Summer Structure

We talked about “Structure & Routine” in episode 5 from a schooling perspective… but what about the summer? Do we chuck the whole thing when school is out so to speak?

Confession time. I have had a really difficult time creating and sticking to a schedule since my precious forth child. I go back and forth. I found myself embarrassed upon confessing this to my mentor recently! You see I used to be such a “schedule queen.” I know, and have experienced firsthand, the benefits of a schedule so I have been DETERMINED to get over my hangup and create a schedule that works for us (that way I can just tweak it when school starts up again)!

I am sharing the schedule that has been working for us for the past few weeks. I believe I have made my last tweaks for a while.

What I LIKE about our summer schedule:

  1. Filling the boys’ “love tank” with individual one-on-one time with EACH of my boys, EVERYDAY. It is only 15 minutes per child but I haven’t gotten as many “Will you play with me?” pleas. They are truly more content and happier and I feel better as a mother!
  2. More peace! They are playing MUCH better together with shorter spurts throughout their day rather than one long (usually unmonitored) period. Likewise, I am not frazzled at the end of my day and hubby has commented on the change in atmosphere when he walks in the door (which elicits a pleasant attitude from him and a more pleasant evening :)
  3. The children are doing more beneficial, learning types of activities. This requires my direction but the kids are engaged, exploring, & learning!

What does our schedule LOOK LIKE? Click the photo for a PDF version.

Keep in mind that the items in our schedule probably will not all be in your schedule! Use this list for ideas.

        1. Table Time: teaches the toddler how to be content once done eating by staying at the table with an activity. I’ve used magnets on a cookie sheet, puzzles, a book, Leap Frog fridge toys (with tape over the speaker because we are not deaf!), couple of cars, or any item with fewer parts than the stations in bullet #3.
        2. Sit Time: This is the vehicle I use to teach the boys what “self-control” looks like (of their bodies and mouth). Our boys all sit with us during church and we can’t expect from them in public what we have not trained at home. To train this, the boys sit in a kitchen chair and fold their hands and legs until the timer goes off. We started at 30 sec. when we first began our training with the boys as toddlers. We slowly increased the time as they were able to sit still and quiet (you may need to start your little one out on your lap). Remember this is not punishment, it’s training so be positive! A realistic goal when trained consistently is 15-20 minutes for a 4-5 year old. Think about how useful this could be at the bank, doctor office, or even completing a transaction…much better than fighting/pestering siblings when mom only needs a few minutes!
        3. One-on-one time: I use the same method of “learning stations” that I blogged about here. I put out a variety of toys, games, or even learning items- one on each blanket (I use the blanket only to serve as an obvious boundary as I am training a two year old :) I have used the following as activities: Leap Pad, puzzles, books, busy bag items (pom poms are a favorite), Base Ten blocks, Rush Hour game, Tile Squares, Pattern Blocks, teddy bear counters (with cups & a spoon- the 2 year old’s favorite!), and many Learning Resources items. I set the timer for 15 minutes and spend that time with one of the kids. I like to do something educational but fun with them. The past couple of weeks, I’ve been using Discovery Toy’s Think It Through Tiles with the 7 & 4 year old, books with the 2 year old, & short games with my 9 year old like Scrabble Flash or Whiz Kid (though today we brushed up on his Latin work). It has been helpful for me to create a list of possible activities to pull from without causing me a whole lot of  work or thought process.
        4. Room Time: is training the child to play in his room alone by staying in his room and playing (usually) with my choice of activity. This does not mean ram sacking the room & drawers!
        5. Structured Time at 11 &11:30: This is a flexible block for me. The activities could be: outside, game together, art supplies, a cool activity at the table, or sensory play. I have done play-dough, water bucket, rice bucket, bean bucket (the buckets provide texture experiences as well as scooping & pouring with play kitchen toys- but do spread out a sheet/blanket to catch any spills!) I have found Pintrest to be an amazing wealth of ideas to do in this area!!
        6. Free Play: for our family, it is in our play room downstairs that is full of toys and the child chooses what to play with. This is almost always with one or more sibling.
        7. Bilibo at 1:00 is a turtle looking shell that a child spins in. Josiah (age 4) is the one who loves this and it get some wiggles out- great on a rainy or hot day!Bilibo
        8. Play Yard: is a hexagon linked gate. I use it during those fussier times (aka when playing with his brothers just elicits temper/crying) or when he won’t stay within the physical boundaries he is given like the playroom (the last thing I need is to find him “playing” in the bathroom!) Carpet: is the family room located on the other side of the kitchen and there is a small toy basket there.
        9. Read Aloud Time: I use the 2-3:00 time slot for reading aloud a chapter book or working on any project/school lesson that needs my attention.
        10. CT is for Couch Time where my husband and I spend 10 minutes talking while the children read books in the same room. This prioritizes the husband/wife relationship and also teaches courtesy & self control with regards to not interrupting- see On Becoming Baby Wise, P. 30

Remember not to be a slave to your schedule! It’s purpose is to serve you. If you find that you are always “behind” trying to catch up, then give yourself more time for the activities perhaps working in bigger time blocks. I hope these ideas will help you create a schedule that fits YOUR family so you can get the most out of your summer!

Laundry Sorting Chore

Chores. We all dislike them at one point or the other. We all have to do them!

Josiah's chore - sorting laundry

In our family, chores are a requirement. They are a way of investing into the family. They are also an area of character training by way of teaching personal responsibility. We do not pay for our children to make their beds, help with laundry, unload the dish washer, or wipe/vaccume around the table after meals. If they want to earn money, we offer extra chores (perhaps a job that I would like done or would pay someone else to do anyway). Some of these paid jobs might be cleaning the inside &/or outside of the cars, washing blinds, or dusting baseboards.

The biggest chore, especially with 4 growing boys, is LAUNDRY! I started traing my oldest in how to do laundry when he was 2 1/2 years old. I let him “help” me and over time he could do more and more on his own (yes, this “help” does slow you down at first but it teaches too).  Doing chores teach responsibility and serving as well as sorting, stacking, and all kinds of motor skills.

As each child gets bigger in our family, the chores get passed to a younger sibling- and they get a new chore. See What Every Child Should Know Along the Way for a list of age appropriate chores by year from 3-18 years old. My 9 year old has been trying to teach my 4 year old how to sort the dirty laundry into colored piles…and the learning process has been going slowly. There’s just SO many colors! Then I had an idea- a sort of “cheat sheet” to help Josiah with the laundry!

Josiah-sorting-laundry2 Josiah sorting laundry by color

I created a sheet with color samples to illustrate what piles the items belong. While the color list is not exhaustive, it has helped a great deal for my visual learner to be able to sort most of the laundry by himself. I still get an occasional “Where does this go Mom?” but the frequency has been much less. I’m just wondering why I didn’t create this guide sooner!

Download a copy of the Color Sorting Cheat Sheet.

REVIEW – The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud

Home School Support Network Podcast Episode 17Our nine year-old son Riley gives an audio review of The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud (The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz, Book One) (aff) by Jenny L. Cote. In this episode Riley answers the following questions:

What was the book about?

What was your favorite character and why?

What was your favorite part of the book?

Did the book make the account of Noah and the flood more “real” to you?

Did you learn any truths about God?

Would you recommend for your friends to read this book?

How many stars do you give this book?

Sherry goes on to share tips for reading a long chapter book to your kids. One tip Sherry gives is for you to have something for your kids to do with their hands. Sherry uses fidgets. In a blog post titled Juggling a Houseful with Learning Stations Sherry shares a picture of what fidgets look like.

Other items mentioned:

Teach Them Diligently Home School Convention

Riley’s Stop Motion Video: Podcast Daddy Life Podcast RSS Feed

Busy Bag Swap Loot

I have had the opportunity to participate in something called Busy Bag Swap this past month. I must admit that this term was foreign to me and I’m still learning! I have written in a previous blog post about Learning Stations and these Busy Bags will work VERY WELL with the stations!

So what’s a  Busy Bag Swap? A group of ladies each choose an activity to make that would fit a predetermined age group. The activities either teach an academic skill (like ABC’s or counting/number matching), fine motor development (like tracing or Pincher grasp by using tongs), or are visually entertaining  (like I Spy or discovery type things). These activities are designed to keep the little ones “busy” and each one is put into a zip bag making it easy to grab one and go–thus the name Busy Bags! The key is that each mom makes enough of THE SAME ACTIVITY for each lady participating.

Our group had 18 ladies and the age range of 2-3 year olds was chosen. We created a sign up sheet to ensure there weren’t any duplicate activities. I checked out several idea sights on the Internet and chose the “Discovery Bottles” as my activity (after checking to be sure I could find AquaPods water bottles!) Because a picture is worth a thousand words, check out the following websites to get a better understanding of the types of activities.

“Discovery Bottles”

Check out this website for instructions & pictures of homemade Geoboards- used with 2-7 year olds:

Here are some items that we received in our Busy Bags with a few comments and suggestions based on our experiences.


Gel bag and Marble Maze
Gel Bag and Marble Maze

Gel bag and Marble Maze – The gel bag is appropriate for 4-5 year-olds. The gel bags need to be tapped with clear packaging tape. The marble maze is great to attach to a stroller for toddlers. It is a marble sown in between two pieces of cloth with stich lines added to create a maze to move the marble through. I even bought one as a birthday present for a 1 year old. Our son Caden’s occupational therapist (OT) went bannas over the marble maze and plans to use it as a finger warm-up exercise with her patients.

Popsicle Stick Puzzle and Pom-Pom Stuff It In
Popsicle Stick Puzzle and Pom-Pom Stuff It In

Popsicle Stick Puzzle and Pom-Pom Stuff It In – The popsicle stick puzzle can be covered with clear packaging tape to make it more durable. This one was a challenge for a 4 1/2 year old. The Pom-Pom stuff it in is another finger strengthening exercise tool. I’ve used it with all ages from toddler (2 yrs) and up.

Color Match Pins
Color Match Pins

Color Match Pins – The Color Match Pins are paint sample strips from your local home improvement store or Walmart. The older ages (4 yrs +) had fun with this one. The pins were a little too difficult to squeeze for our little 2 year old.

Letter and Number Match
Letter and Number Match

Letter and Number Match – The number match used a clear velcro dot in the center of each number tile. That made it very easy for a toddler to grasp the number tile from any angle.

Eye Spy and Egg Crate Pom-Pom Sort
Eye Spy and Egg Crate Pom-Pom Sort

Eye Spy and Egg Crate Pom-Pom Sort – Both of these items have been enjoyable for all ages. I like the compact nature and transportability of the eye spy. Toddlers will grow into the use of the tongs with the Pom-Pom sort. Right now he enjoys putting the Pom-Poms in the holes with his fingers. (over and over and over again)

Chalk Blocks
Chalk Blocks

Chalk Blocks – I love the creativity of this item for preschoolers. These are simply square blocks of wood painted with chalkboard paint. I would recommend that the blocks be a little larger for the younger ages and ensure that all sides are sanded smooth before painting.

Magnetic Pom-Pom
Magnetic Pom-Pom

Magnetic Pom-Pom – This is very entertaining for my toddler. The Pom-Poms have magnets hot-glued to them. Our next chore is to find a way to make this one portable without having to carry a cookie sheet in the diaper bag. Please post your ideas in the comments below. Here are a couple of links to download two more Pom-Pom mats. You will need Adobe Reader to view them.

Helicopter Pom-Pom Mat    Train Pom-Pom Mat

Pasta Sort
Pasta Sort

Pasta Sort – My toddler spent the better part of an hour filling and dumping the cups. He tried to string the pasta by himself but required some assistance. I will try using a pipe cleaner next time.


Con-Tact Paper as a laminating tool
Con-Tact Paper

Con-Tact Paper – I used Con-Tact paper to laminate some of the paper items to increase durability.


Busy Bags for Preschoolers

These discovery bootles are our contribution to a busy bag swap with our local home school support group. this busy bag swap is for items appropriate for 2-3 year olds.

Busy Bag Discovery Bottles All

My boys and I had so much fun making these bottles!  They kind of evolved from ‘just’ a neat thing to look at to a challenge for an older child. Because this change of gears happened after I started making them, the bottles don’t have all of the same items (which adds to the challenge). I thought I would create a check list that you can print out for any older siblings.

Close up of Discovery Bottle
Contents of a Discovery Bottle (Click for close up)
  • ABC letters- Can you spell a word with your letters?
  • pony beads- How many different colors?
  • bowling pin
  • domino- Add the two numbers to find the sum.
  • die
  • marble
  • car Squinkie
  • frog
  • buttons- How many can you count?
  • star beads
  • gold stars
  • car, airplane, and train buttons
  • aquarium rocks
  • sea shell
  • zoo animal
  • whale
  • heart
  • 2 googly eyes
  • shimmery ribbon
  • sequins- 3 colors (one is hard to find)
  • Lego- It may not look like a typical piece!
  • ring
  • penny & dime (one has 2 pennies & dimes- a little helper lost track)
  • ladybug button
  • circle sparkle “gem”
  • nail
  • Lite Brite piece- look hard!
  • ice cream/dessert
  • smily face ball

The next posts on Busy Bags will provide pictures of items we received in the busy bag swap as well as tips on making items durable without breaking the bank.