All my Littles in 2011. L-R, Samantha (5), Kendra (9), Patricia (5), Christian (5), John (4), Jayna (7), Madelyn (2)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ready to toss in the towel...

When I began homeschooling I had a 2nd grader, a kindergartner, twin 3-year-olds, and my youngest was weeks away from her 1st birthday (# 6 & 7 hadn't joined our family yet).  I almost never accomplished half of what I sat out to do in a day.  I enjoyed watching the Duggars on TV and asked myself regularly "If they can do it with so many, why can't I?"  I really struggled with what God had called me to do and what I felt I could do.  I went to bed EVERY night feeling inadequate.

Right now we are finishing our 3rd year of homeschool and I finally feel like I have enough of a hold on it that it doesn't weigh on me.  I still have hard days.  My husband will tell you that I call him every couple weeks and tell him that I just don't know if I'm cut out for this.  These calls used to consist of me telling him we would have to re-work the budget so we could send all the kids to the nearest Christian school... so it's improving.  :-) 

So what changed?  I read and read and read!  Many moms before me had been there, done that, and wrote a book or blog about how they made it through.  I found as many as books as I could get my hands on and used their wisdom as it applied to me.  Some were not very helpful but others helped to shape the mom I am today.  I compiled a list of my favorites.

In my personal opinion every homeschooling mom should read these 4 books:

1.  Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe by Todd Wilson will not tell you how to get it all done but will reassure you that you are not alone.  I think about this book often on "those" days and it makes me smile.

2.  Managers of Their Home by Steven & Teri Maxwell will give you wonderful advice on fitting it all into a day.  She has very practical advice for scheduling.  A word to the wise though; after reading this I developed the my most ridiculous schedule.  No one could have accomplished everything I had crammed into it.  Please start simple!  You do not have to try to be a super mom, she doesn't exist!

3.  Large Family Logistics by Kim Brenneman is for any size family.  I hate that the title is so misleading.  There is tons of wisdom in those pages.  She began the book as notes of what she had learned with the intent of passing it on to her daughters.  Don't get intimidated by its size though; this book is HUGE!  It's chapters are not wrote dependant upon each other.  This means if you want to know more about laundry you simply flip to the laundry chapter, you don't need to read the one before or the one after.  I LOVE that!

4.  Parenting from the Heart by Marilyn Boyer is a small book of wisdom wrote by a seasoned mother of 14.  It is very encouraging & practical.

Other books I have read and highly recommend:

Managers of Their Chores by Steve and Teri Maxwell
Homeschooling with a Meek & Quiet Spirit by Teri Maxwell
Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic
Love in the House by Chris & Wendy Jeub
The Duggars: 20 and Counting by Michelle & Jim Bob Duggar
A Love that Multiplies by Michelle & Jim Bob Duggar    

Would you add any to this list?  I would REALLY love to know what books have helped with your homeschooling journey?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Menu Planning

I really dislike trying to figure out what I'm going to make for lunch or dinner.  The kids are hungry and will each ask me at least twice "What are we having?"  So I decided there has to be a better way than just going to the cabinet and figuring it out as I go. 

At first I just did one week at a time.  The kids and I would sit down together and they would tell me the different meals they wanted to eat over the following week.  I bought a menu note pad for my fridge.  It worked, but I found us eating a lot of the same meals.  Spaghetti, pizza, & PB&J sandwiches were almost always added to the menu.  Therefore we burned out on our favorite foods quickly. 

Next I decided that if I could do this every week I could take some time and do it for a whole month.  Then I made up this menu.
I have a 4 week menu that we cycle through and a 5th week that we use if money gets tight.  The "Thrifty week" is a lot of pasta and food I would not want us to eat all the time but this menu works great for the weeks when the car breaks down or your water bill goes a little too high.

I then created a master grocery list.  I looked a my menu and typed a list of everything it would take to cook or eat that meal.  I then divided the list into the common categories found in the grocery store.  I considered dividing it into the isles of my most commonly use store but did not like how this limited me to just one place to shop.  This is the list that I came up with:

One of my closest friends calls me the "Binder Queen".  I love them!  I have one for near everything in my life.  So why not have one for my menu as well?  A picture of my menu binder can be seen HERE.  
It has menu cards on the front that can be easily switched for quick changes or to add in a new recipe that is not on my sample menu.  I love to try all those neat Pinterest recipes.  The inside tabs are: shopping lists, recipes, sample menus, menu cards for breakfast, lunch, & dinner, and a tab to store all the extra cards for quick additions.  I also have two clear zipper pouches.  The first contains a highlighter, pen, & sharpie marker.  The second is for coupons.  I am not a big couponer but do hang onto high value and commonly used ones.  The binder has magnets on the back to keep it conveniently on my fridge and for easy removal to the grocery store.  

We have been using this method of menu planning for about a year and seems to be working ok.  Although, I have begun to toy with the idea of shopping for groceries for a whole month instead of weekly.  More on that in the future...

If you would like to have better & editable copies of the menu (MS Excel) or shopping list (MS Word) emailed to you, please comment with your email below.  I will get them out to you in my spare time.  Please be patient though, a homeschooling mom of 7 littles doesn't have a lot of spare time. :-)  That is why I created this menu plan in the first place!  I love letting organization think for me, thus allowing me more time to love on my babies!    

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Big Toy Swap

Yesterday was a fun yet busy day around here... Toy Swap Day! About 6-8 months ago I was fed up with toys. They were everywhere! My children were bored with them and rarely played with any of them. The one toy they wanted almost always landed on the bottom of the toy box and all the toys on top of it became scattered when they began to look for "that" toy. It was near impossible for them to keep their rooms clean. They just had too much. I did the donation thing and got rid of 6 large trash bags of old, misfit, or broken toys, but the problem still existed. I decided to come up with a way for my children to keep their favorite toys but only play with a few at a time.

I divided every bedroom's toys into three different categories. They are:

Older Girls (10 & 7):
American Girls
Sweet Street Dollhouses

Younger Girls (6, 6, & 3):
Loving Family Dollhouse
Baby Dolls
Pets (Zuzu, Little Pet Shop, etc)

Boys (6 & 5):
GeoTrax Trains
Cars & Other Transportation
Action Heros & Animals (Dinosours & Farm Sets)

Each month I switch out the children's toys with a new tote. I get rid of all the broken toys at this time as well. The kids are not allowed to get new toys out until their room is very clean.

We have other places where toys are stored around our house as well.

Toy Room:
Play Kitchen & Food
Work Bench & Tools
Slicky Slide & Playhouse

Living Room:
Tinker Toys
Mega Blocks
Lincoln Logs
Board Games
Play Dough

School Storage:
Geo Safari
Learning Games

All of these are pretty much available whenever they want (except play dough). We also clean out & organize these on toy swap day.

How do you tame the toy monster?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Little Tips & Tricks

I have wanted to share some of my little tips & tricks with y'all for awhile but have not had the time to write a long post about each of them so I thought I'd share a list of them with you and if you would like more info on any of them let me know. 

These are the kid's laundry baskets.  Each child has their own.  I wash and dry clothes then my 6-year-old son brings the load to the living room where each child (even my 3-year-old) sorts the clothes into the correct child's basket.  I bought these at the Dollar Tree and taped pictures of my kids to each one so the non-readers could work too.  Each child puts their basket away after the load has been sorted.  I don't care if it's folded because it will be unfolded in no time.  My kids don't own any clothes that can't be sprayed with water and tossed in the dryer for 10 minutes to get the wrinkles out.

These are the labels on my kids drawers. Each child has labels for all articles of their clothing. Each label is marked with the child's first initial. The labels pictured here belong to my 3-year-old daughter; she is able to her clothes away with minimal assistance.

I repurposed my baby play yard to contain my laundry mountain.  I was so tired of the mess spilling into the floor when I get behind.

This is my menu binder.  It has magnets on the back so I can keep it on my fridge.  I keep my coupons I plan to use (not a big couponer, I tried, just not for me), blank shopping lists, and the small menu cards for the meals we typically eat.  Love the movable cards because it makes it easy for quick changes to the menu.

This is our school cart.  At one point we had a whole classroom complete with desks and reading nook.  Then we realized it just worked better for us to school wherever we land (most of the time curled up on the couch.)  The cart is a audio/visual cart my husband purchased for me at our county public school surplus.
I have plenty more little things that use to make my day flow smoothly. I will publish more as I have time.