Monday, August 29, 2016

Classroom Motivators: "Chill Pill" Jar and Ticket System

Last week I posted 5 Ways We Keep Our Classroom Organized.  Today, I want to touch on two ways I keep my kiddos motivated.  Of course, we always stress the importance of trying your best and having a strong work ethic, but let's face it, we all enjoy tangible motivators.  We have two main motivators in our classroom.  The first is our "Chill Pill" jar.  This was a fun back-to-school gift from my mom.  She purchased a small glass jar and filled it with Craisins and M&M's.  We currently have Skittles in the jar and I see candy corn coming in the near future.  :)  The kids and myself enjoy a couple of pieces, a.k.a. chill pills every now and then through out our school day.  Sometimes I use them to reward the kids for working diligently.  At other times, I use the treats to motivate them to push through a long assignment.  I also use the treats to distract when one of my kids is feeling frustrated with a new concept.  Then there are days when candy just makes the day better! :) Our second motivator is our ticket system.  We have used this system for a couple of years.  For every hour of productive, diligent school work, I give each kiddo one ticket.  The ticket can later (after our school day) be turned in for electronics time.  Electronics in our home is anything that plugs in the wall (ANYTHING).  My daughter coined the term, "pluggables".  One ticket is worth 10 minutes with a pluggable. :)  They also receive tickets for various chores around the house.  They usually earn about 6-7 tickets per day (60-70 minutes worth of pluggable time).  It is funny to watch how each child saves and spends his/her tickets.  Our oldest hoards his tickets.  His bucket is filled with at least 100 tickets.  While our youngest son spends his immediately.  He never has extra tickets in his bucket.  Our daughter falls somewhere in the middle.  Thankfully, our kids love educational shows such as Sea Rescue and Wild Kratts.  I will often count those as "free" because they are great well-rounded shows that are very much an extension of school work. I love to hear what other home school moms use to motivate their kids.  I think it is very important to stress hard work even without a reward.  However, I think we can all agree, everyone loves a treat! :)

Friday, August 19, 2016

How We Found the Diameter of the Sun

I would have to say, out of all our subjects, science is our top favorite.  I use Answers in Genesis as our curriculum.  This curriculum is designed to use with multiple aged kids, which is perfect for our family.  I primarily use this curriculum with our boys (3rd grade and 5th grade), however, our 1st grader likes to listen and participate with the experiments.  I also do a second science lesson for her (ABeka 1st Grade - Discovering God's World) which is more age appropriate. Our experement yesterday, took us outside to use the sun and shadows.  The purpose was to calculate the diameter of the sun using a "pinhole projector".

To make the projector:
1.  Use a needle, push pin, or even very sharp pencil to poke a hole through an index card.
2.  Tape the index card to the end of a yard stick so that the card is perpendicular to the stick.
3.  Tape a second card (without a hole) to the opposite end of the yard stick, also perpendicular.

Next you have to move the yardstick around until the top index card (containing the hole) places a shadow over the bottom index card.  We were surprised how much we had to angle the yardstick to get the shadow to match the bottom card.  If you look very closely at the picture above, you will see a small white circle on the card.  We had to draw a line across the circle.  This had to be done three different times.  The boys took turns and let me tell you, that little circle moved all over the place.  It was so hard to keep it still.  It also didn't help when the person holding the stick would purposely move the circle, while the person on the ground chased it around.  It looked a lot like a cat trying to catch a reflection.  :)

We decided maybe we should switch "stick operators".  This particular operator was a little more serious about keeping the circle still.  :)  

This is a great picture to show the top index card with the hole and then the bottom card showing the light through the hole.  From there, we measured the three lines (by 16th's of an inch) and then took an average.  Our average was 5/16 in. which is roughly 0.3 inches.

From there we followed the formula provided in our book.  We divided the diameter of our images 0.3 inches by 36 inches (because the distance between our cards was 36 inches) which equaled 0.0083.  Then we took that amount and multiplied it by 93,000,000 miles (the diameter of the sun).  This gave us an answer of 775,000 miles.  

Now the actual diameter of the sun is 868,000 miles so we were really pleased that we got relatively close.  At the end we discussed why our calculations were different.  The kids agreed that since our projector was homemade and not an actual instrument, the calculation could not be exact.

All in all it was successful.  Now my little confession...  My husband came home on his lunch break and checked my math.  AND...I...DID...IT...RIGHT...  I think I was more impressed and excited than the kids!  LOL

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Divvy Up Wallets and Budget Organizer

 Years back when we went from a two income family down to one income, we had to revamp our finances.  My husband is a huge Dave Ramsey fan and we decided the best way to get a grip on our money was to go to an all-cash system (a highly effective finance program by Dave Ramsey).  Unless it was something like our mortgage, water, or city bill, we vowed to only pay cash.  Using only cash really makes you think about your upcoming expenses and keeps you accountable for each purchase.  It is unbelievable and scary how fast you can drain your checking account when you are only using your debit/credit card. The only down fall to the cash system was the countless paper envelopes.  My husband gets paid on Fridays so every Thursday is our budgeting day (for the following week).  I had paper envelopes designated for every possible thing we could think of.  However, sometimes I would accidentally leave the envelope at home or grab the wrong envelope.  Overtime, it became a big pain and I stop using the system.  Earlier this summer I was telling my husband that we really needed to go back to using only cash because we were always able to save so much with that system. A few weeks later while watching my kids at a swim meet,  I noticed a mom working on these adorable wallets.  My curiosity got the best of me so I began to ask her questions.  She explained that the wallets were inspired by the cash system.  I absolutely LOVED her design.  Her product is called Divvy Up Wallet and Budget Organizer and after a time of selling on Etsy she has since moved to Amazon Prime.  She hand makes the wallets, each containing five cloth, magnetic envelopes specifically for cash.  The wallets also contain slots for drivers licence, insurance cards, debit card, etc., as well as, a zipper pouch for coins.  Under the slots for various cards are two larger areas for receipts and lists.  I must say the wallets are not only super functional and organized but also really cute AND very well made.  An extra bonus for me is that she is also a homeschool mom and her boys are in Scouts with my oldest.  We had just never made the connection.  It is a small world that is for sure. I have been carrying my wallet for about a month.  It has gotten us back into the discipline of  using cash.  We have already seen a savings.  It really blows my mind how much money you save when you are actually aware of your spendings.  I purchased two additional wallets and sent them to my cousins as early Christmas presents.  :)  To which they were super excited to receive. I will give you a peak inside. :)

Functionality and Oober cute!!!

Each envelope has a white label.  I placed washi tape over mine because I was too afraid to make a permanent label for each envelope.  Now I can remove the washi tape if I need to revisit the use of each envelope.

The magnetic closure on each envelope is very strong.  I have not had any issues with money slipping out or envelopes opening.

I really like the zipper pouch.  It is nice and big plus the zipper is easy to open and close.

For those that don't want an entire wallet, she also gives you the option of just five individual, magnetic cash envelopes.  I think this would be a great addition for vacations or extra categories, which you don't  need with you on a daily basis.  I also thought the individual envelopes would be great for ponytail holders and bobby pin organization in my daughter's dance bag.  :)

I included the Amazon link above but just in case, here it is again. :)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

5 Ways We Keep Our School Day Organized

We have hit the ground running with our 2016-2017 school year.  The kids and I have completed 15 school days and have 165 days to go. :)  With this being our fifth year, I feel like I finally have a bit of wisdom and knowledge that I can pass on.  I have given it some thought and although there are many tips and tricks that I implement into our homeschooling day, there are 5 that stand out.
#1 - Homeschooling is my full-time job
I treat running our home school just as I would if I worked out of the house.  It is not something we do on the side or when we feel like it.  We have a yearly, weekly, daily schedule and I make sure we follow it.  Now from time to time, something extra special will come up, such as an unplanned field trip.  I try to be flexible in these moments but that is just it, they are moments, not every day.  Our daily expectation is that we are in the classroom, kitchen, or outside working on our school work.  I want my kids to follow my example of diligence and commitment to their education.  If I treat our homeschooling as a priority so will my kids.

#2 - Plan, Plan, Plan
This is where homeschoolers have very different views and ideas.  I am a homeschooler that plans.  It is what works best for me and frankly my kids thrive on a schedule and daily plan. I take about a month in the summer to plan the entire school year.  I know that some people do not prefer this method because they feel they will constantly have to erase and re-plan but for our family it works really well.  There are times I have to move things around but they are minimal.  During this time I also plan and schedule our grading periods and breaks.  We start late July and go until mid May.  For our family, it is very beneficial to work for 6 weeks (1 grading period), take a week off, then work another 6 weeks, take a week off, you get the idea.  Over the course of a school year, we have 6 - 6 week grading periods with 6 - 1 week breaks, plus a week at Thanksgiving, Spring Break, and two weeks for Christmas.  All in all we total 180 working school days.

I know it seems like a lot to plan the year all at once, but I really can't imagine planning at the end of every single week.  Just like the kids I also like having weekends!

As stated above, I have the entire year planned before we begin.  I keep all of our plans in my lesson plan book.  I also write the daily plans in my kids' agendas.  This gives them a list of subjects and lessons for each day.  They know if I am working with one child and cannot be interrupted then they should reference their agenda in order to move forward with their day.  This also keeps me from having 3 kids ask, "Mommmmmm, what am I suppose to do next."  They know to always check their agenda before asking me.
The kids use hi-lighters to mark off a subject once it is completed.  They are always asking each other how many subjects each person has left.  I tell ya, everything is a competition. :)

#3 - Work Boxes (which my kids call buckets)
My kids would be the first to tell you the number one piece of organization in our classroom is the tower of work boxes.  Each of the kids have six work boxes.  Some boxes contain 2-3 subjects while other boxes only contain 1.  It depends on the size of the books and extra supplies needed for each subject.  Before the year starts I have the kids organize their boxes to make the most sense to them.  I label and load each box.  This keeps worksheets, books, folders, etc. organized and tidy.

We also have boxes that hold school supplies, headphones for the computer, rulers, glue, craft items, scratch paper, paint, etc.  

 #4 - Start the day right
In our family, even though we are not leaving the house for school, everyone gets up, gets dressed, and starts on time.  This is a must for us.  I think if I stayed in my pajamas and allowed the kids to do the same we would never get motivated to get our school work done.  I wake up at 6 because I like the quiet time for getting showered, dressed, a cup of coffee, my Bible and prayer time, starting a load of laundry and 30 uninterrupted minutes of the Today Show.  If you are wondering how I get my "me time" that is when I get it.  It is worth it to me to get up early.  Also, I will have all the "me time" I want in about 12 years and then I will be depressed because my house will be super clean and quiet.  Well....I probably won't be depressed about the house being clean. :)  The kids get up at 7:30, make their beds, get dressed, you know the drill.  I try to have a home-cooked breakfast on the table by 8am.  Some days it is a big breakfast buffet and other days it is called Cheerios.  Either way, we all do better when we have had breakfast.  My oldest son definitely performs better in the the classroom when he has had "real food" for breakfast.  The kids are allowed one 30 minute show before we start school.  They alternate days of the week for whose turn it is.  During this time I say good bye to my husband, swap loads of laundry, and sneak upstairs to call my mom.  I know, I know, I am 37 years old and I still prefer to start my day by calling my mom. :)  We start school usually between 8:30 and 9:00. #5 - Zero "Pluggables" during school time
What is a "pluggable" you ask?  In our house that would refer to anything that plugs into the wall.  It is what our six year old says when I remind the kids zero electronics.  This has been a rule since the very first day we started homeschooling.  It has never been questioned by the kids.  It also makes certain subjects like Spanish and Vocabulary Workshop extra fun because those are computer based.  Sometimes we will play the radio but for the most part all three of my kids prefer a quiet atmosphere (except for the dogs who are never quiet).  I roll my eyes at that one.  Rescuing three dogs sounds like a good idea until a cat walks passed our house and all "you know what" breaks out in the form of barking.  Back to pluggables, the kids know to wait until everyone is finished before turning on the TV or playing on the iPad.  I think that is just teaching courtesy for those who are still working.  Oh!  That also goes for me.  I try really hard not to get on Facebook, Instagram, or check emails during the school day.  I also try hard not to take phone calls.  I will usually ignore the phone all together and return calls when the school day is over.  I have started leaving my phone downstairs with the ringer on silent.  It really helps eliminates the temptation.  I am pulled in so many directions throughout our school day, I honestly can't handle another distraction such as emails, FB, etc. The best thing about homeschooling is that you can tailor it to meet the needs of your family.  For our family structure and firm plans work best. Here's to a great year!