Monday, February 27, 2017

Math is Happy Again

You know how some things just show up at the right time? Right when we admitted our math curriculum wasn't working, we had a chance to review a new one. Last year, math was Madison's favorite subject. It came easy with very little effort. She knew she was doing well, she knew she was "ahead" of where she should be, so she loved it. But this particular curriculum had a lot of spiraling and repetition, and she started to dread it. It wasn't hard, but it was boring. And for us, anything that has been deemed boring is on very shaky ground. Math turned from the treat to the battleground. This is where homeschooling is awesome. A change was necessary, so a change was made. For the past few weeks, Madison has been working through the Light Blue Series Grade 1 curriculum from Math Mammoth.

Affordable Quality Math {Math Mammoth }

It is exactly what we needed.

Math Mammoth curriculum is set up as a mastery curriculum. Although Madison was almost done with the first grade curriculum we'd been working through, I opted not to push her into the second grade, but to truly see if she'd mastered these first grade concepts. Each chapter is focused on one concept (place value, telling time, counting coins, etc) and has worksheets, games, exercises, and everything you need to make sure that the concept is really, truly, understood. Then you can move on and build from there.

I'll be quite candid here. Last year, I really thought I wanted a spiraling curriculum, where we could constantly revisit and review, but honestly, it didn't work for Madison. In the past two years she's shown that she works best with this mastery based learning. If it comes easily, she'll fly through it. If it doesn't, we can slow down and take as long as we need.  I thought there were some chapters we could skip (since we're starting halfway through the year), but beyond the kindergarten review and the single digit addition, Madison had things to work on in every chapter. I had no idea how many holes her previous curriculum had, and places where I thought she was excelling...she wasn't. This curriculum really gave me the confidence to know that once she was done with a chapter, she knew it. Not just enough to get through that day's worksheet, not just enough to get her to the next year. She knew it well enough to "teach" it back to me.

Place value was something with invisible holes in it. I'm glad she's finally getting it!

Oh my, was this just what we needed.

Madison complained about math, out of habit, for a few days, but quickly quieted and worked well once we started. Once she realized how different math was now, she stopped complaining and went back to treating math like a fun part of her daily work.

The other huge plus for me is that this curriculum is affordable. We tried out the digital download, which included the student books, answer keys, worksheet maker, and assessments. A complete first grade curriculum was $37.50. Even with the cost of printing (which I did at our local library to save on ink), the final price was under $50. For the year. Nothing gets me more irritated than when I spend a good chunk of change on a curriculum and still have to print it. Math Mammoth is very affordable.

Math can need manipulatives (another drawback of our previous curriculum was that it needed a lot of very specific manipulatives), but this program is very easy in what you need. Besides a ruler, the only things we needed were

We already had both, which I purchased from Amazon. Both are good quality and will last. We've used some of our base ten blocks and play coins, but they aren't necessary.

This is one of the few products I've reviewed where I am struggling to think of any negatives. I suppose there is a decent amount of printing, but a) the curriculum is inexpensive and the printing doesn't feel as pricey and b) you can do it chapter by chapter and c) if you really hate printing, you can buy printed student books.

It was fun. It was interactive. It was just what we needed right now.

Affordable Quality Math {Math Mammoth }

I reviewed the Light Blue series (which is a full grade level curriculum) for first grade, but there is another series that is concept specific and can be used as a supplement or review (the Blue series). It's worth checking out!

Affordable Quality Math {Math Mammoth Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Friday, February 24, 2017

This Dance Mom is Fueled by Bulletproof in ALL Forms!

We're about to head into competition season with my tiny dancer, and that means early mornings, long days, sporadic mealtimes, short bursts of crazy activity with dragging periods of waiting, questioning moments of why I allow my daughter to do, no, I kid. She may be young, but her passion is enormous, and I don't regret any part of our choice to let her do this. I have plenty of people make comments on our full weekends and how bad they feel for me, but it's not a sacrifice at all to support my daughter in something she loves.


It does take plenty of effort on my part. She's still young enough where here job is primarily to be the dancer. I get her bags and costumes organized and double check she has the right tights and shoes and accessories. I've learned the ways of stage makeup and how to create the perfect bun (both high and low!) and how to fasten a headpiece securely (big pins are the key). I make sure her jacket and shorts and dance booties are ready for awards, and that I've got plenty of fuel packed to keep her going. I rise at the crack of dawn, suck down a quick coffee before the sun comes up, and wake her up when we need to leave super early and figure out how to get to all these venues and where to park and how to find our dressing areas. I keep track of her lipstick and shoes and costumes, even during quick changes when I'm just throwing things into our giant Dream Duffel. And in between her dances, I keep her spirits and energy up while keeping her looking "stage ready". Then I drive home while she sleeps in the car, wash off the makeup and shampoo out all the hairspray, dig through the rubble in the bag, reorganize, and get ready for the next time, which occasionally is the next day.

By the way, if there are any dance moms out there NOT using a make up eraser and clarifying shampoo, you're missing out. Saves me SO MUCH TIME.

This is our third year in competition dance, and I think I'm just about getting to the point where I'm getting the hang of it. I know what to pack and what's a waste of space. I know which snacks will be scarfed and which will be ignored. I know to pack an extra phone charger - or two - and how to find the spots with decent reception.

Dance mom. Soccer mom. Cheer mom. Hockey mom. We're all the same - taking the heckling from others because of how much we'll invest - time, money, energy - to keep our kids going. Most of us are really happy to do it. 

But it takes a toll on me, and honestly, I'm not great at keeping myself going. It's not easy to make good food choices when you aren't quite sure when and where you'll be able to grab a meal. It always surprises me when a competition for dancers, kids who need to keep their bodies healthy and energy high, have a concession stand stocked mostly with pizza and candy. I'm telling you - I've been working hard to put good stuff in my body, but during competition season, it's easy to fall off the wagon and eat sugar to keep going, only to suffer the crash and crankiness a short time later.

This month, Bulletproof sent me a package full of collagen protein bars. Chocolate, shortbread and lemon bites full of good stuff and really light on sugar. As soon as I tried them, I knew what was going in the dance bag for me.

Dream Duffel, booties, flask for the coffee and bars to keep me going. Ready for competition.

My every day life as a chauffeur was a good place to give these bars a test run for lasting fuel. I've been good about having my Bulletproof coffee every morning (and that flask keeps it hot for hours) but I'm still not great about eating breakfast. And although I always make sure I have snacks for the girls in the car, I don't usually have snacks for me when I'm running them from dance to gymnastics and back again. What happens far more often than I care to admit is a quick stop for a donut. Or a bag of chips from a convenience store. And if the scale at my doctor's office can be believed (I'm still in denial that it's at least ten pounds off), all those "just this one times" are adding up.

These bars are definitely just what the doctor ordered. They satisfy a craving, they give me the pick up I need to keep going, and they replace the bad stuff from becoming an every day thing. The lemon is my FAVORITE and I won't have any regret eating that instead of a candy bar when my stomach is growling. I know that they'll be up for the challenge of keeping my hands steady and my mood good when I'm in a theater for twelve hours. And when it comes to keeping the costumes organized, a clear mind with NO brain fog is just as important as the labels on the garment bags.

Coffee, chocolate, garment bags and dance gear. Just the essentials.

Because this kid is worth it...and I am too.

Getting her headshots done- the things we do.

This is a sponsored post brought to you by 3cConsulting. The opinions are completely my own based on my personal experience with the product.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Traveling to Ancient Greece with Project Passport - Review

When I was a kid, history was one of my educational "hooks". I loved learning about what life was like in different times, places, and situations. I loved imagining myself right alongside the historical figures, experiencing what I was reading. Madison appears to be the same way. She loves the idea of "if you were growing up in ___" or "if you visited _______ hundreds of years ago" and loves comparing her life to what once was. History doesn't feel like a chore to people like us - it's a story. So we were excited to get to review HISTORY Thourgh the Ages Project Passport World History Study: Ancient Greece. It was so interesting to dive into this hands on history program from Home School in the Woods.

HISTORY Through the Ages Project Passport World History Study

This is a downloadable product (although you can order a CD-ROM for Windows or Mac) and intended for students in grades 3-8. Madison, as a first grader, is a bit outside the range, but one of the great things about this sort of program is that it can be modified to fit almost any student. Although my preschooler was not an active participant, even she was interested in what we were doing, and if she'd wanted to, I probably could have modified further. Ideally, to use the program exactly as directed, I think the grade range is accurate, and a fifth or sixth grader is probably in the sweet spot.

HISTORY Through the Ages Project Passport World History Study

At first glance, this looks like a basic lapbook or notebook study, but it's actually much more - a full unit study, including
  • reading
  • a timeline
  • writing prompts
  • map work
  • projects
  • games
  • notebook design.
The premise is that you are traveling to this civilization, and so the distinct lessons are called "stops" to keep with the theme. There are twenty-five "stops" along the way. If you do a "stop" a day, 2-3 days a week, the program will take 2-3 months, but we went much more slowly - taking a few days to do each "stop" and not trying to tackle more than one stop a week. Each stop has plenty in it, from the "itinerary" (the teacher instuctions) to the "guide book" (student text) with photographs, projects, and an audio tour.

The audio tours were Madison's favorite part. She loved to curl up with the headphones.

Like I said before, Madison is only in first grade, so we had to modify. A curriculum that is easy to adjust is a huge benefit of this program. Madison has big interests, and the idea of having to wait because her reading and writing skills haven't caught up yet drives her crazy. In a lot of ways, that's why we homeschool! If she wants to learn about ancient civilizations, I don't need to tell her that they'll cover it in in sixth grade, when her excitement may have waned. A program like this gives you the map (no pun intended) and you take your time on the path. Rather than make sure we covered each bit of each stop, we looked at each stop as a buffet, like we were truly spending a day of a vacation there, and we picked what looked best to us. On one day, we happened to get together with some friends, and we had them join in on a project, which was definitely fun.

When you're working with first graders, things often don't look as pretty as they can. But the process was fun.
No program is perfect though, and there were things that I didn't love. I like pre-printed products - the slightly higher cost upfront is worth it to me both in time and printing costs. I'm not terribly good at crafts and this program for a younger child required a lot of prep work on my part. This program was also very heavy on what needed to be printed, along with a good amount of supplies needed. Card stock, colored paper, file folders - the costs did add up and the time required for prep was overwhelming. Even if Madison had been able to do more of this, a good portion of our time would have been spent on prep work, not active learning.

But overall, even for a young student, it was a fun way to truly dive into history. We didn't come close to finishing in the few weeks we worked on it, but it did inspire some interest in ancient cultures that we explored during our next library visit. The extension opportunities are definitely there.

Ancient Greece is the newest product, but next year, Ancient Rome will be added, which I'm sure will be just as intriguing!

HISTORY Through the Ages Project Passport World History Study

I think we'll wait until both girls are a bit older to tackle another, so that they're able to do more on their own. I liked participating, but I had to take a much more active role than I think is intended. But once we're there, this will be a great way to study history.

HISTORY Through the Ages Project Passport World History Study Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fitting Us Both

Adam and I have been together, through thick and thin (mostly thick) for almost twenty years now. We started dating in college, which surprised most of our friends because we just seemed so different.

Adam is stubborn. He's passionate and thrives on debate and lively discussions. He's not shy about sharing exactly who he is, and if you don't like him, he's ok with that. The world is clear - black and white, right and wrong - and he has firm and well researched opinions. He's a thorough decision maker, but once he makes it, he'll stand by it. He doesn't like being told what to do.

I'm generally quieter. I don't like conflict and hate being in arguments. I'm a pleaser who doesn't like to be disliked. There are so many shades of gray in the world. Overly researching a decision can paralyze me.

I (obviously) think he's a good person. I like to think that I am too. But we're pretty different. And our friends in college - even our mutual friends - couldn't imagine we'd make it through one date without driving each other nuts, let alone starting a relationship. And getting engaged. And getting married. And starting a family, where we somehow each ended up with a clone. 

Yet somehow, we fit.

It's not perfect, no marriage is. We definitely need to make compromises.

For example, he loves leather furniture. I do not. After an initial compromise of a leather that neither of us liked or hated, we've decided to mix the family room furniture. He gets a leather chair, I get a fabric couch.

When it was time to buy a new mattress, we struggled. I love the kind of bed that swallows you up in plush warmth. He sleeps best on a rock hard surface. We were doomed to find some kind of middle of the road firmness that left both of us unhappy, until we discovered the sleep number bed. He has his side as firm as it can get, and I'm happily plush.

We struggled endlessly when he drove the family car. I sit fairly close to the steering wheel, where I'm most comfortable. I think he must like to channel racing drivers with how far back and reclined he likes to be. He'd always try to readjust my seat back, but it would never be right. One weekend trip just messed me up for all my kid shuttling. So I'd always drive, and then whine about it, or he'd drive, but then knew he was messing me up, and then we found this ridiculously easy hack that not only allowed the two of us to stay happy in our positions, but also took away all the annoyances of getting my car serviced.

Compromise is key. Two puzzle pieces that are the exact shape rarely fit together, but us? We're a perfect fit.

Diving Into a New Wave of Splashlings

Like nearly every other kid in America, my girls love the YouTube. They love watching clips of their favorite movies and shows, Madison loves finding kid dancers to emulate, and naturally, they love watching toy opening/unboxing videos.

This post was sponsored by Splashlings. I received several packs in exchange for my honest review. This is why my kids are OK when I sit down at the computer and tell them to leave me alone.

I swear, this is what drove them to spend all their allowance/birthday money on another blind bag/Shopkin/MixieQ/Squinkie/whatever else is out there. Madison scours the lists that come with each and every pack and tracks what she has and what she needs and how many rares/ultra rares/mega ultra rares she has. Reagan sorts and arranges hers into boxes. They are both hyper aware of when a new series is released and what makes each series different. It's like the .... Beanie Baby? Garbage Pail Kid cards? I don't know, what did I collect in the 80s? Well, it's that. But worse, because your envy isn't limited to the one kid in your class who brought their collection to school and showed it off at lunch. You have the whole of the toy unboxers on YouTube to lust after.

The girls discovered Splashings last summer at Justice, and when I was in NYC and got to take a picture with an actual mermaid, they were just blown away. So when I got a chance to review Wave 2 of Splashings, these cute little mermaid collectible toys, the girls were all in. The package arrived after a snowstorm delay and they were bouncing up and down as I opened the carton. They couldn't wait for me to snap a picture of the packages before they were ready to dive in.

What makes Wave 2 so special is that some of the sea creatures and mermaids are color changing. Give my girls a hook like that and their obsession automatically goes up a notch - especially when it's a variable - you might get a color changer, but you might not. They scoured their lists, separating the color changers from the regulars (while I said I silent thank you that both the mermaids we got were color changers) and dashed off to create some pools of icy water.

It's easy to be annoyed by collectibles. Little toys that are easy to step on, the constant desire to buy more to finish off a collection. But there is so much good that make these special. They inspire imaginative play. They encourage math by sorting and graphing, science with the color change. And I love watching both girls create their own videos - emulating what they see on YouTube while putting their own personality into it.

Splashlings Wave 2 arrived in Walmart on February 1, 2017, but you can also find them at Toys R Us, Amazon, and Justice. They come in 12 packs (with one mermaid and two hidden splashlings), 6 packs (with a hidden mermaid) and 2 count blind pack. And if your kids like to expand on their play, there are several playsets for the Splashlings to enjoy!

My girls can't wait to see what comes next in the Splashlings universe!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why You Should Share Your Mom Fail

Let me tell you a story about a mom and a really low moment. A fail.

Once there was a mom, who, in a past life, was a Type A, double checking, ultra organized girl. She grew up with a father who would "punish" the iron by setting it in the sink before he left the house, so if it spontaneously grew legs and was still tepid from the ironing done that morning, it wouldn't burn the house down. She grew up thinking that everyone triple checked the door as they exited the house for the day, and ran through not just a mental, but an spoken checklist upon leaving the house.

She had a baby, and although she did experience both pregnancy and baby brain, and the organization started to crack, she was still pretty vigilant about routines, so things went smoothly (for the most part). She was new to this, but she had done her research. She was a good mom.

Then she had another baby. Two under two didn't just crack this careful arrangement. It started to shatter it. Sleepless nights nursing one newborn meant a day of extra cuddles on the couch. Sleepless nights with a newborn and an up at dawn toddler begat chronic sleep deprivation. Two parents and one newborn meant tag teaming - giving each other a chance to breath and maybe even a few sanity breaks. Two parents and two kids meant man on man defense - you were always on duty with someone, and if you weren't, you were frantically working at whatever you needed to do to keep the house running.

But she was a good mom. She kept up her routines with the toddler, and worked hard on establishing them with the newborn. She made sure the diaper bag was stocked with two sizes of diapers and newborn paraphernalia and toddler necessities. She tried to keep the house in decent shape and everyone fed and a relative state of order.

Then one day in those early days of two under two, she was loading up the kids to go somewhere. She was running through her mental checklist as the baby fussed and the toddler created good natured toddler mayhem. Diaper bag in car. Purse in car. Baby into bucket seat. Crap. Toddler is throwing a tantrum because it's taking too long. Ok. Buckle toddler into car. You've got this. Toddler is placated. Baby is sleeping. Whew. Did it.

They got to their destination. She unbuckled the toddler, and as she went to lift the bucket seat, realized that the newborn had shifted and was askew in the car seat. Which was odd. How did that happen?

Because that brand new baby was in her  bucket seat, but completely unbuckled. OMG, she'd put the baby in the seat and never buckled the straps. They had driven across town, she realized, with an infant who was totally unsecured in the car. If they'd been in an accident, that baby, that brand new baby, would have nothing restraining her from becoming a projectile. No straps harnessing her into the seat.

The baby was fine. It had been an uneventful ride and the baby slept the entire time. No accidents, no moving violations that would have resulted in a ticket. Grace and luck were on her side.

But the mom freaked out. She was horrified by what she'd done. She was mortified that she'd had such a fail. She started shaking thinking of what might have been, and felt like a crap mom. A bad mom. What kind of mother doesn't buckle her baby in the car before driving? What kind of mother didn't check? She was humiliated and didn't want to tell anyone. She wanted to sink deep into her shame.

After strapping that baby in tight and heading home - too freaked out to finish the outing - she got both kids to sleep and went onto her online mom group and confessed. She wasn't looking for validation, but she felt so guilty she needed to tell someone. 

And she was incredibly fortunate.

Instead of lecturing her on car seat safety and why she should always triple check the buckles before even putting her key in the ignition, instead of taking screen shots and gossiping about her to their friends about how they would never, how they couldn't even imagine how such a thing could happen, these moms offered her grace. They assured she she was not a terrible mom. The brain, a brain adjusting to a new routine, especially a sleep deprived brain, is susceptible to blips. Ninety nine percent of the time, she would make it out of the house without forgetting something. This was the one percent. It didn't define her.

They shared their fails. The day they forgot something crucial in the diaper bag. The day they forgot that they'd unlatched the carseat base to vacuum underneath and forgotten to latch it back in. The day they'd walked out of the house with the bucket seat sitting on the kitchen floor and didn't realize until they were at the bottom of the driveway. Each mom who'd had a fail had gone through the same guilt and shame and panic that she had, but it didn't define them. They had a wake up call that they were overwhelmed. They'd been lucky enough to avoid a tragedy, but shocked enough to give their routine some extra attention. They weren't bad moms and neither was she.

 By sharing their "fails" with each other, they weren't celebrating mistakes, they weren't bragging about dodging bullets, but they were acknowledging that giving birth and acquiring a new human to care for doesn't make you perfect and even the best moms aren't infallible. A mom who feels that any mistake, even one that resulted in absolutely no harm, means she's been booted from "good mom" status is setting herself up for a very tough road. A mom who convinces herself that she would never put herself in a position for an accident to happen is walking a dangerously prideful path. Sharing a mom fail reminds all of us that sometimes mistakes are there to wake us up. They happen to everyone, and when they happen, we count our blessings that no lasting harm was done, and we remember them to try harder next time.

A few months later, another mom in this group had her second, and she almost repeated this exact scenario. Needy toddler, sleeping baby in a bucket seat. As she was loading the bucket seat into the car, she was struck by the memory of this "fail" that had been shared, and she felt the urge to check the seat. Baby was unbuckled. That mom, the one who tearfully confessed, helped another avoid that situation, just by sharing her story.

If we're too scared of judgment to be honest, too ashamed that the world is full of perfect parents and we've just lost our place among them, then we've lost that supportive mom community that we all desperately need.

If we're real about our fails, brave enough to speak up, and supportive enough to offer someone grace when she is feeling at her lowest, then we've kept that sisterhood of mothers alive. These days, our village and our community are online. It's an easy place to side eye and judge, when you aren't looking at a mom with tears streaming down her face.

Be brave. Share your fail. Own your story. It will help you heal, and it could help someone else.

If someone shares their mom fail with you, offer grace, not advice. Share your story with her. If you don't have one, acknowledge your good luck.

Be brave. Be kind. Share your fail, and let it help us all to grow.

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