Thursday, March 25, 2010

Carnival of the Stuffed Animal: Organizing Your Child's Stuffed Toys

Untamable stuffed animals is a common organizational challenge in a children bedrooms. We have tried netted hammocks and the bottom of the closet floor, but none of those have seemed to be functional and attractive. Here is a step by step way to corral those beloved cuties.

1) Go Shopping - You will need one, or two, solid shoe organizer with cubbies, like the one pictures. If the shoe organizer is made out of fabric or wire, it will not work. It should also be stackable so you can add another in the future or to double storage now. We bought ours at Target for $20 ($25 normally). We already had one for a while, then bought a second one. As in all large families, the stuff animals "share" rooms.

Next you will need to go to IKEA. While you are at it, do not cook that night and eat dinner at the store. Their kids meals are cheap and fairly healthy (no fries!). You will need:

IKEA PS FANGST $4.99 (found in the children's department in the showroom or in the marketplace and comes in many colors) - MINIFANGST $1.49 is a smaller alternative for the lesser stuffed animal enthusiast.

LINDSDAL Knob $4.99 for a 2/pack (found in the kitchen department in the showroom) Or choose another knob you like better. Its purpose is to stop the FANGST netting from sliding off the bracket mentioned below.

EKBY STILING Bracket $4.00 (white - 6 3/4 size) or EKBY VALTER Bracket $3.00 (birch or black - 7 1/8 size) - (both are found in the Marketplace in Home Organization in the section for shelves)

2) Assemble - Put together shoe organizer. To hang the netting storage (FANGST), you will need to screw the bracket into a stud on the wall at the desired height. Keep in mind the FANGST grows longer with the weight from items stored inside. Then screw in 1 knob in the outer hole (see picture above).

3) Declutter - Sit down, one on one with your child and go through all the stuffed stuff. Explain that, "From now on your stuffed animal collection needs to fit into these storage units. Only a couple of stuffed animals can remain on your bed. The extra large animals will need to be on a shelf, on top of furniture, or in toy storage (an out of sight place like a storage room). Show each animal one at a time and say, "Keep or give away." I would explain it as "only keeping what you love and passing along the rest to bless another child." This is an excellent life skill for your child to learn.

4) Sort - Figure out what animals will fit nicely into the cubbies in the shoe organizer or are too heavy for the FANGST. Find light smaller ones for the FANGST, then sort those into "most played with" and "lest played with" - again asking your child one by one. Obviously the less used will go on the top, harder to reach storage levels on the FANGST.

5) Assign Spots - First pick the (1-3) favorites for the bed. Then assign "rooms" in the shoe organizer. Obviously, you can fit more if they share the rooms. This is great for Webkinz. We are in the process of punching out hearts for name tags, which we will place in each cube with Wacky Tacky (or any unhurtful tack) after they are laminated, or I may use Velcro tabs, which are more permanent. The large animals find their spot off the floor. The rest of the zoo goes into the FANGST as mentioned in #4 above.

Well, at least that is what has worked for us. We have had this set up for a few months now with no outbreaks. If my daughter wants to buy a new one or gets one, she has to get rid of one (if there is not an open spot). No excepts (insert stern teacher face here). Oh, if your child does not put them back, you can put the stuffed animals in the "pound" and they have to pay to get them out! Ms. G likes the "rooms" and we have no problems with cleanliness. The visibility helps prevent dumping too. This solution ended our stuffed animal nightmare, your solution will probably be different to fit your situation, but wanted to share our fix to a common problem. Please post any variations you come up with.

Organized Chaos Baby

This morning I have come to realize that homeschooling is organized chaos. We have our lesson plans, our long term goals, our workboxes filled and our educational philosophy all figured out. Our homeschool is organized, but yet chaos reigns despite our efforts. Clutter piles up, laundry piles up, someone is crying during a lesson, and the younger ones have dumped all the toys out while you were schooling the oldest. That is just a sampling, I have not even mention what chaos happens when your child takes 3XS the amount of time to complete a schooling task on a day started with striping both of the boys wet beds followed up by afternoon of taxiing to art class and left no mental energy to even think about dinner, much less make it.

It reminds me of the flight deck of an air craft carrier, without the peril of death, less sweat and a tad less noisy. Working on the flight deck is exciting and heroic, but the reality of actually doing it, day after day, is less glorious. It is dirty, hot, hard, very dangerous work that most of the time goes unappreciated by your fellow countrymen.

Homeschooling moms may seem heroic to other moms, who tell themselves that they would never have the patience to homeschool. On lookers at church see a line of well behaved children. Old School House Magazine makes homeschooling look like an adventure. However, the realities of the day to day homeschooling make that image so far removed it will make you want to pull the covers over you head. Most of the time, it certainly seems like your children do not appreciate your efforts.

For a mom that likes her ducks in a row (i.e. control), this out of control chaos is very stressful. However, under pressure we learn so much more about God because pressure drives us to Him. To survive we must prayerfully consider what part of God is lacking in our lives or what God wants us to learn from this trial. Is He teaching us kindness? Patience?

While organization, planning and hired help can go a very long way, homeschooling will always be organized chaos. Over time with God's help we will learn how to handle things better when they fall apart. Learning to have a gentle spirit when things do not go our way is a valuable lesson to our children.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Out of the Ordinary

Day after day of homeschooling can begin to burn you out, that is when you need to do something out of the ordinary. We have not had a day off school since New Year's Day, it is the end of March now. We are in the spring crunch time, trying to get all our school days in and our curriculum too before summer vacation. Normally we try to have scheduled time off - 4 weeks on, 1 off or 4 days on, 1 off, but since when is life "normal." This December I was sick a lot, and used up all that time. No vacation days can leave everyone strained.

Sometimes you just need an out of the ordinary school day. Yesterday I had my daughter start school an hour and a half early so we could drive to a play date with Catherine's and Sara's children. It is amazing how efficient an 8 year can be when there is some place to go. While I had to skip our circle time, Mr. Z got his Kindergarten done and we listened to our read aloud on audio book in the car. Ms. G finished the rest that afternoon. It is very rare that we do anything else in the mornings except school work, just by rearranging our day makes it exciting.

There is something about getting out of the hum-drum daily grind that lifts your spirits and refreshes you. So if you are feeling stiff in this home stretch in the homeschool year, do something out of the ordinary.

Here is a list of ideas for an Out of the Ordinary Day:
  • Field Trip - to the zoo, museum, nature park. Plan someplace simple, so you are not adding to your overload. While a field trip can count as a day of school, it will put you a day behind on your curriculum, unless you can fit it into your day. Personally, my children have always been too excited to make school work worth the wild. What is the point of checking it off our to do list if they do not really learn?
  • Visit Grandmom and Grandpop. My daughter has pointed out that an advantage of homeschooling is she gets to spend more time with Gram.
  • Play Date - We don't have play dates in the morning, so this was different for us.
  • Outside School - Perfect for spring, and keeps the preschoolers busy.
  • Game Day - Play educational games.
  • Lunch Out
I am sure there are more ideas, please post them if you have them. I can always use more ideas in my arsenal.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

101 Titles and Counting

Well, I made my list, though I have not included the mass of missionary biographies I want to read. In my search through my bookshelves, I am ashamed to say that I found 3 books that I had double copies of.

My list is now standing at 164 titles and that is after narrowing it down. I have not even glanced at the manila envelope stuffed with little scraps of paper scribbled with book titles and ISBN numbers from this past year when I worked at the Christian bookstore.

Time is short, and I will not be typing out the list on the blog. I had handwritten my list, and my hand ached for 2 days. However, I will write a review when I finish a book. Happy Reading!

Monday, March 22, 2010

I.O.U.S.A Movie Review

My husband and I enjoyed this movie about the national debt. It made him feel angry and bummed, but it makes me excited to make change - the political kind. America can turn things around, but we have to stop our bad habits, work hard, sacrifice and change.

Start with our own households first. Buy less, save more. Spend LESS than you make. Cash and carry. Owe as little as possible. If you have to take a loan for a house, pay more than required even if it is just a few bucks more. Help those in greater need than yourself.

Then get active in the community to change the country. One of the easiest ways to do this is simple to vote for those candidates that will be fiscally responsible stewards. The other is just to talk about the issue with others - word of mouth. America loves watch the TV, recommend the movie. The movie website has information on how to be active, such as sending a letter to your congressman, which they make very easy to do. Also, there is the Peter G. Peterson Foundation that is mentioned in the documentary, this website would be able to provide you with more up to date information, additional ways to get involved and the opportunity to sign up for a newsletter. Then there is the Tea Party Movement or here.

We first watched some of the movie on-line through Netflix, but if your computer is painfully slow as ours, just get it from your local library.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Our Workbox System

Catherine's post reminded me that I had promised a post on our workbox system. For a full description you should really read Sue Patrick's book and her website. Unless you buy the book, you will not be able to get the printables she describes. She is the one who came up with the idea in the first place, and I do not want to plagiarize her work. She does do workshops at homeschool conferences as well. There are also plenty of blog posts about variations of the workbox system, which Catherine reference many of on her post.

Everyone has their own little variations on Sue Patrick's idea, our school is no exception. We live in a very small ranch house that is already crammed full of too much stuff and not enough empty space. Therefore, I was not about to have 3 carts with 12 shoebox size container on them - Where would I even put them??? After googling "workbox system blog," I gleaned a lot from others. Then, I came up with my own.

Instead of a shoebox size container, I use See & Store Book Pouches from Lakeshore Learning. It has a built in pocket in which I can put the "box" number, work with mom card, etc. On the outside of the packet I put a piece of Velcro for the number which will be taken off after complication, and put on her schedule strip.

Really, I mainly put my children's My Father's World curriculum in them, so I not adding many hands on additions outside of MFW's books- thus a book pouch works much better than a shoebox because I am mostly just putting books in them. If something is too big, which is rare, I either put in on the child's schedule strip or put a note in the pouch. Then I put all of the pouches into a crate, each child having their own crate. The crate can also hold their pencil box, counting jar, etc. I keep all their crates on my server in the dining room, which is where we do school. The crates are great because they can be carried to the living room (where I teach the boys) or outside during nice weather. It is completely portable.

The problem I had before the workbox system was that curriculum was piled in the dining room at the end of the day. By using the crates, I can prep whenever I want and easily store the crates on my server in the dining room. Eventually, I may buy pretty file boxes from IKEA or the Container Store to camouflage them, but I love the crates for practicality.

Here is a picture and description of each child's crate:

Ms. G (3rd grade)

Currently I use about 10 workboxes because we do some items during circle time. Occasionally I have put 2 things in one workbox, just so I did not have to rearrange all the workboxes. She also uses a schedule strip with blocks of additional work such as Irish dance practice, math game on computer, piano practice, reading, etc. Since her crate is so full, I keep her timer, strip and pencil box with other school items I use everyday, which is stored in a large wooden tabletop teacher organizer(clearance item, pretty $$ new). Also, this allows one of G's pouches is filled with what MFW calls the book basket, where she explores selected titles that correlate with our themes in Social Studies and Science only during school time for 15 minutes. This way I do not have a basket of books needing to be stored, it works great as a workbox.

Mr. Z (Kindergarten)

His crate contains his counting jar and tens box, as well as his pencil box and Trunkie, the stuffed elephant - who joined us this week when we were learning about elephants. Besides his pouches, I also store his co-op folder, a workbook for his brother, alphabet puzzle and other regularly used items.

His pouches are not numbered yet, but I am going to start him on a strip soon because he requested one like his sisters. His pouches can number from 4 to 8 roughly, depending on what he needs to do for MFW that day. There are lots of great ideas on how to fill a Kindergartner's boxes, but we do not use many of them for Mr. Z. I feel like for him it would be just busy work that he would not enjoy, I would burn him out and he would hate learning. You have to adjust things for each child's personality. He is very good at playing, and so I do not need to fill his time to keep him out of trouble while schooling Ms. G. Now, my oldest would have loved 12 workboxes to do when she was in Kindergarten.

Mr. JP (3 year old Preschooler)

Since JP really only uses Sponge curriculum at the moment (meaning he only learns whatever he happens to sponge off his siblings lessons), his crate contains educational toys to keep him busy and to make him feel that he too is important and belongs. Here is a list: Lauri Toddler kit, Lauri Preschool kit, Mellisa and Doug 4 in 1 wooden puzzle box, Teddy the Teaching Bear, magnetic letters and numbers, and Lauri pegs. Usually he only plays with his crate at school time, so it is fresh and fun. JP also loves to join in Z's schooling and to scribble on workbook pages with a pencil, so he can be just like his brother.

I must say that we no longer have much whining about doing school work because they know how much is expected from them and the boxes help them feel the progress they are making. School runs much more efficiently and smoothly because everything is right there at our finger tips. There is no running around looking for a book, that was done the afternoon before when I filled the boxes! I can plan independent workboxes for Ms. G while I know I will be schooling her brother. It really fosters independence. It definitely goes down as a tool that has greatly helped our homeschool. I honestly cannot think of anything negative about the way we use them.