Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mess Free Art is a Big Yes from Me

I'm not a crafty mom, and when you're not a crafty mom and you are also a homeschooling mom, it can be difficult to reconcile those two personality traits. Pulling out the paints isn't something I love to do, and that's why getting to review products that advertise "mess free" and "solid tempera" is a gift. We can "paint" without the hassle. I am always looking for ways for the girls to do mess free art so I was thrilled to receive Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors from The Pencil Grip, Inc.

The Pencil Grip, Inc
My girls aren't alone in wishing I'd pull out the paints more often. Most kids love to paint. In fact, I just got through teaching a preschool art class at our co-op specifically marketed as "messy art". I don't mind teaching it at co-op, when I have parents helping me, a room that's easy to clean, and I'm setting up for multiple kids so I know it's worth it. I know painting is important. I also inwardly groan whenever the girls want to do it at home. Pulling out all that paint, laying down newspaper, waiting for it to dry, gingerly picking up the soaking pages because they always paint too much, washing out the brushes, all for what seems like ten minutes of activity...yeah, not my thing at home. Too much effort for not enough result. In fact, that's one reason the parents liked my class so much. The need was met with no clean up on their part.

But Madison is starting to like art more and more and I'm starting to feel bad that I'm such a drag. I'm trying very hard not to pass on my artistic inadequacy to her, and she's finding that as she moves out of the crayon medium and into other areas, she's gaining confidence. She was really excited to give these a try - especially when I told her I was willing to take a risk and move the trial out of the kitchen and to her desk in her room.
Thin Stix by KwikStix
Thin Stix look like markers when you hold them, but they're actually paint. According to Madison, they actually feel much more like oil pastels when you use them. However, they act like tempera paint when it comes to blending colors, and how quickly they dry and you can handle the page without covering your hands in color.

Thin Stix by KwikStix
Madison started easily - just sketching a very basic landscape on a pad she keeps in her room.

She really liked how easy it was to get good, bright colors.

However, she didn't love drawing with them, as you would with markers, or even with oil pastels. She couldn't quite get the look she was hoping for. So we brainstormed a few ways she could use them more effectively. She loved the idea of painting rocks, and immediately started one of the classic Father's Day projects she remembered from preschool - even adding a computer printout that she modpodged on.

Because the colors didn't blend as well as she hoped (she had to work very hard to get the right shade of purple), we found a few other colors in sets on Amazon. They come in classic (blue, yellow, green, red, black and brown), as well as sets of neon and metallic.

Overall, it's a great way to let my budding artists continue to bud, without a crazy lady hovering around, fearful of the paint splatter!

Thin Stix by KwikStix
No Mess Art with Thin Stix Classic Colors {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Homeschool Rescue - Just the Help I Needed

I've been homeschooling for three years now, but in many ways I feel more like a new homeschool parent than a veteran that has all the answers (do we ever feel like we have the answers?) I still crave guidance, so I am excited to share with you a new homeschool parent resource I was fortunate enough to review from Only Passionate Curiosity called Homeschool Rescue.

Homeschool Rescue is a wonderful course for homeschool parents. It will help you get your homeschool back on track!

It seems like when people find out I homeschool, they assume that I have infinite patience and and twenty different ways to tackle every issue, and they're quick to assure me that I must be Super Mom, because they could never. I feel so pressured to LOVE MY LIFE EVERY DAY and feel TOTALLY confident, because I chose this life, right? When they ask if we like homeschooling, I usually tell them that it's just like anything else in life - you have days where you love it and can't imagine a better life, and days when you want to tear your hair out, pack your kids into the car, and drop them at the closest school you can find, because legally, they'd have to take them, right? People always look shocked at that - how can something I chose cause such doubt and exhaustion? The good days do outnumber the rough ones, but the rough ones can make you question everything.

Homeschool Rescue is a self-paced online course for parents that will help you get  - and keep - your homeschool on track, even through those tough spots.  You'll be forced to take a hard and honest look at your trouble spots, and then come up with a strategy to smooth them out. Sure, sometimes the problem is the kids, but more often than not, it's me, and I'm the one who is setting us up for a less than successful day. And once you know what the real issue is, it's much easier to find a solution.

Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue

Homeschool Rescue consists of online videos, homework assignments, and a private Facebook group. I know Facebook groups can be a breeding ground for time wasting chatter and drama, but the right groups are a safe haven to talk to others who are in your situation, and that's what this one is. It is nice to be surrounded by other homeschool parents that are either going through the same thing or have completed the course. You can ask questions, you can get opinions, and you can bounce ideas off of others who actually know what you may be going through.  Heather created this group to be a judgment-free zone, so you don’t need to worry about posting. You will get nothing but support.

Once I started the course, I was introduced to the five modules, each broken down into very manageable tasks. Sixty days is recommended, but the craziness of life got me started a bit later than I wanted and I worried I'd have trouble. However, I realized that this actually worked better for me. When I stretch something out, I tend to lose my drive and eventually peter out. I like to keep my mind focused, so I condensed a bit since that's how I work best. Another mom might want to stretch the program out and go even more slowly. Just like homeschooling, you adapt to your learning style.

Module 1 has you take an honest look at your homeschooling life. What's working and what isn't? More importantly, you look at the why. Is it distraction? Comparison? Time? You take a real look at your situation.

Module 2 is all about time management and organization. I've written before about what I'd like to be versus what I actually am, and how I always shoot myself in the foot, never getting started because I'm always trying to get to some ideal place before I start. Heather gives you ideas for getting started with good routines NOW.

Module 3 looks at curriculum decisions and your school environments. Are you setting yourself up for success?

Module 4 looks at your kids - your students! Heather helps you discover their strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. She has systems and suggestions for positive reinforcement and ways to help them succeed.
I liked that I could download the audio and the transcript. I love listening in the car, and it was neat to have that option.

Module 5 had me looking into the future. Madison is just finishing up first grade, so when I think about homeschooling teens, I get nervous. There wasn't a real need for me to go too deeply into this particular area now, but it's important to know where we're headed.

Right now, my favorite pieces are the videos and the printables. I've been downloading the audio to my phone and listening when I'm in the car alone, and it's like someone is there, giving me a pep talk. And I've been loving the printables, especially the planners. I love planning with paper and pen, and the layout of these is something I really enjoy.

Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue

Honestly, I think every homeschooling parent can benefit from using Homeschool Rescue. New homeschoolers can set themselves up for success, and veteran parents can find fixes for any issues that inevitably crop up. It is a resource that I am very thankful that I have available to me.

Sign ups open a few times a year, and they're open now until the end of May. Once you sign up, you have lifetime access to all the videos and lessons, as well as printables, resources, links, the Facebook group, and personal email support.
Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue

I love hearing what others had to say! Every homeschool mom may have her own struggles from time to time, but going it through it together is such a help.

Homeschool Rescue {Only Passionate Curiosity Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Monday, May 15, 2017

Tiny Toys

Tiny toys are absolutely everywhere in our house. Blind bags, collectibles, play sets, whatever you want to call them. If they come in various sizes of packaging, there are mysteries as to what you might get, there are commons and rares and someone opens them on YouTube, my girls are obsessed.

We, seriously, have them all. Multiple sets. All the series. I have indulged them and brought them to Toys R Us on the day the new series released.

Yeah, I'm an enabler. It's sad. I know.
 And more. And more. And more. Trust me. We have them all. In fact, we just spent a long time cleaning and organizing Madison's room, and these toys were a big part of why we had to do that. They are both a fantastic bribe and the bane of my existence.

They do handle them a little differently.

Reagan is more of a collector. She likes opening, she likes amassing her bounty, she likes sorting, she likes trading. For her, it's about the volume. And the opening. She loves to open and see the mystery.

Madison is a player. Yes, she enjoys keeping every single list from every single type of tiny toy and checking what she has and how rare they are, and quickly becomes obsessed with getting more and more, but for her, the real lasting fun is in the playing.

Sometimes they are the toys of her dolls or stuffed animals. Sometimes they take over her dollhouse. We've even found a way to bring them with us in the car or in my purse by creating an on the go play place with an Altoid tin.

I should hate them. Plenty of parents do. In fact, Shopkins were my under-8 girl go-to birthday gift, until I was actually asked to stop. Because if you have managed to avoid the Shopkins ridiculousness, you certainly don't want it introduced into the environment.

But I don't. Tiny toys, annoying as they can be, actually have some pretty cool pros.

1. They encourage educational concepts.

I swear, I'm not reaching. Sorting. Counting. Graphing. Math. Reading. Without any prodding from me, they've done all these things. Reagan still sorts by color most of the time, but Madison sorts by type, by how common they are, by which category they fit into. Then she calculates which ones she wants, which packages are more likely to contain them, and strategizes how to get the best chance with her limited funds.

2. They encourage imaginative play.

My girls can be screen junkies (to be fair, it's more My Town and less Amazon video, but still, it's not a point of pride). But when it's time to play, Madison can play with these sets for hours. She creates all kinds of tiny worlds and sets them up. It's definitely cool to watch.

3. They're perfect bribes.

All kids have their currency. These things are cheap enough where I don't mind picking them up little by little and keeping a stockpile to bribe the girls with. Good behavior, extra cleaning jobs, whatever I need, a blind bag can buy me.

So I'm firmly in the tiny toy camp, and I'm defending them until the end!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Keep Your Battery Going

It's amazing how much we rely on battery power to keep us going.

As someone who does at lot of freelance writing, and chooses to do that writing on a laptop away from home most of the time, I am hyper aware of my laptop battery, and I choose my seat in libraries and coffee shops carefully. Can I plug in if I need a boost?

As someone who spends a lot of time waiting for the girls in waiting rooms, during lessons, and uses her phone during those times (some it work, some of it time killing), I'm very aware of my phone battery too. I have a charger in my tote bag, a charger in my car, and a power bank battery in my purse. Will I get caught with a depleted battery if I need the phone?

When we're on a road trip I become the crazy mom who keeps the tablets charging until the last possible moment so we all get into the car at 100% and have maximum time. Sure, I can plug Reagan's kindle or Madison's phone but battery depletion always seems to happen at the moment when everyone on a road trip is reaching a critical point.

After being stranded in a parking lot waiting for AAA, I'm paranoid about being totally on top of my car battery. Have I idled too long? Did I leave the radio on? The interior light? I do NOT want to be stranded with a dead battery. It's never fun.

Yet when it comes to my own personal battery power, I'm not making sure I'm keeping that charge topped up. I push and push until I crash, and I'm totally useless while I try to come back from zero.

Sure, it's a labored analogy (yet still an overused one), but it's accurate too. If we're not careful to keep topping ourselves up, to recharge regularly, and to avoid zeroing out and crashing completely, we're not helping anyone.

So I keep my battery in shape. I force myself to get a decent amount of sleep, even if that means I don't get through my entire day's to-do list. My FitBit lets me know exactly how much I slept and how restless I was, and that's a good accountability check for me. I make sure that I eat decently. I give myself time to zone out and recharge with a bath, or a book, or a game, or even some mindless TV. I take time alone out of the house.

When I keep on top of my battery, everyone, and I do mean everyone, is happier!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Swallowing Your Pride

I don't think there is a person in the world who likes to be told that they are wrong.

I mean, maybe I'm wrong (don't feel like you need to tell me), but unless I've actually asked, it feels like a huge blow to my ego to have someone come up to me and say "umm...actually..."

I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's because that, since I'm an adult now, I need to feel like I'm somewhat in control, and getting confirmation that I don't quite know what I'm doing hurts. Whenever I have a random brain fart and make a comical mistake, I always joke around with "yeah, and I'm the one responsible for my teaching my kids." But those are silly mistakes that I know I make, just off the cuff. And when you can laugh at yourself, it isn't so bad.

But let me tell you, there was no more humiliating moment than when I was pulled aside by a few of my daughter's teachers and told that I handled an interpersonal situation incorrectly. When I get embarrassed, I get really defensive, and I had to bite my tongue, swallow my pride, and just nod and say "thank you for letting me know."

For years, I told every single new mom that the best product I'd ever used with the Rock and Play sleeper. I used it as a bassinet for both girls. The angle was perfect for their reflux, the coziness was great for keeping them feeling secure, and I could slide the sleeper from room to room without waking them. I loved it and I wanted to share that love with every new mom.

Then one of them told me I was lucky that my daughter's escaped all the horrors. In the years since my girls graduated from this sleeper, the AAP has actually come out against letting babies sleep in it. It can promote flat head syndrome, it poses a risk of chin to chest asphyxiation, and it's not a firm surface.

I was humiliated again. Not only I had just completely admitted to using it - a lot - I was also admitting to spreading my incorrect information to multiple new moms. I went from "experienced advice giver" to "crappy mom showed up by a pregnant woman ten years her junior". Hard to swallow, especially with the lame "oh...well, it was different five years ago" excuse.

I feel like moms are particularly sensitive to this. We know we have these huge responsibilities, we already feel insecure, and we certainly don't need any validation that, actually, we're doing everything wrong, just as we feared. So when we are called on something, we get defensive. We lash out. And sometimes, we double down on the mistake, just to prove to ourselves that we've got this. It happens with baby stuff, and car seat safety, and educational requirements, and childcare laws, and all kinds of stuff.

But here's the thing. As much as I hate it, as much as I relive the conversation as I'm falling asleep and feel a fresh wash a shame every time, I'm glad that someone felt confident enough to, politely, let me know.

Goes without saying that if you are smug, or rude, or condescending, you are a huge part of the reason that people hate hearing corrections, and, I hope you realize, karma IS, in fact, going to get you eventually.

If I'm using a buckle wrong, I can fix it. If recommendations have changed, I want to know.

Even if it hurts to swallow that pride sometimes.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Sorting Out What's Real

I love knowing random facts.

I love trivia. I love knowing weird, totally non-musical facts about Beethoven, or common practices in 15th century London, or bizarre hacks that actually work that I can share. 

I'm not a know it all, I swear. My goal is not to one up anyone, and I truly am careful in how I dole out my random bits. I'm also always happy to listen to yours. Maybe you're right, maybe you're wrong, but it's always interesting. I read a lot, and I'm interested in things that people claim to be true, so I research a lot. Probably due to the fact that I can now look anything up on my phone.

So when someone says to me, "did you know that it's actually cheaper to buy gas in the morning?" or "actually, the best way to encourage babies to sleep is....", I love finding out if they're right. Mythbusters, Snopes, any internet search where the source is actually reputable, they're all right within the palm of my hand.

Except for the baby sleep thing. The best way to get your baby to sleep is whatever works for you. And beyond that statement, I am not touching this topic with a ten foot pole. Attached to another ten foot pole. Same thing goes for childcare, baby feeding, and pretty much anything that parents get super rabid about in online mommy groups, throwing up memes and links as electronic punches.

Knowing stuff is interesting, and I love the trivia-ness of it all.

One of my favorite shows is The Big Bang Theory (I mean, hello trivia and random facts), and there was recently an episode where Bernadette is justifying some eating and drinking habits by the fact that she's also breastfeeding. Yeast in beer, burning extra calories, and don't you dare take that away from me with your stupid phone that has stupid Google. I like these trivia facts and I really don't care if they're true.

So yeah, know your audience.

But overall, it's important to sort out the real. Whether it's when to buy gas, or the best way to store your toothbrush.

Good thing? It's right there in the palm of your hand.

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