Camping and a Lapbook

Last year we took the kids to Deerfield Fair in New Hampshire.  Phil grew up going there and camping with his family, so it was a momentous occasion taking his own children.  That, and it was our First Official Camping Trip.  His parents gave us their slide-in camper and we stayed overnight on the fairgrounds.  It was pretty handy, being able to go back to make our own meals rather than buying expensive, greasy fair food.  We were able to get up early the next day, walk around and see the animals before they went to their respective shows - it was a lot of fun, and we plan to go again this year. 




Despite the comfort and convenience factor, the slide-in was very tiny, and we decided to casually look around at secondhand campers.  We didn’t want to make any hasty, irresponsible decisions, but we lucked out big time when we found a nice fifth wheel.  It has always been a dream of Phil’s to own a fifth wheel, and he was psyched at the find. 

We took our next First Official Camping Trip with the new camper last month for Father’s Day weekend.  We almost always head up north, and I told Phil I wanted to try a different direction – so we chose Connecticut!  I told Phil the Essex Steam Train looked like fun (apparently, my mom took us when we were little but I don’t remember), so we picked a campground not far from there. 

We chose Wolf’s Den Family Campground, and while the playground right next to our campsite came in handy, we weren’t too thrilled overall.  Nonetheless, we had a fabulous time in our home-away-from-home, and we had a blast riding the train and visiting the impressive Gillette Castle State Park.




We’ve been trying to use the camper at least once a month.  It’s a bit tricky with Phil’s new work schedule (24 hours on, 48 hours off), but we’ve been taking weekend trips when he has a Saturday/Sunday off together.  This past weekend we went back to Connecticut, and were much happier with Ross Hill Park Family Campground – the grounds were lovely, the people friendly (and didn’t stare at us like we were invading their turf), it was right on the water, and there was a nice little pond where we spent much of our time (and we’ve got sunburns to show for it).  



We’ve been to the area before and found a little ice cream shop that is becoming a family favorite.  This was our first time there with Gwendolyn in 2008:



We found out that Buttonwood Farm Ice Cream has a Sunflowers for Wishes fundraiser every year so I was excited that we’d be going at the right time.  The hayride in the field was fun, and the sunflowers were gorgeous – I couldn’t stop taking pictures!  We got ice cream (of course), walked in the flower fields, and then got a couple bouquets of sunflowers before heading back to the campsite.






The day before we left for camping I was packing it full of food and supplies, trying to figure out what to pack for the kiddos.  I’m always aware of trying to make something fun, maybe turn it into something educational for Gwendolyn, so I stayed up late making another lapbook for her.  I was pleasantly surprised that she spent a fair amount of time on it each day of the trip, finished almost all of the activities inside, and especially loved the velcro pieces I added.  That’s it – I’ll have to add velcro to all my lapbooks!

I found most of the lapbook elements from Homeschool Creation’s Camping Preschool Pack and used some of the ideas at Homeschool Share’s Camping Adventure Lapbook

Any suggestions for a camping trip?  We’re trying to stay close to home due to fuel costs and time constraints.  We had planned on going to Hidden Acres Family Campground, but by the time we called to make a reservation they were all booked – maybe next time.

Curriculum Craziness

I bet you’ve never gotten sidetracked googling something, have you?  One simple little search, and you’re in front of the computer way past your bedtime, clicking on way too many results, eyes aching from staring at the screen.  

Despite the fact that I’ve been adding to the ever-expanding list of favorite links for homeschool ideas and activities, I’ve been able to decide on a basic preschool curriculum outline for Gwen.  It feels weird to be doing this, since I never really wanted to do anything official for the kiddos, but it’s kind of exciting at the same time.  My organizing, list-making genes are going haywire!

One of the things that I keep telling Phil and my mom (who homeschooled me and my sibs for a number of years), is that I can’t believe how much work and preparation is going into a simple preschool plan - which isn’t even official school!  How will I survive the coming years, when the content gets meatier?  Someone please tell me it gets easier!  Maybe this is the practice round, getting my feet wet.

Since incorporating Biblical concepts is important to me, I decided to go with the ABC Jesus Loves Me 3-year-curriculum, using the supporting concepts that appeal to me.  I’m scrapping their outline, but I got the idea for having a theme and vocab word for each week from Brightly Beaming Resources’ Letter of the Week program.  I love that I was able to find these resources and tweak them to fit my preferences. 

Each of the two curriculums has different outlines and covers different materials for a different amount of time; it took a bit of time to put it into a schedule that seems doable for us.  And who knows – I may change it as I go!  I decided to put the material into a 3-days-a-week framework so we don’t get overwhelmed, but if Gwen wants to do some school activities on “off” days that’s just gravy.  It’s not like I have a shortage of resources!    

Basically, each week will have a Bible story and verse, theme, vocabulary word, letter, number, and shape or color.  Any supporting materials – crafts, activities, stories or songs – will revolve around these elements.

Thank goodness for free resources on the internet – I’ve found a host of wonderful offerings!  Here and there I’ve been plugging in activities and ideas for each week as I come across them.  I absolutely love the idea for Montessori-inspired Tot Trays and my Mom picked up some trays at Lakeshore Learning.  The kiddos took to them right away, and I love having their projects contained.  I think they would be content to sit at them for most of the day as long as I rotate their activities and provide snacks every now and then. :)

Totally Tots and its sister site 1+1+1=1, the inspiration for Tot Trays, has proved to be an excellent stomping ground for all sorts of ideas.  I’ve linked them to the right under some of my favorite homeschooling resources.  In addition to the excellent content, I love that it was designed for and by Christian moms who choose to homeschool.  Some of my favorite ideas: Tools 4 Tots (I like the Hide n Seek Bowls, Mix & Match game – which I already made! – Ocean Waves Bottle, and Paper Clip Colors, to name a few), sensory binsTot Books, and alphabet memory verse cards.

Here are some of my favorite resources (so far, and in no particular order) for coloring pages, worksheets, and other printables:
Homeschool Creations
Christian Preschool Printables
Preschool Coloring Book
Twisty Noodle (customizable pages)
First-School Preschool Activities & Crafts
Coloring Castle
Activity Village
Nature Detectives
Making Learning Fun
Crayola
DLTK Kids

My mom teaches Sunday School, buys loads of things for the grandkids, and sponsors children with Compassion International, so even though she no longer has littles of her own she still gets all sorts of kid-related stuff and puts together arts and crafts.  She started putting together lapbooks for her Compassion kids, and it got me interested in the concept.  I decided to try my hand at simple file folder games first, and created a few for the kiddos.

File Folder Fun has some cute ideas, and I made a few of their games, laminating the playing pieces and glueing envelopes on the back to hold them: Beautiful Bees color matching (a 2-color combination), Dinos color matching (a simple 1-color match for Josiah), and Cupcake Counting.  I haven’t used any yet, but Bible Story Printables also has some file folder games.



I finally decided to make a couple lapbooks to go along with our first preschool lesson, starting the end of August.  You can customize them any way you want, make them as simple or as complicated as you want.  There’s the basic lapbook, pocketbook, tot book, double lapbook… arrrgh, pick one!  The theme for the week will be the four seasons, and the Bible story is about Creation.  I did a seasons lapbook first. 

 

 

Most of the materials were printed from the season unit study at Lawteedah, and I also found some mini books for each season from DLTK’s database.  I had fun putting it together with all sorts of activity pages, a puzzle, matching and sorting games, and stickers.  I decided to do one on creation as well. 





At first I just printed out a couple activity pages that I found on Lapbook Lessons, but I ended up using some of their other creation printables to fill the lapbook. 

I find them labor-intensive since I’m putting them together myself, but as Gwen gets older she’ll be able to do more of it herself.  And I hope when she does the coloring and activities that it will have the stamp of her personality on it.  It might be neat to do a lapbook on the letters we learn each week, too.

Trying not to get too far ahead of myself, especially if Gwen doesn’t take to the idea – I don’t want to push it.  I tend to get ambitious then get disappointed when my ideas don’t go over well. *sigh*  At least I can be sure that the creation snack (a healthier version, anyway) will be a bit hit. 

The Garden Experiment

In the past Phil and I have done a tiny garden, tomatoes in a pot, container herbs… but this year is the Garden Experiment.  We decided to build three raised beds with a variety of vegetables (mostly from seed) and see how they fare. 

 
 

The kids quickly decided this was their new playground/sandbox.  What fun it was trying to keep ‘em out once we actually planted seeds.  Especially Josiah, whose main goal in life is to get as dirty as possible. 

 

Phil rigged some metal fencing as climbing posts for the eventual squash plants – but the kiddos saw its true potential.  They love tunnels.  A good ol’ cushion and blanket tunnel will keep them happily occupied while I do the laundry.  Or the dishes. 

Now I don’t have much of a green thumb, so just getting green shoots to come out of the ground is sweet victory to me. 

Sweet Victory…

 

Early on we enjoyed spinach and lettuce greens, and a couple weeks ago I was thrilled to notice some peas ready for the pickin’.  I hadn’t noticed them because they blend right into the greenery or hide behind the leaves.   

 
 

We enjoyed them straight from the vine, and I’m afraid the plant has since been picked clean. We love fresh peas!  I excitedly started checking the other plants, and found a whole slew of baby veggies which are getting bigger and bigger each day.  Just like the kiddos! *sniff sniff*  Many of the veggies have beautiful flowers that bloom before the veggies grow, and I love the little curly vines that – which just a little coaxing – hang onto the trellis for support. 

 
 
 

I’ve been very anxious at the state of my rainbow carrots, but every time I take a peek underneath the soil they’re still so tiny, despite a plethora of carrot greens growing above-ground.  We finally decided to thin them out yesterday so they would have more room to grow.  Some of them are so small, they can’t even be considered baby carrots.  I call them fetal carrots.  So sad, I hope they survive.  We did find one good-sized, beautiful red carrot.  It was delicious, but I was disappointed that the inside is orange like a traditional carrot.

 

In addition to the greens and peas, we’ve also picked some beans, potatoes, and onions.  It feels so good to be grow food from seed, take care of it, and enjoy its bounty.  Talk about health food!  I try to imagine what it was like when living off the land was the norm for people. 

So far, the verdict is that we need more garden space, so we’ll probably add three to four more raised beds next year.  This is a learning process for me, from deciding what, when, and how to plant, to taking care of the plants and deciding how to harvest them (pick from the bottom, top, pinch off the top before it flowers?).  In the beginning I was picking the spinach and lettuce while still small, but decided to leave them alone for a while and see if they thrived.  Now, the spinach is tall but I’m not sure how much more I’ll get from it and the lettuce is in abundance, but the bigger it gets the more bitter it tastes.  I need to find a happy medium!

I’m excited see what ripens next.  Besides adding fresh produce to our meals, I hope to try some new recipes for canning and freezing.  Put ‘em Up!, a canning and preserving book I got from the library, has some excellent ideas that I hope to try - including rhubarb pickles, of all things.  I’ll probably end up making salsa, ketchup, and sauce with the tomatoes, and pickles from the cukes.  And I’m dying to try zucchini relish, but need to get the recipe from a friend.  Do you have any favorite canning/preserving recipes?  Do share.  

While I was in the yard yesterday, I happened upon this butterfly enjoying the flower gardens.

Downtime

Our computer crashed about two weeks ago and I was without Internet the whole time.  *gasp!*  Yes, it’s true – and I survived!  I did feel somewhat disconnected since I rely mostly on e-mail for communication, and there are some blogs I frequent, but for the most part it was a refreshing change.

In fact, I find it refreshing whenever I go without some of the technologies we take for granted and rely so heavily upon these days.  Aside from the initial withdrawal, it’s so much more relaxing when I’m not getting sucked into the mindless vortex that eats away at my time and energy, stealing my focus away from more important matters.

Trying to keep a balance between activity and rest, going out and staying in, can be difficult – especially when the weather is nice and you feel the need to get outdoors, just go somewhere.  We have our usual errands – grocery shopping and library run – and I often incorporate a stop at the playground and a picnic, if I’ve been able to plan ahead and pack supplies.  The kiddos and I have been going to the zoo every chance we get, making good use of our family membership.  We met up with Auntie Nikki and Elijah last time, which was a nice treat.  Nikki should be having her baby this month, and I’m always thinking this may be the last time I see her before she has her baby!  I can’t wait to meet him/her (she has a feeling it’s a girl this time around, and I’m hoping she’ll get to use all of Gwen’s baby clothes).   

I was so disappointed that I had to return Simplicity Parenting.  I had renewed it, but there was a request on it so I couldn’t renew it a second time.  If I can find my notes on the last chapter I read I may be able to drum up some thoughts when the book club discusses the fifth chapter.

Since I had returned the book and didn’t have another waiting to be read, I was excited when I found Dead Reckoning, the latest novel in the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris.  My brother had initially given me the first two or three books in the series when they came out, and I’ve kept up with each release.  I like the earlier books in the series best, although there are some interesting twists and turns the more you read.  I was intrigued when I heard about True Blood, the TV show based on the series, but after watching two of the seasons on DVD I was disappointed at the liberties they’ve taken with the storyline (or maybe it’s been too long since I read them).  Without the computer to occupy my time, I finished the book in a few days.

We used to frequent the local Christian bookstore growing up, and my mom always let me pick out one or two books, knowing how much I loved to read.  One of my all-time favorite series is Mark of the Lion, by Francine Rivers.  I’ve read it a number of times already, but started reading the first book again and always enjoy the read.  My sister-in-law has been reading the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling, raving how much better they are than the films, so I’m thinking I may cave and start reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – though I have my reservations about it feeling like a children’s story. 

The garden is growing by leaps and bounds!  I’ve started harvesting spinach and salad greens, and having fresh fixins with dinner makes me feel so warm and fuzzy and healthy inside!  I can’t wait till the other veggies are ripe and ready. 


It has been warm and humid lately, and one day in desperation I broke out a big tupperware bin and filled it with water for the kiddos.  It was  a huge hit!  We have a kiddy pool, but I didn’t feel like blowing it up just then. 

One of my favorite things to do on a hot day when I was a kid was to run through a sprinkler - but ours broke last year. :(  I asked Phil if we could turn one of his blue tarps into a slip ‘n’ slide, but he said the texture was too rough.  My sister-in-law assures me that all I need to do is add some dish soap to make it slippery, so I may just try it one of these days.  Anything to get the kids out of the house and cool off on a hot day!   

When the kids are especially well-behaved, I like to reward them with some sort of treat – a living room picnic and a movie, dessert, staying up a bit later than usual to read more stories, whatever.  Well, Summer is the perfect time for just such a treat. 


What is it about the seasons that make you crave their offerings?  In Autumn I long for apple cider, apple crisp, and pumpkin lattes.  In Winter it’s hot chocolate and all manner of warm comfort foods.  In Summer I want smoothies, salad, fresh fruit, Del’s, and ice cream.  Since we’re avoiding refined foods this is definitely an occasional treat; a pity that the ice cream shop is just down the road. *sigh*

Memorial Day saw me and the kiddos visiting my grandparents’ grave with my parents.  My mom - big on genealogy – plants flowers at many of the family graves at cemeteries throughout the state.  After we planted flowers, we wandered through the cemetery, looking at the beautiful inscriptions and admiring the decorations.  It was somewhat surreal, watching Gwendolyn and Josiah tread happily over the ground that holds so many loved ones that have passed away. 


We have once again been reacquainted with Internet, and I’m trying to recover all my “favorites” files that were lost – all those links for recipes, articles, stores, ideas, arrrrgh!  I can’t believe June is upon us already, Father’s Day and 4th of July fast approaching.

Do you have any Summer plans?  How do you make the most of your downtime?  

Simplicity Parenting Book Club – Chapter 4

I’ll admit… though I was psyched to start this book and devoured the first couple chapters with gusto, I’ve been waning in my enthusiasm.  This is no reflection on the book itself – in fact, when I do pick it up to read a few more paragraphs I wish I had more time to devote to finishing it and can’t wait to implement the many wonderful suggestions.  As I mentioned in chapter three’s discussion, sometimes I’m just stressed out trying to take care of everything.

This month I had my annual doctor’s apointment and was almost disappointed at my midwife’s nonchalance towards my perceived disorder (I should be happy, right?).  I managed to start exercising as she suggested, but there’s no way I’m gonna get around to it every day.  

Josiah had an infection that left me feeling like a bad mommy, as I do most days.  I’m thrilled that it managed to clear itself up with some simple home remedies, but whenever my days consist mainly of diaper changes and trips to the potty and cleaning up pee and poop, my role as a mother can somehow seem pointless and almost degrading.

I like to help people, and have often felt that I have a servant’s attitude… but sometimes it feels like I have nothing left to give.  When something is expected and demanded of me and my reserves are absolutely replete, I end up feeling resentul.           

I have so many fail checks on my to-do list.   Sometimes, after taking care of the meals and all the [never-ending] housework, I just don’t have much motivation for reading how I should really be doing things.  It seems I’m always trying to improve; the more I try, the more frustrated I become at how much I screw up and how far I have yet to go.

That being said, I did get something out of the next chapter in Simplicity Parenting.  Chapter four is all about rhythm – predicting patterns in the day and establishing routines that can bring security to children.  “As little ones come to understand with regularity that ‘this is what we do,’ they feel solid earth under their feet, a platform for growth.”

I often struggle with the idea of rhythm – or, perhaps, the concept of routine.  “What is so overwhelming about the notion of rhythm is that we assume we need to organize all of the moving parts of our lives into a full-scale symphony.”  Even after reading this chapter, I still feel there’s more I should be doing!  Especially since looking ahead to homeschooling my children, I want to work in something “educational.”  I come up with these grand ideas, then get discouraged when they don’t “work.” 

There are things to which we adhere because we’ve become accustomed to them, we know they work for us – rituals such as meals around the table; going to the grocery store or library on certain days; lunchtime followed by naps; a bedtime routine consisting of going to the potty, teeth-brushing, and a few stories before tuck-me-in time.  We don’t have to try too hard to maintain these routines because they have been built in through habit, and yet, these are the kinds of predictable events that can lend security and simplicity to your child.

I enjoyed some of the suggestions for establishing rhythm, even simple ones like brushing your teeth and washing your hands, and can definitely vouch for the fact that some of these mundane tasks are more fun for little kids when you make up a tune to go with it.  One of the things I noticed I already do, but would like to do more consistently, is to give Gwendolyn (and Josiah, as he gets older) a little preview of the day so she knows what to expect.  Sometimes I do this at bedtime, telling her what we will do the next day (“Tomorrow is Thursday and Daddy will be bringing you to Meme’s”), other times it’s in the morning, letting her know my plans for the day (“It’s Monday, and where do we go on Mondays?  To the grocery store!”).  Throughout the day I try to give her a head’s up so she’ll know when it’s almost time to stop playing and get ready, be it for an errand or a chore or bedtime.  I don’t know if this is always a good thing, however – if she doesn’t like something on the list, or we don’t get around to something I had intended, she might get upset.  I also ask for her input, but again, I struggle with whether or not I should give a 3-year-old too many choices.   

Getting dressed has become kind of dramatic lately, as Gwen often wants to wear the same thing every day, and might even get upset if what she wants is in the wash.  I’ve been trying to simplify her morning routine by choosing an outfit the night before and putting it on a chair in her room (especially if we need to leave the house early); she usually sees me doing it, and I’ll often point out it’s there.  It doesn’t always work, but more often than not she comes out of her room wearing what I’ve laid out

One of the biggest, most practical suggestions I feel can be applied to almost any family is establishing a dinnertime routine.  A few nights ago, Phil was on one of his 24-hour shifts at work, so it was just me and the kiddos.  My parents took us out to eat, and my dad ended up asking me what I appreciated growing up.  There are things I appreciate more, now that I have my own children, but there have been things I’ve always appreciated, to one extent or another.  We almost always sat down to eat as a family, discussing our day.  Other things made it more special - when my mom let me use the pretty blue plates and candleholders to set the table, when a certain meal was made, when we played games or watched a movie afterwards.  These things stay with you.         

Being the homebodies that we are, we tend to eat most meals at home.  But I think dinnertime is one of the most important family meals, as it concludes the day.  Another thing to work on: letting the kiddos help me prepare the meal!  I often balk at this, because I know they will make a mess and I could do it ten times faster, yadda yadda.  But Gwen is always so enthusiastic and asks if she can help; when she does, she’s usually more excited to eat the meal.  I’ll let her help me give the veggies a “bath,” and she often sets the table, helping to clear it as well.     

I’ve been working on simplifying our eating habits, and love the idea of taking this further by creating a meal plan.  Since I have been soaking some of my grains, planning ahead can really come in handy.  I wrote out a simple list of dinner ideas for the whole week, based on things we eat most of the time anyway.  If we have leftovers from the previous night, I may switch around lunch and dinner or just skip that meal, and so far it has made things easier. 

We pray before our meals, and Gwen’s favorite prayer is a song passed down by her Great Gramp – if we don’t sing it, she will often wait to eat until she has sung it herself.  Another suggestion (was it from the last chapter?) which I have been implementing is what Rachel calls the Sweet Spot in her dinnertime routine (which I love) - reflecting on your favorite part, or “greatest joy” of the day.  We end up reviewing the day, picking our favorite parts, telling why we liked it.  I’ve also put a candle on the table; lighting it may seem like such a simple thing, but it seems to be a magical component for the kids.  And why should I be surprised?  Growing up, I loved setting the table and opted to dim the lights and light as many candles as I could find.  Candle light is magical!

And of course, what kid doesn’t like bedtime stories?  Depending on the time, Gwen and Josiah each pick out a few stories.  Josiah almost always picks the Karen Katz set from Auntie Nikki, lugging the box off the shelf and eliciting a grin from his mama.  Gwen usually picks a few favorites from her current library stash, which we’ll read until they’re returned.  I’m always surprised how easy it [almost always] is to put the kids to bed after we’ve gone through the bedtime prerequisites.  When the last book is read, and I say “Come on Josiah, let’s put Gwendolyn to bed” they hop off the couch and off we go. 

I wish everything were that easy!

Read my thoughts on Chapter 1
Read my thoughts on Chapter 2
Read my thoughts on Chapter 3