bottom of the fuel tank.)
 (Derek under the space shuttle rockets.)

 (The space shuttle.  I can't even explain to you how huge it actually was!)

(My kids playing inside the International Space Section playplace!)

(A slide that simulated the angle the space shuttle uses on re-entry!)

3. I can't think of a better place to spark an interest in space and STEM topics.

As I said in my first point, I think there is an active effort to inspire an interest in space in children at the center.  NASA and companies that have an interest in space extortion know that they need bright young people to continue the effort to explore space, and they do everything they can to interest over kids in the program through their "astronauts in training" camps, and just fun exhibits.  If you want your kids to learn a little more about space, or if you want to share a love for space science and engineering, this is the place you need to go.

As far as ages, I think my big three really enjoyed it, so I would say 5 and up is a good age to shoot for.  My 3 year old liked the slide and space station play areas, but I don't think she understood as much of what was going on.  And obviously my 1 year old didn't either.

As an adult, I wouldn't classify myself as a space nerd.  I have developed a little bit of interest in the history of the space race over this past summer, and that's been the extent of my interest in space during my life.  However, by the time we left Cape Canaveral, I was seriously regretting not buying myself a NASA t-shirt, and I immediately downloaded more space-related books to read on my phone.  You do not have to try very hard to be inspired at this place.



(The kids in the rocket garden on the way out, holding the astronaut teddy bears we got them for a souvenir.  Those bears have gotten some good playtime since then!)

If I were to go again, I would absolutely spend a whole day there, instead of just half a day.  I was regretting that we didn't get to check out the Mars exhibits or other areas.  Overall, the Kennedy Space Center was a fun and relaxing visit for us, and my only regret is that we didn't have more time!  Maybe we'll just have to go again one year!

Have you been to the Kennedy Space Center, ever or recently?

They have added so much, and we loved it!

How We Homeschool On The Go

(Picture from our nature hike the other day.)

Today I had a dental appointment, and it got me thinking about homeschool on the go. 

Ideally we could be home every day until we finished our school work, but that is not always how it works our. Sometimes we need to schedule appointments or errands in the morning. For our family, this particularly complicates our homeschool day, because we live in a rural area and it typically takes us 30-45 minutes to get to town. Factoring in drive time, whenever we have a morning appointment we end up being out of the house for at least half the day.

However, that doesn’t mean the day needs to be a wash as far as school goes. When I was a homeschool student (4th grade through high school), I would just grab all my homeschool books and do my school work in the car. While its best to work at home, a nice thing about homeschooling is that you can do your work anywhere! For the younger grades, when kids are less independent, school on the go is a little trickier, but still doable. Here is how we make those days work.

1. Make it a light day.

I’ve come to accept that appointment days are going to end up being lighter days for our homeschool - and that’s okay. Homeschool days do not all have to look identical. If I know we’re going to be out and about, I’ll try to plan for a lighter day, and save more difficult subjects for another day. It all evens out by the end of the year.

2. Bring worksheets.

Before we leave I’ll look through our lessons for the day and see if there are any worksheets we can bring. Worksheets are one thing my kids can do independently!

3. Audio resources.

Because we live in a rural area, we usually have to drive 30-40 minutes to get wherever we’re going. Sometimes (if I'm thinking ahead), I'll see if I can find any audio that goes along with whatever we are studying in history or science, and we can listen to that in the car.  This might be the audio version of one of our read-aloud, historical dramatizations or stories, or even podcasts!  There are some great Adventure In Odyssey history stories that are free online, and a lot of fun educational kid podcasts if I take a minute to look before we leave!

4. Games on iPad.

I try to limit my kids' screen time when we are home, but when we are on the go, it's a great time to let them play with some educational apps.  These apps don't replace curriculum, but they can be fun for review or light learning on the go!  A couple that we've used are Teach Your Monster To Read (one-time cost) or ABC Mouse (monthly subscription for which we occasionally splurge).


5. Educational stops.

Because of where we live, a quick appointment can turn into a half-day event, so I try to consolidate trips and think of any educational places to stop while we are out and about.  If I know we will be going somewhere, I almost always squeeze in a library trip, which absolutely is included in school time.  I might turn the day into a mini field trip by stopping at a museum or historic park, or doing a nature hike on the way home.  You could even get a little creative and use somewhere like the grocery store for math practice (I have my oldest add up the prices for me while we shop).  There are all kinds of ways to incorporate learning opportunities and real-life experiences if you keep your eye out, especially for younger kids!




(Just a few more pictures from our nature hike.)

Homeschool moms (especially with non-independent kids), how do you get school work done while you are on the go?  Any other tips you want to add to mine?

How I'd Do Disney Differently With Five Young Kids


The story is out - our trip to Disney World was less than I had hoped it would be.  And honestly, my expectations were rather low in the first place.




(The photo opportunities were gold though!)

I've told a little bit of our experience on Instagram and in this post, but today I just wanted to share a few of the things I would do differently were we to visit Magic Kingdom again with young kids.  These "tips" are coming from a non-Disney person who does not like to plan excessively for trips, so these are basic suggestions in case you are like me and just want to keep your Disney experience relatively simple!  If you are not like me and like to plan your Disney trip within an inch of it's life, I'm hoping that some of you will comment your favorite in-depth Disney planning resources below!

Here are my very basic ideas on how I'd improve our Disney experience next time.

Skip Disney World And Just Get A Character To Come To Your Kids' Birthday Party

I kid, I kid.  Kind of.  But honestly, some of my kids' favorite moments of the Disney trip were when they got to meet the princesses.  They burst out laughing when Pooh Bear found a water puddle right in front of us and splashed in it.  I didn't expect my kids to love the characters so much, because they acted so shy, but it was definitely a highlight. If we went there again, I'd try to meet a couple more characters.  Or save the $750 it cost for us to all get in there, and just hire a character to come to their birthday.  Kidding!  Sort of.  It would be cheaper.




Have A Plan For Navigating The Crowds

A huge reason why we didn't enjoy Disney as much as I expected was the massive amount of people there.  Unfortunately that can't be helped.  However, I had not been to Disney, or anywhere with that many people, in so long that I did not really think through how we were going to get from one place to another with five small children, and only four hands between Derek and me.   We just walked together like we normally would, but I forgot how people cut in front and between groups when it is so crowded. We ended up briefly losing various kids THREE different times while we were there!  Losing my child once in their childhood would be quite enough for me, so feeling that panicky I-don't-know-where-my-kid-is feeling three times in one day was a little much.  If we went back, especially with so many kids, I'd make everyone hold onto backpack straps, shirt hems, or the stroller at all times when we are walking.





Figure Out The Fast Pass Thing Before We Go

As I've already established, I am not a planner.  When I go on vacation, I like to just show up and have fun.  I heard about Fast Passes, but I thought it was a special perk that you paid extra for.  When we bought our tickets, I found out that you actually get three free Fast Passes with each ticket.  However, since I had done zero research, I did not realize that you still have to go to a special Disney Kiosk and pick your Fast Pass time slots for specific rides, or that you could even do it online before you even show up.  By the time I figured this out, there were hardly any Fast Passes left for the day.  So if you want to make use of your free Fast Passes at all, I'd recommend reserving them before your trip, or at the very least at the beginning of the day when you visit Disney.  Unless you want to waste it on the teacups, which never have much of a line anyway.




Only Go On Rides We Could Do All Together 

We picked a pretty difficult age to bring our kids to Disney.  We only have one kid who could ride on the bigger rides by himself.  We had three kids who could ride, but they each needed an adult to ride with them because of their ages.  And of course we have one baby who can't ride the bigger rides at all.  If you are doing the math, that means we'd have to go through the line for each ride twice, while taking turns waiting and holding the baby, in order for everyone to get a turn.  We did this with one roller coaster, and getting everyone a turn, even with Fast Passes, took over an hour.  If I were to do it again, I'd just skip the big rides, except maybe a really special one that we didn't get to go on at all (ahem, Splash Mountain), and I'd just focus on all the rides we could all ride together.  There were plenty of them, and I think we all would have had more fun that way.




Focus On The Movie Themed Rides

Our favorite rides in the park were the really simple ones that basically take you through the stories of Disney movies.  We could all ride them together, and the kids (8 years old and younger) were at the best age to enjoy those rides.  We did a couple of them (Little Mermaid, and Winnie The Pooh), but there were a few we missed because we ran out of time.  If we went with the kids at this age again, I'd do all the movie themed rides first!




Leave During The Fireworks

We had grand plans to sneak over to Splash Mountain and try to ride it when everyone was leaving after the fireworks.  To which plan I can only now say...ha!  The line for Splash Mountain was still quite long, and we decided that we didn't want to keep the little ones up another hour while we waited.  So instead we rode the Magic Carpets, and then headed out of the park.  I expected we'd be back at the hotel in time for a late-night swim in the hotel pool, but...no.  We waited for over an hour just in the line to get out of the park.  There was a lot of complaining about sore feet, alot of asking how much longer, and a danger of developing claustrophobia.  And that was just me.  If we did this again with young kids, I'd probably try to beat the crowds to the ferry and leave while the fireworks were still going.  (Of course, I can say this because we ended up missing the fireworks anyway - that whole lost kid thing.)




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Despite a few of the rough patches and lessons learned, I am really glad we did visit Disney!  I think the kids had fun overall, and it'll be fun for them to be able to talk with their little friends who have already visited Disney.  It is just naturally a fun thing to experience in childhood, and I'm glad we got that chance.  It wasn't all bad.  We made plenty of fun memories at Disney too, so I'm tacking on a few things I'm glad we did...

Using The App

The Disney World app tells you all the wait times for the rides, meeting the characters, etc.  I'm so glad we had that, because we were able to get on a few rides when the lines were shorter!

Packing Snacks And Eating At Casey's Corner

We got out of Disney World only spending about $50 on food.  I think that's pretty good for a family of seven!  We packed a ton of snacks in a backpack, and we snacked straight through lunch.  Then when they shut some of the rides down for rain in the evening, we took that opportunity for dinner.  We got two corn dog nugget meals for the kids to split, and Derek and I each got a hotdog.  I think we accidentally found the cheapest restaurant to eat at in Disney, and I'm glad we didn't have to spend an extra $100 on food like I thought we would!



Watching Movies Beforehand And Enjoying The Atmosphere 

Alot of you have seen every single Disney movie, but my poor kids have not.  Alot of them are too scary yet for my particular kids, and we are not as into Disney as alot of people are.  However, I did try to pull out a couple new Disney movies before we went, and I'm glad I did!  One of our favorite parts of the day was visiting the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse.  I bought the movie for our kids to watch on this trip, so when we visited the treehouse at Magic Kingdom my kids were fascinated!  It was also a slower area of the park - so many people are focused on the rides, but alot of the atmospheric elements were just as fun to us!






I don't think we'll be visiting Disney World again in the near future, just because of the distance and expense.  But if we did, I know what to do now!



Disney Experts, now is your chance!  Give me all your additional tips, especially for making the most of Disney with young kids!  

You never know, maybe we'll end up going back sooner than expected!

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