Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sacraments and Feast Days.

Isabella is preparing for her sacraments of reconciliation and communion this year! Although only in 1st grade, she has been working a year ahead in religion since the beginning and I felt that she was completely ready for this! She is also an older 1st grader, with a birthday in January, so she will be the appropriate age when receiving the sacraments.

As with Marco, we'll be doing so much more extra "stuff" this year to make sure she is ready! Besides our regular religion curriculum (Faith and Life 2), we are doing the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism, reading King of the Golden City (for the 2nd time!), making Catholic lapbooks (we purchased all of these), and of course participating in our parish's faith formation and sacramental prep classes. I suppose we'll also throw in even more extras into the mix, but only because we love it!!!

A fun project we did, which didn't really start as a project, was the making of a Mass Journal. During the first sacramental prep class, students were handed a Mass Journal to keep track of all the Masses attended. It contains fill in the blank questions for the kids to fill out...who was the celebrant, what color vestments were worn, what were the first and second readings, etc. It's actually a great way to get kids to pay attention during Mass.

Of course, the journal they passed out was just a bunch of pages stapled together. So Isabella and I decided to make an actual book out of it. We followed the directions on this video. Really simple. No music, no talking...just shows how to make a book!

After making our own book, I made copies of the Mass journal onto pretty paper that Isabella picked out. Each little form was then cut out and then glued to the Mass Journal book we made. Isabella is even working on illustrating the book. It's super cute and I know she will love taking it to Mass more than a bunch of stapled papers. Of course, none of this is necessary. But it was fun!!

Isabella picked a pink cover with yellow paper.

Isabella holding her Mass Journal.

As for celebrating feast days....we worked on some super cute bookmarks this week. An archangel on the front and the prayer to St. Michael on the back! I'm planning on doing this little craft with my 5th grade faith formation class as well.

Fabulous coloring by Marco and Isabella!!

Little Jimmy has enjoyed playing with our bookmarks.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Little Occupied.

It's been a while since I've blogged and in my defense, I'm shouting "Life Happens!" But I do have some pictures to share to keep you updated on some of the things that have been keeping us busy.

School Lessons
Of course, our school lessons take precedence over much of our lives. Here we have Marco working on some map skills as he memorizes the continents and oceans of the world. This is part history and part geography and lots of fun! If only history and geography were our only subjects to study...but we still have math, science, reading, Latin, spelling, grammar, and all the rest!!

Family Fun Nights
So you wonder how we spend our weekends around here? Well, movie night is at the top of the list (In this case we were watching "Zoom"). So it's either blog the night away or spend some time with the hubby and kids with lots of popcorn and drinks. I think you know which won! But since we've been without cable for quite some time now, we all look forward to watching a movie together on our giant wall. It's a movie theater experience!

Vacation Time
We have been known to take a few days off here and there. This time we decided to go to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Perhaps this wasn't the most perfect family vacation....lots of walking, not many hands-on activities and little children don't mix too well with us. But we still learned a bunch and got to see some really neat things. Do I recommend at trip there? Ask hubby and he would say, "No!" Ask me and I say, "Try it with older kids." Ask the kids and they'll say, "Go to Disney World instead."

Field Trips
There's lots of opportunities to go on field trips around here. This time we settled on taking the kids to the apple orchard. Fun? Oh yes. The kids loved it!! Fun for mom? Not in 95 degree weather with a fussy baby. We'll try again next year and pray for cooler weather. Until then, I'm up to my eyeballs in apples! Any recipes??

American Girl Club
We are still going strong with American Girl Club. Isabella loves it and I love getting to do fun crafts with the girls. This time we hosted. Kaya was the inspiration for our corn husk dolls...a fun craft!

Birthday Fun
With 5 kids in the house, it's only a matter of time before it's birthday time for someone. This time we celebrated Anthony's 5th birthday!!! It was a blast and my little guy had a great time. He is a blessing to our family! And we all loved the cake too! Happy Birthday big guy!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chores, Allowance, and Financial Responsibility.

Lately, my kids have been asking for a lot of new things.  Yugi-oh cards, Pokemon cards, charms for a bracelet, gum, etc.  It's been while since we reviewed finances with them, so I thought it was time to go over money with them once again.  

At the age of 4 or 5, my kids have started getting an allowance.  The age here has been right when my kids have shown some kind of responsibility in taking care of money.  For example, Marco and Isabella started getting allowance at around 4 years of age.  They would keep their money in their piggy banks and I wouldn't worry about it getting lost.  Anthony, on the other hand, got started on allowance on his 4th birthday and then I took it away.  He kept misplacing his money, giving it away, and just wasn't mature enough to handle it responsibly.  Now, however, at a couple of weeks short of 5, he has proven that he is ready and he will start getting an allowance once again.

My math for allowance is simple.  $1.00 for each year of age.  So a 10 year old would get $10, and a 5 year old would get $5.00.  I have heard of other parents giving $.50 for each year.  What is best for each child is really up to the parents and their financial situation.  At a young age, I don't think it matters so much how much you give, rather than what they are learning from receiving an allowance.

Many also ask about bank accounts.  When should kids get one?  Our kids get their own bank accounts once they turn 6.  It's like a birthday present for them.  Dad takes them to the bank and they get to deposit all their saved money from piggy banks, plus a little extra gift from mom and dad.  Turning 6 years old also comes with a right to learn how to pick and purchase stock.  My DH helps the kids research a company and shows them the very basics.  After that, their first stock purchase is on us!

It's great to get kids interested in money and how to be responsible with it.  A great tool for kids learning about money, is this piggy bank.  I first got this for Marco when he was 4 years old.  It has 3 compartments: spend, give, save.  We usually do the 10% donation, but to make things easy for our kids, $1.00 of their allowance automatically goes to church.  The rest they get to divide between spending and saving money.  Once their allowance hits the higher numbers, then the giving amount will increase.  

Is your allowance tied to chores?  For us...it's not.  Chores are what you do because you are part of this family, because you share in this house, and because it's a way for the individual to contribute.  Each child has their own daily chores to do, which they get nothing in return for.  Allowance is also not based on grades or behavior.  Good grades are a benefit to the student, so that should be reward enough.  Good behavior is always expected as well, we don't use money to bribe it out of the kids.  We do every effort not to attach any external value to money.  Allowance, for our family, is a learning tool and a way to teach the kids financial responsibility.

How about earning extra money?  I keep a list of things my kids can earn extra money for along with their pay.  First I determined how much I was willing to pay them per hour.  For me, it came out to be $5 an hour.  After that I divided how much time it should take them to do the job by the hourly rate.  Here are some example of how my kids can earn extra money.  Keep in mind that these aren't available for them to do all the time.

  • Raking the front yard, 30 minutes, $2.50
  • Cleaning the kitchen (floors, counters, sink), 30 minutes, $2.50
  • Cleaning extra bathrooms, 15 minutes each, $1.25
  • Washing/cleaning van, 1 hour, $5
  • Pulling weeds, 20 minutes, $1
  • Babysitting little brother (I never keep the kids alone with the baby.  This would include keeping him entertained while I'm preparing for company, showering, etc.), 20 minutes, $1
  • Laundry helper, 15-30 minutes, $1.25-$2.50
At this point, only Marco and Isabella are really able to do these extra chores.  Which is fine, since they are the ones who are the ones asking for extra things!  But it is nice to see the kids sharing and learning together.

Last week, we went to Costco and Isabella took her purse.  She figured she had $5 extra to spend.  She did the math and bought each of the kids a smoothie!  She's a sweetheart!!  It's nice to see them learning how to save money, but also spend it...especially when it's done so unselfishly!

And just to leave you with something.  Here is a clip that was a great lesson to my kids from the TV series Arthur.  A great intro to saving, giving, and how getting everything you want can turn you into someone no one likes.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Another Year of Faith Formation.

This year I'm back to teaching faith formation at our church. I'm a little nervous, as I'll be going into a 5th grade class, but confident that I'll be able to do well. Volunteering as a catechist is something that I never thought of doing; but when the "opportunity" presented itself, I thought it would be a wonderful way to share any talents I might have.

In the past, I was a 2nd grade catechist, which I really loved! Teaching kids during a sacramental year puts a little pressure on you, but the rewards are great. I've been spending the last week preparing and going over our lessons and we'll see how it goes!

For the time being, here is the parent's letter I'm sending home with the kids. I post it mostly because I'm always looking for a good letter and I can never find one. So hopefully, this will be able to help someone who is teaching faith formation (or CCD) at their church.

Letter to 5th Grade Parents of Faith Formation or CCD Students.

Dear Parents:

It was a pleasure to meet your child at our first day of Faith Formation. I am excited to work alongside your family in teaching your child our Catholic faith. My goal this year is for your child to further cement the teachings of the Catholic Church, as well as developing a deeper love and understanding for Jesus Christ. We will be reviewing prayers learned in years past, as well as introducing and learning new prayers, including the Prayer to the Holy Spirit.

Our faith formation class is the only hour a week that I have with your child. It is a time when your child gathers with other children to concentrate on what it means to be a Catholic, a follower of Christ, and to learn what the church and gospels teach. It is my pleasure to be able to participate in the education of your child and I will be using the issued Catholic guide each week for our lessons, as well as involving them in prayer and faith-building activities.

As a parent, you are the primary educator of your child, and the best teacher. Your example at home speaks volumes and teaches your child far more than I ever could. I ask that you review each week’s lesson at home and share in any activity that your child may bring. Attending Mass and praying together (especially in the morning, before meals, and at bedtime) will solidify your child’s experiences as being part of a worshipping parish community and Catholic family.

Once again, thank you for participating in the Holy Family Faith Formation program this year. Please feel free to stop by and ask any questions you might have or call me. I also ask that if your child is unable to attend a class to please contact me or the Faith Formation office in advance whenever possible so that your child’s absence may be excused.

I look forward to working with you, and I appreciate your prayerful support.


I would love feedback!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Thinking About Our Goals.

Sunday's reading (Luke 14:25-33) and our priest's (Fr. Michael) homily was such an answer to my prayers! It's amazing how God works through others to let us know that He is listening and that He cares.

Recently, I've been pondering and praying over extra-curricular activities for the kids. With 5 kids to tow around, it's not as easy for me as I would like it to be. Should all the kids be enrolled in an activity? How do I handle different times for different kids? Is keeping the kids from participating hindering them in any way? Should I aim to keep the kids together? These are the main questions I've been asking for the past month.

If you've been following along, you'll know that last year was SUPER busy. Dance classes (2 separate ones), swimming, piano, and a quick stint with soccer was keeping me busy. That was on top of school lessons, co-op, and faith formation. Add all that to having a newborn, hospital visits/stays, and moving....you see where I'm going with this. I was drowning.

It was too much and I was stretched out so thin, that it affected my life in many ways. I was constantly cranky, my house was a mess, I started being late for important functions, my drive for many things was gone, and the worst thing of all is that I feel I failed the kids in their education. So soon after we decided to put our house up for sale and move, I gave up. I took the kids out of swimming and dance. No more team sports and no more unnecessary activities.

And just like that...a GIANT weight was lifted off my shoulders. We could finally enjoy a family dinner again, not just 2 nights out of the week...but every night! No more rushing, no more juggling schedules. It was great! And it's been great since I kept this simple way of life all through summer.

But now, fall is knocking at our door. The kids are asking about swimming and dancing and karate and everything else. What do I do? Do I try it out again? Well this is what I did. I prayed. For wisdom to make the right decisions for my kids and for our family. But I was stuck without an answer. Until now.

Our time is like GOLD. Actually, it's more valuable than gold. How to spend it? We know that our main goal as parents is to educate our children. So at least we know that most of our time will go to that. But what about all the leftover time? That was my dilemma, and thank you Father Michael for making it click for me!!!

In everything we do, God has to be our center. For school, work, and play. He has to come before anything else. As educators of our children, we know that our school days are centered around Our Lord. That is our goal. Having a family that is centered around Christ is also our goal. Growing together, learning from each other, creating bonds, and loving our family are also all goals that are Christ-centered. But that doesn't mean that we can't take the kids to swimming class or to dance class. What it means is that when those extra-curricular activities begin hindering, clouding, or getting in the way of achieving those most important goals...then they should be taken away.

So here is my answer. My time is precious. My family life is precious. I am going to treat every minute with my children and family like a God-given gift (which it is). I know what an overworked schedule looks and feels like. I'm not going back to that. I'm going to enjoy my children and have fun with them. For now, maybe enjoying them and having fun will include swimming or some other sport. Maybe it'll be a year full of fun field trips instead. I haven't made up my mind yet. But I'll never lose focus of my goals again.

And even if the answer is plain at daylight, things were never as clear as they are now. There were countless thoughts and doubts in my mind that were miraculously answered this Sunday. All of which I can't go into; but this one being the main one.

I'd love to know how you other moms and dads out there handle extra-curricular activities with your children. How you make time, how you keep sane!!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Getting Ready for Back to Co-op.

My kids have been excited about finally being able to start another year with our fabulous Catholic co-op, and so have I!! This year we're beginning a little later than usual, but it works out since it gives us plenty of time to adjust to being back to school first.

I know I've written about our awesome little group before and it's still just as great! This semester we have some new families joining us and I know that they will love it as much as our family does! All the families in our group are super nice and I'm glad that I can call them all friends. It's really great to be able to catch up with everyone once a week and have the kids learn and play at the same time.

Of course, our co-op is truly a cooperative in every sense of the word. Unlike many homeschool co-op's out there that seem to function like schools with enrollment fees and class fees on top of supply fees...our group remains free except for class supplies. It's not a "drop your kids off for the day" type of group either. Everyone participates in some way or another. In my opinion, this is what makes it so great.

Parents have so much invested with the group time-wise, that mediocrity is not common in our group. Every mom either teaches a class, assists in a class, or watches kids in the nursery. Everyone works together! It's like a little bee hive!! This year, I'm teaching 2 classes! Before Five in a Row and K-1 science. I'm really excited about it.

Lucky for me, with BFIAR, I've not only taught it at co-op last semester...but I've used it with my own kids 3 times already! This has made my prep time a breeze and I know what's going to work with a group of preschoolers and what's not. I've even got all my activities set out already.

As for science for the kindergarten and 1st grade group, I'm going to be using The Magic School Bus: Back in Time with the Dinosaurs science kit. Everything I need is in the kit and each child is going to have their own kit. And if you want to look at either one of my syllabi for the semester, they are here.

But here I am veering off course as to what I really wanted to write about. The excitement of a first day back at co-op! We usually just leave the "first day of school" celebrations for our actual first day of homeschool. But this year my good friend, Tina, gave me an excellent idea. Why not make the first day of co-op just as special? After all, it's the closest thing the kids have to going back to "school."

Tina mentioned buying a back to school outfit for her girls (who are absolutely adorable!). It got me thinking...what a great thing to do! Why not expand on this and make a little more of it? Seeing old friends, teachers, and new classes is certainly something to celebrate and be excited about! So here is what we are doing!

Back to School Outfit.
I fell in love with the Gap's American in Paris and True Colors collection! Perfect for a back to school outfit! I remember getting excited about putting on new clothes and shoes for back to school...now my kids will get to do the same!

Yea...they've been in the same backpacks for a couple of years now. This year why not get a new one? And their "old" ones (they're not even really used!!) can go to some needy kids. And no backpack would be complete if it wasn't stuffed with all their new books, binders, and supplies! **Just a quick note about supplies....we usually separate our homeschool supplies from our own school supplies. This means that their backpacks and supplies for co-op really only get used at co-op.

Back to Co-op Picture.
Every kids needs a picture to look back on!

School ID.
Great for clipping on your backpack or on a field trip. Yea...homeschoolers don't really need them, but I have actually found them to come in handy! From getting student discounts to using as a basic ID; our school ID's are fun! I've been printing them out for the kids since they began their homeschool journey.

A Walk to the "Bus Stop."
I thought this was hilarious. Marco recently asked me, "Will we ever ride in a school bus?" as we drove next to a yellow bus full of kids. I told him we already do...it's called our van! So I told them that on the first day of co-op they could go to the "bus stop" (aka, the end of our long driveway), and wait to be picked up. They loved the idea!!! We do drive a 12 passenger van after all and that seems to be good enough!

It's funny how as a homeschool mom, I keep trying to recreate a "real school" feeling for my kids. I think it's not because I think they are missing out on anything; but because I feel like I am. And it's only the little snippets that I miss. Having always gone to public school, I still clearly recall getting those butterflies in my stomach as I walked into a new classroom. Or how I would be so excited the night before the first day of school, that I couldn't sleep. When I was young, I always imagined those feelings would come back once I had my own kids go off to school.

But I am so thankful that I do get to teach my kids at home. They are getting the kind of education and lifestyle that I would have loved as a kid. The best education and the best family life. I wouldn't trade this for the world! So if I can just recreate the fun parts of a "real" school, then I'm all good! It's all about making lasting memories for both them and me.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Updates on Good Books.

We started reading our books from the "Good Books" list this week. So far, things are going great! What really got me excited was this awesome new literature guide that Angelicum Academy just printed for 3rd grade! You can get it at their website. If you are enrolled with AA, it's free! Otherwise it's $19.95. So far, I think it's a great addition and help to our reading.

For updates and news at Angelicum, you can also check out their blog! Now you might wonder why I'm going on and on about Angelicum. It's just that when I get excited about something that's working well, I want to tell everyone!! So check them out!

And also as a side note, if you are not enrolled with Angelicum, or even if you are not doing classical education...I strongly recommend looking over their "Good Books" list. They are fabulous selections that every child should read! Don't get discouraged if they seem too difficult. You will reap the benefits once you get to reading!!

Our good book readings are always done out loud, as they are too advanced for my young readers. The language has been a challenge for some books, but we keep going (at a snails pace if we have too!); and by the middle of the book, my kids are asking less and less about definitions (what does that mean?) and asking more and more why's and how's. It turns into a great discussion!!

So tonight we continue with The Princess and the Goblin, Aesop's Fables, and Perrault's Fairy Tales. Happy Reading Everyone!!

New School Room Tour.

It's back to school time and it seems like everywhere in the homeschool blogosphere, people are giving tours of their learning spaces.  ...